Archive for the ‘Comics’ Category

Into the Longbox

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

Will Eisner’s The Spirit #18, Aragones, Evanier, Smith, Wong. There’s nothing wrong with this issue – no grotesque misalignments of anatomy or anything – but it still doesn’t work for me. As an Eisner tribute, it’s competent and conservative. As a riff on classic characters it’s a tame placement into modern times. It’s a good comic, but no one seems invested in breathing their own life into it.

Grendel: Behold the Devil #8 of 8, Matt Wagner. Behold the Devil ends somewhat anticlimactically. Wagner’s a victim of his own success here. The Hunter Rose Grendel’s story is immutable in all but details and operatic in scope even before the larger saga grows from it. The revelations in Behold the Devil are really a gilding of the lily – interesting enough for a Grendel completeist like myself, but not resonant. Unlike, say the two incidental protagonists of Batman/Grendel, the non-Grendel folks in this series have their destinies clear from the moment we see them on panel. Innocents caught in Grendel’s whirlwind are on the ride of their lives, but have some hope that they’ll merely be tossed onto fate’s shores somewhere they never expected; actual antagonists are invariably atomized (except Batman, of course). These two are clearly going to be annihilated as soon as their fumblings catch Hunter’s eye.

Wagner’s been able to tell exciting stories within those constraints before, but he’s running out of new angles. I don’t begrudge him the attempts, he’s a brilliant creator. And there’s plenty of craft on display here; Wagner’s storytelling and art are clear and keen. Sadly that craft is in the service of a story only an aficionado of Hunter could like, and they know how it comes out.

I’d call it a noble miscue.

Anna Mercury #2, Ellis and Percio. There’s no way that the second issue of this could be as good as the first – and it isn’t – but the ride’s still fast enough that no one’s catching their breath. It’s got the same feel as Speed or the first Star Wars (Episode IV).  You don’t want to look away for fear you’ll miss something.  Beyond that there’s still the seed planted in issue 1 that there’s still more to this than meets the eye. High energy fun.

Into the Longbox

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

Doktor Sleepless #7, Ellis & Rodriguez.  At this point you’re probably either on the bus or off the bus with respect to this title.  I will say that this issue had particularly sharp dialog through it, though there were some clumps of exposition about the world’s underlying technology that showed the man behind the curtain a bit too clearly.  The graphical storytelling had some nice moments as well.  The siren call of the book remains the ideas, though and there were several nice ones scattered throughout.

Also of interest, the backmatter includes a transcript of a talk about the work so far.  Interesting analysis, and might draw some folks in who wouldn’t otherwise have come to it.  Assuming such people read the backmatter of issue 7 of a random comic; maybe it’s more for current readers.

Into the Longbox: week of crotchetyness

Monday, May 26th, 2008

Will Eisner’s The Spirit #17, Aragones, Evanier, Amancio, Austin.  These guys continue to get the Spirit himself to ring pretty true, but to make me wonder who the supporting cast is.  This issue turns Ellen Dolan into a one-dimensional clingy man-grabber rather than the intelligent, capable woman I prefer to see.  It makes me sad to see sub-I Love Lucy characterization of her after Cooke’s more nuanced treatment.  To add injury to insult, Ellen’s drawn as anatomically impossible, and not in a good way.  Not my favorite issue.

Captain America #38, Brubaker, Epting, Perkins, D’Armata.  Man, you know it’s going to be a long week when the best you can say about Captain America is that it was a superior super-hero book.  I mean it is and everything, but nothing sparkled too much for me.  Though, is it just me or is Dr. Faustus beginning to look like he’s running the show?  I’d swear I saw him talk back to the Red Skull and the Skull took it, which is not SOP.  Maybe not such a dead issue after all…

Grendel: Behold the Devil #7, Matt Wagner.  What in the world happened here?  Did Wagner just defuse the whole tension of his narrative to give me a 12-page recap of the 80’s Grendel series?  Why would anyone do that??? I’m enough of a completist to come back and see Hunter snuff the two red herrings next issue, but I don’t know why anyone else would.  I know Wagner’s usually more interesting than this, but I really don’t see the game here. Bizarre.

Into the longbox

Sunday, May 4th, 2008

Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters #8, Palmiotti, Gray, Arlem. This ends the mini-series, and I can’t say I’m sorry to have it done. The best issues of this were very good, but overall the series suffered from a lack of focus. It’s like there were a bunch of storylines they wanted to tell and couldn’t pick one. And even that could have worked if they’d gotten the 8 issue pacing right. They clearly missed; this issue features several attempts at characterization gasped between moments of the climactic struggle on the deck of an invading alien armada. Now, if those attempts are a single sentence that sums up characters relationships that have been building, it can work. These were exposition-heavy soul-baring discussions, and they weren’t so believable.

Black Summer #6, Ellis & Ryp. This has paced itself out nicely. I suspect it will read even better collected, but for now all the pieces have fought their way to their positions for the climax, and though the threats are all clear, the outcome is in doubt. Even the colors seem less dim this issue. Very fun stuff.

Into the Longbox

Sunday, April 27th, 2008

Will Eisner’s The Spirit #16, Aragones, Evanier, Smith. This was a pretty good issue, a light-hearted procedural in a colorful setting. Now, a movie set as a site for actual satire has been done to death, but things are kept light and fun rather than any attempt at social commentary. The Spirit goes undercover and works out the details of a Hitchcockian murder. Nice action, good dialog, even the Spirit himself seems dead on. Nice issue. I guess I’m mostly down on this team for not getting the characterization of the supporting cast pitch-perfect, but this issue shows that they can make the main character and his world work well.

Badger Saves The World #5, Baron and Dose. The Badger’s return stumbles dazed across the finish line. Honestly there are more glimmers of Badger goodness in this issue than it deserves, including a two-panel exchange between Daisy and Ham that makes them live. I think Baron had begun to slip back into the characters’ skins. If this were an ongoing series, I’d be seeing signs of life, even after the unfortunate derailing of the artist last issue. Sigh.

Into The Longbox

Saturday, April 19th, 2008

Grendel: Behold the Devil 6 of 8, Wagner. The last time I did a set of reviews, the watchword was “pacing.”  Behold the Devil is a nicely paced series.  The slow burn of the first 5 issues comes to a nice boil here, and Wagner ends the issue with a sharp twist.  Nicely done, and for the first time I’m anticipating the next issue rather than hanging around for it.

Captain America #37, Brubaker, Epting, D’Armata. A new arc begins, the Skull gloats, Sharon squirms, Bucky faces Cap’s old friends and the big reveal from last issue comes into more focus.  If this were a chess move, it would be something quiet and positional, but sound.  I’m not gasping with excitement, but everything’s moving well.

War Is Hell: The First Flight of the Phantom Eagle #1 & #2, Ennis and Chaykin.  Though this is in some sense a revamping of Marvel’s Phantom Eagle character, it’s really a story of WWI fighter pilots told by Garth Ennis and illustrated by Howard Chaykin.  Ennis’s war stories are always excellent with a gritty realism and incongruous grandeur that makes you laugh and pulls your heartstrings.  Chaykin’s art is precise and intricate with a keen design sense and a wicked sense of humor.  The combination is delightful.  And I’m a sucker for WWI flying stories.  I’d buy it for the pretty drawings of Sopwith Pups and Fokker Albatrosses, but to have a great Ennis story attached is a huge bonus.

Highly recommended.

Into the Longbox

Sunday, April 13th, 2008

Badger Saves the World #4, Baron and Dose. What happened here? Things went completely off the rails; Caron was apparently not up to the publishing schedule of the book and is gone. The new guy, Dose is kinda thrown in the deep end and doesn’t make it all work. There are parts of this issue where I’m not even sure what’s going on – and not in a good way. If you’re not a Badger competist I’d stay away.

The Last Defenders #2 (of 6), Casey, Giffen, Muniz. I want to like this, and it’s not happening. A third of the way in, I haven’t found any character whose fate interests me or who I can identify with or pull for. I’ve been kind of enjoying the Flaming Skull’s ongoing wise cracking, but that doesn’t a book make. I’ll probably drop this.

Will Eisner’s The Spirit #15, Argones, Evanier, Smith. Man, I’m still not loving the new team. The art is really nice. if anything it’s maybe a tad too imitative of Eisner, but I can’t really argue with clean lines and good storytelling. The real problem I have with this issue is that I feel like P’Gell isn’t handled quite right. My image of her is of someone a little more on top of The Spirit. It’s rare that the Spirit ever gets the best of her, and then she seems to pop back to the surface like a cork. Her being the half-assed mastermind of this convoluted diamond smuggling plan just didn’t work for me. Your mileage may vary, and the art’s very good.

Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters #7 (of 8), Palmiotti, Gray, Arlem. The pacing of this book is staring to drive me to distraction. I expect that the creative team had some ideas running around from their previous series that they wanted to resolve, but they really seem to have paced things badly. The first few issues were nice set-ups – and even thoughtful and interesting in places – but now everything’s just happening at once because there’s only one issue left. This doesn’t give a feeling of climax to the final issue, and the whole series seems rattly and disjointed. Missed opportunity.

Captain America #36, Brubaker, Guice, Perkins, D’Armata. This, on the other hand, is a pretty good example of pacing. The Skull’s plan bubbles along, new revelations are made, old characters part ways, and the tension keeps a general upward trend. It’s telling that the ending of 35 left a lot of balls in the air, but one clear question :”how’s Bucky going to do against Sin and the Serpent Squad.” This issue ends on a similar cliffhanger.

But, along the way, we continue the theme of exploring the differences between Bucky and Steve in the Captain America suit, which is really an exploration of who Captain America is. And with CA being the Marvel ideal of an American hero, this is ultimately an exploration of what a hero is.

And there are fight scenes!

It’s a great book. If you read superheroes at all, you should be reading this.

All-Star Superman #10, Morrison & Quitely. Morrison and Quitely’s illumination of Superman is thick with in-joke nods, but rich with heart. It’s also as good as anything out there in super-hero land. This issue continues to develop the “Superman is dying” plot that has driven much of the series (updating a classic “Last Will and Testament of Superman” story, of course), and showing us what Morrison and Quitely think is most important about Superman. It’s a slow, nuanced issue that still manages to build tension.

Young Liars #2, David Lapham. I didn’t like this issue much. I know it’s supposed to be kinetic and loud as a great punk song, but it just felt rushed and forced to me. I usually like Lapham, so maybe I was expecting too much.

Doktor Sleepless #6. Ellis & Rodriguez. Clearly bookending the first arc, this issue was a little too much fact and not enough plot and characterization for me. After the last couple issues where the characters seemed to breathe and move of their own accord so much, this felt very expository. There’s even a character summarizing the plot in bulleted lists, which is as clumsy as it sounds. Hopefully this is just a pause as the next arc kicks in the afterburners again.

Anna Mercury #1. Ellis & Percio. I’ve been picking up a lot of new first issues lately, it seems, and by and large they’re OK. Most draw me in enough to read another issue and see how things pick up. A few don’t hold me at all. A first issue is a really difficult thing to do right; even some of the most influential series around have mediocre first issues.

In Anna Mercury #1, Ellis and Percio show us how it’s supposed to be done. We’re dumped into the action taking place in an interesting world that’s shown to us in glimpses germane to the headlong action that the mysterious protagonist drags us excitedly into. There are enough familiar action/sci-fi tropes to lean on that we can barely keep our bearings even as we see where our protagonist violates those tropes. The issue winds to a cliffhanger that will draw us back for the next issue: How’s she getting out of this? And then the last page pulls 20 G’s zooming us up 30,000 ear-popping, mind-bending feet to where a hundred new questions scream at us while Anna’s still hanging from that cliff below.

If you can read this and not need to buy the next issue, you may want to stop buying comics altogether.

Into the longbox

Sunday, March 16th, 2008

Captain America #35, Burbaker, Guice, D’Armata. I don’t know if Epting is gone for good, or if Guice is just filling in. I’d be delighted if he stuck around; I’ve enjoyed his art since he did the Mike Baron Flash restart in the 80’s.

Back in the plot, things are bubbling along nicely, with the Skull’s plan in full swing, Bucky stepping into Cap’s role, and something horrible being visited on Sharon. Tense thrilling stuff. And I’m enough of a 14-year old boy to be looking forward to Bucky wiping the floor with the Serpent Squad next issue. (Yes, that sentence was an utter joy to write.)

Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters #6, Palmiotti, Gray, Arlem. Lots going on this issue as the good guys wriggle in the Red Bee’s trap and help comes from an obscure hero. Well, indirectly. There’s also this ongoing Doll Man subplot that I just find distracting. The art looks much less phoned-in/photoshopped. Still a potboiler, but pretty decent.

Young Liars #1, David Lapham. Apparently Vertigo pays better than the self-publishing gig, according to the brief interview in here. It’s David Lapham in full on Stray Bullets mode. OK, not full on Stray Bullets mode; that would be Stray Bullets, but similar themes. If anything Young Liars seems a little more fast-paced. This is really a set-up, meet-the-cast issue that turns out to be reasonably enjoyable. I’ll check in again to see where it goes.

Gravel #1, Ellis, Wolfer, Caceres. So far still mostly random violence as Gravel runs down the Sigsand Manuscript, which seems to be leaving a swath of evil in its wake. So far just a random horror/adventure tale, but there are hints of a bigger picture. I’m an Ellis fan, so I’ll give him a few more issues to drag me in.

Badger Saves the World #3, Baron & Caron. This is actually getting a little better. I can’t really nail it down, but this had more of a Badger rhythm than #1 & #2. Baron’s still about as subtle as a car bomb in his characterization of Arabs, but things are moving more harmoniously now. It’s nice to see Riley (OK, Qwami) still has it and that Dr. Buick Riviera is still out there. I’m not sure I can recommend it for general consumption yet, but I’m enjoying it more.

The Last Defenders #1, Casey, Geffen, Muniz. I’ve been on kind of a Defenders kick lately – but for another post – so I picked this up. Super-hero action with Geffen’s love of the big supernatural stuff in the background. So far OK, but just OK.

Into the Longbox

Saturday, February 23rd, 2008

Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters #5, by Palmiotti, Gray, Arlem. Pacer issue. We get a few more distractions (which might be foreshadowing if this weren’t a limited series) and are shown that the Red Bee is really a baddie. Other than that, not much happens. Until the fellows over at Matching Dragoons pointed it out (link via Mike Sterling), I didn’t notice how much photoshop copying of panels was going on in this book. It’s pretty embarrassing to miss that, but I still like the art. It matches the characters world well and the copying seems to have reduced itself this issue.

Will Eisner’s The Spirit #14, Argones, Evanier, Ploog, Farmer. First issue with the new team. I’m not delighted. I really liked Cooke’s touch with these characters, keeping their essence and updating them. Evanier and Argones’s touch doesn’t seem as light. It may just be me, but having Ebony address the Spirit as “Boss” just encapsulated how much the richness of Cooke’s characterization was peeled back by the new team. Cooke’s Ebony was capable on his own; Evanier and Argones’s whines to be taken out to lunch. Characterization that was rich in the 1940’s is not rich today.

The art is much more consciously Eisner-ish – which is good and bad – and honestly I liked the action pieces very much (which is just good).

I’ll stick around, but I have plenty of old Spirit stories I can re-read if the team remains this stiff.

Grendel: Behold the Devil #5, Matt Wagner. We’re thick in the middle of things now, and it remains enjoyable. Hunter’s always so entertaining; it must be a great delight for Wagner to get to write someone so unselfconsciously amoral and egotistical. Things happen, the art’s still good, and the plot thickens. Unlike The Badger, Grendel hasn’t lost a step since the 1980s.

Into the longbox

Monday, February 18th, 2008

Badger Saves The World #2, Baron and Caron. Better, but not great. I don’t know if Badger’s changed more or I have. Plenty of old Badger tropes are in play, but I just don’t feel as much enjoyment out of the whole thing. Maybe because I’ve seen much of this before and it was fresher then. Maybe Baron’s getting crankier in his old age. I just don’t feel the sparkle here, which is a shame.

Will Eisner’s The Spirit #13, Gold & Risso, O’Neil & Templeton, Simone & Hester & Parks. A fill-in issue with short stories by the various groups above. The Glen David Gold and Eduardo Risso story is visually interesting, but ultimately muddled. When you’re trying to do a visual twist story, you need a deceptively clear artist – say David Gibbons. While I think Risso’s art is stylish, I just don’t like his storytelling. I’d buy a set of single page pin-ups from him, but his sequences require so much work out of me to follow that it breaks me out of the story.

Templeton and O’Neil’s story is, on the other hand crisp and clear. It’s just not very innovative. The writing’s perfectly clear and appropriate for the Spirit, and Templeton’s art and layouts charm, but again, there’s no spark of the new. It’s the kind of story that’s worth study rather than enjoyment; the technique’s excellent.

Of the three I liked the Simone story best. Simone’s telling a story without dialog, just icons, and the art is extra lively and expressive to make up for it. Where I found the work decoding Risso’s art distratcing, I easily tripped along with Simone’s tale. As for Hester & Parks art, even the panels where nothing in particular is happening are dynamic – almost electric. The story just rips along and, while it won’t move anyone to tears, is a thoroughly good time. In 8 pages we meet a new villain, watch dastardly deeds, watch our hero struggle, meet new allies, and see justice in the end, all while the writer and artist stretch their abilities and the medium. I think Eisner would applaud.

Captain America #34, Brubaker, Epting, Guice, D’Armata. Bucky takes up Captain America’s mantle and the Red Skull makes his move. A splash page of an issue, that’s honestly well executed, but not what I come for. We have to have this kind of issue to underscore the “return” of Cap, and sell a few extra copies to the gullible, but I’m waiting to get back to Brubaker’s pace again next issue.

Black Summer #5, Ellis and Ryp. This series is going to read better in the trades. This is all paced to be read in one breathless sitting, and reviewing discrete chunks of it is pretty unfair. Things continue to be trying for the Guns, who are surprised by Blacksmith’s team this issue. There are more revelations about Tom that will be no surprise to anyone who’s grokked that character, and Ellis holds forth some on Iraq. Honestly, the only depressing thing about the issue is the art, and there, really the coloring. Much of the issue is a fight between black-garbed antagonists in the dark. Simultaneously maintaining the dark atmosphere and letting the reader follow the action is difficult. Mark Sweeny’s the colorist here, and he could take a few cues from Captain America’s D’Armata. They’re up to similar things in these two issues, but I followed Bucky’s night fight the first time to the point where I could enjoy the visual jokes, while I had to retrace the Guns’ battle to follow the basic action. Still solid stuff, though.

Doktor Sleepless #5, Ellis and Rodriguez. I continue to enjoy this, and things are moving along at a good clip now. Having spent 4 issues introducing his world, Ellis begins to reveal some of the mysteries. An interesting, fun issue with in-world revelations (Reinhardt’s not omniscient), plot development, and another thought provoking Ellis/Sleepless rant on authenticity. Rodriguez’s art continues to be clean and tel the story beautifully. This will certainly read better in collection as well (I’m already benefiting from rereading), but I won’t be able to wait that long to see it come out.