Monthly Archives: March 2009

Pull Sword A from Slot B in Rock C

Arthur: The Legend Continues #1
Writer: Martin T. Pierro
Artist: Cristhian Zamora
Letters: Percival Constantine
Cover artist: Atula Siriwardane
Editor: Connie Voss
Publisher: Cosmic Times
Price: $3.50 US

One of the mistakes that some indy creators make (and let’s be honest, some of the big publishers make it as well) is dedicating so much of their time and precious resources to ideas and plot premises that have been explored as thoroughly and frequently as Wilt Chamberlain’s nether regions. Writer Martin Pierro has opted to tell the story of the return of King Arthur in a far-flung, dark time at which he’s needed the most. It’s hardly cutting-edge genre fiction. I suppose one could argue that there’s an established audience for this sort of fare, but I can’t help but believe that new, unknown creators would earn more attention by exploring more unconventional territory. Still, the creators’ passion for what they’re doing here shines through in the material, but that’s not enough to hide the awkward pacing and figures.

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Voyage to a Parallel Girl

Dean Koontz’s: Nevermore #1
Writer: Keith Champagne
Artist/Cover artist: Andy Smith
Colors: Andrew Dalhouse
Letters: Bill Tortolini
Editor: Derek Ruiz
Publisher: Dabel Bros. Publishing
Price: $3.99 US

All I really know of the Dabel Brothers is that they have something of a spotty business reputation in the industry. Of course, that shouldn’t have a bearing on the quality of the work they publish, so I approached this latest endeavor with some curiosity. Dabel Bros. Publishing has hired a couple of mainstays of mainstream super-hero comics — not industry stars, but reliable talents — to bring this Dean Koontz property to life. Overall, it’s fair typical science-fiction fare, but it’s executed well. While there’s really not a lot of suspense at play given the familiar nature of the premise, the capable pacing and action draw the reader into the story. Similarly, while the art and designs won’t set the comic world on fire, they’re handled adeptly, telling the story clearly.

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Pickle of the Litter

Frankie Pickle and the Closet of Doom original graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Eric Wight
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Price: $9.99 US

Eric Wight is one of those artistic talents whose work is seen far too rarely in the industry. DC Comics readers have seen snippets of his art in recent years in such comics as Justice League of America #0 and Action Comics Annual #10, but his standout work has to be his original graphic novel, My Dead Girlfriend Vol. 1. It was a charming, entertaining and cute piece of work, and we were meant to see further episode. Sadly, publisher Tokyopop inexplicably put the kibosh on planned followups. Wight has since turned his attention to a new hero and premise, and it’s one he’s explored through a more traditional book publisher than comics publisher. While I describe this first Frankie Pickle as an original graphic novel, it’s really a blend of prose for kids and some comics work. The shifts between media in this one volume actually work quite well, given the context. The Closet of Doom is cute, just like Wight’s My Dead Girlfriend, but I wouldn’t describe this latest effort as an all-ages book. This is definitely better suited for kids rather than adults, as there’s really no surprises for the grown-up crowd to be found here. Still, there should be a strong market for this material, and I hope it catches on and finds a wide, mass audience.

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Quick Critiques – March 25, 2009

House of Mystery: Room and Boredom trade paperback (DC Comics/Vertigo imprint)
by Matthew Sturges, Bill Willingham, Luca Rossi & various other artists

My first impression of this series was lukewarm. In my capsule review of the first issue, I wrote that I enjoyed the story within the story but wasn’t all that taken with the larger plotline, revolving around Fig’s discovery of the House of Mystery and the fact that she can’t leave. I found that the bar in the House reminded me too much of similar settings we’ve seen in other comics. Those similarities are still there, but Fig’s story, her unusual connection to the House and her interactions with the other permanent residents won me over. The formula of one of the bar patrons sharing a story within each episode doesn’t really advance the larger story at all, but it does bring variety and plenty of levity to the mix. While House of Mystery has something of a classic Vertigo feel to it, it’s not as challenging or thought-provoking as Sandman or other classic titles of the imprint. But it’s quite entertaining, and that’s enough to get me to check out the second trade paperback when it arrives in comic shops.

I think the greatest strength the title has going for it is the artwork. As I noted before, the stories within the story bring a diversity of material and genres to the series, and more importantly, it brings a diversity of visual style. The formula makes it easy to accept the shifts in style, and one has to give those guiding the title credit for recruiting such great artistic talent to contribute short stories to each issue. The standouts in this volume are the pages illustrated by Ross Campbell and Steve Rolston, but there’s not a weak one in the bunch. Furthermore, Luca Rossi’s angular style achieves a nice balance between the grounded qualities of the core characters and the surreal elements inherent in the premise. 8/10

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It’s Time to Play the Music…

The Muppet Show #1
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Roger Langridge
Colors: Digikore Studios
Letters: Deron Bennett
Editor: Paul Morrissey
Publisher: Boom! Studios/Boom Kids imprint
Price: $2.99 US

This is a big comic. I just have a feeling about it. I suspect this new release, as well as this week’s The Incredibles #1, will make a wider audience of comics readers take notice of Boom! Studios. This comic book will bring cartoonist Roger (Fred the Clown) Langridge to the attention of new readers and new fans. And the high quality of this comic book has the potential to really impress readers of all ages, those who grew up with the variety show upon which this is based and even those with only a passing familiarity with Jim Henson’s Muppets. As I read this, I smiled, even chortled a bit. I was impressed with the visuals and surprised by a slightly melancholy quality in the plot as well. I was struck by the feeling that Langridge’s take on The Muppet Show was just special, capturing the kind of magic and mirth that have made these characters icons of pop culture.

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Call for Backup

When DC announced that a price hike from $2.99 US to $3.99 US for titles such as Booster Gold and Teen Titans would be accompanied by expanded content in the form of backup features (Blue Beetle and Ravager, respectively), fan and industry-pundit reaction seemed fairly level-headed. Many were understandably relieved that readers would at least get more value for the extra buck. Others questioned the viability of such an approach. I can understand such skepticism, as the addition of backup features in conjunction with a price increase has been tried before. In fact, DC’s did exactly this in 1980, and the experiment only lasted about two years.

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It’s Not Easy Being Green

Variant coverEx Machina Special #4
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: John Paul Leon
Colors: J.D. Mettler
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
Cover artists: Tony Harris (regular)/John Paul Leon & Jonny Rench (variant)
Editor: Ben Abernathy
Publisher: DC Comics/Wildstorm Productions
Price: $3.99 US

We’ve seen far too few comics from writer Brian K. Vaughan since the conclusion of his landmark series Y: The Last Man. Of course, he’s been busy as a writer/producer on TV’s Lost, so his recent absence from the comicscape is understandable. It’s for that reason that any new offering from him should pique the interest of anyone interesting in quality writing in comics. This Ex Machina Special offers him the opportunity to explore an as-yet unexplored facet of his fictional New York mayor’s agenda: environmentalism. Specifically, Vaughan looks at newspapers, how that struggling industry has contributed to environmental problems and how it has addressed the issue as well. But more interestingly, Vaughan turns his attention to the environmental sins of another mass-print medium: comic books. It’s a surprising and thought-provoking notion, and driving the debate forward is a plot that involved ideological conflict and a murder plot.

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And the Wiener Is…

Though the focus of this website is reviews and commentary, I get a lot of comics-related news releases. It’s understandable that my e-mail address would find its way onto certain distribution lists. I get specific requests for publicity on the site, which I decline, since it’s outside the mission I’ve set out for Eye on Comics. So it was no big deal when a news release about a graphic novel from Head Press Publishing popped up in my inbox. I scanned it quickly, and I was immediately struck by the fact that it begged so many questions and didn’t hold water even on the most cursory glance.

The news release is titled “EYE WITNESS: RISE OF THE APOSTLE FINALIST FOR NATIONAL BOOK AWARD.” The first thing that struck me as odd was the fact that I’d never head of Eye Witness: Rise of the Apostle. While I admit that I don’t know the details about every single title published by major, smaller or even indy publishers in the realm of comics, I do keep up enough on industry news to recognize the titles of much lauded and noteworthy releases. Not only hadn’t I heard of Rise of the Apostle, but it’s apparently the third installment in a series of four “award-winning” graphic novels.

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At the Movies

Monday was big day for this particular super-hero fan, as I took in not one but two DC-related movies. Obviously, I, like so many others over the past few days, hit the local movie theatre (with my wife in tow) to catch the big-screen incarnation of Watchmen. Upon our return home, there was nothing on TV and my attempts to engage my better half in conversation about the movie failed. So I booted up my computer and popped in a DVD I’d rented: Warner Bros. Animation’s latest DC Universe, direct-to-video release, Wonder Woman.

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Spirited Discussion

Smuggling Spirits hardcover graphic novel
Writer: Ben Fisher
Artist/Cover artist: Mike Henderson
Letters: Adam Markiewicz
Publisher: Studio 407
Price: $20.99 US

The whole premise for this book is to be found in the title and the double-meaning of “spirits.” It refers to both liquor and the supernatural, and from there, Fisher’s story flows naturally. He sets his story in a Prohibition-era United States beset upon by hordes of monsters. To be honest, it’s the historical elements that are more interesting than the supernatural ones, but Fisher and Henderson blend those disparate elements together nicely. Smuggling Spirits is entertaining, well-crafted, small-press effort. The book is like a cross between Sin City and Road to Perdition, heavily garnished with a melange of monsters. The biggest problem facing this project is how much it’s clearly inspired by and borrows from Frank Miller’s noir crime comics, but that’s not to suggest the plotting and storytelling are wanting.

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Late Edition… Really Late

Ultimate Wolverine Vs. Hulk #3
Writer: Damon Lindelof
Artist: Leinil Francis Yu
Colors: Dave McCaig
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Cover artists: Leinil Francis Yu (regular)/Adam Kubert (variant)
Editor: Mark Paniccia
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $2.99 US

It’s been so long since the original publication of the first two issues of Ultimate Wolverine Vs. Hulk that the series has taken on almost a legendary status in the world of delayed super-hero comics (though Kevin Smith’s perpetually unfinished Daredevil: The Target will no doubt be seen as the King of Comics That Never Were). The biggest selling point of this study in excess was that it’s penned by Damon Lindelof, co-creator of TV’s Lost. When the series began, the show was at its zenith of popularity, and while it’s still going strong, the bloom is off the rose a bit. As a result, readers and retailers are left with loud comic book set in a shared continuity that’s in the process of being dismantled in Jeph Loeb and David Finch’s poorly received Ultimatum. There is some entertainment to be gleaned from these pages, but I can’t help but wonder what the point of the exercise is now.

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Quick Critiques – March 5, 2009

Incredible Hercules #126 (Marvel Comics)
by Fred Van Lente, Greg Pak, Rodney Buchemi & Greg Adams/Pak & Takeshi Miyazawa

Who would have thought that an ongoing title featuring Marvel’s incarnation of Hercules would not only last well into a second year but would garner solid sales and critical acclaim? Writers Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente have done an amazing job of breathing new life into the title character, balancing both his history in the Marvel Universe with ancient Greek myths. But more than that, they’ve managed to transform the blowhard character into someone the audience can cheer for, but they’ve done so without completely undoing what’s come before them. The origin story that serves as this issue’s main feature is immersed in the mythic side of the character, obviously, but the script does a great job of capturing that classic feel with a more grounded tone. The art by Buchemi is absolutely lovely, and the historical and mythic qualities are reinforces by the muted colors and the lettering.

As a bonus in the backup feature, writer Greg Pak re-teams with the artist he worked with on the very first Amadeus Cho story from Amazing Fantasy v.2 #15 a few years ago. The plot isn’t one that was screaming out to be told — Cho seeks out his pet coyote, which was replaced by a Skrull infiltrator — but it’s a treat to see Cho in the spotlight and looking appropriately youthful, thanks to Miyazawa’s art. This short story will be a must for fans of Amadeus Cho, who merits the spotlight this series and Mighty Avengers has afforded him as of late. 8/10

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Mistakes and Missing Mea Culpas

DC Comics announced officially this week in its Direct Channel newsletter to retailers that it’s revising the contents of its Final Crisis hardcover collected edition, due out in June. Originally, the publisher planned to include only the seven issues of the core event series, which gave way to reader and retailer complaints that the book will be confusing for readers. The reason: critical chapters of Grant Morrison’s story were published in comics other than Final Crisis — namely in the pages of Final Crisis: Submit and Final Crisis: Superman Beyond. In an e-mail sent out Tuesday, DC announced that the book will now include the Submit one-shot and the two Superman Beyond issues as well, raising the price of the hardcover from $24.99 US to a reasonable $29.99 US.

It’s encouraging to see the publisher taking steps to correct such a clear problem. It’s possible that original solicitation for the book was done in error, that this was the plan all along. It’s also possible that Morrison himself stepped up and pointed out the problems that the omissions would create for the reader. Personally, I’d like to think DC listened to its customers — both at the retailer and reader levels — and took the appropriate steps.

It’s a shame, though, that they didn’t take a couple more steps up that flight of stairs to the Apology Floor.

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One Is the Loneliest Number

The Last One trade paperback
Writer: J.M. DeMatteis
Artist/Cover artist: Dan Sweetman
Letters: Todd Klein
Editor: Karen Berger
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Price: $24.99 US

Boom! Studios is joining the ranks of such publishers as Fantagraphics, IDW Publishing and Image Comics by collecting out-of-print, creator-owned work that deserves to find a new audience in the 21st century. The Last One was a six-part series published under DC’s Vertigo imprint in 1993. Readers of more unusual modern comics fare might find The Last One a little reminiscent of Peter David’s Fallen Angel, but really, its parentage is pretty clear. On the one hand, it’s clearly writer J.M. DeMatteis’s baby; the writer has demonstrated a penchant for writing surreal stories of spirituality and the supernatural. DeMatteis is the father, and Vertigo founder and editor Karen Berger is the mother, as this book boasts some of the same genetic material as the imprint’s original flagship title, Sandman. In any case, The Last One is a mature, thoughtful book full of smaller stories that make up the larger one of a divine being’s slow journey towards realization and fulfillment.

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