Jumping On Points Double Shot: Rabbit Samurais and painted superheroes

Usagi Yojimbo vol. 3 #99 by Stan Sakai, Dark Horse Comics

Okay, this was excellent.

I always feel inadequate for saying things like that about comics with reputations for excellence. It's not a terribly revolutionary thing to say about, say, Lee and Kirby's FF or the Spirit or any other classic of the medium, or even something that may not quite be there yet but is still a wonderful piece of work, which is a category Usagi definitely fits in to.

It's still worth saying in this case, beyond any "me too" impulses on my part, because this comic still flies a bit under the radar. It's not a Big Two superhero book or an indie darling; like most Dark Horse comics, it falls between those too poles. But, judging solely by this issue, it is an excellent comic, well worth reading. And an accessible one, too. I should know; it's the first one I've ever read.

I remember Grant Morrison bemoaning the use of the "Story So Far" pages in his issues of New X-Men, because everything you needed to know about the story was right there on the page. I couldn't think of a better way to describe this comic. Everything's there. No need to know prior continuity to enjoy this; well, expect at the very end, as a character who may or may not be familiar given my total lack of experience with the series shows up in a cliffhanger. One of the little things that impressed me most about the comic was that it was almost cover to cover comics; from the first page to the inside of the back cover, it was all story, no ads (that alone might endear it to Paul O'Brian at this point).

The story that comprises most of the comic is wonderfully straightforward, impecably well done panel to panel storytelling. It also does something I want out of my single issues and rarely get; a satisfying self contained story that wraps up in one issue while still giving me an interesting enough ongoing plot that I want to come back for next installment. Very few comics seem to do that these days; if they aren't decompressed, unsatifying single issue reads, they're so self contained that I can live without reading another issue. Usagi, at least in this issue, walked a very thin line perfectly.

Given that next issue is a big anniversary artist's jam issue, it may not be the best jumping on point, although given the creators involved, it's worth picking up anyway. I know I probably will, given how much I enjoyed my first issue.


Justice #9, by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger, Doug Braithwaite and Todd Klein, DC Comics

Justice #9, on the other hand... well, it's really not fair to compare these two comics. They're completely different kinds of stories (I'm not even sure if Justice is an ongoing, but there's no "9 of_" anywhere on the comic that I can see) and Sakai and Alex Ross are completely different kinds of cartoonists; especially since Alex Ross is a painter. In this comic, that's literally the case, as he's painting over Doug Braithwaite pencils.

There are some very pretty images in this comic. There's one double page spread of the Justice League in armor that's pretty much the reason why I bought this comic (beyond the fact that I was in a very impulsive mood and was carrying more money in my pocket than sense in my head). It looks lovely, so in that sense, Ross did a bang up job and also served to remind me why I liked Ross's work so much when I first encountered it.

But this comic also reminded me of why I don't like Ross's work very much any more. It's very stiff and undynamic, even if he didn't draw the figures in this comic; much like my praise for Usagi, it's not much of a revolutionary criticism, but it's still worth saying.

Beyond that, there's also Krueger's scripting. He and Ross share credit for the story, which is servicable superhero stuff, but the dialogue and narration is solely credited to him. And boy, it is it bad. As stiff and undynamic as Ross's art, just not as pretty. The narration of Captain Marvel is particularly bad, although it does serve an accessibility purpose of letting us know what the SHAZAM! acronym stands for. It's still painfully unsubtle and ultra serious (another criticism of Ross's work you can knick from any other review of anything he's done ever) mind you, but not pointlessly so.  

It's a perfectly accessible comic, but that's because it's so generic. It's a very old school Justice League comic, which is what you'd expect from Alex Ross, so if you're desperate for one of those, then you might want to give this a try. I mean, it's so old school it has Barry Allen. I also have to commend it for moving quickly; a lot happens in this issue. I didn't really find any of it interesting, but you can't accuse it of moving slowly, at least. There's also a Captain Marvel/Superman fight, for people who really like those, although it's short (and to Krueger and Ross's credit, it doesn't evoke Kingdom Come at all).

It's accessible in the way that most Justice League comics are. It's a perfectly straightforward comic, plot wise. It doesn't give the backstory of every character, but given that there are around two dozen of them hanging out in the Hall of Justice alone, along with the villains and supporting characters, that would be almost impossible, even in the larger space Ross and Krueger have to play with. Since I'm only following Greg's ground rules loosely, I'm not going to judge this comic on the "This is someone's first comic" criteria, but this very well could have been someone's first comic; in 1974. I think it's safe for Krueger and Ross to asssume some prior knowledge of the characters from the audience (hell, a great deal, really). Like I said, they did throw a bit of an accessibility bone to reader's compltely unfamiliar with the Captain Marvel mythos, and there are even some character profiles in the "Back Matter" at the end of the issue.I think you could jump in on this book if you really wanted to at this (or the next) issue, but since this falls in to "If you enjoy this sort of thing, you'll like this", anyone interested in this is probably already reading it or planning on getting it in trades or the likely deluxe hardcover treatment it will get when it wraps up. If it's not an ongoing. I'm like Dan Coyle I'm so confused!

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