Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Quick Critiques – May 18, 2009

Posted by Don MacPherson on May 18th, 2009

Final Crisis Aftermath: Escape #1 (DC Comics)
by Ivan Brandon, Marco Rudy & Mick Gray

After the first of these Final Crisis Aftermath titles left a bad taste in my mouth, I approached this second in the series with some trepidation. the good news is that it’s much better than Run, but one has to bear in mind that’s not exactly a Herculean task, creatively speaking. This tale of Nemesis’s surreal imprisonment in a mysterious facility along with other figures from the world of espionage in the DC Universe is reminiscent of The Prisoner, and on that level, it’s intriguing. This is a complete and utter mystery. We have no idea who’s holding Nemesis, why, what the others have to do with it or how he came to be in this position. That all-encompassing, permeating air of mystery is somewhat enticing, but the plot is frustrating and puzzling as well. There’s no indication what this has to do with the aftermath of Final Crisis. Furthermore, it seems completely disconnected from Wonder Woman, a title in which Nemesis plays an integral role. It doesn’t even acknowledge it, it seems. This unusual story is hindered by the fact that the characters are connected to DC continuity. It seemingly tries to ignore that context even though the book’s title itself embraces it as part of the appeal.

Marco Rudy’s artwork strives for a realistic appearance, but it doesn’t quite get there. The penciller hits his mark, though, when it comes to conveying the mind-bending, dizzying nature of the hero’s experiences. As was the case with Run, the strongest visual element this comic book has going for it is the cover artwork, this time by Scott Hampton, which captures the darkness and the weirdness of the subject matter within rather succinctly. 5/10

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – Century: 1910 #1 (Top Shelf Productions)
by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill

About halfway through this book, Mina Murray says, “Do you know, for the first time in my life, I feel stupid…” I know how she feels (though this is far from my first experience with the feeling). Whereas the first two volumes of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen brought together icons of 19th-century fiction in a brutal and entertaining amalgam, writer Alan Moore spreads a wider net in gathering players and subject matter for this latest story. I found I was at a loss, and reading this book (along with repeated references to Jess Nevins’s thorough annotations) felt a bit like homework rather than an escape into a piece of fantastic literature. Moore includes an array of obscure characters from literature from various periods. I would imagine this is what newer comics readers feel like when they try to wade into a major super-hero comics event from DC or Marvel; they just can’t make heads or tails of all of the players and continuity that play a part in the plot. Maybe one is meant to have read The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier first (which I haven’t, yet anyway). Nevertheless, this is a dense and inaccessible script.

Still, one can piece together the main plot even though one’s not intimately familiar with all of the characters, and it’s easy to appreciate the structure and themes that Moore employs and explores here. Furthermore, O’Neill’s art is as brilliant as ever. He conveys the crowded, filthy environment of the poorer sections of London incredibly well, and his angular, elongated approach to figures and settings reinforces the unnatural and corrupt atmosphere that’s integral to the doomsday plot. 6/10

Secret Warriors #4 (Marvel Comics)
by Brian Michael Bendis, Jonathan Hickman & Stefano Caselli

Brian Michael Bendis is, without a doubt, Marvel’s go-to guy for super-hero comics these days. He’s transformed the Avengers franchise into a powerhouse the likes of which the publisher hasn’t seen since the heyday of the X-Men’s peak of popularity. But the writer’s also the focus of a lot of criticism — for Secret Invasion, for “Dark Reign” and for a number of Avengers stories in recent years that fell flat. Some of those criticisms are merited, and I’ve longed for the days when I felt Bendis was at his best, be it for his indy noir crime stories, his slice-of-life stuff or the beginnings of Ultimate Spider-Man. Still, if one is after that A-game Bendis, he can still be found, and he’s busy writing the exploits of Nick Fury. The character hasn’t been this popular or cool since the Steranko Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. comics of the Silver Age. Along with co-writer Jonathan Hickman, Bendis continues to deliver a vision of a hardened, driven and uncompromising man who’s smarter than everyone else in the room. If one needs a reason to read Secret Warriors, you need only refer them to the final bits of dialogue in this issue, in which Fury answers what he’d feel if he had to shoot former allies and friends in the name of his mission.

There’s a lot more to enjoy in this title as well. I like that there’s a growing gap between Fury and the young superhumans he’s recruited. There’s also a clear, long-term plan at play that’s in keeping with everything Bendis has done with Fury in the past few years. Caselli’s artwork is another strength. His thoroughly expressive characters drive home the drama or the goofiness of the various moments in the story incredibly well. He also reinforces the chasm between Fury and his young soldiers by convincingly capturing the disparate ages of those characters. His designs for the various Hydra villains are deliciously detailed and unsettlingly organic. 8/10

Unthinkable #1 (Boom! Studios)
by Mark Sable & Julian Totino Tedesco

Sable’s story about a group of people brought together to dream up worst-case scenarios in the name of national security only to see them come true years later is clearly a product of the aftermath of 9/11 group consciousness. In this age of disasters that the establishment has created on its own, it doesn’t resonate quite as strongly, but the concept is clever and gripping. Had this comic book been produced a few years ago, everyone and their dog would be talking about it. Threats from without don’t seem as strong a priority these days, with everyone focused on the Dow Jones, car warranties and mortgage rates. Nevertheless, Sable’s story draws its strength not only from the core premise but a strong foundation in characterization. Alan Ripley is a thoroughly well-realized protagonist. My only qualm with the plot is that the writer seems to telegraph the notion of the private warfare firm as a key antagonist.

Tedesco is the latest in a series of artistic discoveries that Boom! has made over the years, and like those that came before him, his style is a gritty, dark one that suits the mature, intense tone of the subject matter. If I had to describe his work in terms of other better-known talents in the industry, I’d say it was a cross between the styles of Paul (Potter’s Field) Azaceta and Paul (100%) Pope. His achieves the right tone and atmosphere, and his work is realistic enough in appearance to enhance the possible and even plausible drama even further. The flow of his work from panel to panel isn’t as strong as it could be, but the storytelling is fairly solid overall. 8/10