“Now I wonder what that hearse is doing sitting quietly there in my warehouse. Should I repair it for another ride so it is ready when it is needed? Does it need attention? Is that why I have it? Of course it is. If there is ever a situation where the hearse is required again, I want it to be ready. There is an old bumper sticker Taylor left on it, where these immortal words are written: SHIT HAPPENS.” (Neil Young, from Special Deluxe)
Thanks to the votes of the CSBG readers, I bought three comics that I wouldn’t have gotten this week otherwise: Tooth & Claw #1, Gotham Academy #2, and Birthright #2. I also got Futures End #27 and Miracleman #13, but I won’t be writing about them here. I’ll write about Futures End #27 a little later and... well, I already wrote about them to a degree on my other site.
One of the things I’ve always enjoyed is just randomly picking up some comics based on what looks interesting from what’s available. It’s how I bought comics as a kid. Go to the supermarket or convenience store and pick something out from the rack. Sometimes, it would be the latest issue of a series I’ve read a lot; sometimes, it would be the only issue of a title that I would ever read. Just dive in and see what’s what. That’s what this week was about to a degree. Except, everyone else got to tell me what looks interesting. I haven’t done anything like this, really, since I quit my reviewing gig with CBR where I’d try to read new things as much as I could afford to. When I first moved to Windsor and still had a pull list with my shop at home, I’d visit the stores here and just try new things, just to buy some new comics. Usually, smaller weeks balance out bigger weeks and I can’t spare the extra money, but a week with only two comics is a rare exception to the rule.
Tooth & Claw #1 by Kurt Busiek, Benjamin Dewey, Jordie Bellaire, John Roshell, and Jimmy Betancourt won the vote by a decent margin. It’s also the comic that, had I not done this exercise, I would have possibly given a shot on my own. Or maybe not. Hard to say. Actually, without Futures End, there’s a good chance I would have taken the week off and waited until next week (which is only a four comic week; two small ones in a row before what looks like an 11 comic week). But, that’s neither here nor there. What’s here is Tooth & Claw #1, a lovely comic that I have some mixed feelings about. I like its confidence. There’s a strong voice here, a real sense that everyone is working in the same direction, and that Busiek in particular really has the characters and world down. A lot of the small bits of dialogue referencing spells, gods, names, jobs, etc. could have come off as cute or forced, cheap tools to show off how this is a different world in the easiest/laziest way possible. Here, it feels natural. This is how the people talk, because that’s how they talk, y’know? It’s a weird, fine line, but Busiek walks it.
The line art, the colour art, and the lettering are all a joy to look at. The pages are gorgeous. One of the things that put me off to the comic when it was announced was the animal people. I’m not an animal fan. I’m actually fairly adverse to animals most of the time with a few exceptions. Stories about animals tend to bore me on a molecular level. I find We3 clever and visually interesting, but it leaves me cold emotionally. So, a fantasy book about animal people wasn’t too high on my list of things to read. But, the writing and the visuals make that seem like a small part of the makeup of the comic. I’m sure there will come a time when it seems integral somehow. For now, though, it didn’t pose a problem as it often does for me. The way the characters are drawn seems to play a big role in my reaction. While clearly rooted in the way that these animals move in our world, there’s such personality to their body language... When I see Sandorst, I don’t see “Owl Man,” I see his arrogance and bluster and self-delusion...
The big flaw of the issue is that, while I admire the skill and technique of what I read and saw, it still didn’t connect on a level beyond that. There are hints towards the end that it could be a book that I will connect with as it goes along. There’s some real potential in those final pages. But, everything up to that point left me fairly cold. If it weren’t for those final pages, I’m not sure if I’d want to get another issue. It’s such a beautiful-looking comic that I probably would have. I’m definitely getting issue two now, if only to see if some of that potential I glimpse is realised, even in a small way.
CSBG Readers: 1 for 1
Gotham Academy #2 by Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher, Karl Kerschl, Geyser, Dave McKaig, John Rauch, and Steve Wands is a disappointment. One of the best surprises of Wednesday Comics was the Flash by Kerschl and Fletcher, so, while their working together on this series (with co-writer Becky Cloonan) totally bypassed me before, seeing their names on the cover of this issue had me a little excited. This issue didn’t live up to their previous work. I found this comic to be a bit all over the place. I followed along the surface well enough, but a lot of the nuance was lost. That’s to be expected, to a degree, when picking up a random issue, but, I guess the question is: how much is the acceptable amount?
I’ve considered that question for a while since reading this issue. The answer seems to be: the amount where the lack of understanding makes you want to know more. That wasn’t the case here. Any lack of understanding made my eyes gloss over and I had to strain to avoid skimming the dialogue. Instead of wondering what I was missing about Olive’s summer that changed everyone’s view of her, I just sort of shrugged and pressed on. That I had that reaction isn’t really the point: why did I have that reaction? What is this comic lacking?
Almost every school-based comic that I have enjoyed reading was about a cast of characters; this series, based on this issue, seems to just be about Olive with everything revolving around her. It’s not unusual for school-based series to have one or two characters that draw more focus, but they don’t tend to be so focused unless it’s a new status quo for an existing series (like Robin goes away to boarding school or something). What’s lacking is an interest in Olive as a character. She shuffles through the issue in a manner that seems both appropriate and is offputting. Given the hints, of course she would be aloof and distant, somewhat confused even to herself, about what she wants and how to deal with the way that everyone else sees her now. But... is that interesting or engaging? For me, it’s not. It might have connected when I was younger; not now.
Visually, Kerschl’s line work is solid. I really don’t like the colouring. This animated look always turns me off. The overuse of neon and a generally washed out look always produces a weird mix of annoying brightness and dullness. But, again, it’s appropriate for the line art. Much like Tooth & Claw, everything from the writing through to the lettering seems to be moving in the same direction. I guess it comes down to: it’s not my thing. And that’s okay. It’s a weird recognition that this could be a quality comic, but I’ll never know because of personal taste. The only way that they could win me over would be to make a different comic and why would they want to do that? They’re making the comic that they want to and you can’t please everyone. Nor should you want to.
CSBG Readers: 1 for 2
Birthright #2 by Joshua Williamson, Andrei Bressan, Adriano Lucas, and Pat Brosseau fits the theme of the week: a comic that knows what it is and either you’re in or you’re out. It does a better job than Gotham Academy #2 at getting the basic premise/point of the comic across, while furthering the story. While we haven’t seen the champion in Tooth & Claw yet, the hints that he isn’t what everyone thinks is part of what appeals to me. That the champion in this comic, Mikey, is, on the surface, very much like so many others is what turns me off.
I enjoyed the tension of “Adult fantasy warrior claims to be the young boy that disappeared only a few years ago,” but it didn’t really get a chance to play out before the comic moved onto the next thing. The mix of extensive flashbacks work against the comic to a degree. Given that Mikey’s journey from boy to chosen one warrior is similar to so many other stories (maybe it’s not, but nothing here seemed to differ from all of those other chosen one is trained to save the world stories I’ve encountered), cutting down on the flashbacks to that journey would be beneficial. The meat of the story is in the present and judicious use of flashbacks, showing snippets here and there that punctuate what’s happening now would be better. Instead, the clichés are embraced and the flashbacks are overused.
There is one panel that really grabbed me and almost makes me want to read more of this series: the bit where adult Mikey is spoken to by a bloody phantom or whatever you’d call it. Is it real? Is it in his head? Fuck, man, I want more of that!
Bressan’s art reminds me a bit of Cary Nord. I always dug Nord’s work and Bressan’s hard that similar mix of darkness and bold lines with blocky figures. It’s a bit hit or miss with some panels filled with detail while other are lacking. I like it when the art maintains some elements of roughness. The overly laboured panels sometimes wind up looking too staged, too posed, too fixed in place. When Bressan keeps things looser, the effect isn’t as immediately gorgeous, but the energy comes through. Always strive for energy... at least, that’s what I say.
Maybe Birthright will be something different. All I could see are clichés and plots I’ve seen before with very little new.
CSBG Readers: 1 for 3
That only one of the three comics made me want to read another issue doesn’t bother me. It’s good to try things and have them not work out. When you’re in the middle of your pull list, you can get a little dulled. You fall into a groove of simply accepting everything you’re given, because you already like it. There’s the odd book you drop, sure, but it’s mostly a little bubble of things you like without a thought to what exists outside of those parameters – and what else is out there that could exist within those parameters, but you haven’t given a shot yet. We’ll have to do this again sometime.