Monthly Archives: February 2009

The Best Defence is a Good Offence

Hulk #10
“Love & Death”
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Pencils: Ed McGuinness
Inks: Dexter Vines
Colors: Guru eFX
Letters: Comicraft
Cover artists: Ed McGuinness (regular covers)/Arthur Adams (variant)
Editor: Mark Paniccia
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99 US

Jeph Loeb’s had a rough go of it as of late, critically speaking. His run on Wolverine was universally panned. The same for Ultimates 3 and Ultimatum, for the most part. While his latest efforts at Marvel have been successes on the sales charts, they’ve been creatively flawed, at best. But then again, there’s Hulk. The introduction of the Red Hulk and the excesses of this action-oriented series haven’t represented the most sophisticated in comics storytelling, but they have been undeniably entertaining. This latest story arc is incredibly contrived, unnecessarily decompressed and rather forced, truth be told, but it’s also damn cool and fun.

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Quick Critiques – Feb. 19, 2009

Dark Avengers #2 (Marvel Comics)
by Brian Michael Bendis & Mike Deodato

While I thought Bendis spent too much time in the first issue assembling a team that had already been assembled for the most part, I was intrigued enough by the Dark Avengers concept to see what he planned to do with these characters in uncharacteristically heroic roles. To my surprise, Bendis decides the best way to sell this bunch of villains as a team of good guys is to send them to the rescue of one of the Marvel Universe’s most infamous figures. Not only is a mission to rescue Dr. Doom a bad idea, I couldn’t be less interested in Morgaine Le Fay’s demonic assault on Latveria. Bendis does nothing to present these characters as anything more than corrupt monsters, even when it comes to the Sentry and Ares. The reader is left with a comic full of characters about which he or she won’t and can’t care, and the larger “Dark Reign” storyline doesn’t seem to advance either.

Deodato’s art is appropriately dark, given the nature of the characters, but as compared to his performance on the first issue, the art here looks rushed. A potentially cool moment featuring the Iron Patriot’s automatically disassembling armor is relegated to the background and doesn’t even look all that impressive or detailed. Le Fay’s demonic hordes are terribly generic and uninteresting in appearance as well. 3/10

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Murder Mysteries

Batman #686
“Whatever Happened to the Caper Crusader?
Part 1 of 2: The Beginning of the End”
Writer: Neil Gaiman
Pencils: Andy Kubert
Inks: Scott Williams
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
Cover artists: Andy Kubert and Alex Ross
Editor: Mike Marts
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US

I’m honestly surprised that this two-part story from comics scribe-turned-acclaimed novelist Neil Gaiman has been marketed more heavily outside of the comics industry. Gaiman’s the brains behind a popular and lauded animated film still in theatres and the recent winner of a prestigious literary award, and he’s become quite the star in the world of prose, known to audiences beside those who frequent comic-book shops on a regular basis. In his eulogies for the Dark Knight, Gaiman essentially pays tribute to the history of the Batman, and I would have expected that to be of interest to pop-culture journalists across the spectrum. In any case, Gaiman offers some strong, entertaining and novel examinations of the title character with a script that’s sufficiently surreal so as to offer an atmosphere that’s somewhat consistent with the weird, stream-of-consciousness scripting that Grant Morrison offered up over the course of “Batman R.I.P.” I don’t know if that was by design or coincidence, but it works, as “Whatever Happened to…?” works nicely as a quiet, thematic epilogue to the excesses and madness of “R.I.P.”

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Rage Matches

Hulk Vs. direct-to-video animation
Directors: Sam Lui (Thor)/Frank Paur (Wolverine)
Writers: Christopher Yost & Craig Kyle
Studio: Lionsgate Films/Marvel Animation
Rating: PG-13

My wife and I were at Blockbuster a short while ago, looking for a flick to kill an evening. While she was off picking something out for the both of us, I happened upon this DVD, and I decided to give it a look (figuring I’d watch it on my PC while my better half immersed herself in one of those History Channel shows I find so tedious). The animation for both short films is sharp, and it seems to be somewhat in keeping with the house style for the new Wolverine and the X-Men cartoon. It’s obvious this DVD is intended more as a marketing tool for forthcoming big-screen films featuring Marvel properties (this summer’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the in-production Thor flick), and I went in with that in mind, eyes wide open. With the two short animated films, Hulk Vs. offers up a mixed bag. There’s a nice introduction to the players and Asgardian culture one needs to appreciate Thor, but the Wolverine short is awful, its gratuitousness matched only by the completely ineffectual nature of its script.

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Avast Ye Maties

Crogan’s Vengeance original hardcover graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Chris Schweizer
Editors: James Lucas Jones & Jill Beaton
Publisher: Oni Press
Price: $14.95 US

When this book was first released a few weeks ago, I thumbed through its pages quickly and initially didn’t think much of creator Chris Schweizer’s artwork, so I set it back on the shelf at the comic shop. The publisher sent along a review copy a short while later, and I’m relieved, because otherwise, I would have missed out on one of the most fun, well-plotted and quirky graphic novels of 2008. Schweizer offers an action-packed story full of charismatic and oddly charming rogues. Fans of the pirate genre, which has enjoyed renewed popularity in recent years, won’t be disappointed by this book. And that artistic style that I found initially off-putting? Closer examination opened my eyes to sharp, effective and colorful character designs and a style that really conveys the non-stop kinetic, fluid movement that makes for such an exciting adventure. Crogan’s Vengeance isn’t quite an all-ages book, but it comes close. Tween and teen readers will enjoy it, as will their parents.

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Quick Critiques – Feb. 9, 2009

Agents of Atlas v.2 #1 (Marvel Comics)
by Jeff Parker, Carlo Pagulayan, Jason Paz & Benton Jew

Like many other Marvel readers, I’m thrilled that the publisher finally opted to launch an ongoing Agents of Atlas series. While the first limited series wasn’t one of Marvel’s best sellers, it was highly praised, and for good reason. Despite the stronger link to mainstream Marvel continuity the “Dark Reign” branding brings, Parker’s plot and script for the main story are just as much fun, smart and colorful as this title’s predecessor. Carlo Pagulayan replaces Leonard Kirk as the penciller, bringing a more detailed look to bear. His stuff looks sharp, and he captures the larger-than-life nature of the characters with ease. Kirk’s simpler style struck me as more complementary to the simpler origins of these classic characters, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with what we see here in the main story. The conflict is shaping up to be one of the public sector (Harry Osborn’s HAMMER agency) and the private sector (Jimmy Woo’s Atlas Foundation). It’s an encouraging message, in which private citizens rise up to oppose the corrupt establishment.

I love the notion of Parker including occasional backup features exploring the characters’ adventures back in the 1950s. This one pairs them with a certain secret agent named Logan. The plot again is in keeping with the campy appeal of the property. The one aspect that doesn’t quite work is the artwork. None of the characters look quite right, and the Brood-like bugs look awkward rather than creepy or monstrous. Still, it’s a minor gripe about what is otherwise an entertaining super-hero comic. 7/10

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McFarlane’s Past Comes Back to Haunt Comics

Todd McFarlaneTodd McFarlane has apparently run out of ideas when it comes to comic books. That’s surprising, since he’s really only had one or two ideas throughout his career thus far.

Image Comics announced a few months ago that McFarlane was going to return to comics storytelling with a new title, penned by Image partner/savior Robert Kirkman. McFarlane’s return to comic art is a significant development. After his meteoric rise at Marvel in the late 1908s/early 1990s, his style and popularity influenced comic art (and especially art on Spider-Man comics) for years to come, and he became the first of a new breed of rock-star-like comic-book creator. He and his fellow Image Comics founders brought creator ownership and profitability together in a way that no others have.

McFarlane’s actual involvement in comics storytelling — especially when it comes to artwork — has waned over the years, and these days, he’s really more of a toy tycoon than a comics creator. As such, McFarlane’s decision to illustrate a comic book again after so many years merits attention and presents Image with a legitimate marketing opportunity. McFarlane fans were no doubt eagerly anticipating what he had in store for them this summer. Unfortunately, it seems they’re getting this:

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Pilgrim Age

Scott Pilgrim, Volume 5: Scott Pilgrim Vs. the Universe original graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Bryan Lee O’Malley
Editor: Randal C. Jarrell
Publisher: Oni Press
Price: $11.95 US

God, I’m so fucking old.

This week’s release of the latest episode of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s pop-culture fantasy series is already cause for celebration throughout the industry, and O’Malley seems poised to be one of the big stars and stories of this weekend’s New York Comicon. His Scott Pilgrim books have been almost universally praised as genius, as a breakthrough concept and as a success, both in terms of storytelling and sales. I definitely see the appeal. This book, like the others before it, is irreverent, frenetic, ambitious and kind of sweet at times as well. And while I enjoyed it, I have to be honest: I don’t completely get Scott Pilgrim. And I think it’s ’cause I’m so fucking old. At least, that’s how I felt as I read Scott Pilgrim Vs. the Universe. Of course, it doesn’t help that a birthday last month left me just two years shy of 40. (My wife tells me I’m not old, but her assertion is easily dismissed as she needs to believe I’ll be vital father figure to our yet-to-be-conceived children.)

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Out and About

Shirtlifter #s 2 & 3
Writer/artists: Steve MacIsaac, Fuzzbelly & Justin Hall
Cover artist: Steve MacIsaac
Publisher: Drawn. Out Press
Price: $8.95 US (#2)/$10.95 (#3)

Self-publisher Steve MacIsaac was kind enough to send a couple of review copies of his work in the mail. He and I went to the same university and both participated in student media; if memory serves, we were both cast members in a play one year at the campus theatre. When I learned that he was living in the United States and crafting highly praised comics, I was definitely interested in seeing what he was up to. There’s just one problem: Diamond Comic Distributors won’t send erotic comics north of the 49th parallel, so I’ve not seen it shops in my neck of the woods. MacIsaac informs me Diamond didn’t carry his first issue, but these two subsequent comics were available through the distributor. Still, whether it’ll do so for future editions is uncertain, and MacIsaac says it’s difficult to get shops to carry gay material. Of course, there are other ways to get one’s hands on MacIsaac’s comics (ordering through his website, for example), and after reading these two anthology comics, I highly recommend that those with an interest in well-crafted slice-of-life comics do just that. MacIsaac’s comics have been described as gay erotica/porn, and sexuality definitely plays a vital role in his storytelling. Personally, I can’t view material such as this as pornography, given the incredibly strong characterization, genuine dialogue and compelling inner conflicts that MacIsaac pours into his work.

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