Monthly Archives: April 2008

Zero Tolerance

DC Universe #0
“Let There Be Lightning”
Writers: Grant Morrison & Geoff Johns
Pencils: George Perez, Doug Mahnke, Tony S. Daniel, Ivan Reis, Aaron Lopresti, Philip Tan, Ed Benes, Carlos Pacheco & J.G. Jones
Inks: Scott Koblish, Christian Alamy, Tony S. Daniel, Oclair Albert, Matt Ryan, Jeff De Los Santos, Ed Benes, Jesus Merino & J.G. Jones
Colors: Alex Sinclair, Tom Smith & David Baron
Letters: Nick J. Napolitano
Cover artist: George Perez
Editor: Dan Didio
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: 50 cents

DC’s release of this inexpensive comic book, focusing on the best-known icons from its super-hero stable, strikes me as kind of odd. Just days in advance of Free Comic Book Day, I’m left wondering why the publisher didn’t just make this one of its freebie titles for the event. Mind you, if other retailers are like mine, a lot of shops will likely give this cheap comic book away anyway. Still, I wonder if DC might be undercutting its FCBD efforts or if it will end up capitalizing on the larger crowds that it tends to generate. In any case, this is far from a key issue, despite early promotional and marketing efforts to bill it as such. This is little more than a tease, and not just for Final Crisis. Writers Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns just tease readers here, giving them sneak peeks at upcoming storylines for its top tier characters. On the one hand, it’s a bit frustrating. The comic reads like it’s a picture made up of pieces from different puzzles, a patchwork quilt made up of almost random pieces of fiction fabric. On the other hand, the teases are incredibly effective. It really makes me want to read several of the storylines previewed in its pages.

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Cowboys in Camelot

Caliber #1
Writer: Sam Sarkar
Artist: Garrie Gastonny
Colors: Imaginary Friends Studio
Letters: Annie Parkhouse
Cover artists: Garrie Gastonny/Stanley “Artgerm” Lau/Dave Wilkins
Editor: David Elliott
Publisher: Radical Publishing
Price: $1.00 US

Sometimes it seems like every week brings with it a new publisher throwing its hat into the comic-book ring. This week is Radical Publishing’s big coming out party, with the release of this comic book and the first issue of Hercules: The Thracian Wars. Not all of these newer publishers offer a product to the marketplace that’s really up to a professional level. Fortunately, Radical doesn’t appear to be one of those outfits, at least not judging by the work in this debut episode of Caliber. The high concept is fairly simple: Arthurian legends meet the Lone Ranger. Writer Sam Sarkar doesn’t force the square peg of the legend of Excalibur into the round hole that is the Western genre too hard, and the end result is a surprisingly cohesive, entertaining and fresh take on old stories. Also impressive is the artwork by Garrie Gastonny. His efforts yield a painted look that balances the gritty, raw qualities of the Western elements with the magical fantasy nicely. If I’d been the editor of this book, there’s really only one major change that I’d call for, and that’s to do something about the painful predictability of the plot.

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Quick Critiques – April 27, 2008

Cthulhu Tales #1 (Boom! Studios)
by Steve Niles, Michael Alan Nelson, Tom Peyer, Chee & Sunder Raj

Not surprisingly, it’s horror writer Steve Niles who provides the strongest story in the first issue of this themed anthology series. He and artist Chee quickly establish a pervading, unsettling atmosphere that something unnatural and insidious lurks just outside of the reader’s perspective. The story’s not terribly innovative; it’s easy to see where the writer’s going. And Niles’s opening scene doesn’t really jibe with the plot. Still, it’s entertaining. The other two segments in the book are diverting as well. Nelson’s piece about kids stumbling upon the emergence of evil in their own community is pretty much by the numbers, and I didn’t quite follow what the sheriff was talking about at the end of the book. I suspect his comments would be appreciated by the diehard Lovecraft fan. Sunder Raj’s art tells the story clearly, and the colors really drive home the eerie atmosphere. His designs for the corpse and the monster really put me in mind of Guy (B.P.R.D.) Davis’s style. For his story, Tom Peyer takes the notion of the Boston Red Sox’s long-running “curse” and ties it into Cthulhu rituals and dark magic. It’s a fairly tongue-in-cheek story that really doesn’t strive to scare or disturb; its appeal is limited to the high concept. It’s one that doesn’t merit a long explanation or execution, so this short story suits it pretty well. After reading the comic, though, the stories didn’t stick with me at all. I would have expected at least one to offer a challenging idea or a lasting chill, but that really wasn’t the case. I’m left wondering if there’s enough life in the premise to sustain an ongoing anthology (not to mention the fact that Boom! already has another related title — Fall of Cthulhu — on the go). 6/10

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Everybody Hercs

Hulk Special #1 from 1968New publisher Radical Publishing is looking to make a name for itself in the world of comics, and it’s recruited some big-name talent to help in those efforts. The Los Angeles-based company issued a news release Tuesday to announce that comics legend Jim Steranko has provided cover artwork for the first two issues of its new Hercules: The Thracian Wars series. Furthermore, Steranko designed the look for this incarnation of Hercules as well as the cover logo for the series.

What I found interesting about the announcement was the nature of the Steranko cover art for the second issue. That cover is an homage to a well-known cover the artist produced for Marvel Comics 30 years ago: that which adorned Incredible Hulk Special #1. It’s an easily recognized image in comics, one that’s been reproduced and homaged often. Boasting a strong Will Eisner influence, perhaps the reason it’s been referenced time and time again over the years is how effective it is in conveying the power and struggle that are inherent in the premise and character. The Hulk is in danger of being crushed under a rock that spells out his own name. The earth and rock beneath his feet cracks and crumbles from the sheer weight. The seemingly simple cover says a lot about the title character. The biggest threat that the Hulk faces is himself, his own raw, uncontrolled power (and how others perceive it as a threat).

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Fence Post

White Picket Fences: Double Feature original graphic novel
Writers: Matt Anderson & Eric Hutchins
Artists: Micah Farritor, Brian Mead & Tim Lattie
Colors: Micah Farritor & Brian Mead
Letters: David Hedgecock
Editor: Kevin Freeman
Publisher: Ape Entertainment
Price: $6.95 US

While this book reads more like a short collection of a couple of issues, the Comics Space website for the property bills it as an original graphic novel. Actually, it’s an original graphic anthology, with the same setting and characters appearing in all three stories. This is my first exposure to White Picket Fences, which apparently has already been published as a limited series, with another on the horizon. It’s a cute, comic tribute to science-fiction and super-heroes of a bygone era. While entertaining, there’s little that’s actually original to be found here — save for its visual style. The exaggerated, angular art on the opening and closing sequences, as well as an unconventional approach to coloring, really held my interest. While there’s not a great of logic in how the characters act in these stories, there’s no denying the charm, sense of adventure and — most of all — innocence that draws one into this all-ages book.

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Meet Me in the Middle East

United Arab Emirates FlagSuper-hero publishers have been trying to find a wider market in recent years, and some efforts (and a lot of talk) have been focused on recapturing a younger readership. Kids were the industry’s first big audience, but ever since the late 1960s and early ’70s, when comics became a staple of the college crowd, the youthfulness of those buying comics has been fading. Many argue that the genre is propped up today by a plethora of Peter Pans in their 30s, refusing to ever grow up. But it seems that execs of the companies that own the best-known super-hero characters on the planet see potential in markets other than playgrounds and grammar schools.

They’re eyeing the Middle East.

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Quick Critiques – April 16, 2008

The Brave and the Bold #12 (DC Comics)
by Mark Waid, Jerry Ordway & Bob Wiacek

From the start, this team-up series has been a love letter to a simpler time in super-hero storytelling, and that certainly holds true with the conclusion of Waid’s lengthy, 12-episode story. I think he missteps, though, by embracing a Silver Age sensibility too much and forgetting the more modern touches that kept previous issues from being too campy. That the resolution will resolve around the sole female Challenger of the Unknown is telegraphed far too early in this issue. For a time, June is the only female player in the drama, so that she’s also the most terrified can easily be confused with the notion that the woman is the weakest. Megistus’s design is clearly inspired by the Silver Age, but it’s also goofy. The villain should really look intimidating, not silly. Firestorm’s role in the story makes sense, given the transmutation elements, but it comes from out of nowhere. That being said, there’s so much charm to be found in this climactic episode. From Ultraman’s magical escape from peril to Waid’s wink to Darwyn Cooke’s DC: The New Frontier with the reteaming of Ace Morgan and Hal Jordan, there’s a lot of fun and energy in this story. Younger readers will no doubt be delighted. Ordway’s wide-eyed artwork is in keeping with the lighter, bold strokes of the plot. As I noted before, I wasn’t wild about the Megistus design, but I have to admit that Ordway did his job: he crafted a look for a Silver Age villain. Ordway also brings an impressive level of detail to the cosmic elements, from Ultraman’s burning flesh to the energies floating around June as she endeavors to save the world. The most surprising — and somewhat disappointing — was the link that’s made between these events and Final Crisis. One of the bonuses of this series has been its self-contained nature, so the passing “crisis” reference in this issue seems out of place. 6/10

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Quick Critiques – April 14, 2008

Echo #2 (Abstract Studio)
by Terry Moore

The plot gallops forward in this second issue, indicating the lazy pace to which we’re accustomed from Moore’s Strangers in Paradise doesn’t seem to be part of the plan for Echo. This episode brings in an element that SiP fans will recognize, and that’s a strong degree of intrigue and an espionage-genre feel. It’s a natural fit for this super-hero story, though, so it doesn’t feel as though Moore is repeating himself in any way. Julie’s reactions to an impossible, paranormal development in her life are incredibly convincing. Moore brings a realistic feel to the story not only through the character but in the circumstances and humor. The emergency-room doctor’s frustrations with Julie’s predicament and his dismissal of her condition as a prank are plausible ways to keep Julie from becoming a lab subject for conventional authorities. Also reinforcing the realistic approach to the surreal situation is Moore’s lovely, detailed artwork. The full-page shot of her cabin in the woods is absolutely breathtaking. The color on the cover makes me feel as though we’re missing out a bit when it comes to the black-and-white interiors, but there’s no denying the effectiveness of Moore’s storytelling and the attractiveness of his art despite the lack of color. I’m honestly surprised that this project has garnered as much buzz as fellow self-publisher Jeff Smith’s RASL has, but I expect that once the Echo collected editions start coming, a lot more people will be talking about this indy super-hero title. 8/10

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The Uncanny FX-Man

FX #s 1 & 2
“Monkey Business” & “Things That Go… Crash… in the Night”
Writer: Wayne Osborne
Artist/Cover artist: John Byrne
Colors: Greg Cordier
Letters: John Workman
Editor: Tom Waltz
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Price: $3.99 US each

There’s been a trend in some super-hero comics toward lighter, brighter, more fun action/adventure stories, harkening back to the Silver Age of the genre. Some have argued that it’s a good development, as super-heroes have grown so dark since the 1980s, perhaps alienating younger readers. Others put forth the notion that the shift is a step backwards, that it’s nothing more than a fad of nostalgia, pleasing the already insular audience and no one else. I think both arguments have some validity, but it’s a more complex cultural issue. Wayne Osborne and John Byrne’s FX is certainly in keeping with the afore-mentioned trend, but it bucks one of the problems that sometimes accompany the more traditional approach. With DC and Marvel comics, the retro approach can also bring with it a lot of continuity references, to the delight of longtime fans but the confusion of newer readers. With FX, the creators don’t have that issue to contend with, as it’s brand new, unattached to any shared universe.

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Krash Course

Krash Bastards original graphic novel
Writer: Joe Casey
Artist: Axel #13
Letters: Ryan Young & Rob Osbourne
Publisher: Image Comics/Man of Action Studios
Price: $9.99 US

This thoroughly American book takes a decided Japanese approach to comics storytelling, as this book reads back to front as genuine manga (as well as many Western editions of manga books) do. That’s a strong cue of what to expect from this action-oriented property. I’ve reached a point in my comics reading habits that that reverse approach to reading doesn’t faze me anymore. Unfortunately, this book is so focused on a certain cool factor that I felt completely alienated. Writer Joe Casey has crafted a sci-fi/action concept around the notions of celebrity and youth culture. It’s possible Casey means this as a satirical look at what passes for entertainment for youth today, but my sense is that it’s actually targeted at that demographic, explaining why I felt left out in the cold. Honestly, as I read through the pages of this book about a space-faring gang of sword-wielding good guys, I felt old — ancient, really.

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Team Prayers

One of DC’s mid-level super-hero titles has been the focus of a fair bit of discussion online as of late. Plummeting sales figures have prompted industry pundits to ponder the problem with The Brave and the Bold. It’s been a critical darling of many reviewers, and it was launched to a bit of fanfare, especially given the involvement of two of comics’ stalwart talents: writer Mark Waid and artist George Perez. The series had a lot going for it. Seemingly separate from current DC continuity, it’s an accessible read, embracing a more traditional approach to super-hero storytelling. Comics readers tiring from endless events and crossovers could find relief in Waid’s words and Perez’s pencils. Those who thought the super-hero genre had grown too dark — especially DC’s take on the heroes, in light of its Identity Crisis series, with its incorporation of rape, betrayal and ethical breaches into the plot — were offered a kinder vision of the publisher’s iconic characters.

With the latest sales numbers coming in at only a little more than 39,000 copies (down from almost 100,000 for the first issue), it seems a given that The Brave and the Bold might be destined for the same fate as Marvel’s recent attempt to relaunch a team-up title: cancellation. There’s no sign of it from DC yet, though. The fourteenth issue is solicited for June release, with popular artist Scott Kolins stepping in to take over for Perez’s replacement, Jerry Ordway. The series trudges on despite speculation about its sustainability.

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Maine Attraction

Salt Water Taffy Vol. 1 original graphic novel
“The Legend of Old Salty”
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Matthew Loux
Letters: Douglas E. Sherwood
Editor: Randal C. Jarrell
Publisher: Oni Press
Price: $5.95 US

I’m a dude in his late 30s. While I’m engaged, I have no kids. I am far from the target audience for this book, which is aimed at younger readers. Nevertheless, creator Matthew Loux has crafted a charming story full of small-town magic, celebrating a simpler existence and the innocence of youth. I was quite taken with the characters, the premise and the relationships that serve as a strong foundation for the story. Loux brings the fantasy and personality of Jeff Smith’s Bone and mixes it with a light, all-American coming-of-age story. There’s an odd mix of cute and surreal elements in the story that’s heartening and surprisingly involving. Loux manages to offer a thoroughly sweet, wholesome and playful story of adventure, mystery and weirdness without crossing the line into sickeningly sweet, overly saccharine territory. Loux’s angular yet fluid style seems pretty urban in tone, but it conveys the rural, peaceful backdrop with seeming ease. This is an adorable little book, and it actually lives up to the label “all ages,” normally associated with comics that are really just for kids alone.

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Quick Critiques – April 7, 2008

American Splendor Vol. 2 #1 (DC Comics/Vertigo imprint)
by Harvey Pekar & various artists

DC’s labelling of this new series as the second volume of Harvey Pekar’s journal in comics form is hardly accurate; Pekar’s been at this for decades, and this is far from the second American Splendor comic to boast first-issue status. Regardless, it’s nice to know that Pekar’s well-known, black-and-white remembrances of small, curious moments from his life possibly getting a higher profile in comics shops, given that it’s published by DC now. I’ve not followed Pekar’s comics all that closely over the years, and I wanted to see more. This anthology of rather ordinary experiences struck me as honest and genuine, but I can’t say I was entertained. Pekar certainly doesn’t embellish; he doesn’t spice things up in order to play up humor or drama, or to arrive at a central moral or theme. This reads like a random collection of journal entries adapted to the comics medium, nothing more, nothing less. My reactions to Pekar’s stories (and for some segments, I use that term loosely) ranged from bemusement to boredom. The artwork stands out as the book’s greatest strength. I enjoyed seeing the work of some big names from the world of indie/alternative comics, such as David Lapham and Dean Haspiel. The comic also introduces us to some lesser-known or new names in comic illustration. The visual highlight of the book was the art of Zachary Baldus. His airy, highly detailed artwork captures the era in which the story is set incredibly well. It looks as though graphite is his favored artistic tool, and he manages to achieve a lovely, painted look with it. 6/10

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Secret Satans

Secret Invasion #1
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Leinil Yu
Inks: Mark Morales
Colors: Laura Martin
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Cover artists: Gabriele Dell’Otto, Leinil Yu & Steve McNiven
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99 US/$4.05 CAN

That’s it?

After all the talk of closely guarded secrets, of paranoid powerhouses and reported efforts on Marvel’s part to keep spoilers from leaking on the Internet, we’re faced with a story that fails to surprise, shock or even rock the boat all that much. Bendis’s script is a bit awkward, given how much exposition is needed and the diversity of characters that play a role in the story, but given the scope of the event, it’s understandable with the first issue. Where the story goes astray is with the predictability of the big “revelations” about who’s a Skrull and who ain’t. I did enjoy the art. The loose, sketchy work Leinil Yu’s been doing on New Avengers is replaced by much more defined, intense visuals that serve the atmosphere of the plot fairly well.

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The Big Chill

The Last Winter graphic novel
Writers: Larry Fessenden & Robert Leaver
Artist/Cover artist: Brahm Revel
Layouts: James Felix McKenney
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $12.99 US

The importance of environmental issues has never been more prominent in the Western consciousness, which is surprising, since we’ve currently got American and Canadian administrations in power at the moment that seem, at times, downright hostile to green policies and practices. Storyteller Larry Fessenden has tapped into that heightened social and scientific awareness to arrive at this unusual eco-horror story. This is actually an adaptation of a 2006 film written and directed by Larry Fessenden. The writers used the storyboards from the film as the launching pad for this incarnation of the project, but it reads as though it was designed for the comics medium from the start. The mysterious and foreboding atmosphere that serves as a major draw here reminds me of the storytelling in such other comics as Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber’s Whiteout and Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith’s 30 Days of Night. The inclusion of a single color with the black-and-white artwork reinforces the cold, isolated nature of the backdrop, and the simpler tone of the artwork is nevertheless effective at achieving a realistic look and intriguing atmosphere.

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