Posts Tagged ‘ Brian Azzarello ’

Vertigo Comics Capsule Reviews

Karen Berger recently announced that she would step down as the editor of Vertigo, the comics imprint she has shepherded since its creation. At first, I wasn’t too concerned about this: Two decades is a long time to stay at one job, and she could have plenty of reasons to move on. We don’t know the story behind the scenes, though, and I find myself getting progressively more worried. With Hellblazer ending at issue #300, and shocking realization that that is the longest-running continually-numbered series being published by DC or Marvel today, it’s obvious that change is in the air for the big companies. Vertigo’s monthly sales numbers haven’t been healthy in a long time, and it has apparently justified its existence by finding the occasional hit that keeps selling in book format. But with superhero movies now bringing in more money than book sales could ever promise, and with TV and video game tie-ins defining more of the low-end market, Vertigo’s niche may no longer make sense to the executives.

No matter what happens, though, it’s clear that Berger’s legacy goes well beyond Vertigo. When the label started, intelligent adult comics seemed like an aberration. Now, titles like that are everywhere. In fact, the scene has grown so much that Vertigo’s specific style of literate fantasy now feels like just another niche.

While looking over the latest Vertigo series that I’ve read, I noticed some definite trends. These stories tend to be based around high concepts and rich settings, but the plots often feel like afterthoughts. Whether this is indicative of the imprint’s editorial leanings, or just a coincidence, I’m not entirely sure. Either way, though, there is still some very good stuff coming out from Vertigo. I hope that we don’t lose it.

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Checking In With DC’s “New 52” (Part 1)

Back in February, DC Comics’ “New 52” initiative reached its sixth month, and I reviewed all the series I was reading. Ten months later, it’s time to check in again.

From a branding standpoint, this continues to be a success. Almost all series have stuck to a reliable monthly schedule, and even though DC has cancelled several, they’ve added replacements to keep the focus on a consistent “52” rather than on the individual failures. This is much higher than the number of series that DC was publishing beforehand, and quite a few obscure characters have found success under this system.

From a creative point of view, the results are more mixed. Superhero comics are often hobbled by the attitude of “everything’s new, but don’t worry because we still have everything you used to love!” Once the newness of the first few issues faded away, it became obvious that few of the series actually had new ideas. I’m still reading more than I used to, since the monthly schedule and steady $3 price point (or $4 for extra-long titles) are much better than what Marvel is providing these days, but I doubt I would miss half of these if I stopped buying them.

September provided a perfect example of the challenges that come from mixing a corporate initiative with individual projects. The company put off the thirteenth issues of every series to provide a “zero month”, with stories from the past of each character. Some series had excellent issues that month, while others had an arbitrary interruption to their ongoing stories. It did attract attention (especially with the eye-catching covers that featured the heroes bursting through the image that was on their issue #1), but my interest still hasn’t returned since that bump in the momentum.

While I haven’t kept up on the worst of the series I reviewed back in February, I read at least the next few issues of most of them. I’m going to review all of those again over the next two days. Because there are so many, I plan on keeping these reviews especially brief, more like additions to the original reviews (which can be found by following the links in each heading). Later in the week, I’ll take closer looks at some of the series that have started since then.

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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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First Wave (Comic Review)

From Doc Savage to Superman, from The Shadow to Batman, superheroes grew fairly directly out of the pulp movement. Since DC Comics has since acquired the rights to many of these influential characters, it isn’t surprising that they would try to breathe new life into them. First Wave was an attempt to create a shared world of gritty, low-powered heroes based on reinterpretations of classic figures. Not a bad idea, but DC did an astoundingly bad job with it.

The plan was that First Wave would be a six-issue miniseries that set up a status quo, with two ongoing titles (Doc Savage and The Spirit) immediately spinning off from it. A solid plan, but it doesn’t mean anything if the comic itself isn’t very good. First Wave’s story follows a convoluted plot involving a world-spanning secret organization, a drug that turns victim’s blood into gold, and a machine that can manufacture tsunamis. Even after re-reading it for this review, I’m not quite sure how those pieces fit together. Nor am I sure how the different heroes all got involved: I count six to eight plot threads following different pulp heroes or groups (depending on whether Doc Savage and his associates are counted separately), and weaving those in and out of six comics is a tricky task. When a character suddenly appears in a new issue, it can be difficult to remember what they know and what their current motivations are.

Writer Brian Azzarello and artist Rags Morales are both associated with high-profile comics events, but they weren’t necessarily the right combination for this title. Morales’ crisp combination of realism and cartoonishness is the hallmark of modern-day superhero art (especially mixed with this book’s bright colors), and it contrasts with the darker, gritty pulp story that Azzarello is trying to tell.

The Bat-Man and his gun

The one bright spot of this relaunch is the clever ideas that were applied to the characters. The once heroic Blackhawks are now mercenaries who care mainly about money, and even after they turn against the bad guy, they have little regard for the lives of less capable heroes. Doc Savage, “the perfect man”, is set against a skeptical press and a public who can’t trust the motives of an alleged hero. And I’d love to read further adventures of this rookie “Bat-Man”, who carries guns and is as interested in the adrenaline rush as the justice. Unfortunately, a series based on him would probably turn out to be a disappointment, based on the spin-offs that we did see. The Spirit had possibly the most interesting reinvention of all, being paired with a corrupt police force who sneer and trade barbs with him. The new Spirit comic, though, quickly forgets this. Instead of just getting tips from Commissioner Dolan (a “bad cop but a good guy” who cares about his own wealth and safety first, but will help The Spirit do his job on the side), within a year the vigilante is publicly walking around the police station with his “best friend” the commissioner. It’s not a bad title on its own, but contradicts First Wave enough to ruin the effect that a shared world is supposed to have.

This isn’t a review of The Spirit, or the standalone Doc Savage title (an inoffensively bland action story), but it bears noting that the problems with First Wave extended to very poor editorial control across the intended line. There was also a one-issue “First Wave Special” last week that I was waiting for before doing this review. That issue actually wasn’t bad: A creative team with a grittier style, a story that addressed plot lines in the recent Spirit and Doc Savage titles, and a confrontation between some of the major players that emphasizes each one’s different personality. The First Wave Special actually made a good case for these characters as part of a new interconnected line. Unfortunately, I think the damage has already been done. First Wave itself was a hard-to-follow mess that introduced interesting characters, but failed to do anything worthwhile with them. More than a year after the experiment started (yes, the six-issue series was plagued by a lot of delays), it is obvious that the momentum it was trying to build is not going to happen.

Grade: D-