Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Comic shop comics: Bonus edition

Archie #617 (Archie Comics) Ugh. That was my thought after reading this issue. My thoughts while reading this issue were mostly, Why am I even reading this? over and over.

I still don’t have a very good answer. I read the first part of the story mostly out of curiosity, and was somewhat impressed with it. In that first half of the story, Archie Andrews and Reggie Mantle were campaigning against one another for class president or something, and each of them used a photo op with one of the political stars to give the impression that they had received high profile endorsements. The book ended with President Barack Obama and Alaska’s ex-governor Sarah Palin coming to their school to demand answers.

There’s not really anywhere to go from there, so in this issue Archie and Reggie run away from Obama and Palin and the press and the Riverdalians, while Obama and Palin try to get to the bottom of it.

There’s something mildly charming about the thought of the pair taking every photo of themselves so seriously that they give personal attention to correcting the record (“Clearly that bone was photoshopped into my nose,” a patient Obama might explain while leaning over a Teabagger’s shoulder as he snickered at a picture of the president as a witch doctor labeled Obamacare), but the book’s fetishization of Sarah Palin is pretty gross, and it’s kind of bizarre to see Archie Comics hopping on the Palinspolitation bandwagon, which is currently hitched to such publishers as Antarctic Press and Bluewater.

Obama’s the president, so sure, fair game. He’s basically portrayed as a wordy smarty-pants here, and artists Dan Parent and Rich Koslowski draw him pretty accurately.

Palin, on the other hand, is drawn to look like she’s in the same grade as Betty and Veronica, given a wasp waist and pert DeCarlo girl breasts on the cover (thankfully Parent gives here a more representational nose, so she doesn’t look exactly like Betty and Veronica).

No doubt in the interests of appearing fair and balanced, writer Alex Simmons has to write Palin rather un-Palin-y, in the process elevating her status to something co-equal with the President of the United States of America and making her seem fairly smart, wise and understanding.I know Archie has been striving to be more relevant and get more attention, and that’s certainly understandable, but man, this comic book just made me feel sad for the company, for comics and for America.

Except for this one panel, where Archie reacts to the President with his shirt open and his bow tie undone like a cartoon wolf looking at a sexy lady:And hey, look, Obama is wearing a red bow tie in this scene, but in the previous scene he was shown wearing a red and blue striped not-bow tie tie. This cheap, rushed-looking, mercenary comic book does not meet my high standards of in-story continuity!

Well at least Archie Comics used the opportunity to conclude this story with a positive message or, at the very least, a funny joke, right?Ha ha ha! Reggie fell in the water and now he has vegetation on him!

Justice League #17-#19 (DC) Dustin Nguyen sure turned out a great cover for issue #19, didn’t he? I particularly like the colors chosen, like the blue for the gun smoke. The covers for #17 and #18 were just two more characters-posing-on-white-in-front-of-logos covers, featuring Blue Beetle and Captain Atom.

The interior art continues to change in style and quality from issue to issue; I like Aaron Lopresti’s the most.

As for the story, the plotting is strong, and the book’s cast has really coalesced, so that the former JLI is beginning to really feel like a team. I’m curious what DC has planned for this particular group of characters next, since the thing that’s unifying them is a particular fight against a particular villain that can’t possibly last too much longer, but there's a fairly strong implication that this cast is going to stay together for a bit.

I don’t like the fact that writer Judd Winick makes Max Lord racist. He keeps calling Jaimie Reyes “chico” and “hombre;” I’ve gotten used to the retcon that made Lord a super-evil supervillain, but him being racist? I’m gonna need more time for that. There’s evil, and then there’s evil. Personally, I’d rather read about the take-over-the-world variety instead of the real-word variety, at least in a comic like this.

SpongeBob Comics #1 (United Plankton Pictures) I am not a SpongeBob SquarePants fan. I know that it’s quite popular with kids, and has been for a while—my nieces love it, as do other, older female relatives and relations in my family.

I’ve seen parts of a few episodes here and there—enough to realize that when my nieces say I remind them of Squidward it’s not a compliment—but it’s not a TV show I’m so familiar with that I’d seek out comics featuring its characters.

On the other hand, I am a fan of R. Sikoryak, Graham Annable, James Kochalka and Hilary Barta, all of whom have stories in this first issue (as do several other creators).

So believe me when I say that this comic is a lot of fun, it’s not coming from any sort of fannish loyalty to the main character or affection for the show.

The stories vary in length, but they are all fairly straightforward gag strips, revolving around a dumb but happy and positive protagonist who happens to be an anthropomorphic sponge who dresses funny.

Like most of the other comics distributor Bongo Comics distributes, there’s an appealing freedom of interpretation given to the creators here, so SpongeBob and pals vary quite a bit in their design and rendering, which is always welcome in a book like this.

After all, if you have James Kochalka drawing a strip for you, why would you want him to try and draw like a storyboard artist for a TV cartoon, when you could just have him draw like James Kochalka? Kochalka and Andy Rementer draw the most highly personalized versions of the characters; take a look below:
Aside from their dramatic interpretations of what SpongeBob could look like, Sikoryak’s inside-front cover strip, “The Pirates’ Code o’ Comics Collectin’” was my favorite part (“Look what I found under all these ridiculous treasture maps! It’s a mint copy o’ ARR-CHIE #257!” )

If you love either SpongeBob SquarePants or good, funny comics, then I imagine this is for you—if you love both, then I know it.

Superman/Batman #80 (DC) This is a strong conclusion to a strong two-part story by Chris Roberson and Jesus Merino involving a couple different Superman/Batman teams.

Epoch the Lord of Time has escaped from the 853rd Century, placing the Batman and Superman of DC One Million in a time-loop, and then fled back to face Superman, Batman and Robin back when…well, when Dick Grayson was still Robin, anyway. They’re at the beginning of their careers, and Epoch is at his prime and armed with technology from a Grant Morrison-created setting, it should be no contest, right?

Naturally, he gets his ass kicked.

There’s not much to this straightforward little fight comic really, but it’s beautifully drawn and the story accomplishes its own modest goals successfully enough.

Tyrannosaurus Rex (Image Comics) I have a pretty strict rule about not buying $3.99, 22-page comics…which I decided to break in order to pick this up. It looked pretty cool, with dinosaurs fighting on nearly every page and, because it was a one-shot, I couldn’t imagine it showing up in a cheaper trade format any time soon.

I’m relieved to report that it’s actually twenty-four story pages long, so I guess I didn’t break my own personal rule after all!

Mark Kidwell and Jay Fotos share a story credit, while Kidwell gets the scripting credit. Their story?

Back in dinosaur times, a prehistoric village of people—they live in huts, so I guess they’re not even technically cavemen—is destroyed by a fight between a Tyrannosaurus and a triceratops. This happens a lot, as their village is in the T-Rex’s hunting ground.

In order to encourage his people to kill the beast, the village chief offers this comely, scantily clad granddaughter as a prize to whoever can defeat the “God Monster.”

Our hero goes forth with stone knife and spear, and whenever he closes in on the title-saur, some other prehistoric menace attacks it.

It’s light-hearted and features a gag ending, but well worth one’s time for Jeff Zornow’s incredible art work, which features pretty amazing, kinetic dinosaur designs, some violent, action packed dinosaur fights and some surprisingly with-it depictions (Like, this is a comic in which man and dinosaur live side by side, yet Zornow still gives the little raptor-like dinos full coats of feathers). I’d highly recommend this to anyone who thinks dinosaurs are awesome. (Which I believe is everybody, right?)

Zatanna #9 (DC) I had heard that EDILW favorite Cliff Chiang was providing art for Zatanna #8 and #9, so that seemed like a good time to finally check out the Paul Dini-written series about the superhero/stage magician.

They didn’t have #8, only #1-#5 and #9, so I picked up #9 and figured if I liked it I could maybe find #8 at the other shop I occasionally visit.

The art was predictably great, sigh Chiang’s line looking slightly scratchier, and his backgrounds and props slightly more solid, real and lived-in than some of the previous books of his I’ve read. There seemed to be a Vertigo edge to the artwork, which is fitting considering this is one of the characters DC has traded back and forth with their adult imprint over the years.

The story was fairly straightforward and free of the fannish ticks that sometimes mar Dini’s approach to this character. It involves her escaping from the clutches of an evil marionette puppet—a criminal whom her late magician father apparently turned into a puppet in order to punish him—and then listening to him tell his tale of woe and argue that turning someone into a puppet is a pretty cruel and unusual punishment.

Unfortunately, the story ends somewhat abruptly after only 12 pages, with the rest of the book being filled up by a Zatanna, Junior Sorceress short story by writer Adam Beechen and artists Jamal Igle and Robin Riggs. The back-up is fine, detailing and adventure in which young Zatanna has just gotten new braces, which make it impossible for her to talk—and thus cast spells—having to take on a criminal.

It’s cute, I suppose, and Igle and Riggs are a fine art team, but it was a real jolt to turn the page and find it, rather than eight to ten more pages of Dini and Chiang’s story. (Checking, I see there was no mention of a back-up in the solicitation copy for the issue; Dini-written DC comics seem to have an awful lot of discrepancies between how they’re solicited and what they end up being though, don’t they?)

It’s difficult to judge a whole series by a 12-page story segment, so I’ll pass. I can say that if all 20 pages were similar to those first 12 every issue, I’d certainly be interested in picking it up on a regular basis.

Neither Chiang nor Igle are the regular artist though, that would be Stephane Roux. I don’t really care for Roux’s Zatanna; it’s super-busty, and kind of waxy-looking. Roux did this cover, in which Zatanna’s legs have been amputated at the knees.


Nick Ahlhelm said...

I'm not sure what you were looking for from Archie. Whatever your political affiliation, it should be clear that Archie would try pretty hard not to offend either side in a story like this.

I personally avoided it like the plague as I'm completely tired of this kind of "throw in a political figure" cash grab.

Glenn and Robin said...

You keep mentioning how characters appear to have their legs removed. Are they not allowed to be positioned in such a way as to have part of their legs hidden by their thighs? I can't personally fly, myself, but I would think that would be possible.