Monthly Archives: November 2008

Psychiatric Assessment

Batman #681
“Batman R.I.P., the Conclusion: Hearts in Darkness”
Writer: Grant Morrison
Pencils: Tony Daniel
Inks: Sandu Florea
Colors: Guy Major
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
Cover artists: Alex Ross (standard cover) & Tony Daniel (variant)
Editor: Mike Marts
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US/CAN

Superman’s often been described as a great big Boy Scout, but it seems that writer Grant Morrison might disagree, giving the Dark Knight that particular distinction among super-hero icons. After all, the Scout motto is “be prepared,” and that’s what this story is all about. In fact, Morrison suggests that’s what the title character is all about, and it works pretty well. As I suspected, Morrison’s confusing story arc (and his lengthy run on the title) all comes together in the final chapter. Still, while the surreal storyline makes much more sense in the end, this isn’t as strong and innovative a climactic chapter as I’d expected from a writer of Morrison’s caliber.

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Quick Critiques – Nov. 23, 2008

Amazing Spider-Man #578 (Marvel Comics)
by Mark Waid & Marcos Martin

When the cover image for this issue was released a couple of months ago, a lot of people complained that the creators seemed to be out to replicate a classic Spidey story in which he was trapped under tons of rubble, unable to free himself. A read of this new issue will reveal a different kind of story, one that taps into classic Spidey concepts but nevertheless boasts a more modern feel as well. Yes, the story hinges on a couple of hard-to-swallow coincidences, but those have been mainstays of the genre for decades. Ultimately, I think Mark Waid delivers a smart script and a fascinating new subplot in the form of an addition to the supporting cast of characters. After seeing his work on the Brian Vaughan-penned Dr. Strange: The Oath, just about everyone knew Marcos Martin would excel when he finally took on Spider-Man, given the wonderful Steve Ditko vibe in his style these days. Martin’s earlier efforts boasted a simple tone, and that’s still felt here. But there’s also an incredible level of detail to be found as well; just check out the linework that goes into bringing the weather and Spidey’s webbing to life on the opening splash page. Rather than trying to convince us of the reality of Spidey’s world, though, the detail is more about driving home a mood.

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The Leechin’ of Super-Pets

Petey & Pussy original graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: John Kerschbaum
Publisher: Fantagraphics Books
Price: $19.99 US

Petey & Pussy is weird. Like most comics readers, I learned to know and love the medium through the super-hero genre, so material such as John Kerschbaum’s cartooning is the sort of thing I found alien, confusing and even off-putting in the past. In recent years, though, my curiosity about such storytelling, found more on the periphery of the industry, has grown. Petey & Pussy is often harsh. It’s extreme and arguably non-sensical at times. But you know what? It’s entertaining. And not only that, behind all the cartoon animals, gross-out humor and cursing, there’s some honestly. Kerschbaum explores people at their best and their worst. He explores nature and the undeniability of instinct. Kerschbaum’s use of anthropomorphic animals blurs the line between the traditional cartoons of yesteryear and a modern examination of behavior, both animal and human. Ultimately, his cartooning is pretty funny, once one gets past the more low-brow, base elements that nevertheless seem appropriate for this odd book.

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Bonus Round

Marvel Comics came under fire a couple of weeks ago when it released Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Boxes #1. Written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Alan Davis and Adi Granov, the comic, priced at $3.99 US, featured only 16 pages worth of story, and the rest of the issue was fleshed out with “bonus material.” That material took the form of Ellis’s scripts and rough breakdowns from the artists. Fans were incensed, as the inflated cover price certainly didn’t seem merited. I bought and read the issue in question as well, and I have to agree.

The publisher’s solicitation information mentioned nothing about the limited nature of the story pages. The issue’s solicitation information — still live on Marvel’s website — is not only silent on the limited story pages but also lists the artists as Davis and Frank Cho.

Marvel’s not the only super-hero publisher to lead its readers astray about the real nature of a higher-priced spin-off comic. Last week, DC released JSA Kingdom Come Special: Superman. I picked it up as well, and there were two things about the comic that I found surprising. The first was the lack of a stronger promotional effort from the publisher for a one-shot written and illustrated by Alex Ross, following up on his landmark Kingdom Come series of 1996. The second surprise was the fact that despite the 48 pages and $3.99 US cover price, the issue wasn’t filled to the brim with Ross story and artwork (plus ads, of course).

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By Hook or By Crook

Hellboy: The Crooked Man #s 1-3
Writer: Mike Mignola
Artist: Richard Corben
Colors: Dave Stewart
Letters: Clem Robins
Editor: Scott Allie
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Price: $2.99 US each

With two feature films and several animated features on the market, Hellboy certainly has a remarkably strong degree of pop-culture penetration going in his favor. There’s so much potential inherent in the property, and creator Mike Mignola demonstrates it once again with another limited series. He should also be applauded for allowing a diverse array of artists to tackle his creation; it’s no surprise that Richard Corben, who’s proven as a top-notch horror artist, excels in Hellboy’s world. This was a thoroughly accessible story. One of the elements that impressed me the most, though, was that despite the backdrop, Mignola doesn’t go for any easy redneck gags, opting instead to treat people in the Appalachians as a proud culture in and of itself.

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Quick Critiques – Nov. 12, 2008

Black Terror #1 (Dynamite Entertainment)
by Jim Krueger, Alex Ross & Mike Lilly

It’s been two or three months since I read an issue of Project: Superpowers, the limited series from which this title spins off. Black Terror clearly isn’t meant to stand up entirely on its own; instead, it follows one plot thread from the main title. As a result, some of the storytelling is a little difficult to follow. Krueger’s script provides from exposition, certainly enough to reveal the political undertones of the property. While I wasn’t completely lost, I was thirsting for more background information. Still, the narration paints a picture of the title character as a man defined by his anger, his regrets and the mistakes he’s made in the past. There’s an odd disconnect in the middle of the story; the fight scene seems to erupt from out of nowhere. Artist Mike Lilly’s style is much different than it was the last time I saw it (which I think was on Nightwing a few years ago). The exaggerated qualities I remember are toned down, as he’s clearly aiming for a more realistic look. That makes sense, as there’s an obvious effort to make this book visually consistent with other Project: Superpowers comics and Alex Ross’s overall, photorealistic painting style. It’s possible that the confusing break in the middle of the issue stems from a failing of the art rather than the script; it’s not clear either way. There’s certainly potential in Krueger and Ross’s take on this public-domain, Golden Age super-hero, but the execution here is lacking. 4/10

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Look Ahead, But Look Out

Marvel Comics’ decision to cancel its advance-preview copy program and to scale back online previews could impact sales of Marvel titles on a grassroots, word-of-mouth level, says one comics retailer.

News broke Monday that Marvel is discontinuing its First Look program, through which retailers could pay a small fee to get a handful of comics in their hands the week before their release. The retailer who announced the First Look cancellation expressed his dismay, as it was a perk that drew him to comics retailing in the first place. He said the First Look cancellation stems from a majority of participants declining the opportunity of maintaining it by agreeing to an increase in the weekly fee associated with the program.

Eye on Comics asked comics retailer (and friend) Randy Lander about the report, and he confirmed Marvel cancelled the program and the circumstances leading to its demise. He also confirmed that DC Comics cancelled its counterpart preview-package program, dubbed Sneak Peek, some time ago. DC had promised to replace Sneak Peek with something else, he said, but that alternative never materialized.

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Love Shoplifts Us Up Where We Belong

Token original graphic novel
Writer: Alisa Kwitney
Artist/Cover artist: Joelle Jones
Letters: Steve Wands
Editor: Shelly Bond
Publisher: DC Comics/Minx imprint
Price: $9.99 US/$11.99 CAN

The cancellation of the Minx line of graphic novels aimed at younger, female readers strikes me now as even more unfortunate news, as the Shelly Bond-edited brand has brought us yet another compelling read. Former Vertigo editor Alisa Kwitney lulls the readers into an expectation of conventional, by-the-numbers storytelling, but she ends up taking her audience down an unexpected path later on in the book. Like most of the other titles under the Minx banner, this one is a coming-of-age tale, but it doesn’t come off as derivative or repetitive. To be honest, though, it wasn’t Kwitney’s name that drew me to this book. I’ve been waiting for a chance to take in Joelle Jones’s artwork again since I first saw it in the excellent 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, penned by Jamie S. Rich and published by Oni Press. Though I think I favored her work on that project over this one, she still offers some strong visuals here.

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Mix’d Emotions

The comic-book news/commentary portal website — can it work as a viable business? The recent news that is scaling back its operations — eliminating all of its columns and rethinking its print-on-demand experiment with its online comics. Speaking as someone who’s worked for two similar failed ventures in the past, I can’t say I’m surprised. The thing is, though, that ComicMix has a strong creative team behind made up of experienced and respected industry insiders. The question arises: if Mike Gold and Robert Greenberger can’t dominate the digital landscape of comics-related media, armed with an array of established industry talent, who can? Is the comics web portal as a viable business model a realistic possibility?

I don’t know what’s next for ComicMix or what plans are in place to invigorate the operation. ComicMix isn’t after an easy venture-capital investment, I assume. That business model had already been proven to be a dead end when the dot-com bubble burst. Believe me, I know.

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The Loeb Theatre

Ultimatum #1
“Chapter One: Three Kings”
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Pencils: David Finch
Inks: Danny Miki
Colors: Steve Firchow
Letters: Comicraft
Cover artists: Finch & Miki (regular cover)/Ed McGuinness & Mark Farmer (variant)
Editor: Ralph Macchio & Mark Paniccia
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99 US/$4.50 CAN

When Marvel first unveiled its Ultimate brand, I was on board, as where thousands and thousands of other readers. By relaunching its familiar properties from scratch in a separate continuity, it freed creators up and opened the door to new possibilities and unpredictable twists. The Ultimate line was Marvel’s biggest cash cow for a while, but the bloom is off the rose somewhat these days. For a while, I had every Ultimate book on my pull list (I’m down to just Ultimate Spider-Man these days). Ultimatum is either Marvel’s move to end the line (unlikely, as it still seems to bring in some profits) or to re-energize the brand. This first of five issues certainly does a good job of establishing the world-altering stakes of the plot, but really, it just serves as an introduction to the most familiar of Marvel’s super-heroes in this particular shared universe.

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Quick Critiques – Nov. 4, 2008

Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Boxes #1 (Marvel Comics)
by Warren Ellis, Alan Davis, Adi Granov & Mark Farmer

The inflated cover price for two short stories (plus “bonus material”) was almost enough to steer me clear of this spinoff title, but I’ve been enjoyed Astonishing X-Men and Warren Ellis’s tenure on the book, so I caved and gave Ghost Boxes a shot. For those who passed on this limited series, the good news is that one needn’t read this comic book to appreciate the continuing drama in the main title. The bad news, though, is that they’ll miss out on some striking Adi Granov artwork. The first story shows an alternate outcome to the title characters’ recent encounter with a mutant from another dimension; how or if it adds to the plot in the main series isn’t at all clear. Adding to the confusion are Alan Davis’s layouts. His work is usually a real treat, but he employs diagonal, fluid panel layouts that don’t follow the usual flow of comics storytelling. It’s an interesting experiment, but it doesn’t quite work. Now, Adi Granov’s art on the steampunk X-Men story (only tangentially connected to the “Ghost Boxes” premise) is fantastic. It’s a pleasure to see his work on something unrelated to Iron Man. He demonstrates that he’s capable of much more than the sleek, shiny world of armored super-heroes. His photorealistic approach brings out the historical/flashback tech elements incredibly well. Ultimately, Ellis offers little more than alternate-reality takes on familiar characters and recent developments in Marvel continuity. It’s not exactly ground-breaking material, and if this material were integral to the “Ghost Boxes” storyline, I can’t imagine it would be relegated to this two-part title. 6/10

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