Delicate Axiom #1 (Tempo Lush)
by Richy K. Chandler
This mini-comic, produced by a writer/artist in London, defies description. At first glance, it’s something of a soap opera. The core premise of this 36-page issue is about two friends estranged from one another as each struggles to come to terms with another friend’s recent death. The people around them try to help bridge the gap between the two friends, as they know the relationship means more to them than even they realize. It seems like a well-grounded concept, but Chandler brings a decidedly surreal quality to the story by transforming some of the characters into figures from the world of fantasy. Mermaids, talking animals and angels are commonplace in this urban setting. Chandler holds off on revealing the fantastic elements, though, which comes into conflict with how the characters perceive them. The reader is meant to be awed, but that doesn’t work when the characters don’t react similarly. Furthermore, the script makes it seem as though we’ve missed out on large chunks of the story. Another friend’s death is the catalyst here, but we’re never told how he died so suddenly. This doesn’t read like an introductory issue. It seems much more like a continuation of a larger saga.
Chandler’s art certainly boasts a certain degree of charm, but it’s a poor fit for the melodramatic tone he’s trying to set for this surreal story. His style is a wholly cartoony one, and he seems to have trouble with backgrounds and full-figure views. He relies heavily on closeups. Now, he does so in part to hide the characters’ true natures earlier in the story, but for the most part, he just seems to be more comfortable with faces. This is a dialogue-heavy story, and that makes for some extremely cramped panels. Overall, Delicate Axiom is a puzzling read, but one can’t argue that there’s some heartfelt pain and recovery going on in the main character Ken. It’s something to which readers can relate. It seems clear the more unusual qualities of some of the characters are meant to represent something else, something more grounded, but the point is elusive… at least, it was for this particular reader. 3/10
For more information about this mini-comic and its publisher, visit the Tempo Lush page on MySpace.
Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America #3 (Marvel Comics)
by Jeph Loeb, John Romita Jr. & Klaus Janson
This limited series, exploring the emotional impact the death of Cap has had on various denizens of the Marvel Universe, has proven to be much better than I anticipated. It also allows the debate about superhuman registration — and the analogy about individual rights versus security concerns that it represents — to continue in a more reflective, quieter context. This story focuses not on Captain America, as the cover and subtitle suggest, but on Hawkeye. His miraculous return from the dead is acknowledged but not dwelled upon, thankfully, and the story further demonstrates how Tony Stark, despite being victorious in the Civil War conflict, remains a villain (without his knowledge). Loeb writes the inactive Hawkeye true to character but doesn’t go so far as to present him as an impulsive blowhard. This is still Hawkeye, but he’s also matured a bit in death, it seems. This is a much more interesting take on the character than what we saw in from writer Brian Michael Bendis in New Avengers. Oh, I also have to admit I love the idea of the blank-cover variant for this comic book. I love to get sketches from artists at cons and store appearances, and to get one on a comic itself as an original cover would be a treat. Sure, a lot of fans will likely end up putting such treasures on eBay, but as a fan of original comic art, I’d hold onto mine forever. It’s too bad those eBay users could end up tainting the gimmick, making artists leery of people who ask for a sketch.
Romita Jr. impresses once again with some dark, dynamic artwork. He has developed into one of the modern masters of super-hero art, and he’s done so with the lengthy delays between projects and individual efforts. Whereas folks such as Jim Lee, Bryan Hitch and Frank Quitely enjoy a couple of months or more between their releases, Romita stands out as a workhorse. Sometimes it seems like there’s always two, three or more individual comics from him on the stands every month, never sacrificing the gritty, intense style for which he’s known. The darkness he brings to the artwork reinforces the dramatic tension that permeates the story, and I like how his depictions of Iron Man and Clint Barton dwarf the younger, greenhorn heroes that appear later in the issue. Fallen Son is hardly required reading for Civil War fans, but it’s solid, super-hero material that doesn’t rely all that much on action to tell an engaging story. 7/10
Justice League of America #9 (DC Comics)
by Brad Meltzer & Ed Benes
One might assume from the annotations I’ve been writing for “The Lightning Saga,” the JLA/JSA/Legion of Super-heroes teamup story arc running through this title and Justice Society, that I’m a big fan of the story and art. I am a big fan of the traditions that Meltzer taps into here, and the story’s nostalgia factor is something I’m enjoying. That being said, this particular chapter in the arc was disappointing. Little happens here. The present-day heroes go out to track down two more time-lost Legionnaires, but it’s all too simple. There’s no action, no conflict here. Meltzer does focus on characterization to a certain degree, but it fails to hold my attention. Vixen’s pilgrimage is a bit dull, and all of the heroes in the Thanagar segment seemed to be defined by their sex lives. I find it odd that a story with roots in a more innocent time in the genre would include a tangent about heroes looking to get into one another’s pants for short-term flings.
I was a fan of Benes’s art when he was illustrating Birds of Prey, but his style has evolved into one that’s in conflict with itself. Benes presents super-heroes as the beefy and buxom figures we’ve often seen them to be in the past, with simpler, cartoony faces. But here, he also endeavors to bring a greater degree to detail to the action. He seems to be striving for realism where there’s no need or place for it. His exaggerated style doesn’t lend itself to it, and neither do many of these characters. Meltzer’s script is accessible in parts, offering enough information about certain elements, such as Gorilla City, so new readers can follow the plot. But the significance of the final scene — in which the Legionnaires consider their mission, with miniature lightning rods in hand — will escape those without knowledge of Silver Age Legion history. 5/10
Painkiller Jane #1 (Dynamite Entertainment)
by Joe Quesada, Jimmy Palmiotti & Lee Moder
The politics of comics these days have revolved around the gratuitous nature of an upcoming Mary Jane Watson statue (dubbed “Washerwoman” by some) from Marvel Comics; many have held it up as a symbol of what’s wrong in comics and the hyper-sexualized portrayal of women in the medium, especially when it comes to super-hero comics. Well look out, Washerwoman, there’s a new sheriff in T&A town, and she’s only wearing a thong. This #1 issue (not the first issue, as there was an issue #0) deals with plot and character as secondary concerns. The focus is clearly on the title character’s sexuality. For a woman who complains to have no sex drive, she thinks about sex and carries herself in a sexual manner a lot. An awful lot. We hear more about the title character’s underwear than we do about her healing powers. We see her make out with a topless woman, contemplate her bikini zone and consider how much others want to boink her. If this distracting emphasis on sex in a non-sexual story weren’t so irksome, it would be laughable. The ridiculous thing is that this property is experiencing a comics revival due to it serving as the foundation for the recent launch of a cable TV series. I haven’t seen the Sci-Fi Channel’s Painkiller Jane show, but I’m guessing it doesn’t languish in this HBO-level of sexual content. This comic book is a poor ambassador for the medium, but it could serve in that capacity if fans of the show seek out the comics as well. Also of note is that it’s co-written by the character’s co-creator, Joe Quesada, better known even outside the industry as the editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics. I wonder if the comics newbie will question what’s going on at Marvel if this is the sort of material its editorial leader thinks passes for good storytelling. This reads like a super-hero comic penned by guys who write Penthouse Forum.
Lee Moder’s art is a different entity than it was when he was working for DC Comics on such titles as Legion of Super-Heroes and Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. There’s a greater level of detail, intensity and maturity in his work, though the same general style is still recognizable. The T&A factor in the art is far too amped up, but Moder is simply illustrating what the story dictates. One can’t attribute the cheesecake visuals to him. What little action is to be found in this book is choreographed well (though again, when the heroine is clad in a thong and a shirt exposing her midriff, the focus isn’t on the action anyway). I’d be interested in seeing Moder’s work on a comic that’s not so easily dismissed as this one. 1/10
Ultimates 2 #13 (Marvel Comics)
by Mark Millar, Bryan Hitch & Paul Neary
One of the great mysteries of 21st-century comics comes to an end. Readers no longer ponder the whereabouts of the final issue of Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s run on Ultimates. It has arrived, and after such a long wait, fans will no doubt experience an overwhelming sense of “ehh.” Ultimates 2 doesn’t end with a whimper at all, but the “bang” serving as its conclusion struck me as surprisingly conventional. One of the most interesting things about Millar’s reinterpretation of Thor was the question of whether he was a god or a just a loon with powers. Millar answers that question far too definitively here, and in the process, a conflict involving an international superhuman arms race turns into one about an otherdimensional invasion by magical creatures. Thor goes from acting in a supporting role in the series to filling the most pivotal one in this climax, and it just doesn’t fit. Captain America plays such a small part in this story that it doesn’t seem to fit. The Hulk seems unusually reigned in, and it’s distracting, given how the character was portrayed in previous story arcs. It’s interesting to note that Millar must have updated his script for this story, as there are more recent references to the U.S. political scene. I wonder if that different context had any small impact on the story itself.
The most frustrating aspect of the book was a visual element I’m sure Marvel and Bryan Hitch saw as a potential strength. In the middle of the book, there’s a six-page, gatefold spread of all-out action in Washington, D.C. It’s impressive in its detail, yes, but it doesn’t serve the story. Instead, it takes the reader out of the story as s/he stops to unfold it carefully. The large image contains no information vital to the plot; it’s just a huge fight scene. I got the feeling it was produced with an eye to releasing a poster-sized version later on. 6/10
Unseen Peanuts (Fantagraphics Books)
by Charles M. Schultz and Kim Thompson
I know Free Comic Book Day 2007 is a couple of weeks behind us now, but this contribution to the event from Fantagraphics merits the buzz it’s earned and a mention here as well. This look back at the craft of Charles Schulz, his missteps and the evolution of perhaps the best-known comic strip ever is fascinating. The strips are entertaining in and of themselves, especially taken out of the context of the time in which they were published, but editor Kim Thompson’s insightful and enlightening annotations really make for a deep reading experience. It’s not that the answers to life are to be found here or anything, but the history at play here and the eye for the experiments and development of craft are engrossing. There’s a truly intellectual bent to this examination of Schulz’s lost treasures (and in some cases, understandably discarded characters and concepts).
Thompson’s commentary adds so much to the reading experience that I actually felt this was the superior publication as compared to the first hardcover volume of 1950s-era strips I have on my bookshelf. In that volume, the strips really have to speak for themselves, but Thompson’s footnotes here bring so much more to the equation. It’s also interesting to see the evolution of Schulz’s character design and style. Charlie Brown looked a bit different when he debuted as compared to the icon we know today. The same holds true for how these familiar characters behaved in their early days. Unseen Peanuts will be of interest not only to fans of the craft of comics but to anyone who grew up with Charlie, Snoopy, Linus et al. 10/10