FIRST LOOK: FOUR WOMEN
Sam Kieth's latest book, FOUR WOMEN from Homage Comics, is like something off of the Lifetime Network. (Except that it's not predictable and rather enjoyable and non-formulaic and doesn't star Valerie Bertenelli.) It's four women of varying stations in life being put in a car together to have an unwitting adventure. While most of the issue is made up of the light banter back and forth, there's a foreboding bracketing sequence which points to something terrible that happens to them in the course of the trip. It's never fully explained and never shown. Since this is the first issue of a five issue mini-series, I think it's safe to bet that that's the plot point the series is headed towards.
The dialogue is the star of the show here. We are introduced to four lead characters and have a pretty easy time getting to know each of them, judging by their roles in the discussion. The first few pages take place a bit in the future and can be confusing (purposefully, I imagine). After reading the middle chunk of the book, though, you'll get a better idea of who everyone is and perhaps feel a little more strongly about the opening of the book. After you read the first issue, go back and read those first pages again. It'll make a little more sense to you.
Sam Kieth's art is, well, Sam Kieth's art. There's no startling change in style here, although he does remain relatively fixed to one art style throughout the issue. There are no obtrusive shifts in media in the middle. No painted pages appear without a reason for doing so, which has been one of my hang-ups with Kieth's art. He does a good job in keeping the book visually interesting, while telling a story that is just four women in a car. It's not designed to be very visual. He makes it work.
SECOND LOOK: X-TREME X-MEN
I read the first two issues of the Chris Claremont/Salvador Larroca series when they first came out a few months ago. I hated them. They did nothing for me story-wise. The coloring muddled the art. As much a worthwhile experiment as it was in comic reproduction, it was a failure. I hoped for its improvement, wished it well, and went on my way.
X-TREME X-MEN #6 is due out this week. I thought it was time to take another look at it. They've been putting this thing together for six months now. That's plenty of time to learn from their mistakes and to adjust work routines accordingly.
Surprisingly, I found the new issue to be enjoyable, in both story and art.
First of all, the coloring has been fixed. It's not a wash of blues and greens over barely defined art anymore. It looks like Larroca has taken special care to more carefully delineate his figures and their surroundings. It's still not quite the same as being inked, but the lines are easier to pick out. I also think there are fewer examples of black lines being colored in, which helps them stand out. Foregrounds and backgrounds don't look mashed together. Liquid! Coloring has varied their colors a lot more. It's not all monotones. There are plenty of bright and lush colors throughout the issue. There's a scene on the beach that uses lots of warm and earth colors. The interior apartment scene is kept brightly lit enough to show the architecture that's so important to the plot. Yet, a dungeon-type room is kept dark and menacing without losing detail. Liquid! is not afraid to change the color more wildly with each environment, which is a very good thing.
Claremont's story has all the elements that make for a classic Claremont story. There's a new Claremontian woman here, in the form of an Australian lifeguard. The characters are able to sum up their powers and their situations in short bursts of trademarked phrasing. I never lost track of anything, despite being dropped into the middle of an on-going storyline. The team is broken apart into smaller units, each having its own adventure. There's a Locked Door Mystery in the background of the issue. And, of course, there are two – Gambit and Rogue – who are locked up in a precarious situation from which they must escape.
Not to be left out, Tom Orzechowski's lettering is at the top of his game for recent months. The letterforms don't look shaky or static at all.
I'm intrigued once again by this title and will give it another couple of issues to see if it maintains this standard, or gets lost in a morass of subplots and exposition again.
THIRD THROUGH FIFTH LOOKS
ALIAS #2 puts to rest any worries I might have had after the first issue. Bendis' main storytelling strength is in writing a full story. I can't imagine having read JINX or GOLDFISH issue-by-issue, for example. Reading his issue-by-issue breakdowns of a larger story could be detrimental. It's like watching a movie one half hour at a time.
The worry after the first issue was that Jessica Jones wasn't that strong a character. Aside from a much-ballyhooed scene with Luke Cage, we didn't learn all that much about her psyche. A lot of the issue was in getting the story started and introducing the cast of characters for the story. With this second issue, the focus rests heavily on Jones' shoulders. Everything in this issue revolves around her paranoia, her uneasiness, and her ability to self-destruct. That's on every page of this issue. The story now feels much better grounded to me.
Michael Gaydos' art and Matt Hollingsworth's colors work together very well. The whole series has a gritty feel to it. Gaydos' art has a very independent feel to it. It's not something you'd expect to see in a superhero book, which is why it fits the story so nicely.
Meanwhile, Bob Gale's DAREDEVIL storyline comes to an end with that title's 25th issue. The opening courtroom scene spirals things completely out of control. I was worried as I read it that Gale had just gone off the deep end. But the genius of the maneuver is that he had everything thought out when he wrote the scene. The rest of the issue is spent explaining everything that happens at the beginning in a rather convincing fashion. It also branches the story out to a couple of different areas that it hadn't been headed before. There's one idea, for example, that I think would go far in an ASTRO CITY type setting.
Phil Winslade's art is really perfect for the story. He can draw normal people in average settings and make it look good. Other artists in the past have complained about drawing courtroom scenes. They're boring. It's just a bunch of talking heads in a still courtroom. While things don't remain still all that long here, the whole storyline that Gale wrote is made up of talking heads scenes. It's a completely cerebral tale. Winslade does a great job not just in keeping things visually interesting, but also in grounding them well and not ever taking the cheap way out. There are establishing shots. There are backgrounds drawn in panels that don't necessarily need them. Everything is grounded well in its environment. It makes the art look less dizzying and more centered.
I hope there's a trade made of this storyline soon. I'd hate for it to get lost in the midst of all the Bendis hype on the title. It deserves better than that. That being said, I am looking forward to Bendis' run on the title. I hope he does some single-issue stories, though.
DOOM PATROL #1 is out again. Heck, if Suicide Squad can come back, why not Doom Patrol? I've only ever read the first year and a half of the previous version of this title. I read those because Erik Larsen drew a batch of them, just after Steve Lightle's turn at the outset of the book. I have no particular attachment, then, to the Grant Morrison issues. (Those aren't even available in trade paperbacks, are they? Strange.) The plus side of this is that I get to come to the book relatively clean. I'm not going to wail against the changing of the guard.
I like what I see in this new version of the squad, although there is room for a couple of mines to go off if the story takes a step out the wrong way. Doom Patrol is a corporate-sponsored team this go-around, consisting of a bunch of brats who really aren't ready to go off and fight anyone aside from themselves. That's where Robotman (Cliff Steele) comes in.
This first issue doesn't really get everything primed the same way that FOUR WOMEN does. It teases you about potential conflicts and relationships and circumstances. It doesn't give you much else.
Tan Eng Huat is praised out the whazoo in Andy Helfer's text page at the end of the issue. It seems he's a new find for DC Comics. His art has the feel of a lot of the manga-oriented art that DC gravitates towards these days, but also with a dash of Chris Bachalo's style, and maybe a smidgen of Ethan Van Sciver in spots. It's fine stuff, but I don't think that it's the Second Coming that Helfer makes it out to be, nor is it all that revolutionary.
This DOOM PATROL is an interesting enough read to give it another two or three issues. We'll see if it can go from promising to exciting in that time.
Thanks to John at Dewey's Comic City in Madison, NJ for the help on this column.
Friday's column will include the first batch of questions that you've asked me over the past couple of weeks. I'm always looking for me. Feel free to write in with what you'd like to see me answer in future columns. You'll probably also get a review or two in that column.
A few big reviews are coming in the next couple of weeks.
Next year's con schedule tentatively includes Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, San Diego, Chicago, Bethesda, and New York. I'm seeing the country, one con at a time.