Friday, March 03, 2006

Nine Things I Read This Week. A (hopefully) weekly Column.

Atlas # 1: The Life of Emil Copen(Single Issue) (Purchased New)

So, alright, Dylan Horrocks brought us Hicksville. And it was, chillens, stone brilliant, an alternate history of the comics 'an their history in the vein of those "What if the Nazis had won WWII books," but GOOD. Dripping with love for comics from every pore while still making time to give us engaging, fleshed out with characters that are darn near Tomininan (or Clowesian, or Eisnerian) in their depth.

Then he gave us Atlas number one. And, as I remember, it was alright.

Then he went and wrote Batgirl or some shit.

And THEN, like six years later, he gives us Atlas # 2, and I have No Goddamn idea what the crap is going on, because # 1 was SIX YEARS ago. And, oh yeah, SIX YEARS!



Even though it starts with a quote from Charles M. Schultz, and has some bloody beautiful artwork,



I gots no idea what's going on in this book. Except for the back up strip which is good (YAY) but short. (B00) and, even worse, part one of a new serial. Which means YEARS before the next part.

So Probably Recommended, if you can find the first one.

The Awakening. (Trade.) Bought Used



Y'know, I'm sure the people involved with this comic are good folks with many talents. And Oni press, the publisher of this rag, has published many a good tale over the years, as we shall see.

But.

And I CAN NOT stress this enough. If your local comic shop has a bunch of Oni titles on the used shelf?

Do not buy Oni comics randomly.

Especially this one.

Normally "Mature Readers Horror Book About Murders at a Girls Prep School" would be a recipe for, if not greatness... At least something interesting. Interesting with boobs, even, maybe.

It was not to be.

The Awakening DOES have the occasional nicely executed panel and a sort of not totally cliched story

But it's also chock full of undefined, uninteresting characters, who I couldn't bring myself to care 'bout as they got offed one by one. Don't care about the characters, didn't care about the plot, didn't care if anyone dies.. The whole thing was was duller than the Geoff Johns Chartered Accountancy Fun Comic!!

So, ever resourceful, I'm selling it BACK to the comic shop, to hang out on the used shelf once again. Sooooo Friggin' Not Recommended!

Batman: Hush Returns. (Trade) Sat at the Shop and Read.

Because, yes, I have that kind of time. And absolutely no shame whatsoever.

Y'know what? This was pretty damn good.

I *KNOW.* Considering the generally dire quality of the Bat-Books of late, and the tacked on sequel-ish nature of the story, well, Who, (In the Immortal Words of Josh White Junior) woulda thunk it?

A. J. Lieberman (writer) and buncha people who I don't remember (artists) manage to ring some S-E-R-I-O-U-S emotional impact from what should be a continuity addled terribility fest. This was easily the equalof the original Hush, series, which I liked. I'm not Jim Lee's biggest fan, but, heck, he's improved 600% from his X-men days, and Jeph Loeb (Writer) made an effort to have something interesting happen Each and Every issue, which was SUCH a refreshing change of pace after reading, say, Bendis' Daredevil. (Sample Solicitation: In this issue! Daredevil puts on the FIRST HALF OF HIS LEFT SOCK! AND THEN TALKS. For 134 Straight panels! NEXT ISSUE. The OTHER HALF OF HIS LEFT SOCK, (If we get around to it with all the talking and all.)

And Hush Returns chugged along, aptly performing the Jeph Loebian trick of filling the story full of neat-o comic moments (Prometheus! Poison Ivy! Hush vs. Joker. (Joker Wins!) Joker vs. Hush (Hust Wins!) Batman vs. Green Arrow!') cept that Lieberman is, in the literary sense, a better writer and is working overtime to wring every bit of drama out of his characters pain.

Major complaints: The book doesn't really end. It's the middle part of a loooong storyline, and this is blindingly obvious. Batman is pretty ineffectual, and one of the artists (who otherwise had a very solid eye for panel composition) made Green Arrow look like a magic faierie-sprite from Pixie-land, down to (sweardaGod) pointed. Ears.

But mos' def reccomended for Bat-fans.

The Death and Return of Donna Troy. (Trade) Sat at the Shop, Couldn't Force Self To Read.

Dear DC,

A helpful hint for you.

If you publish a miniseries called "The Death of Donna Troy." Then later publish a miniseries called "Donna Troy Gets Her Persephone on and (SHOCK!) Returns to Life..."

Please, don't package them together.

Here's the format of the book.

DEATH OF DONNA "Wonder Girl" TROY mini series.

Funeral issue, where a bunch of superheroes get together and cry and remenisce and nobody fights evil space octopi or even gets punched in the mouth.

RETURN OF DONNA "Wonder Girl" TROY mini series.

Right. The fact that "Return" is in the title pretty much sucked every possible soupcon of drama out of the ending of the first story and second story, huh.

ESPECIALLY the second story, which was fairly dire anyway.

I'm sorry, DC, but I know I speak for all the fans when I demand my US RDA of mouth punching from each 'n every issue, even the funeral issues.

Overall, this was pretty much as total a failure as you can get by mainstream comics not produced by Down Syndrome addled monkeys in the medium of "My poop on paper."

(Plus Phil Jiminez needs to loosen up his art about 1600%. That too-perfect for reality look was out by the 18th century in real art. Why do comics cling to it like it was they mamas teat?)

Love 'N Kisses,

Mark

Anyway, Not Recommended.

P.S. Neither of the miniseries were very good in and of themselves. I think. I honestly started skimming about halfway through the second issue.

Hopeless Savages (Trade) Bought Used.

Well, the Half Off Oni shelf taketh away thirty minutes of my life with Awakening. But it also Giveth this little sparkly gem of a jewly diamond.

It's weird how we're saving the good stuff for the end here, after my first bunch of reviews. And, really, they'd have to invent new good words for there to be enough good things for me to say about this book. Like Zooofistic! And Ablalatoscious!

But, y'know what makes this book good?

Aside from spot-on characterization, a just the right amount of complexity to still be easily followable plot, and some wonderfully expressionistic art from Christine Norrie and Chynna Clugston?

Continuity.

Not the Infinite Crisis/House of M style inter-title continuity that makes me wake up in the middle of the night sweating and mumbling "Can't Sleep! Johns will eat me! And move me to Earth Two," but a well-developed, totally organic backstory, that enhances the audience/character connection.

After finishing with the main story, a rip-roarin' action yarn full of car chases and death threats and teenage pop stars and Starbucks executives being kidnapped and snuck outside of the building in a throw rug...


(P.S. Love that panel. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. I even love the plant.)

During which the Hopeless/Savage family, two aging punk musicians and their grow kids (with one high schooler left at home) are introduced, perfectly rounded and engaging characters all...

And the book finishes with a series of strips, each outlining a day in the life of our titular family. (Y'know my favorite word? Titular. You know my second favorite word? Assonance.) Anyway, each of these shorts fleshes out the family a little bit more. The first three quarters, which main collect the First Hopeless Savages mini shows us how the character end up... But the strips show us that Jen Van Meter has meticulously plotted out how they got that way.

Recommended. Recomendeder than anything else here, in fact.


The King. (Original Graphic Novel) Bought New




Three facts.

This book is written and cartooned (Which isn't the same as "Drawn," but is just as good) by Rich Koslowski (Three Fingers, Three Geeks, Ummm... Sonic the Hedgehog. At least that's what the dust jacket says. )

This book is about an Elvis Impersonator.

This is a really, really smart book. It's a meditation of faith, religion, and the fluidity of individual identities. About an Elvis Impersonator. It's also a meticulously plotted puzzle that the author solves before our eyes, piece by piece.


Now, as everyone knows, there's two things I really love.

Comics that make the audience THINK. And Elvis impersonators.

Not Elvis himself, mind. After he left Sun Records and started pooping out 74 shitty movies a year I can take or (preferably) leave him. He's got maybe 20-25 great tracks in his whooole catalouge, and a mountain of poop. Great voice, good as anyone to sing pop music ever, but his career was mostly just wasted talent.

But Elvis impersonators? Neat-o. I even liked that damn Kevin Costner (I think) movie from a few years back where these Elvis impersonators rob a... something. I forget.

But. Even given that, it would be a violation of the ultra-secret Comics Should Be Good pledge for me to recommend this comic.

It simply didn't have enough awesome. There wasn't ONE moment in the whole book where I took a sharp breath and said "Whoah" until the VERY LAST sequence, which doesn't really tie into the rest of the narrative.

To compound the problem, the book is almost all talking heads. Beautifully drawn talking heads, sure. Talking heads in interesting locations, I cheerfully grant you. But still. After one introductory shot of The Elvis impersonator (Who may or may not be the genuine, authentic King, miraculously returned to life) singing his blue suede shoes off, he never DOES anything for the rest of the book but sit and talk. Well, he dies, or else doesn't. It's complicated. But it's still a book about people talking instead of people DOING stuff, all telling and no showing.

As was, actually, Koslowski's previous, and brilliant, Three Fingers, which is actually really, really close to the King in format But THERE he had (A) a plethora of funny animals types to draw, and (B) one wild motherfucker of an ending.

The King ends well, but it needs an absolute gut-punch of an ending to make all them talking heads worthwhile. And it just...doesn't...quite deliver.

So, Not Recommended by the slimmest of possiblt margins, mostly due to the hefty twenty dollar price tag which nets you a slightly bigger than digest size but smaller than real comics and blue-scale, not full color, book. Plus it makes weird splotches when I tried to scan the interior pages, and I'm not above holding that against a comic when I grade it.

Midnight Tales # 10. (Single Issue) Back Issue



Aaaand here we take the way-back machine to 1974, which is when most of ym back issues come from. Seriously. 1974.

Midnight Tales was a post-comic code horror/humor comic, except it wasn't really much of either. What it DOES have, however, is some very, VERY solid art, easily the equal of anything comin' out of Marvel and DC at the same time, including framing sequences by Wally Wood protoge Wayne Howard, who did the cool-arse cover we see above.

Cover didn't have anything t'do with the rest of the book, mind. But still.

The Grand Comic Book Database Notes:
Created by Wayne Howard. The first story listed in each issue is a frame story divided up 2/1/1/1 pages among the other stories. The setting, Xanadu University, is a tie-in with E-Man.

An' the Charlton Comics page, located here-ish, sez:

Midnight Tales was obviously meant as a title given to Wayne Howard as a reward for his loyalty to Charlton. Howard, an artist classed in the Wood school of art (a fancy way of saying he was a Wood-imitator) did all covers and the majority of stories in each issue. Since the demise of Midnight Tales he did some work for Marvel and DC, then left the industry.

In other words: Old dude and his sexy neice traipse across the countryside, bumping into oddball characters...



Who invariably have a story to tell. Or, technically, THREE stories to tell, and the whole thing wraps up with some kinda shock reveal at the end. Sadly, since Charlton didn’t want to do anything that’d offend your average nine year old, you can FEEL this book fighting against the uber-restrictive comics code. Kinda sad, really.

What IS good, however, are the artists in this book, easily the equal of anyone workin’ at Marvel or DC at the time. You got Wayne Howard (as noted) probably the most deft practitioner of the Wally Wood school ever…

Joe Staton, a Charlton Mainstay who excelled in freaky panel arrangments an' cool looking humanoid an' monstroid figures,


and later ended up at DC where he, well, just wasn’t quite as GOOD at straight superheroes as we was at Charlton weirdness. Although, last I heard he was the artist on DC’s Scooby Doo, which shoud suit him just fine,

And Tom Sutton, who absolutle excelled when working on the (less content restricted) Marvel Magazines of the period, and still manages to whoop some righteous artistic ass here.


Plus. Lookit that cover! Heh heh heh heh heh.

So. half-heartedly Recommended for comix art afficianados, just don't excpect to much from the writing.

Teen Titans (First Series) # 28. (Single Issue) Back Issue



Yah! GOooo! Aqualad! Gettim! Punch him in the FACE! Kick him in the Yabos! Bite him in the freaking Kneecaps, ee-ven! Robin totally deserves whatever you can dish out.

Sadly, the cover image does not appear in this book.

It appears after.

Gather round, and I'll let y'all in on the scoop.

As the issue opens, m'boy Aqualad (who'd been absent from the Team for a bit) swims up from the depths, saves Wonder Girl's (The one who died earlier in the collumn) roommate Sharon Tracy from mobsters, and decides he'd like some help from his old chums figuring out WHY mobsters were looking to gut her.

"Nope." Sez Robin. "We're all pacifists now. See, last issue there was this world peace causing guy and we failed to prevent his assasination. So from now on we're only going to use our powers for, like, rescuing kittens from trees and catching runaway kites and letting our best friends get fileted like a flounder by jackbooted thugs.

Stuff like that."

Aqualad, needless to say, cheerfully points out that the above don't no way make no sense nohow, and tht Robin can't even SEE the land of earth logic on a clear day, and furthermore goes on to educate the Boy Wonder that he is King Dumbass of Dumbass mountain, and all the other Dumbasses come worship at the alter of his Dumbassedness.

THEN he stalks off on his own, the other Titans watching glass eyed and slack jawed... And promptly gets kidnapped by his old enemy the Ocean Master and left to die.

(I mean, he IS Aqualad, right? We shouldn't expect Miracles here in the superheroic competence department.)

Now, as I like to imagine it, the NEXT issue has 'Laddy playing possum, and then busting out a SERIOUS can of Whupass on the diabloical Ocean Master, and then marching right back to Titans Headquarters and...

Well, see the above cover.

Not Recommended, in fact kind of pissed me off. The early seventies Titans had some good points, mind, even aside from the impressionistic, absorbing peniciling of Nick Cardy. Their was some genuinelly thoughtful commentary on what it would mean to be an honest-to-Bhudda Superhero in the real world, with the Titans trying to figure out their responsibilities that come with great power and act accordingly.

But, then again, sometimes this book just slips down the cesspool, an' not even Nick Cardy Art can save it.

Tomb of Dracula 9,10,11 (Marvel Essential Volume) Bought New, but cheap!

So. I'm still plugging my way through "The Essential Tomb of Dracula," which recovers nicely after some meandering writer roullete issues in the 4 through 8 range.

These are the very first issues of writer Marv Wolfman's run on the title, which would last for years and years and YEARS after, and imitated by Gene Colan, the undeniable champ-een of eerie shading.

What's striking about these issues, well, after the initial HOLY CRAP! Gene Colan sure can draw! shock of awesomeness, is how different they are; Not just from the other Marvel offereings of the day, but from each other.

# 9 is kind of like a literary Fable about small town isolationism # 10 a full on BIFF! POW! action issue, introducing Blade the Vampire Slayer, and # 11 is a violent revenge fantasy with Dracula vs. bikers!

I'm not sure if this is Wolfman 'n Colan not sure what to do with the title or just experimenting with genres, but if the latter it certainly results in a successful concoction. Each of these stories totally *works* on their own merits and even tie into the over-all soap operatic meta-arc continuing storyline bit.

Quite Strongly Recommended. One of the VERY strongest of the Black and White phonebooks.

Strongly Recommended:
Extra Credit Discussion Questions:

(1)
Who the hell is Emil Kopen, anyway?

(2) (A) Jen Van Meter, the author of Hopeless Savages, is writing JSA Classified as we speak. Is it any good? (B) Does it tie into boring Infinite Crisis Crap, 'cause then I don't even CARE if it's any good.

(3) Has Ton Sutton done anything in comics lately? How 'bout Gene Colan? Nick Cardy?

(Next time: Dan Slott's Thing, some Giffen/Dematties Justice League, and Don Rosa's Life of Uncle Scrooge!)

Read More

11 Comments:

Anonymous Kris said...

Tom Sutton is dead.

3/03/2006 05:53:00 AM  
Anonymous Dizzy D said...

(P.S. Love that panel. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. I even love the plant.)

I just hope that that girl is an American pretending to be french, because that is another fine example of Babelfish Translating(TM), my personal recent pet peeve in comics

3/03/2006 07:32:00 AM  
Anonymous jingyang said...

You may be pleased to know that the next issue of Atlas may well come out in less than six years, since Dylan Horrocks has been appointed '2006 Literary Fellow' at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. This means he now has the time and income to be able to write and draw full-time.

http://www.auckland.ac.nz/uoa/about/news/articles/2006/01/fellow.cfm

3/03/2006 09:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Scott said...

That whole "we won't use our powers because someone might get hurt" storyline in Teen Titans #25-29 is easily the worst Titans storyline ever, in any Titans incarnation. It's no coincidence the title went on an extended hiatus shortly thereafter.

3/03/2006 09:26:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Griswold said...

Yes, Jan Van Meter's JSA: Classified issues are good. It's a heist story, with the Injustice Society. There is some vague tie-in/reference to a storyline in Gotham Knights, but you obviously have read some of that series, so that may not be an obstruction to you. It wasnt to me, and I don't read that series.

3/03/2006 10:08:00 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

It was shortly after reading Essential ToD that I anointed Gene Colan Master Of The Universe.

Yeah, that's good comics.

3/03/2006 01:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Brian said...

I second Chris. Jen Van Meter's JSA arc was great. A nice, fun "Injustice Society" tale with little to no Infinite Crisis references (not that there is anything wrong with those :) She makes Icicle a great protangonist (not something you hear everyday).

3/03/2006 04:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Rage said...

Don't worry too much about Atlas not coming out for ages, Dylan has recently won the Auckland Univeristy literary fellowship for this year, so, basically, he's getting paid to write this thing. Pretty damned sweet.

3/05/2006 02:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Aaron Kashtan said...

Emil Kopen is the greatest cartoonist of the land of Cornucopia. His major work is Valja Domena. Unfortunately none of his work is currently available in English.

3/05/2006 06:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wayne Howard died this morning of a heart attack. :(

12/09/2007 10:36:00 PM  
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