Month: August 2009

100 Days, 100 Comics #3: ‘Batman and Robin’ #3

Posted by – August 30, 2009

Batman and Robin #3Grant Morrision and Frank Quitely rocked my comics-loving soul into happy dreamlands during their runs on New X-Men and All Star Superman, and I was pretty thrilled to see them enter into this series on the unsteady ground of the post-”R.I.P.” Bat-Universe. Three issues in, I’ve had enough of a taste that I know I’m going to follow this through to issue #12, but like their aforementioned two runs together, I also know to judge this one act by act — especially as it switches artist gears a couple of times to set the stage for Quitely’s finale.

The distinctly Morrisonian ingredients at play here, with his new clinically psychotic villain Pyg, an airborn narcotic that dissolves notions of self, and the heavy presence of unseen and unidentified villainy behind the scenes makes this opening arc feel like an old friend in slick new threads. The final page, which I won’t spoil for anyone, was marvelous, and it’s got a certain Xorny quality to it. Yet with the Joker and Jason Todd both floating around out there, the thread could fall on either side of expectation or jack-knife into new territory altogether. Whatever happens, I can’t wait.

The warty plush violence of Quitely’s art gets no better fodder than Morrison’s writing during the last three issues. Their work together had as always been a symphony of familiar juvenile tropes and brainstem-curdlingly bizarre moments of confusion and horror. Reading all three of them has been like welcoming your cool older brother back from abroad and finding out what he’s been up to over brews.

100 Days, 100 Comics #2: ‘Wednesday Comics’ #1

Posted by – August 30, 2009

Wednesday Comics #1Right, so I’d feel bad about lagging behind for the last week, but since that reason was getting an unexpected influx of work, I can’t really offer too wholehearted of an apology. Besides, I’ve been pouring over a stack of news, week-olds, and month-olds and fully plan on keeping pace. Still expect to see 100 reviews in 100 days.

One of the great industry-wide sins being consistently committed in comics involves being arbitrarily married to the pamphlet format. Yes, it’s what people are used to reading Batman and Spider-Man in, but in a flooded market that drowns new books like unwanted cats, there’s beacon of innovation going on with DC’s weekly Wednesday Comics series right now that smaller publishers could stand to learn from. Particularly because Marvel seems to be taking the lead (or at least first chances) on everything tech-related right now, I’m also encouraged to see DC being the first ones to come out of the garage with this concept.

Admittedly, it took me at least two months to finally crack this nothing-but-comics-pages newspaper open. There are two major reasons for this. One: I’m a busy fellow. Two: The format here, demands a less casual reading venue than other comics off my stacks due to its size and physical frailty (Give me a break — I care about my comics).

As someone who is usually at least moderately well-informed of what’s going on in comics, this release had been on my radar for some time. The Mike Allred and Neil Gaiman Metamorpho story was just as good as I’d hoped, Kyle Baker’s evolved style for the Hawkman page was immaculate, and the other high-profile creative team-ups are likewise stellar. There were also a couple of surprises — for instance, Joe Quinones on the retroish New Frontier-esque Green Lantern story.

As a reading experience, though, Wednesday Comics gets three things right that really elevated in my rankings this year. First off, the one-page-per-story chapters force the creators to do with comics what great prose short stories do best and what monthly pamphlets often lack — economy of narrative elements with an acute moment to get across. For the stories here that didn’t hook me from issue one, it’s because in one page the one-page installment couldn’t offer me any bait. And seriously, come on. This is issue #1. Bait me.

Paul Pope’s Adam Strange had the smallest of trouble with this issue. He applied the same urban tribalist tone he runs so well with to a sci-fi city with a beautiful woman and the title character’s costume. They could have been splitting a sandwich together and I’d have bought issue #2 to find out how it tasted.

The first Superman page also killed in the baiting respect. Granted, its materials are quite cliche — no offense to Arcudi and Bermejo, who present cliche very elegantly here, but I’m really hoping to see a new trick show up later on, because they’ve basically given me a meaningful Superman poster at this point that I can look at and say, “Well that’s nice. I’m glad we both appreciate a couple of core ingredients of Superman’s character,” without having digested a story that did anything memorable to set it apart from the pack. I’m looking forward to being proven paranoid about this concern.

The second big victory was its diversified sampling of the DCU. I am only moderately familiar with DC’s third and fourth-tier pantheon faces like Metamorpho and and Deadman, so I think they mixed it up pretty well giving me characters I liked and fitting those two into stories that didn’t read like Urdo sonnets to unfamiliar reader.

Thirdly, most of the creators wrote to their format, which really brought this experiment full circle. It’s nice see stories being kicked off with splash-page-worthy moments. And it’s nice to see creators who can competently render those splash-page moments. I’m in for the long haul on Wednesday Comics, or at least until my wallet tells me to be more discerning.

100 Days, 100 Comics #1: ‘Daredevil’ #500

Posted by – August 24, 2009

Daredevil #500Oddest blog confession that I never expected to make: This new series of posts was directly inspired by seeing Julie & Julia last night with my girlfriend. Looking at the scope of what the film’s title blogger achieved for herself through a year of foodie blogging, I got to thinking about what subject matter I’m regularly exposed to that would warrant an extended look. My goals are a bit different than hers. Chiefly, I’d just like to engage my regularly scheduled reading a bit more, and be able to take a step back at the end of it and gain some perspective on the comics medium, in addition to my own heretofore un-identified habits and preferences. Thusly, for the next 100 Mondays/Tuesdays/Wednesdays/Thursdays/Fridays, I’ll be blogging books from off my stack, on bookshelf, and out of the longbox.

There’s some real golden timing going on with my reading of this issue, having just watched Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds Saturday night and seen its 1978 namesake Inglorious Bastards on DVD last week. Meanwhile, Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) unintentionally made for the perfect background music to read this by. I mention all of these because Ed Brubaker’s storytelling does what Tarantino and Wu-Tang also do searingly well through understatement, which is taking overplayed genre elements like hokey costumes and cliché villains or plot-devices and re-imbibe them with a sense of weight. At least in Brubaker’s case here with Daredevil #500, this involves taking such backstabbing and ridiculousness and just writing good characters into a universe that is already built from such things that his readers are already inundated and familiar with for the most part.

That brings me to why the art at the hands of Michael Lark, Stefano Gaudiano, Klaus Janson, Chris Samnee, Paul Azaceta, Matt Hollingsworth, and anyone else in Marvel’s Hydra-sized art team who worked on this issue, work so blisteringly well. Photorealism has become this sacred cow to aspire to for action and noir comics, particularly do the success of books like Daredevil or Captain American, in recent years. Far too many publishers, editors, artists, and other folks making art direction decisions lose sight of good character design in the scheme of things and churn out some of the most unnecessarily boring pamphlet comics to ever grace my hands only to be quickly returned to their racks. I can’t stand stories as comics that don’t visually demand compelling artwork, yet get shoehorned into the comics format. Daredevil #500 is a shining example of the right way to balance pulpy-looking, colorful costumes with a darker sense of gravity that keeps suspense visually taut.

Furthermore, this variant cover I picked up had Geoff Darrow artwork, which David Paggi and Alejandro Arbona informed me of via Twitter last week. Being that I’m not a collector for collecting’s sake, I am typically 99.9% of the time immune to chase covers, but its salient calm combined with Darrow’s instantly recognizable craftsmanship and grit actually compelled me to ask the guy at Chicago Comics to dig one of his four copies out from behind the desk.