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Trouble with Comics, Blinded by the Light or Running to Stand Still?

Blinded by the Light or Running to Stand Still?

It kind of goes without saying, but I’m not really a reader of superhero comics anymore.  I don’t really frequent comic shops anymore and most of what I buy, I pick up in collected form from bookstores, usually with something like Dark Horse, Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly or Vertigo on the spine.  I had been following Grant Morrison’s Batman & Robin series, but it seemed that somewhere during the second story-arc, the wheels fell off.  I figured a while ago that if the writers weren’t going to write with a serial or episodic style in mind, there was no reason for me to go weekly when I could just pick up the story the way they seemed to intend it, in one whole chunk, when the trade paperback collection came out.  In general, I think I’ve been better off for it.  In my mind, no more wasted money on stories that don’t seem to go anywhere.

Occasionally, though, I get a sort of masochistic bent and decide to check out what’s on the racks any given week.  This was one of those weeks.  Most of the books actually looked kind of horrid, making me wonder why anyone would pay $3.99 for these things.  I took a look through DC’s new Doc Savage series, hoping for some sort of pulp feel, but it looked like Howard Porter drew it with his feet.  I do hope, though, that somewhere down the line, they collect the Justice Inc. back-up from Jason Starr and Scott Hampton, because it looked like something I’d want to read.  I’m just not willing to pay $3.99 just for it.  Most of Marvel seems to be stuck in crossover and none of Second Coming, Siege or World War Hulks looked particularly interesting.  Hulked-Out Heroes #1, in particular, looked like something a six-year old would find cool, but as you get older, it just starts looking more and more ridiculous.  I was almost tempted not to pick anything up, but decided I’d at least get something that I could gripe about later.  I decided that Black Widow #1 would be among the most harmless and seemed to have nice art, and the two books from DC brandished with the Brightest Day cover copy, since I’m a glutton for punishment.

I also wanted to see if I could still write single issue reviews.  I’ve been slightly out of practice and wanted to see if I could come up with something at all, before I dive into something a wee bit more ambitious.  I should note, that while I’m writing this, I’m listening to Nick Cave.  So, if some parts seem depressing, or if part way through one of the reviews, a paragraph ends mid-sentence, I probably threw myself out a window.  The end result, however, would be due to the comics, not the music.

Black Widow #1
Marjorie Liu (w), Daniel Acuna (a) | 2010 Marvel Comics | $3.99 USD

Well, I like the art.Black Widow #1

That’s positive at least, right?  Acuna reminds me a bit of Alex Maleev, or the style that Renato Arlem started using back on Hawkgirl.  It’s somewhat like watercolours under a Gaussian blur with lots of spotting blacks.  Most of the time, it works, giving a dark edge to what’s essentially a mystery story, although there are certain areas where colour choices just tend to make things muddy and confused.  I also wouldn’t have recognised Tony Stark or Bucky Barnes if they hadn’t been mentioned by name.  Bucky, I can kind of understand not recognising, but Stark has one of those appearances that it’s hard to mistake him.

As a “mystery” that should work to the books advantage, but it doesn’t really.  Liu’s initial offering here, shows Black Widow receiving a mysterious rose and ribbon, catching up with an old “friend”, having dinner, threatening an adulterer, and getting attacked by an old woman and a shadowy stranger for some reason related to the rose and ribbon.  She’s opened up, something’s taken, but later it seems as though all of her organs are untouched, which I guess heightens the mystery.  It all feels kind of boring and by the numbers, though.  The most interesting portion actually comes from Black Widow’s confrontation with Black Rose, with some nice character bits.  Regarding the mystery, though, my curiosity isn’t piqued. 

The “Black Widow Saga” portion at the back of the book was kind of nice to include.  I don’t think I’ve read a story with Black Widow since Greg Rucka’s MAX series featuring the other one ages ago, so it was decent to get some history.  The main story doesn’t seem to hinge on that history, and I followed it fine without having read this first, but it might be worthwhile down the road.  I don’t feel the need to go out and buy any of the collections mentioned, but I did find it somewhat funny that they actually published a comic with a corporation called “Gynacon”.

The Flash #1
Geoff Johns (w), Francis Manapul (a), Brian Buccellato (c) | 2010 DC Comics | $3.99 USD

"Case One: The Dastardly Death of the Rogues"

I think that the last time that I read an issue of The Flash, Geoff Johns was actually writing that too, with art by Scott Kolins.  I remember liking that run, so I guess it’s at least possible that I might like this.  I haven’t read any of the Blackest Night crossover leading into Brightest Day, so I’m not sure on connectivity or where things lie, but as far as I can tell, this issue seems to stand on its own. 

As much as I may have liked that run on The Flash, in more recent years Johns has really become the poster child for the “fan fiction age of comics”.  He’s the primary target in a group of modern comics writers that were influence primarily by other comics, and falls into a whole “pop will eat itself” scenario of either circle jerking or bringing back elements from your childhood that you liked, retconning others, twisting it a little bit, and…well, this really is an argument for another time.  I’ll address the return of Barry Allen a little later in this review, but the trend from Identity Crisis and its fallout is something that just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

On its own, I kind of like this.  It’s a fairly straightforward superhero comic; opening featuring the Flash stopping the Trickster, introducing the ”new” old work situation for Barry Allen — I don’t know if any of these characters really are old or new, aside from the television series, Barry Allen was dead when I was reading the comic, but it doesn’t really matter — and then moving on to the investigation of a dead “Rogue” that we find out is from the future.Despite the death, the book is relatively light-hearted and has a few funny moments.  What stood out for me was Weather Wizard raining out baseball games simply because he’s being a jerk.  The book has pretty standard plot with some decent characterization.  It’s nothing special, but there’s nothing egregious about it.

The artwork from Francis Manapul is nice.  He reminds me of a more manga-influenced version of Tony Moore, and there’s an energy and verve to his art that works very well on this book.  It’s not as stylized as the Kolins issues I remember, but it feels almost as though they’re going for a similar vibe.  There’s the caveat, though, that Central City has a more modern feel to it, contra Keystone City’s industrial tone.  The colours are generally bright, with a focus on yellow for the Flash scenes and blue for the Barry Allen/police sequences.

What I do have to ask, though, is: why Barry Allen?

I don’t really have a horse in this race, but there’s really nothing here that couldn’t have been told using Wally West as the Flash.  The police element was shown in the previous series through different officers that the Flash had as allies, the journalism aspect taken care of by Linda Park-West instead of Iris Allen, and the villains, well, they don’t seem to care which Flash it happens to be.  The characters of Barry and Iris Allen also seem to have been de-aged, which seems to defeat the point.  Is it the fact that Wally now has kids that’s somehow anathema and requires Barry Allen?  I don’t see a single good, in story reason for Barry’s return.

Brightest Day #0
Geoff Johsn & Peter Tomasi (w), Fernando Pasarin (p), Pasarin/Dell/Smith/Rollins/Vines/Thibert (i) | 2010 DC Comics | $3.99 USD

"Carpe Diem"

As I said up above, I haven’t read any of the Blackest Night crossover, Brightest Day #1nor do I really have any inclination to do so.  Previews, reviews, and general commentary surrounding the thing makes it seem like I wouldn’t like most of it, and personally, the idea of a multi-coloured lantern core sounds patently ridiculous.  I suppose that there are some authors out there who could have a field day with an emotional spectrum of coloured powers, but from everything I’ve gathered, the powers seem primarily identical to those of the regular Green Lanterns, just, you know, pink…or yellow.  That seems like a missed opportunity to me, but as I said, I haven’t read the stuff, so maybe they did use it to greater effect.

Anyway, in the fallout from Blackest Night comes this new “crossover” and series Brightest Day.  After reading The Flash, I’m not sure if crossover is the right term, maybe “umbrella” or “masthead”, since things in that book don’t necessarily seem to have any real connection to this one.  Also, it seems as though many of the characters’ stories are being told in other books, as evidenced by the previews at the back of the book for other series.  Maybe it’s just a thematic link of “bright, shiny superheroes.”  Although, this really is neither bright nor shiny.

It’s not even a story.

It’s a forty some-odd page collection of teasers for other books and other stories, one big long advertisement.  As such, I don’t really have much to say about it.  It has decent art, but mostly it’s just little vignettes to set up other stories.  None of which seem fairly compelling, and only serve to reiterate Johns’ fascination with certain periods of characters; bringing them back in a seeming arbitrary fashion that suits his favourite version of that character.  Neither rhyme nor reason.

d. emerson eddy

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