Joe Rice Media Review 3/3/07

Mostly superhero comics again this week, but certainly a wider variety in quality than last week.  A few very-well done books that take the genre and tell stories with interesting twists or characters you can actually feel.  And two more of increasingly bad quality.  And the best book of the week may be a surprise.

Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona end their long run on the comic they created together, Runaways.  I do not envy anyone taking this book over . . .I can think of few mainstream books more completely associated with its creators.  Even when other talented, clever writers write these characters, it just doesn't seem right.  Perhaps in large part to Vaughan's ability to impart a real humanness to his characters; not "human" as the misinformed byword for "worst possible cynical take" but the "whole is more than the sum of its parts" type.  Whereas other comics in this review rely on one-note characterization and seem proud of it, the kids in Runaways contain multitudes.  I doubt I'll be reading this book with the new team.  The art isn't to my taste and Whedon's never impressed me outside of very few instances.  But this is a rare instance where I will check it out.  Such is the strength of Vaughan and Alphona's work on this . . .they have actually made me care enough about fake people to check in on them.  What's Alphona doing after this?  He's gone from being a competent to a wonderful cartoonist all on this one book.  This was a very good book.


Vaughan also wraps up Doctor Strange:  The Oath, this time with Marcos Martin.  It ends the only way it could, really, given the restraints of the "superhero universe."  But by God it was a nice trip.  Vaughan gives us a likable, aloof, charming Dr. Strange and Martin's spare line tells the reader much with little, all while keeping a beautiful eye on drama and design.  And, I'm sorry, when Strange takes his gloves off, revealing all the scars, and proceeds to kung fu the crap out of the antagonist, there should not be a single nerd not losing his or her shit.  It was my utter pleasure taking a sneak peek at this with the famous nealalian.  That's how to tell a superhero story:  with humor, action, drama, characters you care about, and beautiful art.  Oh, and an ending.

With Jack Staff, Paul Grist has always been interested in formal play.  That sort of work isn't easy, but when it works it more than makes up for generic qualities of superhero books.  Yes, this is essentially a "parallel universe gone wrong" story, but you haven't really read one until you've read Grist's take, including Rocky Reality, the chimp who guards reality and has his own jingle.  And it all wraps up in an issue, while still giving an emotional impact and a hook for a future story.  Grist should start a school.  A lot of people could learn a lot from him.


Throughout the miniseries, Nail Gaiman and John Romita Jr's Eternals have really been a bit of a mixed bag.  The art was pretty much always on target, the cartooning enhancing the iconic nature of the characters.  But the story would veer from "average superhero story with very interesting ideas" to "average superhero story."  And in the previous issue with religious overtones, Messianic messages, and changes to the status quo, my hopes rose dramatically.  So, really, why the hell did we need this issue?  It served almost completely as a "Yup, things are different like we said they were last issue."  Aside from a touching scene with Sprite and Zuras, absolutely nothing is gained with this issue (other than a plug for a big crossover).  Is Gaiman intending to write a monthly or a sequel?  I have to doubt it.  And while I sincerely doubt he could pull of the Messiah angle, I have no doubts that pretty much the rest of the Marvel staff would fail at it.  They really should have kept it at six issues.  Ambiguous endings are great . . .until you spend a complete other issue repeating the ambiguity.  Nothing's very poorly done here, of course, I just fail to see the point.


I have a soft spot in my cold, cold heart for superhero team-up books.  It was always fun, as a kid, to find back issues with bizarre pairings that just begged you to read WHAT WAS GOING ON?!?!?  So, despite my reservations, I checked out Brave and the Bold by Mark Waid and George Perez.  I went in with very low expectations; Waid hasn't impressed me since his first run on Captain America and George Perez, though a fine draftsman, is kind of the exact opposite of what I like in comic book art.  Well, low as my expectations were, I still didn't like this.  The story itself is inoffensive but equally uninteresting.  It read like a mini-comic that would come with an action figure.  "This is Green Lantern, he does this!  This is Batman, he does this!"  This played into the worst habits in Waid's characterization, especially in two dreadful one-note characterization bits (Hal:  "Movie reference!"  Bruce:  "Huh?"  Hal:  "Get out more!"; Hal: "Hit me in blackjack even though that's stupid!"  Bruce:  "YER FEARLESS!!!!").  Perez's art wavers from standard superhero competence to incomprehensibility to painfully dated.  Check out this partial page for examples of both these complaints.

I mean, look at the clothing here.  It might seem like a minor complaint, but it isn't hard to buy or even look at a goddam fashion magazine.  Bruce's suit looks like a suit, but a bit of research could have really put him in something nice.  And the girls . . .Jesus H. Christ!  Has George Perez seen a girl outside of a porno from 1973?  That jewelry, those dresses . . .it isn't hard to get some reference and do clothing right.  If you're going to bother to draw a hundred little details they should have a point.  They should make sense.  Anyway, this book is like a catalogue of everything that's depressing about average superhero comics.  Aside from the fashion, nothing was horrible, really.  But in aiming low to make a "simple superhero story" they failed to even capture the interest that is supposed to have.


Oh, and Alex Cox of Rocketship, screw you!  "Hey, look, Animal Man!  I bet this 52 is really Morrison-centric!"  A comic book with the Marvel Family and Animal Man with Grant Morrison's input should be an absolute dream for me.  This was ugly, nonsensical, derivative, unnecessarily gory, and pointless.  And on top of that we get Mark Waid continuing the dumb, serious take on Plastic Man he so loved in JLA.  Ugh.  Please, I need a good comic to cleanse me!

Thankfully, the ever-awesome Alex Cox of Rocketship recommended me Hunter & Painter by Tom Gauld.  I loved his Guardians of the Kingdom book, so I got pretty excited for this.  And it actually exceeded my high expectations.  The book is about two cavemen, who (as you might guess if you're real, real smart) hunt and paint, respectively.  The book mostly centers on Painter's next big debut.  He's got creative block after last year's smash hit, "Bear Hunt."  When he finally gets an idea, his friend Hunter doesn't like it at first, but says he's warming to it.  You cut to Painter exiled from the village.  The entire book is lovingly drawn with simple cartooning that allows much interpretation of emotion in a great way.  The humor is sharp but caring and works effortlessly.  It's read quickly, but is completely enjoyable the entire way through.  As much as I loved Vaughan's work this week, Hunter & Painter takes the cake as the best book of the week.  Search it out and get it.  It'll be the most fun five dollar examination on the demands of creating art for an audience you've ever bought.

tom king
King Leaving Batman By End of 2019, Has More DC Projects In the Works

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