Friday, July 31, 2009

Adventures in Sound — Part 4

Panel from Tales to Astonish #79
(Reprinted in Hulk vs. Hercules #1)

Letterer: Artie Simek

Review: Wednesday Comics, week 4

It's been a month since DC's latest experiment in weekly comics launched, and four weeks seems like a fair enough amount of time to see how things are shaping up in the pages of Wednesday Comics. There are 15 strips in all, so let's look at them in the order that they're printed.


The story writer Brian Azzarello and artist Eduardo Risso are putting together is basically like reading the creative team's 100 Bullets set in Gotham — and there ain't anything wrong with that. Azzarello is bringing all the best noir qualities of the Dark Knight Detective front and center, giving readers a nice little mystery with the grit of a Hammett novel. You just know that dame is up to no good and so does Batman, and I'm enjoying watching him use his Bruce Wayne persona like a chessmaster. Risso's art is bold and clean, and his use of shadow is a beautiful thing — I honestly think this is some of his best work.

Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth: There isn't much that can be said about Kamandi that doesn't sound like hyperbole, so let's just get it out there. The strip by Dave Gibbons and Ryan Sook is simply gorgeous, and is the strip that most personifies the heart of the old school Sunday funnies. Obviously taking inspiration from Prince Valiant, Kamandi is lushly rendered by Sook and written by Gibbons in a voice that just sounds right. It doesn't hurt that the story kicked into action early and hasn't let up since. It's a thrilling read, with art that deserves the longing gaze it evokes.

I really, really wanted to like this story by John Arcudi. I mean, I like the guy's work, especially what he's done with B.P.R.D. But I just can't get into this strip. I understand that it seems to be an examination of Superman and his wrestling with an identity crisis, his feelings of being an alien in every sense of the word weighing down on him. But when you essentially have 12 pages in which to tell your story, the amount of decompression we've gotten so far is a little ridiculous. I don't mind a thoughtful, cerebral take on the Man of Tomorrow, but in this case tomorrow never comes because nothing ever happens. Superman makes sad faces, and that's pretty much it. Granted, it all looks very pretty thanks to artist Lee Bermejo, but the art can't do all the heavy lifting alone. It's also a bit grating that this is the strip getting a national audience thanks to USA TODAY, because so far I don't think this is going to do much to get potential new readers interested in comics. And what was with that characterization of Batman a couple of weeks ago, anyway? Eesh.

Deadman: I was on the fence about this feature, but it's gotten over the hump of trying to explain who Boston Brand is and what his — admittedly arcane — deal is. Starting out in an alleyway crime scene and currently in what looks like a particularly aggressive level of hell, writers Dave Bullock and Vinton Heuck are giving readers a story that is progressing nicely and raises the stakes with each chapter. I don't know what's going on, but I'm looking forward to finding out. The art by Bullock also fits the story well, with echoes of Jack Kirby, Mike Mignola and even Darwyn Cooke's work on The New Frontier coming together in a style that manages not to ape any of them. Bullock has also used the oversized pages to present some interesting page layouts, another element that helps make Deadman one of the sleeper strips in this anthology.

Green Lantern: Let me say something from the beginning; I'm a fan of writer Kurt Busiek. His Astro City series should be considered required reading, and his "Up, Up and Away!" story arc in the Superman titles a few years back went a long way toward getting me back into the character. But so far, very little has actually happened in this strip, and even less of it has involved the title character. The cartoony, yet detailed, art by Joe Quiñones should be a perfect fit for a retro-modern Green Lantern comic — it's a shame Green Lantern has been noticeably absent. And the latest chapter looks as if it's setting readers up for a flashback, which will probably take up at least another one or two installments. C'mon — there's decompression and then there's de. com. pression.

Teen Titans

The creative team of Neil Gaiman and Mike Allred has thankfully moved on to multiple panels instead of what were basically wonderfully drawn splash pages with almost no text. Again, when you only have 12 pages to tell your story it seems silly to squander your storytelling opportunities. Speaking of Allred's art, though, it is a good fit for Metamorpho, using the artist's talent for mixing panels of monstrous men and women in cheesecake poses. Gaiman also seems to be having fun with his story, and I'm surprised by how little this "sounds" like Neil Gaiman (if that makes sense). I do have one problem, though; why is Sapphire Stagg such an air-headed bimbo?

Teen Titans: This is one of my least favorite strips in the Wednesday Comics lineup. It's not necessarily a bad story, it just hasn't hooked me in any real way and I get the sneaking suspicion that it's not meant for me. Which is fine, honestly, and maybe younger readers or fans of the cartoons will dig it. But for my part the story by Eddie Berganza seems drawn out, and I'm not a fan of bad-guy Trident acting as narrator for the story (mostly because the dialogue is clunky and distracting). The art by Sean Galloway keeps things simple with strong, clean lines and a look that's a now-familiar mash-up of manga and WB cartoons, but the pseudo-sepia tone laid over the whole thing weakens the impact.

Strange Adventures: I've been going on and on about this feature on Facebook, but I'll say it again and again — this is my favorite story in the whole anthology. It's fair to say I'm in the tank for writer and artist Paul Pope, and Strange Adventures just solidifies that even more. Pope obviously took inspiration from Flash Gordon and similar strips and just ran with it, creating something that is crazy, exciting and pure fun. I've heard complaints from people who don't like Pope's art, but I'm a fan of his kinetic, sketchy style and no one can draw baboon barbarians quite like him. The story itself is well-paced and hints at larger worlds without getting bogged down in them. I would love to see Pope's Strange Adventures become a regular ongoing title.

Supergirl: This strip by writer Jimmy Palmiotti and artist Amanda Conner is cute, fast-paced and — I can't believe I'm saying this — a rollicking little story. The first couple of installments felt slow and almost too cute, but the story of Supergirl and the mischievous super-pets is steadily upping the silly fun. The way Kara is characterized — she's a smart, smart-alecky teen who's flustered by the mayhem — is growing on me, and I can see this being something that would especially appeal to new and younger readers.

Metal Men: I don't think writer (and DC head honcho) Dan DiDio ever met a corny joke he didn't like. Somehow, it works (though geez, there are some groaners) and his contribution to the lineup has been a pretty classic take on the Metal Men. The dialogue is sometimes clunky and transitions in the plot aren't always smooth, but it's easy to tell DiDio is having fun and it comes through on the page. Art by one of my favorite artists — Jose Luís Garcia-Lopez, with Kevin Nowlan — certainly doesn't hurt, and I find myself poring over details in the background and the fantastic facial expressions in just about every scene.


Wonder Woman:
This is another strip I really, really want to like, but the crowded page, murky art and repetitive plot hook makes this a chore to read. The art by Ben Caldwell (who does double-duty as the writer) looks as if it would be beautiful if it was given room to breathe, but several tiny panels — 55 in issue #4 alone — are mashed together and paired with a catch-me-if-you-can approach to layout, ending up with a strip that's a nearly incomprehensible mess. Also, the Little Nemo-esque idea of Diana getting into adventures in her dreams was a neat concept the first time, but having it happen every time is undermining the momentum of her quest. Throw in a bizarre reference to La Dia de los Muertos and you've got a story that serves mostly to confuse.

Sgt. Rock and Easy Co.: I love Sgt. Rock and I'm a huge fan of artist and Rock co-originator Joe Kubert. With seamless writing from son (and comic creator in his own right) Adam Kubert, there's probably nothing negative I can say about this one. OK, maybe the story could move along a little faster. Otherwise, this is classic Sgt. Rock and if you like war stories, you'll like this. Let's move on.

Flash Comics: This feature earned points with me early on by splitting its story into two comics strips, The Flash and Iris West. The first is an entertaining superhero story told in a light Silver Age style, while the second is a clever nod to frothy soap opera comics like Mary Worth and Rex Morgan, M.D. The two strips — both written by Karl Kerschl and Brenden Fletcher, with Kerschl handling illustrating duties — are interconnected, telling the same story from different points of view, and the conceit works pretty well. The Flash provides plenty of action and the appropriate amount of scenery-chewing speeches from the bad guy while recalling the classic characterization of Barry Allen as an absent-minded professor who really enjoys being a superhero. Iris West gives readers a window into the life of ... well, Iris West ... the Flash's long-suffering better half. I like the way this story captures the tone of those soapy strips while keeping Iris an intelligent and strong female character. I just wish there was a little more distinction in Kerschl's art — which is cleanly detailed and pitch-perfect — between the two strips than just an added screen on Iris West.

The Demon and Catwoman: Walter Simonson is rightly regarded as a comic book legend thanks to the way he put his epic imagination to work on what's considered the definitive version of Thor. And the art by Brian Stelfreeze is suitably dark and Kirby-like. But honestly? I don't know what the hell is going on with this strip, and I'm just hoping it comes together before it's over.

Hawkman: Like Strange Adventures, this is a feature I love unreservedly. Written and drawn by Kyle Baker, Hawkman has a vibe that taps into the adventure comic strips of the past but with an unmistakably modern sensibility. Better yet, Baker doesn't shy from what makes Hawkman awesome — he's an alien with strap-on bird wings who fights his enemies with medieval weapons like a mace and a sword. Carter Hall, with his convoluted history and increasingly brutish personality, is a character that seems to give writers trouble. Baker, however, doesn't seem to have any trouble at all, even in a plot that involves infiltrating aliens, birdspeak and a plunging jetliner. With Baker at the helm, this is another strip that should spin out into a regular monthly title.

Phew! So what does it all mean? One of the things that jumps out at me is how — like most anthologies — Wednesday Comics is hit-or-miss, with a couple of strong features, a few stinkers and a lot of middle-of-the-road stories. Will weaker strips improve? Will others slip? Just like following a traditional Sunday comic strip, we'll have to wait and see.

What do you think of where Wednesday Comics is so far, and where do you think it'll end up? Let's hear your opinions in the comments!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Quick question: Have you been reading 'Dr. McNinja?'

If you haven't ...

... good Lord, why the hell not?!?

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Monday Fly: But first I'm going to have a look around!


Panel from The Human Fly #15
Bill Mantlo, writer; Lee Elias, artist; Ricardo Villamonte, inker

Friday, July 24, 2009

Behold ...!


This alternate cover art by Philip Tan for Batman and Robin #5 was actually released a few weeks ago, but it was just when it was re-released today as part of the San Diego Comic-Con announcements that I noticed Batman's knuckle-dusters! Aaah ... it really is the little things that can make your day, ain't it?

Oh, and just in case you're inspired by Batman's example ... well, there are always these.

Adventures in Sound — Part 3

Panel from Green Arrow #2 (of 4)
Letterer: Ben Oda

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Does Google have a booth number?

So you might've heard there's this little get-together going on in San Diego right now, and in case you haven't — well, Google's here to help.

I thought this was kind of neat, actually, and I wouldn't mind seeing a larger version of it. I have to admit, though, to being surprised that Comic-Con got the kind of Google shout-out usually reserved for dead artists and major holidays. It's a nerd miracle!

EDIT to add: Whoops! I just saw Robot 6 beat me to it!

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Monday Fly: Now ... if I can hold on ...



Panel from The Human Fly #10

Bill Mantlo, writer; Lee Elias, artist; Mike Esposito, inker

Friday, July 17, 2009

Adventures in Sound — Part 2

Panel from Madman Comics #1
Letterer: Mike Allred

I (heart) Paul Pope

I know he's not everyone's cup of tea, but I'm a big fan of Paul Pope's work and the Flash Gordon-inspired work he's doing with "Strange Adventures" makes Wednesday Comics worth picking up all on its own. The only question I have is, why isn't Pope doing a regular Adam Strange series already?

Panel from "Strange Adventures" in Wednesday Comics #2
Paul Pope, writer and artist

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Reviews: Do androids dream in the blackest night?

Sorry about the recent silence, kids (yeah, I know, "what silence?"), but things have been especially busy at the day job, my allergies are killing me and wah-wah-wah I need a big ol' towel so I'll have something to cry in. Let's talk comics!

Agents of Atlas #8: Is it me, or is this comic coming out like every two weeks or something? Granted, I'm not complaining. Writer Jeff Parker continues to just nail it with every issue, giving readers what sounds on paper like a ragtag team of misfits but in execution is a tight gang of bad-asses who manage to be happy-go-lucky about the whole "good guys pretending to be bad guys and screwing with Norman Osborn" thing.

Parker is particularly adept at telling stories that feel like done-in-ones but hold onto a thread of story continuity tying each successive issue together. Issue #8 pays off by giving the reader naturally developing team dynamics, quiet references to earlier issues, and of course, the FREAKIN' HULK. And it's nice to see the Agents going into the field without the help of their leader or the seemingly unstoppable M-11, while at the same time Jimmy Woo finally catches up to his past. Oh, and at one point everyone shares a soak in the High Council Hot Tub. It's all good stuff, especially if you've been wondering where the ol' fashioned "SMASH!" version of the Hulk has been hiding. (And can Atlas artist Carlo Pagulayan draw every instance of the Green Goliath from now on? Please?)

Blackest Night #1: I've noticed some squawking around the 'tubes about how violent and gory this first issue of the long-awaited Green Lantern crossover event is and my first reaction to that is — well, you gotta sac up.

Now look, I've complained about writer Geoff Johns' tendency to go overboard with unneccessary bloodshed. Seriously, sometimes that shit's just ridiculous. But in the case of Blackest Night, which for quite a while now has been built up to be a universe-spanning war between the embodiments of all that's best and worst about living beings, it really shouldn't come as any surprise. Plus, it's been well-known that the rise of the Black Lanterns was essentially going to be DC's foray into zombie territory, and guess what? Zombies aren't nice. And they tend to do things like rip people's hearts out.

That said, I was pleasantly surpised by Blackest Night #1. It wasn't as good as last week's Green Lantern #43, but it put all the necessary pieces in place, hit the ground running, and even put an interesting spin on the tired zombie trope. For that matter, it puts an interesting spin on the concept of charging a power ring.

After waiting sooooo long for this story to actually get started, I appreciated that the Black Lantern appearances — while mostly unsurprising — weren't drawn out and weighted down with a lot of overbearing portentousness. It felt like it should have; the sudden and panic-inducing sense that Things Aren't Right and are only going to get worse, and fast.

Artist Ivan Reis, while lacking the sheer, chilling ickiness of Doug Mahnke, ups the creep-factor with some key scenes and brings home some fantastic character redesigns and believable staging. All in all Blackest Night is delivering on some of it's hyped-up promise with this first issue, so it's really up to Johns to make sure it doesn't slip in later chapters.

And for the record? The return of a certain beloved couple and the subsequent beat-down of another (nice mirroring, by the way) that has twisted some knickers here and there? Probably my favorite scenes in the book, precisely because it WAS icky. It's SUPPOSED to be.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? #1: I'll need to write something more in depth soon, but for now just let me say that reading this made me feel as if I was experiencing something new for the medium.

Transferring Philip K. Dick's novel word-for-word to comics works better than one might think (even if the art by Tony Parker sometimes seems to have trouble keeping up), and really is a prime example of the old saw about something being more than the sum of its parts. More than an illustrated story, Electric Sheep is an impressive alchemy of art and literature I'm not sure I've ever really seen before: what I do know is I want to see more. Highly recommended.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Monday Fly: Want to hear something funny, kids?


Panel from The Human Fly #14
Bill Mantlo, writer; Frank Robbins, artist; Steve Leialoha, inker

Friday, July 10, 2009

Adventures in Sound — Part 1

From New Gods #2
(Originally published as The New Gods #4 - 1971)

Letterer: Unknown

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Reviews: Wednesday Comics hits the tabloids

Don't you love it when some surprisingly good stuff turns up in your comics stack? Me too! Let's take a quick look at some titles that hit the stands this week.

Wednesday Comics #1: Of course, this is the title a lot of people are talking about this week. Printed on a mid-grade, non-glossy paper (think along the lines of a high-grade newsprint), this folded, tabloid anthology draws its inspiration from traditional Sunday comics. And for the most part, it works.

Looking at the cover, I was worried the art and color would be muddier than I'd hoped, but opening it up to the first feature (Batman, by writer Brian Azzarello and artist Eduardo Risso), my first thought was, "Beautiful." On the other hand, those big panels do make me concerned that full-page installments don't necessarily mean readers won't be getting a small overall panel count, and because of that less overall content. (The exception was Ben Caldwell's Wonder Woman, which was cramped and hard to read). And at $3.99 an issue, Wednesday Comics feels a bit more expensive than it should. Still, since the strips are in the spirit of the old-school Sunday funnies, I'm willing to shift gears and go along for the ride.

Favorite features: Paul Pope's Adam Strange, which struck just the right balance between zany adventure and high-concept Golden Age derring-do; and Karl Kerschl and Brenden Fletcher's Flash Comics (especially the clever romance-strip inspired secondary-feature, Iris West — loved it).

Booster Gold #22: This issue was much better than the previous one, which read like an over-extended piece of place-setting. Instead, this time we got a story from writer and artist Dan Jurgens that moves right along and continues to develop a mystery in the middle of all the action. I especially appreciated the way Booster was less mopey and characterized with more intelligence and initiative than before, and there's a brief, one-word exchange that is heartbreaking in the way it sums up the hero's desperate need for acceptance. Throw in some humor and a couple of decent fight scenes, and now I've got a comic I enjoyed and will be looking forward to picking up next month.

The Blue Beetle back-up story was, as usual, a ton of fun. It really feels as if writer Matthew Sturges has found his groove with Beetle, and the story flows naturally with characters that are familiar but not static. The art by Mike Norton is great — energetic and clean — and you can tell both he and Sturges are having fun (there's that word again). And am I the only who hears the Dalek's "Exterminate!" whenever a Unimate says, "Imperfect! Imperfect!" The Blue Beetle universe continues to expand, and it's a treat to watch it develop with every chapter.

Plus, even with all the punching, blasting and exploding going on, Brenda still manages to deliver the cruelest blow of all.

Green Lantern #43: OK, how freaking creepy is Black Hand?! Also, I was really happy to see Doug Mahnke as the regular artist on this title; his work is perfect for the dense, atmospheric tone of Geoff Johns' story, and his talent for expressive characters and detail-packed panels makes this a great-looking comic. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Johns is essentially writing a horror story, and if he can keep up the uneasy tension he achieves in this issue he'll be giving Green Lantern readers a weird, creepy comic tinged with cold menace. I was interested in this crossover before, but now I'm actually eager to see where Johns and Mahnke take it.

A recent acquisition

Of course, I blame Sims.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Monday Fly: RRROWRRR!!


Panel from The Human Fly #19

Bill Mantlo, writer; Lee Elias, artist; Ricardo Villamonte, inker

Friday, July 3, 2009

Hey, Ben Franklin!

The Independence Day festivities have already begun here at GCP HQ, but that doesn't mean we can't share a refreshing glass of Kool-Aid with our favorite Founding Father, does it?

Hot and thirsty ... for liberty!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

WTF Wednesday: Speaking of Captain America ...

... and his anticipated rise from the dead, I was also half expecting this to happen:

Panel from Ruins #1

Warren Ellis, writer; Cliff Nielsen and Terese Nielsen, artists