4.06.11 Reviews

Nonplayer #1 (Image): Every once in a while a book comes along that’s just different enough to grab your attention. I’ve been reading comics for 30+ years now so it’s pretty hard for me to feel like I haven’t seen every copy of a copy before. Along comes a guy like Nate Simpson to shake the perceptions up a little bit. From a purely stylistic standpoint, the influences are varied, but the end result is Simpson’s own intellectual property. I see streaks of James Stokoe, Brandon Graham, Jamie McKelvie, Frank Quitely, Geoff Darrow, Moebius, etc., yet it’s clearly Simpson’s own unique style. If you take all that, swing by Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, take a swig of the world-building of the Tolkien/Jackson film enterprise, and then hit the video game sensibility of Scott Pilgrim and Zack Snyder’s overly maligned Sucker Punch, you’re, I think, maybe somewhere in the neighborhood of Nonplayer. The art is beautifully expressive, colored with a restrained Earth tone palette, and is immediately engaging. There’s inventive action. There’s plenty of room for allegory in the story, with people in a dual-layered imaginary world who are preoccupied with immersion in an imaginary world of their own. That’s as close as I can come to telling you “what the story’s about” and I like that. It’s different. I’m on board. It’s time for new ideas. Meet Nate Simpson. Welcome to Nonplayer. Grade A.

Fear Itself #1 (Marvel): I was very curious to see how writer Matt Fraction was going to handle his first major crossover, and with Stuart Immonen on pencils it was an added bonus. For the most part, I like the results. The creative team zooms immediately into Manhattan, which has been the geographic heart of the classic Marvel Universe since the 1960’s. The opening scene is a curious choice; I think it either succeeds surprisingly or runs the risk of eventually failing. Let me explain. I suppose my big question regarding the riot is whether or not it was done in an effort to subvert or to modernize and achieve relevance. If it’s done in an effort to subvert the superhero paradigm and question the abilities of these so-called superheroes to be able to handle a relatively tame real world style riot, I think it could border on subtle brilliance. However, if it’s just Fraction attempting to capture a time and identify with the audience in the modern day United States, it’s going to run the risk of dating itself right into irrelevance after a couple years pass and will be no different than the old Marvel Comics that featured President Nixon or references to Vietnam and Hippies in The Haight. In a way, this book reminds me a little bit of how Jonathan Hickman has been able to create his own little corner of the Marvel U by mingling plots and characters from Secret Warriors, SHIELD, and FF. Here, with Fraction eeking out his sliver of the Fraction-verse, he’s been able to converge the books he’s on, like Iron Man, Thor, and if he dips his toe into Uncanny X-Men, then that one too. If you use the fall of Asgard as a loose metaphor for terrorism, then all kinds of stuff gets weird, Norman Osborn becomes Osama Bin-Laden with Al-Qaeda the latent sleeper cell enemy within, the fallen Asgard is the WTC site, Broxton is NYC, and it just sort of spirals out of control, so I’m hesitant to overlay this paradigm if it’s not intentional by Fraction – just a random observation for now. As for the art, Immonen is at his best when inked by Wade Von Grawbadger as he is here. There’s a sheen and vibrant sense of movement in the art that I’m really drawn to. Immonen even manages a couple throwback shots that are very Kirby-esque, and the villains have a really distinct visual presence. With the appearance of Uatu, I guess it has all of the hallmarks of a big event, it’s certainly a swift moving script that puts lots of different threads into motion, but many of the jump cuts are rough and it’s all a little too steeped in Norse God stuff for my taste, but your mileage may vary. As a side note, it bugs me a little that Marvel is running around calling Bendis, Fraction, Aaron and company “The Architects,” not that there’s anything wrong with the moniker by itself, and not that I have anything against these guys, Fraction and Aaron I’m actually a big fan of, but DC was quasi-tongue-in-cheekily referring to Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Geoff Johns, and Mark Waid as The Architects years ago in the Doctor 13: Architecture & Mortality series, so it’s feels kinda’ swipey. Maybe it's an overt jab? Oh well, for now, Grade B+.

Blue Estate #1 (Image): Man, I wanted to like this comic but it really was a hot mess. Viktor Kalvachev and Andrew Osborne are responsible for most of the writing, which jumps from a PI to a porn star to a Hollywood leading man to his producer to the Russian Mob to an enforcer from GRU to the Italian Mob to the PI’s dad to an informant to the son of the Italian Mobster and on and on and on. It doesn’t play like an intricate noir plot, but like an endless string of tangents that weren’t thought through and are too convoluted for their own good. With femme fatale Rachel Maddox juxtaposed with the off type PI, it seems like the creative team is trying to subvert the mean streets of the hard-boiled noir genre, but when the PI is a Star Wars t-shirt wearing Twitter tweeting douche, and you throw in the Law & Order SVU musical cues, it cheapens the whole mess and makes it actually feel like parody. Looking at the art in a vacuum, there’s some talented guys here. Viktor Kalvachev, Toby Cypress, and Nathan Fox have all had collaborations with Brian Wood and projects on their own that I’ve liked in the past, and while I can appreciate individual panels here, the total effort is fairly muddled. Fox’s art in particular shines on the high quality paper stock. It’s a confectionary treat, but I was so distracted trying to figure out which artist was responsible for which sequence, which shifted artists every 2-3 pages, and trying to figure out WHY a particular artist was on a particular sequence – which I never really could. The transitions are liberal, but seemingly random, and some of the layouts were placed so close to the page borders on the double page spreads that my eye wasn’t sure where to go next. And I have absolutely no idea what was going on in that shower scene! There was one or two small bits I liked, such as the shots of the cops doing LINK network diagramming, but in march typos like “licence” and lines like “juicier than a pair of panties in a limousine wet bar,” which are so contrived and trying way too hard. The denouement is a weak cliffhanger twist and despite the strength of the artists involved, it just feels like an artists’ jam comic with little effort paid to mapping out an intelligible story with some intelligent design elements on pairing artists to specific sequences. It feels like the guys spent more time creating their web-site and the swag and kitschy lingo than they did a story. And you know me, story trumps all, if you’re not starting the project with a clear compelling story, then even the prettiest art in the world can only get you so far. Grade B-.


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