Wednesday, July 28, 2010

News & Reviews

Comic News:
It has probably been a while since there has been quite a bit of good news concerning upcoming comics, especially linking the names "Dynamite" and "Alex Ross".

Dynamite has gotten the rights to various Kirby characters, specifically Captain Victory, Silver Star, Phantom Force and his various Topps-verse characters and Alex Ross is associated with the project. That's not the good news, though. The good news is that Kurt Busiek has been roped in as writer! Kurt Busiek frequently proves himself as a writer that understands the power of continuity and history, that they are tools to be used not hindrances. His writings show that he understands the genres of superheroes, where they overlap other genres and what defines them. He has proven time and again, that he understands characterization and how continuity and history plays into that. His characters are defined by their history, the choices and lives they have lived. Even if you don't really agree with a particular characterization or direction he may take, you cannot argue that it's not at least grounded and reasoned out. So, instead of seeing the typical project by Dynamite and Ross of re-writing the characters to fit an arbitrary artistic vision, we can look forward to a book that truly starts with the basic concepts and characters Kirby came up with and grow out of that. Already, the promo art looks more faithful to the source material than the Phantom artwork did.

And, Busiek already has a history with some of these characters as he had been working on many of these characters for Topps with first issues being published of his Silver Star and Victory mini-series. Hopefully, we'll be seeing more faithful renderings by the artists this time around than Giffen's wholesale redesigns for the Victory comic.

Jurassic Park, Angel & Frankenstein, and Next Men! In the space of a week, three different titles have been revealed coming from John Byrne. Admittedly, the first two are just mini's or one-shots, but all should be a lot of fun with plenty of mayhem. Personally, I liked Danger Unlimited and the Torch of Liberty more than Next Men. But, I'm a superhero type of guy. Still, Next Men was some of the best out and out genre breaking writing to come out of John Byrne with complicated characters and motivations and intricate plotting, the top of his game. It will be interesting to see if he can recapture that lightning for I've felt that sense of depth hasn't been in the majority of his work of late. I'd like to see Byrne create and do his own full-blown superhero universe, full of costumed heroes, super-villains, magic monsters, lost civilizations, prehistoric jungles, alien invasions, etc. The stuff that actually makes superhero comics fun to read. The type of stuff we found in his Fantastic Four, Namor, Alpha Flight, Superman, etc.

Astro City: Silver Agent #1: After all this time, and a very long arc looking at him from the outside, we get an inside look at the Silver Agent, his origins and motivations. First up, Ross pulls off a nice Steranko pop-art feel to the cover. I love the start of the book, looking at some of the heroes of Astro City's past in action filled cameos then moving on to the far future with the Silver Agent fighting alongside a Legion of Superheroes/Alien Legion mish-mash against a cosmic menace that comes across as something that Jack Kirby would have come up with. Unfortunately I just don't buy that anyone would willingly choose to be innocently executed when there were other viable options available that wouldn't damage the outcome of history. He could still travel through time making those sporadic appearances and sending a "geneti-copy" to be executed. The problem is that with the sci-fi elements and raising the issue that they do have the technology to send a copy back through time, it's next to impossible to come up with a truly plausible reason not to take advantage of any logical outs.

There's some art issues. To be a broken record, we have instances of coloring that's too heavy and intense, muddying the clarity of the artwork. In fact, there's one scene that's almost laughable as the coloring of the Silver Agent out of costume with him looking at his palms, it looks like he's fondling his own chest. Then the flashbacks, look like they are going for that large dot pattern of comics past effect, but in this case we are getting a moire pattern that just mars the whole thing. Instead of going for a printing trick or special effects, such scenes would really work best by simply using a limited or muted color scene. It's not as if Anderson is trying to make his work look dated or old, so why should the printing?

Still, page for page, there's more story, more depth and pathos and action than found in many of today's comics.

DC Universe Legacies #3: Wow, three issues in and it already jumps the shark. Tthis issue even has more problems than the others. It seems like it cannot really decide what it's supposed to be. On one hand it seems to be a version of the modern history of the current DCU, which would be fine. On the other, it's a meta-fictional history, explaining superhero continuity and publishing trends through a story such as the fall of the GA heroes, the rise of the detective heroes and western stars (using television to stand in for comics, and the coonskin hat craze explained as a Tomahawk fad...). Except for the fact that the timeline in this issue is all sorts of screwed up. If the kid was around 8-12 in 1939, this story (and many of the characters used and referenced events) suggest that it's taking place in the 1950s. Which is fine when talking about the rise of the cowboy heroes after the GA masked men mostly leave the stage. But, the story then has that the Silver-Age heroes Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Lantern and the Flash all debuted in the mid to late 1950s while our older narrator was still a young man! Which is true publishing wise (for Green Lantern and the Flash anyways, the other four never really left), but no way that jibes with modern continuity! And, considering the age of the narrator, that means that he would have to be narrating from some point in the future, or we're going to acknowledge on some level that the modern heroes have been active for 50-60 years! Where's the editor on this thing? He's definitely not trying to have the story make sense. Or even correct spelling errors unless there's an alternate spelling for "brunette" out there. The only thing going for it is the wonderful art as in this one issue, the comic has no reason for being. It's telling a retcon history so it's all about continuity but it is a history that is completely inapplicable to any known incarnation of the DCU. Worthless.

Green Hornet: Year One #4: This is the first issue that falters a bit. Aaron Campbell's artwork is a bit inconsistent with the faces of Britt Reid and Kato, the two sometimes seem to be drawn from the same model, one with a rather sizable nose and weak chin! Nor do Francavilla's color combinations work as well this time out. The opening page with magenta and purple skies while the city is bathed in reds and yellows and carrying through to the interior scenes makes the color choices seem almost random and work against establishing mood or even place as it lends an otherworldly alien atmosphere to everything.

We get yet another story that depicts Reid being trained by Kato, but that is at least defensible in that a) it's four issues into the story, b) so we've seen how Reid is a hero and the driving and passionate force behind the team without sacrificing Kato as a developed character and c) we promptly see him in physical action showing himself to be a quick study and very capable fighter in his own right. So, while it's Kato training Britt how to fight, it's not Kato being the mentor and dominant factor of the team with Britt just stumbling along the best that he can that most modern Green Hornet takes fall into.

Justice Society of America #41: Not really impressed with Robinson's JSA story. We have have an inappropriate comment between Mr. America and Lightning, Wildcat doing the cliched "poor me with no superpowers but a good left-hook and on an adventure involving magic/superpowers/etc" monologue, Obsidian taken over right after a whole arc whose ultimate issue was about how he'd never be taken over again, Dr. Mid-nite getting sidelined out of an adventure in order to do real doctoring yet again, and by the end, the story's main heroes being just legacy heroes as all the originals or primary ones taken out. And, conflicting accounts as to how the starheart's possessions work. Is it random, possibly targeting anyone with a modicum of superpowers, or just the ones powered by starheart/chaotic energy? We are pretty much told both by Dick Grayson. As the majority of the team that Batman nee Nightwing nee Robin are superpowered, exactly what is his logic that these heroes are the least susceptible, when the whole start of the comic points out to both the reader and Dick Grayson that it is targeting even those with very little super power, that his original assessment was wrong? It's not that the story is following an internal logic we and the characters cannot see yet, it's there is no internal logic between what the characters know and their decisions and how they react.

Otherwise, Robinson does a decent job at telling the story without actually requiring a reading of the previous JLA. Of course part of that is that it's a relatively simple plot despite it's internal inconsistencies. And, Bagley does a good job on the artwork.

I am a bit surprised by how many people don't see anything wrong with a mid twenties at his youngest federal agent Mr. America making innuendo flirtations and holding hands with a girl of about sixteen years old and actually defend it.

Spectacular Spider-Girl #3: Not more that I can say that I've not already. Each issue is better and stronger than the one before. There's plenty of superhero action and characterization. As I've been a long time reader of the character, I'm not the best to judge on the reader friendly quality. New readers might wonder exactly what the Black Tarantula's relationship with Arana and Spider-Girl is, what the whole deal is about April and May and who's the clone questions. Heck, I'd be hard pressed to sum it all up and I'm not really sure exactly what the deal with Arana is, but it didn't hinder my enjoyment of the ride on this title. I give DeFalco props for not trying to draw out the mystery of who Wild Card was as it was very obvious. Of course, it was obvious because DeFalco wrote him as being in character even with his identity hidden. Straight-forward superhero fun by all involved.

Time Masters: Vanishing Point: This title has a few strikes against it. One, the comic has a built in flaw in its very premise of a plotline. It's all about Rip Hunter, Booster and several of the heroes looking for the Bruce Wayne Batman who's lost in time and whose very present is damaging the time stream. That's the mega plot to the story. The problem with that is it's a plot whose resolution will not be in this title as Batman's journey to the present is a whole other mini-series. Either this and that series will cross over before they are through or one of the two cannot really deliver on the story it's promising. Remember the "Death of Batman" mini from not too long back when the actual "death" of the character was in completely different title? It's the same thing here. Imagine a Star Wars story where a young man blames the jedis in general and Darth Vader specifically for the death of his father and sets out to kill him. Only that young man is not Luke Skywalker. You've set up for yourself a story whose logical climactic conclusion cannot be contained in your story because it's covered pretty well in another story. What Dan Jurgens has to deliver is that while the search for Batman is the goal of the heroes, it's only the starting point of the story, what gets the ball rolling and what the story is really about is something completely different. Jurgens does a little bit of that as he throws in a lot of other stuff such as the destruction of the Vanishing Point, where/when Booster and company normally make their home. Of course, that leads to the next problem... if like me you haven't been reading Booster Gold or really following all that's going on, it's hard to keep up with the storyline and characters. I don't know if this Rip Hunter is the same as the old Rip Hunter or the retcon post-Crisis Rip Hunter. He's not blond, no hint of a team nor a Time Sphere and he's a bit too world weary for my tastes, I like the idea of a time-traveling swashbuckler adventuring scientist. I don't know who Supernova is or his powers and we have three pages of him without identifying him. This is endemic of modern comics across the board. In trying to avoid clunky exposition whether in dialogue or captions that slows down stories for long time readers, we have more and more comics written as if everyone reading it has the complete scorecard, knows every character and their stats by heart. It's watching a sporting event that never bothered to tell you what player is wearing what number, what the team or player's stats were nor even bothered to tell you the score because you should be tracking all of that by yourself. That's modern comic book writing.

So, why did I get this? Because I like Jurgens' artwork. Even with the over-coloring and computerized effects (which there is plenty in this alas), his work stands out. I like odd pairings of heroes and characters (personally, I'd love to see obscure out of the past characters such as a pre-Alan Moore Swamp Thing, Ultra the Multi-Alien, DC's original Black Orchard and Shade, the Changing Man, or Prince Ra-Man and Mark Merlin). I generally enjoy time-travel stories though they can be overdone. And, I thought it was cool seeing Per Degaton and Despero in a story that doesn't involve a team-up of the JSA and JLA. It's an odd super-villain team-up and I'd like to see how that comes out. And, despite the link to the Batman mini, I hope for an enjoyable adventurous romp that doesn't require me to read too much of other DC comics as it jumps around in time. Heck, in a mini like this is about the only place where I stand a chance of seeing the above characters without a veneer of cynicism and darkening applied to them. So, I'm willing to give it an issue or two to establish its story and themes before deciding whether to continue or not.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Aquaman's Gloves and some comics

Notice a couple of things off in the picture to the right? Hint #1: there's two things not quite right. Hint #2: Both concern the gloves, though you may have to blow the image up to see the second one.

Give up? Well, the first thing is, Aquaman's gloves aren't like Captain America's gauntlets, loose fitting with a split. At times they have been drawn as flaring at the end, but traditionally, they are form fitting with a fin that flares out at the side (see image below for how they were drawn, sometimes subtly but still obviously not the gloves above as you can see the musculature of his forearm underneath the glove). The finned gloves makes sense as a design element in terms of an aquatic superhero and the fins on the forearm then reflect the fins on his calves, so it's good basic design. Here, we have more standard superhero gloves that not only don't reflect his character-theme, they now obviously look odd and out of place on an aquatic character.

The second design flaw became obvious once I focused on the fact they were the wrong type of gloves: the seam and the split. Over the course of the comic the artist is unable to decide whether the split is on the top or the bottom of the gloves as he draws them both ways depending on the scene while Finch draws the seam on the side on a few of the covers. The correct placement of course is on the side so that the split and the seam line up. The place for a split in clothing is along the seam and seams on gloves are along the sides. Ironically, the whole reason for an artist to go through the effort of rendering seams on superhero costumes is to make them somehow seem more realistic, more like real clothing. However, the effect here is that it makes the gloves more unrealistic! If he had left the seam off, I probably wouldn't have even noticed that the splits changed positions depending on the panel, or I'd have simply chalked it up to artistic license. But, with the seam, I couldn't help but think, "gloves wouldn't be made that way, the split would be on the side along the seam where the material meets." The artist made me aware of the placement of the split by his use of a realistic detail in an unrealistic manner which then lead me to noticing the split constantly changing whether it was the top or the palm side of the gloves!

Doc Savage: Man of Bronze:Went into the comic store the other week and found something I wasn't expecting. DC reprinted Marvel's Doc Savage color series! Marvel produced two distinctive Doc Savage books. One was a large b/w magazine with art mostly by John Buscema. These were all new stories and had Doc running around in a t-shirt (though the covers mimicked Bama's paperback look with the torn shirt). The other was a color series that adapted several of the pulp novels with art mostly by Ross Andru and some great covers by Steranko and Kane. Here Doc wore simply an open vest over his bare chest! In addition to this series, Doc would crossover and appear with the Thing in Marvel Two-in-One (one of my all-time favorite comics) and with Spider-man in a Marvel Team-Up annual (not nearly as good). Marvel would also reprint the first couple of issues of their color mag when they were publishing the b/w mag a few years later, no doubt to coincide with the Ron Ely movie. So, on the cover Doc was re-drawn as sporting the t-shirt look from the magazine!

Because Marvel no longer has the rights to Doc, when they were reprinting Marvel Two-in-One in their Essentials format, there is an issue missing. Likewise, this trade sadly is unable to include the cross-overs with the Thing and Spider-man.

The stories it adapts are "The Man of Bronze", "Death in Silver", "The Monsters", and "The Brand of the Werewolf". Like Doc the villains get a little bit super-fied for their comic appearances and there's quite a bit of heavy editing. For example, in the original pulp story "The Brand of the Werewolf" readers are first introduced to Doc's cousin Pat. However, this is the last of the pulp stories adapted in this comic series and Pat had appeared in one of the other stories, so the story is written so that Pat is merely on vacation in Canada. Likewise, a werewolf is only hinted at and never actually seen in the pulp. Here, one of the villains actually sports a werewolf costume and engages Doc. And, while I usually like Rich Buckler despite his reputation as a swiper, his artwork here is a real disappointment and fails to tell the story. One scene would imply that Doc either can make himself immaterial or is invulnerable as the werewolf slashes at Doc who is standing still. Naturally both crook and reader are understandably a bit surprised that this doesn't affect Doc at all!

Despite the flaws and clunkiness in having to compress hundreds of pages of prose in about a tenth of comicbook space, the stories are a breath of fresh air compared to how decompressed modern comics have become while page counts get shorter and shorter. There's variety of story without skimping on characterization all balanced against plenty of action and mystery. Ross Andru's art excels and I love the issue with Tom Palmer on inks.

Wonder if DC would be able to follow up and reprint the b/w series by Marvel as well? Those are great reads, capturing a lot of the spirit of Doc but as they are all new stories, without the necessarily force-fitting and clunky editing required in adapting longer works in prose form to a different medium.

Justice Society of America #40: Disappointing end to what is ultimately a mediocre and overly drawn out story. The biggest flaw is the whole issue is essentially an epilogue. After ending on a bit of a cliffhanger, we get that basically Mr. Terrific woke up and the rest is Obisidian narrating matter-of-factly how being set free changed things over the past year's worth of stories so that pretty much everything happened as before with the exception of Green Lantern getting blown up and the Fourth Reich winning. Zero dramatic tension and can be used as a text book example of the definition of "anti-climactic". Still unanswered is who was leading the Fourth Reich and where did the army come from that they had amassed to take over America and the world. For all that is shown here, the JSA seems content with taking down the few super-Nazis and not worrying about whatever mastermind had put this together and the obviously huge and powerful organization he has at his disposal.

I'm probably about the only person that thinks it would have been perfectly ok to make Obsidian straight again as the reasoning and execution behind making him gay was some of the worst to come down the pike as it purposely completely mis-read and invalidated a story that was all about him not being gay and to not make judgments about people based solely on stereotypes. And, as this retcon was by a writer that went out of his way to completely re-write another writer's entire run and character (basically saying the creator got his own character wrong) AND killing the character off, and then boasting that people hadn't solved his little mystery story because they hadn't figured out the motivation that all hinged on a massive retcon history that the writer hadn't bothered to reveal yet (whereas, almost all of the readers had figured out the who part of the mystery). To say the least, I don't feel especially beholden to honor anything he wrote in his title and an appearance by the current female Manhunter is enough to keep me from purchasing a book.

Lastly, Mr. Terrific is a little too gadget happy, that the writers are working too hard at making him seem all that uber. In talking about the Legion of Superheroes online, I wrote one of the things I think that hurts them these days is that super sci-fi tech exists as being very common every-day in the pages of superhero books set in the present day. Such as I don't mind the Avengers having the occasional space mission but when they investigate an Earth corporation mining on Mars, it completely throws me out of the book as being set in the here and now. Here is a prime example as Mr. Terrific has given his T-spheres the ability to allow his team-mates to fly. Considering some of the spheres' other abilities, he has shown himself to be able to invent things consistently on the level of Brainiac Five if not surpassing them. Look at the things they are able to do vs the Legion's flight rings which basically have only two functions. How long is it before he is able to recreate Starman's cosmic rod in ring form thus putting him on the level of the Oans?

The art on the book looks good, especially Obsidian. Ordway really knocked the ball out of the park with that one. He does a good job on Green Lantern and the Flash without making them look too old or too emaciated but iconic and powerful. Although he does overdo the wrinkles in the clothing a bit making it look like Alan sleeps in his clothes.

Project Superpowers: Chapter Two #10: Wonderful cover by Ross of Skyman, the Face and Marvello. Their role in the story just highlights there's no reason for the Face to be involved in this part of the plot. He adds absolutely nothing, his whole reason being that the three of them appeared in the same comic in the 1940s.

Justine's role as a sleeper agent of the Claw comes to light as she and scores of other followers go Voltron and start combining and merging into one huge body if the cover of next issue can be taken at literal value. We also get a possible explanation as to who or what the current Death Defying Devil is. Although in the space of two panels we got conflicting accounts. The first says that Bart Hill, the original Dare-Devil didn't enter the urn but that he put his costume in (implying that Bart knew the Fighting Yank's plans and likewise that the Yank should have known from the start that this wasn't Bart but never mentioned or hinted otherwise). The second panel claims that whatever is masquerading in the costume took it from Bart and cast him out of the urn. And, both accounts are from the same character, so which is it?

Again, a relatively all-ages friendly comic marred by over graphic ad for Ennis' The Boys.