Monthly Archives: May 2011

Everything Old Is Screwed Again

Reaction to DC’s announcement Tuesday that it’s revamping its entire line of super-hero titles and relaunching with 52 new titles featuring its familiar characters (some perhaps tweaked to be a little less familiar) was met with immediate reactions, and many of them were highly negative, leery or outright hostile.

Some of the thumbs-down comments were understandable. Comics retailers are faced with a major shake-up of one of its top two product lines, a spike in the number of titles and the task of trying to assuage their customers’ concerns so they can hold onto those sales in the months ahead. DC’s announcement will have a direct impact on the livelihoods of the owners of comics shops and those working there, so one can’t begrudge them the valid comments and concerns than have arisen in the hours (and days and weeks to come) since the bomb was dropped.

The more puzzling reactions I’ve read online were those from readers. Many have complained that since DC continuity is getting some sort of a reboot (or at least a partial reboot) in the fall, all of the stories unfolding in DC titles now, in recent weeks, and in the months and years that have passed “don’t matter.” Somehow, a retooling of the DC line, its characters and continuity means those stories didn’t happen, that having read them and invested in the adventures of DC’s heroes and villains was time and money wasted.

Here’s the problem with that argument: those stories never mattered in the first place.

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Quick Critiques – May 30, 2011

FF #4 (Marvel Comics)
by Jonathan Hickman & Barry Kitson

When Marvel announced this new direction for its Fantastic Four characters, I was quite interested, even a little excited — not because the publisher was “killing off” the Human Torch, but rather than the new Future Foundation — with a larger lineup of characters and new designs — seemed like something fresh for a concept that’s basically gone unchanged for five decades. Writer Jonathan Hickman has brought some fun ideas to the series, not the least of which is a council of villains looking for ways to stop and/or kill Reed Richards and the inclusion of Spider-Man as part of the team. But after four issues, I’m not interested or excited. The driving force behind the opening story arc seems to be elements from Hickman’s first story arc on Fantastic Four, namely alternate versions of Reed that lack the moral center of the “real” Reed. I wasn’t interested in the Council of Reeds storyline when it was first introduced, and its return here didn’t do much for me either.

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Politics as Unusual

Secret Avengers #13
Writer: Nick Spencer
Pencils: Scot Eaton
Inks: Jaime Mendoza & Rick Ketcham
Colors: Frank D’Armata
Letters: Dave Lanphear
Cover artists: Adi Granov (regular)/Lee Weeks (variant)
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99 US

After reading this comic book, at first I couldn’t quite decide if I’d read one of the smartest Marvel publications so far this year or one of the corniest, most ham-fisted ones of 2011. There are a lot of things I enjoyed about Nick Spencer’s plot and script. The political elements, the over-the-top notion that saves the day, a couple of sharp turns of phrase and a believable connection between two characters despite the fact that one of them had only just been introduced all made me smile. But for every strength that Spencer’s writing brought to the book, there’s a flaw that detracted from the reading experience and took me out of the story. I was only planning on writing a capsule review (one of my Quick Critiques) of this comic book, but I found that as I got going, I had a lot more to say about it than I expected. As I sorted through the pros and cons that I perceived, I ultimately realized that no, this wasn’t one of Marvel’s strongest offerings of the year, but rather a strong foundation upon which a rickety house was built.

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Covering Fire

Well, that didn’t take long.

Earlier this year, IDW Publishing happened upon a fairly interesting and effective promotional campaign involving variant covers. Now, variants are hardly the freshest idea in the comic-book industry, but this one was a little different. If a shop ordered 500 copies of Godzilla: Kingdom of Monsters #1, its copies would feature a cover image of the Japanese monster’s gigantic foot crushing its premises to rubble. About 75 shops took advantage of the promotion. It definitely boosted sales on the comic book. Numbers indicate the comic sold almost 59,000 copies, which is probably somewhere between 30,000-40,000 more than it would’ve sold without the marketing gimmick.

Given this success, it was only a matter of time before other publishers gave it a shot. Avatar offered a special personalized variant cover to retailers featuring a unique piece of art for each of those covers (as opposed to the same image being tweaked slightly, as was the case with the Godzilla retailer variant. Given how small a publisher Avatar is, though (despite the popular and established writing talent it draws upon), I don’t think we’ll see tens of thousands of these personalized variant editions turning up.

So it’s Marvel Entertainment that’s taken the next big step in what I expect will be a crescendo of shop-specific variant comics.

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From Rags to Wretched

The Tattered Man one-shot
Writers: Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti
Artist/Cover artist: Norberto Fernandez
Letters: Bill Tortolini
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $4.99 US

Writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray have a pretty solid track record in the world of comics right now. While they’re not at the helm of any chart-topping comics, DC Comics clearly sees them as go-to guys for several projects. They’ve entertained me on numerous occasions in the past, so when I saw some of their advance efforts to promote this one-shot, creator-owned comic book, I decided to support the endeavor. Besides, the preview art on Palmiotti’s blog made it look promising. I’m pleased to say he and his fellow creators have kept that promise with The Tattered Man. An exploration of the darkest aspects of humanity, The Tattered Man serves as a gruesome catharsis. The dark premise — which is adeptly presented but nevertheless boasts some predictable elements — is matched with some nicely detailed and moody artwork. This original graphic novella should appeal to diverse spectrum of comics readers, from those with an interest in edgy anti-heroes from the super-hero genre to fans of intense horror comics such as the fare one might find in an Avatar comic.

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Quick Critiques – May 23, 2011

Booster Gold #44 (DC Comics)
by Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund

There are those who’ve said that one of the keys to storytelling in a shared super-hero universe is accessibility, and writer/penciller Dan Jurgens has certainly taken that to heart with his script for this Flashpoint-connected story arc. Not only does he offer an accessible introduction to the altered DC Universe in which the event takes place, he even recaps the title character’s history (both his origin and how he came to be the guardian of time). For those of us familiar with these story elements, the script ends up being a little dull, but given that the tie-in to Flashpoint is bound to attract new readers (and that regular readers of the title might not be familiar Flashpoint #1), I think it’s a good move. Aside from Booster’s discovery that time has been altered and that he’s going to have to do without his usual resources to deal with the problem, not much really happens here. It’s all set-up, but given how much there is to set up, I can understand that.

As the credits note, Jurgens created Booster Gold, so it’s a pleasure to see him return to the character, which is probably at its zenith of popularity these days (and with recent appearances in two TV shows to boot). Jurgens does a solid job of portraying Booster as a well-meaning average guy who’s perpetually in over his head. Despite his future-laden, sci-fi origin, he’s a fairly relatable character. Jurgens’ crisp, clean super-hero artwork is a lot of fun, but to be honest, the more grim nature of the world of Flashpoint really calls for a slightly darker tone. Jurgens doesn’t really convey the pall that looms over the world. Jurgens’ style certainly conveys a strong sense of place; there’s plenty of detail in the backgrounds. 6/10

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How’s Tricks?

Paying for It original hardcover graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Chester Brown
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
Price: $24.95 US/CAN

It was my wife who made me aware of this book indirectly; she pointed out a review/feature about it in a recent issue of Macleans (basically, Canada’s answer to Time), to which we have a subscription. I’ve long been aware of cartoonist Chester Brown’s work and the recognition he’s received for it. I’ve always meant to familiarize myself with his storytelling, and this latest project seemed like a good opportunity to do so. I enjoyed what I found here, but it wasn’t at all what I expected. There’s a much more matter-of-fact, linear and detached tone to the writing. I was impressed with Brown’s honesty but also surprised by what he’s really writing about here. The subtitle for this original graphic novel is “A Comic-Strip Memoir About Being a John,” which would seem to suggest something of an education on the world of prostitution. Brown definitely shares some enlightening though simple and grounded information about how some of the business of prostitution is conducted and who the people are who find themselves performing such work. But in reality, Brown examines himself and his own emotional shortcomings… or are they his strengths?

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The True North, Strange and Free

Alpha Flight #0.1
Writers: Greg Pak & Fred van Lente
Pencils: Ben Oliver
Inks: Dan Green
Colors: Frank Martin
Letters: Simon Bowland
Cover artist: Phil Jimenez
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $2.99 US

One might think it was solely my Canadian citizenship that drove me to purchase this introductory issue of a new Alpha Flight series, but one would be wrong. I’ve enjoyed the work of writers Greg Pak and Fred van Lente in the past, and I’m always interested in what they have in mind with new projects. While I enjoyed their work on this project more than the first two issues of Herc, it still pales in comparison with their previous efforts on Incredible Hulk and Incredible Hercules. Don’t get me wrong… this comic book features some diverting, super-hero genre action, but it also feels rather generic and inconsequential.

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Eye on the Eisners: Dong Xoai, Vietnam 1965

The 2011 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards will be held July 22, one of the many events associated with comic-Con International San Diego this year. In the weeks leading up to the awards ceremony, I’m turning my attention to various books and creators nominated for 2011 Eisners. The backlog of material I have to review offers me plenty of opportunities to examine work that’s been noted in the Eisner nominations (the full list of nominees can be found here), and those noms will no doubt bring this material, published in 2010, to the attention of a few people who pay attention to the Eisners and are curious about these recognized projects.

For the second in my Eye on the Eisners series, I’m turning my attention to one of the nominees in the Best Writer/Artist category. It’s a familiar name — the legendary Joe Kubert — and he’s been nominated in the category for his work on an original graphic novel published by DC Comics last year.

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Quick Critiques – May 15, 2011

Action Comics #900 (DC Comics)
by Paul Cornell, Pete Woods, Jesus Merino & many other creators

I heard some good things about this comic book (not from Fox News, obviously), so I decided to check it out. First of all, while this is issue #900, it isn’t the 900th issue — it’s the 902nd (remember issues #0 and #1,000,000). The strong storytelling that a friend told me about wasn’t to be found in the main story, which wraps up writer Paul Cornell and artist Pete Woods’ lengthy Lex Luthor arc, and it falls completely flat. While the inner conflict that ultimately proves to be an omnipotent villain’s undoing is a nice bit of super-hero genre writing, the path that gets the audience there is dizzying. I’ve read a lot of “The Black Ring,” and I honestly don’t know what’s going on here, even with all of the exposition. Furthermore, the inclusion of “Reign of the Doomsdays” plot elements interrupts the main story; it’s like a square peg being jammed into a round hole. The shifts back and forth between the two disparate plotlines is jarring, and Jesus Merino’s rough linework pales in comparison with the more polished, interesting work Woods offers up. Of course, I’m not always clear on what’s happening in those Superman/Luthor sequences either; they’re pretty, but often vague.

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Speed Reading

While Marvel’s big event book of the year has already seen two issues hit the stands, DC’s foray into the genre for 2011 gets underway this week.

Not only did we see the release of Flashpoint #1 this week, the story arc leading up to the event — “The Road to Flashpoint” in The Flash — concludes, so I figured I’d delve into both comics.

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Sketchy Behavior

I read with interest and sympathy last week the report that popular comic-book artist Adam Hughes would no longer do commissioned sketches at comics conventions anymore after being frustrated time and time again to see the artwork he’d thought he’d created for fans sold online for several times more than what he charged for the sketch in the first place. While being told he was fulfilling a fan’s dream, he was really engaging in work for hire. His disgust with repeated deceptions is completely understandable, and it’s a shame that opportunists — who clearly know what they’re doing is shady — have ruined things for others.

I’m not only a big fan of comics, but I collect original comic art too, and I’ve got a great little collection of sketches in a small sketchbook I bring to cons (on the rare occasion I can get to one). Many artists do what Hughes has done in the past, doing sketches for a short list of fans who pre-pay. I’ve never availed myself of such services. I don’t begrudge artists the decision to charge for con sketches (especially when such paid commissions are usually fairly detailed); after all, many comics professionals are shelling out money from their own wallets for display space at these events, and selling sketches (along with limited edition sketchbooks, original art and other merchandise) is a good way to recoup such expenditures. I’ve just decided to direct my financial resources and time at cons in different directions. Whenever I’ve gone to cons, I’ve been on a budget (travel has always been involved), and I wasn’t keen on leaving my sketchbook with an artist for a day or more at a convention. Like I said, it’s a small sketchbook, and I don’t like having it tied up with just one or two artists for the entire event.

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When the Moon Knight Hits Your Eye…

Moon Knight #1
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Alex Maleev
Colors: Matthew Wilson
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Cover artists: Maleev (regular edition)/Bryan Hitch and Paul Neary, Humberto Ramos & Mark Texeria (variants)
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99 US

Brian Michael Bendis is clearly the most important writer working with Marvel Comics today because he’s at the helm of its most popular franchise at the moment, the Avengers, and its popularity is due mainly to his efforts. Given that fact, some may forget that Bendis built his reputation as one of the industry’s top super-hero writers on solo titles such as Ultimate Spider-Man and Daredevil. Aside from his creator-owned books, Bendis’ best writing has always been found in these more focused, character-driven books, so I was pleased when it was announced that he’d be taking on a new solo book with his longtime Daredevil collaborator (and partner on the superb Scarlet) Alex Maleev. Those looking for the kind of strength this creative team brought to DD and more recently to Scarlet will be a little disappointed, but the main reason is that what this title is really about isn’t touched upon until the final page of this inaugural issue.

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Quick Critiques – May 2, 2011

Avengers #12.1 (Marvel Comics)
by Brian Michael Bendis & Bryan Hitch & Paul Neary

I really don’t get what Marvel is trying to accomplish with these point-one issues. The originally stated goal was to provide readers with accessible jumping-on points for existing series — not a bad idea. But that’s not what Marvel’s been doing with most of these point-one issues, and that holds true with this comic book. While the comic is written by the regular writer, the art is by a creative team that won’t be returning to this book, giving new readers a false impression of what to expect from the title. Furthermore, Bendis brings all of the various Avengers teams into play here, not just the lineup that’s usually featured in this series, and he doesn’t do that good a job of differentiating among the different Avengers teams. Still, despite those problems, this isn’t a bad super-hero comic. It’s bombastic and colorful and features a diverse and fun array of characters, not just the heroes but the villains as well. Mind you, Bendis’ script really should have provided more background on who these villains are. I recognize them, but if the point is to be accessible for new readers, they really deserve a little bit of an introduction.

One of the things I enjoyed about this story was how it ends up connecting to plot elements from the first story arc in the series, bringing the first year of the title full circle. But perhaps the most distracting element in the book was the fact that a captive Spider-Woman is depicted as being naked… again. The story really doesn’t demand the skin, and the villains’ apparent decision to deprive her of clothing makes them seem more like creepy pervs than significant threats to the world’s most powerful super-hero team. And while it was a pleasure to see Bryan Hitch and Paul Neary paired again in these pages, I question whether they were the right choice for this particular comic. I’m not taking issue with the work they offer up here; it’s detailed and really brings these characters to life. But given the nature of the cheesy, colorful, Silver Age villains, I wonder if a more stylized, exaggerated visual approach wouldn’t have served the fun qualities of those characters better. 6/10

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