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Trouble with Comics

Daily Breakdowns 092 - Where’s My Spider-Man Fishing Pole?

…I would have liked one as a kid. Anyway, after a couple weeks off on other projects like my actual job that pays my mortgage, I’ve got a little time to catch up on some floppies.

Predators #1 (of 4)

Writers - Marc Andreyko, David Lapham

Artists - Guilherme Balbi, Gabriel Guzman

Publisher - Dark Horse Comics

I wasn’t really even aware they were rebooting the Predator film franchise until I saw this comic, which sports a terrific Paul Lee cover with great likenesses of Adrien Brody and Lawrence Fishburne. Kind of funny that two talented guys who could use a hit or at least need to keep working are kind of slumming by doing this sci-fi action movie, while two talented comics writers like Andreyko and Lapham are sort of doing the same thing with this miniseries, which, like most licensed comics movie tie-ins has stories that serve as a prequel or flesh out the film. It’s not bad how they do it here, with Andreyko handling the longer main story, which spends time on a solider character whom we probably won’t see much of if any in the movie, as he blacks out during a parachute dive and then comes to during his descent into the jungle, where he joins his squad being rapidly picked off by an unseen Predator or more, and then the badass Fishburne character shows up. The backup has Lapham fleshing out the character of the amoral, mercenary Brody character. The art by Balbi on the main story was just okay—if you squint at some panels you may get a bit of a Guy Davis feel—but Guzman is much more polished on the backup. Although I doubt we’ll get top drawer Andreyko or Lapham here, I enjoyed it and probably look forward to the next issue a little more than the movie itself.

War of the Supermen #1-4

Writers - Sterling Gates, James Robinson

Artists - Jamal Igle, Eddy Barrows, Cafu, Eduardo Pansica, Various

Publisher - DC Comics

I only caught up to some of the New Krypton stories in the past month, and missed the setup for it. Still, aside from an interminable storyline involving Adam Strange that would have taken 10 pages in the ’50s, it was fairly entertaining. Didn’t really do a great job of world-building, and the class conflict stuff was dumbed down and abandoned to make way for this war story, but, well, what was I really expecting? I didn’t dislike it.

This miniseries? Much dislike. This one is a real embarrassment. I wish I knew what happened to James Robinson, and is Sterling Gates a real person and why is he getting so much work? The basic story is crazed xenophobe (and Lois’ dad), General Lane, destroys New Krypton, leaving thousands of pissed-off Kryptonians, led by equally crazed and xenophobic (though he has a point) General Zod coming to wage war on the people of Earth, leaving Superman and Supergirl in the middle. 

Aside from, I think, Igle, who draws an okay Superman and can handle a decent fight scene, the artwork is almost always boring at best, hideous at worst, with Superman at his most anemic, expressionless and awkward, and the Kryptonian army having as much majesty and menace as UPS delivery people—just substitute gray for brown. 

What’s worse is that the writers just seem to be hitting their beats, and haphazardly at that, with no wit and often a seeming disregard for dramatic promise. There’s a scene where an anguished Supergirl is hiding in floating planetary debris when Superman comes to find her. It’s mostly silent, and so I guess a good deal of the blame for its failure is the bad drawing, but some dialogue between the two would have been nice. And what about the missed opportunities when Superman comes back? There’s no Lois reunion scene. No conversation about how she’s feeling since her dad has become this despicable war criminal and her sister is insane. Instead there’s bad scenes like Lois and Jimmy drawn almost like federal agents, before it’s revealed that they’re just dumping exposition on Superboy, Steel and other supporting characters who don’t really serve much purpose here. It’s pretty much a complete botch. 

Hawkeye & Mockingbird #1

Writer - Jim McCann

Artist - David Lopez & Alvaro Lopez

I was surprised to look closer and realize this is supposed to be an ongoing series. I’m not sure there’s an audience, but whatever. The ups for this issue is that both McCann and the Lopez team convey a sense of fun right from the start. These two like fighting crime and are very comfortable with their gimmicks and corny costumes. I also like that the couple are part of a secret government group where they can be the stars, unlike the Avengers. And I like that Hawkeye’s looking out for Mockingbird and that there’s a secret between them that is causing problems. 

My complaints are minor. I think after Ms. Marvel, Black Widow, Agent 13/Sharon Carter, Spider-Woman and I’m probably forgetting one or two, one more screwed up hot former S.H.I.E.L.D. with skeletons in her closet is pretty played out. As is one more covert government special ops outfit—wouldn’t Norman Osborn have shut these things down? And also, not too down deep, I wonder if Hawkeye isn’t more interesting without her. He’s better mooning over someone else’s girl. Not bad, though. You could do a lot worse.

—Christopher Allen

I saw Iron Man, Too

Damn you, Kevin Pasquino and your well-written review! I agree with all of it. Not as good as the first but well-done and pretty character-driven. More than ever, you equate bad boy Tony Stark with bad boy Downey but his momentary fall from grace is justified in the film. That was an uncomfortable scene, drunk Tony in his suit, especially as I think it featured the late DJ AM. Wasted potential indeed.

Yes, Black Widow’s presence didn’t make a ton of sense, and between all the action sequences and other plot points the opportunity for a good love triangle between Tony, Pepper and Natalie/Natasha was wasted. Vanko/Whiplash knowing Stark would be driving didn’t make sense, nor did it make much sense that one dude could get all those drones together plus a kickass new set of armor in what appeared to be a couple days. Still, I can’t say that the logical failures didn’t all lead to some good action scenes, although I did find IM2’s climax to have much less real threat and personality than the one in the first film.

As far as acting, Downey is still great, a delightful rogue who mostly has the right idea but doesn’t have time to explain it you. Some of the best scenes find him spitting out big chunks of dialogue while fidgeting, preening, always trying to seduce whoever he’s speaking to, whether an individual or crowd of thousands. Cheadle brings little to James Rhodes, ScarJo is mostly wooden and her hair looks weird. Clark Gregg and Garry Shandling are suitably unctuous. Rockwell is great as the Stark wannabe, and Paltrow makes the most of her meager chances. You really do feel like she’s someone for whom you’d want to improve yourself. Rourke does his best with his inexpressive, ruined face, bad Russian accent and beer gut. He seems to have shown up on set with his own clothes and cockatoo and talked director Favreau into using all of it. Actually, Favreau seemed to want to make up for Rourke’s mug by letting the hair appliances and dye, costume, bird, constant toothpick and tattoos do the acting instead. 

It’s not that the film really answers the question of whether the greatest inventions and weapons of modern times should be entrusted to one spoiled genius fairly—the answer is yes here because Downey’s charisma will charm a yes out of you. At least it asks the question, though. A question the movie raised with me, though is why Gene Colan (along with Bob Layton, John Byrne, the Romitas, Matt Fraction and others) gets a Special Thanks in the end credits but apparently within the millions spent on the film and its promotion, no one can kick in a few grand to take care of his medical bills. I’m not talking about a creator credit, ownership or anything like that, just a small bit of money. It’s a well-made film, however. 

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