4.30.08 Reviews

Local #11 (Oni Press): With the long awaited arrival of the penultimate issue of this series and last week’s Northlanders #5, I firmly believe it’s time to hand Mr. Wood his Eisner Award. He has arrived and is one of the most versatile and engaging writers of our time. On the surface, the character of Nanci Bai is quite interesting as she assimilates Megan’s existence with relics of her past on display. When you dig a bit deeper, you see that many of Wood’s best traits as a professional come to light. Notice the way that he relies heavily on his collaborator Ryan Kelly (whose art remains to me, the perfect blend of Paul Pope and Farel Dalrymple) to deliver much of the action without any dialogue. It’s Kelly’s clarity of line, emotive expressions, and Wood’s effective panel to panel transitions that allow this to occur. Not only does Nanci showcase bits of Megan’s past, but there’s a nice interplay with the audience that occurs since these are bits of our past (with the series) as well. The meta-play with the reader continues as Wood suggests that Megan “may be fictional… there is no Megan per se…” As readers of the series, we’re compelled to come to Megan’s defense. “How can you steal her identity?” We cry, “she is real,” only to realize that Wood has forced us in a very interactive way to defend the sovereignty of his made up character. Grade A+.

Black Summer #6 (Avatar Press): Ellis continues his political analysis by examining the methodology of instigating a conflict with hidden motives, attempting to fabricate compelling evidence at a later date, and hoping that a disenfranchised electorate will not discover the truth. This issue feels very balanced as we gear up toward the final showdown with John Horus. There are flashbacks that contain very vibrant dialogue, all interspersed with insane visceral action sequences as a counterpoint. Juan Jose Ryp’s art has never looked better, boasting a nice blend of Geoff Darrow and Frank Quitely. I wonder about little items like a character tossing his (Starbucks stand-in) coffee cup aside. Is it merely what it seems to be at face value, or is it some sort of intentional commentary, the decline of the coffee symbolic of the decline of truth in the American government? At his best, Ellis poses this type of question amid a highly entertaining tale. This is shaping up to be one of my favorite works by Ellis. Hopefully Avatar will collect this in a nice hardcover at some point. Grade A.

The Immortal Iron Fist #14 (Marvel): This is a satisfying conclusion to a great, long arc that will serve nicely as Fraction, Brubaker, and Aja’s swan song on the title. I still feel that the inclusion of so many artists was a bit distracting and not entirely necessary, but it’s more than made up for by the “everything but the kitchen sink” approach to this issue. There’s simply tremendously fun action here, all coupled with some meaningful notes about a true revolution in K’un L’un and the possible redemption of Davos. We’ve got Mr. Xao and the Hydra Horde, Lei Kung and The Army of Thunder, The Seven Immortal Weapons, Davos, Danny, Luke, Colleen, Misty, Jeryn (and his mom!) all involved in a Tarantino style stand-off. When you add memorable lines like “I am Xao’s reckoning,” this will be one of those runs that makes the top runs lists in the future. Grade A-.

Ex Machina #36 (DC/Wildstorm): Ex Machina takes a lot of heat online for being repetitive and formulaic, perhaps having jumped the shark and arc or two ago. I still disagree with that sentiment. It continues to induce smiles in me as I read, which so few titles seem to do these days. The dialogue hums along with an affable flow and natural ease. The pencils are beautiful, and I like how the political reality that these characters inhabit is surprisingly not unlike the world we live in, whether it's the perspective of soldiers, mayoral staff, or even chics on motorcycles base jumping off WTC Ground Zero. Grade A-.

Hercules: The Thracian Wars #1 (Radical Comics): There are clearly some things that new publisher Radical Comics is doing right. There’s a Jim Steranko cover. There’s the square bound prestige format. There’s the $1 introductory issue. These are smart moves. The contents of the book are… good. The narrative is a nice mixture of accepted mythology and speculation, and even has a nice running gag about stature. The art uses some interesting page layouts and enticing black gutters. Unfortunately, to survive in the market today and possess any sort of longevity, you’ve got to bring something distinct, innovative, or particularly brilliant to the table immediately. This title is extremely competent, but lacks that additional “x” factor to distinguish it from the masses. It’s fine for a dollar, but I certainly wouldn’t pay $2.99 or $3.99 for this book. Grade B.

I Was Kidnapped by Lesbian Pirates from Outer Space #1 (Platinum Studios): Well, on the positive side it’s .99 cents. And I did like the pop art, romance comic influences that bubbled up in spots, that was a fun aesthetic. But, the sci-fi abduction trappings and odd lesbian paranoia, cumbersome misspellings like “definately,” and overly affected, pseudo-self aware lines like “sounds like a comic book to me” all played really tired and flat. It kind of sucks when a humor book is not funny. Grade B-.

Caliber #1 (Radical Comics): Caliber gets the same kudos as it’s compatriot Hercules this week, but suffers some additional setbacks. The plot is more obtuse and relies on some mystical mumbo jumbo, something about a quest for a gun, and is full of “Skell of the sky, Nez Perce,” and “Llao of the Underworld” nonsense. Whatever. The art is a bit stiff in spots and is hampered by some dark colors and inks in a crucial fight scene. The page layouts are a bit more experimental and the result is confusion. My eye just wasn’t intuitively aware of how it was supposed to navigate the pages. Again, a nice effort from Radical Comics, but doesn’t quite hit the mark. Grade B-.

Glamourpuss #1 (Aardvark-Vanaheim): This one was a bit difficult to parse. I went it expecting it to be a scathing send-up of consumerism and media fashionistas, or a more humorous affair like Blush! Magazine in the old Laura San Giacomo sitcom Just Shoot Me. The first couple of pages I found to be very off-putting in their air of arrogant self-importance, truly living up to the term “vanity press.” Sim admits that this isn’t going to be a traditional sequential narrative. Then, suddenly it turns into more of a Scott McCloud style analysis of the medium, cross-hatching techniques, and a retrospective on artists that Sim is fond of. It’s really all over the map and I’m having a difficult time sussing out what the point is. It’s not pure satire. There’s weird filler in the back. There’s no story. I’m unclear on what he’s trying to say. There doesn't appear to be a singular concept unifying the components and it makes for a muddled experience. Is this simply a bucket of ruminations on different interests the author/artist has? The production quality is great and he certainly has enough credibility in the bank to warrant another issue or two, but I’m really not sold in the slightest at this point. In the trifecta of indie creators with return projects, Terry “Echo” Moore, Jeff “Rasl” Smith, and Dave “Glamourpuss” Sim, I declare Terry Moore’s Echo (by far!) to be the winner based on the strength of the first issue and clear conceptualization. Grade C.

DC Universe #0 (DC): I’ve come to the sad realization that I basically have no idea what’s going on in the convolution that is the DCU any longer. When the DCU in its entirety is reduced to a never-ending series of crises, the whole thing loses gravitas and just isn’t fun. It pains me to say this, having grown up very much a DC kid. Stop. Fucking. With. The. Multiverse! Just have interesting characters and tell compelling stories. A manufactured “event” does not a story make. Instead, we get a .50 cent advert for Final Crisis and the myriad other tie-in books that will accompany it. This comes complete with the Brad Meltzer school of colored caption boxes, in which I can’t seem to decipher who’s narrating. The George Perez pages are pretty enough, and the scenes with The Joker are pretty chilling, but otherwise there is no story here. This book makes me tired, I can’t muster any energy. Let’s hope that this is indeed the final crisis, though DiDio already suggests otherwise. It disgusted me that DiDio’s end piece seemed so self-congratulatory. This book will “bridge one event and other series to other events, not one but many, and series, and more.” Uhhh, what? It’s clear to me that DC Editorial is largely more concerned about building events and establishing themselves as a spectacle factory than actually publishing compelling character driven stories. This is clearly a case where the business paradigm (ie: let’s make money!) has a disproportional advantage over the art paradigm (ie: let’s publish comics). Grade C.


At 7:56 AM, Blogger Matt Clark said...

Spot on review for DC Universe 0 there, Justin. DC had pitched this as a "bridge" between Countdown and Final Crisis but I was scratching my head trying to figure out exactly what it had to do with Countdown (nothing, it seems)until I realised it was really a bunch of adverts for DC's major series over the next few months. Still didn't make a lot of sense though.

At 9:38 AM, Blogger Justin Giampaoli said...

Thanks Matt! This was really a tough book, there are tons of little cookies in there about other events, but it's not at all friendly to either a casual reader or someone steeped in DCU lore.

Everyone be sure to check out Matt's reviews over at Paradox Comics Group! Really enjoyed your review of Nixon's Pals. A fun book by a cool cat, love that Joe Casey.




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