Monthly Archives: December 2008

Quick Critiques – Dec. 23, 2008

Avengers: The Initiative #19 (Marvel Comics)
by Dan Slott, Christos Gage, Harvey Tolibao & Bong Dazo

Unlike the other two main Avengers titles, this second-tier Avengers series really made the most out of its tie-ins to Secret Invasion, telling a story that ran concurrently with the main event title but still held up pretty well on its own. In the midst of all the super-hero action and the chaos of war, the writers have also managed to incorporate a couple of strong character-driven subplots, perhaps the best of which is that of the Crusader, a heroic Skrull-in-hiding who sides with Earth in the war. His arc comes to a logical conclusion in this issue, but I have to admit that I was disappointed in how it was resolved. It’s a tragic ending, but one that works in the context of the story, but it’s dealt with almost casually that the tragedy of the moment passes by so quickly that it fails to have the proper impact.

Moreso than any other issue in this series so far, the story crumbles under the weight of the expansive cast of characters. There are so many players in this game that the writers’ effort to give each one of them a role to play overwhelms any sense of flow, making for a dizzying and frenetic read. Furthermore, the art suffers from the inclusion of so many colorful characters. It seems like we barely see any Skrulls in this last-ditch effort to repel a Skrull invasion. The panels are busy, cramped and confusing. Now while this concluding chapter in the Secret Invasion story arc fell a little short, the larger plot remains a success, and I remain interested in the premise of the series and the third-tier characters. 6/10

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Reign Drops Keep Falling on My Head

Dark Reign: New Nation #1
Cover artist: Daniel Acuna
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99 US

Marvel Comics hasn’t had the best track record as of late when it comes to its big event comics; well, sales-wise, they’ve been successes, but creatively, they’ve faltered (in my humble opinion, of course). But on occasion, what flows from one of those awkwardly paced stories seems to make the excess and din of the event worthwhile. Case in point: Civil War. Though it started off strong, it lost its way by the end. But in the wake of that event, Marvel released a handful of good to great comics. The Order, Avengers: The Initiative, The Invincible Iron Man and a new direction for Captain America Civil War served as the setup for all of them (and probably a couple more I’m forgetting about at this moment).

Secret Invasion struck me and others as an exercise in futility. Rather than a cohesive story, it was a marketing stunt, designed to get consumers to buy more comics and to continue buying them by transforming into another event, namely “Dark Reign.” But this one-shot demonstrates that again, some interesting tangents can arise even from a disappointing effort. I have a minor concern that this one-shot simply reprints material from the various new titles it’s promoting, but I’ve been led to believe that’s not the case, that these short stories are original, designed specifically for this special. Now, given that this is clearly a promotional effort, I’m surprised Marvel didn’t offer it at a friendlier price point. However, the page count and quality of the storytelling won’t leave you feeling that you didn’t get your money’s worth.

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Undead Apocalypse Survival 101

Zombies Calling original graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Faith Erin Hicks
Publisher: Slave Labor Graphics
Price: $9.95 US

I’ve been hearing good things about Faith Erin Hicks’s new work, The War at Ellsmere, so I was disappointed to find that my local comic shop had already sold out of its initial order of the book. I’m waiting for a copy to arrive, but I figured I’d check out the writer/artist’s first major work. I’d heard of Zombies Calling before, but I opted not to pick up a copy, dismissing it as just likely the latest in a long line of competent but typical zombie comics. I’m glad the Ellsmere buzz got me to change my mind.

Zombies Calling is a thoroughly entertaining piece of pop culture. Hicks satirizes the zombie genre and celebrates all at once, but what makes the book so engaging is the strong characterization. In the back of the book, Hicks admits to enjoying the works of writer/producer Joss Whedon, and his influence is apparent here. But there’s a much more grounded, genuine quality to her characters that reminds me of my own youth (from a decade and a half ago, yikes).

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B’s Side

Phonogram: The Singles Club #1
“Pull Shapes” and two backup features
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Jamie McKelvie, Laurenn McCubbin & Marc Ellerby
Colors: Matthew Wilson
Cover artist: Jamie McKelvie
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.50 US

Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie return to their world of music magicians, but they explore their creation in a radically different way than last time. The first Phonogram series was something of a redemption quest for a rogue, steeped in dark and dangerous tones that were alluring in their own way. This issue is more of a character study, and it’s incredibly grounded. Penny B is a figure who’s both heartening and pitiful at the same time, and she exemplifies the portrait of a young adult who still has a lot of growing up to do. The fact that she’s a phonomancer, a magic user who relies on music for her power, is really quite secondary to the story. Ultimately, Gillen shows us there’s plenty of everyday magic in music in the right circumstances. Though there’s a sad quality to Penny B’s character, the overall tone of the main story is really a hopeful and celebratory one. Those who enjoyed the first Phonogram series will find the same strong storytelling here, but they’ll also find a much different kind of story as well.

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Milestones, Meet the Milestones…

Justice League of America #27
“Be Careful What You Wish For…”
Writer: Dwayne McDuffie
Pencils/Cover artist: Ed Benes
Inks: Ed Benes, Rob Hunter, Norm Rapmund & Drew Geraci
Colors: Pete Pantazis
Letters: Rob Leigh
Editor: Eddie Berganza
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US

I’d promised myself I was done with Justice League of America, at least until writer James Robinson takes the helm with a more unconventional lineup, but my curiosity about the manner in which DC and Dwayne McDuffie planned to revive and reintroduce the Milestone characters got the better of me. To my relief, the writing seemed more focused as compared to the past story arc or two; there seems to be a clear direction (though what that direction is isn’t clear yet, which is fine). Unfortunately, the script is riddled with references that are bound to perplex newer readers. And of course, JLA remains hampered by Ed Benes’s artwork. His performance on this title has slowly degraded since its debut, and his artwork appears to be at its most rushed in this issue.

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Hardy Attack

Hardy Boys #14: Haley Danelle’s Top Eight original graphic novel
Writer: Scott Lobdell
Artist: Paulo Henrique Marcondes
Colors: Laurie E. Smith
Letters: Mark Lerer
Editor: Jim Salicrup
Publisher: Papercutz
Price: $7.95 US/$8.95 CAN

Like many boys, I grew up on Franklin W. Dixon’s series of Hardy Boys mystery novels for young readers. I didn’t have a complete collection, but I had a bookshelf full of them. I rather enjoyed them, and my parents were thrilled that I read them, as they had a hard time getting me to read anything other than comics. Papercutz has purported to update the Hardy Boys concept for the 21st century, retooling them with a manga look and more modern sensibilities. The thing is, this “Undercover Brothers” (yes, that the subtitle for these books) series of graphic novels doesn’t really update the well-known characters; it completely reshapes them into something pretty unfamiliar. While they’re still teen sleuths, they’re not amateurs anymore. Associated with a secret crime-fighting organization and armed with gadgets that James Bond would covet, these Hardy Boys seems more like super-spies or super-heroes than down-to-earth, well-meaning sons of a law-enforcement officer. To make matters worse, the mystery the characters set out to solve isn’t really a whodunit, as the answer is revealed rather than deduced.

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Quick Critiques – Dec. 8, 2008

Echoes of the Damned #1 (Devil’s Due Publishing)
by James Pascoe & Roger Robinson

It’s not unusual to see James Pascoe’s and Roger Robinson’s names gracing the same comic book. The former served as the latter’s inker on a variety of DC titles, notably in the Batman family of titles. But this time around, Pascoe is the writer. There are several ways in which his story about FBI profiler Dante Cortez’s quest to catch an ages-old serial killer is derivative and even cliched. The notion of a law-enforcement official haunted by the death of a loved one, the big case that pops up on his last day on the job and a plot one can find in such films as The Fallen and The Exorcist III all make for a number of moments that are uncomfortably familiar. But there’s an intensity at play in both the plot and main characters that’s entertaining and enticing. The real strength is to be found in the artwork. This stands out as some of the best work I’ve seen from Robinson. There’s more detail in his linework; it’s meticulous and impressive, and it serves the story well. Robinson has established a nicely noir atmosphere, and splashes of color enhance that further. Robinson’s art here looks like a cross between the styles of Ethan (Green Lantern: Rebirth) Van Sciver and John Paul (The Winter Men) Leon. The action flows smoothly, and the book just looks… well, cool. Furthermore, the cover design really stands out as unique; the dominance of the masthead, along with its unusual placement, is quite eye-catching. Echoes of the Damned, despite its familiar qualities, was quite a surprise, and it serves as a nice change of pace for Devil’s Due. 7/10

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Water, Water Everywhere

The Undersea Adventures of Capt’n Eli Vol. 1 original graphic novel
Writer/Artist: Jay Piscopo
Cover artist: Steve Rude
Publisher: Nemo Publishing
Price: $9.99 US

It’s common to hear industry stakeholders and lovers of the comics medium calling for more all-ages titles to serve as gateways through which younger readers can enter and discover the world of comics. The Undersea Adventures of Capt’n Eli isn’t one of those comics. It will appeal to kids, but it’s certainly not an all-ages title. And that’s OK; others have called for kids-only comics, and there’s definite value in that marketing approach. Frankly, adult readers probably won’t like Capt’n Eli that much; I know I didn’t. The book doesn’t just wear its influences on its sleeve. It skins those influences alive and wears their pelts like they were trophies. Creator Jay Piscopo doesn’t hide his inspirations; he states them outright. At the heart of the property is the notion that discovery and adventure, real or imagined, can be the sources of pure, innocent joy. Kids who know nothing of Jonny Quest, Aquaman’s origin or Golden Age super-hero comics will probably get a kick out of this adventure book, while adults will simply be reminded of the strength of older, more original material.

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Never Ending, Ever Event-ing

Secret Invasion #8
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Leinil Francis Yu
Inks: Mark Morales
Colors: Laura Martin
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Cover artists:
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99 US

Back in February 2007, I wrote the following about the final issue of another Marvel event book, Civil War: “We’re missing an ending, which is something that happened at the end of House of M as well.” After making my way through this oddly tidy and rushed final chapter of Secret Invasion, I was left with the feeling that this story lacked an ending as well. In fact, it really feels as though the larger narrative of the Marvel Universe just keeps going on and on and on. Ultimately, if Secret Invasion #8 does anything, it provides a long overdue ending to Civil War, but even that seems like more of a footnote than anything else. The main purpose of the entire series (and the long-running Hood subplot in New Avengers) seems to be to set up yet another new status quo for the Marvel Universe, and while it’s intriguing, it’s far from inspired. A lot of super-hero comics readers have complained as of late of event fatigue. After reading this comic book, it seems as though some creators might have reached that same point.

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Once Upon a Time, In the Great White North…

The Annotated Northwest Passage hardcover collected edition
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Scott Chantler
Editors: Randal C. Jarrel, James Lucas Jones & Jill Beaton
Publisher: Oni Press
Price: $19.95 US

The theme here is history, and I’m not just talking about this collection but about this review as well. This hardcover collection of Scott Chantler’s series of Northwest Passage original graphic novellas was released last year, and I should have reviewed it some time ago. Sadly, I did have a review half-written a while back but then lost the thumb drive on which I’d saved it. I set the book aside for a while, but I happened upon it again recently. I gave it a second read, and I was reminded of the strength of the storytelling, the attractive simplicity of the artwork and the ambition behind the epic scope of the tale. I must also admit a certain fondness for the material stems from it being set in Canada (or least in locales that would eventually become Canada). Chantler’s proven his skill with historical fiction before with such books as Days Like This and Scandalous, but Northwest Passage is a cut above. Perhaps one might suggest it’s a more compelling story because it’s full of action and adventure, but really, the even stronger sense of history and larger-than-life qualities of the characters are what grabs the reader’s attention and never lets go.

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