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Monday, February 09, 2004

Short, Sharp Shocks -- Brevity is the soul of wit. You know, there's got to be a quicker way to say that. Anyway, here's some compact examinations of recently printed sequential periodicals.

Coup D'Etat: Sleeper #1 (of 4) -- Despite strong reservations about the likely quality of the rest of this four-issue mini-series, the first corporate comics crossover event of '04 begins with a highly successful first chapter. Ed Brubaker's script grounds his Sleeper characters firmly in the Wildstorm universe with a story about shadowy groups triggering an interdi(accidentally?) triggering an interdimensional catastrophe that sends The Authority into action -- the first time The Authority has read like The Authority since Mark Millar and Frank Quitely's time. More to the point, the characters feel like Warren Ellis's creations without relying on the shock and yawn of the current, shark-jumping version of the title. Artist Jim Lee inks himself here, and the work is a revelation. Echoes of Neal Adams and Frank Miller make themselves known, and Lee's panel-to-panel storytelling is a vast improvement over that seen in his recent Batman gig. Honestly, it's a shame that Lee doesn't seem to have the time or discipline to truly devote himself to a monthly title, because this single story is one of the better-looking superhero comics jobs I've seen in some time, and I could truly get interested in the thought of a Brubaker/Lee Authority run. Now, this is a Sleeper story, labelled as such at any rate, and it does move Holden Carver's story forward a bit from the end of the first "season" of the title in Sleeper #12. The main concern here, though, is setting up a world-altering event that looks to be establishing a new status quo for the Wildstorm universe. The end result will depend largely on whether the powers that be at the imprint understand that writers with a firm grasp of storytelling like Ed Brubaker should be the guiding force at Wildstorm. Should all the resulting comics all be as exciting and well-crafted as Coup D'Etat: Sleeper #1, they'd really be doing something. Grade: 4.5/5

Sam and Twitch #26 -- Paul Lee is a very talented artist, capable of depicting realistic environments and subtle emotions. He's too good for the average Todd McFarlane Productions material, certainly, but as with many gifted creators before him, here he is maintaining Todd's trademarks for him. This time out it's the final issue of Sam and Twitch, and the conclusion of Todd's muddled "John Doe" storyline. Since the poor quality of McFarlane's writing is axiomatic, let's quickly look at some of the deceptively difficult things artist Paul Lee handles with confidence in this issue: A rumpled bed, an old car, guns, Twitch's house, Sam looking sad, a rose in a garbage can. In an accompanying text piece, Todd tries to make the end of the title seem like it means something -- anything -- but since it doesn't, it rings extremely hollow and kind of silly. The adventures of the titular characters will continue in Sam and Twitch: Case Files, written and drawn by other people too smart and talented to be wasting their efforts on McFarlane material. Grade: (Art) 4.5/5 (Script) 2/5

Invincible #8 -- New artist Ryan Ottley mostly succeeds in continuing the visual style established in previous issues, although his thinking seems a bit more two-dimensional. This issue features the funeral of the super-team slaughtered in last issue's shocking departure from form, and also seems more packed with story than any other issue of invincible, perhaps due in part to a welcome parade of guest stars including Superpatriot, Savage Dragon and Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen's Superstar. By now writer Robert Kirkman has fleshed out the world of Invincible enough that the nods to continuity bear some heft, and the cliffhangers leave you wanting to know what happens next. As with Brit, Cloudfall and especially The Walking Dead, this issue reminds us that Kirkman is the real deal, a compelling and inventive comic book writer who hits a home run just about every time he swings the bat. Readers of Ultimate Spider-Man, Astro City, Hellboy and Savage Dragon are strongly advised to give Invincible a look -- it fully deserves to be compared to those other quality adventure comics. Grade: 4.5/5

Fused #1 -- After four artistically -- uh, diverse issues at Image, Steve Niles relaunches at Dark Horse with new artist Josh Medors. The good news is that the plight of scientist Mark Haggerty -- trapped inside a powerful cyberetic suit that he can't escape and that may have consumed his body -- is as compelling as ever. Niles moves the story along with some interesting revelations about how his body and the suit seem to be evolving in their interaction with each other, and the cliffhanger ending is a shock and a horror. The bad news, in my opinion, is that Medors isn't really suited to the story. Original artist Paul Lee seemed perfectly in synch with Niles and his story, but none of the other artists associated with the series have managed to win me over. The writing is strong enough to bring me back for future installments, but the synergy of the earliest issues of the original series definitely seems to have gone missing. Grade: 3.5/5

Gyo Volume One -- Junji Ito first got my attention with Uzumaki, an eerie, three-volume series focusing on the Lovecraftian goings-on in a village beseiged with spirals. Ito demonstrated an amazing facility for creating chilling imagery in Uzumaki, and that skill is called upon again in the first volume of Gyo, a tale of evolution gone awry. There's nothing so disturbing in real life than the sight of an evolutionary anomoly -- human beings seem programmed to react with fear and disgust to seeing nature gone wrong. While this can lead to an irrational fear that the intellect needs to overcome, in the case of Gyo, it provides an entertaining sense of terror as we see the bizarre genetic freaks that emerge from the ocean and terrorize a young couple, and soon entire cities. Ito has come up with a pretty convincing explanation for why such horrors would begin to walk the Earth, and is quite inventive in finding new ways to horrify us as these strange creatures overwhelm humanity. This first volume ends on an extremely downbeat and horrifying cliffhanger, one that left me eager to read more Gyo as quickly as possible. Grade: 4.5/5

A Sort of Homecoming #2 -- There's a fine line between compelling story and tiresome sentiment, and I'm not sure writer Damon Hurd doesn't cross it in this issue-long rumination on a lifetime pact between friends who pledge to go to the opening night of every single Star Trek movie. Artist Pedro Camello continues to grow, easily depicting convincing city and rural environments, and his way with body language is good, too, as in the pushy, lumbering Klingon here that he gets just right. His faces sometimes need a little work -- or a little less work, as it's in close-up where he seems a little off on the details of human expression. In middle-distance shots with more simplified features, he's much better -- indicating to me that he might want to consider simplifying his style for close-up shots to give a more unified feel to his style. Camello also displays impressive confidence and skill in splashing the black ink around to indicate space, setting and mood. Hurd's tale of friendship lost is probably worth telling, but it's not a story that demands three issues -- it could and should have been done as a single issue. As with the first issue (and unfortunately probably the third, as well), the story's time shifts (often spurred by ham-handed dialogue cues) are aggravating. Not that this device can't be done well, but here, it's not. One too many U2 quotes and the bios in the back indicate talent that thinks it's arrived, when it's still really just beginning to get going. This is a huge hazard for beginning comics creators whose first work is disproportionately praised (as Hurd and Camello's My Uncle Jeff was), and the smug shot of the author and his cigar is frankly too much to take. I'm interested in seeing how these talents develop, but each new release carries with it a sense of importance and quality that is not entirely deserved yet. Sample pages can be seen here. Grade: 3.5/5

The Bristol Board Jungle -- A graphic novel by two Savannah, Georgia college professors and seven of their students, The Bristol Board Jungle was probably published by NBM for noble reasons, like their similarly mediocre Rise of the Graphic Novel. It seems likely that if you're one of the nine people involved in creating this book, you'll be riveted by the dull goings on as the class supposedly learns how to create comics and shares page after page of their (understandably) amateur efforts. Clearly well-intentioned, and as I said, probably really compelling if you were directly involved in the project, The Bristol Board Jungle reminds me of the plodding lectures of 9 of 1: A Window to the World, only with a wider variety of mostly unappealing artwork. I'd tell you the one artist whose page sort of appealed to me, but the names of the students in the story and the names of the students listed in the credits are not the same, and one of the authors apparently was responsible for the artwork in the story that was supposedly drawn by the students, leading to an aggravating confusion over who drew what. There's a preview available at the publisher's website. Grade: 1.5/5

For additional comments on The Week in Comics, check out AK's response to today's ADD Blog.


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