Monthly Archives: June 2009

Quick Critiques – June 29, 2009

The Last Days of Animal Man #2 (DC Comics)
by Gerry Conway, Chris Batista & Dave Meikis

I love that Conway has set this story in the future, as it allows him to play around with the DC Universe in ways that the constraints of present continuity wouldn’t allow. I loved the whale Green Lantern. It’s not clear if he’s an alien or an intelligent Great Blue whale from Earth. If other DC writers are smart, they’ll pick up on this character concept in the future. Conway also offers a strong character study in the form of the new villain he introduces here. He could have taken a shortcut and not bothered to delve into what motivates her, as it doesn’t seem as though she’ll have a lasting presence through this limited series. Nevertheless, I found the character intriguing, even in light of her lack of any emotional connection to others. Conway could have written a different, more stereotypical origin for the child of a noted DC super-villain, but he takes her in a different direction — the path of the sociopath, as it were. The title character’s story doesn’t advance all that much, but the new characters introduced here more than make for an engaging read.

Batista’s sleek and striking figures are quite attractive. He conveyed the title character’s age nicely in the first issue when he was out of costume, but I notice that when Buddy’s in Animal Man mode, he still boasts a more youthful look. Since this story is essentially about aging (this issue representing the conflict between generations), clearer cues as to Animal Man’s middle-age status would be warranted. Still, the art is quite eye-catching, even considering the generic tone of the designs for the new villains that have been turning up in this series. 7/10

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To Be Me, or Not to Be Me

Existence 2.0 #1
Writer: Nick Spencer
Artist: Ron Salas
Colors: S. Steven Struble
Letters: John Lowe
Editor: Kris Simon
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.50 US

Writer Nick Spencer has developed a novel premise that blends science and the supernatural, and he’s used it as a catalyst for a crime story rife with intrigue and conspiracy. The premise is sharp and full of potential; this could be the first of many limited series featuring different characters dealing with the core concept in different ways. Despite these strengths, I came away from this debut issue feeling less than entertained. I immediately recognized the problem: I can’t stand any of the characters in the story. The main character — a scientist who’s willing to work for any client, break any law (natural or institutional) and only interested in his own hedonistic whims — is detestable, and it’s hard to root for him. Impossible, really. The story is exciting, the script accessible and effective, and the art captures the edgy, dark qualities nicely. I just can’t get past how thoroughly unlikable the protagonist is.

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Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto

Bradford coverSlemons coverRobot 13: Colossus! #1
Writer: Thomas Hall
Artist: Daniel Bradford
Cover artists: Daniel Bradford/Jeff Slemons
Publisher: Blacklist Studios
Price: $3 US/$4 CAN

Sometimes, it pays for comic shops to have sharp staff members who know comics and know their customers’ tastes. That’s how this particular comic book came to my attention. My local comic shop was so supportive of this indy effort that it ordered more copies of this book than many DC and Marvel releases that were on the stand beside it. I can see why. Robot 13, both the title and the character, boasts the same kind of appeal and cachet that made Hellboy and Atomic Robo such successes (to varying degrees, of course) in the comics industry. Robot 13 was definitely inspired by Mignola’s work, especially when it comes to the visuals. Some might argue Robot 13 is redundant in light of the publication of those other properties, but I was thoroughly entertained and amused, not to mention dazzled by the macabre design for the title character.

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Gotham City Confidential

I’ve taken a look at three of the other Batman family titles that have been launched or relaunched under the new “Batman: Reborn” brand, and it’s been promising so far. Now it’s time to discuss another three titles in the line. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, but overall, there’s no denying the fact that “Batman: Reborn” has brought a new creative energy to the titles, and I expect it’ll translate into some strong sales for DC. Now, let’s onto my comments about Batman: Streets of Gotham #1, Detective Comics #854 and Gotham City Sirens #1.

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Publishing Visionary

Wizard Magazine founder Gareb Shamus has unveiled his latest project, and it’s going to change the entire world. It’s going to change history. And it’s going to change each and every one of us.

I’m not talking about FunFare, by the way. Yes, Wizard Entertainment issued a news release Monday announcing the upcoming launch of the new magazine about toys (for parents and kids, unlike Wizard’s ToyFare magazine, which was apparently for frat boys, given the intellectual level of several its features). Obviously, a new toy magazine is a minor cultural development and serves only as a curiosity, giving observers of the collectible industry pause since Wizard’s been struggling the past couple of years.

No, the amazing, life-altering, incredibly important development is this: Gareb Shamus has unlocked the secrets of time travel.

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The Degradation of Church and State

Project H original softcover graphic novel
Writer/Artist: Brandon Carstens
Publisher: Wonjoolaai Studios
Price: $16.95 US

Comics are an international medium, popular the world over, obviously. When one thinks of the medium in a global sense, though, the terms “American comics,” “Euro-comics” and manga come to mind readily. South Africa certainly doesn’t make that short list, so it was with interest that I delved into this graphic novel by South African creator Brandon Carstens. To my pleasure, I found that South African culture factored heavily into this murder mystery/conspiracy story. Even better was Carstens’s exploration of the notions of faith and secular thinking and how they affect the manner in which a society functions. He touches upon the conflict between nostalgia for simpler times and the undeniable power of new technologies have over the 21st-century consciousness. There’s no denying that Carstens’s ideas are challenging and engaging. Unfortunately, his storytelling skills distract from those ideas. There’s a lot of great potential to be found in this graphic novel, but the execution leaves a bit to be desired. I suspect Carstens would be well-served by working an editor and polishing his line art.

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Stark Raging Bad

The Hunter hardcover graphic novel
Writer: Donald Westlake
Artist/Adaptation/Cover artist: Darwyn Cooke
Editor: Scott Dunbier
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Price: $24.99 US

One of the most anticipated announcements at Comic-Con International San Diego 2008 (and one of the most professionally run and applauded announcements) was that involving artist Darwyn Cooke’s next project, to be released by IDW Publishing. It’s fitting that on July 22, the first night of Comic-Con International San Diego 2009, marks the official release of that project. The Hunter is an adaptation of the novel of the same name penned by the late Donald Westlake under his Richard Stark nom de plume. I’ve not read any of Westlake’s work (though I have seen the movie Payback, which is based on The Hunter), but I am a big fan of Cooke’s work. I recently got the chance to peruse an advance reader’s copy of the graphic-novel adaptation, and I must confess I was incredibly excited about it. Mind you, I worried a bit that I might be venturing into one of those situations in which the anticipation and expectations for a project might eclipse the actual experience. Fortunately, this isn’t one of those occasions.

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News Faker of the Year

Cap Reborn #1 Quesada variantThe Cap is out of the bag, finally, as it was revealed — both by some mainstream media outlets and Marvel’s PR department — that Captain America (the “real” one, Steve Rogers) is going to return. The “Reborn” title we’ve been hearing about is actually Captain America Reborn, and it’s set to begin July 1. The New York Daily News ran a piece on it, as did CNN. Marvel’s handling of the solicitations for both Reborn #1 and this week’s Captain America #600 raised the ire of many retailers, and understandably so, as stores weren’t given as much information as necessary to facilitate advance ordering.

In the wake of Monday’s reporting of the Cap resurrection story in the mainstream media, retailers have expressed further frustration. Brian Hibbs, owner of San Francisco’s Comix Experience, laments that some news coverage seems to make no mention of Cap #600, in which the resurrection/revival story gets underway. Consequently, he says, the demand for the special issue doesn’t seem as strong as it could be.

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Quick Critiques – June 12, 2009

Variant coverBatman #687 (DC Comics)
by Judd Winick, Ed Benes & Rob Hunter

Despite the branding on the cover, this really isn’t a “Batman Reborn” title; the credits and title page within correctly bill this as an epilogue to Battle for the Cowl, bridging the two directions for the Bat-titles. Writer Judd Winick spends a lot of time answering questions that really didn’t need answering — such as why the world doesn’t seem to think the Batman died at all, why the new Batman has a new base of operations in Gotham and what other super-heroes in the DC Universe think about what’s happened with the Batman’s world and family. Fortunately, Winick does include some elements that work quite well, and those are the ones focusing on characterization, on emotion. Alfred is really the star of this script. He guides Dick Grayson through a difficult transition, and it’s clear that this is how Alfred is dealing with his grief.

Unfortunately, Ed Benes’s exaggerated style, with the hulking heroic figures lurching about almost every page, doesn’t suit the grounded, emotional elements from which the story draws its strengths. His style just doesn’t feel right for these characters, for this story. It worked at times for the epic, colorful tone of Justice League of America when the most recent incarnation of that title first debuted. 6/10

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Swamp Thing

Bayou Volume One trade paperback
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Jeremy Love
Colors: Patrick Morgan
Editors: Kwanza Johnson & Sean Mackiewicz
Publisher: DC Comics/Zuda Comics
Price: $14.99 US/$16.99 CAN

I don’t read webcomics.

It’s not that I think they’re inferior. Not at all, and I fully acknowledge that the medium has to adapt to new technologies, not to mention the sensibilities and habits of 21st-century readers. When it comes to webcomics, though, it’s just… I don’t have the time, to be honest. I don’t even have the time to read all of the printed comics and graphic novels I have lying around the house. To delve into the ever-expanding world of webcomics is something I just can’t make room for in my life at this point. Fortunately, several online projects make their way into a printed format, allowing those of us who opt only for old-school comics to enjoy them. I don’t know if I would have had the patience to experience Bayou in its original serialized presentation online, but collected in this landscape trade-paperback format, it makes for a fascinating read. Creator Jeremy Love offers up a dark spin on the Wizard of Oz that serves to remind us of a dark chapter of American history that’s not as far behind us as many would like to believe.

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Quick Critiques – June 9, 2009

Batman in Barcelona: Dragon’s Knight (DC Comics)
by Mark Waid & Diego Olmos

Fans of 1970s and ’80s Batman stories will no doubt enjoy this one-shot in that Mark Waid’s plot pitting the title character against Killer Croc yet again is thoroughly generic and inconsequential in tone. However, it’s not the plot that’s the attraction here. Instead, the strengths stem from two sources: some interesting, moody artwork from a newcomer, and the cultural elements that almost steal the spotlight from the characters. Waid’s script brings the Spanish backdrop to life in a way that reminds me of Tom Beland’s work on his recent Fantastic Four and Spidey/Torch one-shots set in Puerto Rico. The plot touches upon Spanish history and myth, and the script embraces cultural preservation and celebration. The edgier elements that serve as the story’s catalyst — two other villains’ chemical transformation of Croc into a seeming serial killer — were intriguing as well and helped to set the plot apart from previous Batman fare, if only a bit.

Artist Diego Olmos is a real find. He demonstrates a lot of talent here, capturing the Batman’s dark, violent world nicely. His style strikes me as something of a cross between the styles of the legendary Alex Toth and one-time reigning Batman artist Norm Breyfogle. One of his most important contributions to this comic book is how he brings Barcelona to life. Mind you, the realism of the backdrop seems a bit at odds with the extreme nature of the protagonist and antagonist, who don’t really merit a realistic portrayal. Still, I enjoyed his efforts here a great deal, and I hope we’ll see more work from him soon. 7/10

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Passes Sold Out, People Left Out

Passes for Comic-Con International San Diego 2009 have sold out in record time, and a lot of people are celebrating. It’s easy to understand why. In what can only be described as uncertain economic times, the fact that so many shelled out so quickly for an event that’s clearly a luxury seems to be a sign that there’s strong support for the comics industry and medium. It’s certainly great news for those who run Comic-Con. Now the organizers and volunteers need only concern themselves with the smooth operation of the event and not so much the financial bottom line.

I’ve found the sellouts of passes in recent years — and especially for 2009 — to be somewhat disconcerting. Now, I’m unable to attend the con this year (my inability to attend has nothing to do with access to passes, though, but rather with more important financial commitments). I’ve made it twice in the past and hope to attend sometime in the future as well. I don’t anticipate trouble in the future in getting a pass. My concern lies, instead, with the casual comic-book fan.

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The Dysfunctional Duo

Jones variant coverBatman and Robin #1
“Batman Reborn, Part One: Domino Effect”
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Frank Quitely
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Letters: Patrick Brosseau
Cover artists: Frank Quitely/J.G. Jones (variant)
Editor: Mike Marts
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US

Now this is what “Batman: R.I.P.” should have looked like.

The overall tone of the storytelling in this debut issue is quite reminiscent of what writer Grant Morrison delivered throughout his run on the predecessor title Batman. The difference is that here, he’s teamed with an artist whose style is more in line with the writer’s mad sensibilities. Quitely’s hyperdetailed, over-the-top style is perfect when it comes to bringing this odd amalgam of Silver Age campiness and 21st-century darkness to life. Morrison’s script is quite accessible — it acknowledges that Bruce Wayne is gone, that Dick Grayson is carrying on his mantle and that Bruce’s intense, violent but brilliant son has taken up the Robin role — and it doesn’t elaborate beyond that. Nor should it. Morrison handles this new beginning as he should, rather than dwelling on the various super-hero events (Final Crisis, Battle for the Cowl) that led up to this point.

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Weekly Report

Trinity #52Trinity #s 1-52
Writers: Kurt Busiek & Fabian Nicieza
Pencils: Mark Bagley, Mike Norton, Scott McDaniel & Tom Derenick
Inks: Art Thibert, Jerry Ordway, Andy Owens, Ande Parks, John Stanisci, Wayne Faucher
Colors: Pete Pantazis & Allen Passalaqua
Letters: Pat Brosseau
Cover artists: Various
Editor: Mike Carlin
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US per issue

Has it already been another year? Judging from the number on this week’s issue of Trinity, yes it has. As DC’s third weekly series of the century comes to a close, it’s natural to look back and evaluate this experiment. Was it a success? If one were to compare its sales figures to those of 52 from two years ago (or even to the figures of the much-maligned Countdown to Final Crisis), one would have to say it was a flop. But the fact of the matter is that DC move a couple of hundred thousand copies (or more) of Trinity every month. That’s a lot of comics being rung up at cash registers. Given that DC’s next weekly series, Wednesday Comics, is exploring a much different approach to weekly genre comics, it’s clear that the publisher it out to revitalize its weekly efforts. I have to admit, I can’t wait to see it, but I’ll also have a soft spot for this scattered saga.

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