Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Quick Critiques – Sept. 26, 2012

Posted by Don MacPherson on September 26th, 2012

Geek-Girl #0 (Actuality Press)
by Sam Johnson & Sally Thompson

The writer and creator of this project, Sam Johnson, sent along a review copy, and the title boasted a campy charm, so I figured I’d enjoy what I assumed was a satirical take on the super-hero genre. There’s definitely a tongue-in-cheek quality at play throughout the comic book, but the story seems to toe the line between satire and convention. What’s off-putting about Johnson’s writing here is his characterization. Just about every character is distasteful in some way. The title character comes off as opportunistic and petty, determined to steal what eventually becomes the source of her power in order to stick it to a guy she doesn’t like. Supporting players in the story come off as being just as shallow, if not moreso. By the time I got to a thinly veiled reference to casual anal sex in the script, I felt completely alienated by the writing. The scene transitions are awkward as well. The unfortunate thing is the core premise is kind of cute and would resonate somewhat in genre fan culture.

Sally Thompson’s artwork boasts an initial appeal. At first, there’s a softness to the title character’s features, and Thompson’s style at first reminded me of Takeshi Miyazawa’s cute, Amerimanga artwork. But as the story progressed, the quality of the linework seemed to deteriorate. By the end of the book, it looks as though the art was inked using a finger rather than a fine brush or nib. The design for the heroine’s costume is gratuitous in nature, but it’s obvious Johnson’s property is about exploring (or poking fun at) a bookish kind of sexuality that’s popular in geek culture. Geek-Girl strikes me as an amateur effort that would benefit from some editing guidance and more artistic experience. 3/10

Lobster Johnson: Caput Mortuum one-shot (Dark Horse Comics)
by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Tonci Zonjic

Artist Tonci Zonjic demonstrates a certain versatility as an artist here. He’s perhaps best known for his work on Who Is Jake Ellis?, but he’s adopted a different style for this new project. Whereas his Jake Ellis art was rougher and looser, exhibiting such influences as David Mazzuchelli Michael Lark, there’s a slightly more polished look on display here. The tortured figures undergoing the effects of a deadly gas put me in mind of Gabriel (The Umbrella Academy) Ba’s style. Zonjic does an excellent job of capturing the 1930s historical backdrop. Dave Stewart’s muted, gloomy colors set the perfect mood for the macabre pre-war story as well.

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying these Lobster Johnson one-shots even more than the limited series offered by creator Mike Mignola and the talent he’s gathered around him. The title character seems to lend himself well to these action-packed, brisk pulp adventure stories. The real-life history provides the perfect accompaniment to the classic tone of the adventure serial that’s captured here. The overall tone of the plot and various story elements seems like a cross between The Shadow and one of the better Indiana Jones flicks. Furthermore, the dark, serious tone of the plot and action makes for an interesting contrast with the absurd tone of the protagonist’s name. This tremendously fun comics storytelling, and it’s thoroughly accessible, allowing even those unfamiliar with Lobster Johnson or other elements of the Mignola-verse to enjoy and appreciate it. 8/10

Sword of Sorcery #0 (DC Comics)
by Christy Marx & Aaron Lopresti/Tony Bedard & Jesus Saiz

The main story featuring a new take on Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld is quite different from the original source material, but it doesn’t feel terribly new or fresh. The origin story unfolds rather predictably, but despite that, I found I enjoyed the familiar story of a girl who discovers she’s a princess from a lost, magical land. There’s something about Marx’s script, perhaps, that draws one in. Then again, Aaron Lopresti’s art brings so much wonder and energy to the Gemworld scenes. I love the texture and detail to be found in the fantasy setting and the intensity he instills in the characters. He’s aided immensely in his task by the colorists from Hi-Fi; everything just pops, from the title character’s pristine blonde hair to the shining purple palace at the heart of the other-world. I shouldn’t have enjoyed this story, given its derivative nature, but I can’t deny I did. Furthermore, as someone who wasn’t a fan of the original Amethyst series and who isn’t a young woman — namely, as someone who isn’t a part of what I assume is the target demographic here — that’s not a bad result.

What I enjoyed most about this comic book, though, was the backup feature, “Beowulf.” I thoroughly enjoy Jesus Saiz’s artwork, and he brings a greater level of detail to bear here, as well as a slightly harsher edge that’s in keeping with the main character’s savage nature. Bedard’s decision to mix science-fiction into the medieval epic of the literary classic struck me as being a particularly novel approach to the concept, and I also enjoyed the seemingly frail narrator’s ability to adapt quickly to his circumstances intellectually to be enjoyable as well. 7/10

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #14 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Brian Michael Bendis & David Marquez

The heart of this features a debate and dialogue among several key characters, including Miles Morales, May Parker and Captain America. Brian Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man stories are at their strongest when the focus is on character interaction and dialogue, but I suppose one might say this is the exception that proves the rule. Cap’s intrusion into the world of Spider-Man feels terribly forced here, but perhaps what’s more frustrating is May’s decision to encourage a 13-year-old kid to make his own decisions about risking life and limb, over his head and out of his element, in the same manner that claimed the life of the person she loved most in the world. It’s irresponsible. It’s illogical. And it’s incredible — in the most literal definition of the term. I like the Miles Morales character, and I like these Ultimate Spidey (2.0) stories overall, but Bendis’ decision to have Peter Parker’s loved ones give the new Spider-Man their blessing just doesn’t work. Furthermore, I have no idea what the “Divided We Fall” banner on the front page and the socio-political map of the United States are supposed to be about. The first page tells me the U.S. in the Ultimate universe is in upheaval, but it doesn’t seem to really play a part in this comic book. As a result, it comes off as an attempt on Marvel’s part to get readers of this title to buy into a phoney crossover. Didn’t work on me, fortunately.

Despite my disappointment in many aspects of the story, Marquez’s artwork serves it well. He does a great job of conveying the title character’s tender age; even masked, it’s clear he’s a kid. I also enjoyed the action sequence at the end of the issue. Marquez depicts the villain as a fleet-footed mountain. The power and rage pop off of the page. 4/10

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