Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Quick Critiques – April 7, 2011

Posted by Don MacPherson on April 7th, 2011

VariantVariantFear Itself #1 (Marvel Comics)
by Matt Fraction, Stuart Immonen & Wade von Grawbadger

I have to admit… this comic book started off on quite a strong note. While avoiding overt references to the Ground Zero Mosque issue (and 9/11, Islam and other controversial real-world topics), Matt Fraction opens this event book with a compelling scene about the state of America at the moment, the division, the anger and the fragility of it all. He also builds upon the economic, corporate and social themes of he’s already explored in The Invincible Iron Man. But that stuff quickly takes a back seat to a story of cosmic revenge and a squabble between a father and son that lacks any kind of context for the non-Thor reader. Hey, I like the notion of more magic Asgardian hammers coming to Earth and a race among superhumans to either possess the power or keep it out of the hands of others. But as I made my way through this comic book, I kept asking myself a few questions: “What’s the point? Why should I care? Why is Marvel building another event book around Asgard?” (see Siege).

The saving grace of this book is the artwork. While the plot (especially the unexplained and ugly explosion of anger on Odin’s part) is disappointing, the same can’t be said of the strong linework and colors provided by Stuart Immonen, Wade von Grawbadger and Laura Martin. It’s a lovely book. I was particularly impressed with how Immonen distinguishes the Norse Gods from the regular super-heroes. He brings such stature and presence to Thor and Odin that really sets them apart. There are quite a few characters running around in this comic book, but Immonen and von Grawbadger never take any shortcuts. Every figure — be it a major player or a bystander in a single panel — is crisply rendered. The only visual element in the book that left me cold was the poorly designed regular cover, with its static artwork by Steve McNiven. 6/10

Undying Love #1 (Image Comics)
by Tomm Coker & Daniel Freedman

I know what you’re thinking — “Wow, another vampire comic. Sigh.” I understand the trepidation and cynicism. Thanks to Twilight and True Blood, vampires are the in thing in Hollywood these days, though my recognition of that fact probably means the trend/fad is on the wane, if not over altogether already. But given the strength of so many new Image releases these days, I flipped through the pages of this comic in my local shop and was won over by the art. Tomm Coker’s deliciously dark, moody artwork is definitely worth the price of admission. While meticulously detailed and genuine in appeared, his work stops short of being photorealistic. The stylized work here will no doubt appeal to fans of the style of Alex (Scarlet) Maleev. the only nitpick I have about Coker’s work here is his depiction of gunfire. Both the representations of the gunshots and the lettering effects accompanying them lacked the kind of power and drama one would expect in such an explosive, action-oriented scene.

What co-creators Coker and Daniel Freedman seem to have done here is combine three different genres. There’s a story of tragic vampire love. There’s a hard-boiled, noir detective piece. And there’s the tale of a samurai’s quest. It’s an eclectic mix, but it works quite surprisingly well. At first, this Bogart-esque hero in the middle of an Anne Rice story and/or Japanese pagoda seemed out of place, but eventually, the blend of genres won me over. Freedman and Coker also bring a sense of myth into play later in the comic. They also manage to make Mei, the vampire whom Sargent loves, a sympathetic character. Clearly, she will prove to be his undoing, but I hope that the writers will nevertheless endeavor to avoid predictability when they finally turn their and our attention to the inevitable pitfall. 7/10

VariantXombi #1 (DC Comics)
by John Rozum & Frazer Irving

I didn’t read the first Xombi series, and I had no reason to anticipate the property’s return in the form of a new ongoing series. I did, however, have reason to anticipate a new comic-book project featuring the art of Frazer Irving. I figured Irving’s art would be enough to keep me pleased no matter what I found in the story or script. But instead, I found something I enjoyed even more than Irving’s art: John Rozum’s weird characters, irreverent adventure and an oddly grounded protagonist make for thoroughly entertaining reading. My unfamiliarity with the title character wasn’t a problem; Rozum provides just enough background in the script for me to follow along. His use of puns as sources for character and story concepts is actually a lot of fun. I like that the hero of the book isn’t your typical lantern-jawed, super-jock type. He’s American, yes, but clearly his Asian heritage plays a part in who he is. I also like that he’s a middle-aged man who finds himself in a younger body. That offers good potential for awkward interpersonal dynamics later on. The sci-fi/supernatural speak is inventive, unsettling at times and amusing as well.

You couldn’t find a better artist to illustrate such a surreal super-hero book. Irving’s artwork has always had a weird bent to it, but he’s nevertheless able to capture the everyday, everyman moments of the story as well. I like that the characters aren’t dressed up in super-hero costumes. Instead, it feels more like these people are part of a network of adventurers with common goals and ideals. Irving also employs perfectly unnatural colors to reinforce the weird and bizarre atmosphere. He clearly favors pastel tones that he somehow manages to tweak to take on a darker feel. The soft blue, muted yellow and gaudy pink colors come off as the visual equivalent of minor and/or atonal chords. 9/10

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