Category: Comics

‘Habibi’: A review in progress

Posted by – September 26, 2011

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund let a few copies of Craig Thompson’s new graphic novel, Habibi, out of the gate early at SPX, and seeing how I’ve been waiting to read it for the better part of the last decade, I hopped in line and snagged one. I was prepared for Thompson’s extravagant attention to detail and densely packed pages of storytelling, but Habibi surprised me in some ways that I’m still grappling with critically.

This is almost without question one of the most important graphic novel releases of the year. It overflows with elegant, elaborate and brilliantly composed hybrid imagery. Moreover, the story exists in an odd, isolated universe that feels like a fable but also teases the novel’s relationship to real world events and anchors.

The place where I’m still coming to terms with the book, though, lies in refrain of sexual violence that defines the main character. The economies of enslavement and survival that she lives through drive almost every major plot turn from beginning to end, and along the way they bring horrific moments and choices.

Habibi is a challenging and sobering read, and it’s one of those books that will make you feel like you’ve lived through a lifetime reading it. In the end, however, Dodola’s personality and humanity feel very distant and underdeveloped at times. There’s a tragedy in that absence that’s provocative, which may be the point. I’ll be interested to see some other takes though.

‘Justice League’ #1 Review: Where did everybody go?

Posted by – August 31, 2011

Once again, nothing will ever be the same in the DC Universe—at least until another company-wide crossover event comes along and throws gasoline on already-problematic fires once again. That’s the cynical way to read DC’s hero-redefining refresh that begins in Geoff Johns and Jim Lee’s Justice League #1. I’m actually more hopeful, though. If “Crisis on Infinite Earths” and “Infinite Crisis” were visits to the emergency room for DC continuity, the “New 52” initiative is a full-fledged dive into the fires of Mount Doom followed by a visit to a Lazarus Pit.

Think J.J. Abrams’ sledgehammer to the Star Trek franchise, only without all of the narrative grace tying previous cannon together with the new order of things. Therein lies the post-Flashpoint #5 mystery as Johns and Lee open up with Batman fleeing Gotham’s helicopter police across the city’s rooftops. The status quo for the Justice League’s members is all up in the air as far as we’re concerned as readers now. Batman is at odds with the police again (he clarifies as much in a conversation with Green Lantern), and he has definitely not established ties with Hal Jordan and Superman yet.

Batman is the bridge, though, between “Flashpoint” and Justice League. Aquaman, Wonder Woman, The Flash and Cyborg get left in Johns’ toy chest for this issue—even though they all appear on the cover. What we do get to see, however, is a younger Superman and a quick series of scuffles showcasing Jim Lee at his best.

Green Lantern repeatedly refers to himself in the third person, and this gets absolutely obnoxious as things progress. His green constructs, particularly the surprise fire engine, are gorgeous and fitting, though. The story flows well, and it’s an effective opening act, teasing Darkseid and laying the groundwork for the title team to drift together.

Alex Sinclair’s colors remain the gold standard for superhero action stories. These panels blaze and fade with the story like the Fourth of July, and the script is serviceable and tagged with nuances such as Green Lantern’s ignorance of what “Dark Side” is and Superman’s gentle words to accompany his pink-and-blue Jordan silencing punch—or is that heat vision? (I’ve looked at it a few times, and I’m still not sure.)

Justice League #1 is a fine start. Much like Abrams’ “Star Trek,” this issue is also a work that is going to need some future context to define exactly how good it is, but as a gateway to a new era, it feels strong. It’s funny to think that Marvel turned to Lee to define the look for their spit-shined X-Men title 20 years ago, and he’s being called upon once more to do the same and more for the Justice League. The entire “New 52” strategy is laced with old approaches drawn up in a plan to reach new readers while keeping the old and faithful interested, though. The final recipe looks a lot like the ’90s with a rationed dose of Marvel’s Ultimate flavor.

So what does the post-Flashpoint DCU taste like? It’s difficult to say one issue into the new frontier, but they’re certainly starting out with mostly familiar ingredients.

‘Flashpoint’ #5 Review: Batman wept

Posted by – August 31, 2011

The end of the DC Universe’s final sprawling crossover event before its much-ballyhooed reboot arrived today in Flashpoint #5. Once more, the burden of DC’s Gordian continuity knot falls upon The Flash, and this is the tale of how he ultimately confronts Eobard Thawne and resolves one scrambled universe cluster-belch and ushers in a newer, shinier universe that DC’s execs hope will be more accessible to new superhero comic book readers.

Without spoiling anything for you, The Flash succeeds. (Well, we’ll see how many new readers the reboot attracts, but at least the continuity reset bomb has been detonated.)

Geoff Johns wrote this story, and it’s as Johnsian as anything DC has published in recent memory. If you pick up this issue expecting to see a marathon safari of goodbyes and Easter eggs littered across the DCU, checking off every last character in your old Skybox DC Comics trading card set, you will leave feeling disappointed. “Flashpoint” is a tale for Barry Allen fans, and in the end, the only characters you really need to be acquainted with to understand Flashpoint #5 are Allen and Batman.

The fight dialogue is awkward and stilted, and the crowd scenes cram in flocks of characters at a time without much effort at explaining who’s here and why (there have been four key issues and more tie-ins than I’ll stop to count right now to take care of that). Nevertheless, the final reckoning for Wonder Woman and Aquaman is ultra-hasty and almost comically abrupt.

That said, after the lightning-infused rumble concludes, the power in this issue lies after the staple. I’m not going to spoil anything too much for you, but the closing pages provide a glimpse at what’s to come in the “New 52” DCU as the Justice League members get reestablished and the post-“Flashpoint” world takes shape. As a look through the keyhole, so to speak, Johns finished on a potent note. He lands this crazy train of a crossover flaming hot, but he does so with enough momentum to keep things interesting. Furthermore, Andy Kubert’s informed pencils handle a crowded cast of old, new, and really new costumes formidably.

And that leads me to the one big (potential spoiler) question I have at the end of this book. Has DC decided to give Batman a post-Frank Miller chill pill going forward. Barry shares a brief moment with Bruce that won’t spoil here (you’re welcome), but the entire finale comes down to a defining moment where we see Bruce Wayne as emotionally vulnerable as we ever have—and in front of a fellow hero nonetheless. This event is obviously going to have lasting implications. Johns and DC chose these tears to be the opening curtain to Justice League and the rest of their new U, so I want to know—what is our Batman for a new generation going to be like out in the wild?

When can I download the new ‘Justice League’ #1?

Posted by – August 30, 2011

It looks like the answer is 2:00 p.m. Eastern.

DC Comics plan to implement day-and-date synchronization for their comics digitally and in print is still set to begin today. Alas, I just checked comiXology, and it doesn’t look like iPads are going to be competing with any of the midnight release parties going on around the country right now.

The DC Comics app itself (which is basically just another storefront for comiXology) currently shows no sign of Justice League #1, but DC section on the main app does appear to have some redesigned heroes peeing out. The box on the Featured page, meanwhile, clearly indicates that the new Geoff Johns/Jim Lee-made Justice League #1 will be out in about 12 hours.

I wonder if this is going to be typical roll-out model going forward. I don’t recall reading any interviews that articulated 2:00 p.m. release time. If you have, though, I’d very much like to see it.

Anyway, it looks like this book is going to be a paper buy tomorrow.

DC Comics’ ‘New 52’ reboot: Where do we go from here?

Posted by – August 30, 2011

As of tomorrow, DC Comics will be past the point of no return. In much the same way that their chief competitor Marvel rebooted its characters in 1996’s “Heroes Reborn” and then again in the Ultimate titles, DC will be scrapping everything and rebuilding their world from the ground up. Personally, outside of of Grant Morrison’s Batman work, Jeff Lemire’s Superboy, Paul Cornell’s DCU contributions and an occasional Gail Simone title, I have been pretty reluctant to pick up most DC titles ever since their entire rack got enveloped by “Brightest Day.” And even though my weekly pamphlet comics budget is a sliver of what it once was (both due to attending grad school this year and diversified comics interests in general), I’m going to pick up Justice League #1 and a handful of their new titles to see where things are going.

DC knows that their readership has been shrinking and that something needs to be done, but even The New York Times understands that their move is a gamble. DC has chosen wisely making their pizza-toting Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns and Co-Publisher Jim Lee the faces and ambassadors of the overhaul. Their leadership should keep longtime readers interested out of the gate. Still, when Marvel launched Ultimate Spider-Man and The Ultimates, they still had Amazing Spider-Man and The Avengers continuing their multi-decade runs on the side.

DC has punched the reboot button on continuity in various ways before, via “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” “Infinite Crisis” and other dimensional-realigning tales. As a reader, one of the more frustrating repercussions of this tendency has been origin stories and histories that are constantly in flux. Marvel, for all of their Wolverine, Spider-Man and Ultimate Universe books, has at least done a traditionally fine job of maintaining their timelines. Is this going to be the last time we see DC re-commit to continuity? I tend to think not, but I remain hopeful that they’ll at least keep a few more batons in play this time around.

Then there’s DC’s biggest play, which is offering synchronized date-and-date digital/paper releases. Archie Comics and various independent titles have made this a default plan already, but this is one of the first areas of digital where DC has decided to dive in head first ahead of Marvel.

Marvel already has an online library available to paying subscribers and numerous day-and-date experiments to leverage for data and publishing strategy purposes. They’ve also got a fleet of budding franchises in theaters (and DC has one in its third act with a rebooted fumble on the way). If DC manages to spark a sea change for the industry tomorrow, they will surprise a lot of people and could ignite a welcome and exciting new chapter in their age-old face-off against the House of Ideas.

I want better competition (especially on the digital front to help drive new-issue prices down) and better comics, so ultimately, I have to hope they bring in some big and deserved numbers in the coming weeks.

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.