Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Quick Critiques – Sept. 15, 2008

Posted by Don MacPherson on September 15th, 2008

Challenger Deep #1 (Boom! Studios)
by Andrew Cosby, Andy Schmidt & Chee

Boom! Studios offers up another one of its movies on paper. This first issue of Challenger Deep follows the formula for a disaster/rescue/apocalypse movie pretty closely; there are a number of familiar scenes. Some might find the book to be too formulaic, and others still might be put off by the feeling that this is more of a movie pitch than a comic-book story. I have to admit, though, that I was entertained. I’d watch this movie, and better still, I enjoyed this big-screen-style story in comic-book form. It’s a safe bet this limited series will serve as an other-media pitch, but the creators have put some solid storytelling into it. It stands up well on its own as a comic. The first episode predictably is all about setting up the premise and introducing the cast of characters. I did enjoy the action on the stricken submarine, though. While we’re introduced to the hero up above who’s supposed to save the day, the sailors on the trapped sub aren’t relegated to the damsel-in-distress role. The real drama is the unimaginable and hopeless circumstances on that submarine, not the rescue mission, and I’m pleased to see the writers didn’t ignore those characters.

While the plot and characters are somewhat cliched, the art stands out as the greatest strength of the book. Chee has refined his work for this project. There’s a greater depth to be found in this effort. Chee brings a hazy, airy look to the visuals. His usual simpler style is easily recognizable, but there seems to be an added level of texture as well. He’s aided in his efforts by colorist Andrew Dalhouse, whose glowing colors reinforce the unusual, dream-like atmosphere that dominates this adventure-crisis plot. Chee also employs shadow to great effect to drive home the melodrama. 7/10

The Family Dynamic #1 (DC Comics/Johnny DC imprint)
by J. Torres, Tim Levins & Dan Davis

Even before the release of this limited series, DC Comics announced it was cutting its length in half. That sends a message of non-confidence, which is unfortunate, as the creators deliver a solid, fun super-hero read appropriate for all ages. The elemental-themed heroes actually put me in mind of Japanese properties. We have a quartet of heroes clad in similar costumes with different color schemes, and the family dynamic (obviously) is at play. Of course, there are shades of the Fantastic Four as well. Torres sets the stage with this issue, introducing the characters and premise. The real strength of the issue is to be found in Tim Levins’s artwork. He’s adapted or developed his style significantly since he and Torres first collaborated on The Copybook Tales. His efforts here are more detailed and less cartoony, though the wide-eyed energy of past projects is still to be found. To be honest, at first glance, one might mistake Levins’s work here for the art of the late Mike Wieringo; it’s that strong. The backgrounds are well rendered and lush as well; one really gets a sense of place despite the wholly fictional setting.

Where the book goes awry visually is with the lettering. At times, it’s too subtle; it’s easy to miss captions demarking important scene transitions. Torres’s choice to give each of the four heroes a different transformation word that doesn’t synch up all that well with their codenames was confusing as well. Nevertheless, these are minor gripes about what is otherwise a solid, entertaining super-hero book. Given the shift in the publishing plan for this book and the fact it’s been shunted over into DC’s younger-readers imprint for no apparent reason, I can’t help but wonder if this would have fit in better with Image’s group of super-hero comics, such as Invincible and Dynamo 5. Readers of those titles would definitely be interested in The Family Dynamic. 7/10

Jonah Hex #35 (DC Comics)
by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & J.H. Williams III

This done-in-one issue of Jonah Hex will make some industry watchers scratch their heads in confusion over the fact that this is one of DC’s lower-selling titles. Obviously, this episode of the series is one of the strongest in the run in terms of visuals. With J.H. Williams III on art, what else would you expect? He brings his inventive approach to panel layout to this project; there are page designs in this issue that show the same kind of genius that the artist brought to Alan Moore’s Promethea. It’s in the latter part of the book that one can tell the script has been tailored to show off his strengths. A psychedelic sequence shows how well he can balance surreal fluidity and realistic detail. I was impressed with the story, as it heads down what seems to be a predictable path. I assume that Hex and his new friends will be set upon by outlaws looking to exact some revenge, but the plot takes a dramatic and unusual turn later in the book. It’s easy to believe Hex would be taken off-guard because we the readers are taken aback as well. Hex never casts off the son-of-a-bitch attitude, even in the face of a potential friendship. The writers present us with a compelling anti-hero. He’s a flawed man who just happens to exist in a world even more twisted and damaged than he is, thrusting him into the role of the hero. I’ve been an on-again, off-again Hex reader, and this issue and the recent Darwyn Cooke-illustrated issue reminded me that I really ought to be a consistent and dedicated reader of this quality series. 9/10

Secret Six #1 (DC Comics)
by Gail Simone, Nicola Scott & Doug Hazlewood

Gail Simone delivers her strongest Secret Six story to date, and given the darkness and morbid fun of previous chronicles of this team’s adventures, that’s saying something. She introduces a creepy new villain. He’s incredibly bizarre, chilling and intimidating, and Simone accomplishes that without ever revealing his face. We never get a glimpse of him, and he’s one of the most compelling new antagonists to show up in a DC Universe comic in a long time. The writer also explores how the title characters aren’t heroes and remain villains, but there’s a hint that they want to be something more. They just can’t attain it. Simone also shows us how the core cast members are really growing closer as a family — a weird, incredibly dysfunctional and unhealthy family, but a family nonetheless. the final scene sets up a confrontation that’s been a long time coming for these characters as well. Simone has started this new ongoing series off with a riveting, entertaining and inventive first issue. Artist Nicola Scott also offers a strong performance. Her work seems to be more refined here; perhaps it’s the result of working with inker Doug Hazlewood, I don’t know. Her work on this comic book reminds me of the art of Rags (Identity Crisis) Morales and Chris (The Twelve) Weston. She achieves a nice balance between a realistic look and a slightly distorted vision of these extreme characters. 8/10