Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Quick Critiques – Aug. 16, 2014

Posted by Don MacPherson on August 16th, 2014

Avengers World #11 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Nick Spencer & Raffaele Ienco

A few days ago, I praised the writing in another Avengers title, noting Jonathan Hickman’s of an impossible but intriguing ethical question really served as a nice payoff of his run on that title. Avengers World features another one of Hickman’s larger-than-life Avengers concepts, but this one is at the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of strength. Written by Nick Spencer (with whom Hickman co-wrote this title for a time), it features the young future heroes from the Avengers Next direct-to-video animated movie coming back to the past to save the day in one facet of the multiple-hotspot crisis the title team has been facing over the course of this title. This aspect of the conflict with A.I.M. is resolved thanks to a miraculous plot device that I would imagine any hero, not only those travelling through time, could have employed. Why these future heroes had to come back to deal with the crisis is never made clear. Furthermore, while we’re meant to believe it, they’re never portrayed as particularly more powerful or adept than their present-day predecessors in the Avengers dynasties. Read the rest of this entry »

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Assault on the Senses

Posted by Don MacPherson on August 13th, 2014

Batman: Assault on Arkham direct-to-video animated movie
Writer: Heath Corson
Voice actors: Kevin Conroy, Neal McDonough, Hynden Walch, Troy Baker, CCH Pounder, John DiMaggio, Jennifer Hale, Giancarlo Esposito, Greg Ellis & Nolan North
Directors: Jay Oliva & Ethan Spaulding
Producer: Warner Bros. Animation/Warner Premiere Home Video
Rating: PG-13

I was a huge fan of John Ostrander and the late Kim Yale’s Suicide Squad series of the 1980s, and with that in mind, I was rather looking forward to Warner Animation’s latest DC-based direct-to-video release. Despite Batman’s top billing, Assault on Arkham is definitely a Suicide Squad/Task Force X flick (set in the Batman’s video-game universe), and in several ways, the filmmakers get a number of elements of the super-villain strike force concept right. But it misses the mark in others. Ultimately, the most disappointing aspects of the movie are the gratuitous sexual elements when it comes to the female characters and the over-the-top, in-your-face violence. This could have and should have been a much more palatable entertainment experience, and it could have been so without losing the property’s dark edge. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Unthinkable

Posted by Don MacPherson on August 11th, 2014

Variant coverNew Avengers #22
“We Are Not Brothers”
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Kev Walker
Colors: Frank Martin
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Cover artists: Dale Keown
Editors: Tom Brevoort & Wil Moss
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US

This issue of Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers (which really ought to be titled Marvel’s Illuminati, because this group’s actions aren’t really those of heroic Avengers) struck me as a particularly noteworthy one. In terms of story, it’s one of the strongest episodes in the run, getting to the heart of the real conflict this gathering of Larger Than Life Men has contended with from the start of the series. And visually, it stands out as one of the weakest of the run, in that the style in which the characters are presented this time is a wholly conventional one for the genre. Hickman sums up the central theme of this series perfectly here, but artist Kev Walker’s approach to this sullen and dramatic script seems like a poor fit for the subject matter. Read the rest of this entry »

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Quick Critiques – Aug. 4, 2014

Posted by Don MacPherson on August 4th, 2014

Variant coverJustice League #32 (DC Comics)
by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke & Keith Champagne

I lost interest in Geoff Johns’s take on DC’s premier super-hero team in the buildup to the “Trinity War” storyline and paid it little heed during the Forever Evil event. However, the ideas that emerged in Justice League in the wake of the crossover definitely piqued my interest. Though it’s been a surprisingly slow build (given it’s a fair accompli in promotional material on other DC titles), the incorporation of Lex Luthor and Captain Cold as members of the League is definitely an unconventional development for mainstream super-hero team comics. We’re not talking about reformed villains joining a team, a la Cap’s Kooky Quarter in Avengers in the Silver Age. Instead, we have two men are still clearly in villain mode making the shift. I’m also enjoying Johns’s introduction of the Doom Patrol in the New 52. the characters are all likeable and generically heroic, but it’s the take on the Chief as having an agenda driven by personal interest rather than altruism that stands out. Slight tweaks to the characters of Elasti-Girl and Negative Man make the characters even more tragic and even just a little bit creepy. Read the rest of this entry »

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Still Crazy After All These Years

Posted by Don MacPherson on August 2nd, 2014

Variant coverBodies #1
Writer: Si Spurrier
Artists: Meghan Hetrick, Dean Ormston, Tula Lotay & Phil Winslade
Colors: Lee Loughridge
Letters: Dezi Sienty & Taylor Esposito
Cover artists: Fiona Stephenson (regular)/David Finch (variant)
Editor: Shelly Bond
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo imprint

Vertigo has become a very different entity than it was when it was first formed. The days of long-running horror or mature-readers titles penned by stalwart talent are over (or at least are coming to an end), and instead, it seems to be populated by various limited series and one-shots. Fortunately, as the Eisner-winning The Wake recently demonstrated, it can still be home to some unconventional and even challenging storytelling. The first issue of Si Spurrier’s Bodies seems like the beginnings of a similarly strong and intriguing story. The premise of a serial killer’s activities spanning decades and even centuries is a decent hook but didn’t seem altogether novel, but Spurrier populates this comic with a number of strong character studies that make me want to see more. Read the rest of this entry »

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12 Per Cent of a Plan

Posted by Don MacPherson on August 1st, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy
Actors: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Lee Pace, Karen Gillan, Michael Rooker, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio Del Toro, Djimon Hounsou and the voices of Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel and Josh Brolin
Director: James Gunn
Writers: James Gunn & Nicole Perlman
Studio: Marvel Studios
Rating: PG

It didn’t disappoint.

To say I was looking forward to this movie is an understatement. Like many comics fans, Guardians of the Galaxy held a special place in my heart because it was a major movie release featuring something other than household names in terms of comics characters. As such, I did something last night I never do: I went to an opening-night showing. The plotting here is by the numbers, but the cast and dialogue really help this movie stand out. It’s a safe bet it’ll be an eternal favorite, the kind of flick that one would eagerly sit for multiple viewings. Read the rest of this entry »

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Quick Critiques – July 28, 2014

Posted by Don MacPherson on July 28th, 2014

Variant coverAfterlife with Archie #6 (Archie Comics)
by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa & Francesco Francavilla

In a way, this is the most interesting issue of the series thus far since the first, mainly because writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa shifts horror sub-genres here with his focus on Sabrina the Teenage Witch. After its hiatus, the title moves from zombie apocalypse to a thoroughly Lovecraftian conflict. I’m a bit surprised the writer didn’t opt for slightly veiled references to the Cthulhu literary legend, but here, he’s opted not just to lift the veil but to shred it and burn it. It lets the reader know exactly where s/he stands, which puts the audience well ahead of our heroine. I like the psychological horror here, and the mystery of exactly what’s befallen Sabrina. Aguirre-Sacasa even manages to inject some of the more mature, darker character exploration of these Archie Comics icons. Unfortunately, I don’t know enough about Sabrina for it really to resonate. Other than her aunts and Salem, I don’t have a clue about her supporting cast. Read the rest of this entry »

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Out of Africa

Posted by Don MacPherson on July 23rd, 2014

Tüki #1
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Jeff Smith
Publisher: Cartoon Books
Price: $3.99 US

Jeff Smith is a member of select club of comics creators who have worked almost exclusive for themselves, who focus their efforts on creator-owned properties and have managed to find great success with work they’ve written and illustrated themselves. Smith, with his epic Bone, has already carved out a spot of honor for himself in the history of the medium alongside such stalwart talents as Dave Sim, Terry Moore and more. But fortunately for those of us who appreciate his craft. I also appreciate the breadth of genres and material he’s opted to explore over his career. I’m pleased (but not surprised) to report Tüki boasts the same sense of wonder and humor that made Smith’s landmark Bone such a success. Tüki stands apart from the original runs of its older siblings in that it’s being presented in full color, and it’s a wise choice. The format for this comic is also a noteworthy difference. Tüki offers just about everything Smith’s fans love about his storytelling, but it still finds ways to do it in new ways. Hopefully, its release on the same day that this year’s Comic Con International opens in San Diego will ensure it’s not overlooked by a wider audience. Read the rest of this entry »

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Flea Market Finds: Spirits of the Earth

Posted by Don MacPherson on July 19th, 2014

Spider-Man: Spirits of the Earth original hardcover graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Charles Vess
Letters: Gaspar Saladino
Editor: Jim Salicrup
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $18.95 US/$22.95 CAN/£11.50 UK

The local Sunday flea market was defunct for a few weeks as it searched for a new venue, its previous locale becoming unavailable to it a little while ago. It found its summer home at a downtown curling club, and when I drove by a couple of times, the parking lot indicated sparse attendance. A few weeks ago, I found myself in the area on a Sunday afternoon, and looking at the time, I realized there was about a half hour left before it wrapped for the day. I had nothing on the agenda at that moment, so I pulled in and checked it out. There wasn’t much in the way of comics to be found. I saw one vendor who specialized in some back issues, all priced pretty too high. One doesn’t go into a flea market looking for comics valued by means of a price guide. One is after bargains; once in a blue moon, I haul some boxes to the flea market and blow them out, most of them for 50 cents apiece.

On my way out after a quick 10-minute reconnaissance of the market, I spied something on a table just 15 feet from the door. It looked like Spider-Man, and it looked like a book, so I took a closer look. Sitting there in pretty good shape was a hardcover copy of Spider-Man: Spirits of the Earth, a graphic novel of which I was aware in mostly a passing fashion. On top of that, it was a first printing of the 1990 book. The dust jacket showed a little wear but no tears, marred only by what I assumed was dried little bits of Play-Doh that flaked off easily. The price tag: three bucks. With only minutes left before the venue closed, I offered the grizzled old guy behind the table two, and he accepted. I fished a toonie out of my pocket, gave it to him and made off with what I felt was practically treasure (at least at that price). Read the rest of this entry »

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Admit It, You’ve Always Wanted to Get Into My Pants…

Posted by Don MacPherson on July 18th, 2014

Just about everyone I know is well aware of what a huge comic-book enthusiast I am. My friends, my colleagues at work, strangers on the Internet — my comic-geek cred is apparent for all to see. As a kid, it was something I often kept to myself, but the 21st century has brought about an acceptance of geek culture, as non-comics readers have shown interest ranging from mild curiosity to hearty embracing of the medium for which I have such a passion. Those closest to me accept and acknowledge my interest, and in recent years, I’ve almost always received a few comics-related Christmas gifts — from my wife, my parents, even my mother-in-law. It’s genuinely touching.

But over the holidays in 2013, my now-four-year-old gave me what may be my favorite comics-connected present ever: Superman underpants. Read the rest of this entry »

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Quick Critiques – July 17, 2014

Posted by Don MacPherson on July 17th, 2014

Dark Engine #1 (Image Comics)
by Ryan Burton & John Bivens

Image Comics has garnered a strong reputation for superb, cutting-edge comics, but the titles that get the most attention, understandably, are those by established talents in the comics industry. So it’s easy to sometimes overlook other titles being offered by newer names, relative unknowns. Dark Engine is one such comic book, and it shows a lot of promise, both from writer Ryan Burton and artist John Bivens. Dark Engine kind of strikes me like a cross between East of West and Prophet. It’s got an interesting contrast going between a cerebral tone and a sense of brutality and savagery that grabs the reader’s attention. The purple prose that characterizes the narration and the dialogue for the dragon figure at the beginning of the book is, I have to admit, a bit off-putting. I was immediately taken back to a number of Thor stories set in Asgard that I didn’t like — too many flourishes and lofty phrases in the script. The human characters who appear later in the issue temper that a bit, as they speak more normally, offering just a hint of something familiar with which the audience can connect. The use of lower-case lettering for the narrative captions is an unfortunate choice, as the font doesn’t work well with the harshness of the premise and book’s overall look. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mushroommate

Posted by Don MacPherson on July 16th, 2014

Seconds original hardcover graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Bryan Lee O’Malley
Drawing assistant: Jason Fischer
Colors: Nathan Fairbairn
Letters: Dustin Harbin
Publisher: Ballantine Books/Penguin Random House
Price: $25 US

Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim books are undeniably a master work in the medium of comics, and I fully appreciated his approach in those books. That being said, they weren’t graphic novels that really clicked for me, though it was certainly no fault of O’Malley’s. The young, slacker, characters and the immersion in gamer culture were just so alien to me. I didn’t and couldn’t connect with the title character and his world. Nevertheless, I was anticipating this new O’Malley project just as much as other comics enthusiasts. Imagine my pleasure and surprise to find one of the key elements emerging in its opening pages was the protagonist’s sense of generational isolation from the younger people working in her restaurant. I immediately connected with Katie, and the message at the heart of this book is a philosophy I’ve observed for years, ever since my professional and personal lives came into focus in my 30s. Read the rest of this entry »

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Letter Bugs – Anderson Laments the End of Marvel

Posted by Don MacPherson on July 13th, 2014

The world of comic books is made up of two separate but equally important groups: the people who work in comics and the fans who read them. Sometimes, members of the latter group cross over and end up working in the industry. And occasionally, in the letter columns of back issues, one can find fan letters written by these readers-turned-pros. These are their stories. (Apologies to Law & Order.)

It’s been almost four years (!) since I last explored this feature, but some time spent sifting through a box of assorted back issue picked up at a flea market brought me back to a bunch of letter pages, and to a couple of pre-pro fan letters. The last time I wrote about these little lettercol treasures, we visited with Astro City writer Kurt Busiek long before he broke into the comics industry. This time, his Astro City artistic collaborator steps into the “Letter Bugs” spotlight. Read the rest of this entry »

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Artful Dodges

Posted by Don MacPherson on July 12th, 2014

I’ve grown more and more interested in collecting original comic art over the past couple of years, and I’m slowly gathering a collection of original pages. My budget is limited, so I’m always on the lookout for bargains. I’ve managed to land some great deals by keeping a close eye on eBay listings, and I’ve managed to pick up quite a few pages for less than $100 apiece on the auction site. In my quest for those bargains (and as part of my general interest in the hobby and market), I think I’ve managed to develop a general sense of appropriate ranges of values for many kinds of pages by various artists. So when I happened upon a listing for a Captain America page from 1992, pencilled by the late Rik Levins, I was taken aback. Read the rest of this entry »

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Quick Critiques – July 10, 2014

Posted by Don MacPherson on July 10th, 2014

Daredevil #5 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Mark Waid & Chris Samnee

Daredevil, as guided by Mark Waid and his creative partners on these various series, continues to stand out as one of Marvel’s best titles, mixing Silver Age fun and traditions with more modern, sophisticated sensibilities. That being said, this was one of the more lackluster issues in Waid’s tenure. This episode answers the question as to how and why Foggy Nelson’s death was faked in between the previous series and this relaunched one, but it wasn’t such a deep mystery that it required a full flashback issue. Still, there are some strong characterization bits to be found here. I am starting to get a bit tired of Waid’s repeated use of the original Ant-Man as a cure-all for any sci-fi/super-hero-genre plotting challenge that arises. If Waid took the time to foster a stronger link between the title character and Hank Pym, a developing friendship, his repeated appearances mightn’t seem so jarring. Mind you, I can’t deny that Waid’s use of a wider and more colorful array of characters and concepts from across the Marvel Universe in Daredevil’s previously small little corner of it continues to entertain.

Samnee’s art is a wonderful match to that more wondrous feel. Most striking visually in this issue was his depiction of Foggy, thin and frail but not seemingly deathly ill. He seems so much like a regular guy, and the way his body moves under Samnee’s hand looks quite natural. Read the rest of this entry »

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