Quick Critiques – Sept. 21, 2006

Civil War #4 (Marvel Comics)
by Mark Millar, Steve McNiven & Dexter Vines

Remember Avengers #500-503?  The “Disassembled” story arc? And Identity Crisis? This issue of Civil War reminds me of those stories quite a bit, mainly because the plot is mired in the unnecessary and difficult-to-accept deaths of several characters, more for impact than anything else. This issue has already irked a number of readers, though I would imagine the ill will that its lateness fostered might have something to do with it. After reading this issue, I was a bit torn. There were elements I just didn’t buy — such as Reed’s and Tony’s willingness to accept that former allies would have to die for their cause, not to mention their new “recruits,” as revealed on the final page. But other elements in the book are strong. We finally get to see the long-promised rift in the Fantastic Four, and it’s a subplot in which the character of the Invisible Woman really shines. And McNiven’s art is, as always, powerfully detailed and effective in conveying the dire atmosphere of the story. In the end, though, the plot is quickly losing credibility despite some interesting character bits. 5/10 

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A British Invasion

Union Jack v.2 #1
“Enemies of the Crown”
Writer: Christos N. Gage
Pencils/Cover artist: Mike Perkins
Inks: Andrew Hennessy
Colors: Laura Villari
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Editor: Andy Schmidt
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.75 CAN

I stopped following Ed Brubaker’s Captain America run a couple of issues ago. Though I enjoyed the Winter Soldier subplot, the whole Invaders story arc struck me as just a rehash of past stories (as did the Cosmic Cube’s incorporation into the plot earlier in the series). As a result, my interest in this new Union Jack limited series was somewhat minimal, but when I heard about writer Christos Gage’s use of Israeli and Arab heroes in the story, my interest was piqued. I’m pleased I picked this book up. Politics are front and centre in this story, not the title character’s history. Gage has developed a plot that allows for the color and fun of super-hero action with the tension and intellect of a political thriller. I was also pleased to find that one needn’t have read recent issues of Cap (or any past Invaders comics) to follow this story.

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Eye on Comics – An Introduction

Welcome to Eye on Comics, my latest foray into online commentary about comics.  I’m Don MacPherson, perhaps best known as half of the reviewing team responsible for The Fourth Rail, my previous comics review website with partner Randy Lander.

Randy and I decided (independently of one another, actually) last month we were both tired of The Fourth Rail format and wanted to start fresh.  Randy and some friends down in Austin, Texas, had an idea for a new site that evolved into the already-popular ComicPants.com.  I also wanted to rebrand and start fresh, but I was looking to go in a different direction than Randy.

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Criminal Tendencies

Criminal #1
“Coward, Part One of Five”
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist/Cover artist: Sean Phillips
Colors: Val Staples
Publisher: Marvel Comics/Icon imprint
Price: $2.99 US/$3.75 CAN

Those who have read Ed Brubaker’s foray into the espionage genre (by way of super-heroes and villains, in Sleeper) won’t be surprised at how well he pulls off a journey through an urban underworld in his latest project, Criminal.  This is classic Brubaker writing… dark, intense and engaging.  Actually, the writing seems so much like what we’ve seen from Brubaker in the past, it borders on the derivative.  Fortunately, it’s really good derivative stuff.  It may not be rare in the context of Brubaker’s comics CV.  And while there are other strong crime comics on the go right now, the genre’s not so prevalent that it doesn’t need another strong member among its ranks.

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Life Irritates Art

I don’t really need to review True Story, Swear to God v.2 #1. I’ve made my feelings about Tom Beland’s autobiographical, slice-of-life romance comic known time and time again.  I adore True Story, and I relate to much of what Beland explores in the book.  I’m thrilled that his self-published comic series is about to reach a wider audience with the release of a relaunch through Image Comics.  It’s bound to boost True Story‘s profile significantly, hopefully appealing to the cartooning fans of such other Image titles as Liberty Meadows and PvP.

So no, this is not a review of the new debut issue.  Instead, I want to explore a question that’s rather unique to this comic series: is True Story the same series that it was when it began?  And the truth is that no, it’s not the same book, but it has nothing to do with how Beland writes it now, how he illustrates it or how he markets it.

The change comes in the perspective of some of his readers, namely, those who are aware of the shift in Beland’s life today, as opposed to the past experiences that unfold in the comic.  Beland announced this year that he and wife Lily Garcia had split, albeit on amicable terms.  Developments in the creators’ personal lives are never a concern when it comes to one’s enjoyment of their comic-book storytelling, but in this case, it does have an effect.  You see, True Story is, among other things, a romance comic, and now, the readership knows the ending it was expecting for the autobio title will not come to pass.

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History Lessons

Island of Terror: Battle of Iwo Jima original graphic novella
Writer: Larry Hama
Artist: Anthony Williams
Cover artist: Gary Erskine
Publisher: Osprey Publishing
Price: $9.95 US/$13.95 CAN

This may strike some readers as shocking, even shameful, but my initial education on the Second World War stemmed from comics, specifically from Roy Thomas’s All-Star Squadron. As a result of my participation in a French immersion program throughout my grade-school years, my social studies courses were all presented in French. That meant a focus on Acadian and Quebecois history. World wars weren’t a big part of the curriculum. With this project and others, Osprey Publishing sets out to combine comics storytelling with history education, specifically when it comes to teaching younger readers about significant armed conflicts, key battles from world-changing wars. This graphic novella about the Battle of Iwo Jima is the fifth in the Osprey Graphic History series.

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Quick Critiques – Sept. 19, 2006

52 Week Nineteen (DC Comics)
by Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Keith Giffen, Patrick Olliffe, Drew Geraci & Brian Bolland

This stands out as the strongest issue of the series to date, mainly because it offers such a surprise and establishes a thoroughly creepy tone in a character that was practically invisible up until now. Based on the cover, I had thought this would be about the creation of a new Booster Gold, but instead, it seems a conspiracy of sorts is emerging. Olliffe’s art is perfect for this series, walking a fine line between a brighter, more traditional super-hero tone and a slightly darker, grittier atmosphere. The Brian Bolland art on the two-page Animal Man origin backup was a real treat.  Bolland offered up great covers on Grant Morrison’s Animal Man for years, so it was a special treat to see him illustrated actual interiors, even if it was only two pages. 7/10  

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Letter Bugs – Titan Talk

There’s no denying the importance of Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s New Teen Titans/Tales of the Teen Titans comics of the 1980s.  Not only have those stories heavily influenced the recent Cartoon Network Teen Titans series (and movie), but the characterization and concepts are still being felt today.  Furthermore, DC has announced that among its direct-to-video animation plans are a faithful adaptation of “The Judas Contract,” a classic story arc from 1984.

I was thumbing through my copies of the original comics, enjoying the rediscovery of the writing and art.  I also discovered something else — some familiar names in the letters column.  Welcome to another edition of Letter Bugs, in which we explore the fan letters of yesteryear written by the comics industry pros of today.

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The Mane Attraction

Pride of Baghdad original graphic novel
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist/Cover artist: Nico Henrichon
Letters: Todd Klein
Editor: Will Dennis
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo imprint
Price: $19.99 US/$26.99 CAN

As U.S. casualities continue to mount in Iraq and the issue impacts the upcoming elections, it comes as no surprise that Pride of Baghdad is turning heads.  All I needed to know was that it was being penned by Brian K. Vaughan.  From his super-hero stuff to more thought-provoking fare in Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina, Vaughan rarely, if ever, disappoints, and this original graphic novel isn’t about to put a dent in that winning streak.  Still, Pride surprised me a bit, as what makes the script interesting is a dichotomous approach that balances harsher story elements with a genuinely innocent tone, something I didn’t expect from this writer.

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The Doctor Is Id

Dr. Id, Psychologist of the Supernatural
Writer: Adam McGovern
Artist/Cover artist: Paolo Leandri
Publisher: Indie Ink Studios
Price: $2 US (ashcan)/$2.95 US (comic)

This mini-comic showed up in mailbox not long ago, but it turns out it’s not a mini-comic, but a preview ashcan of a standard-sized comic due for release later this fall.  A superficial glance led me to believe that this was another amateur effort, full of energy and love for the medium but low on skill.  But a closer look revealed the opposite.  Dr. Id is an odd marriage of satire, offering sendups of Silver Age comics storytelling and touchy-feely pseudo-psychology of the 21st century.  That two-pronged appeal is the property’s greatest strength, giving it two chances to connect with readers.

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The Wonder Jeers

In my capacity as a comics critic, news releases from publishers, big and small, and creators make their way into my Inbox.  Since I don’t have a news section, I rarely pay them much heed, but one I received last month caught my eye…

“FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: DC COMICS TO PUBLISH ALL STAR WONDER WOMAN BY NEWLY-EXCLUSIVE SUPERSTAR CREATOR ADAM HUGHES”

Hughes’s involvement in an All-Star Wonder Woman project had been rumored for some time, so it was quite the anti-climactic announcement, especially given that the comic book isn’t slated for release until summer 2007.  But this news release was interesting in that its chosen focus is surprising, given the overall context of the project.

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Trials Judged

Trials of Shazam #1
“The Boy and the Man”
Writer: Judd Winick
Artist/Cover artist: Howard Porter
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Editor: Mike Carlin
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$4 CAN

I’ve never been a big fan of the original Captain Marvel.  Though in part the ultimate in childhood wish fulfillment, he was also a clear knockoff of Superman (if memory serves, a court even ruled as much decades ago).  Both the Big Red Cheese and the Man of Steel of whitebread pillars of strength and speed, both with rogues’ galleries full of mad scientists and monsters.  With Trials of Shazam, writer Judd Winick addresses that redundancy, focuses on the main difference between the pair and reworks Captain Marvel into a different kind of hero with a different kind of mission.  It’s a smart move, but I wonder if DC will stick with it in the long term (especially with a Jeff Smith Shazam! project in the future) or allow the changes to last solely for the 12-issue of this limited series.

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