Monthly Archives: January 2009

Thornton Wilder Meets Isaac Asimov

Eureka #1
Writers: Andrew Cosby & Brendan Hay
Artist: Diego Barreto
Colors: Andrew Dalhouse
Letters: Marshall Dillon
Cover artists: J.K. Woodward & Dennis Calero
Editor: Matt Gagnon
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Price: $3.99 US

I have seen a few episodes of the Sci Fi Network series upon which this comic book is based; my wife and I are the most casual of viewers, but we both enjoy the show for its sense of humor and its interesting mix of police-procedural and science-fiction elements. Among the various TV shows that find their way into the comic-book medium, Eureka makes perfect sense as a candidate for such a transition, as it’s likely the comics medium and this quirky show share a common demographic of genre fans. This comic captures the spirit and dialogue beats of the show nicely. However, I wonder if a four-issue limited series, which will come to a total of $15.96 US, can really compete with an episode of the show, as the latter costs the audience nothing more than its cable package.

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Quick Critiques – Jan. 29, 2009

Battlefields: Dear Billy #1 (Dynamite Entertainment)
by Garth Ennis & Peter Snejbjerg

Garth Ennis is no stranger to war comics. He’s written dozens of them, and he’s done so with no small measure of creative success. I’ve read a good number of them and applauded those past efforts. I can say without hesitation that Dear Billy is his strongest and most compelling foray into the war genre to date, or at least the first issue is. Ennis explores the notion of war from a woman’s perspective during a time when women weren’t expected to understand fully the horrors it brings. As Ennis’s heroine proves, though, there was plenty of horror for both genders in the Second World War. The strong feminist narration is incredibly compelling. The writer explores the unfortunate social realities of a different time but tempers it with a touching (and I’m guessing ultimately tragic) love story. Dear Billy is quietly heart-breaking, and it stands out as the first must-read comic book I’ve come across in 2009.

If Ennis’s script and plot weren’t enough reason to pick up this three-issue series, the art cinches it. Peter Snejbjerg brings a softer look to the harsh ideas and sadness that make for such a fascinating read. That softer look isn’t meant to suggest any kind of weakness in the female protagonist, but rather reinforces the emotional and personal side of the story. It’s unfortunate that neither cover image captures the heart of this remarkable story. Cassaday’s smoochy cover misses the mark, just as the savage stabbing depicts a fleeting moment that doesn’t directly involve the main protagonist. Nevertheless, the misleading covers shouldn’t dissuade anyone from checking out one of the finest things Ennis has ever written and the very best comic book Dynamite has published to date. 10/10

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The Beginning of the End (League)

The End League: Volume One trade paperback
Writer: Rick Rememder
Pencils: Mat Broome & Eric Canete
Inks: Sean Parsons & Eric Canete
Colors: Wendy Broome, James Rochelle & Naomi Baker
Editor: Dave Land
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Price: $12.95 US

Rick Remender has slowly but surely transformed himself into one of the more prolific and relief-upon writers in American comics today. He’s always got work on the go from Marvel, DC, Image and Dark Horse Comics, and some of his work is quite strong. A recent highlight was the recent launch of Gigantic, another ongoing title from Dark Horse. Given that track record, it was with some interest that I approach the first collected edition of his dystopian super-hero saga, The End League. Promotional copy on the back of this book bills it “a thematic merging of The Lord of the Rings and Watchmen.” It’s not an apt description at all. Remender clearly has a lot he wants to say about and do to the various archetypes of the super-hero genre; actually what’s really clear is that he has too much to say. This opening storyline — consisting of the first four issues of the series — is scattered, shifting focus repeatedly. The expansive nature of the cast of characters is overwhelming. The unfortunate thing is that the initial premise — what happened when Superman screws up? — is an interesting one, but it’s buried by what seems like a multitude of other plotlines.

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Ever Say Never

Never as Bad as You Think hardcover graphic novella
Writer: Kathryn Immonen
Artist/Colors: Stuart Immonen
Editor: Matt Gagnon
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Price: $15.99 US

I wasn’t aware this book was in the works, but I’m pleased to have finally learned about it. Boom! has collected an experiment in comics storytelling by Kathryn and Stuart Immonen into a handsome hardcover volume. Never as Bad as You Think (originally published online) is slated for release this week, and I suspect it might fly under the radar, given its unconventional nature and limited publicity. The Immonens have taken a challenging storytelling exercise — each script is prompted by a random keyword — and offered up a thoroughly amusing series of vignettes. The best thing Never as Bad has going for it is its surreal script, but it’s also an opportunity to for fans of Stuart Immonen’s super-hero projects (from Legion of Super-Heroes to Ultimate Spider-Man) to see him flex some different artistic muscles. There’s really only thing flaw to be found here, and it has nothing to do with the creators’ performance.

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Class Is In Session

Love and Rockets Book 24: The Education of Hopey Glass hardcover collection
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Jaime Hernandez
Editor: Gary Groth
Publisher: Fantagraphics Books
Price: $19.99 US

I’ve always found approaching any Love and Rockets book such as this one a bit intimidating, as I’ve only a passing familiarity with the property and the characters despite its critical acclaim over the years. Whenever I’ve ventured into a corner of the L&R world, I’ve always found it intriguing and entertaining, but my perception — be it accurate or not — is that there’s no series of master volumes of the classic series. Perhaps there is a series of clearly branded trades for sale out there, but I shop at a comic-book store of good enough quality that it would keep that sort of material in stock. Now, the last page in this book lists all of the 24 volumes of the Love and Rockets collections, so I’m guessing I’m dead wrong about availability of the entire series. Nevertheless, I had the perception, and I wonder if the publisher (or retailers, for that matter) could do more to guide newer readers into this property. The glut of positive reviews of The Education of Hopey Glass in the past year inspired me to venture once again into the realm of Love and Rockets, and I’m pleased I did. I’m well aware that there are a lot of references to past stories that I’m missing, but the strength of the characterization and the down-to-earth scenarios that unfold in Jamie Hernandez’s slightly surreal segment of society really drew me in.

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Bring Out Your Dead

Walking Dead Vol. 9The Walking Dead, Vol. 9: Here We Remain trade paperback
The Walking Dead #s 55, 56 & 57

Writer: Robert Kirkman
Artist/Cover artist: Charlie Adlard
Gray tones: Cliff Rathburn
Letters: Rus Wooton
Editor: Aubrey Sitterson
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $14.99 US (trade)/$2.99 US each (individual issues)

I’d missed an issue or two of this series last year and lost touch with it for a while, but last week’s release of the latest trade-paperback collection offered me the chance to get caught up. I opted to read them all in one sitting the other night, right before I went to bed. Big mistake. My God, the nightmares — they were unrelenting. And really, that may be the best compliment I can give to storytellers Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard. The horror — both physical and psychological — bored into my brain and was persistent in its successful to influence my unconscious thoughts. After reading Here We Remain and subsequent chapters in the ongoing zombie epic, I was reminded of the powerful plotting and characterization that have made The Walking Dead such a success, and of the synergy between writer and artist that’s been an integral part of that success.

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Quick Critiques – Jan. 11, 2009

Black Lightning: Year One #1 (DC Comics)
by Jen van Meter & Cully Hamner

The title character of this origin series has really transformed into little more than a superhuman crime-fighter. Even with a new lease on life as a member of the Justice League, Black Lightning seems to be devoid of any real personality. I’m most familiar with the character from his role in Mike W. Barr’s Batman and the Outsiders in the 1980s, and at that time, his non-hero moments were defined by his failed marriage. But as Jen van Meter reminds us here, creator Tony Isabella crafted the character as an inner-city role model, as a community organizer who faced overwhelming opposition from the forces of social corruption. Van Meter does a nice job of depicting Jefferson Pierce as someone equally devoted to family and community. She incorporates Isabella’s original vision of the character with revisions DC has made over the years. More importantly, she’s really done a great job of bringing a sense of history and community to Suicide Slum, the ugly little corner of Metropolis that several Jack Kirby characters call home along with Black Lightning.

The real draw of this book is the artwork. When this project was first announced, I wasn’t sure if I was interested in reading van Meter’s retooling of the Black Lightning origin, but I knew I’d want to see Cully Hamner’s art. While the visuals are brighter in tone that I would have expected, the action is entertaining. Again though, the artist like the writer has done a great job of establishing a real sense of place and realism in the setting. And the setting — physically and socio-economically — is as important a “character” in the story as is Black Lightning. 7/10

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Beagle Boy

The Life and Times of Genghis Dhag mini-comic
Writer/Artist/Comic artist: Erik Denis
Publisher: Genghis Khan Publishing Yurt
Price: $7.50

Erik Denis is a civil servant who loves comics, loves his family and loves his dog. And those loves have found their way onto the printed page — pages he printed up himself in the form of a mini-comic. Denis’s narrator professes not to be a dog person, but his writing captures the amusing quirks of a beagle’s behavior, not to mention the precociousness of toddlers. Genghis Dhag is a charming collection of one-page strips, charming enough to give the flaws in the storytelling a run for their money. In the end, the cuteness and humor don’t overcome the overly simple artwork and disjointed flow, but neither do the flaws eclipse the strengths. Ultimately, I think Denis’s future forays into comics storytelling would be well served by collaboration, by teaming with an artist who has a less amateurish style or even some fellow writers who can serve as de facto editors.

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Guts in the Machine

War Machine #1
Writer: Greg Pak
Artist: Leonardo Manco
Colors: Jay David Ramos
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Cover artists: Leonardo Manco (regular edition) & Mike Deodato (variant)
Editor: Bill Rosemann
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $2.99 US

While one could argue that a darker tone in Greg Pak stories isn’t a new thing (see The Incredible Hulk, World War Hulk), with War Machine, he explores much grittier terrain than he has in the past. Sure, Pak writes a bloody barbarian story in Skaar, Son of Hulk, but what makes War Machine harsher in tone is the fact that it’s much more grounded in reality, even though it stars an armor-clad cyborg. While this new title clearly has its roots in the Marvel Universe, it reads like an independent title with super-hero trappings, yet something that’s still limited by a larger brand. Pak’s premise portrays the title character as something of a Punisher type with a focus on war crimes rather than street-level corruption. Given Pak’s track record and stories that led up to this new ongoing series, I expect we’ll see more depth in James Rhodes’s character in forthcoming issues. I hope so, as there wasn’t much to be found in this inaugural issue. I know I sound overly negative about this first issue, and I don’t mean to be. Pak and artist Leonardo Manco offer up an intense, kinetic opening chapter, but their creative child’s initial steps are awkward ones at times.

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War ‘Zine from the War Zone

No Enemy But Peace one-shot
Writer: Richard C. Meyer
Artists: Martin Montiel Luna & Richard C. Meyer
Letters: Thomas Mauer
Publisher: Machinegun Bob Productions
Price: $3 US

This self-published effort is based on a true story of one soldier’s experiences and actions during a key battle in Iraq not long after the United States invaded more than five years ago. On simply that basis, the storytelling is compelling, given that it purports to be real rather a fiction designed to shock and/or inform. The greater draw of the book is the passion of its creators, which clearly shines through. Their intent to honor the actions of U.S. troops is obvious, as is their love of the medium they’ve opted for the presentation of their tribute. Still, the fact that this foray into comics storytelling is new to them is undeniable. It’s difficult to follow the flow of the action and plot, as neither the art nor the script provide enough cues to allow the reader to differentiate among the characters or to see clear transitions from scene to scene or setting to setting. The detail in the art is crisp and clear, and I can’t help but think that there would have been more clarity had the book been presented in color rather than black and white. While there are flaws here, the writer and artists also show potential. It’s quite likely that they’ll learn from this effort and refine their craft for future offerings the writer promises in his foreword.

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