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Duostar Racers #1 (IDW)
by Max Patterson

Before starting this review, I’d like to preface things a bit. I picked up Duostar Racers largely on a whim, without background information on its creator or any possible tie-ins. After doing a little research, I found out the comic is apparently related in some way to artist Ashley Wood’s other title, D’Airain Adventure, which in turn has ties to a bunch of other creator owned titles (Here’s the link to the article I found). How the two are related I don’t know, nor do I particularly care. The point I’m trying to make is that in the proper context, this comic may have earned a higher score (though I doubt it). In my opinion however, unless you slap a Vol. 2 on something or make it abundantly clear that knowledge of another title is a prerequisite for enjoying your book, there’s an expectation that it be accessible to new readers. As you may have guessed, Duostar Racers does not live up to that expectation, and while it has its merits, as the launching point for a new series (or even an introduction to an old one) it fails miserably.

I guess I’ll start by addressing T.P. Louise’s writing, because frankly, there’s not much to say. Some guy is looking for his brother, and two other guys are racing on the freeway. That’s it. There’s some dialog, but considering it’s largely without context (and pretty bland to boot), there’s never a chance to get a real feel for the characters.. The writing’s not particularly bad, and I wasn’t immediately put-off the way I was with, say, The Executioner. There’s simply not enough here to even make me curious about what’s going on, and the whole thing comes across as a series of disconnected scenes without unity or flow.
Still, the real focus of the book is obviously Ashley Wood’s art, something that will likely be a sticking point for many people. Wood’s style is unique, with much of his art abstracted to the point where he isn’t so much drawing scenes and characters as merely suggesting them. It’s certainly an interesting approach, and can often be quite visually appealing, but it ultimately makes for incredibly muddled story telling. That could probably be overcome with decent writing (or heck, even understandable writing), but again, everything is so vague it’s hard to tell what exactly is going on. A perfect example is the pair of racers; they seem to be using roller-blades or something similar, but it’s so sketchy and distorted that it’s impossible to tell what exactly they’re supposed to be doing. I’m not saying we need a point by point discussion of their gear, but it would be nice to have some inkling as to what’s going on. The real disappointment though is that Wood fails miserably at conveying any sense of speed in his art (kind of a big issue when your book has Racers in the title). Obviously it’s a tough idea to convey in a static medium, but writing VROOOM! in big letters across the page just doesn’t cut it. In a slower-paced, more atmospheric book Woods approach would likely be perfect, but in a title that seems centered around an action-packed activity, there just isn’t enough visual stimulation for my taste.

I like to consider myself a pretty smart guy, and it’s frustrating when I suspect something is flying over my head (See Doktor Sleepless, which still manages to hurt my brain with every issue) . With Duostar Racers though, as much as I’d like to think the book is avant-garde or simply too complex for me to grasp, I can’t help but wonder if maybe it just is what it seems to be; a pretty mediocre title.



Final Crisis #1 (DC)
by Graig Kent

If I have one problem with Final Crisis it’s that I’ve read far too much about Final Crisis before actually reading Final Crisis. What I mean is I’ve been over to Newsarama and CBR and the like reading a plethora of interviews with Grant Morrison and Dan Didio and the other folks tangentially involved in the proceedings — not to mention having seen about a third of the first issue already via preview pages and images — thus my brain is swimming with insight into the series, which, quite frankly is distracting me from what’s actually going on in this first issue, as well as hindering me from honestly assessing the execution of the book.

My first impression was befuddlement. I was trying to pin too much of what I already knew (or rather was told and/or had read on the comics blogs) to what was on the pages. Morrison’s ideas on the New Gods (as previously presented in Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle) seemed to be the focus of his interviews, but it’s only one small element of the book (so far). The tagline “The Day Evil Won” doesn’t bear fruit in this issue, although Morrison’s proclamation that it begins with Anthro and ends with Kamandi does. And yes, a fairly major hero (whose name, if you weren’t paying attention to the “rumor mill” [is it still a rumor if it’s indirectly confirmed before it happens?], rhymes with Carson VanGunther) dies, as do a quartet of minor characters and one of Kirby’s boys, and the most surprising aspect is they’re all completely inglorious deaths.

My second impression — which is to say how I felt after reading it a second time after getting over my initial confusion — was something resembling both appreciation and disappointment. What I get from this first issue is a sense that it’s not your standard “mega-epic crossover”, but instead a stand-alone mini-series that happens to tackle the entirety of the DC Universe’s workings. Morrison has set up a number of threads: a Green Lantern police procedural/murder investigation; a child kidnapping mystery; the curious incident of the past meeting the future; Libra’s organizing of super-criminals; some to-do with the Monitors; and finally some stuff going on with the (New) Gods that’s affecting everything. The problem right now is these are all quite disparate elements — which no doubt will be bridged as the series progresses — but the disjointedness is palpable and disorienting.

The other downside of all these disparate elements is there’s not enough time to embed backstory. It’s a stand-alone mini-series in terms of how it progresses, but not stand-alone where it starts. Not reading Green Lantern? Well, you’re not going to know about the Alpha Lanterns. Didn’t read Countdown? You’re going to be more than puzzled by the Monitors’ society (I know I am). Didn’t catch the last issue of Justice League of America? Me neither, but I think something there led into this. The Death of the New Gods mini-series plays into this as well… I think (dunno, didn’t read it). Too much of Final Crisis is not casual reader friendly which in the short run is to its detriment, and may harm its effectiveness in the long run. As a longtime DC comics fan, though, the various story elements are intriguing, especially since Morrison has yet to establish his focal point. Right now, it’s all mood, a foreboding atmosphere across time and dimension in the DCU. You can feel something big is going to happen and that you want to be there when it does.

The mini-series brings together Morrison and artist J.G. Jones for the first time since their brilliant collaboration on Marvel Boy a decade ago. Jones has been working primarily as a cover artist in the intervening years and his opening five pages show off his pin-up ability with two splash pages and a two-page spread among them. It opens the book cinematically but also quickens the pace unintentionally, and a proper pacing is something the book never settles into. Jones is an impressive artist, and the book looks damn fine, with exceptional detailing, inking and colors, but there are some narrative glitches and obtuse panel placements that hinder the clarity of storytelling. The cutaway to a scene mid-conversation between Dr. Light and Mirror Master is quite jarring (the whole scene, actually, makes no sense, I imagine, unless you’ve read Salvation Run), as is the “murder scene” as shown on Human Flame’s cel-phone (use of a cellular-screen-shaped panel should have been called for here, as I didn’t realize at first this is what was happening).

Final Crisis has all the Morrison-esque staples: dense structure; layered stories; a grand scope; oblique themes; and a lot of confusion. The Scottish maestro always has a plan, but it’s anybody’s guess how clear the story will be by its completion. The ingredients, at least, are there for an engrossing ride. If you’re not already invested in the DCU, I don’t suppose this will ease you in any, but as a fan, yeah, I’m still feeling the excitement… afterall, it’s not that often that I re-read any comic three times over in one day to pick it apart for meaning and understanding (I guess the question is should I have to?)



Serenity: Better Days #3 (Dark Horse)
by Adam Prosser

Ah, the noble spinoff. To what depths you have sunk. Well, OK, maybe not depths exactly, but there was a time when comics spinoffs were often the equal, and occasionally the better, of the movies, TV shows and cartoons that inspired them. Tarzan’s adventures in the comics remain a high watermark for newspaper strips. Part of the reason for the Universal movie monster lineup’s continuing endurance is their appearance in the comics, with Marvel’s Tomb of Dracula a particular highlight. And Donald Duck wouldn’t be much more than a corporate icon if it hadn’t been for Carl Barks’ amazing adventure comics featuring (and in several cases, introducing) the Duck family members. Then there’s the sometimes bizarre Star Wars comics of the late 70s, the well-done Aliens and Predator comics upon which Dark Horse built their brand name…the point is that for most of the time that comics have been adapting properties, they’ve done it with a free hand that has usually made for better stories.

Somehow, like so many things about comics past vs. present, this is no longer strictly the case. It could be the focus on continuity, or simply the protective nature of comics fans, but a modern comic spinoff is usually expected to adhere faithfully to the source material. Long gone are the days when the radio version of the Shadow could have a completely different secret identity from the comic book version, for example. And the usual result is that the comic spinoff ends up being considered an inferior, irrelevant appendage to the main story, an attitude that often ends up being self-fulfilling.

But not always. Nerdmeister Joss Whedon, an obvious comics geek, has managed transfer his TV creations to the comics page with a relatively high standard of quality and a sense of relevance. That’s partly because Whedon himself is writing a lot of them, and partly because none of the shows are currently on the air, yet have an obsessive fanbase demanding more. But at their best, the various Whedon properties are handled by people who wrote for the characters on the small screen, but who also have an understanding of the comics medium, which makes a big difference.

So it’s been with the latest three-part miniseries based on Firefly, or as the franchise seems to be known these days, Serenity. Honestly, the fact that Buffy and Angel have ongoing series and Serenity doesn’t has always been a shock to me, given that those other two shows each wrapped up relatively satisfactorily, whereas Firefly was a show killed before its time. Even stranger, the first Serenity comics mini, Those Left Behind, was pretty lackluster, almost seeming like a mash-up of formula elements from the show. Fortunately, Better Days has been a substantial improvement, with a plot that actually takes the characters somewhere fresh and interesting. In this case: on vacation.

In the first part of this miniseries (set some unspecified time during the run of the show), Mal Reynolds and crew uncharacteristically managed to score a substantial payday, and have been luxuriating in their newfound riches on the resort planet of Pelorum, not realizing they’re being targeted for revenge by their latest mark. Furthermore, one of Inara’s recent clients has twigged to Mal’s history as a rebel and believes that he’s a former Dust Devil, one of a band of freedom fighters—or terrorists, depending which side you’re on—that continued to harass the Alliance long after the war ended. In this latest issue, the various factions zero in on the crew of Serenity and the result involves explosions and robots. Whoot.
The story, by Whedon and Brett Matthews, who also wrote the previous miniseries, is solid—it’s essentially a lost episode of the show, which, if you’re a Browncoat, will make it more than worth the money. I am, so it was. That said, there are a few problems with Will Conrad’s art, which captures the likenesses of the show’s stars, but sometimes at the expense of a slightly stiff and photoreferenced style—though I suppose it’s still a huge improvement when you look back at the history of comics adapted from live action movies and TV.

The real pain, of course, comes from knowing that Serenity still hasn’t gotten the kind of cleverly-constructed long-form story arc that Whedon pulled off on TV, despite the opportunity granted by this comic. With Whedon busy with a bunch of other projects, including a new TV show, it looks like Serenity is doomed to remain an orphan for a while to come. But even a few drops of water go down well when you’re parched. The spinoff is the show, period.


Man With No Name: The Good, The Bad and The Uglier #1 (Dynamite)
by Sean Fahey

I’ll be honest, this was one of the LAST properties I ever imagined someone wanting to spin into a comic book series. It’s an impossible task. I say that not so much because of the iconic status of Sergio Leone’s “Man With No Name” trilogy, upon which this based (I mean, hell, comic books deal with iconic figures all the time). I say it’s an impossible task because there’s something inherently cinematic about Spaghetti Westerns – the convergence of so many elements, the music, the pacing and editing, the cinematography. It just can’t be duplicated in another medium, and, in all fairness, I don’t think Dynamite is trying to duplicate Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns with this book.

So, what the hell ARE they trying to do?

As the title suggests, this all about a character. The Man With No Name. Blondie. THE quintessential Western drifter. The iconic figure so masterfully portrayed by Clint Eastwood. After the success of The Lone Ranger, Dynamite went and got themselves another popular Western character to base a comic series on. The question is though, can THIS character be separated from the source material to which he’s so intrinsically linked? And that question is not answered in this issue.

In so many ways this issue is a gigantic question mark. Why does the character look nothing like Eastwood? A legal issue with respect to likeness? A conscious attempt to distance themselves from the movies (and if that’s the case, why secure the property in the first place?)? More importantly, how do you do an ongoing series about a character who’s appeal is based largely on the fact that he’s completely mystery, and is meant to STAY a mystery? Questions.

That said, I think the narrative for this opening story-arc has potential. That could be due the fact that I’m a geek for American Civil War history, especially as it relates to the Southwest (talk about a bizarre niche!). But I was excited to see that this story picks up on one of the more interesting moments from “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” and finds Blondie on the run from both Union and Confederate soldiers for his involvement at the Battle of Glorieta Pass. That’s rich territory for series writer Christos Gage to mine, regardless of who the protagonist is.
There’s potential here, no doubt. But unlike Dynamite’s other Western series – The Lone Ranger and Zorro (western-esque) – both of which grabbed me instantly as “winners,” it’s going to take more than one issue for me to declare this series a success, especially when that one issue reads more like a preview than a full length twenty-two page comic.


Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull #1 (of 2) (Dark Horse)
by Jeb D

I would disagree with those that call the latest Indiana Jones film unwatchable. It’s true that it’s visually uninspired, and that the script is an appallingly lazy piece of hackwork, but for most of the film, Harrison Ford does his best to rekindle our affection for Indy, and with the aid of Shia LaBeouf and Karen Allen, bring some life to the otherwise dire proceedings.

Sadly, of course, the qualities of personality and life that those actors bring to the film aren’t available to the comics writer. All he has to work with is David Koepp’s script, and I hope it’s true that Koepp cobbled the thing together from other writer’s drafts in a desperate race to beat the writers’ strike deadline, because at least that would offer some excuse for its being so terrible. None of that, though, helps comic writer John Jackson Miller, since he’s stuck with that script as his starting point. And, unlike some previous film adaptations, where the use of an early draft resulted in a different and interesting take on the material, this is a painful scene-by-scene slog through the finished version of the film.

And where the first part of the movie (which is basically what this first issue covers) is occasionally livened up by some decent-to-adequate action scenes, the pacing of the comic relegates them to a panel or two here and there. Which, really, is crazy: the only virtue in adapting this thing (well, the only artistic one, anyway) would be to try and bring some level of kinetic detail and excitement to those scenes. Instead, they’re given equal weight with pointless standoffs and dreary exposition, and fall completely flat. And speaking of flat, the omniscient narration draws bullet points and exclamation marks around the few bits of story that, in the film, are allowed to unfold gradually for the audience, thus making each turn of the page more deadeningly dull than the last.

Given that he’s not called on to do much action, artist Luke Ross is left trying to approximate the bland look of the film, and of the actors… and therein lies another problem. The 64-year-old Harrison Ford can still move like a man twenty years younger, and his facial expressions, carriage, and line readings all combine to make his older Indy nearly as vital as the younger one. On the page, though, the facial lines and white hair, with no animation at all, just lie there looking ancient and ghastly (I positively dread Marion’s appearance next issue). I won’t say that Ross had much of a script to work with, but apart from one or two splash panels, there’s nothing in the visuals here that would make you want to know what the characters were saying if the word balloons weren’t there.

I’m probably being too hard on Miller and Ross. I’m sure it’s a good paycheck, and who wouldn’t want to help contribute, in some way, to the legend of Indiana Jones. It’s not their fault that they were given the worst of the films to adapt, but its eventual inclusion in the Dark Horse version of the Indiana Jones saga will be something less than a high point.

One-half Viking out of 5