Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Quick Critiques – Aug. 4, 2014

Posted by Don MacPherson on August 4th, 2014

Variant coverJustice League #32 (DC Comics)
by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke & Keith Champagne

I lost interest in Geoff Johns’s take on DC’s premier super-hero team in the buildup to the “Trinity War” storyline and paid it little heed during the Forever Evil event. However, the ideas that emerged in Justice League in the wake of the crossover definitely piqued my interest. Though it’s been a surprisingly slow build (given it’s a fair accompli in promotional material on other DC titles), the incorporation of Lex Luthor and Captain Cold as members of the League is definitely an unconventional development for mainstream super-hero team comics. We’re not talking about reformed villains joining a team, a la Cap’s Kooky Quarter in Avengers in the Silver Age. Instead, we have two men are still clearly in villain mode making the shift. I’m also enjoying Johns’s introduction of the Doom Patrol in the New 52. the characters are all likeable and generically heroic, but it’s the take on the Chief as having an agenda driven by personal interest rather than altruism that stands out. Slight tweaks to the characters of Elasti-Girl and Negative Man make the characters even more tragic and even just a little bit creepy.

Given the harsher, non-traditional tone of Johns’s approach to these iconic super-hero characters, Doug Mahnke’s rougher, more intense style makes for a good fit. Mahnke has been a bit of a workhorse for this corner of the DC Universe as of late, pumping out a lot of pages for the now-cancelled Justice League of America and then Justice League in the throes of Forever Evil. I assume those were rush jobs, given the looser look of the art and the use of several inkers. But here, his linework with inker Keith Champagne is more crisp and polished, and it looks more like Mahnke’s usual level of craft. I love the detail he brings to the members of the Doom Patrol, and his portrayal of Luthor’s office easily conveys the wealth and power that enables him to continue his corrupt ways and pursue his ambitions unfettered. 7/10

Variant coverLow #1 (Image Comics)
by Rick Remender & Greg Tocchini

Greg Tocchini boasts something that’s fairly unique in the comics industry: a wholly unique visual style. Try as I might to arrive at comparisons for those unfamiliar with his work, I come up empty, and that’s a testament to Tocchini’s craft. His flowing art, with its painted look (or approximation of it) is undeniably lovely. I had some difficult discerning what I was seeing in the opening scene, but when the focus shifts to the human, relatable elements, his figures and colors really sing. The happiness and love that Stel and her husband share comes through with crystal clarity on their faces and how they move. I also love the look of the world that he’s crafted here. It’s like a cross between Atlantis and Krypton, and Tocchini also conveys the immense scope of the underwater world when the family is out on its ship.

I think the comparison to Krypton is an apt one, because essentially, Remender is telling the story of Superman’s homeworld had its populace had more millennia of notice of its demise rather than scant days or weeks. Stel and Johl are essentially like descendants of the House of El, both trying to save their children but also an entire populace, undeterred in finding a new home from which to flee cosmic doom. I mentioned the scope of the setting in the previous paragraph, and there’s an interesting balance between huge ideas and personal thoughts here. The facts/premise discussed in the dialogue are of unimaginable scales, but the tone of the dialogue and the humanity keep it grounded. We can’t grasp the enormity of the characters’ mission, but we can relate to who they are. The only thing this comic book has going against it, really, is easy comparisons to other recent works that have been justifiably heralded as pinnacles of comics storytelling. Given the sci-fi elements, love story and focus on family, one can’t help but think of Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’s Saga, and the underwater setting, apocalyptic aspect and tech designs give rise to thoughts of Scott Snyder and Sean Gordon Murphy’s The Wake. If you like those books, you’ll likely have an affinity for Low, but there’s also a chance you’ll prefer those recent Eisner winners as well. 7/10

Plagued #1 (Black Hearted Press)
by Gary Chudleigh & Tanya Roberts

This independent release offers something of a mish-mash of genres and elements — post-apocalyptic class war, supernatural bigotry, a super-hero riff and more — to arrive at a rather fun, if familiar, final product. Set in a future plagued by, well, a plague, a young infected bounty hunter aims to become a part of the good life by proving himself by capturing witches for the Powers That Be. This first sets up the premise that Everything He Knew Is Wrong, and teams him with a witch who shows him a better way. Chudleigh’s script offers some typical but effective banter and conflict between the two main characters, and it’s a completely clear and accessible story. Again, the talking-dog sidekick is an overused gimmick in genre fiction, but I have to admit the interplay with him and how he serves as a bridge between the two main protagonists work quite well. I found myself taken in by this comic book as I read it, but I also have to admit it’s somewhat forgettable as well.

What struck me the most about this comic was the artwork. Tanya Roberts’s style seems at first like a bad fit for the subject matter, but her expressive, cartoony approach to the characters make them more likeable. Despite the downtrodden elements serving as the foundation for the premise, Roberts ultimately brings an uplifting tone. Her style reinforces the sense of fun that’s really the book’s best asset. Her character designs could use a little retooling. Mackie’s facial scruff seems to clash with the boyish look that Roberts has crafted for him, but it’s a rather minor gripe, to be honest. Her linework is a bit rough and loose, but it works in the context of the post-plague backdrop in which the characters find themselves. 6/10

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