6.09.10 Reviews

Daytripper #7 (DC/Vertigo): I’ve devoured just about everything that Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon have done over the years, from De: Tales: Stories From Urban Brazil, to Casanova and The Umbrella Academy, to smaller projects like Sugarshock, and I’m inclined to agree with the Paul Pope pull quote adorning the cover of this issue – that this is “their best looking work to date.” It may not have the raw energy of something like Casanova, but it’s certainly more refined, and some of the credit definitely goes to colorist Dave Stewart. He makes ordinary things you might not typically notice simply hum with life, from innocuous clouds around the plane to Bras’ gentle eyes when he gets wispy about times past. When you think about what Leandro Fernandez did over on Northlanders recently, it feels like this sort of South American (mostly Brazilian) Renaissance of Sequential Art. In addition to the reflective introspection we’ve grown accustomed to from this title, the creators also explore the notion of separating the creator from the work in the mind of the audience. It was a fascinating bit of commentary, using Bras’ rising star as a novelist as a cipher. It was a treat to see the “origin story” of the friendship between Bras and Jorge, and while the title continued to examine the repercussions of both paths taken and not taken in life, the art is so good that it almost kept distracting me from the story. It’s easy to get lost in the depictions these artists are capable of. Their women are gorgeous yet realistic, the men are strong yet vulnerable, and the places are used yet beautiful. Did you ever hear that dream interpretation explanation that says you are represented by all characters in your dreams? That the people who appear are not the people you think they are, merely slivered aspects of self divulging inner drives while you slumber? That popped into my head while reading this issue, and I began to notice that to some extent all of the characters found in this series can be read as various personifications of the multi-faceted personality of Bras. There are components of him that are the pragmatic wife, the larger than life father, the recklessly bold best friend, the comical boss, or the nice stranger, all reflections of the central figure. Despite those digressions of thought, the main premise seems to still be seizing moments in life, not assuming “we got all the time in the world,” and the realization that comes with age that there are so many opportunities presented in life, hopefully the scale tips in the direction of those explored, and not those squandered. The grand plan with the title still remains a little mysterious, but the individual moments are precious. And that’s kinda’ the point. As if the contents of the issue weren’t strong enough, the marketing folks at DC really offered a complete package here that suits me well. We also get an ad for Stuck Rubber Baby, a preview of Revolver by Matt Kindt (which looks amazing, from the CNN-style newsfeed cleverly housing page numbers at the bottom, to the story blend of Brian Wood’s last issue of Demo, Christopher Nolan’s Memento, Jumper, Lost’s “sideways timeline,” and Kindt’s rough espionage feel from Super Spy), ads for my favorite Vertigo books Scalped and Northlanders, and an editorial piece from Joshua Dysart, the writer of Neil Young’s Greendale. In short, this little floppy pamphlet is really a good snapshot of everything I’m interested in. Grade A+.

Echo #22 (Abstract Studio): The opening sequence is a good reminder of Terry Moore’s skill as a visual storyteller. Sans dialogue, we instantly get a real sense of the quiet contemplation occurring. I say this as a long-time fan of Moore’s artistic ability, but man, it’s like his pencils have gotten dramatically better here all of a sudden. What happened?! They’ve always been good, but here they seem to really come alive in the Ivy and Julie sequence with a much higher level of detail, more ink, and a really compact sense of energy. Rather than lone figures in clean panels, there are multiple figures, lush backgrounds, and tons of action taking place within a single panel’s border. I really enjoyed the way that Ivy and Julie began bickering, it’s that same sort of realistic faux-argument that people who are crushin’ on each other tend to get caught up in. It’s the energy between them that, for the moment, has no place else to go, so it manifests like a small feud. The Hong sequence is creepy and intense. I remember Moore saying in a panel at the San Diego Con that he has a definite end in mind for Echo and that it would run probably around 30 issues or so. I’ll be sad to see it go, but I hope it ends up in a deluxe omnibus type of format. I’ve been saying all along that it’s one of the best series around, full of charm, style, originality, craft, and entertainment, but it’s also simply just one of my favorites for reasons I can’t even explain objectively. Grade A+.

Invincible Iron Man #27 (Marvel): Salvador Larroca seems to have Lost (heh) most of the overt photo-referencing tics, save for the very in your face use of Sawyer as the model for Tony Stark. Pepper’s lines feel slightly whiny and out of character, and that comes amid lots of talky bits about getting Stark Resilient off the ground. Yet even though there’s tons of talky, Fraction’s ear for crisp smart dialogue is ever present. “I’m going to power the world with cheap, wireless, infinitely replenishable energy without dependence on fossil fuels” is the sort of thing you wish President Obama would say, the same type of bold bravery that calls to mind JFK’s promise to put a man on the moon. You also have to really appreciate a character like Bambi Arbogast, who is a fun little firecracker of a woman who can hold her own with Tony and Pepper. The Rhodey sequence feels like heavy handed foreshadowing, making him come off like Nameless Crewman #4, the hapless guy who beams down with Kirk and Spock, not even realizing he’s about to meet his maker. Nitpicks aside, still probably the best title Marvel is delivering, and show me another mainstream title that’s gone 27 issues from inception, all on time mind you, with the same creative team. Grade A-.

Johan Hex #1: Special Edition (DC/Vertigo): My knee jerk reaction was “way to go, DC!” This seems like a really smart move to offer a free reprint of the first issue, dressed with reference to the impending film, and shovel it out to drum up interest in the movie and comic series. Sea Donkey had these (albeit in an Image Comics book dump) sitting proudly at the register and most people were snatching them up. It’s a good enough intro to the series with that Frank Quitely cover, though the interior depiction of Hex does reek obviously of Clint Eastwood, and that opening salvo of pages is direct homage to some of the Mexican Standoffs found in Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns. The more I thought about it though, the less sense this seemed to make. It’s unclear to me how this is best suited as a marketing device, is it courting moviegoers, comic readers, both, or none? Let’s discuss by starting with comic book readers. Assumably the LCS crowd already knows that a property named Jonah Hex exists and have already made their decision as to whether or not they’ll be seeking out the movie or reading the comic book. The free comic probably isn’t going to sway them to see the movie, and/or seek out the series if they haven’t done so already. So, giving comic book readers a free copy isn’t likely to turn people on to the movie or the book, so this is a wash. You’re just giving away loss leaders with no return on investment. The readership doesn’t grow. Let’s now look at the flip side and discuss non-comic readers. Let’s assume that this book is targeted at the mythic movie crowd who is going to see the movie and then rush right out to their LCS to get more Jonah Hex in their life. This is a no risk taste of the series, but if they’re not in an LCS to begin with, how would they even know it existed? What if they take the freebie and don’t purchase anything else? In order for this model to work, several steps have to be undertaken, and any process engineer will tell you that with each step in a process there is a percentage of dropout that occurs along the way. As a non-comic reader, I would have to a) have awareness of the movie, b) decide to see the movie, c) like the movie enough to take action, d) somehow learn that it’s based on a comic, e) decide to seek out said comics, f) have access to an LCS, g) seek out the LCS, h) assume the LCS has this for free, i) try this issue for free, j) like it enough to want to purchase more, k) assume the LCS is savvy enough to carry more, l) and then hopefully purchase a TPB. It seems to me that a very small percentage of consumers will successfully navigate that process from start to finish. If you follow Toyota’s Kaizen philosophy of step reduction and efficiency, you know that most processes that are successful involve the least number of steps as possible in order to avoid human error and the dreaded dropout rate. If anything, you could just arrange to pass these out with paid movie admission and cut half of the steps right out of the process. So then, we have not converted comic readers to movie or comic sales, and we have arguably converted a very small percentage of non-comic moviegoers to comic sales. Is there another option? I was wondering if placing these freebies in a distribution channel outside of the DM would do anything. Let’s say some retail outlet like Barnes & Noble (just for the sake of argument) carried these. They’d largely be targeted at a “lay” audience unaware of the property, one that might not be aware there was a movie named Jonah Hex due out, and one that probably wouldn’t be aware there was a comic book that it was based on. By giving them the freebie, you’ve increased brand awareness on both fronts. If they like the book, they may seek out the movie. If they like the book, they may opt to purchase a TPB from this distribution channel. Heck, they might do both. It seems to me that this yields the highest potential for not only revenue generation, but also conversion into comic readership, simply because of the numbers involved. The freebie would be exposed to exponentially more consumers by not relying on the DM, and therein lies the rub I suppose. This model would completely cut the DM out of the process, which is a huge hot button issue right now, yet from a business perspective seems to contain the highest potential for actual dollar intake at the box office and the bookstore register. So, I don’t know. Is this a well-timed, but ill-conceived strategy? It would be great to hear from someone at DC marketing that cooked up this project and better understand the reasoning. In any case, it was a good free comic. Grade A.

Uncanny X-Men #525 (Marvel): I’m pretty sure I caught a couple of typos, “envelopes” when “envelops” was intended, and a missing “a” in the sentence “…because you want to have nice parade,” which is rare for a Marvel book, but that’s really neither here nor there. It’s funny to me that I buy this regularly, but I have missed tons in this crossover simply because I don’t purchase any of the other books involved in the crossover. Even though Uncanny X-Men is supposedly the “main” X-book, it only gives me 3 out of 13 of the core story issues, and 3 of 21 if you include the extended titles. That’s pretty shoddy. I was glad to see Terry Dodson here, and not Greg Land, who provides fun renditions of the Fantastic Four and The Avengers. There still isn’t tons of detail in the line work, the figures are a little “blobby” and the backgrounds are extremely basic, but it does the job. I wouldn’t say that the scenes flow smoothly, they’re very jumpy cuts that feel episodic, but that probably has more to do with the demands of the script than Dodson’s art. If you overlook some of those technical issues and the inherent time travel paradox (if mutants have been eradicated in this future alternate timeline, then why would it be necessary for Bastion to come back and attack?), there are plenty of fun moments. Rogue gets a sweet scene, it’s not often you get to see Namor in distress, the eyes may give clues as to Hope’s lineage, and great lines from Cable and Scott in crisis mode. “We don’t come out until the future is razed and the past is saved,” along with “This is all hands on deck. The ship’s going down.” I guess my main criticism with this issue (and the title as a whole) is apparent in the scene that’s a big nod to the classic Days of Future Past storyline. It’s that the visuals are often rendered so passively ambivalent (not total crap, not great, just sorta’ there) that they don’t match the gravitas Fraction’s scripts usually shoot for. Grade B+.

S.H.I.E.L.D. #2 (Marvel): Dustin Weaver delivers some big gorgeous shots of The Immortal City, but the Nathaniel Richards and Howard Stark scenes are a bit hard to parse. They’re upside down and sideways, with cramped triangular panels, and the only thing I was able to decipher from that two page spread was uhh… “they fight.” For the most part this is still visually a treat (check the Swiss Guard “shock troops”) and it comes with Jonathan Hickman’s trademark page o’ chat transcript, but while the individual scenes are intriguing, I have no sense of what the larger story is or what the motivations are of the Council, DaVinci, Night Machine, the agents, or Leonid. It’s frustrating to be so visually engaged, but not be able to get as strong a foothold on the plot. Grade B+.

Meta 4 #1 (Image): Ted McKeever’s 5 issue mini-series seems to revolve around an amnesiac astronaut, a dude named Bosco, and a woman named Gasolina dressed up as Santa Claus. The tone feels like Kent Williams’ graphic novel The Fountain (based on Darren Aaronofsky’s script, becoming a film after the GN) married with portions of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. It starts off being concerned with perceptions of reality shaping our existence, but also moves into the territory of dimensional discovery and a sort of sci-fi infused sense of self-discovery. There are some fun interactive symbols that allow the audience to supply their own dialogue and meaning. While parts of this are interesting, it’s a bit too experimental and non-linear, to the point of being obtuse and inaccessible, for me. Is he on the moon, a beach, the boardwalk, or a Nevada test site? Will we ever know? Does it even matter? Call me cranky, but I grew weary trying to decipher. Grade B.

I also picked up;

Neil Young’s Greendale (DC/Vertigo): I’ve never listened to this infamous album, but you’d be hard pressed to come up with a more intriguing creative team, with Joshua Dysart, Cliff Chiang, Dave Stewart, and Todd Klein delivering a beautiful package that is a reinterpretation of the concept album, rock opera, movie, and art book. I can’t wait to dive in.


At 11:42 AM, Blogger Ryan Claytor said...

Daytripper: I was reading this issue while doing cardio in the gym. I got chills and started welling up at the unexpected climax between Bras and Jorge. The Brazilian Bros. have really painted some alluring, relatable, and fallible characters.

Echo: Every issue I'm pissed that I'm paying $3.50 for only 18 pages of story. ...and I just...can't...stop. :)

Ryan Claytor
Elephant Eater Comics

At 1:00 PM, Blogger Justin said...

Daytripper feels like a classic in the making. It's great to see it unfold "real time."

Echo is one of those books that's so good, the price is an after thought to me. Is it $3.50? Ok. I'd probably pay $4.99 and not bat an eye because, to me, it's worth it. If price should be based on ineherent quality, then it's THAT good!


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