Best Shots Comic Reviews: SUPERMAN, CAPTAIN AMERICA, More

Best Shots Comic Reviews

Greetings, Rama readers! Ready for some reviews from the Best Shots Team? Then let's kick it! Want some more back issue reviews? Check out our Topic Page right here! And now, let's take a look at some serious questions, as we look at the latest issue of Superman

 

Superman #713

Written by J. Michael Straczynski and Chris Roberson

Art by Diogenes Neves, Oclair Albert, Eddy Barrows, J.P. Mayer, Jamal Igle, Jon Sibal, and Marcelo Maiolo

Lettering by John J. Hill

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

Why do we need Superman?

It's a question that's deceptively simple, but spirals off into a myriad of other important core questions. Who is the Man of Steel? What has made him such an enduring icon? Why we — and by "we," I mean us in the real world — need Superman is a question that DC has been struggling with for years now. And while Chris Roberson valiantly takes a swing at answering this, I feel like his execution doesn't quite live up to the intent.

Let me explain. The premise of this issue is Clark Kent deciding that maybe this is the time to hang up the bright red cape, to help people in secret but to finally retire the Superman identity. But one Super-fan is determined to make a case for the Man of Steel, showing the mild-mannered reporter exactly why they need a Superman.

They. Not we. And I think that's where this issue doesn't quite hit the ball.

In certain ways, Roberson's script comes off very meta, but in a very self-conscious sort of way, reminding the reader that this is fiction, that Superman isn't someone you can actually connect with on an emotional or even spiritual level. You may scoff, but that sort of bond is the essence of enduring fiction, and clearly if we didn't resonate with Clark Kent on some level, we wouldn't be reading his adventures 70 years later. Roberson tosses around a lot of themes here, ranging from Superman as a protector, a threat, a force of restraint, an inspiration, and a lot more — but unfortunately, he highlights these points with robot attacks, thwarted school shootings, cancelled alien invasions.

In other words, the DCU might be in good hands with Superman around, but that's not the really important question, the one that "Grounded" was created to answer. Why do we like Superman, here in the real world? What makes him endure? That's the big missed opportunity for this book, the big unanswered question, and lacking that clear emotional hook makes this issue feel partially like action figure combat, and partially like someone fishing for compliments on Superman's behalf.

The art in this book is also a bit perplexing, considering this book has three different art teams on board. Eddy Barrows and J.P. Mayer, for the two pages they're in the book, fare the best, with some solid anatomy and surprisingly soulful eyes from Superman — but the rest of the art definitely has a rushed feel, particularly on the inks. Diogenes Neves ends up looking very distorted, with the sort of geometric shapes of Olivier Coipel but with faces that look pretty darn rough. Jamal Igle, the best and most experienced of the bunch, isn't getting any favors from inker Jon Sibal, whose inking looks surprisingly brittle and sketchy, to the point where I didn't even realize it was Igle's pencils until I read the credits. I think that the art itself is not a huge turnoff for most readers, but the overuse of yellow by colorist Marcelo Maiolo gives the book consistency at the cost of aesthetics.

I'm probably sounding pretty harsh about this book, which is a fairly ambitious manifesto of why the Man of Steel is important (and is finished in 20 pages, to boot), but I can't help but be troubled by what I'm reading, here. It does sound like an identity crisis, but it's meta in all the wrong ways. Why do we care about Superman? I get why the imaginary, nameless civilians like him — but that cuts us off from the emotional content, just forcing us to watch Superman go through the motions. I want to know why America and the world should love Superman — hell, I want to know why Chris Roberson and DC Comics love Superman. It's a big task, but ultimately, if we can't answer that question, we're in for a world of trouble.

 

Captain America #1

Written by Ed Brubaker

Art by Steve McNiven, Mark Morales and Justin Ponsor

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

Click here for preview

Captain America is dead. Long live the new Captain America, who just happens to be the original Captain America, who just happens to be starring in a major blockbuster movie that is opening this week. So in other words, welcome to the same old Captain America or business as usual at Marvel Comics. Except that this is a new Captain America #1, shedding off the dark, moody intrigue of Steve Epting and Butch Guice and giving readers the energetic, bright art of Steve McNiven.  

McNiven has always been good composing a page as we've seen in Civil War or The New Avengers but his lines have often been stiff or lifeless. His characters have always had glassy eyes, like they're looking out through marbles and not living organs that are designed to see the world. In Captain America #1, McNiven borrows a lot from Travis Charest (if Charest isn't going to be drawing comic books, someone should be drawing in his style.). Like Charest, McNiven lays out his pages using more than just rectangular panels. Panels slant to the left or to the right. They overlap when the action calls for images to be physically or thematically related. Just the way that McNiven sets up the page puts the reader on alert that action is imminent and when the story needs to be quiet or paced, he naturally slips into more standard panels, slowing down the story or focusing the reader more on the plot than the action. He creates exciting and heroic pages, a pleasant contrast groom the realistic grittiness of the previous issues.

Unlike previous McNiven drawn comics, there is great texture and weight to his art thanks primarily to Mark Morales' inking. Morales is one of the few inkers working now who has a distinctive style whether he's inking Olivier Coipel, Jim Cheung or now Steve McNiven. Morales adds physicality to McNiven's pencils, bringing McNiven's lines to life as he grounds the characters while highlighting the flow and fluidity of McNiven's art. Captain America moves gracefully in a way that we haven't seen in a long time.

The most jarring thing about Captain America #1 is just how different it looks from what we've come to expect from a Captain America comic book. Gone are the shadows and subtle toning of the previous series' morally gray world and in its place McNiven, Morales and colorist Justin Ponsor create a colorful world of superheroes and super spies; where brightly costumed heroes fight equally brightly costumed villains. The visual moral ambiguity where the action perpetually took place at night that Steve Epting established for the last series is exchanged for bright, day lit action where the real heroes don't need to hide anymore. Hopefully after the strong start, McNiven can have the lasting and defining affect on Captain America that Epting had.

Just as this issue is a visual relaunching of the book, Brubaker tries to makes it a narrative relaunch as well in a tale where Captain America's past comes back to haunt him. The previous Captain America #1 with Epting was refreshing because Brubaker was writing an angry Cap, something that we had not really seen before. Whether it was Steve Rogers or Bucky Barnes in the uniform, Captain America had a huge, dark chip on his shoulder that propelled the story from the introduction of the Winter Soldier to the death and rebirth of Steve Rogers and through to the incarceration of Bucky.

Brubaker's approach to Captain America here feels traditional and old. He's hanging around with Nick Fury and trying to solve a mystery that goes back to World War II. While Brubaker inserts a bit of modern storytelling grimness in this story, there's little to distinguish this story from any story written by Steve Englehart, Roger Stern or Mark Gruenwald.   Now that's good company to be in and a decent start for Brubaker's latest story but this issue feels like an issue that any of the classic Captain America writers would have had during their historic runs.

Even if it feels like a standard Brubaker story, that still means that Captain America #1 is a Brubaker story and that means that it's exciting as Brubaker once again plumbs the depths of Marvel's history like he did in The Marvels Project.  With McNiven, Morales and Ponsor joining him, Brubaker justly gives them an issue to show what they can do and it is impressive. Steve McNiven makes the character his own as he reminds us that Captain America is an action/adventure hero.

 

Green Lantern #67

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Keith Champagne, Tom Nguyen, Mark Irwin, Gabe Eltaeb, and Randy Mayor

Lettering by Nick J. Papolitano

Published by DC Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

Geoff Johns rebirth of Hal Jordan and the entire Green Lantern franchise may be lightning in a bottle. Johns and DC have tried to do the same thing with The Flash to mixed results and the entire DC relaunch feels like they're trying to reclaim their heart and soul the same way that Johns did that with Green Lantern; accepting everything that made the character great while coming up with new spins on old stories. That was the success story of Green Lantern and even though he faltered a bit both pre and post Blackest Night, Johns has shown that you can successfully rebuild old characters. Part of that post-Blackest Night faltering has been the War of the Green Lantern story, a wishy-washy attempt at tell a big story that never felt like it had any direction or heart.  Green Lantern #67 wraps up the War of the Green Lantern story and this volume of the Green Lantern series by showing everything that was misguided about this last story but nicely tying together everything that was great about the series.

As a storyline, War of the Green Lanterns ends as vague and unthreatening as the entire story has been. For Guy Gardner, Kyle Rayner, John Stewart and the rest of the Green Lantern Corps, there were no clearly defined consequences to this story as the threat Krona posed held no real danger. There have been perceived dangers that Johns and his storyline co-conspirators had set up that have absolutely no payoff in this last issue. John Stewart particularly has performed war acts that should have consequences and ramifications that are barely even acknowledged in this book. Rayner and Gardner get lost in a sea of green and are hardly a presence in this final act. Johns wants to go out strong this issue and you can see him reaching for an epic ending but this small story never earned a large and important ending. Trying to create a large Green Lantern story, Johns was never able to bring the various threads of this story together to make it anything more than a thin patchwork of ideas and story elements.

At least Johns has the strongest artist of this story working with him. Doug Mahnke creates fantastic images, such as a wonderful two-page spread showing the Green Lanterns facing off with the possessed Guardians or Krona using his stolen powers and visually creating them as snakes. Mahnke creates a vibrant blend of superheroics and war battles that give the weak story an emotional punch that it desperately needs.  Visually he provides the gravitas that the story lacks on it's own.  Mahnke and his team of inkers make Green Lantern visually exciting and that's what you want from a hero whose power is driven is will and imagination.

More than being the closing of War of the Green Lanterns, a story that doesn't work, this is also the ending of Geoff Johns' cycle of stories that started with Green Lantern: Rebirth.  While the events of this last storyline were paltry, the ramifications of them are huge as Hal Jordan and Sinestro, the two characters that Johns has obviously been most interested in, come to major turning points in their lives. In the final pages of this issue, you can see how Johns is continuing the story he began years ago in Green Lantern: Rebirth #1. These final pages feature some of the best character development that Johns has done, finally giving these characters a chance to grow and evolve after they have been stagnant for the last year or two.

War of the Green Lanterns has been a frustrating story and its last issue Green Lantern #67 is equally as frustrating. Like the rest of the story, the heart of this issue is undefined as it is a kaleidoscope of color and activity without any clearly defined threats or danger.  War of the Green Lanterns is not a memorable story but in the last few pages, Johns and Mahnke turn the world of Hal Jordan, Sinestro and the Green Lantern Corps upside down in a way that makes the future uncertain and exciting. Johns leaves one of the characters saying "This isn't how it's supposed to end" and it's certainly an unexpected end but it leaves the future wide open. The excitement in this issue isn't placed in the present but in the future and a new Green Lantern #1 that is due out in September.

 

X-Men: Schism #1


Written by Jason Aaron


Art by Carlos Pacheco, Cam Smith, and Frank D'Armata


Letters by Jared K. Fletcher


Published by Marvel Comics


Review by Shanna VanVolt

Welcome back to earth, X-Men. The last few years have seen the Marvel mutants spiraling off into their own weird soap-operatic worlds so removed from reality — and other comic universes — that it was getting hard to remember the humanity from which they mutated. X-Men Schism #1 puts the two current headmasters of the Xavier Institute –Cyclops and Wolverine-- directly on the floor of the UN and thereby gets back to the core strength of the X-Men: pointing out humanity's flaws, oversights, and small-minded xenophobic principles.

Marvel has realized they have to unite some aspects of what has become an overwhelming gaggle of X-Men storylines before they can divide them, and writer Jason Aaron deftly navigates the path back into a common narrative. Yes, there is a lot of speaking truth to power in this first issue, but Aaron keeps the accompanying lines light and the personalities strong. By doing this he upholds the blunt nature of the mutants that is often a draw of the franchise. While the story takes place in a reality that looks similar to our own, Aaron pushes the personalities of the bad guys, bad robots, and good/bad guys in unexpected directions. It’s a farce of global governmental relations that would be funnier if it didn't feel so oddly close to the truth.

The art here is also solid. While it is a detriment to Pacheco that I read Terry Moore's How to Draw #1 Women before reading this book—his ladies are a bit stringy in that boy-with-boobs fashion too common in comics, he makes up for his sometimes strange figural proportions with excellent architecturally-structured backgrounds and layouts. Pacheco obviously has fun with it, and, in line with Aaron's writing, keeps some panels simple to a point that camouflages what are dead-on perspectives. Smith's lines are solid and D'Armata's colors are bright, which is a refreshing change against the often-dark portrayal of many a superhero these days. Frank Cho is scheduled to handle art duties in future issues, and I'll stay tuned for that. While some of Pacheco's details may be off -- too-beefy good guys, too paltry good gals, and 14-year-olds who look a little like they are going on 35 --overall, the art is crisp and clean, and the composition does not suffer.

While X-Men Schism seems to be bringing the X-Men back to a clearer reality(or at least a place where some alienated readers can pick back up with things), it is doing well to put them back where they belong: as society's outcasts. Aaron gets a lot done in this first issue, adding in some long-fought enemies as well as some newer additions. If you are running off ideas first brought forward by Stan Lee, then Chris Claremont, and then adding in some from Grant Morrison all in one issue, you are doing a good job at understanding where when and how this franchise has succeeded. With a school that keeps pumping out new mutants with yet-undiscovered powers, there is a lot of room for growth, and, so far in this first issue, it looks like Aaron can go some new places with X-Men Schism. With a comic trend lately of delving into history to make heroes have important roles, it is nice to see a book that is not afraid to plunge itself into more current dialogue. It'd be nice to continue a book that shows we still need heroes to save us from ourselves.

 

Ultimate Comics Fallout #1

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by Mark Bagley, Andy Lanning, Justin Ponsor, and Laura Martin

Lettering by Cory Petit

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

It's fascinating to see this comic, and compare it to another similar offering from a few years ago — namely, Neil Gaiman's "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" Whereas the former book was more of a condensed mission statement, a thesis of everything that embodies the Dark Knight, Brian Michael Bendis's funeral for Peter Benjamin Parker in Ultimate Comics Fallout #1 is more in the moment, a read that is both sentimental in tone yet light on substance.

The reason I say that last part is because this is an extremely sparse script, all things considered. Mark Bagley is definitely the heavy lifter of this issue, playing up the emotional fallout of Peter Parker's demise. His take on Gwen Stacy in particular is really haunting, which really gives a nice first impression to the whole she-bang, and he really brings a nice fire in Mary Jane Watson's eyes as she works to bring down the person she thinks . Regardless of what you think of the rest of the book — and yeah, I'm going to get to that — Bagley helped bring Ultimate Spider-Man into the world, and he definitely proves that he deserves to send Peter Parker on what may be his final farewell.

But the story is ultimately what's going to make or break this book, and that's where Brian Michael Bendis comes in. If you're looking for some sweeping discussion of the man's ten-plus years with Peter Parker, this isn't the book for you — instead, this is more of a series of short vignettes, which can pluck at the heartstrings (granted, in what could be called a sort of morbid, manipulative way). This is where Bendis's previous planning really pays off, as having characters like Gwen Stacy and the Human Torch really lend a vitality to what could have otherwise been a really stale home life for Peter Parker.

Yet these sorts of vignettes come with a price. This story definitely feels a little loose, with not too terribly much happening (to the point where even Peter's funeral is only beginning to take place). And with Bendis's surprisingly sparse scripting, there's not a whole lot going on besides these lingering looks at people in mourning. It is what it is, and diehard fans will likely still flock to Ultimate Comics Fallout because they care about Peter, because they care about May, because they care about Gwen and Mary Jane and Johnny and everyone else in his life. Will this book look better in a collection? Probably. It may not go too deep, but on the surface, Bendis makes you feel invested, and that's a victory in and of itself.

Northlanders #42

 

Written by Brian Wood

Art by Paul Azaceta

Lettering by Travis Lanham

Review by Wendy Holler

The beginning of the end of Northlanders contains everything that's representative about the series: flawless technical proficiency, brutal storytelling, and the scope to bring these two together. This issue is a vicious and slow-moving tragedy, a setup for the kind of literary catharsis generally reserved for Russian novelists. Fans of the series should be reassured that it will end on its strongest notes. Newcomers should be warned that the work is magnificent, but dark in a way that few comics are willing to be.

The story follows the arrival and settlement of Ulf Hauksson and his family in Iceland. Ulf is the son of Val Hauker, a man driven from his home because of the land grabs in Norway. As the comic makes clear, the family could flee to Ireland or England (Northumbria), but Hauker chooses the unsettled wild of Iceland. He argues that the land will reward the family if they push it hard enough. These early panels are spare and remarkable. Ulf's recollections are set against images of the family's life in their new land, and the Iceland of these early panels is beautiful. Paul Azaceta frames each panel around at least one family member, and this makes Iceland seem not so much a foreign wilderness as an as-yet-unrealized home.

When other immigrants from Norway arrive, the source of Ulf's cool, fatalistic tone becomes clear, and the comic veers into the kind of dark territory normally reserved for horror titles. The conflict between the rival families, the Haukssons and the Belgarssons, is only the backdrop for far more disturbing changes for Ulf. Val Hauker's response to the rival families is vicious and difficult to stomach. The comic makes clear that Hauker was a merchant and not trained for the kind of physical conflict he faces, but desperation is a poor excuse for the cruelty seen here. Neither Wood nor Azaceta shy away from the brutality of these scenes, and colorist Dave McCaig does a particularly fine job of moving from the lush greens and blues of the Icelandic setting to the red and orange tones of fire and violence.

The pacing, the art, the language, the coloring, the lettering: on a technical level, the comic is darn near perfect. It's interesting to read a comic and have so much reserve about the storyline while still being impressed by how that storyline's presented. The tone and pace are magisterial, and the reveal at the end of the issue feels like the logical consequence of all that came before. The early, hopeful, and faintly desperate panels of the first pages give way to the rough and unforgiving violence that forms Ulf's character in a way that's wholly believable.

The comic deserves its mature reader warning not simply for its frank language, but also for its philosophical underpinnings. The threats of a wild land, difficult though those are, are nothing compared to the threats imposed on people by one another. This issue is structured around violence - emotional upheavals, physical challenges, social conflicts. The violence has explanation, but not reason, and nowhere does Wood reassure readers that there's easy justification for the cruelty depicted. Wood's technique here is to present the darker sides of a situation and leave the moral questions it raises in play, and that's a gutsy move in any medium.  

Fans of the series will no doubt be well familiar with this style, which is both grand and bleak. The art hits the perfect balance between realism and symbolism, and the coloring similarly strikes a nice balance of being realistic and portraying Ulf's emotional state. A few particularly nice touches, like an empty speech bubble toward the end of the issue, evoke a gut-wrenching response by emphasizing what isn't there. The result is a comic that consistently wreaks havoc on happiness, but in such a talented way that the journey seems worthwhile.

All things must end, but if the series must do so, this issue implies an ending worthy of the whole. This one is dark, unforgiving, challenging, and not at all for the faint of heart. Northlanders #42 provides the kind of fearless storytelling rarely seen anywhere, and kudos go to the creative team for bringing it to light.

 

FF #6

Written by Jonathan Hickman

Art by Greg Tocchini and Paul Mounts

Lettering by Clayton Cowles

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Patrick Hume

Click here for preview

Jonathan Hickman's run on Fantastic Four, now reborn as FF following the death of Johnny Storm, has given the venerable franchise more life than it's had in years. This latest arc, with Marvel's first family reborn as the Future Foundation, has only served to further cement Hickman's claim to being one of the better writers on the series since its inception in the early 1960s.

When considering FF #6 then, it only makes sense to try and place it in the larger context of Hickman's overall story, as well as consider it as an individual story. After the cliffhanger ending last month, Hickman chooses to step away from the Foundation's battle with the parallel Reeds to provide some back-story on the chain of events that have allowed for the return of Black Bolt. Hickman covers events spanning millions of years in a dynamic but somewhat opaque way - we know what happened, but we aren't given enough to know what the connections are or why they have culminated in Black Bolt returning at this juncture. As a standalone piece, therefore, FF #6 isn't all that successful. A lot of interesting things happen, but without the context or character conflict to anchor them, I'm left wondering why it matters. To put it another way: throwing around big ideas is fine, but character is king, and without knowing what this will ultimately mean for the Foundation, or even for Black Bolt (who has always been something of a cipher), I don't know why I should care.

Of course, all of this will likely become clear as the arc continues, and I would expect that Hickman wouldn't spend an entire issue on this exposition without it being essential to our understanding of what's to come. It's difficult to review something so heavily dependent on what comes before and after, so what I will say is that some intriguing elements are introduced here that could provide some great payoffs if used effectively in subsequent issues.  

Tocchini and Mounts' art is effective in its storytelling - I had no trouble following what was happening - but the draftsmanship occasionally leaves something to be desired. Characters are identifiable but look unfinished (what happened to Crystal's nose in the splash on pages 2-3?) and some of the backgrounds aim for "evocative" but only hit "half-done". For an issue spanning such huge amounts of time and space, I was looking for something a little more visually grounded and concrete, to give a bit more weight to Hickman's cerebral narrative. That said, the descent into the Supreme Intelligence and subsequent "cleansing" are striking and well-executed.

Fantastic Four has always been more about exploring the realms of science fiction than it has about superhero action, and FF has only emphasized that truth. There isn't another book quite like it out there right now — certainly not from the Big Two. Conceptually, there's intelligence and ambition evident on every page of this issue; now we just need to see if those concepts will inform the story of the characters we care about in a meaningful way.

 

Terry Moore's How to Draw #1: Women


Written by Terry Moore


Art by Terry Moore


Published by Abstract Studio


Review by Shanna VanVolt

Terry Moore's How to Draw #1: Women
 is a pleasant surprise. There’s some nostalgia on my part, as I grew up with a lot of short books explaining how to draw different animals and people. Terry Moore's How to Draw #1: Women
 does a bang-up job at being the grown-up version of those little step-by-step bubble–based books. Moore isn’t trying to script figure formulas here so you can impress your friends by drawing a perfect Woody Woodpecker in their high-school yearbooks. Instead, Moore’s book succeeds in making you ponder your artistic subjects and why they should be drawn in certain ways. As an art professor of mine once put it: “Drawing is easy. Seeing is the hard part.” This book stresses the latter.

I was disappointed when I learned that ”How to Draw” was the name of the series and that “Women” would only be covered in the first issue. With all the comics I read weekly and the recent comic-inspired movies that have come out, it is nice to see some depictions of women with real character. Moore gives helpful hints in a lot of directions, to a point where I felt like he has even more wisdom on this specific subject that I would like to hear. Against all advice from my friends, I have never gotten around to reading his Strangers in Paradise, but the characters he sprinkles into this book may move it higher on my to-do list. Moore strips away all the pretenses of drawing the female form and gets straight to the point that their bodies are fundamentally built differently. How are we supposed to know the depths of death-defying acts women can perform if there is no recognition of how they are doing it?

Terry Moore's How to Draw #1: Women
 is a dialogue-heavy book and should only be ventured if you actually care to read and think about drawing. The illustrations that Moore includes depict his points wonderfully, but there are often no more than one or two drawings per page—some seemingly taken from former pencils, some created solely for this series. In that sense, it is an odd format for this undertaking: small, irregularly scheduled monthly-sized books. I rather liked the abruptness of the format, because the issue-size gives you time to delve deeply into a subject and then put the book down and think about it. When collected, there may be a tendency to just read through and not take a break to process the information. It is a unique venture that offers something short but pithy, whether local comic book stores will be open to stock it is another question, but I hope they do.

Moore’s grasp of drawing women is, of course, biased towards Moore’s own aesthetic. I would’ve liked him to have shown more specific details, such as: the curve of the hip, the shape of the chin, or the eyebrows that are helpful in making women characters diverge from the male form.  That said, with the lack of step-by-step instructions and pictures, he opens the reader up to do their own thinking and seeing. In the end, it is not about accurately drawing a woman, but about allowing the drawing of woman to have a personality. Some of my favorite pencilers-of-women—Jim Lee, Frank Cho, Paul Pope—are not sticklers for getting the proportions correct, but they definitely know how to draw females with fierce personalities that evolve out of a different body-type than men.

I am not generally a spouter of feminist rhetoric, but Terry Moore's How to Draw #1: Women
 did make me regret that opportunities are lost when comic artists try too hard to make a woman look like a woman (which is hard when most of them are men) and neglect the fact that they are supposed to also be a person. Even without a strong knowledge of Moore’s work, I found this issue genuinely thought provoking. Among other things, he points out here that sometimes you have to draw a character in an ugly-looking manner to get the expression across, letting the personality read as the character instead of just the form. I hope he can keep his next How to Draw free from rigid technical instruction while continuing to pursue understanding of what we are drawing and why.

 

’Breed III #3

Written and Illustrated by Jim Starlin

Published by Image Comics

Review by Deniz Cordell

The most curious, and wondrous thing about ’Breed III are the textures.  They are so rich and detailed, and lend such depth to the artwork, that there is the notion that were the reader to reach out to the book and touch one of the great granite walls depicted, that it would feel like a great granite wall – that the feathers of a vulture in flight would feel like the feathers of a vulture in flight; that the snozzberries would feel like snozzberries, and so forth.

Jim Starlin continues his to develop his wild fantasy world – and the juxtaposition of the harsh, fast-paced action with the wisecracking narration (filled with that greatest of qualities – hindsight) lends an energy and humor to the harsh action.  The art takes on an “illustration” quality in the elaborate fight-chase sequence that opens the issue – the emphasis is on the linework, the details in the figures, backgrounds, and color choices.  It’s a sequence that could easily be followed without the text boxes – the characters are given real physical presence, but the captions provide a counterpoint of characterization that ensures that the action means something, in addition to it being immaculately presented.   

Though at its core, the environs of this crazily constructed world have a rather monochromatic scheme, Starlin finds myriad shades within each color to use, lending visual variety among what may otherwise have been visually drab.  He uses blurs to great effect in creating a kinetic edge to his fighting – it really feels like objects are in motion, there’s nothing static about the poses he gives his characters.

The second half of the issue takes place in the “real world” – such as it exists in the universe of the story, and the switch works well – the momentum of the story never grinds to a halt to allow for an awkward transition – it merely happens.  Starlin continues to experiment with his page layouts, including one page that particularly stood out in terms of its stark minimalism – a twelve panel-page, mostly devoted to a standard nine-panel grid (the bottom three panels are but a fraction of the size of the top nine).  The action from panel to panel is totally static, with only the text in the center of each panel changing.  The integration of the textual and visual here is extremely well done, creating a sense of protracted time, a forced slow motion that creates a bigger impact when the constancy of the grid is broken at the very bottom of the page.

Even in the real world, the caption boxes provide a blackly humorous edge to what otherwise would be a better-than-average action story.  Starlin’s compositions work not only on their own per-panel terms, but create a potent overall effect when treated in the larger terms of a page.  His variety of angle choices – one scene in a holding cell is treated in a very cinematic fashion, opening with a “master shot” and then cutting between a variety of moody close ups, and the occasional Dutch angle.  The manner in which the angle choices work together to form a visually interesting, dramatically sound sequence, can be used as a primer for visual storytelling, and is one of the highlights of the issue.  Starlin has an incredible grasp of the visual elements that make up his story – his action is never incoherent – and it’s that, combined with the nonchalant bits of humor that make the book such a treat to read.

 

Memoir #4

Written by Ben McCool

Art by Nikki Cook

Published by Image Comics

Review by Deniz Cordell

I am reminded of something Orson Welles once told Peter Bogdanovich (as related by Bogdanovich in the special features on the Touch of Evil DVD.  If you’ve never seen Touch of Evil, stop reading this review, go watch it, then come back and continue reading this.  I’ll wait ‘til you get back).  In any event, Welles had noted that “Black and White was the actor’s friend,” and defied Bogdanovich to name a good performance that had been given in a color film.  This is my long-winded way of saying what others have most certainly pointed out about Memoir when discussing its previous three issues.  This is a series that is extremely well suited to its black and white backdrop – to put the series in color would distract and detract from the fever dream momentum and tone of the story.  Shadow, mood, and expression are everything in Nikki Cook’s art – as she brings us a diverse cast of unique people – each with their own postures and appearance – there are no cookie-cutter bodies here, and there is real care but into the settings of each scene, as well.

Ben McCool’s script is steeped in a dark mood; the emphasis here is placed on an ever-building tension as Trent makes one discovery after another.  There is a layer of ambiguity to these revelations, which works incredibly well, as Trent finds out all manner of things, but does not understand what all of these things he’s unearthing means, or how it relates to the strange spectral shadows that populate the town.  Tying everything together is a first person narration that elucidates and elaborates on Trent’s thought processes.  It veers in character from a terser, more hard-boiled aesthetic, to a more questing, morally cognizant viewpoint – as Trent delves internally to determine his own courses of action in the current situation: will he continue under his own aegis, or will he be subservient to his needs as a journalist and sensationalist?  It’s an interesting question that provides internal conflict, but also has a more universal import – pointing out the degree to which our occupations can define us.

On top of that, there is plenty of suspense and paranoia – and perhaps the approach isn’t too distant from Touch of Evil dealing as it does with shadowy figures, a convolution of the truth, and authority figures (in this case, the FBI) being the (visible) adversary, and a series of shadow-filled, bleak settings – as the protagonist finds himself on a search for the truth.  It is a series of well-assembled scenes, with an easily relatable protagonist.  The climax of the book takes him underground, and the final few pages create a nail-biting scenario that, upon its resolution, not only sets up the issue’s cliffhanger, but provides a genuine sense of relief.  It’s extremely well done all around, from the clever plotting to the strongly atmospheric art.

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