Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Comic shop comics: July 31-August 7

Adventures of Superman #3 (DC Comics) This issue departs from the anthology format in order to present a single 30-page story written by Matt Kindt and drawn by Stephen Segovia, two very talented men with very different styles whose work nevertheless meshes rather nicely here (As much as I'd love to see Kindt draw his own DC Comics stories, somehow I don't see his style being all that welcome in their line, but who knows; they did let Jeff Lemire draw a Batman story for Legends of the Dark Knight, and an Ultra The Multi-Alien story for one of those big anthologies they occasionally do, usually through Vertigo.

It's basically a day-in-the-life story, split into two parts, one following and narrated by Superman, the other by Lois Lane. The former has a big, busy day that begins with flying around in outerspace with a Green Lantern, fighting a space monster, settling a planet-wide war on an alien planet and escaping from an inescapable prison of Darkseid's on Apokalips.

Lois Lane's only involves a single location, but then, she can't move as fast as Superman. She's interviewing Lex Luthor, who is trying to recruit her for his presidential campaign (I guess this might fit into the pre-New 52 continuity, then; Superman and Darkseid both have their classic designs, at any rate) and has made a deadly threat to try and enforce her to comply.

Both strands are well-written—I particularly like the amount of thought Kindt put into what being Superman and having those powers must be like, and how they would influence one's behavior—and both are well-drawn, but the formatting was a little annoying while reading. The Superman portions dominated each page, the top 5/6ths of each page dedicated to Superman, and reading left-to-right and up-to-down in the basic Z patterns of comics-reading (well, all reading, actually), while the Lois portions occupy a thin horizontal strip along the bottom of each page, reading like one, long, continuous strip.

Reading the book like a normal comic means that both narratives are constantly interrupting one another, so the flow of the story is broken about twice a page, right up until the end. I would have enjoyed both better if I read them individually; reading the Superman portion first, and then going back and rereading the Lois portion all at once. But I wasn't sure if the events in each story were meant to inform one another or not, so I slogged through as it was presented.

They don't. Not really. At least, not until the very end.

It's a pretty great little character piece, and I'd recommend it, but the format is unusual in such a way that it is both interesting and kind of annoying at once.

Daredevil #29 (Marvel Entertainment) Technically the second part of a two-part arc, this issue actually reads perfectly well as a standalone, done-in-one. That's the great trick of serial comics, really, creating each one so that it works all on its own but also works as part of a bigger ongoing narrative, and nine times out of ten, writer Mark Waid manages to nail it.

Here he's still working with Daredevil's colorist Javier Rodriguez, who assumes pencil chores as well as coloring duties (Alvaro Lopez inks) and, what do you know, Rodriguez is a hell of an artist, and editor Stephen Wacker really oughta have him alternating with regular arist Chris Samnee whenever Samnee needs a break because, holy God, look at this stuff.

Here's one of my favorite panels, preceded by a panel for context:
I love the little "explosion" on the wall and the way the frame is knocked crooked, implying that DD just ran silently down the hall and jumped off the wall in order to give himself the proper altitude to kick a crooked cop in the head (the actual blow is delivered off-panel; with an about-to-kick-a-dude-in-the-head panel that strong, you don't even need to see the kick itself).

The plot is that the Sons of the Serpent, apparently a pre-existing Marvel group that is maybe a mixture of the Ku Klux Klan and Hydra (my knowledge of Marvel continuity is exceptionally weak, as many of you have likely noticed), have so thoroughly infiltrated a locked-down courthouse that Matt Murdock/Daredevil has no idea which people in it are secretly Serpent agents, and he has to fight to protect a few of their intended victims without really having any good idea which civilians are actually bad guys. Also, there's a bomb.

It's a neat, surprisingly thrilling set-up (particularly given the low-stakes of superhero comics; it's not like anyone worries about whether Matt Murdock will get shot to death or not while reading) and executed with pretty much flawless comics art throughout.

Here's another page worth staring at a bit:
Damn man, look at those stairs! Look at the way the three vertical panels show Daredevil plunging from a great height, with a small figure in the upper right left, then the figure appearing twice as he jumps and begins to fall in the second, and then is plummeting at the bottom of the page in the third panel, now increased in size to reflect the action and drama of diving through a hail of bullets as opposed to leaning against or climbing atop a railing.

Wow. That's just plain old fashioned great comics-making, right there.

I don't know who deserves the high-fives for the BLAM-ing gunshots, Rodriguez or letterer Joe Carmagna or both, but those are a pretty excellent visual incorporation of a sound effect into a panel of art.

What excites me most about Daredevil is that this isn't the conclusion or launch of a big story, it's not an anniversary issue or anything, it's just another, more or less random issue of the comic. And it's this good. Daredevil is just plain always this good (Almost. There were a few weak issues, but not many out of 23-plus).

FF #10 (Marvel) I'm not entirely sure what Mike Allred and Marvel were thinking with this cover, which isn't merely a pretty dull one, but not at all reflective of what happens inside the issue itself except in perhaps some metaphorical way. And there is some awesome stuff inside this issue, the sorts of awesome stuff you would think they would want to put on the cover of a comic book.

There's Doctor Doom lounging around on his throne drinking wine from a goblet and not giving a crap whether or not you can totally see up his mini-skirt or not (because he's evil). There's old John Storm freaking out and slapping a stack of flapjacks. There's an impromptu field trip lead by some of the bad kids in school to play a high-stakes game of 20 questions with imprisoned Inhuman Maximus The Mad (I don't know him at all, but based on the way he talks, the way he's drawn and the way he's imprisoned, I have to assume he's pretty evil and pretty dangerous).

And, most thrilling of all, the Four and a few of the Future Foundation kids take FF writer Matt Fraction, artist Mike Allred and editor Tom Brevoort on a Pym particle-powered trip that goes horribly wrong.
Marvel has, of course, had their creators appear in their comics before (In the Marvel Universe, Marvel Comics publishes comic books featuring the Marvel heroes, but they there they are based on the real-life adventures of the heroes, rather than being fiction), and I've even seen the "embedded" gag used before (Brian Michael Bendis used Warren Ellis in that capacity rather memorably in an old issue of Powers), but it's been an awful long time since I've seen a Marvel creator put himself and his peers in a comic (Maybe that issue of Ultimate Spider-Man where Wolverine and Spidey switched bodies, and Bendis was drawn by Bagley introducing the story?), and I can't recall ever seeing it done quite so elegantly (But again; Marvel continuity? Not my strong suit).

This issue also answers a question many comics fans have no doubt wondered for a very long time now: Why does Tom Brevoort always where that hat?
Because that way he always has something handy to hit Matt Fraction with, obviously.

As fun as all that was though, I think my favorite part was the sequence that occurs on pages six and seven, where more and more members of the Future Foundation join Ahura on the roof. That's the part that made me laugh out loud, anyway.

Hawkeye Annual #1 (Marvel) Hey, it's an annual! And it's an annual functioning just as I think annuals should all function: It provides an extra, bigger-than-usual dose of the very same thing that makes the parent title enjoyable, by as much of the creative team of the parent title that it's generally feasible to get to do an extra, extra-long issue (That is, the writer).

So Matt Fraction reunites with artist Javier Pulido, the first fill-in artist on the book, who drew a two issue arc in which Hawkeye Kate Bishop rescued Hawkeye Clint Barton from the clutches of Madame Masque, and provoked the villaness' ire. This story, "West Coast Avenger," features a rematch between the two, as Masque removes her mask to pursue the quite vulnerable Kate as she arrives in L.A. to attempt to start a new life away from the other Hawkeye (Not sure exactly how or where this fits in with Young Avengers, where Kate is currently dimension-hopping, but she does mention her "team" in the narration, and hey, I can roll with it, as nothing here directly contradicts anything that happened there).

Just about everything I said about Daredevil can be repeated to refer to Pulido's work here. This is a perfect comic book, it's story told perfectly. The pages are panel-packed, so the story feels much longer than it's 30 pages, and Pulido and Fraction use a variety of panel structures and page lay-outs to keep the narrative not only constantly moving, but constantly and often dramatically changing. This is an exciting comic book to read, more for the way it's put together and the way it reads than the events that occur within it (Again, refer to the Daredevil review above; at no point did I think Masque would succeed in killing Kate).

Pulido does a neat thing with silhouettes throughout, usually for dramatic effect but, as I reached the end of the book, and saw Kate appearing in silhouette at the most unlikely of times (in close-up in a well-lit diner, for example, while everything around here is visible, including the people she's talking to...and even the Kate Bishop in another panel), I began to wonder if maybe it wasn't simply a time-saving measure, a way to provide nice-looking images (thanks in large part to the coloring work of Matt Hollingsworth) without having to go to the trouble of drawing characters' faces and clothing over and over.

It works. Or at least worked well enough that I was somewhere around page 25 before I even considered that maybe it was a way of cutting corners disguised as an effective technique. But given that it is effective, I don't suppose it matters much.

This was all-around great stuff—so much so that if Fraction and Pulido wanted to launch a West Coast Hawkeye or Lady Hawkguy spin-off series, I'd add it to my pull-list lickety split.

Popeye Vol. 3 (IDW Publishing) This is the third and apparently final collection of IDW's Roger Langridge-helmed Popeye revival comics, collecting the final four issues of the series. Altogether, they published 12 issues of the series, and perhaps that's enough—Better to go out on a high note, quitting while the book is still enjoyable, than dragging it on until the quality dips below the rather high standard the early issues set.

Langridge scripts all four of the stories contained herein (Seven altogether, including a pair of Sappo stories), and draws the last two: A Popeye/Barney Google crossover that you probably thought you'd never see (because you probably had to google "Barney Google", a character from the funny pages of your great-grandparents' days who hasn't left the same sort of cultural footprint than the adapted-into-animation Popeye did) and a surprisingly touching, even elegiac story in which Popeye writes a letter to Swee'pea's real mom.

The rest of the artwork is provided by Ken Wheeaton, Bruce Ozella and Vince Musacchia, and the remaining Popeye stories feature a pair in which Bluto is the evil (but strangely attractive, according to Olive) antagonist and another in which Popeye's pal Toar must defeat him in a boxing match in order to gain U.S. citizenship (This story, "Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Muscled Masses" includes my favorite gag in the book, a neat variation on the old angel and devil on the shoulders routine that I've never, ever seen before).

As in previous volumes, IDW went all out in securing strong and unlikely artists to provide them with variant covers, which are all included in the back with the regular covers, in a gallery that serves as a nice digestif for the eyes. In this collection, we have Popeye by Al Jaffee, series co-editor and co-book designer Craig Yoe, Mitch O'Connell and Dave Sim, whose contribution also serves as the cover for the entire collection.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Vols 3-5 (IDW) As mentioned previously, I used the opportunity of my local comic shop's 20% off anniversary sale on all trades to get caught up on IDW's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles trades. I think. IDW publishes so many comics tied-into the franchises they get the licenses to that it can be pretty bewildering to try and follow them all. As far as I can tell, they've got four, maybe five different collection programs going (The original Eastman and Laird TMNT, the original TMNT comics from that run by creators other than Eastman and Laird, the original Tales of the TMNT collection, the Archie Comics series and their own, original ongoing series...is that right?)

As I also mentioned, I wasn't entirely sure what to read and in what order, so I just went by the numbers on the spines, skipping a collection of the "Micro-Series" and a trade entitled The Secret History of The Foot Clan (Reading these, though, I kept seeing footnotes referring to events in various "micro-series" one-shots, so I guess those occur more or less congruently with the events of this book...?)

By this point in the series (20 issues in), it's become quite clear that co-plotters Kevin Eastman and Tom Waltz's goal is to blend elements from both the original volume of the comic book series with elements from the original cartoon series, meeting somewhere in the middle in terms of characters and concepts, but with a tone more in keeping with that of the original comics.

And so there are characters who were original to the comics (Fugitoid, Karai) and characters original to the cartoon (Krang, the Rock Soldiers, the goddam Neutrinos, Slash) interacting with the main cast of heroes and villains, almost all of whom have more in common with their comics versions than their cartoon versions (And I'm merely talking about the original, Mirage-published volume of the comic book and the original 1987 cartoon series; I'm spotty on the comics that followed after Image took over, and even spottier on the various cartoons that followed the first few seasons of the original...I think I bailed around the time Michelangelo started using a grappling hook or a net instead of nunchucks).

I realize this is probably the exact sort of comic book I would have liked to read—or at least what I would have wanted if you asked me—when I first looked for some Turtles comics in the early '90s, and my options were the too kid-friendly Archie series and the weird-ass black-and-white Mirage comics, which, at that point, were temporarily completely surrendered to artists as various as Michael Zulli, Mark Martin, Rich Hedden, Tom McWeeney and (my favorite at the time) Rick McCollum and Bill Anderson (Now, ironically, I prefer both the goofy Archie versions and the awesome original version, maybe especially during the strange, anthology era where Eastman and Laird sort of disappeared, and the Turtles' adventures became so unmoored and free-wheeling).

So yeah, I liked these, and, at this point, I've gotten over the fairly dramatic and unexpected changes to the characters' origins...even the more eyebrow-raising ones, like making Casey Jones a teenage victim of child abuse or the suspension-of-disbelief problems I had with the rapid-aging and kung fu skills-acquired-through-past lives-transmission or whatever.

I really rather admired Waltz and Eastman's ability to tell one big, long, ongoing story while still managing to include the ups and downs and starts and stops and climaxes of something approaching story arcs; this series feels much more like a serial than any other modern comic book I read or have read in a long time. Rather than being written for the trade, or even just organized into story arcs, it feels like a continuing, soap opera-like narrative.

One of those little climaxes comes in the third volume, in which Splinter and the Turtles meet and fight The Shredder to a draw. The conflict of the fourth volume revolves mainly around a fifth, evil mutant turtle named Slash, and that of the sixth volume, sub-titled "Krang War," involves the Turtles teleporting to The Neutrinos' world in Dimension-X and teaming-up with them and a re-designed (I don't like the new design, honestly) Fugitoid to save their planet
from Krang.

That fourth volume has some pretty strong character work, and it was interesting to see so much time and attention paid to discussion of the need or utility of comic book heroes having to kill their villains. Splinter instructs his students that while he abhors killing, they have to prepare themselves to take The Shredder's life, which doesn't necessarily sit well with all of them. Generally mainstream comics hand-wave this away in one of two directions, with the heroes having a vow against killing they pretty much never violate or the heroes taking lives on such a regular basis that it becomes a sort of white noise to the story.

Each book also, somewhat surprisingly, has a different artist. The third is drawn by Dan Duncan, who has been drawing the series since it's beginning. His art has been something of an acquired taste, and was so different from the style of so many of the other artists to draw the characters over the years that I was initially put off by it, but quickly grew to like it; he was particularly good at drawing action scenes, as the characters always seemed highly-animated, so that their limbs and weapons would always seem to be in the process of being violently flung when they fought; out of the corner of your eye, the art would almost seem to move. I never grew to like his Splinter, though, who always seemed to be too big, too goofy and too donkey-like to me.

For the fourth volume, he's replaced rather unexpectedly by Andy Khun, whose art is nice, but a sudden and drastic change in style from that of Duncan; suddenly the turtles all seem bigger, thicker and more swollen; their faces take on more distinct expressions, and they seem more like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles I would have expected to see in issue #1 of a new TMNT series, not issues #13-#16. His artwork seems particularly static when compared to that of Duncan, though.

I preferred hid Splinter, and was a little disappointed with his Slash, which is a big, brutish, snapping turtle-style turtle, closer to Tokka from The Secret of the Ooze in a black mask than the Slash of the original cartoon.
In a variant cover, Ross Campbell seemed to compromise between the big monster version of the interiors and the cartoon version. Check out this image:
Man, I wish Campbell was drawing a Turtles comic monthly...

Anyway, note the little palm tree tucked into his belt. That's Slash's binky, a plastic palm tree in the aquarium he grew up in as a normal, pre-mutated turtle in the cartoon. I completely forgot about that until I saw it here (Actually, I completely forgot about the existence of Slash at all, until he was mentioned in the comic).

For the fifth volume, Kuhn is replaced by artist Ben Bates, who is probably the best of the three. Like Kuhn, his turtles look a little more classic in terms of their size, scale and basic anatomy (although more so than Kuhn), and like Duncan, they are highly-animated, with fairly brilliantly-executed images of characters in motion (although, again, more so). He is therefore perfectly suited for this volume, which climaxes with a pretty huge battle sequence involving lots of laser guns and hand-to-hand combat.

Each volume contains all of the various and variant covers for the books (the other reason I prefer the trades of this series to the singles, beyond the too-rich-for-my-blood $3.99 price tag; there are so many cool variants I can't imagine not wanting to get, say, the Kevin Eastman or Ross Campbell versions).
I particularly like the Eastman images, as his version of the Turtles naturally remains the more or less definitive one in my mind. Of all the Splinters in these three books, his is certainly my favorite, and it amuses me that whenever he includes Casey Jones on a cover, it's the same adult Casey Jones from the old Mirage comics, not the teenage one from the IDW books.
Just look at all the ink in those images. I love the tactile, gritty appearance of Eastman's artwork.


SallyP said...

Daredevil and the Hawkeye Annual were...sublime. Gosh, I am SO glad that I actually started picking up Daredevil...now I'm looking for back issues!

Anonymous said...

Those Daredevil pix remind me of my first 100% moments of wow while reading Frank Miller's 'Elektra Lives Again'. Those page layouts are absolutely drool-inducing, paticularly the stairwell shots in Murdock's brownstone & the police dept...

Ryan Roe said...

Man, it's hard to trade-wait Daredevil these days.

Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa wrote a Marvel Knights 4 story (in the mid-'00s) about himself preparing for his Fantastic Four writing assignment by hanging out with the Fantastic Four. He had a crush on the Invisible Woman.

gummi48 said...

The plan for Hawkeye is to alternate between Kate and Clint issues for a while. So not quite her own series but close.