Due to some technical difficulties over the weekend -- namely the near death of my computer -- the promised second part of my visit to Marvel Comics will be delayed. Look for it soon right here. I'm hoping for Friday or next Tuesday, at the latest. In its stead, here are some reviews for your consideration. I'm so far behind on reviews lately, you should be expecting a lot of these for awhile...
THE GEAR STATION
…started off with a four issue story arc earlier this year from Image Comics. Created and drawn by Dan Fraga, with writing from Janak Alford and Ford Lytle Gilmore, GEAR STATION is a fantasy romp, mixed in with bits of manga. The big selling point of the comic was its use of computer imagery. All the backgrounds in the series are done on a computer, while characters are all hand-drawn and layered on top almost like an animation cel is placed on top of a background before being shot onto film. The result is not entirely bad, and it showed definite signs of improvement over the course of the first four issues. Fraga is something of a chameleon to me. In his days at Extreme Studios, he did one of the best McFarlane art impressions I've ever seen, in addition to the more standard Liefeld-influenced stuff. This book is a mixture of everything, it seems, although he leans really heavily on some of the manga influences in the last issue, and his Liefeld training starts to show through, as well. No, none of the same excesses are present in the art, but you can see little bits and pieces of Liefeld in the drawings if you know what to look for.
The biggest problem with the series is the story, though. There's no centerline holding it all together. The story, the characters, the places, and the magics come flying fast and furious at you without regard to pacing or proper plotting. It's like Fraga and Alford wanted to get everything down on paper now to see what sticks. All of the high concepts are thrown out willy-nilly in an attempt to create a new world in quick fashion. The usual expository monologues are present to explain everything before we see it, which gets annoying pretty fast. Characters come and go, and while most have some sort of definite goal in mind, they don't all, and many of them just stick around because they want to be in the book. Very odd.
Hopefully, this is something that will be smoothed out over the long haul. If these first four issues introduced all the main characters and most of the high concepts, then hopefully we can start looking at each in turn and exploring them more thoroughly.
Or, at least, so I hoped.
The fifth issue came out last week and did nothing to alleviate my worries about the book. In fact, I'm dropping it. The fifth issue is a tangles mess, composed of four short disconnected stories from four different creative teams. Gilmore is gone from the book now, Fraga's art is only evident in the first 9 pages (and his story has the worst of Grant Morrison's excesses of needless and excess high concepts thrown in for no good reason), and the rest of it is an unsure series of vignettes that could take place anywhere in continuity. While some of the art is remarkable and all are done in different styles, it's not enough to make me care one whit about the book.
THE BRUBAKER TWO-PUNCH
Last Friday, I reviewed Ed Brubaker's SCENE OF THE CRIME trade paperback. That very same week, he had two single issues out on the stands. They're both Batman titles, they're both good reads, and they both feature dream sequences, of a sort.
BATMAN GOTHAM ADVENTURES #33 is an inventory story Brubaker did for DC a while back. I can only imagine it just got published this month because it bears a certain similarity to perennial Christmas favorite, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Here, though, Brubaker uses the Phantom Stranger to guide Batman through a glimpse of what life would have been life had he never taken up the cape and cowl. The interplay between the Stranger and Batman is kept fairly light, but the story itself has a mean nasty streak in its second half. There are, however, definitely glimmers of hope before everything comes crashing together. The art is by Brad Rader and John Lowe, who do an excellent job with this issue, not just in keeping everyone on-model, but also in telling the story. There are some neat little storytelling tricks used in here. I don't know this for sure, but I'd guess that Rader might have an animation background. Lee Loughridge's colors hold everything together, using an interesting mix of tones, while keeping everything upbeat for the reader. Even the dark scenes are lit well enough to make everything easy to make out.
Meanwhile, over in non-animated land, BATMAN #586 is the third book of DC's "This Issue: Batman Dies!!!" non-crossover event. Here we get the Penguin wistfully recounting how he was the one to kill the Bat. Now, obviously, this is all in his head in one way or another, but Brubaker gets the story told without falling into self-parody or melodramatic mush. Yes, it's the equivalent of an imaginary story, but it's entertaining and not afraid to poke a little fun of itself near the end. Scott McDaniel has a field day drawing an extended action sequence of Batman fighting some car driving goons. I don't think I've ever seen him draw so many panels with one character repeated throughout it so much. Batman's a dancing machine here.
X-MEN ARCHIVES SKETCHBOOK #1
...falls into the category of "good idea, bad execution." The book is composed of scraps of character designs and model sheets and sketches drawn by various top level X-Men artists of the past 15 years or so. It's an interesting effect to see sketches from Art Adams at the time of the LONGSHOT mini-series alongside pages of NEW MUTANTS designs from Alan Davis and Rob Liefeld X-FORCE designs. Some editorial notes (by author unknown and uncredited) point out how various designs were to be used in storylines which fell by the wayside. If you wanted to know how MAGNETO REX was originally plotted to end, read this book, and see the designs for the X-Men trapped in a global ice age.
It's interesting, but: Many of the sketches barely show up. The opening splash page of Professor Xavier by Jim Lee is so faint on the page that you're lucky to make out his eyes. Art Adams' costume designs for various X-Women look like a poor third generation photocopy. Notes by Bob McLeod next to his NEW MUTANTS designs are illegible. The accompanying text has to point out what it's all about.
It's not all this bad. There's still some lovely stuff in there, but this isn't a coffee table book. And if you're trying to pull off some sort of art book or art gallery, you really should be aiming higher than this.
DESPERATE TIMES #1 (Volume 2)
...is back, this time from Aaaargh! Comics, no doubt cleverly named to get to the front of the PREVIEWS catalog. ;-) Once again, ace letterer Chris Eliopoulos is cartooning the stories of Marty and Toad, two single guys looking for female friendship and the secrets to life. The original series -- now available in a single trade paperback -- told their tales in strict comic strip format. You had three or four gags across the page, and a punchline at each ending. This new series is adopting what Eliopoulos describes as a "sit-com" format. Rather than timing each gag to end at each tier of panels, he's letting the story flow more naturally, throwing in gags where they fit and where they can time out properly. He uses a strict nine panel grid to his layouts to keep the pace. With but a couple of exceptions, it works really well. A couple of jokes are so lame that they fall flat, but that's humor. Not everyone is always going to get it. This is, however, the first time I laughed at an Austin Powers reference. I've seen the first movie. Didn't do much for me, aside from being a valiant attempt to string together a bunch of catch phrases in search of something hip. The second one seemed even worse, so I skipped it altogether. Thus, those catch phrases do nothing for me. But a full page of a man in a dog suit using them somehow struck me as funny. Must have been the sheer silliness of it all.
The humor is varied. You get some slapstick stuff. You get your verbal banter. You get puns, bad imitations, and verbal abusiveness. Eliopoulos doesn't leave any of this out, and isn't afraid to mix it up throughout the book to layer the humor, either.
The art isn't perfect yet, but it's definitely improved and much more steady. There still seems to be some problems with placing characters in their environments. Characters sitting across the table from each other often look too close together. Check out the first panel in the book and ask yourself how the woman sitting behind Marty isn't being sliced in half by the table she's sitting at.
The book is $2.95 and will feel light in your hands. Eliopoulos isn't using the high grade paper you see Frank Cho using, for example, in LIBERTY MEADOWS. The paper is of a good enough stock that the artwork isn't bleeding through the page. It might not hold up well to color, but since the book is black and white, that shouldn't be a problem.
In lieu of ads, Eliopoulos has also chosen to take out one of the signatures. (A "signature" being an 8 page section of the book.) In other words, this issue only has 24 pages to it, plus cover, instead of the standard 32. However, not a page is wasted. The 24 pages are all story, with no ads. The letters column/text page is on the inside back cover.
And the back cover? It features the first ever appearance of me in print:
It's like looking in a mirror...
...is a great book if you're a WildCore fan. If you've never read that title, though, much of this issue will be lost on you. The first three quarters of the book is the lead WildCore story that leaves me cold. It's a combination of that and the pacing of it. Very little happens, despite a whole lot of suspense being built up in the first half of the story. The pay off just isn't there.
There's one neat bit of business in the back of the book, though, that surprised me. The story is called "Homecoming" by Jay Faerber and drawn by Trevor McCarthy (with Tyson McAdoo inks). It's a DV8 story that ties nicely into one particular story from a previous issue of GENACTIVE that I don't want to give away. It is, in its own right, stunning. The surprise, though, was the art. It's not bad. McCarthy, you see, is the next NIGHTWING artist for DC. So if you've never seen his stuff before and are wondering what NIGHTWING is going to look like after Scott McDaniel and Greg Land, here's your answer. His art is definitely more in the McDaniel mold than Land's. It's more manga-esque. This story is a talking heads story, so there's not much chance for action shots, but he does do a great job in keeping the story moving and interesting to look at, while showing a broad variety of facial expressions.
In other words, give him a chance on NIGHTWING. This looks promising.
LAST KISS #1
...is the new one shot coming from the twisted mind of John Lustig this February. If you haven't seen pages from this book in the COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE, here's the high concept: Lustig has taken pages of actual romance comics from the 1950s and relettered them, producing some hilarious results. Picture those innocent and gosh-wow moments twisted around, producing some funny MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000-like moments, but coming out of the mouths of the characters themselves.
$5 buys you 48 black and white pages of this stuff, just about guaranteed to produce a chuckle or three in you. It's published by Shanda Fantasy Press, and showed up in the latest PREVIEWS on page 266.
Here's a look at Dick Giordano's cover for the book:
COMING DOWN THE PIPELINE
There's a bunch of stuff I'm working on at the same time right now, so here's some teases: To start with, there's the second part of the Visit to Marvel Comics column that must be written. There's another manga column coming soon. I've been reading three different manga books recently and love them all. (Don't forget to pick up LONE WOLF AND CUB #4 this week!) I've also delved into some books from the past and will have some thoughts on those. (I'm going to be a bit nebulous about them for now, but I do have a lot to say.) Plus, I have a bit of a self-serving column on writing. I'm not entirely sure what the point is, but if you're a process junkie like myself, I think you'll like it.