The Unwritten #1 (Vertigo)($1.00)
By Graig Kent
The tales of Tommy Taylor lasted thirteen volumes, it’s stories of youth and magic bearing some similarity to Harry Potter, only, in this fiction, Tommy Taylor is far more notorious, an even more massive phenomenon. The phenomenon has only grown with the mysterious disappearance of its creator, Wilson Taylor, who based his creation, ala Milne’s Christopher Robin, on his own son, Tom. Though Tom has grown up, he can’t escape his infamy, and with his father’s estate tangled up in legal limbo, he’s started to make a living cashing in on his name via the convention circuit.
But Tom may not be who he thinks he is, and at a convention a studier of “Tommy Taylor” has raised questions about his identity, threatening his livelihood and ultimately his life. Who is Tom Taylor? Who is the woman who exposed him? What happened to Wilson Taylor? Is there truth within the Tommy Taylor stories?
A lesser writer than Mike Carey would have started The Unwritten with “what if Harry Potter was real” conceit and gone from there into a discovery of magic and fantasy, in keeping with the tradition of the genre. Instead, Carey invests more into multiple mysteries, and establishing reality in such a way that if, or when, fantasy starts breaking in it seems all that more strange. But the point of this story (or this issue at the very least) isn’t the fantasy but the separation of fantasy from reality, and that some people can’t seem to distinguish between them. A subtle undercurrent within the story – which I can only slightly understand how it incorporates – is a sense of increasing hostility and despair around the world, especially notable in the news crawl on the “news channel” pages.
Carey reunites with his Lucifer illustrator Peter Gross, and gives him a workout. Gross illustrates text passages from the books, film clips, website news reports, 24 hour news channel feeds, and webcam footage, all within the context of the story, effectively giving the book a media savvy feel.
It’s smart, engaging, unique and yet bristles with familiarity, plus, at a buck for the first 40-page issue, it’s an absolute bargain that hooks you right from the beginning.
FOUR AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS
Batman and Robin #1 (DC)($3.99)
By Devon Sanders
A flying car and “Crime is doomed,” uttered from the mouth of a twenty-something creature of the night with a propensity for smiling, a ten-year old assassin trained in the method of nihilism, a devoted butler/father figure, a toad-man in candy-cane socks.
This is the new Gotham City. This is the new Batman and Robin #1. Welcome to the future, this is now.
Following the events of Final Crisis, the city of Gotham has been without a Batman for sometime. The death of The Batman permeates all. What was once respect for The Bat has been replaced with outright incivility. Somewhere in the city, a toad-man races through the streets of Gotham, his hired crew of goons at either side. A flying Batmobile occupied by two characters, one shaped by circumstance, the other by destiny, overtakes them. A greater mystery has unfolded before the new Batman and Robin with Mr. Toad’s capture, one involving a suitcase full of dominoes and the ominous mention of Pyg. Welcome to Morrisonville, folks and the very first issue of Batman and Robin.
Writer Grant Morrison is at best here. After giving us The Batman as The Swiss Army Knife of comics in the 90’s, Morrison throws out his baby with the bathwater and brings forth an all-new Batman, former Robin, Dick Grayson, along with a new Robin in the form of Damian al Ghul Wayne, the literal Sons of The Bat. Morrison’s Batman and Robin suggests everything familiar about The Dynamic Duo but comes willing to shun your familiarity with every turn of the page. Morrison’s Grayson, the adopted son of Bruce Wayne, is a character wrestling with the responsibilities of who he must become and the charge in which he’s been left. Morrison’s Damian is every bit the Robin Grayson was and then some, possessing the brilliant tactical mind of his birth father, Bruce Wayne, coupled with the cunning of his nihilist grandfather, global eco-terrorist Ra’s al Ghul. Morrison brilliantly juxtaposes the two as Grayson is portrayed exactly as he should be: a just, kinder Batman. Grayson is still very much the man Bruce Wayne allowed for him to be while Damian as Robin, is brusque and steely, intent on becoming everything he believed his father to be. I’m extremely intrigued to find out who exactly will influence whom more over the upcoming issues.
What can you say about artist Frank Quitely that hasn’t been said. In a short time, Quitely has risen to a short list of master artists. Quitely’s art has an almost classical feel to it suggesting an almost perfect blending of the bold realness of Neal Adams and with the impeccable figure anatomy of the late Curt Swan. You know from the very first “BOOMBOOM” of the first panel in, that you’re in for something new while grounded in the bright-n-shiny past.
Kudos to all for the family photo of Alfred, Bruce, Dick and Ace. Yes, Ace, The Bat-Hound, the German Shephard in the Bat-Cowl.
Batman and Robin #1 is that rare comic that will appeal to near anyone who’s ever enjoyed the campy 60’s Batman TV series, the sci-fi silliness of the Silver Age, the “anything can happen-ess” of the Batman and Teen Titans cartoon series and in Dick Grayson, the familiar, self-assured young man brave enough and bold enough to smile in the many faces of danger. Batman and Robin #1 is, quite simply, a celebration of the Batman and Robin characters and of their respective legacy. It is pop culture at its best. The future doesn’t look like a jetpack. It looks like paracapes on comics’ greatest oldest crimefighting duo.
“Batman and Robin. Together again for first time.”
FOUR AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS
Raided: Punisher: Naked Kill (One Shot)(Marvel)($3.99)
It’s unfortunate that this one-shot failed to fully live up to the potential of its premise, and I say that out of regret for a missed opportunity to do something intellectually engaging – even provocative – with this concept. Frank Castle goes after a torture porn ring with only the most primitive and base instruments at his disposal. When I read that solicitation, I felt confident this was going to be a clever commentary on our voyeuristic culture – we take perverse delight in watching Frank Castle torture to death criminals who…well, torture to death other people. Not so much. Thought I certainly think that angle was entertained – possibly even attempted – by writer Jonathan Maberry, the story is way too bogged down with page after page of mundane exposition detailing the ultra-sophisticated security system of the torture porn facility (which is oddly enough housed in a nine story downtown skyscraper) simply to impart on the reader the need for Frank Castle to go into the facility “naked,” without his arsenal of weapons. The whole conceit is a bit ridiculous to be honest, and I refuse to believe for a moment that there isn’t a more creative and page efficient way to put Castle in this position. The books’ saving grace is artist Laurence Campbell, whose gritty linework and subtle panel compositions smartly convey the brutality and savageness of Castle’s mission without turning the book into an obvious exercise in blood-porn.
TWO AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS
Trade Winds: Grunts (TPB) (Arcana)($14.95)
By Graig Kent
War isn’t my bag. You could say I’m a pacifist, (were it not that I enjoy hockey). I just don’t understand those stories that revel in war, that establish the myths of war heroes who are either the best at what they do or are running around with golden horseshoes up their hindquarters. Perhaps this is a Canadian vs. American thing, but for me war isn’t something to be celebrated. It’s a cold, cruel thing, leading to massive losses in human life and the irreparable destruction of the lives of so many others (soldiers and civilians, victor and loser alike). Perhaps I’m just too sensitive. I have a hard time not thinking about the psychological impact of being a “good soldier”, nor can I strictly see the “enemy” as someone faceless and worthy of death just for being on the other side. I understand the point of war, and I don’t necessarily disagree all the time, but I find there’s very little worth celebrating in the proceedings. I guess the loss of human life on either side is just something I would rather wasn’t a necessity.
The main story of Grunts, “Roll Call” is World War II fiction, involving an team of grizzled American soldiers squaring off against Nazis who have discovered a super soldier serum. That’s about the size of it. For what it is, I have to say, it’s entertaining enough, and it’s got enough of a fantastical element to it that I can sidestep those feeling in my preamble and actually enjoy it.
Created by Shannon Eric Denton and Keith Giffen, and written by Denton, the main story is an over the top, gruesome festival of carnage and craziness, with heads exploding, limbs being shot off, and mortal mayhem ensuing on every page, with more than its fair share of quippage. If it’s not evident from the get-go, it’s soon evident this is cartoon warfare, the good guys only marginally less dispensable than the bad guys, and the human contingent isn’t necessarily omitted completely, but it’s not exactly the story’s core either. With Inglorious Basterds mania set to hit in a couple months, Grunts looks to be complimentary to Tarantino’s war film.
There’s a series of back-up stories written by the likes of Kevin Grevioux , Mike Bullock, Rob Worley and a half dozen more which get into the human side of the characters and the war they’re involved in, unanimously so, which provides a nice balance to the opening story. Denton provides a closing story, set a half dozen decades later in modern day with the surviving members of the Grunts team, mysteriously unaged and now a special ops team, taking down a Russian super-soldier outpost, and in questioning how they’re still alive and what else they’ve been doing.
The art for all stories (main, back-up and closing features) is by Matt Jacobs whose style is a wild fusion of atypical artists like Kevin O’Neill, Jamie Hewlett, and John McCrea (the overall tone of the book has a decidedly Ennis/McCrea joint feel). It’s an appropriate style, cartoonish, dark, and a bit murky, but perfect for an askew war comic. Jacobs shows versatility in illustrating the back-ups, varying his style in sometimes slight and other times dramatic ways.
THREE AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS
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