Quick Critiques – Aug. 2, 2007

The Chemist #1 (Image Comics)
by Jay Boose

Writer/artist Jay Boose takes the reader into the criminal underworld, employing an unusual protagonist as a guide. The hero of the story is Vance Laroche, a chemist who has become obscenely rich reverse-engineering drugs for the underworld. This slick scientist becomes a fugitive, running from his crooked employers. Boose’s story is full of action, and but the fast pace of the story is balanced nicely by the inventiveness, resourcefulness and intellect of the protagonist. Boose combines a 1940s noir sensibility with high-octane, high-tech elements of today, making for a riveting read. I loved the more cosmopolitan touch he brings to the piece with the change in settings from Boston to Montreal. The woman whom Vance rescues from certain death makes for a perfect counterpart to his in-control, always prepared attitude. Alexis’s tough but clueless personality manages to bring the story down to earth a bit. She’s not stupid, but she’s definitely in over her head; her carefree outlook keeps her from freaking out and allows her to just enjoy the ride. Boose’s artwork looks like a cross between the styles of Tony (Ex Machina) Harris and Jason (Body Bags) Pearson. While detailed and realistic, Boose uses colors to immerse the story in a dark mood that’s in keeping with the classic, nostalgic look of crime-genre stories that have come before it. Sin, style and sexuality blend perfectly here for a story that reminds me of the sort of thing one might get from an issue of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’s award-winning series, Criminal. 9/10

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Metal Men #1
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Duncan Rouleau
Colors: Moose Baumann
Letters: Pat Brosseau
Editor: Eddie Berganza
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.65 CAN

Duncan Rouleau twisted, surreal and fluid style is a perfect match for DC’s oddball, shapechanging robotic heroes, the Metal Men. Rouleau is mainly known to DC and Marvel super-hero readers as an artist alone, not a writer. He’s no rookie when it comes to plotting and scripting, though, as those who have read his graphic novel, The Nightmarist, can attest. Just as he boasts an unusual and unique approach in his art, his writing is unconventional in tone as well. That makes for a challenging read, though, and that holds true here. The plot incorporates magicks from the dark ages, theoretical physics about the building blocks of reality and shapeshifting super-heroics. It’s not easy to follow the storytelling here, but one can’t deny the fun that’s to be had. While Rouleau’s time-jumping plot has yet to fully reveal itself, there’s enough entertainment value here to keep me on board until things make a little more sense.

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Battle Beauties

Battle of the Bands Vol. 1 original graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Steve Buccellato
Letters: Lucas Rivera
Editor: Rob Tokar
Publisher: Tokyopop
Price: $9.99 US/$12.50 CAN

Though I’ve enjoyed Steve Buccellato’s work in the past, I approached this new project with some trepidation. Given the ramped-up T&A factor at play on the cover, I figured I was in for a low-brow sex romp, the equivalent of watching a sorority-house pillow fight. I started thumbing through the pages, my mind made up already. Fortunately, it didn’t take long for Buccellato to change my mind. While I wasn’t taken with the WWE-style violence that’s included as part of the property, the story and characters won me over. Buccellato offers action and romance with his take on an Amerimanga book, but the real appeal lies in the humor and the characters’ unrestrained joie de vivre. Buccellato adapts his comic-art style to bring a greater Japanese influence to the surface, but he really doesn’t have to stray too far from his previously established cartooning style. One of the reasons the book works so well is that the art matches the high energy and quick pace of the script incredibly well. Fans of such comics as Chynna Clugston’s Blue Monday and Jen van Meter’s Hopeless Savages will no doubt enjoy Battle of the Bands.

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Quick Critiques – July 29, 2007

The Immortal Iron Fist #7 (Marvel Comics)
by Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, Travel Foreman, Leandro Fernandez, Khari Evans, Derek Fridolfs, Francisco Paranzini & Victor Olazaba

Writers Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction have brought a sense of legacy and history to Marvel’s martial-arts hero property, and that’s opened the door for stories like this one. This self-contained issue introduces the reader to a new character, someone else who bore the Iron Fist mantle at a previous point in history. It’s great that the first of these stories features a female protagonist. The writers are bringing a greater diversity to the world of Iron Fist with these alternate takes on the concept. It reminds me a bit of the flashback stories James Robinson would occasionally provide during the course of his landmark Starman series for DC Comics. What’s most striking about this story, though, isn’t the history, culture or feminism, all of which are integral parts of the tale. Instead, it’s the humor. This story of a woman warrior in a long-past period in the Orient could have easily followed more predictable lines, with purple prose and archetypical plot developments to capture the classic elements. Instead, there are some great jokes serving to ground the historical fiction in a tone to which the reader can relate. In other words, the script is damn funny. Like the other issues that preceded this one, multiple art teams are employed to bring the visuals to life, and again, it works surprisingly well. The shifts from art team to art team aren’t the least bit jarring; there’s a strong visual flow at play in the book.

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Sleepless Knight

Doktor Sleepless #1
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Ivan Rodriguez
Colors: Andrew Dalhouse
Cover artists: Ivan Rodriguez/Jacen Burrows/Raulo Caceres
Editor: William Christensen
Publisher: Avatar Press
Price: $3.99 US

Though I’m a fan of some of the writers it publishes, I don’t usually venture into the realm of Avatar Press, as I’ve found the art doesn’t match the quality of the writing talent at times. But with Doktor Sleepless billed as being in the same vein as Ellis’s landmark Transmetropolitan series, I had to check it out. Ellis’s script doesn’t disappoint, as it explores the notion of the future, namely, perceptions of what the future should be and when it should be. Once that theme is revealed in the middle of the book, the story takes on a stronger direction and focus. Ellis has set his story in the not-too distant future but fills it with references to the tech of today. He lectures on the crossover of technologies and ideologies, ultimately condemning mankind for its laziness and lack of imagination. The art by Ivan Rodriguez services the story well enough, but it rarely rises above the level of simply standard comic-book art. When one is used to see the work of such artists as Darick Robertson, Bryan Hitch and John Cassaday bringing Ellis’s visions to life, Rodriguez’s art pales in comparison.

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Handheld TV

Buffy the Vampire Slayer #s 1-4
“The Long Way Home” Parts One through Four
Writer: Joss Whedon
Pencils: Georges Jeanty
Inks: Andy Owens
Colors: Dave Stewart
Letters: Comicraft
Cover artist: Jo Chen
Editor: Scott Allie
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Price: $2.99 US per issue

From what I can gather, the announcement a few months back that Joss Whedon was going to continue the TV saga of a certain vampire slayer in the comic-book medium was met with glee on the part of the show’s diehard fans, but I assumed that the appeal of the new title would be limited to that crowd alone. Of course, I realized I shouldn’t assume anything about a particular comic book. The new series has performed well for Dark Horse, of course, and Whedon has written a few non-Buffy comics that I enjoyed in the past. With that in mind, I delved into the first four issues of the Buffy “Season Eight” series. While there are a lot of references to Buffy’s TV continuity, I was surprised to find that the plot is fairly easy to follow. Whedon has taken a much more ambitious approach to the vampire-slayer mythology, and the dialogue, unencumbered by U.S. television’s Standards and Practices people, is snappy and entertaining. Nevertheless, the subplots and revelations of this series are clearly intended for fans, not for new readers.

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Flea Market Finds: Green Lantern #124

Though I wasn’t out sleuthing at all, I recently solved a mystery. While at a local flea market, I spotted a stack of old comics, super-hero and horror titles from the 1970s, and one of the comics in that stack promised to reveal a secret that touches upon the root of a big super-hero event currently unfolding in the today’s comic-book market.

In short, I know why the Sinestro Corps War is raging through current issues of Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps. Though he claims a goal of bringing order to all worlds and has a longtime grudge against the Guardians of the Universe, I do not believe they are the true causes of his corruption. The reason can be summed up with a single word…


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Assenting and Dissenting Order

The Order #1
“1: Henry” or “The Next Right Thing”
Writer: Matt Fraction
Pencils: Barry Kitson
Inks: Mark Morales
Colors: Dean White
Letters: Artmonkeys Studios
Cover artists: Barry Kitson/Steve McNiven & Dexter Vines
Editor: Warren Simons
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.75 CAN

The Order is the latest in what sometimes seems like a long, unending line of “Initiative” titles from Marvel spinning out of the events of its Civil War crossover event, but it stands out as rather unique as its older brothers and sisters. The reason: it really doesn’t read much like a Marvel Universe comic. Its links to Marvel continuity are tangential. Instead, the book reads like a super-hero title designed to stand on its own or fit into a less developed, newer super-hero universe such as the world of Wildstorm. In any case, the completely new cast of characters, Matt Fraction’s writing and Barry Kitson’s art are more than enough reason to get any fan of solid comics storytelling to take a look. Given the completely new characters introduced here, it’s not surprising that Fraction’s story is accessible; what little one needs to know of Marvel continuity to appreciate the story is spelled out clearly in the script. Visually, the varied designs combined with an effort to give the Order members a uniform look grab the eye. Ultimately, though entertaining, The Order is actually hampered more than helped by its home in the Marvel Universe in terms of storytelling, though the Marvel Comics banner no doubt ensures this take on super-heroes reaches a wider audience than it would have otherwise.

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Quick Critiques – July 19, 2007

All Flash #1 (DC Comics)
by Mark Waid, Karl Kerschl, Ian Churchill, Manuel Garcia, Joe Bennett, Daniel Acuna, Norm Rapmund & Ruy Jose

While I thought Geoff Johns did an admirable job of filling his shoes when he took over the writing reins of DC’s speedster icon, there’s no doubt that no one had a better grasp on the Flash in the past two decades (or more) than writer Mark Waid. Is his return to the character reason to celebrate? I honestly don’t know yet. This special — bridging the gap between the previous, short-lived Flash series and the renewal of the title Waid wrote for so many years — focuses on points of recent continuity. It explores the notion of who gets punished for the previous Flash’s death and who metes out the punishment, for example. Waid also tries to answer some questions that arose from Wally West’s return last month in Justice League of America #10, but the title character and script also dodge a number of them, holding out the promise of more answers in the future. All Flash boasts an accessible script that manages to boil down the convoluted history of the Flash — with its connections to time travel and mysterious, spiritual, pseudo-scientific forces of nature — into something newer readers will be able to follow. It’s also clear that Waid’s approach to writing Wally West, whom he knows so well, will not just be a regurgitation of what he’s done before. Instead, this is Wally trying to live up to more than a heroic legacy, but to responsibilities as a family man. The artwork for this special ranges from quite lovely to frustratingly ordinary. The use of multiple artists to get this project completed may have been expedient, but that comes to the detriment of the storytelling. The shifts from Karl Kerschl’s vibrant, Joshua Middleton-esque visuals to Churchill’s run-of-the-mill super-hero style is not only disappointing but jarring to the reader as well. We also get a taste of what artist Daniel Acuna has in store with his stint on Waid’s new Flash run, and while I like his work, his style seems too stiff for a speedster protagonist. 6/10

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Do You Believe in Magic?

Levitation: Physics and Psychology in the Service of Deception original graphic novella
Writer: Jim Ottaviani
Artist/Cover artist: Janine Johnston
Letters: Tom Orzechowski
Publisher: GT Labs
Price: $12.95 US

Writer Jim Ottaviani is well known in the comics industry for his passion for bringing the history of science to life in sequential storytelling. No one else really does what he does, and even if there were others, I doubt they could do it any better. Levitation is one of two releases this week from his independent GT Labs publishing outfit, and it stands out as a fascinating read. Ottaviani has timed this graphic novella well. With the films The Illusionist and The Prestige still fresh in the pop-culture consciousness, there will no doubt be a greater interest in his history of stage magicians from the late 1800s and early 20th century. Janine Johnston’s artwork certainly captures a sense of the historic here but has a wondrous quality at work as well. Ottaviani crafts a story that not only conveys the cold, hard facts but one that explores the personalities involved. He blends his approach to history with a respect for the legends to which it gave rise. Though the book is a bit pricy for a 72-page volume, there’s no denying that the storytelling is magical.

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True Britt

Full Color original graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Mark Haven Britt
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $15.99 US

This graphic novel appears to be creator Xeric grant recipient Mark Haven Britt’s first published comics project, and on that level alone, it’s impressive. Of course, Britt isn’t entirely a newcomer to the comics industry; he’s the director of marketing for Image Comics. One might think that position have him a leg up on other creators, that his bosses at the comics publishing company did him a solid and published his work regardless of quality. I think one would be wrong in that assumption, though, because Full Color is a surprisingly engrossing, suspenseful and odd piece of fiction. Full Color is part crime novel, part 20s, slice-of-life storytelling a la Singles or Reality Bites. At first, the reader really doesn’t know what to make of Britt’s unusual plot and characters, but the further one delves into this urban drama, the more interesting it gets. The plotting is solid, but what really draws one in is the characterization. The more grounded moments of the story boast dialogue that strikes one as wholly genuine. The convincing and entertaining tone of the script is a testament to the skill of this rookie creator. Like the story, I wasn’t quite taken with the art at first, but the creator’s inventive gritty style and strong eye for anatomy eventually won me over.

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Quick Critiques – July 15, 2007

Annihilation: Conquest – Wraith #1 (Marvel Comics)
by Javier Grillo-Marxuach & Kyle Hotz

Writer Javier Grillo-Marxuach, best known as a creative contributor to TV’s Lost, returns to pen another Annihilation mini-series, and he introduces a new character in the process. Actually, one of the things about this script I enjoyed is that the mysterious alien warrior that serves as the protagonist is never named; he’s not even referred to as “Wraith.” Grillo-Marxuach’s story may be set in space, but it’s more of a blend of Western and martial-arts genres, dressed up as science fiction. I’m pleased to find that the reader need not be familiar with the Annihilation brand or even the events of Annihilation: Conquest – Prologue in order to follow this tale. It holds up well on its own. The mystery surrounding the title character draws the reader into the story, and his use of his morphing weapon in battle makes for some cool sequences. Given the seemingly ghostly nature of the hero, Kyle (The Hood) Hotz was an excellent choice the artist for this limited series. I don’t think he really captures the creepy, personally invasive nature of the antagonists all that well, but the action flows incredibly well. Gina Going-Raney’s colors further enhance the eerie, spectral quality of the protagonist, and they make his weapon — a gun, sword and more — seem more supernatural in appearance than technological. Of the Conquest titles Marvel announced a couple of months ago, I was really only leery of this one, but I’m pleased to discover it’s a solid member of the Annihilation line. I remain impressed with how Marvel’s handled the brand to date. 8/10

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Long Live the King

King City Vol. 1
“Book One: Cat Master”
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Brandon Graham
Letters: Lucas Rivera
Editor: Rob Tokar
Publisher: Tokyopop
Price: $9.99 US/$12.50 CAN

Brandon Graham is hardly a newcomer in the comics industry, but King City is the first one of his projects I’ve encountered (unless my memory fails me, which is possible). I sought out this book thanks to a good buzz online, and I quickly discovered its good reputation is well deserved. Though a release from Tokyopop by a U.S. creator, I wouldn’t call this a sample of Amerimanga. Though there are Japanese influences in the plot and characters, there’s a much more European vibe at play, spiced up with American attitude (the good kind). Graham’s peripheral elements read like something out of Warren Ellis’s head, but he also brings a softer, more grounded quality to the characters and sci-fi society that’s attractive and entertaining. King City is a surreal story that incorporates multiple genres while dedicating itself to none. The result is a surprisingly unique and fresh foray into comics storytelling.

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Tip of the Hat

Stephen Colbert’s Tek Jansen #1
Writers: John Layman & Tom Peyer and Jim Massey
Artists: Scott Chantler and Robbi Rodriguez
Colors: Pete Pantazis & Aurelio Alfonso and Dave McCaig
Letters: Douglas E. Sherwood
Cover artists: Scott Chantler (regular edition) & John Cassaday (variant)
Editors: Randal C. Jarrell & James Lucas Jones
Publisher: Oni Press
Price: $3.99 US

If I had to describe this comic book in one word, it would be…. Lincolnish. (Lincoln was into sci-fi and comics, right? What? No? Oh.) OK, make that one word: Megamerican.

Were I allowed three real words instead of one truthy word, then those three words would be “pretty damn funny.”

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Thor v.3 #1
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Pencils: Olivier Coipel
Inks: Mark Morales
Colors: Laura Martin
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Cover artists: Coipel & Morales/Michael Turner
Editors: Warren Simons
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.75 CAN

Fan reaction to the cloned version of Thor that turned up in Civil War was almost universally negative, and that’s putting it mildly. Nevertheless, “Clor” may have been a smart move in one regard: fans’ hatred for the false version of Marvel’s thunder-god hero demonstrated how much they missed the character and fanned the flames of demand for his return. Well, his return has arrived… or at least it arrives eventually. Writer J. Michael (Fantastic Four, Amazing Spider-Man) Straczynski draws out the process for no good reason, making for a somewhat tedious read. Fortunately, Olivier Coipel’s stunning artwork distracts from the decompressed script. The artist captures the grandeur and magic of a story of a god, and he also brings a dark look to the visuals that adds an air of maturity and mystery to the book.

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