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Every good thing that I do, I do in the memory of my late mother, Willie Ann Ham-Johnson. I miss you and I will forever keep you within my heart. –
First Look: Kurt Busiek Begins His Run on “JLA”
What do you do once you’re coming off a successful writing stint on The Avengers and last year’s blockbuster mini-series, JLA / Avengers? If you’re Kurt Busiek, you take on DC’s pre-eminent superhero team, JLA with its 107th issue and I’m happy to say, he brought Aquaman along for the ride. This makes me happy because, to me, it isn’t The JLA without him. They’ll need him as The JLA’s evil Earth 2 counterparts, The Crime Syndicate of Amerika are on their way and they’ll accept nothing less than the world.
Following the reality rending events of JLA / Avengers, The JLA are left to guard a newly forming universe. (ahem.) JLA members The Martian Manhunter and The Flash are left on monitor duty and all seems well. It’s Saturday in the Watchtower and routine maintenance weekend, as well. The windows need cleaning, records need updating and former Justice League enemy, The Construct, is imprisoned on The Watchtower, needs tending to because, he’s evolving and possibly becoming even more dangerous. As a universe is on the verge of being born The Construct attacks, soon to be followed in the form of a much more dangerous threat, The Crime Syndicate of Amerika.
Kurt (Conan) Busiek begins to lay the groundwork for what could literally be one of the most Earth-shaking stories ever to hit The DCU. There’s a lot of set-up here and the story reads fairly slowly but I get the feeling that this is a story well worth the wait. With his use of Earth 2’s CSA and the possible birth of a new universe, could Busiek possibly be building the beginnings to DC’s big summer event? (ahem.)
I especially love Busiek’s portrayals of The Flash and The Martian Manhunter. You really get the sense that these two enjoy each other’s company, almost like an uncle and a favorite nephew and this is more than evident in The Manhunter’s admiration of Flash’s resourcefulness in how he deals with The Construct.
Artist Ron (Uncanny X-Men) Garney’s line work is looser here than what I remember from his stint on Captain
but it still does the job. Everyone looks more than sufficiently muscled and toned and isn’t that what superheroes are all about? Especially nice is how he conveys The Flash’s sense of restlessness while within The Watchtower. The Flash is a creature used to speed and under Garney’s pencil he becomes, in temperament, every bit The Cartoon Network version of The Flash and the kids seem to like him, don’t they? America
Major goings-on are at play within the pages of JLA # 107. While on first read, it may not blow you away, JLA #107 looks to laying down the groundwork for what I believe will be THE most talked-about event of 2005, bar none. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. JLA # 107 comes recommended.
THREE OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS
First Look: DC Takes a Second Shot at Resurrecting “The Authority”
I feel for DC. Back when Warren Ellis and Mark Millar were writing it, The Authority – which deconstructed the traditional superhero myth and reimagined the superhero as fascist – was the crown jewel of comics. The top of everyone’s list. But then things just fizzled. The wait between issues became excessively long. A Brian Azzarello helmed relaunch (sadly) never materialized. Writer Rob Morrison, who seemed like a natural fit with his work on the phenomenal (and Authority-esque) Cla$$war, could not find an audience during his run on DC’s first relaunch of the title. Now, DC is pinning their hopes for the book on Ed Brubaker, the writer of the finest comic books that (sadly) no one reads. Needless to say, it’s a gamble.
To make matters worse, The Authority: Revolution # 1 is just shy of being completely inaccessible to people not already familiar with the characters, which from a sales perspective could spell disaster for this second relaunch. Unless you’ve read the Wildstorm crossover Coup D’etat (which DC is conveniently releasing as a collected trade in conjunction with the new Authority) you’ll have no idea what is going on here or who these people are. You’ll be left wondering why a group of costumed superheroes is running the
The sad fact of the matter is though that The Authority: Revolution is a very intriguing concept. It follows the idea of The Authority – a team of hardnosed and tough-as-nails super-powered beings that respond to doomsday scenarios – to its logical conclusion. Of course a group of individuals who have repeatedly saved the world are eventually going to take it over when they get fed up with the incompetence and corruption of its leaders. But again, you’re not going to appreciate that unless you’re already familiar with the now six-month old Coup D’etat. I think Brubaker could have served himself very well with a two or three page prelude that synthesized the events and reasoning that form the backdrop for this book. Perhaps I’m missing the point though. Perhaps it’s not important that The Authority has taken over the US government, but rather (as the title suggest) what is important is the reaction against that reality – the uprising of aging superheroes and citizens that begins, appropriately, in Philadelphia and threatens to spread across the country and upset this new status quo. Even so, I’d still say without prior knowledge new readers are going to be at a serious disadvantage here.
The Authority: Revolution has potential, but I’m not entirely sold yet. I like where Brubaker is taking the plot, and he’s such a strong writer that I know he’s going to do interesting things with this rich cast of characters. But artist Dustin Nguyen, despite his sharp quality line work, has yet to convince me that he can bring the same epic wide-screen visuals to the page that Bryan Hitch and Frank Quietly did during their tenures (although he’s sure to be more timely). I’ve heard that The Authority: Revolution was originally intended to be a twelve part mini-series with room to expand if sales warrant. But based on the reaction to the last Authority series, and the fact that any new readers are going to have to shell out for the Coup D’etat trade to understanding what’s going on here, something tells me that The Authority: Revolution may not get past twelve. Mildly recommended.
THREE OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS
First Look: New Anthology Series “Solo” Highlights Artists
DC’s new series Solo has been a long time coming. It’s natural for people to become set in their ways with respect to their tastes, but Solo provides comic book fans an opportunity to explore something new – step outside their visual comfort zone – without having to invest in a series or story continuity unfamiliar to them. This anthology format features a series of short vignettes written by some of the most respected names in comics, all rendered by a single artist deploying various styles. Kicking the series off properly, the debut issue of Solo features the art of the exceptionally talented Tim Sale.
Solo # 1 opens with “Date Knight,” a story about Batman and Catwoman playfully chasing each other atop the
Thematically, Solo # 1 is very somber. The stories focus on heartbreak and unrequited or lost love. Of them, I was most impressed with
FOUR AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS
Mad Yak Press’ “Subatomic” is an Engaging Disinformation Age Thriller
It’s been repeated ad nausea that we now live in the “information age.” With high-speed internet access, dozens of “news” channels, and instant cellular connectivity to anyone in the world, we’re said to be up-to-date, in touch and informed. Right, keep telling yourself that. We live in a “disinformation age” with only the illusion of freedom and choice – and it’s scary that this belief has also been so thoroughly debunked, co-opted if you will, and turned into a science-fiction fantasy ala The Matrix. In turn, plausibility has been removed. “Big Brother” becomes a ridiculous concept or, in the frightening alternative, accepted.
Mad Yak Press’ original graphic novel Subatomic explores the deconstruction of the “information age” in a post 9-11 environment, and is intelligently critical of the trivial information overload being passed on society under the guise of choice. Subatomic is told from the perspective of Mark, a disenfranchised member of a domestic spy agency known as ATOM – and the perfect vehicle to allow writer Patrick Neighly explore his narrative themes of disinformation and control. From birth, Mark has been programmed by his governmental masters, and when Subatomic opens Mark is working as a mail reader, spending his days scanning through thousands and thousand of letters for any information that might threaten the status quo. The experience leaves Mark feeling both empty and overwhelmed, and he decides to make a break from the government installation where he has spent most his life – a SHIELD-like hover fortress know as “The Wing.” Constantly on the run, Mark is pursued by his former masters as he struggles to find peace of mind.
Subatomic skillfully conveys the paranoia that results from a disinformation society, where people are made to stay confused by a steady stream of very detailed trivia and loyalties are measured by purchasing habits. There’s nowhere that Mark can go where he doesn’t feel like he’s being watched, where his every thought and action are being monitored – because he knows the truth. He knows about ATOM. But there’s nowhere he can turn. Even the “underground” press dismisses Mark’s story when he refuses to pigeonhole the truth into their preconceived conspiracy theories, theories that have been manufactured for them. As a reader, you feel as helpless and as trapped as Mark. Subatomic is very effective in drawing you in.
Its topical politics aside, Subatomic is an engaging thriller that borrows the best elements of The Prisoner and The Fugitive. The story is well paced (with the exception of an accelerated and all too convenient conclusion that begs for a sequel) and Jorge Heufeman’s artwork is sharp and detailed. He has a real command of the visual nuances necessary to maintain the tension and emotion of this story. Highly recommended.
Most comic book stores should carry Subatomic, but if you like to learn more about the book or order in online you can go to www.madyakpress.com.
FOUR OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS
“My Faith in Frankie” is a Fun and Affordable Read About a Young Girl with Her Own Personal God…Yes, God
If in 2003 you blinked, you probably missed Vertigo’s great mini-series My Faith In Frankie. Well, life sometimes provides second chances for stragglers and here’s one that came up two weeks back: My Faith in Frankie’s four issues are now collected in a convenient and affordable ($6.95) digest sized trade paperback for your reading pleasure.
My Faith In Frankie introduces us to Frankie Moxon, cute teenaged high school girl with everything a cute high school girl could ever want. She’s got the bestest of friends in blonde, bespectacled, curly-haired Kay Watson. She can eat candy all day and never get a cavity. She’s even starting to develop a libido, and it’s a good thing too. Just in time too because she’s got boys practically falling at her feet, trying to help her out with that problem. Then, strange things keep happening whenever they get too…close…to her. Nose bleeds, amnesia…rabbit attacks!
Frankie seemingly has it all, even her own cute personal god, Jeriven. Yes, sir, her… own… personal… god. One who happens to have fallen in love with Frankie. Things get even weirder for her when her childhood friend, Dean Baxter returns to town years after she demands Jeriven to return him from the dead. Did I mention that he came back really cute? Did I mention that Frankie’s horny and Jeriven’s not one bit happy about it? If Jeriven keeps on blocking the salami, Frankie just may be ready to turn to Buddha!
It’s a god versus the undead locked in a battle for Frankie’s heart and soul. Could there possibly be a winner?
Mike (Lucifer) Carey provides exactly what we need more of in comics, a fun, challenging read. Carey writes very convincing characters with words that perfectly convey the subtle humor laced within the situations these characters find themselves in, making this book accessible to older teens (17 and up) and adults alike. Artist Sonny Liew’s artwork is simply beautiful. His line is loose and fluid, as he switches confidently between Frankie’s childhood adventures and her more “adult” adventures. Inker Marc Hempel is the perfect choice for inker, and adds polish to Liew’s already beautiful lines. Kudos to Hempel for providing the beautiful covers also contained within the book.
My Faith in Frankie, the mini-series was originally published in color but for the trade paperback, it goes to black and white, in no way taking away from my previous enjoyment. The tones provided by Hi-Fi Designs serve only to enhance the beauty of this volume. In the back of the book, we’re even treated to four pages of sketches and designs by Sonny Liew along with a nine-page preview of Jill Thompson’s upcoming Dead Boy Detectives comic.
THREE AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS
Experimental Artwork and Unique Use of Setting Propel World War I Tale “White Death”
I know I’m oversimplifying things, but between All’s Quiet on the Western Front and the films Gallipoli, Dawn Patrol and Paths of Glory, it’s difficult to imagine another piece of World War I fiction that could add something – that could bring something unique – to our understanding of the “war to end all wars.” That’s not meant to belittle either the War or other fictional endeavors meant to capture, to the extent any piece of fiction can, that experience, but rather suggest the strength and brilliance of the aforementioned works. The War was terribly brutal, the result of archaic frontal assault tactics against modern weaponry. Trench life was miserable, disease and hunger as devastating as bullets and bombs. The decision makers were uncaring, generals and politicians hundreds of miles away from the front cavalierly sending young men to their deaths. By and large, this is our basic understanding of World War I, and most fictional endeavors about the war have done little to go beyond that basic understanding. Not so with AiT / Planet Lar original graphic novel White Death.
White Death adds “environment as character” to the pantheon of World War I fiction, as it explores the devastating effect of environment manipulated into a weapon and the larger philosophical ramifications attached to that. Loosely based on historical data, White Death follows Pietro Aquasanta, a private in the Italian Army stationed along Austria-Hungry’s southern front – the Italian Alps, which have been transformed into a series of frozen and blood soaked trenches. When Pietro sets off an avalanche to disperse an Austrian chemical gas cloud creeping toward the Italian front, the tactic becomes popular with the Italian command, and eventually the Austrians as well. In turn, the two sides relentlessly pound the mountains with artillery in an attempt to bury the other in a frozen grave, and the once relative tranquility of the
Equally effective is Charlie Adlard’s experimental artwork. Using charcoal and chalk on gray paper, Adlard creates a gritty and raw look that effectively evokes the savage nature of trench warfare. The emotion of the work is so real that you’re left with the impression that White Death was illustrated by a soldier in the trenches, using whatever material was around him to capture his story. The gaunt, hallow look on many of the soldiers’ faces is haunting – Adlard’s conveys the despair well. But it’s the massive amounts of white space bearing down on the small charcoal figures that’s truly disturbing. The imagery here stays with you.
White Death captures all the elements of any good World War I story – the brutality of trench and close-quarter combat, the constant fear and despair, the contrast between enlisted and command – but the book also sets itself apart and distinguishes itself from what came before. With its experimental artwork and unique use of setting, White Death is very much its own work, and a powerful one at that. Highly recommended.
Most comic book stores should carry White Death, but if you’d like to learn more about this book or order it online go to www.ait-planetlar.com.
FOUR AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS
“Scott Pilgrim” is Precious
YOU ARE SCOTT PILGRIM!
You’re 23 years old with a kickin’ Catholic schoolgirl uniform wearin’ 17 year old girlfriend. You’re Canadian! You’ve got all that great healthcare! You’re a cute boy in a rock band that has a cute girl drummer! You have no job but that’s O.K.! YOU ARE SCOTT PILGRIM and everybody loves you so they’ll take care of you, because for God’s sake….
You are Scott Pilgrim, you know.
Everything is perfect until you met that…girl. The American one. The one who rollerbladed into your dreams. Ramona Flowers is her name, a dream made flesh, she occupies your every waking/sleeping moment. How do you get close to this…dream woman? Your reality is pretty sweet, after all. You are dating a hot high school chick that just cut her hair to look hotter for you. You still want that woman who comes off like she doesn’t want you. Why?
YOU ARE SCOTT PILGRIM and you want what you want. You’ll find a way into Ramona’s heart through sheer force of Pilgrim will. You’ll try and spare your hot young girlfriend’s feelings and make the break-up as easy on yourself as possible. That’s the least you can do for yourself. Once you get Ramona will you be able to handle the wrath of the first of her seven evil ex-boyfriends? Will ya?
Baby, YOU ARE SCOTT PILGRIM.
Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life, Vol. 1, written and drawn by Bryan Lee (Lost At Sea) O’Malley, is a true find, the type of book that just begs to be read. In Scott Pilgrim, O’Malley’s created the perfect protagonist. Beginning with the front cover of a devilishly smiling and pointing onward Pilgrim, you’ll find yourself loving him just as much as he loves himself. Every page of this book makes you yearn to have his problems. That is the essence of this extremely entertaining volume. O’Malley makes you understand why everyone cares for this miscreant and keeps you in that place with every turn of the page. O’Malley’s art is perfect for the story he’s telling. Scott Pilgrim’s world is filled with “cute” and every “manga-esque” line O’Malley lays down screams this. Character design is practically it’s own character in this volume and when you see Ramona for the first time, you fully understand Pilgrim’s obsession. The ending of Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life, Vol. 1 is honestly one of the most unexpectedly enjoyable things I’ve ever read in my life and cements O’Malley’s place as one of my new favorite creators.
Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life, Vol. 1 will appeal to fans of movies like “Say Anything” and “High Fidelity” and comics like Street Angel and comes definitely recommended.
FOUR OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS
The Master of Zombie Horror, George Romero, Tries His Hand at Comics with “Toe Tags”
By Sean Fahey
It was just a matter of time before the zombie horror master himself, George A. Romero, revisited the phenomenon he set in motion, and while we have to wait another year or so for Land of the Dead, the man gives us a little appetizer this week with Toe Tags, his new comic book mini-series. Admittedly though, while reading Toe Tags # 1 the only thing I could think about was not Romero’s legacy, but rather the incredible impact the film 28 Days Later had on the genre of zombie horror. Since Danny Boyle’s masterpiece was released, not only has the genre taken off, but by in large most everything in it’s wake has set out – very deliberately – to deviate from the genre conventions that Romero created…even, as evident with Toe Tags, Romero himself. In many ways it’s become a game of “Well these zombies are different.” Don’t get me wrong, change is vital. Genre conventions must evolve. But a problem arises when it’s change for the sake of change – when the change is arbitrary.
Toe Tags saddles the fence between advancing a unique perspective on the genre and being somewhat arbitrary. The narrative is what you’d expect. Zombies have overrun the planet, and the only thing separating them from the handful of survivors left – in this case, the spunky Judith and mysterious Damien – are a couple of shotguns. No complaints there. The shoe fits. But the “twist” to Toe Tags can be seen from a mile away. Granted, it’s not something that’s been thoroughly explored before in the genre, unless you consider Frankenstein a work of zombie horror, but to say that it’s telegraphed from the first page is putting it generously. To be honest, I was a little disappointed with Romero’s plotting, and would have been happier if he had played it straight. This is why I love Robert Kirkman’s comic book series The Walking Dead so much – the focus is on the human element, and how these survivors respond to the crisis. The backdrop is little different than an operating room or desert island in terms of its functionality. Toe Tags deliberately attempts to shock, and in the process fails to tap into what the true appeal of this genre is.
I’ve never been a big fan of artist Tommy Castillo, but I was pleasantly surprised with his work here. He’s got a real knack for handling gore that goes beyond just having a good eye for detail. Castillo walks that fine line between just enough gore and too much well. There’s plenty of carnage here to be sure, but it stops just shy of gratuitous and, more importantly, serves the story. His visual pacing is strong. The action sequences are fluid and convey the chaos and confusion of the events. Visually, I have no complaints about this book.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there’s something visceral about the zombie apocalypse concept that I think appeals to an adolescent desire in males to build forts and blow things up. It’s in our guts. We can’t get enough of it. It’s as if we ourselves are ravenous insatiable creatures, and zombie horror, regardless of the form it takes, is the metaphorical gray matter we endlessly hunger for. If anything, Toe Tags feeds that hunger. Mildly recommended.