3.26.08 Reviews

All Star Superman #10 (DC): Grant Morrison delivers his usual imaginative and dramatic script as the “last will and testament” of the Man of Tomorrow begins to play out. There are so many rich ideas embedded here, one that jumped out was the notion that if Superman has truly achieved his destiny of showing man at his best, and representing that futuristic ideal, then the true test is if the world becomes a better place in the wake of his departure. Morrison is able to deliver these thought provoking concepts, as well as more comedic parody, such as the way Lois (love how Quitely draws her!) confesses that she places herself in damsel-in-distress type situations merely to get Kal-El’s attention. The creators also exhibit a fun sci-fi sensibility, as with the ultimate disposition of Kandor. They offer metatextual commentary with the seeding of Earth Q. There’s no end to what this creative team is capable of and the many aspects they can simultaneously juggle. This is not just fun and engaging, it’s not just well-balanced, it is perfect. This may be the most intelligent Superman comic of all time. Grade A+.

Transhuman #1 (Image): Initially, I was a bit concerned that Jonathan Hickman might be stretching himself too thin already. Pax Romana hasn’t been wrapped, Red Mass for Mars is now basically months late, and here we go with Transhuman. Those fears were quickly put to rest. I was on board with this book from the very first page, which lends a very E! True Hollywood Story sort of vibe to the whole endeavor. Hickman’s typical bold story idea and strong core premise benefits greatly here from JM Ringuet’s more traditional artistic approach to page layouts. I enjoyed Hickman's experimental graphic design immensely on previous works, but this makes for a much more accessible reading experience. We’ve got everything from playful jabs at the X-Men to some brilliant analysis of market shifts and the competing paradigms of science, business, and consumerism. Speaking as a refugee from high-tech Silicon Valley, Hickman’s scripts can also be analogized to the rise and fall of many corporations. Aided by JM Ringuet’s visceral detail and style (reminiscent in spots of Brett Weldele), this may be Hickman’s true breakout book. Grade A.

Dan Dare #5 (Virgin): I realized that I really only like Garth Ennis’ writing when he’s dealing with militaristic, warfare, historical, procedural jargon. I actually don’t dig his sci-fi concepts. Thankfully, this issue is mostly centered on the former. Erskine drops a nice “Ministry of Space” cookie into the bookshelf and Dare’s “old man’s talk” was quite moving with a sense of melancholy from a character who may have just realized, in the aftermath of his friend’s death, that he’s outlived his time. You could argue that bits of this story are derivative of Independence Day or even Han’s fate on Bespin, but those nitpicks are mostly overshadowed by a gripping conversation with Christian about what’s right and wrong, and the decision-making process required of those who are leaders of men. Grade B+.

New Avengers #39 (Marvel): When did Maya and Logan hook up? Did I miss an issue of something? So, this issue goes a little something like this. Maya: “Cap’s dead. Are we going to just sit around and do nothing? Are we just waiting for Skrulls?” Logan: “I’m Logan. I’m cool, and I know stuff.” Maya then proceeds to fight a Skrully dupe of herself which sounds like this for a few pages: “Oof! Naagh! Nguuk… No! CRACK! BAMF!” The End. I mean, it’s always good to see David Mack working. And I did enjoy the convo between Hawkeye and Maya. It was a good lesson in things being relative and it was just a cute scene. That aside, there just wasn’t much there there. When the most exciting thing to me is the ad for Amazing Spider-Man #555 with Zeb Wells and Chris Bachalo, I feel something is amiss. Or Bendis is just writing for the trade. Grade B.

Gipi @ SDCCI

I was excited to read this morning that Gipi will be a special guest at this year's San Diego Comic Con International! Gipi (Gian Alfonso Pacinotti) is an award winning creator and is widely considered the godfather of the Italian graphic novel; his most recent works, published in English by First Second, include the marvelous Garage Band and Notes For a War Story, both favorites here at 13 Minutes.


3.19.08 Reviews (Part 2)

Wasteland #15 (Oni Press): It takes heaps of confident bravado to propose an idea this experimental and actually pull it off. In a daring move, Johnston and Mitten give us nearly an entire issue in Sand-Eater speak, providing some insight into this part of the post-apocalyptic culture, along with interesting flashbacks full of clues as to the origin of their created universe. The idea of “A-Ree-Yass-I” being a corrupted form of “Area 51” again rears its head, and again I’ll remind everyone that I first mentioned that months ago here at 13 Minutes, really, check the archives. But, I actually don’t think creators as crafty as these two would use something that relatively simple to figure out. Their clues are harder and more engaging than that to crack. I just can’t wait for each successive issue; I’m so excited to discover the secret origins of The Big Wet. How’d we get here? Medical experiments? Biological plague? Nuclear holocaust? Global warming? Environmental disaster? The options are as endless as they are appealing. Thanks again to the gang at Oni Press for including a pull quote from me on the back cover of this issue! Wussslanddis agraaadeboog, urilly speg-taklur deeesplaya riiiiteeen thaaaa- What? Too much Sand-Eater? Ok, Wasteland is a great book; it’s a really spectacular display of writing and art that defies genre categorization and transcends the confines of the medium to achieve not just pop culture perfection, but social relevance as a cautionary tale. Grade A.

Fear Agent: Hatchet Job #3 (Dark Horse): Jerome Opena’s art is on fire! This issue, he seems to be channeling his inner Frank Quitely, from the cover to the very last page we get the slender pencils and nuanced details of an artist at the top of his game. I will confess that I miss the trademark Samuel Clemens quotes, but the entire package of damsels in distress, space faring rogues, imaginative alien conflicts, and retro sci-fi monster mash has basically captured the spirit of what adventure comics should be. Grade A-.

War is Hell: The First Flight of The Phantom Eagle #1 (Marvel/Max): The opening page of narration really got me into the right mindset for what I imagined this story to be. Then I got pushed right back out because of some pretty stock characterization and hoary dialogue. There’s the dingleberry American who glamorizes warfare until he actually encounters it, the slightly aloof Brits, the humorously drunk and raving mad commanding officer, and… I don’t know. For a book entitled “War is Hell,” I sort of expect a more serious tone. Thankfully, the entire package is redeemed somewhat by Chaykin’s interior art and John Cassaday’s *perfect* covers. The artists will likely compel me to return for an issue or two, but I’ll definitely be looking for the gravitas of the opening text boxes rather than the clichéd dialogue found within this first installment. Grade B+.


3.19.08 Reviews (Part 1)

Ex Machina #35 (DC/Wildstorm): Aside from Brian K. Vaughan’s Sorkin-esque writing and Tony Harris’ amazing art, Ex Machina’s greatest strength is perhaps its fearless willingness to take on complicated social issues. One of the most challenging things, being a fan of the series, has been trying to understand Mayor Mitchell Hundred’s motivation. Much of the series has been rooted in addressing those social issues and has thus created a plot driven narrative rather than a character driven one. This issue, I feel like Vaughan has finally started to address that, as evidenced by the line “guilt that we got a future with fucking jetpacks before we got one with an even playing field.” Perhaps this fictional development is what drives both Hundred and his scribe Vaughan to address those sticky real-world social issues, be them from New York’s gubernatorial mansion or from behind a writer’s desk. Grade B+.

Checkmate #24 (DC): It kind of bugged that Superman was portrayed as a little naïve in the face of Kobra’s suicidal tendencies, and the ethnocentric religious perceptions were a little one dimensional as well. It also felt as if Rucka and company were trying to cram quite a bit into this issue/arc. We’ve got the JLA, JSA, and basically every known meta on the planet all being deputized by Checkmate to take on millions of sleeper cell agents. In one issue! This is really the type of thing that DC should spin up into a crossover event, not the junk they’ve been choosing to use recently. But, I digress. It’s really all over the map here, but the strong point literally gave me chills when Valentina delivers the line “we are seeking unanimous approval to activate The Rooks.” Grade B.

The Immortal Iron Fist #13 (Marvel): This incarnation of Iron Fist may best be described as a summer action movie with a brain. The action’s wild, but there are poignant introspective moments like Jeryn’s realization that Xao is basically a bully, and you never appease and aggressor. There are so many stories at play here, there’s the comedic value of “Danny has a plan,” Davos being confronted with taking on some personal accountability, and a full scale revolution in K’un-Lun. That’s topped off with a last page cliffhanger that brings out a surprising “woohoo!” from the reader. I still think there are too many artists at play here, and that distracts from the story rather than enhancing it, but you’d be hard pressed to find a more enjoyable superhero book with this much intelligence. Grade B.

The Circle #5 (Image): As usual, The Circle is a bit uneven. I didn’t really like how the denoument of this story degenerates to a couple of chics basically mud wrestling. The glasss/metal piercing Ulee’s hand would have likely put him into shock from the mere sight of it, the blood loss, and the sheer pain. There’s also just a ton of information crammed in here about the resolution of this story and building up some momentum for a potential second arc. Some of the details and texture in the art work that attracted me to the first issue returned though, but as the creators confess awful sales figures and an abrupt stop to the series, it’s all too little too late. It’s a shame these five issues were so inconsistent because I would have liked to see more from these creators and/or this title. Instead, they exit quietly stage left. Good luck, guys. I’d definitely check out the first issue of a future title from this creative team if they’re up for another go. Grade B-.


3.12.08 Reviews (Part 2)

DMZ #29 (DC/Vertigo): Wood’s allusion to surge tactics, manufactured stabilization, staged elections, and the role of the UN are all relevant and poignant observations that you can correlate to current events. While the text box narration used to describe the development of the cease fire talks are a bit of an expository cheat, reminding me of the spinning newspaper headlines used in movies to quickly get information across, they’re really offset by the superb nature of the total package. Wood gives us a charismatic, young, urban, ethnic iconoclast – the opening shots (pun intended) take on so much more meaning once the preceding story elements are laid down. Burchielli’s pencils continue to impress with their depth and clarity, and a gritty but polished aesthetic perfectly capturing the tone of the series. Grade A.

Abe Sapien: The Drowning #2 (Dark Horse): Alexander’s art is beautiful; topping it off with Dave Stewart’s colors, particularly the gorgeous yellow hues and earth tones, is just icing on the cake. I did enjoy the routine demeanor of the BPRD Agents, their feeling that nothing exciting ever happens, it’s just a job, and if Hellboy’s not around, even they think it’s kinda’ monotonous. Either nothing exciting happened this issue or I’m just getting tired of all this monster business. The titles in this universe are consistently well executed, but they never blow me away. Grade B.

BPRD: 1946 #3 (Dark Horse): Hard core Hellboy and BPRD fans must be eating this up. Never before has there been such consistent delivery of Mignola-verse projects than Dark Horse has been able to put out in the last few years. Are you waiting for the “but?” But… yeah, I’m getting tired of all this monster business. I like the notion of the inmates literally taking over the asylum here, the Nazi experimental vats are truly creepy, but I just find the whole endeavor a bit difficult to engage with. The mission parameters are obtuse, there’s random flying owls and mysterious demonic appearances that go largely un-commented on, and I just find it hard to care all that much anymore. Perhaps I’ve outgrown Hellboy/BPRD, or it’s outgrown me. Azaceta’s art appears flat, with no depth, and is not aided by the heavy dark inks required by the tone of the story, two competing systems pulling at each other. Grade B-.

The Lone Ranger & Tonto #1 (Dynamite Entertainment): At first glance, the art of Mario Guevara hits you with the sketchy pencil lines of Leinil Francis Yu, but then you start to notice how stiff and awkward the lines are. They have a cold and clinical feel, not the warm earthiness needed to serve these types of stories. There are odd human poses, distorted features, and skewed anatomical proportions of all shapes, sizes, and creatures. Check out the bloated horses, who look like fat cows atop four toothpicks. The panel to panel transitions are just simply not clear. There were at least three instances where I needed to go back and study sequences to try and figure out what happened. The credits list both Brett Matthews and John Abrams on writing chores. Typically, Matthews’ scripts are spot on in terms of dialogue. I’m wondering if he handled the plotting and Abrams is to blame for the actual dialogue which is wooden and needed to be first read aloud before finalized in order to see how it doesn’t flow. There are some crazy leaps in logic, such as “Hey, there’s a shovel here! That means someone must have buried some stuff, because you couldn’t also bury the shovel!” WTF? I think the point of this book was to show that true evil simply exists and can’t be overcome, but even that isn’t very clear. Overall, I think it was probably just too early to spin off; extreme focus needs to be placed on the main title to maintain that level of quality. This was not necessary and not good; an expensive ($4.99) and wasted effort. Grade C-.

I also picked up;

DMZ: Volume 4: Friendly Fire (DC/Vertigo)


3.12.08 Reviews (Part 1)

Serenity: Better Days #1 (Dark Horse): On the positive side, this capable team has certainly captured the ear for quirky dialogue that the lamented show displayed with a certain je ne sai quoi; the one that we all enjoyed so immensely. However, I feel that these titles suffer from certain critical bits pulling a Scarlett Johansson and becoming lost in translation from the small screen to the printed page. It's just simply impossible to capture the low-fi sci-fi spectacle that made Firefly so gritty and grand. Visually, it just doesn't hum as well on paper. And I'm sorry, but no matter the inherent strength of the artist you put on the project, you'll never be able to capture the radiant beauty of Morena Baccarin's Inara, the sideways glances and comedic timing of Malcolm Reynolds, or the sheer insanity of a character like Wash. Love Whedon. Love the show. Love the movie. But can only muster a "like" for these comics that amount to inconsequential lost episodes. Grade B.

The Last Defenders #1 (Marvel): I feel like I'm having to caveat things quite a bit lately, but here goes... I'm a fan of Joe Casey, but this was basically an unmitigated disaster. With minimal exception, there's largely a bunch of c-list characters running around that I don't give a crap about. The book sits on the fence between aspiring to be either The Order or The Mighty Avengers, but isn't nearly as unique as the former and certainly not as readable in a mindless entertainment sorta' way as the latter. There's some pretty glaring continuity gaffes, such as the SHIELD Helicarrier being the "old model," when Tony was proudly showing off his new "Stark model" over in Mighty Avengers, or the inclusion of Colossus who is still in space dealing with the Breakworld Prophecy (blame it on lateness, but still it's an obvious inconsistency that smacks you in the face). So, uhh, way to go Marvel Editorial. The art is inconsistent from Jim Muniz; showing a sleek "cool enough" sorta' vibe in some spots, then degenerating to a blocky disproportionate, just ugly feel in others. There's a couple decent comedic moments, such as the jab at DC's "Monitor Duty," but that's largely offset by the random sets, forced inorganic tension between team members, the flaming skull guy whose uniform looks like a rejected version of M. Bison from Street Fighter, and the very telegraphed intentions of reuniting some form of Dr. Strange, The Hulk, and a Namor archetype. Grade C-.


3.05.08 Reviews (Part 3)

Echo #1 (Abstract Studio): Let me first get the requisite information that every other reviewer on the interwebs seems to feel compelled to include when discussing this book… This is the new book from Terry Moore. Terry Moore did Strangers In Paradise. Rasl also came out recently. Jeff Smith did Rasl. Jeff Smith did Bone. Dave Sim did Cerebus the Aardvark. He has a new book coming out too. They are the old school independent creator/publishers. I will now compare them for no other apparent reason. Ahem. So… Terry Moore’s new book looks beautiful. The stunning cover leaps off the stand at you. Artistically, it boasts the trademark expressive and crisp lines that made SiP so enjoyable. If you don’t dwell too long on the questionable nuclear physics of “viscoelasticity” and inorganic polymers, you get a wonderful origin story rooted in the classic 1960’s Marvel atomic paranoia that spawned Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Daredevil, and the X-Men. I enjoyed the many concurrent voices and caption boxes; Moore doesn’t insult our intelligence and over-explain them. I’ve seen a lot of criticism for this title not really going anywhere. Hey, relax. It’s the first issue. What’s with the rush to set up an entire new world in the first issue and have major character development, a fight scene, a cliffhanger, a love interest, and a villain? Are we losing our collective patience with new properties? Do we really want/need more of that formulaic approach? Where is this sense of immediacy coming from? Let’s just watch. In the interim, we get great lines like “the margin between insanity and genius is measured by success” while reminding ourselves that a truly unique vision takes time to develop and unfold. Grade A.

The End League #2 (Dark Horse): As Remender himself is quick to point out, yes “it’s derivative.” Yes, “it’s just a superhero story,” so the complaints that this isn’t original can just stop already. Obviously the archetypes themselves aren’t wholly original, they never claimed to be. And that’s sort of the point. The concepts aren’t original, but Remender’s analysis of these familiar molds is. The direction that Remender takes us in suggests that heroes first and foremost are people. Therefore, they’re fallible. They’re flawed and they make mistakes, in ways that the archetypes of Marvel and DC he’s working with would never be allowed to. He’s able to tinker away here and instead of deconstructionism, gives us realism. If these people with their inherent greed and shades of gray really had powers and that all played out to its natural conclusion, what would become of the world? In the end, you just might see a league banding together like this, since “there exists no perfect conclusion.” Grade A-.

Pax Romana #2 (Image): My reaction remains a bit mixed on this title, and Jonathan Hickman’s work in general. While the straight dialogue/text pieces can be dense and downright boring, some scenes certainly pop. The General revealing himself to Constantine comes to mind. You also can’t help but fall in love with the dichotomy of two helicopters and a few armored vehicles taking on 100,000 Roman soldiers. The grand concept, which is a fantastic one, suffers a bit from the eclectic format and execution. While it may not connect squarely with the audience, it is definitely ambitious and different. That said, even if it fails, you have to acknowledge the nobility of the attempt. There’s few creators that I’m more anxiously awaiting new projects from. Grade B+.

Logan #1 (Marvel): Eduardo Risso’s amazing art is immediately noticeable here. Unlike his work on 100 Bullets, which uses more shadow and is overall more representational, this is highly detailed with rich backgrounds. Take a look at the snow and the trees and the mountains and the streams. They’re lush in a way that 100 Bullets simply doesn’t call for. Brian K. Vaughan has some nice tricks up his sleeve too, showing Logan’s honor during warfare, a clever hiding of his abilities, and a typical BKV cliffhanger that makes you want to pick up the next issue. I do believe that nothing terribly new was done here, but it was done extremely well. Perhaps this proves that there is a bit of story life left in this overexposed property. Grade B+.

I also picked up;

Best Erotic Comics 2008 (Last Gasp): An interesting anthology with some great contributors, such as Justin Hall, Ellen Forney, Colleen Coover, and Trina Robbins.

3.05.08 Reviews (Part 2)

Northlanders #4 (DC/Vertigo): Sven gets a brief respite from the eventual assault directed by Uncle Gorm, as the natural cycles and rhythms of the North play out in an understated and beautiful way. Brian Wood has got to be the most grateful young writer at DC right now, as he's continually getting paired with brilliant artists who will no doubt be the superstars of tomorrow. First it was Burchielli on DMZ and now we have Gianfelice on this title. I enjoyed the introspective tone of Sven in this issue; he's starting to fully comprehend that his actions have an effect on those around him, which can sometimes be tragic. The little details in Wood's script shine here. Case in point, "whatever the afterlife, Norse or Muslim, or even that of the White Christ." In the hands of a lesser writer that last bit would have simply referred to "Christians" and not have been terribly distinct. But our man Brian Wood understands the subtle nuances of word choice that make his language use rich and unique. Sven himself is a wonderful protagonist because he isn't simply a mindless brawler; he's a warrior with the soul of a poet. Grade A.

Note: Ok, maybe I should have said 3.05.08 Review, but the remaining handful of reviews for the week should be up some time this weekend!


3.05.08 Reviews (Part 1)

Scalped #15 (DC/Vertigo): I was very drawn to the emotional arc that Bad Horse travels this issue. He begins by resisting any feelings whatsoever about his dead mother in a very dismissive and emotionally stunted way. By the end, the veneer is cracked and he actually begins some semblance of a glimmer of grieving. Chief Red Crow actually steals the show though, proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the world of Scalped rejects the idea that life is black and white. We see that even a bad man can show concern, or be insulted by an insinuation that he is responsible for the death of someone he’s not ordered the actual death of. Writer Jason Aaron is a master of depicting layered and complex personalities and evolving motivators. I’ve been considering Scalped a lot recently and why I’ve defended it as a masterpiece and even advocated for it as Vertigo's new flagship book. *Sometimes I think that being a critic is easy. You don’t really risk anything. You stand aside those who have created something, judging a piece of their soul that they’ve sacrificed and put out into the world. People are delighted with negative reviews because they’re fun to write and fun to read. Only occasionally does a critic have an opportunity to take on a risk. It’s in the positive review that defends something new and different. The world is harsh on new and different things; they need friends. That’s why I’ll continue to defend Scalped as nothing short of brilliant. Grade A.

(*with apologies to Disney’s Ratatouille)

Justice League: The New Frontier Special #1 (DC): I completely understand the marketing angle with the animated movie here, but the inside of this issue was branded as “Justice League: The New Frontier Animated Special.” All I ask for is a little consistency with the title of the book. I was also a little put off by the soapboxed allegory of giving up personal liberties in order to preserve national security. It’s a worthwhile issue, but I’d prefer it to be less transparent. That aside, I enjoyed Rip Hunter’s intro that wisely throws continuity to the wind, and dug the humor: “If I may say, sir, that was an exemplary bit of parking.” We’re reminded that Bruce is a brilliant tactician, with some foreshadowing to many of the battles that Bruce and Clark will wage through the coming decades. I love that Diana is portrayed visually as a bit on the umm… plump side, not in a hyper-sexualized way. She is curvaceous and voluptuous; a truly classic beauty. I absolutely loved the unexpected and dramatic reveal of Bruce Wayne. I’m reminded of an old issue of (was it Justice League?) a book that explained why Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are indeed the Holy Trinity of the DC Universe and why their relationship(s) are interlocked. It was said that Clark represents the potential of man at his best, he is the hopeful ideal, truly the Man of Tomorrow. Bruce is first and foremost the world’s most brilliant detective, he investigates and recreates, relying on the past for clues, in many ways he is the man of yesterday. Diana must reside solely in the present, the integral bond bridging the gap between man’s broken past and his promise of a bright future, with her Amazonian peace transcending these two extremes. The Robin/Kid Flash story is harmless enough, perfectly capturing the 1960’s hipster aesthetic it strives for. There’s a great faux-house ad for other DC properties related to The New Frontier, and an end piece starring femme power versions of Diana and Dinah that would make Gloria Steinham proud. I have to give DC credit for being really smart about providing a gateway book for kids who will no doubt watch the animated movie and go looking for a related book with a (relatively) affordable price point. Grade A.

Casanova #12 (Image): The opening shootout rattles and hums with little moments of homage to Star Wars, blows our skulls off with extreme forced perspective shots, enamors us with kitschy fourth wall breaking moments, and truly lives up to its name as Zephyr really fucks some shit up. Casanova remains one of the best experimental works in progress. Grade A-.

X-Force #2 (Marvel): It’s a bummer to pick up on two incomplete and awkward sentences in the intro section and it made me wince to read tired lines like “…with extreme prejudice.” The art, once again, runs the gamut from looking overly CGI’d and photo-referenced, coming off as fake, like a bad copy of the old Dragon’s Lair video game, all the way to being kind of charming – I loved the depiction of Warren, it really grew on me. I’m confused by Risman saying that he wouldn’t hesitate to kill another mutant, but then he (merely) shoots Rahne in the knee, rather than killing her, simply to advance the plot. I did enjoy Logan struggling with a leadership role (and doing his best Mr. Blonde), and enjoyed Cyclops letting him make mistakes in order to learn even more. I don’t understand how X-23 (doing her best Boushh) didn’t blow up her entire team – very haphazard. Overall, I think you can see that this title is all over the map. There are elements I enjoy, but times I need to really suspend disbelief and internal logic for the property. It seems to go for big, cool moments at the expense of said logic. As we get a set up for the return of an old character (which makes Rahne's involvement a little clearer perhaps), this may best be described as a guilty pleasure. Grade B.

Powers #28 (Marvel/Icon): I’m generally a fan of Bendis’ writing. As is common in life, I think he gets more credit for the things he does right than he deserves and also takes more crap than he deserves for his mistakes. That said, I think that he lost his way on this title long ago. The basic conceit of Powers during its initial run from Image Comics was that Detectives Pilgrim and Walker were non-powered cops in a city rampant with super powered beings. Now, Walker is some sort of intergalactic guardian chock full of powers, Pilgrim has powers she neither understands, nor is able to control, and Calista is even masquerading as a new incarnation of Retro Girl. The title is full of double page spreads with minimal dialogue, instead of the conversational grids full of talking heads that it once employed. I’m reminded of X-Files; a concept with a great premise that ultimately lingers too long with too much unresolved. I’d prefer a story with a finite end, instead of repetitive plots on the micro level, and no closure on many ongoing threads at the macro level. Grade B-.


Graphic Novel Of The Month

Meltdown #1 & 2 (Image): This month we’re featuring an oldie, but a goodie. Meltdown was a largely unnoticed two issue mini-series running from December of ’06 to January of ’07. It started with that beautiful and moody Chris Bachalo cover and just never let up. It offered us both the high and low points spanning one man’s life, as his body is literally melting down. His flame-based powers begin to consume him, his cells decaying as his body begins to absorb energy at a faster rate than it can disperse safely.

Writer David B. Schwartz and Artist Sean Wang quickly introduce us to their costumed hero The Flare, who becomes nothing more than a footnote in the grand scheme of the world he inhabits. His only true legacy in his “story of my not-so-life” is what cannot be seen, what little he unintentionally imparts on those around him.

I appreciate how the creators gave us a real person who lived under the radar, without much fanfare. Their hero, and the telling of his tale, went largely against type. The Flare is a minority hero from Miami Beach that really aspired to be a professional baseball player, but got swept up into the superhero game. He quickly learns about the pitfalls of residing in the media eye. He learns about the public cover ups and political posturing that come with the job and are most certainly not what he expected. His relationship with his arch-nemesis Neuron is a challenging one. They fight like friends do, with pointed barbs connected to valid points. Doesn’t sound very glamorous, does it? His relationship with would-be significant other Amara lacks any sort of traditional resolution. They don’t kiss and make up, they don’t end up together like a Hollywood movie. There isn’t an emotionally tidy and clean resolution to their shared dilemma. It ends with just a lukewarm attempt, with partial closure and lingering longing, as many failed relationships realistically do.

The audience is brought along to witness the regretful, premature mid-life crisis of a hero. “I don’t have anything! I’m dying! My life is over, and I’ve just wasted it all away!” In this world, nothing worked out the way it was supposed to, not in the way our hero imagined, and he learns that life is just the thing happening to you while you’re busy planning it. The ending scenes involve a cute, if heartbreaking, conversation with random damsel in distress Sandra. As the book comes to a close, the fleeting images flash of a life lived, and you can almost hear the crescendo of music pounding in your head.

The Flare learns that a true hero is not measured by grand gestures, fantastic deeds, or lives saved, but by the simple hope he’s able to inspire in others. It’s sad that the work of such a capable creative team is frequently found in dollar bins, but presents a great opportunity for you to check out this underappreciated title. Grade A.