THE RECENT OFFERINGS OF TWOMORROWS
TwoMorrows has been printing some pretty good stuff lately. Two magazines, in particular, are worth noting here.
The first is BACK ISSUE #23. It's touted as the "Comics Go Hollywood!" special, but don't let that scare you way. There's still a lot of comic book talk, and two articles in particular that I enjoyed. The first is "A Gander At Gladstone," a heavily-illustrated seven page article about Gladstone's first line of Disney comics back in the late 1980s to early 1990s. There was a time I was involved enough in Duck fandom that I thought I knew a lot about Gladstone and its history. Not so. Through interviews with those who were around and behind the scenes at the time -- including Don Rosa, Byron Erickson, Daan Jippes, William Van Horn, et. al. -- writer Roger Ash pieces together the creation of the line, how it came to expand with new material, and who those new artists were who took the Disney comics lineup and gave it a fresh jolt of life. The story goes right up to the point where Disney laughably took over the line, changed it up, and failed miserably inside of a few years.
Without a doubt, the first Gladstone run at Disney comics was a second life for the dormant line, doing more than just maintaining the trademarks and perpetuating some sort of tradition. A new era was born of Duck comics at that point, and it's something that's survived to this day.
The second standout article for me is "Star Trek Writers' Roundtable Part One," where Robert Greenberger -- one-time DC Trek editor and author in his own right -- rounds up the likes of Peter David, Len Wein, Martin Pasko, Howard Weinstein, et. al. for a discussion of what it's like to write for the venerable licensed property. Star Trek comics were a big part of my comics reading diet in the early 90s and the start of my now-retired letter hacking career. There's a lot of talk in there about writing for a licensor and writing comic scripts for characters that the fans already feel they know. Also, Peter David talks about his troubles at DC in the early 90s. A lot.
It filled a lot of gaps in my knowledge of my earliest favorite comics reading, for which I'll be grateful. The second part of the interview shows up in WRITE NOW #16, which should be on sale right now, also.
ROUGH STUFF #5 features amazing pencil artwork from Dale Keown. For me, Keown's biggest influence has always seemed to be heavy metal album covers from the 80s, particularly from Iron Maiden. I kept thinking "Seventh Son" in my head as I saw his most recent sketches of Hulk and the Abomination. Very horror-influenced, but also very detailed, with lots of pencil shadings to give the art a three-dimensional shape. Obviously, my opinion of his influences is hardly fair, but that's what I'm stuck with.
On the other hand, a look at the eight pages of art from Keown's pencils is enough to make a grown man cry. Even the roughest sample of his artwork from the INCREDIBLE HULK days is beautiful, if slightly more cartoony or John Byrne influenced than it is today. Keown admits in the TwoMorrows' IMAGE COMICS: THE ROAD TO INDEPENDENCE book that he could probably draw a monthly title if he had an editor to crack the whip on him. He's been working at Top Cow, but it's not enough. I want to see more Keown than just a series of covers and long-promised mini-series and one shots that take forever to materialize. This stuff is beautiful.
In the same issue, Bob McLeod presents fifteen pages of Gil Kane's work, including lots of pencil roughs and before-and-after examples of how inkers handled his work. McLeod doesn't have a lot of room to work with, given the format of the magazine, but does impart an impressive amount of information in his lean text accompanying each image. It's one thing to discuss artistic theory in a book, but it's another thing completely to so easily illustrate those theories, as this magazine does. McLeod shows this, as well, in his two page analysis of an up-and-coming artist's sample page. He shows you what works and what doesn't and then produces his own take on the page, with enough minor differences to sell the whole piece. I would read a whole magazine devoted to such constructive criticism.
ROUGH STUFF may often seem like a very quick read, but it's also an informative one that does its job well. The format is used to its advantage, which is what makes the $6.95 price point so easy to swallow.
Cully Hamner, Ashley Wood, Steve Rude, and Paul Smith also present art samples for this issue, while Rude gives the featured interview.
OVER AT MARVEL
This week sees a couple of interesting new releases.
The first is CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE CHOSEN #1. This is the new mini-series written by RAMBO scribe, David Morrell, with art by Mitch Breitweiser. It's a first issue, for sure, as you spend most of the issue not exactly sure of what the book is going to be about, but not being able to look away, at the same time. The book is set in post-9/11 Afghanistan, where we follow one soldier as he has an unbelievable event happen in his life during a fire fight. Is he a hero? Or is he delusional? I suppose that's what the rest of the series will be about. I couldn't even tell you, at this point, if this is going to be a war comic or a superhero comic. It seems like more of the former at this point, but it's early yet.
The book is an easy enough read. Though Morrell uses captions throughout most of the book, he doesn't fall prey to most of the traps that first time comic scribes often do, with over-describing things, telling instead of showing, etc. Some bits are kludges that happen in all sorts of media, not just comics. The worst offender here is the stereotypical movie soldier we get introduced to as being away at war so long that he hasn't seen his newborn child yet. This gives him a reason to fight for his life, and gives the reader a rooting interest. Heck, they used it in the TRANSFORMERS movie this summer, too. That was pretty much the only character development for that person in the movie. Curiously, this comic also goes to great pains to show that the wife and child - in the one painfully photoreferenced panel of the comic -- live in San Francisco, with the Golden Gate Bridge splattered across the background for no real reason. At least Morrell doesn't use a "San Francisco" caption in the upper left panel of the page.
The star of the book, though, is Breitweiser's beautiful art, digitally painted by Brian Reber. This is a textbook use of photo reference without making every panel of the comic look staged, stiff, and "too real." I have no doubt that Breitweiser used a lot of photographs to help make everything look read here, but he also adds enough of his own artistic skills into the mix to keep things from being groan inducing. Reber's coloring is amazing. As the book is set mostly in the deserts of Afghanistan, the color of the book is overwhelmingly brown. Reber gets a lot of mileage from that one color, and sculpts things with color and texture to add dimension, lighting, and storytelling flow.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE CHOSEN will likely be a throwaway mini-series when all is said and done. It's not going to link into the current "Cap Is Dead" storyline of the main title, but it might provide for some interesting metatextual commentary on the character. The first issue doesn't give us enough concrete information to judge where the book is going to go, but perhaps that's a strength. Maybe not knowing everything ahead of time will be a strength. Until we do figure that out, there's plenty of eye candy here to make it worth a read.
This week also gives us SHE-HULK #21, the last issue of Dan Slott's memorable run on the jade giantess. The changes in artists lost me about a year back, but I've still collected the book with the intention of someday getting back to reading it. I read this issue cold, not knowing exactly where everything stood. Thankfully, I wasn't too lost and caught up pretty quickly along the way. Slott's writing still steals the book, with enough witty references to Marvel Comics and its oft-forgotten minor characters to please any long-term hardcore Marvel fan. I'm glad to see I'm not the only one to remember Captain Ultra, Scott Lobdell's favorite character back in the MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS days.
I laughed out loud at several points in the book, most especially at the Peter David reference near the end used to help tie up Slott's run. It's too bad the book never saw the circulation statistics it deserves, but I'm happy to dig into my long boxes and pull out those inbetween issues I missed. No matter what happened with the art, Slott didn't miss a step. Someday, it'll be a huge draw in the quarter bins. Do pick it up, if you see it there. It's worth a read.
Next week: Still reading PATRIOT ACTS. I have some e-mail I'd like to respond to. And I'm sure something else will come up.
Now, for a quick list of links to all my Web 2.0 content:The Various and Sundry blog is my personal home site. This last week: Why I'm switching away from Word, why NBC is committing hari kari with iTunes, a web site battle, a new Wii soccer game that's pretty cool, and much more.
More than 700 columns -- maybe even 800 -- are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.