House of Mystery: Room and Boredom trade paperback (DC Comics/Vertigo imprint)
by Matthew Sturges, Bill Willingham, Luca Rossi & various other artists
My first impression of this series was lukewarm. In my capsule review of the first issue, I wrote that I enjoyed the story within the story but wasn’t all that taken with the larger plotline, revolving around Fig’s discovery of the House of Mystery and the fact that she can’t leave. I found that the bar in the House reminded me too much of similar settings we’ve seen in other comics. Those similarities are still there, but Fig’s story, her unusual connection to the House and her interactions with the other permanent residents won me over. The formula of one of the bar patrons sharing a story within each episode doesn’t really advance the larger story at all, but it does bring variety and plenty of levity to the mix. While House of Mystery has something of a classic Vertigo feel to it, it’s not as challenging or thought-provoking as Sandman or other classic titles of the imprint. But it’s quite entertaining, and that’s enough to get me to check out the second trade paperback when it arrives in comic shops.
I think the greatest strength the title has going for it is the artwork. As I noted before, the stories within the story bring a diversity of material and genres to the series, and more importantly, it brings a diversity of visual style. The formula makes it easy to accept the shifts in style, and one has to give those guiding the title credit for recruiting such great artistic talent to contribute short stories to each issue. The standouts in this volume are the pages illustrated by Ross Campbell and Steve Rolston, but there’s not a weak one in the bunch. Furthermore, Luca Rossi’s angular style achieves a nice balance between the grounded qualities of the core characters and the surreal elements inherent in the premise. 8/10
Immortal Iron Fist #23 (Marvel Comics)
by Duane Swierczynski, Travel Foreman, Tonci Zonjic, Timothy Green II, Tom Palmer & Mark Pennington
When writers Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker and artist David Aja left this title last year, I figured I’d be dropping it from my regular reading list. I was following the title for their work, not for any particular fondness for the title character. Something made me linger, though, and I’m pleased that I did, as writer Duane Swierczynski has done a remarkable job of maintaining the same of kind sense of fun, adventure and danger that his predecessors brought to Marvel’s martial-arts super-hero. His decision to continue building the mythology of the various hidden heavenly cities and their champions was a smart move, as was maintaining flashbacks featuring previous Iron Fists. Still, one doesn’t get the sense that he’s just mimicking the writers who came before him. There’s a darker, harsher tone to Swierczynski’s plotline.
While the plotting and scripting has remained consistent through the transition and since, the visuals have undergone a significant transformation. Travel Foreman brings a much more stylized, exaggerated tone to the linework; his work on Iron Fist looks like a cross between the styles of Jae Lee and Bill Sienkiewicz. I much preferred Aja’s cleaner, clearer approach to these characters, but I have to admit that Foreman brings an exotic flair that works well with the intense and edgy nature of these characters. 7/10
Oracle: The Cure #1 (DC Comics)
by Kevin Vanhook, Julian Lopez, Fernando Pasarin, Bit & David Bryant
By the third page, the title character is naked and in the shower — not a promising beginning for a limited series spotlight one of DC’s most interesting heroines. Furthermore, writer Kevin Vanhook’s decision to incorporate a dangling subplot from Teen Titans, a completely unconnected title in the DC stable, is perplexing, and it’s bound to be even more confusing to those readers who are completely unaware of who the comatose teenager is in this story. Once we get past those unnecessary and distracting elements, there’s a decent Oracle story to be found here, as she puts some hacker colleagues to good use tracking down errant pieces of an other-dimensional, apocalyptic code on the Internet. While I found the main plot — another online showdown between Oracle and her villainous counterpart, the Calculator — to be diverting, by the time I reached the end of this first issue, I realized that there’s little new to be found in these pages. Kevin Vanhook seems to have nothing new to say about this character. Despite the participation of two different artistic teams, there aren’t any really glaring inconsistencies in the visuals, but there’s nothing more than simply serviceable art to be found either.
This is the only one of the various “Batman: Battle for the Cowl” comics I’ve picked up so far; I’ve little interest in the latest Batman event. Fortunately, Oracle: The Cure seems to have only a tangential link to it. While this comic book is accessible in that regard, it fails to acknowledge that it features one of the leads of Birds of Prey and omits any explanation about what took Barbara Gordon from that endeavor back to Gotham City. 5/10
Potter’s Field: Stone Cold one-shot (Boom! Studios)
by Mark Waid & Paul Azaceta
I thoroughly enjoyed Waid and Azaceta’s original Potter’s Field three-part limited series, so when I got a chance to read this follow-up one-shot, I immediately sat down to take it in. Waid takes a different tack with the formula. Whereas in the past John Doe would investigate the murders of the nameless victims in graves in Potter’s Field, this time, he investigates people who’ve stolen those names from the dead. It’s an interesting twist, albeit one that plays out a little too easily. The whodunnit aspect of this identity-theft mystery is resolved far too quickly. Any sense of suspense is fleeting. Waid develops Det. Nissa Robbins’s character quite well, but I have to admit I prefer seeing Doe work with agents who aren’t really in the same line of work as he is, regular people in everyday life. We get a taste of it in this issue, but really, the spotlight is on Robbins, as she does the real legwork.
Azaceta’s noir approach is ideal for this property. His work is so strong that his name alone is enough to get my interested in a comic book these days. His sketchy, loose but realistic style — reminiscent of the work of such artists as Tommy Lee Edwards, John Paul Leon and Michael Lark — really brings the dark, edgy side of New York City to life, and it conveys the vulnerable mortality of the characters caught up in Waid’s mystery. I also loved the Mignola-esque corpse that grabs the eye on the first page. Colorist Nick Filardi does an amazing job of reinforcing the dark, tense moods that the linework establishes as well. 6/10
Super Zombies #1 (Dynamite Entertainment)
by Marc Guggenheim, Vince Gonzales & Mel Rubi
The niche of the zombie genre has been enjoying quite the peak of popularity in pop culture, and that’s particularly true when it comes to comics. Now Marvel has had quite a bit of success blending zombies with its super-heroes, so it makes sense another comics publisher would have a go at the same concept. Dynamite’s foray into superhuman zombies, though, falls flat as compared to Marvel Zombies. A big part of the fun of Marvel Zombies was seeing familiar super-hero and villain characters transformed into the undead. With the brand-new characters populating the world of Super Zombies, that morbid bit of entertaining is lacking.
Mind you, it’s not as if there’s coherent storytelling here to keep the reader’s interest. Guggenheim and Gonzales employ far too large a cast of characters and start the story too deeply in the middle of chaos for the audience to get a clear sense of what’s going on and who the players are. They start things off so far into the plot that the reader has no reason to care about these characters or what happens to them. Furthermore, Mel Rubi’s art fails to identify the various super-characters clearly at all. For example, on the first page, four superhumans are introduced, but the figures are so small that one really can’t discern any details in their designs or appearances. 3/10