Grace Randolph’s Supurbia #1 (Boom! Studios)
by Grace Randolph & Russell Dauterman
This new comic has a pretty strong buzz going, enough to pique my curiosity, and after reading it, I can understand why it appeals to a number of readers. While some have described it as Desperate Housewives mixed with the super-hero genre, I think the origins of the storytelling stem from something much more grounded. This story is about the spouses of powerful men (and a woman), and how they deal with lives of stress, publicity and privilege. The most telling bit of writing in the book is a description of a key character, Ruth Smith: “Army wife, superhero First Lady, a closed book.” It’s the “First Lady” part that resonates. In this book, we meet the wives of men whose power is matched only by their appetites and egos. Great men make great mistakes, and Randolph explores the personalities of the people who have to put up with and fix the problems that come along with lives of responsibility and opulence. I found the nerdy, meek but pleasant husband of the Wonder Woman archetype character to be the most likable figure in the book, and the most grounded. More importantly, it’s fun and interesting to see Randolph approach gender bias and inequity in a family from the opposite tack that one would usually expect.
There are a couple of problems with the story, though. First of all, Eve — the new spouse that’s introduced to the inner circles of super-hero icons in this story — behaves incredibly oddly, and it rarely makes much sense. Her fight with her husband in their first scene is puzzling, and I didn’t follow what she was doing with the pills when dropping in on her husband’s mentor. Furthermore, most of the characters we meet in this introduction are… well, assholes. We really aren’t given anyone to cheer for yet. There are plenty of villains to go around, but few heroes (even though there are plenty of heroes in the story).
Russell Dauterman’s name is new to me, but after this initial taste of his work, I’m a fan. I’m reminded of Tim Sale’s style here, but Dauterman’s approach is a bit softer. Despite the scant number of costumes and super-power displays in the book, he conveys the larger-than-life nature of the characters quite well. What’s a bit lacking is a stronger sense of place. The script tells us what kind of neighborhood in which these characters live more than the art does, and the interior of their homes look too cavernous. I know we’re meant to see they live affluent lives, but their homes don’t really seem like homes when it’s called for. 6/10
Green Arrow #7 (DC Comics)
by Ann Nocenti & Harvey Talibao
I found the first issue of this relaunched and retooled take on DC’s Emerald Archer to be rather hum-drum. Other than the fact the title character used a bow and arrow, he came off as a wholly generic super-hero character. When it was announced Ann Nocenti would take over as the regular writer with the seventh issue, I was intrigued. Nocenti has a well-earned reputation for unconventional writing, and such a shake-up was just what this New 52 title needed. Well, after having read her first issue, one can’t deny she’s shaken things up with something unconventional, but honestly, I don’t know what to make of it. A new story arc gets underway with the title hero being tempted by triplet warrior women and weapon designers. There’s nothing subtle about the sexual tension throughout the issue, but I would imagine that’s the point. Nocenti delivers a story in which the hero is obviously being lured into a trap by his own fantasies, but the refreshing thing about the plot is how Arrow immediately recognizes that obvious fact. I think Nocenti is offering a comment on the femme-fatale villains we so often see gracing the pages of male-dominated super-hero genre, mocking the sexed-up, gratuitous nature of those characters. I just can’t decide if her commentary serves as a biting criticism of the practice or if it ended up being a symptom of the problem rather than a diagnosis. Honestly, this was too fleeting a taste for me to decide, so odds are good I’ll be checking out her second issue. And in that respect, she’s succeeded in some small measure, spurring this particular reader to stick around for another issue.
Harvey Talibao’s art reflects the qualities of Nocenti’s writing — it’s definitely different, but I also don’t know quite what to make of it. He opts for a number of unusual perspective shots, and in a book in which projectile trajectory is a significant element, it’s an interesting choice. The action isn’t always so easy to follow as a result, but one can’t claim the art on this book is ordinary. His style reminds me of the work of Steve (Legion of Super-Heroes) Lightle, but the weird angles and kinetic feel of the linework are reminiscent the work of Damion (Batgirl) Scott, for example. The constantly moving “camera” is rather dizzying, creating a hectic pace even in slower scenes that don’t call for it. All of his figures are impossibly attractive, but then again, that’s in keeping with the point Nocenti is trying to make. I can’t say I actually enjoyed Green Arrow #7, but it was intriguing. 5/10
The Manhattan Projects #1 (Image Comics)
by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Pitarra
Writer Jonathan Hickman reteams with his The Red Wing artist Nick Pitarra to deliver a deliciously fun piece of historical science-fiction that’s highly reminiscent of the work of Warren Ellis. Hickman introduces us to a world of super-science hidden from view behind the cover story of the development of the atomic bomb. With that premise, Hickman signals just how dangerous this world is, as it’s a place in which nuclear weapons is the simplest and least offensive weapon under development. Hickman’s script also serves as a scathing criticism of 20th century America’s lust for war and the notion of scientific discovery as purposed solely for military application. It also looks at America as a cultural incubator for violence. The violence inherent in the Manhattan Projects’ research is mirrored by the bloodlust of Oppenheimer’s twin, of his singular and insane drive to kill and conquer victims physically and spiritually. Along with the pointed commentary is a darkly playful tone. Amid the murder and chaos, there’s a goofiness to what’s going on that’s a lot of fun.
Pitarra’s art on The Red Wing was fairly clean, in keeping with the sci-fi elements of the book. His efforts here boast a grittier tone that reflects the harsher tone of the script and the action in the story. His art here looks a bit like a cross between the styles of Frank (All Star Superman) Quitely and Carlos (Just a Pilgrim) Ezquerra. He instills a harsh tone into just about every element in the book, characters and settings alike. In contrast, the Oppenheimer character at the centre of the story looks properly detached and unique as compared to the other elements. In a world where everything is big (including the general inviting him to join the Manhattan Projects), Oppenheimer is slight, even small, but he exudes control, and in that, we sense his power. 9/10
Mirror, Mirror: Forgiveness (Darkbrain Comics)
by Wintress Odom, Michelle Friedrichs, Andrew Zar, Ryan Hawkins & Cheery Fifi
From what I can gather, this book originally saw life as a webcomic as well as an online video production before Darkbrain produced a print-on-demand version. It’s listed as a horror comic on Indy Planet, but really it’s a porno comic. I don’t have any problem with porno comics. They can be fun, and some — such as those by such talents as Brandon Graham and Phil Foglio — stand out as strong art despite the more… gratuitous elements they feature. Unfortunately, Mirror, Mirror: Forgiveness isn’t a good porno. Actually, no matter how you look at it, it’s a bad comic as well. The plotting is all over the place. The story features a business executive who moonlights as a dominatrix who’s haunted by the putrid spirit of a lifelong friend killed in a satanic ritual for… some reason. On top of that, Brenna, the dominatrix, is invulnerable; nothing can kill her, literally. She’s raised the ire of guys at work because, well, she’s a bitch, but he has a good heart, really. It’s a bizarre, patchwork of plotlines. And the worst thing about it it’s not sexy, not titillating and not even overt. Sex is suggested, more often than not. The creators try to play X-rated elements as R-rated as they can. I suspect things got muddied because they tried to develop a webcomic, printed comic and a porn video all at once, and it didn’t translate well (not into print, I can say that for sure).
Most of the art is by a fellow by the name of Ryan Hawkins (one of the few genuine-sounding names among the credits), with the final and fifth installment being rendered by “Cheery Fifi.” One can tell from looking at their work that the artists enjoy standard super-hero fare, especially early 1990s Image styles. But these artists just haven’t achieved work that’s of professional calibre. Now, this is a cheesy porno comic; I’m not expecting high art. But these artists have little grasp of anatomy, perspective, design or other basic illustration skills. The layouts are either boring or ineffective. And they’re inconsistent as well. Sometimes, pages are laid out vertically, like a traditional comic book pages, and at others, a page features two horizontal layouts, clearly adjusted for the webcomic treatment. Everything’s missing from this effort — professional writing, illustrating, editing — but hey, there’s always an audience for porn, even bad porn. 1/10
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