Atomic Robo #4 (Red 5 Comics)
by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener & Zack Finfrock
Judging from the many Best of 2007 lists I’ve read online in the past few weeks, Atomic Robo has developed a strong following in the comics blogosphere, and for good reason. Writer Brian Clevinger has managed to capture the sense of fun and adventure that’s made such comics as Hellboy so appealing; he’s just approach the same sort of adventure comic from a science-fiction perspective rather than gothic horror. Atomic Robo — both the title and the character — boasts a great sense of humor, and I love how Clevinger incorporates real-world figures, past and present, into the oddball action and exploration. The writer also delivers an accessible script that anyone can enjoy; I missed the second and third issues of this series, yet I had no problem diving right back into the fun. The rivalry/enmity between the title character and a certain theoretical physicist stands out as the highlight of this particular issue, and I like how it’s mirrored in the backup story, featuring the continued antagonism of Clevinger’s re-imagining of Thomas Edison. Another big advantage of this premise — and another trait it has in common with Hellboy — is that the creators have crafted a property that allows them to tell stories from a variety of periods in industrial history.
Wegener’s art is quite unusual but enjoyably so. The cartoony qualities suit the comedic elements of the script nicely, but he also captures the action, energy and imaginative design elements incredibly well too. I’m reminded of Jim (Stupid Comics) Mahfood’s style to a certain degree, but with a touch of a more conventional adventure-comic approach. Zack Finfrock’s artwork for the backup story is more exaggerated than Wegener’s style, but it’s consistent enough that the visual shift from one story to the other isn’t jarring at all. Finfrock employs a few closeup panels that unfortunately obfuscate the action rather than add to it, but it still boasts the same kind of personality and flair that makes this property so entertaining. 8/10
Incredible Hercules #113 (Marvel Comics)
by Greg Pak, Fren van Lente, Khoi Pham & Paul Neary
Khoi Pham’s been doing a solid job on this title, but with Paul Neary on inks, Pham’s work has taken on a much sharper look. His style is still intact and dominant, but the sketchy, loose quality of his linework has been toned down significantly. The art walks a fine line between its presentation of the exploits of gods and a more grounded quality that’s vital to the drama. Wonder Man looks particularly good in this comic, which is saying something, because his red-leather jacket costume design can often look goofy if not handled well. The revelation of Ares’s secret, hidden in Louisiana, has just the right impact as well, and Pham conveys Amadeus Cho’s youth and willfulness quite clearly in the character’s face.
That Greg Pak, along with co-writer Fred van Lente, has managed to not only maintain my interest in a storyline starring Hercules but mesmerize me with it says volumes about the strength of his writing. I’ve never cared for the blowhard Greek god/Avenger in the past, but the writers have brought a real depth to the unlikely title character. At the same time, this doesn’t seem like a complete abandonment of what’s come before; one really gets the sense that Hercules, after all this time, is finally growing up. It’s interesting that it’s his intellectual sidekick, Amadeus, who’s the impulsive one. The script is surprisingly accessible, and I love how the writers have decided to make the mythic origins of the title character a vital part of this new story. This is everything one could hope for in a Marvel super-hero comic: clever, down to earth, action-packed and entertaining. 8/10
Justice League of America #17 (DC Comics)
by Alan Burnett, Ed Benes, Jon Boy Meyers, Sandra Hope, Mariah Benes & Serge LaPointe
I had high hopes for this title in the wake of Brad Meltzer’s stint, but not even Alan Burnett, a contributing writer on many of DC’s successful cartoons, can rescue the book in the face of editorial interference. The stories in this issue revolve around plot points from other DC titles: namely, Countdown to Final Crisis and Salvation Run. This is about the Justice League’s discovery of the civil rights violations that are being rained down on the DC Universe’s super-villains. It’s not a bad idea for a story in a shared super-hero continuity, but to say the publisher is handling it awkwardly is putting it mildly. The story is scattered over far too many titles and too many creators. And it’s being done in such a ham-fisted way that I’m not all that interested in it. Bear in mind, this is coming from a longtime DC fan who loves seeing the return of obscure characters. If I haven’t been won over by this story, that doesn’t say much for its appeal. Also frustrating is the fact that the Tangent-verse crossover plotline begun in the previous issue is abandoned this month. The backup feature, focusing on a dangling plotline from the Brad Meltzer-written run on the series, goes nowhere, bringing the story no closer toward any kind of resolution. It doesn’t even give us any additional information about Vixen’s dilemma.
The art on the secondary “story” fails to capture the personal element that’s vital to that subplot. Jon Boy Meyers offers some exaggerated linework that emphasizes action and bustlines, not vulnerability and concern. It looks as though he’s trying to emulate Humberto (Revelations) Ramos’s style. The art on the main story stands out as Benes’s weakest effort on the series to date. The inking is often muddied, interfering with the art rather than defining it. The art is inconsistent, which is to be expected, I suppose, when three different inkers (including Benes himself) contribute. 3/10
North Wind #1 (Boom! Studios)
by David DiGilio & Jean Jacques Dzialowski
This post-apocalyptic story presents the audience with a vision of society struggling to survive in frozen wastelands; think of Mad Max if it were filtered through an Inuit lens. Given the multiple snowstorms we’ve experienced in my corner of the world this winter, with each dropping a foot or more of snow, the arduous existence of the characters in this comic book didn’t quite have as profound an impact on me as it might have on other readers. Still, the writer is constructed a complex but brutal new social structure revolving around trade and survival; the reader gets the impression that DiGilio has put a lot of thought into this scenario and has offered only some details from a much larger picture he’s crafted inside his head. The fur and pelt trade aspects of the storytelling bring credibility to the plot, as it harkens back to actual history for this fictional future. Where the script comes up short is in its omission or a key element: grounded characterization. There are no characters here to which the audience can relate. From the mode of speech to the almost alien experiences, there’s no way for one to recognize oneself in these extreme circumstances. The art by French artist Jean Jacques Dzialowski is effective in conveying the harshness of the setting and premise, and the colors reinforce the frigid, inhospitable climate even further. Dzialowski’s art should appeal to fans of Leonard (Marvel’s Warbound) Kirk’s soft style. My impression of the visuals on this comic was that they seemed like a cross between Kirk’s style and the organic, European look of features that ran in Heavy Metal back in the day.
Boom! put a big promotional effort together for North Wind, and while it has ruffled the feathers of many retailers, it seems to have been a successful effort. The first printing of the title sold out at the distributor level, and a second print is in the works. Personally, I was a bit underwhelmed by this comic, and I wonder why another Boom! title, debuting the same week as North Wind, didn’t merit the same big push. The Foundation is a radically different kind of comic book, but it’s also vastly superior. It’s a much more challenging, engaging read, though it is a bit quieter and far more understated. Still, North Wind is a solid, professional effort, and fans of the post-cataclysm genre will no doubt be enthused. 6/10