Action Comics v.2 #2 (DC Comics)
by Grant Morrison, Rags Morales, Brent E. Anderson & Rick Bryant
Grant Morrison’s vision of Superman as a Rebel Without a Costume continues to impress. The writer focuses this second episode on Superman’s limits and Lex Luthor’s stubborn personality. It’s a great read in which Superman’s physicality is pitted against Luthor’s intellect. Morrison offers a not-so-subtle commentary on the U.S. military’s recent use of interrogation methods many consider to be torture, but more importantly, the pain to which the Man of Steel is subjected makes him seem much more like a man than steel. I was surprised at how similar Morrison’s new origin for John (Metallo) Corben mirrors the one Geoff Johns crafted in Superman: Secret Origin, but in both cases, giving Corben a more intimate and personal connection to Superman’s extended circle of friends and enemies makes a lot of sense. While the greatest source of entertainment remains Superman’s wilfull opposition to authority, the most novel new spin on the Superman mythos is the notion his discovery of his origins arise not as the result of his adoptive parents’ resourcefulness but from a more malevolent source.
The artwork throughout the issue is strong. Morales, despite Luthor’s best efforts, continues to emphasize the hero is a man, flesh and blood and full of emotion. I didn’t find the shift to Brent Anderson’s fill-in work to be jarring at all, and both artists convey Superman’s humanity with the realistic leanings in their styles. I find Luthor’s design to be interesting, somewhere in between past interpretations. He’s not the obese blowhard John Byrne introduced us to in 1986’s The Man of Steel but neither is he the fit foe we’ve also come to know in the past. This is Dumpy Luthor, and he seems like a particularly snivelling sort. Really, the only disappointing thing about this comic book was the length of the story, or the price, depending on one’s perspective. While I enjoy the supplementary material as it gives us a glimpse into the creative process, it nevertheless feels like filler to justify the extra dollar in the cover price. 8/10
The Big Lie #1 (Image Comics)
by Rick Veitch & Gary Erskine
I’m honestly surprised we didn’t hear more about The Big Lie in the mainstream media. Its release so closely coinciding with the 10th anniversary of the 9-11 terror attacks and the subject matter seem like it should’ve been the No. 1 comics-related news story of the month rather than DC’s effort to revitalize sales of its super-hero comics. Writer/penciller Rick Veitch not only explores the massive failures of American law-enforcement, intelligence and political leadership in the weeks, days and minutes leading up to the terrorist attacks, but he puts forth some conspiracy theories about complicit actions of friendly forces. I don’t know how much truth is involved, but Veitch’s arguments are certainly compelling — but more importantly, disturbing. Most interesting, though, is how he dresses up the argument in a science-fiction plot that’s nevertheless grounded in emotion. The science-fiction elements aren’t that far fetched, and they’re set aside fairly quickly once Veitch, through his heroine, puts forth his argument.
The writing is meticulous throughout the book, and I don’t just mean in terms of the research in the 9-11 conspiracy Veitch expounds here. No, Veitch populates the story with remarkably sharp characters, and the minutiae of engineering, politics, military operations and other cogs that make the world go ’round. Veitch reinforces the convincing tone of the storytelling with some realistic visuals. Not only are the characters genuine in appearance (no super-hero body shapes here), but the more technical aspects are presented in meticulous detail. That speaks to the importance of veteran inker Gary Erskine’s contribution to the book as well. 9/10
Brilliant #1 (Marvel Entertainment/Icon Comics imprint)
by Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Bagley & Joe Rubenstein
Together, writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Mark Bagley solidified their places at the top of the comics industry with their collaboration on Ultimate Spider-Man v.1. One of the reasons the series and they did so well was thanks to the way they crafted convincing teen characters and problems for them to contend with, allowing the reader to connect with them. With this new creator-owned concept, Bendis and Bagley again craft convincing, young (college age) characters, taking us in their lives. And it just doesn’t work as well this time around. Bendis’ plot and premise reminds me a bit of The Social Network. Instead of college friends putting together a revolutionary website, they’re about to make the impossible possible. The premise also reminds me of Flatliners. It’s a novel approach to the super-hero genre, though I found Bendis’ script to be a bit confusing at times. The premise is clear, but Albert’s story is hidden behind Bendis’ trademark dialogue staccato. I get he’s just broken up with a girl and the relationship was connected to his semester-long absence from school, but then Marie enters the picture and I was a bit lost as to Albert’s story. Furthermore, the “fight scene” between thinly disguised pop-culture icons seemed rather pointless and not terribly believable.
Bagley’s style has always been perfect for action-oriented, super-hero stories, but that’s not what Brilliant is, at least not so far. This story of young friends making a decision to change the world and change their lives should really be about capturing a moodier, more realistic tone. While Bagley’s style is attractive and it conveys the characters’ youth quite well, the more cartoony elements in his artwork works against the more grounded tone needed to sell this spin on the super-hero genre. The story unfolds clearly in the art; it’s not an issue with Bagley’s work. It’s really more of a mismatch of style and subject matter. 6/10
WordGirl: Coalition of Malice (Boom! Studios/Kaboom! imprint)
by Chris Karwowski, Steve Young & Pat Lapierre
When I first saw the review copy of this one-shot from Boom! Studios’ kids’ imprint, it immediately caught my attention. I liked the simplicity of the title and premise, and as a father of a toddler, I’m always on the lookout for something I can share with my son in a couple of years. To my surprise, this is apparently an adaptation of a PBS kids’ show that I’d never heard of before (in my defence, most of the kids’ programming in my home is Canadian — CBC’s Bo on the Go is the rugrat’s favorite). Writer Chris Karwowski offers a fun adaptation of the super-hero genre for educational purposes, but I was surprised in the two stories in this volume, only two words are emphasized for the intended young audience. I was pleased to find a more extended glossary of the more advanced words beyond the four focal words in the stories, though. The plot in the first story kind of drags on, and the inclusion of a rogue villain who aids the heroine doesn’t seem necessary at all. Again, the second story seems to repeat the same scenario — appropriate, I suppose, given the villain concept — but Karwowski keeps making the same obvious point. Don’t get me wrong… the plots and premises are fun, but these feel like bursts that are just a little too long.
Honestly, the most fun aspects of the book are the villain concepts. Some of them are rather odd and demented, quite irreverent. Chuck the Sandwich Making Guy and Lady Redundant Woman were my particular favorites. The art in the first story, focusing on a teamup among the title character’s worst enemies (thus the subtitle of the book), is definitely the stronger of the two visuals styles to be found here. Steve Young’s exaggerated linework brings a lot of energy to the story, which is vital since the plot is low on action. Young keeps the eye engaged with sharp designs and a constantly moving “camera.” Pat Lapierre’s art for the second story, featuring the title character’s ordeal with a multiplying villainess and a gaggle of interfering fans, is much rougher around the edges. Lapierre still brings energy to the characters, but the quality of the art isn’t as polished. It looks a bit more amateurish in tone, and it pales in comparison to Young’s effort. 6/10
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