Monthly Archives: July 2008

Quick Critiques – July 29, 2008

Freedom Formula #1 (Radical Comics)
by Edmund Shern, Chester Ocampo & Kai

Freedom Formula strikes me as one part Speed Racer, one part Robotech and one part Blade Runner, but the end result strikes me as being rather derivative. Truth be told, this story of a future of NASCAR-like racing robots, a genetically engineered workforce and an outcast’s foray into the dark underbelly of a sprawling metropolis seems to me to be like something that was specifically designed to attract the attention of producers and investors in other media. We really don’t get much of the story in this first issue, just the establishment of some key players and the futuristic backdrop. I didn’t find that I was all that invested in what was happening, and as a result, I wasn’t all that interested either. Mind you, the anime elements at play in the premise aren’t the sort of fare that I’m usually interested in. The art is definitely the book’s biggest selling point. There’s an odd mix of traditional illustration, photo-referencing and computer graphics that dynamic and eye-catching. On the other hand, it’s not always easy to tell what’s going on. The anime/manga influences in the premise and setting are apparent in the artwork as well, but they’re not always overt. Fans of sci-fi anime are bound to enjoy Freedom Formula. It’s not my cup of tea, and I get the sense that “formula” part of the title is all too fitting. 4/10
Note: This comic book is slated for release Aug. 13.

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Seasonal Work

In the world of television, production companies put together pilots, single-introductory episodes of new shows that they show to prospective buyers, hoping to get picked up for more episodes. With its Pilot Season line, Top Cow Productions, an Image Comics imprint, seems to be trying a similar approach, releasing single issues of new properties, but allowing the readership decide which ones will continue as ongoing series, as I understand it. I’m sure the gimmick is to pump out multiple first issues for the collectors’ crowd and reduce the chance of investing in titles that’ll fizzle. I’m not wild about the concept, truth be told, but the results are interesting. It’s allowed Top Cow to branch out beyond the fare for which it’s mainly known. Judging from the three 2008 Pilot Season books I review below, the experiment brings a little more diversity to the brand.

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Every McCloud Has a Silver Lining

Zot! 1987-1991: The Complete Black and White Collection trade paperback
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Scott McCloud
Letters: Bob Lappan
Editor: cat yronwode
Publisher: HarperCollins
Price: $24.95 US/$26.95 CAN

I missed out on the original run of Scott McCloud’s Zot! comics, but I’m not a stranger to the concept. I picked up a cheap trade-paperback edition of his early Zot! color issues a while back, but this new HarperCollins edition of the subsequent black-and-white run of the landmark series is new territory for me. To suggest I was enthralled by McCloud’s pop commentary about hope and beauty in the world would be to embrace understatement. Zot’s adventures and the relationships among him, Jenny and a circle of friends from two sides of the same mirror are vastly different in tone but equally well crafted, entertaining and even challenging. Clearly inspired a great deal by Osamu Tezuka’s work, Zot!, at first glance, seems like Astro Boy with a human in the main role of the boy hero. But there’s a lot more to Zot!, and it’s apparent early on in the book. Ultimately, it’s a parable about the importance of hope, innocence, kindness and joy. The energy that jumps up from the page is infectious, and that’s really what the book is all about: encouraging others to see the beauty and goodness all around them.

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Quick Critiques – July 21, 2008

B.P.R.D.: The Ectoplasmic Man one-shot (Dark Horse Comics)
by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Ben Stenbeck

I love how much potential and life Mike Mignola and his various creative collaborators have uncovered in the Hellboy franchise, and I’m thrilled there’s a wealth of material on the stands. Given that B.P.R.D. comics are released on a monthly basis, one might question the need for this one-shot, but it’s a smart move, given some content in the recently released Hellboy 2: The Golden Army movie. It adds Johann Strauss to the big-screen B.P.R.D. cast, and this one-shot offers up an accessible origin and introduction to the character for readers who may otherwise be unfamiliar with him. It’s a simple, solid story, but one that still manages to tap into the appeal of the B.P.R.D. formula. Mignola and co-writer John Arcudi were smart to offer more than a simple origin and profile of Strauss. There’s a complete story here, complete with monstrous villain and the usual melancholy tone that’s inherent in the gothic property. As far as I can tell, this is my first exposure Ben Stenbeck’s artwork, and I’m impressed. His work reminds me of the art of such comics professionals as Peter Snejbjerg and Shawn McManus. His dark approach manages to touch upon Mignola’s distinctive look as well. What’s most striking about Stenbeck’s work here is the softness he brings to Johann’s face. He’s instantly sympathetic. His use of color to distinguish among the living, the dead and the in-between is thoroughly effective as well and adds a strong, supernatural energy to the mix. 8/10

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Flea Market Finds: Iron Man #134

Tony Stark has it all… good looks, billions of dollars, beautiful women fawning all over him, but hey, every guy’s got to grow up sometime and begin his search for a classy partner. Thanks to my recent acquisition of a small collection of tattered, yellowed comics from the 1970s and ’80s, I discovered one of Tony’s efforts to woo an elegant and intelligent woman.

Now one as to bear in that this particular courtship came at a difficult time in Tony’s life. He was just beginning to realize that booze might be something of an issue for him (blackouts, you see… time to ease off on the hooch, though not to cut it out entirely). His erratic behavior as Iron Man has also caught the attention of some longtime friends. Why, the Lions Club even cancelled Shellhead’s regular appearance at their New York conference! And you know when you lose the Lions, there’s just no way to save face.

In any case, a nice night on the town with a beautiful, engaging woman such as Bethany Cabe ought to address any bruised ego, right? So let’s see… where to take her? It’s New York, so the possibilities are endless. The Rainbow Room? Nah, too predictable. Famous Original Ray’s Pizza? Not fancy enough. Where to go, where to go…?

Oh, I know…

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Afraid of the Shark

Water Baby original graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Ross Campbell
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
Editor: Shelly Bond
Publisher: DC Comics/Minx imprint
Price: $9.99 US/$11.99 CAN

The second wave of books from DC’s Minx line of graphic novels is proving to be an impressive one. While the novelty of the original wave of books aimed at female readers was enough to garner my attention, the strength and originality of the storytelling in such titles as Burnout, The New York Four and Water Baby are showing that the line has the potential to be sustainable and successful, at least from a creative standpoint. Ross Campbell’s contribution to the imprint is unlike any of the other books that have preceded it. There’s an edgier quality at play that allows the graphic novel and its heroine to stand apart. It’s not as easy to relate to Brody, Water Baby‘s protagonist, but Campbell’s writing and expressive artwork offer up a compelling character study. There are no clear answers or morals at play in this book, and the ending is disappointingly anticlimactic. But the characters and carefree spirit that dominates the book are so well crafted and conveyed that they help Water Baby to shine as one of the best graphic novels of the year so far.

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Comic in Crisis

Final Crisis: Requiem #1
“Final Crisis: Requiem – Caretakers of Mars”
Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Pencils: Doug Mahnke
Inks: Christian Alamy & Rodney Ramos
Colors: Nei Ruffino
Letters: John J. Hill
Cover artists: Mahnke & Alamy (regular cover) and J.G. Jones (sliver cover)
Editor: Eddie Berganza
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US/CAN

I’m holding a requiem of my own, as I — as are many others who bought this comic, I suspect — mourn the loss of the four bucks I spent on this one-shot. I’m a longtime fan of super-hero comics, especially DC’s, and I enjoy a well-crafted super-hero universe event story. I don’t even mind crossover tangents and tie-ins, as long as they’re crafted well. Final Crisis: Requiem isn’t, and while there are many flaws to be found in this book, the biggest problem with this comic is clear: there’s no story. This is about characters reacting to a story, or at least to a plot development in a story. The art has its strengths, but it’s not consistently strong throughout the entire issue. Requiem doesn’t fill me with confidence about forthcoming Final Crisis spinoff titles at all.

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Quick Critiques – July 2, 2008

Atomic Robo Volume One: Atomic Robot and the Fightin’ Scientists of Tesladyne trade paperback (Red 5 Comics)
by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener, Joshua Ross, Zack Finfrock, Christian Ward & Nic Klein

Atomic Robo was easily one of the most fun comic books of the past year, and while it’s reminiscent of such properties as Hellboy and The Amazing Screw-On Head, it also manages to stand out as a novel concept. What really draws one in is the sense of humor and the fanciful, exaggerated look of the artwork. Clevinger has developed a great voice for the title character. He’s snarky but brilliant, brave but goofy. Instead of lamenting the absurdity and freakishness of his own existence, he embraces it. That he’s found others to share in it helps to humanize him, tempering the inherent isolation of who and what he is. I had read several of the issues that make up for collected edition, but not all, and one of those I missed turned out to bring a great deal of heart and resonance to the character. He doesn’t feel different because he’s a machine, but rather, it’s his longevity with which he struggles. Friendships are clearly important in his life, and that he’s forced to watch so many wither away and die while he continues on unchanged makes for a touching emotional conflict in the middle of this funny, action-driven property. Wegener’s exaggerated art suits the kinetic, goofy tone of the writing, and his design for the title character allows the hero to be expressive without distorting his mechanical nature. Wegener’s style is comparable to the cartooning of such artists as Jim (Stupid Comics) Mahfood and Dave (Puffed) Crosland. The shorter backup features also allows us to see Atomic Robo and his world through other eyes. While Wegener’s work in the main stories is stronger, the character design translates surprisingly well when artists with divergent styles take a shot at him. 8/10

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