The Bounce #1 (Image Comics)
by Joe Casey & David Messina
I haven’t read any promotional material about or reaction to The Bounce, so I have no idea if it’s a reworked pitch for Marvel’s Speedball character, but it certainly reads like one. To be fair, though, that’s mainly due to the specific power set of the main character here, so I feel a bit bad about dismissing the origin of this story as something originally designed for another character. I mean, if the lead hero had invisibility powers, I wouldn’t have blown it off as a failed and retooled Invisible Woman proposal. Either way, the storytelling here stands up fine on its own; nothing feels lacking as a result of it being set outside an established shared super-hero continuity. But there is a problem: the hero isn’t terribly likable. The broad concept of a pothead super-hero might have worked as a purely comedic satire, but Casey plays it straight here. As a result, I found it hard to get behind Jasper. There are a couple of intriguing concepts, but by the end of the story, I wasn’t all that interested in what happens next. And when it comes to episodic fiction, getting the reader care about that is key.
David Messina’s artwork tells the story clearly — except when it doesn’t, but that’s OK, because there’s a psychedelic component that comes into play at the end of the issue. Overall, though, he boasts a fairly generic super-hero style. Beyond the apparent influences in his work (I see touches reminiscent of such artists as Terry Dodson and Bryan Hitch here), there’s nothing all that distinct to be found here. The designs for the superhuman characters are rather ho-hum as well. The Bounce is OK, but it’s also quite forgettable. 6/10
Justice League of America #4 (DC Comics)
by Geoff Johns, Brett Booth & Norm Rapmund/by Matt Kindt, Andres Guinaldo, Raul Fernandez & Walden Wong
I’m keenly interested in the more nefarious, more mysterious tone writer Geoff Johns is bringing to the Secret Society of Super-Villains concept here, but I’m finding the mechanics of the story and the interactions among the characters to be grating. This issue in particular has garnered a good deal of attention in the past few days for the apparent death of a major DC character and member of the team. That it’s given rise to any kind of furor or reaction at all is completely perplexing to me. Anyone who thinks DC would eliminate a character so well known beyond the confines of its comic-book continuity is kidding himself or herself. The death of a character in the super-hero genre has all the permanence of something written in the sand at the beach. The death of an iconic character that’s appeared in multiple TV shows and movies isn’t even plausible. Ultimately, it’s cheap theatrics, and it does little to hold my attention. Adding to my disinterest in this comic book is the fill-in art by Brett Booth. I’ve never really been taken with his elongated style, and while I think he does a decent job of emulating David Finch’s style here to achieve some consistency, it never strikes me as much more than simply standard work. I also couldn’t help but note that Finch, whose popularity was used to promote this new title in the first place, lasted all of three issues before taking a break. And Johns announced in Green Lantern #20 he’d be joined on JLA by artist Doug Mahnke. So I guess Finch is moving on, if he’s not done with this assignment already.
Another problem with this series is the backup stories penned by Matt Kindt. I completely understand why DC has made so many changes to the character of the Martian Manhunter in the world of the New 52. Its editors and creators have strived to make him darker, more intense and thereby more interesting — but they failed. One of the things that made the original incarnation of the character so interesting was his sensitivity. He was the analogy of Superman taken one step further — truly alien, truly alone. He was much more the outsider who had found a family with the Justice League. But in the New 52, he’s no longer relatable or even likable. He’s always plotting and boasts a sinister attitude. The alien character has lost his humanity, and as a result, I find him, well, boring. The art is capable but ultimately unremarkable as well. 3/10
Lobster Johnson: Satan Smells a Rat one-shot (Dark Horse Comics)
by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Kevin Nowlan
Lobster is a delicacy, on the dinner table and in the Mignola-verse. The adventures of the pulpy, mysterious hero, set in the years before the Second World War, are always entertaining, and this one-shot is no exception. This story picks up the title character’s pursuit of a low-level criminal who’s been doing the dirty work for a man of privilege as it’s already underway, but the script maintains an accessible tone throughout. Mike Mignola and John Arcudi offer a rousing, done-in-one crime story that owes as much to the EC crime comics of the 1950s as it does to the pulp adventure heroes that gave rise to the traditional super-hero genre we know today. It takes a little while to get the meat of the story, to the social travesty that drives Lobster Johnson to torment the evil souls he’s targeted in particular here, but it turns out to be a solid payoff. The subtitle of this one-shot is a little misleading; there’s no real reference to the phrase used. But it’s a colorful turn of phrase that evokes the period here rather than the plot.
If you’ve never picked up a Lobster Johnson comic before, this is the one to start with — not just because it’s a wholly accessible and entertaining read, but because of who’s been tapped to illustrate this latest adventure. Seeing Kevin Nowlan’s work grace a comic book these days is an all-too rare occurrence, and it’s even rarer for him to handle all of the art duties solo: cover art, interior linework and, apparently, coloring. His powerfully distinct style is on full display here, and the noir sensibilities of the property play right into Nowlan’s wheelhouse. To be honest, while I’ve always been a fan, I’ve found Nowlan’s art to be a bit stiff at times in the past, but here, he conveys motion and action incredibly well, with an old-school flair and charm. 8/10
The Wake #1 (DC Comics/Vertigo imprint)
by Scott Snyder & Sean Murphy
The Wake doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel here. It hits some standard beats and offers familiar character archetypes, but it’s also an example of a competently crafted, effective and fun adventure/thriller story peppered with genre elements. Snyder’s selection of a woman as his chief protagonist and some plot elements remind me a great deal of the writing of comics scribe and novelist Greg Rucka. Furthermore, there are aspects of The Wake that parallel Brian Wood’s intense and ambitious story in The Massive (though I’m not suggesting the two have so much in common that they’re the same story). Snyder blends intrigue, intelligent writing and some sensitive, grounded moments between a mother and her son to arrive at a story that has something to offer just about every reader. I’m really looking forward to learning how the scenes set in the present day (or at least closer to our time) connect to the future, 200 years later, that serves as the setting for the opening scene.
That artist Sean Murphy isn’t a bigger star in the comics industry is a bit perplexing, but I suppose it’s because he’s been selective as of late when it comes to his projects. Joe the Barbarian, Punk Rock Jesus and now The Wake aren’t exactly the sorts of projects that get the throng of super-hero-genre fans foaming at the mouth, but they’ve demonstrated his strong abilities as a storyteller and a distinct, memorable and effective style. I was reminded a bit of the style of Fiona (Saga) Staples here… though I’m not suggesting her recent high-profile success in the industry was any kind of influence on Murphy here. I point it out only to spotlight the fact that those who enjoy Staples’s work will likely connect with Murphy’s art as well. His backgrounds are meticulous. He makes the settings — both real and impossible — incredibly convincing in appearance. But I have to admit what I appreciated more was his presentation of the heroine. Her thin figure nevertheless conveys some physical strength, and she’s never objectified in the artwork. While it could be argued the overall structure of the story is a bit formulaic (though executed incredibly well), the same can’t be said of the visuals. As entertaining as Snyder’s story is, Murphy’s art definitely stands out as the greatest asset The Wake has going for it. 8/10
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