Month: October 2009

100 Days, 100 Comics #30: ’32 Stories’

Posted by – October 8, 2009

Adrian TomineThere was a lot of pressure on this collection, seeing as how Adrian Tomine’s Optic Nerve and Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s New X-Men were solely responsible for getting me to read comics again after a half decade hiatus. This deluxe edition from Drawn & Quarterly is a remarkable piece of packaging, too, as it actually reprints Tomine’s old minicomics and stores them in a book-shaped box — pretty much an ideal format for reprinting the material.

The old Optic Nerve minicomics contained in this collection are a real mixed bag of art styles compared to Tomine’s normalized style that’s now seen regularly in New Yorker illustrations. They really give you some perspective on his creative evolution as you watch him swing back and forth from a Dan Clowes-inspired phase into reduced figures that look like they could have been drawn by Scott McCloud, and eventually land firmly into his modern look. Additionally, you’ll learn bits and pieces about his biographical trip through creating Optic Nerve, such as his music choices and affection for drinking hot Tang.

The variety of story types is also interesting for anyone who’s only read Tomines straight-up short fiction of the latter magazine-sized issues. The Jack Kerouac and Jane Pratt stories particularly stand out for their own reasons — Kerouacs because you can see Tomine’s personal attachment to the character of Jack Kerouac, and Pratt’s not only because there’s biographical trivia about the author in it, but because the mimeographed face that he uses on her is a little bit terrifyingly creepy.

Ultimately, this collection is a narrative sketchbook of strategies and shapes that later became Tomine’s longer-form tales, but the guts and sensitivity to the human condition that have always pervaded his work are just as pungent here, if only in smaller doses.

100 Days, 100 Comics #29: ‘Strange Tales’ #1

Posted by – October 8, 2009

Strange Tales #1There is so much realism being pumped into mainstream comics artwork these days to get books to look like action movies that this book felt like a summer trip to the swimming pool. There are so many great creators and points I want to hit in an overview of what’s going on here, I’ll have to bullet them off. There’s just no way around that:

• Paul Pope’s Inhumans story was middle of the road and amusing in substance was an injection of Mountain Dew to the brain when it came to watching him draw Jack Kirby character designs. And the weight of the ink in his lines moves like an episode of Soul Train.

• Junko Mizuno’s Spider-Man short reads like a Silver Age Jimmy Olsen story drawn by Bratz creators. The designs and artwork were enlightened, but it felt more like a conceptual experiment than a fully formed story.

• Dash Shaw’s Doctor Strange story was a celebratory anthem of Steve Ditko and Jim Steranko’s mad surrealist brilliance, but it looked unmistakably like a Dash Shaw story.

• No one can infantilize established characters quite so well as James Kochalka, who also draws the most hilarious Hulk punches out there.

• Johnny Ryan writing about the Punisher making a kid do his homework is the best thing to happen to the character since Frank Castle teamed up with Archie.

• Michael Kupperman’s Namor was good for a momentary, “Hey, you totally get him!” moment, but that was about it.

• Peter Bagge’s individual panels have more activity and flow than 90% of pamphlet comics pages. Some of them made me feel dizzy, and I savored every moment.

• Bertozzi’s MODOK got me nodding about how weird that character is, but the story lacked a sense of setting, which left it feeling a little unfinished for me. Then again, that kind of reinforced the theme of his disembodied oddness, so that may be a strength.

• Nicholas Gurewitch’s two pages caught me off guard because I didn’t even know his was in here, but they alone justified most of the $5 cover price.

• I’ll be darned if Jason can’t can’t any genre of story and turn it into the formal comic equivalent of a sestina.

All in all, it was a great read — sort of like getting an issue of Mad Magazine that’s completely about Marvel Comics characters.

100 Days, 100 Comics #28: ‘Haunt’ #1

Posted by – October 8, 2009

Haunt #1To be fair, I had every expectation going into this new launch that it was going to be an ultra-violent action story made to somehow be a vehicle for an anti-hero who’s nowhere near as geeky as Peter Parker but manages to become attached to something exactly like Spider-Man’s symbiote costume and then end up looking just like Anti-Venom with the same powers. I knew Ryan Ottley would deliver solid, well-formed figures in his artwork and that it would have a glaze of Todd McFarlane’s rarely seen magic in an inspired variety of layouts thanks to Greg Capullo.

All of that appeared in this issue, and it provided a few sugar-rushes to the eyeballs, but where it came up short with me was Robert Kirkman’s story, because I go into any given Kirkman read hoping for a defiance toward expectation, and Haunt #1 was exactly what it promised to be — an all-star creative team delivering a mash-up of Spawn and Spider-Man with nothing that hasn’t been seen before. So as far as ’90s homages go, this was better than anything you’re going to find in a random artists alley, but there’s nothing groundbreaking or revolutionary going on.

In end, my reaction was something I’ve experienced on a number occasions in artists alleys when I pick up a book by a creator who obviously has some natural skill and a solid grasp of comics story telling, but just re-wrote Green Lantern for the billionth time in human history. It’s cool, but now that I’ve seen that it’s exactly that, I haven’t been given any reason to wonder what’s going to happen next, so I doubt I’m going to buy issue #2 — not because I particularly disliked issue #1, but because I don’t want to re-buy a less-developed Venom/Spider-Man/Spawn book with a less-developed story than his predecessors. I’m sure this book with connect with ’90s fans, and there’s an undeniable hook with McFarlane’s inking, but I just can’t justify another $3 for it at this point if it’s just going to be an homage title. And my one big fear at the end is that the whole thing is just going to be a Venom story with an origin ripped off of Preacher, which I don’t want to see happen. I’ll probably glance over some reviews when issue #2 comes out and see Kirkman throws out any surprises.

100 Days, 100 Comics #27: ‘Batman & Robin’ #5

Posted by – October 8, 2009

Batman & Robin #5Well, the shell game with the Red Hood’s identity finally concluded in rather lackluster fashion in this issue, which gets the lowest marks from yet. I didn’t think Philip Tan’s artwork was nearly as detrimental to the story as Brian Cronin did, but I did feel like the payoff in the story itself was underneath the bar Morrison set in the first four issues — mostly considering the two big reveals are 1) The Red Hood’s identity, which was about as casually unveiled as as possible with an absolute minimum amount of suspense and zero surprise, since Dick Grayson called him out in the last issue, and 2) Flamingo, another new villain, who basically seems to be the Punisher, only he works for the mafia because they installed a computer chip in his head, and he carries whip.

The saving grace of the story is that Morrison delves into Sasha’s character a bit more and works Jason’s red hair color into his history in a mildly clever explanation.

I will agree with Brian’s review of Tan’s artwork in that it’s not nearly as effective as it could be with the faster action scenes. Body’s, costumes and shapes tend to amorphously spread out in his panels, which tends to give the impression that everything has this same wavy, gritty texture — skin, cloth, spandex — and it all bulges out into the space with hyper-close-ups and ambiguous angles to the point that there’s often not a clear sense of motion.

I’m still along for the ride with this series, but by the end issue #5 was the weakest Batman & Robin yet. Here’s hoping for some payoff in #6.

100 Days, 100 Comics #26: ‘Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu One-Shot’

Posted by – October 5, 2009

Shang-Chi: Master of Kung-Fu One-ShotOh boy. So you know all of that pulpy action and B-movie-style genre action Ed Brubaker got the entire Iron Fist institution to imbibe over at Marvel over the last few years? I’m happy to say that seems to have flooded out of the pages of Iron Fist and into this mini-anthology of Shang-Chi stories, the first of which is a Deadpool/Shang-Chi tale by Jonathan Hickman and Kody Chamberlain, so I’ll start there.

Whatever Kool-Aid Hickman slipped Chamberlain for “The Annual Race to Benefit Various and Sundry Evil Organizations and Also the Homeless. Now With Beer and Hot Dogs” (full, unedited title there), it was absolutely appropriate. Reading it, I envisioned the thought process going something to the effect of “Let me me just script out 18,750 different things and have Kody see if he can draw them. Well, he did — from motorcycle racing to twin Hitler lookalikes, luchadores, minotaurs, and a demon-possessed pregnant-ish waitress, it had all the visual icon play of Chamberlain’s Punks work, with all the frenetically innovative layout play of Hickman’s Nightly News series, both of which I’ve enjoyed on occasion.

There was an odd, sort of disconcerting moment with the waitress, however, where her pregnant belly turns out to be housing a demon and Deadpool and Shang-Chi sandwich-punch the thing in the cheeks. I understand the humor and the context, but there was a slight misogynist tinge to that setup, having the waitress appear fully with child in one panel and then two panels later having the fruit of her womb get bludgeoned by the story’s two lead action heroes. That element of the story may also be a conscious homage to the style of Roger Corman-ish movies it hearkens back to. It was an odd crossroads of imagery to grapple with, though.

The second story, “Once Upon a Time in Wan Chai” was also a refreshing experiment to watch play out. Done entirely in Chinese with English subtitles, it relies almost entirely on visual action with dialog as an afterthought, and the concept alone works very well for the material.

Charlie Huston’s “The Vacuum of Memory” story gets an extremely neo-Silver Age art treatment from Enrique Romero, which almost forces you to adjust your eyes flipping over from the previous chapter. The speed lines and near constant rhythm of punches and slams made for a great read, and in each of these three cases, the shift in storytelling gears made sense.

The last piece in the book comes from Stephen King’s research assistant Robin Furth, and I assume is a bi-product of her collaboration with Marvel throughout his Dark Tower comics. It was definitely a fine prose work of research, and I can appreciate it as such, though just seeing Furth’s name on it, I think i expected more along the lines of story, which it doesn’t deliver on. If you want to see someone get inside the head of Shang-Chi and recall his trials and tests in abbreviated form though, it’s a good-enough exercise to round out this one-shot.

Link Sausage: 10/05/2009

Posted by – October 5, 2009

• This Sesame Street parody of Mad Men that Kiel Phegley posted made me wonder how many of the puppet skits on the show I never fully comprehended growing up, given my relative media isolation at the time. Also, they actually call him Mr. Draper and not some knockoff name. Should I not be surprised about that?

Liu Bolin‘s photography artwork is completely mesmerizing. He paints himself to camouflage with each given background and his personal story behind the work is worth a read.

Eleanor Barkhorn at The Atlantic had this post about McDonald’s and Pepsi’s marketing campaigns surrounding China’s 60th birthday. The “choice of a new generation” defined by making your own decisions and breaking from the pack in the 1980s in the U.S. now appears to be the choice of “the Mao generation,” defined by collectively aligned authoritarianism. Yay advertising. I guess the lesson here is that Pepsi is intended to represent different things to different people. It’s all capitalism in the end behind the scenes though.

Here’s a vintage 1985 ad for comparison:

• Known comics blogger Johanna Draper Carlson alerted me to a story over Twitter today about new legal requirements for review copy disclosures by bloggers. I think I’ve already cited the one book Rickey sent me in a not totally professional capacity just to be safe, and no one sends me free stuff anyway, so I’m probably not going to be be hit hard by this. But wow, I think back to my days as an alt-weekly editor, and there were giant stacks of books and cd’s there that did and did not get reviewed. This may create some steep time commitments for writers who don’t have the money and time to send stuff back if they’re going to make full disclosures.