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Trouble with Comics

Daily Breakdowns 085 - The Invincible Gene Colan

The Invincible Gene Colan

Edited by Clifford Meth

Published by Marvel Comics. $19.99 USD

Tom Spurgeon puts it well in his essay in this book where he points out that Gene Colan was almost alone in not trying to emulate Jack Kirby’s style in the ’60s, following his own moody, atmospheric path, and how his contrasting style (as well as those of Steve Ditko and Wally Wood) gave Marvel a depth that led to their sales and cultural ascendancy. Well, he says something like that. I was too young to experience Colan’s signature runs on titles like Daredevil, Doctor Strange or The Tomb of Dracula, and little of it was reprinted during my formative years. I think the first comic I bought drawn by Colan was a horror one-shot called Blood Scent from, I think Comico, an impressive effort shot from his uninked pencils. I knew he was great, but didn’t really appreciate him until I got the Essential Tomb of Dracula and Essential Howard the Duck, big chunks of magnificent work seen maybe at their best, in black-and-white, though of course on cheap newsprint.

His Howard work grounded the book in a realistic base that both lent gravity to Steve Gerber’s sociopolitical satire and made his more absurdist comedic ideas and characters stand out more sharply. As for ToD, those pages were loaded with atmosphere and dread in every shadow, but I think more important was his design for Dracula’s face. Yes, everyone knows it was modeled on actor Jack Palance, which was smart enough because Palance was a formidable presence and had an interesting face. But I was always struck by how Colan changed that face. There’s a joy to Palance, but not Dracula. This was not the face of the sly, seductive vampire. This Dracula was a pure predator, fanged mouth always open in naked thirst. Aside from a nice art job from Bill Sienkiewicz on an X-Men annual, I don’t recall that many Dracula stories over the years, and I would guess part of the reason is how Colan’s (and ToD writer Marv Wolfman’s) presence loomed large over the character.

Colan has been ailing, lately suffering from a shoulder injury that prevents him from drawing, and editor Meth has put this book together with Marvel as a combination of tribute and charitable act, as I believe the proceeds will go to Colan for medical bills and the like. This is a very nice thing and I would have been happy to buy the book if it was only half as good as it is. As it is, it’s functional, starting with a bio that quickly calls out some of Colan’s early work with a few quotes and scans of different sizes from thumbnail to full page. Even before this, there is some more recent art from Colan, perhaps even commissioned for this book prior to the injury. A nice gesture, but it, and the large number of other commission pieces of more recent vintage show how difficult drawing must be when one is in their 80s. Totally understandable, just expect this going in.

I think Colan’s Marvel work would probably be better served by presenting fewer pieces in quarter-, half-, or full-page sizes. There are chapters devoted to each solo book on which Colan had a significant run, and Meth and designer Richard Sheinaus often jam six or nine small cover scans on a page to diminishing returns. It’s just hard for the work to stand out the way it should at that size. I should point out that those small covers alternate with larger pieces, original uncolored pages, numerous pencil sketches and a couple multi-page sequences, including a fantastic Doctor Strange vs. Nightmare sequence shot right from the old comics. So it’s a balanced design sense, trying to cover all the bases in an admittedly tight 130 pages. I’m just saying I’d prefer more of the larger reproductions and sequences to enjoy Colan’s storytelling, but aside from a couple minor production errors with credits getting jumbled together, this is a pretty handsome tribute and primer on Colan’s dignified Marvel career. If, like me, you want to see more, well that’s what the Essentials, Masterworks and back issue bins are for.

—Christopher Allen

5/12/10

Daily Breakdowns 082 - Abbrev.

I hope you’ve been enjoying Guest Reviewer Month, which has obviously extended on into May due to some delays on our part here and there, plus our general no-post-on-the-weekend rule. We actually have a few guest reviews still to go, so check those next week and then we’ll be well and truly done.

Working on some bigger books for next time, so just a few short takes this time out.

Amazing Spider-Man #630

Writer - Zeb Wells

Artist - Chris Bachalo

Marvel Comics. 

I haven’t seen any Bachalo art for a while, so this was kind of coming full circle for me. Not full circle as in I was as excited by it as I was forever ago when he was making a name for himself on Generation X, but I found I still like his style and he kept himself controlled enough not to let any excess derail the storytelling. I’ve largely enjoyed the rotating creative teams and weekly schedule, but this storyline (the first of a four-parter called “Shed”) probably won’t be one of my favorites. It’s not badly written—Wells finds an interesting voice for the lizard brain part of Dr. Curt Connors, while Harry Osborn gives Peter some much-needed advice to stop being a jerk and just ask out the cute cop who’s really a good match for him. But whereas the prior stories have been exploring either new versions of Spidey’s rogues’ gallery or finding new layers to the original members, this seems to just be the same “Connors loses control and becomes the Lizard” story. And to be honest, I kind of just want the guy to get a handle on it and just raise his on and just be Peter’s occasional science consultant or something. Let somebody else be The Lizard. But if you want a more violent, gruesome Lizard story, with Bachalo lovingly drawing every shiny scale, here you go.

Brightest Day #1

Writers - Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi

Artists - Lots

DC Comics

I ripped the entire Blackest Night mini a couple weeks back, but I don’t see the point in going on and on in the same vein here. Suffice to say, I realize it’s really my fault for thinking that calling something Brightest Day meant the grisly doings of Blackest Night would give way to something more hopeful, a miniseries that was in some way about rebuilding, even if there was a requisite menace to face. But no, this seems to be more of the same, with stabbings, throat slashings, a dead squid, a dead shark eating a guy, a trident puncture would, strangulation and attempted child rape. None of the heroes smile or seem like they enjoy being around each other. None even seem happy that some of there heroic friends are back from the dead. Even Deadman seems miserable not to be dead anymore. Two positives, though: 1) Despite multiple artists, the book looks a bit more consistent (if less indulgent) than Blackest Night, and 2) there’s a panel where a pissed-off Sinestro is going to throw a yellow ring facsimile of a police car on top of some cops, and he has the pride? lunacy? brand consciousness? to put his Yellow Lantern symbol on the car’s door. I think I’d prefer that kind of superhero stupidity to the deadly serious grind going on in the rest of the book.

I, Zombie #1

Writer - Chris Roberson

Artist - Mike Allred

Vertigo Comics

Cool twentysomething chick who happens to be a zombie, in a hip town that also has vampires and other monsters. She’s got a ghost girlfriend who likes to hit the town with her. A were-terrier has a puppy crush on her but she’s not into him. She eats brains to keep non-shambling and irreverent. She works as a gravedigger, giving her access to the cemetery after hours.

Roberson seems to be writing this under the impression that the reader won’t be able to figure out the girl, Gwen, is a zombie until he reveals it at the end. Dude, the book is called I, Zombie, she’s the lead character and the cover shows her with a half-rotten face. Also, she has a lavender skin tone throughout the book that gives away that she’s not normal. Allred’s always fun to look at, but aside from lots of different supernatural types I’m not seeing much originality here yet. 

—Christopher Allen

Daily Breakdowns 081 - The Shield

The Shield #1-8

Writers - Eric Trautmann, Brandon Jerwa

Artists - Marco Rudy, Greg Scott, Cliff Richards, Michael Avon Oeming

Publisher - DC Comics

Something I’ve been meaning to do is just take a contemporary series and run through the first year, give or take. I must admit, I do have a soft spot for the second tier superhero books, the ones about B-and-C-listers who will likely never have huge commercial success. One reason I tend to give books like this a chance is that they generally are less reliant on past continuity. It would be hard to name five Iron Fist villains or the five best Booster Gold stories, so why shouldn’t the current creative teams feel free to come up with something new? Which brings me to the second reason I give books like this a shot, which is that you often find creators trying things out, sometimes displaying a more personal identification with their heroes than they do later, when they’re established. The third reason is, these out-of-the-way sorts of books can sometimes be a little more self-contained.

That doesn’t always hold true, though. I didn’t pay much attention when DC announced a relaunch of the Red Circle characters into a few new series, and I avoided the J. Michael Straczynski-scripted one-shots(re)introducing each characterissues for each title because that seemed like a cynical gimmick. Why have a famous name write these initial stories and then hand the series off to other, lesser-known talents? If there was a story Straczynski really felt like telling, one would think he’d want to stay on, right? S

The first issue establishes one Lt. Joe Higgins as the new Shield, an Army soldier chosen to be a combination of Captain America and Iron Man. He’s in a patriotic “cutting edge” warsuit that can do just about anything he needs it to, and there’s plenty of military and technical jargon—suit efficiency at 82%, hand-to-hand combat protocols engaged, etc.—for those who like that sort of thing. 

Combining Captain America and Iron Man is a fine idea but the execution is off. Lt. Higgins, our hero, is pretty dull, a straight shooter soldier who seems to have no interior life and not much personality. Aside from performing the missions given to him, he wants to find his missing father, and he’s a little suspicious about his boss, General Latham. But aside from a nice scene in the first issue, where he tries to win the hearts of some Kahndaqi children by handing out superhero comic books (DC characters, of course), it’s hard to get a feel for his personality beyond the fact he’s not a bloodthirsty soldier. He doesn’t give Cap-like speeches, but his occasional attempts at one-liners during fights are ham-handed and unbelievably redundant (when beating someone/something, he has made three variations on a “void your warranty” joke, which I have to call as a tic of Trautmann’s and a lack of attention from editor Rachel Gluckstern. You don’t read the script and send an email asking for a different line? And sometimes, Trautmann seems to put a joke in because it sounds like an ironic superhero line, without thinking about if it makes any sense. Example: Shield tells headquarters he’ll be “entertain(ing) our guests,” when the prior issue had established that he’s the one out of place, causing an incident on Chinese property in Brazil. He’s the guest/intruder. 

I will give Trautmann the benefit of the doubt that his take on The Shield as being a soldier rather than a superhero was heading towards something before the title was cancelled. Likes like, “And there’s nothing tougher to beat than an American soldier with a weapon” sound crass, but the first story arc, with Shield trying to rescue missing soldiers from a DC Middle East country called Kahndaq (a reference to Jenette Kahn?) at least presented a character with an anti-American viewpoint who wasn’t a villain. He was just a boy who had seen too many of his people dead because of American interference. It might have been an interesting direction to follow, the super-soldier carrying out orders that increasingly ate at his conscience. But that’s not where the book goes.

Instead, and I can’t believe this was Trautmann’s idea, The Shield runs into a number of minor DC superheroes, none of which would give him a sales boost. Sure, it’s understandable he would work with The Web quickly, and later run into new versions of The Jaguar and The Comet—they’re all old Red Circle characters, too. But Magog? The Great Ten? 

The Magog issues were part of the aforementioned story set in Kahndaq, Magog (a character I don’t really know) portrayed as an obnoxious, kill ‘em all jarhead, contrasting with Shield’s compassionate, levelheaded and resourceful approach. Well, sort of resourceful. When you get past all the technobabble, most of The Shield’s plans are really simplistic. To get into the fortress where he thinks the captured soldiers are, he takes off his nanosuit (it’s there but looks like regular clothes), gives himself up, and of course is taken to the leader, a mind-controller who is in turn being controlled by Gorilla Grodd. And look, if your first story arc has a team-up with Magog against Gorilla Grodd, then this is probably not a book that’s going to last.

The next storyline involves The Shield trying to recover some technology in Brazil that has fallen into the hands of one Baron Gestapo, a cheap old Nazi villain with corny, ’40s style robots. His name is so ridiculous I assume he’s an old Red Circle character as well. The Great Ten, as I understand them here, are a Chinese superteam made up by somebody who knows a lot about American superheroes and maybe Googled a bit about Chinese mythology. The leader is basically imperious Chinese Iron Man, there’s some mystic type we don’t see much of, and a guy who multiplies as Seven Deadly Brothers, which is basically the same idea as Marvel’s The Collective Man. The couple of confrontations Shield has with them are inconclusive and uninteresting, probably in part because they have their own series and it would be dumb to make them come off badly, although, you know, Magog does, and he’s got his own book somehow.

One of the bright spots throughout most of the run (there was a fill-in issue or two) has been the development of artist Rudy. He draws from Tony Harris, J.H. Williams III and perhaps Jim Steranko for page compositions, often using a circular panel as a central image from which other panels radiate. While these bold compositions are sometimes distracting from the storytelling, overall it makes for a compelling, modern-looking book, his art doing its best to disguise the pedestrian content. Certainly having veteran inker Mick Gray, a frequent partner of Williams, accounts for some of the similarity.

Another positive in the run, and likely a reason some readers stuck with the book a little longer, is the work from Brandon Jerwa and his artists on the backup stories, which are often a bit longer than traditional four-to-six pages in length. His first serial, broken into a four-parter and then a two-parter taking place right after those events (probably an indication that the book was in trouble and Jerwa had to move onto other business) features Inferno, a flaming character whose facial features are different when he’s on fire, and who has no memories of who he is or how he got these powers, though we learn as we go that he apparently laid backup plans in case of this memory loss. Greg Scott draws these, and while I haven’t been following his work much since Sword of Dracula years ago, he seems not to have grown much since then. It looks competent but obviously Photoshopped, page composition in thrall to the reference material. In the hands of another artist, Inferno is something I would give a try to as its own book.

Better yet is the subsequent Fox backup, as Jerwa is joined by the reliable Oeming, who always brings solid storytelling and a certain stylistic swagger to his work. For his part, Jerwa brings a welcome sensitivity to his portrayal of the lead character, a movie star in Japan seeking answers to the murder of his father, which brings him into his father’s world of double agents and ninjas. Familiar territory for Oeming but who better to have on-board, and there also aren’t many artists who could bring such an elegant, Toth-like simplicity to the design of The Fox.

The final story arc for The Shield has begun more promisingly than the others, with The Shield now leading a team of soldiers against a high-tech terror outfit called Black Seven. Even better, he’s forced to team up with The Brain Emperor, a creepy mind controller with tentacles coming off is head who was previously used by Grodd against him and the other U.S. soldiers. So, as with the Magog story, it’s a bit of a buddy movie, but seems to have a bit more edge and purpose to it, maybe because Trautmann knows the series is winding down. In just a couple months, the series will end and The Shield and the other Red Circle characters become third-stringers in the DCU. 

I’ll savor the remaining Fox stories and it appears the main Shield story will be enjoyable enough. Ultimately, while Trautmann failed to impress with dialogue and characterization, a good deal of the blame for the series’ lack of success has to be placed at the editorial end. We have a super-solder in a “lethal” warsuit who avoids killing, where the emphasis is on his amazing technology, but this wondrous suit leaves the top of his head exposed. The Shield shows some doubts about his role here and there, but the rest of the time is portrayed as a true-blue, unquestioning soldier, his government seen as justified in the various incursions he’s assigned to carry out. There is no supporting cast to speak of and only a hint of a larger story to be told about The Shield’s father that is always subordinate to one weak sister guest star after another. No one ever seemed to be quite on the same page and only Jerwa, Rudy, and probably too late to matter, Oeming, seemed willing to dig deeper to try to make the package work.

—Christopher Allen

Daily Breakdowns 080 - Years of the Elephant

Years of the Elephant

Writer/Artist - Willy Linthout

Publisher - PonentMon

Humans, we get on with it. Whatever befalls us, we tend to do our best to get back to our comfortable routine, what we do well or enjoy doing. Tragedy strikes, and before long the baseball player is back on the diamond, the actor out of the house and back making movies, the guitarist back playing the blues. In a couple of those occupations, I’m picturing real people, real men who suffered the ultimate horror of outliving a child. And now we have Willy Linthout, Flemish cartoonist, opened his front door to neighbors informing him his own son had jumped to his death from the roof of their apartment building. This is how Years of the Elephant begins, and from that point on it chronicles Linthout’s struggles to hold onto his sanity in the face of terrible grief, guilt and regret.

Linthout’s career up to this point was primarily as a humor cartoonist, so his dumpy, goggle-eyed little everyman is at first disconcerting: is this how one honors a dead son, with old hat cartooning tricks like worry lines and beads of sweat shooting off the character’s forehead? Linkhout mitigates his standard style by leaving the pages in pencil form, emphasizing their urgency. The reader understands this is not about craft but about catharsis, and so much can be forgiven if not every sequence sings or flows seamlessly into the other.

Much of the book is a series of hallucinogenic episodes, Linthout’s grief attacking his mind in different ways. He sees multiple versions of his insensitive boss. The chalk outline of his son’s body appears before him, while his son’s spirit seems to be trying to communicate to him in Morse code. He acts out in ways understandable but also shocking, even criminal. He takes longer to start to pull through than many, his delusions involving his son bringing him some small measure of comfort that may be lost if he starts to heal. There is no truly accurate timetable for the stages of grief, and so there was probably not much of an outline for the book. It takes as long as it takes. It’s a harrowing journey where hope takes a long time to appear, but eventually it’s there, in as simple a gesture as slightly changing the art style to represent the passing of something. 

—Christopher Allen

Daily Breakdowns 070 - Not So Hornet

Green Hornet #1

Writer - Kevin Smith

Breakdowns - Phil Hester

Finished Art - Jonathan Lau

Publisher - Dynamite Entertainment. $3.99 USD

Smith adapts his script from an unproduced Green Hornet screenplay, and based on this first issue, it’s not hard to see why the script wasn’t used for the upcoming Seth Rogen film. I’m not trying to be mean here; it’s not terrible. But what it isn’t is original. Maybe that’s a flaw with the character and his origins, I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the original TV show aside from some clips. Green Hornet is basically a less moody version of Batman. He’s a rich vigilante who has some kind of agreement with the cops, he considers “Century City” his to protect, and he’s got some hornet-related gadgets and a tricked out car. Oh, and a sidekick, Kato.

We meet the Hornet as he’s eavesdropping on a meeting between Italian and Yakuza crime bosses, discussing whether a union could be arranged to bring about Hornet’s death. Hornet listens a bit, then he and Kato bust everything up and let the police arrest everyone. It seems this was the last of the bad guys in the city, and now that their five years of working together have resulted in this achievement, Kato can go off and start a family of his own and Hornet can go back to just being trust fund Britt, with his sleeping son and obnoxious wife. You know, the one who thinks it’s cute to pull a gun on her lethal weapon husband as a gag and then get pissed at him when he almost clocks her in self-defense. It’s an awkward scene and really doesn’t accomplish what one supposes was the goal, to set up the idea of the loving family/home and hearth that Britt will have to fight to protect even as his mission keeps him away from them, yadda yadda. And unlike, say, Dynamite’s own Lone Ranger book, the hero/minority sidekick relationship isn’t as smartly portrayed here. Smith switches between some slurs (“I thought you people were good at math.” “Which people?” “Short people.”) and some earnest man hugs.

Smith doesn’t bring his A material to the party, and who knows if it’s because he felt the script was fine as it was, or he got other movie-type commitments to deal with, or whatever. It’s just not that funny and Hornet isn’t very interesting. I was a little confused by the rest of the issue, as I thought we were seeing a flashback to a pre-Hornet Britt leading an aimless life as a rich kid, but upon closer inspection this is the next generation, and Britt’s son will have to experience that turning point moment where he knows he will need a green blazer to dispense justice. I guess I was thrown off because the earlier stuff didn’t have a lot of clues that it was taking place 25 years ago. One hopes that this version of Hornet gets more focus on character and originality than Smith gave his father.

It doesn’t help that Lau’s art comes off as kind of generic as well, but on closer look the storytelling (aided of course by Hester doing breakdowns) is sound. Actually, I give both of them credit for breaking down a busy script efficiently and cleanly—Smith often writes nine panels a page, much of it heavy with dialogue. It probably would have worked better with a grittier look, but colorist Ivan Nunes can’t help putting some sort of sparkle or shine or other effect on every surface, resulting in candy-colored streets and a hero whose cloth fedora gleams almost as much as his leather gloves.

—Christopher Allen

Daily Breakdowns 069 - Ed Hannigan Covered

Ed Hannigan: Covered

Publishers - Marvel Comics and Hero Initiative. $5.99 USD

Ed Hannigan was a name and talent I knew as a kid of 12 or 13 reading Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man. His covers for the Cloak & Dagger/Silvermane issues were distinctive and eye-popping in the way he tilted perspective and used the logo as an element in the story being told on the cover, rather than just an overlay that all too often took away from the art.

Still, I didn’t think about him much, because in those years I was naturally more interested in the creators hitting their stride inside the books, like Frank Miller and John Byrne, to a lesser extent John Romita, Jr., Bob Layton, Paul Smith, Walt Simonson. I knew Hannigan was a great cover artist, because I would look closely at good covers and often see his name, but once his name disappeared from Marvel’s covers I didn’t really notice the absence. There’s always some hot young this or that. I imagine he was probably forced out around the time the materials on the cover mattered more than the design, stuff like foil and acetate, and maybe it was a side effect of that direct market boom time that Marvel didn’t need his level of invention as they were printing money with every polybagged #1 issue. I don’t know, I just know that in the past 20, 30 years, if you asked me who Ed Hannigan was, I would have said he was one of Marvel’s better cover artists, ranking with Jack Kirby, Gil Kane and John Byrne.

It goes without saying that it’s unfortunate it took Hannigan’s M.S. to bring about this tribute book, and of course, to paraphrase The Hero Initiative who cosponsored the tribute, there are many other creators “who game [me] my dreams” who remain unheralded. That said, I’m still glad to be able to read this, to learn some more about a talented team player and perfectionist, to see many of the original sketches to so many of those covers I enjoyed, and to see in the tributes from his fellow artists the esteem with which they hold him as an artist and friend.

It so happens that I remember quite clearly the first time I read an issue of Byrne’s Fantastic Four. It was #244, and I was in Dominick’s, the grocery store near my house, and from a good 15, 20 feet away that cover jumped out at me with this huge hand framing this lithe, silvery woman, suffusing her with power. Like all great covers, I had to know what was going on inside, and so I sat down and started reading. I think I also discovered Miller’s Daredevil that day, with an equally powerful cover of DD pointing a gun at the reader, so a good day for me. Those were comics I had to look at, and then buy. I was fairly amazed to discover here that Hannigan designed the FF one, and others in Byrne’s run, as I thought Byrne almost always did his own covers. He brought a lot to the final version, of course, but the potency of the idea was right there in Hannigan’s sketch.

I can’t say the cover of Ed Hannigan: Covered has quite that impact; it’s a little busy and dark with all the covers swirling around the shadowy desk, and yet, it did finally call out to me from the bottom of an end cap at my local comics shop. I understand this came out a while ago, so I’m only sorry I didn’t see and discuss it sooner, but better late than never. And we’re actually just in time for a charity auction of some of Hannigan’s artwork, so check that out if you’re interested, and there’s more information about The Hero Initiative at that link as well.

—Christopher Allen

Daily Breakdowns 068 - Wave Hello, Say Goodbye

First Wave #1 (of 6)
Writer - Brian Azzarello
Artist - Rags Morales

Publisher - DC Comics. $3.99 USD

I didn’t pay a lot of attention to news about DC doing some sort of new imprint, or at least establishing some new corner of the DCU, for the Spirit, Doc Savage and I presume other Golden Age pulp heroes they have rights to use. I saw Azzarello’s name and just didn’t think he was the right guy to do it. I’m not convinced I was wrong yet, but this first issue of a miniseries planned to (re)introduce these characters is more interesting and a bit less mannered than I would expect from Azzarello. He only gets into some of his Tourette’s here and there (“the one thing right about the wrong guys”), and mostly keeps things lively with a ton of characters and different milieux introduced. Despite the cover, no Batman yet, but I think there’s hints about maybe The Phantom (I’m not sure if he’s the guy who gets his eye punctured by a robot, but I’m guessing that’s a different character), a Russian bad guy, the cold, pragmatic Doc Savage, the newspaper columnist who rips Doc Savage, a cheerfully sleazy Commissioner Dolan (brought into more or less standard DCU house style aside from the trademark acromegalic chin), and the more action-oriented but still amusing Spirit, who seems to make a living beating up thugs, though it’s not clear how. And in case I didn’t mention it, an eye-puncturing jungle robot. It looks like, Lost-style, a misplaced or stolen dead father is going to bring two of our male leads together, Doc Savage and The Spirit.

Morales’ style is maybe a little pedestrian to try to sell new readers on these ancient characters, but it’s okay in an Epting/Guice/Perkins/everyone-has-the-same-cheekbones-way. Curiously, there’s not a single female character, apparently crowded out by our multiple male narrators, but you have to figure Ellen Dolan and a femme fatale or two will make the scene soon. Morales hasn’t provided the most dynamic fabric samples, but Azzarello is clearly working hard sewing this quilt together.

Girl Comics #1 (of 3)
Writers - Trina Robbins, G. Willow Wilson, Devin Grayson, Various
Artists - Colleen Coover, Tana Sekeda, Various
Publisher - Marvel Comics. $4.99 USD

This is ghastly, and I really wanted it to be good. The prime directive here was clearly “Women first, quality second.” Although this is a gynocentric anthology that breaks no actual laws, since Trina Robbins was duly included, Marvel should really be ashamed for putting out this slapdash assemblage of indifferent superhero shorts, a pointless Franklin & Val Richards children’s book mashup, and a cheesy She-Hulk pin-up. Aside from Robbins’ 1969-set Venus tale, which is at least mostly coherent and has cute art by Stephanie Buscema (the lineage alone is a nice touch), and a lovely if earnest intro piece by Colleen Coover, the unknowns are unknown because they’re not ready yet and the known, normally competent writers like Willow and Grayson phone it in with stories that may as well have been called, “Nightcrawler Stops Guy with Knife While German Chick Sings Bad Lyrics” and “Jean Grey Lies to Scott’s Face and Really Wants to Bang Logan.” The sad thing (well, one more sad thing) is that there are also two wonderful, heart-in-the-right-place tributes to Marvel mavens Flo Steinberg and Marie Severin that only emphasize how far most of the talents here have to go to match their work ethic. It will take me a while to forget the emaciated Punisher posing as “sadprincess” online in order to kill a guy.

—Christopher Allen

Daily Breakdowns 067 - Swinging & Coming

So, we’ve moved to another home, but we’re still TWC, more or less. I’ve just been plugging away, focused a lot lately on the floppy end of comics, though there’s some other stuff in the works, and a very cool event planned for April. As far as this Tumblr, thing, it will take some getting used to. I don’t know how to encode links, or add images, but we’ll figure it out. I mean, I just watched (through buckets of tears) Roger Ebert on Oprah, and he still writes wonderfully, so who’s complaining?

Captain Swing & the Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island #1
Writer - Warren Ellis
Artist - Raulo Caceres
Publisher - Avatar Press
Price - $3.99 USD

Ellis has got a good thing going with Avatar. He reads a lot and has trained his mind to be able to convert any scientific news or history into an action adventure with the addition of profanity, perverse violence and an outrageous, antiauthoritarian hero/ine. Some people train their minds to always be thinking in poesy, some may automatically calculate the body fat of any person they encounter. There are worse things. I haven’t read a lot of Ellis’ Avatar stuff the past couple years, mostly his one-shots. Rarely am I not entertained and amused, but they do often leave you wanting more. This one is off to a decent enough start, with artist Caceres drawing the shit out of 1830s London and Londoners, every sooty brick and curly forelock. He’s really going above and beyond on what is so far a pretty thin introduction to a kooky pirate flying around in an electrical boat.

Most of the issue is an infodump on how the law enforcement of the time was divided into the Metropolitan Police, called “Peelers” after the name of their boss, and often too drunk to be effective, and the Bow Street Runners, who were subcontracted by magistrates to stop thieves and other criminals, and who were mostly criminals themselves. Neither answered to the other. All this is interesting, but much of the exposition is not organically worked into the comics pages but rather as interspersed text pages made to look like an old journal, and which we learn later is written by Captain Swing himself. Why he feels the need to write this much about the cops is anyone’s guess, but it seems more just a matter of convenience for Ellis, and at least his interest in electricity and other scientific advances of the day seems more genuine, given that he figured out how to basically ride lightning. Probably works better in a complete arc chunk, but of course if Avatar published original graphic novels that would deprive them of the income from several dozen single issue variant covers.

X-Men: Second Coming Prepare
Writer - Mike Carey
Artist - Stuart Immonen
Publisher - Marvel Comics
Price - FREE

Clearly, the X-Men haven’t been gone, so the idea of a “second coming” is just a marketing idea. It’s not a bad one, though; I’m one of those who haven’t read any X-books in a few years and with all the titles going I didn’t know where to start. There’s not a whole lot to say about this. You’ll notice it’s free, and Marvel isn’t going to give much away for free. It’s a cute storytelling exercise, with various X-Men submitting to brief camcorder interviews, reacting to the return from the future of Cable and Hope Summers. It was too brief to really judge how well Carey writes the characters, but Immonen’s art sure is pretty. There’s also a tedious for me/useful for some explanation of the Phoenix Force with lots of panels from comics featuring Phoenix.

—Christopher Allen