Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Quick Critiques – Feb. 10, 2007

Posted by Don MacPherson on February 10th, 2007

Action Comics Annual #10 (DC Comics)
by Geoff Johns, Richard Donner & various artists

There’s been some debate as to whether or not DC is actually trying to develop a more traditional tone in its super-hero line. Darker, edgier stories are popping up in some titles, but the publisher’s better known icons seem to be headed in a lighter direction. Action Comics Annual #10 certainly serves as evidence of that trend. Johns and Donner deliver a package that’s clearly Silver Age in its inspiration (as if the cover wasn’t enough of a clue). The stories and features have that old-school charm and simplicity to them, but the dialogue and pacing bring a more modern tone, a greater credibility to this super-hero storytelling. The fact that this annual is an anthology also provides the opportunity for the reader to enjoy a number of different visual styles without the concern of the art changes interrupting and interfering with the flow of the story. Arthur Adams’s four pages are spectacular, and Joe Kubert’s contribution was a surprise and a delight (even if the writing didn’t provide much in the way of an actual plot). Though the approach will tickle the fancy of longtime comics readers and those who appreciate where the medium has been in the past, this volume is also an excellent introduction to the world of Superman for new, young readers. It’s a shame this comic wasn’t available when Superman Returns hit the big screen last summer, as it would serve as the perfect comic-book companion for kids who might be hungry for a major re-introduction to the Man of Steel. 7/10

Criminal Macabre #17 (Dark Horse Comics)
by Steve Niles & Kyle Hotz

It’s been a while since I visited with Steve Niles’s sleuth of the supernatural, and with this issue billed as the first issue of the Two Red Eyes limited series, I figured this would be a good point to jump back into Cal MacDonald’s world. While the cover bills this as a first issue, the storytelling within (and the indicia) makes it clear that this is just the latest chapter in an ongoing storyline. I found myself a bit lost and confused throughout the first act of this comic book. While the narration attempts to fill new readers in on what came before, I still felt left out of the loop. That being said, this plot — about a growing gathering of ghouls within MacDonald’s immediate vicinity — was intriguing. Niles definitely achieves an atmosphere that something big and important is about to happen, but at the same time, he’s able to maintain the urban, noir feel of the private-eye genre. Kyle Hotz’s style is a perfect match for the dual darkness of Criminal Macabre. The full-page splash of throngs of zombies doing battle with werewolves is stunning. Though Hotz boasts an exaggerated style, there’s a detailed side to his work that brings out the gore and horror quite well with producing stomach-churning results. Tim Bradstreet’s cover takes a more photorealistic approach to the main character, but the black-and-white art conveys an appropriate unnatural atmosphere as well. I notice that Bradstreet seems to have cast actor Thomas Jane as Cal MacDonald. 6/10

Fell #7 (Image Comics)
by Warren Ellis & Ben Templesmith

Fell finally returns after a lengthy hiatus, and Ellis and Templesmith don’t disappoint. They do offer up something a little different this time around. The previous issues of the series have followed a certain winning formula. Each story ends up hinging on Det. Richard Fell proving to be smarter and more resourceful than the criminals he investigates and interrogates. In this issue, Ellis writes another one of the title character’s entertaining displays of sarcasm and intellect, a monologue that really gets one to appreciate and cheer for the embittered but dedicated cop. But this time around, that willingness to show off in front of a sleazy lawyer and his scummy client proves to be a fatal flow this time around. Instead of a path to justice, it leads to injustice. This time around, Fell’s righteousness proves to be the wrong thing. In every issue before this, Fell exacts a small measure of hope and justice in the face of overwhelming corruption and tragedy. This time around, the tiny happy ending isn’t to be found. This shift brings a fresh, intense edge to an already intense and edgy book. Templesmith’s art is thoroughly effective, and like the story, the art takes on an unusual quality in this specific issue. Templesmith resorts to employing much brighter colors to convey the psychosis-inducing effects of the military drug that’s integral to the plot. 8/10

New Avengers #27 (Marvel Comics)
by Brian Michael Bendis & Leinil Yu

It’s a relief to see that this title hasn’t been put on hold until Civil War wraps up, but then again, it really doesn’t give much away about the conclusion’s of Marvel’s big event. This issue stands out as somewhat unique in the title’s run, as it focuses on a single heroine and her battle against street-level crime and corruption. Bendis really doesn’t tell the reader much about Echo, but the story is nevertheless accessible. The narration focuses on how isolated and confused she is, and that brings a strong foundation of characterization to a story that’s visually driven by action. I also found myself interested in Elektra as a villain, but I wish the writer had provided some information to indicate how this anti-hero ended up acting like a cold-hearted crime boss. Yu’s art is a nice match for the martial-arts characters’ intensity. His work on this issue is highly reminiscent of the style of Bill Sienkiewicz, and given Elektra’s role in the plot, I doubt that’s a coincidence. The title team and its new lineup has a fleeting role in this issue, but their appearance is explosive and fun. Dr. Strange works surprisingly well in the team, though I think Bendis has to portray his power level as lower than it actually is in order to avoid depicting the rest of the heroes as unnecessary. 7/10

The Other Side #5 (DC Comics/Vertigo imprint)
by Jason Aaron & Cameron Stewart

Writer Jason Aaron brings this war story to a satisfying and fitting conclusion. As always, the parallels and contrasts between the two protagonists’ tales serve as the greatest appeal of the book. Aaron’s script and plotting challenge his audience, and the complexity of the storytelling, tempered with its down-to-earth characterization, is quite thought-provoking. Billy Everette’s character finds redemption as a soldier in this concluding issue, but in finding his courage and overcoming his fear, he loses himself and any chance at a normal life. Cameron Stewart’s art conveys the choreography of the climactic battle perfectly. We can see the mechanics of the battle unfold with crystal clarity, and he manages to convey the chaos in a slow-motion mode that drives home the art and the drama of the ugliness of the violence. Not surprisingly, The Other Side proves to be an ironic tragedy. The dedicated soldier with a loving family is denied his return home, while the reluctant weakling is hailed suspiciously as a hero by a family that never appreciated him and is incapable of providing the love and support he needs. The power of this storytelling sets up Jason Aaron as the heir apparent to the legacy that Garth Ennis established at DC/Vertigo in the 1990s. 10/10

8 Responses to “Quick Critiques – Feb. 10, 2007”

  1. L.P. Mandrake Says:

    I was a little underwhelmed by the end of The Other Side. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but it felt a little too derivative of other Vietnam works. I’d still give it a 9/10, but it just didn’t come together for me.

  2. Don MacPherson Says:

    Mandrake, I can see how you might see Billy’s experience as being derivative, but the incorporation of a counterpart from the other side of the conflict certainly strikes me as novel.

  3. Reno Dakota Says:

    You’re spot-on about Jason Aaron – he’s the real deal, and I’m excited to see where he’ll be taking Scalped.

    That Action Comics annual, on the other hand, really didn’t work for me. Great art, but all servicing stories that (outside of the Mon-El bit) felt like blatant filler. Including all three of the evil Kryptonians on “Superman’s 10 Most Wanted” just reeked of laziness, especially when Johns/Donner’s monthly Action run has been both lackluster and behind schedule. And what was up with that two-page Joe Kubert non-story? I’m not seeing how this comic was much better than any given Secret Files & Origins.

  4. Don MacPherson Says:

    Reno wrote:
    And what was up with that two-page Joe Kubert non-story?

    As I noted in my review, it’s devoid of an actual plot, but man, it’s a great looking segment. The art throughout the annual is solid. Arthur Adams, Eric Wight, Joe Kubert… what’s not to love?

  5. Don MacPherson Says:

    Interesting note: It seems as though the blurb for the upper right cover panel was accidentally dropped. A pre-release cover scan from DC Comics indicates it was supposed to read “The Criminals of Krypton!,” but it didn’t make it onto the final product.

  6. Peter Fries Says:

    Not to be too nitpicky, Don, but did you mean to use the phrase “this time around” five times in your Fell review, including twice in the same sentence? ;^)

  7. Don MacPherson Says:

    Peter wrote:
    Not to be too nitpicky, Don, but did you mean to use the phrase “this time around” five times in your Fell review, including twice in the same sentence? ;^)

    Nope, I certainly didn’t mean to do that. Damn. My head must’ve been stuck in a loop. 🙂

  8. JohnnyZito Says:

    I’m actually still waiting for the Action Comics Annual but New Avengers was satisfying; how the team was already formed by the end. Definitely not what I was expecting.