Abe Sapien: The Haunted Boy one-shot (Dark Horse Comics)
by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Patric Reynolds
My wife and I had planned on renting a scary movie on Halloween but didn’t get around to it. I still enjoyed a nice spooky story, though, as I read this Abe Sapien one-shot that night. At first, it felt as though I was making my way through a fairly predictable story, as it seemed clear the ghost child would reveal to Abe that his friend, the one who avoided drowning in the lake, was the one responsible for his death. Writers Mike Mignola and John Arcudi rely on the reader’s assumptions about the “haunted boy,” and it works perfectly. While there’s really no sense of danger for the title hero — given that the story is set in 1982 and we know Abe’s still kicking in the present — the plot is effective all the same. I really like this alienated, melancholy take on the title character, and I wish there’d been more space for the writers to explore the emotional fallout for the families affected by the tragedy and the supernatural developments.
Patric Reynolds proves to be a good choice for this one-shot, as it makes for a consistency in style for the Abe Sapien brand. A previous Mignola-verse limited series — Abe Sapien: The Drowning — was illustrated by Jason Alexander, and Reynolds employs a style here that’s highly reminiscent of his predecessor’s. Furthermore, since the emotional conflicts in the story are really more important and interesting than the supernatural elements, a more realistic, gritty style helps to focus the reader’s attention on characters, whereas a Mignola’s esque style tends to envelop the reader in the dark, creepy, gothic visuals and atmosphere (which can be entertaining as well, of course). This more grounded look is a nice change of pace from the more stylized work of such artists as Mignola and Guy Davis who work on other Hellboy-related titles. 7/10
Doom Patrol #4 (DC Comics)
by Keith Giffen, Justiniano & Livesay/by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis & Kevin Maguire
I knew this Blackest Night tie-in was going to be a surprise sales hit, given the popularity of DC’s crossover event and the yellow-ring promotional giveaway. But what I was really interested in was whether or not the tie-in would prove to be a boost to the storytelling in this title, which hasn’t been to my taste thus far. The answer, unfortunately, is no. Giffen pits the title characters against dead members from a different incarnation of the Doom Patrol, which makes sense. Unfortunately, the dead heroes — Celsius, Tempest and Negative Woman — are far too obscure, and the script just doesn’t provide enough exposition for newer readers. The cliffhanger revelation of the fourth member of the Black Lantern Doom Patrol packed quite a wallop, though. I must admit I’m confused as to why the Doom Patrollers who were killed in the first issue of this series didn’t turn up in this tie-in; their recent deaths would certainly have had a greater impact on the living heroes, given the recency of their deaths. Giffen continues to try and combine the oddball appeal of these Silver Age characters with a dark, harsh and thoroughly damaged take on them that alienates the reader rather than drawing him in. The Oolong Island setting and the newer supporting characters add nothing to the book but confusion. Justiniano’s fill-in art is a bit looser than what we’ve seen from the artist in the past, but it’s full of energy and stands out as much more engaging than the stiffer figures that regular artist Matthew Clark has brought to the book thus far.
While the main feature continues to disappoint, the one consistent shining light in this new Doom Patrol has been the Metal Men backup feature. This month, the creators introduce a new group of sentient robot foes that offers plenty of opportunities for gags. To my surprise, I found that this episode, despite its short length, seemed to drag on. It takes forever for conflict to arise even though it’s clear within a couple of pages where the story is headed. Furthermore, Kevin Maguire’s usually meticulously detailed and polished art looks a bit rough around the edges here, and the Clique robots really aren’t that visually interesting (at least, not yet). 5/10
Robot 13: Colossus! #2 (Blacklist Studios)
by Thomas Hall & Daniel Bradford
While I enjoyed the first issue of this series (and this second episode as well), I’d have to say my main criticism of Robot 13 is that it reads a bit too quickly. What the creators offer up is entertaining, moody and intriguing, but each issue is so action driven and illustrated with such large panels to convey the monstrousness of the threat and breadth of the powers involved that one can breeze through the comic book in no time. With a $3.99 US cover price, that’s going to factor in for a number of potential readers, which is unfortunate, because Robot 13 is a whole lot of fun. Writer Thomas Hall also gives his audience an idea of the title character’s origins by unusual means. A significant scene is a Greek play about the myth of Talos and its conflict with Medusa. I rather enjoyed the classic origin and how it contrasts with more modern elements in the story.
Daniel Bradford’s art could be described as a cross between the styles of Mike (Hellboy) Mignola and Kelley (Batman: The Unseen) Jones. His use of simple shapes and lines makes for accessible visuals. His design for the pseudo-phoenix monster is striking, but really, the most striking images in this comic book are his portrayals of Robot 13 and Talos in the play/flashback. I also loved the black-and-blue approach to Robot 13’s speech balloons. It conveys a truly inhuman quality that makes for an interesting contrast with the reflective, down-to-earth tone of the dialogue. 7/10
Secret Six #15 (DC Comics)
by John Ostrander & Jim Calafiore
It’s been clear from the start that writer Gail Simone’s take on the Secret Six owes a lot to the work John Ostrander did on Suicide Squad in the late 1980s, as that series also featured villains in the role of the protagonists, delving into darker corners of the DC Universe and facing ethical dilemmas that iconic heroes such as Superman and Batman couldn’t imagine. Ostrander returns with a standalone story spotlighting Deadshot, a character he popularized, reshaped and defined with his Suicide Squad run, and he proves he’s still got some compelling stories inside him. Deadshot’s generally been one of the more likeable and grounded characters of this series, but Ostrander reminds us of just how twisted and damaged he is. Despite the violence and cruelty in the plot, the script actually proves to be rather sophisticated in its own way. This story — which is essentially a 22-page therapy session for the mercenary marksman — is quite consistent in tone with what Simone’s written over the course of the series, and it’s got me excited about the two writers’ upcoming collaboration on a Blackest Night tie-in in January: Suicide Squad #67.
Calafiore is a thoroughly reliable artist who’s offers up lengthy runs on such super-hero titles as Aquaman and Exiles, though he’s never been one of the industry’s more popular talents. I’ve generally enjoyed his work, mainly because his style is so distinct. His work lends itself to darker plots and ideas, so it’s a good fit for Ostrander’s story here. He really immersed the characters and the reader in a dirty, hostile corner of Gotham, but he also handles the polished opulence of high society in the flashback as well. Flashes red of also set apart Deadshot’s daydreams and violent urges incredibly well and simple. 8/10
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