Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Quick Critiques – July 28, 2014

Posted by Don MacPherson on July 28th, 2014

Variant coverAfterlife with Archie #6 (Archie Comics)
by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa & Francesco Francavilla

In a way, this is the most interesting issue of the series thus far since the first, mainly because writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa shifts horror sub-genres here with his focus on Sabrina the Teenage Witch. After its hiatus, the title moves from zombie apocalypse to a thoroughly Lovecraftian conflict. I’m a bit surprised the writer didn’t opt for slightly veiled references to the Cthulhu literary legend, but here, he’s opted not just to lift the veil but to shred it and burn it. It lets the reader know exactly where s/he stands, which puts the audience well ahead of our heroine. I like the psychological horror here, and the mystery of exactly what’s befallen Sabrina. Aguirre-Sacasa even manages to inject some of the more mature, darker character exploration of these Archie Comics icons. Unfortunately, I don’t know enough about Sabrina for it really to resonate. Other than her aunts and Salem, I don’t have a clue about her supporting cast.

While I found the writing, though entertaining, lacked subtlety, Francavilla’s art doesn’t disappoint in the least. Has it ever? His dark style is obviously a nice fit for the Lovecraftian yarn his creative partner is spinning here, and again, I love how his depiction of one of the cute teens of the Archie-verse isn’t at all objectifying of the character. She actually looks like a teenage girl. The double-page splash in which Cthulhu is revealed is absolutely stunning, one of the strongest images we’ve seen in this series thus far. 7/10

Brittle Hill #1 (self-published)
by Alan Spinney & Helen Spinney

While I found the cover image to boast an amateurish and not-so-promising image, there were a couple of things that led me to plunk down my money to pick this self-published, indy comic: (a) it was produced by a couple who debuted at the nearby East Coast Comic Expo a couple of months ago, and (b) it boasted a great title. “Brittle Hill” evokes thoughts of horror and mystery; it piqued my interest, and the Spinneys have developed a solid logo for the cover. Sadly, the same can’t be said of what I found inside its pages. The premise isn’t at all clear here. I can’t tell if this is a horror comic or a fantasy story or what. Of course, with only 14 pages of story and art (for $3!), it’s not surprising the creators weren’t able to establish a solid foundation here. There are mixed genres, confused directions and dated culture references. Perhaps what’s most disappointing is the fact there are germs of promise to be found, hints of some solid ideas that are lost in poor execution and muddled story construction. There are also eye-roll-inducing ideas as well, such as a key character that appears to be some kind of candy-encrusted fairy or spirit that can somehow infect people with its multi-colored sugary coating.

Alan Spinney’s art, upon a superficial glance, seems to have some sense of anatomy, but it doesn’t quite get the figures just right. Look at the cover image. The protagonist, pursued or peeped by an impossible creature, seems to lack ears, and her hair, while tousled in the front, seems rigid on the sides. Spinney’s backgrounds are crude, and his slightly better figures don’t seem to belong in that flat world behind them. The colors are intriguing, in that bright, primary colors are reserved for the odd candy people who play a role, while muted tones are used for the stereotypically morose goth kids. I appreciate the passion, determination and resources that have to go into a personal project such as this one, but the Spinneys definitely have to hone their craft before they’re ready for a wider audience. 3/10

Variant coverVariant coverVariant coverIron Fist: The Living Weapon #1 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Kaare Andrews

My comics retailer has a habit of clearing out backstock that’s a few months old by bundling comics at blowout prices, and I often thumb through those clearance bins. The debut issue of Kaare Andrews’s new title from Marvel was in one of those bargain bundles, and I’d decided to pass on it originally at its first-run price of four bucks. I’m pleased I did, because while there’s some interesting comics craft at play here, it didn’t quite hook me. Andrews is taking a different tack with the character, exploring him as someone who’s lost his way. That’s a solid, character-driven approach, but I found his actions in this issue, specifically when it came to the young woman who interviews him, to cast him in an unflattering light. The titular hero beds a young, vacuous, would-be journalist, and it leaves him completely unfulfilled, as he expected. It’s a shame Andrews didn’t find a better way to explore Danny Rand’s ennui.

The tone of the first-person narration and the artwork makes it clear to me that this comic is something of a love letter from the writer/artist to Frank Miller. The tone of the narrative captions seems to evoke an easy comparison to the opening narration in Miller’s classic The Dark Knight Returns. The visuals harken back to Miller’s work on Daredevil and the first Wolverine limited series, complete with their seemingly airborne ninjas formed out of dark shapes and flowing fabric. Andrews has always proven himself to a versatile and talent artist, and this tribute to Miller further demonstrates that. The limited color palette helps the art to stand apart from standard super-hero genre fare as well. 6/10

Superman: Lois Lane #1 (DC Comics)
by Marguerite Bennett, Emanuela Lupacchino, Meghan Hetrick, Ig Guara, Diogenes Neves, Guillermo Ortego, Ruy Jose & Marc Deering

This is another comic that was included in that afore-mentioned bargain bundle. Cost-wise, it worked out that this one-shot ended up costing me about 20 per cent of the $5 cover price, so that struck me as money well spent. I’ve always been leery of Lois Lane stories, as they’ve historically fallen into one of two categories: Lois as a man-hungry trickster (from the Silver Age mostly) and Lois as a daring reporter who basically crosses the line into crime-fighting territory. Neither has appealed to me before, especially the latter take. Lois’s death-defying adventures in journalism were always just another unrealistic representation of my chosen profession, so I’ve always found it to be irksome. Fortunately, this story is about Lois chasing down a juicy story, but rather using her professional resources to help her sister. I was also pleased to find this one-shot was quite accessible, not at all bogged down in recent continuity from DC’s regular Superman-related titles.

The central plot here focuses on a new street drug that grants addicts powers, even transforms them — hardly the most original premise for a story set in a super-hero universe. I have to admit that I enjoyed the Agent, a new character introduced here that I felt walked an ethical line that allows him to be seen both in a heroic and villainous light. Perhaps most noteworthy about this comic is Marguerite Bennett’s retooling of Lucy Lane. In the Bronze Age, she was a love interest for Jimmy Olsen. In the 1990s, she and Daily Planet reporter Ron Troupe were a couple. And just before DC’s New 52, she became Superwoman. Here, she’s reinvented as a lesbian and a drug addict. If I felt there was a larger plan in the works for the character, I’d welcome these alterations, but I really don’t get a sense that this new characterization was meant for anything more but this fleeting story.

Four different pencillers (two of them women) contribute to this special, leaving one with the distinct impression it was rushed into production. The good news is that the shifts from one style to another aren’t all that jarring, but the bad news is that none of the artwork is terribly striking or memorable. As near as I can tell, this comic and Batman: Joker’s Daughter’s #1 seem designed to spotlight not only female characters but up-and-coming women creators at the publisher, which isn’t a bad idea in a time when there’s still a need to bring more women into the medium, both as creators and readers. But this Lois Lane special is entirely forgettable — hardly the best showcase for these creators. 5/10

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