Monthly Archives: July 2009

Menace to Society

Justice Society of America #29
“Fresh Meat: Part 1 of The Bad Seed”
Writers: Bill Willingham & Matthew Sturges
Artist/Cover artist: Jesus Merino
Colors: Allen Passalaqua
Letters: Rob Leigh
Editor: Mike Carlin
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US

I’ve been a fan of DC’s Golden Age heroes and new characters following in their footsteps for a long time, ever since I was a kid and first learned of the “Earth-2” heroes active during the Second World War. Geoff Johns, the previous writer on this series, approached modern stories about the first super-hero team by focusing on their legacy, reviving Golden Age character concepts and breathing new life into them with younger characters, and I enjoyed the concept. Now this series has new writers, and one would expect a new approach. To my surprise, we get more of what Johns brought to the book, only Bill Willingham and Matthews Sturges don’t execute it as well. They take the concepts and wield them like sledgehammers. Everything about this plot is loud and urgent without any kind of buildup. The story unfolds awkwardly as a result, and the characters often speak or act in ways that just don’t make sense. Furthermore, while artist Jesus Merino seems to handle the expansive case of characters fairly well, his art lacks any truly distinct style.

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Pain in the Asterios

Asterios Polyp original hardcover graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: David Mazzucchelli
Publisher: Pantheon Books
Price: $29.95 US/$34 CAN

Like most comics readers, I associate the name “David Mazzucchelli” with Daredevil and Batman: Year One, the artist’s collaborations with writer Frank Miller. Those were much-lauded (and deservedly so) super-hero genre projects, but those who have read them shouldn’t consider them any kind of indication of what they can expect from Mazzucchelli and this book. Not only is this character- and philosophy-driven graphic far removed from spandex costumes and crime-fighting fisticuffs, it also boasts a radically different visual style.

I realize that might sound like I’m panning this project, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. This is an intellectual work about a flawed intellectual, and with it, Mazzucchelli proves that there are some stories that can only be told through the medium of comics. Asterios Polyp is an engrossing, challenging work. Everything about the book — the characterizations, the plotting, the art and the lettering — shows incredible vision and ambition on the creator’s part, and it demonstrates just how well he knows this medium. Harvey Pekar meets Scott McCloud in this fascinating tome, one that will not only amaze lovers of comics but will change the way they think about them.

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Quick Critiques – July 26, 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #600 (Marvel Comics)
by various creators

I don’t follow this series closely, but I figured five bucks for this much original material was a solid value. I was right. Some of the stories — especially the main Spidey vs. Doc Ock feature — are merely standard super-hero fare. While they try to do something new with the characters (again, especially with Doc Ock), what we really get are rehashes of super-hero genre conventions (though they’re competent rehashes nonetheless).

But there are some hidden gems in this comic book. May and JJJ Sr.’s wedding is sweet and touching and funny, for example. The real star of the book is Mark Waid’s story about Peter’s relationship with his Uncle Ben. Yes, it’s predictable, but it’s incredibly heartfelt; it’ll tug at yer heart-strings, I tells ya. Colleen Doran also provides some realistic art, devoid of super-hero style, which suits the tone of the down-to-earth script.

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It’s Grrrrrrreat!

Tiger! Tiger! Tiger! Volume One hardcover graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Scott Morse
Publisher: Red Window/AdHouse Books
Price: $14.95 US

I’ve been a fan of Scott Morse’s work — both creator-owned (such as Ancient Joe) and work for hire (Batman: Room Full of Strangers) — for several years now. I’ve missed a couple of his more recent efforts because the smaller hardcover books struck me as being a bit too expensive. Such is not the case with Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!. this oversized hardcover is well worth the marked price and more. Morse brings his usual surreal but cute style to bear once again, but this time, there’s a much more personal and revealing tone to his work, The creator exposes himself, sharing his hears, insecurities and hopes with his audience, and his unique art instills a magical quality to his heartfelt emotions and the mundane backdrop of the real world.

It takes a certain degree of confidence and ego to be an artist of any stripe as one has to believe that one’s creations merit an audience. But artist Scott Morse reveals that he often feels as lost as the rest of us. He’s struggling to live a good life, to be a good father. The world around him and the people in it can be frustrating, even infuriating, but when he pauses, he can see the wonder in the quieter, everyday moments as well.

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If I Did It…

Comic-Con International San Diego 2009 gets underway Wednesday, and comicdom’s little corner of the Internet has been abuzz for a couple of weeks with excitement on the part of professionals and fans alike. I wish I could share that kind of energy, but I’m left feeling a little disappointed. I’m unable to attend this year’s festivities/insanities yet again. Travelling to the show all the way from the East Coast of Canada to the Left Coast of the United States is financially daunting enough as it is, but when one factors in efforts to pay off bills amassed after a wedding and Irish honeymoon last fall and to save up for a home sometime in the coming months, committing to the Pilgrimage of the Comic-Book Enthusiast just isn’t feasible.

I have attended the convention on two occasions in the past: once courtesy an employer in 2000 (anyone remember the incarnation of Comics Newsarama?) and once on my own dime in 2003. Both were rewarding (and exhausting) experiences, and while the hectic pace, physical demands and Hollywood incursions temper one’s enthusiasm for Comic-Con, I always find myself feeling some regret in those years when I’m unable to attend or decide against it.

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Quick Critiques – July 21, 2009

Variant coverBlackest Night: Tales of the Corps #1 (DC Comics)
by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi, Jerry Ordway, Rags Morales & Chris Samnee

This is far from required reading for the Blackest Night event, and like other anthology books, it’s something of a mixed bag. The editors wisely opt to start off with the strongest of the three stories. Johns’s story of the origin of Blue Lantern Saint Walker may be predictable, but it’s ballsy too in that it’s a story about religion, faith and hope. It’s not often you see a super-hero yarn from one of the big two genre publishers that so embraces a religious theme. Wisely, Johns’s script isn’t preachy even though the alien faith mirrors Judeo-Christian tenets in several ways. I wish that Johns’s other contribution — “Tales of the Indigo Tribe” — had been as satisfying. The story tells the audience nothing about this mysterious Indigo corps; the reader is left as frustrated and confused as the Green Lantern and Sinestro Corps member in the story. Mongul was an odd choice of subject for the Sinestro Corps story sandwiched in between Johns’s contributions. Tomasi tells us nothing new about the character; he doesn’t even portray the young Mongul II as pitiable, as he’s as heartless and cruel as his father.

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Brought to You By the Letters A and E

As I typed away on my keyboard, preparing some reviews for the site in the coming days, my wife piped up and told me to check out the TV. She’d been watching the latest episode of Gene Simmons: Family Jewels on A&E, and just before a commercial break, Simmons and his son Nick Simmons take a moment to pimp the lad’s latest project: a comic book. The comic in question is Incarnate, and for those who pay attention comics news online, it doesn’t exactly come as news. Simmons (both elder and junior) have had an interest in comics publishing for a while now, having released titles recently through IDW Publishing. It wasn’t along ago that Radical Publishing announced plans to publish Incarnate, written and illustrated by Nick Simmons. The publisher is premiering the new title is at this week’s Comic-Con International San Diego, with both Gene and Nick appearing at the Radical booth for signings and at other special events.

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South of the Horror

The Last Resort #1
Writers: Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray
Artist/Colors: Giancarlo Caracuzzo
Letters: Chris Mowry
Cover artists: Amanda Conner/Darwyn Cooke
Editor: Scott Dunbier
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Price: $3.99 US

The punny title and what seems like a proliferation of existing zombie comics (which there isn’t, if one considers the truly dominant genre in comics) made me somewhat wary of adding another $3.99 title to the already expensive array of comics I read on a regular basis. However, a glimpse of some interior art piqued my interest enough to get me to thumb through the comic at the shop, and that was enough to convince me to give it a try. I’m glad I did. Palmiotti and Gray certainly don’t reinvent the rotting, undead wheel with The Last Resort, but they do deliver a raunchy, fun take on the genre that acknowledges how cheesy and entertaining it can be. Giancarlo Caracuzzo’s art is rich in detail but isn’t realistic either, and it maintains the high levels of energy and personality in the script.

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Dead Men Walking

Variant coverBlackest Night #1
Writer: Geoff Johns
Pencils: Ivan Reis
Inks: Oclair Albert
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Letters: Nick J. Napolitano
Cover artists: Reis & Albert/Ethan Van Sciver (variant cover)
Editor: Eddie Berganza
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US

Fans of recent Marvel crossover events Civil War and Secret Invasion should enjoy DC’s latest foray into the Big Super-Hero Event because Blackest Night actually has something in common with those other stories. Civil War and Secret Invasion basically saw heroes fighting heroes (or in the case of the latter, heroes fighting doppelgangers of fellow heroes), and those big, flashy physical conflicts seemed to please super-hero genre readers. Blackest Night offers a similar take on the hero-versus-hero concept, pitting the protagonists against undead, corrupted incarnations of fallen friends. Fortunately, Johns delivers an accessible story, and I don’t just mean in terms of plot. Most of this issue is about setting up the emotional resonance of what’s to come, which brings a grounded tone to the cosmic conflict and consequences.

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Quick Critiques – July 16, 2009

Batman #688 (DC Comics)
by Judd Winick, Mark Bagley & Rob Hunter

Judd Winick, once a star in DC’s stable of writers whose twinkle had faded in many readers’ eyes in recent years, redeems himself with some solid characterization and plotting as he contributes to the new direction for the Batman family of titles. He clearly connects better with Dick Grayson as a chief protagonist than Bruce Wayne, and it’s understandable. He’s has always been portrayed as more grounded than his mentor and more connected to others around him, so he’s much more relatable as a central character. His take on Dick’s transition is different from that offered by writer Grant Morrison in Batman and Robin. While both are logical and make for good reading, they’re not necessarily compatible, so the reader is better off putting one out of his mind while reading the other. His plot about a prominent Batman villain picking up almost immediately about the change in the man behind the mask is also a logical story to tell in the context of the “Batman Reborn” mode, and I’m pleased DC editorial didn’t long at all getting to it.

Those who followed Mark Bagley’s work for DC on the weekly Trinity series might be a little surprised with what they find in this comic book. Obviously, scheduling likely allowed the artist to take a bit more time with this story arc, and it shows with greater attention to detail. Of course, the greater levels of depth and texture might also be attributable to the fact that he’s teamed with a different inker on this project. Bagley’s more conventional approach to super-hero genre art suits the tone of Winick’s script, which is much less avant garde than Morrison’s approach to the same ideas. 7/10

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Poe and He in Motion

Poe #1
Writer: J. Barton Mitchell
Artist: Dean Kotz
Colors: Digikore Studios
Letters: Marshall Dillon
Cover artists: Declan Shalvey/Jeffrey Spokes
Editor: Matt Gagnon
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Price: $3.99 US

As I began to read this comic book, I feared that it might demand that its audience be familiar with the full bibliography of the title character’s writings and his life story. As I’m almost two decades removed from my 19th Century American Lit class, my current level of information abut Edgar Allan Poe is far from exhaustive. Fortunately, one’s able to appreciate this supernatural detective story even if one’s only passing familiar with Poe’s past. Writer J. Barton Mitchell takes the tragedy of Poe’s later years and transforms him into a haunted soul, literally. Despite the darker aspects of the main character, this book is actually quite a bit of fun, as the creators offer up something more akin to a cross between Sherlock Holmes and B.P.R.D..

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Beware My Power, Gory Lantern’s Blight

Variant coverGreen Lantern #43
“Blackest Night Prologue: Tale of the Black Lantern”
Writer: Geoff Johns
Pencils: Doug Mahnke
Inks: Christian Alamy
Colors: Randy Mayor
Letters: Rob Leigh
Cover artists: Mahnke & Alamy (regular)/Eddy Barrows & Nei Ruffino (variant)
Editor: Eddie Berganza
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US

Despite the fact that this issue is billed as a “prologue” to Blackest Night, the storyline that Geoff Johns has been setting up for almost five years finally gets underway in this issue. I imagine it’s going to be a hard-to-find issue, not only for the event connection but because it’s a well-crafted comic book as well. Not perfect, mind you, but good. As I made my way through this book, I had some concerns about the thoroughly macabre elements, and there’s a shocking, graphically violent climax that’s a little unsettling. But this is a story setting up the existence of an army of zombie Black Lanterns, so it’s not like this stuff is coming from out of nowhere.

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It’s Wednesday, I’m in Love

Wednesday Comics #1
Editor: Mark Chiarello
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US

One of the most eagerly anticipated comic-book projects of the year has arrived, and the result is entertaining and intriguing. I was surprised to find that DC turned to a rougher newsprint for this unusual book, but it’s a smart move. It unfolds much more cleanly than the thinner, slicker glossy paper normally used in printing comics today.

This broadsheet collection of 15 different one-page strips, while radically different in format, is pretty much like just about any other comic-book anthology project. The diversity in style and storytelling approaches one of the strengths of the project, as it spotlights different techniques. The creators embrace modern new ideas while some pay tribute to the comics of yesteryear. Of course, like other anthologies, this one is something of a mixed bag as well. A couple of the strips don’t quite exhibit the same strength one can find in the others. Furthermore, the creators working with the better-known characters aren’t burdened by the need to introduce the players in their dramas, allowing them to get their stories rolling right off the bat.

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Quick Critiques – July 6, 2009

Greek Street #1 (DC Comics/Vertigo imprint)
by Peter Milligan & Davide Gianfelice

If one wanted to describe this new series in terms of comic books that have come before it, you might be tempted to describe it as Fables meets 100 Bullets, but it’s actually far more unusual and original than that. Writer Peter Milligan is known for weird, intelligent and challenging works, and this is definitely in that vein. He takes the traditions of ancient Greek drama and explores them in a modern, noir context. That means we get gangsters and gods, depravity and destruction. It’s about bad people behaving incredibly badly, and it’s difficult to swallow. One of the most important scenes early on is one involving incest in which one of the participants is aware of the relationship. It’s disturbing. Milligan’s writing here is raw and intense, and he’s perhaps a bit too successful in his efforts. All of the characters are so corrupt or confused, I really don’t want to get to know them better. I found I didn’t want to see just how much further they could all sink into moral decay. Davide Gianfelice’s art — with the angular figures and a loose, gritty look — certainly suits the tone of the story and characters. I found his efforts a bit confusing at times, mainly because a few of the designs are a bit too similar in appearance. The colors — dark, muted tones combined with eerie pinks and reds — are in keeping with the harsh yet surreal qualities of the plotting.

I sang DC’s praises for launching The Unwritten #1 with a cheap debut issue, and the publisher deserves the same credit here. There are 34 pages of story and art to be had for a buck here, and even though my reaction to the story was somewhat mixed, there’s no denying that’s a great value. 6/10

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100 Panels of Solitude

The Deformitory original graphic novella
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Sophia Wiedeman
Publisher: Heart Monster Press
Price: $6 US

The folks at the Xeric Foundation, which provides grants for unknown or up-and-coming comics creators to produce new work, have a great eye for unusual and interesting fare, so when I get a chance to peruse the work of a Xeric recipient, I jump at the chance. Writer/artist Sophia Wiedeman sent along this cute, somewhat disturbing and definitely thought-provoking collection of unusual character studies. The meaning of each character’s journey of self-discovery isn’t always entirely clear, but they’re all engaging. I’d describe The Deformitory is something of a high-end, black-and-white mini-comic, but its digest-size format and the simple qualities of the artwork can’t hide the intelligence, empathy and creativity that abound on each on every page. Wiedeman’s cartoony and organic style, which employed to bring deformed or even grotesque characters to life, nevertheless instills in those figures beauty and vulnerability. The creator also explores different storytelling techniques, at times playing with a wordless approach and at others using bizarre dialogues to tell a story and expose a character’s true, inner self.

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