Here We Go Again…

Countdown #51
“Look to the Skies”
Writer: Paul Dini
Pencils: Jesus Saiz
Inks: Jimmy Palmiotti
Colors: Tom Chu
Letters: Travis Lanham
Cover artists: Andy Kubert & Tim Townsend
Editor: Mike Marts
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.65 CAN

I’m not all that surprised that DC’s 2006-2007 weekly series, 52, proved to be a sales success. It was so unlike what we’ve seen in North American super-hero comics before that it was bound to attract the attention of fans of the genre. The series’s strong sales are a testament to the novel approach to comics storytelling, but it remains to be seen if the weekly format is a viable. DC and Marvel have demonstrated time and time again that when they happen upon successful formats or concepts, each flogs that horse until it’s good and dead. So Countdown will serve as the true gauge of whether or not there’s life in the weekly format. Fortunately, DC has lined up some solid talent to spearhead the new book, and while it shares some common traits with 52, there are some clear differences as well. As was the case when 52 launched, it’s difficult to tell what to expect from Countdown in the long run, but this first taste offers solid art, a diverse array of players, strong characterization and entertaining action.

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Quick Critiques – May 9, 2007

Empowered original graphic novel (Dark Horse Comics)
by Adam Warren

Writer/artist Adam Warren turns his attention to an unfortunate quality of super-hero comics, and that’s its gratuitous hypersexualization of female characters, especially in a genre that was originally envisioned as material for younger readers. The designs for the various characters are hilarious, inventive and striking. These sooper-heerows look appropriately goofy, but a couple of the designs are pretty sharp, to be honest. Warren also makes the most of the black-and-white format. There’s a rougher quality to the art and lettering at times, but it never looks sloppy. Warren takes an over-the-top approach to this satirical look at super-hero storytelling, and it’s amusing and wholly effective in making his points. There’s just one problem: it’s repetitive. Warren makes the same points over and over and over again, and the one-dimensional nature of the characters and limitations of the gimmicks aren’t enough to sustain one’s attention all the way through to the end of the book.

To be fair, Warren constructs Empowered to be read in short little bursts, as this is more of a short-story collection than a graphic novel, really. It’s just a shame that it seems to be the same story time and time again. For the most part, the stories are about how inept, vulnerable and easily victimized the title character is. Mind you, there are stories that explore the other characters as well; I was especially entertained by Sistah Spooky’s origin. Overall, I liked the concept, but the longer format didn’t suit the material. Presenting it as a graphic novella, something in the format of Garth Ennis and Amanda Conner’s The Pro from Image Comics a few years back, would have a better fit for this project. 6/10

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Annotations – Justice Society of America #5

Welcome back for the second part of my annotations of “The Lightning Saga,” the five-part storyline currently unfolding in DC’s Justice League of America and Justice Society of America titles. Writers Brad Meltzer and Geoff Johns have revived the tradition of JLA/JSA teamups, once a staple of the original JLA series. That’s not all they’ve brought back either, as some semi-obscure references keep popping up in the script and plot. I broke down the first chapter from JLA #8 here, and now it’s time to turn our attention to the second episode, in JSA #5. Hopefully, this will be of assistance to newer readers, unfamiliar with the nostalgia-inducing source material.

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The Year of Living Dangerously

52 Week 52
“A Year in the Life”
Writers: Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka & Mark Waid
Breakdowns: Keith Giffen
Pencils:Mike McKone, Justiniano, Eddy Barrows, Chris Batista, Pat Olliffe & Darick Robertson
Inks: Andy Lanning, Walden Wong, Rodney Ramos, Drew Geraci & Darick Robertson
Colors: Alex Sinclair, David Baron & Hi-Fi
Letters: Ken Lopez
Editor: Michael Siglain
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.50 US/$2.99 CAN

DC’s power quartet of writers resurrects the past in this cosmic finale while maintaining the status quo that had replaced it, and I’m honestly not sure how to feel about it. The nostalgic super-hero fan in me is thrilled to see the return of DC’s multiverse concept, and the writers have tweaked it somewhat so that it’s more manageable than the one that came before it. This is big, flashy genre fun, but it relies on a number of plot devices and supposed twists that make it a bit difficult to follow at times, let alone to swallow. Some character-driven elements are thrown in to balance the larger-than-life, science-fiction concepts thrown about in the story, but it succeeds only to a mild degree.

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With Friends Like These…

DMZ #18
“Friendly Fire, Part One”
Writer/Cover artist: Brian Wood
Artists: Riccardo Burchielli & Nathan Fox
Colors: Jeromy Cox
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
Editor: Will Dennis
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo imprint
Price: $2.99 US/$3.65 CAN

Writer Brian Wood and his collaborators launch a new story arc in this issue, and it’s quite new-reader-friendly. It also marks a dramatic but fascinating shift in focus. Previous stories in this series focused on war from unconventional points of view. Wood explored the power of the media, the politics of war and the perseverance of the human spirit earlier in DMZ. But here, we meet the soldiers, the men who are fighting an unjust and confusing war that they don’t understand. Wood taps into an old-school, war-comic vibe in this issue, but he also explores issues of great relevance. The sins of wars past and present are examined in this story of a war of the not-too distant future. We meet a man who had a hand in a massacre, whose hands are stained with the blood of the innocent, but Wood nevertheless manages to cast him in a sympathetic, relatable light. This stands out as the most powerful, riveting issue of DMZ yet, and given the quality of the series from the start, that’s no small feat.

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Annotations – Justice League of America #8

With Brad Meltzer’s relaunch of a more traditional JLA series with Justice League of America v.2, he and Justice Society of America writer Geoff Johns have brought back another 1970s/’80s tradition, and that’s the annual JLA/JSA teamup. Both writers have demonstrated that their super-hero work draws upon the continuity from that period, which coincides with their youth. As a result, a wide variety of characters, conventions and continuity points come into play in their writing, so newer readers may find some reference material handy. As such, Eye on Comics presents an annotated guide to the “The Lightning Saga.”

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The Boy Who Tried Wolf

The Astounding Wolf-Man #1
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Artist/Colors/Cover artist: Jason Howard
Letters: Rus Wooton
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: Free

It’s time for a Free Comic Book Day preview. Of this year’s Free Comic Book Day selections, this looked to be one of the most interesting and promising selections. The only other FCBD 2007 item I was more excited about is the Comics Festival 2007 one-shot with which such creators as Darwyn (The Spirit) Cooke and Bryan Lee (Scott Pilgrim) O’Malley are involved. Image has struck upon a solid idea for its FCBD contribution this year: the first issue of an accessible new series written by Robert Kirkman. Not only will it appeal to existing comics readers, drawing them into the Image camp, but the story itself is reminiscent of an old-school Marvel origin… albeit with a bit more of an edge. Artist and co-creator Jason Howard boasts a style that’s in keeping with the general look of other such Kirkman collaborators as Cliff Rathburn and Ryan Ottley, but it also has a look that’s reminiscent of modern animation. The look of this boo is bound to appeal to fans of such shows as the current Batman cartoon and Justice League Unlimited. There’s nothing particularly fresh about the property so far, but there’s no denying that it’s solidly entertaining.

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Quick Critiques – April 24, 2007

The Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century #1 (DC Comics/Johnny DC imprint)
by J. Torres & Chynna Clugston

When I pre-ordered this comic book, I hadn’t yet seen an episode of the new Legion of Super-Heroes cartoon upon which this new comic series is based. I managed to catch the first episode just last week (though as yet, no Canadian channel has picked it up, as far as I know), and it’s fortunate that I did. J. Torres’s script retells the events of the first episode of the TV show from different points of view. Though I like the storytelling method, one really has to be familiar with the plot ahead of time in order to get at what Torres is doing. It’s a shame there’s not a strong visual cue to distinguish between the divergent viewpoints as well. Nevertheless, Torres manages not only to convey the same personalities we’ve seen in the cartoon, but to add to them and flesh the characters out more clearly. I can see why Torres opts to retell the story of the show’s pilot, as it introduces the core concept of adding a young Superman to the team lineup. Still, I felt a little cheated; I wanted a new story, not a rehashing what’s already been presented on the tube. I expect future issues will deliver in that regard, though.

Chynna Clugston’s art captures the designs and style of the TV show adeptly, but I was thrilled to discover that her own unique, energetic and appealing style wasn’t overwhelmed and engulfed by the strict guides of the cartoon. When I watched the pilot episode of the cartoon, one of the characters I was the least taken with was Triplicate Girl, but Clugston’s take on her brought more personality and style to the character. Guy Major’s colors bring an appropriate level of energy and brightness to the mix, but the lower grade of the paper dulls them somewhat, making for a flatter, slightly darker look. 6/10

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Compound Words

As a news reporter and former public-relations professional, I have a special interest in the craft (or lack thereof) of marketing efforts in the comics industry. And as the producer/writer of a comics-related website, plenty of publishers’ news releases make their way into my e-mail inbox. An unusual but clever one found its way to me this afternoon, and I was impressed with the initiative demonstrated with this piece of comics marketing.

Earlier today, news broke of the scientific discovery in Serbia of a mineral that just happens to share the same chemical composition as Kryptonite (as suggested in the recent, Bryan-Singer directed film, Superman Returns). A mineral expert’s research uncovered the coincidental synchronicity between science and science-fiction. The Associated Press reported that the material — which will be named Jadarite — is white, powdery and definitely not radioactive. The AP story made the rounds throughout the day Tuesday and will no doubt grace the pages of many a newspaper around the world Wednesday.

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Monkey See, Monkey Zoom

First in Space original graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: James Vining
Letters: Douglas E. Sherwood
Editor: Randal C. Jarrell
Publisher: Oni Press
Price: $9.95 US

I really didn’t know much about this graphic novel before I delved into the preview copy I was sent, but when it’s got the Oni Press logo on it, I trust I’m in for a solid reading experience. Based on the cover image, I expected something of a cute story about astronaut animals or something, maybe something with a talking chimp. It turns out that First in Space isn’t a comedy, but a piece of historical fiction, with a greater emphasis on the history rather than the fiction. With this Xeric grant-winning project, creator James Vining manages to bring out the down-to-earth, human, emotional side of the space race by focusing on animal-test subjects (and their trainers). Vining presents up a surprisingly touching story, and though the opportunities present themselves, he offers no judgments about ethics or history. The art is a surprise as well, as Vining’s simple, cartoony style is remarkably effective at capturing a realistic tone throughout the book.

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War Correspondence

In the latter part of its run, DC’s 52 has proven to be a solidly entertaining read, with some solid super-hero action, melodrama and imaginative use of obscure characters, so I was looking forward to this spinoff event. I’m at a loss as to why DC would release all the episodes of a five-issue story in the same week. The publisher clearly expects potential readers to pick up all the issues, so why not release it as a special, graphic-novel sized issue of 52? I thought that would prove to be the most frustrating and puzzling aspect of 52/WW III, but I was quickly proved wrong. The plot is limited to just one of these five comic books. The rest of them seem to serve only to address a number of minor points of continuity and little more. I don’t mind DC sorting out its continuity, but it shouldn’t have come at the cost of storytelling and characterization, which should be priorities, not afterthoughts.

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Quick Critiques – April 18, 2007

Nightwing Annual #2 (DC Comics)
by Marc Andreyko, Joe Bennett & Jack Jadson

This self-contained story about the past and future of Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon’s relationship is meticulously crafted, heartfelt and quite grounded despite the impossible circumstances that make up the main characters’ lives. It’s a thoroughly satisfying read, not only for DC readers who have been wondering what came of Dick Grayson’s proposal last year, but for those who sought to understand and appreciate this fictional romance. There’s one problem: Andreyko’s script incorporate a lot of continuity. Some are small and unimportant, but others are vital. Taking the readers back to events from two decades ago could threaten to alienate some readers, but for those of us well versed in these bits of history, it’s an entertaining trip down memory lane. Andreyko’s plot boasts a couple of grown-up moments, which could be a bit much for younger readers attracted to a cover image that harkens back to more innocent days in super-hero comics. Still, it’s a convincing script and an engaging, personal drama. Also, Joe Bennett turns in what is probably his strongest performance as a comics artist to date. He really emphasizes the down-to-earth qualities of the main characters, and his take on the Batman is imposing and impressive. The overall tone of the art is slightly dark, which is fitting, given that these characters are members of the Batman Family. But the art doesn’t seem too dark either. This is a love story, after all, and the overall atmosphere of the story is a hopeful, upbeat one. Andreyko approaches the characters as two people with a lot in common, which has naturally drawn them together, but he also points out that one has to discover himself as an individual before he can be an effective part of a couple. 7/10

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Gratuitous Insults

I pass the time during lulls at work with a good novel. There are a few TV series that I follow religiously every week, never wanting to miss a new episode. And there’s nothing like going to the movies and taking in a flick on the big screen. But my favorite storytelling medium, obviously, is the comic book/graphic novel. Unfortunately, fans of the medium are saddled with an unfortunate stigma. You’ve seen it on The Simpsons in the form of the Comic Book Guy. You’ve seen the extreme fans at comics conventions as well, and those whose battle with unfortunate personal hygiene is a Never-Ending Battle in and of itself. The stereotype of the pathetic Comic Geek stems, sadly, from a certain fragment of reality. It’s really frustrating, though, when a major player in the medium and industry contributes to the preconception of the comics consumer as a horny, sexually frustrated basement dweller.

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Undead Reckoning

Xombie Reanimated #1
Writer: James Farr
Artist: Nate Lovett
Letters: Brian J. Crowley
Cover artists: Tim Seeley (cover A) & James Farr (cover B)
Editor: Mike O’Sullivan
Publisher: Devil’s Due Publishing
Price: $3.50 US

According to the website, Xombie Reanimated is the comic-book sequel to an Internet property that’s experienced some strong word of mouth and success. This limited series stars the same characters and is set in the same post-apocalyptic landscape filled with flesh-eating, mindless zombies. Zombie stories are a growing genre in comics today and in pop culture in general, but many creators approach it from the same, tired standpoint, making for a glut of derivative material. Fortunately, James Farr’s creation manages to stand out as unique in a couple of ways. First of all, the hero of the book is a zombie himself, and furthermore, Farr casts off some of the conventions of the genre to arrive at something a little more interesting. The writer/creator’s script is an accessible one, but more importantly, it’s one that boasts a strong sense of personality and fun. The script endeavors to establish an urgent, serious tone, but the cartoony quality of the art tells the reader that this is really more of an action-oriented, attitude-filled romp.

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Keep Your Eyes on the Road

Red Eye, Black Eye original graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: K. Thor Jensen
Publisher: Alternative Comics
Price: $19.95 US

A casual perusal of this website might lead one to believe that I’m a fiend for super-hero comics, and that genre alone in the medium. That’s not the case. Though I love the feelings of wonder and nostalgia that super-heroes stir up inside me, I really enjoy comics that challenge me and provoke introspection. That’s a domain that the world of small-press and indy comics do better than the larger publishers, and Red Eye, Black Eye is a shining example. Cartoonist K. Thor Jensen boasts an artistic style that one could describe as crude, but it’s remarkably effective at bringing his grounded memoir of an adventure on the road to life. This autobio comic rings incredibly true, because some of the main character’s experiences lead nowhere while others have more of an explosive quality. The central point to Jensen’s overall narrative is a bit elusive at first, but it seemed to become crystal clear by the issue’s end. To me, Jensen says life is meant to be a series of one’s own stories, of dramatic and unusual moments, good or bad, but that they can only happen if one actively seeks them out (even if it’s unknowingly).

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