Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Area 10

It was some time ago when the powers that be at DC decided to roll out the Vertigo Crime series of original graphic novels. I remember being excited about the concept of comics that were being published to stand on the shelves at big bookstores and really blend in with the prose offerings. More “secret comics” that look like any other book until you crack open the cover. But then I think there were some mixed reviews on the first offerings in the series so I wound up pretty much forgetting about these comics.

I hear so much about Chris Samnee that I really wanted to pick up Area 10. So this was my introduction to Vertigo Crime, and I thought it was a strong effort.

Adam Kamen is a cop who is on the trail of a killer only referred to as “Henry VIII” for the way he leaves his victims at the scene without their heads. During the investigations Kamen has an encounter with a fanatic wielding a screwdriver as a weapon. It winds up going right through the cop’s skull. After this happens things get a little strange. Kamen’s life isn’t threatened by the attack and he starts getting premonitions of things that might happen in the future. He is having a hard time focusing. He finds out about why people have been mutilating their skulls for millennia...he has gained the fabled Third Eye. 

Area 10 plays out like a police procedural book, but certainly dabbles in supernaturalism. It’s so nice to have a comic that runs for 180 pages and doesn’t have any little fake climaxes or recaps because it’s reprinting a collection of periodical comics. Area 10 was made to be a true comic “book” telling a lengthy story.

There’s plenty of detail in Area 10 to make you really get into the characters. Adam Kamen has been through a lot already, and the drastic effects of his on-the-job injury make life a whole lot more complicated for him. Kamen is willing to do whatever it takes to solve the mystery of the killings. At first the Third Eye confuses him and even scares him, but he knows that it’s his only chance for ultimately making things better.

I’m glad that I found Area 10 because it finally introduced me to a couple of names I’ve been hearing a lot about over the last few years. Christos N. Gage is a writer who has done things for both of the Big Two, but I guess they were never things that passed through my radar. I’m not sure how much bearing this Vertigo Crime OGN would have on his superhero work, but at least now I know that the man is good at something! I’ll have to try and dig up some more. 

Chris Samnee has a wonderful website in which he posts a lot of art. iFanboy really loves him and that’s where I first heard about him. It was just another case in which I didn’t really know where to look to find his work. Now I know why Samnee is held is such high esteem. He did such a great job with a shadowy black and white style. His storytelling is strong and he accomplishes so much with subtlety. There’s plenty of tension in the pages of Area 10, and I’m willing to say that more than half of it is because of the artist’s contributions rather than the writer’s. 

Well, it’s not surprising to me that after coming across Area 10 I’m now much more interested in the Vertigo Crime line as a whole. At this point there’s almost a dozen novels in the series. Looking forward to trying out a few more...

Monday, August 29, 2011

DC Retroactive: The 1990s

When the DC Retroactive comics were announced, I was pretty excited. It sure did sound like a great idea to reunite creators to tell “one last story” within the framework they provided for a given era. Then they started rolling out at $5 a pop. It’s certainly a reasonable price, since each of these books is both a new 20 plus page story with a bonus reprint from the creators’ original run. I thought I would be grabbing some of the 70s and 80s era comics, but I wound up having a hard time justifying spending the $5 to get a new story and a reprint of something I already had kicking around in the collection.   So I thought the only one I would wind up with was the 90s Batman, which I had been very eagerly awaiting, given my love for Grant and Breyfogle Batman stories. 

But I wound up with four of the 90s books and I really enjoyed them! Full disclosure: I loved these comics because they brought back a little smidgen of what comics were like when I first started reading them. DC had a great idea here.

Without further ado...

DC Retroactive: Batman 1990s

So as I mentioned, this was the one book I was really looking forward to out of the bunch. It’s kind of funny that Alan Grant’s story almost crammed too much into the twenty some-odd pages. Overall, I don’t think we were treated to Grant’s best work here. There was some painful dialogue and heavyhanded narration. But you know what? I didn’t even really care. Norm Breyfogle was awesome as he always is. He got to do a lot of his signature Bat details here, from the cape to the nightvision eyes to Batman’s acrobatic kick from the ceiling. I really hope that DC would be able to convince these two guys for a miniseries, like they recently got one of the 90s’ other most celebrated Bat teams to do (Doug Moench and Kelly Jones). 

The reprint: Detective Comics #613, 1990. It’s an issue called “Trash.” It’s a stronger effort from the writer, and while Breyfogle is still great here, we can see how much he has improved with time. This story plus the new one? Easily worth the $5.

DC Retroactive: Superman 1990s

I mentioned that the story seemed just slightly off in the Batman comic. Well, this one felt completely ripped out of the early 90s run by Louise Simonson and John Bogdanove! It kind of made me wonder if it was really a lost script. Superman has the mullet, the cloned Lex Luthor is pissed off, everyone is talking about Doomsday, yep, everything is perfect here. The story features the return of Cruiser, a big bad monster who can burrow through anything. It causes a lot of destruction throughout Metropolis and even burns Supes’ hair off (though strangely, not his costume).

The reprint: Superman: The Man of Steel #12, 1992. Here’s another reason why this Superman Retroactive was so successful in my eyes. The reprint perfectly dovetailed with the new story. In this older story we see a previous appearance of Cruiser. It might be beneficial to read this story and then move onto the next one.

DC Retoractive: Green Lantern 1990s

Ah, Kyle Rayner. You were the first Green Lantern I knew about when I started reading comics. I know a lot of people didn’t like you. But I always thought your costume was really cool and I liked that you were “the Last Green Lantern.” Now everything has been retconned. Hal is back, the Corps is back, and though you still exist, you’re nothing compared to what you used to be. That makes me kind of sad. But hey, DC got Ron Marz and Darryl Banks back together to tell one more story!

Simple story here: Kyle is on guard duty at the JLA satellite and Effigy shows up to wreak havoc. So this comic really gets you right back into all of the details, such as Kyle’s always entertaining narration, his inventions with the ring, and Effigy’s never ending rage. Once again, this could have been a “lost issue” of the original Marz run. 

Reprint: Green Lantern #78, 1996. This was a nice “who I am” issue. This is why I was lamenting the fact that Kyle isn’t very important anymore. He was such a well fleshed out character, and because of the strange cyclical nature of comics he’s now been pushed out of the way for Hal Jordan to come back. It’s just a shame. Maybe DC can start a good trade paperback run of the 90s Green Lantern now? I really hope that sales of these Retroactive books are able to get DC thinking about more collections to put out.  How long have people been clamoring for Grant and Breyfogle Batman trades?

DC Retroactive: Justice League America 1990s.

“Together again for the last time (we hope!)--Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, Kevin Maguire.”
That should pretty much be enough said on the subject. The Justice League comics these guys put out were so, so good. It was pretty daring, doing what they did. Taking the biggest team of costumed heroes on the planet and turning their story into a humor book and a soap opera while keeping just enough of the classic superhero action. 

This might have been the best of the Retroactive books that I read. It’s just hard to beat the great scripts that Giffen and DeMatteis put together, where everything is so witty and carefully orchestrated. And then there is Kevin Maguire, who is really one of the most talented people who has ever drawn comics. Nobody can beat him on making these characters seem real.

The story: the Injustice Gang is up to no good, as usual. A Godzilla-sized parademon destroys a lot of stuff, and everything is cleaned up by the end. Again, pretty simple, but just enough to make everyone happy and remember a bygone era of Justice League history. Great comic.

The reprint: Justice League of America #6, 1992. When I started reading this, I hadn’t realized its significance as the last comic the three guys made before moving on to other projects. That gave it some context for me. It’s an issue that is really just catching up with all of the characters. Although I haven’t read probably half of the stories they did together, I imagine this comic was a nice bow tie to the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire days.

So overall, I am so glad that DC put together this line of books. Who knows, maybe now I will track down some of the 80s and 70s Retroactives as well. I’ve already found the ones that mean the most to me though. As DC gets ready to move into a brand new era this week, it was really nice to see them spending time looking back on the past. Thanks for the memories...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Stumptown Volume One

I remember hearing about Stumptown a long time ago on an episode of Around Comics, back when I was a comics podcast junkie. Greg Rucka himself was on the line talking the book up, and it really seemed like he was excited about starting this new project.

Well, I'm not sure exactly how much time has passed since then, but I know that it was awhile. After a lot of waiting, I finally have a copy of the first volume of Stumptown in my collection.

This is a book of pure Greg Rucka greatness. The introduction, written by Matt Fraction, really praises the writer for the latest iteration of "the Ruckan Woman" in main character Dexedrine Parios. I think that must have to do a lot with why I've always liked Rucka so much...we have Tara Chace from Queen & Country, Renee Montoya from Gotham Central, Kathy Kane from Batwoman...all from Rucka. A lot of really good female characters who stand apart from the rest. 

And now there's one more. Dex is really great. She's a thirty-two year old private investigator who's having a tough time making ends meet in the city of Portland, Oregon. She drives a beat-up ’64 Mustang. She lives with her mentally handicapped brother Ansel. Bad luck follows her everywhere, whether she spills coffee all over herself or gets punched in the gut right after getting up from being pummeled in the face. She's really tough, and she has to be.

I think there is a tad bit more humor in Stumptown than the usually is in a Greg Rucka book, and I'm very much okay with that. But I guess people should be warned about that kind of thing. There's still plenty of violence and good detective work though.

There is a girl missing and her grandmother wants to know where she is. Said grandmother owns a casino, and Dex just lost a lot of money that she can't hope to repay anytime soon there. So a deal is made..."you're a P.I., right? You can pay me back this way."

And so she's off. Dex gets into a whole lot of trouble looking for this girl. Her bulletproof vest comes in really handy, her left eye gets a little beaten up, and yet she still has the time to get home and help Ansel get ready for his next day at work. She also has time to reflect on how her handicapped brother pulls in a steadier income than she does, but this is what happens when you're a one person private investigation team.

Now so far I have said absolutely nothing about artist Matthew Southworth, and here is where that changes. He was the perfect artist for this book. At some times it really did seem like I had cracked open an old issue of Gotham Central...he has a very similar style to Michael Lark. And again going from the book's introduction, Southworth has perfectly captured the fine details of Portland, Oregon. I'm not sure if I'll ever make it out there to see if it's true or not, but I like the idea of a comic that is so "true to life."

I just have to say a few words about the physical book itself. Oni Press makes nice books. This is a really sturdy hardcover with dust jacket, and the paper is really heavy duty. If I was going to make any kind of complaint about anything, it would be that colors looked a little murky, but maybe this was all part of the plan. Before I cracked it open, I had actually assumed that Stumptown was a black and white book.

There is some interesting back matter after the first four chapters of Stumptown. The best is the short story that was mailed out to people as a promotional gimmick before any of the comics came out. It was printed up at the size of a business card and came with a magnifying glass so you could actually read it. Here in the hardcover it was printed at normal size. It's a more lighthearted story than what the Stumptown story eventually became, but it really is entertaining. Dex is having car problems and doesn't have the money to make repairs. But the mechanic has another way she can repay him: find a guy who took off with a $90,000 Mustang from him. Well, Dex sure does succeed in making this guy's life hell for the next few days. It's interesting to see this story because it makes you wonder what Stumptown would be like if Rucka had stayed with the almost over the top humor he presents in this short.

Bottom line: there's another great Greg Rucka comic out there and it's time to read about the adventures and misadventures of Dex.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Northlanders: Metal and Other Stories

Ah, Northlanders. How glad I am that you exist.

I think it’s safe to say that Northlanders is, by this point, the longest-running Viking comic ever. Brian Wood has made it an exciting read every time I pick up the latest trade. There isn’t an ongoing narrative in this comic; the focus shifts with each storyline. The longest story in this collection, Metal, involves a very strong blacksmith wreaking havoc on the Christians who have taken over. The Christians aren’t stupid though. They hire a big strong native of their own to oppose him. This is a story about new religion versus old religion and greed versus preservation. Riccardo Burchielli has a versatile style in his artwork. He draws gory battle scenes, mushroom-induced hallucinations, and even some really nice quiet scenes in these five comics.

Backing up, “The Sea Road” is the story that leads off this collection. It’s the tale of a particularly perilous journey of a few men at sea. Men who are greedy and will do virtually anything if it means a little more loot in their pockets. The boat winds up touching shore somewhere in America. Only one viking remains alive after he kills the last of his companions, and when he sees the natives, he has a rather important sounding speech:

“You should kill me. I deserve it, bringing this butchery to your fine beach, here. But if I could leave you lads with one bit of advice? More of a friendly warning, really. I couldn’t tell you when, but I can say for a certainty there’ll be more men just like me who’ll find their way here. Like I said, too beautiful a place.”

The natives quickly slay the invader, but everyone reading knows that it’s only a matter of time before the fortunes are reversed.

“The Girl In The Ice” closes the collection. It’s a story illustrated by Brian Wood’s frequent collaborator, Becky Cloonan. An old man is ice fishing when he notices something very strange: a young woman’s body has risen to the top of the ice. The old man wants to solve the mystery of who this girl is, but risks the authorities finding out that he is holding a corpse in his home. He could be accused of any number of crimes for something like that, but he truly only wants to get to the bottom of the problem. Things don’t end well for him, but the mother of the girl at least gets to know the truth of what was going on.

So that’s a little taste of what Northlanders is all about. It’s a series that I love picking up because the story is always going to be something different. Brian Wood has done an awesome job. I remember listening to a podcast interview with him some years ago, probably when Northlanders was in its first year. He was saying that he was concerned mainly with telling good stories about these people. Maybe some things in the timeline aren’t all too accurate. He also made a stylistic choice that is sure to irk some people: the characters in Northlanders speak in a modern dialect rather than anything archaic and Norse-like. I personally view it as a positive. If you want to read Thor-speak, well, thank god we have Thor as a book to read too.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


As if Vertigo comics weren’t already diverse enough, Brazilian brothers Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá bring another distinct kind of comic to the imprint’s lineup. Daytripper reads like something you would find from one of the industry’s smaller companies. It is a powerful set of stories asking the question “What are the most important days of your life?” The structure of these comics at all times emphasizes that question as it follows the life of one man.

Brás de Oliva Domingos is a man who in some chapters seems rather ordinary. In other chapters he is more like a celebrity. He always has his doubts, he always has his faults. In Daytripper we get glimpses into his life unlike any others; we see him live more and die more than any normal person. 

Dave Stewart lent his coloring skills to Daytripper.

Yes, this was the structural idea that the brothers had when they decided how to craft their story. There are ten comics collected in Daytripper, and each one focuses on Brás when he is at a certain age. The only thing that is certain in each comic is that Brás will die by the last page. Maybe some people will get bent out of shape about this “non-temporal” kind of comic. But then they would be missing the point. 

Daytripper is crafted to make the reader remember the most powerful moments in his or her own life. So the many deaths of Brás show how mortality is always just a moment away at any point in time for any person. There are so many unfortunate things that can happen in life, but Moon and Bá made this story to emphasize all of the good and happy things that can happen too. The result is a comic that feels so real, in a way that stories can’t often accomplish.

Brás de Oliva Domingos wants to be a writer like his father. So far his writing career has amounted to him writing obituaries for a local newspaper. This is the status quo in which many of the stories begin. Other stories show him before he found the job, and some stories even show him as a successful novelist who followed in the footsteps of his father. Brás makes his way through the stories that are marked by his corresponding age in each chapter.

May I point out a few of my favorites?

How about “28.” Brás is in a time of upheaval and uncertainty. His longtime girlfriend has had enough. Her boxes are packed and she’s moving out. One angry tirade, some mean words, and a slammed door and Brás is on his own again. Now maybe her frustration wasn’t completely unjustified. Maybe Brás wasn’t very good to her. But he knows now that his life needs to change, but he is a little worried about how he’s going to do it. He talks to his father, a novelist who is full of insight into the human condition. He advises Brás to look for the moments that give life meaning. It doesn’t seem to be the message that Brás wants to be hearing right then and there. 

But then he finds his way to a bakery...and he sees the woman that he knows he will spend the rest of his life with. It’s obvious to him. He watches her from across the store and doesn’t even notice when his purchase is rung up. Brás is too smitten to talk in the store, but then he realizes that he has to talk to her. He goes running into the street, too excited to pay attention, and gets hit by a car.

Maybe the chapter that most clearly emphasized the duality of life and death would be “41.” This comic starts out looking like it’s going to be the most joyous of all of them all. Ana, Brás’ wife, is about to have their child. They head to the hospital, nervous and yet excited. Then Brás knows that something is wrong. At the same time that he is awaiting the arrival of his firstborn son, his mother is at the hospital for an altogether different reason. Brás’ father has just died. So Brás has to deal with the feelings of extreme joy and extreme sadness all at the same exact time. He has to hide his pain from his wife until she is well enough to bear the news. And it is far from easy for him.

The saddest and most haunting chapter would have to be “47.” Brás himself is never really seen in this one, because he is away on a book tour. Ana is having a difficult time in the temporary role of a single mother for Miguel, who is now old enough to go to school. Brás is always calling, sending texts, and writing emails for Ana to find. He’s doing all that he can to make sure that Ana is alright while he has to be away and living the life of a successful novelist. He doesn’t ever come back as his life is taken unexpectedly by tumors in his brain, dying in an emergency room surgery. Ana and Miguel know that life is going to be difficult and that things are going to be sad for a very long time, but that they have the strength to move forward.

Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon have deservedly won a lot of awards for their work on Daytripper. They created meaningful characters and down-to-earth situations that I sincerely hope everyone could identify with in some way. It’s a beautiful story with a lot of depth that really forces you to realize what is important in life. Everything can change so fast...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Hellblazer: City Of Demons

This is the first post in a series that will amount to a lot of gushing about how great Vertigo comics are. I must have already said by now how I think it’s one of the most important little branches in the comics publishing industry. They tell all kinds of stories, sometimes even the stories that anyone else would be afraid to publish.

So here’s part one of four in “Thoughts About Vertigo in August.” Hellblazer: City of Demons is a great place to start, since John Constantine’s adventures have been the one constant running throughout the entire history of Vertigo since it was officially started in 1993. It’s curious to me that this story was published as a separate miniseries rather than as part of the nearly 300 issue long saga that has been running since the 80s. I guess it’s nothing to complain about...extra Constantine is a very good thing.

City of Demons is a really top-notch Hellblazer comic. I had never heard of Si Spencer, the writer. He did a Vertigo series called The Vinyl Underground a few years ago which was completely under my radar. And apparently in the 90s, being a good British comic book writer, he lent a hand in telling some Judge Dredd stories. So it’s always a little strange wandering into the writings of someone you’ve never before encountered, but Spencer proved himself to me.

Moving onto the art, Sean Murphy really made City of Demons into an incredible comic. I can now say that I believe the hype that this guy generates. The only book I ever read by him before this was a Batman/Scarecrow Year One story that was put out in 2005 to sort of tie in with Batman Begins. Looking between the pages of that comic and City of Demons was amazing. He’s come a long and way and has certainly deserved all of the praise that he is getting. Everything is very stylized and powerful.

Let’s not forget to mention that Dave Stewart is the colorist. As usual, he has developed a unique coloring style for yet another project. Here’s another guy who is much lauded, and deservedly so. He does so much for all of the comics he contributes to.

John Constantine gets hit by an SUV in the first few pages of City of Demons. This results in him being carted to a hospital for brain surgery while his disembodied spirit wanders around the hospital. What he doesn’t realize right away is that some of his blood is taken to be used for other patients, and this is some very, very bad news. Constantine kind of sort of has a lot of demon blood in him after a certain transfusion he took from Nergal some years back. So if a pint of his blood was used for plasma and distributed to a bunch of people who needed it at the hospital, well...there’s going to be trouble. Hence the title City of Demons. 

There are several people who start acting crazy and bloodthirsty and downright demonic. And it’s all because Constantine went to the hospital. Sure enough, the Hellblazer gets to the bottom of it all and the evil doctors who are all too aware of what they are doing are cast into the gaping maw of the infernal regions. But even when he thinks he’s safe again he is dead wrong.

John Constantine is a character whom a lot of people have grown attached to over the years. He isn’t a pleasant type of person, and in fact he’s usually being a cranky asshole. Si Spencer had the characterization down perfectly, which was great to see from someone who was new to the character. His story was fast paced and always exciting, and yes, frequently gory. Murphy in turn was only too happy to indulge in Spencer’s scripts, bringing everything into perfect detail. 

This was really an A+ Hellblazer story. If you’ve been too afraid to jump into the collections of the regular series, check this out. All of the Constantine books are fairly self-contained, but this is a book that seems especially designed for someone who doesn’t know a thing about the character and wants to dive in headfirst. 

As a bonus, the end of this book features a prose story by Dave Gibbons which he also provided spot illustrations for.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Hero Comics 2011

Let me begin by mentioning how glad I am that Hero Comics exists. This comic could be filled with absolute trash (which is completely not the case here) and it would still be worth every penny. I can say this because it's being put out to as a fundraiser for the Hero Initiative, which is a really great charity that benefits comics creators young and old who might need financial assistance with medical or other expenses. The people behind HI are doing some good work.

Last year was the initial issue of Hero Comics, and somehow I missed out on it. I was sure to snatch this year's edition, which has some important names on the credit list...what else have Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth, and Mike Dringenberg worked on together besides the nine page story included here? Oh yeah, just the first few issues of that little comic called Sandman. And here we are, more than two decades later, and the band has been put back together for one night only to raise money for charity.

There are 31 pages of comics in this book, which is more than what you usually get in a floppy. Like I said before, it's worth every penny, but honestly...the Sandman team reunion wasn't the highlight of the anthology for me. The story, "My Last Landlady," is something I wouldn't hesitiate to call "abstract," "impressionistic," and even "obtuse." I appreciate the guys doing some new work for a good cause, but I wasn't quite entertained by the end results.

My favorite part of Hero Comics was definitely the Chew story. This was just a great idea...get the creators of one of the hottest indie titles today to make a funny little five page story. Tony Chu has to ingest some designer drug this time, all in order to help the police find out where it's from and who made it. He has a bad trip.

The third story is my biggest problem with Hero Comics 2011. "Once Upon A Time" is a story by Sam Kieth that runs for nine pages. It is about how "My last Landlady" came to be, and that was a nine page story itself. So in reading this there was a little bit of insight into the making of a comic, but it definitely ran too long. I wish the nine pages could have been devoted to, well, a whole host of other things. Two more short stories. Nine pinups. This just felt like it was space that could have been used so much better.

The last story was an Elephantmen tale written by Richard Starkings. I've always been intrigued by the comic but have never read it. I'm a little more interested in the series after reading this, so thank you Mr. Starkings!

I almost forgot to mention that there are a few one pagers that illustrate exactly how the Hero Initiative has had an impact on specific comic creators. They were good reminders of why this comic, and the charity as a whole, exist in the first place.

So please look for Hero Comics 2011 and visit the Initiative's site to learn more about an important organization that is always ready to help comics creators who are in need.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Doctor Who: Final Sacrifice

Back when I started this blog a few months ago, I teased a few books that I had recently read. I might have promised to review them, and I know with certainty that I didn't review them. One of the books that I never got around to was Doctor Who Volume Two: Tesseract, the volume preceding this one. We can be thankful that by this point in time I feel like I'm getting the hang of things...months go by, tons of comics come out, ta da! I have some things to say about Volume Three at least.
Let me start off by saying that I really admire what Tony Lee was able to accomplish with this ongoing Doctor Who series. Well, at sixteen issues it might not have been a very long running series, but it was a quality story. Before IDW greenlighted this series they had been doing a bunch of one shots and miniseries. There were definitely some good stories from that era, but doing the ongoing was an even better idea. What Lee got to do here was make a long running story and set up a bunch of comics that just felt exactly like watching a season of the tv show unfold. Maybe it was just a more comfortable approach to the Doctor.

Tony Lee made his own storyline and supplied his own companions, so it wasn't like the comics were meticulously sandwiched in between plotlines during the seasons of the Tenth Doctor. He gave the series its own breathing space and it was great to watch it all develop.
I had a thought about Doctor Who comics that would be really neat. I'm sure it will never happen, because it would need the BBC to try something pretty risky with one of their perrenial cash crops. But wouldn't it be neat if you could get a comic-exclusive version of the Doctor? "Doctor Who comics from IDW...the only place you can experience the adventures of the Twelfth Doctor!" Just so that you would never have to worry about how it all fits together. But maybe that would be missing the point altogether...would people care about a Doctor they had never watched on television? I'm not sure.

So this final trade paperback collection is entitled Final Sacrifice. The sacrifices are, as is often par for the course in a Who story, the companions. I liked them. Emily Winter and Matthew Finnegan. The Doctor found them in the early days of Hollywood back in volume one. The Advocate's big scary plan nearly comes to fruition and the mysterious Tef'Aree finally gets a little less mysterious. Fifth dimensional beings are a little bit difficult to wrap your head around.

The story ends with the Doctor heading to Mars, which means that all of this adventuring directly precedes one of the specials they did before David Tennant left the show. So they did please the fanboys who wanted to know how all of the puzzle pieces fit together after all.
Matthew Dow Smith is a terrific artist. I feel like I've seen a lot of people who draw somewhat similarly to him, and he is certainly doesn't hide a Mike Mignola discipleship. Despite that, he still seemed pretty original to me. I liked how there wasn't the creepy factor that often comes with comics adapted from film where you can tell what frame the artist paused on to get the perfect facial expression. I like the stylization. 
The grand conclusion to the "Tony Lee season" isn't the only reason to look into this collection. It also reprints the Doctor Who Annual, which was quite a treat because it features three stories that are all centered around the TARDIS. The first one is entertaining although it feels like it strays a little too far from what is acceptable as a DW story. An alien goes pretty far to try and sap the energy from his trusty ship, masking himself in the guise of a human traffic control officer. Just slightly more odd than what you see in a typical Who tale. Al Davison returns to close out the TARDIS book, and his style was wonderful in the earlier issues of the Tony Lee series for reasons altogether different from why Smith shines. Davison has the kind of detailed style that allows him to pull off the likenesses of actors, and he does so very naturally. I do wish that he could have been involved with a few more issues.
Here's an example of why I was a fan of Al Davison's work on the series (from his TARDIS story reprinted in this book).
So this is the final collection of IDW comics featuring the Tenth Doctor, and of course they plugged right along and started a new series in the Matt Smith era. There's already a trade out that I'm late in reviewing...

Monday, August 1, 2011

Avengers Volume One

A new team slapped together just before a major crisis comes blowing through town.

A time traveling journey in which everything is saved just before it can’t be put back together.

Yet another Avengers book written by Brian Michael Bendis.

It’s pretty strange putting my thoughts into words here. I really did enjoy reading this first volume of the relaunched Avengers title, but at the same time there’s no hiding the “been there, done that” factor behind it all.

If I might digress into a tangent, this collection really made me aware of how far off the bandwagon I’ve fallen with the Marvel universe of late. There is simply too much going on and I’m not attached to the storylines enough to try and make head or tail of it all. Marvel puts lists of other trade paperbacks to look into on the inside covers of this book, and this comic is merely one of four Avengers series that are running these days. It’s crazy. 

Avengers isn’t a bad comic by any means, but at the end of the day it’s really just another Avengers series.

Maybe I don’t always ramble on about this sort of thing, but I’m just painfully aware of it as I look through this book.

Kang appears before the Avengers to tell them that time is going crazy again. Some Avengers go into the future with the use of the Protector’s (formerly known as Marvel Boy in the Grant Morrison-penned miniseries) Kree technological prowess. The other team members stay behind in the current timestream as chaos unfolds throughout New York City. Even a version of Galactus shows up for the party.

Thor certainly gets a lot of the spotlight in this book. He seems to be constantly swinging Mjolnir at someone or something.
There’s certainly a lot of characters who appear throughout these six issues. Apocalypse, Galactus, Kang/Immortus, Ultron, the Maestro...that aspect of it is pretty fun. That was actually another thing that reminded me of the Kurt Busiek era of the Avengers. Villains and other characters coming and going at a breakneck pace. 

Time to be honest: I bought this book because John Romita Jr. is the artist. That’s why I don’t care about the New Avengers or the Secret Avengers, Dark Avengers, Mighty Avengers, what have you. I follow JRJR to see whatever he’s up to. He’s one of my favorites. And the Avengers #1-6 certainly show him pouring everything he’s got onto the pages! I couldn’t have been happier with the art. Bendis gave him plenty of things to put into his own signature style. Apocalypse and the horsemen looked great! Thor vs Galactus was epic! Ultron getting blown to smithereens was intense! End the fanboy gushing...

Random gripe time:

One problem I have with this team is that there’s only one woman on it, and she’s pretty stupid. Here’s the roster: Iron Man, Thor, Spider-Man, Hawkeye, Captain America, Wolverine, the Protector, and Spider-Woman. I guess I don’t know her character all too well. I know Bendis loves her and I did read the beginning of New Avengers six years ago. I don’t remember her being so dumb back then. Maybe that’s because she was really a Skrull infiltrator? I don’t know. I just wish that this version of the Avengers wasn’t  a man party all the time, with a borderline obnoxious Spider-Woman tagging along.

Here’s a very minor gripe. I feel like John Cassaday designed a truly wonderful Wolverine costume when he started working on Astonishing X-Men. I was really a fan of the Morrison era where he was always wearing the leather jacket, and I remember feeling like Marvel was lame for suddenly reverting and putting everyone back in spandex. But I came to really love the new Wolverine costume. Anyway, there’s one little addition to the costume now that irritated me every time I saw it. He has a red “X” badge on the left side of his chest. What is this? Is this the return of the X-Men commbadge? Is it strictly ornamental? Is it so that his Avengers teammates know that they don’t own all of his time and realize that in any given month he has to appear in at least seven comic books? I’ll stop just looks silly and I wish it wasn’t there.

The last issue is a bigger one. I can never really pinpoint what exactly the problem is, but I know for a fact that I’m just not a very big fan of Brian Michael Bendis’ writing. And I say this as a person who just blogged about how great Scarlet was just a short time ago. I guess I have to look at both books together right now. With Scarlet I was more a fan of the style and storytelling than I was of the actual plot, which I found to be fairly unbelievable. With the Avengers I thought it was a great tried and true big action superhero plot. The issues I was having mainly involved the way that people talked and the way that some characters never really contributed anything important. Kind of opposite problems. I might have to think some more about this and reread some other Bendis stories that I’ve read and really find out what’s going on here. Maybe there’s an answer and maybe there isn’t.

If you’re a fan of the Marvel universe as it is right now, with all of its huge scope, then I’m sure you’ve already read this. If you’re pretty far outside the loop like I am, you’re still guaranteed to have a good time with the Avengers Volume One.