Welcome back for another CoaCSJ, in which I opine upon (that almost looks like a palindrome, doesn’t it?) recent comics and graphic novel releases, most of which should either be on sale, or soon will be, at discriminating retail outlets nation-, nay, world-wide.
ACTION COMICS #900
DC Comics, $5.99
Gee, for someone that’s mostly indifferent to Superman and his world, I sure do find myself writing about this title a lot, don’t I? Double-sized anniversary issue with not only the finale to Paul Cornell’s ongoing Luthor storyline, but a handful of short stories and pinups by various creators rounding out the package, and at least one of them is of superior quality…just not the one you may be thinking about. No, while the story that’s grabbing all the attention and generating the buzz that drug me back, reluctantly, to check out yet again what people are going on about, is the somewhat out-of-the blue David Goyer-scripted tale in which Superman decides to fly in and support a peaceful protest in Tehran, and when confronted and scolded by U.S. officials for causing an international incident, renounces his “citizenship”, which presupposes that Supes is a US citizen first and foremost and not a citizen of the world, as was (I thought) established long ago. I’m presuming Clark Kent is a US citizen as well, so what exactly is Supes giving up here? Anyway, while reasonably well done, it seems to be a somewhat transparent and slightly desperate attempt to scare up publicity, and it seems to have accomplished that goal, though recent events call its timing into question, which is (to be fair) hardly the fault of the creators.
The lead feature, by the outgoing team of Paul Cornell and Pete Woods (assisted by a brace of other illustrators with varying styles on a subplot with all the other Superpeople battling Doomsday in a satellite in space, making for an incongruous reading experience) is fair; it winds up the whole Luthor focus that Cornell’s been defining for months now, falling back on the same old “Luthor gains absolute power, can’t deal with it” schtick that’s been done before, and nothing new is added. Kinda disappointing, and Cornell’s dialogue scans as somewhat forced and stiff, not what I usually expect from him at all. It’s a curious case. The other stories deal with Supes’ conversation with some sort of godlike Cosmic Hippo character, who has been living in the Fortress of Solitude after traveling the universe. It’s a good read and nicely illustrated by RB Silva and Rob Lean, with judiciously applied Photoshoppery on the Cosmic Hippo God by Java Tartaglia. Writer Paul Dini ends it with a thud, though, by having Supes sum it up with a witticism that is intended to be a little humorous yet still profound once you think about it…but really makes no sense when one considers the nature of the subjects. Oh well. We also get a cute and short Geoff Johns tale in which Lois uses the Legion flight ring in her possession to invite the Legion of Super Heroes to a dinner party. It’s fine for what it is but Gary Frank’s art amps up the cheesecake a bit too much in the first two pages. A storyboarded Richard Donner script for some Superman movie is also part of the package; I’m not sure if this has anything to do with the Superman film that’s currently in production but I suppose the hardcore Supes fan will be happy to see it.
I’ve saved the best for last- and I do mean best; it’s one of the most affecting and moving short comics stories I’ve ever read, a minor masterpiece of economy. Scripted by Lost‘s Damon Lindelof and illustrated by Ryan Sook, it tells the story of a handsome young scientist in a futuristic-looking city who’s being interviewed for a job. He’s being asked to perfect a method to place life-sustaining materials in a globe big enough to fit in his hand and by extension fit in a rocketship built for one. Of course, it soon becomes obvious this interview is taking place on the planet Krypton, and when we find out the rest of the handsome young scientist’s story, the payoff is devastating- even moving your old, jaded reviewer here. Sook does wonders with mood and pacing despite the short story length; he’s an above-average creator who really does need a more regular gig. This alone made Action #900 worth the price of admission; your mileage, as the saying goes, may vary- but I strongly encourage you to at least check out this story.
PLANET OF THE APES #1
Script: Daryl Gregory, Art: Carlos Magno
Boom! Studios, $3.99
ELRIC: THE BALANCE LOST – FREE COMIC BOOK DAY EDITION
Script: Chris Roberson, Art: Francesco Biagini
Boom! Studios, absolutely freeee
Here’s a couple of familiar properties, presented once more to try and capture an audience, and both have a decent chance of it, I’d think.
As with Godzilla, another touchstone of 50’s-70’s geek culture, one has to wonder exactly what is left to do with the whole Planet of the Apes thing. Five films and a TV show, as well as fairly long-running 70’s comic and B&W magazine series, seem to have exhausted all the possibilities. When Burton did his awful remake a few years ago, it pretty much proved that the nostalgia wasn’t there, nor were his tweaks welcomed by fans. However, hope springs eternal, and new filmmakers have stepped into the ring with an upcoming film, due this Summer, which would seem to be an update of sorts of Escape from the Planet of the Apes, in that it would appear to be establishing a new origin for everybody’s favorite futuristic intelligent apelike beings. Of course, Boom!, as opportunistic as ever, have prepared a comics series which doesn’t tie in, but at least capitalizes on the name recognition.
Set at a point in which humans (now apparently intelligent again, or at least capable of speech) and apes coexist in a state of uneasy truce and cooperation insofar as business interests go, events are set in motion when a human-seeming assassin murders an ape lawgiver, which exacerbates the tensions and conflicts, and causes ample opportunity for many dramatic confrontations. The ape leader gives the human leader (two women who were raised by the slain lawgiver) two days to find the killer on her own, before the apes ride into the human town and presumably wreak havoc until the culprit is brought to justice. Decent enough setup, though Gregory never fails to go for the melodramatic dialogue when given the chance. Magno, whom I assume does not have magnetic powers, provides some interesting artwork; he’s got a fine-line, detailed style that reminds me a little of someone like Michael Zulli, and while he’s not helped by some really murky color, he does a good job. He just might be a talent to watch.
Good old Elric of Melnibone has been a favorite character of mine for a long, long time, and he’s been the beneficiary of several fine (and one or two not-so-fine- while I love Simonson, I hated his odd take for DC a few years ago) comics adaptations, most notably ones involving P. Craig Russell, who surely was born to draw the exploits of the albino sorcerer-prince. No Russell here, but Boom!’s version of Elric looks promising; novelist Roberson, who’s garnering a lot of attention and praise right now for his work on DC’s iZombie and the Fables Cinderella spinoff, to name but a couple of his ongoing projects, gives us a more aggro and up-front Elric than the somewhat passive, brooding and low-key character we’ve seen elsewhere; he positively relishes the opportunity to carve up some big ogre-looking lugs he’s attacked by in this short story. Most of this is just set up to be Elric 101, (and in part, Moorcock 101 as we get pages devoted to explaining Corum, Hawkmoon and that whole convoluted Eternal Champion thing) to give neophytes the gist of what he is and what he does, and presumably entice those who get it to check out the upcoming ongoing, set to come out in July. Biagini’s art is almost the polar opposite of Russell and Gilbert’s; it’s very steeped in Modern American Superhero Comics tradition, which is not to say it’s as hamfisted, or as bland as that sort of thing tends to be. His Elric is expressive enough, almost too much so- I’m used to a more solemn Melnibonean, and Biagini’s is downright gregarious in comparison. Still, while I wish someone with a bit more elan was doing the honors, he’ll do till someone else better comes along. If you’re not acquainted with Moorcock’s best (arguably) character, this is a fine place to start. Just don’t stop here…you will want to scare up the novels eventually, trust me. (PDFs for review purposes were provided by the publisher)
THE STRANGE CASE OF MR. HYDE #1
Script: Cole Haddon; Art: M.S. Corley
Dark Horse Comics; $3.50
Speaking of familiar stories, here’s another, but this take is a quite a bit less faithful to the source material. Yes, it features the timid Doctor and his beastly alter ego, but this is set five years after the events of Stevenson’s classic novel, and moves us into From Hell territory. In fact, I can merrily go along and name all kinds of influences on this; it’s a bit of a crazy quilt of elements taken from films such as Sleepy Hollow (bumbling, well meaning outsider inspector called in by, in this case, Scotland Yard), Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes (attitude, as much as anything), and Silence of the Lambs (said inspector ends up consulting with a cleverly sinister prisoner who provides insight into the nature of the murderer), and the influence of Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series is most surely here, as well, none the least because we’re shown a flashback dinner party that Jekyll attends that includes Dr. Moreau among its guests and establishes him as an acquaintance.
Basically, someone is killing prostitutes in gory fashion, and a young, methodically unorthodox investigator is assigned to the case; his superior brings up the Hyde incident five years prior. Our investigator, Thomas Adye by name (and how the hell do you pronounce that, anyway?) is shocked to discover that Jekyll/Hyde did not die, but is being held in a cell beneath the headquarters, and after some maneuvering manages to speak with him about the murders. Of course Jekyll/Hyde is teasing and cryptic, and Adye is out of his depth and distasteful of dealing with a madman, but a later encounter with the real killer forces Adye to realize that he’s going to need Jekyll/Hyde’s help after all…and we’re off and running!
I’m not familiar with Haddon or Corley (sounds like a Victorian-era solicitor’s firm, doesn’t it?), but I will say that Haddon stitches his quilt together well enough to make this interesting, and Corley, while reminding me of a less ragged Kevin O’Neill with a more streamlined inkline reminiscent of someone like Matthew Dow Smith, does a good job of illustrating the proceedings..as literary adventure-story mashups go, this is no League, but it’s not ‘alf bad either, guv.
The All Purpose Review Writing Music List, because I like to share: T.Rex- Futuristic Dragon; Paul Westerberg- Stereo/Mono; Fairport Convention- Rising for the Moon; Maria Muldaur- Southern Winds; Ringo Starr- Stop and Smell the Roses.
As always, thanks for your attention. If you’d like for me to review your comic or graphic novel, send me one of those newfangled electronic mail thingies at johnnybacardi AT gmail.