Friday, November 17, 2006

Favorite Panel Friday goes for two

The Escapists #5 is ... well, it's a toughie. To be honest, I've been putting off bringing up this mini-series, even though it's been on the FPF short-list almost every week it's come out. But it can no longer be denied, so feast your eyes on the first-ever two-panel FPF Panelpalooza! Grab your ass with both hands, kids - this is history!

Urm. Yeah, so two wildly different art styles are used to tell two very different - but parallel - stories in this six-parter. One of those stories takes place as a superhero comic, the other as the story of the people creating that comic. Both of them, strangely enough, feature people in costume.

It's all very meta. It's also, at heart, a love letter. Michael Chabon's Pulitzer-winning novel "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay" has managed to spin off a series of comic anthologies by various contributors, but The Escapists is the one that lays out the comic-love in all it's geeky glory.

Brian K. Vaughn (man, that dude really IS everywhere!) nicely balances glimpses of the latest story of The Escapist with the mostly mundane story of the three friends producing that story, which is where Vaughn's pitter-pat beats loudest. The superhero story is fun, but it's the everyday lives playing out in Cleveland that you end up caring about most. What the hell was Max thinking? Was that the last straw for Case? Is Denny going to be OK? Are they going to be able to get the next issue out?!?

In a neat twist - who knows if it was on purpose or not - the more sketchily realistic art by Jason Shawn Alexander is used to tell the superhero story while Steve Rolston's rounded-edge, cartoony style depicts the story playing out in the real world. In the comic. I'm not trying to be confusing. Honest.

But look at Alexander's depiction of The Saboteur - man, he just oozes evil! And look at the detail in Case's room; that one panel by Rolston tells you a ton about the character with simple attention to background. Both artists' work sets just the right tone for their respective stories, and dovetail into each seamlessly until they reflect and amplify each other in a way that adds depth to both. It's a pretty slick trick, and one that could easily fall apart if you weren't careful.

But, with one issue left to go, it seems pretty clear that Vaughn, Rolston and Alexander are keeping a protective arm around The Escapists. When you love something, after all, it's only natural.

The Escapists #5: Brian K. Vaughn, writer; Steve Rolston, artist; Jason Shawn Alexander, artist

Friday, November 10, 2006

Damn you, Favorite Panel Friday!

Looking at this panel, you know things aren't going to turn out well for somebody. But take a closer look at it, and you'll see the energy and details that make The Damned such a great fusion of spookhouse horror and gritty crime noir.

Besides the obvious menace of one big, friggin' demon, the Prohibition-era atmosphere is thick in this shot from The Damned #2. Look at the way our little anti-hero Eddie is already reaching for his gun. Look at the crates and warehouses and scattering sea gulls that remind the reader they're at the docks, and that THE DOCKS ARE NOT A GOOD PLACE TO BE.

The Damned is laced with an undercurrent of menace, whether it's a scene involving mobsters from hell or a rough kiss delivered with one arm twisted behind your back, and it all makes for a hell of a fun read. I've also been a fan of Brian Hurtt for a while now, so it's nice to see him making a reappearance so soon after Hard Time got the unwarranted ax (check out his excellent work on Queen & Country, too). Hopefully, this collaboration with author Cullen Bunn will just be the first of several mini-series for The Damned.

The Damned #2: Cullen Bunn, script/story; Brian Hurtt, art/story

Friday, November 3, 2006

Favorite Panel Friday: A well-oiled machine

When Ex Machina first came out a couple of years ago, I'd tell anyone who'd listen (and anyone I could pin to the ground and force to listen) that it was one of the best comics out there. I even said more than once that it was the best new comic of that year.

Two years later, and it's still pretty damn good.

Explaining Ex Machina is a little tricky, but basically it's this: In a world without superheroes, a civil engineer with socialist leanings gains the ability to communicate with machines after a mysterious device he's investigating blows up in his face. With the help of a couple of friends and some gadgets of his own invention, Mitchell Hundred becomes the Great Machine, a superhero who manages to keep the second tower of the World Trade Center from being hit on Sept. 11. Shortly after, Hundred goes public, gives up his role as the Great Machine and is elected mayor of New York City.

Whew! Believe it or not, that's just the back story. Ex Machina tells the story of Mayor Hundred, and while the story lines refer or are impacted by the Great Machine's past exploits, the series is as much a political drama as it is a heroic thriller, if not more. You'd think this would be dull as dirt, but often the ins and outs of the mayor's office is what keeps everything chugging along.

And poor Mitch - he's been through a lot, and it's starting to show. Brian K. Vaughn is everywhere, but this is his tightest work - if I had to guess, I'd say this title is his baby. And artist Tony Harris has thankfully been with it since the beginning, giving Ex Machina a distinct feel and a life of it's own. Sure, the people tend to look suspiciously alike sometimes (especially the women), but not to the point of the aggravating Dillon or Quitely. You can almost start to believe these people exist out there, tromping around New York and trying to get about the business of living their lives.

Who hasn't felt that weariness, the kind that makes you close your eyes and push your hair back, wishing for just a quiet second of peace? That single panel says a lot - about the character, about the situation and about the creators' understanding of their readers.

It may not be the best comic of the year, but it's still pretty damn good.

Ex Machina #24: Writer, Brian K. Vaughn; Artist, Tony Harris