REVIEWS REVIEWS REVIEWS
Last week, I reviewed some comics from the past during an off week. This week, I have two huge weeks' worth of comics from the present day to pore through. I'm going to try something I haven't done here in a while: I'm going to review every last thing I read in the past week. Of course, I read so much stuff that I can't fit it all in here. So, you'll get the first half today, and the second half on Friday. As an extra bonus, most of the reviews you will see on Friday will be books with a tie to the U.K. (That's everything from KIN and EMPIRE to BREAKFAST AFTER NOON and MARVEL BOY.)
Also, as happens so often with this column, look for the occasional rant and commentary mixed in with the reviews.
WILDCATS #12 continues the best-kept secret from WildStorm. This book hasn't been this good since Alan Moore was on it. Joe Casey is creating the corporate super-hero in this book, similar to the way John Byrne put Namor at the head of Oracle Corporation in his revamp of that series about ten years ago. Casey keeps the characters real and gives them all something to do, while hinting at the stories of the rest. Sean Phillips does some wonderful art here, as well, providing stylized art with an interesting storytelling approach. He uses what can be charitably called a grid, but his panels are all sort of different shaped boxes with a uniform thick line around them. It's a distinctive look, but works really well for what is, in effect, a talking heads book.
THE RED STAR #1 is the third book to enter Image Comics' attempts to publish computer-generated comics. The first book, Greg Horn's J.U.D.G.E., is an abject failure, and the jury is still out on the second book, Dan Fraga's GEAR STATION.
This book utilizes storytelling very much like one of the Paul Dini/Alex Ross year-end books -- BATMAN: WAR ON CRIME and SUPERMAN: PEACE ON EARTH. The word balloons are used sparingly, and the story is told through narrative captions, not contained in boxes. All the backgrounds are done in the computer, while the humans are all drawn in pencil and scanned into the art. The story of a great war is being told in flashback. Much of this issue feels like blatant exposition. There's not much in the way of any real characters to get a grip on, so the reader has a slight feeling of alienation from the story. The book reads more like a slightly dramatized history text than a piece of fictional entertainment.
The book uses uninked artwork. The penciled artwork looks nice. I'm a fan of the unlinked line. My apologies to all my inker readers out there. It's nothing personal. There's just something pleasant about the "naked" pencil line. You can get a better idea, quite often, of what shadow placements the artist had in mind. Mike Kunkel's HEROBEAR AND THE KID had the best use of the un-inked line I've ever seen reproduced in comics. (Did the second issue of that series ever come out? It was solicited at one point.) He left a lot of the guidelines in the art, and that just helped to maintain the animated line he was going for. On the other hand, the artwork in THE RED STAR sometimes comes off looking slightly unfinished without the final guiding ink line. I still like the overall effect. Curiously, it also blends into the backgrounds and the CG elements rather well. Very rarely does it pop out at you.
Another plus for the book is its overall design. The front and back cover both have very bold graphics displayed. The book itself opens up in full widescreen two-page splashes, with large title lettering and silent storytelling. It's all very cinematic.
The book is also unlike others in its crediting. There are ten people credited in the back pages for the book. While "Kayl" is credited with the story and script, the art duties are done by committee, with credits given for backgrounds, modeling, page compositing, scene breakdown, color design, etc. It's comics by committee, much like the CGI work in a movie is done by a large group of people.
THE RED STAR is something very much different from everything else out there. It is political allegory. It is military and political commentary. It's not super-heroes. It's not spandex-clad. It's definitely worth a look, and so far the most successful attempt to blend computers with comics on such a large scale that I've seen.
SAM & TWITCH #11 is the second part of the "Witchcraft" storyline. I don't have much exciting to say about this. If you read the first part, I'm sure you read this, also. If you didn't, you should probably go out now, buy it, and read this series. It's really good. Brian Bendis writes, and Alberto Ponticelli pencils.
I'm wondering how long it'll take before the inevitable Bendis whiplash occurs. I've seen it too many times in the past 6 years that I've been on the Internet, and probably once or twice before that. A given artist or writer becomes a cult favorite. Their work starts to spread like wildfire. Everyone is reading it, all of a sudden. And that's when the original cult members grow restless. They complain that they've already seen everything the artist or writer is doing. That creator is "obviously" repeating himself. "We've seen it all before." Etc. etc. Bendis' ear for dialogue and multi-panel storytelling approach has been a godsend in a market filled with expository dialogue and splash pages. His style is easy to pick out, whether in POWERS or SAM & TWITCH. Eventually, people will grow sick of it and start blaming Bendis, when all they'll have to blame is themselves. They're only fault will be in growing used to a style that they once considered new and exciting.
The only element missing from this equation so far is the legion of imitators. I don't see any other writers right now trying to write in the Bendis style. No other comics today feature characters with natural stuttering speaking rhythms or the use of repetitive panels to such a degree.
RISING STARS #8 ends the first act of the book in grand fashion. I've written about this book multiple times previously, and everything stays the same here: JMS' story is completely twisted. Everything you were promised from the beginning of this series has been fulfilled, and now he's warping it all around on you. It's just as enjoyable and unpredictable as it can be. It's a comic where deaths are real, where changes are permanent, and characters are capable of just about anything.
But Christian Zanier's art is lacking.
SUPERMAN/GEN13 #3 is a terrific conclusion to a pretty good mini-series. The story - expanded to 32 pages -- has Caitlin Fairchild suffering from amnesia and thinking she's Supergirl. This causes problems when her fixes to common problems create havoc. That's when Supergirl gets pissed. Meanwhile, the Gen13 team has hooked up with Superman and Lois Lane to track Caitlin down and clean up this mess.
Adam Hughes does a terrific job in scripting this book, keeping things sounding real, while having a great deal of self-referential fun, poking fun at the comic book clichés and idiosyncrasies of our time.
The story keeps on moving, shows signs of being well thought out, and provides a satisfactory conclusion. It's a nice light read, and one I really hope gets collected into a trade sometime soon. This should also cement Lee Bermejo's reputation as one of the great new artists working in comics today. Keep an eye out for Tom Derenick in the X-MEN books, for sure, but over at DC and WildStorm, Bermejo's the one I predict we'll be seeing a lot more of, and gladly so.
SUPERMAN #159 is a setup to a storyline coming later this year. It's a long way to get to the point that Superman didn't really destroy Imperiex a few issues ago. This is something the readers have known all along, but is only now dawning on Superman. The issue has Superman out in space with the Green Lantern, testing himself after being drained nearly to death by the Parasite. The story is told effectively from Kyle Raynor. It has a nice light sense of humor to it, and is pretty entertaining, even if it fills slightly like filler in the end.
The most effective part of this issue is the mixing of artists. Ed McGuinness does half the issue, while Paul Pelletier does the other half. Their styles are similar enough that the transition between artists is not jarring at all. Heck, it's almost transparent. Cam Smith inked the entire book, which I think also helps.
BATMAN: GOTHAM ADVENTURES #27 carries on the excellent run by Scott Peterson behind the keyboard and Tim Levins and Terry Beatty chained to the drawing board. This one is full-on detective work, as Batman tries to solve a mystery surrounding a man behind bars who may or may not belong there. Just because the motive is suspect, does that make the convict any less suspicious? This is the line Batman must walk.
Tim Levins, along with colorist Lee Loughridge, makes excellent use of shadows in this issue, having Batman effectively sink into and out of them. Check out the first or last four pages for a couple of great examples of how this should be done.
YOUNG JUSTICE #22 is a filler issue. Peter David doesn't write a page of it. Todd Nauck only draws a few pages. There are three other short stories starring various single members of the team, by a variety of writers. They're little character pieces that all work to one degree or another. For those of you who read Friday's Pipeline2 column, it should come as no surprise that my favorite story was the one by Chuck Dixon with Robin and Nightwing. He really has a handle on these characters.
The Impulse/Superboy/Secret story that takes place between all the other stories displays Todd DeZago's zany sense of humor, and gives Todd Nauck the opportunity to draw slapstick. It's pretty funny.
BIRDS OF PREY #20 continues the "Hunt for Oracle" storyline. Once again, see Friday's Chuck Dixon column for an overview of the series. Butch Guice draws some pretty stuff. The story takes an exciting turn or three, and the action just keeps on pumping out. Like WILDCATS, this book is unfortunately too much of a "best kept secret." More people need to be reading exciting books like this one.
To be continued…
Last week I mentioned the superb Comics And Animation Forum over at CompuServe, but failed to give you the link for it. So here it is now. Go have a look.
And Dan Coyle helped solve one other issue I've had here in recent weeks. Remember the silent Brian Stelfreeze story I talked about here not too long ago? A bunch of people wrote in to tell me it was a collaboration with Devin Grayson on a Batman story from a couple of years ago. It still bothered me, though. I thought it was a Punisher story, the more I thought of it. And I thought it ended with some sort of flower motif.
Sure enough, Dan Coyle remembered such a story:
"Stelfreeze DID do a Punisher silent story, in addition to the Grayson one! Way back in '93's Punisher Summer Special, he collaborated on a silent story with Steven Grant. Really! It's quite good and has a terrific image at the end. Look for the book; it has some of Tony Harris' first professional work as well."
Great, not only could we all not put our heads together to remember that one, but it turns out the writer of said story is just a click or two away from this column. Life sure is funny sometimes…
Pipeline2 continues this special week of commentary and review, as I look at the latest offerings from Andi Watson, Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison, Garth Ennis, Mark Waid, and more. Plus, my response to Warren's "Come In Alone" column last week in reference to letters columns.
I think there will also be a few reviews without a British theme on Friday. I still have F5 and at least one other SUPERMAN book to look at, for two examples.