ELEVEN QUICK COMIC REVIEWS, as of 6/28/09

28 06 2009

Just some quick soundbites this time as I try to ramp up towards a regular posting schedule.

What I’m loving this week:
-Narcopolis #2, by Jamie Delano, published by Avatar Press
Jamie Delano has been a thrilling rediscovery for me in recent months.

Narcopolis, by Jamie Delano

Narcopolis, by Jamie Delano

Narcopolis tells the story of a thought-police cadet, complete with compellingly real Newspeak dialogue. Not a mere aping of or sequel to Orwell, but certainly intentionally building on ideas from 1984, Delano’s comic brings a high, literary sensibility to the comic stands.

-Incognito #4, by Brubaker & Phillips, published by Marvel Comics
This fantastic comic just keeps getting better, with real twists and turns that I truly do NOT expect, and a story told from a truly unique perspective. Brubaker is fast cementing his place in my top five favorite comics writers.

-Olympus #2, by Nathan Edmonson & Christian Ward, published by Image Comics
A well written comic with a story similar to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, and more of what seems to be the hot new trend in comic art: expressionism! Cool!

-Proof #20, by Grecian, Rossmo, & Casey, published by Image Comics
Speaking of expressionistic comic art, no one’s doing it better right now than Riley Rossmo on Proof. Truly mind-blowing stuff. The great story telling by Alex Grecian makes for a complete package.

See what I mean?

-The Unwritten #2, by Mike Carey & Peter Gross, published by DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint
Wow! ANOTHER literary comic! I’m not sure what I mean when I call a comic literary, (Alan Moore’s been doing it for years,) but I know one when I see it. Or read it, as it were. And this book is it! … leading me to believe we’re seeing a trend in comic writing these days as well, and that’s GREAT news! This book deals with the young man who’s the inspiration for a Harry Potter-esque series of books, but just may be a real life boy-wizard himself, all the while dwelling in the post-narrative world explored by Grant Morrison and Terry Pratchett among others.

What I’m reading this week:
-Ultimatum: Spider-Man Requiem #1, published by Marvel Comics
Meh. Mediocre book. As with many critics and fans, I’m pretty peeved at the pitiful ending of the Ultimate Universe comics. Ultimatum never made sense to me, and the main title book was a piece of crap. Ultimate Spider-Man always remains on my list, however, and managed to showcase possibly the best single issue of its entire run in this stupid crossover story. This requiem issue is supposed to help wrap things up, but really all it does is act as a placeholder while we wait to discover that Spider-Man’s not really dead after all! Eureka! And with really shoddily phoned-in art by Mark Bagley, who I had really been looking forward to seeing again since I never really warmed entirely to Immonen, the Requiem book was pretty lame, though requisite reading.

-The Walking Dead #62, published by Image Comics
As always, compelling, but plodding.

What I’m thinking of dropping:
-Savage Dragon #149, published by Image Comics
Hm. I check this book out every few years, and it always seems immediately interesting again, but then shortly loses that interest. I’ll take a look again in another few years. Here’s to Mr. Larsen for keeping at it though.

What I’m dropping:
-Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! #5, published by DC Comics
Mike Kunkel left the book, other than the cover, (or at least he isn’t doing all the issues now,) and his replacement team of Art Balthazar and Franco don’t even come close to capturing the magic he made so exciting and fun.

-The Muppet Show Comic Book #3
-Muppet Robin Hood #1, both published by Disney’s BOOM! KIDS
I reaaaaaaally wanted to like these Muppet comics. I’m a HUGE Muppet fan. But they just aren’t very good. Disney seemed to think it had a Muppet artist, so why bother looking for someone else when they wanted to launch a new book. But while Roger Langridge’s heart is in the right place, I just don’t think he’s a terribly skilled cartoonist, nor does he quite get the Muppets. Likewise with Beedle and Villavert on the Muppet Robin Hood book.  Making this all the more tragic are the ads in the backs of the books for apparently alternate covers by other artists who TOTALLY ROCK! I would LOVE to see some of these artists doing these Muppet books, but that does not seem to be the plan. Sigh…

Just imagine what it could be like…

The Muppet Show Comic #1  alternate cover by Dave Alvarez

The Muppet Show Comic #1 with the AWESOME alternate cover by Dave Alvarez

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Animal Man Returns to Examine the Human Condition in Superhero Comics

9 06 2009

Animal Man is no stranger to bringing headier concepts to superhero comics, having well explored the intellectual realm under Grant Morrison’s writing in the late 80s. In fact, Morrison’s run on the character are some of my favorite comics ever written, showing I think even more directly than Watchmen that superhero comics can be about things other than superheroes. Despite Morrison’s success however, the character and the concepts he explored still remain on the fringe of the superhero genre. But now Animal Man returns under the pen of writer Gerry Conway, with the art of Chris Batista and Dave Meikis. The six issue mini series, The Last Days of Animal Man, takes place in a near future where Buddy Baker, aka Animal Man, is losing his powers and being forced to confront his own aging and mortality.

The Last Days of Animal Man, issue 1

The Last Days of Animal Man, issue 1 (cover by Brian Bolland)

I love superheroes as much as the next guy, but it’s always exciting when the genre gets into some meatier issues. Just because the subject matter involves muscly guys in tights doesn’t mean it can’t make you think. And while this comic has an ostensibly typical superhero plot, it clearly is being used as a medium to explore concepts and issues related to aging and death: real, human issues. Even Watchmen’s conceit of examining how superheroes would act in the real world doesn’t touch on such personal and human ideas as this comic.

As the average comic readership ages we find ourselves interested in more than just who would win in a fight. In fact, the things we care about in the real world don’t involve superheroes at all. But we still love the characters of our youth and the market remains glutted with them. They’re hard to avoid, so it’s really nice when they’re used to explore things we’re actually interested in. The last superhero comic I remember really achieving this was Kurt Busiek’s and Stuart Immonen’s Superman: Secret Identity from a few years back. I still re-read that one frequently, as it explores the challenges of facing the world, careers, relationships, marriage, children, aging, and passing the torch to a younger generation. Real, human issues are very compelling to me and I’m thrilled to see Gerry Conway exploring it in the superhero genre.

(For other, non-superhero explorations of the human condition, check out Manu Larcenet’s Ordinary Victories. A more beautiful comic about life and death you will never find.)

The Last Days of Animal Man is published by DC Comics.
Ordinary Victories is published by NBM/ComicsLit.

What I’m loving this week:
The Last Days of Animal Man #1(of 6), by Conway, Batista, & Meikis
Proof #19, by Grecian, Rossmo, & Casey
Rawbone #2, by Jamie Delano & Max Fiumara
Ultimate Spider-Man #133, by Bendis & Immonen

What I’m reading this week:
Irredeemable #1, by Mark Waid and Peter Krause
The Muppet Show #3, by Roger Langridge

What I’m thinking of dropping next week:
Wolverine: Old Man Logan #72, by Mark Millar & Steve McNiven

Graphic Novels I’m enjoying:
La Perdida, by Jessica Abel
Strangers in Paradise, vol. 6, by Terry Moore
Tiny Titans: Welcome to the Treehouse, by Art Baltazar & Franco