Monthly Archives: May 2009

Quick Critiques – May 31, 2009

Dark Reign: The Hood #1 (Marvel Comics)
by Jeff Parker & Kyle Hotz

One of my favorite developments from Brian Michael Bendis’s New Avengers in recent years (which extended into the “Dark Reign” event) was the excellent use he’s made of Brian K. Vaughan’s the Hood. However, the character’s depiction in various Marvel titles as of late has been inconsistent, and it’s definitely strayed pretty from the character’s origins. Writer Jeff Parker advances the title character’s story here by looking back at his roots and who the man really is. Parker recognizes that Vaughan’s criminal creation is a guy who’s smart but who’s also in over his head. The Hood’s persona as a criminal mastermind and leader of super-villains is as much of a mask as his demonic hood. Parker explains why he’s been more effective as a leader of villains as compared to others who’ve taken on that role in the past as well. Ultimately, the Hood is nothing more than Parker Robbins, a crook who just wants to protect and provide for his family, opting to do so in the most dangerous way possible. It’s just the only way he knows how.

I love that Marvel acknowledges where this character came from by hiring Kyle Hotz, the artist on the first Hood limited series, to bring him to life in this spotlight once again. Hotz gets the dark edges of the Marvel Universe, the quiet but pervading supernatural tone and the extreme personalities that gather in this story. He handles the crowded villain scenes quite well, but even with his exaggerated style, he able to convey Robbins’s humanity in later scenes. 8/10

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Animal Pragmatism

The Last Days of Animal Man #1
“Part One: Deny”
Writer: Gerry Conway
Pencils: Chris Batista
Inks: Dave Meikis
Colors: Mike Atiyeh
Letters: Clem Robins
Cover artist: Brian Bolland
Editor: Joey Cavalieri
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US

This limited series is getting underway about, oh, two years too late. I’m not suggesting it’s been delayed or lying around or anything. The point is that Animal Man’s popularity peaked in 2006-2007, when he was a featured player in 52. This far removed from that weekly series, this title’s sudden arrival in comic shops is a little perplexing. However, there were a couple of elements that were enough to grab my attention, to pique my curiosity. Chief among them was the fact that this marks Punisher and Firestorm co-creator Gerry Conway’s return to comics. He spent some time as a part of the Law & Order machine, and he also served as a producer and writer for a variety of other TV shows. Conway’s super-hero sensibilities of the 1970s and 1980s show through here, but he also includes some socio-political elements and some solid characterization. Furthermore, I’ve always really enjoyed the crisp, dynamic super-hero artwork of Chris Batista.

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Over the Lips and Past the Gums…

Chew #1 coverChew #2 coverChew #s 1 & 2
Writer/Letters: John Layman
Artist/Colors/Cover artist: Rob Guillory
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $2.99 US each

If one were to look at John Layman’s recent works (Puffed, Tek Jansen, Army of Darkness/Xena), it would be easy to view him as something of an oddball comics writer (aren’t they all?! Haw! [rimshot]). Well, this latest effort isn’t going to change that impression one bit, and that’s a good thing. Layman brings a twisted perspective to storytelling that’s definitely unlike the majority of crime or genre fiction. Chew blends a dark, compelling crime-fiction atmosphere, biting political satire and over-the-top, absurdist humor to arrive at an entertaining and surprisingly compelling bit of storytelling that almost defies description. Rob Guillory’s exaggerated artwork mirrors the unusual tone of the script and plot perfectly. While his figures are far from familiar or grounded in appearance, they reflect the distorted, disturbing nature of the premise and plot points nicely.

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Days of Age

Age of Bronze #s 27 & 28
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Eric Shanower
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.50 US

Age of Bronze is one of those rare titles that deserves to be mentioned in the company of such indy success stories as Bone, Strangers in Paradise and Cerebus, but it isn’t, probably because it’s been published under the Image Comics banner. It’s a remarkably ambitious project for the medium, let alone in the episodic, “floppy” comic-book format. Shanower’s research into the subject matter, history, culture, personalities and warfare is meticulous, and he holds back no detail so as to recreate the events of ancient times for his readers. His artwork is as detail-oriented as his writing. So dense is it, in fact, that it leads one to conduct multiple readings, not just of the entire comic but of individual panels as well. Mind you, many of these strengths also act as hindrances in Shanower’s work. Age of Bronze certainly isn’t an easy comic, and I can’t help but wonder if the sheer volume of information the creator tries to impart isn’t something of an albatross around the book’s neck.

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Quick Critiques – May 18, 2009

Final Crisis Aftermath: Escape #1 (DC Comics)
by Ivan Brandon, Marco Rudy & Mick Gray

After the first of these Final Crisis Aftermath titles left a bad taste in my mouth, I approached this second in the series with some trepidation. the good news is that it’s much better than Run, but one has to bear in mind that’s not exactly a Herculean task, creatively speaking. This tale of Nemesis’s surreal imprisonment in a mysterious facility along with other figures from the world of espionage in the DC Universe is reminiscent of The Prisoner, and on that level, it’s intriguing. This is a complete and utter mystery. We have no idea who’s holding Nemesis, why, what the others have to do with it or how he came to be in this position. That all-encompassing, permeating air of mystery is somewhat enticing, but the plot is frustrating and puzzling as well. There’s no indication what this has to do with the aftermath of Final Crisis. Furthermore, it seems completely disconnected from Wonder Woman, a title in which Nemesis plays an integral role. It doesn’t even acknowledge it, it seems. This unusual story is hindered by the fact that the characters are connected to DC continuity. It seemingly tries to ignore that context even though the book’s title itself embraces it as part of the appeal.

Marco Rudy’s artwork strives for a realistic appearance, but it doesn’t quite get there. The penciller hits his mark, though, when it comes to conveying the mind-bending, dizzying nature of the hero’s experiences. As was the case with Run, the strongest visual element this comic book has going for it is the cover artwork, this time by Scott Hampton, which captures the darkness and the weirdness of the subject matter within rather succinctly. 5/10

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Unwritten Rules

The Unwritten #1
“Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity”
Writer: Mike Carey
Artist: Peter Gross
Colors: Chris Chuckry
Letters: Todd Klein
Cover artist: Yuko Shimizu
Editor: Pornsak Pichetshote
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo imprint
Price: $1 US

The $1 cover price is a solid promotional approach for this new series. The Vertigo brand doesn’t turn as many heads as it did when it debuted 16 years ago, so anything DC Comics can do to attract attention to a new series is a smart move. What attracted my attention to this comic on the shelves of my local comic shop was the fact that there more copies of this comic than any other among the new releases. I took a closer look and discovered the price. I grabbed a copy without even glancing inside or inquiring about the premise. I’ll check out any professionally crafted comic for a buck, especially one written by Mike Carey and illustrated by Peter Gross. As strong as the storytelling is in this comic book, if the series succeeds, it’ll be due in no small part to this cheap cover price.

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Swan Song

Cassaday coverCalero coverIrredeemable #2
Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Peter Krause
Colors: Andrew Dalhouse
Letters: Ed Dukeshire
Cover artists: John Cassaday/Dennis Calero
Editor: Matt Gagnon
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Price: $3.99 US

I’m not in the habit anymore of writing a full review of a comic book when I’d written one up for a previous issue the month before, but after reading this second episode of Mark Waid’s deconstruction of the concept of Superman, I realized I had a lot to say about it and that this marked a significant improvement over the storytelling in the first issue. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Irredeemable #1; it featured entertaining, solid storytelling. But with the second issue, writer Mark Waid and artist Peter Krause really step up their performances. One could dismiss Irredeemable as the latest in a series of dark takes on the super-hero genre, but Waid and Krause offer up some novel character concepts amid a commentary on Superman comics of yesteryear.

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Quick Critiques – May 10, 2009

Astro City: Dark Age/Book Three #1 (DC Comics/Wildstorm Productions)
by Kurt Busiek & Brent E. Anderson

Kurt Busiek turns his attention back to the Williams brothers and their new quest to avenge the death of their parents at the hand of a criminal henchman. There’s a lot of history to the Astro City: Dark Age storyline, and Busiek’s script ensures this latest in a series of series is accessible to the new or casual reader (whether or not Astro City is attracting new readers at this point is another matter). The cover and the opening scene are something of a distracting from the main plot, but they are important to the success of the storytelling experience overall. The harshness of the massacre and the emergence of a more brutal incarnation of an established heroine help to establish the cultural, political and emotional mood that’s integral to the story. That Busiek has set this story in 1982 is no coincidence. It mirrors darker times in America and a time in super-hero comics when more mature and darker ideas were being explored. What I most enjoyed about this plot, though, has to be Royal’s redemption. Though revenge is his ultimate goal, he’s definitely changed his ways; he’s acting more selflessly, having become something larger than his own greed.

Anderson’s loose, sketchy style doesn’t prevent him from doing an incredible job of world-building. He makes the Silver Age goofiness of a private army of Pyramid soldiers seem plausible, and he makes the horrors of a demonic, murderous villain seem chillingly plausible. There’s a grittiness in his style here that reinforces the darker atmosphere as well. 8/10

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Flee Market

Final Crisis Aftermath: Run! #1
“Step One: Make a Lot of Enemies”
Writer: Matthew Sturges
Artist: Freddie Williams
Colors: Tanya & Richard Horie
Letters: Travis Lanham
Cover artist: Kako
Editor: Ian Sattler
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US

I was a bit perplexed when DC Comics announced its plans to publish a bunch of Final Crisis Aftermath mini-series four months after the conclusion of Final Crisis. The publisher has essentially lost any momentum generated by the (generally) well-received final issue of Grant Morrison’s event title. It seems these Final Crisis Aftermath books should have been released in — oh, I don’t know — the aftermath of Final Crisis. Still, there were elements in the solicitation copy for some of these new limited series that piqued my interest, and one was the potential for an interesting character study of a villain, the Human Flame, in Run!. That’s why I opted to purchase this first issue, but my wallet won’t abide any more for future issues. Williams offers up a caricature rather than a character. The central figure in this story is so completely loathsome that I’m at a loss as to why anyone would be interested in learning more about him. Perhaps some depth will be found in future issues, but I won’t be around to discover them.

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Holmes Sweet Holmes

Sherlock Holmes #1
“The Trial of Sherlock Holmes, Part One: A Smoking Gun”
Writers: Leah Moore & John Reppion
Artist: Aaron Campbell
Colors: Tony Avina
Letters: Simon Bowland
Cover artist: John Cassaday
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Price: $3.50 US

Being a comics writing team consisting of the daughter and son-in-law of Alan Moore must be something of a daunting prospect. The family association no doubt brings a lot of expectations along with it. Of the various Leah Moore/John Reppion comics I’ve read in the past, they’ve ranged from capably crafted, entertaining works to groan-inducing, creative flops. Sherlock Holmes doesn’t fall into either category, as it stands out as the strongest bit of writing I’ve seen from this team thus far in its career (albeit, I admit I haven’t sampled every one of their published efforts to date). Moore and Reppion capture a classic Holmes tone (or least what passes for one as far as I can tell), and they do so with some fun, intriguing mystery storytelling. There’s not just one mystery for Holmes to solve here, but several, all intertwining with one another. This was a strong debut issue, and I await the next episode with bated breath.

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Quick Critiques – May 3, 2009

Justice Society of America #26 (DC Comics)
by Geoff Johns, Dale Eaglesham & Nathan Massengill

Writer Geoff Johns and penciller Dale Eaglesham bring their tenures on this title to a close with a surprisingly character-driven (though certainly not quiet) story. Johns’s association with the Justice Society goes back 10 years to his debut as co-writer on the sixth issue of this title’s predecessor, JSA. Given that his take on the Justice Society has been linked to the themes of tradition and family, this self-contained issue — devoid of super-hero action and intrigue — is a fitting note on which the writer should take his leave. The script doesn’t even dwell that much on the events of the past two Justice Society series. Instead, it focuses on how several characters have grown. It’s ironic, I suppose, that Johns’s final issue of the series is actually a decent primer on the cast and themes at its heart. The one aspect of the script that didn’t quite sit well with me was the notion that Starman’s mental illness is played up for laughs.

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