Posts Tagged ‘ Matt Kindt ’

Rotworld and its Build-Up (Comic Review)

cover to Swamp Thing #7

Swamp Thing

When I last looked at DC’s current Swamp Thing and Animal Man series, I found them to be fascinating character reboots, with a shared battle against “The Rot” making them even more compelling. Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. didn’t impress me as much, but it had potential. It since joined these other two titles for the “Rotworld” event, under the theory that the unliving Frankenstein is one of the few creatures immune to the death and decay wielded by the enemy.

All series continued, if not improved upon, the high level of talent shown in the first few months, but “Rotworld” itself was disappointing. After a lot of fun character-building and horrific moments, the heroes suddenly found themselves in a future where The Rot had already won. It quickly fell into the pattern of alternate universe stories that are all too common in superhero comics: In a world that doesn’t have to last, lots of major characters can be killed off, minor ones can rise to prominence, villains can switch sides, and so on. These stories are fun the first few times you see them, but it doesn’t take long before they feel repetitive, and there’s never any question that everything will be undone by the end. The theme of plant- and animal-themed powers fighting against death did allow for more cool ideas than these events usually have, but on the other hand, the powers of The Rot meant that it was mainly just pictures of grotesque, corrupted heroes killing each other. After a year of exciting build-up, “Rotworld” went on for a couple months too long to stay interesting.

cover to Animal Man #17

Animal Man

It’s a shame, because Animal Man had been getting much better up to that point. The main problem with the first several issues was Travel Foreman’s art, which kept pulling me out of the story. The excellent Steve Pugh stepped in, though, and he improved it immensely: Deeper colors, less drastic differences in shading, and slightly more dynamic framing managed to make the art great without ever feeling like a break in continuity from Foreman’s style. Jeff Lemire’s writing stayed consistent throughout, but it sure seemed a lot better once the art wasn’t distracting me. Before Rotworld began, I’d reached a point where I was enjoying Animal Man a lot more than Swamp Thing every month.

Swamp Thing stayed good, too, but was less surprising than Animal Man once the new status quo was explained. As I noted in my second look at Batman, Scott Snyder’s writing skills lie in making formulaic stories interesting, rather than cutting new ground. So the middle act, about darkness rising, felt a little more like a straightforward than Animal Man’s family drama, though it never stopped being enjoyable. And my only real complaint is that Yanick Paquette remained unable to keep up with a monthly schedule.

However, Swamp Thing ended strongly. Issue #18 had been planned as the conclusion to Snyder and Paquette’s run, and while I’m sad to see them go, they did tell a good story. It’s rare to see in comics, but the conclusion felt like the logical outcome of everything that had happened so far. This is especially good to see after an alternate-world event, since usually those just result in one or two arbitrary changes, usually tragedies to make the event feel “serious”. Animal Man fell into that trap, but Swamp Thing came out feeling like a classic. Issue #18 is beautiful, satisfying, and makes me feel invested in the new status quo even though I had previously been unsure about following the new creators.

cover to Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #11

Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E.

Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. was an unexpected addition to the event. The early issues didn’t have anything to do with the battle against The Rot, but Jeff Lemire was writing both this and Animal Man. However, this crossed over with his big storyline after he handed writing duties over to Matt Kindt! Kindt was a great choice for this, though. I had been disappointed by Lemire’s story, and thought that it was trying too hard to be a weird Hellboy-type title without any actual spark. Just as Pugh was able to make Animal Man reach its potential with subtle changes, though, Kindt worked magic here. In his hand, the weird world felt like more of a backdrop, and the focus shifted to Frankenstein’s own longing for peace and purpose. The series never sold well, and it ended with issue #16. Over the course of a few months, I went from getting bored with this title to being sad to see it end.

I seem to have written mainly negative comic reviews so far this year, so I’m happy to say that all of these inter-related titles are worth reading. (And, with only a couple exceptions, they managed to keep themselves understandable even if you only weren’t reading them all.) The half-year spent in “Rotworld” definitely drags them down, and I can’t recommend them as highly as I would have at their peak. But Swamp Thing created a new classic story for the character. Animal Man fared much more poorly in the crossover, but it’s difficult to compare a still-ongoing series to a complete one. It did show that the team of Lemire and Pugh can do great things, and I’m actually more excited about its potential than I was in the early days. Finally, Frankenstein may have been cancelled, but it turned itself into something to mourn just in time.

Swamp Thing (based on issues #7-18, 0, and an Annual): B+

Animal Man (based on issues #7-18, 0, and an Annual): B-

Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. (based on issues #6-16 and 0): B-

 
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Belated Comics First Looks

It’s difficult to time my First Look comic reviews right. Ideally, I’ll discuss them after the first few issues, but by the time I can group several related ones into an article, they may be older. I now have several comics that are overdue for a First Look. The only thing tying these together is that they are non-superhero (and non-DC/Marvel) comics that are bucking the trend of indies coming out as miniseries. Also, they’re all close to a year old. Better late than never, right?

(The other difficulty with my First Looks is predicting which comics will last so long that I shouldn’t wait for the end. For example, my early review of Snarked! ended up being two-thirds of the way through the series. Rather than writing a new review, I just added final thoughts to that article. I’ve made guesses here, such as thinking that Dark Horse’s latest Conan title can wait until the end for a review. Time will tell.)

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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+