Quick Critiques – Sept. 9, 2007

30 Days of Night: Red Snow #1 (IDW Publishing)
by Ben Templesmith

IDW has really been pumping out the 30 Days of Night spinoff series since the success of the original title five years ago, and for a while, I gobbled them up. My interest in those stories waned, though. Obviously, with the advent of the 30 Days movie upon us, IDW is keeping the vampire stories flowing. Red Snow caught my attention, in part because it features the artwork of the original 30 Days artist Ben Templesmith. But what piqued my interest even more is the fact that Templesmith wrote this story as well. He does a great job with the property, offering up the strongest followup since the original limited series. He takes the reader to a different far-north setting from which the property derives its name, but he also takes the audience back in time as well. The result is a fresh take on the notion of vampires running amok during a lengthy arctic night. Three disparate groups — Russian Allied soldiers, German aggressors and frightened Russian villagers — face a horror even greater than the bloodshed of the Second World War. The vampires are clearly the antagonists, but even the victims/protagonists have distasteful souls among their numbers. It makes for a multi-faceted storytelling dynamic that sets Red Snow apart from typical horror fare. Of course, as anyone who’s checked out the original 30 Days of Night knows, Templesmith’s art is perfectly suited to bringing the dark setting and feral villains to life. He does a great job of conveying the remote and decades-old setting. Red Snow boasts an extensive cast of characters, and Templesmith’s three-pronged approach to the story makes for a riveting, unpredictable read. 9/10

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Day Traitor

Amazing Spider-Man #544
“One More Day, Part 1”
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Pencils: Joe Quesada
Inks: Danny Miki
Colors: Richard Isanove
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Cover artists: Joe Quesada/Marko Djurdjevic
Editor: Axel Alonso
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99 US/$4.75 CAN

Marvel gets its big Spider-Man event of 2007 underway with this issue of Amazing Spidey. There’s a problem, though… it seems as though this storyline has been underway for some time already. Writer J. Michael Straczynski fails to advance the plot in any meaningful way, making for a frustrating read for those who have been following the series. Straczynski and Marvel editorial seem far too focused on trying to make this Spider-Man story as plausible as possible, and that drive for realism just isn’t necessary. Quesada’s exaggerated approach to the artwork doesn’t suit the grounded tone for which the writer strives. He handles the larger-than-life qualities of super-heroes well, but when it comes to portraying the emotional turmoil of people rather than super-people, his effort falls flat.

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That’s the Waid – Uh-huh, Uh-huh – I Like It

Potter’s Field #1
Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Paul Azaceta
Colors: Nick Filardi
Letters: Ed Dukeshire
Cover artists: J.G. Jones/Paul Azaceta
Editor: Marshall Dillon
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Price: $3.99 US

Boom! Studios has been solid small publisher in the comics industry for a couple of years now, but it really turned some heads at Comic-Con International San Diego this year when it announced that fan-favorite writer and former DC editor (a lifetime ago, it seems) Mark Waid had signed on as the publisher’s new editor-in-chief. It certainly seemed like a solid move, given the attention that Waid’s high profile brought and the expertise he brings to the job as well. Potter’s Field is not only Boom’s first big release in the wake of that announcement, but it’s also penned by the new editor-in-chief as well. Needless to say, Boom! Studios has a lot riding on this comic book, and fortunately, it lives up to expectations. I think what I most appreciated about Potter’s Field, other than the entertaining crime-drama storytelling, is the fact that it doesn’t mark a significant shift in direction for the publisher. It already offered a diverse array of material in its lineup, and Potter’s Field is just the latest addition. If you haven’t bothered to check out a Boom! release before, Potter’s Field is a good place to start.

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Everybody Hurds

Pictures of You original graphic novel
Writer: Damon Hurd
Artist/Cover artist: Tatiana Gill
Publisher: Alternative Comics
Price: $11.95 US

It’s been far too long since we’ve seen new comics work from indy, slice-of-life writer Damon Hurd, but those of us familiar with his short but universally strong list of previous work can take solace in the fact that the wait is almost over. Later this month, Alternative Comics will release Pictures of You, a followup to Hurd and artist Tatiana Gill’s previous collaboration, A Strange Day. That previous project chronicled the first meeting of a couple of kindred spirits, the beginning of a beautiful love story. Pictures of You is a prequel, following the same characters as they follow separate, sad paths the year before. Gill’s art isn’t the sort of clean, tight work that manga and super-hero genre readers are accustomed to, but it’s grounded and honest, more than compensating for any superficial inconsistencies. Readers will be hard pressed to feel disconnected from this story. There are universal elements at play that makes Pictures of You a compelling read. One can easily relate to pieces of the various characters, but really, that comes as no surprise. It’s what Damon Hurd does best.

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The Book of Revelation (or Lack Thereof)

52 Aftermath: The Four Horsemen #1
“Resurrection”
Writer: Keith Giffen
Pencils: Pat Olliffe
Inks: John Stanisci
Colors: Hi-Fi
Letters: Pat Brosseau
Cover artist: Ethan Van Sciver
Editor: Michael Siglain
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.65 CAN

I really didn’t care all that much for the pseudo-nouveau Fourth World villains from 52, the Four Horsemen. Visually, the characters were a mess, and I felt they were built up so much that their quick demise made for an anti-climactic moment. Still, I’ve been a fan of Keith Giffen’s recent writing for Marvel (such as Drax the Destroyer and Annihilation: Conquest – Star-Lord), and I don’t think Pat Olliffe’s art has ever disappointed me. So I figured I’d give The Four Horsemen a chance. There’s some potential in the premise as it’s presented here, but ultimately, it’s hindered by an inaccessible script and what seems like a missed opportunity when it comes to marketing the book.

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Flea Market Finds: X-Men #121

Last week, the leaders of the three North American nations gathered in Montebello, Quebec to negotiate, prevaricate and masticate some fine food. It wasn’t big news in the United States, judging from the 24-hour news networks, but in these parts, it was a significant event (if only for the security scandal that arose, with undercover officers acting as protesters). As luck would have it, I happened upon a comic book from the late 1970s that featured an American-Canadian summit of a different sort: an X-Men/Alpha Flight free-for-all.

It wasn’t a flea-market find, per se. My local comic shop had a big sale a few days ago, unloading all of the comics in its back-issue bins for a buck. As I usually do when I luck upon such a bargain blowout, I seek out 1970s and ’80s comics. I selected a few interesting items, such as a Marvel Two-in-One Annual, an alcoholism-era Iron Man and a Two-Face spotlight in Batman. As I got toward the end of the line of boxes, I reached the Xs. X-Men comics usually don’t hold a lot of interest for me, but I noticed there were some Chris Claremont/John Byrne issues of X-Men among the back issues.

“Cal, the high-end back issues are exempt from the sale, right?” “Anything in those boxes — one dollar.” I have so few of these classic X-Men comics in my collection; I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity. I don’t care about the resale value; I’m not looking for eBay fodder. This was just a great opportunity to absorb some of the most fondly remembered super-hero storytelling of the era.

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Quick Critiques – Aug. 22, 2007

Birds of Prey #109 (DC Comics)
by Tony Bedard, Nicola Scott & Doug Hazlewood

The post-Gail Simone era for Birds of Prey begins, and writer Tony Bedard demonstrates he has a strong grip on the characters. The cover proclaims the central plotline to be Barbara and Dinah’s discussion of the latter’s possible nuptials, and while it’s nice to see such a conversational, slice-of-life notion at the forefront of a super-hero book, it really doesn’t ring true. Generally, people don’t flat out tell their friends that the loves of their lives are pigs. They may think it, but they don’t say it. Unfortunately, the real point of this issue seems to be addressing continuity points. Through Oracle, Bedard addresses the ugly history of the Black Canary/Green Arrow relationship, but only those up on those past stories will really appreciate the transgressions being discussed. Furthermore, Bedard deals with the apparent dissolution of Simone’s Secret Six (I assume, thanks to Deadshot’s renewed involvement with the Suicide Squad, as seen in Countdown). On top of that, the storyline that really drives this issue forward is the ongoing “Death of the New Gods” concept, launched in Countdown as well. With Knockout and Big Barda associated with this title, I suppose Birds of Prey was a logical venue for a tie-in, but it just doesn’t fit with the espionage riff that’s part and parcel of this property. Inexplicably, there’s no overt cue that this is a Countdown crossover issue or that it would be of interest to fans of the late Jack Kirby’s Fourth World characters. Nicola Scott’s art is straightforward; she’s offers standard super-hero visuals here. But the storytelling is solid, and she manages to convey the strength of the more experienced heroines and the innocence of the younger characters. 5/10 

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Super-Team Family

The Flash #231
“The Wild Wests, Part One: Growing Up Fast”
Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Daniel Acuna
Letters: Pat Brosseau
Cover artists: Acuna/Doug Braithwaite
Editor: Joan Hilty
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.65 CAN

Mark Waid’s return to this title and to the protagonist he molded into a fan favorite in the 1990s thankfully doesn’t result in a return to the same kinds of stories he told before with the help of such artists as Greg Laroque, Salvador Larroca, Paul Pelletier and the late, great Mike Wieringo. No, he’s opted to explore a completely different kind of dynamic with this turning point in the character’s four-color life. When Wally West took over the mantle of the Flash at first in the 1980s, the storytelling in this title revolved around him learning to be a man, bridging the divide between adolescence and adulthood. With Waid’s previous run on the book, we can assume Wally is well into his 20s and he’s learning to be a good man. Now, we have Wally in his 30s, learning to be a father. It’s a natural progression for the character (and for the readership, I would imagine), consistent with previous canon while providing a fresh take, distinct from previous incarnations.

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Settle Down

I read with some interest the details of the settlement agreement between Harlan Ellison and Fantagraphics Inc., bringing to an end the former’s defamation and “right-to-publicity” lawsuit against the publisher over two publications: The Comics Journal Library 6: The Writers and the forthcoming book Comics as Art: We Told You So. I’m not a lawyer; I defer to the assessments and judgments of legal matters to my barrister/solicitor girlfriend and law professor/scholar brother. However, I do spend some amount of time pouring over court documents in my capacity as a crime/courts reporter for a daily newspaper. It is from that perspective that I write the following about the Ellison/Fantagraphics settlement:

It’s weird.   

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Quick Critiques – Aug. 16, 2007

Batman #667 (DC Comics)
by Grant Morrison & J.H. Williams III

My God, how I’ve missed J.H. Williams’s art. It’s been more than two years since his and Alan Moore’s Promethea came to an end, and we’ve seen far too little of his work since that time. His contribution to this new story arc makes it clear just what we’ve been missing. He captures a sullen mood incredibly well while still presenting some of the super-hero characters as dramatically intense and dynamic. Williams manages to blend a mature, dark and modern tone with the campy qualities inherent in characters whose roots are firmly planted in the Silver Age. Williams makes the notion of grown men in silly warrior costumes seem plausible and almost normal. Dave Stewart’s dark, textured colors are almost solely responsible for the palpable tension throughout the book. Grant Morrison employs a classic mystery/thriller premise and some kitschy, obscure characters from yesteryear and takes them in an unusual direction. The writer opts to present some of the characters are impressive and imposing and others as laughing stocks, pale imitations of the accomplished men they once were or once believed themselves to be. I remember reading about the Batmen of All Nations from DC’s Who’s Who profile series in the 1980s, and I’m surprised Morrison was able to make use of them in such a dark story. In addition to the creepy mood, there’s a B-movie feel to the story as well that makes it all the more intriguing and entertaining. Morrison’s work on Batman has finally lived up to the promise we’d all hoped for when he was announced as the title’s writer. 9/10

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Mike Wieringo, 1963-2007

For me, it all started with The Flash #80 in late 1993.

I was never much of a Flash fan despite my love for DC’s super-hero comics ever since the late 1970s. I hadn’t been reading Mark Waid’s much-lauded run on the Scarlet Speedster’s title. If memory serves, it was Alan Davis’s cover artwork that drew my attention to the book, but it was Mike Wieringo’s vision of the fleet-footed hero within that held it. His original, lantern-jawed interpretation of the Flash may not have been consistent with the sleekness inherent in a speedster character, but it was striking and attractive. Wieringo brought a mythic, larger-than-life quality to the character that was tempered by the grounded characterization Waid provided. Wieringo also did an amazing job of capturing the speed and energy of the title character. Both he and Waid brought a renewed sense of wonder and traditional comics storytelling to bear in a series that still had plenty of appeal for readers looking for a little more depth from the genre as well. Wieringo wasn’t on the title for that long, not really, but he left a mark on it that’s undeniable. His short stint earned him a place among the most favored artists to handle the character, and it quickly established him as a star talent in the comics industry.

One of Wieringo’s biggest claims to fame was co-creating Bart Allen, AKA Impulse. It’s actually a bit disconcerting how soon after Bart’s life as a character came to an end in a two-dimensional world that his co-creator followed suit in the real world. Sure, by the time Bart’s number was up, he’d become the Flash after a few years as Kid Flash, but the character was never more interesting or loved than when he was Impulse.

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Drinking Games

The Naked Artist: Comic Book Legends
Writer: Bryan Talbot
Artist/Cover artist: Hunt Emerson
Publisher: Moonstone Books
Price: $11.95 US

One of my favorite memories from the Comic-Con International San Diego in 2003 was sitting on the balcony of the hotel room I shared with Randy Lander, drinking dirty rum, reminiscing and telling stories. I thought back on the times we worked for a couple of different website companies together, talked comics, talked about women and laughed about it all. That con also saw a couple of unusual incidents (mostly alcohol-related) that will no doubt serve as future balcony-conversation fodder. The Naked Artist is a collection of the kinds of stories that comics professionals tell one another and recall together, no doubt over fine food and drink. This prose collection of true stories and false but fabulous myths is made up of short essays and even shorter snippets of a few well-known but many unknown yarns about the trials, tribulations and terrors experienced by creators whose work comics fans adore.

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I Oni Have Eyes for You

What follows is a few Quick Critiques, which aren’t uncommon for this site. The difference this time is that all of the comics reviewed in this entry are published by Oni Press.

Oni may not be a Goliath in the comics industry, but it’s demonstrated over the past decade that’s definitely a David. Continue reading for brief reviews of brand new Oni offerings and one from earlier this year…

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Elementary, My Dear Watson

Glister #1
“Glister and the Haunted Teapot”
“Rock Scissors Paper” (Skeleton Key story)
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Andi Watson
Editor: Jamie S. Rich
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $5.99 US

Andi Watson is a versatile creator who knows how to reach a wide array of readers with a diverse lineup of book. I’ve been particularly fond of his adult, slice-of-life comics, such as Breakfast After Noon and Slow News Day. Glister is a different kind of comic, though, and not just in terms of its smaller format. Watson tackles an old-fashioned approach to children’s storytelling here, and it’s thoroughly charming. Though it’s labelled as a book for “all ages,” it’s really more geared toward the younger set. I was amused, though, and I actually got a kick reading it aloud, adopting different voices for the various characters. I don’t have kids, but I was practising for a far-off, hypothetical time when I will. Sadly, my attempt to sound like a young British girl failed; instead, my attempt at Glister Butterworth sounded like an old woman, perhaps one of the three crones from Macbeth. In any case, I had fun reading the first story, mainly from imagining the reactions of a younger reader. The book also served as my introduction to Watson’s Skeleton Key characters. Though it wasn’t as accessible as I might have liked, I definitely see the appeal of the property. Overall, this was a cute book, and it should appeal to fans of kids’ fantasy literature and comics such as Ted Naifeh’s Courtney Crumrin.

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Architectural Digesting

The Architect original graphic novella
Writer: Mike Baron
Artist/Cover artist: Andie Tong
Colors: Mike Kilgore
Letters: Scott Bieser
Publisher: Big Head Press
Price: $9.95 US

Mike Baron is an award-winning comics writer with whom newer readers might not be familiar, and to be honest, I don’t think I’ve read a lot of his work either. I’ve read precious little of The Badger, the character for which he is best known, and there hasn’t been that much Nexus material available in recent years either. I’ve probably most familiar with Baron as the first writer to take The Flash when the title was relaunched in the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths in the late 1980s, featuring the Wally West incarnation of the character. With this small-press project, Baron clearly demonstrates that he’s comfortable as a writer outside the super-hero genre. The Architect is an entertaining horror story, and with it, Baron shows that he has a soft spot for the horror comics of yesteryear and cheesy but amusing horror flicks as well. The plot hinges on a lot of coincidences, but they work within the context of the supernatural elements of the plot. Where this project goes awry is with its visuals. British artist Andie Tong offers some solid work here, but his style strikes me as a poor match for the darker tone for which the story strives.

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