Thursday, January 17, 2008

Some Comic Book Reviews


There are times when I think I focus too much on the negative, what about stuff that I like? Stuff that I think works?

Like many comic fans, I went to the store to pick up the shipment for this week. There are times now when I don’t go every week much less on the Wednesday of the shipment. The excitement isn’t quite at the level it used to be.

It was a light week, comics wise. Luckily for my comic shop, my interest in pulps and the pulp reprints make up for the dramatic drop in the comics I get. I’m spending about the same each month, maybe more on some, but the money doesn’t go to DC or Marvel or even the independent comics. It’s a great time to be a fan of pulp heroes. For the first time in decades, there’s more pulp stuff out each month than one can reasonably read, especially with the Spider, Shadow, and Doc Savage doing two novels per book. Unfortunately, since these come from small independent publishers, they aren’t exactly cheap. So, it pays to be discerning. More discerning than I was as I looked at the Operator 5 novel in my bag and was thinking “Secret Agent ‘X’”. I’ve developed a liking for the “X” novels, but I’ve yet been able to finish and Operator 5 one and would have preferred to save money. Especially as there was the attractive TALES OF MAGIC AND MYSTERY with it’s stark and powerfully minimally rendered and colored cover. I almost passed it up, but the short stories intrigued me as did some of the artwork. I justified it by the fact that I was only getting 3 comics: THE AMAZING SPIDER-GIRL, SHADOWPACT, and JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA.

What’s great about the three comics, at least for reviewing and comparing and contrasting purposes is that they all fall well into Good, Mediocre, and Bad.

THE GOOD

AMAZING SPIDER-GIRL #16. I should point out, that this is the only book from Marvel that I trust enough to have in my pull list and not pick up off the shelves. Of course, other than THE TWELVE, I hadn’t even seen anything even tempting to pick up apart from the odd reprints. Starting with the cover: As a general rule, I don’t like computerized effects with comic art. It might be because I use Adobe Photoshop in my work, but when I see a blur special effect or lens flare it throws me out of the illusion of the art because the first thing I notice about it is process of the artist and not the art itself. For some reason though, it works for me here to give the illusion of an invisible hand reaching out to Spider-girl’s back. The sense of impending menace comes across well.

Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz deliver as well on the story, juggling various sub-plots and soap opera moments while also delivering a solid main story with a beginning, middle, and end. DeFalco is not the best writer of dialogue or wordsmith, but he knows the craft and his genre. You never feel cheated when reading his books, they don’t feel padded, scenes don’t feel useless. And even though this issue doesn’t actually resolve much other than some tension between May and her parents, you still feel like you got a complete story, as May manages to at least fight off the villain of the month if not outright defeat it.

Frenz is up to the task of illustrating the scenes, even quiet moments. Here you have a discussion between Peter and his daughter, communicated through the art and not dialogue balloons (I do think his style has gotten a bit more of caricature and angular of late). The action scenes are clear and dynamic. He knows how to tell the story through his artwork while paying attention to detail and setting the scenes.

THE MEDIOCRE

SHADOWPACT is an anomaly of a DCU title in that the powers that be seem content to let it reside in its own corner of continuity, free of the vast stuff going on elsewhere. Which is strange in that it actually spun out of crossover madness from two years back. Somewhere along the way Willingham left the book and another writer came on board, seamless enough that I really didn’t notice. Issue 21 is in the middle of a longer story arc that you either find interesting or not.

Tom Derenick lacks some of Frenz’ storytelling/layout skill, but makes up for it with style. His heroes look heroic and dynamic, his women lithe and sexy. And he rarely mis-steps in telling the story in each panel. In a fantasy setting as this one, it’s important to have an artist that can deliver the appropriate level of detail of backgrounds and such when called for, but to also know when it’s the figure work that is to take the center stage.

It’s Matthew Sturges’ writing that really drops the ball. There are just times that you just make you go “huh?” Such as when they mention that the Enchantress cannot figure out which dimension Nightshade, Nightmaster, and Ragman are lost in and then make this big announcement after two days of searching it’s the Nightshade dimension! Ok, they know that the two left with Nightshade who “teleports” via traveling through the Nightshade dimension, and it took two days of peering through a bunch of dimensions to find them in what should be the first place thoroughly checked? You know, I need to go to the store to get some cat litter. I think I’ll first look in the produce section, then the chips and crackers aisle, then the dairy aisle… you get the idea.

And then there’s the whole thing that the story has just revealed that Nightshade’s dimension is the same world that is Nightmaster’s background and not a single character seems really surprised or reacts to that knowledge. It’s like heading for New York, finding London and your reaction is “hey let’s go visit the Queen.”

Then there’s this great scene, where Nightmaster asks the Old man there for exposition purposes what happened. Nice big panel of the old guy who replies, “I will tell you, since you were not here to see for yourself.” Huh? It’s obvious that Sturges had no clue what to have the guy say as the flashback exposition begins on the next page but had to have the guy say something, so he has him re-state the obvious.

And, then there’s Sturges’ preoccupation with sex. Last issue and this we get nice visual innuendos that Nightshade is probably going commando under her mini-skirt and Ragman’s discomfort of constantly finding himself in positions of noticing this. And Detective Chimp’s using the internet to surf for girlfriends. It’s not needed for the story at hand and, frankly, comes off as frat boy level humor and writing. It falls flat and mars what is otherwise a good adventure story, especially through the repetitive nature of the scenes. It places Sturges as being somewhere between Judd Winnick and Chuck Austen as far as writers go without the flashes of above average capability from the former or the excesses of the latter.

And next issue implies the death of a character! Joy.

THE BAD

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #17 is ugly from the get go. Like the monochromatic dark color cover featuring Black Lightning that is all about the special effect of his hand looking like it’s glass filled with lightning? Hope so, because the inside art is very similar in that it’s so dark it’s a chore to read even the action oriented pages. Benes was a decent if somewhat cheese-cake focused artist on Birds of Prey, but here he’s just a mess. It took three inkers to actually ink this, I guess it takes time putting that much black on the pages. Truthfully, it might not be the inkers, it could be the colorist, but whoever’s at fault should not put this book on the resume. It’s not helped that Benes work on the JLA has been one of filling characters up with scratch lines to give the impression of detail so the end result is just a muddied mess. It’s at the point that the when you get to the second non-story of Vixen, the manga-esque artwork by Jon Boy Meyers is a relief. It’s still too dark. She’s supposed to be shooting an arrow at two football fields away and if the coloring would imply that she forgot to turn out the lights. And thankfully the text tells us about the distance because the art at no point sets the stage to let us know that. But other than that, I like Jon Boy Meyers artwork here. It’d be better served to have a decent coloring job and a little more of a plot than just moving a subplot along.

The writing by veteran Dwayne McDuffie isn’t any better. I had high hopes with him taking over the writing chores from Brad Meltzer. But, his writing has been almost just as much a mess. Starting with the Red Tornado. Meltzer started off by writing the Tornado in a way that seemed to contradict 20+ years of continuity without actually explaining anything about the new status quo or nature of what the Red Tornado is (mainly because his whole overlong opening story arc was dependent on the Red Tornado being a substantially different character and instead of making his story fit the characters, he chose to make the characters fit the story). McDuffie’s handling of the Red Tornado is incompatible with both Meltzer’s and previous history as well and still doesn’t do anything to explain as to why this retcon exists (not asking for the “how” necessarily, but there should be a reason at least to why we’re changing history beyond just lazy writing)

Last issue was a crossover with the Tangent universe without actually explaining anything about the Tangent characters or why we should care who they are and the world they are from and then left on a cliffhanger of sorts as that universe’s Flash was in ours (although I had heard she was killed in COUNTDOWN: ARENA). But, then this issue has nothing to do with the main plot from that issue, if it was introducing a subplot, it should at least be touched on. Instead, last issue reads now as an anomaly. I understand that it might be a plot point picked up later on, but one should remember, even when writing for the Trade, you need to write for the month to month as well. Last month’s implied a follow-up and anyone following from issue to issue is going to expect some kind of reference. Otherwise we get what we have of McDuffie’s run so far, stories that just seem very disjointed. To further compound issues, to even remotely understand what’s going on in this book, you have to have knowledge of other DC books, especially SALVATION RUN. You have the Suicide Squad going after various villains but nothing really tells you anything about who the members of the Squad are and since they are mostly villains themselves, you really don’t know which group is which. Even if the motivations of the gang of villains headed by Dr. Polaris (didn’t he die too?) invading the Hall of Justice was a clever reveal on that story’s last page, it doesn’t undo the fact that instead of actually getting a Justice League story, we got what should be part of the plot of SALVATION RUN.

And, then there is the discussion of Roy’s daughter visiting her birth mom, the psychopathic murderess for hire Cheshire. Who in their right mind would actually allow such a thing? Do people not even think about what they are writing? Such a move is about as stupid and wrong headed as the idea of having someone with HIV actually be a superhero and shooting people with pointed objects. Seriously. I know it’s a fantasy setting, but there should still be some logical extrapolation of known facts and rules. The actions and decisions of the characters still have to make sense within the setting.

1 comment:

Doctor Zen said...

I get the pulps and Spider-girl too, wouldn't touch SHADOWPACT and the JLA review reinforces the fact that I don't miss that title.

One comment though: "His heroes look heroic and dynamic, his women lithe and sexy." ??? Assuming that we're talking about superheroines, shouldn't they be heroic and dynamic too?