PRESIDENTIAL MATERIAL: BARACK OBAMA #1
Writer: Jeff Mariotte Artist: Tom Morgan
PRESIDENTIAL MATERIAL: JOHN MCCAIN #1
Writer: Andy Helfer Art: Stephen Thompson Publisher: IDW Publishing Crossing the party lines: Ambush BugI wouldn’t say I’m a political man. You won’t see any hate filled rants seething about the liberal agenda or any sanctimonious finger pointing towards the conservative right from this Bug. I tend to lean more towards anarchy myself, and know deep within my heart of hearts that sooner or later, everyone will smarten up and realize that all disagreements can and should be resolved in the most intelligent and fitting manner…Thunderdome, of course. So don’t go expecting some kind of political slant or bias when it comes to the reviews of these two comic book biographies. I simply don’t care enough to lean either way.
But with the election year coming up, I was extremely interested to see what new propaganda the two parties would use to get their word out to the kiddies. With Rock the Vote turning out to be an utter failure to reach younger voters in the last election, looks as if new tactics are being administered. Now, since the average age of comic book reviewers these days is between the mid-twenties and early thirties, it’s not exactly addressing those key slacker voters that Michael Moore was trying to reach, but it’s a step in the right direction. I think a presidential Wii game or some way to tie in GUITAR HERO to the voting booth would probably be most effective in bringing in the youth vote, but good for IDW for trying something new here.
Are these books good?
Well, this isn’t really the graphic storytelling version of each candidate’s views, policies and plans for the nation. Although interesting and important, a 22 page step by step description of Barack’s Health Care plan or McCain’s intricate outline of plans for off-shore drilling isn’t exactly what I call page-turner material. These books are a set of biographies telling us about each candidate’s long road to becoming the Big Two candidates in this year’s presidential election. The cool thing is that, this year, we do have a pair of candidates that have some very compelling backstories.
Having a compelling backstory and telling it in an interesting way in comic book form, though, are two different things altogether. No doubt, both of these men have done some fine and noble things, but if the books’ writers forget that they are trying to write a compelling story, the results are less than interesting. That’s kind of the case here.
Let’s look at BARACK OBAMA’s book first. I would categorize this book as firmly seated in the drama category. There’s a lot of personal struggle going on in this book. Obama’s conflicts with race, prejudice, class, and family are highlighted and dissected. Obama is depicted as a man fighting against the odds and overcoming them. It’s an inspirational story and Obama is definitely shown in a compelling and sympathetic light. Obama’s views on various issues do get some screen time towards the end of this book as Obama’s rise in power and recognition bring us to his current status, but the main focus of this book seems to be that Obama has overcome a lot to get where he is and that he’s a man of the people. In that light, it’s a successful effort.
JOHN MCCAIN’s book is successful in telling his story too. Yet another drama, but at least this one has a bit of the kind of action that comic book readers are used to. Say what you will about McCain’s views, his story is a riveting one and this book highlights McCain’s love for America, his maverick stances that separated him from the rest of his party, and his will to survive and fight for what he believes in. McCain’s platform is also described to some extent towards the end of this book, but again, the focus is on what brought McCain to the top Republican presidential candidate spot rather than his views.
My biggest problem with these biographies was that they fall short of utilizing the medium to its fullest potential in order to speak to the reader. Now, I don’t want to see Obama sporting an open yellow shirt and exclaiming “Sweet Christmas!” or McCain lobbing grenades whilst clenching a knife between his teeth, but since it is a comic book audience that is being addressed here, the stories could have been punched up a bit to make for more compelling reads--stories that would address the audience (comic book readers) in the language that they know (vivid, bold strokes storytelling). Instead, we get a whole lotta captions going on. Both book rely heavily on already published material and often say so in the captions. It’s your typical faux pas of telling the reader the story rather than doing the more enjoyable thing and showing the reader how the story goes. Granted, there was a lot of history to tell in these two books and 22 pages doesn’t really give a writer a chance to detail the dramatic beats of the candidates’ lives very much. But looking at a page and seeing more captions than art is a no-no in any comic.
The artists chosen for these books did a capable job of drawing Obama, McCain, and other key political figures. All of them are instantly recognizable and there’s something admirable about that kind of craftsmanship. But it’s pretty much straight forward storytelling with little by way of creative panel work. If as much attention was paid to making the panels visually appealing as there was to making the characters look accurate, this would have been a much more interesting read.
These two books were successful in highlighting the strengths of each of the candidates. Like I said, they both have compelling stories and no matter how one leans, one must concede that this is one of the most interesting elections in years. The comic successfully shows that, in many ways, Obama and McCain’s origin stories (these are comics, so I’m using the terms, folks) are similar in that they are both men who went against the odds and never gave up, even when all seemed to be lost. In that, both men are worthy of my respect and both books, worthy of purchase. I also wanted to add that even though both books clearly favor the candidates that star in them, little by way of mudslinging occurs. I’ve gotta commend IDW for that. This could easily have been a case where a comic book company writes two books about two candidates but from the same political viewpoint, making one look worse than the other. But other than the covers by J. Scott Campbell which depicts Obama in a more favorable heroic pose and McCain as someone who may come into your house at night and eat your baby, the stories inside to a commendable job of showing both parties in a favorable and non-biased light.
I doubt these books will convert any of you to vote one way or the other, but they do a fine job of telling the candidates’ inspirational stories and viewpoints. Had a bit more time been spent utilizing the medium of comics more efficiently, the results could have been more satisfying. Nevertheless, IDW deserves credit for trying something bold and new here.
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, reviewer and co-editor of AICN Comics for over seven years. Check out a five page preview of his short story published in MUSCLES & FIGHTS 3 (AVAILABLE NOW at Muscles & Fights.com.) on his ComicSpace page. Bug was recently interviewed here and here at Cream City Comics about indie comics, his own artistic process, the comics industry, and other shades of bullsquat. Look for Bug’s follow-up this Fall in MUSCLES & FRIGHTS!
Written by: James Robinson Pencilled by: Renato Guedes Published by: DC Comics Reviewed by: BottleImpWell, congratulations, DC. You did it. You finally killed this title for me.
The blame can be spread around for this, so let’s start with James Robinson. Here’s a guy who wrote STARMAN (one of my all-time favorite series), helped make the Justice Society cool again, wrote the amazing GOLDEN AGE miniseries, WITCHCRAFT, LEAVE IT TO CHANCE, and other incredible comics that I can’t think of at the moment. Yet he also wrote the screenplay for the abysmal LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN movie. And unfortunately, Robinson’s writing on SUPERMAN feels a lot more like his film work than it does his previous comic book scripting. I don’t know what happened during the time that Robinson was taking a break from comics to work in Hollywood, but whatever it was, it wasn’t good. His writing—particularly the dialogue—has what I call “Claremont Syndrome.” Much like Chris Claremont’s later writing on X-MEN (we’re talking late ‘80s early ‘90s), every character that Robinson writes ends up sounding the same—everyone talks or thinks in broken incomplete sentences, everyone seems to think along the same lines and use the same sort of language, and everyone has the same personality. I mentioned in a review of a previous issue that the characters were written with Jack Knight-kind of narrative captions, but now they all sound more like the Shade—even Superman. And readers familiar with the STARMAN series KNOW that there is no way in hell that Superman should even remotely resemble the Shade.
If I may, I’d like to make a comparison to Bryan Singer’s SUPERMAN RETURNS. Whether you love it, like it or hate it, you have to admit that Singer’s heart was in the right place when he made that film. You may not agree with the aspects of Superman that Singer chose to focus on or the manner in which he developed his view of Superman, but at least you can see a clear vision of what Singer was trying to do with the character. I’m one of those people who liked the film more than I thought I would. Though I think Singer might have been more successful if he had chosen to forge a new path for Superman rather than returning to Richard Donner’s vision, I couldn’t help but smile as the shivers ran up my back when I heard that oh-so-familiar John Williams theme.
But when I read SUPERMAN, there’s no music here. And I think it’s because James Robinson DOESN’T have his heart in the right place. I can’t see Robinson’s vision for the character, and I think that’s because he doesn’t have one. As I wrote before, Robinson seemed much more interested in exploring the character of Atlas than he did Superman.
But blame for this lackluster series has to be shared with DC—specifically, with the editors of all the Superman titles. Maybe Robinson would be able to develop a more personal vision for the character if he were not bound by the dictates of editorial direction. The last straw for me in regards to this title was that the entire Atlas/mysterious government agent storyline would be continued not in the SUPERMAN series, but in SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN SPECIAL #1. Now I don’t know about you, but when I read a storyline over a period of four consecutive issues, I expect the plot to be resolved within the series—not shuffled over to a one-shot to wrap up all the dangling threads. But I’m guessing that since all the Superman books will be engaging in the “New Krypton” crossover, Robinson’s Atlas plot had to be shunted so that his title could be in step with ACTION and SUPERGIRL. But whatever the reason, it ended up leaving me with a bad taste in my mouth. I’m not interested enough to pick up the JIMMY OLSEN SPECIAL, and I’ve certainly lost all interest in SUPERMAN.
I do have to point out a positive note about Renato Guedes’ art: much as I hate that they brought back Krypto the Superdog (a cute concept that I have no doubt will quickly get annoying and before too long Krypto will be given the Old Yeller treatment), Guedes draws him extraordinarily well. I’ve found that a lot of “realistic” comic book artists tend to fudge it when it comes to animals; we usually wind up with either cartoony or vaguely anthropomorphic dogs, cats and monkeys. But Guedes has obviously done his homework. Good job, Guedes… sorry that all that work went into what turned out to be such a crappy, half-assed storyline.
When released from his Bottle, the Imp takes the form of Stephen Andrade, an artist/illustrator/pirate monkey painter from the Northeast who's given up comics more times than he can remember. But every time he thinks he's out, they pull him back in.
Written by: Jeph Loeb Art by: Ed McGuinness and Dexter Vines Published by: Marvel Comics Reviewed by: Ryan McLellandSo here’s the end of a story-arc with Red Hulk battling Green Hulk. Right from the get-go we have two different covers that fit together to have these massive behemoths fighting which has a really great effect. How does the story match up? Will Red Hulk win? Will we learn the identity of Rulk? Will Rick Jones still be the atrocious A-Bomb?
Hulk and A-Bomb are in San Francisco checking out the nightlife and Iron Man, Ares, Thing, and a slew of others are trying to convince Hulk to fight Rulk. Hulk hate Rulk so Hulk go to fight Rulk. Nothing better than a comic book full of monosyllables. Hulk is able to use his Spidey-Sen, er, Hulk Tracking Beam to zone right in on Rulk, with A-Bomb using the same technique to follow Hulk. They both find Rulk and…
FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! Oh yeah the fight is on with Hulk and Rulk going at it blow-for-blow. The much smarter Rulk taunts his little green friend and it’s a match up between the guy who gets stronger as he gets angrier and the guy who gets hotter as he gets angrier. I’m sure you all know who wins and I’m sure you all think you find out who Rulk really is. Do you? Well, read the issue and find out.
Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness continue their Rulk fun, and it certainly ends a terrific story arc. Personally I can’t wait until the next issue when Art Adams and Frank Cho jump aboard, but McGuinness can sure draw his Hulks well. I’m not a big fan of dumb Hulk by any means and the whole ‘Me Hulk, You Betty’ thing wears on me pretty quick. Luckily Rulk isn’t dumb and is sort of a prick so it all balances nicely. HULK #6 is a great ending to the arc and hopefully Rulk continues to be a Marvel Universe menace for many years to come.
Ryan McLelland has worked in movies and comics journalism for the past several years before joining the @$$holes here at AICN. Ryan’s comic work has already graced comic shelves with Arcana’s PHILLY, WISE INTELLIGENCE, UPTOWN GIRL, and THE SENTINELS ANTHOLOGY. He rarely updates his blog but when he does it can be read at www.eyewannabe.com
Writer: Bill Willingham Artist: Mike Allred Publisher: DC Vertigo Reviewer: Optimous Douche
To truly appreciate issue 76, I want you to play a little game of “What If?” with me. This should be an easy “exercise of the imagination” for the true believers of comic fandom. Imagine if you will on April 30, 1945, instead of finding the smoky charred remains of Hitler’s splattered skull and Ava Braun’s cyanide frothing pie hole, the Soviet forces instead found the two sitting contently in Hitler’s bunker as he gently hummed Adel Veis while getting a “good try honey” blowjob from Ava. Now imagine that one of the conditions of the peace treaty between the Axis and Allied forces was that Hitler would have to spend the rest of his days living penniless in downtown Jerusalem (I know Israel wasn’t a state yet, but as I said use your imagination). Would he be able to ever walk down the street without a cadre of bodyguards? Would he ever be able to order a falafel or blintzes, without them being spit in, assuming he could even get served? Perfect: now you are in the right frame of mind for the events of the first post-war issue of FABLES.
I’ve always applauded Willingham for making Gepetto the dark overlord of the forces that conquered the Fables’ Homeworlds. I squealed with glee when his identity was revealed and it was discovered that he gained all of his power by siphoning it from the Blue Fairy, trapped S&M style in his cupboard. One of the other things that made Gepetto so damn compelling was his belief that his actions were right and just. The best villains are not the moustache twirling mwahahaha types, but rather the ones that have salient arguments for their debauchery no matter how nefarious their misdeeds actually are.
After signing the war treaty last issue, Gepetto is now a full-time resident of the Fable ghetto in New York City. On the surface this issue is simply a tour of Gepetto’s new surroundings, guided by his ever dutiful son Pinocchio. But that’s the easy Cliff Notes synopsis. In actuality this is an exploration of whether there truly is a winner when it comes to war. While fans of the book cheered with every advance made by the Fabletown forces into the Homeworlds, Gepetto despite being a cantankerous cockmeister actually makes the people he runs into question whether liberation was worth the mass casualties and subsequent unrest that the Homeworlds now inevitably face. Hmmmm, this all sounds vaguely familiar, I wonder why?
Aside from running parallels to America’s turmoil in the Middle East there were some classic lines spewed out by the evil one on the trappings and foibles of modern society. Everything from the inane chatter we can all partake in thanks to cell phones to New York’s endless traffic was fair game for Gepetto’s douchebaggery. And for a minute you actually begin to believe that the old codger might not be too far off his rocker, even though his heart is a festering cesspool of evil intent.
I’m still grappling as to whether I like the choice of Mike Allred coming in as a guest penciler. I loved Allred’s work on X STATIX. His clean 60’s style lines were a damn humorous juxtaposition for the modern ultra-violence that ran through that title. With FABLES, though, I’m just not sure if his style works. Buckingham’s dewy, deeply shaded lines always helped immerse the reader deeper into this fantasy world. I also always loved the way Buckingham drew Pinocchio like a carnival dwarf as opposed to a real child. I’m on the fence because if this is in fact a new direction for the book, the art certainly helped solidify that this is not your Father’s FABLES. But when I first saw Beast and he looked exactly like 90% of Allred’s other thirty-something males it ripped away my willing suspension of disbelief. An admirable job for a guest shot, I’m just not sure I want to see Mike on this book as a staple.
Great issue, great new direction, and let’s just hope there are plenty more storms over the horizon for Grimm’s brain children.
Written by: Dwight MacPherson & Bruce Brown Art by: Mike Barentine Published by: Image Comics Reviewed by: Ryan McLellandM-THEORY #1 is an amazing, fully welcomed change of pace from your average Image book. It’s “-Files” meets “Buck Rogers” meets “Space Quest” set in the very early fifties. The era doesn’t alienate readers, and having Albert Einstein possibly being the next big action star could make my day. Einstein doesn’t do anything actioney, but here’s hoping he will later in the series.
Plot? Aliens and robots, spacecrafts and mysterious objects. Mind-melds and Albert Einstein! It all starts with the infamous Roswell landing and a dying alien who transfers everything he knows into scientist Doctor Goetz. Years later a series of events brings Goetz, Einstein, and hottie scientist Agnes Font together when an alien transmission reaches Earth with possible cataclysmic repercussions.
The book has a fine line of science fiction without taking itself too seriously, with a great amount of old school spacesuits and aircrafts thrown in. If you are a fan of early Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, or “Radar Men From The Moon” then this book is straight up your alley. Dwight MacPherson, Bruce Brown, and Mike Barentine all have a wonderful time putting this comic together and that comes out all through this comic.
M-THEORY grabbed me from page one and it is my favorite book from last week. Suspense, aliens, laughter, and Albert Einstein. How can you go wrong? M-THEORY is a fun, fantastic book and I look forward to reading the series in the future.
LEGEND OF ZELDA - OCARINA OF TIME
by Akira Himekawa To be released by VIZ Media October 7, 2008 Reviewer: Scott GreenThose who track video games are doubtless familiar with Nintendo's approach to iterating on franchises. The latest MARIO or ZELDA game is always designed to satisfy fans who have been following the title for decades and, at the same time, designed to be accessible to new audiences. That same philosophy is evident in the adaptation of OCARINA OF TIME, a manga bearing the "Official Nintendo Seal," produced by "Akira Himekawa," the pseudonym for a team of established Nintendo game to manga adapters.
Though much of the appeal of OCARINA OF TIME is that it offers long standing LEGEND OF ZELDA fans an abridged retelling of the 1998 Nintendo 64 game, there is discernable rationale for putting the manga under the "vizkids" banner, even if the target vizkids reader wasn't born in '98. Starting with the opening chapters, in which its hero Link is ostracized as the only Kokiri elf child without a fairy companion, the manga offers an introduction to the stars of LEGEND OF ZELDA, and to the fantasy kingdom of Hyrule. That notion of the adventurous outcast offers the reader an immediate handhold. Then, the manga maintains that accessibility with a breadcrumb trail laid out through explicit quests and clear, heroic qualities. Factor in the iconic game design look, and despite the format that has Link running back and forth across Hyrule, OCARINA OF TIME maintains its clarity.
Presumablely, most readings of OCARINA OF TIME are going to be driven by gamer enthusiasm for the ZELDA series. If OCARINA OF TIME is going to find its way into the hands of a young reader, it is probably going to get there because a gamer is looking to introduce that child to LEGEND OF ZELDA. Fortunately, Akira Himekawa's attention to inclusiveness ensures that the manga is capable of serving that purpose.
Personally, I've never been able to make sense of manga content ratings. Which isn't to say that I don't understand why, despite my hopes to the contrary, the very stabby DRIFTING CLASSROOM is kept out of the hands of youngster via a mature rating. I also understand that sex is more charged than violence, to the extent that manga publishers like Viz have retouched illustrations to make outfits less revealing. However, in terms of potentially objectionable content, I'm not quite sure of the suitability of Ocarina's "all ages" rating. Episodes of the manga are decided by Link using his wits and or might to defeat monstrous opponents. Akira Himekawa offers up the standard video game bestiary of animated skeletons, cyclopean spiders, raging dinosaurs and so on, rendered in a manner which is threatening, but not nightmarish. More potentially problematic than exchanges of sword blows with looming dark knights is the fact that some of it is unambiguously lethal. At least one beheading seems starkly out of place with the "all ages" label.
OCARINA OF TIME does tap into the pleasure of seeing something familiar present in another medium. Beyond offering fans a vehicle for sharing OCARINA with non-familiar audiences, the manga offers gamers a recording to re-sample moments of their own experience. Yet, while the manga's ability to provoke nostalgia for the twists and encounters in Link's journey is one of the title's essential qualities, the approach of projecting a game onto manga is overdone, to OCARINA's detriment.
The manga is accessible to those who haven't played the games, but readers of any strife are liable to be disinterested in nods to game mechanics, as when Link is sent to fetch an object or required to upgrade his equipment. Beyond working like a game, Ocarina allows itself to be overwhelmed by the task of recreating the original. There is so much to cover that segments of Link's quest are constricted to six to twelve pages. There is space to introduce the situation and resolve it, but little else. In its original form, this structure served as the framework for well conceived gameplay. Here, it supports Akira Himehara's charming illustration, but the constantly changing activity is not a model for well paced manga storytelling or involving narrative arcs. OCARINA OF TIME is workable, readable manga, as well as a suitable introduction to LEGEND OF ZELDA, but the same talents and characters could have achieved more compelling results if they were not bound to faithfully adapting the game.
Scott Green has been writing for AICN ANIME for close to seven years. If you like what you see here and love anime & manga, be sure to check out his latest AICN ANIME column here.