Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Comic shop comics: April 18

Showcase Presents: All-Star Squadron Vol. 1 (DC Comics) I've only read the first four of the 20 or so comics collected in this $20, 527-page black and white collection of Roy Thomas and company's 1981-launched series, but that's more than enough to say that this is one of my all-time most-desired collection projects from DC, a series I've been struggling for years to find in back-issue bins (and thus reading the occasional chapter in random order every few months over the course of a decade or so) published in my favorite of DC's various collection formats.

As long-time DC readers know, the premise of this series was to revisit the Golden Age of DC Comics during World War II (the first story begins the night before Pearl Harbor), which in 1981 meant their "Earth-2" setting, where all of the Golden Age characters DC had published or had since acquired from defunct publishers co-existed in one big, tightly interwoven shared universe, a la the Marvel Universe of the 60s.

As an exercise in pure world-building, it was an impressive, even fascinating endeavor, as Thomas took all of the pre-existing raw material from dozens upon dozens of fifty-year-old comics from several publishers, and then started assembling them together into one big epic that would itself be grafted on to real history. The ambition of the thing seems even more staggering in 2012 then it must have in 1981, perhaps because we've seen so many similar artificial attempts at universe-making in the years since. DC has rebooted their cosmology some half-dozen times since this series started, and they usually did so by throwing stuff out and starting over, rather than keeping everything and adding to it, as Thomas did.

One of the other great pleasures of the series is and was the focus on lesser-known Golden Age heros, which Thomas, Gerry Conway, Rich Buckler, Jerry Ordway, Adrian Gonzales and others uncovered as if panning for gold, shaking the pan as the rich, potent river of that era's heroes washed over it until golden ones and rare gems surfaced.

In this first story, for example, most of the JSA and Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are taken out of commission by the villains, so that a trio of the original JSA and such unlikely heroes as Plastic Man, Johnny Quick, Liberty Belle, The Shining Knight, The Phantom Lady and the original Robotman answer Franklin Delano Roosevelt's call to save the day.

I'm really excited about plowing through the remaining 430 pages of this collection and about the prospect of the rest of the series (and Young All-Stars) getting collected in future editions. So excited that it more than makes up for the depressing thought that the comics DC is publishing right now that I am most excited about are over 25-years-old.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Micro-Series #4: Leonardo (IDW) Confession time: I totally violated my own personal rule against paying $4 for a 22-page comic book today. The only excuse I have to offer is that this a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic drawn by one of my very most favorite artists, an artist whose past work suggested he would be an ideal ninja turtles artist, and whose art I've been dying to see applied to these characters ever since he posted some thoughts and sketches on them on his blog a while back.

I guess I'll just consider the extra buck I spent on these 22 pages worth of comics as a Ross Campbell Is Awesome tax.

IDW's been doing character-specific one-shots as a sort of homage to the original volume of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's TMNT, and this one parallels the 1986 Leonardo comic in one respect. That comic featured Leonardo battling a small army of Foot Clan ninjas as he made his way through New York City in the winter, in a build-up to the characters' second round against their archenemy The Shredder. In this issue, Leonardo battles alone against a small army of Foot Clan ninjas in New York, and (maybe) meets Shredder at the end, although that's just a guess.

The issue, written by a Brian Lynch, drawn by Campbell and tremendously well-colored by Jay Fotos, lacks the intense, focused-action of the original Leonardo comic, and much of the fighting in this isn't as thoroughly choreographed as that in the Mirage comic—although a two-panel exchange of blows with the first ninja and the encounter with the "boss" ninja at the end are as solid as anything Eastman and company put in that 26-year-old comic.

I've only read the first few issues of IDW's rebooted take on the turtles, and the Raphael one-shot, so I'm still not sure exactly what's what—a flashback here seems to imply that Splinter and the Turtles were human beings in a past life (?!), and Leonardo and the others are wearing their color-coded bandanas now—but apparently Splinter is missing, the turtles spilt up to look for him, and Leo gets jumped by ninjas at a construction site.

And he fights 'em for about 20 pages.

And, thanks to Campbell and Fotos, it looks awesome.

I really like Campbell's design for the turtles. It rather closely mirrors that of their original designs from Eastman and Laird (well, not original as in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1, but as they'd evolve over the next few years; check out Eastman's covers for IDW's comics, for example). While I do like how IDW's artist of choice for the main book has given his turtles a distinct look to separate them from their creators' versions of them, Campbell's look more like the "real" turtles: Small, squat and with big, round heads and faces. His Leonardo looks particularly vulnerable compared to the larger figures he fights, and that accentuates the impressive aspects of his martial arts.
Campbell also moves Leonardo's wrist and ankle wrappings around a bit, so they cover the palms of his hands and the soles of his feet, making them function more like athletic tape than simple design elements. They also have a raggedly, lived-in tattered look, like the best of Campbell's settings tend to have. He also gives Leonardo surprisingly small hands—I guess I'm used to seeing their big, three-fingered fists approaching the size of their heads, and a more turtle-shaped set of legs, getting larger toward the foot, like those of a large tortoise.
Campbell's Foot ninja are also excellent. They have the buggy, Spider-Man-like eyes that they were originally drawn with, but are clad all in black, and, as per Lynch's script, are completely silent, and they come across as inky Spider-Man shadows with claws and or blades, creeping in out of the gutters between panels to swarm Leonardo.
I hate to say it, because I don't want to get in the habit of paying 33% more than I should have to on a comic book, but the art in this book—from design to the coloring—is probably worth the extra buck.

Wonder Woman #7 (DC) Props to writer Brian Azzarello for envisioning a new hell for Wonder Woman to journey to in order to rescue a loved one in this issue, one that's notably different than the one Greg Rucka had her journeying to in order to rescue a loved one in a similar 2005 storyline (and all those dozens of other stories in which various superheroes journey to hell to rescue loved ones that DC and others have published since Alan Moore sent Swamp Thing to hell in the 80s).

It quotes one of the most striking scenes from 28 Days Later, when Cillian Murphy awakes to find an eerily deserted London, and then proceeds to throw super-creepy adversary's at our heroes, when the stone "skin" of statues  cracks off to reveal the red, muscle-and-fibers bodies of skinless humans, including this one, which has its legs fused into its steed, with which it shares a voice.


There's an unexpected twist at the end of this issue, which promises a pretty different sort of infernal conflict than all those Wonder Woman or Whoever Goes To Hell stories, but it's artist Cliff Chiang's clean, sharp artwork—here especially effectively colored by Matthew Wilson—that elevates the endeavor to superior super-comics work.

For example, he uses the simple placement of lines to imply Wonder Woman's amazing swordsmanship—er, swordspersonship:

 Another neat little detail, so small I didn't even notice last issue? Chiang and Azzarello's redesign of Eros/Cupid doesn't have wings—
—but he totally has feathered hair.

That's pretty cool.

Part of me wants to quit reading Azzarello's books, given how upset I am with one of his more recent career choices, but despite the sadness and disappointment I feel when I think about Brian Azzarello now, as much as I feel like I should take my $3 a month elsewhere, I'm afraid this comic is so good, I can't quite bring myself to turn away from it.


Anonymous said...

All-Star Squadron was one of the few DC Comics that I could actually buy at the News-stand in Australia when I was a kid, The issues in this collection are some of my favourite comics of all time, it all began to fall apart unfortunately around the time Ordway left and the changes brought on by The Crisis series.

Anonymous said...

Like you, I'm not a fan of the Before Watchmen stuff, but it doesn't ruin the comics that those creators are putting out currently, either. Spaceman is still kicking ass, and the new Parker book by Darwyn Cooke will, too. These guys gotta eat, I'm not going to begrudge them for taking a job.
It'll be easy to ignore the new Watchmen thing - besides not looking interesting, when the movie came out, the sheer amount of merchandising that was everywhere sort of removed the "untouchable classic" tag for me. I plan to continue enjoying the other quality work that writers and artists like Cooke and Azzarello put out that I am interested in. To me, ignoring it would defeat the whole point of enjoying comics.

David Charles Bitterbaum said...

Azzarello is just so hard to stay mad at when his work is so good even if he seems to not realize it will quite likely hurt his good name to do Before Watchmen.

Also, doesn't it suck paying $4.00 for a comic, but doesn't it at least feel good when the comic is of high quality? I cut a lot of Marvel books due to pricing and oddly some of my favorites have stayed cheap (X-Factor!) but paying four smackers for this new event is just rubbing me the wrong way. It better impress fast or I may drop AVX as if it were hot--a la the once popular Snoop Dogg lyric.

Caleb said...

These guys gotta eat, I'm not going to begrudge them for taking a job.

Eh, I don't think anyone working on any of those books are starving you mention, Azzarello, for example, has another ongoing monthly from the very same publisher to generate grocery money for him.

Most of these folks are at a level where I would assume they could do most anything they would want for DC. The publisher just launched 52 brand-new ongoing series a few months back; I would certainly HOPE they would have considered giving Darwyn Cooke or Amanda Conner one to draw and/or write, if they wanted to.