Saturday, June 20, 2015

This Week's Comics 6.18.15

A bit of a random sampling this week:

 Let's start with Black Canary #1.  We've been watching the 3rd season of Arrow this past month and it is Black Canary heavy (and man, is it the very best show on TV right now), so seeing this on the shelf was timely.  I don't know all that much about the character (like Starfire last week), but there was sufficient interest to get curious about what comic book Black Canary was all about.
Apparently this reboot is something of a new take on the character, but that's ok, I have no historical bias with which to take umbrage.  In this version "Black Canary" is the name of a rock band and the lead signer is the hero of the group who keeps bringing her crusade into the venues and essentially destroying the band's career.  In this issue, there is a polarizing event the solidifies the band into a team against some strange alien monsters.  It might sound like it's all a bit much, but honestly, it works.  The characters are interesting and likable and there is a good balance of action and character work.  Best of all, at no time does it feel like the rock n' roll/punk music aspect is patronizing.  Black Canary is a punk rock group and that's the backdrop for the action, but there's no heavy handed "look how hip and modern this is" stuff to put you off.  I am much reminded of Dazzler comics or the New Mutants stuff with Lila Cheney.  Best of all, this issue is a complete story. Unlike Starfire last week, this comic tells a full story AND makes you want to see what's next.  That's how you do comic books!
I'll be back for more Black Canary for sure.

Meanwhile, the third installment of Archie vs. Predator was on the rack this week.  This time the Riverdale gang is being picked off one-by-one as the Predator works his way toward Betty, whose possession of a sacrificial knife sparked the killing spree to begin with.  The full juxtaposition of the gag plays out this issue as the gang reacts to the gruesome acts of violence in the best way they know how.  There is a certain amount of disbelief as well as they fall back into some standard gags about Jugghead always eating or Archie being Billy Everyteen.  It's continuing the fun, but not quite as entertaining as the previous issue.  Even so, I'll be picking up the final issue so we'll see how well the gag finishes.

Finally, so as to not let Marvel have all the fun, IDW launched their own $1 comic series this week. Called "One Hundred Penny" comics, like their Marvel predecessors, these are reprints of first issues of IDW's most popular titles.  In addition to Star Trek #1, they offered comics like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Transformers.  I picked Star Trek because I've never read any Star Trek comics before and I was interested to see how they were handling the modern version of the crew.  I am pleased to report that this issue feels just like a classic episode of Star Trek.  Best of all, the scripting is nearly perfect.  The characters sound like they should and they say things that you would expect to hear them say if this were in fact an episode of the show.  In essence, this comic perfects translates the show experience onto the printed page.  At this point, I'm more sorry I failed to jump on years ago when this comic started.  There are collected editions, though, so I can catch up!  Looks like IDW's plan worked perfectly, even if it was Marvel's plan first...  If there is an IDW title you've been interested in, this is your chance.  It will also be interesting to see if DC and Image follow suit...

That's it for this week.  What comics are you reading?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The PURGE: Marvel Comics Presents #49

I still recall purchasing this comic book.  It could not have been more exciting.  My (then) favorite artist drawing my all-time favorite hero and a popularity-juggernaut mutant.  The cover alone was staggering to my teenage brain.  Well balanced, striking, with both characters large and bold against a background of webs, this thing practically leaped out into my hands.

The interiors were equally awe-inspiring.  Honestly, apart from a few issues during the Return of the Sinister Six storyline in Amazing Spider-Man, this might be some of Larsen's best work from this era.  I'm going to spend this entry gushing about the art, so be forewarned.  The story (and the additional stories in the comic) are really secondary to the quality of the artwork put out in the feature.  Briefly, some bad guys have kidnapped a young mutant and it is up to Spidey and Logan to liberate her.

Maybe it's Joe Rubenstein's inks, which are a perfect compliment to Larsen's pencils, or maybe Larsen was just on fire at this point in his career, but in these scant 8 pages are some of the best drawings of Wolverine and Spidey I have seen from this era of comics.  Check out this panel of Wolverine and Spider-Man bursting into action:

Spider-Man's anatomy is absurd, a trademark of Larsen's tenure on the character, but it's a good absurd.  It's dynamic and spider-like, only with half the appendages.  And check out Logan at front.  Sure, that left thigh is kind of crazy, but man, what a splash!  He's mad, he's ready for action, and he's just busted through the ceiling of a seaside warehouse.  This one panel alone tells you this is going to be one hell of a rumble.

Since Marvel Comics Presents is basically Wolverine's comic at this time, the web-head takes a back seat in the action, but he does get one exceptional solo panel that is less exaggerated and more traditional, but no less striking and awesome:
It should be noted that Larsen also wrote this story and honestly handled the webslinger's zany dialogue without overdoing it, or relying on instantly outdated topical humor, something so many writers seem incapable of doing.  But that shot of Spidey above is classic.  As a kid I would have given anything to have drawn a Spider-Man that good.

Again, the real focus here is Larsen's Wolverine.  It doesn't matter whether it's larger action shots like these:

or smaller incidental panels like this one (I apologize for the dreadful lighting):

Larsen really nails the character.  The costume is exaggerated a bit as is the anatomy, but never so much that it becomes the over-stylized mess that permeates the work of artists today, like this:
Sure, Larsen likely opened the door for travesties like the one above (sorry Ramos, you are capable of better work than this, I've seen it), but his work had more restraint and skill.  Those action panels of Logan fighting the claw woman, whose name escapes me, are exciting and dynamic.  I wasn't a huge X-men fan at the time, but work like this got me really excited about the Wolverine character.  Larsen just made him look so cool!

And while we are talking about Erik Larsen art in MCP, check out his amazing inks on the legendary Steve Ditko's pencils from this Human Torch story from MCP #83.  Honestly, this is as good as Ditko art had looked in years.  Larsen manages to add the dynamic touch that Ditko's plush dummy figures need to really pop.

I'm not trying to ding a true legend, I mean the man is responsible for Spider-Man, but his later stuff has trouble holding up to the work of the then-masters like Larsen, Lee, and McFarlane.  Look at that last panel, the close-up of Moth's face.  That is only possible through Larsen's inking skills.

I've always thought Erik Larsen was one of the best, most consistent talents in the industry and looking back at his work in Marvel Comics Presents only confirms that belief.  Needless to say, I'm keeping this run of comics.  Thanks for looking back with me!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

This Week's Comics 6.11.15

Small week this week.  I picked up one comic and that one on a whim.   Honestly, I bought Starfire #1 based on the cover alone.  I mean, look at that:
It's a thing of beauty.  Not just because Starfire is an orange skinned alien princess, but the composition and coloring is scientifically designed to sell comics.  This is one of those covers that jumps off the shelf at you.

I have no idea who Starfire is really.  I laugh at her character on the Teen Titans Go! cartoon when my son is watching it, but other than that I know very little.  So, with this amazing cover and the also scientifically designed #1 tag, I figured this might be a great starting point for a new reader.

Well...the actual comic provides some of that opportunity, but it also falls victim to some of the common failures of modern comics.  There is a very nice and succinct expository moment at the very start of the the comic that explains all you need to know about who Starfire is.  That part is exceptional.  It gets you right into the action with knowledge of who the character and what her deal is.  And since it does in the course of 2 pages, you have the entire rest of the issue to tell a complete and compelling story that gets me anxious to read more.

But that's not exactly what we get.  What we get instead is yet another set-up issue.  Instead of being a self-contained story, this issue sets Starfire up and leaves us with a cliffhanger introduction to what appears to be the villain of the story.  Oh, sure there is conflict in the form of Starfire needs to fit into society and do things like find a job and a place to live, but those pedestrian concerns, while humorously written, are a bit mundane even by juxtaposition for the character we are meeting.  They also do not make for an interesting first story.  Finding a job and a place to live as PART of a full story wherein Starfire might also do something heroic, like save some innocents from peril or battle a villain would be a full, well-rounded story worthy of a single issue.  This used to be standard procedure for new comics once upon a time.  But all too often these days, the first issue is designed purely to set up the series or the next issue.  This is comic book extortion in a way, giving you half a product and charging you full price in the hopes you will pay full price again for the other part of the story.  It's ugly.  Marvel perfected this strategy in the early 2000's.  And honestly, it's part of why I left the hobby.  So at the end of this issue, Starfire appears shocked at the appearance of someone or something called "X'Hal."  I am going to assume this is a bad guy to be fought next issue.  A complete comic book would have told me...

That said, Starfire #1 does have a saving grace.  Despite being a set-up issue, it is very well scripted and its tone is upbeat and fun.  Starfire herself is smartly naive and cheery and her supporting cast provides a nice, not overdone, human contrast to her alien nature.   She is instantly likeable in her Mork-ness without it being cliche or forced.  This is good as her supporting characters need to like her and want to help her as much as we do.  Since we don't get a full story this issue, we don't get to see too much diversity in her characterization, but what we do see holds a lot of promise.   Amanda Conner clearly has a talent for scripting and I'm willing to bet plotting as well.  Set-up issues are generally an editorial decision dictated by the accounting office.  I honestly believe good writers want to write full stories.  I hope we get to see the full brunt of her talent as the series goes on.  From what I read she is getting rave reviews on the Harley Quinn comic.

I'm still waffling on whether or not I pick up issue #2.  Maybe if I get another eye-catching cover, I can be more easily persuaded.  There is certainly something here worth considering...

Saturday, June 6, 2015

This Week's Comics 6.3.15

A surprisingly large week for me, just getting back into the hobby.

We'll start where we left off last week with Archie vs. Predator #2.
And I'm proud to say that my fears of last week have been alleviated.  Page 2 of issue #2 pays off the entire set-up from issue #1.  Juxtaposition is the heart of comedy and this page proves it.  The rest of the issue continues to pay it out in a very bizarre way.  The Riverdale gang is thrown up against something the likes of which they are totally unaccustomed to, but rather than just freak completely out and cower in the malt shop, like maybe they totally should, they take the offensive and try to figure out just what is hunting them down.  Can they do it?  I'll be picking up issue #3.

Next up is Secret Wars #3.  You may recall I was looking for this issue to also pay off a couple of issues of set-up.  I'm not yet sold on the entire premise of Battleworld, mainly the Doom is God stuff.  It just seems a bit much.  BUT, issue #3 FINALLY introduces the surviving heroes from the original and Ultimate Marvel universes into Battleworld.  Since they are really the only characters we have any history with, it is refreshing to have them as anchors in what has otherwise been a mad, mad world.  There are some interesting revelations and thankfully enough steam to keep me going for a few more issues unless something gets really stupid.  Marvel needed a save here, and they managed to eek it out.

While we are on Secret Wars related comics, the first issue of Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows hit this week.  This is the only Spider-Man comic I have had any interest in for years.  This is supposed to be as close as we are going to come to the real Spider-Man starring in a comic again.  (for those of you who don't know, Amazing Spider-Man #400 was the last issue to star the real Spider-Man, after that Marvel just simply lost all notion of how to handle the character and spent the next 300 issues systematically destroying the character.  It's like the Simpsons...)  I was extremely nervous about reading this as my faith in Marvel's ability to handle my favorite character has been betrayed like my faith in Star Wars to have meaningful movies beyond the original trilogy.  And despite a few bumps: the Parker child is named Annie for some reason, not May, this issue delivered a good story about Peter Parker in a post-baby era.  There are rumblings that the overall story is going to take a galactic-level bent, but for at least this issue the story was kept pretty street level with Venom showing up to attack the Parker family and Spider-Man giving him a beat down the likes of which we have never seen.  Being a parent DOES change you.  Will future issues hold up?  I'm in for #2 and I'll let you know.

Finally, we come to Princess Leia #4, the penultimate issue in the limited series.  This comic has delivered every single issue.  The story is tight, the art is great, and it manages to stay true to the original characters and universe.  Issue #4 continues that trend and ramps up the story as we build to next issue's presumably awesome climax.  If you've not been reading this, and you like the REAL Star Wars, go catch up.  You will not be sorry!

One critical note:  take a look at the panel below.  While the art has been solid every issue, this one panel bugs me.  It looks like Artoo was originally drawn thinner, more narrow (hence the hatching shade like along his backside), but somewhere along the line someone said, "he looks too thin," so someone went back in and made him thicker.  He doesn't look quite rounded.  He looks a bit lumpy on the back side and the inking isn't quite a smooth.  It's a minor detail in an otherwise wonderful comic, so I'm not busting too many chops, but it does look off.

So those are this week's comics.  All in all, a good week.