All posts by Don MacPherson

Solid

Rock Bottom original graphic novel
Writer: Joe Casey
Artist/Cover artist: Charlie Adlard
Greytones: Charlie Adlard & Paul Peart
Letters: Josh Richardson
Publisher: AiT/PlanetLar
Price: $12.95 US

We don’t hear as much hype coming out of AiT/PlanetLar these days as we once did; perhaps publisher/propagandist Larry Young is busy with more pressing matters these days. Nevertheless, when I saw that the small publisher was releasing a new Joe Casey/Charlie Adlard project, I had to take a look. It’s too bad Young has dialed down the hype machine, because this project definitely merits the hullabaloo. It has the potential to appeal to a broad audience, not only to the fans of the industry’s dominant super-hero genre, but to supporters of strong, character-based, indy-comics storytelling. Casey’s script makes the idea of a man turning to stone more and more believable as the book progresses. Though this book boasts super-hero elements, it’s not a super-hero story. It’s about a man coming to terms with a health crisis and how the people around him see it as a tragedy and yet an opportunity as well.

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The Kids Aren’t Alright

Gen13 v.4 #1
“Best of a Bad Lot, Part One: And on the First Day”
Writer: Gail Simone
Pencils: Talent Caldwell
Inks: Matt Banning
Colors: Carrie Strachan
Letters: Pat Brosseau
Cover artists: Caldwell & Banning
Editor: Ben Abernathy
Publisher: DC Comics/Wildstorm Productions
Price: $2.99 US/$4 CAN

I am not a Gen13 fan. Never have been, and I’ve sampled the property at various points in its history, including the initial run. There have been a couple of entertaining stories, but those were the result of talented writers and artists using the title characters as generic super-hero characters. Now, normally I’d pass on a new Gen13 title, but anything with Gail Simone attached as a writer earns a look as far as I’m concerned. Unfortunately, the second issue isn’t going to get a glance.

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Quick Critiques – Oct. 11, 2006

The All New Atom #4 (DC Comics)
by Gail Simone, Eddy Barrows & Trevor Scott

Original series penciller John Byrne is nowhere to be seen, replaced by relative newcomer Eddy Barrows. To be honest, I hadn’t heard of Barrows before his name started turning up in the credits of 52. He does a solid job of the art on this title, and his style suits the comedic leanings in Gail Simone’s script. What Byrne did better than Barrows, though, was conveying the thoroughly weird nature of the two antagonists involved in this story — the other-dimensional aliens and the “cancer god.” Barrows’s art in this issue barely hints at those elements, even though they play significant roles. I do like his take on the title character better, though, and his style boasts an action-oriented, dynamic look that reminds me of Claudio Castellini’s art. Simone’s script is playful, entertaining and thoroughly accessible. New readers could pick up this issue and figure out what was going on with little trouble. Simone also brings real-world science into this science-fiction super-hero story, which is in keeping with the Silver Age property that serves as this book’s foundation. The influence of writer Grant Morrison — who provided the general ideas and framework for this title — is still strongly felt, but it’s Simone’s sense of humor and punchy dialogue that keeps me coming back. 7/10

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The Path Less Taken

Path of the Assassin Vol. 1: Serving in the Dark graphic novel
Writer: Kazuo Koike
Artist/Cover artist: Goseki Kojima
Translation: Naomi Kokubo & Jeff Carlson
Editor: Tim Ervin
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Price: $9.95 US

I didn’t expect to enjoy Path of the Assassin. It’s rare that a sample of manga that appeals to me, and the very first English-language edition of Lone Wolf and Cub (issued in the late 1980s by First Comics and championed by Frank Miller, long before Dark Horse Comics reprinted the series in digest form) failed to make a connection as well. Since Path was crafted by the same creative team as Lone Wolf and Cub, I figured my reaction would be lukewarm at best. Mind you, I’ve grown a great deal as a human being and as a comics reader since then, which may have something to do with it. But to be honest, I think the nature of the characters and the subject matter made for a connection this time around. Despite the cultural gap between the audience and the characters, there are elements here to which one can relate.

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Follow the Loss Leader

TV could learn a thing or two from the business of comics.

A few years ago, I was immersed in television. There were innumerable sitcoms I followed, both in prime time and in syndication, and there were plenty of game shows and hour-long dramas on my list of favorites as well. But a couple of years ago, I found I was whittling down my TV viewing, with only four or five programs on my must-see-every-week list.

In recent years, it seems as though TV producers have realized that new ideas — and more importantly, smarter writing — can make for hit shows, and never has that attitude been more apparent with the slew of new shows that debuted this fall. But some of those shows are already in danger of cancellation, and NBC has announced that the intriguing Kidnapped is already kaput, and it had just barely begun telling its story. CBS has announced it’s turfing Smith as well.

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Mirror, Mirror on the War…

The Other Side #1
“If You’re Lucky, You’ll Only Get Killed”
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist/Cover artist: Cameron Stewart
Colors: Dave McCaig
Letters: Pat Brosseau
Editor: Will Dennis
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo imprint
Price: $2.99 US/$4 CAN

As a Canadian, my cultural connection to the Vietnam War is basically limited to knowledge of draft dodgers among my country’s population. I saw some of the movies — I never cared for Platoon or Full Metal Jacket, but I was fascinated by Hamburger Hill. I’ve read about the emotional scars left on the American psyche and how they reverberate even today. I’m obviously aware of Vietnam on a purely factual level, but I’ve never really felt it, not in the way Americans do. Writer Jason Aaron helps to bring the pain and even pride of this scar on the face of history by taking us into not only one American’s journey to and through the war, but a Vietnamese soldier’s experience as well. This two-pronged approach to the storytelling uses the cultural divide as well as the commonalities to really drive home the emotional and social significance of an unfortunate piece of the past.

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Quick Critiques – Oct. 7, 2006

Agents of Atlas #3 (Marvel Comics)
by Jeff Parker, Leonard Kirk & Kris Justice

It’s not hard to find super-hero stories from the industry’s Big Two that are mired in past continuity, focusing on obscure characters. Such stories are aimed at longtime comics readers and no doubt satisfy them. But for newer readers, they can be frustrating unless they’re crafted just right. Jeff Parker gets it just right. His plot hinges on the histories of these 1950s comics characters, but he provides plenty of exposition, which is made quite palatable thanks to the clever script and strong personalities injected into these campy characters. Parker’s imagination really grabs the reader’s attention, from the unusual first-person manner in which Marvel Boy’s background is conveyed to the character’s dining habits. Leonard Kirk’s art is fantastic. His soft lines capture these somewhat crude characters of yesteryear perfectly, but he brings maturity and credibility to the characters as well. The visual highlight of the book is Tomm Coker’s brilliant cover. These Agents of Atlas covers are some of the best work we’ve seen from him, and now I’m dying to see some Coker interior artwork. 8/10

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The Cure for What Ails You

Doctor Strange: The Oath #1
“The Oath, Chapter One”
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Pencils/Cover artist: Marcos Martin
Inks: Alvaro Lopez
Colors: Javier Rodriguez
Letters: Willie Schubert
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.75 CAN

With Brian K. (Runaways, Y: The Last Man) Vaughan listed as the writer on this limited series, there was no way I was going to miss the book. But to be honest, I didn’t expect much more than an entertaining supernatural, super-hero yarn. As I made my way through this debut issue, that’s exactly what I found. Vaughan offers some solid drama and sharp humor, and artist Marcos Martin captures the same kind of vibe that the original and ultimate Dr. Strange artist — Steve Ditko — brought to the character four decades ago. So figured I was definitely getting my money’s worth… and then I hit the last page and realized I got so much more.

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Heading Towards Coney Island

Pirates of Coney Island #1
Writer: Rick Spears
Artist/Colors: Vasilis Lolos
Cover artists: Vasilis Lolos/Becky Cloonan
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.35 CAN

Everybody comes into every reading or entertainment experience some kind of preconceptions; I know I certainly had some when it came to Pirates of Coney Island. With Rick (Teenagers from Mars) Spears and cover artist Becky (Demo, American Virgin) Cloonan involved in the project, I expected it would feature young, hip characters, and I expected an urban backdrop. Both of those preconceptions turned out to be accurate ones. But the title itself led me to believe this would be more upbeat and irreverent, and I was surprised to find a much darker, edgy and intense script about street crime and runaways instead. Spears really grabs the reader’s attention with the punishment he inflicts on the central character in this debut issue, but the script does go awry. It’s not that it doesn’t match expectations. It’s that we’re offered little in terms of plot and nary a glimpse of the title characters.

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Simple Minds, Silly Answers

Dr. DeBunko: The Short Stories
Writer/Artist: Chris Wisnia
Editor: Rob Oder
Publisher: Salt Peter Press
Price: $3.95 US

This one-shot from the people who brought you the semi-regular Tabloia series collects a number of short comic segments from that book featuring a professional debunker of “supernatural” phenomena. As the title character’s name suggests, this is hardly the sort of thing one takes seriously. The only real mystery that creator Chris Wisnia explores here is the mystery of why so many people are so stupid, gullible and hypocritical. If old wives’ tales drive you crazy, if Republicans who refuse to believe in evolution, global warming and Halliburton’s greed enrage you and gender-based pay inequity makes you want to pull out your nose hairs, then chances are you’ll connect with the title character’s efforts and frustrations.

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Shattering Boundaries, Protecting the Cherry

American Virgin #7
“Going Down, Part 3 of 5”
Writer: Steven T. Seagle
Pencils: Becky Cloonan
Inks: Ryan Kelly
Colors: Brian Miller
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
Cover artist: Joshua Middleton
Editor: Shelly Bond
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo imprint
Price $2.99 US/$4 CAN

Everything about American Virgin is designed to make people uncomfortable. The hero of the series is a youthful evangelist, a devout Christian — not exactly the kind of figure that’s going to appeal to Vertigo readers. The story forces that hero to face corners of the world that violate his Evangelical Christian sensibilities. He’s forced to face the notion that he is no more special than anyone else around him. Adam also makes the world around him uncomfortable. He’s young and attractive. The world should be his sexual oyster, and no one understands why he’s so dedicated to his belief that sex is a marital privilege.

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Quick Critiques – Sept. 30, 2006

Amazing Spider-Man #535 (Marvel Comics)
by J. Michael Straczynski, Ron Garney & Bill Reinhold

In the wake of Marvel’s announced delay of numerous titles and the developments in Civil War #4, readers have loudly proclaimed how disappointed they are in the crossover event. I don’t blame them, and my voice chimed in with that chorus for certain verses. But there is value in the core premise that’s at the heart of Civil War, and select crossover tie-in issues show that. This is one of them. Straczynski handles the ethical and personal conflicts of the event far more convincingly here, so much so that I feel it’s a shame he didn’t have a more direct hand in the core crossover title itself. The new conflict between Spidey and Iron Man works incredibly well, and the scene between Peter and Reed makes the latter’s participation in the registration movement a bit easier to accept. Garney’s incorporates an energetic, traditional super-hero genre look with a slightly edgy, tense atmosphere that’s in keeping with the script. There’s nothing wrong with these ideas; it’s in the execution that they succeed or fall apart. 8/10

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Hush Little Baby, Don’t You Cry…

Astonishing X-Men #17
Writer: Joss Whedon
Artist/Cover artist: John Cassaday
Colors: Laura Martin
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Editor: Mike Marts
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.75 CAN

Everyone daydreams about his or her future. About the perfect job, the perfect mate, the perfect life. For some, it involves riches and wild times that never end. A few years ago, that’s what it meant to me. Now, I’m in a great relationship, and I was honestly surprised when her dreams of a small family and a comfortable home became my own. At first, I wanted it because she did, and I wanted to make her dream come true. But slowly but surely, I started thumbing through the paper’s real-estate insert of my own accord. I started taking notice of babies and of the possibilities that lay ahead. The opening scene in this comic book delves into such a promise, into such a dream, and it explores the pain of someone using that dream against you. Whedon offers up an exciting, well-balanced script full of emotion and drama with a touch of humor, all brought to life in convincing detail by artist John Cassaday.

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The Answers Are Blowin’ in the Wind

Justice League of America v.2 #2
“The Tornado’s Path, Chapter Two: Tornado-Red/Tornado-Blue”
Writer: Brad Meltzer
Pencils: Ed Benes
Inks: Sandra Hope
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Letters: Rob Leigh
Cover artists: Michael Turner/Phil Jimenez & Andy Lanning
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$4 CAN

There are a couple of plot developments in this issue that don’t quite make sense to me. The disconnect between the big three iconic heroes and the rest of the case is frustrating, for example, and Black Lightning doesn’t seem to act in the most intuitive manner either. Still, there’s something fun and engrossing about this issue, and it’s the air of mystery Meltzer brings to the book. There’s a real sense of buildup here and a hint of an epic, larger-than-life threat that only a team of god-like heroes can combat. Meltzer’s script also adds credibility to the genre by creating a convincing super-criminal underworld that has an air of logic to it but also pays homage to the many stories that have come before this one.

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Cloning Around

Ultimate Spider-Man #100
“Clone Saga, Part 4”
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils/Cover artist: Mark Bagley
Inks: John Dell & Drew Hennessy
Colors: Justin Ponsor
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Editor: Ralph Macchio
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99 US/$4.75 CAN

One hundred issues in six years, all by the same creative team. It’s actually quite an accomplishment on several levels, especially in the context of the comic-book industry today. Bendis and Bagley took the title character back to his roots as a regular teenage kid who finds himself in way over his head on a regular basis and added to it more modern sensibilities. Bendis built a solid foundation for the series by keeping Peter Parker’s feet planted firmly on the ground, so it’s unfortunate that this milestone gets away from that strength.

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