4.29.2010

4.28.10 Reviews (Part 1)

Northlanders #27 (DC/Vertigo): Brian Wood and Leandro Fernandez deliver part 7 of 8 of The Plague Widow. It’s full of bitter and decayed emotional conditions adorned with dichotomous imagery like smoldering fire in the snow. On the second page, I found a rare typo, “Guborg” instead of Gunborg. It’s easy to dismiss when the rest of the issue is so strong, especially the stellar coloring of Dave McCaig, who’s quickly evolving to be on par with someone like Dave Stewart. This issue resolves the taking of Karin as Boris takes on Gunborg and Hilda takes on Jens. Both are equally intense; the Boris/Gunborg fight is a visceral dirty piece of work, and the Hilda/Jens sequence is chilling. Hearing Hilda repeatedly instruct Karin to “stay under the covers, don’t watch, not even a little peek” is absolutely scary. Lines like “I’ll trade my eternal soul to ensure you don’t live another moment on this Earth” literally gave me goose bumps. This has felt like a long, slow burning arc, but for the patient reader the culmination is an emotional cliffhanger that really delivers the goods. Grade A.

Invincible Iron Man #25 (Marvel): Larroca’s art here looks a little rushed and simply flat in spots. I know it’s meant to be a counterpoint to the Stark aesthetic, but Detroit Steel is a really gaudy looking piece of technology. It’s interesting to see Hammer Industries get into weapons manufacturing as Tony attempts to rebuild the empire and both rush very different products into the market. I like how this issue touches back on the very first arc, about one of Tony’s nightmares – Stark tech in the wrong hands, marketed hard to willing buyers. The idea of Tony’s short term memory essentially being erased because he hadn’t lived certain experiences yet at the time he originally backed up his mind digitally is insanely clever, but it’s told (for the second time here) in high exposition mode in a conversation between Rhodey and Maria Hill. I enjoyed how firmly this was entrenched in the Marvel U, with references aplenty to Steve’s New Avengers, Reed Richards and Thor appearances, and nods to the Rand technology we saw in Fraction's Iron Fist run. Fraction really does show his influence from Warren Ellis in the technology analogy – if Iron Man is the app, then Extremis is the OS, and Tony is the hardware it all runs on. The Heroic Age really does feel like something new when Tony seems committed to the idea that Stark will stand for something else besides innovation in warfare. Stark Resilient offers up a true paradigm shift that’s essentially open source endless power, licensable to anyone, anywhere, anytime. It’s interesting to note that there isn’t a whole lot of boom! bang! in this issue, and yet all of the talky bits manage to be engaging. The only small bit of criticism about the dialogue is that it’s interesting while being very dense, when there was probably an opportunity for it to be interesting while light and effortless. Grade A-.

Wasteland #28 (Oni Press): This issue offers up a spotlight on Skot, and Watchman Dexus to a lesser extent. Wasteland is as intricately plotted, and as well crafted as ever, and I’m still committed to the claim that it’s one of the most unique books on the stands, but a three or four month delay between issues certainly has an impact on general readability. The intricacy of Johnston’s plotting works like a double edged sword. While it never insults our intelligence and has miraculously always avoided exposition, it’s been a while and the large cast and multiple plot threads can be difficult to keep track of. With some mental prodding and the aid of the essential recap page, I can re-engage in Skot’s relationship with the Sunner population, the insurgency designed to destabilize the current administration, and keep guessing at what Marcus and Mary are truly up to. At the end of the day, I guess I’m saying that it’s still an intelligent and original work, it’s still an important title to support in single issues and prove to the industry that it can succeed, but it will definitely read better collected in light of the recent shipping frequency. I think the series sells well enough in trades that it wouldn’t be in danger of cancellation, and though it may be mildly frustrating to not get something I love on a strict monthly schedule, I’ll certainly keep buying it in every format as long as Antony Johnston, Christopher Mitten, and Oni Press are willing to create it. Grade B+.

Stumptown #3 (Oni Press): I really want to like this series more than I do, but many factors are making that difficult. If I had to sum it all up in one word, I guess that would be “inconsistent.” This book had been hyped for a couple of years, at least two San Diego Cons ago (if not three), it makes a big splashy debut, and then proceeds to ship as slow as molasses, moving from an ongoing, to then being solicited as a mini, to now an unconfirmable I don’t know what. In this issue, the art feels extremely rushed, with limited backgrounds and many awkward scenes and individual panels that are stiff and lack any kineticism. Perhaps some of the aesthetic failure is from (new?) colorist Rico Renzi, but the majority appear to be shared responsibility between writer and artist. Let’s rattle off a few examples… so, in the big standoff scene, the gun Dex has “borrowed” from Isabel turns out not to be loaded. Any law enforcement member or even a PI worth their salt, the minute they picked up a foreign weapon, would gently ease the slide back to ensure there was a chambered round, they could eject the magazine to check, or they’d rack the slide to be safe, they’d do any one of these three options to ensure the gun was loaded. That bugged me, especially from someone like Greg Rucka, who typically prides himself on research and getting the small details correct for an air of believability. So then, if a guy’s pointing a gun at you at near point blank range, there’s a good chance if you throw your unloaded gun at him suddenly, he’s going to flinch and shoot you. There’s that. In the next panel, the guy mysteriously isn’t holding his gun either, which is a gaffe, at least show that he dropped it or something. There are dark muddy inks in the Porsche sequence. There’s a weird, completely un-intuitive “rngg mngg” sound effect for an entire page that turns out to be a phone ringing. The phone rings a moment later and then we get… no sound effect at all? I know that Matthew Southworth is capable of delivering beautiful pages, just look at the huge double page expanse of Mount Tabor. It’s breathtaking; it’s obvious that time was spent crafting this page, but the same effort is severely lacking on others. In the end text piece a lot of troubling information is revealed. Rucka has been delivering pages out of order, partial issues scripted, and missing pages with loose instructions on length like “spread out a little if you want.” Southworth says that the bag of peas was the panel he enjoyed the most and spent an inordinate amount of time designing. Umm, how about you work on your panel to panel storytelling before getting lost down a rabbit hole and honing your graphic design skills on a bag of peas that inhabit a single small throwaway panel? Southworth talks about “The Deadline Man” calling and attempts to defend indie creators not conforming to mainstream values or deadlines. While it’s meant to be a self-effacing tongue-in-cheek monologue taking us behind the (zany!) curtain, I’m sorry, but it just comes off like amateur excuses and poor planning from everyone involved. It made me feel like there isn’t a single point failure, but an entire system of dysfunction and it was rather insulting when you expect me to plunk down $4 every few months you decide to belch out more content. I honestly don’t know if I want to purchase this title any longer. Grade B.

7 Comments:

At 11:55 AM, Anonymous Matthew Southworth said...

Hi Justin--

Sorry to hear you're not happy with this issue of Stumptown, and many of your concerns I understand completely.

Just wanted to address a couple of things you mentioned: Rico Renzi came on at the last minute after our original colorist stepped out of the project. He colored the issue very quickly, so I hope you won't hold that against him.

And just to make clear something about the series that a lot of people have found confusing: it IS an ongoing series. It is told in chunks, each "case" being four (or possibly five) issues. So when we finish the first case, there will be a break as we prepare the next one.

The scheduling has been a mess for all involved, due to a variety of factors. The intention was to go monthly, but many things, including my own glacial pace, have made that unworkable. Sorry for the switch-up there; I promise you it was unintentional.

I'm sorry to hear that the book is not 100% to your liking, but I hope you'll stick around and see if the first arc (one issue to go!) resolves in a way to make you reconsider. And if not, thank you anyway for supporting the book so far.

Best,
Matt Southworth

 
At 12:39 PM, Blogger Justin said...

Hi Matt,

Thanks for stopping by, I really appreciate your thoughtful response and your civility in the face of a, hopefully not surly, but less than glowing review.

Thanks also for the explanation of how the cases will be handled with breaks in between arcs! That makes sense, but it's disconcerting that this is the first time I've heard the explanation. I think a lot of people's concerns could be put to rest if that was addressed on the PR and marketing side in interviews, promotional materials, web blurbs, etc.

In light of your very gentlemanly and reasonable response, I will definitely pick up the fourth issue to finish out the first case and reconsider my support.

Thanks again, and regardless of my reservations, good luck with the series!

Justin

 
At 1:20 PM, Anonymous Matthew Southworth said...

Justin--

I didn't take your review as surly or untoward at all; I know that when I spend money on something, I have my hopes up, and I want it to be good (only a sucker buys something just to see how much they can hate it!). So if you're not happy with it, I'm glad you've told me what you thought.

And I also think that the more of this constructive feedback we get out there, the better comics/movies/music and just plain human behavior will be. Dunno about you, but I'm so sick of the cowardly anonymous hatred and bitching on the internet; but I love to read considered, honest responses to work.

Greg and I have set pretty high goals for ourselves on Stumptown, and we're bound to miss on occasion. I appreciate your willingness to stick it out to see whether we meet them.

Thanks!

Matt

 
At 1:51 PM, Blogger Justin said...

Matt,

Well, it looks like you and I park our cars in the same garage when it comes to general disposition on the interwebs.

With my role as a critic, all I can promise is my honest opinion and reaction, whether positive or negative (and you'll see I did review the first two issues very positively).

I always strive for a more symbiotic relationship with creators, trying to avoid the all too common combative encounter devoid of logic on both sides, so it's refreshing to find creators genuinely open to the value of feedback.

Humility gets you pretty far in life, in my book. Your reaction could have pushed me away from this book, but instead, it earned you a guaranteed sale. Pretty cool.

Thanks again,

Justin

 
At 11:15 AM, Blogger Ryan Claytor said...

This is what the creator/critic relationship should look like. You've really created and fostered an intelligent and thoughtful place for comics criticism on the web, Justin, and the company you're attracting is proving that.

Kudos to both of you, Justin and Matthew! P.S. Consider this a second sale, Matt. :)

Ryan Claytor
Elephant Eater Comics
www.ElephantEater.com

 
At 6:31 PM, Anonymous Matthew Southworth said...

Thanks, Ryan (and Justin)! Hope you both find it worth your while.

 
At 9:27 AM, Blogger Justin said...

Thanks, guys!

 

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