7 SOLDIERS OF VICTORY #1
Writer: Grant Morrison Artist: J.H.Williams Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Ambush BugReading a Grant Morrison book is frustrating. Morrison is a visionary. He’s an idea man; someone whose mind seems to be on overdrive, constantly churning out one creative idea after another. The problem I have found in following many a Grant Morrison story throughout the years is that as a storyteller, Morrison needs some work. Oftentimes, the grand imaginings have that “Aww cool!” factor, but lack the grounding to actually make a cohesive story. Morrison rarely follows a conventional storytelling path. Sure, there are some of you out there who will smugly try to say I’m just an idiot for “not getting” Morrison’s stories. Some of you will say his work is “art” and look past the fact that things happen for no reason, or worse yet, the story proceeds without making a lick of sense whatsoever.
But I don’t care what you say, SEVEN SOLDIERS #1 is the comic book version of an interesting cell phone conversation with bad reception. There is some great stuff there--some great continuations from the year-long SEVEN SOLDIERS set of miniseries--but I found it sometimes painfully difficult to understand what the hell was going on throughout the entire read and by the time I finished the book, I was to the point where I no longer gave a shit. There were a lot of pretty pictures, a lot of cool characters, a whole lotta stuff goin’ on, but I didn’t understand any of it.
One of the biggest problems here is the fact that this story has been so disjointed in its many miniseries that a cohesive and straightforward final act was necessary in order to bring it all together. Each of the SEVEN SOLDIERS miniseries had moments of greatness highlighted by the truly creepy (KLARION), straight-up super heroism (ZATANNA, GUARDIAN, BULLETEER), swords n’ sorcery (SHINING KNIGHT), damn coolness (FRANKENSTIEN), and ballz out trippy-ness (MISTER MIRACLE). But the miniseries themselves were tied together by the thinnest of threads. Sometimes the faerie invasion was simply a sidebar to the actual story. Other times I sensed that what was going on had some kind of relevance, but since Morrison used so much in-speak, I found myself in need of a Morrison-to-English dictionary to follow all of the new names the writer was throwing at us. The Seven Soldiers mythology seems to be a grand one, each character having an entire universe of histories, languages, and meanings, but Morrison seems to be the only one in possession of the type of literary Rosetta Stone needed to translate this shit and he doesn’t seem to be in the mood to share it with the reader.
I don’t know what I was expecting with this final act. Maybe a panel or two featuring all of the Seven Soldiers coming together? Maybe someone explaining something that has been going on? A page of exposition explaining it all then some good ol’ comic book @$$-kickery? But none of that happens. I’m all for making the reader work for the story. I don’t need a writer to spoon feed me the plot and tie it up in a pretty little bow, but after reading and re-reading this one, I still can’t make heads or tails of it.
Try to follow me here. At the beginning of the book, we have some loon yodeling and saying something that might be relevant, but I don’t even know who the narrator is or how he functions in the story. We then cut to a few flashback splashes from the different miniseries. The narrative jumps from the story that ended in SHINING KNIGHT to MISTER MIRACLE back to SHINING KNIGHT and then back to our loon-bird narrator all in the span of the first 12 pages. Somewhere along the way the origin of Sheeda (the main baddie…I think) is explained. Then we get three pages of modern day newspaper pages of the Manhattan Guardian from the GUARDIAN series. The Bulleteer is driving a car. Zatanna is riding a flying horse. Klarion meets a faerie princess. We get one splash page that is the closest thing we get to having the Seven Soldiers sharing the same space explaining that “It’s all gone wrong!” Time’s wearing thin, space is bending, dogs and cats are doing Jaeger bombs in the corner, and a bear is moon walking down Main Street (ok, I made that last shit up, but at this point, does it really matter?). Splash of Frankenstein. Splash of Zatanna. Guardian kisses a girl. Sheeda seemingly beats Shining Knight. Mister Miracle confronts Darkseid…I mean, Dark Side and ***SPOILER*** gets his brains blown out. ***END SPOILER*** Flying horse saves Shining Knight. Spyder from the first SEVEN SOLDIERS issue pops out of nowhere to shoot an arrow into Sheeda. Bulleteer wrecks her car. Kooky narrator talks about a coat. Shining Knight gets her sword back. Narrator disappears into a swamp. Splash of Klarion laughing. I shit you not, a dog becomes an heir to a fortune. And finally, ***SPOILER***we end with Mister Miracle rising from the grave.***END SPOILER***
If any of you followed that last paragraph and were entertained (in a good way, mind you, not in a guy gets kicked in the nuts kind of way) then all the power to you. But that was some disjointed shit that read as if there were quite a few pages missing somewhere in between the ones I got. It’s possible that my distaste for this thing has a lot to do with the fact that this final issue is so lately distributed. It was supposed to wrap up a few months ago, but rumor has it that Morrison did a ton of rewrites for this final issue, delaying its release. In art, one of the hardest things to do is saying the words “I’m finished” and walk away from the piece with the feeling that it is at a point of completion. A good artist knows it in his gut when the artwork in question has reached the point where more work would ruin the piece. After reading this final mish-mosh of panels Morrison calls the SEVEN SOLDIERS finale, I find myself wishing Morrison would have either walked away from this thing a little earlier or stayed with it a bit longer to clarify some things like plot, character, and reasons why I should give a shit. Either way, this issue we got is not a good way to end a pretty phenomenal set of miniseries.
In the end, SEVEN SOLDIERS #1 is a mess of good looking artwork, but little else. I had high hopes for this SEVEN SOLDIERS thing. It was a massive project, tying seven miniseries together to tell a year-long tale. But like Morrison’s final issues of NEW X-MEN or the final issue of SEAGUY, Morrison throws narrative and reason out the window and ended up losing this reader. Morrison is one of those writers capable of greatness (WE3, ALL STAR SUPERMAN), but not this time…not this time at all.
JUSTICE # 8
Written by: Jim Kreuger and Alex Ross Illustrated by: Doug Braithwaite and Alex Ross Published by: DC Comics Reviewed by: superheroThe team finally pulls itself together in this issue after getting the beat down from Jim Kreuger and Alex Ross’ version of the Legion of Doom. There’s some really good, solid stuff in this issue, most of it dealing with interpersonal moments between the team. Sure, there weren’t any absolutely spectacular big screen moments in this comic, but this issue of JUSTICE ends up being quite entertaining because of the quiet yet dramatic moments between certain players of the team--one of these being the opening exchange between Batman and Superman and the other a small hiss fight between Elongated Man and Plastic Man. It was the latter confrontation that I thought really made this issue interesting, as it just seems to confirm, to a certain extent, my suspicions that this whole series is Ross’ reaction to IDENTITY CRISIS and the mess that followed it. Some of the stuff that Elongated Man brings up in that sequence really made me think a bit especially with what’s happened to the character in the mainstream DCU since the aforementioned mini-series. I’ve read that Alex Ross believes that Plastic Man was pretty much a template for all stretchy heroes that followed him, and while he’s probably right about that, in this issue of JUSTICE you can see Ross still has some love for Ralph Dibny and his place in the DC pantheon. Yeah, yeah, I get that Elongated Man was probably no one’s favorite character before IC (or even after it) but what comes across in these pages is a respect for the character’s place in DC Comics history which is something that was truly lacking in IDENTITY CRISIS even if he is a silly nose twitching detective type with a lame sense of humor.
In any case, this issue of JUSTICE continued to deliver the goods for me. Like I said, there’re no jaw dropping moments in here, but it is a straightforward superhero tale with some neat moments. The inevitable confrontation between the Flash and Captain Cold finally plays out and it’s a really fun bit. The best part of the whole issue, though, is seeing Ross and Braithwaite render some of the secondary players in the DCU. Seeing their interpretation of the Teen Titans, Doom Patrol, and the Metal Men just makes me completely giddy as those are characters that I’ve yet to see Ross illustrate to a great degree. Let me tell you--that, to me, it’s been worth the price of the comic alone. I, for one, would love to see Ross do a Teen Titans/Doom Patrol crossover. Something like that would be absolutely worth its weight in gold to me. While I appreciate all of the Justice League work that Ross has done the past several years I think it’s time for him to move into doing stories for some of the other characters in the DCU. Hell, you can’t tell me that it wouldn’t sell, right? C’mon! An Alex Ross Metal Men series? It’s money in the bank!
Either way JUSTICE looks like it’s on its way to revving the superhero action up to eleven and I’m hoping that all of this hullabaloo has been worth the wait. I don’t think that I’m going to be disappointed. Ross’ work has never let me down before and while I don’t expect JUSTICE to be the kick in the nuts that KINGDOM COME was I do think it’ll probably give me a final act that’s at least as satisfying.
NEW AVENGERS #24Writer: Brian Michael Bendis Artist: Pascual Ferry
CAPTAIN AMERICA #23Writer: Ed Brubaker Artist: Mike Perkins Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: Ambush Bug I promise not to go off on a Bendis rant here because I actually thought NEW AVENGERS #24 was a pretty solid piece of writing. And I’m not going to jump onto a soapbox comparing the old writer of DAREDEVIL to the new one, even though I’m preferring Brubaker’s work on CAPTAIN AMERICA, especially issues like #23 which focus on Bucky/The Winter Soldier, to his work on Hornhead’s title. No. The reason why I chose to review these two books is because they focus on characters who view the events going on in Marvel’s big to-do event CIVIL WAR and focus on how much of a big fat mess it is.
NEW AVENGERS #24 focuses on the Sentry who, in the middle of the battle that ended with the death of Black Goliath, decides to get a little “me” time and think this whole Civil War thing over. Of course, Marvel’s version of Superman goes to the moon to do this, inadvertently raising the ire of those pesky Inhumans. This is a pretty busy issue with some great interactions between the Sentry and the inhabitants of the moon’s Blue Area. Seems since the last QUICKSILVER miniseries, the Inhumans aren’t too happy with the humans because the American government and SHIELD kept the Inhumans from punishing Quicksilver for stealing the Terrigen Mists (the precious gas that gives the Inhumans their amazing powers). They’ve waged war on Earth, but the funny thing is that the Earth’s heroes are so busy fighting each other that they are oblivious that such a powerful race of super-humans are plotting their revenge on earth’s only natural satellite. There are quite a few revelations in this issue, especially one shocker that Crystal and the Sentry have “history.” I like what Bendis did with this issue and some of the ones before it. Since there isn’t much of an Avengers team these days (not that they were much of a team to begin with), it’s nice to see each issue feature how each member is reacting to Civil War.
My problem with this issue of NA is what Marvel seems to be doing with the Sentry himself as a character. Who is the Sentry? From the get-go, the character has been messier than DC’s continuity mired Hawkman and Donna Troy characters. He started out as a hoax played on the comic book audience. Paul Jenkins tried to pass the Sentry off as actually existing as a comic book character from ancient comic book past, a forgotten creation by Stan Lee. In the end, the Sentry was revisioned and placed into Marvel continuity, although none of Marvel’s heroes remember any of their interactions. It’s an interesting character and a fun way to make connections such as the Crystal relationship introduced in this issue. The problem, though, is the problem I have with a lot of Marvel’s characters. Bendis is very good at pinpointing the weaknesses in heroes and exploiting it to the Nth degree. He did this with Daredevil’s nervous breakdown. And Marvel and Mark Millar are doing the same with Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, and Captain America in CIVIL WAR. The Sentry is a character so defined by his weaknesses that there really isn’t room for anything else. He’s not a hero as much as he is a blubbering, spineless mess cowering like a dog that shat in your shoe perfectly illustrated by this issue’s end when Iron Man arrives on the scene. It was a good story, but one that only confirmed the fact that the Sentry is a character so flawed that he loses any sympathetic appeal as a hero.
Tangent rant time. If there is one across-the-board criticism I have for most of Marvel books, it’s that their top tier writers really have no idea what being a hero is. Every one of Marvel’s icons are so caught up in their own personal struggles and walking around with their heads so firmly tucked so far into their duodenums these days that acts of true heroism are as foreign as hot chicks in a comic shop. I understand Marvel has a long history of flawed heroes, but in the past, heroics have occurred despite these flaws. Now the flaws are front and center while the acts of heroism are few and far between. At it’s core, this issue focuses on a guy who leaves the Earth in crisis (a crisis caused by a bunch of heroes too busy fighting amongst themselves to be bothered with actual heroics) to go off by himself and think about his own problems. Not very heroic in by book and there are too many comics like these today. End tangent rant time.
CAPTAIN AMERICA #23 focuses on the Winter Soldier again. I’d complain that Bru seems to like writing the former Bucky more than he likes writing the title character, but with stories with this level of excellence, I really don’t care. Bru paces this one pretty well with a nice fight in the beginning, resulting in a heart to heart between Bucky and the true Nick Fury. As in NEW AVENGERS, the events of CIVIL WAR are looked at by an outside party and in this case, a lot of great character moments for both Fury and Bucky come as a result. This is yet another stellarly written issue. As a single issue, this one has it all. Action, plot advancement, character, and yet another cliffhanger with the Red Skull plotting in the background. Bru is kicking so much @$$ in this series. He truly is the most rock solid writer Marvel has in its stable.
But on to the reason I chose to write a review about both of these books: both books focus on a character outside of CIVIL WAR looking in at the whole thing and seeing how pointless it all is. Both books show its main characters (the Sentry and the Winter Soldier) commenting on the futility of the battle these heroes are having and both issues provide sound arguments supporting this fact. I couldn’t agree with these arguments more. Both issues illustrate the same distaste I feel for once-loved characters like Captain America, Iron Man, and the rest of the heroes taking part in this CIVIL WAR event. It’s funny that two of Marvel’s top writers put out two titles in the same week and write them so well illustrating how much of a freaking mess CIVIL WAR is making of Marvel’s mainstream characters. These two books highlight the chinks in CIVIL WAR’s armor much better than any comic book reviewer can. These are comments about the miniseries from the inside. As a reader of Marvel books for years, I have never felt such dissatisfaction for the way the company’s main heroes are being handled. It’s sad, really. But at least there are books like NEW AVENGERS #24 and CAPTAIN AMERICA #23 that may not necessarily do anything to change things, but they do address and identify the problem with the heroes of the Marvel U.
ACTION COMICS #844
Writers: Geoff Johns & Richard Donner Artist: Adam Kubert Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Prof. ChallengerGeoff Johns (INFINITE CRISIS, FLASH) joins forces with Richard Donner (director of Superman: The Movie and Superman II) and artist extraordinaire Adam Kubert (X-MEN, ULTIMATE X-MEN) for "Last Son," the tale of a small child from the planet Krypton. Sent by his parents to Earth with powers beyond imagination, the child's future potential is limitless. Especially when Superman finds him! Don't miss this amazing comics event! - DC Comics website
I think this has been something of a polarizing comic book. Not to the degree of, say, CIVIL WAR, but the little bit that I’ve noticed in the online chatter, there seems to be equal consensus that it was either a slam-dunk or a complete snafu. And that’s with my admission that I don’t spend a whole lot of time just vegging out online, so I may have completely missed a segment of the Opinionati who might have skewed my informal polling results in one clear direction. But Champion Pollster John Zogby I am not.
If nothing else, this comic should be publicity dynamite for DC Comics in that it heralds the beginning of a new era in Superman comics with creative input directly from Richard Donner, who solidly defined Superman in the cinema (and, therefore, world opinion) forever. The effect of his input into the premiere Superman title, ACTION COMICS, looks to be a bold redefinition of the comic book version of the character. A redefinition that embraces aspects of all previous interpretations of the character. And I would suspect that it is this attempt, in appearance at least, at trying to be all things to all people that may be causing the polarization. Let me give you some spoilerized examples:
Well, first thing out of the chute, this issue begins with Superman at the Fortress of Solitude and this Fortress is explicitly the crystallized one from the Superman movies – even down to Superman using a crystal to talk to the disembodied head of Jor-El. Jor-El, for some reason, does not look like Marlon Brando, nor does he look like the emotionless bald Jor-El from Byrne’s Superman reboot, nor does he look like the Silver-Age/Superman The Animated Series Jor-El who basically looks just like Superman but with a headband. In our new continuity, Jor-El now looks like a bearded folksinger from the 70s. The impact of SUPERMAN RETURNS has hit Superman’s costume where he now has the “S” shield belt buckle, the angled belt loops, and bulkier boots. Thank Rao he doesn’t have the low-slung mini-trunks and maroon color. Jimmy looks like he’s been de-aged once again back into a dorky teenager. Clark looks identical now to the Brandon Routh SUPERMAN RETURNS version of Clark with the sloppy hair and rumpled clothes. Superman is shown dramatically struggling to prevent a UFO from crashing onto the streets of Metropolis (very similar to the plane rescue in SUPERMAN RETURNS). Lex Luthor is now in an under-the-sewers hideout, like in SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE. There’s a scene where Superman comes angrily pushing through a giant steel door and demanding information from Sarge Steel that is a direct homage to the same type of scene in SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE when Superman barges into Luthor’s lair. And finally, Pa Kent is still alive which is a holdover from Byrne’s reboot and LOIS & CLARK, plus now he’s thin with blond hair which is a tip-o-the-hat to John Schneider’s “Jonathan Kent” on SMALLVILLE.
As I said, a little bit of everything for everyone. The problem with going that route is that for everything that is added or changed, that means that something has had to be dropped or retconned. Coupling this issue with the Supergirl’s dream of Krypton in the latest LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES, the current interpretation of Krypton is one right out of Edgar Rice Burroughs with futuristic cities where people fly through the skies on dragon creatures and the “El” family symbol is the famous Superman “S” shield, which means that Superman’s insignia was no longer created by his adoptive mother, Martha. All those many stories involving the Eradicator and WORLD OF KRYPTON and other stories about how Kryptonians could not leave their planet or they die are gone from continuity. Clark is back to being a shuffle bum rather than the confident ex-football star. That sort of thing.
The point is that anytime the writers shift around the continuity in any meaningful way, there’s going to be a significant number of people made uncomfortable and you run the risk of losing their readership and money. So, the writers really have to make it something good to keep the long timers but also bring in new blood.
Personally, I can see where this issue was a smart way to kick off this new era of the Amalgam-Superman. If the assumption is made that the vast majority of people out there in the country and the world’s impression of Superman is primarily because of the movies, and most recently SUPERMAN RETURNS, then it makes sense to try and reorient the comic books just enough to be comfortably recognizable to potential new readers. I actually remember DC giving a half-hearted attempt at this right after the original SUPERMAN movie came out. I don’t know, but I’m guessing it was either Cary Bates or Elliot Maggin at the time, who tried to incorporate some crystallized Kryptonite (evocative of the crystals in the movie) and even gave Luthor a bumbling sidekick very similar to Ned Beatty’s “Otis” character from the movies. But those little additions disappeared almost instantly and the comics just slipped right back into status quo with no attempt whatsoever made to incorporate elements from the movie. Nowadays Warner's media machine is much more savvy about the marketing interrelationship between their licensing properties like Superman, and so DC is making a purposeful, and thought-out, attempt to reconcile the various Superman interpretations without performing a wholesale reboot of the entire franchise line in comics. The biggest mistake here was not timing it so that this issue could have hit the stands right after the SUPERMAN RETURNS movie hit the theaters.
I’m not sure I’m totally on board with it. At least not yet. I didn’t dislike this issue; in fact, I found it intellectually stimulating as my brain picked it apart noticing all the different franchise elements. I also found the storyline, which is about another Kryptonian starship crashing and Superman discovering a young Kryptonian boy in there, to be a good beginning to what could be an interesting development. It does seem odd though that concurrent storylines in BATMAN and ACTION, both coincidentally illustrated by one or the other of the Kubert brothers, would be dealing with the lead character and his “son.” In Batman’s case, his blood son, and in Superman’s case, a de facto son in that there’s no other Kryptonian man alive to fill that role for this boy. It’s funny, though, that this was the way DC chose to go in giving Superman a child. After the big “reveal” in SUPERMAN RETURNS, I really expected that DC was going to use the ONE YEAR LATER gimmick to allow Clark and Lois to have some non-super lovemaking and that way Lois could show up pregnant just as Clark regained his powers. Instead, it looks like DC may be setting up an adoptive son who could step promptly into the role of a new “Superboy” without the annoying “Superbaby” years. Or this could simply be a cool little story-arc that will culminate in the big ACTION #850 with the death of the new kid, or the revelation that it was all a trick and the secret villain revealed and defeated, culminating with the last page revelation by Lois that she’s pregnant – just like I said before. Either way, I think it’s a good story idea, and so far I think it was a more successful and better thought-out way of bringing a super-kid into the story than the idea they came up with in SUPERMAN RETURNS. Maybe this is simply a case of Donner and Johns showing Singer how it should have been done.
The introduction of so many different franchise elements did cause the comic to jump around a bit disjointedly, but it was so much better than so much on the stands nowadays that I can’t complain too much about that. Besides, I get the impression that a lot of these things were ideas or scenes thrown into the mix by Donner and Johns dutifully found a way to incorporate them into this first issue. And the truth is, Donner has one thing he can proudly state and that is that he has a good handle on who Superman is. As a result, if I were in Johns’ position, I’d likely say “Good idea, Dick” and try to find a way to work it in too. Yeah. The more I think about it, the more I’m looking forward to the next few issues to see how this story develops as these two guys get into a working groove.
Artistically, I thought Adam Kubert did a spectacular job. His work is a bit more angular and stylized than I normally like in a Superman artist, but it worked for me. The characters were very expressive and I even saw some genetic hints of Joe Kubert coming through. You know, an occasional line or stroke here and there, an eye, that sort of thing? I have one complaint though. I loved the cover, artistically. It’s a gray tone painting of a somber, sad Superman. A brilliant piece of art. Unfortunately, I just have to think that it was a terrible choice for a cover kicking off what is essentially a new age for Superman. It’s a depressing image with no color or joy. And that lack of joy is also one of the reasons why SUPERMAN RETURNS missed the mark with the public at large and brought in receipts barely over a third of what PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 2 brought in. Superman never smiled. He grimaced all the time. Even on all the toys and coloring books, there was Brandon Routh’s emotionless face plastered everywhere. Every newspaper ad focused on expressionless Superman flying. Even when the movie copycatted the final shot of Superman in orbit flying towards the audience, no smile. Whereas, in the original SUPERMAN movie, Christopher Reeve smiled . . . A LOT. And because of that, the audience was drawn to him. Try it out sometime in a room of strangers. If you stand around with a stoic grimace on your face, see how popular you are. However, if you make eye contact with people and smile, watch how much more friendly and apt to be drawn to you the others are. This cover really should’ve featured an iconic Superman image drawing in new readers and cover browsers, with “A Bold New Era” or something like that plastered on the cover along with a huge announcement of Richard Donner as co-writer. A real missed marketing hit in my opinion.
Also should’ve had a 52-style two-page origin and history recap establishing Superman clearly to new readers who may be wondering about when Lois and Clark got married, how come Pa Kent is still alive, that sort of thing, and once that's out of the way the writers are free to clearly move forward.
All in all, I'd classify it as a classy but mixed bag. So far, the positive outweighs the negative and the potential for greatness is here. Now it’s up to Donner and Johns to reach that potential over the next few months.
ODE TO KIRIHITO
Creator: Osamu Tezuka Publisher: Vertical Reviewer: Dan Grendell"Have I become a beast to the very core?"
There's a reason Osamu Tezuka is known as the God of Manga. His earliest work in the Forties helped establish modern manga in its current form, and his incredible output until his death in 1989 influenced both Eastern and Western comics creators of several generations. It wasn't all ASTRO BOY and BLACK JACK, either- Tezuka hit some pretty serious subjects with his manga, like the life of the Buddha in BUDDHA, reincarnation and immortality in his life's work, PHOENIX, and many more, including ODE TO KIRIHITO.
Originally published in the early Seventies, KIRIHITO tackles the subject of humanity and what gives a person value. The story is a long one, over 800 pages, but Vertical has put together a very nice one-volume presentation and it all flows quite nicely. In short form, KIRIHITO is about Japanese doctor Kirihito Osanai, who is studying a mysterious illness known as Monmow Disease. Monmow warps bone structure and body makeup such that people end up with twisted limbs and dog faces, making them outcasts before they die. The cause is unknown, but Osanai suspects something in the water or soil, because it is confined to one remote village, but his boss insists it is a virus. When Osanai goes to the village to investigate, he is cut off by his boss as part of a political maneuver, and a long series of events begins to teach him who he really is and what truly matters.
Tezuka really knocks it out of the park here, with great storytelling and an involving story that can't help but draw you in. His somewhat cartoony style serves well in this story, giving the Monmow patients a distinctive look that leaves enough human connection that they both disgust and sadden you. I'm not always a fan of Tezuka's art, as characters often become caricatures in his hands, but that rarely happens here. Action is smooth and dynamic, and the story flows strongly, making the length of the manga less of an issue than you might think.
Until now, when people have heard how great Tezuka was and wanted to see for themselves, they were directed to ASTRO BOY. I'm glad to see these other classics being released, and definitely commend Vertical for putting this one out.
E-MAN: RECHARGED #1
Writer: Nick Cuti Artist: Joe Staton Publisher: Digital Webbing Reviewer: Prof. ChallengerLike a comfortable old pair of shoes, E-Man returns to the comics stands - albeit only for a one-shot. But beggars can't be choosers.
For those who are too young to remember E-Man (Alec Tronn), he's a millions-year-old sentient energy being who puts into practice Einstein's famous formula by taking physical form as a super-hero. Essentially, E-Man can make his body do anything he wants. He can conform his shape reminiscent of Plastic Man. He can fly. He can zip anywhere almost instantaneously through telephone and radio waves. He's about as close to all-powerful as a super-hero can get. And were he published by Marvel, we'd probably be getting ULTIMATE E-MAN: RECHARGED AND SADISTIC. If DC published him, we'd probably get THE MOROSE TRIALS OF THE ALL-NEW E-MAN. Thankfully, however, Digital Webbing's Matt Webb is the man who ushered creators Nick Cuti and Joe Staton back to the character.
The charm of E-Man has always been his childlike naiveté and the pun-ridden satirical stories. Well, that and his hot stripper girlfriend Nova Kane, who also happens to have incidentally gained powers identical to E-Man. All these classic elements are on display in this one-shot along with supporting cast members Teddy Q., the odd little Koala Bear, and Michael Mauser, P.I., the cigarette-smoking unfortunately named gumshoe.
Sometimes it is so hard for comic book creators to return to characters they've worked on previously and make it work. It just never matches the memory of those readers who recall the earlier work and it so often carries the stench of desperation - like the writer/artist feel like they've taken a step backwards in their career to return to the past. Thankfully there is none of that on display here. Cuti and Staton just slipped comfortably right back in as if they'd never left. I love that.
This story is somewhat a sequel to the very first E-Man story from 30 years ago, but it is written so that everything the reader needs to know to enjoy this comic is right there - a real treat to the modern reader. Nova's right there stripping away on the first page JUST LIKE SHE'S SUPPOSED TO!! E-Man's off on a mission to Mars. Their arch-villain, The Brain, is still around causing mischief and Nova's being tormented by an invisible stalker. By the end of the story, the story is complete along with a scene of actual pathos, and the characters are off to another adventure.
One of the most pleasant comic book reading experiences I've had in a while. I've read it three times already and smiled every time.
I particularly enjoyed the fact that Matt Webb sent out preview copies of the comic book so that he could include a good old-fashioned letters page. And featured on that letters page is the one and only Ron Fortier, who had his old GREEN HORNET comic series featured recently in BACK ISSUE magazine and is storming the pulp fronts currently with his CAPTAIN HAZZARD: PYTHON MEN OF THE LOST CITY book. There's a Behind-The-Scenes section that is interesting and an introduction by Michael Ambrose, editor of CHARLTON SPOTLIGHT. So, this one-shot is filled to the brim with comic and E-Man goodness.
Hats off to Joe Staton for reminding me what a great cartoonist he is. I first saw his work in ALL-STAR comics and the Plastic Man feature in ADVENTURE COMICS in the 70s, but most comic readers would know him from his work on the GREEN LANTERN CORPS in the late 80s. He's one of the few artists still working out there who can easily shift between full-blown cartoony, straight super-hero, and even a blend of the two - which is what is on display when he tackles his greatest creation, E-Man. My other hat's off to Joe also for the costume design on E-Man. Just absolutely one of the best uses of color and design with the orange, yellow, white, and black perfectly balanced.
It's time to bring back E-MAN on a regular basis. How about E-MAN QUARTERLY? I'd buy it. Right now, everyone go hunt this one-shot down at your local comic store or online.
THE COMPLETE DICK TRACY: VOLUME ONE
Writer/Artist: Chester Gould Publisher: IDW Publishing Reviewer: Prof. ChallengerChester Gould—unaware that he was changing America’s popular culture forever—was simply doing his best to make Mom, Dad and the kids fight over who got to see the paper first . . . and to make sure that whoever did turned to Tracy first… - Max Allan Collins, from his introduction
IDW steps out on an impressive new venture this week. Beginning with Volume One covering every DICK TRACY strip published from 1931-1933, they plan to publish volumes in this series until every single Chester Gould DICK TRACY strip has been printed and preserved forever in this beautiful archival collection.
Words actually fail me in trying to sufficiently describe what an obvious labor of love this book is. It’s hefty $29.99 cover price is more than justified by the quality of the package and its historical significance. Wrapped in a gorgeous goldfoil dustcover, this hardback book features hundreds of pages of meticulously reproduced comic strips from 75 years ago. But, wait, there’s more. Which there should be since this is supposed to be complete. Former DICK TRACY writer (following Gould), mystery novelist and sometime comic book writer Max Allan Collins contributes a nice introductory piece to the book and features the first of a 1980 multi-part interview with Gould that originally ran in NEMO: THE CLASSIC COMICS LIBRARY #17. And yet, there’s still more! This collection begins by publishing the five daily PLAINCLOTHES TRACY strips that Gould drew up as a proposal that was eventually revised and shortened to DICK TRACY—with “Dick” being a slang term for a plainclothes detective. This book is a great example of getting the most “bang” for your “buck.”
About this time, some of the younger comic fans out there have got to be scratching their heads wondering what the big deal is about DICK TRACY. I have to confess that the years when I habitually devoured DICK TRACY comic strips were after Gould had retired. I got hooked when strip writer Max Collins and artist Dick Locher started The Return of Pruneface. I had occasionally read the series before then, but that was the story that hooked me and kept me coming back to the strip for years. But even though I was a latecomer to appreciating the strip, I understand the impact of DICK TRACY upon the comic strip and comic book world. DICK TRACY was the first of the great hardboiled detective/adventure strips. The strip was born into a world dealing with real-life gangsters like Al Capone and John Dillinger and great lawmen like Elliot Ness and his Untouchables. DICK TRACY was cut from the legendary Ness mold. Tracy’s square-jawed detective had big fists that he didn’t shy from using to beat the daylights out of the bad guys and he knew how to use a gun with deadly force. The DICK TRACY strips included in this volume do not contain the more colorful and larger-than-life villains like Flattop, Pruneface, and The Brow. What it does contain is some shockingly bold and gritty stories involving on panel suicides and lots of profanity – rarely obfuscated by dingbats but instead the first letter of the bad word is followed by a long dash. And it’s quite clear what’s being said by the characters. Or how about that Pat? He’s dumb enough to stick his eye up to a keyhole to peek in on the gangster “Big Boy” and finds himself plugged by two bullets: one in the head and one in the eye. He then spends the next few months wearing an eye patch.
As an historical archive, we should all be indebted to IDW for preserving the disturbing political incorrectness of the times in which the strips were originally published. They did not go the route of the NEW YORK TIMES a few years back who went and airbrushed President Franklin Roosevelt’s cigarette out of his photo when they ran it large on the front page. Nope. Everyone in DICK TRACY chain smokes. A running gag throughout the series is that “girls” can never be trusted with a secret because they always blab it to other “girls.” And most disturbing of all are the racial caricatures when black characters appear such as the shoeshine boy. It really is hard to believe how pervasive racism in this country was just the accepted norm only 75 years ago. But I also believe it’s wrong to try and whitewash history. Better to see such things in the proper context and appreciate the positive and simply regret that the people involved had not been as enlightened as they should have been.
The bottom line is that these strips are not DICK TRACY at its prime but it still stands up as a strong adventure strip. I know that every time I picked the book up to read a few strips, I found it hard to put down because I kept wanting to find out what happened next. The strip struggles most noticeably with dialogue that reads like it’s pulled directly from an Edward G. Robinson movie: “So you birds were coming to rescue your pal, Dan, eh? Well boys — There’s no jail delivery tonight.” Charming in its’ goofiness, but at the same time, Gould shows Tracy to be a tough, smart detective who uses his brains first and his fists second. There’s a running frustrated romance plot between Tracy and Tess that was surely included as a way of hooking the “girls” into reading the comic strip and the introduction of the brash little orphan, “Junior,” I’m sure was Gould’s way of giving the kids someone to identify with. These earliest DICK TRACY strips also already demonstrate what would become its most notable aspect— showcasing cutting edge technology and crime-fighting techniques. Gould’s cartooning style improves noticeably as the pages fly by and Tracy himself slowly evolves closer and closer to the iconic square-jawed, hook-nosed profile he is most recognized by.
The only problem I can find with this collection is that I ran the math and realized that for this series to complete its goal that means that, by necessity, there will be some 25 to 30 volumes before it ends. That’s a huge investment on the part of the collectors out there. I worry a bit about IDW’s ability to maintain the momentum and the sales. If nothing else, though, this first volume is a sheer must-have for all devotees of the great newspaper comic strips. Don’t buy that ABSOLUTE ULTIMATE OVERSIZED SUPER-COLLECTION OF INFINITE CRISIS OF MULTIPLE CIVIL WARS for $50 to slip into a mylar display box. Buy this truly historical one-of-a-kind collection. And READ it! It’s priceless.
TAG #2 BOOM! StudiosTAG continues to be an intimate allegory on relationships and proof positive that the zombie genre is one that you can set just about any type of story in. Writers Keith Giffen and Mike Leib follow a young couple whose break-up is interrupted when someone tags one of them making that person “it.” “It” meaning that they are the recipient of a zombie curse that will eventually cause that person to decompose and die if the game isn’t continued and another person isn’t tagged. It’s a sick version of the schoolyard game and a downright genius concept to hang a story on. The interaction between the couple as they try to figure out what’s going on is well done. My one criticism is that both of the two leads are pretty despicable people resulting in me finding it hard to root for anyone, but since the book’s focus is on the “death” of this couple’s relationship, I guess it is true that a break-up brings out the worst in everyone. This is one of the more mature and sophisticated stories BOOM! has to offer. Great stuff. - Ambush Bug
CORRECTIVE MEASURES #3 Ronin StudiosI was intrigued by Grant Chastain’s first issue of CORRECTIVE MEASURES because it was a nice concept. The book centers on a correctional facility for super-villains and the guards (one in particular) that are assigned to work there. Captain Brody has been assigned to this new super prison and although he’s starting to get acclimated to his new job, he’s realizing that the horrors of prison seem to ooze into one’s soul and how that is a hard thing to shed when you leave the office and head out into the real world. The story is at its best when focusing on Captain Brody’s interactions with his wife and child; how he worries about them finding out about the things he has to do in order to keep the inmates in line. This issue also ends with a resonant crash, one that is narrated with style and reverberated long after I closed the book. - Ambush Bug
PIRATE TALES #1 BOOM! StudiosYo ho ho, matey, this here is a fine example of how cool BOOM! Studios can really be. PIRATE TALES #1 offers a little for the swabby in all of us. From start to finish, this book was a treasure to read. Keith Giffen and Chris Ward start out with a gruesome tale of survival with three men floating on a raft made out of dead pirates. Further highlights include a beautifully rendered and written tale of modern day pirates by John Rogers and Lee Carter and a heart wrenching and poetic tale of pirate love by Michael Alan Nelson and Chee. I hope to see more of these PIRATE TALES very soon. - Ambush Bug
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PLANETARY #26 DC WildstormIT'S OVER!!! Well, it's sorta over. At least it's an end to the overall plot that has run through the whole of the series, and that is what is to be done about The Four? Really, at this point I can't tell you anything you don't know about this series without spoiling a pretty solid ending. The writing and the art are same as they always were, and even though the ending was actually somewhat forced and out of left-field, I still think it succeeded very well in "putting a bow" on Ellis' amazing gift to the comics community that was this series. I guess now it's just the matter of what Ellis has called a "bookend" issue left and one of the all-time greatest comic books to see print is put to an end. Thank you Mr. Ellis and Mr. Cassaday. - Humphrey
GREEN LANTERN CORPS #5 DC ComicsOkay, I know this one didn’t come out this week, but it’s been drivin’ me nuts so I gotta ask: Page 12, Panel 3. What’s that Japanese word that means “fan service” again? I mean, I think Soranik Natu is by far the rookie GL with the most potential as a character, so I don’t mind her turning up regularly, but…sheesh. Unintentional? Mmmaybe. Wrong? Definitely. And lovely as her figure is, there are bound to be some GL purists who are going to argue that her endowments don’t yet deserve to be put on the same level as the huge globe…err…sentient planet that is Mogo. But back to serious business: two robot tiger-striped girls in bikinis take out a guy with two heads that both look like the Pillsbury Doughboy, and it turns out the Korugarans are still a buncha crimson-colored douche bags. If you think this was meant to be a critical review, you’re wrong, BTW…I still find it pretty entertaining. In fact, I think Gibbons’ writing reflects a genuine improvement over the RANN/THANAGAR WAR mini he wrote. This is shaping up to be a fun little title, all things considered. - Sleazy G
DEATHBLOW #1 DC WildStormSo now I've tried four out of the five "revamped" series from the WildStorm line, and I'd say we're batting five-hundred as far as enjoyability goes, with this bad boy here falling in the "not" category alongside Gail's GEN13. I mean, it's not all bad. It's definitely as violent and gritty as I was expecting/hoping, and I love the D'Anda art on this, but it really has this unusual sense of humor to it that comes off as way too cheesy for it to be taken seriously. The whole sequence where our title character is rescued from several years of imprisonment and torture is more awkward than it is clever, and threw the whole book outta a rhythm that started off alright. But I'm willing to give this one more shot. Like I said, I like the art a lot, and I think this felt more like a "let's get the pilot over and get to the meat" kind of issue so maybe the ship will right itself. But if not, there's a lot of trouble ahead for this new relaunch of WildStorm books as one of the two I thought was worthy of buying (WildCATS) is now officially hounded by horrible delays, and two of the others I read felt very stifled and disjointed. We'll see I guess. - Humphrey
HEROES FOR HIRE #3 Marvel ComicsI’m liking what Palmiotti and Gray are doing with this title. Although some of the characters seem redundant (Black Cat and Tarantula stand about having basically nothing to do but look sultry) and there are one or two too many fanboy bad girl panels with the women sticking either their jubblies or their poop-makers out as if that were their sole super power. But it’s nice to see this group of mercenaries-with-heart kick @$$ and take roll call. What made me want to mention this issue in this here Cheap Shot section is the artistic leap from last issue to this issue. I found issue two to be sloppy, artistically, with uninspired paneling and a whole lot of heroes standing around with nothing to do. In this issue, the “camera” is shifted a bit and show some dramatic angles and perspectives. Hopefully Francis Portela and Billy Tucci can continue to hold it together and we won’t have another mess like last issue on our hands. The artists take center stage in this one in an especially bad@$$ scene with Shang Chi. - Bug
GEN 13 #1 DC WildstormAnother WildStorm relaunch title, GEN 13 is more of a reboot of the first issue of the original series. Some of the other WORLDSTORM releases pick up where previous series left off, but this one re-tells the origins of the original GEN 13 crew (not that I could tell you who any of the half-assed replacements from a few years back were). Gail Simone does a solid job with the story, but to be honest, it’s a bit too dark and vicious. As the only teen team in the WildStorm Universe, it would have been nice if this one had kept a bit of its old innocence and spunk instead of going all murderous mayhem right outta the gates—it feels more like DV8 than GEN 13 in some ways. I’ll give it a few more issues to see if it grows on me cuz I dig most of Simone’s stuff, but I’m treading lightly with this one. - Sleazy
NEXTWAVE #9 Marvel ComicsWell, there's really only one thing that needs to be said here:
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...Sometimes, these reviews just write themselves. - Humphrey