MORE TRADE PAPERBACK REVIEWS
It's a big week for Erik Larsen fans, as the delayed SAVAGE DRAGON #101 and SUPERPATRIOT: LIBERTY AND JUSTICE trade paperback both shipped out to stores this week. I already discussed the DRAGON issue here on Tuesday, so let's tackle the trade right now.
SUPERPATRIOT: LIBERTY AND JUSTICE collects the four issue mini-series from Erik Larsen's corner of the Image Universe, circa 1995. It was plotted by FREAK FORCE plotter, Keith Giffen, and dialogued by STAR dialoguers Tom and Mary Bierbaum. (I'm not sure, but I may have just created a new word.) It is reprinted today because of Dave Johnson's art, which is best known now for the covers to Vertigo's 100 BULLETS.
The book opens up with SuperPatriot, half-man/half gun-toting robot, jumping through the air trying to stay away from a squadron of fighter planes firing on him. Needless to say, he takes them all on and wins, despite not having any flight powers. It's just one man, a ton of guns, and some quick thinking. Right away, you have an idea of the character's abilities, powers, and attitude. Plus, the book opens on action and gets your attention right away. If you read the first few pages of the book in the store, you'll want to read the rest.
Let's see if I can sum up the rest of the plot for you: There's an evil international organization called the Covenant of the Sword. There are different factions of this cabal, and some of them are fighting amongst themselves. SuperPatriot is here to stop them. Just accept that and enjoy the story. There are cover-ups and backstabbings and questions of divided loyalty throughout the rest of the book, but it's all an excuse to create the action scenes.
This volume contains one of the best action scenes I've read in my 13 years of comics reading. The third issue of the series contains a lightning fast assault through the city of Tokyo on three different fronts. It has an insane death-defying free fall dive out of an airplane, a motorcycle chase scene, and a gunfight staged atop a moving train. Dave Johnson packs the pages full of background detail and throws in some nifty Easter eggs along the way.
A cover gallery and Johnson sketchbook round out the volume, which has a price tag of $12.95. It's a fun and breezy read with impressive visuals that more artists should look at to get ideas on how to pack action onto a page without confusing the reader.
RAINDOGS is a hardcover graphic novel from Dark Horse's "Venture" line of albums. The 52 page color book tells the story of a post-apocalyptic New York City. After the Polar Ice Caps melted (presumably), New York is a flooded mess ruled by street gangs of various orders. (Basically, it's just like today's city, but with some extra big puddles in the street not made of urine.)
Holly is the star of the book. She's the viewpoint character and works on her own, something's that is odd in the tribalized city. She scavenges her way through life, fending off the sickening advances and murderous intentions of the other camps. Things change, however, when a blimp carrying a scientific expedition crashes in the city, and Holly becomes their savior. She signs up and agrees to help get them back out of the city if they take her with them. They readily agree, and so the adventure begins.
The book is filled with enough ideas and concepts to fill a CrossGen book for a year, but it never feels episodic. It easily could, as the geographically distinct gangs lend themselves easily to several smaller adventures. I wouldn't mind reading a series set in a world like this, where the author might have the chance to flesh out the kinds of people who survive in a post-apocalyptic environment that's so far gone that whole new mythologies about the past have already sprung up.
The art is clear and not heavily stylized or exaggerated. The characters seem restrained, even when swinging through the air from building to building. There are some nice dramatic aerial shots of the city's architecture, as well as detailed looks at the world that exists at their bases. Characters are easy to differentiate and look natural in their world. They're not cleaned-up glossy versions of the characters that should live there, gussied up to give the reader something easier to look at. Most of all, the book feels real.
At $15 for 50 story pages, you'll have to decide for yourself if the book is worth the read. It's attractively package on oversized white paperstock and sandwiched between hardcovers.
SUPERMAN/TARZAN: SONS OF THE JUNGLE is the kind of book you have to wonder about. Why on earth would anyone want to see this story? But when you see Chuck Dixon's name on it as writer, you realize it to be a labor of love and then look forward to reading it. Carlos Meglia's name is an attraction, also. His cartoony style is always easy on the eyes, and completely different from what everyone else in comics is doing right now. (OK, OK, except maybe Humberto Ramos, but there's a whole other argument to be made there.)
Sadly, while the book is competently done, I didn't get any great thrills out of it, and it came across as paint-by-numbers Elseworlds Special.
In this alternate universe, baby Kal El crashed in the jungle to be raised by apes, while the son of the Clayton family is born in it, but raised in civilization. When their two worlds collide, the results aren't exactly predictable, but I didn't care much either way. It's tough to get invested in these characters, if only because they feel like they're playing roles dictated by tradition.
While there are a couple of nice character moments (such as Jungle Kal El punching out an elephant), the only draw to the book for me is the visual impact of Meglia's art with Dave Stewart's colors and Steve Dutro's lettering. The pages look and feel rich with color, and the lettering blends in perfectly. This is also a great example of a book which can have night scenes that don't look dark and muddy. The only thing I would have changed is Meglia's overuse of inset panels. For example, he'll have a nice wide panel with three people speaking in it, and each character will get a box drawn around them for emphasis, I suppose. It's not necessary at all, and breaks up the beauty and simplicity of his art.
In the end, this thin volume (77 full color pages) is a beautiful book to look at, but not one whose story will stay with you for any length of time. It's a fluffy ten dollars spent.
By some definitions, I am a "critic." I've read so many comics that I should be cynical and callous. I've seen every trick in the book, so there's nothing new to me, and every comic is a parody of the one before it, in terms of originality. It is only the small books that receive no attention and seem anti-commercial that I should enjoy, leaving the full color superheroic antics to lesser minds. It is the artiste and the auteur that should spark me to think again.
Nope, that's not me. If it was, I'm sure I would have enjoyed FLOOD!, a new graphic novel by Eric Drooker that's published by Dark Horse. It's a silent story done in black and white of a man living in New York City. He's lonely and desperate and beat upon by nature. He seeks a better condition for himself, but the world is against him. Blah blah blah
Forget for the moment that it's bleak and surreal. It breaks the cardinal rule for me of not being boring. It's the kind of thing you have to work for THE COMICS JOURNAL to find fascinating. (Oh, and there's a quote in praise from them on the back cover.)
What really should have clued me in to that fact that I wouldn't like this book is the inside back cover flap. It includes a few words of praise from noted cop-killer, Mumia Abu-Jamal. Yeah, this isn't my book.
This isn't to say that there aren't a few nice sequences in the book or some nice black and white artwork. The book is done on scratchboard, which means all the white lines were chipped off of black board. The art has a stark feel to it, and if you like SIN CITY, you'll like some of the images on here.
But this isn't my kind of book. Flights of fancy and surrealist protests against cops and America's oppressive history ::yawn:: aren't my thing, thanks.
More power to you if you like it, but I don't.More reviews next week, including some of the ones I had promised for today. I hope.
My multimedia entertainment opinion blog, Various and Sundry, is still updating. This week: Spoilers for the first episode of 24's second season, epileptic seizures and Saturday morning television, the sorry state of the animation industry in America, what's new on DVD, and more.
You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board. It's the message board I frequent the most, so catch me there on off days.
Over 400 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are still available at the Original Pipeline page, a horrifically coded piece of HTML. It'll be going away soon as I've recently changes ISPs, but all the columns will eventually wind up archives here.