EVEN MORE REVIEWS!
The first issue of Erik Larsen's impossibly long-titled mini-series, FANTASTIC FOUR: THE WORLD'S GREATEST COMICS MAGAZINE! is now out on stands everywhere. It's set between issues 100 and 101 of the original series, and is an extended homage to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. In the first issue, Eric Stephenson provides the Stan Lee-type narrative, along with a bevy of one-liners and sly references. The art duties are split amongst Bruce Timm, Keith Giffen (with Al Gordon inking), Jorge Lucas, and Erik Larsen (with Joe Sinnott inks), all of which is laid out by Larsen himself. Giffen and Timm's contributions are probably the most Kirbyesque. Lucas' stuff just seems a bit too rough to me, although he was the only one smart enough to draw in the page numbers in the bottom corners of his pages. And Larsen's stuff – even as inked by Sinnott – is a bit too Larsenesque. The lettering from Comicraft resembles the style and layout of the letterers of the time, and Eric Stephenson provides the coloring, as well. He keeps it flat like in the old days, but vibrant enough to make it stick out on the stands today.
Upcoming issues will include contributions from the likes of Chuck Dixon and Kurt Busiek, and who knows what other artists may drop by along the way.
The story in this first issue doesn't require any continuity knowledge of the FANTASTIC FOUR from the time. I know nothing about what was happening to them at that point, but I was able to follow this story and the character relationships just fine.
I'm not a huge fan of the original run of FANTASTIC FOUR, which I know sounds like heresy. But I couldn't slog my way through the first ESSENTIAL volume. It's just too dense and tedious. Yet, for some reason, NICK FURY, AGENT OF SHIELD doesn't bother me that much, and this series isn't throwing me off just yet. Weird.
What excited me most about this series is not just that it's done in the style of the original 1960s comics, but that the homage is shared amongst a bunch of different artists. Yes, if it were just this same group of guys every month for a year, it would get tedious fast. But I look forward to seeing the others pitching in and seeing how they work. Plus, any excuse for more artwork from Bruce Timm is a good one!
Scott Lobdell provides Marrow's origin in the new one shot, SPIDER-MAN/MARROW. She's a tragic case, but aren't all the Morlocks, really? Ale Garza provides the art.
The story itself ain't bad, even if it is telegraphed really far in advance. Credit goes to Garza for the artwork that made that happen. He didn't change his art around to cheat the reader into thinking the obvious might not be happening. Scott Lobdell, for his part, writes a believable Peter Parker, although one I still have problems with. I'm just having a tough time with this whole "Mary Jane is dead" theory. Remember – I came into comics thinking Peter Parker was always married to Mary Jane. That's it. I've since gone back to learn of their past history and about Gwen Stacy and all the rest. But, for me, to have a current-day Peter Parker without a Mary Jane is somewhat anathema. It's even worse to pretend like she's dead when everyone knows that she's coming back eventually – and most likely in time for the Spidey relaunch of sorts this spring.
Garza, for his part, draws a wiry Spider-Man. Some might say he looks too awkward, but I kind of enjoy seeing different takes on these classic characters. Keeps things interesting. As long as they get the costume right, there can be a little wiggle room for body type and whatnot. He plays around a lot with the white area of Spidey's eyes to suggest emotion. (Aside: Joe Quesada's Spider-man on the cover of this month's WIZARD has an amazing ability to bend his shin. It looks quite uncomfortable.)
The epilogue is a bit nebulous for those of us not intimately familiar with Marrow's back history in the X-Men, but the story as a whole does end up making Marrow much more of a tragic character than the previously hardened one we last saw in UNCANNY.
(Speaking of Lobdell projects, whatever happened to MOST WANTED, the last WildStorm mini-series he was working on? Did the last issue ever come out? I have the first three here, but don't recall ever seeing the fourth.)
CATWOMAN #89 is a must-read for anyone who's a fan of Saturday morning animation. This may very well be the first issue of the series I've ever picked up, but given the subject material the cover seemed to be indicating and the appearance of Harley Quinn, I thought it would be worthwhile to pick up. What you get on the inside is a viciously funny satire on animation executives, as Dr. Quinzel pitches a new animated series to some network executives. Her story ideas, of course, need a bit of tweaking, and merriment and mirth ensue. Bronwyn Carlton writes a corker of a script for the issue, and the art is split between Staz Johnson and Craig Rousseau (who pitches in to show some of the animated concepts). Wayne Faucher inks.
It also gets bonus points for using the cover blurb, "This issue: Batman Doesn't Die!!!"
BATMAN: HAUNTED KNIGHT is a collection of the three Halloween specials that introduced the world to the magical pairing of writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale. Produced in 1993 – 1995, they tell three holiday-themed tales inspired by the likes of Charles Dickens and Lewis Carroll. It's the first chance we have to see of the duo working together before their longer form works in THE LONG HALLOWEEN and DARK VICTORY, not to mention SUPERMAN FOR ALL SEASONS and the upcoming DAREDEVIL YELLOW.
This trade serves as the rough draft for their partnership. Sale's art style is there, for sure. His use of large images and dramatic angles and detailed backgrounds is always present, but his art is often possessed of more lines than need be. It's something he would calm down with on later series. Jeph Loeb's dialogue on some of the characters can often seem a bit too melodramatic or halting. By the time THE LONG HALLOWEEN would come about, that would be smoothed over, too, into the efficient captions and dialogues we see today. I'm sure in another 5 years, I'll look back at the two Batman maxi-series and see them as rough drafts for whatever projects the two are working on at that point.
The stories in this book are definitely entertaining. Loeb brings out the big guns right away, as Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, The Penguin, The Joker, and the Mad Hatter all get their turns in the spotlight. However, the heart of every story is Bruce Wayne and the dynamic between him and the Batman. The villains often function as sidebars in the story, or just as the catalysts to get Bruce thinking in the right direction. Loeb and Sale bring us back to a time before the Wayne Foundation, to the ill-fated night that a young Bruce Wayne would accompany his parents to THE MASK OF ZORRO, and to a time when Barbara Gordon was a bit of a restless adopted daughter.
The one thing that jumps out at me as being really different between these books and the current Loeb/Sale projects is that the lettering is from Todd Klein and not Comicraft. Gives it a slightly different look, but I still like it.
America's Best Comics is on quote a roll lately. And I can give you two strong examples from the past couple of weeks to prove it.
The first is PROMETHEA #12, by the usual creative team of Alan Moore, J.H. Williams III and Mick Gray, with Jeromy Cox, Jose Villarrubia, and Todd Klein. This single issue of a comic is either a mad masterpiece of a self-indulgent piece of tripe. Your mileage may vary, but the first thought I had after reading it was that I should never bother to try writing a comic book for the rest of my life. There's no way I could ever be as clever as this issue is.
I'm not even sure I could summarize it properly, but I'll give it a try. Alan Moore runs through a deck of Tarot cards and explains the meaning of life. It's all done in rhyme. Usually, extended rhyme gets too tedious for me, but this stuff held my interest. Meanwhile, the letters in "Promethea" are rearranged for every card to reflect the meaning of the card, and there's a joke on the bottom of each page that doesn't reach its punchline until the final page. Williams draws double-page spreads throughout the issue to show this stuff off, and does a masterful layout job.
On the lighter side of things, TOMORROW STORIES #9 features a Grey Shirt musical. Full song and dance number. The really funny thing is that I found myself singing along to it, and there's not even any music included in the pages! Just the lyrics. This is wonderfully mad stuff.
SOME GRATUITOUS PLUGS
I've taken up reviewing DVDs again for an actual DVD web site. It's called DVD Channel News, and so far I've written up AIRPLANE! and BATMAN BEYOND: RETURN OF THE JOKER for them. If you click over now, you can see a portion of the DVD cover for the latter disc on the front page. Just click on through to get to my review. With any luck, you'll be seeing three or four such reviews a month there from me.
The Pipeline message board is really lighting up these days, so stop on by and join in the mirth and mayhem. You can also get the latest reviews from my keyboard here, as I've fallen into the habit of doing some quick single book reviews for the message board to tide everyone over until the column comes out.
Finally, don't forget to come back tomorrow for the second annual visit with Derek Fridolfs, professional inker.