Monthly Archives: November 2011

Near-Death Note

The Next Day original graphic novella
Writers: Paul Peterson & Jason Gilmore
Artist: John Porcellino
Editors: Richard Poplak & Alex Jansen
Publisher: Pop Sandbox
Price: $16.95 US/CAN

The title is a little misleading, as the bulk of this book is about the days and years leading up to the decision — be it spontaneous or considered at length — to take one’s own life, but it does fulfill the promise of the title as well. I hadn’t heard of this project before a review copy of the graphic novella made its way to my desktop, but I’m incredibly pleased at having the opportunity to discover this poignant and powerful examination of the human psyche. And while the book explores the histories and thoughts of four real people who attempted suicide, my use of the singular form of “psyche” is apt, as the writers and the subjects expose just how many common experiences lead people down a dark path to the wrong but seemingly logical choice. In contrast to the honest and gut-wrenching script, the artwork is surprisingly simple in tone. One way to view the artwork would be as amateurish, but another is to note the basic, minimalist approach reinforces the notion that any of these four people could be someone the reader knows, someone the reader loves or even someone the reader sees in the mirror every day.

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Parademon Activity

Variant coverJustice League #3
“Justice League, Part Three”
Writer: Geoff Johns
Pencils: Jim Lee
Inks: Scott Williams
Colors: Alex Sinclair, Hi-Fi & Gabe Eltaeb
Letters: Patrick Brosseau
Cover artists: Lee & Williams (regular)/Greg Capullo & Jonathan Glapion (variant)
Editor: Brian Cunningham
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US (comic only)/$4.99 US (digital combo pack)

I wasn’t planning on writing a full of review of one of DC’s New 52 comics so soon after my New 52 Review Project in September (give or take a few days on either end of the month), but after reading this third issue of DC’s flagship title, I was struck by a number of thoughts and realized I could assemble a review easily. There are a number of elements in this comic book that are a lot of fun. The visuals are dynamic and exciting, and Johns’ take on Wonder Woman boasts a lot of personality and attitude. That being said, the storytelling overall is flawed. The pacing is slow, a key element just doesn’t fit in this context and too many pages are dedicated to splashes. The decompressed storytelling is quite frustrating, and it’s too bad, because using Darkseid as the catalyst and antagonist for the title team’s first adventure/mission is a great idea.

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Mudslinging (and I Mean That in a Good Way)

Mudman #1
Writer/Artist/Letters/Cover artist: Paul Grist
Colors: Bill Crabtree
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.50 US

When I saw a promotional image for this comic book (which I think was the cover image), I was drawn to it immediately. Obviously, I had an interest in any new project from Paul (Jack Staff, Kane) Grist, but there was something more to it. The title and concept comes off as fairly simple, but there’s also something… innocent about it. I think, like me, many young readers of super-hero comics have created their own characters, drawn them on lined looseleaf and brightened those crude sketches with colored pencils. A friend and I built a whole universe — Energy Man, Tornado Man, the Cougar and more — in homemade comics drawn on newsprint that just happened to be the right size for a standard comic book. Not that I’m suggesting there’s anything childish about Grist’s craft here. He offers a charming tribute to the Silver Age while concurrently turning some of those decades-old super-hero conventions on their head. Grist has instilled a sense of mystery and history into this origin story. It’s clear Mudman (at least the costume and the power) has been around for some time, and I look forward to Grist’s construction of a myth for the title character as well as fun adventures.

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You Gotta Have Faith

Just the Usual Superpowers softcover collection
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Faith Erin Hicks
Publisher: Self-published
Price: $12 CAN

In the world of comics, rarity is a frequent topic of conversation, at least among collectors (as opposed to readers). I fall into the reader category, but I was thrilled to get my hands on a truly rare sample of comics storytelling, but the real treat isn’t its rarity, but the strength of the craft within its pages. Just the Usual Superpowers is a collection of comic strips that ran in an arts culture newspaper in Halifax, Nova Scotia (where Hicks lives), and she’s collected them. But the book isn’t in wide distribution. As I understand it, Hicks brings copies with her to conventions for sale directly to comics fans. The one exception is Strange Adventures in Halifax, an Eisner award-winning comic shop that she frequents. Well, the owner of Strange Adventures actually started his business where I live in Fredericton, New Brunswick, and he finally brought some copies for sale in his original shop during a recent visit. I quickly grabbed one up, as I’ve been anxious to read it. Hicks has impressed me with her previous graphic novels, and she doesn’t disappoint with this collection of strips poking fun not only at the super-hero genre but at life in one’s 20s.

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Green Lantern’s Blight

Green Lantern: The Animated Series premiere
“Beware My Power”
Writers: Ernie Altbacker & James Krieg
Voice actors: Josh Keaton, Kevin Michael Richardson, Tom Kenny, Jonathan Adams, Jennifer Hale, Grey DeLisle, Jason Spisak, Ian Abercrombie, Brian George & Kurtwood Smith
Directors: Sam Liu & Rick Morales
Producer: Warner Bros. Animation
Channels: Cartoon Network (U.S.)/Teletoon (Canada)

I was thrilled to discover the new Green Lantern computer-animated cartoon was debuting on Teletoon, the Canadian counterpart to the Cartoon Network, on the same night as it was in America. Usually, these new specialty-channel ‘toons end up airing months later in Canada as they do in the U.S. Unfortunately, my surprise and excitement at seeing this latest foray into animation for one of DC’s properties quickly gave way to confusion and disappointment. While I realize the live-action Green Lantern didn’t perform to expectations, I’m at a loss to understand why the producers and writers behind the cartoon didn’t follow the continuity set out in the movie. While the use of Red Lanterns appears to build on the popularity of what’s developed in related comics in recent years, the writers take the concept in a completely different direction, one that doesn’t quite work.

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Quick Critiques – Nov. 13, 2011

Variant coverDecision 2012: Barack Obama #1 (Boom! Studios)
by Anonymous & Damian Couceiro

As an outside observer of American politics, I had some mild interest in this biographical. The writer — who’s apparently chosen to go uncredited for the work and remain anonymous — offers up a fairly matter-of-fact script. The earlier parts of the book, detailing the president’s youth, reads like an encyclopaedia entry. It’s informative but dry. As one makes one’s way further into the biography, it begins to read more like a political resume, focusing on Obama’s achievements but ignoring some of his more controversial decisions, especially since taking power. While I wouldn’t describe the information here as a puff piece, it’s definitely a little sugar-coated. I can only assume forthcoming Decision 2012 comics featuring Republican candidates will be similarly glowing. I found some of the information here interesting and even a little surprising (Obama has two Grammy Awards?!), but I’m not sure what it might contribute to the actual “Decision 2012” process.

Damian Couceiro’s artwork is clearly taking a number of cues from photos, but neither does it look like he’s outright traced or lightboxed the reference material. His work here reminds me of Cliff (Buffy) Richards’ sometimes airy style. He crafts some decent likenesses, but his efforts here don’t really represent sequential storytelling as we’re used to in comics. Each panel is a different moment in history, a visual to accompany the factoid(s) on which the narration focuses. 5/10

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Point Less

Variant coverPoint One #1
Writers: Ed Brubaker, Jeph Loeb, David Lapham, Chris Yost, Fred van Lente, Matt Fraction & Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Javier Pulido, Ed McGuinness, Roberto De la Torre, Ryan Stegman, Salvador Larroca, Terry Dodson & Bryan Hitch
Inks: Javier Pulido, Dexter Vines, Roberto De la Torre, Michael Babinski, Salvador Larroca, Rachel Dodson & Paul Neary
Colors: Javier Rodriguez, Morry Hollowell, Lee Loughridge, Marte Gracia, Guru-eFX, Sonia Oback, Paul Mounts
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos, Comicraft & Virtual Calligraphy
Cover artists: Adam Kubert (regular)/Nick Bradshaw (variant)
Editors: Lauren Sankovitch, Tom Brevoort, Jody Leheup, Stephen Wacker, Thomas Brennan & Alejandro Arbona
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $5.99 US

I haven’t been all that interested with Marvel’s product line as a whole as of late, as I’ve found too much of its output represents one long, drawn-out storyline with no end in sight. The first couple of issues of Fear Itself was what ultimately did it for me; there was no hint of plot. And since then, Marvel’s made it clear it’s creating product, not stories. With multiple spinoffs, Fear Itself seems to be the crossover that never ends. DC’s fresh start served as a much stronger hook for this particular super-hero comics reader. Still, there’s no denying Marvel has an impressive array of creative talent at its disposal, and it was that lineup that ultimately led me to second-guess my initial decision to avoid Marvel’s new “Point One” brand.

I should’ve stuck with my initial gut feeling.

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Full Nelsons and Full Moons

Hellboy: House of the Living Dead original hardcover graphic novel
Writer/Cover artist: Mike Mignola
Artist: Richard Corben
Colors: Dave Stewart
Letters: Clem Robins
Editor: Scott Allie
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Price: $14.99 US/$16.99 CAN

The storytelling in this hardcover book is a bizarre and wondrous mish-mash of classic Universal Pictures movie monsters and the cheesy appeal of masked Mexican wrestlers. Hellboy creator and writer Mike Mignola manages to instill a campy, fanciful quality into the story while maintaining a macabre and melancholy mood that immerses the reader in the title character’s personal drama. This graphic novel sums up everything there is to love about Hellboy and his weird world. I absolutely loved the story and art… and after purchasing and reading it, I honestly wished I’d paid closer attention to the solicitation information before I committed to it. For only 49 or 50 pages of story and art, 15 bucks is pretty steep. As a lover of great comics, I was thrilled with this book and thoroughly entertained by the storytelling. As a consumer, I have to confess to some disappointment.

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Iron Curtain Call

Cold War #1
“The Damocles Contract, Part One: The Minds That Matter”
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: John Byrne
Colors: Ronda Pattison
Letters: Neil Uyetake
Editor: Chris Ryall
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Price: $3.99 US

John Byrne’s been quietly but consistently working away under the IDW Publishing banner for a couple of years now, and as a fan of much of his past work, I’ve been waiting for something new from him to try out. I didn’t really follow his Next Men when he was first working on it through Dark Horse Comics, and I’m not really a Trekkie and had little interest in his new Star Trek storytelling. So when I spied Cold War on the shelves of my local comic shop, I thumbed through the first few pages. I liked what I saw, so I decided to give it a try. Obviously, the most famous foray into the espionage genre is James Bond, but I’ve never cared for those flicks or read any of the Ian Fleming books. It was my hope Byrne’s take on the spy genre wouldn’t feature a similarly glamorous depiction. While the exciting introductory segment fulfilled that promise, the same can’t be said for the latter part of the book. Byrne hooked me with the opening scene, but the fishing line broke as he tried to reel me in.

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Ifs, Ands or ‘Bots

Heaven All Day
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: John Martz
Publisher: Adhouse Books
Price: $4

This comic book caught my eye by way of a quick glance at one of the shelves at my local comic shop. It looked like a fun mini-comic, but as soon as I picked it up, I realized it wasn’t just a mini-comic. Most mini-comics are simple, photocopied, homemade comics — at least, when I think of a mini-comic, that’s the impression that jumps to mind. But this book — distributed by Adhouse Books and made possible through a Xeric Foundation grant — is much more polished than my idea of a mini-comic. The production values are high. More importantly, though, is the fact the storytelling is nuanced and challenging. John Martz’s visual style is a simple one, but he’s able to say so much with his minimalist approach. Martz’s message is certainly a timely one, given global economic turmoil, joblessness and a spreading wave of protests against corporate greed and government irresponsibility. Some of Martz’s meaning in this silent story is loud and clear, but I found where the two main characters connect to be a bit more ambiguous but nevertheless intriguing.

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Quick Critiques – Nov. 4, 2011

7 Warriors #1 (Boom! Studios)
by Michael Le Galli & Francis Manapul

Judging from the information in the indicia, this appears to an English translation of a French language comics originally published in 2008. Of course, the reason why this project is making its way to North American audiences now is clear: the comic is illustrated by Francis Manapul, an artist who’s risen in popularity in the industry thanks to his well-received work on both the current and previous incarnations of DC’s Flash title. Unfortunately, those hoping to find the sort of unique, novel visual storytelling the artist has been offering up as of late will be disappointed with what they find here. Manapul’s work on 7 Warriors is nicely detailed, but ultimately, it’s rendered in a conventional style that failed to hold my interest. His current style is almost unrecognizable here. Furthermore, the script calls for some gratuitous nudity that adds little to the story — clearly meant to titillate rather than offer any real insight into the culture of the warrior women from which this three-issue mini-series derives its title.

Le Galli’s story is properly constructed in some regards. He introduces the cast of characters fairly clearly, and the Indiana Jones-esque tunnel of booby traps makes for some fun reading. But ultimately, the historical setting and warrior ways of the protagonists — the elements that serve as the foundation of the story — are alienating. There’s nothing in the story with which to connect. I found the first act failed in its goal to convey the politics of war that serve as the catalyst for the plot, and that sense of confusion never faded. Furthermore, considering the moody adventure that serves as the focus of the third arc in this episode, the story and characters seem to take themselves too seriously. There’s no sense of wonder or excitement to be felt. 4/10

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