Posted by Don MacPherson on March 8th, 2011
Action Comics #898 (DC Comics)
by Paul Cornell & Pete Woods
I stopped following writer Paul Cornell’s Luthor story a while ago, but he and his editors’ plan to lure readers in by featuring certain other characters worked on me. I thoroughly enjoy the “Rainbow Corps” concept from DC’s Green Lantern comics, and Larfleeze is a fun character when handled properly. Cornell plays it straight with the greedy little alien, but it works in this context and allows him to say a lot about Luthor in the process. Unfortunately, I really don’t get what’s going on in this story — not just this issue, but this story as a whole. I get that Luthor is on the trail of spheres of black energy that are supposedly connected to the Black Lanterns, but what the energy goes, why it changes when it finds them, why Larfleeze is interested and why other DC Universe villains have access to these spheres isn’t at all clear. Cornell offers up some strong instances of characterization, but I’m absolutely lost when it comes to the plot, and I’ve read at least half of the chapters of this “Black Ring” storyline. Luthor as the protagonist doesn’t quite work, but then again, I see the real heroine and focus of the story to be the Lois Lane robot that serves as Lex’s gal Friday. She’s much more interesting and seems far more human than her master, and I suppose that’s the point.
The action doesn’t unfold clearly from a visual standpoint, and that’s unfortunate, as I really like the aesthetics of Pete Woods’ linework. His style has evolved over the years, and here, his crisp, detailed, clean approach reminds me of the style of Chris (Tom Strong) Sprouse. He actually manages to make Larfleeze appear to be a figure of menace and power rather than goofy and pathetic. 5/10
Amazing Spider-Man #655 (Marvel Comics)
by Dan Slott & Marcos Martin
Recently, I panned the previous issue of this series, #654.1, part of Marvel’s “Point One” initiative to offer good jumping-on points for long-running titles. Well, it’s this issue they should’ve chosen for that treatment, not the introduction of the new Venom. Yes, there’s little action to be found in this issue and it’s not wholly accessible (Spidey assisted a suicide? For a friend of Wolverine? Wha?), but it does sum up the inner conflict that has defined the title character for decades while also providing a snapshot of his supporting cast as it stands now. But more importantly, it tells a compelling, emotional story about grief and about how people handle it differently. Slott’s script and plot is in keeping with the strong traditions of the title’s earliest years but at the same time acknowledges more recent developments in Marvel continuity.
As strong as the story is, the real attraction in this issue stems from Marcos Martin’s stunning artwork. While maintaining his own unique style throughout the book, he continues to pay tribute to the art of the original Amazing Spidey artist Steve Ditko. Martin’s inventive panel layouts and slightly surreal leanings are perfect for this script, as much of the action unfolds in a dream. When it comes to the figures, Martin has always employed a simpler approach, but that doesn’t interfere with his ability to convey the characters’ emotions. The stoic, detached look on Jonah’s face is incredibly effective at conveying a man who’s struggling to deal with his pain while also maintaining his facade of strength and determination. Aside from a couple of confusing, inaccessible elements in the script, this stands out as one of the best Spidey comics to be released in some time. 8/10
Captain America #615 (Marvel Comics)
by Ed Brubaker, Butch Guice, Stephano Gaudiano & Rick Magyar/by Sean McKeever &
I’ve been with Ed Brubaker’s captain America run from the start, and what he’s done with the uninspired idea of bringing Bucky Barnes back to life has been nothing short of amazing. The writer managed to build a dark, compelling espionage drama immersed in super-hero history and connected to the publisher’s crossover events, and nevertheless offered an accessible and solidly entertaining read. But that phase of this series came to an end a while ago. Now, with the focus on Bucky as Cap, I haven’t been as interested or engaged in the storytelling. It’s still solid, capable genre fare, but it pales in comparison to what Brubaker did earlier in the series. Fortunately, I’m getting my fix now from his work on Secret Avengers. Butch Guice is no stranger to this series, so he’s clearly trying to maintain the same dark atmosphere that’s been a part of this run from the start. He’s also endeavouring to bring some classic Kirby elements back to the title character as well. His approach to several figures is to render them in a more squat manner, and that makes a Kirby influence shine through. Still, that old-school approach seems to conflict with the more mature atmosphere for which the creators are striving, and I found those disparate styles to conflict with each other rather than compliment.
While I’ve grown a bit tired of the main Cap storyline in this title, I’ve never really been all that taken with the Nomad backup. The character hasn’t seen any real growth since this feature began. Her convoluted origin and connection to a popular though creatively stunted period in Marvel’s recent history make her a tough pill to swallow, and her disconnected nature — her defining quality — denies her any real coming-of-age appeal as a teenage character. This particular instalment consists of (a) a generic confrontation with drug dealers, and (b) an internal monologue that recaps her background but says nothing new about her and promises no new direction either. The art by Pepe Larraz on this backup is adequate, and it’s definitely stronger and more accessible than the more exaggerated approaches we’ve seen in previous issues. His style actually reminded me of Ron Lim’s work at several points. 5/10
Echo #28 (Abstract Studio)
by Terry Moore
I often write on this site about the need for comics — especially monthly, episodic comics — to be accessible for newer readers. Echo or at least this particular issue, isn’t accessible, but damn, it’s a great action-genre comic, tinged with super-hero elements. Mind you, considering the quality of the script, I can’t imagine that Moore’s storytelling wouldn’t draw in newer readers and inspire them to seek out previous chapters in the story. Still, for an independent series such as this, I would imagine the pursuit of newer readers isn’t left to new issues such as this, but rather to the marketing of the trade-paperback collections of the earliest episodes. Recent developments in the series have revealed that there’s a continuity connection to Moore’s best-known work, Strangers in Paradise, but fortunately, one needn’t be familiar with that series in order to follow and appreciate the plot here. In any case, I continue to be impressed with the real science that Moore incorporates into this science-fiction drama and the balance he brings to the technical side of the story with such strong characterization. Even better, I find that he’s taking a much more direct approach with this project than he did with SiP. The series seems free of tangents, never diverging from the sense that there’s an ending, an ultimate destination for these characters.
Moore’s soft linework makes for some thoroughly attractive characters, but the realistic leanings in his style also makes the drama and danger in the plot seem more engrossing and credible (despite the incredible notions that serve as the threat). He successfully conveys ivy’s increasing youth, which is a key plot element that brings a sense of urgency to the story. And the backgrounds — wow. Moore demonstrates his versatility as an artist by rendering the minute detail of a massive collider facility while in the same issue capturing the tranquil qualities of a northern, snow-capped chalet. It’s for these reasons and more than when a new issue of Echo is released, it’s always one of the first comics I read when I get home from the comics shop. 8/10
Iron Man 2.0 #1 (Marvel Comics)
by Nick Spencer, Barry Kitson, Kano & Carmine Di Giandomenico
So Marvel finally figured out that a comic book with “Iron Man” in the title will sell better than one entitled War Machine, especially at a time when the Iron Man brand is one of the most popular super-hero properties in mainstream pop culture. Suddenly hot comics writer Nick Spencer is at the helm of this latest Iron Man spinoff, and his concept for the villain of this opening story arc is a fantastic one. The bad guy is a dead man; he should pose no threat, but he’s managed to pass on a legacy of terror in a novel way. The last three pages of this comic book feature some thoroughly inventive and creepy writing, and they speak to why Spencer finds himself in such demand these days. Unfortunately, the foundation for the series as a whole — namely, James Rhodes’ new mission and allies — isn’t at all interesting to me. It feels forced, and in the greater context of the Marvel Universe, the need for the hero to be a mole inside the military industrial complex doesn’t quite make sense (isn’t Steve Rogers in charge these days?). And even if it is necessary, it doesn’t feel as though General Babbage has been properly established as significant enough of a power broker within that structure to merit this premise.
I was a little leery of delving into yet another new series featuring War Machine, but there were two words associated with this new title that drew me in: “Barry Kitson.” Unfortunately, his influence is barely apparent in this comic book. One can see his style come out in the brief Blizzard fight scene early in the comic, but after that, a much different style dominates the art. Don’t get me wrong — the work is good. I’m reminded of Nathan (DMZ) Fox’s art, and the grittier look certainly is in keeping with the unsettling nature of the antagonist. But Kitson’s clean style is also a nice touch when it comes to the shiny, rigid lines of armored heroes. Artistically, it felt as though Marvel pulled something of a bait-and-switch move here. 6/10
The Sixth Gun #9 (Oni Press)
by Cullen Bunn & Brian Hurtt
This supernatural western adventure series continues to entertain and impress. Part of that is due to the fun and dark notion of six cursed, evil weapons of power, but one can’t underestimate the effectiveness of Bunn’s character concepts. Each character he’s introduced over the course of this series has proven to be colorful and compelling, even some of the more malevolent, gimmicky villains. Now, some might find that Bunn has unnecessarily amped up the gratuitous sexuality factor in this issue, but I found the emergence of Becky’s more sultry side to be in keeping with her character. It’s not that she’s suddenly become a vamp. Instead, she remains the innocent yet brave soul we’ve seen before, but now, she’s enamored of a thoroughly charming rogue. What helps to sell it is the fact that Kirby Hale is actually convincingly charming in the story. We’re not just told of his appeal, we can see it and hear it. The action in this issue is exciting as well, and the overtly supernatural attacks, tinged with the natural world, reminds me of the sort of thing fans enjoy in Mike Mignola’s Hellboy comics. One also has to give Bunn credit for including so much exposition in the script; even if one hasn’t been following this series from the start, there’s enough information in the dialogue for a newer reader to understand and appreciate the plot in this chapter of the ongoing story.
Once again, Brian Hurtt demonstrates that his soft, simple style is a versatile one. His efforts to capture the period and the locales are successful, and his character designs are quite striking. He’s able to convey texture incredibly well with an economical use of linework. I also love the detail in the backgrounds, and Bill Crabtree’s colors add a lot to the tense, spooky atmosphere that’s such an integral part of the title’s appeal. 8/10
Who Is Jake Ellis? #2 (Image Comics)
by Nathan Edmondson & Tonci Zonjic
The manager at my local comic shop turned me onto this title, but to be honest, I’m surprised I didn’t happen upon the first issue myself on the racks a while back. The title is intriguing and unusual, the cover design is eye-catching and the artist’s style is in keeping with a general approach to comics storytelling today that I always find appealing. Tonci Zonjic’s minimalist style is quite reminiscent of the work of several other popular and up-and-coming artists today, such as Paul Azaceta, Francesco Francavilla, Michael Lark and many others. One could even say they’re following in the tradition of Alex Toth. In any case, there’s a wonderfully noir quality to the visuals here, and not just because the title character is always rendered in a kind of silhouette. The action is well choreographed, and the colors enhance the storytelling nicely.
While the book is strong visually, it’s the core premise that really draws one into the book. The series title gets to the heart of what keeps the reader engaged and interested. Sure, Jon Moore’s desperate bid to escape his pursuers, both seen and unseen, is riveting, but it’s the mystery of the nature of his invisible ally that’s truly engrossing. I like that the protagonist thinks he has it all figured out, and his suppositions are logical ones as well. But they don’t necessarily explain everything the reader sees. I love that writer Nathan Edmondson keeps us guessing, and honestly, I’m pleased to keep guessing for some time. This is a five-issue limited series, but my hope is that this is the first such series in a number of Jake Ellis stories to come. The concept is just too strong to be discarded a few months from now. 9/10
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