Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Quick Critiques – April 9, 2009

Posted by Don MacPherson on April 9th, 2009

Variant coverCaptain America 70th Anniversary Special #1 (Marvel Comics)
by James Robinson & Marcos Martin

I hadn’t heard about this one-shot until a couple of days before its release. I wasn’t sure if I was going to pick it up, but Marcos Martin’s association with the project was enough to get me on board. After all, his recent Marvel work (Dr. Strange: The Oath, Amazing Spider-Man) has been tremendously strong. Unfortunately, that strength just isn’t as prevalent in this one-shot. The problem lies with his depiction of an emaciated, pre-Super-Soldier-Serum Steve Rogers. He looks like a concentration-camp detainee, not a feeble young man from the streets of New York City. Conversely, James Robinson’s plot seems to ignore the notion that Rogers is meant to be physically weak before his transformation into Captain America. In this story, the 90-pound weakling is as fast, agile and accurate as Cap. The point is to try to show that what makes Cap so special is his spirit, but instead, the focus remains on physicality.

To appease readers who mightn’t be happy about the inflated $3.99 US cover price, Marvel has opted to include a Golden Age Cap/Bucky reprint story. I would have expected the original version of the Cap origin story, but instead, editor Stephen Wacker opts for a somewhat goofy baseball story. I like that the reprint material isn’t redundant or familiar, and the oddball nature of the plot was entertaining. Still, it seems an odd choice, and I would have rather paid $2.99 US for the comic without the reprint. (Actually, I wish I hadn’t forked out any money for it in the first place.) 4/10

Delphine #4 (Fantagraphics Books)
by Richard Sala

I only recently became aware of this title’s existence when Tom Spurgeon posted the lovely cover for this issue over on Comics Reporter not long ago. When I got the change to read it for review, I was struck by the lovely art, but what really grabs one’s attention is the creator’s decision to alternate between thoroughly grounded moments of everyday life and a surreal storyline about a man’s quest to be reunited with an elusive love. When the dialogue and character interaction are down to earth and relatable, Richard Sala’s storytelling is engrossing. Delphine says a lot of things about life that many regular folks only think about, and it makes her an even more attractive figure. When the plot and dialogue take a decidedly more surreal tone, it’s also captivating. One really doesn’t know what’s going on, if it’s meant to be symbolic or some kind of dream state, but it’s challenging and interesting as well.

Sala’s simple style will appeal to those who appreciate the works of such comics illustrators as Colleen (X-Men: First Class, Small Favors) Coover and Andi (Slow News Day, Glister) Watson. Despite the minimalist leanings in his art, he nevertheless conveys the title character’s beauty and grace while never resorting to overt sexuality in order to do so. Even more interesting are Sala’s backgrounds. He takes us into a sometimes fluid, timeless Euro-scape that anyone would love to visit. Really, the only aspect of the book that might give one pause in purchasing is the hefty cover price of $7.95 US. 8/10

Variant coverGreen Lantern #39 (DC Comics)
by Geoff Johns, Philip Tan & Jonathan Glapion

I’ve really enjoyed Geoff Johns’s various stories about the Lanterns of Many Colors, leading up to DC’s Blackest Night event comic this summer, so it was with some anticipation that I approached this new story arc featuring the introduction of the greedy Orange Lanterns. Unfortunately, this issue didn’t live up to the strength of previous stories exploring the various new Corps being introduced into the DC Universe. The fault lies primarily with Philip Tan’s artwork and the coloring work of Randy Mayor and Gabe Eltaeb. Tan may have a hyper-detailed approach to his linework, but there’s also a loose, sketchy quality that obfuscates the action. Furthermore, most of the Orange Lanterns we see in this story are colored entirely in orange shades; there’s no black linework involved. The reader’s left wondering if we’ve actually encountered new characters or have only seen energy constructs that are common in Green Lantern stories.

I get what the Orange Lanterns are about, and I love the creepy, paranoid qualities that Johns instills in them through the dialogue. However, I think he’s done a disservice to readers who aren’t well versed on the history of DC continuity. The writer could have included a lot more information about who the Controllers are, for example, and what their connection to the Guardians is. I did enjoy the title character’s conflict with the notion of hope as a viable force in the universe. Johns approaches the hero as a damaged, pessimistic man, and that’s far more interesting than any paragon of virtue and justice. 5/10

Masquerade #2 (Dynamite Entertainment)
by Phil Hester, Alex Ross & Carlos Paul

This series continues to stand out as the best thing to come out of Alex Ross’s Project: Superpowers brand, which has resurrected a number of public-domain super-heroes from the Golden Age of comics. The title character, Diana Adams, is incredibly well realized. Her sense of adventure and justice pales in comparison with her intellect and ability to see the big picture. Her lack of super-powers is a metaphor for her gender in a time when women were seen as weaker, but her perspective and skill at sensing larger perils and noticing small events as part of larger trends make her an admirable figure. Phil Hester’s script is accessible and smart, incorporating gender politics in an intelligent way into a super-hero story (even if the heroine’s midriff-baring costume is a bit difficult to accept in light of her empowerment). This flashback story, set in the days after the Second World War, is connected to the larger event of Project: Superpowers series, but it’s not burdened by it. Hester’s story holds up quite well on its own. Carlos Paul’s artwork serves that story nicely. He does a good job of capturing the title heroine at different ages, and he conveys that the same character at different ages boasts more physical difference throughout her life than mere height. The action with the Dragon Men is a little difficult to discern at times, but fortunately, that’s far from the main point of this issue. 8/10

Variant coverPrototype #1 (DC Comics/Wildstorm Productions)
by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, Darick Robertson & Matt Jacobs

There was a time when I read the solicitations from major publishers closely every month as soon as they were released as part of my quest to find new and entertaining comics to read. I’ve since scaled that back a bit, preferring to find some surprises among the weekly releases at my local comic-book store. I need to resume my research, as a couple of duds have made their ways in among the surprises. Prototype is one such dud. I had no idea what this comic book was about when I saw it on the shelf last week, but with Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray and Darick Robertson listed in the creative credits, I figured it would be a solid effort at the very least. I was dead wrong. Had I read the solicitation copy, I would have found this sentence: “In anticipation of the upcoming multiplatform Activision video game comes the hyperkinetic world of Prototype!” A video-game adaptation for a video game that hasn’t even been released yet? I would have passed on this even if Jack Kirby had come back from the grave to work on this comic book with Barack Obama. I enjoy a good gory video game from time to time, but it doesn’t work for me as reading material. The writers open with an unnecessary scene that develops characters who never had a chance of surviving beyond a few pages. The tone of the storytelling overall is gratuitous and harsh in an extreme way that’s quite off-putting. Furthermore, the designs for the monsters that serve as the antagonists are as uninspired as the plot about black-ops and coverups is generic. 2/10

5 Responses to “Quick Critiques – April 9, 2009”

  1. Corey Says:

    For a good video game adaptation, check out Dead Space by Antony Johnson and Ben Templesmith. I actually didn’t know it was based on an upcoming video game until I was already reading it, because like you I probably wouldn’t have bothered had I known. But it was quite good.

    I have absolutely loved Delphine! You should mention that the higher price point is because of the larger size of the comic. There’s also excellent quality paper that is used. Does it justify the cover price? I think it does, but others might not agree. I love the Ignatz imprint format that Fantagraphics uses.

  2. nekron Says:

    Don wrote:
    “The reader’s left wondering if we’ve actually encountered new characters or have only seen energy constructs that are common in Green Lantern stories.”

    I think the artist did that on purpose. From the previews I’ve seen, those lanterns are energy constructs.

    The guy leading the Orange Corps doesn’t like to share the limelight, as suggested by the cover. 🙂

  3. Don MacPherson Says:

    Nekron wrote:
    I think the artist did that on purpose. From the previews I’ve seen, those lanterns are energy constructs.

    But the problem is that such plot information should be left to the reader to guess.

  4. ultrapaul Says:

    Don wrote:
    The fault lies primarily with Philip Tan’s artwork and the coloring work of Randy Mayor and Gabe Eltaeb

    I didn’t have a problem with the colours but I have a big problem with the inking. The previews of Philip Tan’s pencils were amazing, but the inks pretty much ruined the book for me. Jonathan Glapion can do decent inks like on FC: Resist, but this isssue look pretty rushed for whatever reason.

  5. frankskee Says:

    It was interesting how Johns handles the concept of hope, but was a little surprising to see Hal Jordan be so simple minded to say ‘hope is useless,’ would think a hero like Hal would know the power of hope to inspire people, so was a little out of character to me for him to say that. I always have the old Super Friends voice of Hal Jordan in my head when I read him in the comics.

    I also was a little disappointed in Tan’s work on this issue, but I’m still a big fan. Was intrigued with how the Guardians knew the bearer of the Orange Lantern, who looked like some kind of intelligent warthog/manbeast, how would something like that know the Guardians. Was kinda cool to see the Controllers in the beginning, were wiped out pretty quick though.