Time for some brief thoughts on a number of recent releases, two from DC and two from Marvel. Join me as I discuss two of DC’s crossovers with Hanna-Barbera cartoons, a magical relaunch and an annual that’s arrived for a series that hasn’t even been published for half of the year yet.
by Dan Abnett, Paul Pelletier & Andrew Hennessy / Jeff Parker & Scott Kolins
I rather love the concept of DC super-hero properties encountering new interpretations of classic cartoon characters, but I tend to be picky about which ones on which I’ll spend my money. An affection for the Curly-voiced Jabberjaw, Captain Caveman and the artwork of Scott Kolins convinced me to part with my money this time around. The main feature was fun, and I always find it interesting to see how the writers bring the divergent properties together. This time was by way of an inter-dimensional plot device, meaning they remain distinctly separate. I appreciated the incorporation of another Hanna-Barbera concept, Sealab 2020, into the mix as well. Ultimately, while diverting, the story is rather standard, but Abnett amusingly makes it so the character getting the least respect is Aquaman, even when there’s a talking shark that sounds like one of the Three Stooges in the mix. The backup story takes a different approach, offering a more “realistic” interpretation of Captain Caveman and making him the subject of a wager between the Spectre and the Wizard Shazam. The story’s of no consequence, though, and there’s not even any real conflict to speak of in the plot. Again, though, it was fun and weird.
The Captain Caveman segment looked great, though, with Scott Kolins offering a much more statuesque and imposing vision of the oddball character. For the main story, Pelletier employs his recognizable style, but its more cartoony leanings make it a perfect way to convey a blend of traditional super-hero action and the goofiness of a Hanna-Barbera property. It was only when I was writing this review that I discovered there was a variant cover, and that Joshua Middleton image was fantastic. His new tenure as a DC cover artist is off to a great start. 6/10
by Mark Waid & Jesus Saiz
While I’m frustrated with the incessant relaunches of super-hero titles by Marvel and DC (and especially the former), I couldn’t pass up a new title penned by Mark Waid and illustrated by Jesus Saiz. The concept here is that Strange has run out of magic on Earth and is forced to head into space to reignite his sorcerous spark, but this issue focuses just on setting up that premise. The highlight of the issue, though, is the latest meeting between the magical hero and his polar opposite, Tony Stark, AKA Iron Man. Waid crafts a plausible reason for the title character to seek Tony’s counsel; he doesn’t want a fix, but rather advice on how to adapt to such a crippling change in his life. While the notion of Strange’s magic drying up is a bit of a stretch, the conversation between two men with such radically different views of the universe feels natural and organic.
Saiz doesn’t disappoint with the artwork, but there was little chance that he would. He handles the wonder and weirdness of the opening flashback scene adeptly, but I’ve always found his greatest strength as an artist was in capturing the soft humanity of characters. Given the focus on Stephen Strange’s grief, despair and frustration here, the line work fits incredibly well with the subject matter. At the same time, Saiz does an excellent job with the space-opera elements here, from the tech of the ship, to the cold of space to the unfamiliar biology of an alien race. 7/10
by Peter J. Tomasi, Fernando Pasarin & Oclair Albert
I love me some Dynomutt, so the promise of an encounter between the clumsy robotic hero and the two super-scamps of the modern DC Universe was something I anticipated. Unfortunately, this endeavor to blend the disparate worlds of DC heroes and Hanna-Barbera cartoons was a complete misfire. Tomasi sets out to convert the Blue Falcon and his canine sidekick into regular DC heroes, and he does so by making them seem more tragic, dark and even macabre. It’s a terrible creative decision, because it removes anything fun and entertaining about the characters. Robin’s and Superboy’s roles could have been played by any super-heroes; Jon’s life lesson at the beginning and conclusion of the book is a rather thin thread to hold it all together. Like the script, Pasarin’s standard and realistic super-hero style depletes the life and color from the Hanna-Barbera characters altogether, and it occasionally makes them seem grotesque. With other characters, this could have been a capable stab at super-hero storytelling, but it can’t overcome the complete lack of appreciation of what Dynomutt is all about. 4/10
by Tom Taylor & Pascal Alixe
I’ve steered clear of X-Men comics for quite some time, usually put off by the overwhelming history and continuity that seems forever required to follow the books, but a few months ago, I was taken in by Tom Taylor’s compelling dialogue and characters in X-Men Red. Since I added to my pull list, this annual made its way into my hands as well, and unlike the regular series, it fails to offer the strengths that drew me to the title i the first place. Taylor has chosen to use this annual to answer minor questions about Jean Grey’s latest resurrection and what it means to the people around her. Here’s the problem: I don’t care. One of the things I loved about X-Men Red up to this point is that it didn’t dwell on those little elements, and I felt welcomed in as a result. This annual explores the minutae of the unusual interpersonal dynamics of Jean’s return. The personality and energy from regular issues isn’t to be found here; replaced instead with an introspective melancholy that doesn’t feel particularly important. Furthermore, Pascal Alixe’s realistic art is radically different from the thick and powerful lines we’ve seen in the regular issues. As a result, the figures feel stiff, almost lifeless, and that’s in a book that sets out to celebrate a rebirth. 5/10