Something strikes me about ZERO GIRL and Sam Kieth's artwork for it. It's a lot like BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL in one big way. Kieth uses mixed media indiscriminately, like Hiroaki Samura uses a mix of pen and ink alongside pencil work. Kieth uses painted panels as well as pen and ink panels. The media used for a given panel doesn't hold any special meaning, although I'd be curious if there is some sort of logic to it. But it looks good, so I won't complain.
ZERO GIRL is your typical Sam Kieth comic. It's weird.
This one has a high school student with a crush on her guidance counselor trying to work her way into his life. He's more interested in figuring out how she's managing without any sort of parent or guardian to take care of her. Then there are the Kieth twists. She's afraid of squares and is protected by circles. If she is ashamed, her feet leak water.
Like I said, it's weird. But in the middle of all that is a really plausible protagonist who you find yourself rooting for in some strange way. It would be completely inappropriate for her to pursue a relationship with her counselor, but deep in the back recesses of your mind, you hope it happens just so she can have some small measure of happiness.
Or maybe I've been watching too much BOSTON PUBLIC lately.
JLA #50 begs the question, "Will Bryan Hitch ever draw a complete comic again?" This issue is split between four or five different artistic teams, with Hitch drawing the interstitial framing bits. Hitch draws all of ten pages (with Kevin Nowlan inking the last batch), with other art provided by the likes of Phil Jimenez, Doug Mahnke, Mark Pajarillo, and Ty Templeton. The story revolves around the League's worst day, as infighting and suspicions threaten to tear the team apart. In between flashbacks to that day, Superman and Batman discuss matters from deep within the heart of the Batcave. Hitch's pages are spectacular in their moodiness and use of light. Everything is black except for a desk lamp and the two characters. This, of course, gives Laura Depuy the pleasure of trying to light the scene, and she does a good job, particularly with the computer-generated effects.
Only Mark Waid could have properly written the last scene of the book, as the Justice League comes together at Superman's request. I don't want to ruin the big surprise of the book, but it's something that could have major ramifications in the DC Universe, and is definitely a nice "gosh wow" moment for long-time continuity buffs.
Judging by the type of nostalgic rush a mere mention of the series tends to evoke in long-time readers, THE DEFENDERS was a popular series. I wasn't around in the world of comics the last time there was an on-going DEFENDERS title. That's why I get to look at the newest THE DEFENDERS #1 by Kurt Busiek and Erik Larsen with some fresh eyes.
My first thought before even reading the book is that it's the perfect opportunity for Erik Larsen to play in the Marvel Universe sandbox. For starters, the book stars four of Marvel's mainstay characters: the Silver Surfer, the Hulk, Namor, and Doctor Strange. Add to that a large and diverse supporting cast, plus the potential for all sorts of MU guest stars, and you get a book right in Larsen's wheelhouse. Plus, with that gang, there are plenty of excuses to be made for grand physical brawls and displays of power.
The first issue suffers from a bit of origin-itis. This is the double-sized issue for the sake of getting four different characters from four different situations put back together. As such, it's a bit spread out and feels a bit dragged out in the beginning. Once everyone gets put together, though, things really start to move along. It's the interaction between the four main characters that makes the book. They really don't like each other and Busiek and Larsen make a good point of that very early on, with examples that are hilarious. It's the regal, interminably pissed-off Namor versus the slow-witted ox, The Hulk. It's the cosmic Surfer versus the underwater king. It's the mystical doctor versus the physical power of the green transforming monster. There are plenty of angles to work this from.
Now that the team has been put together (and, in the end, separated back out), the fun stuff can begin. The device used to put the team together and keep them together is not completely original, but it will serve nicely.
The one weakness I spot in this so far is Erik Larsen's art. While the storytelling and the character construction are uniquely his, there are some very weak moments. Some faces look hastily drawn in. Doctor Strange's face, for one, never looks right to me. Namor's face sometimes looks uncomfortable. The Surfer and the Hulk fare a little better, but there are still some tricky moments for them. I don't know exactly what to blame this one. It might be Klaus Janson's heavy inking hand. It might be the rush to finish this double-sized issue at the same time as SAVAGE DRAGON and layouts on the FANTASTIC FOUR mini-series. It might be something else. Hopefully, it will sort itself out in the coming months.
For now, I'll give this book a qualified recommendation. After the second and third issues, I'll have a better idea which direction this book is going to be headed in. Let's talk again then about it.
ONE PARAGRAPH REVIEWS
THE SENTRY/X-MEN #1 takes a look into the psyche of Angel, both modern-day and original versions. Paul Jenkins does a marvelous psychoanalysis of flying as a power, and Warren Worthington as a character. Mark Texeira and Jose Villarrubia paint the issue, and it comes out looking generally good. There are a few panels that look like large color splotches, but for every one of those there are two or three darn-near photo realistic panels. This issue stands alone pretty well, so if you're just an X-Men fan who hasn't been reading THE SENTRY, you could jump in and out of this one without a major problem. It's an interesting issue.
THE UNCANNY X-MEN ANNUAL 2000 is plotted by Scott Lobdell, scripted by Fiona Avery, and drawn by Essad Ribic and Jimmy Palmiotti. It's a nicely drawn story, that's for sure. The story itself is a bit thin, though. You'll get the feeling while reading through this that you're just going through the paces. If you haven't already read a million of this type of story where Professor Xavier helps a troubled young mutant, then you might enjoy this. It's structured fairly well. It just rings a little hollow to me in the end, though. It's plot-by-numbers X-men. Avery's script also suffers from a few minor grammatical/spelling errors that annoyed me. She, too, has fallen victim to the incorrect phrase, "I could care less." Potentially worse, she uses as a caption, "Twenty shopping days till Christmas." Go ahead – look up "till" in a dictionary. She wants to use 'til there. And she does it for a number of caption boxes along the way. ::sigh::
(Update: After consultation with a couple of other dictionaries, including the indispensible YourDictionary.com, it turns out that "till" can indeed be used to mean "until" or "to." I still stick with using the word 'til, though. Must be some grammar lesson from grade school that always stuck with me. My sincerest apologies to Fiona Avery. I'm standing by the continued mutation into meaninglessness of "couldn't care less," though...)
WILDCATS #19 wraps up the "Serial Boxes" story arc from Joe Casey and Sean Phillips. I'll say it again – this series is worth reading for anyone interested in a new take on super-hero comics. Just to help you out, the first six issues of this collaboration have been collected in a trade paperback that hits the stands this week. How's that for timing? This story arc has been the most gripping WILDCATS material published yet so far, barring certain parts of Alan Moore's run. The ending here is wonderfully subtle and subdued. It's not the super-powered slugfest you might have been expecting to happen, as so often does in these books. I imagine the trade collection of this series will hit stands later this year.
HELLBLAZER #157 is a clever story, set in a bar. Isn't that odd for this series? An issue set in a bar. Brian Azzarello writes it and Steve Dillon fills in for an issue with art. It's a complete-in-one-issue tale and a rather clever talky little one, at that. While Constantine has a conversation at the bar, three friends have a conversation/argument at a table off to the side about their dead friend who seems to still be alive. Maybe. Check this one out to see how Azzarello pulls it all together. It's worth a shot. No heavy continuity references or powers are displayed.
MORE LOOKS BACK AT 2000
Most Disappointing Mini-Series: Tony Daniel grabs this one with F5, a premise that held much promise, but didn't pay off. It could have been the G.I. JOE of its generation. It could have replaced DANGER GIRL. Instead, it turned into a mish mash of ideas and rough character sketches that was impossible to follow. The action bits weren't nearly as well staged or choreographed as J. Scott Campbell's, either. The first issue introduced more than ten characters and begged us to remember them for two months before the next issue came out. Hell, I couldn't remember them by the end of the first issue!
Greg Horn's J.U.D.G.E. also fits squarely in this category. In a year when the computer promised to add new dimension to comics (well, it worked for Scott McCloud and Brian Bolland), Horn took the bull by the horns and produced this laughably bad concept, and didn't execute it too much better, either. Dan Fraga's GEAR STATION was, ultimately, a disappointment, as well. But it didn't assault my eyes or insult my mind nearly as much.
(In the end, the computer race was won by a dark horse candidate over the summer, as THE RED STAR garnered both commercial and critical acclaim, and with good reason. More on that in a future column, though.)
Marvel's MAXIMUM SECURITY was disappointing. It started off so strong, but fell apart in the end, awash in a sea of crossovers and a plot that suffered great for it. But, then, it was a company-wide crossover. What else was I expecting?
What would win for Favorite Mini-Series? Most likely, I'd give it to SUPERMAN/GEN13. Besides being an awful lot of fun spread across three issues, it also proved to be artist extraordinaire Lee Bermejo's big break. Now the whole world sings his praises and awaits his next book.
Close runner-up would be DOOM, from Chuck Dixon and Leonardo Manco. It's as beautiful a book as you'd expect Manco to draw, but Dixon writes up a character-based storm across the three issues. Every page just drips Doom. His sheer will and powerful self-confidence is apparent in every page of every scene.
Maxie Zeus is not an original creation of the animated Batman series, as you may have read from my column last Thursday. He comes from the Batman comics of about twenty years ago. He's still slightly silly, though. ;-)