Tribal Counsel

Scalped #1
“Indian Country, Part One of Three”
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: R.M. Guera
Colors: Lee Loughridge
Letters: Phil Balsman
Cover artist: Jock
Editor: Will Dennis
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo imprint
Price: $2.99 US/$4 CAN

Comics scribe Jason Aaron offers up a new ongoing title that works well as a crime drama. There’s an intensity to the plotting and characters that puts one in mind of another Vertigo title, 100 Bullets. Aaron takes us into a violent world where brutality trumps reason and corruption reigns supreme. The artwork captures the setting and violent circumstances quite well. Sounds like another solid winner from Vertigo, right? Well, culture hasn’t factored into the equation yet. Aaron isn’t just bringing a crime story to life; he also invites his readership into an isolated and oppressed culture that, for the most part, remains ignored and abused even in the 21st century. The depiction of the politics of a reservation and its residents didn’t sit all that well with me. Some might dismiss it as liberal white guilt, but I hope we’ll find more balance in the characters and cultural elements in future issues.

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Tony Stark Sees It as Sectarian Violence

Civil War #6
Writer: Mark Millar
Pencils: Steve McNiven
Inks: Dexter Vines
Colors: Morry Hollowell
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Cover artists: McNiven & Vines (regular) and Michael Turner (variant)
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.75 CAN

Marvel’s flagship event title of 2006 reaches its penultimate issue in the first week of 2007. The past couple of issues have sparked some controversy and angry reactions among some readers, but they haven’t appeared to have negatively impacted the sales of this limited series. As such, I expect the outraged and entertained alike will be on board for this sixth episode as well, and the good news is that the plotting in this issue shouldn’t elicit extreme reactions. On the other hand, the overall pacing of this issue likely won’t get much reaction of any kind. Still, there are a couple of smaller moments that stand out as strong, and Steve McNiven’s artwork will not disappoint. Ultimately, the theme of personal freedoms versus demands for security falls to the wayside as the series approaches its finale, making room for a big, colorful super-hero rumble. It’s a big genre crossover story, after all, so I suppose such a stereotypical conclusion is to be expected.

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Dark Towering Inferno

All hail Stephen King, Marvel Comics proclaims, urging readers and retailers to get excited about the upcoming release of its comic-book adaptation of King’s Dark Tower novels. The problem is that recently, many are crying foul, feeling as though Marvel promised a King-written comic book featuring new content, not adapted material. It turns out comics writer Peter David is penning the scripts, with art by Jae Lee. Thanks to the magic of Google, it’s easy to determine if those bait-and-switch allegations have any real basis. I dug up the original news release (issued in the fall of 2005), as well as various websites’ coverage of the initial announcement.

Other versions of the initial news release online note that the first issue of this landmark project was originally slated for release in April 2006. With Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born #1 slated for release Feb. 7, that puts the project almost a full year behind schedule. That’s another black eye for the project from a publisher with an unfortunate reputation for lateness when it comes to high-profile projects.

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Quick Critiques – Jan. 1, 2007

Detective Comics #827 (DC Comics)
by Paul Dini, Don Kramer & Wayne Faucher

Given the breath of fresh air he and Bruce Timm breathed into the world of the Batman on TV in the mid 1990s, writer Paul Dini is a natural choice to fashion and introduce a new version of the Ventriloquist. I have to admit, his script is executed quite well, offering a surprising twist rather than the stereotypical resurrection we’re set up to expect. Dini’s script paints Gotham’s underworld as something more akin to the dark corners of Dick Tracy’s world; it’s not just the super-villains, but every thug has a gimmick now. This issue doesn’t represent penciller Don Kramer’s best work. The figures are stiff throughout the episode. Anatomy seems off, and movement isn’t at all convincing. However, his depiction of Scarface is striking. A gun-toting puppet could be a laughable visual, but he manages to depict it as an intimidating presence. Though I was surprised, the plot is otherwise by the numbers, and I really don’t see what the point is beyond establishing the Ventriloquist as a viable member of the Batman’s rogues gallery once again. Furthermore, the new villain’s motives are unclear; the intent seems only to eliminate a threat that was unaware of the new criminal mastermind’s existence in the first place. 6/10

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Dawn (in Vietnam) of the Dead

’68 one-shot
Writer: Mark Kidwell
Artist/Cover artist: Nat Jones
Colors: Jay Fotos
Letters: Jason Hanley
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99 US/$4.60 CAN

They say timing is everything, and that holds true when it comes to the business and craft of comics as well. Take, for example, the timing of ’68, a zombie-horror story set in the middle of the Vietnam War. A few years ago, this would have struck me as an innovative, clever and entertaining combination of the horror and war genres, worthy of the imagination of such writers as Garth Ennis or Warren Ellis.  But this isn’t a few years ago. Kidwell and Jones have released this story in the midst of a major zombie fad in pop culture; no doubt, this one-shot owes its existence to that fad. In that context, ’68 lacks a certain impact. I realize that when discussing a medium so dominated by the super-hero genre it might seem silly to complain about a small glut of zombie comics, but nevertheless, this felt like a minor float in a long parade boasting an undead theme. All the same, the writing and art are solidly executed. Though predictable, the story is somewhat diverting and definitely accomplishes what it sets out to do.

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Wow, No Lump of Coal

It was a great Christmas this year. Though I missed not getting home to see my parents and brothers, I had a lovely time with my girlfriend’s family, and the holiday held a number of wonderful surprises. I have a variety of wonderful new toys to play with, such as a great new, larger, flat monitor for my computer (thanks, honey!) and satellite radio for the car. When it comes to comics gifts, I’m not easy to shop for from my loved ones’ perspective, as they’re not into comics, and just about every peripheral, comics-related item that I really want, I tend to get for myself anyway. My girlfriend did well with picking up the DVD box set of the various Superman movies. But my parents — who at one time really wanted me to cast off comics as a relic of my childhood — really surprised me this year with an unusual, inexpensive little gift: a grab bag of old DC and Marvel comics from the 1970s and ’80s.

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More 2006 Glass Eye Awards – Creators

Welcome back to the first annual Glass Eye Awards (click here to check out Part One). Everybody who is anybody in the world of comics is… well, not here but somewhere else, probably getting soused on holiday eggnog and rum. And I think I’ll join them (hold the eggnog, please). As I pour liquor over the pain of the past 12 months, I’ll reflect back on the comics creators who stood out as the best in the industry in 2006. Bear in mind, there’s no way for one person to read all that the comic-book industry had to offer in the course of a single month, let alone a full year. This is by no means a definitive list, just my two cents’ worth. But hey, people seem to like these “Best of” lists.

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The 2006 Glass Eye Awards – Comics

It’s time to roll out the red carpet and dole out my personal “awards” for the best of the past year. Of course, the carpet in question was originally an off-white, stained red by the blood of pizza-delivery guys and endangered birds. Anyhoo, welcome to the first annual Glass Eye Awards, honoring the cream of the crop in comics, as best as we here at Eye on Comics can figure (and by “we,” I mean me). Bear in mind, there’s no way for me to have read all comics and graphic novels released in 2006, and a few choices — perhaps even obvious ones — may have been accidentally omitted, as my mind is no steel trap. In other words, don’t view this list as any kind of final word or all-encompassing, definitive list of the tops in comics.

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Quick Critiques – Dec. 17, 2006

Bullet Points #2 (Marvel Comics)
by J. Michael Straczynski & Tommy Lee Edwards

Straczynski’s alternate history of the Marvel Universe might seem mildly interesting to the devoted fan of the publisher’s extensive library of characters, but ultimately, the point of these tweaked events is elusive. Sure, it’s fun to see Steve Rogers cast in the role of Iron Man or Peter Parker as the Hulk, but the writer doesn’t seem to be saying anything new or different about any of the characters. The narration about bullets, the science of ballistics and the history-changing power of projectiles is effective, but it’s also growing a bit old; by the end of the series, I expect it’ll be tired. I’m also disappointed that the writer doesn’t give the audience a clearer picture of the time in which the story is set. Tommy Lee Edwards’s art remains as strong as ever, of course, and I like how his pseudo-painted style nevertheless manages to capture the charm and simplicity of Silver Age incarnations of familiar, iconic figures. I’m particularly taken with how Edwards’s colors tend to glow. The visuals are often bright, but the artist never sacrifices the darker, tragic quality that’s inherent in Straczynski’s script. 5/10

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Like Eliza Doolittle, Only in Fetish Gear

Wonder Man v.2 #1
“My Fair Super Hero”
Writer: Peter David
Pencils: Andrew Currie
Inks: Drew Hennessy
Colors: Rob Schwager
Letters: Dave Lanphear
Cover artists: Currie & Hennessy
Editor: John Barber
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.75 CAN

I’m rather indifferent when it comes to the character of Wonder Man. I’ve read a few Avengers stories over the years that made good use of the character, but I attribute that to good writing, not any inherent potential in the character. Peter David is a writer whose work usually appeals to me, so I decided to give this new title a look. The first thing that strikes one about this Wonder Man mini-series is how much the art hurts the book. The figures are so distorted that the visuals completely distract one from the story. Andrew Currie’s linework isn’t at all palatable. And if that weren’t disappointing enough, the story itself is far from David’s finest work. The title character here is a complete cipher. There’s no hint of any real personality here. David’s riff on Pygmalion/My Fair Lady is the star here, and the idea fails to sustain my interest for a few pages, let alone a few issues.

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Beauty Is In the Eisner of the Beholder

The Spirit #1
“Ice Ginger Coffee”
Writer/Pencils/Cover artist: Darwyn Cooke
Inks: J. Bone
Colors: Dave Stewart
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
Editor: Scott Dunbier
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$4 CAN

Artist Darwyn Cooke is no stranger to writing for the medium. He penned Batman: Ego and merited a lot of attention for his work on DC: The New Frontier (which is getting a big push during this holiday gift-giving season with its Absolute edition). But with his scripts on Superman: Confidential and now The Spirit, Cooke is really starting to come into his own as a comics writer. Based on the Batman/The Spirit one-shot Cooke did recently with writer Jeph Loeb, I was expecting a light, traditional super-hero romp in this first issue. Instead, Cooke offers up a clever and entertaining criticism of 24-hour news networks and superficial journalism. Even the writer/artist’s visual storytelling exceeds expectations, and given Cooke’s track record as a comics artist, that’s really saying something.

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Quick Critiques – Dec. 12, 2006

The Escapists #5 (Dark Horse Comics)
by Brian K. Vaughan, Jason Shawn Alexander & Steve Rolston

The plot takes a couple of unusual turns in this issue, turns that test one’s ability to suspend disbelief a bit. Max’s deduction of who’s behind Denny’s legal woes and Case’s encounter with the corporate lawyer are a bit difficult to swallow, and those moments took me out of the story for a bit. But overall, I remain thrilled with the storytelling techniques and the personal, slice-of-life focus of the plot. The most striking scene in the book is the final one, as we visit with Denny in jail. Vaughan brings a surprisingly harsh element into play. It’s such a divergent turn in the story that it packs a real emotional impact, but it’s an effective one. The writer drives home the notion that what’s happening is serious, not just off the wall. Jason Alexander’s dark artwork is as sharp as ever, but I like that the darkness doesn’t translate into grim-n-gritty territory. The script still maintains a traditional, light tone in the storytelling. Rolston’s artwork continues to impress as well. It reminds me of the styles of such other comic artists as Philip Bond, Tim Levins and Cameron Stewart. 7/10

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If You Can’t Stand the Heat…

Meltdown: Book 1
Writer: David B. Schwartz
Artist/Letters: Sean Wang
Colors: Guru-eFX
Cover artist: Chris Bachalo
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $5.99 US/$6.80 CAN

The title of this two-issue limited series doesn’t refer to the protagonist’s super-hero identity but rather what the heat-based hero is going through. David B. Schwartz is just the latest new writer to offer up a realistic, mature and dark vision of a super-hero. We see so many of these stories these days, it’s difficult for new ones to stand out, to come across as something more than cliched. Schwartz’s story manages to stand out, just a little. This isn’t a typical super-hero story. It’s a tragedy about a man who’s been denied his dreams, his desires and a dynamic destiny. The grounded narration is compelling. The artwork is well done, but it’s inconsistent. Of course, this is purposeful, done for the sake of the storytelling, but I don’t think the approach works as intended.

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By George, I Think He’s Got It

George Perez: Storyteller hardcover
Writer: Christopher Lawrence
Cover artist: George Perez
Publisher: Dynamic Forces
Price: $29.99 US

I’m a huge George Perez fan and have been since I was a kid. I first remember sampling his work in the early 1980s on New Teen Titans and Justice League of America. There was just something about his work that set it apart from the art in other comics. The detail, the density of the panel layouts, the expressiveness of the characters’ faces… it all stood out as being unique, at least in my mind as a pre-teen and teenage comic fan. This isn’t the first time someone has published a book about Perez’s career — I have a copy of Focus on George Perez hiding around here somewhere — but this book strikes me as being more blunt and honest about the twists and turns on the path the artist has taken over the years. The writer examines not only Perez’s successes but instances in which he faltered or circumstances did not play out to his advantage.

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The Society Pages

Justice Society of America v.3 #1
“The Next Age, Chapter 1”
Writer: Geoff Johns
Pencils: Dale Eaglesham
Inks: Art Thibert
Colors: Jeromy Cox
Letters: Rob Leigh
Cover artists: Alex Ross (regular edition) & Dale Eaglesham (variant)
Editor: Stephen Wacker & Eddie Berganza
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US/$5.50 CAN

Ever since the Silver Age of Comics, stories featuring the Justice Society of America and its members have been about preserving tradition, about remembering where the modern icons of super-hero pop culture of today came from in the first place. That was true of Gardner Fox’s JLA/JSA stories in Justice League of America in the 1960s. It was true of Paul Levitz’s JSA stories in All-Star Comics in the 1970s. And it was true of Roy Thomas’s All-Star Squadron in the 1980s. I loved all of those stories and still do today. In this relaunched series, writer Geoff Johns balances the fondness of the heroes of yesteryear with an accessible script and a slightly darker edge.

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