Looks like my review of Marvel's X-MEN VISIONARIES: JIM LEE last Friday couldn't have been better timed. This week sees the release of BATMAN #608 and the first installment of the 12 part storyline written by Jeph Loeb and drawn by Jim Lee and Scott Williams. It's a gorgeous book that brought back much of the same excitement for me as Lee's art did on the X-Men more than a decade ago.
For starters, you have a new interpretation of a grotesque villain by Lee in Killer Croc. I can remember when half the fun of a new issue of Todd McFarlane's SPIDER-MAN or Lee's X-MEN would be in seeing how that particular artist would draw a different character, usually the villain of the month. It seemed like David Michelinie kept throwing as many different villains as possible into his AMAZING SPIDER-MAN scripts just to give McFarlane's art a new chance to shine with its flapping capes and tall collars and flowing hair. Jim Lee had a similar thing going with his interpretations of Magneto, the Shi'ar, and Kazar and the Savage Land. This month in BATMAN, Lee introduces us to his Killer Croc (now a more fully mutated animal), Batman, Catwoman, and one other major Batman villain who is saved for a surprise at the end.
Lee's art is also different from so much of the rest of the art out there. It's not as heavily manga-influenced as a lot of DC art is these days. And in the aftermath of all the Jim Lee type clones, his own art has mutated to give the kids something new to try to copy. (Are you listening, Roger Cruz? Fabian Laguna?) This time, it's helped by ace inker Scott Williams using a brush to do all the inking. Instead of the finely detailed line work that was the trademark of Lee's art a decade ago, you have a more solid form with heavier areas of spotted blacks, different patterns, and new textures used on the buildings and the people. Yes, it still has the same ciphers of Jim Lee's older art, but it doesn't rely so much on all the sparkle and shine. If you've been following Lee's art over the years, you'll see the progression.
The storytelling is also better. It's more open, that's for sure. This is Jeph Loeb's script's influence. The narrative is wide open with large images and fewer panels per page than you might have enjoyed on X-MEN. "Decompressed storytelling" is the trend right now, moving far away from what the scripts of Chris Claremont ten years ago specialized in. It also allows Jim Lee to show us more memorable and fantastic images without getting into the way of the story.
For example, there's a chase scene through Gotham at the halfway point of this issue that's amazing. The camera angle remains high and far, giving us background details and perspective tricks that are wonderful to look at. It makes you wish Jim Lee were drawing this in the hardcover graphic album format of the Humanoids books. I'd love to see this stuff blown up a little larger.
Alex Sinclair does his part on colors, keeping the book firmly grounded in a nighttime environment, without making things too dark and muddy. You can see every detail of Lee's art throughout the book, but it never comes off too bright.
None of this is meant to minimize Jeph Loeb's story, by the way. The big draw of this book right now is Jim Lee's return to monthly art duties on a series, so that's what I'm focusing on here. Right now, there's not enough story to make any broad generalizations of Loeb's ideas. Give it a couple more issues and we'll see a little better where he's going with all this. Suffice it to say that Batman acts in character, there's a nice sense of action to the story, and the beginnings of a broad mystery are apparent. It's just like being back to DARK VICTORY or THE LAST HALLOWEEN, isn't it?
BATMAN #608 is due out this week and features the first of the new cover designs and logos. It's very much a throwback icon on the cover, and the issue comes complete with a little Batman narration just above the title page inside. I expected to read "Stan Lee Presents…" right after it.
Warren Ellis' GLOBAL FREQUENCY #1 reads like a music video. It's fast. It has quick cuts. It features a large global cast that gets called into action at a moment's notice. It's a super-hyper action/adventure Jerry Bruckheimer movie on speed. It's not your father's comic book.
"Bombhead" tells the story of one bad night in San Francisco, when a man is threatening to blow up the city without realizing it. Global Frequency is a 1000 personal global operation created by Miranda Zero to neutralize such threats, and it pops into action in the dead of night, running by the seat of its pants, and sprinting to catch up. Yet, they feel in control the entire time. Nothing relies on chance or coincidence or damn luck. It all comes together by the end.
Garry Leach is a good choice for penciller on this issue. His artwork has a certain kinetic energy to it that can both set the scene and send it flying into motion at the same time. Colorist David Baron is a big help, too, using a lot of special effects and color schemes to tell the story without ever once getting in its way.
I'm recommending it for those who enjoyed the tone of THE AUTHORITY, or who grew up on G.I. JOE and want to see the concept of a global strike force done in a modern setting.
ULTIMATE DAREDEVIL/ELEKTRA doesn't hit the streets until November, but Marvel was kind enough to provide black and white photocopies for the first issue. The series is obviously being done to tie into the upcoming Daredevil movie, complete with Elektra's redesigned costume to look more like the little leather number Jennifer Garner wears in the movie. But you won't see that in this issue, aside from the cover.
This issue is an introduction to the main characters, notably Elektra Natchios, a freshman student at Columbia University. She and her roommate immediately hit it off, and eventually pick up a third friend along the way. The first 24 pages detail life on the campus through the first half of their school year, complete with Elektra's martial arts training and first meeting with Matthew Murdock, a fellow college student. Since ULTIMATE MARVEL TEAM-UP defined Murdock as being a lawyer already, it's pretty clear this series is set in the past.
Greg Rucka does a good job in creating modern free-thinking female characters who act like college kids, complete with high-minded philosophical feminist discussion. Thankfully, the script doesn't become mired down in it past a couple of stray references that are included for the sake of setting up the scene and establishing some of Elektra's character. It'll all be important down the line, I'm sure, but Rucka doesn't weigh the story down with political free-for-alls.
Salvador Larroca pencils and Danny Miki inks the book. It's Larroca drawing just as well as he has in the past five years that he's been working with Chris Claremont. I get the feeling that he'll have a bit of a bigger audience on this book, though, but that's a good thing. He deserves it.
The mini-series lasts for issues, 2 of which are solicited for December. I'm guessing this means the inevitable trade will be out in time for the movie's debut in February. It's an entertaining first issue, with an ending that will propel you forward to the next issue.
If LIBERTY MEADOWS #28 is any indication, it must have been a major pain to be a fan of the series in its syndicated strip days. Read one strip at a time, it doesn't seem to add up to much. Storylines include repetitive gags, strips that serve no purpose other than to update you as to what happened last week with a minor bit of new art, and some outright filler. But when you read it in collected form -- such as the monthly Image comic -- it doesn't seem so bad. It's quite good. You get a couple laughs per page, some running gags, and some nice art. I guess it's all in the presentation. It's the same stuff, but in a different form. It goes from merely passable to something enjoyable.
LIBERTY MEADOWS and creator Frank Cho's artwork is meant to be seen like this. It has the advantage of being presented at least twice the size of what you would have seen in your local newspaper's comics section.
The comic also takes advantage of putting the staples at the top of the traditional comic layout. So while the cover is still designed in the straight up and down style, the pages read left to right, and allow two strips per page and four per spread. I can only imagine the nightmares retailers have, however, in getting the books to stand up straight on their racks.
The book stands on its own just fine. If you've never read the series before, you could probably jump right in with this issue and pick things up as you go along. The back cover gag of the weiner dog chasing a squirrel around a tree should be enough to sell the book to any soft-hearted soul.
THE SAVAGE DRAGON COMPANION debuts this week at long last. I reviewed it here a month or two ago. It was in its raw form, printed out in time for the convention in San Diego. This version has an actual cover to it, runs 64 pages, and costs only $2.95. It's a great companion piece for any SAVAGE DRAGON fan, and a nice introduction to the book for anyone who might be the least bit curious about what makes it so interesting. (A tip of the hat goes to the fans who tirelessly worked to put this book together for the rest of us: Gavin Higgenbotham, Mark Welser, Rob Zappelli, Mikey Crotty, Matt Talbot, Eric Evans, and Evan Long.)
TOMB RAIDER #25 also comes out this week. It is drawn by Michael Turner and is the first part of the "End Game" series of stories that will tell of Lara Croft's death. Witchblade's Sara Pezzini guest stars in the issue and the two interact like Batman and Superman. It's the tomb raider versus the by-the-books cop. You can imagine which one is which. If you're a Turner fan or you like this style of book, I'm sure you'll enjoy this one. I'm afraid it's not my thing, but I did enjoy looking as some of Turner's art. There are even a nice couple of bits of storytelling from him.
LAST MONTH'S LOOKS
I'm so far behind on reading that I'm reading stuff out of order now. Last month's PUNISHER #15 was a much better issue than this month's Wolverine-guesting story that I panned here last week. For starters, it's a simple straightforward Punisher shoot 'em up story, with a large body count and a wicked twisted sense of humor. It's more up my alley than the following issue, which seemed disjointed and gory.
Secondly, Nelson inked Darick Robertson's pencils. Nelson is a much-overlooked inker. He's great at taking an artist like Robertson and adding dimension and sculpting to the art with solid blacks and some feathering of his line. I first noticed it on the late MARVEL KNIGHTS title, and it holds true here. He takes some of the looseness away from the art, but drops in its place a seamless piece of work. I don't know why we don't hear more of him.
WAY OF THE RAT #6 came out a couple weeks ago, but I just got around to issue #5. It's a spectacular issue from Chuck Dixon's word processor. There are fights within fights leading to an even bigger fight. There's desperation and humor presented with a high level of characterization. The issue reads like a Warner Brothers cartoon, filled with an insane amount of energy, rising action, and humor. You don't get much of a chance to breathe in this issue, as everything from the past four issues leads up to the all-encompassing chaos that ensues across 22 pages.
Rod Whigham fills in for regular penciller Jeff Johnson on the issue and I just barely noticed. His art style blends right in, and it doesn't hurt to have regular colorist Chris Garcia on the job, either. It smoothes things right over.
Dixon's characterization is even stronger in this month's CRUX #18. It almost has to be, though. It's a team book. The conflict and drama in the book comes from the diverse personalities and how they interact.
Penciller Steve Epting, inker Rick Magyar, and especially colorist Frank D'Armata go all out to give a new look to some familiar settings and science fiction trappings. The takeoff of a space ship is colored in brown and rocky tones, looking almost sepia with painted hues. Epting delights in drawing the ruins of Atlantis, judging from the attention to detail he shows in this issue. He's got a couple of double-page spreads to show it all, and he does so with an amazing amount of substance. These aren't scattered lines meant to represent destruction. Epting draws every little building and every chunk of destruction that he can.
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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