Monthly Archives: September 2009

Die Another Day

Die Hard coversDie Hard: Year One #1
Writer: Howard Chaykin
Artist: Stephen Thompson
Colors: Matthew Wilson
Letters: Ed Dukeshire
Cover artists: Dave Johnson/Jock/John Paul Leon
Editors: Ian Brill & Matt Gagnon
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Price: $3.99 US

When Boom! Studios announced it acquired the Die Hard and planned to present an “untold” tale of cop John McClane’s days as a New York beat cop, I applauded the idea. Die Hard certainly isn’t the kind of movie licence one expects to find in comics today, given that the bulk of the franchise is more than a decade behind us. Such properties usually get the comics-medium adaptation or use at the height of their popularity, but I think the folks at Boom! rightly realized that Bruce Willis’s McClane character is an action-movie icon that’s never going to go out of style. When you say, “Yippee ki yay, motherfucker,” I doubt there’s anyone 16 and over in Western society who doesn’t know exactly what you’re talking about, even though what you’re saying sounds like gibberish. Yes, a Die Hard comic is a good idea. Unfortunately, Howard Chaykin’s script doesn’t read like a Die Hard comic. It’s an interesting look back at the New York City of a different era, but it lacks the John McClane/Bruce Willis charm, the humor and the inventive action that made the Die Hard movies such successes.

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You Say Stalagmite, I Say Stalactite

Underground #1
Writer: Jeff Parker
Artist/Cover artist: Steve Lieber
Colors: Ron Chan
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.50 US

While writer Jeff Parker’s name is a fairly prominent one at Marvel Comics these days, it was the strength of the artist’s reputation on this creator-owned book that caught my attention and drew me in. I’ve been a fan of Steve Lieber’s work since reading Whiteout about a decade ago, and any new work from this talent is cause to celebrate. Underground is no exception. Given the title, the plot and characters are fittingly down to earth. While the plot incorporates action and a level of tension one doesn’t usually encounter in everyday life, there are other elements in the core conflict that are quite familiar and credible. I’m most interested in the conflict between conservationism and community economics, as it’s easy to see and appreciate both sides’ arguments. Ultimately, what sells the story are the characters, and they’re quite well realized, both in concept and visually.

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Quick Critiques – Sept. 24, 2009

Variant coverAdventure Comics #2 (DC Comics)
by Geoff Johns & Francis Manapul/Geoff Johns, Michael Shoemaker & Clayton Henry

I continue to be impressed with this new series and writer Geoff Johns’s take on Superboy. The story has a strong foundation in characterization but there’s also a delightful old-school approach to the super-hero elements as well. This second chapter is a fairly quiet one, as it continues to focus on Superboy’s efforts to reintegrate back into a world that thought he was dead and on his own identity crisis. The conversation and reconnection between Conner and Cassie is sweet and touching. It’s wholesome on a level that’s rather difficult to swallow in the context of the 21st century, especially given Superboy’s previous rep as something of a horndog. But it’s comforting as well. I enjoyed the Luthor/Brainiac scene. While it’s connected to the ongoing “World of New Krypton” storyline unfolding in the other titles in the Superman family line, Johns doesn’t allow those elements to intrude on this story. He maintains an accessible tone here, and despite the fact that the script touches upon events and characters from other DC titles, there’s still a self-contained quality to the storytelling here that’s refreshing. Manapul’s loose, sketchy style works nicely as well, establishing a wistful atmosphere that’s in keeping with the nostalgic and character-driven elements.

With this second issue, the Legion of Super-Heroes backup story shrugs off its links to the main feature, taking the story in a new direction. Johns and co-writer Michael Shoemaker offer an accessible plot despite the fact that a lot of Legion history factors into it. As a longtime Legion fan, I really enjoyed the premise of this new Lightning Lad story, as it stays true to what’s come before (even as far back as the Silver Age) while bringing a new twist/mystery to decades-old characters. Clayton Henry’s art has never looked better than it does here. While the lighter tone of his style is intact, there’s a more refined look at play, especially on the first page. He uses shadow to great effect, and his work here reminds me of the styles of such other industry stalwarts as Mike McKone and Olivier Coipel. 8/10

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Feeling Jaded

Agents of Atlas #970th Ann. Fram VariantAgents of Atlas #s 9-11
“Terror of the Jade Claw” Parts 1-3
Writer: Jeff Parker
Artists: Dan Panosian, Gabriel Hardman & Paul Rivoche
Colors: Elizabeth Dismang & Sotocolor
Letters: Tom Orzechowski
Cover artists: Leinil Yu/Dave Johnson/Adi Granov
Editor: Nathan Cosby
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $2.99 US per issue

This story arc may well be the best of this series thus far. Sure, the original Agents of Atlas limited series that spawned this ongoing was stronger, but “Terror of the Jade Claw” has made the most of the Atlas Foundation concept and it’s been handled more clearly in this arc than ever before. Maybe what’s really allowed this story arc to shine, though, is the fact that it’s not hindered by connections to other Marvel continuity. There’s no “Dark Reign” branding. There are no Avengers, no Atlantean cousins, no Hulks. Parker simply focuses on telling an Agents of Atlas story instead of a Marvel Universe story, and it allows the true strength of the premise and the color inherent in these characters to really come out.

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Rising from the Grave

Blackest Night promo imageDC super-heroes aren’t the only ones coming back from the dead these days. Yes, Eye on Comics has managed to claw and crawl out of the digital grave into which it disappeared over the past couple of weeks (thanks to a site hack and worm that messed things up royally). Thanks to a good friend with a much greater degree of technology expertise than myself, the site was resurrected. And then it died. It rose from the ashes again, only to succumb and die again. I’m continuing to struggle with problems, but it seems though there’s light at the end of that particularly problem-plagued tunnel.

While the site was down, there was a period of time when it seemed as though it might have been a lost cause. I considered that Eye on Comics may have reached an end (fittingly, just as it approached its third anniversary on Sept. 19). I pondered some questions. Did I want to relaunch with a new site? Join another? Or perhaps just call it quits when it comes to reviewing comics?

My frustrations with the outages and my elation at its various revivals provided me with the answers to those questions. I enjoy writing about comics, and I feel invested in the Eye on Comics brand I’ve developed over the past three years. I thank all my readers (vocal or otherwise) who check out my reviews, commentary and features, and I truly appreciate that audience. I hope you’ll all be patient with me over the next few days (or weeks, we’ll see) as I continue to contend with site problems, but rest assured, my plan is to keep my Eye out.

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The Hindsight of Benefits

9-11 Vol. 19-11 Vol. 2We all know where we were and what we were doing eight years ago today. The terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, served as a defining moment, not only for a generation but for the global community. The emotional resonance of the unimaginable tragedy borne of terror rippled throughout the world, and its impact on our culture is a lasting one. Its influence was expressed almost immediately in pop culture, and the medium of comics was no exception.

The most immediate instance of 9/11’s influence on comics came in the form of benefit books. Dark Horse Comics (teaming with Oni Press and Image Comics) published 9-11 Volume One, an anthology of short stories and artwork by a variety of writers and artists, and DC Comics did the same, releasing 9-11 Volume Two (or 9-11 – The World’s Greatest Comic Book Writers & Artists Tell Stories to Remember). Those two trade paperbacks were something of an industry effort, as there was collaboration among several publishers. Marvel struck out on its own, publishing a poster book entitled Heroes, incorporating the destruction of the World Trade Center towers into Amazing Spider-Man #36 and releasing a series of limited series entitled Call of Duty honoring emergency responders. None of these books or comics is available anymore from the publishers or Diamond Comic Distributors. With this article, Eye on Comics takes a look back and discusses such projects with some of those involved.

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A Tour Through Terror

The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation
Writers: The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States
Artist/Cover artist: Ernie Colon
Editor: Sid Jacobson
Publisher: Hill and Wang
Price: $16.95 US/$21 CAN

I purchased this graphic novel a couple of years ago but never got around to reading it until now. Given the approaching anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, this seemed like a good time to delve into this piece of documented history. Perhaps what surprised me the most about the book is how it’s about a lot more than that dark day eight years ago. It’s about the political and cultural decisions and developments that led up to the attacks — what motivated them and what made them possible. It also covers the chaos and heroism that arose at the sites of the attacks, and what’s happened (or more importantly, hasn’t happened) in the years since. Still, for those looking to be touched, saddened or inspired by the amazing and heart-wrenching personal stories that arose as a result of 9/11, this is not the book for them. There’s an appropriate tone of detachment throughout most of the narrative in this graphic novel, and since this is an adaptation of an official government commission report, that’s how it should be. This isn’t storytelling, it’s documentation.

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Mad Men (of Steel)

There have been any number of stories in the past three decades deconstructing the super-hero genre, and a great deal of them focus on or include a deconstruction of the Superman archetype. If such stories are crafted well, I generally enjoy them, even if the approach isn’t nearly as avant garde today as it was in the 1980s. Now while the notion of such a deconstruction is far from rare, I was surprised to see not one but two new ongoing titles debuting earlier this year, both with their own takes on a corrupt Superman-like figure.

The Mighty by writers Peter J. Tomasi and Keith Champagne and artist Peter Snejbjerg (and later Chris Samnee) debuted Feb. 4. It’s published by DC Comics, but surprisingly enough, it isn’t listed under one of the publisher’s imprints despite the fact that it’s not set in the DC Universe along with its other super-hero characters. Two months later, on April 1, Boom! Studios launched Irredeemable by writer (and its editor-in-chief) Mark Waid and artist Peter Krause after a fairly significant promotional campaign revolving around Mark Waid’s popularity and reputation in the industry. Each title features its own Superman — Alpha One and the Plutonian, respectively — and each one of those characters proves to be malevolent. Each title features protagonists who are trying to uncover the mysteries behind the man of steel and they endeavor to avoid detection by his all-seeing eyes.

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Let’s Gets Smashed

My retailer expressed some frustration and confusion last week when he was pulling newly released comics for his various standing accounts, and the source of his annoyance was Marvel and its Hulk comics. Until last week, there was one Hulk title: the unqualified Hulk, written by Jeph Loeb. But with the return of old numbering for Hulk comics with Incredible Hulk #600 this summer, the title pulled off a mitosis-like stunt, dividing into two separate ongoing series by different creative teams. Most of his customers interested in Hulk comics were just down for Hulk, even back when it was called Incredible Hulk (before morphing into Incredible Hercules. So ordering and filling accounts last week understandably became a bit of a headache.

I wondered, though… would reading said comics bring pain as well?

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Quick Critiques – Sept. 3, 2009

FVZA: Federal Vampire and Zombie Agency #1 (Radical Comics)
by David Hine & Roy Allan Martinez

This is another one of Radical’s big $4.99 US comics, and it does deliver a solid value (though it bills itself as offering 56 pages, there’s really 42 pages of story and art). Writer David Hine offers an interesting alternate history of the United States, exploring a world in which vampires and zombies exist (or at least existed), though the impact on culture isn’t really felt. Still, it’s an interesting script with some appropriate creepy moments. Still, this first issue is all about setting up the conflict between a newly revived government agency and the monsters that would threaten to overrun the country. The storytelling is solid, but I found I had to get over a bit of hurdle before I could really enjoy the story. The problem: the title. “Federal Vampire and Zombie Agency” sounds, well, silly and fun. Instead, the creators play the concept straight, and given the title, it’s just not what one expects. The historical fiction elements might make some readers uneasy, but they’re novel and make sense in the context of the world of FVZA.

The art is in keeping with Hine’s approach to the story rather than the lighter, oddball tone of the title, appropriately enough. Given the prominence of the monsters in the plot, there are a number of thoroughly gruesome and gory visuals. His realistic style certainly drives home the horror of the vampire and zombie concepts. He captures the gothic appeal of vampire characters with ease, but his zombies are far more interesting fro a visual standpoint. 7/10

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