Posts Tagged ‘ Grant Morrison ’

Image Comics Capsule Reviews: Happy! and Multiple Warheads

It’s time for another quick catch-up on recently completed miniseries from Image Comics. I plan to cover two today, two more in a few days, and catch up on the ongoing Morning Glories soon afterwards.


cover to Happy! #1

Happy!

Happy!

After years on an exclusive contract, the hyper-inventive Grant Morrison seemed to become a little set in his ways. For this reason, Happy!, his first non-DC work in a long time, carried a lot of expectations with it. The results are inconclusive. It’s a fun, competently-told story, but there’s no hint of deeper meaning or a long-suppressed muse bursting free.

Happy! is an especially twisted take on Morrison’s obsession with reality and fantasy crossing over. It opens with tough-talking gangsters preparing for a hit, straight out a Garth Ennis comic. It even features excellent art from Darick Robertson, who excels at this sort of gritty but amusing hyper-violence. By the end of the first issue, though, it’s taken a surprising twist. The crime story is never left behind – this is a Christmas comic reminiscent of Bad Santa in the uncomfortable way it plays with redemption – but it would be more accurate to compare it to Bad Santa Meets The Smurfs.

The first issue is the best. Morrison turns out to be good at darkly humorous crime scenes, and those early scenes with no reader expectations are thrilling. Once it settles on its protagonist and main conflict, it becomes a little more by-the-numbers. This is the sort of story where a character finds a way to look at other people’s hands in Poker, but the only way the writer knows to show him winning is to give him high hands every time. On the other hand, in a flashback to the anti-hero’s backstory, Morrison shows that clichés can be effective.

Happy! is a fun, fast read, if you’re looking for something grotesque and slightly surreal. There’s no real hook to keep you interested afterwards, though. Despite the craft it was made with, it will fade as quickly as you can read it.

Grade: B-


cover to Multiple Warheads: Alphabet to Infinity #1

Multiple Warheads: Alphabet to Infinity

Multiple Warheads: Alphabet to Infinity

Brandon Graham’s Multiple Warheads has a convoluted history: Starting out as a indie porn about an organ smuggler who steals a werewolf dick for her boyfriend, it led to an Oni Press series that never went past the introductory issue, and is now a series-of-series from Image. Despite all that, it’s not really necessary to understand any of the title’s past. This is like Graham’s classic King City, a cute story jam-packed with ideas in a science fictional setting that allows for anything Graham wants to happen. Tossed-off ideas and puns fill in all the margins, with an attitude somewhat like Groucho Marx as a sci-fi-loving graffiti artist.

In many ways, Graham’s work is a celebration of indie comics in their purest form. An uncommercial labor of love that costs less than most superhero comics but takes three times as long to read, these can be pure joy. But at this point, I’m starting to wish for some actual plot and consistency to tie it all together. In these four issues, the main couple (Sexica and Nikoli) go on a road trip past a bunch of fatal threats that never feel dangerous, and another organ smuggler named Nura (who has no connection to the others as far as I know) heads out on a mission. I wasn’t always sure what was going on other than that, but these ended right when the story seemed to start up. There may be dangerous secrets at the hotel Sexica and Nikoli are staying at, and there are some interesting side characters serving them there. But after building that up, the final issue was entirely about Nura getting in a fight that ended inconclusively. It was misleading to call this a mini-series.

Multiple Warheads is fun, but aimless. I’m really glad that Graham has started to try out other storytelling styles, such as the slightly more focused Prophet. Still, as long as he keeps comics like these as an occasional side project, I’m likely to keep up with them.

Grade: B-

 

First Looks At DC’s New 52: The Second Wave

Earlier this week, I reviewed all the DC titles that I’ve been reading since the “New 52″ launched last year. But as the company has cancelled some titles, they’ve started new replacements. Today, I’m reviewing the three “second wave” titles that I tried out, and tomorrow I’ll catch up on the third wave.

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Checking In With DC’s “New 52″ (Part 2)

This is the conclusion to my reviews of the DC comics that started last year. Note that I’m not yet reviewing Animal Man, Swamp Thing, or Frankenstein, as I want to wait for them to finish their ongoing “Rotworld” epic.

Again, each comic title before the reviews links you back to the initial reviews I did at the six-month mark for the title.

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New DC Comics, Part 6 – The Big Three

Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are sometimes referred to as the “big three” superheroes, because they are the only ones who have had a series stretching back continuously since before 1950. The distinction is a bit misleading, since it’s often obvious that DC only keeps a Wonder Woman comic going due to that history. It’s been rebooted and renumbered frequently as they try to work out what to do with her character, while Superman and Batman have both supported two ongoing series as well as frequent others dedicated to supporting characters.

Still, the recent DC relaunch is one time where the status of these three characters is obvious. The company assigned high-profile talent to all of them. I’m reading four of the five core books for these characters (I skipped Batman’s Detective Comics, and from what I’ve heard, it’s generally considered to be awful). Here are the reviews.

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The DC Re-launch, Month One

September is coming to an end, which means that all 52 comics in DC’s relaunched line have now been released. They’ve sold incredibly well, proving my more cautious ideas wrong. Of course, now that they’re out, the thing that matters for the future is quality. How many readers will stick around for issues #2, #3, or #25?

I’ve read 20 of these, along with online news and commentary about pretty much all of them. My opinion can be split into two contrasting views:

  • DC had the opportunity to fix any problem that they could think of and re-focus their line in a way to stay relevant to 21st-century readers. Given that, it’s incredibly disappointing that they just shuffled their heroes around among their existing creators, with the truly awful ones keeping their jobs. Most of the titles feel like generic superhero stories, with no ambitious ideas. When they did take chances, they were as likely to just make them more violent or unbelievably sexy as they were to actually try something to make the comic better. There is no line-wide ideal driving this reboot, either. Justice League and Action both take place “five years ago”, when superheroes first appeared to an untrusting populace. But all the others take place today, and they make no attempt to reconcile that brief five-year timeframe with the extensive continuity that they’re keeping for the fans. (As one of many examples, how has Batman had four Robins in this time, even ignoring the fact that the most recent one was born after he began his hero career?) Looking beyond the hype, it appears that DC’s grand plan to invigorate itself is “more of the usual, but with a big ‘#1′ on each comic!”
  • On the other hand, coming up with 52 new titles did force DC to cast its net a bit wider than usual. Most of these may be the same characters and creators that have been presiding over the company’s slow decline, but there is now room for several new ones as well. And even if most people squandered their opportunities, some of them did jump at the chance to try something new. The result is that out of 52 books, there will probably be at least 10 good ones. A few of them could even be great. Maybe this sounds cynical, but I don’t expect every comic to be good, and this is an improvement over their line-up before. Even better, the high profile of the launch and the huge number of people buying the comics means that the good ones have a chance to pick up a following. Even if DC’s overall creative direction is as lackluster as ever, I’m a lot more excited about my specific choices than I was before.

It’s always been true that the quality of superhero comics depended on how you looked at it. Just like books, music, and everything else, there’s a lot of crap. Since the comics industry is so small and depends on interrelated titles, it’s a lot harder to ignore the bad stuff. But if you do, you’ll find some great stories. This new direction for DC seems to have emphasized both the good and bad extremes.

One thing that surprised me was how dark many of the good titles were. In recent years, there has been a pretty strong correlation between how violent and gory a comic was with how lazy and poorly-written it was. There are always exceptions, but among this month’s titles, it seemed that the best ones incorporated horror elements, while the ones that stuck to (relatively) clean superhero action felt like just more of the same. I don’t know if this dark turn is intentional or not, but I expect that it’s here to stay.


If you are thinking about trying out some of these comics, there are definite right and wrong choices. Fortunately, reviews of these are all over the internet. You should be able to find out which ones sound right for you. As usual, I’m going to wait until there are a few months’ worth of releases before I start doing official reviews. If you want some quick recommendations, though, here are the first issues that I would recommend:

Superhero Comic Capsule Reviews

After my reviews of five “indie” comics yesterday, here are five DC and Marvel superhero comics. (Ok, one of them is in a smaller imprint, but it still features superheroes.) Two of these were complete stories, but the other three are new ongoing series that I’m reviewing based on the first few months.

I’m not sure if this experiment with capsule reviews was successful for me or not. I did manage to review several things that I wouldn’t have otherwise, but it takes me much longer to write this way. And there are some comics that I’d rather wait and review once they’ve had a longer run, instead of jumping in with a “capsule” after a few months. I’m not sure if it makes sense to review some comics quickly and wait on others. I’ll probably return to this format again in a few months, but I’m not sure what I’ll decide long-term. If you have any comments, let me know.

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Joe the Barbarian (Comic Review)

"The Light's In Danger"Joe is a sullen teenager who would rather retreat into his own imaginary world than face reality. When he falls into a diabetic shock, he gets his wish: A fantasy land populated by his old toys hails him as a savior, and he embarks on a crazy journey only occasionally marred by the reality of him stumbling around a real-world house in search of life-saving sugar.

The idea of someone switching between reality and fantasy is certainly not new, but Joe the Barbarian handles it with aplomb. Author Grant Morrison is a master of crazy ideas, and elevates the fantasy setting beyond normal expectations. (Seriously, dwarf pirates whose submarines navigate a pipe system based on Joe’s plumbing? Skull-wearing inventor-monks, whose glimpses of real-world science are confused with magic? The world is just creative enough to imply that there is a solid history beyond the clichéd “toys living in a magic land”.) Artist Sean Murphy provides an understated realism that easily transitions between the dark, grimy real world and a fantasy world that is manic, cartoony, but still threatened by a growing shadow. Even the publisher plays a key role here: As Vertigo is an imprint of DC, Morrison and Murphy are free to pepper their “toyland” with recognizable action figures instead of generic, copyright-skirting approximations.

The transitions between the two worlds, often panel-to-panel, are masterfully done, and it’s impressive that the comic pulls this off without disrupting the pacing. This keeps the stakes high, constantly reminding the reader of the life-and-death battle that’s taking place in two levels at once. Echoing his real-world status, the characters he meets recognize him as a foretold savior named “The Dying Boy”. The conflict is clear: Joe is only able to save them as long as he is in danger of dying from a diabetic hallucination. Will he condemn them all if he gets to a life-saving drink of soda?

Despite this, the tension would be a lot stronger if the series was more convincing in its hints that these fantasy people might be real. Since everything we see is through Joe’s fevered eyes, any evidence of these creatures’ reality is easy to dismiss as part of his hallucination. The other land is fun and original, but the only conflict that kept me hanging on from month to month was just whether he would get some sugar in his system.

The ending is also surprisingly pat. Morrison unexpectedly makes his only recent creator-owned series more straightforward than the superhero work he has been doing. Warrior-rat Jack must face up to his feelings of inadequacy, the normal-sized pirate prince needs to gain acceptance among his dwarven subjects, and, in a subplot that feels entirely shoehorned in, Joe is in danger of losing his house to foreclosure.

That’s not to say that Joe the Barbarian is bad. Morrison and Murphy are both able to deliver solid results in genre exercises like this, and there are plenty of ideas and developed themes that prove that they aren’t just phoning this in. However, it rarely tries to be more than a straightforward fantasy story about a teenage boy facing his issues. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it isn’t going to appeal to anyone who wouldn’t normally want to read those stories.

Grade: B-

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