2.17.2010

2.17.10 Reviews (Part 1)

Joe The Barbarian #2 (DC/Vertigo): Sean Murphy’s first page with the floating island map? Well, I just love that visual. At times, it takes a little too much energy to parse Grant Morrison’s attempts at fantasy world-building, something about prophecies, exiles and dominions, etc. I’m not sure if I’m getting it all, or even if there is anything to get beyond a superficial face value reading. But at this point, I’m not sure I care that much because the art is so good that it’s worth purchasing for that treat alone. Murphy’s extremely fine line and dizzying level of detail reminds me old Travis Charest work on Darkstars or Wildcats. It’s enhanced significantly by the lettering of Todd Klein, no stranger to this tone and aesthetic. His font design for the “Sun Lord” character was a particular stand out. Something about this issue sort of felt analogous to Moore’s LOEG or Gaiman’s Sandman, in that it was full of inter-textual references. Instead of spotting the highbrow literary references and many storytelling allusions, it’s a fun game of spot the pop culture characters with Morrison himself (or is that Patrick Stewart’s Jean-Luc Picard with phaser in hand?) as the scripture-referencing ringleader of the heroes around the “Under-Country.” It srikes me as awesome; the sheer level of under-the-radar audacity of seeing Lobo, The Phantom Stranger, Robin, Snake Eyes, and random Transformers kneeling and bowing before the kid. I’ve always been fascinated by stories that blur the line between the waking world and what’s occurring in the mind’s eye. It’s things like Farel Dalrymple’s Pop Gun War, David Mack’s Kabuki, or even this story with its delusional fabrications, the shifting sizes of the toys, landscapes, and protagonist as the synapses misfire and supposed hallucinations ensue. There’s a little bit of a C.S. Lewis riff, the kid’s err… mouse guard (heh, sorry David Petersen), and the battling of some Tolkien inspired Nazgul creatures. Morrison litters the dialogue with imaginative parlance, like “cloud cutter” and the “Battle of Backbone Bridge” while the kid, right along with a delighted audience, tries to determine if he’s “drunk, crazy, or a prophet.” I became so fully immersed in this world and so engrossed by the fast-paced events that I almost forgot that the first establishing issue contained shots of him in school or interacting with his mom and inhabitants of the real world. That’s the true test of thought-provoking escapist writing, the ability to lose oneself in the convincing illusion. Grade A.

Justice League of America #42 (DC): Right from the start, the “Shade-Speak” is a little over the top with its attempt at sounding ominous and foreboding. Even with the self-referential commentary about it being unbelievable and off-putting, it doesn’t defuse the fact that it is. Shade also looks noticeably younger than he did last issue, and just… different. I’m not sure why that is. I did liked the equivocating inner monologues of most of the characters, full of self-doubt and altering perception, including the real reason Starfire might really be there. There are some additional fun fanboy character porn moments, like the exchange between Batman and Green Lantern: “Weird giving an order to Hal” followed by “Weird taking an order from Dick.” I also enjoyed the Red Tornado bits, but for the most part I’ll quote Dick and say “something’s not right” with this book. I know that Mark Bagley has his fans, but his art is just not to my liking. It’s obvious that he tries to vary his panel designs and offer dynamic characters that pierce the panel borders, shooting for fun action, but it’s all just kind of basic to my eye. I’m kind of bored. Instead of any smooth flow or sense of pace, I find myself looking around for oddities. I find jarring transitions, thanks to James Robinson’s script, and inconsistent art that makes Donna’s breasts enormous as they sit too high, her crazy brow and hairline very distorted during the close-ups, Starfire’s arms looking too short in most panels due to wonky perspective and camera placement, Atom magically appearing here and there, and chuckle at the way Bagley strategically cheats and fills his backgrounds with smoke so that he won’t have to draw the buildings that are supposed to be in the background. I’ll say that I really liked the lettering in the Challengers of the Unknown sequence, but otherwise was not engaged by that story thread whatsoever. There are continuity jabs all over the place, with things like The Power Company, but they feel gratuitous in their attempted scope. It’s been years sine LOTR, so any residual Gandalf reference is just a little painful to endure. The script is trying so desperately hard to connect bits from the forthcoming last issue of Cry for Justice, (see: Blackhawk Island), but it just feels lifeless. The art, the story, all of it just lays there almost knowing it’s inconsequential. And why is it $3.99? For the First Wave preview I’ve already read two other times? Maybe I’m in a bad mood today, but on so many levels, it’s just not that good. This is my last issue. I’m out. Grade D+.

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