Friday, January 23, 2009

Some old fashioned Comic reviews

Haven't really talked about specific comics that I've been reading in a while, so...

The Faces of Evil at DC are a mixed bag in that it seems to have been left up to the various writers how to handle it. In the SECRET SIX, the cover spotlights Deadshot, and while the issue does focus on him a little bit in the beginning, the book really focuses on Bane if any single character. And, the story continues along organically as it would if there is no event whatsoever going on. If you use the cover to go by, you might be disappointed. The Vigilante cover features... the Vigilante. It doesn't even go for the effect of the villain's name overprinting the title. Whereas the JLA with Starbreaker is clearly focusing on the character and his "new" history and pretty much hijacks the title (though it does tie in to the ongoing storyline in the end).

The Amazing Spider-Girl #26: This book will be ending shortly as Spider-Girl will find a new home in the anthology Spider-man Family. Sad for me, as I have no interest in the other features of that book thus won't be picking it up. I can only hope that maybe her features will be collected.

The cover is very striking with a limited color scheme and painterly effects that don't overwhelm the fine lines. The story is nearing the end of what is a long plotline for this book. There are two Spider-Girls, one a clone the other not but which is which is unsure. The girl we've been following is just recently returned to her own body after Arana had hijacked it but she is still being aided mentally by a youngish Aunt May (who has long since died in this reality). Peter Parker has been taken over by the mind/spirit of Norman Osborn, while all of his and his daughter's friends and allies are trying to find him. Practically non-stop action and body-swapping all wonderfully rendered by Ron Frenz and Sal Buscema.

BPRD: The Black Goddess #1: On one hand, this is part of the larger ongoing plot as the world is going to heck and the BPRD are looking for Liz Sherman, mainly by trying to get some info on the Yellow Peril menace that kidnapped her and seems to have all the information. However, it is compellingly told by tying it in to the history of Lobster Johnson. One group is searching through his headquarters while another agent talks to the Lobster's last surviving aide. I love the bit as we see from Guy Davis' artwork that Lobster Johnson's headquarters has fallen into decay, metal is rusted and warped, debris and dust everywhere. Not just that, but it looks "real", leading to the comment by one of the BPRD team that they'd thought it would be "cooler looking". This has been one of the better monthly issues in a while that doesn't really leave you wishing you'd waited for the trade.

The Brave and the Bold #21: This has been an interesting storyline looking at an alien culture and we don't really see the Phantom Stranger much in sci-fi stories, especially on alien worlds though he works pretty well in that Doctor Who type way. The art team gives the book a wonderful painted look with a lush feel. However, part of the attraction of the B&B stories has long been the idea of single-issue stories and various team-ups. So, this story that seems to be a four parter with Green Lantern and Phantom Stranger teaming up, seems to be getting away from the point of the series, it could have been it's own mini. Waid had seemed to hit upon a good formula of being able to have smaller stories with different characters each month but tying into a larger storyarc. Another big flaw is the cover. While beautifully done, it tells you the team-up is between Green Lantern and Green Arrow. While GA is in the book, it isn't until near the end with him on Earth on a mission given by the Phantom Stranger.

Captain Britain and MI13 #9: The crew must fight their way out of a dream dimension. Various characters that I have no idea who they are and their abilities. Such as Pete Wisdom and Alistaire Stewart who seem to have magical abilities and knowledge when needed. Captain Midlands started out as a seemingly interesting low-budget Captain America for England riff, but ends up being a traitor and broken down old man, a scrawny one at that. Sadly, Blade seems to be there to stay despite his joining the team in order to kill one of them. The most interesting part of the whole story is the ending with Dracula on the moon and suggesting a team-up with Doctor Doom.

The Death-Defying 'Devil #2: This issue is a marked improvement in the Project: Superpowers books in that the story has a bit of pathos, a real reason for a hero-hero battle and the lurking menace of one of the biggest supervillains of the golden-age, the Claw. The Dragon is obviously one of the Little Wise Guys that hung around with Dare-devil in the past, only he has somehow been rejuvenated and given a costume and skills that are a reflection of Dare-Devil's. He thinks the returned hero is a fake usurping the hero's name and identity (as the returned heroes are framed by the government to be murderers and terrorists) and thus has set out to take him down. The 'Devil can't really set him straight because since his return he has been rendered mute. We also have the return of two other heroes that fought the Claw, Silver Streak who is as loquacious as 'Devil is quiet and the Ghost.

The art really doesn't seem to be up to par though, the work often looks more sketched than finished or solid and the colorist filling in big spaces with cool color blends further robs the book of vitality. The Silver Streak's original costumes were hardly iconic and had no silver (the name actually came from the race car he drove in his first appearance and referenced here), but this costume designed by Alex Ross is wretched. I don't know what the deal is with his fondness for the masks that go up the sides and back of the heads but leave the hair and most of the face visible are, but it is a terrible look. The artist does a better job with many of the quiet moments of the book and the appearance of the Ghost Plane.

One of the problems of this line has been the changing of the characters abilities and such with nary an explanation that establishes who and what the characters were before their time in the urn. Such as 'Devil's muteness. He gets another change this month, a healing ability that apparently includes his costume. Most of the changes, I have been aware of because I've read some of the original comics featuring all the characters that have so far been involved. Not so with the Ghost and if it continues in the same vein as the others, I will be at a loss to know where the original character ends and the Superpowers one begins. I know he fought the Claw and he had a plane and his look was somewhat similar to what we see here, but that's it.

The muteness of the lead character is also problematic. While the plot hinges on it, it prevents us from really getting to know the character at all. He ultimately has zero characterization, he's defined by how others react and refer to him. Even with Man-Thing and the Heap, we got hints at the tortured souls due to solid storytelling and narration. But, there's no narrative here, no thought balloons to direct us. There's no real reason to like this character as a character.

Green Arrow and Black Canary #16: Not one of Ladronn's better covers, it veers a little too much into Scott Kolins territory in style which doesn't really impress me much. The story and art are passable, but there's not really much meat to the story. While the cover is a "Faces of Evil" cover spotlighting Merlyn and he's the chief villain of the piece, he remains a cypher for most of the comic, just a paid assassin good with a bow and arrow. Some of the shots are outrageous, even for a comic. The shot through the bus is along the lines of the bus jumping the gap in the bridge in the movie Speed, enough to throw you out of the story. Neither story nor art sell it as a scene: why does he shoot through a moving bus when an easier shot is available? The angle is all wrong as he's ontop of a multi-storied building and is shooting at an extremely downward angle. And then on top of all that, the arrow is able to not only go through the body, but through a telephone pole as well. And, a word of advice, Arrow? Villains lie. Even if he tells you that you have no more arrows in your quiver, you might want to check as the art clearly shows there is one (and no mention as to what happened to the almost dozen that were in the quiver just on the previous page and he hadn't shot any more).

And, after the final battle and it's revealed who hired Merlyn and all, nothing is done with that. Did he run away during the battle to get apprehended by the cops? Who knows. Of course, the reason behind this is the whole story is NOT really about Merlyn or the theft of a green engine for autos and such. It's a set-up encounter and not really meant to mean much despite the cover playing Merlyn up. It's really about a girl that Arrow had saved in an earlier issue who has developed a fixation on him and is to become his Poison Ivy only she's called Poison Arrow and will be in the next issue. It's all about the readers seeing just how creepy she is and to set up for her big debut next issue. In a sense, Faces of Evil just occurred a month too early for the book.

Justice League of America #29: In this case, the Faces of Evil event does mean something. The cover is particularly effective in showing off the JLA villain of Starbreaker. Starbreaker is one of those cases where DC creates a villain similar to one at Marvel but the character comes off as being pretty hokey and deserving of ambiguity, in this case Starbreaker is their version of Galactus. He talks himself up a good deal in this comic and gives the reader his "new" back story with the League thanks to all the reboots and such. The writer is Len Wein who wrote a good many of the JLA tales back in the day and the art by Chris Cross is wonderfully old school dynamic. There are a few scenes that made me think of a couple of Silver-Age Neal Adams covers. The art does have a few problems. This takes place very early in JLA history apparently as it is Batman without the yellow oval. However, it's Green Arrow in his Neal Adams designed look which was quite some time after the "new look" for Batman. However, it's great seeing classic Aquaman treated seriously and looking impressive. And, lest readers are wondering exactly what happened to the ongoing storyline, the final page ties into the final page of the last issue, to show that this isn't a complete aberration.

Phantom Annual: A full blown team-up with Mandrake and he gets a slightly updated look, though I could do without the soul patch. But, at least he's not going into the jungles in full formal dress. The storyline is decent as Mandrake and Lothar start off investigating the murder of Lothar's cousin and get involved in a bigger plot of a criminal trying to find the location of a plant that can be made into a drug that will give him complete mind control over the subject. The story ultimately falls in the details. No effort is made to explain Mandrake or his abilities for anyone not at all familiar with the character. Like the artist in The Death Defying 'Devil, the artist here is mostly capable but at times doesn't really seem ready for the big leagues. In this case it's in his storytelling that renders various scenes and scene changes confusing. All in all, enjoyable if you're already a fan but nothing to really recommend it to others.

Solomon Kane #4: Wonderfully done cover by John Cassaday, moody and spooky. The sketchy artwork continues to work for this title, giving the comic a pulpy look over all, with a feeling for texture and a slightly flayed look of anatomy dummies. The biggest drawbacks continue to be the dried dead fish look of the skin-tones, especially Kane himself.

The Spirit #25: I'm looking forward to the creative change on this book. DC a month ago put out a comic with a few of Eisner's stories (even though at least one was originally written for a different character) but reading it and the regular monthly back to back illustrates where the book has gone wrong. Eisner had that cutesy way of naming his women that Kirby often had with characters, and his artwork and storytelling also had this kind of less than serious quality as well. But, it wasn't dated. He's a legend not because he did stuff in a nostalgic style but because he was cutting edge in his storytelling. His storytelling verged on satire and parody but it was also about life. His women were sexy, sultry and practically subversive. The Spirit was the equivalent of John McCain of DIE HARD only in a suit and mask. There should be this balance between the fairy tale of the character to the realness of crime and poverty, arbitrary nature of life and death.

In many ways, this book is more like a character DC already had access to and published off and on, Jack Cole's Midnight. Midnight WAS a parody and satire character of the masked man set. Midnight was all about poking fun at the juvenile nature of comics, he was the classic type to go into a bar and order milk and be gosh-wow earnest about it all despite the surreal nature of the rules of the world he operated in, that would make a talking monkey possible. Where the Spirit seemed to be trying to elevate the form, to write something that would on the surface seem juvenile but aimed at older readers, Midnight and Jack Cole was about taking the form to its extremes and bringing out the outrageous and ridiculous side of it.

So, the book looks good. I liked the cover and the suggestion of a villain and scene that unfortunately doesn't appear in the books. The insides are all well-done, an enjoyable all-ages type story. There are two artists which might explain the somewhat schizophrenic feel in the artwork or it could be just because of having to juggle some of the more caricaturistic styles of Dolan and the Spirit's lantern jaw with the depictions of the other characters. At times though the art seems to find its own pulpish style vs conforming to the pastiche style the book hews to.

Vigilante #2: It's great seeing Rick Leonardi doing a superhero comic again and Wolfman writing a character that he seems to naturally have an affinity for. I don't know anything about this incarnation of the character and the first two issues aren't really illuminating although this issue goes out of its way to say it's not Adrian Chase. Part of me just wishes Wolfman took advantage of all the reboots of the DCU and ignored all the issues after he left the character and just picked up where he left off. We have the current Vig going undercover as an inmate in a prison to uncover some information about the ordering of some bombings. Meanwhile, the Electrocutioner is on death row in this same prison and has been hired to take the man out. Great use of some minor league villains like Electrocutioner and Tobias Whale and yet making them capable and dangerous. Leonardi's artwork has bit of that John Romita Jr feel to it. He lacks JrJr's sense of weight and power and laying out a scene but there's more expression, atmosphere and detail. The insanity and evilness of the Electrocutioner when he survives his execution is palpable.

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