Here we go again with another CoaCSJ, in which I attempt to enlighten and entertain you in regards to recent comics and graphic novel releases, most of which should be on sale at a comics retailer or online merchant near you, if you’re lucky. Or not, as the case may be.
Michel Fiffe is a talented dude. Not only is he an excellent journalist- his interview with Trevor Von Eeden in the Comics Journal was one of the finest I’ve read not only in that august publication, but pretty much anywhere- but he’s also an outstanding writer and an imaginative artist, and his main project for the last couple of years has been Zegas, which has been appearing serialized at the Act-I-Vate collective website. Zegas, in what appears to be an all-new collection and not reprints of the webcomic, is nominally the story of Emily and Boston Zegas, siblings who live in a world which seems to be set just a few years in the future and one in which the rules seem to be in flux and somewhat arbitrary, threatening to break out into surreality at the drop of a hat, reminiscent of something like Krazy Kat, one of several influences I seem to recall from previous interviews. In this particular issue, we go from Emily’s dream of a vividly realized apocalypse to the more mundane realities of the workaday world in which she labors as part of a special effects team striving to please a prima donna producer. After she tells the asshole off and gets fired, she takes her last five dollars to pay back a street vendor who fronted her a meal earlier, and suddenly the money is snatched from her hand by a bizarre organic-looking robot thief, and we go all surreal as she chases it down to get her money back. Brother Boston’s spotlight shows him dealing with the side effects of accidentally ingesting some of his girlfriend’s drugs and having an allergic reaction which causes his neck to swell up like a “nut sack”. They go to confront the dealer and get him some help, and again things get awfully strange before the resolution. While these synopses are gnarly enough, they don’t really do the stories in their entirety justice…because they don’t account for the contribution of Fiffe the artist, who draws each page, panel and figure with inspired abandon and colors them in bright, intense reds, yellows, oranges and browns- and it becomes expressive and expressionistic, goaded along by Fiffe’s intuitive brushwork on inks. I can see a lot of Kyle Baker influence in the basic way he draws, and that’s fine, but also echoes of other creators like Von Eeden, Mazzuchelli, Sinkiewicz, and Toth in his approach to rendering. In all fairness, the stories aren’t exactly what we’ve all be trained to think of as “complete”; it’s intentionally open-ended for the most part and Fiffe is working within the tenuous framework to explore whatever storytelling direction his muse decides to lead him, so I can see where its complexities might elude the average Valued Customer type. Don’t let this be you- Fiffe is a up-and-comer, a creator to watch. Sure, the ten bones is a hefty price tag for this brilliantly colored, oversize on heavy stock publication- but if you want to say you were there at the beginning of a remarkable career, here’s your first stop. Buy it here.
Believe me, the last thing I want to do in a comics review column is discuss politics, but in a publication of this nature, it can’t be helped. Just in time for the 10th anniversary of the terrible events of September 11, 2001, here’s a story which strives to put out an alternative version, another school of thought if you will, of what people think really happened on that fateful day. Writer (and, I suspect, layout penciller as well) Veitch has always strived for the provocative in many of his previous efforts, from his King Hell line’s Maximortal with its indictment of DC and their treatment of Siegel and Shuster, to Brat Pack‘s uncompromising sendups of the whole “kid sidekick” thing (he was among the first to make explicit what many joked about off the record) to the fictionalized Sci-Fi tinged political goings-on of The One, his 80′s stint on Swamp Thing and the oddball Vertigo series Army@Love, he is not afraid to challenge the reader, which makes this sort of thing right in his wheelhouse. Part science fiction, part political screed (albeit one with a lot of facts presented to make its point), The Big Lie gives us the story of Sandra, a scientist who has figured out, here in 2011, how to travel back in time via the Large Hadron Collider on which she was working. Sandra lost her husband, who was in an office in one of the Twin Towers, on 9/11 and she decides to go back, armed with an iPad loaded with documentation and facts about what really happened on that fateful day, in the hopes of evacuating the building in time to save lives, including that of her husband. Of course, things don’t go quite as planned; rather than a day early, she arrives an hour early due to miscalculations, and her husband (as well as his associates, who are in planning for a Spielberg-backed disaster movie- I don’t think Veitch intends to explicitly implicate the ) is skeptical since she ha appeared to him ten years older. What ensues is Sandra’s frantic attempt to convince them of what will happen, and the others, thinking this an attempt to test their knowledge, rebut and debate with her, giving her (and by extension Veitch) the opportunity to present facts which, let’s just say, don’t exactly jibe with the official version that the government has handed us for the last decade. It’s fascinating stuff, and Veitch presents his case quite convincingly. Less convincing is Erskine’s art, which, while striving for a cartoonish sort of realism and is indeed very well done in regards to layout, storytelling and depictions of inanimate objects, often looks awkward and stiff when it comes to figure drawings. Some of the faces, especially, look distractingly off. I’ve seen Erskine do better in different places over the years so I’ll give him a mulligan. A lot of the layouts and figure poses themselves remind me of Veitch’s style, I can’t help but wonder if, like I said above, he didn’t lay a lot of this out too. Editing is somewhat sloppy; I kept spotting spelling mistakes early on, though in all fairness I’ll say I didn’t notice any once the story got up to full speed; perhaps I was too distracted by what Veitch was putting out there to notice after a while. I was surprised to see cover artist Yeates is co-credited as an editor; he’s a longtime pal of Veitch’s, so I shouldn’t be, I guess. Also, he has shown his political colors before, via a somewhat-controversial two-issue story in the 80′s, in the sadly-missed Timespirits series with Steven Perry.
Definitely a thought-provoking story, and I’m sure it will be controversial in many circles as well. Me? Well, without setting out to start a debate, I’ll say that for my part I sincerely hope, and want to believe, that our elected officials of the day would not be so callous and power-hungry that they could willingly sacrifice thousands of people’s lives in order to achieve political goals. That said, I keep asking myself who exactly stood to gain more from that tragedy- before the planes hit the Towers, Bush’s popularity was, relatively speaking, at an all-time low and was considered by many to be a dimwitted, ineffective figurehead, a puppet of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and heaven only knows who else. However, after those dreadful events, the stunned country had no other choice but to look to him for leadership and guidance, and he was groomed to take full advantage. The administration was defined by their reactions, and the military-industrial complex was pumped up to full vigor for many, many years to come. As with so many of these events (like, for example, JFK’s assassination), I have a feeling the truth is somewhere in between, and perhaps my own political bias (never had much use for Bush or his father, and tend to vote Democratic and liberal) is making me more receptive to the message, who can say. It doesn’t help that any time someone tries to point out this information, they are laughed at and dismissed as a conspiracy theorist nutjob, even by people who consider themselves iconoclasts, and this certainly discourages rational discussion of the subject. Still, I think that these facts should be out there for all to read, for perspective’s sake if nothing else, and Veitch & Erskine have done a fine job of putting it out there.
The Obligatory DC Coverage Section, or 52 Pick-up!
I thought of that cutesy title before I saw where someone else at Robot 6 had used it, for what it’s worth. So, anyway, as I’m sure most of you are aware, DC is right in the middle of its much-ballyhooed rollout of its relaunched titles, called (among other things, depending where you look) as the “New 52″. I don’t intend to read or comment on them all, and have even less inclination to comment at length (unless, of course, I think one warrants it) but I thought I might do some shorter takes on them, in case anyone wonders what I think about certain titles. And yes I know that several of these are a couple of weeks old…but many of them are in second printings, even third, so they should be available for a while. OK. Shall we?
ANIMAL MAN: Although I have issues with many of the creative people that DC has assigned to their books, one hire I applaud is Jeff Lemire, who has done nothing but consistently interesting work since he came on board (although I will cop to not sampling his Vertigo series Sweet Tooth yet), bringing a levelheaded (yes, Indie) sensibility to his endeavors so far. A-Man, forever associated with Grant Morrison’s well-regarded 80′s run, has always been distinctive for his family-man situation if nothing else, and Lemire wisely spends time establishing that this will continue before taking it in a genuinely creepy direction at the end. Travel Foreman’s art looks oddly rushed and underdrawn throughout, hopefully not a sign of potential deadline issues down the road, but he still does a fine job of depicting the proceedings, especially in the aforementioned cliffhanger conclusion. It could be that his work looks like this all the time now; I’m mostly familiar with his work via the Iron Fist series of a couple years ago. All in all, one of the more interesting of the #1′s I’ve sampled so far. Will I read #2? Yes. A-
BATGIRL: I have nothing but love for the incredibly popular Gail Simone; she’s a wonderful person and humanitarian who has always been very nice to me in our rare online exchanges, as she is with almost everyone, and has participated in many important industry-related causes. But, as I’ve said on many occasions, the appeal of her actual comics work, which inspires fanatical devotion among a very large group of readers, mostly eludes me. It’s not that her scripting here is bad; dialogue rings true, she’s not excessively expository though there is a fair amount of narration, and she obviously has affection for the character. But putting my feelings aside regarding the topic of the elimination of Oracle, Babs Gordon’s previous incarnation (I liked the character, and her function, quite a lot), not to mention that I quite liked the immediately previous Stephanie Brown Batgirl title, I just didn’t find much of anything that grabbed me here. No clever characterization, no sharp or amusing dialogue…only the usual comic book superhero template and its attendant soap operatics, skillfully done but somewhat lacking in something. What that is, I cannot say, but all I know is that I didn’t find it. It’s not that I’m bored by Barbara-as-Batgirl, either- I found the Batgirl: Year One series of a few years ago to be excellent. The art has to share its part of the burden; it’s generic and by-the-numbers, with only an annoying tendency to draw booted feet with swollen cankles setting it apart from the run of the mill. A more distinctive artist might have gotten this over for me, but that was not the case here. Will I read #2? Probably not. C+
BATWOMAN: This has been on the come for so long, that it’s hard for me to even consider it one of the New 52…but here it is, finally, and while I kinda miss Rucka’s touch with this sort of thing in the scripting, J.H. Williams is as amazing as ever and oh hell CAMERON CHASE appears, back again and drawn by Williams like God and nature intended. This alone, as well as a clever-enough take on the old La Llorona legend (not as clever as Jaime Hernandez’, but not bad just the same), gets this over the top for me. Bet your ass I’ll read #2, and I hope to write more about this series eventually. A-
DEMON KNIGHTS: Paul Cornell is trying to loosen up and have some fun with this oddball amalgam of DC horror and fantasy characters; despite some interesting stuff going on with Madame Xanadu and Etrigan the Demon, as well as a energetic opening with Lancelot and Merlin, this comes across as a little cutesy- and despite all the expository dialogue, we don’t really get a whole lot of reasons why we should be amused to see a loutish, not especially sinister Vandal Savage or a female, snarky Shining Knight, or be mildly surprised at the Xanadu/Etrigan coupling, especially if we don’t have the benefit of forty years of reading DC Comics. The art, by a couple of unknowns (to me anyway), is bland and generic, though the penciller does try to make some of his action scenes lively via varied perspective. Will I read #2? Probably. I like some of these characters and want to see what they will get up to. B
FRANKENSTEIN, AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E.: Wasn’t especially impressed with the Flashpoint mini bearing this title, though I liked Grant Morrison’s 7 Soldiers version quite a bit. This, however, read better than the mini and that’s surprising considering Jeff Lemire wrote both. The art is much better too, not as slick and generic looking as many of these new DC titles so far. Although this whole concept, with Frank working as an agent for a secret covert government weird-evil fighting group, is very reminiscent of the whole Hellboy/B.P.R.D. thing, I suppose it bears mentioning that Mignola didn’t exactly invent it, and sometimes a skilled chef can make many magnificent dishes out of the same old ingredients. Will I read #2? yes. B+
HAWK AND DOVE: I’m not militant about it or anything (unless he follows through on his threat to do Killraven someday), but I’m not a fan of Rob Liefeld’s grotesque artwork. Neither have I cared for anything that has been done with the Hawk and Dove characters since Gil Kane was done with them in the late 60′s. While this wasn’t the train wreck I was expecting, in fact could be readable for many less discerning consumers, it still was enervatingly dull and ordinary, no matter how fiercely Liefeld makes his characters grimace, and I won’t be reading any further. D+
MISTER TERRIFIC: It seems like only yesterday when John Ostrander gave us a new Mr. Terrific, a successful update of a somewhat outdated Golden Age hero; unfortunately, he got rather lost in the shuffle in his subsequent JSA and Checkmate appearances. I suppose they are attempting to redress this with his long overdue solo title, but unfortunately they chose yet another who-dat writer with a dubious pedigree (Titans, for God’s sake) and yet another of the Seemingly Endless Legion of Anonymous DC Art Drones to do the pictures, and it’s a mess. Full of disjointed scenes with only the barest of minimum connecting tissue and page after page of stilted exposition, rendered by an art team with nothing to bring to the party but a decade of imitating better comic book artists from years past, and it was a chore to read- and that shouldn’t be the case with a character like this, who’s just begging to have a cracking adventure series to his name. Not very Terrific at all, Mister. D
OMAC: When Giffen gets in the mood, he can do Kirby like nobody’s business (in fact, I’m surprised he’s never been asked to do a proper New Gods revival) and he’s in full King mode on this non-stop action celebration of the King of Comics’ legacy. Still, even though it’s Giffen at Play in the Fields of the King, editor-in-chief Dan Didio is co-credited with scripting- and while much of this reads like Giffen’s recent Doom Patrol work (I won’t bore you again with how much I liked his take), it scans a little flat overall, which I guess reflects Didio’s contribution. Anyway, this gives us a different host for the One Man Army Corps, but Brother Eye is back to his old tricks, using OMAC to break into Cadmus labs and hack into their mainframe, gleaning many weird secrets in the process. What this will mean is all up in the air and will, no doubt, be elaborated on in the future I sincerely hope this title has ahead of it. Will I read #2? Yes. A-
RESURRECTION MAN: Never really got the appeal of this character, and despite several efforts just didn’t work up much enthusiasm for it or the concept (man dies and comes back to life with a different super power each time), even though many sang its praises. I think it was the grubby-looking Jackson Guice art that turned me off. Anyway, my admiration for writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning has improved greatly since the mid-90′s, so I thought I’d give this another chance, and lo and behold, it’s pretty much the same comic as I read in the 90′s, except the art (by yet another who-dat artist; what, are they cloning these guys in Cadmus Labs these days?) is slightly better and for some reason I found the “demons seeking to protect him because his soul is a valuable commodity” angle kinda interesting. Also, they brought back the Body Doubles, who originally appeared in this title, and whose mostly forgotten 90′s miniseries I picked up simply because I thought that concept was kinda cool. Will I read #2? Yeah, probably, just to find out where they go with it. B+
STATIC SHOCK: When this series came out originally, my son, a teenager then, was somewhat interested in reading comics and asked me to pick up certain titles for him when I went for my Wednesday fix: Superboy, Impulse, X-Men, Superman, and Static. He was kinda into that young hero thing, I guess. Anyway, since I am a hopeless addict, I’d read the ones I bought for him when I was done with mine, and Static was one I liked very much (I only liked Impulse better, I think). Taking that into consideration, as well as my newfound admiration for the marvelous, and sadly cancelled, John Rozum series Xombi, I was really looking forward to this. I was kinda dissapointed. The art was fine; Scott McDaniel brings a little life and, if you’ll excuse the expression, spark to his work. The script, though, was rather routine Spider-Man-ish stuff, the tribulations of a young hero we’ve all seen dozens of times before, and bore none of the mad imagination Rozum brought to Xombi. Which leads me to believe that this is more McDaniel than Rozum, and leads me to decline to read #2. The most disappointing of all 52′s I’ve read so far. C
STORMWATCH: Well, that and this. I think writing Superman for so long has blunted Cornell’s edge or something; this struck me as flat and bland. He puts these characters through the same paces we’ve seen many times before since the Days of Ellis, and nothing more- not even the tweaked-up Apollo/Midnighter relationship is really all that remarkable, because we know they’ll end up on board. It’s expected. The generic art, well, that’s kinda par for the course with this relaunch so far. Didio’s grand vision does not extend to visual brilliance, it seems. But I expected more from the writer of Captain Britain and MI-13… maybe with that group the expectations were lower since less had been done with that particular configuration and those less-known characters. Perhaps something will click eventually; this is, after all, only issue one. I won’t wait long to find out. Yeah, I’ll read #2. I won’t promise anything else. C+
SWAMP THING: I wish this didn’t feel so much like an FU to Alan Moore; by uprooting, if you’ll pardon the expression, him from the status quo that Moore established it seems to be saying that that was then, this is now, thanks for the memories and fuck off now. That said, Scott Snyder does have some skills, and this revise goes down smoothly, setting up an intriguing situations (even with all the superhero cameos- we get it already- he’s in the DCU again!). ST also benefits from a rare name artist turn; Yanick Paquette is doing some of the best work of his career these days and does not disappoint here. Will I read #2? Yes. A-
Although none of these (Batwoman excluded) are exactly appointment reading for me, I did like many of these more than I expected…though the ones I liked most seemed to exist with the least changes from their previous incarnations, Swamp Thing notwithstanding. Does that mean I consider the New 52 a success so far? I’d have to say a qualified “yes”, although I haven’t sampled them all so my opinion is based on an incomplete sample set. I’ll have more next time.
Ye Auld Review Writing Musick Liste. Grand Funk Railroad- Grand Funk; Maria Muldaur; Heart- Little Queen; The Jayhawks- Mockingbird Time (been listening to the stream); Beatles- Magical Mystery Tour; Peggy Lee- Black Coffee; Southern Culture on the Skids- The Kudzu Ranch; Foster and Lloyd- It’s Already Tomorrow.
Just in case you’d like me to review your books eventually: johnnybacardi AT gmail.