Monthly Archives: January 2008

Pax Mentality

Pax Romana #1
“Part One: Destroy the Past. Create the Future.”
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Jonathan Hickman
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.50 US

Jonathan Hickman impressed with his debut effort, The Nightly News, another limited series from Image. His art, his layouts, his sense of design and his writing are all unlike the vast majority of output in the medium today. While I suspect many have yet to discover his work, his is a voice that will help to transform comics storytelling for the new century. While the biggest American comics publishers are embracing nostalgia in their storytelling, Hickman’s work challenges the reader to change his or her expectations. His comics look different, sound different and have a different impact on the audience. His compelling plots are immersed in relevance. His approach to sequential art leads the reader’s eye through the story in an unconventional but surprisingly natural manner. All of this was true of The Nightly News, and that remains the case with Pax Romana. Whereas before he took on the cultures of greed and the media, with Pax, he examines the cultures of religion and war. Oddly enough, while The Nightly News is set in a world clearly close to reality in America, it’s Pax Romana — with its future and past settings, men of the cloth and mercenaries — that’s more accessible while still challenging with its immense ideas.

Continue reading… →

No Strike Zone

A big name in the world of comics publishing arose in the ongoing drama of the Writers Guild of America strike last week. Marvel Studios emerged as one of a few production companies that signed side deals with the WGA, ensuring its movie-production efforts in 2008 and beyond would continue uninterrupted. Given how popular opinion seems to be solidly behind the picketing writers, it’s likely a good move on Marvel’s part, not only from a business perspective but also in terms of public relations, both within and outside the industry.

The move by Marvel Studios was applauded by several comics-industry observers, and understandably so. I found the announcement to be rather intriguing not for what it means for the development of future Marvel film projects, but instead about how it could give rise to a philosophical conundrum within the Marvel corporate structure.

Continue reading… →

Big Little Book

Chiaroscuro: Patchwork Book 1 hardcover graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Troy Little
Publisher: IDW Publishing/Meanwhile Studios
Price: $24.99 US

When it was announced that IDW would publish Troy Little’s slightly surreal, slice-of-life comic, I was surprised but also elated. As someone who got on the Chiaroscuro train early on, I was eager to revisit the characters and story and to see how it progressed beyond the few individual episodes Little had self-published in the past. It had been quite some time since I delved into this odd story of urban ennui and angst, and everything felt new again as I thumbed through the pages. Little’s storytelling boasts a universal appeal, even in light of the eerie, tense moments in the plot. It’s easy for one to relate to the self-destructive protagonist’s frustration and depression. We’ve all experienced that horrendous mood when one wants to collapse in on oneself and hide from the world. The most interesting and challenging aspect of the story stems from the conflict, and it’s an internal one. The hero of the story is also the villain. Steven Patch is his own worst enemy, and while he’s not always the most likeable character, he is one with which the reader can empathize and identify. Little’s cartoony artwork exhibits a variety of eclectic influences, and while there’s an exaggerated tone to his figures, it’ his adept use of shadow and dead space that firmly establishes a strong, mature tone and an often palpably tense atmosphere as well.

Continue reading… →

Quick Critiques – Jan. 20, 2008

Atomic Robo #4 (Red 5 Comics)
by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener & Zack Finfrock

Judging from the many Best of 2007 lists I’ve read online in the past few weeks, Atomic Robo has developed a strong following in the comics blogosphere, and for good reason. Writer Brian Clevinger has managed to capture the sense of fun and adventure that’s made such comics as Hellboy so appealing; he’s just approach the same sort of adventure comic from a science-fiction perspective rather than gothic horror. Atomic Robo — both the title and the character — boasts a great sense of humor, and I love how Clevinger incorporates real-world figures, past and present, into the oddball action and exploration. The writer also delivers an accessible script that anyone can enjoy; I missed the second and third issues of this series, yet I had no problem diving right back into the fun. The rivalry/enmity between the title character and a certain theoretical physicist stands out as the highlight of this particular issue, and I like how it’s mirrored in the backup story, featuring the continued antagonism of Clevinger’s re-imagining of Thomas Edison. Another big advantage of this premise — and another trait it has in common with Hellboy — is that the creators have crafted a property that allows them to tell stories from a variety of periods in industrial history.

Continue reading… →

Bullet Points

Scorn #1
Writer: Kevin Moyers
Artist/Cover artist: Philipp Neundorf
Publisher: Septagon Studios
Price: $3.50 US

A lot of comic books cross my desk, and a good number of those are independent or small-press outfits crafted by amateur or tyro creators who still have some development ahead of them. I usually find something in those efforts that I enjoy, even if it’s just the creators’ passion and enthusiasm. I’d never heard of Septagon Studios, and I assumed I was in for another bargain-basement comics effort. While the creators still have to refine their skills a bit, there’s a lot of promise to be found in Scorn. It’s a story about violence begetting violence, about the potential for grief to consume oneself and just about growing up. There’s a gritty intensity to the art that’s in keeping with the tone of the story, and the somewhat unconventional approach to the sequential art really allows artist Phillip Neundorf’s work to stand out. This is a solid debut effort from two unknowns, and I suspect that as they hone their storytelling in the coming years, we may see higher-profile projects from them, either together or teamed with others.

Continue reading… →

The Dusty Dozen

The Twelve #1
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Pencils: Chris Weston
Inks: Garry Leach
Colors: Chris Chuckry
Letters: Comicraft
Cover artist: Kaare Andrews
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.05 CAN

Ever since I started reading super-hero comics in the late 1970s and discovered DC’s concept of Earth-2, I’ve been fascinated by costumed characters from the medium’s Golden Age. I didn’t start reading Marvel titles until the mid 1980s, so I have a greater familiarity with DC’s classic characters (as well as those they’ve acquired over the years, such as the Fawcett and Quality super-heroes). I’ve since discovered and enjoyed many stories featuring some of Marvel’s Golden Age properties, but those spotlighted in this new title are new names to me. I relished the opportunity to get to know more ideas from the past. J. Michael Straczynski’s plot handles these characters as being literally out of their own time, and he manages to balance the silliness and oddities of 1940s comics storytelling with a more modern sensibility. However, I came away from the issue with the sense I’d read something that was, unfortunately, almost wholly unoriginal.

Continue reading… →

Quick Critiques – Jan. 14, 2008

Amazing Spider-Man #546 (Marvel Comics)
by Dan Slott, Steve McNiven & Dexter Vines (backups by other creators)

Like thousands of others, I didn’t think “One More Day” was a good or even logical story; it was an unnecessary reboot, but there’s no denying that Marvel saw some solid sales from the event. But despite the weakness of that setup, this new beginning for Peter Parker and his supporting cast isn’t hindered by the shortcomings of what came before it. Given Dan Slott’s and Steve McNiven’s involvement in the title, I was more than willing to give Amazing Spidey a fair shake. And after approaching it with an open mind, I have to admit Slott’s script captured the energy and pace of Spidey stories from the 1970s — and I found I’m completely uninterested. There is a more youthful tone to Peter Parker’s life, as he’s unencumbered by the same responsibilities he once was; maybe that will appeal to a younger demographic, as Marvel and publisher Joe Quesada likely hope. I’m in my 30s, about to be married and house-shopping, so maybe that’s why I was more interested in the more mature mode of Peter’s life. Or maybe this is just too familiar. Stan Lee and other writers have tread this path before, and they got it right the first time.

Continue reading… →

Future Tense

The Foundation #1
Writer: John Rozum
Artist: Chee
Colors: Malaka Studio
Letters/Editor: Marshall Dillon
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Price: $3.99 US

Boom! Studios has done it again.

In late 2006, I was blown away by Talent, a Boom title that impressed with a strong premise, compelling, dark atmosphere and well-realized characters. The Foundation is a much different project, but it also captured my imagination. Both books have a distinctly dark and cinematic quality, and the supernatural/superhuman elements and twists remind one of the works of such filmmakers as Hitchcock and Shyamalan. This initial plot revolves around a potential air disaster, and while we’re more than six years removed from the events of 9-11, paranoia about terrorism remains raw enough today that delving into that subject matter is a bit risky. I applaud the creators for taking the risk of offending some sensibilities in the name of a good story. More importantly, John Rozum poses an interesting and challenging question of ethics to the reader that sparks reflection beyond the reading experience and the circumstances of the plot.

Continue reading… →

Feel the Burn

Afterburn #1
“Chaos and Profit”
Writer: Scott Chitwood & Paul Ens
Pencils: Wayne Nichols
Inks: Nick Schley
Colors: Marc Hampson & Andrew Dalhouse
Letters: Troy Peteri
Cover artist: Matt Busch
Publisher: Red 5 Comics
Price: $2.95 US

The first Red 5 Comics release I read, Atomic Robo, impressed, so when I sat down to delve into another one of their titles, I had high hopes. With Afterburn, I found the same kind of energy and sense of adventure as I did in Atomic Robo, but this project lacks the storytelling polish and flair of that other book. To be fair, they’re rather different comics; Afterburn isn’t played for laughs, for example. But whereas Robo hit all the right notes, the creators behind Afterburn falter when it comes to detail, both in the script and the art. There’s actually an intriguing premise, but the script presents what seems like important plot information but then races on ahead of it. The artwork is impressive at times, but it’s also inconsistent. It seems like everyone is rushing through this story, desperate to maintain a certain intensity, unfortunately sacrificing the reader’s chance to connect with the characters and absorb the story.

Continue reading… →

Quick Critiques – Jan. 6, 2008

Fantastic Four: Isla de la Muerte! #1 (Marvel Comics)
by Tom Beland & Juan Doe

Ever since Randy Lander, my one-time website partner at The Fourth Rail and other previous online publications, introduced me to Tom Beland’s True Story, Swear to God, I’ve been a huge fan of Beland’s work, and we’ve been lucky enough to see him flex his creative muscles beyond his own wonderful, autobiographical comic. Isla de la Muerte is one such occasion. Those who have read Beland’s creator-owned work are well aware of his love for Marvel’s classic characters, and it shines through in this cute, entertaining story. Beland’s script harkens back to the Silver Age charm of the title characters. He even incorporates references to classic Lee/Kirby FF stories, but the tone of the script remains accessible; the reader isn’t required to know the ins and outs of FF history to appreciate what’s being said. Beland also brings a quality to the storytelling that will appeal to all ages, not just the die-hard, longtime FF fan. The love for Puerto Rico and the environmental message in this book are pretty heavy handed, but I have to admit I was intrigued by all of the information about the former aspect of the one-shot.

Continue reading… →

More 2007 Glass Eye Awards – Creators

And we’re back, as the Glass Eye Awards for 2007 continue. Earlier in the week, I shared my thoughts about the best comics and graphic novels of the year, but it’s also important to remember that there are creative voices behind the genesis of those comics. In this second part of the best of 2007 feature, we honor the efforts of the people — writers and artists — who were involved in making the best examples of sequential art of the year. I must reiterate — this list should not be considered all-encompassing. There’s no way for anyone — even those whose full-time jobs revolve around comics — to read most, let alone all, the industry has to offer in the course of a year. These are just the names that came to mind when I did up my notes. Omissions are not only likely but unavoidable. Now, onto the Glass Eyes…

Continue reading… →

The 2007 Glass Eye Awards – Comics

The floppies and the books have made their way down the red carpet and have taken their seats for the second annual Glass Eye Awards, in which Eye on Comics names the best comics and graphic novels of the year… at least, the best that I’ve read and that I can recall. I’ll be following up this first list of the best comics and graphic novels with lists of the strongest creators in the industry in 2007. But these lists are hardly exhaustive. My comments are limited by various factors, such as access to materials, memory capacity and the lack of hours in each day. These comments are my personal reflections on the comics I read in 2007; I encourage readers to respond with their own picks.

Continue reading… →

Academic Discourse

UA #1 second printingThe Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite #s 1 & 2
Writer: Gerard Way
Artist: Gabriel Ba
Colors: Dave Stewart
Letters: Blambot
Cover Artist: James Jean (Gabriel Ba for #1 second print)
Editor: Scott Allie
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Price: $2.99 US each

The biggest factor that’s gone into the marketing of this property is the participation of music star Gerard Way. Personally, I don’t know the difference between My Chemical Romance and the Chemical Brothers, so that other-media fame isn’t a lure in my book. The greatest strength of The Umbrella Academy is the incredible balance between the surreal Silver Age wonder of the concepts and the heartfelt emotions that drive these bizarre characters and serve to bring them down to earth. Way and Ba’s collection of oddball, dysfunctional heroes represent a delightful slice of the creators’ imagination, but they prove to be compelling, fragile souls as well. They have power in droves, but happiness seems to elude them. One can recognize elements from the dynamics of how their family functions (or doesn’t) in one’s own life as well.

Continue reading… →