All posts by Don MacPherson

Quick Critiques – July 3, 2007

Fantastic Four #547 (Marvel Comics)
by Dwayne McDuffie, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar

McDuffie is in the midst of one of the most fun Fantastic Four stints I’ve had the pleasure of reading, and he manages to pull off the impossible. He handles the Torch/Thing interplay incredibly well, but he also manages to make the Black Panther and Storm funny as well. The science-fiction elements he brings to the mix are as inventive as anything one would find in a Warren Ellis script, and McDuffie manages to offer a nice blend of wholesome, playful super-hero fun with some compelling moments of drama and tension as well. McDuffie brings a classic sensibility to the title team despite the unconventional nature of the lineup, and the sense of wonder is infectious. The writer acknowledges other developments in Marvel continuity as of late (such as Civil War and the Marvel Zombies story arc from Black Panther), but knowledge of those minor footnotes aren’t required to appreciate this story. I was surprised that he decided to bring the new FF together with Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman so soon after the team was rearranged, but I love that Reed doesn’t actually interfere with the new leadership dynamic. Pelletier’s art is a perfect match to the enthusiasm and bright, flashy super-hero action upon which the plot is constructed. The cosmic sequences look great and show the artist’s imagination, but he manages to catch the reader’s eye with the characters’ personalities in the everyday sequences. I’m at a loss, however, why Marvel has decided to adorn these comics with covers by Michael Turner. His sleek style (which is thankfully not as sexed here for this cover as it usually is) emphasizes intensity and a certain Kewl factor that just isn’t in keeping with what readers can find beyond the cover art. 8/10

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Poison Pens

Poison: The Cure #1
“Chapter One”
Writer: Jad Ziade
Artist/Cover artist: Alex Cahill
Publisher: New Radio Comics
Price: $9 US

The last time I came across Alex Cahill’s sequential storytelling was in the odd and frustrating graphic novella The Last Island. It was something of a storytelling experiment, as it explored the notion of a silent parable in comic-book form. It was intriguing but ultimately didn’t appeal to me. With this latest project, Cahill steps aside and lets someone else do the writing, and the wordless approach is cast aside as well. Poison the Cure seems on the surface to be something of a take on an environmental cautionary tale, but in reality, it’s more about the ethics of legitimate rebellion. Writer Jad Ziade explores pits the concept of non-violent protest against protection of self and others by any means necessary. What makes the story interesting are the more grounded moments the characters share, but interfering with the effectiveness of that side of the story are the science-fiction elements. It’s not at all clear why the framing sequence, set in the future, is necessary, and the sci-fi side of the main story is so subtle that I wonder why it was included as well. Poison the Cure is certainly an ambitious project with plenty of potential, but the execution feels a bit off.

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Rotten to the Corps

Green Lantern Sinestro Corps Special #1
“Sinestro Corps, Prologue: The Second Rebirth”
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist/Cover artist: Ethan Van Sciver
Colors: Mouse Baumann
Letters: Rob Leigh
Editor: Peter Tomasi
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $4.99 US/$5.99 CAN

Crisis on Infinite Earths. “The Death of Superman.” “Emerald Twilight.” “The Return of Superman.” Green Lantern: Rebirth. Villains United. Infinite Crisis. Ion. 52 #52. These stories and more are really required reading if one wants to fully appreciate the various continuity references that turn up in this new Green Lantern story. Johns’s script is incredibly dense, and even those with knowledge of the DC history at play here might be a little put off. To the writer’s credit, though, a creepy atmosphere of intense foreboding manages to pierce that wall of potential inaccessibility to pull the reader into the prelude to a cosmic war. The plot here may be dressed up with the notions of ideology, prophecy and emotion, but it’s actually quite simple: opposite numbers are getting ready to rumble. No, the book derives its strength not from plot but from atmosphere. Ethan Van Sciver’s dark artwork goes a long way to enhancing the tense and unsettling mood that pervades almost every moment in the story.

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The Music Man

Phonogram Vol. 1: Rue Britannia trade paperback
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist/Cover artist: Jamie McKelvie
Letters: Jamie McKelvie & Drew Gill
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $14.99 US

Though lauded by many, Phonogram has also been the target of criticism. Writer Kieron Gillen’s been accused of immersing the plot in far too many music references, ranging from the somewhat mainstream to the obscure. I have to admit that I didn’t pick up on the majority of the band and musician references that serve as important elements when it came to the plot and characters. Nevertheless, that insider, inaccessible perspective didn’t deter me. Gillen’s powerful characterization and novel ideas, combined with Jamie McKelvie’s soft but solid artwork, make for an engaging read. This story isn’t really about Britpop, undiscovered bands or music as magic. Instead, it’s about art being corrupted, manipulated from something that inspires, something one loves, into something to be used for personal gain, for ego. We’ve all got our passions, things we love that, in part, make us who we are, and Gillen’s story is about what happens when a warm, soothing passion turned into a cold, hard weapon.

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Annotations – Justice League of America #10

With this week’s release of Justice League of America #10, Brad Meltzer and Geoff Johns’s JLA/JSA/Legion of Super-Heroes teamup tale comes to a close. And that means I have one last installment of my “Lightning Saga” annotations to share. The two writers, with their scripts for this event, have mined some somewhat obscure veins of continuity, and these notes should help some newer readers make sense of the story. For the previous four sets of these annotations, you can click here, here, here and here. Otherwise, let’s proceed with the final set in the series…

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Quick Critiques – June 20, 2007

Annihilation: Conquest Prologue #1 (Marvel Comics)
by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Mike Perkins

Though Civil War lit up the sales charts for Marvel in 2006 and 2007, one could easily argue that its Annihilation brand was a bigger success. The various Annihilation limited series didn’t sell Civil War numbers, but the creators behind those titles managed to grab readers’ attention with a number of third-tier, space-faring characters that no one really cared about at the time. The first round of Annihilation was so successful that it spawned a new hit ongoing title (Nova) and this sequel event. My concern was that the writers would tread the same territory as before, but Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning introduce a creepy new threat. The tension in this script is palpable, and it really draws one into this cosmic drama. More importantly, though, the writers are careful to bring these impossible heroes down to earth. With the new Quasar, they do so with her relationship with Moondragon and her insecurities about living up to heroic legacies. With Star-Lord, it’s his charisma and humor that make the cybernetically enhanced hero seem like a regular guy. Mike Perkins was an excellent choice as artist. His style brings a dark sense of drama to bear as well as a creepy, almost supernatural air to it. More importantly, the photorealistic leanings in his art makes these alien beings seem like people, not impossible figures on the far side of the universe. The design for the physical manifestation of the technological infection that drives the story forward is simple but thoroughly effective in instilling a sense of foreboding. it also makes it clear to the characters and readers that the infestation is deeply rooted and seemingly impossible to overcome. 8/10

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Paradise Lost

Strangers in Paradise #90
Writer/Artist/Letters/Cover artist: Terry Moore
Publisher: Abstract Studios
Price: $2.99 US/$4 CAN

My one-time reviewing partner Randy Lander introduced me to the world of Strangers in Paradise a few years ago, and I was immediately drawn into Terry Moore’s unique love story. Predominantly about a romantic triangle, the story also boasted crime-story elements, sitcom-like humor and even a touch of espionage-genre intrigue. I followed the series religiously for a while, even during its stint at Image Comics, but eventually, it felt as though nothing was getting resolved. After a move and a missed issue or two, I lost touch with the title altogether. With the release of its final issue, though, I jumped at the chance to revisit these characters and see the ultimate culmination of Moore’s vision for his cherished characters, Katchoo, Francine and David. This concluding issue held a couple of surprises, but more importantly, it offered exactly the sort of ending I would imagine fans desired. In some ways, Moore’s wrap-up seems too neat. The ever-after proves to be a little too happy. On the other hand, there’s such a pure, hopeful tone to the script that one can’t help but become infected by the joy. As enjoyable as the ending is, what’s most impressive is the series as a whole. Terry Moore is to be applauded for delivering this title consistently and reliably for so many years, all on his own.

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Quick Critiques – June 14, 2007

Countdown #46 (DC Comics)
by Paul Dini, Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray & Jesus Saiz/by Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund

You’d be hard pressed to find a bigger fan of DC Universe characters than me, and I love to see lesser known characters put to use in adventure stories and cosmic crossovers. So Countdown should be firing on all cylinders as far as I’m concerned, right? Wrong. This sixth issue of DC’s current weekly series disappoints in a number of ways. The more traditional tone to the super-hero story is lost when we see Mary marvel against a demon made up with the souls of stillborn babies. Stillborn babies? Who thought that was a good idea for a mainstream DC super-hero book? To be fair, it’s an interesting concept and definitely evokes an emotional response from the reader, but it would be more at home in a Swamp Thing or Hellblazer comic from DC’s Vertigo imprint. The new character introduced in this issue, Forerunner, doesn’t stand out in any way. All we know of her is that she’s a speedster, but the design looks generic inspired by the empty, Kewl mode of super-hero comics of the early 1990s. I remain interested in the Jimmy Olsen plotline, and Jason Todd’s detective skills help him stand out as an interesting character. I’m also a fan of the Flash’s Rogues Gallery, but the writers prove with this issue that including Piper among their number once again just doesn’t jibe with past continuity. Saiz’s art is pretty solid here, especially the Mary Marvel scenes (and his design for the unsettling demon is quite powerful). The “History of the Multiverse” backup story just doesn’t work in this format. The cosmic recap of DC’s past just doesn’t work in four-page spurts. Furthermore, Rapmund’s inks sometimes get in the way of Jurgens’s normally crisp, dynamic lines; the Monitor crowd scenes always look rushed, and the small distinctions among the Monitors are rarely clear. 3/10

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Home Is Where the Art Is

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic original graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Letters/Cover artist: Alison Bechdel
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Price: $13.95 US (softcover) / $19.95 US (hardcover)

It may seem like I’m late in the game when it comes to reviewing this award-winning and much-lauded graphic novel, but given the recent release of the softcover edition of the book, it merits some extra attention now anyway. Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical exploration of her dysfunction family dynamic, her father’s repressed sexuality and the parallels she sees in her own sexual awakening during her youth is a challenging read. It’s also enlightening with the information the author provides and impressive when it comes to the depths of her honesty. Earlier chapters are certainly stronger than those toward the end of the book, as the creator becomes mired in literary parallels, but ultimately, her matter-of-fact narration and sense of personal isolation make it surprisingly easy to relate to her and her odd upbringing. Her cartooning is remarkably effective at establishing the dreariness and quiet of small-town existence as well. Perhaps what’s most encouraging about this project is how it has reached out beyond the traditional niche comics market and demonstrated the power of the medium to an audience that’s not so obsessed with super-heroes and swordsmen.

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Boys Will Be Boys

The Boys Volume 1: The Name of the Game trade paperback & The Boys #7
Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist/Cover artist: Darick Robertson
Colors: Tony Avina
Letters: Greg Thompson & Simon Bowland
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Price: $14.99 US (TPB) / $2.99 US (comic)

When this property debuted under DC’s Wildstorm Productions banner, I made a point of checking it out. After all, I’m a fan of both writer Garth Ennis and artist Darick Robertson, and their gritty, extreme sensibilities are a good match. Ultimately, the first couple of issues failed to really grab me, as I felt I had seen this sort of over-the-top satire of the super-hero genre many times before from Ennis. With Dynamite Entertainment’s decision to publish the property in the wake of some skittishness over content at DC Comics, The Boys is receiving a second promotional push, and I’m pleased I took a second look at the title. Had I stuck with the first story arc, I would have discovered that Ennis tries to balance the more extremist tendencies in his plotting with some moments of vulnerability and actual optimism. Those brief instances of grounded characterization were welcome, but ultimately, The Boys is still defined by its typically Ennis-ian characters. The disdain for unchecked authority, a common theme in Ennis’s work, remains entertaining, but at this point in this career, it’s becoming cliched.

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Annotations – Justice Society of America #6

“The Lightning Saga,” the JLA/JSA/Legion of Super-Heroes teamup story running through Justice League of America and Justice Society of America, reaches its penultimate chapter, and so, we reach the next to last in this series of annotations. JLA writer Brad Meltzer and JSA scribe Geoff Johns clearly have a soft spot for the DC stories of the 1970s and 1980s, but some of the references from that era that they include here might elude newer comics readers. So I’ve put together this guide.

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Blue’s Clues

The Blue Beetle Companion: His Many Lives from 1939 to Today
Writer: Christopher Irving
Cover artists: Cully Hamner (front) and Tom Feister (back)
Editor: John Morrow
Publisher: TwoMorrows Publishing
Price: $16.95 US

The Blue Beetle seems like an odd choice of character to have his own “biography.” At his most popular, he’s a B-list super-hero at best, and the rest of the time, one could view him as a C-lister or worse. Fortunately, this volume isn’t so much a study of the character’s history but of two businesses that published his adventures in the Golden and Silver Ages of Comics… and of the men who kept the Beetle machine ticking for decades. Irving’s history — derived not only from interviews he conducted but from other sources as well — is more comprehensive the further back one goes in time. The Blue Beetle Companion could have been a tedious read, but Irving uses the personalities of the real people behind the paper protagonist to bring drama and humor to the factoids and timelines that serve as the skeleton of this project. Ultimately, this book will appeal to a limited niche market, but that’s the bread and butter of TwoMorrows publications in the first place. With any luck, younger, newer readers who are fans of the newest incarnation of the Blue Beetle might be drawn to this volume, and if so, it will open their eyes to the wonder and weirdness of the medium, not to mention a weasel or two.

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Be My Valentino

Drawing from Life #1
Writer/Artist/Cover artist/Letters: Jim Valentino
Editor: Kristen Simon
Publisher: Image Comics/Shadowline imprint
Price: $3.50 US/$4.15 CAN

I’m a fan of the slice-of-life, autobiographical comic, and I’m thrilled that Image Comics has provided my favorite title in the genre — True Story, Swear to God — with a much brighter spotlight in the industry. I wonder if Image’s decision to publish Tom Beland’s true-romance comic sparked Image founder Jim Valentino’s decision to put together this anthology of real-life experiences. In any way, Valentino is no stranger to the genre, having presented great work in A Touch of Silver several years ago. Well, Drawing from Life (an overly cute but effective title) is no Touch of Silver. The book lacks structure. There’s no common theme running through the various short stories, and the subject matter and tones of the segments are wildly diverse… random, really. Nevertheless, it’s fun to get a glimpse inside someone’s life, and there’s definitely an honest and genuine quality to the storytelling. I also enjoy the chance to get a look at Valentino’s cartooning (as opposed to the more conventional style one often sees in comics today). Those charms aren’t enough to really hold the audience’s attention, though. This first issue is an interesting experiment but not really a successful one.

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Extinction Agenda

newuniversal #6
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist/Cover artist: Salvador Larroca
Colors: Jason Keith
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Editor: Axel Alonso
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.75 CAN

I was one of maybe five fans of Marvel’s New Universe line back in the 1980s, so I anticipated Warren Ellis’s revival of the brand for a new series. However, my reaction to the first issue was lukewarm. In my capsule review of the first issue, I wrote, “As I made my way through this first issue, I was surprised to find that he really hasn’t tinkered all that much with the properties … Both Star Brand and Justice don’t seem changed all that much …” Fortunately, that hasn’t proven to be the case in subsequent issues, and this latest episode is full of the kind of edgy, political and imaginative scenarios Ellis does best.

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The Plain Truth

The Plain Janes original graphic novel
Writer: Cecil Castellucci
Artist/Cover artist: Jim Rugg
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
Editor: Shelly Bond
Publisher: DC Comics/Minx imprint
Price: $9.99 US/$11.99 CAN

DC’s Minx line has finally arrived with this inaugural release, and if The Plain Janes is any indication of what we can expect from Minx books, it’s going to be a strong imprint. This graphic novel should appeal to female readers, especially teen girls, but the characterization is so strong and the ideas so grounded yet offbeat that the book should achieve a much wider appeal. The Plain Janes taps into a modern angst about a world that seems to be growing more and more violent with every passing day. More importantly, writer Cecil Castellucci offers a story that will appeal to anyone who felt excluded by the It crowd in high school, who felt his or her parents ignored needs and pleas or who felt, well, like a teenager. The story and characterization boast definite universal qualities, but at the same time, this is about a smarter group of alienated teens. This is about constructive rebellion, but the tone of the story isn’t all that celebratory either. There’s a definitely downtrodden atmosphere at play, and the black-and-white art enhances that atmosphere quite well. Jim Rugg’s art is simple but effective. Sometimes his characters’ faces and his eye for perspective are a bit off, but overall, he conveys a convincing, realistic world in which this quirky, John Hughes-esque drama can unfold.

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