Monthly Archives: April 2009

Quick Critiques – April 30, 2009

Atomic Robo Vol. 3 #1 (Red 5 Comics)
by Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener

Brian Clevenger and Wegener return with yet another glimpse into the life of Robo, Nikola Tesla’s greatest achievement, adventurer and student. This issue is quite unlike just about any other issue of Atomic Robo to come before it as the title character doesn’t punch, shoot or blow anything up in this comic book. That’s quite a shift for this book. The issue consists mostly of Robo’s 1926 encounter with two of his “father’s” former colleagues: Charles Fort and H.P. Lovecraft. The script consists mostly of talking heads. At first, it’s cute, reminiscent of a sci-fi version of an Abbott and Costello routine. Clevinger tries to stretch the banter and confusion out a little too long, and I suspect he was trying to hold back the physical conflict until the next issue. Just as it starts to become tedious and the reader wonders when the action is going to begin, Clevinger reveals the plot that will apparently drive this story well beyond the confines of this opening chapter. It’s a novel concept, a nice take on the Lovecraftian menace we’ve seen so many times in comics over the years.

Wegener’s exaggerated style certainly works well with the comedic tone that dominates the first half or two thirds of the issue. I love Robo as the befuddled straight man to the weird ramblings of Fort and Lovecraft. Wegener’s depiction of the two writers reminded me of the style of Cory (Invincible) Walker. The strongest visual, other than the surprisingly expressive Robo, is the monster that’s revealed toward the end of the issue. Wegener’s sharp, angular style works quite well when it comes to conveying the twisted, organic, flailing form of the antagonist. It’s creepy, cool and powerful in appearance all at once. 7/10

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Winter Blues

Old Man Winter and Other Sordid Tales
Writer/artist/cover artist: J.T. Yost
Publisher: Birdcage Bottom Books
Price: $6.95 US

Self-published comics are often one of the richest sources of different ideas and unique storytelling in the comic-book industry. Whereas corporate comics are inextricably mired in maintaining the status quo, creators who are answerable only to themselves have the freedom to do, say or depict anything they want. Disappointing forays into self-publishing can be those that don’t avail themselves of that freedom or those whose creators lack the skills to match their passion for the medium. This anthology from writer/artist J.T. Yost is no disappointment. It’s one of those examples of the new and the different and the unique. The main story, from which the book derives its title, is a wonderfully touching and melancholy study of a difficult and awkward phase of life. That story — a new work from the creator — is honest and down to earth. The rest of the material in this anthology was previously published, but chances are you’re like me and are unfamiliar with all of the stories. While “Old Man Winter” is relatable and straightforward, Yost’s approach in the other stories is more unconventional and experimental in tone. Yost, in this Xeric award-supported book, demonstrates a diversity of style, subject matter and emotion that proves that he’s a well-rounded and skilled storyteller.

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The Buck Starts Here

Buck Rogers #0
Writer: Scott Beatty
Artist: Carlos Rafael
Colors: Carlos Lopez
Letters: Simon Bowland
Cover artist: John Cassaday
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Price: 25 cents

Dynamite Entertainment adds to its lineup of well-known, even classic genre-fiction characters with this latest foray into science-fiction comics. While hardly obscure, it’s safe to say that Buck Rogers is a character with which much of the publisher’s audience might not be familiar. After all, the last major pop-culture endeavor revolving around the title character was the Gil Gerard television of the late 1970s/early ’80s, as far as I know. He certainly doesn’t have the cachet of such characters as the Lone Ranger and Zorro, so one could argue that Dynamite might face a bit of an uphill battle in its bid to develop an audience for this title. Releasing a prologue issue for only 25 cents is a solid strategy in that battle, one the publisher has employed in the past. With super-hero scribe Scott Beatty at the helm of this book, it’s off to a solid start, with some slick sci-fi writing and even more polished artwork to draw one into the weird adventure. Beatty and artist Carlos Rafael achieve a nice balance between modern storytelling and elements more in keeping with Buck’s roots as pulp action-adventure hero.

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Night of the Living Dead

Blackest Night #0
“Death Becomes Us”
Writer: Geoff Johns
Pencils/Cover artist: Ivan Reis
Inks: Oclair Albert & Rob Hunter
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Letters: Nick J. Napolitano
Editor: Eddie Berganza
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: Free

This is one of two free comics DC is offering for Free Comic Book Day, scheduled for May 2 this year (the other is DC Kids Mega Sampler, obviously designed for new, young readers). As the title suggests, this is a prologue to DC’s big summer event, but it also serves as a primer on the Green Lantern Corps, the other color corps that have debuted recently and play a role in the event. Furthermore, the 12-page story also sums up recent events in the DC Universe, mainly, those that involve the deaths of a number of super-heroes, including Batman and the Martian Manhunter. Despite the fact that this story is steeped in DC continuity and a contrived (by fun) event concept, it’s accessible, which is exactly what one of these free comics ought to be. The goal of Free Comic Book Day is, after all, to attract new readers to the medium. DC’s goal with this publication, however, seems to be to attract existing comics readers — mainly Marvel fans — to its universe of colorful characters.

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Quick Critiques – April 22, 2009

Incentive variant coverAmazing Spider-Man #592 (Marvel Comics)
by Mark Waid, Mike McKone & Andy Lanning

Best ending to a Spider-Man comic. Ever. OK, maybe I’m overstating it, but man, it was a riot. And everything about this issue seems to revolve around the more extreme, goofy elements in Spider-Man’s world. Mark Waid focuses his attention on the enmity between the title character and ex-newspaper publisher turned New York City Mayor J. Jonah Jameson. Now, I have to admit that I was much more impressed with Brian Michael Bendis’s take on the character recently in Ultimate Spider-Man, but Waid celebrates the stubbornness of the classic take on the character here. One can’t help but be entertained, especially by Spidey’s determination to aggravate his old nemesis. There’s a lot in this script that doesn’t make sense — Peter’s easy acceptance that his life didn’t seem to go off the rails after a two-month absence, for example — but the writing is so much fun, you really won’t notice or care all that much.

Mike McKone’s take on Spider-Man here has the kind of energy and enthusiasm we’ve seen in the past when artists such as John Romita Sr. and the late Mike Wieringo brought the character to life on the page. The one visual element in the book that didn’t quite work for me was the rather ordinary look of JJJ’s mayoral office; I’d expected something more opulent and official in appearance. Also disappointing is the cover art. The regular cover, by Joe Quesada, is too dark and intense in tone as compared to the lighter feel found within, and the “Wolverine Art Appreciation” variant cover has absolutely nothing to do with this story or the title character. Of course, I would imagine that’s true of all the various variant covers adorning Marvel’s titles this month. 7/10

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Moore Movies

Alan MooreSome have characterized the big-screen release of Watchmen to be something of a commercial flop; I don’t agree, as it’s bound to prove to be profitable in the long run, once home-video sales are factored in. Still, it’s undeniable that it didn’t perform as hoped, that it didn’t prove to be the box-office powerhouse many expected it to be. Nevertheless, 2009 is definitely the year of Alan Moore. Despite distancing himself from movies based on his comics, he’s as well known as ever, and his work is selling better than ever before as well. Fans await his forthcoming work, notably the latest foray into the world of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. With that in mind, I delved into a couple of DVDs directly connected with Moore, one produced with his participation, and another against his wishes.

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Shot Through the Heart

You Have Killed Me original hardcover graphic novel
Writer: Jamie S. Rich
Artist/Cover artist: Joelle Jones
Letters: Douglas E. Sherwood
Editor: James Lucas Jones
Publisher: Oni Press
Price: $19.95 US

This upcoming project has been on my radar since its announcement. That it was crafted by the same creative team as 12 Reasons Why I Love Her. Jamie S. Rich and Joelle Jones delivered an excellent romance/slice-of-life story with that graphic novel, and with this new project, they turn their attention to another genre. As the title suggests, You Have Killed Me explores some slightly darker territory. Rich and Jones embrace the film-noir private-eye story with this book. As I began reading, I worried that their take might come off as derivative or even corny. To my relief and pleasure, they do right by the genre. Jones’s art is as attractive as ever, and not just because she captures seductive silhouettes. She captures the historical backdrop for this piece of fiction incredibly well, but she never goes so far as to strive for a photorealistic approach in her linework. There are a couple of intriguing mysteries to be found in this book, as well as a colorful array of characters and a tribute to a cultural history that’s been left behind but is rightly remembered.

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They Gave Me a Loaner While Mine’s in the Shop

Jan’s Atomic Heart original graphic novella
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Simon Roy
Publisher: New Reliable Press
Price: $5.95 US

I don’t think I’ve ever heard of New Reliable Press. I’d never heard tell of comics creator Simon Roy. And I certainly never heard of Jan’s Atomic Heart before, so when the publisher provided an advance preview of the book for review, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. That probably enhanced my appreciation of this book, as it kept surprising me. At first, I didn’t realize it was science-fiction, even with the cues on the cover, as the opening sequence dances around the sci-fi premise. As I continued to read, I enjoyed the writer’s unconventional examination of friendship, so much so that I didn’t see where he was leading me with convincing and provoking background details of a political and military nature. Jan’s Atomic Heart is both incredibly grounded and mind-blowing in its originality. It’s touching and frightening. Roy has crafted a compelling story that’s relevant and relatable, and if that’s not enough, he brings it to life with inventive designs and a slightly rough style that brings out the humanity even in characters that doubt their own humanity. The fact that this book is being published by a lesser-known outfit will mean this book will likely fly under a lot of readers’ radar, but Jan’s Atomic Heart merits a lot of attention from a lot of people.

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Quick Critiques – April 9, 2009

Variant coverCaptain America 70th Anniversary Special #1 (Marvel Comics)
by James Robinson & Marcos Martin

I hadn’t heard about this one-shot until a couple of days before its release. I wasn’t sure if I was going to pick it up, but Marcos Martin’s association with the project was enough to get me on board. After all, his recent Marvel work (Dr. Strange: The Oath, Amazing Spider-Man) has been tremendously strong. Unfortunately, that strength just isn’t as prevalent in this one-shot. The problem lies with his depiction of an emaciated, pre-Super-Soldier-Serum Steve Rogers. He looks like a concentration-camp detainee, not a feeble young man from the streets of New York City. Conversely, James Robinson’s plot seems to ignore the notion that Rogers is meant to be physically weak before his transformation into Captain America. In this story, the 90-pound weakling is as fast, agile and accurate as Cap. The point is to try to show that what makes Cap so special is his spirit, but instead, the focus remains on physicality.

To appease readers who mightn’t be happy about the inflated $3.99 US cover price, Marvel has opted to include a Golden Age Cap/Bucky reprint story. I would have expected the original version of the Cap origin story, but instead, editor Stephen Wacker opts for a somewhat goofy baseball story. I like that the reprint material isn’t redundant or familiar, and the oddball nature of the plot was entertaining. Still, it seems an odd choice, and I would have rather paid $2.99 US for the comic without the reprint. (Actually, I wish I hadn’t forked out any money for it in the first place.) 4/10

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What He Does Isn’t Pretty

Wolverine: Weapon X #1
“The Adamantium Men, Part 1 of 5”
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Ron Garney
Colors: Jason Keith
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Cover artists: Ron Garney/Adam Kubert/Olivier Coipel/Alan Davis
Editor: John Barber
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99 US

I didn’t enjoy this comic book at all, but honestly, I can’t blame the writer, the artist, the editor or the publisher. It’s my fault, you see. For some reason, I expected to find something a little different, something a little new. I’d heard good things about Jason Aaron’s Marvel work, and since I’ve enjoyed Ron Garney’s efforts in the past, I figured this newly launched series might something I’d appreciate. But hey, it’s a new Wolverine comic subtitled Weapon X. I’m at a loss to explain why I’d expect anything more than the typical blood, bravado and black ops that have been part and parcel of the title character for the past couple of decades.

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Nomination Examination

The nominees for what is generally seen as the pinnacle of North American comics awards have been announced, and as I read through the list I was struck by how many surprises there were to be found this year. Overall, it’s a solid list of honorees, and I don’t think many in the industry will take umbrage by those chosen for the final cut (for the full list of nominees, click here). I have no doubt that those that step up on stage at the awards ceremony at the 2009 Comic-Con International San Diego on July 24. Here are some random thoughts about the choices that the Eisner judges made this year. Bear in mind, this column isn’t about my picks for the winner, but rather some stray thoughts about the choices and even the categorization themselves.

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A Slave Labor Comic About a Slave Laborer

Captain Blood: Odyssey #1
Writer: Matt Shepard
Artist: Mike Shoyket
Letters: David Hedgecock
Editor: Jennifer de Guzman
Publisher: Slave Labor Graphics
Price: $3.50 US

Despite the success of Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean movies, the pirate-adventure genre hasn’t taken off, at not in the same way that, say, zombies have. Sure, we’ve seen a few pirate comics in recent years — El Cazador and Polly and the Pirates come to mind. Slave Labor’s foray into the genre is adapted from a 1922 novel by Rafael Sabatin, Captain Blood: His Odyssey. I’m not familiar with the source material, but I do know this comic-book adaptation makes me think it must me a helluva fun adventure novel. While the plot here is compelling and well presented and paced, the real star of Captain Blood is the artwork of Mike Shoyket. His sketchy style captures the historical flavor of this piece of fiction incredibly well. He brings an incredible dynamism to the title character, and he makes excellent use of darkness and shadow, enhancing the harsh, tense and foreboding mood perfectly.

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Quick Critiques – April 3, 2009

Destroyer #1 (Marvel Comics/Max Comics imprint)
by Robert Kirkman & Cory Walker

I didn’t know what to expect from this limited series, but the fact that the creative force behind is the same one that gave us Invincible was all I needed to know to make the decision to pick it up. After reading the first issue, I find I’m quite torn. The over-the-top violence and the title character’s casual attitude toward it were more than a little off-putting. This sort of extreme approach to the super-hero genre can work if approached correctly; a similar depiction of violence worked well in Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen’s NextWave, for example. But Destroyer isn’t a satire or a comedy. It’s a drama. I found Keene Marlow’s struggle to come to terms with his mortality and what it means for the people around him to be incredibly compelling. I just couldn’t see how the reflective, sensitive man we get to know in his private life could be the man who clearly relishes violence once he dons a mask and costume. Mind you, I so much want to learn more about the man, I’m willing to put up with the monster… for now.

Walker’s artwork is crisp and slickly stylized. His efforts here remind me of the kind of energy and personality one can find in Cully (Black Lightning: Year One) Hamner’s art. He conveys Keene’s age quite well without making him seem feeble. I like that he crafts him as a stout, solid powerhouse of a man. Walker’s design for the title character’s wife represents a nice balance of ordinary and extraordinary. My one qualm about the visual side of the book (aside from the gore) is the actual design for the title’s protagonist. I know it’s in keeping with his classic look, but it’s so Skrull-like, I wonder if it might not confuse some of Marvel’s newer readers who are unfamiliar with this obscure property. 6/10

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Nastier Than a Speeding Bullet

Irredeemable #1
Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Peter Krause
Colors: Andrew Dalhouse
Letters: Ed Dukeshire
Cover artists: John Cassaday/Barry Kitson
Editor: Matt Gagnon
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Price: $3.99 US

While last week’s launch of Boom! Studios line of licensed comics for younger readers was a pivotal moment for the publisher (and by all indications, a successful one), the debut of this new super-hero genre title from editor-in-chief and industry star Mark Waid is clearly important to Boom as well. It’s certainly put a strong promotional push behind it, and it’s even recruited writer Grant Morrison to extol the virtues of Waid and Irredeemable. He lauds Waid as an innovator, dismissing the label of Waid as someone whose sensibilities are mired in the Silver Age of super-heroes. I both agree and disagree with Morrison’s assessment. Yes, there’s more to Mark Waid’s writing than simple love for the comics and characters of yesteryear. But no, Irredeemable doesn’t represent an exciting new vision of the genre. We’ve been down this road before, and that’s OK. I like what Waid offers in this comic, but while it’s dark in tone, it’s not exactly cutting-edge stuff either. Not so far, anyway.

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Cut to the Chaser

Soul Chaser Betty original graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist/Publisher: Brian “BMan” Babendererde
Price: $14.95 US

This graphic novel’s been sitting on My Big Pile of Books for Review(TM) for some time now, and I have to admit that my delay in picking it up and reading it stems mainly from the fact that its creator is clearly inspired by manga concepts and style. I’m not the biggest fan of manga, though there are a few high-quality books that have won me over in the past. Soul Chaser Betty isn’t one of those rare, mind-blowing books, but as I began to read it, I found a capably crafted, solidly presented piece of Amerimanga…. at first. The further one delves into Brian Babendererde’s book, the more it becomes cluttered with formulaic elements. While the creator developed a solid premise, cast of characters and a look that are clearly in keeping with the tastes of the manga niche market and used them as the foundation for this project, his tendency to keep adding and adding and adding to his mythology overburdens the storytelling. At best, Babendererde is guilty of having too many ideas and characters floating around in his head and failing to hold some of them in. At worst, he’s tried to incorporate as many stereotypical genre elements as possible in an effort to come up with a winning, magic combination, not in the name of storytelling but promotional efforts.

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