Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Quick Critiques – Oct. 15, 2016

Posted by Don MacPherson on October 15th, 2016

The Clone Conspiracy #1 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Dan Slott, Jim Cheung, Ron Frenz & John Dell

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the Amazing Spider-Man relaunch with Peter Parker as a global tycoon and philanthropist, so much so that I definitely feel I should have followed the Superior Spider-Man epic that preceded it. That being said, I’m quite surprised that Marvel has chosen to revisit the world of cloning (or whatever analogous scheme the Jackal is up to this time), given how the Spider-Clone saga of the 1990s continues to be mocked and viewed by many as a convoluted low point in the iconic hero’s long history. I’m also a little dismayed this wasn’t just published as the latest issue of Amazing instead of as a new first issue. This is a continuation of the storylines we’ve been following over the past year or so in that title, so a spinoff book seems like little more than a cash grab. That being said, I enjoyed this comic book for a number of reasons, not the least of which is how important Peter Parker’s status as an industrialist remains an important element in this new Jackal storyline. Slott wisely continues to build on the importance of Peter’s overdeveloped sense of responsibility for what happens to those around him.

Another reason I thoroughly enjoyed this book was Jim Cheung’s artwork. His meticulous style is thoroughly attractive; I’ve been fan since I first saw his work on Crossgen’s Scion years ago. It’s a shame we don’t see more of his work lately, but given his popularity and skill, I can see why Marvel tends to trot him out for event books such as this. Another benefit of Cheung’s work here is that his style is fairly consistent with that of Giuseppe Camuncoli, the regular series artist on Amazing Spider-Man. This oversized issue also features a backup story detailing the history of a long-dead supporting character and her re-emergence here in this storyline. It’s rendered by Ron Frenz, and he was an excellent choice. The veteran super-hero comics artist was a key creative force in Spidey comics of the 1980s, and his work on various Spider-Girl comics years later further strengthened his connection with the property. Now, there’s not a lot of action for his bombastic style in this story, save for a flashback involving the Green Goblin, his simpler style was a welcome connection to Spidey comics from another time that Slott is deliberately evoking here. 7/10

Mosaic #1 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Geoffrey Thorne & Khary Randolph

That writer Geoffrey Thorne’s concept started to win me over by the end of the issue is a testament to the ideas he explores here, because my God, I have no interest in the world of sports. The elevation of athletes to deity-like levels has always irked me, and it invariably leads to the sort of sense of entitlement and egotism that define the central character at the outset of the issue. Morris Sacket sees other people as props in his life, and Mosaic is clearly intended to be a story about the discovery of humankind as a connected tapestry, that each person is just a tiny fraction of an overall entity, philosophically speaking. It occurs to me that there’s one problem with that concept: the story is of one man’s redemption (and perhaps penance), but it’s not a path he chooses. The Terrigen Mist that transforms him and makes him a ghost in regular people’s lives literally forces that enlightened perspective on him. Then again, that sort of forced enlightenment isn’t new in fiction (for example, A Christmas Carol), and I did like Thorne’s quick exploration of the protagonist’s development of empathy through experiencing other people’s lives and thoughts.

Khary Randolph’s exaggerated style suits the larger-than-life and egocentric nature of the central protagonist at the outset of the comic. Morris Sackett’s dominance on the basketball court and the extreme personalities in his world definitely call for an over-the-top style, such as Randolph’s angular, elongated figures. However, by the end of the issue, that style struck me as though it was working against the more vulnerable, character-driven aspects of the story. By the end of the issue, we see the beginnings of Mosaic’s discovery of humanity, of his figurative connection to other people through his literal connection to other people. I think a softer, more realistic approach might have served those moments better. Now, this isn’t a criticism of Randolph’s style, but rather about an editorial principle of finding the right look for the right story. the titular hero’s Tron-like look is also rather bland, and I hope the character’s non-corporeal concept allows for a more interesting and even colorful design as the series progresses. 6/10

Reborn #1 (Image Comics)
by Mark Millar, Greg Capullo & Jonathan Glapion

I always have a look at any new Millarworld comic that writer Mark Millar and his artistic collaborators offer up. Some really hit the mark and impress, and others fall flat for me, feeling derivative or somehow otherwise lackluster. I honestly don’t know in which camp Reborn falls as yet. The concept is a simple but rather novel one: there is an afterlife, but it’s not the one we’ve come to expect through the various faiths around the world. In some ways, Reborn offers the sort of adventure and imagination that made Millar and Goran Parlov’s Starlight one of the strongest offerings in the Millarworld line. But in others, it’s a depressing, disheartening story, where the afterlife is part Heaven (reunion with lost loved ones) and part Hell (pain and strife and terror). Millar also spends far too much time guiding his heroine to the point of adventure. I get that he wants to reinforce her ironic belief there’s nothing waiting for us at the end of life, but it feels drawn out, especially since it’s obvious this woman is going to die and is going to discover something wondrous and weird on the other side. I felt myself wishing the writer would just get to the point, already.

Another reason I picked this comic up was how much I enjoyed Greg Capullo’s Todd McFarlane-esque work on Scott Snyder’s New 52 Batman run. He brought a lot of energy and imagination to the Dark Knight with his extreme approach to comics storytelling. What was apparent to me after reading this creator-owned comic was how much Capullo needs to be immersed in those extreme ideas for his art to work. The more mundane world in which the story is set in most of this comic book looks off here. His effort to make Bonnie look quite aged is overdone; her face looks like a mirror that’s been struck with a mallet. Now, that makes for a striking contrast when she’s transformed by the end of the issue, but it was nevertheless distracting during the scene set in the “ordinary” world. I also noted how the colors are muted for the mundane scenes and were much more vibrant in the next world. It’s a solid approach to distinguish the two planes, but I didn’t care for just how flat the colors were in the former. Setting them apart was a good idea, but I found those duller hues to be off-putting. 5/10

Superwoman #3 (DC Comics)
by Phil Jimenez, Emanuela Lupacchino & Ray McCarthy

This is the first issue of this burgeoning series that offered a small measure of disappointment, but that’s just because writer Phil Jimenez doesn’t provide the pencil art here. Fortunately, Emanuela Lupacchino offers some solid work here. Her name is a new one to me, but she’s definitely worth watching in the industry. Jimenez writes a fairly dense story issue by issue, and there’s a lot of visual detail and wonder to cram into a standard comic book. Fortunately, Lupacchino seems equal to the task. Her work reminds me a bit of a cross between the styles of Stuart (Empress) Immonen and Aaron (Legends of Tomorrow) Lopresti. It’s also clear the artist uses darkness to convey a corrupt and foreboding mood in the Luthor scenes, but it also makes me wonder if that darkness serves a secondary purpose: a shortcut to avoid an overload of detail. Lupacchino does a fine job of conveying the large scope of the action, and the colors by Hi-Fi bring the energies of the titular heroine and the Atomic Skull to life quite well.

I think what interests me the most about Superwoman is that I have absolutely no idea what to expect from it. Some might view the big twist in the first issue as a cheap gimmick, but it worked for me. Furthermore, everything about Jimenez’s script suggests to me New 52 Lois might not be as dead as she seemed; the dialogue, story arc title and more suggest to me the writer and characters “doth protest too much, methinks.” The redemption of the Atomic Skull was a welcome deviation from the typical Super-story as well. At this point, this is Lana Lang’s story, not Lois’s, and this incarnation of the character is completely different and new to me. Her self-doubt contrasts nicely with her skills and knowledge. Her inner voice rings incredibly true. Everything the writer is doing with her is novel and inventive, but at the same time, his love for these characters’ histories shines through, as he continues to include nods to the past even as he forges forward. 7/10

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