Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Quick Critiques – Feb. 5, 2010

Posted by Don MacPherson on February 5th, 2010

Astro City: The Dark Age, Book Four #1 (DC Comics/Wildstorm Productions)
by Kurt Busiek & Brent E. Anderson

First of all… wow, what a cover. This is one of Alex Ross’s most striking covers and character designs, not only for Astro City comics. The greenery and the intensity of the stare really allow this book to stand out when racked along with other recent comics release. This elemental force of nature, the Green Man, doesn’t play a pivotal role in the plot, but he serves to send a strong thematic message to the main characters. It’s good that this has just an attractive and effective cover, because the subtitle — The Dark Age, Book Four — isn’t the most alluring one I’ve seen. The Book Four part is basically a cue for new readers to avoid this comic book, and that’s too bad, because Busiek’s script is thoroughly accessible despite the fact that this is the umpteenth issue in an ongoing story arc. The Williams brothers have really transformed into well-supplied and armed rogues who ignore everything else going on around them in pursuit of the man who killed their parents. Busiek really drives home how anger and thirst for revenge have tainted these two men, and their prey’s desperation and fear also sells the story effectively as well.

Anderson’s art is obviously a lot rougher in tone than the polished, photorealistic images that Alex Ross provides for the covers, but that grittier look works well with the larger theme of the story. The Dark Age is about a period in American history that wounded the country’s ideals, that robbed a proud nation of its innocence. That’s reflected in the sketchier leanings in Anderson’s approach to the characters and action. He handles the Green Man adeptly as well, albeit in a different way than Ross did for the cover. He captures the immensity of the character’s presence nicely, further reinforcing the thematic importance of that scene. 8/10

Demo – Volume II #1 (DC Comics/Vertigo imprint)
by Brian Wood & Becky Cloonan

What was once a title under the AiT/Planet Lar banner returns as part of DC’s Vertigo imprint, but really, that’s the only real change for Demo. It remains as well written and illustrated as ever. This first issue boasts a surprisingly predictable plot, but that doesn’t seem to interfere too much with the effectiveness of the storytelling. It’s obvious to the reader whom the woman who needs saving really is, so much so that it should be apparent to the protagonist as well. But still, the melancholy mood of the story is engrossing. While the catalyst for the story is a precognitive dream, what makes it so grounded and relatable is how lost and confused Joan is. One could view the sleep-deprived heroine as somewhat pathetic, but I see her plight as symbolic of how we all feel overwhelmed at times. One element that offsets the predictability of the plot is the final page, which brings a more hopeful, cathartic tone to what originally seemed like a tragedy.

Becky Cloonan really outdoes herself with her efforts on this comic book. The settings are meticulously detailed; St. Paul’s Cathedral looks incredible here. It’s incredibly easy to see this happening in the real world, because it looks like the real world. When it comes to the characters, she boasts a slightly simpler approach, given her Amerimanga style. However, the figures are just as convincing, because he captures body language nicely. I was also pleased to see that despite its move to a bigger publisher, the art on Demo is still presented in black and white. Furthermore, the creators still offer up text and sketches in the back of the comic to give their readers some insight into the creative process. 9/10

Hero Squad coversDisney’s Hero Squad #1 (Boom! Studios/Boom! Kids imprint)
by Giorgio Salati & Roberta Migheli/by Bob Gale & Paul Murry

Judging from the cover artwork, I figured this comic book would be a lot of fun. There seems to be so much energy exuding from these super-hero incarnations of Disney characters that I thought the mix of these familiar icons with the action genre would entertain. Unfortunately, I was rather confused by the whole thing. While this comic book boasts a “#1″ on its cover(s), that first-issue label is misleading. The main story is a continuation of a previous arc from Walt Disney Comics and Stories about two groups — heroes and villains — racing against time and one another to retrieve powerful pods that can used in a devastating weapon. It seems like a fairly straightforward plot, but it’s muddied by repeated references to what’s gone on before. I had trouble identifying all of the characters, and some of the heroes’ and villains’ powers/abilities aren’t clearly defined. Also distracting was the side plot about Mickey’s search for Scrooge McDuck and his money bin.

I was also taken aback by the second story, which offers up the origin of Goofy’s heroic identity, Super-Goof. The credits would seem to indicate this is a new piece, penned by screenwriter and comics scribe Bob Gale, but the content tells a different story. Clearly illustrated in a throwback style, the script walks a fine line between the camp of yesteryear and a racist depiction of Middle Eastern culture. What should’ve been a fun romp instead ended up making me feel uncomfortable. 4/10

Variant coverSiege #2 (Marvel Comics)
by Brian Michael Bendis, Olivier Coipel & Mark Morales

By now, most of these interested in or annoyed with this series will be aware of the over-the-top, gory depiction of violence that serves as the climactic moment of this issue. It’s a ridiculously gratuitous moment that makes it difficult to take seriously Marvel’s “Heroic Age” PR campaign, promoting its new, lighter direction coming in the spring. The other problem with that moment is that it’s completely futile. Yes, we see the Sentry rip a hero apart, but that hero is a god… in the Marvel Universe. Even if the character didn’t have an upcoming limited series on the horizon, the audience knows that he’d be resurrected before long. That being said, this second issue was definitely much stronger than the first, and the reason is clear: Bendis includes a running gag that worked well for this particular reader. I truly enjoyed how the Iron Patriot keeps getting thrown off his game, each time teased by his on-board computer saying simply, “Incoming.” The emotionless faceplate of his armor doubles as a clueless look on Norman’s face every time. Mind you, while the joke works, it also flies in the face of efforts over the past year to depict Osborn as a master planner and manipulator.

Olivier Coipel is a big reason for my decision to peruse the pages of this second issue. I really enjoy his style. He brings a dynamic, larger-than-life look to super-hero characters that brings both intensity and fun energy to them. As such, as that disgusting eruption of blood and guts in this issue detracts from the appeal of his style. Mind you, he renders that… rendering incredibly well. Too well, truth be told. There’s too much detail in the gore. 4/10

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5 Responses to “Quick Critiques – Feb. 5, 2010”

  1. Court Says:

    I hated Siege #1 with a passion. Mostly because Bendis is capable of doing so much better. I thought issue #2 was a huge improvement though. The violence didn’t bother me so much and I like that Ares finally woke up and smelled the coffee (should have happened a long time ago). My only gripe is that he once again uses Captain America as his final image for the book. It’s getting a little old. We know he’s back. We know he’s pissed. Why don’t you show him doing something about it instead? It’s too bad because this time we got a great visual with the reflection of the shield closing in on his helmet. Too bad the moment has been spoiled by so many other last-page appearances.

  2. Don MacPherson Says:

    Good point, Court, about Marvel writers’ over-reliance on Cap as a cliffhanger/hook.

  3. Santiago Casares Says:

    Hey Don, Demo was originally published by AiT/Planetlar, and not Oni as you say in your review.

    I will need to get the comic this coming weekend, and look forward to going back into that world (of amazing short stories).

  4. Don MacPherson Says:

    Thanks for the correction, Santiago. Bad memory on my part, I guess. I’ll adjust the text to reflect the proper publisher for the first volume of Demo.

  5. franktiger Says:

    Re: Siege #2
    My question is what’s in the suitcase Jarvis gives him, and I thought the issue of who’s going to wield the shield was settled in one of those side one-shot issues.

    I still don’t get how Thor managed to get his ass kicked so bad, and then Maria comes in with just a bazooka and demolishes those who just kicked Thor’s ass.

    Not sure how is that Asgardian gods aren’t putting up more of a fight, I mean really, Norse gods should be able to crush with a blink of an eye if you know what I mean. I mean are just some of the Asgardian’s are actual gods, or are the majority of them simply ‘immortal’ warriors just because they don’t age like mortals do and really don’t have god-like powers?

    Coipel has to be hands-down one of the top 3 or 5 artists in the industry, as far as pound-for-pound talent, if there is such a thing with comic book artists per se, but I thought he was a little sloppy in his style in some of his panels just to be supercritical, especially in his rendering of the Sentry, who is turning out to be one menacing and dark anti-hero.