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Daredevil by Mark Waid (mostly) vol 3

Daredevil

Marvel Comics

2012

160 pages  $20

I am beginning to get a little irritated by these volumes.  Volume 1 was outstanding, but 2 & 3 have issues.  True the art team has changed and is very uneven at times, but there are other issues here.  Literally.

This book reprints issues 11 through 15 of the monthly DD title by Mark Waid, but also reprints a 2 issue story from one of the Spider-Man titles and a Punisher book.  Like the previous volume, they are more or less “value added” material, but they distract from and are not done like the main title.  They are a decent story; they are just not what I signed on for.  These are written by Greg Rucka, and I like them, but I really only want the Waid stories.  Value added material isn’t really a value, at least not in this context.  These issues make this a 7 issue collection, so the cost is most definitely passed on to the buyer for these extra 2 issues.  If they only have a 5 issue arc, then just do a 5 issue collection!  DC appears to be slowly figuring this out, and they are still not succeeding all the time, but Marvel just sort of seems to tell the readers that they will like it and buy it or not.

The art is another issue.  While not actually bad, it is NOT as good as the first volume’s wonderful art by Marcos Martin and Paolo Rivera.  Volume 2 had art by Khoi Pham and Emma Rios in addition to Rivera, thanks to the extra issues inserted into the book.  There at least, everything was written by Waid.  In this volume, the stories by Rucka are drawn by Marco Checcetta.  Waid does appear to have at least co-written some of these but Rucka is the style you feel and the art follows suit.  The regular DD issues are drawn by Pham, Checcetta and Chris Samnee.  They are all well done, but Marvel, and to a lesser extent DC, just don’t seem to care that changing artists like this has an adverse effect on the flow of the narrative no matter how good the art is in each issue.  They must not care, because the alternative is that they don’t realize it, and that is just not likely with all the genuinely talented artists and designers there.  Getting the book out on time is just more important.  I tend to be less interested in who is drawing the book than who is writing.  I buy this for the Waid stories and will continue to do so.  But the art can drive me away from a well written book if it is distracting enough.

As for the actual Waid issues, other than the art jumping around too much, I have nothing but good things to say.  Waid continues to put Matt Murdock into new situations or at least new twists on the same old situations.  It is interesting that Dr. Doom can be in a Daredevil story only by implication.  He never actually appears, but you always feel the threat and presence of the Monarch of Latveria, which is even more effective than his actually being in the story.  This is a tough trick to pull off, but since Doom is nowhere near as interesting these days as the legend of Doom, this is the way he needs to appear more often.  He was overused for a while, and now when I see him on a cover, my first inclination is to pass on it, but that part of this arc is outstanding.  The overdue resolution of the Omega Drive arc is not as satisfying, only because it all seems born of a fairly stupid but completely reversible choice by our hero.  The story is easily an issue too long, and the eventual resolution is obvious and leaves you with the thought, “well why didn’t you do that 2 issues ago, you doofus?”  It is clearly to show how fallible Matt is, and generally works to that end.  It is just a little longer than I would have liked.  Fortunately, the real reason to read Waid’s DD is for the characterization and style of storytelling.  Waid makes you interested in even the most mundane situations very easily.  We care about Matt and Foggy and the rest of the cast.  It is interesting that the supporting cast is only important when they need to be.  When they are they to simply move the other plot along, they are almost ephemeral, even appearing as off panel voices.  They never distract from the point, and are only there as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern type placeholders.  They are completely interchangeable unless they are needed for a character specific function, which is rare.  Waid is an economical writer, and in the restrictive format that the high-profile success of this title has created, even more so.  I know some people don’t like the sparser, stripped down style he uses here.  Many people prefer the excessive and wordy style of a Millar or Bendis, but those are the junk food of comics, and that is SAYING something.  In a medium where junk seems to be preferred over the real substance of good writing, it is amazing to me that Waid’s run on this books has been popular.  You can usually do much more with less and Waid and this fantastic run has been proof of that.  While this volume has its flaws, they are not Mark Waid’s fault.  I am sticking with it for at least one more arc.  Hopefully so will most of you.

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Not really all THAT incredible…

The Incredible Hulk

2012

Marvel Comics

176 pages $20  Hardcover

I was warned off this one.  Several people said that there were piles of promise here for something special and it didn’t deliver.  I decided to give it a try for myself.  There is much here to like, and just as much to be disappointed in.

This volume reprints the first 7 issues of the newest volume of The Incredible Hulk’s eponymous title, and is everything I was told to expect, just a bit better than most had told me it would be.  The story concerns Hulk and Banner, now separated into 2 beings, and the issues this causes for them both.  Jason Aaron is a writer I have recently begun to enjoy and I had hopes for this book.  Aaron is an economical writer.  He tends not to waste dialog (like a Bendis), or just allow the art to do all the heavy lifting (Millar).  In this book, like much of his other work, he gives us what is needed and not much else.  Unfortunately that does not amount to much either.  There is a lot happening here that does not pay off in this volume, and this book is the worse off for it.  The book is noisy like a Hulk book should be, but there is not much story behind this.  I think this would have been better served had they waited for a few more issues and done a larger collection, but the sales on this title have not been as strong as Marvel had hoped.  There have been some unavoidable issues creeping into the production.

Without blaming anyone for issues beyond their control, Artist Marc Silverstri was unable to continue on the book and only contributed to most of the first 3 issues.  This hurts the book.  There is really no way to say it nicer.  Silvestri and Aaron was a bankable team and when Marc was gone, fans started dropping the book despite Wilce Portacio doing a pretty good job of filling in.  Portacio is good, but he is no Silversrti.  My pet peeve with artists that choke the page with too much detail at the cost of the story does not extend to Marc Silverstri.  Yes, his pages are FULL of detail, most of it superfluous, but he is a capable storyteller and his work on the printed page in the last several years has been really something to behold.  Portacio simply cannot keep up.

The story of the conflict between Banner and the Hulk never really gets out of the gate.  There is so much more they could have done here, but it feels a bit like something changed behind the scenes that caused a shift in the direction of the story.  If this is NOT the case, then editorial dropped the ball.  This is a good enough book that I want to try the next volume to see where it is heading.  The Hulk is not an easy character to write and be interesting, and Aaron is giving it his best shot.  I think it is worth more fan support.

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The Man Without Fear is Yellow!

Daredevil Yellow

Marvel Comics

2002

$15 trade paperback

This is one of the books that is considered by many to be essential reads for all comic readers that I have never gotten around to reading.  It has always been on the list, just never got around to it.  To be fair, it is a big list, varies by who is making it, and I HAVE read a lot of it.  What has always slowed me down on this one, Like Spider-Man Blue and Hulk Grey, is that I am not much of a fan of Jeph Loeb or Tim Sale.  Loeb has never been a favorite and Sale is a very talented artist that I have always been lukewarm on.  I really enjoyed his run on Matt Wagner’s Grendel, but since then I have struggled to find something in his work for me.

This book has given me reason to rethink that for both of these creators.  The volume I read was the slightly longer Hardcover version from 2002.  It is getting very pricy to find in HC so I recommend finding the still in print trade edition.  This volume reprints the six-issue series from 2001 and is a really good read.  Like many books that seek to revisit/re-tell the origin story in a modern context, this could have just been revisionist, but there is very little that is actually changed here.  Like all the best retellings, this book is more interested in the color behind the static story we all know.  The origin has been more fleshed out than changed in any meaningful way, and the story is told in the form of a letter to Karen Page.  A letter that will never be sent.  The covers of the individual issues are a clue to the story structure.  They show DD looking in or looming above the main focus of the story.  This is entirely a flashback story, and is never meant to be something new to the myth.  It tells a story we mostly know, and does it in a fresh way.  We care almost immediately about Matt and Foggy.  Anyone that has never read DD or only knows the Miller stories will be fine here.  The Elektra thing is avoided completely as it should be.  Those familiar with the Bendis and the more modern “Matt has a gun barrel in his mouth” (borrowed that line from Mark Waid) type hellscape that Daredevil’s life had become before Mark Waid revitalized things last year, may have a harder time. More modern readers used to the darker stories tend to forget that even under Miller, DD was not in constant misery.  If you have enjoyed Waid’s run, this is a book more your speed.

Tim Sale’s art here is the bonus I didn’t expect.  While I don’t always care for his faces, as they are quite heavy and iconic rather than more realistic, the art as a complete work is beautiful.  There is a delicacy to his line that is not immediately obvious and it is only really evident when you look at the entire page as a unit.  I often gripe about artists that are all about pin ups or cramming a panel and page with as much detail as possible to the detriment of the storytelling.  Here the storytelling is effortless and seems organic to the art.  Loeb and Sale have worked together a lot and it shows.  The meshing of the 2 aspects of the story is seamless.  The words are a part of the visuals and the art never distracts or confuses the narrative.  Sale has been doing this a while now, and he is a master storyteller.  Any complaints I may have about his drawing style tend to be entirely on my side.  It has just been my personal tastes.  These tastes may be changing.  It looks like I may have to give the other two “color books” a try.

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We have always been each other’s greatest nemesises? Nemisi? Nemises?

Nemesis review

2012 Icon/Marvel

100-ish pages $15

This book got lots of hype when it was initially released, with the premise somehow being the big deal.  It was basically:  What if Bruce Wayne were a villain?  What if the main character of a book has the wealth, intellect and drive of Batman, but with The Joker’s desire for mayhem?  Not the most original premise, but it has been fertile ground both recently and in the past for telling some very good stories.  The best of these have been by the likes of Mark Waid in Irredeemable, but this was more of an exception than the rule.  Another book that comes to mind when I read this one is Mat Wagner’s Grendel.  The sections of that series referred to as “The Incubation Years” and what came after seems very heavily borrowed from by the time you finish reading this book.

This volume collects the four issue series by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven from 2010 and it is one of the fastest reads I have ever experienced, and not in a particularly good way either.  The above outlined premise is all you need to know about the story except that this is a fairly violent book.  That is not a problem for me or the book itself, but the action and violence in this story does not really do much of anything FOR the story.  In Millar’s Wanted, a much better book to be sure, everything fit together very well.  The violence served the story and the story needed the violence for impact and much of the narrative flowed around the violence.  Here the violence just seems to fill pages space and make the book read faster.  Again, not in a good way.  The master storytellers in comics control the pace and manipulate the reader to create the feel of a book and force the reader to keep up.  In Nemesis the story is fairly shallow and the characters are underdeveloped, so using them to flesh out the story is not an option.  The bulk of this book is action and it is not impactful violence.  They could have easily replaced all the action scenes with blank pages and text describing the action like a movie script and that would have been more exciting and interesting.

McNiven’s art is decent, but he has had much better books.  The Old Man Logan book being my personal favorite.  The art here is just not very strong in a storytelling sense.  Millar has had some great comics; this just isn’t one of them.  The first issue is pure set up, the second more set up really, just telling us what a bad ass everyone is.  It was not until the third part that things got even a little interesting.  Here we begin to see the real threads of the plan.  Some of what we are shown is misdirection, and all of it feels a bit forced. The final revelations lead very nicely into the second series, coming out currently.  There is enough here to make me want to read the next volume, but unless there is considerably more substance to that volume I doubt it will hold me for very long.  Currently in development as a film, directed by Joe Carnahan (A-Team), this might make a decent action film, as the less substance in a story, the better basis to start from for modern films.

This is a fairly thin review of a fairly thin book.  When the review takes longer to write than the source material, that is never a great sign.  There is a fair bit of smoke here, but not much fire.  As the first part of a greater story, this might be worth it, but as a stand alone story, there is nothing here to be all that interested in.

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Fish Schticks—Aquaman vol 1 The Trench review

Aquaman vol 1 The Trench (Hardcover)

DC Comics 2012

144 pages $22

I will be the first to admit that I have never been an Aquaman fan.  The bulk of my experience with the character comes from Super Friends, and I have had little desire to get more acquainted.  Even with that caveat, I have to say that thinking of the character ever having humor in his book was not something that came to mind easily.  Any time I have checked in on him by flipping through one of the 6 previous volumes of his adventures, dour is the only word I would have chosen to describe what I saw.  The only story I have read completely that used him at all was Brightest Day, and even there, he was not a happy camper.  So when I heard that the first few issues of the New 52 version of the character’s eponymous book had a fair bit of humor, I was intrigued.  I did notget these when they came out, but went back and grabbed the first 2 issues.  I liked them enough to get the HC (collecting the first 6 issues) and I can say that this is a pretty fun, and funny book.

Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis and Joe Prado have put out quite a book and it stands out as one of the best of the New 52.  Johns affection for the character comes through in his writing.  While there is action the real treat here is the tongue in cheek humor.  He gently pokes fun at the clichés that everyone thought were part and parcel of the King of Atlantis.  From the moment he sits down in a seafood restaurant and orders the fish-n-chips you know this will not be a book to play it safe with the character.  The constant references to his girlfriend and partner Mera as Aquawoman are giggle inducing at times, and make her interesting, where before she was nothing but a plot hammer.  This book does have the same problem as most of the other New 52 collections in that it reads like the first arc and a half rather than something complete.  From a story point, the first arc by itself in most of these books would have been a letdown.  Adding the first part of the next arc (as an intro, interlude or teaser), feels as much like bonus material as the “same bat-time, same bat-channel” tease intended to get the reader to come back for the next book.  It is not a great tactic in my mind, but it seems to be working for DC.  The real test will be how well volume 2 of all these do.

Reis and Prado team up here to make a VERY nice looking book.  The production value in the line and color is particularly stunning.  There are the hero shots of the 2 main characters that are simply dazzling to look at.  The color, leaping off the page at times, creates a powerful fantasy feel that cannot be understated.  My only complaint here is there is sometimes too much going on.  You cannot always make out what each panel contains.  Part of this is art style and part is storytelling experience.  It takes the master storytellers in this medium years, even decades to become masters.  Only then is the storytelling sense developed enough to create truly great panel to panel storytelling.  Eisner, Miller, Byrne, Sim, Wagner ,Kurtzman, Adams, Kirby and Ditko are examples of the greats.  Nothing against the art team on this book, but they are not there yet.  They are also victims of the current attitude in comics that more is better.  Jim Lee and the Image style popularized this and it has been a huge influence on comics for two decades.  Cramming a panel with piles of needless and sometimes distracting detail to make the book look more complex or intense is just how you sell books these days.  Don’t get me wrong, this can make for some very pretty comics.  This style is very well suited to digital where you are best only viewing a panel at a time, but as a page at a time read in print, it does not work as well.  It can be too much for the eye to sort through easily.  This changes the flow of the book and can really lessen the dramatic impact.  The masters at controlling pace (Neal Adams and Dave Sim are good examples) can force you to speed up or slow down according to the demands of the story.  There is only one pace here and in most other modern comics, and the art is not always going to mesh with those same story demands.

All else being equal (and the above is a relatively minor quibble that separates the good books from the great ones), this is a fun and interesting read.  Aquaman, not so much rebooted as re-energized.  Aquaman is easily in the top 5 of the New 52 and well worth a look.

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Why wont you stay dead?! Resurrection Man review

Resurrection Man vol 1 Dead Again

DC Comics          

2012

160 pages $15

“The old is new again” is a mantra that much of DC’s new 52 could have used.  The reboot was never about doing something new as much as putting a new coat of paint on something old.  In Resurrection Man by Dan Abbnett and Andy Lanning (DnA), with art by Fernando Dagnino, this is even truer. 

In 1997 DC and DnA released a new series with the lead character Mitch Shelley, a man who is exposed through the usual comic book foolishness to a sort of nanotech that causes him to resurrect every time he dies.  Each time he comes back, he has a new superpower vaguely informed by the last time he died.  The series managed 27 regular issues and a DC 1,000,000 issue (man, was that a stupid crossover idea!).  Then it was gone.  Now for the New 52, RM is back with a new coat of paint.  This time around, the origin is in question, but the basic powers are the same.  There is a mysterious compulsion to act when he comes back, and the new power each time seems ideally suited to the needs of each new life.  The supporting cast is here in an altered form it seems.  The Body Doubles are here as antagonists and wearing nice tight clothes!  They are a duo of “well rounded” women that are charged by a higher power to bring in Mitch, by force.  I would say “by force if necessary””, but force seems to be the preferred method.  Anything to get their cloths ripped up a lot and get into sexy poses.  This “feature” is so prevalent that it is very much in your face.  This is to the book’s detriment as it is just SO obvious in the first couple of chapters that it is unintentionally funny.  It reads like a Jim Lee book in that every time you see one of them, the pose is a bit impossible and shows the curves very well. 

I am not trying to pick on the art.  Dagnino’s lines actually work nicely through most of the book; it is just that as I was reading this, I could picture the story meetings in my mind:  “page one—action!  Page two—boobies!!!  Page three—he dies.  Page four—curvy ass!!!!  Page five—he comes back with a power guaranteed to allow us to see more boobies!!!”  and so on.  I think this is intended as good old-fashioned reckless fun, but comes off as gratuitous.  Don’t get me wrong.  I loves me some boobies, but the way this is done distracts from the story, which is pretty good.

The nature of this book means you are far less likely to be interested in each issue than the story arc as a whole.  The questions raised here are interesting enough to make you want the answers, but the individual issues are a bit disposable.  I imagine this is deliberate, and it flows nicely.  The only complaint I have with the actual story is one I have had with several of the New 52 collections so far; It reads like two separate story arcs in one volume, and not in a good way.  Two thirds of the way in, the Body Doubles are left behind, leaving that story hanging at an odd point and things continue elsewhere.  This starts another story, or makes up an interlude, that does not really feel finished before the book ends.  DC is trying to make the trades more serialized to get readers to come back, I think.  I don’t like the approach.  DC seems to have forgotten the number of Barnes & Noble type stores that carry these.  Customers of these stores don’t want serialized entertainment as much as a complete story in one book.  If there is a continuing arc, that’s fine, but to leave major aspects of a story unresolved in this manner is not satisfying.  If I was on the bubble about this book, I would cut my losses and not get the next volume, and anyone that might know at this point that the book has been cancelled with the zero issue (for a total of 13 issues) might be even less inclined to read on.  For the record, I am not on the bubble.  I liked this enough that I will get the second (and presumably final) volume when it is released.  My hope is that they will resolve enough of this to make it a complete story in two volumes with no needless dangling threads. 

This book is different enough to set itself apart from the rest of the New 52, and is a fairly fun read.  You are interested in Mitch and where he comes from enough to keep reading.  At least I was.  Anyone that has enjoyed the other “dark” titles from DC should find something here to like as well.

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Cap for President. Now where have I heard that before…?

Ultimate Captain America is now US President.  No, I am not spoiling anything.  If you read almost any comic book related item, or the Washington Post you will have already seen this.  Spoilers are a given at Marvel, so I don’t really care about it for this item.

I have already seen the idiots (pundits) arguing that this is not the Cap they remember.  Obviously, it isn’t.  No fans that recall Cap from childhood are recalling Ultimate Cap.  This Cap is a right-wing conservative and only slightly to the right of Rush Limbaugh.  The Captain America most of us think of is the one in the 616 Marvel universe.  He died and came back recently.  Found his long dead partner back from the dead too.  The classic Cap has already been in the spotlight as a potential candidate for US President.  In the November 1980 issue (number 250) of Captain America, Roger Stern and John Byrne’s run on the book had yet to achieve the legendary status it has since been granted.  They were on the book for less than a year and managed to imprint themselves on the book in such a way that their version of the character was THE version for a long time. 

In that now classic issue, our hero did the right thing and declined a nomination for the highest office in the land.  He did it for all the right reasons.  He is not selfish that way.  Characterized then and for much of the time since, as a New Deal democrat, that Cap is all about the oppressed and downtrodden.  He fit that category once himself after all.  (with the exception of the Brubaker run, he has pretty much always been portrayed this way) The ultimate version is very much the opposite, but for all the same reasons.  His reaction to the “man out of time” situation he was placed in is harsher and more conservative, but it comes from the same place inside.  The ultimate version accepts the job as President for the same reasons classic Cap turns it down.  There are even parallels between the speeches given.  Ultimate Cap will likely be presented as a poor choice for President, as he is not as strong a person in this incarnation.  He is far more selfish and fallible.  He takes the office, I think, because he thinks he can do better.  Generally, those are the people throughout history that have failed the most spectacularly.

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Oh pleaseopleaseohpleeeeeaaseeee!!!!

There has been movement in the ongoing saga of Miracleman/Marvelman…

With the abandoning of the Miracleman trademark by Todd McFarlane and the registering of the Marvelman trademark by Marvel, there has been a glimmer of hope that this character may return to the pages of a comic book in new stories. 

A bit of history for those not in the know.  The sad thing is that I have followed this since the 80s, and it has only gotten worse up to this point. 

In the mid-50s Fawcett stopped publishing Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family books in response to the completion of the DC copyright infringement lawsuit.  Claiming that the Big Red Cheese was a Superman clone, DC forced them to stop publishing.  That and the drop in sales made them decide that the book was not worth the effort.  In Great Britain, they needed something to fill the void, so Mick Anglo came up with a less than original idea for the Marvelman Family.  Jiggering the origin of the main character some, there was almost no difference in the new books.  Even the art style was a pretty loose copy of the Captain Marvel books.  Much of this material has since been reprinted by Marvel.  The new books were even more popular with the British fans and the books lasted for nearly a decade, ending in 1963. 

The characters lay dormant until 1982, when Warrior magazine started running an updated version of the character by Alan Moore.  It is these stories that have kept the industry interested in the character.  Without Alan Moore, Marvelman would be no more remembered than The Green Llama and other Golden Age has beens.  The Moore version of the character kept almost every part of the stupid 50’s origins and folded them into a much richer and more intelligent tapestry that made sense of the ideas and poked fun at them at the same time.  Complex and powerful serialized stories in Warrior continued until issue 21, when they stopped without completing the story.  Creative issues between Moore and artist Alan Davis coupled with the problems within Warrior cause then end of the series, until 1985 when Eclipse comics started reprinting the Warrior stories, with the name changed to Miracleman to avoid the wrath of Marvel.  They repackaged the stories to fit in a monthly book and MM was suddenly a major title in the US.  Moore’s run ended with number 16, his run completed (new stories continuing where the Warrior ones left off started at issue 7) and now one arc in 3 books. 

Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham took over with issue 17, getting all the way up to issue 24 before Eclipse’s financial issues caused the end of publication.  I remember a signing where I met Neil Gaiman.  It was during the Kindly Ones run on Sandman, he and artist Jill Thompson were at a comic shop in Wisconsin.  This was a few months after the last issue had come out and the full picture had not emerged publicly about Eclipse.  When I asked Neil about it, his response was that they were still going to do them as soon as Eclipse started paying them again.  Then that was it.  It was not long after this that the legal issues began to crop up.

The ownership of the character has always been muddled.  When Warrior started the Moore run, everyone thought the rights were fine.  Moore and his artists had a share in ownership and that was that.  But Warrior never owned it officially and Mick Anglo continued to dispute it.  Once Eclipse had it, they too thought they had all the legal bases covered.  They didn’t.  Todd McFarlane bought all of Eclipse’s assets at auction for a song in the hopes of getting MM back in print and creating new stories.  But his engulf and devour style pissed off everyone.  Neil Gaiman sued, and then Marvel got involved on Gaiman’s side. (This partnership gave us the amazing series 1602)  Now mixed up in the legal issues surrounding Spawn and some of the characters Gaiman created for that book, things got even messier. 

Now the status appears to be the above mentioned trademarks, apparently resolved.  Marvel bought the rights to the classic stories, characters and some of the Moore stuff.  The artists still hold the rights to their work.  This may end up being an even bigger issue if Rick Veitch and others choose not to work with Marvel.  So it APPEARS that the main legal hurdles are cleared at this point.  It is just a matter now of getting everyone together.  Gaiman and Buckingham are willing to finish their story.  After that Marvel could have it’s very own Superman in Marvelman.  They need to do whatever they can to make this happen.   Even if they botch up new stuff, the Gaiman run completed will sell HUGE for them.

My main concern if these do see print again is that they are old.  They have been copied and ripped off for decades no.  What was once Alan Moore at the top of his game with a groundbreaking and original story may seem to a younger, more cynical reader to be just more of the same thing that they have seen for years.  Much of what Image and Wildstorm did in the 90s was a rip off of these stories, some blatantly so.  Presented correctly, I think these older stories will be fresh and powerful to new readers, but that is a big IF.  Marvel is not very good at this sort of thing. 

So here’s hoping that the last few cogs in the machine fall into place and get things moving forward.  This is one of those stories that the industry needs to have in print, if only to be able to put it behind them and say that it was resolved for the better.

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Jonathan Hickman

I started this post some months ago and shelved it.  I really had a problem talking Hickman.  I’m not sure why, but I found it hard to quantify the works of this writer.  Having just finished the first volume of The Manhattan Projects, I thought I would give it another go.

Cover to the Pax Romana trade collection

In a fairly short span of time Jonathan Hickman’s body of work has become an impressive statement of his creativity and deep reservoir of ideas.  I first found his work with The Nightly News, a masterpiece of dark cynicism about the state of modern information and how it is disseminated to the peasants and livestock.  Six issues starting in 2006, this book is very much a sort of “the revolution will be televised” kind of idea.  With a dark path of media fuelled chaos, this book was not a happy read, but I could not put it down.  I found myself uncomfortable with what I was reading, and not just because my inner anti-social misanthrope was clawing to get out in response to the story.  This book hits uncomfortably close to home in many ways.  There is much made up whole cloth, but just as much that is right from our daily lives, and it is often hard to separate the two, a theme or stylistic choice that presents itself in much of Hickman’s work.  This book was Hickman as one man band.  He wrote drew and designed the package and that same design sensibility inform his entire group of creator owned books from Image.

So I started looking for his other Image books.  Having met him at C2E2 as Red Mass for Mars was starting up; I jumped to that one first.  Another very strong book with a dark theme, this was a very nicely put together and well-drawn book.  For this one, Ryan Bodenheim handled the art duties, but Hickman’s design sense is all over this.  I found this more accessible as a story.  It is more straightforward in its narrative and presented as more of a traditional panel-to-panel format than Nightly News was.  Next for met was Pax Romana, a book heavy with religious themes and science fiction, this one tells the story of a Vatican funded time travel exhibition to “fix” the world by altering the past with a decidedly one-sided view of the world.  Another wonderfully realized story, shorter at only 4 issues but just the right length and again, filled with Hickman’s design prerogatives and choices.  This is a beautiful book to looks at and a good and slightly challenging read.  The time travel aspect is well realized here and there is a strong sense of character and the book flows and evolves by the force of the characters. 

In the time-travel theme, I was less happy with The Red Wing.  This felt like a sort of Star Wars with a Star Trek flavored time-travel story.  The book felt forced, like there was a great idea at its genesis, but they failed to flesh it out completely, but kept going anyway.  Even Hickman’s less well executed works have a leg up on much of what is out there.  Transhuman fared much better in its execution and was again a more traditional comic book formatted style.

The Manhattan Projects is the most recent work from Image (Feel Better Now has been delayed for a while).  An ongoing series, the first 5 issues are now collected in TPB form and read very well in a single sitting.  The dark tone is again a strong force here.  This is something of a straightforward, if many layered, “what if…?” story, and it is meaty stuff.  Heavy on the sci-fi elements, while set in the very real WWII era race for the atomic bomb and other weapons, this book is not fully realized yet, given that it is an ongoing, that is not surprising, but I wonder how many issues are planned.  At this point it seems that this is a book that could run out of steam very quickly.

Then there is his work for Marvel.  He changed the face of the Fantastic Four, and by that I mean he made it a good book again for the first time in a while.  There are only a handful of writers that have understood what makes this book work since Stan and Jack left and he is the most recent.  I have no real hope that the book will be enjoyable once he is gone in a couple of issues from that and the newer FF title.  The story he has crafted in Fantastic Four for the last few years has been astounding and fresh.  It is always a surprise and never feels like he is repeating himself or others.  He has stripped the book of much of its recent messy plot points and retained only the ideas from the past he can use.  But he does it without retconning or negating any of the other points he chose not to use.  In that he shows a respect for not just past writers, but the readers as well.  While the FF book has not fared as well in the last few issues, and appears that it will wind down to something of an anti-climax, it has still been a strong book.  It just pales next to the regular title.  The plot threads in both books have touched on another Marvel book he has done, S.H.I.E.L.D.  There have been significant delays in the second arc of the story, and I have my doubts we will ever see the 2 final issues.  The collection is still listed at Amazon though, despite the book being unfinished.  I presume that the title is canon, and so his insertion of key elements of the Marvel U into the distant past (Galactus coming to earth in the Italian renaissance) has been inspired and never felt stupid, as so many retcons have.  Marvel is terrible at them generally, and they usually leave the readers feeling cheated or slighted in some way. 

As a group, Hickman’s books have many features in common.  He seems to like the story under the story.  Not so much tradition comic book subplots as much as underpinnings to the larger arc.  Very often there will be clues in the story that don’t pay off for a very long time.  There are a lot of influences, intentional or otherwise that feel like Warren Ellis or Alan Moore, and if he is aware of them, they are not so overt as to be distracting.  Hickman’s stories are his own, never feeling like they could have come from someone else’s pen. 

If you have not read any of these, they are all excellent and worth a read.  If traditional comics have been your bag, the FF and Fantastic Four books are very worth it.  If you want to be challenged on several levels, his Image work is a strong group of books to get you mind moving.

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Why Does Batman Carry Shark repellant?–a brief review

Why Does Batman Carry Shark repellant?

Plume Books 2012          

288 pages–About $15

I really enjoyed Brian Cronin’s last book Was Superman a Spy? And I was looking forward to this in a big way.  Well, so much for that.

I generally have had good luck with books about comics.  Some of them have been outstanding (Between the Panels) and others almost as good.  But when I got this one in my Amazon order, I had been looking forward to it for a while, and had high hopes.  They were immediately dashed as I leafed through this and found little more than a book of lists.  While some of the lists are fleshed out with brief passages of information on the topic or specific items on the list, that is as informative as this book gets.  Some of the lists are in no way comprehensive.  Many are by creators in the industry.  While the opinion of a popular and successful colorist in the industry on who he thinks the great colorists out there are is interesting, it is hardly worth the price of admission.

Some of these lists are the “Top something of something” type lists, others are just arbitrary and kind of stupid.  The list of other heroes Wolverine has popped his claws into is not worth the effort to write, let alone to read it.

The text has some accompanying cover shots and other pictures, but the low-ish quality of the printing makes these unsatisfying.  While the contributions of some of today’s top creators are an interesting selling point, I’m sorry to say that this is as far as my interest went.  Once I read this, I felt a little ripped off, especially given Cronin’s previous book.

I don’t like being negative on this kind of thing, but I found this very disappointing.  If you like his contributions over at CBR, I can still heartily recommend the previous book, but give this one a miss.

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