Hey folks, Ambush Bug here, with the winners of the HARBINGER: THE BEGINNING Contest. We had a big, big turnout for this contest and hopefully we can do something like this in the future. So without further ado, those listed below will be receiving the trade paperback collecting HARBINGER issues #0-7, digitally re-colored by the original colorists, and re-mastered with the approval of Jim Shooter. The trade also includes “The Story of Harada” rare coupons in full color for the first time and an all new 8-page story “The Origin of Harada” that introduces a new character into the Valiant Universe. It looks like Valiant is coming back big. I’ve seen this book and it’s a truly great collection and a must for Valiant fans. Here are the winners:
Clint Lee Werner (CL Werner)
Congratulations, winners! And thanks to everyone who participated. Just to make things crystal clear, the submissions were for fun only. The pitches provided were not read by any Valiant employees or people involved in the making of past, current, or future Valiant products. Submissions were read by myself and a select group of AICN @$$Holes and we have no affiliation to Valiant whatsoever. So basically, if one of your ideas shows up in a Valiant book by coincidence, don’t go running to a lawyer because Valiant never saw it. The submissions were ultra-fun to read and I have to admit a lot of them would make for great comics. Maybe the Comic Book Gods will steer the Valiant books in some of those interesting directions. Winners, expect your copies of HARBINGER: THE BEGINNING in the mail real soon.
And now, on with the reviews.
THE SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN #40
Writer: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa Artist: Clayton Crain Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: JinxoHere’s the thing. I hate to crap on a story at its start because even if it starts rough, really, as long as the story is still going there is always hope that by the end the writer will pull something cool together. So that is the attitude I have tried to have towards all this summer’s “Back In Black” stuff. Yes, the starting point was a cynical marketing ploy for a now past movie. And yes the CIVIL WAR stuff has messed up the Spidey books. BUT there can be no greater surprise than seeing someone take what should be a disaster and turning it into a solid chunk of gold.
Now that “Back In Black” is coming to an end, I gotta say it seems like a solid chunk of something but it ain’t gold. Before I get to this issue of SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN specifically, I have to say of the entire Aunt May saga that it was just stupid and doesn’t hold water! The premise is just too flawed: Spider-Man is on the run as an outlaw, his aunt is critically wounded forcing him to take steps outside the law he would not normally take to save her life and avenge her! He spends all his savings paying for her hospital bills. She has to be checked into the hospital under a fake name! Oh, the humanity!
Puh-lease! I know Peter Parker went on the run after condemning hero registration. But this is the most important person in his life and a civilian in this conflict. Tony Stark may be the biggest horse’s ass around but I refuse to believe he would not help save an elderly old lady who was injured due to his own registration initiative. Especially after Cap’s death. Peter could easily get Aunt May better help than from random hospitals. Even if it required Peter to surrender, to save his Aunt he would make that move. But he wouldn’t even need to do that. Don’t trust Stark? How about Reed Richards? Reed proved himself willing to play both sides of the line in the war. Don’t trust Reed? Well, you are a member of a hero team, a team with more healing power than you can shake a stick at. Doctor Strange has both practical and magical healing abilities. Wolverine has a healing factor. Yes, it is only for himself but with comic book logic that could easily be tapped into. And then there’s Iron First who out and out can heal. But screw all that, take her to the ER!!! Come on! And, yes, some of the New Avengers may be Skrulls. But when this Aunt May crap started that was not known and would not have been a reason for Peter not to trust the New Avengers for help.
All of the above makes Peter’s moves “outside the law” all the more annoying and stupid. I think they are actually trying to give Peter a sort of Jason Bourne vibe. Good guy who has done bad things, trying to find his way on a dark path. Yeaaah…I don’t need that from Spider-Man.
Now all of the Spider-Man books aside from AMAZING are wrapping up in favor of AMAZING coming out with multiple issues each month. Which means, for me, I’m out. I think the logic is there is no difference between multiple titles and a single title with multiple issues a month. But there is. With multiple titles you have multiple stories and multiple chances that if one sucks the others might be okay. And if one of them does suck, you can bail on that book. I like the freedom of the multi-title format. If SPIDER-MAN was at least a strong book right now maybe it would be different but it’s not.
Okay, enough bitching about the general state of Spider-Man. What about SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN #40? Well, I’m not doing cartwheels over it but I do have some nice words for it. This is not the last issue of SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN but as JMS is taking over all the Spidey titles for their final issues this is the final issue for the regular team on the book. That being the case I appreciate that Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa wanted to go out giving his readers some closure, as much of a happy ending as he could muster given Spider-Man’s current situation. It reminded me of Superman back at the time of CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS. DC had a plan for Superman’s fate but the Superman writers said, screw you, we’re writing our own “The End” for our Superman even if it isn’t in line with true continuity. Only this story is not as strong as that one.
I should also say the art is pretty solid. I enjoy the painterly style, the shots of the lead characters in solid detail with the world around them blurring out or focusing into fine relief to match the situation. Nice.
Oh yeah, also, did I mention that in the middle Peter talks to someone who maybe kinda might be God? Yeah. God needs a dental plan. And some shampoo. And I’m betting deodorant. The story is very similar to the final episode of “Quantum Leap”: a maybe-God character adding some perspective to our downtrodden hero leading to a jump to a quick happy end note. And while I really really appreciate the attempt especially right now, the issue just doesn’t quite pull it off for me. It’s like Spider-Man is a plane in this deadly nosedive straight for the ground and there’s this one guy trying to pull out of it. Valiant effort but it’s not gonna stop the big SPLAT.
THE ORDER #2
Writer: Matt Fraction Penciler: Barry Kitson Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewed by Humphrey LeeAfter an introductory issue that left me on the fence, Fraction and Kitson went a long way towards winning me over on this series with the second installment. The thing about the first issue is that it was very ripe with what I like to call "Pilot-itis", meaning that it was very much a "Look, here's the premise, here's these characters, here's some stuff blowing up, here's some stuff, some stuff, some more stuff, please come back for the next issue!!" scenario. There's just so much thrown at you in hopes that one of the many plot points or premises or characters will grab you, but often it tends to do the opposite and push a reader away with a feeling that it's over-cluttered. And I have to admit that as much as I trust the creative team here on THE ORDER I had a little twinge of that feeling too. What I needed to see with this issue is some streamlining, a focal point in the midst of all that has been thrown at us thus far. And thankfully this issue was a step in that direction.
Two main focal points dominate this issue: a look into the life and times of Becky Ryan, a Southern gal that's a former pageantry and singing sensation, and a continuation of THE ORDER's conflict with a rather eclectic group of reawakened Soviet Supermen that started at the end of last ish. Both bits have their good points for keeping on with this burgeoning title but also have some detractions. The way the super fight unfolds is the best part of this because it serves several purposes in one swoop. Firstly, it obviously gives the book that extra bit of adrenaline us fan boys crave so much in our "Capes & Tights" books and showcases Kitson's pencils at what they do best. But it's mainly a good round robin approach to giving us more tiny insights into each of the cast (what they do, what roles they play, how their actions in battle reflect parts of their personality, etc etc) while Becky gets a much more direct and introspective approach. And there's a touch more of this "anyone can go any time" theme apparent in this issue which helps a bit, especially since it's not as blatant or forced as last issue’s exercise with members getting suspended for "illicit behavior" (which was obviously meant to be "shocking" but I thought was terribly predictable).
On the downside to this issue, there's still a little too much jumping around. While the majority of this issue focused on Becky and the battle royale, there's still an insertion in the middle of the book for a flashback involving PR meetings and the so on to give more depth to where this team is coming from. But despite it only being a couple pages plus, it does really come out as out of place and unnecessary at this point. What this issue really needed was an almost completely streamlined approach, and this was a small interruption that didn't add enough to the overall story to justify the breakage. The other thing is that while it's was good to see someone take some spotlight to show some background and depth, the depth didn't really come through because Becky Ryan's background came off a little clichéd. You've got a young starlet that's overburdened, bulimic, and god knows what else. Yes, it's a good parallel to what seems to be plaguing a certain couple of lime-lighted young ladies in our society today, but it doesn't make it any less uninspired. But what it does do is set her up as sympathetic, which is a good start, and that becomes even better as the current events unfold and we begin to witness her letting herself actually hang out and enjoying her new form of fame as a costumed hero instead of a pop star. That itself is a great leap forward for the character and what I hope to see more of from the remaining crew (however long they hold out I guess).
THE ORDER so far isn't a bad book by any means, but it's a troublesome one I have to say. I still think there's a lot of story-telling potential, both on the front of being more than a typical superhero book and by also being an insight into the world of celebrity and a reflection of it on our society as a whole. This isn't a combination that is unique in comics, there's been books before that have been similar to this, but it still happens infrequently enough that it's always worth a look see if someone can pull it off when they try it. It's just a huge juggling act because there's so much you have to establish. And it really doesn't help that this book takes place in one of the two premiere superhero universes that is already going through so much shuffling of its status quo. Not only does THE ORDER have to establish itself in its own pages, it most likely will have to reflect some changes made from the universe and event that spawned it as it goes. That's a lot for anyone to handle.
But I'm going to give this book a little more time. A little more streamlining and some more QT with these characters and I can see myself becoming invested in them and the scenario they're in as long as they don't get spontaneously shuffled out like the first crew we met. If they can show signs of potential depth like Becky has in this issue, but with just a tad more originality in their backgrounds to the point where I actually do give a damn about their coming and going, that's where the success in this is going to lay. At least the stellar art chores will give some eye candy to keep me going while this title goes through its growing pains, but a pretty face will only get you so far. What comes out from underneath there is the key.
MILTON CANIFF’S STEVE CANYON-1952 & 1953
Writer/Artist: Milton Caniff Publisher: Checker Book Publishing Group Reviewer: Prof. ChallengerI’ve got in my hands two volumes of Checker Book Publishing’s STEVE CANYON reprint series. For most of the readers out there under the age of 40 (at least), a collective “Huh?” was just heard around the Internet world. STEVE CANYON was a daily newspaper comic strip by writer/artist Milton Caniff that ran from 1947 to 1988. Major/Lt. Col. (he gets a promotion during the course) Steve Canyon was an Air Force officer who was constantly involved in adventures, espionage, and romance. And he bore it all with his trademark broad-chinned grin and a cigarette.
Storywise, Caniff apparently broke down each year into quarters and plotted out a storyline that would fill about one quarter and then spill over into a new adventure for the next quarter. The way it ultimately breaks down for us is that the 1952 volume features 3 storylines and the 1953 volume features 4 storylines.
There are storylines dealing with missing bombs, annoying Frenchmen, Oriental princesses, and all the stories feature sexy women, manly men, and lots of cigarette smoking. Surprisingly insightful and character driven, the plots serve to put the characters through interesting challenges. But the emphasis is on personalities and relationships, which is probably why the strip connected with an international audience every day for almost half a century.
So, that’s the facts about the comic strips themselves. However, when I sit back to evaluate the merits of the reprint volumes, this is where it gets complicated. First of all, I’m a sucker for these types of books that are repositories for the historically great comic books and strips. STEVE CANYON harkens back to an age where we weren’t so saturated with various types of entertainment and it wasn’t just quaint to rip open the newspaper every day to find out what would happen to the characters’ lives that day. Newspaper adventure strips like STEVE CANYON were enjoyed guilt-free by men, women, boys, and girls of all ages. It was a shared American experience from shore to shore. So, since I’m obviously the target market for these books, they would have to just butcher up the strips or try to colorize them or something to get a negative from me.
I do have two complaints though. First and foremost, I think the cover design of the books is simply not appealing. When I see a book like this, I expect the publisher to put together a package that will appeal to bookstore browsers. The cover designs on these books are stunning in their lack of excitement and “Buy Me!” appeal. I have a feeling that these volumes are expected to primarily be sold to Libraries – which is all well and good – and that may be why the covers are not as dynamic as they might otherwise be. If that’s not the case, then I’m stumped at the lesser efforts made here to make these STEVE CANYON volumes leap off the bookshelves/comic racks to attract new buyers. My second complaint is that I would love to see this series converted to the horizontal formatting of the DICK TRACY and PEANUTS reprint series from IDW. This would allow the strips to be printed larger and I believe the absolutely gorgeous brushwork of Milton Caniff screams for the larger format.
And this is a good spot to address the single reason, above all other reasons, why absolutely every comic book fan should pick up these reprint volumes – the art! The biggest treat throughout these volumes is that the strips are obviously shot from the original Caniff art (rather than from newspaper stats) because the art spills over outside the panel borders. I can’t get enough of that. It’s almost like seeing a director’s cut of your favorite movie and glimpsing the snippets here and there that were cut.
Caniff’s artistic talent was his matchless ability to work with that flawless inking brush of his to craft suspense, mood, and romance in three or four tiny detailed panels. Steve Canyon lives in a world of dark shadows and exotic locales which Caniff always presents accurately and realistically. He never cheats. Flawless anatomy, a movie director’s sense of narrative, and a whimsical charm are present on every page. He came from a specific “school” of cartoon art that is evocative of master artists like Dan Spiegle and Frank Robbins with Caniff the better of them all.
It is true that the stories were what kept his audience all those years, but I will confess that the pacing of the stories and even the author’s perspective are such that modern readers will have trouble getting into it. But, if anyone will just sit down and read through each storyline in one sitting, I promise that the “hook” will happen. But even if it doesn’t, each and every page is an absolute triumph of artistry that should inspire anyone who appreciates the comic art form. In the last month, I’ve found myself pulling these volumes out repeatedly just to admire the art and brush techniques of comic art grandmaster Milton Caniff.
ASTONISHING X-MEN #22
Writer: Joss Whedon Art: John Cassaday Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: Ambush BugOK, let me tell y’all a little secret; I’m not a big fan of hype. When something comes along and the big money publishers start revving up the hype machine, I usually have a negative knee-jerk reaction. I hate it when the solicits advertise the “new smash fan favorite hit” before the damn thing hits the stands. I try my hardest to fight that “too cool for school” attitude that comes up when everyone seems to like something. I know it's a piss-poor excuse to dislike something just because everyone else does, and as a reviewer and as a person, I often struggle with this. When it was announced (what seems like ages ago) that Joss Whedon would be writing the X-MEN, I found myself excited at the news yet fighting a bad taste in my mouth because so many damn people were creaming their pantaloons about the idea. The first few issues came out and, while the book did not cure acne, re-grow hair, and slice tin cans in a single slash, ASTONISHING X-MEN proved to be an entertaining serial and a good example of how monthly comics can be made interesting both as a part of a story arc, but also as a story that is equally entertaining in single issue form.
Then shit went wrong.
I’m not for certain when things went south for me regarding this title, but I think it was around the time when the new Hellfire Club was introduced that I completely lost interest. And to be quite honest, even though I have continued to buy the title, I have yet to regain the interest that I once had for this book.
Now, I know, comic book readers are a loyal bunch. The Whedonists are comparable only to the Bendii in that any criticism of the work of said writer results in a backlash usually only seen when someone does something foul to one’s mother (Translation: I know you guys are going to wail into me in the Talkbacks). But being a comic book critic, it’s my job to point out the bad and good bits of a comic (every comic has them both) and being an @$$hole, I may have a strong, heartfelt opinion that not everyone wants to hear.
Back to the comic. Like I said, around the time of the lull in monthly publication of this book, something changed for me. When the Hellfire Club returned there were a couple of months that the book was delayed. I’m not sure if it was because of Cassaday or Whedon or both, but nonetheless, the book went AWOL for a while and during that time, I found myself not really missing it. Could it have been because Whedon had just finished the “Danger” arc which immediately cast a particularly ugly shadow over Professor Xavier (hasn’t he taken enough shit anyway lately for such a humanitarian?). Chuck basically enslaved a sentient techno-organic being and forced it to work in a room testing his students for years. This act alone goes against everything Charles Xavier stood for, namely equality for all: mutant, human, robot, or otherwise. Whedon tried his damndest to make Danger sympathetic/evil, but to me I couldn’t help but feel for a being who was enslaved for so long which made it all the more confusing when it stood up for itself and the X-Men were forced to fight it.
Could I attribute my apathy towards the book to the piss poor X3 movie? Maybe. It certainly didn’t help things. That’s for sure.
Despite the reasoning behind my feelings, when Whedon and Cassaday returned, I had already kind of checked out of ASTONISHING X-MEN. Next up for our merry mutants was an outer space journey; a journey that they are still on in this, the most current issue.
And boy has this been a long journey.
At this point, I just want this arc to end. The plot has gone on way too long. Colossus is supposed to be some kind of prophesized world-breaker? Savior? Who knows or cares?
Scott and Emma make up.
Kitty and Colossus shag and shag and shag like intangible, steel-hard rabbits.
Lockheed appears out of nowhere.
The Beast and Agent Brand may have shagged while keeping each other warm in the snow.
Wolverine finds a new female sidekick that he doesn’t get along with.
And we got some exposition with the no-nosed alien guy.
I have to admit, Whedon shines during the little moments. The intimate back and forth between Kitty and Colossus in this issue is great. Agent Brand’s reaction to Kitty’s excitement to see Lockheed again is equally great. As is the scene where Cyclops finally mans up and acts like a leader.
These are all strong, powerful, and wonderfully written moments. But the story itself is not a strong and wonderfully written one. A few great moments do not a strong story make. I feel that Whedon is putting a bit too much emphasis on incorporating these cool scenes and ignoring the fact that the plot itself is trudging along like my grandpa in that snowstorm he walked in on the way to and from school every day.
Then I look back and think about Whedon’s entire run on ASTONISHING and again, I feel what makes this book interesting are the tiny little moments. Colossus’ return. Wolverine falls through the atmosphere. Emma and Scott hook up. These aren’t stories. They're scenes. Moments. And yes, a story is made up of a bunch of scenes and moments, but when all of the creative energy is focused on the scene or moment and the story is neglected, well, then there is a bit of a problem. And I feel this type of story negligence has been a common flaw with this title.
This issue ended on a cliffhanger and it’s a pretty good one. It looks as if things are finally coming to an end and the final battle is about to be had. All I can say to that is, “Good. It’s about time.”
John Cassaday continues to provide some top tier artwork in this book. His mastery of facial expressions and attention to detail throughout the entire panel almost makes the wait in between issues worth it. There’s an especially effective and funny scene where the X-Men come across a Death Star-like battle station. Cassaday shows he really knows how to stage a scene by paneling the page perfectly from set-up to punch line. Great stuff all around.
So it wasn’t the hype that makes me criticize this title. It’s not the “too cool for school” attitude I sometimes feel and often fight. It wasn’t the shitty movie or even shittier distribution schedule that frustrates me about ASTONISHING X-MEN. Although all of those factors played their part, it was the slow pace of the story and the overshadowing of it in favor of “aww cool” moments that, in the end, makes me leery and on the verge of dropping this title on monthly basis. I’m still going to hang in there until the end of this arc before I make my decision, but this arc can’t end soon enough.
IRON MAN #21
Writers: Daniel and Charlie Knauf Artist: Robert De La Torre Publisher: Marvel Reviewer: stones_throwIron Man was always one of the Marvel characters that appealed the most to me. There’s just something about the playboy millionaire whose life outside the costume is just as interesting and exciting as his superhero identity, but who’s also inextricably tied to that side of himself by a heart defect. He’s one of the few superheroes who made a choice to do what he does and actually enjoys it to boot. Plus the whole “posing as your own bodyguard” gimmick is just plain cool.
Pretty much all of that’s absent from the character these days. I bluntly hated CIVIL WAR and the shoe-horning of Iron Man into the villain role (as an example of just how much disregard for established character Marvel and Mark Millar showed in that miniseries take the fact that Iron Man and Captain America’s roles were reversed in the planning stages) and haven’t picked up any Iron Man or Avengers titles since then, but in the interests of diplomacy (hear that, Israel and Palestine?) I decided to take a gander at this beginning of a new arc.
Other than the start of a moderately engaging little mystery and some nice artwork from Robert De La Torre there isn’t anything here that’s going to alter the mindset of anyone who’s not already on board with the whole Initiative/director of SHIELD concept. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and suggest there’s a reason Nick Fury hasn’t sustained a solo book for forty years: authority figures work better as supporting characters. We like heroes who act on their instincts and are unpredictable, though noble. Once Iron Man, who was always sort of a maverick hero who would do his own thing, is tied down to a position of responsibility, taking meetings and acting as caretaker to a whole mess of rookie superheroes, a hell of a lot of drama, excitement and spontaneity is sucked out of his adventures. There’s even a more practical reason this doesn’t work – a guy in bulky red and gold armor looks damn cool flying (we do get one panel of IM in flight), punching robots, repulsor-raying stuff and singing karaoke (?), but really, really silly sitting and standing at desks. If you’ve got a character with a super-suit that can do pretty much anything, why would you want to tie him (in his Iron Man identity that is - no secret identities at Marvel these days) down to an administrative position anyway? It’s just common sense.
I’m not sure I like Tony Stark being so serious all the time either. As I was saying, there are precious few heroes who aren’t either grim avengers or acting-out-of-a-sense-of-obligation types, but Iron Man was one of them. I know a lot of heavy, if misplaced, stuff has happened to the character recently (including the death of a young fan who knocked up a cardboard suit in her garage this issue – how’d she ever get in the Initiative anyway?) but the Tony I know would try not to let it show, or at least make some kind of off-hand comment here or there. Let’s face it, Marvel isn’t exactly lacking in tortured heroes these days.
Maybe I wasn’t exactly the best person to review this book, but if you’ve enjoyed Iron Man prior to the last year or two I’m guessing your reaction might be pretty similar. In short, there’s nothing here that’s gonna win over the dissenters, and although they seem to be telling an okay story within the constraints Marvel has established, the Knaufs have still failed in the same area writers of the caliber of Ed Brubaker and Dwayne McDuffie have in turning me around on this CIVIL WAR/INITIATIVE fandango.
Writer: Grant Morrison Artist: J.H. Williams III Publisher: DC Comics Reviewed by Humphrey LeeHrrrrrrmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmsssssssssssssssssssss............
That, right there, is the noise my brain makes as I sit here trying to decide if the reason I want to talk about mostly the art in this issue of BATMAN (and the issue before it, natch) is because it was just absolutely that good, or because the story was really just kind of average.
Okay, now it's telling me that it's kind of one of those "A Little from Column A and B" dealies. I guess we'll go with that.
Round two (of three) of Grant Morrison's murder mystery threatre with the Club of Heroes has left me with the same impression that the first chapter did: that this is a pretty entertaining romp made exponentially more so thanks to the absolutely sublime penciling and panel working skills of J.H. Williams III, whom I once hailed as the artist of the year here, and would love to do again if we just saw more from him in a given year. The thing about the story that pulls it down to about the "average" level for me is that while it's amusing to watch Batman and this crew of lower-tier vigilantes search high and low in this deathtrap environ they're in, this looks to be the case of one of those types of whodunits that the reader has absolutely no chance of solving on their own. When it comes to an end it comes to an end and I'll get to say "Oh, it was that guy. Cool I guess." instead of "Ohhhh Snap! It was that guy! Why the hell didn't I see that coming?" I mean, I may be totally off base here with that statement (if you can even understand what I mean by it) but I like my mysteries to at least make me think I can finger the culprit, even though I'm most likely never going to (cause obviously it's not that great a mystery if you can figure it well before it comes to its conclusion).
It also doesn't help that I really don't know jack about these characters. The only ones I recognize are the Knight and his Squire because of when Morrison also used them in his JLA CLASSIFIED arc at that book's launch. And, again, Morrison makes them and the situations they're put in amusing enough (like one of them being forced to swallow a pill sized bomb) but as far as I'm concerned they're pretty much fodder. But it's still a well-paced story, with some good suspense and fits of action scattered throughout. I'm digging this way more than I did Morrison's initial arc in this run of his, which I disliked so much that I dropped it immediately afterwards until now, being lured back by the pull of JHW3's attachment to this storyline. And speaking of which...
As far as I'm concerned, Mr. Williams the Tres here is easily the most masterful artist I see working this day. As I said earlier, I'd love to rain accolades upon accolades on his work over and over again, but it's just too sporadic these days. But even though this arc isn't the best I've seen from him, it's still head-and-shoulders above what I typically see each week (and there's some absolutely stellar performances each week--look at this past Weds.’ ASTONISHING X-MEN for Jebus' sakes). But everything here is stellar, just like I expect it to be. There's perfect atmosphere lying in these pencils (and of course in the also amazing Dave Stewart colors) with fantastic detail, great variety in the character designs and facial features and body language, and just excellent panel work, which helps tell the story in a way only J.H. Williams can. The way he makes your eyes work to progress the story from panel to panel and page to page, or how he uses more "gimmicky" panel stylings in order to force feelings of claustrophobia, anxiety, or dread...it's just visual storytelling at its best and makes any story that much the better.
Overall I'm glad I jumped back on this run, even for just a little bit. I'm kind of ashamed to say that it was an artist that brought me back because I am far and away a "Story first, Art second" comic booker, but hey, a solid story is showing up for this arc too. That's what we call a Win-Win, kiddies. I hope this is a sign that Morrison is settling down in his more "off-the-wall" Batman ideas that drove me away in the first place and keeping with the somewhat "whimsical grittiness" I'm seeing here. If that's the case I might stick around for the next arc and on and on while it lasts. And hopefully this is also the sign that we're going to start getting more JHW3 in our comic booking diet. This stuff is too good to only see three or four times a year, but I guess excellence comes with a price.
GAMMA CORPS #2
Writer: Rick Tieri Artist: Carlos Ferreira Inker: Sandu Florea Publisher: Marvel Reviewer: Rock-Me AmodeoThere’s good news and bad news.
First, the good news: the artwork. Not bad, not bad. Ferreira is like a young Tom Lyle (remember the purple and yellow STARMAN?) It’s not breathtaking, but it’s very earnest and very straightforward. It lets the story tell the story and doesn’t overshadow it.
The book also has an interesting concept: several people with reason to hate the Hulk, imbued with powers from many of his old foes, and equipped with some military type training. We KNOW they’re going to lose. In fact, it’s probably going to be a train wreck. The question is just how BADLY will they lose? A known ending, told well, is still a good story.
The bad news? It ain’t told well. First off, this issue feels like a first issue, helping us get to know the characters. But didn’t we do that last issue? Also, I’m not sure what the motivation is for all these characters. For instance Prodigy, who looks like the offspring of The Leader and Jimmy Olsen, was born prematurely and experimented upon. Experimented upon? I’d be mad at the people who made me green. Mess (and maybe Talbot) is the only one with a legitimate grip, but the whole premise smells contrived.
Then there are the blatant (and somewhat shameless) pulls on our heartstrings. Mess (in flashback) cries out to God so that she can save her son. And the son dies. Mean old God! And that is storytelling, I get it. John Stott once said that “the real sting of suffering is not the misfortune itself…pain is endurable, but the seeming indifference of God is not.” Okay. In the context of bringing our emotions in, I get it. The problem is, Tieri continues to lay down the religiosity so thick, it makes me wonder if the book shouldn’t be called “Churchbusters” or something.
For instance, Gideon (Jim Wilson’s dad) is a preacher who roughs up his son for saying “damn.” Now, I know “preachers are SOB’s” is a time-honored cliché – apparently we’ve learned nothing since “Footloose” - but come on. Then Gideon prays for Jim’s protection. Jim dies. Then a bogus preacher talks about the Hulk “spreading Satan’s will” (I’m not kidding) and hurting God-fearing folks (guess he never read the thing about the rain falling equally on the just and the unjust, eh?) and on and on and on…please! It’s subtle like a brick and Petri-dish shallow. I mean…damn!
Somewhere in the distance, I hear an ax grinding…grinding…clearly Tieri has some issues he wants to share with us, and I don’t mean fricking GAMMA CORPS. My rule: you can grind any ax you want, but don’t let the story lag and suffer in the meantime.
I have an ax to grind, too, and it goes like this: nothing happens in this book. It’s all exposition and flashback. And we’re two issues into a FOUR PART MINI-SERIES! I mean, even OMEGA FLIGHT had the decency to throw us into some action in the absence of significant plot.
Let me know when #4 comes out. I just want to see the end of this train wreck.
BLACKOUT DRUNK Online Comic
Link: You can find page one here. Website: www.drunkduck.com Reviewer: Ambush BugBLACKOUT DRUNK is a somewhat fun little comic featuring the adventures of a normal guy named Rod who just happens to drink a whole helluva lot and get himself into trouble on a regular basis. As the title suggests, the main character doesn’t really know what kind of trouble he gets into. He just kind of pieces it together the following day. This is a nice setup for some good conflict and writer Christopher Dearman takes advantage of the main character’s fuzzy memory to place the title character into one troubling situation after another.
Now, I’m not going to go out on a limb by saying that some might find this sort of story infantile and embracing the glory that is the lowest common denominator. The main character farts into the telephone for a laugh, talks about taking a dump and scoring chicks, and, aside from his good looks and his tolerance for liquor, he’s basically a loser with no real friends to speak of, no money, and no real drive to be anything other than what he is; a blackout drunk. Some may think this is somewhat deplorable and find it hard to identify with such a character. Now I like dick & fart jokes as much as the next guy, but I struggled at times to side with a guy who calls a black guy Buckwheat on the street and only treats him nice when he thinks he can get some money from him. The main character isn’t necessarily likable. He’s basically an egotistical doof, which makes it hard to get into the story. Maybe it’s the fact that I have lowlife friends like this who waste potential and sponge off of others and call that living life.
But for some reason, I did get invested in BLACKOUT DRUNK. Maybe it’s because of the art, which is very much in a professionally animated style. There are nice production values going into this one. Professional fonts and effects such as reflections and sound effects are utilized throughout making this look like a completely professional piece of work. And artist James Hislope’s ability to pan in for extreme details then pan out for a broader sense of the picture is definitely impressive.
But I’m still torn about this one. I think there is a lot of potential in this concept, but I don’t know if it is reaching what it could be. The complete first issue has been serialized online here. You can order compilations of the book as well. Maybe the plot will kick it up a notch story-wise in future installments. Maybe we’re supposed to be a bit disgusted with the main character at first and a road to redemption is coming up. Or maybe it’s just going to stew in its own beer-laced juices. I don’t know. The pages look great, but in this first issue, like the Blackout Drunk himself, there’s not much substance to be had.
TOWN BOY OGN First SecondThis book was a complete joy to read. It’s one of those books that exudes charm and innocence. TOWN BOY is actually a sequel to a book called KAMPUNG BOY (which I haven’t read) by Lat, a Southeast Asian artist. The story follows a young boy as he travels with his family from a hostel to a town and acclimates himself to his new surroundings. Mat meets some friends, goes to school, listens to music, gets into art, and meets a girl. All of these things are quite banal, but what makes them so special is the charm and sensitivity put into each and every panel. There is an honest and noble nature to this story as Mat struggles with his family’s poverty and the duty he feels towards them, all the while feeling the pressures of a town that tempts him to follow his dreams and long for more than following in his father’s footsteps. But this struggle is not handled with a heavy hand or weighty angst. There is a simplistic nature to this tale. Mat knows what it right and although he may have his own dreams, he seems to have the optimism and the dedication to be able to balance both his duty and his ambitions. Lat’s artwork is a feast for the eyes, reminiscent of Sergio Aragones with a touch of R. Crumb. If you don’t scan the entire page, you’ll definitely miss some kind of interesting detail or background interaction that may have very little to do with the central action, but plays a major part in fleshing out the goings on in this entire town. For a 200 page Original Graphic Novel this was a surprisingly quick read for me, but it definitely threw the story’s writer/artist Lat onto my radar and I’ll definitely be seeking out other works by this talented artist. – Ambush Bug
NARCOLEPTIC SUNDAY OGN Oni PressI remembered the name Jeremy Haun from the thoroughly entertaining miniseries THE LEADING MAN. There, Haun provided the artwork. It was vivid, lush, and iconic. In NARCOLEPTIC SUNDAY, Haun takes over the writing chores and shows that he is talented in that arena as well. This noir-ish tale has shades of MEMENTO and Marv’s first arc in SIN CITY scattered throughout the book as the protagonist suffers from narcolepsy at all of the wrong times. Like Guy Pearce’s character in MEMENTO, Jack, the sleepy main character, finds himself falling into the middle of a mystery not of his own making. Like the reader, he is clueless as to what is going on. All he knows is that he met a beautiful girl and woke up next to her dead body. Puzzle pieces start to fall into place as the story goes on. Although the outcome of this mystery was somewhat cliched, I found this book to be nuanced enough (filled with nice bits of characterization in regards to Jack and his friends) to sustain my interest. Taking over for Haun in the art department is Brian Koschak. Koschak’s panels are vivid and varied. His stylized facial expressions are truly original and he draws some of the most beautiful women I’ve seen in graphic format. Koschak also composes his panels in an unconventional but non-confusing manner. The dream sequences, where Jack tries to figure out the whirlwind of events that are happening to him, are surreal and ghost-like. The entire story serves as a metaphor of a man who is completely out of control of his life, yet struggles to gain some kind of control. This is a strong first effort (writing-wise) from Haun. I look forward to reading more of his stuff in the future. – Ambush Bug
THE ARCHITECT TPB Big Head PressThis collection of the online original was a pretty intense read. Writer Mike Baron and artist Andie Tong follow a mysterious architect who dabbles in the dark arts to make his buildings truly unique. Based loosely on the works of Frank Lloyd Wright, this story mixes Lovecraftian influences with modern history. The end result is a nice slice of horror. Although the thrills, scares, and grue happen rather abruptly, the story has a steady build. There were more than a few original and squirm-inducing death scenes, especially one gruesome scene that takes place in the house’s toilet. For those thrilling scenes, I give this book my recommendation, despite the arrival of some pretty awkward contrivances towards the end. But there are a few scenes, like the aforementioned toilet scene and all of the stuff that happens when the shit really hits the fan and a mushroom covered old guy attacks the house while his concubine lights herself aflame, that make this a stand-out book and worth seeking out online or in this collected format. – Ambush Bug
THE SPIRIT #9 DC ComicsWell, that was a little…extreme. This issue has cops and criminals alike being gunned down from above in the opening double page-splash, Inspector Dolan shooting El Morte point-blank with a shotgun, a guy suffocating to death in a buried coffin and graveyard sacrifice. Not that there’s anything wrong with that of course (really! I’m no sissy…not that there's anything wrong with that), it just feels a little out of step with Cooke’s other issues. Otherwise, we're treated to the usual serving of beautiful, bombastic art with a few problems writing-wise. – Stones Throw
THUNDERBOLTS #116 Marvel ComicsContinuing Ellis’ intriguing run on T-BOLTS, this series has hit its stride. I confess, I was tremendously fond of the old run (Busiek/Bagley, not “Fightbolts”) and the thread of redemption that ran through it. There is precious little of that here. Still, between Deodato’s art and some inspired characterizations, I look forward to this book each month. Norman Osborn is becoming less like a poor man’s Luthor and more like his own special house-brand of crazy. Penance makes a dramatic move away from his core patheticness. We see the introduction of mystery-man Mindwave in his bid to meet up with the T-bolts. (I still wish we could spend more time with the actual Bolts and less time on new/unknown characters – six pages on Mindwave…) And even Venom/Gargan had an interesting moment. I do hope Songbird has a bit of a reckoning, and soon. Though not afraid of working in the gray, she is (in my opinion) a true hero, and worth more than most of these jokers put together. It’s sad to see her fly so low, but even when I don’t like where the story is going, I’m interested, and that’s more than I can say for many books. – Rock-Me
SUPERMAN #666 DC ComicsWow! If I had brought home this issue when I was a kid and my mom had seen the cover I would never be allowed to buy Superman AGAIN. Yikes! It’s the Super Apocalypse! Seriously, how do you see a cover that crazy and not pick it up? I have to say I actually kind of enjoyed the story too. Not perfect but I really like what a crazy chance they took doing a story like this. I started buying the SUPERMAN books when DC did the ONE YEAR LATER stunt and really like the initial return of Superman story. But then the books went to cheesy Ebay-from-outer-space aliens and superkids and such and it all felt so flat to me that the books fell right back off my pull list. I’m not saying I want demon craziness every months but this sort of risk taking in general would get me back on the Superman band wagon. - Jinxo
THE WALKING DEAD #40 Image ComicsThis is an "everything's fine - for now!" issue, and therefore, strictly skippable. We get plot development a blind guy could have seen coming a mile off with Dale, more of those conversations where two characters say exactly what’s on their minds and which end with one looking shocked than I could count, Carl (Rick’s son) being very wise, and – because y’all demanded it – yet more target practice! I know Kirkman’ll have something engaging coming up, but I sure as hell wish we didn’t have to sit through filler like this to get there. – Stones Throw
Anthologies are a tricky beast. Even if the bulk of the book is quality, there’s always going to be something in there that’s a stinker. Funny thing, though: back in the 90’s there were two separate anthology titles that managed to feature little to no crap stories whatsoever. They did this by virtue of both an astonishingly talented roster of creators and the most sublime of themes…
It Came From the Nineties!
By Vroom Socko
If you recall the previous installment, we discussed the DREAM CORRIDOR, home of Harlan Ellison and his various flights of fancy. Well, this time it’s not a creator but a character that’s been given his due. That character would be Batman, and this book is BLACK AND WHITE.
As is the case with the Ellison material, this book boasts all manner of insanely talented creators, many of whom are legends in the business. Some are inescapably tied to this particular character, such as Chuck Dixon, Denny O’Neil, and Bruce Timm, as well as those who are perhaps better known for other things but still rock the Bat like nobody’s business, like Klaus Janson, Brian Bolland, and Matt Wagner. Then there’s the comic book gods, like Alex Toth, Neil Gaiman, Archie Goodwin, Joe Kubert, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Katsuhiro Otomo.
What’s great about this anthology is how it illustrates the malleability of the icon that is Batman. (And trust me, any character that can be portrayed by George Clooney, Christian Bale, Michael Keaton, AND Adam West has to be malleable.) Jan Strand and Kevin Nowlan play up the super-science angle of the character, for example, while Walt Simonson focuses entirely on the lore of Batman in the minds of the average citizen. Wagner looks at the Bat through the eyes of the criminal element, while Gaiman and Simon Bisley have a few laughs at his expense. Ted McKeever, in what might be my favorite story in the book, gives us not only the detective but the driven and obsessed loner. And then there’s the amazingly poignant “Heroes,” written by Goodwin and illustrated amazingly by Gary Gianni.
Along with the stories, there are the original four covers by Toth, Jim Lee, Frank Miller and Barry Windsor-Smith. There’s also some pinups by Mike Allred, P. Craig Russell, and what may be the single greatest piece of artwork Alex Ross has ever done.
This book is just a blast. DC thought so at any rate, since they ended up making the concept into a regular feature in the back of BATMAN: GOTHAM KNIGHTS. But it’s the original anthology that managed to stick with me the most. The collected volume is out of print right now, but if you wait a month DC is going to put out a brand spanking new edition on the 26th of September. Buy it, you won’t regret it.