WHAT'S OUT THIS WEEK?
G.I. JOE: FRONTLINE debuts this week, with a story by JOE alumnus, Larry Hama, and art by the classic art team of Dan Jurgens and Bob Layton. The mini-series tells the tale of the last G.I. JOE mission in 1995 before the operation was shut down officially. As you might know if you've read the monthly series at all, things didn't go too well then. Hama, Jurgens, et. al. are here to show us now what happened.
The good news is that while there are plot points that regular readers might gravitate towards, a new G.I. JOE reader would have no problem in making this his or her first comic from Devil's Due. While there's no heavy character introduction here, Hama includes some fairly clunky chunks of exposition to establish plot and setting. Judging by some of the dialogue, it seems the stories are picking up where the original Marvel series might have left off. (I couldn't tell you. I haven't read those in years.) I don't feel lost because of it, though. I just feel like Hama had to work a little harder to incorporate all that plot into this story.
Jurgens art looks as good as usual. Layton's inks really smooth it out, and Jurgens looks to have adopted these characters fairly easily. Nobody looks off-model, and all the tech holds up to my inspection. (Admittedly, I'm far from a JOE expert these days. I don't think I have been since I played with all the toys 15 years ago.) The storytelling is as good as it needs to be. By this, I mean that much of the first half of the issue is talking heads. It's a test of any artist to keep those pages interesting. Jurgens leaves enough room for the word balloons, draws faces that fit in with the emotional states of the characters at the moment, and doesn't do anything fancy to distract the reader. When the action hits in the second half, though, Jurgens' patented panel compositions show through with some nicely staged characters and dramatic images. You can follow the fight, be impressed with the visuals, and never fall out of the story.
I don't know that this would make for an exciting comic book for those who've never been G.I. JOE fans, but for those who were or are now, it should work out OK.
Some quicker thoughts about other releases for this week:
As much as I don't care for Grant Morrison's THE FILTH, I have to admit to getting a chuckle out of seeing ASCII art on the cover to this week's issue.
Brian Bendis' DAREDEVIL gets kiddified this week with more rotten mixed-case lettering. And it used to read so easily, too… I wonder if ALIAS will fall next.
ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN is as good as superhero comics get. Issue #28 is out this week, and once again Bendis and Mark Bagley don't waste a page. There's a great hook at the beginning, a series of complications throughout the issue that rip right to the characters, and a great cliffhanger ending that makes you want to break into Bendis' computer to steal the next issue's script. Now, where's that second hardcover, Marvel?
ULTIMATE X-MEN #23 has some beautiful art from Kaare Andrews.
Marc Andreyko and Trevor Scott's BLACK SUN hits its second issue this week. Maggie, the protagonist, might just be one of the most likable lead characters in comics. She's exuberant, not afraid to say what she thinks, and fun to read about. Andreyko's script does slip just a bit when he resorts to one of those police movie clichés that just clunked for me. While it makes sense, I would just once like to see a cop story that doesn't include this moment in it. (Sorry; I have to be vague to preserve the spoilers.)
BONEYARD #8 is due out from NBM Press. Richard Moore's humorous horror-riffing comic is a treat for the eyes every quarter and always good for a laugh.
REVIEWS FROM WEEKS PAST
I know THE PUNISHER #16 has gotten a lot of great press for its violent conflict between Wolverine and The Punisher, but I didn't like it. The thing that makes Garth Ennis' THE PUNISHER a great book is its dark sense of humor. I didn't see so much of that in this issue, and it seemed like Wolverine was stealing the book. He's got enough of the spotlight across a dozen other comics every month. I want the Punisher's dry sense of humor. Darick Robertson's self-inked art looks OK, but the coloring (by Avalon's Matt Milla) muddied it up just a bit.
I picked up KILLRAVEN #1. It's Alan Davis' art. I can't pass that up. I have no inherent love for the character, though, and think he looks a mite bit silly. He's a gladiator in a post-apocalyptic world wearing a pair of short shorts and knee high boots. I'm sure it goes over real well in The Village in NYC, but it doesn't work for me.
But it's the art that pulls me in. Picture Davis' short X-MEN run or his EXCALIBUR run, in particular. Beautiful stuff, whether the characters are in costume or not. His placement of shadows and attention to texture and wrinkles in clothes and skin are second to none. His smooth line (when inked by Mark Farmer) stood out, particular at a time when most of the artists of the day were heading in the other direction of crosshatching and little jagged lines.
All of that continues here, but some of the excitement is missing, as it's based on a world and characters that I just don't have any enthusiasm for. I'll just settle back and wait for the trade paperback on this one, and pick up Davis' art in the AVENGERS crossover in January.
I wanted to give FATE OF THE BLADE #1 a negative review, but for some reason I want to know more of this story. On the surface, there's not much of interest here. It's a mature readers book in which a Hollywood producer custom orders up a women to be genetically bred to fulfill his definition of the perfect woman. (And a chorus of Friends of Lulu members can be heard screaming…) There's also drug dealing and Hollywood power plays. The attitudes displayed in the issue are unrepentant and unchallenged. The art is generally weak. It reminds me of a poor man's Leinil Francis Yu with some added lines from the early days of Extreme Studios. The coloring is dark and murky, using earth tones and keeping the reader distant from every panel of art. Nothing pops out at you. Aside from one or two beautifully-rendered splash pages, I'm afraid the art is more distracting than anything. The story by Chris Sarracini offers a little glimmer of hope near the end, as the lead character displays some doubts and becomes slightly more interesting.
I'm afraid it's a bit of a toss-up at this point. If the second issue arrives during a slow week, I might be inclined to give it a second chance.
I'm not entirely sure what to make of RIPLEY'S BELIEVE IT OR NOT! #2. I can tell you this: It's a four part series from Dark Horse, written by Haden Blackman with art from Cary Nord. It's black and white (with very minimal gray tones added on a couple of pages), runs 24 pages, and costs $2.95. It's half entertainment and half education, but in failing to choose which one it wants most to be, it fails as a whole.
Nord's illustrations are gorgeous, as always. He doesn't need color to make his layouts clear, and his sense of darkness and light is his strength.
But Blackman's story, titled "Dead Men's Tales" comes off like a flat Twilight Zone episode. Harry Houdini, Blackbeard, and Rasputin, The Mad Monk meet up with Mirin Dajo in an afterlife pool hall to swap death stories. There are plenty of interesting facts to be learned in this issue, such as the true cause of Houdini's death, and even why Rasputin didn't die from the early cyanide poisoning he ingested. Blackman footnotes the word balloons, with a few pages of text at the end to explain several of the points brought up. The problem is that a lot of the material is good enough to be presented in the story, and some of the collapsing of history is curious. In one funeral scene, three eulogies are collapsed into one eulogy, spanning two short word balloons. If they were that quotable, let's learn about the three individually, or give us one that has the most interest.
I know this is all done in the interests of space. If you need more space to tell the story, however, either take more space or don't tell the story.
In the end, there are some points of interest in the comic. It has nice art. But I want more.
Special thanks to John the Librarian at Dewey's Comic City in Madison, NJ for the First Look support on the column again this week.
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