Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Quick Critiques – Oct. 1, 2016

Posted by Don MacPherson on October 1st, 2016

VariantBlue Beetle #1 (DC Comics)
by Keith Giffen & Scott Kolins

I enjoyed Blue Beetle: Rebirth #1, which introduced a new status quo for two of DC’s Blue Beetle characters. Honestly, it struck me that Giffen and Kolins simply adapted the Firestorm schtick (young hero with an elder big-brain advising him along the way) for the Beetle property. Since DC isn’t doing much with Firestorm in its new Rebirth line, that seemed fine. That approach continues in this first issue of the ongoing series, but any interest the creators generation with the BB: Rebirth one-shot is lost here with an overly dense, confusing mess of dialogue captions. It’s difficult to discern who’s talking at times. Furthermore, the plot isn’t exactly crystal clear either. We know the Beetles are looking for a missing teen, but how Ted Kord came to know of the issue, why he’s consulting with a teen metahuman gang or how those guys got powers in the first place are never explored or explained. Now, one can’t accuse Giffen and Kolins (co-plotters here) of decompressed storytelling, but their galloping plot ignores the need for some exposition. I am intrigued by the Dr. Fate subplot, but again, it seems to forge forward without laying the proper groundwork to build tension.

There were two main elements that drew me to this Blue Beetle relaunch: the return of Ted Kord to the DC Universe, and the artwork of Scott Kolins. Kolins has a great, insectoid take on the title character, and he conveys the youth and energy of Jaime Reyes quite well. The designs for the metahuman teens at the end of the issue are inventive, unusual and striking as well. He seems to have a strong sense of the community in which the action unfolds, and it’s always a pleasure to see the previous Beetle’s Bug ship again. The verbose nature of the script really adds a lot of clutter to the visuals, which are already dense and busy to begin with. I also didn’t get a strong sense of the villain’s actions in this issue. I get he has shadow powers, but it was hard to tell what was going on at times between him and the young hero. This issue marked a major misstep for this burgeoning relaunch, but I’m willing to give it another issue or two before deciding its fate (no pun intended), given my affection for the artist’s work and one of the main characters. 4/10

VariantInternational Iron Man #6 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev

Brian Michael Bendis has been the foundation on which Marvel has built its successes in the 21st century, and he’s been a mainstay at the publisher so long, that he’s become a maligned creative figure was an inevitability. While I think his time on the Avengers line of comics was what ultimately tarnished his reputation among many readers, he’s offered plenty of strong work consistently over the years, mainly on solo titles rather than those featuring teams. What he’s been doing with Iron Man has been impressive, but most striking among those comics has been International Iron Man. The whole title has been about exploring the character’s past even before his birth, and it’s been unusual, inventive and interesting. But what’s been most impressive is the risk the writer and Marvel have taken to offer a story arc that doesn’t even feature the Armored Avenger. Instead, we get an espionage story told in flashback and featuring a strong character study of Tony Stark’s birth mother. I do hope this plotline is one that sticks, and that there’s not a bait-and-switch awaiting us. I would imagine many readers might not care for an Iron Man comic that features not only no Iron Man action, but no super-hero sequences whatsoever. I realize this title must be coming to an end before long, given the announcement of Infamous Iron Man by the same creative team but with Victor Von Doom in the title role. But I’m enjoying this ride while it lasts, and honestly, I’m looking forward to seeing how casting the former iconic FF villain in a heroic role will play out.

Alex Maleev’s artwork is always at its best when he’s drawing people, not super-heroes. His gritty but realistic style allows the audience to see the characters as people – vulnerable but determined, ordinary but accomplished. I enjoyed his work here, but I have to be honest, it’s not as powerfully striking and convincing as what he offers up on and Bendis’s creator-owned Scarlet series. Nevertheless, he and the writer demonstrate there’s plenty of potential in a flashback S.H.I.E.L.D. series, including but not focusing on the more recognizable super-spies from the 1960s and ’70s. 8/10

Van Helsing vs Frankenstein #3 (Zenescope Entertainment)
by Pat Shand & Leonardo Colapietro

I’ve paid little attention to the comics of Zenescope Entertainment over the years, as I’ve found the T&A qualities that define practically its entire line to be off-putting (though it’s clearly proven to be a successful formula for the niche publisher). When an advance review copy of this comic book popped up in my inbox, I was intrigued. I knew nothing of the concept beyond the title that was listed. A battle comic between classic horror characters Van Helsing and Frankenstein seemed like it might be fun, but my mistake was assuming that Van Helsing referred to the original incarnation of the character from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Once I opened the PDF, I realized it was instead a buxom, typically Zenescopesque version, presumably a descendant. I read the issue anyway, and I was pleased to find it was quite accessible (thanks in no small part to a couple of background paragraphs on the indicia page). The plot is focused on rather ruthless action, but hidden behind it are more interesting ideas, such as the tragedy of the loss of love and the notion of the indignity of the denial of death. Ultimately, Liesel Van Helsing, while portrayed as determined and resourceful, also comes off as rather heartless and not entirely likeable. I found the censorship of the word “fuck” in the script to be puzzling when other curse words (ie, “shit”) seem fine. This is clearly aimed at an adult audience, so I’m confused as to why the writer holds back. It actually took me out of the story to consider that question rather than allowing me to remain immersed in this harsh and violent world.

Initially, Colapietro’s artwork reminded me of the style of Ben (30 Days of Night, Wordwood) Templesmith, but that appeared to be an adapted style reserved solely for the titular monster’s flashback sequences. The art in the main action content of the book is far more reminiscent of the style of Jim (Secret Six, Exiles) Calafiore, and it serves the story fairly well (though the action can be difficult to discern at times). Colapietro doesn’t play up the heroine’s physical attributes as much as one might expect from the typical approach to cover art for Zenescope titles, but her design nevertheless puts her chest and butt front and centre on occasion. The amount of skin exposed makes no sense for someone who routinely engages in bloody melees. The design for this new take on the Frankenstein character is a bit over the top. He’s far too hulking a brute to have been cobbled together from the bits of a regular guy. Making him taller than the protagonist makes sense, but he’s implausibly large. Mind you, I also acknowledge the entire concept is implausible, but that element, like others, distracted from the story and action. 4/10

Note: This comic is slated for release Oct. 19.

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