Monthly Archives: December 2011

Quick Critiques – Dec. 31, 2011

The Activity #1 (Image Comics)
by Nathan Edmondson & Mitch Gerads

Though his work on DC’s Grifter has lacked the strength of his work on Who Is Jake Ellis?, I had no hesitation when it came to checking out writer Nathan Edmondson’s latest project, The Activity, another creator-owned book from Image. Edmondson is clearly most comfortable in the espionage/international-intrigue genre, and he does some excellent work here. His timing is excellent, given the recent release of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Those who enjoy the flick will likely get a kick out of this comic book. The interplay among the members of the intel/secret-ops team is convincing, and it helps to make these people with unbelievable jobs more believable. This opening chapter pretty much just sets the stage. There’s no mission in which something goes awry. There’s no shocking revelation, just an introduction to the premise and players. But it’s done quite well. Edmondson has quickly joined the ranks of such writers as Jonathan Hickman and Nick Spencer, guys cut their teeth in the industry with Image Comics and who pen particular smart, compelling fiction in fantastic or extreme circumstances.

Artist Mitch Gerads’ style is a fairly photorealistic one, but not overly detailed or stiff so as to look like it’s lightboxed, photo-referenced material. His work here reminds me of the styles of such other comics artists as Jock and Jeremy Haun. The good news is he isn’t adapting a typical super-hero style for something outside of that genre. The characters here move and dress like normal people. Muscles don’t bulge; clothes drape believably in the artwork. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the visuals is the color. Cool tones are employed to maintain a slightly tense mood that’s in keeping with the genre and premise. 8/10

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A Grizzly Discovery

Reed Gunther #5
“Reed Gunther and the Freakshow Showdown!”

Reed Gunther #6
“From Cowboy to Cowman!”

Writer/Letters: Shane Houghton
Artist/Cover artist: Chris Houghton
Colors: Ciaran Lucas & Jose Flores (#5)/Josh Ulrich & Jose Flores (#6)

Not long ago, I was thumbing through comics recent comics and files I’d received, looking for something a bit off-beat to read, specifically for review purposes. I was putting together one of my Quick Critiques posts, and I wanted to bring some variety to it with a non-super-hero property published by an outfit other than DC and Marvel. I never have a shortage of possibilities, and these two issues of Reed Gunther were near the top of a reading list I had on my desk. So I decided to check them out, not knowing what to expect. Man, have I been missing out on an irreverent, all-ages comic that serves as another example of the strength and diversity Image Comics has to offer those with a love of comics. The Houghton brothers clearly have a passion for comics and for light, goofy adventure. Each issue — hell, each panel — exudes so much personality and whimsy, one can’t help but smile at the title character’s triumphs and gaffes. I was so pleased with what I found in this title, I felt the need to write a full review rather than just a capsule.

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New 52 Pick-Up, Part 4

Discussions about DC’s New 52 relaunch initially focused on its tremendous success in September and October, but in the weeks since, the focus has shifted in part due to the announcements of several creative shakeups in more than a few titles. Some have interpreted this to be indicative of a higher level of editorial interference, but DC’s management of the New 52 is understandable. It may give rise to some concerns from a creative standpoint, but from a business perspective, it makes sense. DC has undergone a successful rebranding, almost a rebirth. Corporately speaking, there’s no doubt a lot of pressure to maintain that momentum, and the source of that renewed energy and interest in the brand come from on high, stemming from decisions made on a corporate level.

And now, to turn our attention to the individual titles that are a part of this successful initiative. I’ve already covered most of the book in Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3, so let’s wrap things up with the fourth and final instalment of my New 52 overview.

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New to the Marvel Universe: Statutory Rape

Squirrel Girl, a rare 1990s creation of the legendary Steve Ditko (along with writer Will Murray), was clearly meant to be a cute character from the start. Some might view as a joke, others as an endearing tribute or even satirical comment on the campiness of the Silver Age. She’s been a relatively obscure character, popping up from time to time, but lately, the character’s profile has been significantly boosted by writer Brian Michael Bendis’ decision to incorporate her into the cast of New Avengers, not as a member of the team, but as a superhuman nanny to the infant daughter of Avengers Luke Cage and Jessica Jones.

Since this boost in visibility, readers have “learned” a lot more about her, in that Marvel writers have started tossing out little tidbits of her history, perhaps the most significant of which was this nugget…

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Flashback: Union Station

The comics industry has lost some greats in recent days, and many are still eulogizing Jerry Robinson and Joe Simon online. They’re also mourning the passing of artist Eduardo Barreto, and justifiably so. The former two talents were well into their golden years, and as someone who started reading comics as a kid in the late 1970s, I really wasn’t exposed that much to their work (though evidence of their legacies were ever-present in the comics I was reading). But Barreto was a different story. I was quite familiar with his work thanks to his stalwart efforts in the 1980s on such comics as New Teen Titans v.2, Superman and Batman. I’d later thrill over his contributions during the 1990s, notably Superman: Speeding Bullets.

As a tribute to a skilled comics artist who provided so many wonderful moments of entertainment and escapism, I’ve decided to rerun a review from my days on The Fourth Rail — a review of a 2003 original graphic novel he crafted with writer Ande Parks: Union Station.

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New 52 Pick-Up, Part 3

The recent news DC’s New 52-driven lead in the marketplace over chief rival Marvel Entertainment narrowed in November doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but it shouldn’t detract from DC’s accomplishment with its bold publishing initiative. It’s revitalized interest in its brand and characters, and it’s proven to be a boost to the comics marketplace overall. Furthermore, I strongly suspect DC will bolster its position in that marketplace in 2012 with a second wave of New 52 debuts (either under the New 52 branding, or a new banner), coming on the heels of the inevitable cancellations of some under-performing titles. DC clearly has its promotional machine in top working order, and it will no doubt continue to capitalize on that strength next year.

In any case, it’s time to continue my overview of the New 52 titles a few months into the initiative. With the first and second parts of the feature behind us, here are my thoughts on the third and penultimate group of the New 52 stable.

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Quick Critiques – Dec. 15, 2011

New Avengers #19 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Brian Michael Bendis & Mike Deodato

This is the first Brian Michael Bendis-penned Avengers comic to be released since the writer announced he’d be leaving the franchise he’s built into Marvel’s powerhouse, eclipsing even its X-Men brand. Given the fact Bendis is rehashing the Dark Avengers concept in this latest story arc, I think a change is a good thing. However, I have to admit there are elements in this story about Norman Osborn’s return to prominence as a public hero but secret villain that are interesting. I love how Bendis portrays Osborn and his colleagues not as corrupt criminals but as people who think they know what’s best for the world. They’re power-hungry, yes, but they don’t see themselves as terrorists. Still, this Osborn plot has been dragging on for years in one way or another. Perhaps by capping his Avengers run with this storyline, Bendis plans to bring some resolution to it finally. Just as I was torn by some aspects of the main plot, other elements appealed and turned me off. The opening scene between Daredevil and Squirrel Girl was clearly meant to be funny, but I found it painful. DD’s internal monologue about the stenches before him came off as juvenile, and he also seems rather naive about public sentiment and protests. However, the subplot focusing on Jessica Jones’ concerns about her child and how she can and Luke can be good parents while also serving as Avengers was quietly compelling. The script also fails in some respects. The woman with whom Gorgon speaks in a pivotal scene isn’t identified, and I can’t remember is she’s called Madame Hydra, Viper or something else these days, and I’ve already forgotten who’s fulfilling the roles of Ms. Marvel and Spider-Man in Osborn’s new Avengers lineup.

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New 52 Pick-Up, Part 2

Welcome back for the second in my four-part series examining DC’s New 52 line and how I feel about them a couple of months after my initial run of reviews of all of the first issues. Some of the titles remain in favor, some have fallen out. I remain disinterested in some, and there are a couple that didn’t click for me at first but have managed to pique my interest since my exposure to the first installments.

In the first part of this series, I made my way through the 52 titles in alphabetical order, so let’s continue on as such…

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Not Seeing Red

Daredevil #6
Writer: Mark Waid
Artist/Cover artist: Marcos Martin
Colors: Muntsa Vicente
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Editor: Stephen Wacker
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $2.99 US

I wrote last week Invincible Iron Man might be the best super-hero title Marvel is publishing these days, but it’s difficult to bestow the title of Marvel’s best when one has an issue of Mark Waid and Marcos Martin’s Daredevil in front of you. It’s also the cream of the Marvel crop, but for completely different reasons than Iron Man. Whereas that title derives strength from its real-world political and economic elements, Daredevil is firmly entrenched in the wonder and kitsch of the Marvel Universe. Whereas Iron Man boasts photorealistic, detailed visuals, DD is more about style, simplicity and design. That’s not to say DD isn’t as sharp or inventive. Waid’s script is smart and compelling, and Martin’s innovative layouts and Ditko-esque figures are among the finest examples of comic art being published today. Another advantage to Daredevil (to which its armored-hero brother can’t lay claim) is it’s unfolding quietly in its own isolated corner of the Marvel Universe, untouched by events and sales-driven plotting.

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New 52 Pick-Up, Part 1

The New 52 Review Project — which ran on Eye on Comics through September and into October — proved to be one of the more popular periods for the site in some time. The endeavor saw me reviewing all of the first issues of DC’s New 52 line, and even as I approached the end of the project, I was getting a number of requests for readers to share my thoughts on subsequent issues — even for the entire line again. That wasn’t feasible. The project was a short-term undertaking, made possible by sponsorship and a temporary night-desk schedule at work. Still, in the time, I’ve continued to read some New 52 titles, while others I cast aside as soon as I was finished with the first issue. With three months of these comics behind us and the fourth about to begin, I thought it might be interesting to share with readers which titles I stuck with, which ones I’ve ignored since their debuts and which ones I’ve dropped in the wake of any initial enthusiasm.

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I Can’t Believe We All Wore the Same Thing to Work

You’ve heard of crimes against fashion? Well, how you ever considered fashion for crime? Forget New York, Paris or Madrid. If you want to see the latest trends in super-villain fashion, you need to turn your attention to such unconventional locales as Gotham City and the Marvel Universe. Domino masks are so… Silver Age. One of the newer looks that’s in this season is Robotic-Insectoid Couture.

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Second Chance at Afterlife

Haunt #19
Writer: Joe Casey
Artist/Cover artist: Nathan Fox
Colors: FCO Plascencia
Letters: Comicraft
Editor: Jen Cassidy
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $2.99 US

When Todd McFarlane and Image Comics released their original teaser/promotional image for this property, I was unimpressed with how uninspired the character design was, with how it basically combined the looks of the two characters with which McFarlane is most closely associated: Spider-Man and Spawn. When the first issue was released a little more than two years, I remained unimpressed, even though Robert (The Walking Dead) Kirkman was the writer and co-creator of the series. That was the last I looked at Haunt, and I never expected I’d give it a second look or thought. And then, with Kirkman and artist Greg Capullo’s withdrawal from the book, the new creative team was announced, and I was immediately intrigued. Artist Nathan (DMZ) Fox boasts an unconventional, indie-flavored style that couldn’t be more of a departure from what we’ve seen from other McFarlane creations, and Joe Casey, while no stranger to mainstream super-hero comics, also has a reputation for offbeat, even challenging fare. I couldn’t resist checking out such a dramatic shift in creative direction.

Now if I could just figure out what the hell’s going on…

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Variant coverInvincible Iron Man #510
“Demon, Part 1: The Beast in Me”
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Salvador Larroca
Colors: Frank D’Armata
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Cover artists: Salvador Larroca (regular edition)/Mike Choi (variant)
Editor: Alejandro Arbona
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US

Every time a new issue of Invincible Iron Man was released during the course of Marvel’s recent Fear Itself crossover event, I’d kick myself for failing to have the title removed from my pull list at the local comic shop. The crossover completely derailed the socio-economic spin writer Matt Fraction brought to the super-hero-genre subject matter. What was one of Marvel’s best titles (if not the best, period) was reduced to a series of vignettes from a bombastic but ultimately aimless event. From a creative standpoint, Iron Man went from being a tremendous success to a tremendous disappointment. This is the first issue post-Fear Itself, but with the “Shattered Heroes” branding and the ongoing presence of Fear Itself elements, I didn’t have high hopes; nevertheless, I figured I’d give the book one last chance give the plotlines are once again standing up on their own. I’m pleased I did.

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