Empowered original graphic novel (Dark Horse Comics)
by Adam Warren
Writer/artist Adam Warren turns his attention to an unfortunate quality of super-hero comics, and that’s its gratuitous hypersexualization of female characters, especially in a genre that was originally envisioned as material for younger readers. The designs for the various characters are hilarious, inventive and striking. These sooper-heerows look appropriately goofy, but a couple of the designs are pretty sharp, to be honest. Warren also makes the most of the black-and-white format. There’s a rougher quality to the art and lettering at times, but it never looks sloppy. Warren takes an over-the-top approach to this satirical look at super-hero storytelling, and it’s amusing and wholly effective in making his points. There’s just one problem: it’s repetitive. Warren makes the same points over and over and over again, and the one-dimensional nature of the characters and limitations of the gimmicks aren’t enough to sustain one’s attention all the way through to the end of the book.
To be fair, Warren constructs Empowered to be read in short little bursts, as this is more of a short-story collection than a graphic novel, really. It’s just a shame that it seems to be the same story time and time again. For the most part, the stories are about how inept, vulnerable and easily victimized the title character is. Mind you, there are stories that explore the other characters as well; I was especially entertained by Sistah Spooky’s origin. Overall, I liked the concept, but the longer format didn’t suit the material. Presenting it as a graphic novella, something in the format of Garth Ennis and Amanda Conner’s The Pro from Image Comics a few years back, would have a better fit for this project. 6/10
Midnighter #7 (DC Comics/Wildstorm Productions)
by Brian K. Vaughan, Darick Robertson & Karl Story
Remember that episode of Seinfeld that unfolded in reverse, with the concluding scene presented first, running all the way to a flashback from years before serving as the final scene? Well, that’s what this self-contained issue of Midnighter is like, albeit much nastier and action-oriented. Writer Brian K. (Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina) Vaughan brings the title character’s power — his ability to plan for every contingency in a fight thanks to an enhanced tactical intelligence — to life by presenting his infiltration of a corrupt corporate concern in reverse. It’s a clever concept, but the biggest problem is that the book reads incredibly quickly. I was through the entire book despite its novel construction in just a couple of minutes.
I applaud the fact that this issue doesn’t skirt around the title character’s sexuality and his marriage to Apollo. The Midnighter’s homosexuality is used as more than fodder for insults from his enemies here. DC has been skittish about the gay romance between this Batman-esque character and one of Wildstorm’s many Superman analogues, so it’s nice to see the relationship being embraced more openly here. Darick Robertson is a natural choice as penciller for a Midnighter story, given the intensity and harshness one finds in his style. However, I think the clean, sleek inks of Karl Story might have softened Robertson’s grittier leanings a bit. Still, the artists offer up a couple of stunning full-page spreads and even a nice double-page spread as well. 6/10
Omega Flight #2 (Marvel Comics)
by Michael Avon Oeming & Scott Kolins
There are a couple of elements that draw me to this series. First of all, there’s Scott Kolins’s art; I’m liable to check out any title with which he’s affiliated. And secondly, there’s the setting. As a Canadian, Marvel’s Alpha/Omega Flight comics hold a special place in my heart… not that I’ve followed every incarnation of the concept. Some have been fascinating, and some rather weak. Omega Flight falls somewhere in the middle. The dominant presence of American characters in this story actually makes sense, given the premise behind the book. However, I think writer Michael Avon Oeming overstates the “spillover” effect that the United States has on Canada. Yes, U.S. culture plays a prominent role in our society, but I don’t see Canada has inheriting its neighbor’s problems to the extent that’s stated here. Still, it’s intriguing, and the Canadian heroes certainly aren’t hiding behind the American heroes.
My biggest problem with the plot is its pace. We’re in the second issue, and still, the entire team hasn’t been assembled yet. We already know what the lineup is going to be, thanks to cover artwork; Oeming is taking way too long getting us from Point Eh to Point B. Kolins’s artwork is stunning. He brings an appropriately dark and urgent tone to the story, and the Wrecking Crew’s violence is depicted harshly rather than casually. Kolins doesn’t quite get the Toronto skyline right; his version of the Ontario capital looks more like New York. I’ve spent time in both cities, and they’re as different as night and day. Still, that’s a minor quibble in an otherwise impressive visual contribution. 6/10
Ward of the State #1 (Image Comics/Shadowline imprint)
by Christopher Long & Chee
The clever cover image is of a key moment in the story, but it’s not at all clear at first glance what it is the reader is meant to see. Most of this issue is made up of setup material, introducing the premise, but the scene hinted at on the cover appears to be the catalyst for the plot that takes off toward the end of this first issue. Ward of the State is actually about a number of foster children who have been trained by their hag of a foster mother to be hired killers. It’s a loathsome, disturbing concept, but what’s most unsettling about it is the plausibility of it all. No, it’s not easy to believe that a small group of teens could keep on killing time and time again without being caught, but what is believable is the notion of the most vulnerable members of our society falling into the hands of the corrupt and the greedy. Therein lies the real horror behind this extremely harsh and shocking crime story. The execution is over the top, but the commentary is powerful and valid.
Chee’s art is quite effective. His style in this book reminds me of the work of Peter (The Light Brigade) Snejbjerg and David (V for Vendetta) Lloyd. He employs a fairly simple style, and the figures are clean but convincing. He manages to capture the teens’ youth without just depicting them as shorter adults, and he draws clothing as clothing, not some version of super-hero spandex. Joel Seguin’s colors bring an appropriately sullen and rotten look to the settings, reinforcing the ugly mood that pervades the book. 7/10