Posted by Don MacPherson on January 20th, 2010
Avengers Vs. Atlas #1 (Marvel Comics)
by Jeff Parker, Gabriel Hardman & Takeshi Miyazawa
Marvel’s apparent confusion over what to do with Jeff Parker’s Agents of Atlas is frustrating for those of us who enjoy the property, and fortunately, it doesn’t seem to have dulled the writer’s enthusiasm for the characters. Once again, he offers up a fun adventure with some colorful, retro enemies for the heroes to combat. Parker’s script links this latest meeting with the Avengers with a previous one in the cancelled-too-soon Agents of Atlas ongoing series and the recent X-Men Vs. Agents of Atlas limited series, but at the same time, the storytelling isn’t mired in continuity and previous events. In other words, it’s accessible; Parker even incorporates a succinct explanation of the Atlas Foundation into the dialogue. The time-travel element at the centre of plot promises a lot of cool Silver Age elements in this series. However, the premise also strikes me as a bit too reminiscent of the Avengers/Invaders limited series of 2008, which also saw super-heroes from the past being drawn into the present to fight/team up with heroes of today.
I was pleased to find that this four-dollar comic also features a back-up story, a solo adventure starring Namora. It’s a fairly typical sea hero-versus-the-nasty-whalers plot; we’ve seen this fare before. But it’s diverting and enjoyable in its traditional approach. More importantly, it’s nice to see that Parker and his editors have ensured that the reader gets more value for the extra buck with these extra eight pages.
Gabriel Hardman’s artwork on the main story is as attractive as ever. I don’t know how, but he manages to capture the campy charm of these heroes from yesteryear with a slightly grittier, more realistic style. The Kirby design of the Growing Man, for example, blends quite well with the convincing anatomy and modern approach to the action. His work here actually reminds me a bit of Butch (Captain America) Guice’s art a bit. Conversely, seeing Takeshi Miyazawa’s more cartoony, manga-influenced art on the back-up feature made for a nice change of pace, though the art is more exaggerated than what we’ve seen from Miyazawa in the past. Nevertheless, Namora’s portrayal, despite her plunging neckline and lack of pants, isn’t vamped up at all. Her anger and nobility are conveyed clearly. 7/10
Battlefields #1 (Dynamite Entertainment)
by Garth Ennis & P.J. Holden
Ever since I read the powerful story of a war victim’s conflict between her love and her hatred in Battlefields: Dear Billy, I always keep an eye out for writer Garth Ennis’s latest forays into the war genre, and how Battlefields returns as a nine-part series, which appears to be broken up into three different arcs. The first, “Happy Valley,” features a familiar story of military camaraderie in the midst of war, a staple of Ennis’s war stories, but certainly not the sort of unique and touching storytelling we saw in Dear Billy. Still, no one does these war stories better than Ennis, so it’s always worth a look anyway. This time, he focuses his and our attention on the Australian flight crew manning a British bomber and their adjustment in accepting a rookie pilot as their leader in battle. The story’s fairly predictable, but it’s also convincing. Ennis captures the chaos of war like no one else, and all of the characters are likeable and entertaining.
Of course, Ennis’s ear for convincing dialogue and ability to direct military action would be for naught if he were paired with an artist who can’t make his visions come to life on the page. Fortunately, P.J. Holden’s more than equal to the task. While he conveys the action of midair combat and operations quite well, his characters boasts a more cartoony appearance, but that only serves to make them more likeable and relatable. Holden’s style looks a bit like a cross between the styles of artists Carlos (Battlefields: Tankies) Ezquerra and Brian (Damned) Hurtt. The only visual aspect of the book that didn’t quite work was the lettering, specifically for the narrative captions, which are presented as the main character’s message to his father. Letterer Simon Bowland’s attempt to give those captions a handwritten look is understandable, but it’s difficult to read, as it’s too faint and miniscule. 7/10
Incorruptible #2 (Boom! Studios)
by Mark Waid, Jean Diaz & Belardino Brabo
I continue to enjoy Mark Waid’s exploration of a world without hope in this companion book to Irredeemable. While the premise here is inextricably linked to that other series, the action does seem to be unfolding separately, allowing the story of Max Damage’s reformation and awkward transition from villain into hero to unfold on its own. It would seem to be that the focus of the protagonist’s efforts will be to fight the darker leanings of the human spirit. Desperation, greed and manipulation are front and centre in this plot, but Waid approaches the ugly side of humanity from a logical and convincing perspective. I continue to be annoyed with Jailbait’s presence in the story; I’m sure Waid has plans for her that will proven interesting, but right now she just brings an icky factor to the book that’s completely unnecessary.
Again, artist Jean Diaz tells the story clearly, but his figures continue to be a bit inconsistent, occasionally taking me out of the story. This time around, though, he manages to portray Jailbait as the younger girl she’s meant to be, but again, I find the character’s role in the book to be distaste and too extreme. Colorist Andrew Dalhouse employs too bright a palette in this story. Save for a brief view of the devastation wrought by the Plutonian that’s immersed in dreary greys, the rest of the book is marked by bright blue and green tones, which seem out of place in such a dark story. 6/10
Starman #81 (DC Comics)
by James Robinson, Fernando Dagnino & Bill Sienkiewicz
For those of us who read James Robinson’s now classic Starman series, which ran from 1994 to 2001, this Blackest Night tie-in will prove to be a satisfying read. Those who pick up this comic book because they’re Blackest Night fans, though, won’t be similarly entertained. The crossover elements really aren’t the most interesting aspects of the book; in fact, Robinson’s script seems a bit inconsistent with previous depictions of the Black Lanterns. I found it a bit easier to overlook those aspects of the script, though, because I so enjoyed revisiting Opal City and catching up with the O’Dares and the Shade. While Robinson’s more recent work hasn’t grabbed my attention like his efforts in the 1990s, this return to his most celebrated work and characters demonstrated he still knows the citizens of Opal and what made that Starman series so special. Those unfamiliar with that series, though, will likely be a bit lost, and even if that’s not the case, the character-driven scenes just aren’t going to resonate for them. Personally, I would love if this one-shot proves popular enough to get DC and James Robinson to takes us back to Opal City yet again.
It was a pleasure to see that the original artist from the Starman series, Tony Harris, participated in this one-shot by providing cover artwork. The interiors don’t capture the same kind of art-deco style that characterized the series. Still, the interior art is pretty good, and the reason is clear. What might have been fairly standard super-hero artwork by artist Fernando Dagnino is made a bit more special by Bill Sienkiewicz’s inks. His gritty, dark style suits the macabre tone of the Black Lanterns not to mention the dark style and charm of the Shade. 6/10
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