Saturday, June 11, 2011

Comic shop comics: May 25

DC Comics Presents: Green Lantern Willworld #1 (DC Comics) This is the cheap, DCCP reprint of J.M. DeMatteis and Seth Fisher’s 2001 original graphic novel. It starred a young Hal Jordan, and was released about four years before Jordan was restored to life and given his ring back.

That differentiated it quite a bit from most other Green Lantern comics being published at the time, but Seth Fisher’s art differentiated it from just about everything else on the shelf.

Re-read a decade later, when Hal Jordan is everywhere—even the most unusual places—Seth Fisher’s artwork still differentiates from just about everything else on the shelf, and most of what was published between then and now, save the (too) few other Fisher-drawn comics.

Fisher’s contribution is surely the part that held up the most, too. It’s kind of a shame about that cover, which simply features a well-drawn Green Lantern gliding t through a thoroughly drawn, crowded background, and offers no real indication of how inanely busy and packed-to-bursting the panels are with intricately, lovingly designed mad imagery. (On this score at least, the original cover is superior).

DeMatteis’ plot is difficult to talk about without spoiling, and, while I normally don’t care too much about spoiling superhero comics (especially ones readers have had a good ten years to read by now), this one’s so dependent on some of the twists that to describe it would risk ruining some of the pleasures of reading it, and, if you haven’t read it, you totally should.

It opens with an amnesiac Hal Jordan, wearing only the green domino mask of his costume, dressed vaguely like a cowboy and riding a bizarre, alien steed through a bizarre, alien desert and into an even more bizarre, alien town overpopulated by strange creatures of all kinds.

He befriends a few—one who looks a bit like a gray alien dressed as an artist stereotype, a six-armed flapper and a tiny angel from a rock band—and together he must try to figure out who he is, what he’s supposed to be doing, and the secret of his relationship to reality…or at least this particular reality.

DeMatteis’ scripting vacillates between seriousness and jokes, with many of the latter being the sort of verbal ones he excelled at during his run on the Justice League books and visual puns for Fisher to draw (cowboys who are actual male cows dressed like cowboy costumes, a headquarters that is a gigantic head, etc).

It’s written to be quite self-consciously trippy and heady, and while some of it can be obvious to the point of tiresome, it’s engaging enough the first time through, and most weaknesses can be easily forgiven since they give Fisher the opportunity to draw plenty of crazy stuff.

Normally, I would now scan a representative panel or page to give you an example, but the imagery is so wildly varied, there isn’t really a representative panel or page.

Here’s a terrible scan of a too-big-for-my-scanner two-page spread of a crowd scene though, for a sense of the, um, make-up of the population:(See if you can find Wonder Woman!)

Here are some images of naked Hal, for Sally. Here’s Hal being slapped, which is something I usually like seeing.And here’s Fisher’s design for the ring and and Central Power Battery.Anyway, fairly awesome.

Green Lantern #66 (DC) Yellow Lantern Hal Jordan and Red Lantern Guy Gardner duke it out with the Entity-possessed Guardians and their new color/emotion powers, most of whom look delightfully weird as bobble-headed version of previous Entity-possessees. There’s not a whole lot to it, but Doug Mahnke sure makes not a whole lot look pretty good.

The climax/cliffhanger is pretty suspenseful, and while Krona’s plan is no doubt wrong-headed because he’s the bad guy, the case he presents while arguing for it actually makes a lot of sense.

Basically, he plans to turn the human Green Lanterns into the new Guardians of the Universe, since the little blue guys with giant heads have done such a bad job over the years. If you’ve ever read any Green Lantern comic ever, it’s pretty clear that the Guardians are almost always wrong in their cold insistence on playing by the rules, while hot-headed Hal Jordan is almost always right when he wants to break them.

Whether any of this matters in the least given DC’s plans to relaunch, I don’t know. One of the things I like about Johns’ GL run is that it almost always makes me curious about what happens next, but all of DC’s PR seems to indicate is that what happens next is they start over from scratch.

Maybe. Kyle Rayner, Guy Gardner and John Stewart are all mentioned in solicits for future Green Lantern comics, as is all the emotional spectrum stuff Johns built up over the last half-decade, so to what extent the DCU is being rebooted remains frustratingly unclear.

I had a thought trying to find an answer in Jill Pantozzi’s interview with Gail Simone about Oracle being Batgirl again*. What if most of the titles are being temporarily re-booted, for line-wide “Year One”-style story arcs set at the beginning of each character’s career, and then the DCU will jump back to the “present” in four or six months?

Of course, that wouldn’t explain the presence of the Damian Robin or whatever’s going on with the Teen Titans.**

Maybe the DCU line of books simply shifting focus from the heroes of "New Earth" to an alternate, Earth-1-like reality would explain some of the cryptic, illogical sounding comments made by folks in the know (In the Simone interview, for example, Stephanie and Cassandra still existing, Babs not necessarily being cured and her time as Oracle not necessarily having never happened, etc).

Anyway, I could certainly understand plenty of folks passing on June through August’s DCU offerings until they know what’s what, and we probably wouldn’t even see the results, since retailers will have already ordered their books for those months, and no one keeps track of unsold, unreturnable copies. Huh.

Strange Adventures #1 (DC) This has the title of an old DC sci-fi serial and is about the size of an 80-page giant, but the old DC comics it most resembles are probably the occasional one-shot anthologies that the Vertigo imprint used to do fairly regularly back near its creation: Veritgo Jam, Winter’s Edge, and the like.

Of course, those were generally focused on promoting the line by featuring the characters from the existent books in short stories; Strange Adventures #1 is more story and creator focused, like their old Flinch anthology.

Because it is the year 2011, a year in which Vertigo is somehow even more ‘90s than it was in the ‘90s, the book comes with a variant cover, giving the readers the choice between one by Paul Pope and one by Mark Buckingham:I chose the one featuring a pretty, scantily clad girl drawn by Paul Pope, as it mixes two of the best things in the entire universe into a single image.

(Oh, and also because it is 2011, there is a Green Lantern banner ad across the front of the cover—Man, I hope that movie turns out good, and these banner ads don’t end up becoming marks of shame).

Well, let’s take the stories one at a time, so as stretch this too-long column out even longer.

—“Case 21” is by writer Selwyn Hinds and artist Denys Cowan. The plot is no great shakes, and has some typical speculative future stuff about credits and social media and so on, but Hinds manages at least one operatic twist, which is generally what one expects in a short genre story like this. The real pleasure is seeing Cowan drawing eight pages of spandex-free artwork, and really show-off how good he is at drawing people’s expressions and posture.

—“The White Room” is by writer Talia Hershewe and artist Juan Bobillo. It features a cool, cute idea about a sort of addictive experience that loves you right back, and how it has ruined one of the most basic and pleasurable human experiences by mimicking it too perfectly, and how that resilient the real thing is. Bobillo’s art was ar eal treat here, based on how different it looks from the last time I saw it (Dan Slott’s She-Hulk, I think. It’s very painterly, maybe even painted, and Travis Lanham’s stylish letters accentuate it quite nicely.

—“Partners” by Peter Milligan and Sylvain Savoia is antoher twist-driven story, although here the twist is so important I can’t even allude to it. It’s another really clever story, and Savoia’s artwork is among the most traditionally comic book-y in the anthology, giving the story a more subversive quality than any of the others. It may be worth noting that Milligan is the only creator with work in this book that was also working for Vertigo at its inception, and had work in some of the previously mentioned Vertigo anthologies.

—“All The Pretty Ponies” by Lauren Beukes and Inaki Miranda, like Hinds’ story, seems rather typically sci-fi, although it gets points for being the most depressing and scariest story in the book. I took special note of Miranda’s name, so as to look up more work form the artist online—it’s done in a nice, flexible, accomplished style that I could see popping up in a lot of unusual places in the near future.

—“Ultra the Mutli-Alien” stars Ultra the Multi Alien, as conceived and drawn by Jeff Lemire. Ultra has a place of honor as one of DC’s most crazy characters (which is saying an awful lot, really), a spaceman hero who was transformed into an amalgation of four different alien races, with four different powers. He was given eight covers of Mystery In Space in 1965, and then mostly disappeared, only to pop up in cameos here and there (Hey, has he appearead on Batman: The Brave and The Bold yet? He seems like the sort of character the producers of that cartoon delight in using.)

This story is basically Lemire using him in the traditional, foundational Vertigo method—taking a relatively obscure DC character, and reconceiving it for an adult audience. Only instead of a whole series, mini or one-shot, Lemire does it in eight pages.

I think it’s probably safe to say that this is the most serious, dramatic and graphically sophisticated Ultra the Multi-Alien starring story to see print, and, while it’s nothing revolutionary, it sure is great to see Lemire not only drawing something for DC Comics, but drawing something starring a DCU character for DC (Oh how I wish he was allowed to also draw the DCU super-comics he’s written, like Superboy and that Atom back-up).

—“Refuse” is by Ross Campbell, who you’ve probably noticed is one of my favorite comics creators.

It’s a very simple story, an eight-page body horror riff involing a woman who hoards and something bizarre that happens to her, reflecting the other problem in her life.

It was weird how…reserved Campbell’s depiciton of the female protagonist here was, considering how damn sexy he drew just about every single character in Water Baby, which was geared toward a teenage girl audience, while this is geared toward an adult, mature readers audience.

—“The Post-Modern Prometheus” by Kevin Colden featured two homunculi, and was narrated by a homunculus. Those are two of my favorite words in the world, but despite that and the Bride of Frankenstein allusions, I was left cold by the story. Perhaps it was too much story being compressed into too small of a space, leaving it to the narration to tell too much of it.

The art was pretty amazing though.

—“A ‘True Tale’ From Saucer Country” is written by current DC It Boy (“It Man” is more accurate, but doesn’t sound right; “It Writer”…?) Paul Cornell, with art by Goran Sudzuka. It’s about George Adamski, which is really all it took to make me like it—I’m really fascinated by the post-WWII, pre-alienc abduction period of UFO interest—although it’s so short and compressed that it was hard to really feel the structure of a story emerging before it ended.

Additionally, what was true and what was false was impossible to parse, especially considering that so much of what Adamski claimed was true was probably bullshit; I guess what I’m saying is I wasn’t clear on what Cornell was making up and what Adamski was making up.

Sudzuka’s art is great—mildly cartoony, but playing by representational rules. It reminded me a bit of Cameron Stewart or Philip Bond, and thus felt an awful lot like “classic” Vertigo to me.

This isn’t the short that previews an upcoming series—that would actually be the next story—but an Adamski bio-comic by this creative team is one I’d love to read.

—“Spaceman,” finally, is apparently a series by the 100 Bullets and Wednesday ComicsBatman team of Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso.

Oddly, it was the story I understood, enjoyed and was excited by the least.

Two unseen speakers, one of whom talks funny, have a conversation with one another for eight pages, one of them finally appearing on-panel after four, the other not at all. It’s apparently set in a post-apocalyptic sort of future, or at least a post-natural disaster of huge, Katrina-Plus proportions. And I think the character talking is meant to be a specially bred and genetically engineered human created to explore Mars. And, uh, that’s all I got, really. It looks real nice, and, based on their rep, I imagine Azzarello and Risso are going to do okay with this one.

They just don’t sell it really well here.

Taken all together, it makes for $8 well spent. I would have liked to see some sort of creators' bio page at the back, saying who all these folks are and what they've done before and what their websites were (There were a lot of names I was unfamiliar with), but that's really the only criticism I'd level, beyond the "I liked this better than that" type. Oh, I suppose I should also note that there's actually no story by Scott Snyder in here, despite the solicitation copy for it on DC's homepage listing him as a writer. Of course, since I didn't get, read and write about this until a few weeks after release, then I guess if you were planning to buy it right away for a new Snyder story, you've already noticed and been disappointed by this fact.

*Chris Sims is generally thought of as the funny guy who writes jokes about how much he loves Batman and things that are awesome, but he’s a much more savvy observer of nuance and level-headed, engaging communicator than he often gets credit for. He has a great column up at Comics Alliance about what makes Batgirl so cool, what makes Oracle so cool, the problems “fixing” Barbara Gordon creates and the problems not fixing her suggest. Give it a read, if you’re at all interested in the subject. I was particularly intrigued by the fact that Barbara Gordon has now been Oracle just as long as she's been Batgirl, something I didn't realize.

**According to Brett Booth in this interview, the costumes were designed by himself, Jim Lee, Cully Hamner, Bobbie Chase and Bob Harras…and they still came up with those costumes! The Wonder Girl one, Booth said, went through eight or nine versions, and that’s the one they chose!


SallyP said...

Why thank you Caleb! Hal nekkidness is ALWAYS appreciated!

Oh...and the other stuff was good too.

David Charles Bitterbaum said...

If this is a temporary reboot and we just revert to the normal universe a year later all the theoretical new fans DC is going to pick up with their re-launch will be angry. I think this thing is going to stick assuming it does well. If it bombs...yeah, we'll be back to the old way before long.