Monthly Archives: February 2008

Smith and Guessin’

Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Jeff Smith
Publisher: Cartoon Books
Price: $3.50 US (not printed on publication)

The new Indy Movement is underway with the release of a new, self-published title from one of the three biggest names in comics self-publishing. Jeff Smith amazed us all with Bone, and he even broke through an industry barrier, capturing the attention of non-comics readers, tapping into a wider market. Last year’s announcement of this new project was one of the more exciting pieces of North American comics news, and now, it’s finally here. It’s a delight to see more work from Jeff Smith, but what’s most interesting and engaging about RASL is the dramatic shift it represents in his storytelling. The softness and expressiveness we’ve come to expect from Smith’s art is still apparent, but the subject matter and protagonist boast a harsher tone, making for a surprising change. Don’t misunderstand me, though… it’s a welcome change. It’s entertaining to watch Smith exercise some different muscles in terms of plotting, characterization and dialogue. His rogue thief hero and the mystery that surrounds him will no doubt appeal to just about any reader, and not just those familiar with Smith’s work or fans of the medium.

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The Not-So Secret Origin of a Cover Design

As I did some web surfing this week to look at what new releases were to lie in wait for me at the comics shop this week, I found the adjacent cover image. It’s the cover for Justice Society of America #13, illustrated by super-hero genre superstar Alex Ross, who also just happens to be the co-writer of the current story arc, “Thy Kingdom Come.” Ross has been the cover artist for this series from the start, and his further creative participation in this storyline stems from the fact that it flows from Kingdom Come, a 1996 Elseworlds limited series that explored an unfortunate vision of the future of the DC Universe.

The JSA cover immediately caught my eye, but it wasn’t due to the richly detailed and shining painting Ross provided. Nor was I stopped in my digital tracks by Ross’s shift in his approach to cover design… not really, anyway. What made my synapses start firing rapidly was the sense of nostalgia that was ignited at the same time.

While longtime DC readers might recognize the approach Ross has adopted for the cover design, newer readers and those unfamiliar with what passed for super-hero events in the early 1980s might not.

Consider this your education.

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Will the Real Brian Bendis Please Stand Up?

Brian Michael BendisBrian Michael Bendis. He’s been a cornerstone of Marvel’s creative efforts for the past several years, even serving as the single most vital creator in the publisher’s stable of talent as the 21st century got underway. He remains a cornerstone of Marvel’s comics, and there’s been no sign that the professional pairing is going to change in any way in the near future. There was a time when any mention of his name in connection with a new project had me chomping at the bit to check it out. While I still read his work today, I haven’t been really excited about Bendis’s comics in some time, though.

The bloom is off his particular rose, but the question arises: why? Have I just moved on to focus on other voices? Has his work grown repetitive? Has it weakened? I find it difficult to choose just one answer, and I think that perhaps they all apply. To hash it all out, perhaps a subjective examination of recent issues of Bendis’s current ongoing projects will be of help.

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Quick Critiques – Feb. 22, 2008

Booster Gold #0 (DC Comics)
by Geoff Johns, Jeff Katz, Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund

This series seems to stand out as something of a guilty-pleasure read… at least for several online comics critics, and one can count me among them. Geoff Johns and co-writer Jeff Katz have crafted a fun comic that makes the most of the shared continuity and history of the DC Universe without being constrained by it. For the most part, the plot and script — which are deeply steeped in past DC super-hero stories — are fairly accessible for new readers. The story here is based on original Booster Gold stories of the late 1980s and a DC Universe crossover event from 1994, and yet, it’s easy for one to follow along. The time-travel riff always allows for exposition to be woven logically into the dialogue. Most important is that the writers make even more room a sense of fun, adventure, action and even a little melodrama. There’s always a colorful array of diverse characters to be found in the pages of this series, and this issue is no exception. Even if one hasn’t checked out previous issues, the zero issue is actually a decent jumping-on point. Dan Jurgens’s art is a perfect match for the old-school approach to the genre. He’s the one who created and designed the title character after all, so he’s captured the 1980s appeal with ease. I remain impressed with Norm Rapmund’s inks. In the past, he’s often brought a rougher look to the line art, but he’s tightened up his inking style for this project. The use of the metallic ink for the cover is a nice treat for those of us who remember all of the zero, crossover issues from DC’s Zero Hour event more than a decade ago. And for those who don’t get the reference, the rarely used metallic look will help this comic book to stand out. 7/10

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Steve Gerber, 1947-2008

It seems to me that Steve Gerber was even more fearless than the multitude of super-heroes and surreal adventurers he wrote about over the course of his career in comics.

As has been widely reported already, Gerber died Sunday in a Las Vegas hospital as a result of pulmonary fibrosis. Others have written at length about his career in comics and the important contributions he made to the medium and industry, both creatively and philosophically, when it came to creators’ rights. That at the age of 60, he was still writing regularly for the biggest publishers in the North American market during a time when assignments tend to be consolidated with a group of younger, “hotter” talent is a testament to his skill, vision and the respect he earned.

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The Alex Ross Project

Project Superpowers #0
“Last Gleaming”
Writers: Alex Ross & Jim Krueger
Artists: Doug Klauba, Stephen Sadowski & Alex Ross
Colors: Captain Moreno
Letters: Simon Bowland
Cover artist: Alex Ross
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Price: $1.00 US

The creative team that’s delivered big hits for Marvel and DC — such as Earth X and Justice — comes to a smaller publisher to tell a similar kind of story — same atmosphere, same approach to the visuals — only with public-domain super-hero characters. I rather enjoyed the idea of such high-profile talent working with a smaller publisher, and there’s no doubt that Project Superpowers will serve as a feather in the cap of the relatively new publisher with a nice diversity of titles. Still, there’s no doubt the creators on this comic book are facing something of an uphill battle. They’re trying to tell a story about iconic super-heroes with properties that are, at this point, little more than obscurities and curiosities. Furthermore, their target audience tends to be super-hero fans whose interest rarely ventures outside of the Marvel and DC Universes. Furthermore, Marvel beat Dynamite to the punch with its story about little-known Golden Age heroes in the 21st century with J. Michael Straczynski and Chris Weston’s The Twelve.

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Quick Critiques – Feb. 6, 2008

Captain America #34 (Marvel Comics)
by Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting & Butch Guice

Brubaker grabbed my attention immediately with this issue, immersing America in more extreme versions of real-world problems. Who would have thought the mortgage crisis would be the result of a super-villain’s machinations? The socio-political foundation of the opening scenes brings credibility to the fantastic story, but this comes as no surprise given Brubaker’s strength as a comics writer. Unfortunately, that strength fades as the plot shifts to the introduction of the new Captain America. His and Black Widow’s confrontation with a bunch of faceless villain henchmen is rather disappointing. It feels so familiar and conventional; it’s a cliched scene that doesn’t merit the space dedicated to it. Brubaker has done some surprisingly good work when it comes to the resurrected Bucky Barnes, but casting this damaged hero as an icon of American patriotism and idealism seems like a misstep. Perhaps he means it as a commentary on the fractured nature of the country in the 21st century, with the focus on red states and blue states instead of the American dream. Still, it doesn’t consistent with the Winter Soldier’s character. Alex Ross’s new Cap design makes sense in this context, as it combines the brightness and iconic qualities of the original cap costume with Barnes’s darker, black-ops nature. Unfortunately, it lacks a visual pop. Epting and Guice’s artwork throughout the issue is strong, in keeping with the realism and social disasters that are integral to the overall appeal and atmosphere of this era of Cap comics. 6/10

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Last Man Standing Ovation

Y: The Last Man #60
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Pencils: Pia Guerra
Inks: Jose Marzan Jr.
Colors: Lee Loughridge
Letters: Clem Robins
Cover artist: Massimo Carnevale
Editor: Will Dennis
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo imprint
Price: $4.99 US/$5.99 CAN

I didn’t see that coming, and I’m not referring to the slight twist in the ending of this issue but rather to how the series as a whole came to a close.

Brian K. Vaughan diverges from the flow of the series as a whole and provides a series of epilogues, giving his readers a glimpse of who the various characters become years, even decades, after the main story took place. What first grabbed my attention abut this issue was Vaughan’s effort to embrace just about every hot-potato, controversial issue of ethics that occupies the minds of the world at the moment and making them real rather than hypothetical. From cloning to euthanasia, these touchy subjects are not only incorporated into the plot but treated casually. The world of Y is a very different place from that in which we live, but there are also so many familiar elements that one can’t help but relate to it. Ultimately, Vaughan seems to point out that the embittered debates about the most difficult issues with which we struggle today will nature dissipate as society evolves.

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