Hey folks, Ambush Bug here with another edition of AICN Comics. So I was interviewed the other day over at Cream City Comics. A friend of mine and independent comic book publisher, Amado “Arex” Rodriguez, asked me to answer a few questions about independent comics, working at AICN Comics, and some general opinions I had about the industry. Amado is the co-creator of a comic featured a while back in our Indie Jones section; MUSCLES & FIGHTS. The third volume of this anthology will be released soon and I was lucky enough to be asked by Amado to be a part of it. I’ll have more on my first foray into comic book creation in future columns. In the meantime, check out the interview and be sure to click around Amado’s website to see other interviews he’s done with some of independent comics’ most interesting creators. Enjoy the interview and then pop back here for this week’s reviews.
Oh and be sure to check back later in the week for a special @$$Hole Roundtable starring all of your favorite AICN @$$Holes focusing on Spider-Man and his new status quo. That drops on Friday.
Now, I can shut up and you can read the reviews.
THE MIGHTY AVENGERS #7
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis Artist: Mark Bagley Inker: Danny Miki, et al. Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: Rock-Me AmodeoI know the review is late, but with this book, that’s appropriate, eh? But not for long. Anyway, let me say that I will GLADLY drop my 299 pennies for this title. Gone is the over-sized eyecandy that meant we got about two-thirds a story in 23 pages. Here to stay is Bagley and a real sense of story-telling.
And who was the genius that decided to ink Bagley’s pencils with grit and substance? It was a whole team of inkers, actually, but I loved it—they gave Bagley’s work a gravitas that I really enjoyed. I know that the whole Skrull invasion/Venom Bomb thing is out of sync with the rest of the 616, but I don’t mind. If we’re getting back on track, then I’ll cut them some slack, and no, I didn’t mean to rhyme.
What I also appreciated was Bendis getting more on his game, moving the story forward, and lessening the random thought balloons that have little impact on the story. He IS still doing them, however, and I think I figured out when they work and how they don’t.
When two characters are engaging in dialogue and he lets us know what a third or fourth character is thinking, THAT jolts me out of the story. Examples would be Simon and Carol talking and Janet thinking “Drunk.” Or Simon thinking “I hate this” when the conversation is actually between all the female ex-covert-ops in the room (and there are three.) Head-hopping is tricky even under the most controlled circumstances.
But when two characters are dialoging and he lets us know what is unsaid BETWEEN THOSE TWO characters, well THAT pulls me in. Carol saying aloud that there should have been a group vote, but silently fuming that she wasn’t consulted. Or when Janet talks about Ares and we get a disturbing peek into his reaction.
I think that works, and works well. So now that I’ve helped fix the problem, Brian, I expect a little sumpin-sumpin, y’know? (Note: nothing says “I love you” like small, unmarked non-sequential bills).
And there were some great moments. Natasha calling B.S. on Tony, and Jessica Drew calling B.S. on Natasha. The public discussion of Tony Stark’s prior Ultron-induced, uhn, assets. “I don’t throw everything into the sun” always makes me chuckle – and then Lindy’s moment comes so quickly afterward – great emotional juxtaposition. We even get Wasp on one of her costume rants…geez, that used to be a staple, remember? What a great nostalgic moment brought forward to the present. Lots of things to like about this book, and I am now officially McLovin it. THIS is the once and future Avengers.
THE FALL OF CTHULHU #9
Writer: Michael Alan Nelson Artist: Pablo Quiligotti Publisher: Boom! Studios Reviewer: SquashuaAs long-time readers know, I'm quite the Cthulhu-phile. I love things Lovecraftian, and you'd think that a book like FALL OF CTHULHU would be right up my alley. Well, at one time, it was.
During this particular issue we follow the daughter of Nyarlathotep as she travels through the Dreamlands to the waking world, to meet with her father at his gathering. Along the way, she antagonizes some humans and we witness the Dreamlands being demonized; more knowledgeable readers will watch the fall of King Kuranes. The narration is quite poetic and the art is vibrant and colorful, pretty and horrifying at the same time, but never too serious.
In the early issues, FALL OF CTHULHU appeared to be the tale of a man thrust into a world of confusion, and Great Old Ones were vying for his soul. Since his absence as the lead character, the last few issues have focused on Nyarlathotep, a singular Great Old One or Other God, depending on who you ask. During his command of the storyline, a group of like-minded godlings began to gather under his watch for what appears to be the end of times. Unfortunately, this gathering is routinely boring.
Each of the last few issues has focused on an individual godling making his or her or its way to meet with Nyarlathotep. These are tales of horror to be sure, but they are also tales of deus ex machina. Though certainly there is potential for conflict with the Harlot of the Dreamlands as a rival force, Nyarlathotep as "Mr. Arkham" (I cannot abide by blatant labeling; might as well call him Doctor Lovecraft for all it's worth) has had everything handed to him. There is no challenge in their tales, seemingly no conflict for them to overcome, and therefore to my sensibilities, there is little interest.
I enjoy H.P. Lovecraft when he focuses on humanity struggling against insurmountable odds; tales such as "The Whisperer in the Darkness", "The Call of Cthulhu", "The Shadow Over Innsmouth", "The Shadow Out of Time", "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward", "The Dreams in the Witch House" and "The Dunwich Horror" all appeal to me. Each of those stories focuses on one or more human protagonists interacting with an aspect of the human mythos. And to me, this is where FALL OF CTHULHU fails for me. I don't want to read about omnipotent gods.
I'd prefer a book that took the Cthulhu Mythos less lightly than FALL OF CTHULHU, but in a market horribly lacking any proper alternatives, beggars can't be choosers.
BOOSTER GOLD #6
Writer: Geoff Johns Artist: Dan Jurgens and Norm Rapmund Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Rock-Me AmodeoOkay, quick show of hands – how many of you people out there are really, really hoping that Booster is somehow able to bring back Ted Kord? In a universe where death has a revolving door, and lots of characters who died really should have STAYED dead, this is one where I really hope the decision gets reversed.
What was good: the plot of course. Some clever dialogue. The Abbey Road visual gag (they are, after all, the Beetles.) Jaime (the current Blue Beetle) being written well, and consistent with the character I’m growing to love in his own book. The Blue and the Gold, in action again. And the conclusion—for this issue, anyway, and for as long as it lasts—was most definitely good.
What was bad: hmm…nothing was really bad. I don’t care one iota for Booster’s dim-witted relative from the present, even if he’s being approached by the bad guys. My mind just skips over his scenes because I can’t find anything likeable, let alone interesting, about him. But it’s not bad, just the absence of good.
The somewhere between: the art was on again/off again. I’m guessing there’s a reason for that beyond Jurgen’s and DC’s control, so it gets a pass. It certainly wasn’t bad. Also, future Beetle seems too convenient and too mysterious. There’s something going on with him that’s going to flip this story on its head.
Then there is the queasy feeling that, after all the pummeling regarding Batgirl’s fate, this issue was just TOO easy. I mean, Booster got it beaten into him, and we got it beaten into us, that you can’t change the past. CLEARLY that story happened for a reason.
So something’s wrong. I know it, every reader knows it, and Johns is betting we know it, too. He wins. I have to see what happens next.
NEW WARRIORS #8
Writer: Kevin Grevioux Artists: Jon Malin (pencils), Juan Vlasco (inks) Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: JinxoWhy am I still buying this book?
And how can it continue to be just so “eh”?
I mean, it’s New Warriors. This is the group who triggered the entire Marvel Civil War. They should be the ultimate, exciting outlaw hero group. Seriously, this is a group where the entire Marvel universe should be falling on their heads every issue. These should be the heroes who fight the good fight while being hated and hunted by EVERYBODY. Their situation should be the classic X-Men predicament times a billion!
There is no reason this book shouldn’t just be action packed and exciting as hell. But it just isn’t. Half this issue is dinner with a bunch of kids! They should have a billion times the X-Men’s tensions but instead they have none. That said, they sure can’t stop talking about the X-Men. I’ve never wanted to actually smack a fictional character before but, *@!!!, Jubilee needs to shut the hell up about the X-Men. Seems like every issue she just is going on and on about them. Yes, she was a member and I guess maybe they just want to establish for new readers who she is, what her history is. Enough already. Establish who she is with some action, not with yammering about her last team.
And they keep trying to build excitement with slow reveals on mysteries. Only, if you’re going to have a slow reveal going on in the background, you need something crazy exciting going on in the foreground. That ain’t happening.
Not only that but when the mysteries ARE final revealed, the payoff isn’t so good. Oh my God! The new Night Thrasher is (gasp) exactly who you figured it was! I know old school New Warriors fans were offended by the way they were portrayed when they started the Civil War: crappy, self motivated reality TV stars. But you know what? I would rather read a book about those New Warriors. I mean at least there was something interesting to them.
The old New Warriors blow up a whole town and change the face of the Marvel Universe, the new New Warriors just blow. And given the starting point for this group, there really is just no excuse.
JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #17
Main Story Writer: Alan Burnett Backup Story Writer: Dwayne McDuffie Main Story Artist: Ed Benes Backup Story Artist: Jon Boy Meyers Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Rock-Me AmodeoI promise you, I’m really not a nitpicker, but I was thrown out of the story so often that I never could get into it, and just had to start picking this apart. The issue opens up with the exposition that Red Tornado has alerted Black Lightning that a security guard (of unknown color) has been found unconscious at the airport. Could he check it out? Now consider this set-up.
A security guard has been found unconscious! Somebody call the Justice League!!!
I think at this point in the last run, the JLA has already dealt with several invading armies and various cosmic threats. That’s okay, I don’t mind seeing more mundane stuff, as long as we don’t have another cave-in issue.
Anyway, this leads to a run-in with several super-villains trying to hijack a plane. Black Lightning comments that some big guy’s density must be half a ton, which make me wonder if he’ll comment that the plane can fly at 300 miles. You see, density is a ratio, just like speed. Well, to paraphrase Jessica Rabbit, he’s not really stupid; he’s just written that way. Let’s move on.
The super-villains are scared because the Suicide Squad is making the rounds. Amanda Waller provides some answers and several uses of the phrase “wiggle room” instead of the word “latitude.” Shortly thereafter, and despite the 436 tons of titanium plates and some of the most awkward exposition I’ve seen in a while, the remaining super-villains break into the Hall of Justice so fast they make a cardboard box seem like Ft. Knox, not vice versa.
I’m not digging this. The art was nice, though it seems to be carrying the comic more than the story. I could do with half as many full page iconic poses, but it was nice. And the plot is fine, it picked up speed as the story went along. But the execution…ugh.
Fortunately, this was only the first two-thirds. The back up story, by McDuffie and Meyers, was well done and intriguing. Vixen’s powers are on the fritz and there’s a mystery a-brewin, and no easy answers. Gosh, it made me miss Ralph Dibny’s twitching nose.
I was especially touched by the naturalness of Speedy’s cry for “Uncle Hal…” I liked it. And I’m intrigued. Is it worth buying it for the backup story? This month, yes. Next month…well, we’ll see.
ANGEL: AFTER THE FALL #3
Writer:Joss Whedon (plot) & Brian Lynch (plot/writer) Art: Franco Urru Publisher: IDW Publishing Reviewer: Sleazy GI was tentatively complimentary of the writing but hard on the art of the first issue of this title. I’d like to say things have changed, but so far I’ve seen nothing to make me rethink that stance. If anything, it seems like Brian Lynch is almost trying too hard here to throw us unexpected twists. He’s altered the status quo of so many characters so completely—taking them in direct 180’s and even switching two of the main characters’ traits with each other—that it all starts to feel out-of-character and forced. There are some interesting ideas, to be sure, but throwing so many alterations at us so quickly fails to ring true and fails to flow organically, leaving the whole thing feeling a bit hollow. There are some inspired moments, to be sure, and Lynch is getting a better handle on the character’s voices, but I’m still not completely won over by the directions he’s taking. That may change in a few issues’ time, but it’s hard to say at this point.
I do have to comment again on the art as well. In the letters column of #3, IDW’s EIC (also editor on this book) Chris Ryall says that “a small percentage” of readers take exception with artist Franco Urru’s “stylized” work versus potentially “near-photographic reproductions of the characters.” He also goes on to describe the criticisms as “impassionedly non-constructive.” I think these are oversimplifications. Based on a sketch of concept art for Illyria in the letters page, I still have the same problem: the lack of lines on the various characters’ faces makes it difficult to make out the person’s features and expressions, and this has been a problem across three issues. That said, the concept art sketch looks noticeably better than any of the finished art in the three published issues thus far, so I’m willing to give Urru the benefit of the doubt: perhaps the problem lies with Jason Jensen’s coloring and not Urru’s art. Then again, that’s not Jensen’s coloring on this month’s cover, and I can’t help but notice Angel’s face still looks dimensionless and ill-defined.
I think it’s more likely a combination of mediocre work on both fronts, and I continue to have a problem with the finished product: I find the lack of depth in the panels off-putting and the poor work on the characters’ features and expressions is a serious handicap (case in point—the number of people who missed the reveal at the end of #1 on first read because they couldn’t identify the character). I don’t think it’s non-constructive to state that I expect far better finished art from IDW, especially on a major license like this book. I also think it’s constructive to point out that this work feels amateurish and undeveloped. I’ve seen far better art at IDW, and I expected to see them bringing top-notch talent to this title. I’m looking for a more professional, finished product and I’m hardly the only ANGEL fan who feels that way. Perhaps the book just needs a better inker and colorist, but some sort of change needs to happen soon before too many fans flee the title. A large number of readers of Whedon-related material come from outside the normal comics readership, and they’re not likely to stick around long for an inferior product.
I’m still sticking with ANGEL for now because I’m a longtime fan of the characters and their stories, but I don’t know how long that will last. The story hasn’t won me over yet, and the art is a major deterrent. I’m hoping IDW will take the growing criticism a little more seriously and consider making adjustments or alterations. This isn’t coming from somebody who wants the artists to trace images of the actors, or a ‘shipper jealous that his favorite slash characters aren’t portrayed the way he wants, or from somebody looking for an excuse to rip the product. This is coming from somebody who’s been reading comics for 30 years, and has seen series fail before due to distractingly bad art. I’m all for trying new styles and approaches and artists, but when something isn’t working changes need to be made before it’s too late. I’d hate to see something that had a chance to turn into a really strong title die on the vine because it chased off readers with disappointing art.