Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Quick Critiques – Sept. 24, 2009

Posted by Don MacPherson on September 24th, 2009

Variant coverAdventure Comics #2 (DC Comics)
by Geoff Johns & Francis Manapul/Geoff Johns, Michael Shoemaker & Clayton Henry

I continue to be impressed with this new series and writer Geoff Johns’s take on Superboy. The story has a strong foundation in characterization but there’s also a delightful old-school approach to the super-hero elements as well. This second chapter is a fairly quiet one, as it continues to focus on Superboy’s efforts to reintegrate back into a world that thought he was dead and on his own identity crisis. The conversation and reconnection between Conner and Cassie is sweet and touching. It’s wholesome on a level that’s rather difficult to swallow in the context of the 21st century, especially given Superboy’s previous rep as something of a horndog. But it’s comforting as well. I enjoyed the Luthor/Brainiac scene. While it’s connected to the ongoing “World of New Krypton” storyline unfolding in the other titles in the Superman family line, Johns doesn’t allow those elements to intrude on this story. He maintains an accessible tone here, and despite the fact that the script touches upon events and characters from other DC titles, there’s still a self-contained quality to the storytelling here that’s refreshing. Manapul’s loose, sketchy style works nicely as well, establishing a wistful atmosphere that’s in keeping with the nostalgic and character-driven elements.

With this second issue, the Legion of Super-Heroes backup story shrugs off its links to the main feature, taking the story in a new direction. Johns and co-writer Michael Shoemaker offer an accessible plot despite the fact that a lot of Legion history factors into it. As a longtime Legion fan, I really enjoyed the premise of this new Lightning Lad story, as it stays true to what’s come before (even as far back as the Silver Age) while bringing a new twist/mystery to decades-old characters. Clayton Henry’s art has never looked better than it does here. While the lighter tone of his style is intact, there’s a more refined look at play, especially on the first page. He uses shadow to great effect, and his work here reminds me of the styles of such other industry stalwarts as Mike McKone and Olivier Coipel. 8/10

Variant coverBlackest Night: Superman #2 (DC Comics)
by James Robinson, Eddy Barrows, Ruy Jose & Julio Ferreira

This second issue has led me to make an about-face on opinion. I found Robinson’s plotting of the first issue to be lacking, but the storytelling gets a lot stronger here. The reason is clear: the inclusion of an undead Psycho-Pirate as a player in the plot. Given how the story is driven by the manipulation and “consumption” of emotion by the villains, Psycho-Pirate is a natural fit. In fact, his role makes so much sense that I can’t help but wonder why the character’s been relegated to this spin-off series as opposed to the Blackest Night event title proper. The writing’s not perfect, obviously. To accept the plot, one has to ignore the fact that no one in Smallville seems to question why so many Super-people are congregating in the small town, and Robinson’s characterization of Martha Kent as a kick-ass opponent to Black Lantern Lois Lane-Kent is cheesy and cliched. And given that this is only a three-part series, I’m surprised the action at New Krypton hasn’t advanced at all.

In my review of the first issue, I noted I enjoyed Eddy Barrows’s work. While he handles the horror elements and the action well in this issue, I found the exaggerated tone in his style here to be distracting. The expressions on the everyday characters’ faces on the first page are far too exaggerated and distorted. The barber and customer, for example, look like goofy cartoons rather than average, down-to-earth people. Again, Rod Reis’s colors are vibrant and really allows the emotional-spectrum aspect of the plot to really pop. 6/10

Citizen Rex #1 (Dark Horse Comics)
by Mario & Gilbert Hernandez

Though I’ve not followed the comics careers of the Hernandez family members as closely as I wish I did, I do try and keep and eye out for their new projects in the hope that they’ll catch my eye. They’re better known for slice-of-life and cultural pieces, so this foray into genre fiction seemed different and worthy of a glance. Unfortunately, Mario and Gilbert Hernandez’s amalgam of science-fiction and crime-fiction elements didn’t appeal to me. In the back of the issue, Mario Hernandez notes that the idea for this story was spawned 20 years ago, and some rediscovered lines in an old notebook led to the project’s rise in the 21st century. I believe that story, as everything about Citizen Rex feels dated. Everything about this world is incredibly campy — to the point of distraction. The writers’ vision of the future is both simple and surreal, and it fails to convince me or draw me in. Furthermore, the main character — a trust-fund slacker/online gossip nicknamed “Bloggo” (how inspired) — is completely unlikeable. He uses others, and he’s not even charming about it. There’s also a side plot about a supposed gangster who’s not who or what he seems and a mysterious warrior woman and her ninja-like henchmen that lacks the context necessary for it to make any sense or be interesting to the reader. Overall, the property reminded me of a silly sci-fi private-eye character from DC’s Silver Age, Star Hawkins, that doesn’t translate well as a more mature plot or source of commentary.

Gilbert Hernandez’s artwork suits the thoroughly campy and simple tone of the premise, I suppose, but given my disinterest in the plot and characters, there was little chance he’d hold my attention with the visuals. His depiction of the warrior woman at the end of the issue reminded me of the style of Fred Hembeck, which made for a jarring contrast with Hernandez’s usual style. His vision of the future is disappointing as well. Hernandez offers a vision of the future from 40 years ago. I would imagine that was his intent, but it feels as though his depiction of the setting lacks imagination. 3/10

Variant coverVariant coverWolverine: Old Man Logan Giant Size #1 (Marvel Comics)
by Mark Millar, Steve McNiven, Dexter Vines & Mark Morales

Millar’s diverting romp through an alternate, dystopian vision of the Marvel Universe shifts gears significantly with its conclusion, much to my disappointment. He tosses “fun” out of the window and instead challenges his artist to top himself from page to page in terms of sheer gore and gruesomeness. This final chapter of “Old Man Logan” is an orgy of violence, as the concept of an extended family of inbred brutes allows him to depict Wolverine killing the Hulk over and over and over again in far too graphic detail. Yes, it stands to reason that a killing machine with indestructible and razor-sharp blades would make quite the bloody mess as he cut a swath through a corner of the Marvel Universe, but with this gratuitous depiction of those abilities, Millar simply proves that presenting us with a “realistic” vision of an enraged Wolverine does the character a disservice. Millar’s interpretation of an aged Bruce Banner/Hulk really has no connection with any previous depiction of the character. The story requires him to be a putrid bastard, so that’s what we get. I did like the notion of a non-Hulked-out Banner possessing some power, but Millar offers only the most superficial of introductions of his take on the character here.

Assessing McNiven’s artwork here is something of a challenge because one has to set aside the unnecessary ugliness that the script demands to look at the linework independently. There are some moments when one can see a strong European influence on the Canadian artist’s style. Obviously, the more enjoyable visuals stem from the denouement, which leaves behind the bloody excesses of the physical conflicts and reinforces the overall story as a Western. “Bonus” material purports to offer a glimpse into McNiven’s artistic process, but what we really see are just fully rendered but uncolored pencil art. I would have preferred to see some rough layouts and early design work that was cast aside. Instead, we’re met with a cover gallery to close out the issue. The only people buying this comic are those who followed the storyline to begin with, and they’re already familiar with most of this cover artwork to begin with. As a result, it feels as though Marvel’s charging those folks for the same material twice. 2/10

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4 Responses to “Quick Critiques – Sept. 24, 2009”

  1. Vanja Miskovic Says:

    Finally a sane review, regarding Old Man Logan. Reading both this and No Hero at the same night, I was struck by how similar the stories are. At least, No Hero had some kind of point, while Millar and McNiven’s epic was so gruesome and sick that I really lamented reading through it.

  2. Timothy Says:

    Old Man Logan left me feeling hollow. It was a very unfitting ending. Sadly, I expected more.

    On the up side, I’m looking forward to reading Adventure Comics. DC really seems to be making an effort to make $3.99 comics worth it.

  3. franktiger Says:

    I think “Old Man Logan” is an instant classic and should be included amongst the omnibus of classic Wolverine stories, especially with Claremont and Miller’s Wolverine in Japan.

    McNiven is no short than one of the foremost superstars of comic book artists in my view, my only problem with the work is his falling victim to the same, common, annoying creative liberty artists take when they exaggerate the length of Wolverine’s claws, which really should only be as long as the length from his elbows to his wrists.

  4. James Seals Says:

    I have to agree. Adventure Comics is proving to be a delight to read. I hope that Paul Levitz can maintain those wholesome qualities that you so eloquently varnished.

    Also, Old Man Logan was a mess. I enjoyed the crazy silliness that the title embraced without reservation, but the gore fest, coupled with that God awful one-liner… so not worth the wait. I almost wish the series had ended with the previous issue and we could have used our imaginations as to how the tale “ended.”

    But those are my two cents, feel free to ask for a refund.