Category: 100 Days 100 Comics

100 Days, 100 Comics #100: ‘Captain America’ #641

Posted by – February 2, 2011

I’m happy that #100 gets to be a Captain America book. Yes, maybe I should have selected something riskier to end this review series, but issue #614 by Ed Brubaker and Butch Guice allows me to bow out of “100 Days, 100 Comics” with a pleasant taste in my mouth. From Dr. Faustus’ courtroom escapades to Sin’s hostage exchange demands and Steve Rogers’ performance this month, this is the kind of comic book that keeps me interested in mainstream superhero stories. Guice’s character expressions and physical acting are ridiculously subtle and effective, and Brubaker doesn’t waste a scene or a line in the whole script.

It’s got silly moments, tense moments and some extremely well-paced action. I actually really hate leaving a review without some negative prodding to balance things out, but Captain America is basically my ideal hero book incarnate, and the “Trial of Captain America” arc playing out at the moment is absurdly good. Thus, I have nothing else to add beyond saying you should be caught up and reading this stuff.

And with that, I am ready to start dropping “100 Days, 100 Comics” from the headlines on this blog. I am slightly embarrassed that I started these write-ups on August 24, 2009, and am just now concluding, but 2010 was a busy and amazing year filled with lots of paid work, and I met all of those deadlines, so I can’t be too cranky. In the meantime, I’ll keep reviewing and posting, so stick around, and if you’ve been reading since the beginning, thanks! I’ll buy you a beer or non-alcoholic beverage of your choosing sometime.

100 Days, 100 Comics #99: ‘T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents’ #1

Posted by – February 2, 2011

Nick Spencer has really skyrocketed up my list of writers to follow the last few months. Existence 2.0 never did it for me back in 2009, but Morning Glories made me a believer, and the owner of Evil Squirrel Comics up in Rogers Park recommended that I pick up his first issue of this new T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents series. There are a number of baseline expectations that issue #1 meets, but Spencer and his artist Cafu pull the whole mysterious super-team with seedy military-industrial roots thing off with finesse, and they’ve made this old Tower Comics property work in a modern context.

You can pretty much guess from the first pages that this book is going to address questionable motivations in the corporate/command hierarchy that’s running everything. The heroes are noble, and the people behind the scenes pulling the strings are ostensibly not. It’s a story we’ve seen a thousand times before, but the ending (don’t worry, no spoilers here) pivots off of a compelling final note. Until the characters start getting more fleshed out, it’s tough to say where all of this is going, but as far as first issues go, Spencer’s got my $3.99 for another installment or two.

100 Days, 100 Comics #98: ‘Wolverine and Jubilee’ #1

Posted by – February 2, 2011

At their worst, X-Men stories completely glaze over their characters’ uniqueness and let the mutant class issues that Uncanny X-Men was built on dissolve into bland, sanitized adventures that stare down “God Loves, Man Kills” from an opposite corner of the storytelling spectrum. When writers really understand what they’re doing, as Kathryn Immonen and Phil Noto do in Wolverine and Jubilee #1, X-Men comics drill a little bit deeper into the spheres of society that exist in the Marvel world. The first issue of this four-issue miniseries picks up as the team is deciding what to do with Jubes, who’s been bitten by a vampire and is taking doses of Wolverine’s blood to keep her humanity (or de-powered mutantdom, or whatever you want to call it).

Things get complicated as she discusses her new plight with Emma Frost and gets approached by a mysterious stranger with something else to offer her. I loved every page turn in this book, and it’s one of the best surprises I’ve encountered in a Marvel title this year. I’m definitely in for all four issues, and the shipping container plot twist at the end right down to Wolverine’s vow really seared some angst into things.

It’s all wonderfully drawn, and though you may feel a little disoriented if you haven’t been following recent vampire-related Marvel Universe goings on, you should be able to get up to speed with what’s provided herein. It’s a fine read.

100 Days, 100 Comics #97: ‘Fantastic Four’ #587

Posted by – February 2, 2011

SPOILERS IN HERE, FAIR WARNING: Well, marketing-wise this issue did everything Marvel wanted it to for me. The 11th-hour pre-release hype about the death of the Human Torch made me want to know how Jonathan Hickman and Steve Epting were going to dispose of him, and I stained my fingers black stretching and wrestling with the cheap bag that Fantastic Four #587 was distributed in to find out. In that respect, it was a success. The scripting and art quality were grade-A, and there was definitely a sufficient amount drama. What it all added up to in the end overall, however, turned out to be a letdown.

First of all, there’s no actual verifiable death that actually takes place. In fact, it would be very easy for issue #588 to pick up and excuse Johnny Storm’s survival in any number of ways. The climax leading up to the final page is the highlight of the book, but when all is said and done the story’s double bar is a head-scratcher of reassurance that the status quo probably won’t be tampered with.

The Sue Storm punching Namor moment also provided a great memory to take away, though her scene didn’t do too much to advance her plot thread to a significant degree. In the end, that’s where FF #587 left me—it delivered a handful of scenes and sequences that made the read worthwhile, but when everything settled at the end, I’m not sure how prominently the story itself is going to stand out. Perhaps the next twelve issues between now and #600 will make it more meaningful, though. I hope so, at least.

100 Days, 100 Comics #96: ‘Morning Glories’ #’s 1-3

Posted by – January 2, 2011

Of the big three pamphlet comics publishers who launched their own comiXology apps in 2010, Image Comics came the closest to achieving the storefront and selection that I would like to see as a reader and iPad owner. $1.99 is pretty much the ceiling for what I’m willing to pay for a 24-page digital edition of a comic right now, but if the production values, concept and story are genuinely inspired, as is the case with Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma’s “Morning Glories,” they’ll get my money every issue. I like the Image app because of the overall variety of genres and general value (i.e., relationship between a higher degree of surprising, engaging story quality and the standard lower price points), and the first three issues of “Morning Glories” seem to embody that sense of satisfaction for me.

Spencer’s story here is something that readers with a fondness for wacky and/or horror high school-genre manga will enjoy, as should comics followers nostalgic for early “Generation-X” and “Gen13” stories, but it follows a distinctly more Joss Whedon-esque path along the lines of “Dollhouse” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” in humanizing its characters and trimming away superpowers elements. Within the first three issues, it’ll have you contemplating institutional education, torture, and parenting, and most of that is just sight-seeing alongside the core stories of the kids trying to figure out what’s happened to them, and who’s responsible. I wouldn’t mind seeing one or two of the characters brought more to the forefront and fleshed out even more, but at the same time, the momentum in here really comes from the secrecy, the defamiliarization that’s constantly going on, and the spheres of the unknown that the students have been stuffed into.

In a year where “Walking Dead” broke through as a mainstream cultural name, I’m all too happy to see Image putting out new books like this, which don’t cater explicitly to hero book readers, but also cater to more general audiences. It’s a book that I hope to see even more great new things from in 2011.

100 Days, 100 Comics #95: ‘X’ed Out’

Posted by – January 1, 2011

I’m sure that if William S. Burroughs had ever been given the opportunity to direct a Ziegfield Follies segment featuring a thousand performers playing Tintin and Rosebud from “Citizen Kane,” audience members would have walked away with approximately the same sensation that reading Charles Burns’ graphic novel “X’ed Out” from Pantheon leaves on the mind. Its layouts and artwork are manically sharp, and Burns’ attention to transitions and the intermingling of narrative with lumberingly suspenseful builds toward twists has never been more pronounced. It’s a story about a human being’s struggle between iconic representations of memories and the reality beneath the surface of those memories, and wherever you presume the truth to lie at the end of this book, you should still be able to appreciate the carnival ride of the human psyche that he’s produced.

I don’t think you need to be familiar with Tintin to get into “X’ed Out,” but if you already are, it’s bound to make some places in your brain itch while you wander around on its pages. As with other Burns comics, the relentlessly clean compositions and shapes repeatedly capture horrifying abstract concepts. The story challenges readers to piece together the material history behind what’s going on amid the chaos and revelations, but if you enjoy tales that float around in that kind of space, you’ll probably dig this book.

100 Days, 100 Comics #94: ‘Captain America: Man Out of Time’ #1

Posted by – November 7, 2010

You know those montage pages at the end of DC books like Superboy #1 this week that foreshadow a couple of storyarcs worth of major events? That’s sort what this $3.99 first issue of Captain America: Man Out of Time from Mark Waid and artist Jorge Molina felt like. Waid’s dialogue was in great form throughout, and although I don’t mind having my expectations toyed with from a miniseries that I was expecting to be a straight-up “Year One”-style Cap tale, I got out of this issue mostly scratching my head over whether each individual section I’d just read was A) a hallucination being experienced by Steve Rogers B) a real Marvel U history flashback C) a ret-con of something that previously existed as history in the Marvel U or D) something I must have missed in a previous Cap arc.

The other problem that comes with this fractured series of vignettes is the $3.99 tag on the cover here. I bought three fewer books this week than I would have if the books I did buy had been priced at $2.99 instead, and I feel like kicking a mini off in this way is basically asking me to take another chance on issue #2 to see if I like the story that hasn’t been clearly introduced yet. Depending on what comes out the week “Man Out of Time” #2 hits, I’m not sure I’m willing to roll the dice with four more dollars to take that chance. I may wait for reactions and reevaluate after it’s out, but right now I think I’m going to be a little wallet-shy about picking it up.

100 Days, 100 Comics #93: ‘Superboy’ #1

Posted by – November 7, 2010

DC’s new Jeff Lemire-scripted Superboy series has been one of their most anticipated launches of the year, and after reading through issue #1, you’ll probably see the common ingredients it shares with Grant Morrison’s All Star Superman and Smallville and immediately understand exactly why that is. That’s not to take anything away from the original work Lemire is doing here with artwork by Pier Gallo, but the central story is about Conner Kent living in Smallville, going to Smallvile High School and doing many of the things Clark Kent did, only within a different continuity than the TV show and obviously as Conner, not Clark.

Gallo’s art curves and puffs in a manner very similar to Frank Quitely’s with clean line work that looks a bit like Cliff Chiang from time to time. Combined with Lemire’s well-rationed plot twisting and odd character entrances (I don’t want to spoil those for anyone who hasn’t picked the issue up yet), Superboy clearly emerges from the the shadow of ASS, even within the confines of the DCU, and that much alone keeps a subtle crackle of tension alive from page to page.

24 pages in, Lemire hasn’t created a series that’s going to establish itself on ASS‘s level of accomplishment just yet; in fact, the whole setting and combination of characters may be a bit disorienting for anyone who hasn’t kept up with Conner since he moved back in to the Kent household, but continuity ignorance shouldn’t be a roadblock to hitting the ground running for casual readers. There’s a lot going on already, though, and if the first arc maintains the pace being set here, this should be one of the strongest new efforts to hit hero comics in 2010.

100 Days, 100 Comics #92: ‘Beetle Bailey: The Daily and Sunday Strips, 1965’

Posted by – November 7, 2010

Beetle Bailey eclipsed the 1,000-newspaper mark with its circulation in 1965 and was only the second comic to do so after Blondie. For a year marked by Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society” declaration, conflict in Vietnam, and marches in Selma, Alabama, Beetle Bailey: The Daily and Sunday Strips, 1965 from Titan Books presents a artifact from popular entertainment that year that showcases Mort Walker’s talent, as well as how he reacted to and reflected what was going on in the world. Titan sent me a review copy of this recent effort, and overall it resisted a passive read-through.

The renewed trends in comic strip archive publishing haven’t been lost on me, though beyond The Complete Far Side and The Complete Peanuts, only a few efforts have really captured my interest as a reader. As has been the case with Fantagraphics’ Peanuts volumes, however, this Beetle Bailey tome does a tremendous job of presenting its content in context and establishing the comic’s place during the glory days of printed strip publication, as well as how Walker rubbed the U.S. military brass the wrong way, earning a ban from the Tokyo Stars and Stripes.

Walker’s mastery of shapes and lines really shines through in this volume. Yes, there are countless flat punchlines and moments where you’ll find yourself wondering if a line of dialogue was supposed to be a joke or not, but scenes like Beetle discovering Sarge’s postcard from Vietnam and Cosmo reading about a possible end to the draft anchor what you’re reading in the events of the time. This book is best absorbed as a whole and for experiencing a broad sampling of Walker’s visual vocabulary of shorthand illustration techniques — from bubble helmets and facial features, to postures and trees. Even if the comic never really appealed to you, those aspects may still save this book on your pull list for the perspective it offers.

100 Days, 100 Comics #91: ‘Strange Tales II’ #1

Posted by – October 17, 2010

Two of my favorite moves Marvel has made in the last few years involved relaunching their What The–?! brand as a Robot Chicken-styled absurdist take on their universe and re-introducing Strange Tales as a vehicle for indie creator populated anthologies. The initiatives asserted an awareness of Marvel’s places in the broader ecosystems of online media and the real world’s creative community.

As for Strange Tales II #1, I’m going to opt for another bulleted overview for my varied reactions:

• Nick Bertozzi and Chris Sinderson’s opening vignette was hilarious. The Watcher has always had some perplexing Q-ish (Star Trek: TNG reference there) qualities to his race’s culture and the deviations that don’t always stick with their original premise. It was a perfect start to the book.

• What do you want to see from a Rafael Grampá Wolverine story? You want to see a fight, and you want to see his extremely idiosyncratic style and its techniques whip up an orchestra of tiny lines and character renditions. His story delivers.

• Gene Luen Yang’s turn took the issue into another gear for a cartoony, yet sobering slice of life look at the son of Leapfrog. The talent Marvel wrangled together here does short stories better than a lot of writers in comics today to 6-issue arcs. Three stories in, #1 is worth its cover price.

• Frank Santoro’s Silver Surfer is minimalist, psychedelic and momentous when it wants to be. I think it hit the emotional notes it wanted to with me, but in the end its premise felt a little cliche and wasn’t the most memorable Strange Tales contribution in the scheme of things.

• Kate Beaton and Bill Crabtree’s Spider-Man/Kraven was gut-bustingly over-abbreviated, adorable in its tone and exactly what I’d hoped for.

• Kevin Huizenga’s Wolverine/Silver Surfer segment puts a syringe right into your cerebral cortex with its graphic breakdown of a hypothetical video game adaptation. It goes on to execute some blistering art kung-fu in its quick series of panels.

• Jeff Lemire’s Man-Thing was cleverly structured and set up a huge panel displaying Man-Thing clutching a flaming bear by the head just as well as you would expect it to.

• Finally, Jhonen Vasquez and Nicholas Gurewitch are worth their weight and more in gold, and the best laughs come from them at the end.