Posts Tagged ‘ Nick Spencer ’

Morning Glories, End of Season 1 (Comic Review)

(This is a review of issues 13-25 of the Image comic Morning Glories. My first review is here.)

cover to Morning Glories #17

Morning Glories

Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma’s Morning Glories completed its first “season” with issue #25, and it has definitely stayed interesting. There are some implications that it may collapsing under its own weight: The past six months have featured the first real delays so far, and there are now enough characters that Eisma’s art doesn’t manage to keep them all visually distinct. On the other hand, the story itself has held together. Given how rare it is for mysterious, twist-driven stories to work out, I’m amazed by how well this is doing. Sadly, when I look back through my comic reviews, I see that series almost never improve with time, and I’m almost always disappointed when I decide to stick with a mediocre one that shows “potential”. In this case, though, Morning Glories has definitely gotten better with time.

This is mainly due to the way Spencer handles his twist-driven storytelling. Every issue reveals more, though there are still plenty of questions, and you wouldn’t take me seriously if I tried to explain the number of secret pasts and hidden motivations in this comic. However, almost every new change is fair and consistent with previous hints. Most stories like this just feel like 100 random things that all happened to a small group of people. Here, all those events can be traced back to just a few common causes, and that makes a huge difference. As things have come to a climax, the cliché of “sorry, there’s no time to explain!” has appeared more often than I’d like. Admittedly, though, everyone who says that really is in a hurry. I am a little worried about the number of things thrown into the mix in those last few issues, but not as worried as I was about the few issues right before my last review. That time, there turned out to be reasons for everything.

Also, Spencer really can write memorable, compelling stories. I’ve been reading comics sporadically in the past several months, but it was never a problem to return to this complicated series after taking a long break. In fact, at this point the characters have broken into so many different groups that someone who is reading the issues as soon as they come out will still need to keep track of plot threads last seen a few months ago.

The overall plot moves slowly now that it’s jumping between so many people, but even that isn’t a problem. Every issue has a satisfying amount of events and new information, so it always feels like a good deal.

Morning Glories isn’t perfect, of course. Part of the reason it’s easy to remember characters is that most of them have exaggerated personalities. Also, with a series like this, how you feel about it depends largely on how excited it can make you about future issues. It definitely has me hooked now, but if it goes downhill, it will retroactively drag these issues down with it. Even so, I’ve spent much of the past few years expecting Morning Glories to jump the shark, and it’s consistently proved me wrong. This first season has been a perfect example of how to make a story full of mysteries work out. I’m ready to have faith in it.

Grade: A-

 

Image Comics Capsule Reviews – Harvest and Infinite Vacation

Continuing from Wednesday’s article, here are the other two Image miniseries I finished recently.

There is no doubt that Image’s output has improved a lot in recent years, but there is a certain sameness to a lot of its comics now. Of the four stories I’m looking at this week, Multiple Warheads is the only one that didn’t feel like it was a movie pitch at some level. Maybe it wasn’t intentional in all the others; Once that approach has become the norm, you can find yourself following it even if you do just want to tell a good story. And it’s difficult to know how much to criticize this change, because the quality really is better now. It’s still a tradeoff, though, because the big comics now are slick and more predictable. We have lost something as we left behind the chaos of comics’ less commercial days.

I still liked both of the comics from last Wednesday, even if neither one thrilled me. These next two were less interesting. (Because this article is a little wordier than the previous one, I’m putting the reviews below the fold.)

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First Looks At New Comics: Rachel Rising, Snarked!, and Thief of Thieves

I’ve been reviewing different comic series in different ways. In many cases, I post a single review after the conclusion of a long mini-series or one that had run for only a few years. For longer-running ones, I might check in with a review every 12-24 issues. With mini-series and most ongoings, I group several together for “capsule reviews”. I like this system, even if my choices are sometimes arbitrary. (Why did I review The Unwritten after 24 issues and Morning Glories after 12? Why has Amazing Spider-Man received its own reviews while other Marvel comics are grouped together? Just because, I guess.)

There is one problem, though. It’s a lot of fun to discuss new series when they first come out. It’s also probably more valuable to my readers to talk about new comics while there’s still a chance to jump on board. Therefore, I’ve decided to start writing first looks at new series that I otherwise wouldn’t review for another year or two. (Of course, if it’s not very good, this may also be my last look at it.)

This will still be somewhat arbitrary. A twelve issue miniseries would get reviewed after it finishes, and most ongoing superhero comics will still get lumped into capsule reviews. I don’t always know how long a comic will run, so I may make the wrong decision about whether it needs a first look a few months in. But I’ll do it where it seems useful.

Here are my initial impressions of three non-superhero comics. With a children’s book, a horror story, and a crime drama, there’s something for everyone.

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Spider-Man: Spider-Island (Comic Review)

(This review covers Amazing Spider-Man #666-673, along with several other titles that tied into the storyline.)

Amazing Spider-Man #670 coverA few months ago, I praised Dan Slott’s current work on Amazing Spider-Man as one of the comic’s definitive runs. It has its ups and downs, of course, but the overall feel is perfect for the character, and the release schedule (twice per month) allows it to fit large, satisfying plots into a short timeframe.

Of course, all long-running comics have their ups and downs, and usually the big “events” are some of the most notable disappointments. The “Spider-Island” storyline that just ran through Amazing is arguably its biggest event in years – at least, it’s the only to feature so many related mini-series and tie-in comics – and surprisingly, it managed to maintain the quality of the series leading up to it. This may not have been one of the series’ highlights, but it was fun and felt true to both the ongoing series and the hyped “event”, and that’s a rare success.

The “Spider Island” of this story is Manhattan. A supervillain infects the borough with a virus that gives everyone the same powers as Spider-Man. At first, this is just about the chaos that results from people having “all of the power and none of the responsibility”, with a look at how it impacts Peter and his supporting characters. But as the virus continues to progress, the victims fall under the control of the villainous “Spider Queen” and the true threat becomes apparent.

As usual, Slott juggles several sub-plots, this time also tying in with several other spin-off titles and cross-overs. Since most of the Marvel community revolves around New York, this effects a lot of the heroes. At times, the story suffers a little for having to remain coherent and interesting whether or not the reader is getting the tie-ins, but is generally succeeds. Most importantly, all of the side titles feel like legitimate stories in their own right – There are no cliffhangers that say “Be sure to read comic ____ for the exciting conclusion!” as some events do. I read most, but not all, of these supporting comics, and they are a part of the overall grade I’m giving this storyline.

The art is by Humerto Ramos, who has become one of the major Spidey artists in recent years. I have mixed feelings about his work: He’s a skilled and dynamic artist. However, his people look incredibly cartoony, with inconsistent proportions and exaggerated body language. It isn’t necessarily less realistic than some of the trends that have dominated comic art at times, but it is different enough to seem out of place in a Marvel book. Even after seeing his work in Amazing Spider-Man for a few years now, it sometimes strikes me as distracting and off-model. I have to admit, though, that if I read through quickly and let his art flow by, those exaggerations create action scenes that feel natural and varied. Ramos’ style is definitely rooted in an understanding of the human form.

Spider-Man stories are a continuous soap opera, for the hero and the ordinary people around him. The ongoing stories continue to progress, with yet another plot-line that started over 100 issues ago (that of the characters Venom and “Anti-Venom”) coming to a close. This remains the only modern comic series that can manage that sort of long-form storytelling, and it’s one of the reasons why I’m not bothered by occasional annoyances in the short run. In the long run, this is always excellent. (There were a couple of those annoyances in this storyline. The sight-seeing Madame Web is one of the most frustrating characters out there, just popping in from time to time to drop intentionally vague hints that don’t help anyone. Also, after recent issues that celebrated Spider-Man’s refusal to kill, the workaround at the end of this story felt cheap.) It is unfortunately that most of the changes that came up at the conclusion to this were actually returning things to a previous status quo, but even there, the changes came up organically and didn’t feel like the editorial fiat that normally dominates high-profile events.

Panel from Spider-Island

“Spider-Island” is far from perfect, and it’s definitely not the place a new reader should start. However, I can say that it is the only event comic I can think of in recent years that I actually enjoyed and would recommend to others. Most events seem focused on “Get from point A to B, introduce these arbitrary changes the corporate office asked for, and be sure to sell all the cross-over issues!” Storytelling isn’t a priority, so they mask it by repeating over and over how important everything is. This comic, on the other hand, still put the story and characters first. The “importance” all flowed naturally from that.

Grade: B-


Though they were factored into the above grade, here is a brief discussion of the other comics that were a part of this event:

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Morning Glories (Comic Review)

(This is a review of issues 1-12 of the Image comic Morning Glories. These can also be found in the first two collected volumes of the series.)

Morning Glories issue #1 cover

Morning Glories

Students usually feel like they are fighting against their school, but what if that school really were trying to kill them? That is the central hook of Morning Glories, a comic about six students newly recruited to a prestigious, but sinister, private academy.

It’s a silly idea even on its face, because any school with the body count shown here would end quickly. It might make for a fun miniseries, but Morning Glories is intended to be a long-running series. Amazingly, author Nick Spencer seems poised to make it work by not only examining the “what if?” question, but also considering why a school would want to kill its students. Twelve issues in, we don’t have a lot of answers, but there are quite a few hints about a centuries-old movement (possibly religious, possibly looking for an answer to a legitimate threat) testing children to find ones with some sort of special power. With enough suspension of disbelief to assume that their secret society could cover up the deaths and maintain their school’s prestigious reputation, this actually makes a twisted sort of sense.

Artist Joe Eisma does a passable job portraying the often dialogue-heavy story, with distinct characters and expressive faces and postures (even if he does favor a few generic body types).His linework features the occasional jarring angle and could definitely use a strong inker to give it depth, but it’s better than many DC and Marvel artists. Best of all, he is one of the few Image artists who can keep anything close to a monthly schedule .

But the art is really just a delivery mechanism for the story that dominates this comic. It’s defined by the many mysteries and constant twists, with each new issue providing a good chunk of plot and new information. Though the story is not unfolding in any hurry, it certainly can’t be accused of decompression or padding. Reading it as a serialized work, it delivers something new every month.

The plot points offer a lot of variety, from tweaking everyday aspects of school life (teachers, cheerleading squads, and guidance counselors) to completely unexpected surprises (ghosts, underground prisoners, and a strange device that intrigues cutting-edge physicists). Spencer almost seems scared to go a single issue without defying expectations, and the tone of each issue varies widely, too, from horror to graphic violence to understated suspense.

The characters started as a typical Breakfast Club-style collection of cliches. Though they haven’t gotten much deeper (this comic’s strength is in unexpected twists, not character development), they have defied expectations. In these first twelve issues, every one has either turned out to have a shocking history or faced things within the school that played off their basic archetype in surprising ways. There are also varying allegiances among the school staff and at least one organization seeking to destroy them from the outside.

It’s a lot to take in, and if anything, the concern is that Morning Glories will turn out to be one of those stories that piles the mysteries on but doesn’t know how to resolve them. That was my initial impression of this, but fortunately I re-read the series so far in preparation for this review. Taking in every issue at once, a lot of the pieces fit together better than I had expected, and the total number of open mysteries was not as large as it had seemed. (Most importantly, and a little embarrassingly, I hadn’t noticed before that one person had played a role in at least three characters’ life stories. What I’d thought to be three unrelated pieces of information all tied together neatly.) It’s strange, because this had seemed to be the perfect series to read for the monthly surprises, but now I can see a strong argument for following it in larger collected chunks. Either way, though, the mysteries seem well fleshed out, and the few explanations to date have been satisfying, so it seems that Spencer does know what he’s doing. He says that he has this planned out until an ending around issue 100, and the build-up so far seems fair given that schedule.

It’s always hard to know whether to trust a title whose main draw is mysteries and plot twists. Many high-profile works that took that approach fizzled out disappointingly (look at X-Files or Lost), but a low-stakes creator-owned comic like this arguably has a better chance of holding true to a vision. Whatever the final result is, Morning Glories has at least turned out to be a worthwhile read so far. The memorable hooks and new questions keep this interesting month after month.

Grade: B


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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