I’ve read much of the commentary about the controversial contract involved with Tokyopop’s online talent search, Manga Pilots, with some interest. Respected industry talents have been vocal with their outrage over the publisher’s subjugation of creator rights and its use of insulting language in its contract language. Some calmer heads have joined the debate this week as it continued. The discussion has spotlighted creator rights and the business of comics publishing, and regardless of what side one takes, you have to admit that it’s opened a lot of people’s eyes about what goes on behind the scenes in comics, what new talent has to contend with and what publishers’ priorities really are.
Final Crisis #1
“D.O.A.: The God of War!”
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist/Cover artist: J.G. Jones
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Letters: Rob Leigh
Editor: Eddie Berganza
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US/CAN
After the awkward plotting of Infinite Crisis and inconsistent, patchwork storytelling of Countdown to Final Crisis, it’s safe to say that a lot of readers were leery of this latest DC Comics super-hero event title. Balancing that perspective is the fact that it’s penned by Grant Morrison, a unique and powerful creative voice who’s known the innovation and intelligence he brings to the super-hero genre. I honestly didn’t know what to expect from this book. While it feels as though he’s repeated himself a bit here, Morrison delivers a plot and script that’s challenging and engaging. Continuity fans might take issue with his script, as DC’s icons speak and react differently than what we’ve seen from them in the past. I rather appreciated it, though, as Morrison manages to mix two vastly different concepts. He approaches these characters as a larger part of a pantheon of gods, but the story also adopts a police-procedural tone that makes for a sharp contrast. Blending the disparate tones is intriguing, and I’m honestly interested in what’s coming next.
Interviews: Joel Meadows, Gary Marshall & Andrew Colman
Editors: Joel Meadows & Gary Marshall
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $49.99 US (hardcover)/$29.99 US (softcover)
This book of interviews, from the people behind Tripwire Annual, offers insight into the craft of some of the top artistic talent in comics today. There’s a nice diversity of professionals represented in this book, so there’s bound to be several creative voices profiles of interest to just about every enthusiast of the comics medium. Ultimately though, this book is clearly aimed at artists who admire these artists. The focus is on how these talents became professional comics artists and what tools they’ve used to create so many memorable images over the years. At times, I found that the subjects were speaking a different language. I’m not interested in doing illustration work myself, just taking it in and appreciating it (and occasionally critiquing it). Artists’ thoughts on particular brushes and software features didn’t really hold my interest. However, some of the artists are remarkably forthcoming about frustrations they’ve experienced over their careers and the disappointments (from within and without) that some career-making projects brought to them.
Writer: Ron Marz
Artist: Edison George
Colors: Parasuraman A.
Letters: Sudhir B. Pisal
Cover artist: Luke Ross
Editor: Gotham Chopra
Publisher: Virgin Comics
Price: $2.99 US
Though unfortunately sharing a title with a recent cosmic super-hero adventure published by Marvel Comics, this new Virgin Comics property — created by self-help guru Deepak Chopra — is an oddly grounded story about loss and desperation, with touches of mystery and spirituality to keep the plot moving along. After reading this first issue, I honestly have no idea what’s going on, but Ron Marz’s script is effective enough that I want to know and am eager to discover what happens next. Artist Edison George’s work is new to me, but his storytelling is solid. There’s something of a Twilight Zone riff at play in the story, and like many other Virgin releases, the script and plot also immerse the reader in Indian culture, fortunately in an accessible, gradual manner. Virgin’s comics have run hot and cold for me, but after sampling this introductory issue of Beyond, I’d have to say it’s the one of the publisher’s stronger offerings, second only to the recently relaunched Dan Dare.
Return of the Gremlins #1
“Return of the Gremlins, Part 1 of 3”
Writer: Mike Richardson
Pencils: Dean Yeagle
Backgrounds: Nelson Rhodes
Colors: Dan Jackson
Letters: Michael David Thomas
Artists: Walt Disney Studio
Color restoration: Dan Jackson
Editor: Dave Land
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Price: $2.99 US
I’d heard tell of this little-known Disney property but didn’t know much beyond the look of the characters and the name. The premise behind it is surprisingly compelling. With the new story that serves as the real meat of this issue, Dark Horse publisher Mike Richardson really captures a strong sense of Disney magic. The plot is predictable, but it’s so charming that one can’t help but be enthralled. The same goes for Dean Yeagle’s art, which takes its cues from the familiar, comforting Disney style.
Brothers in Arms #1 (Dynamite Entertainment)
by Mike Neumann, David Wohl & David Fabbri
I’ve never played the videogame from which this comic book derives its title, and I have no idea what point the licensing aspect of this comic is, at least from a storytelling perspective. I suppose it has value as a marketing tool, but the story doesn’t read much like a videogame. And that’s fine. Writer Mike Neumann and David Wohl offer up a fairly standard World War II war story. Fans of DC’s war comics of the 1960s and ’70s might find this a rather interesting trip back to a different era in comics storytelling (albeit without the PG approach to language and visuals). The script does a good job of conveying how regular, everyday people end up in the horrific circumstance of war, not to mention the high cost they pay. Where the writing goes astray is in its failure to really distinguish among the various characters. They come from different places and backgrounds, yes, but as characters, they all seem the same. Sure, we’re offered a few visual cues, and I like the Cold Case-esque flashback approach to the G.I.s’ divergent looks. But for the most part, they’re all carbon copies of one another. Everything else seems pretty much by the numbers. If I was a war comic aficionado, I’d probably opt for Sgt. Rock reprints over this new product. 5/10
“Batman R.I.P. – Midnight in the House of Hurt”
Writer: Grant Morrison
Pencils: Tony Daniel
Inks: Sandu Florea
Colors: Guy Major
Letters: Randy Gentile
Cover artists: Alex Ross/Tony Daniel
Editor: Mike Marts
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US/CAN
Like many other readers, Grant Morrison’s stint on Batman has been running hot and cold for me. His Batmen of All Nations story — “The Island of Mister Mayhew” story arc, published in this series last year — was one of the best Batman stories in recent memory, and it’s the sort of fare we all expected from Morrison from the start. But other efforts have been awkward and confusing, showing only faint glimmers of the writer’s usual genius. The first chapter of “Batman R.I.P.” falls into the latter category. It starts off strong, but later in the issue, the plot stumbles around, trying in vain to proceed while dragging the dead weight of multiple continuity references. I get the sense that Morrison is approaching things with a big-picture perspective, and how the pieces of puzzles fit together won’t be clear for some time. I’m willing to give Morrison the benefit of the doubt for now as he blends his surreal ideas with a more traditional approach to super-hero storytelling.
Many Happy Returns
Licensable Bear segments:
Writer/Greytones/Letters: Nat Gertler
Artists: Rusty Haller & Ryan Estrada
Greytones: Nat Gertler & Ryan Estrada
“Too Rich To Be Guilty – A Crossfire Tale”
Writer/Greytones: Mark Evanier
Artist: Dan Spiegel
Letters: Thom Zahler
“Perry Had a Pimple”
Writer: Haywood Banks
Artist: Rusty Haller
Writer/Artist: Daniel Schneider
“Clawface – A Journey Tale”
Writer/Artist: Bill Messner-Loebs
Cover artists: Dan Spiegle & Bill Messner-Loebs
Publisher: About Comics
Price: $3.99 US
This book derives its title mainly from the fact that it returns a couple of important small-press, creator-owned properties that garnered a fair bit of attention in the industry in the 1980s. I’d read a couple of Crossfire comics in the past, but I’d only ever heard of Bill Messner-Loebs’s Journey, featuring a very different kind of Wolverine as the protagonist. For introducing me to the latter, Many Happy Returns scores a lot of brownie points, and I’m pleased to see we’ll be seeing more of Journey in the form of trade-paperback reprints from IDW Publishing.
Avengers/Invaders #1 (Marvel Comics)
by Jim Krueger, Alex Ross & Steve Sadowski
This limited series is clearly a departure for Alex Ross and Jim Krueger, who have been turning heads with major super-hero storylines that are set outside of regular continuity, such as the Earth X titles from Marvel and DC’s recent Justice limited series. Unlike those books, Avengers/Invaders not only embraces continuity, it relies on it for the story to have any resonance or impact on the reader. The premise is simple: the Invaders of World War II find themselves propelled through time to the present, where they encounter the Marvel heroes of today. Cap — believed dead by the multitudes living on Earth-Marvel now — serves as a catalyst for emotional conflicts. I have no doubt that the writers will also play around Bucky Barnes’s character and how it’s radically changed between then and now. Events from such Marvel titles as Civil War and Thunderbolts factor heavily into the story in this opening episode. As a result, the title’s appeal will likely be limited to the core Marvel fanbase. There’s a lot of action here, and the plot moves along briskly. Krueger’s script captures Spider-Man’s jester-like voice incredibly well. Sadowski’s pencils seem far too rough at first, but when the action shifts to the present, the art seems to get tighter and crisper. Perhaps that was by design. 6/10
This week marks the debut of not one but two Iron Man titles. One is an ongoing series, and despite the fact that I’ve not been interested in the regular Iron Man series for some time now, the talent involved in this second title is more than enough to draw me in. The other new title is a limited series crafted by the Iron Man movie’s director and a Marvel artist who also served as an artistic/design consultant for the flick as well. One of these comics is a real delight, challenging and clever while maintaining a strong sense of drama, both external and internal. The other is more of a fleeting diversion, not so satisfying but not wholly disappointing either.
After seeing an Iron Man matinee at the cinemas Saturday, my fiancee and I headed downtown. She planned to pop back into the housewares store that’s one of three commercial venues at which we’ve registered for the wedding, and I was headed to my local comic-book shop. It was Saturday, May 3rd, the seventh annual Free Comic Book Day. I’ve always felt a bit guilty about attending the event, to be honest. It’s designed to reach new customers (or at least I feel it should be), and I kind of feel like I’m in the way. On the other hand, I support the business every week, so why shouldn’t I avail myself of a handful of free comics?
As I noted in an earlier post, I enjoyed the new Iron Man movie, and I’m pleased to read a few reports online that it’s driven moviegoers to comics shops in search of comics featuring Shellhead. There were a couple of moments in the film that took me right out of it, such as the over-the-top notion of stripper/stewardesses on the protagonist’s private aircraft. But also frustrating but rather interesting is a key line uttered by the villain of the story, portrayed adeptly by Jeff Bridges.
In a climactic scene, Bridges’s Obadiah Stane berates Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark for having the gall to believe that just because Stark conceived of and created a particular invention that it belongs to him. The line, to the best of my recollection, is something to the effect of, “Just because you have an idea, Tony, it doesn’t mean it belongs to you.”
Action Comics #864 (DC Comics)
by Geoff Johns, Joe Prado & Jon Sibal
I was so impressed with the strength of the previous story arc, “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes,” I decided to add Action Comics to my regular pull list again. This issue is something of an epilogue, but not just to the previous Legion arc. This ties up loose ends (or purports to do so) from Countdown and “The Lightning Saga” from Justice League of America and Justice Society of America. Needless to say, the storytelling here is rather impenetrable, and the most inaccessible aspect is the villain of the piece. Unless you’re up on your Legion of Super-Heroes lore from the 1960s to ’80s, the significance of the embittered narrator will be elusive. But perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the book is that, well, nothing really happens. There’s no real conflict, just personality clashes and continuity maintenance. While this is an epilogue, it also serves as a prologue to the upcoming Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds. I’m looking forward to that book, as both a Legion and George Perez fan, but this comic book isn’t necessary reading for those of us who will delve into it. Also disappointing is the artwork. While before, readers were met with the crisp artwork of Gary Frank, Joe Prado’s work for this fill-in issue pales in comparison. The figures are inconsistently rendered. Frank’s vision of a cool, grittier Lightning Lad looks silly here. And Prado fails to convey the cavernous, immense quality of the Fortress of Solitude. His work on this issue seemed merely ordinary at its best, and it’s rarely at its best. It’s a shame that the creators and editors of this title have so quickly squandered the momentum they had going after the Legion story. 4/10