Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Quick Critiques – Nov. 4, 2012

Posted by Don MacPherson on November 4th, 2012

Variant coverVariant coverA+X #1 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Dan Slott, Ron Garney, Danny Miki, Cam Smith & Mark Morales/Jeph Loeb, Dale Keown & Miki

I had no interest in Marvel’s Avengers Vs. X-Men crossover event, but when the publisher solicited this title, I have to admit my curiosity was piqued. I’m a huge fan of the Marvel and DC teamup titles of yesteryear — DC Comics Presents, Marvel Team-Up, The Brave and the Bold and Marvel Two-in-One — and this new series, pairing individual members of the Avengers and X-Men, seemed to promise the same kind of fun. Still, I was leery, but the two stories featured here do boast that kind of fun, traditional super-hero storytelling I so enjoyed in its afore-mentioned teamup title predecessors. The opening story — a Captain America/Cable teamup set during the Second World War — had a solid premise to bring the two distinctly different heroes together. It’s a rather inconsequential story, but that’s the sort of fare that seemed to work best in teamup books. Most of all, the first story brings artist Ron Garney back together with Cap, the character that really put him on the map in mainstream comics.

Loeb’s story, featuring Wolverine and Hulk, pits the heroes against future incarnations of themselves. Again, it’s a simple and fun concept that entertains despite its essentially disposable nature. Loeb includes some solid interplay between Wolvie and the Hulk that avoids the violent and pointless conflicts that usually define their teamups. Former Incredible Hulk artist Dale Keown’s style is almost unrecognizable here. It’s far more restrained and less exaggerated than it once was. As a result, it doesn’t boast as much personality. Ultimately, the biggest problem with both stories is the need for the reader to be fairly familiar with Marvel continuity. One has to recognize the antagonist from Hulk: Future Imperfect, the hero of Mark Millar’s Wolverine: Old Man Logan and the name of the creator of mutant-hunting Sentinels to really get much out of the stories. Nevertheless, these short stories are light and fun, but they’re so light and fleeting in nature, they don’t seem to command the $4 cover price either. 6/10

Into the Woods original softcover graphic novel (Kids Can Press)
by J. Torres & Faith Erin Hicks

This graphic novel is definitely aimed at younger readers, but it also comfortably falls into the category of all-ages reading. I know, because my toddler isn’t quite old enough for comics yet, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, which promises to be the first in a series. There’s a certainly formulaic quality to the premise, and the plot unfolds rather predictably. But the tone of Torres’s dialogue and the appeal of the magical, innocent tone of the storytelling make for a winning combination. Torres’s premise is essentially a natural world spin on the Shazam! concept, but the ultimate message of the book is about how kids raised in an urban, tech-oriented world can find wonder and adventure when removed from that typical context. When I was a kid, we often played in small, wooded areas in our neighborhood, and as I read this introduction to the “Bigfoot Boy” concept, it was easy to picture myself there again.

Faith Erin Hicks’s wide-eyed style suits the innocent tone of this story. She captures the young protagonists of the story nicely, but she also nicely conveys the lithe forms of the animal characters through her simple style as well. I’m used to sampling her work in black and white so it was fun to see it presented with bright, vibrant colors that add a lot to the importance of the natural elements in the story. Her design for “Bigfoot Boy” is delightfully cute and maintains the character’s youth and innocence, but at the same time, she still captures the power in his Sasquatch form. I look forward to future installments of this young-readers series. 7/10

Joe Kubert Presents #1 (DC Comics)
by Joe Kubert, Brian Buniak and Sam Glanzman

The late Joe Kubert’s opening, 22-page story is worth the price of admission alone, as he retells and reinvents the arrival on Earth of the Silver Age incarnations of Hawkman and Hawkgirl. He demonstrates the beauty he instilled in the property decades ago still lay in his hand, pencil and brushes. He’s tweaked the designs of the characters a little (notably Hawkgirl), and the natural elements in his story and its environmental message play right into Kubert’s wheelhouse. The plotting and dialogue are occasionally awkward, but they’re easily forgivable as this project is clearly driven by visuals. I love Kubert’s decision to play something of a Rod Serling role as he guides us through this comic as well. His “Spit” story — which promises to be a serial running through this title — allows him to employ a different approach to his art. It’s derived from pencils only in the same way his work on Dong Xoai, Vietnam 1965 was, but the result here is far denser and cohesive. The loose pencils converge to create a convincing, filthy, historical backdrop, and the plight of a pathetic, desperate orphan is immediately compelling, involving the reader emotionally in the story with little effort.

Sam Glanzman’s personal remembrances of the Second World War at sea are a perfect complement to the other material in this book. His visual style is akin to Kubert’s, but more importantly, both are members of a generation of comic talent that’s fading more and more with each passing week. It won’t be long before new, first-hand material of this nature won’t be possible anymore, and Kubert’s decision to commission something like this was a great decision. Glanzman’s writing is more like a journal entry rather than a cohesive plot, but it works well in that manner. He balances these memories and remembrances between a strong sense of camaraderie and the horrors of war. Kubert School faculty member Brian Buniak’s “Angel and the Ape” revival also brings balance to the book, as the other segments are all quite serious and even dark in tone. He captures the Silver Age goofiness and appeal of the property incredibly well, and his zany script is probably the most polished of the bunch in this comic book.

Not only does this feature some fine comics craftsmanship, but it also represents one of the best values you’ll find in the marketplace at the moment. Yes, it’s priced at $4.99 US, but it’s a hefty, ad-free package. It’s an absolutely shame Kubert didn’t live to see the release of this unique anthology, but it’s encouraging his final work is of such a personal and outstanding nature. I haven’t kept up with reports about the six-issue series since he passed, and I hope his contributions to the series were complete before his death. Nevertheless, I eagerly anticipate forthcoming issues. 8/10

Point of Impact #1 (Image Comics)
by Jay Faerber & Koray Kuranel

One of the reasons I decided to check out this murder mystery story was the solicitation blurb indicating one of the three parties investigating the crime is a newspaper reporter. As a journalist, I just can’t resist such characters, especially when the plot and script are crafted by the always entertaining Jay Faerber. While I thoroughly enjoyed the newsroom scene in this inaugural issue, what were far more attention-grabbing were the three different but converging perspectives on the murder and apparent conspiracy. While each of the three parties spots different pieces of the puzzle, it’s how they react to events that stands out as the most compelling aspect of the script. Faerber’s depiction of the process of the police detective work was convincing and fascinating as well. There’s a strong police-procedural foundation here, but it’s dressed up with more elements that help to set it apart from the genre as something a little more challenging and raw.

The black-and-white format works well for this murder-mystery story. Koray Kuranel’s artwork has a strong Paul Gulacy riff to it when it comes to the characters, but I think his greatest strength as a comic artist is his clear skill when it comes to setting. The urban jungle in which the story is set is full of detail, from the roof of the building from which the victim as thrown to the cluttered, bustling nature of the newspaper newsroom. There’s always a strong sense of place, and it brings a greater degree of credibility to the story. Point of Impact stands out as yet another example of the strength of the new work being produced by Image Comics these days. 8/10

True Story (Invisible Publishing)
by Mike Holmes

I was lucky enough to pick up this book at the Dartmouth Comic Arts Festival in August, and I’m pleased I plunked down the $25 for it. Cartoonist Mike Holmes has earned a noteworthy reputation in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in part from his comic strips in a free, weekly entertainment/culture newspaper titled The Coast. In that publication, he ran a series of strips adapting the real-life anecdotes from his own life, of friends and those of readers as well. He collects them here in True Story, which offers an eclectic mix of personal yarns, some of which are outrageous and others that’ll resonate thanks to the universal nature of the subject matter. This book has something to offer to everyone — though some strips certainly aren’t for younger readers — and even if you’re unfamiliar with Holmes, you’ll be surprised to find a couple of guests strips from other, more noted Nova Scotia talents (such as Darwyn Cooke and Faith Erin Hicks, who’s also a Coast contributor). My favorite strip — and there are a lot of them — in the book is about the pitfalls of the buildup of a child’s anticipation for Santa’s arrival on Christmas, but there are a lot of gems to be found here. Another nice aspect of this reprint collection is how each strip is accompanied by some insight from other Holmes or the person who provided the tale, often about their reactions or those of others following the strips’ original publication. It adds to the reading experience.

What’s more interesting about this book is how Holmes showcases his versatility as a comic artist. He adopts different styles for different strips, and since he’s adapting the stories of a wide array of individuals, the tone of the writing is ever-shifting as well from strip to strip. Holmes also employs a diverse range of panel layouts — some straightforward and others far more avant garde. The density of the strips changes as well. Some boast a few panels while others are chock full, making surprisingly effective use of smaller, tighter panels. I didn’t sit down and read True Story in one sitting. Given the nature of the material, it reads well piecemeal. (And yes, that means I read a lot of the book on the can.)

For more information on True Story and/or Holmes, click here.

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