Monday, October 3, 2011

Weekly Comics: September 28, 2011

American Vampire #19 (Vertigo) - With the recent epic World War II storyline concluded, Scott Snyder's gritty vampire series takes a break with an arc dedicated to the early life of Skinner Sweet, before he became a vampire. Sweet and his future adversary Jim Book are in the army together, fighting Indians, and the bulk of this issue focuses on the brotherly rivalry between these two men who would eventually become worst enemies. Jordi Bernet is the guest artist for this arc, and his cartoony, slightly sketchy style is a good fit for this tale of a simpler time in these men's lives. This is especially true of the first few pages about Sweet and Book's boyhood, which features a bright, sunny look and big-eyed character drawings that immediately contrast against the much darker style usually brought to the series by Rafael Albuquerque. With the emphasis on Book and Sweet and the broadly telegraphed differences between them, this is a pretty atypical (and largely vampire-free) issue for much of its length. Of course, the ending marks a return to the pulpy lunacy that I've come to expect from Snyder's Western vampire saga, when a curvy, naked vampiress makes an appearance in the last few pages. At that point, Bernet's bold art gives the scene a splashy, campy tone that suggests that some good goofy fun is ahead for this story.

Brilliant #1 (Icon) - This is the first issue of a new creator-owned series by Brian Michael Bendis and artist Mark Bagley, which has apparently been a long-gestating idea that Bendis has been waiting to do with Bagley. The first issue is... okay. After loving a lot of Bendis' work for years, especially Alias, I've gotten burned out on his style since he started steering Marvel's Avengers and a lot of the company's big superhero crossovers. This issue does little to alleviate my exhaustion with him, because the trademark wordy, hyperactive, pattery Bendis dialogue is all over the place, with chains of word balloon exchanges winding through most of the panels. His stylized dialogue has always walked a thin line between amusing and annoying, and here it jumps back and forth between the two poles, with an unfortunate emphasis on the latter. I'm not sold on the idea (a bunch of prodigy Ivy League college kids "invent" superpowers) or the characters, and so far it basically feels like Heroes, dealing with the concept of superpowers in a mostly realistic world with young people who don't don costumes when they get their new abilities. I'm curious enough to check out some more of it, but so far it doesn't seem like Bendis has returned to the heights of Alias or Daredevil or the best parts of the sometimes-uneven Powers.

FF #9 (Marvel) - Jonathan Hickman has been doing excellent work on Fantastic Four and its successor series FF ever since his debut on the former series. The reverberations of his fantastic first arc, in which Reed Richards tried to "solve everything" with the help of a pandimensional assembly of his parallel selves, are still being felt in FF, as four dimensionally stranded Reeds stand at the center of a massive war that Hickman's been patiently setting up for some time now. This issue takes place at the climax of this war, so it's mostly all dedicated to battle and action, with visceral art and layouts by Steve Epting that make all the explosions and fist-fights pop off the page. As usual, though, Hickman is at his best when he cuts away from the action for a few pages spent with young Valeria Richards and would-be child supervillain Bentley. Hickman's expansion of the Fantastic Four cast to focus on the Richards kids and a host of other children and oddball characters is the best aspect of his run, and his dialogue for these characters — precocious but definitively childlike — is pitch-perfect. This is a short, delightful little scene, a much-needed break from the otherwise non-stop action on display here. One hopes that Hickman's FF will eventually focus even more on the Future Foundation class and other supporting characters — maybe once the main Fantastic Four series returns, also with Hickman writing, in November.

Journey Into Mystery #628 (Marvel) - I've been reading this series ever since it split off from Matt Fraction's Thor as a showcase for the young, newly resurrected Loki, and I'm not sure why. Part of it is that I love the character: Loki as a kid is just a lot of fun and his constant machinations are really charming, whether they're here or over in Fraction's Mighty Thor. The problem is that this series has been mired in the Fear Itself crossover (which I'm not reading) since it began, and a lot of these issues just read like summaries of things happening elsewhere or bits of ancillary action at the fringes of the story. Also, Kieron Gillen's wordy, text-box-heavy style is doubtless intended to give the impression of a series steeped in old world myths, but the effect is mostly just stilted and arch. This issue features nice art by Whilce Portacio, who's a little more lively than Dougie Braithwaite, whose art on previous issues of Gillen's run has always seemed overly stiff and static, not to mentioned smothered under oppressive coloring. There continue to be flashes of cleverness and fun here whenever Gillen abandons the endless narration boxes to let Loki crack wise, but he still doesn't nearly have Fraction's subtle wit or sense of scale. I'm hoping this series will be able to stand on its own well once Fear Itself finally ends, though.

The Mighty Thor #6 (Marvel) - What I love about Matt Fraction's take on Thor is that it's totally unpredictable, working at a grand epic scale, dealing with myth and belief and fate and choice, as befits a character right out of mythology. This issue concludes the war between Galactus and the inhabitants of Asgard that has run through the first six issues of Fraction's Mighty Thor. And suffice it to say that the war has been resolved in an utterly unexpected way, tying together the large-scale cosmic conflict with the ground-level struggle between the Asgardians and the humans living in a town near Asgard's current earthly location. Most notably, the local Christian pastor who had often been a subject of comic relief in earlier issues unexpectedly gets treated in a much deeper and more complex way here, and the resolution of that plot sets up a strange new status quo that should make the next arc of this series just as interesting. As usual, Olivier Coipel's art is stunning, particularly in the panels of a brooding, shadowy Galactus looming over the tiny figures of the men and gods arrayed at the feet of the world devouring being. Also as usual, much of the action is splayed across the elaborate double-page spreads that Fraction favors for his work with Marvel's Norse characters, contributing to the sense of scope that's so important to dealing with gods and aliens and creatures that dwarf mountains.

Rachel Rising #2 (Abstract Studio) - This is the second issue of a new series written and drawn by Terry Moore, of Strangers In Paradise fame. While I never liked Moore's most famous series, his clever, light sci-fi follow-up Echo was remarkable, and this new horror project promises to be equally compelling. Moore and genre fiction seems to be a really good fit. In the first issue, a young woman named Rachel woke up in a shallow grave in the woods, seemingly brought back to life with only vague memories of a shadowy figure strangling her with a length of rope. This issue is mostly about Rachel's visit to her mannish coroner aunt, who, curiously enough, takes Rachel's presence as a hallucination of sorts, reacting very strangely to her niece. These scenes have an odd rhythm, as though something is subtly off, disconnecting the reincarnated Rachel from her former life.

Moore's drawing is as beautiful as ever; his line is graceful but just a little ragged, and he makes liberal use of white space so that the overall effect is spare and ethereal. He's a sublime draftsman, and he especially has an affinity for capturing the nuances of facial expressions and body language. In one wonderful two-panel sequence, a young woman comes home from a date, her face flushed, a distant, contented smile on her lips, and in the next panel her expression falls and her body language becomes antagonistic and coiled as she sees her sister, who has been spying on her. It's slightly cartoony, and Moore doesn't flinch from manga-esque exaggeration and cartoon devices like big dramatic sound effect lettering. He blends these cartoony flourishes with whimsical dialogue and contrasts the tonally lighter moments against the darkness and violence that forms the core of the book. To that end, the issue ends with a harrowing, brilliantly rendered sequence that suggests that the series' horror component is going to remain prominent (and very satisfying).


  1. I've been really excited to read Hickman's FF since I heard about it -- the Fantastic Four is a book that can be extremely entertaining when a writer is on it that understands the underlying concepts that drive it and it sounds like he does.

    I lost interest in Bendis during his initial run on The Avengers (and I should point out I also loved his work on Alias and Daredevil, the two books, along with Morrison's JLA that got me into comics again for the first time since high school) and now kind of actively dislike him as he seems to be repeating himself, resting on his laurels, and living off his hype (while also passing along his more annoying writing tics to the newer writers in the industry).

    I wasn't very interested in the Thor books -- I was very underwhelmed with the JMS Thor from years back, with Coipel's art being all that was good about it, and was also hit-or-miss with Fraction's work on Iron Man. The Loki stuff (he's a kid now?) actually sounds like it could be fun, so I may give a few issues of that a look as well.

    I'm about 2/3rds of the way through the new 52 #1's, with my "reviews" of them seeming to get even more repetitive as I go -- reviewing 52 issues at once is kind of dumb thing to do, should you ever try it :) But mainly I just want to get done now so I can go on to reading some other things.

  2. Oh, and the two horror-themed series you mention here seem right up my alley.

    I was surprised at your glowing review of the Terry Moore series -- I checked out Strangers in Paradise a couple of times, as it seems to be one of those independent series from the 90's that is always talked about, but I was never much impressed by anything but the pretty art.

  3. Yeah, Hickman's FF stuff is great, he really does get that what makes this book special is the combination of deep sci-fi concepts and family dynamics. I especially love his focus on the kids and the really eclectic, interesting supporting cast he's built up over the course of his run.

    I've had exactly the same experience with Bendis. I loved Alias, and enjoyed Powers, his old crime comics, and Daredevil. But somewhere in his Avengers run I really lost interest and gave up on it, and he seems to increasingly be a parody of himself these days.

    I never liked Strangers In Paradise, either, other than the nice art. But then I was strongly recommended Moore's Echo, a 30-issue sci-fi series, and I absolutely loved it. It's fun, funny, thrilling, sexy, and really emotionally intense. So now I'm definitely ready to check out anything Moore does next, and so far Rachel Rising is seeming like a fine follow-up. I mean, check out that awesome page up there!

    Looking forward to your New 52 reviews. I definitely struggled to find something to talk about with some of the more generic and boring issues, so I can sympathize with you there. There was lots of good stuff in this reboot but also a big chunk of boring stuff.