Monthly Archives: August 2012

Leth Is More

Ultimate Kate or Die #1
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Kate Leth
Publisher: (self-published)
Price: $5 US/CAN

When I decided I would be attending DCAF: the Dartmouth Comic Arts Festival this past weekend, I endeavored to familiarize myself with some of the cartoonists on the exhibitor list whose work I hadn’t sampled in the past, and one of Kate Leth. I’ve been aware of her for a while, as my local comics shop has had some of her mini-comics and this more polished comic-book collection of her web strips on hand for several months. I never delved into them before, but I’m pleased DCAF prompted me to do so. Leth’s work exudes a number of admirable qualities: whimsy, strong opinion, cultural awareness and openness. But what I enjoyed about it most of all was her brutal honesty, not just about the problems she’s seen around her in her life, but about her own challenges and perceived shortcomings. While the approach to the storytelling is different, Leth’s honesty is the same kind that makes Tom Beland’s True Story Swear to God such a compelling and personal series. Furthermore, Leth is definitely a name to watch for. While she’s had work published in such titles as Locke & Key and The Adventures of Luther Strode, she has worked lined up with Boom! Studios Adventure Time comics, and that will no doubt introduce her to a much wider audience.

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Love, Exciting and News…

Since I’m working night shifts this week, I’m sitting at home today, waiting for a particular sound: the sound of the Internet breaking in half (again). In another well-executed public-relations move through the mainstream media (Good Morning America, Entertainment Weekly), DC has announced its central New 52 line of comics will feature a landmark relationship: Superman and Wonder Woman are going to be a couple.

Purists are going to lose their heads, arguing Superman is meant to be with Lois Lane. The argument ignores the fact the two characters spent years apart over the course of their histories in various media; I’m specifically reminded of the time in the 1980s in Superman and Action Comics when Clark Kent and Lana Lang were together as adults during Clark’s stint as a TV anchor.

Still, anything that purports to go against the status quo (or “tradition,” as it’s usually presented) always seems to elicit strong reactions among comics fans, especially when availing themselves of the immediacy of online communication. I doubt this time will be any exception. If Marvel hadn’t debuted a multi-racial Spider-Man last year and DC hadn’t reinterpreted one of its Green Lantern characters as gay this year, the Superman/Wonder Woman relationship would’ve had the potential to stand out as the a perfect example of how comics fans can overreact to something that “happens” to fictional characters.

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Girl, It-terrupted

It Girl and the Atomics #s 1 & 2
“Dark Streets, Snap City”
Writer: Jamie S. Rich
Artist: Mike Norton
Colors: Allen Passalaqua
Letters: Crank!
Cover artists: Michael Allred/Darwyn Cooke (variant for #2)
Editors: Jamie S. Rich & Eric Stephenson
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $2.99 US each

The first issue of this series was released earlier this month, and writer Jamie S. Rich was kind enough to send along a review copy, along with an advance review file of the second installment. I’ve always enjoyed Rich’s writing, but I approached these comics with some trepidation. While Mike Allred’s Madman comics (from which these characters hail) are understandably held up as examples of strong, unusual and fun comics storytelling, I’ve never really connected with Frank Einstein and his zany world. It’s not that I think they’re not well-crafted comics; it’s just that the surreal and loopy elements just didn’t seem to be my bag. Rich and artist Mike Norton certainly do a solid job of instilling some of those qualities into this spinoff book, but it comes off as a bit more accessible, not only in terms of plotting but in tone as well. This is a fun tribute to Silver Age super-hero comics, with a touch of 21st century culture and technology thrown in for good measure.

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A Cup of DCAF

Eye on Comics hit the road Sunday and headed to the capital of the neighboring province for the debut of a new comics festival. Held in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the Dartmouth Comic Arts Festival — or DCAF for short — was the brainchild of comics retailer and 2012 Eisner Awards judge Calum Johnston.

“The opportunity was there,” Johnston said at the free show Sunday, noting his store, Strange Adventures, didn’t have any significant events in August. “We always wanted to put on something like this.”

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Quick Critiques – Aug. 15, 2012

Variant coverBatman #12 (DC Comics)
by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Becky Cloonan & Andy Clarke

Writer Scott Snyder takes a much different tack with this self-contained issue of the relaunched Batman, and it’s a welcome change of pace. The focus shifts away from the Dark Knight and his war with a secret society in Gotham to a much more grounded character study. Harper Row is impossibly competent and confident. Her skills with Gotham’s electrical grid defy credibility, but it’s easy to overlook how Snyder builds her up. She stands out as an admirable figure, someone who’s far removed from the complexities of Gotham’s better known residents. She’s a rebel but a caregiver, a protector and a nurturer. She finds wonder in things the rest of us ignore or take for granted, and she’s a self-made woman. One can’t help but be drawn to her. Adding to her appeal is the personality artist Becky Cloonan instills in the new character. There’s no doubt about it — one of the main reasons this character study works so well is thanks to Cloonan’s artwork. She somehow imbues the character with credibility despite the more incredible elements I mentioned above. While Harper, as presented by Cloonan, boasts a certain cuteness at times, it’s the strength she exudes that defines her, a quality that’s apparent in how Cloonan has her move, how she carries her face. Though Harper clearly lives as an adult and has become a surrogate parent for her tormented younger brother, Cloonan also grants the character certain child-like qualities as well.

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Joe Kubert, 1926-2012

Joe KubertI remember the first time I encountered Joe Kubert’s artwork. It was in DC Special Series #19, a “Secret Origins of the Super-Heroes” themed digest featuring one new story (a retelling of Wonder Woman’s origin) and a bunch of reprint stories. Among them was a reprint of The Brave and the Bold #43, featuring a Hawkman story by Gardner Fox and Kubert. I would’ve been eight years old when the 1979 digest was published. I hardly possessed the most refined eye or appreciation of comics storytelling at that early juncture in my almost-lifelong love of the medium, but I was immediately struck by Kubert’s distinct style, especially in the context of so many other super-hero stories by a diverse array of artists. For an eight-year-old kid to recognize the uniqueness of a super-hero artist’s work is a testament to the powerful visual “voice” Kubert had.

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Class Warfare

Archie & Friends All-Stars Vol. 17 – Archie: Clash of the New Kids trade paperback
Writer: Alex Simmons
Pencils: Dan Parent
Inks: Rich Koslowski
Colors: Digikore Studios
Letters: Jack Morelli
Cover artists: Parent & Koslowski
Publisher: Archie Comic Publications
Price: $11.99 US/$12.99 CAN

It’s been an awfully long time since I thumbed through the pages of an Archie comic. The only other one I’ve looked at in recent memory is World of Archie Double Digest, which collected the DC-published Tiny Titans/Little Archie crossover series. I couldn’t resist the super-cute character designs and the nostalgia of the digest format. I loved digest comics as a kid (both those published by Archie and the treasure trove of reprint material in the ones offered by DC back in the 1970s and ’80s), and I’m pleased Archie is carrying on the tradition and the format today. Unfortunately, this collected edition of a storyline that ran through different Archie titles more than a year ago is offered in a more familiar trade-paperback format (though slightly smaller than the regular comic-book size). There are several subplots that string this book together, all revolving around an influx of new students at Riverdale High, coming from a shuttered school elsewhere in the district. Obviously, I was expecting the noteworthy Kevin Keller to turn up in this volume, and he does. But despite Kevin’s appearance in a few background shots and on a profile page at the back of the book, he’s really not a participant in the stories included in this collection. Instead, the focus is on a number of other new Riverdale characters. The group is clearly designed to bring diversity and more modern sensibilities to the traditional, old-school foundation of Archie comics, but writer Alex Simmons wisely fleshes out the characters beyond their races and the social archetypes they represent.

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Take Me Out to the Ball Game

DC softball team logoI’ve been reading DC Comics titles since the late 1970s, before I even reached double digits in terms of age. As such, I’ve read, from time to time, of the exploits of the comics publisher’s softball team over the decades. Back in the day, its accomplishments and defeats were chronicled occasionally in the pages of its various comics in supplementary/advertorial material. In recent years, the folks responsible for Blog@Newsarama have kept the industry apprised of the team’s games.

On Facebook the other day, I stumbled across a link to a blog, the DC Bullets blog, which offers more detailed accounts of the team’s efforts and no doubt the fun its members have on the field. Honestly, I don’t have much of an interest in rec-league softball in New York (or anywhere else, for that matter), but what caught my eye wasn’t the link to the game report, but the team logo (seen at the right).

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Quick Critiques – Aug. 5, 2012

Black Kiss 2 #1 (Image Comics)
by Howard Chaykin

When I was a comic-loving teen, I was focused exclusively on the super-hero genre. While my best friend didn’t buy and read as many comics as I did, he had a more varied cultural palate and a willingness to delve into more unusual subject matter. As such, he had Chaykin’s Black Kiss lying around his room. I thumbed through it and was riveted… but not by the strength of the acclaimed work. I was a teenager, after all. It was the strong sexual content that grabbed my attention. More than 20 years later, I can’t recall what Black Kiss was about at all, but it’s been mentioned by those in the know with such respect, I felt compelled to check out this followup as someone no longer a slave to his baser desires and as someone who’s actually touched a boobie. To my disappointment, I found a confusing confluence of imagery. The first half of the comic boasts an odd, unwelcoming, stream-of-consciousness-style approach to the narrative. Chaykin does an excellent job of capturing the culture of a different time, but I honestly have no idea what the story is meant to be about. Its sudden shift to a different backdrop — the Titanic — doesn’t help with the confusion. Before the first plotline can take root, the audience is jarred away, whisked to a more coherent, focused narrative that’s nevertheless just as devoid of context and clear meaning.

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On Target

Granov variantHawkeye #1
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: David Aja
Colors: Matt Hollingsworth
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Cover artists: Aja (regular)/Adi Granov and Pasqual Ferry (variant covers)
Editor: Stephen Wacker
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $2.99 US

It’s been two months since Marvel Studios released its box-office behemoth Avengers flick, so I’m surprised the publisher waited this long to get a new series featuring Hawkeye, a key character in the movie, on the stands. Marvel has never really known what to do with the character. Past attempts to launch ongoing titles quickly fizzled. After reading Marvel’s latest version of Hawkeye #1, I have high hopes for this kick at the can… at least as long as this creative team is attached to it. Writer Matt Fraction and artist David Aja, reuniting a few years after their successful and acclaimed work on The Immortal Iron Fist, don’t disappoint. They take some real risks here. The title character only appears in costume and only wields his bow on the first two pages. There are no super-villains to be found here. What’s more, there’s really no crime committed that spurs the hero into action. Instead, Fraction’s script presents the Avenger as being a down-to-earth, well-meaning screw-up who’s pretty much always in over his head.

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Change of Clowes

Wilson original hardcover graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Daniel Clowes
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
Price: $21.95 US/ $23.95 CAN

Wilson does a lot of things well, not the least of which is showcasing cartoonist Daniel Clowes’s versatility as an artist. Not only does he offer multiple styles over the course of the book, but he also effectively combines short-form strip comics with a long form story. The book is also replete with social commentary and criticism, much of which hits the mark quite effectively. Taking centre stage throughout the book, though, is the title character’s negative personality. It’s clear the cantankerous central figure is meant as a stand-in for all of us; his hypocrisy and laziness, his apathy and outrage — it’s meant to be our own. Wilson is an engaging read — I couldn’t stop turning the pages as I began reading — but the effectiveness of the characterization also serves as something of a detriment. Wilson is such a loathsome figure, I almost didn’t want to read about him. But only almost.

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