Archive for the ‘ Comics ’ Category

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.

Continue reading

New DC Comics, Part 5 – The Dark Series

DC’s relaunch has involved a surprising number of “dark” books. There’s a lot of variety in this, from true horror to dangerous magic to pulpy monster hunting, but it definitely is distinct from the classic view of moral heroes and ineffectual villains. Maybe it’s surprising that DC would go in this direction right when they are aiming for new readers, but maybe they expect that new readers will be intrigued to see a different side of superheroes. Either way, here are reviews of three of the new darker series.

Though the sixth issue has come out for all of these titles, the reviews are based on the first five. Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. begins a new storyline with issue #6, so I am putting it off until after this review, and I disliked the other two enough to stop reading them. Well, I guess that gives you a hint of what these reviews will be like. (I should say that I certainly don’t dislike comics just for being dark. For example, see yesterday’s review of Animal Man and Swamp Thing.)

Continue reading

New DC Comics, Part 4 – Animal Man and Swamp Thing

cover to Swamp Thing #1

Swamp Thing

cover to Animal Man #1

Animal Man

Two of the most intriguing titles of the DC relaunch have been reinterpretations of classic Vertigo characters: Animal Man and Swamp Thing. Not only are the interesting on their own, but they are setting the stage for a shared story: While one hero is the avatar of The Green (or plant life), and the other is in touch with The Red (animal life), they are both at odds with the death-forces of “The Rot”.

One noteworthy thing about these series is how eager they seem to be to distance themselves from the old stories. In direct opposition to the classic Alan Moore status quo, this Swamp Thing starts with Alec Holland as a human, horrified by his memories of being the avatar of The Green. The first time he meets his old love Abby, she points a gun at him. Animal Man, meanwhile, undoes Buddy Baker’s alien-based origin story to make The Red into an elemental force like The Green. However, both still have a lot of obvious love for the classic stories, and there’s arguably nothing more that can be done with the characters without going back to basics here. Both titles have a history of author-mandated changes, anyway: The alterations being made to Swamp Thing now mirror the ones that Moore made when he began his stories, and the classic Animal Man run was a metatextual commentary on how the author can mold the character as desired. So really, I’m happy to judge these by their story quality.

That quality is very good. Jeff Lemire’s Animal Man had the best opening issue of any new DC title, managing to establish characters, explain the backstory (without boring readers who already knew it), and lead to the creepy shock that kickstarts this conflict with The Rot. Buddy Baker’s status as a family man is as important to the story as his powers, and the plot has combined those aspects in a way that brings out Animal Man’s strengths. Swamp Thing, meanwhile, is handled by hot new horror writer Scott Snyder, and he mixes in some tense pacing and genuinely disturbing moments with the introductions of the opening issues. A common theme is that the plant world is much more violent and destructive than we give it credit for, but it’s still easy to root for them against some evil agents of The Rot.

The art quality definitely separates the two of them, though. Swamp Thing has lush, beautiful art from Yanick Paquette. Expressive and often featuring creative page compositions, it is appropriate to both the human characters and the plant-based scenes. Animal Man, on the other hand, has sparse, dry artwork by Travel Foreman. The “everyday” scenes are bare and flat to the point of boredom, and sometimes the shapes of the people just feel unnatural. The weirder scenes, as Buddy goes into The Red or the evil “Hunters Three” shift bodies, are mixed. Sometimes they are appropriately strange and visceral, capturing the wet, meaty essence of animal spirits. Other times, though, those images seem incomplete and slightly off.

Animal Man is still worth reading on its own, and the connection to the excellent Swamp Thing makes it an obvious choice. I’ve found Foreman’s art to be more frustrating as the series goes on, but he is soon being replaced. Meanwhile, issues like #6 are a reminder that Lemire has plenty of tricks up his sleeve. Composed mostly of a scene from a movie that the hero starred in, it develops the series’ themes of family and responsibility from a different angle, while providing a respite from the impending doom of the main story. Swamp Thing, on the other hand, lets the doom build remorselessly, but it’s appropriate to the horror legacy of the character. These first six issues have featured a slightly standard introduction to the tale of a reluctant hero, but the scope and power of the threat have been shocking enough to make it feel new.

If you’re only going to read one of these series, it should be Swamp Thing. (In fact, if you’re choosing only one DC series to read at all, Swamp Thing would be a top contender.) Animal Man, though, is a very original twist to the standard superhero stories, and it seems that the connection between the two comics will strengthen them both.

Grades, based on issues #1-6:

Animal Man: B-

Swamp Thing: A-


New DC Comics, Part 3 – The Unexpected Titles

DC’s comics are based on superheroes, but the fifty-two relaunched titles allow a lot of room to experiment. Here are three of the series that go furthest beyond the standard expectations of a DC story. Don’t expect realism, romance, or anything too different, of course, but these show that there is some territory at a major comics company beyond men in tights punching each other.

Continue reading

New DC Comics, Part 2 – Keeping the Backstory

While most of the new DC titles tried to be “new reader friendly”, they definitely approached it in different ways. A few seemed to ignore the concept entirely, and just slapped a “#1” label on top of a story that had been going on for some time now. I’m told the most obvious example was the Green Lantern titles, but I haven’t been reading those. Here are the three series I am reading that would be challenging for a new reader to start with. Ironically, two of them were new to me with this relaunch.

Continue reading

New DC Comics, Part 1

We’re now entering into the sixth month of DC’s relaunched universe, and the situation looks similar to what the first month promised: Plenty of bad titles, but also quite a few good ones, with several unusual series that would never have gotten a fair chance under normal circumstances. At this point, I think that there have been a few more disappointments than I expected, but the DC Universe still seems healthier and more promising than it did beforehand.

These series are now mature enough to be harsh reality to set in. It seems that only about half of them still have the same creative team that they started with, and DC has already announced the first six cancellations. But the most cynical predictions haven’t been borne out: The customer base is still supporting more monthly titles than DC had before, and every title has stayed on schedule. The matter of scheduling has been one of the bigger surprises, actually. DC and Marvel have both been notorious for delays in recent years, but since the relaunch, DC has been quick to swap out creators or provide fill-ins where necessary. It sometimes hurts the quality, but it maintains the thrill of a monthly story, and is probably part of a strategy to keep new readers who aren’t committed enough to follow favorite creators through inconsistent schedules.

I’ve tried out twenty-two of the fifty-two series, though that number is dropping heavily now that I’ve seen what I like. My plan is to review all twenty-two of those this month. To start with, here are four basic superhero titles that reached a good conclusion with issue #5, so I’m ready to review them before #6 arrives in the upcoming weeks.

Continue reading

Before Watchmen: My Reaction

Promotional image for The Comedian's spinoff

As I’m sure you’ve heard, DC Comics announced this morning that they’ll be releasing prequels to Watchmen. Generally regarded as the pinnacle of superhero comics, it’s long been accepted that the work stands alone and should be untouched. In fact, author Alan Moore has been publicly feuding with DC for years, and has made it clear that he is against any use of Watchmen beyond his original story.

So is this where I join in the general outrage and explain why I think this is a stupid idea at best, if not indicative of deep moral and creative bankruptcy in the comics industry? On the contrary, I’m in favor of it.

Continue reading

Capsule Reviews: Crime Comics

Though crime comics aren’t nearly as common as superheroes or zombies, there are always a couple coming out. It’s hard to believe that these are a relatively new thing, but Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips more or less created this subgenre a few years ago when their love of noir movies led to Criminal. There’s something about the shadowy underworld and veiled characters that fits right in to comics, though. Here are reviews of three recently-completed crime miniseries.

Continue reading

Jeff Lemire – Sweet Tooth (Comic Review)

(Based on issues #1-28 of the Vertigo series. According to comments I’ve seen in interviews, Lemire expects this to be roughly the halfway point.)

Sweet Tooth #1 cover

Sweet Tooth

Jeff Lemire is relatively new to the comics scene, but he’s quickly become known for his loose, expressive art. His figure-work has a sketch-like freedom to it, with lines on the face often having more weight than the actual contours that would normally stand out. It’s fitting, then, that his current title is about a world in which the human body is on the verge of falling apart.

Sweet Tooth is in many ways a typical post-apocalyptic story, in which the few survivors of a plague are at the mercy of cults, thugs, and militias who only claim to have others’ best interests at heart. The catch, though, is that all children born since the plague are all human-animal hybrids. The main character is a deer-horned boy named Gus, who has made friends and enemies as he explores the world. While the hybrids fit into the world thanks to Lemire’s art, they don’t make scientific sense. The series is dropping increasingly strong hints that the religious ramblings of Gus’ dead father may be more important than science.

Lemire writes and draws Sweet Tooth, and has managed to do both on a monthly schedule (along with writing a few new DC superhero series). It helps that his art is supposed to feel rushed and imperfect, but is impressive nonetheless. (A few fill-in artists, most notably Matt Kindt, have stepped in for occasional flashbacks. Kindt’s art feels in line with Lemire’s style, though it never takes advantage of the looseness to experiment with the form.)

Lemire does not write very strong characters, but he draws them with such power that they seem three-dimensional. His plots are much more convoluted than any individual character, though, with betrayals, mysteries, and different factions vying for control. I’m honestly not sure how to expect the current story to play out, and I think I will be equally surprised whether the main group of characters stays together or splits up.

Lemire’s other strength is in action scenes and dream sequences, when the abstractness of the scene lets shapes or panels flow in unexpected ways. Surprisingly, though, he doesn’t capitalize on this as frequently as a post-apocalyptic world would allow. Entire issues go by that feel like filler, and especially when the plot fragments to follow multiple characters at once, the pace slows to a crawl.

That’s not to say that there aren’t excellent portions of the story: The entire first arc, for example, is a fascinating read. One early issue is just a single scene, showing a standoff in a brothel, but the tense mix of action, morality, and danger seen through the eyes of a young boy is well worth reading. On the other hand, the last three issues have told a side story from centuries ago. It is relevant to the main story, but we have no real investment in those characters (and remember, characters’ actions are not Lemire’s strong point) and the important information could have come across in half that time. The two issues before those both happen after Gus is injured, and they have been taken up almost entirely with Gus’ dream sequences and the other characters’ attempts to help him. One issue of that would have been more than enough.It’s not in the traditional “decompressed” style, but it is slow. I’m not sure whether Lemire’s sense of pacing is just off from what I want, or if he is stretching it out as he tries to figure out what comes next.

At its best, Sweet Tooth is surprising and emotional, not to mention truly interesting to watch unfold. It deserves the devoted fans who are writing into the letters column and even getting tattoos. At its worst, though, it seems rushed and a little boring, and makes me hesitate to introduce it to new readers. I’m not sure which aspect will win out over the course of the entire series. It’s shown enough potential to get me firmly invested in the ending, but also squandered enough to keep me from recommending it at the present.

Grade: C+


Jason Shiga – Meanwhile (Comic, Game AND iPhone Review!)

Meanwhile cover

Jason Shiga - Meanwhile

After looking at the way that some computer games played with the Choose Your Own Adventure mechanics, I searched around to see what other ways the genre had evolved. For the most part, it was disappointing. Books in that format are strongly influenced by the original ones, and seem to be poorly-written and arbitrary children’s stories. But I did find one work worth noting: A comic by Jason Shiga named Meanwhile.

Meanwhile is structured so that each panel has a line leading to the next. When there are choices to be made, that line branches, presenting two or more simple choices to follow. Each page has a tab on the side, so that a line that leads off the page can easily be followed to a tab on another page. It sounded a little confusing at first, but turned out to very easy to follow.

Continue reading