The Stuff of Legend Book #1 (of 2) of Volume 1 (Th3rd World Studios)($4.99)
By Jeb D.
I skipped Free Comic Book Day this year, and while I doubtless can live without whatever X-Men/JLA variations were being tossed around that day, I evidently missed the first twenty pages of this book. And while I have no doubt that would have been impressive as a giveaway pamphlet, the entire 52-page first issue, in a squarebound prestige format, is sublime.. This is a “children’s” book in the same way that Mouse Guard or Bone are, with all that implies in terms of all-ages accessibility, and quality storytelling and art.
Written by Mike Raicht and Brian Smith, the opening of the book sets the 1944 Brooklyn scene nicely, but the reader can feel a bit of a letdown at first, as we seem to be looking at a WWII-era version of “Toy Story” or “Indian in the Cupboard” as a young boy is abducted by a tentacled “Boogeyman” from his closet, and his toys (under the leadership of a soldier called The Colonel) come to life, and engage in debate about who’s to blame, and what to do (the presence of such toys as a pig and a princess even suggest the mixture in Andy’s bedroom). But the debate is conducted in such an intriguingly formal style that any feeling of Pixar-like modernity quickly gives way to an immersion in the period. And once the rescue mission into the fantastic and dangerous world through the closet door begins, the storytelling calls up such predecessors as “Watership Down,” “Animal Farm,” or one of the darker versions of “The Nutcracker.” The Boogeyman here is presented as the Ultimate Enemy, and is a stand-in for one that readers of 1944 would have clearly recognized as such.
The toys themselves are a fascinating assortment of personalities; it’s clear that the writers have carefully thought out their relationships and that of the boy and his family. There are undercurrents of hope and fear and desire, temptation and betrayal. And while the specifics of some of that will be over the heads of some children, they’ll read the emotional reality of it with ease. Raicht and Smith have also left plenty more for us to discover in next issue’s conclusion.
I’m not familiar with the art of Charles Paul Wilson, but on the basis of The Stuff of Legend, he’s ready to step to the front of today’s top comic artists. After reading this book, I went back to check out the digital version online, to see if I was being too heavily influenced by the packaging, but even without the texture of the page, this is amazing work: characters resembling those of classic stories like “The Velveteen Rabbit” or “The Brave Tin Soldier” are placed in a world that’s half real, and half Bone or Courtney Crumrin. The transitions from the “toy” versions of the characters to the “real” ones that enter the world of the closet are as acute as Bill Watterson’s Hobbes, and far more unsettling. The “Battle of Brooklyn Heights” as shown here is vigorous and somewhat brutal (like some of Hugh Lofting’s original Dr. Doolittle stories), but beautiful for all that. I can’t recall when (or if) I’ve seen this kind of tonal pencil work in a comic before, and that choice of medium just makes The Stuff of Legend stand out even more, like the deluxe edition of your favorite childhood story.
Apart from the battle scene, there is nothing in The Stuff of Legend that would be “inappropriate” for children… something that would have been taken for granted years ago, when stories like “The Wind and the Willows” or the “Fairy Tales” of Oscar Wilde were staples. For today’s young readers, the depictions here of battle mayhem, the complexities of friendship and betrayal, and the possibility of death may be a startling departure from Disney film adaptations, but it would also represent a bracing one. Obviously, I’d suggest any parent review the book before giving it to a particularly young child, but apart from that, it’s highly recommended for children and adults alike.
This is easily my favorite original comic of the year so far, and (along with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz) an absolute must-buy for any but the very youngest readers. And as with Oz, I’m going to hold back one-half of a Viking for that eventual collected edition. Preview of the FCBD version.
FOUR AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS
Doom Patrol #1 ($3.99)(DC)
by Graig Kent
Off the top of my head I can think of five different incarnations of the Doom Patrol, and while this may not be as many as, say, the Teen Titans, X-Men, Avengers or Justice League have had over the years, for a b-level super-team, the Doom Patrol has been trading more on its name than its roster. But for every shift in members, the general comics reading audience is most familiar it’s original team: the Chief, Negative Man, Elasti-Girl and Robotman. Having held down barely forty issues before being killed off, this “core” team was thereafter out of commission for over 30 years (although Robotman was a core member of every incarnation) as other writers such as Paul Kupperberg, Grant Morrison and John Acrudi attempted to franchise the team to varying degrees of success. Yet, it’s this quartet that has endured in the consciousness of fans and creators alike, the original roster used in any flashback sequence over the years, and in broader media for the recent Teen Titans cartoon.
In 2004, John Byrne, ever the provocateur, revived the Doom Patrol quartet by unceremoniously ejecting their past continuity and rebooting the team. This was met with a lambasting from fans, pros and critics alike, the book ultimately cancelled after 18 issue. Geoff Johns, ever the continuity hound, decided to fix the continuity flaws Byrne created in the pages of the Teen Titans allowing both the original line-up and the team’s tumultuous past to co-exist. Which leads us to this: the all-new, original Doom Patrol, in the hands of a grateful aficionado, Keith Giffen. Giffen has promised that old continuity won’t get into the way, but also won’t be ignored, and that every issue will be accessible to new readers. A tall order to be sure.
This first issue opens with “business as usual” for the team of misfits, infiltrating a secret, secured laboratory in a small independent nation where they believe monsters are being created. In the process of interrupting operations and thereafter escaping one of the team is killed, leading to a second act that reflects upon the personalities of each of the team in the wake of the tragedy, and furthermore the nature of the team, both of which are, to say mildly, unhealthy and abnormal.
As an introduction, Giffen hits all the right notes, defining the personalities, conveying the team’s objectives, and establishing the tone of the book, which is to say bleak high-adventure. But at the same time Giffen over-reaches, working too hard at establishing the team dynamic, involving a lot of dialogue… perhaps too much dialogue, weighing the book down. There are also expository footnotes for each of the team members which are nicely stylized but over-structured, too much information, too soon. Giffen doesn’t let the characters or the story breathe very much, and it’s a little overwhelming in this regard.
Matt Clark’s art, embellished by John Livesay and colorist Pat Brosseau, is more than serviceable, providing some wonderful environments for the characters to operate in and more than a few dynamic action moments (a giant Elasti-Girl swatting a helicopter out of the sky chief among them). He tends to work with a whispy line, which isn’t much to my liking (nor is Robotman’s new look, I might add) but is far from unpalatable.
While the main Doom Patrol story may be a mixed bag, the Metal Men back-up feature, reuniting the Justice League team of Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire is pure gold (and platinum, and iron, and mercury, and…). Whimsical, airy, vibrant (thanks to gorgeous colors from Guy Major) and somewhat absurd, so enjoyable it leaves half a question as to why this isn’t a Metal Men book with a Doom Patrol back-up feature instead.
THREE AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS
Metal Men tpb ($14.99)(DC)
by Graig Kent
I bought (and reviewed) the first two issues of Duncan Rouleau’s 8-part Metal Men mini-series when it first appeared back in 2007 as a post-52, Grant Morrison-inspired re-tweaking of the Metal Men mythos. I enjoyed the issues, quite a bit actually, but realized quickly that it was something I’d much rather read in trade. I said at the time of the first issue that it was “a vibrantly colored, cartoonishly illustrated jumble of confusing, seemingly disparate plot points assembled into an intriguing but somewhat impenetrable story”, which might make you wonder why I would have been so patiently waiting for a trade paperback and not foregoing it altogether. But I also mentioned how “it’s got a wide-eyed sense of wackiness that much of the mainstream tights’n’capes crowd is missing, feeling like good olde tyme comics with madcap manga sensibilities.”
Indeed it is Rouleau’s brilliant and vibrant art, bridging anime with American comics that is the draw here, as, even in one sitting, the wild story (“based on ideas by Grant Morrison”) never does read all that cleanly, but given the density of the plotting and characters that are strewn throughout, that the story coalesces at all is rather impressive. Rouleau really reaches – and more often than not succeeds – at that Morrison-esque feel, structuring a story with multiple adversaries in multiple time frames, often the opponents as much at odds with one another as they are with the heroes of the book. Rouleau explores the team’s origins, including the personal sacrifices of the Metal Men creator Will Magnus in the creation of the responsometers that give the robots life. The pages are loaded up with technobabble and enough science-facts that few but the hardcore chemistry buffs are going to don a pleased smile at. It really is enough to make you go dizzy.
From the drama between Will Magnus and his girlfriend, between him and his mentor and between him and his brother, to the ancient beings looking to gain control of his robots, to the alien robot squad looking to eliminate humanity’s control over machines, to the corporate conspiracies and time travel components, it’s a whirlwind of activity that is completely the opposite of decompressed storytelling. There’s enough material here to fill up two more volumes if told at a more leisurely pace, but through his art Rouleau gently asks you to surrender to the chaos.
I won’t lie, it’s an intensive read, but also a rewarding one, one that will permit – nay, encourage – repeated reading. I’m not sure you can get much more bang for your buck.
THREE AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS
[Raided] Citizen Rex #1 (Dark Horse)($3.50)
By Jeb D.
Love and Rockets was probably the first comic that I got to know almost exclusively in collected edition, thanks to local libraries carrying the trade editions. And I think that this may actually be the first time I’ve picked up a Hernandez book in single-issue format. That’s both good and bad, as it’s a perfect first chapter to a story, but part of its perfection is that it lays out such intriguing questions, and just enough background, to make me already impatient for issue #2. The question Los Bros (Mario and Gilbert, specifically) say they want to pose in this series is “What compels life without a soul?” and their setting is a world a half-century hence where robots were once humanity’s companions, and staples of everyday life, but have since come under suspicion, and our protagonist, Sergio Bauntin, is a gossip columnist trying to straighten out the mess of his life, whose assistant is a robot with problems, and secrets, of her own. Expert storytelling dots the pages with references to the futuristic landscape of“Truth Takers”, “dog-piling,” mysterious artifacts, and mobsters with colorful names like Tango Bangaree, never stopping to “explain” anything, but trusting the reader to absorb the context, with the confidence that it’ll all eventually become clear as our picture of the characters, and their world, grows over the next five issues. Yeah, you could wait for the trade, but isn’t it kinda fun to have a month or so to try and ponder just what it’s all about? Jump on now!
THREE AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS
[Raided] Ultimatum #5 of 5 (Marvel)($3.99)
By Jeb D.
Imagine one of Warren Ellis’ Avatar superhero books like Black Summer or No Hero. Now, strip away any investigation into moral ambiguity, all trace of convincing character motivation, scientific curiosity, or sharp dialog. You’d be left with a bunch of superpowered characters pointlessly brutalizing each other, and anyone else who got in the way… in other words, you’d have Ultimatum. I know that Jeph Loeb is highly regarded by his peers, but I’ve never read anything by the guy that I much cared for, and this is easily my least favorite yet. While I’m OK with Marvel deciding to reboot the Ultimate Universe if they think it still has legs, Loeb has gone about it in such a clinically unattractive way that in the end all the participants, from Magneto right on down, just feel unclean. And I’m someone that often enjoys a darker take on Marvel’s characters (I love Thunderbolts, and have enjoyed most of the Dark Reign stuff I’ve read), but this is just sensationalism and double-dealing for its own sake. I’ve been trying to avoid use of the word “ugly” when describing Loeb’s story, because I wanted to save that for the art of David Finch. Nothing wrong with it technically (for someone working in this style, he’s infinitely more gifted than, say, Rob Liefeld), but I just find it completely unappealing… and, as I say, ugly, though that’s in keeping with Loeb’s story. Honestly, you don’t care who lives and who dies in this book. Trust me on that. There’s a new “version” of the Ultimate Universe on the way, and if you have even a shred of curiosity, just wait and see who turns up. I was going to make this my first “No Viking” review ever, but I decided to award half a point just based on the fact that the damn series is finally over.
ONE HALF OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS