Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Quick Critiques – Sept. 9, 2007

Posted by Don MacPherson on September 9th, 2007

30 Days of Night: Red Snow #1 (IDW Publishing)
by Ben Templesmith

IDW has really been pumping out the 30 Days of Night spinoff series since the success of the original title five years ago, and for a while, I gobbled them up. My interest in those stories waned, though. Obviously, with the advent of the 30 Days movie upon us, IDW is keeping the vampire stories flowing. Red Snow caught my attention, in part because it features the artwork of the original 30 Days artist Ben Templesmith. But what piqued my interest even more is the fact that Templesmith wrote this story as well. He does a great job with the property, offering up the strongest followup since the original limited series. He takes the reader to a different far-north setting from which the property derives its name, but he also takes the audience back in time as well. The result is a fresh take on the notion of vampires running amok during a lengthy arctic night. Three disparate groups — Russian Allied soldiers, German aggressors and frightened Russian villagers — face a horror even greater than the bloodshed of the Second World War. The vampires are clearly the antagonists, but even the victims/protagonists have distasteful souls among their numbers. It makes for a multi-faceted storytelling dynamic that sets Red Snow apart from typical horror fare. Of course, as anyone who’s checked out the original 30 Days of Night knows, Templesmith’s art is perfectly suited to bringing the dark setting and feral villains to life. He does a great job of conveying the remote and decades-old setting. Red Snow boasts an extensive cast of characters, and Templesmith’s three-pronged approach to the story makes for a riveting, unpredictable read. 9/10

Bonds #1 (Image Comics)
by Durwin Talon

Durwin Talon, perhaps known in comics circles as cover artist, steps up to provide story and artwork on a new property featuring a supernatural heroine. The cover hints at that element of witchcraft, but the first two thirds of the book is entrenched in more grounded fare, leading the reader to expect something completely different from the book. Faith Warner is initially such a gentle, attractive character. Her life seems like a work of art in and of itself. Her devotion to music and to the people she loves comes off as so pure. When the story shifts to show her exacting no small measure of violence (even if it’s unknowingly), it’s such a harsh and sudden change in her character that it’s unsettling. If anything, Talon’s crafting of her character earlier in the book is too effective. The core plot itself is fairly simple, the sort of fare one might find in an action movie, as we watch the hero fight against a corrupt corporation to avenge a fallen loved one. Fortunately, the strength of Faith’s character early on and the artwork throughout the book distracts from the somewhat generic qualities of the plot. Talon’s artwork boasts a dreamy quality, enhanced by his autumn-esque color palette. His figures are a bit stiff at times, but they’re so convincing in appearance that it’s easy to overlook. Talon’s art will appeal to fans of such artists as Greg (Ultimate Power) Land, Tony (Ex Machina) Harris, David (Kabuki) Mack and Brian (Matador) Stelfreeze. Bonds is certainly an intriguing property, but I think I would have preferred if Talon had maintained a more grounded tone instead of throwing in the supernatural elements with the crime drama. Mind you, that would have resulted in a radically different book, so I have to reserve judgment overall until I read more about of Faith’s new path in life. 6/10

Doktor Sleepless #2 (Avatar Press)
by Warren Ellis & Ivan Rodriguez

The second episode of this series is far more confusing than the first, but it’s stronger as well. The title character moves from being a catalyst to more of a developed character. Ellis’s story seems to be heading toward a revelation that Jon Reinhardt is a fractured soul, different personae that have actually begun to exist as separate physical entities. It’s that, or there’s some tech-drug-related explanation, or I’m completely misreading the situation. In any case, it’s challenging material. Ellis’s softens Sleepless somewhat, showing us a more rational side. He seems to have more of a purpose than simply nihilism or instigation. The political/crime-drama elements add a greater depth to the actual plot and further draw the reader into this dark world of urban intrigue in the not-too distant future. The tech elements and the exploration of how they affect social structures and behavior are fascinating, but that comes as little surprise; Ellis does science fiction incredibly well thanks to his knowledge of cutting-edge science of today. Rodriguez’s art strikes me as much more focused and consistent in this issue. His inks maintain a dark and gritty quality throughout the book. His linework here reminds me a bit of Mike (Teen Titans, Fantastic Four) McKone’s style. I remain disappointed with the title character design, but the flowing lab smock/hospital scrub look isn’t all that prominent in this issue either. The logo combining gears (symbols of industry and technology) and the Number of the Beast is a particularly sharp graphic and morbidly marketable as well. 8/10

Infinity Inc. v.2 #1 (DC Comics)
by Peter Milligan & Max Fiumara

While I enjoyed DC’s weekly 52 series overall, I loathed the new Infinity Inc. I admit it was in part because I have a soft spot for the original 1980s team of the same name but also because the new characters were so generic and the plotline so predictable. I wasn’t the least bit interested in this spinoff series… until I learned that Peter Milligan was writing it. That piqued my curiosity enough to check out the first issue, and after reading it, I remain intrigued. Not hooked yet, but intrigued. Milligan used the broken young ex-heroes of Luthor’s Infinity Inc. as a means to examine the American culture of therapy and various forms of counselling that are in vogue. Milligan used X-Force and X-Statix to explore the U.S. culture and consumption of the celebrity, so he’s demonstrated that he’s adept at using super-hero genre storytelling for social commentary. The mood here is sullen and harsh, but after all, this is a story about fear and depression (and efforts to alleviate them). Fiumara’s art was initially off-putting. His dark, sketchy style seemed confusing at first, but as the central theme of the book was revealed, the inky artwork emerged as a good fit. It’s not clear yet where Milligan is headed with this concept; at some point, the super-hero team is bound to reform, yes, but other than that, the direction is unclear. The maturity of the core theme is interesting, though, and I’ll check out future issues. Unfortunately, I really don’t know that this dark, depressed take on super-heroes is all that marketable to DC’s core readership. I have my doubts about the book’s sustainability. 6/10

4 Responses to “Quick Critiques – Sept. 9, 2007”

  1. THE CATATONIC EXPRESSIONIST Says:

    Don wrote:
    “Unfortunately, I really don’t know that this dark, depressed take on super-heroes is all that marketable to DC’s core readership”

    Even though I have not read Infinity Inc, the one thing I love about DC is they seem willing to let their writers have full artistic freedom even if the comic-book world declares that they feel it might not sell. (However, I do not know the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the industry’). I really have to praise them for letting writers explore their own territory. For example, they have let Grant Morrison do his thing whether it was with The Filth or with Doom Patrol or The Invisibles. And I have always appreciated that writers such as Grant Morrison have been trying to expand the boundries of comic-book writing while providing material for philosophical debate. Even some issues of his current Batman run have been unique. Another example of DC’s bravery is the limited run with Solo.

    Whether or not I pick up Infinity Inc., it’s nice to know DC has not streamlined their output to Infinite Crisis or 52-type stories and events.

  2. Don MacPherson Says:

    An expressionist wrote:
    Even though I have not read Infinity Inc, the one thing I love about DC is they seem willing to let their writers have full artistic freedom even if the comic-book world declares that they feel it might not sell. (However, I do not know the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the industry’). I really have to praise them for letting writers explore their own territory. For example, they have let Grant Morrison do his thing whether it was with The Filth or with Doom Patrol or The Invisibles. And I have always appreciated that writers such as Grant Morrison have been trying to expand the boundries of comic-book writing while providing material for philosophical debate. Even some issues of his current Batman run have been unique. Another example of DC’s bravery is the limited run with Solo.

    I think brandishing DC as “brave” is going way too far. Yes, the publisher deserves credit for taking a chance on unconventional projects from time to time, but ultimately, it is a business. Yes, DC took a chance with Morrison with such projects as Doom Patrol and The Invisibles, but it’s a gamble that paid off. I honestly doubt that if Morrison’s earlier efforts hadn’t yielded financial payoffs, I honestly doubt The Filth would have been published under the DC/Vertigo banner.

    Furthermore, DC no doubt wants to keep popular writers such as Morrison happy, so publishing the less conventional and possibly less profitable titles is worth it to keep them available for the bigger projects.

    (I’m not saying this is necessarily the case with Morrison in particular. I’m just extending the example established in the previous post.)

  3. THE CATATONIC EXPRESSIONIST Says:

    Point taken. It would be naive to think that the writers under DC/Vertigo have full artistic freedom. I do think I was being too nice now that I have gone back and read what I said. And to continue with the the Grant Morrison example; another point to consider is that no matter how abstract his stories are, a lot of them somewhat follow Christian-based themes and ideologies which are safe from criticism in the marketplace. If Grant Morrison had full artistic freedom I would bet that his work would be a lot more political. In general, even though some recent comic runs have touched on post-9/11 themes; I personally feel the politics in comics are rather tame and/or vague.

    I doubt that Vertigo would publish an issue featuring Bush getting killed. That’s why small indie presses are still essential, just like small indie music labels are essential in music and indie films are essential in the film business.

    Also, to continue the point of Judeo-Christian themes… I have noticed that they seem to play a large role in comics. I have only been into comics for a few years now and that is one of the first things I noticed.

    An obvious example is the ubiquitous plots involving the duality of good versus evil (Manichaeism). Which obviously plays a large role in American society. Our whole belief of right versus wrong, good versus evil, good versus bad stems from the aforementioned religious belief. Note: I do not think I am the first one to point this out. Some past Grant Morrison writings have played right into that no matter how abstract they may seem.

    In conclusion, I guess I was just trying to say that I like how there is still some variety to a certain degree in the major publishers. But the small indie presses are still essential.

  4. Eric Grossman Says:

    Re: Red Snow
    Not such a “fresh take” really, considering the mid-80s CBS revival of Twilight Zone aired a Russian vampire story with the same title. The premise also echoes the British 2000 A.D. serial “Fiends of the Eastern Front” by Rogue Trooper‘s original writer (whose name escapes me) and Carlos Ezquerra.