Best Shots Comic Reviews: AVENGERS 1959, ACTION COMICS

Best Shots Comic Reviews

 

Avengers 1959 #1

Written by Howard Chaykin

Art by Howard Chaykin and Jesus Aburtov

Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

Click here for preview

Howard Chaykin's Avengers 1959 #1 is a book that should be tailor-made for the writer/artist but instead of being a return to form for him, this issue feels more like a generic Marvel comic, featuring cardboard characters and anonymous bad guys. In past work like Thrillkiller or Time2, Chaykin has shown how cool and dangerous this same time period could be. He made the retro cool in comics as those stories were so specifically tied into a time and a place and he has the perfect opportunity to do the same with Nick Fury and his mutt-like crew of operatives but instead of making this a comic book about 1959, this is an issue of standard superheroes in an flavorless time and city.

Avengers 1959 #1 begins with a celebration as Nick Fury toasts his team: Kraven, Namora, Sabretooth, Dominic Fortune, Bloodstone and Silver Sable. He quickly shows them together before breaking them apart for the rest of the issue as they all go their separate ways and all get individually ambushed. While this picks up from a recent New Avengers storyline, Chaykin starts adding some of his own flavor to it with a brief sequence featuring the Blonde Phantom tracking down Nazi war criminals in Latveria. In this scene, Chaykin gets to blend in his own idiosyncratic touch of sexiness and danger. The two pages with the Blonde Phantom feel the most like a Howard Chaykin comic book so it is disappointing to turn the page and return to Nick Fury and his cohorts and their bland adventures.

Beyond Blonde Phantom and possibly Nick Fury, it is difficult to figure out what any of the other characters add to this issue. Why are Namora and Kraven apparently a couple? What difference does it make that Sabretooth is part of Fury's team instead of Wolverine? Other than the fact that Wolverine is practically on every other team lately, there's nothing in this issue to distinguish what Sabretooth adds to the mix of characters in this book. Actually, there's very little to distinguish why any of the characters are doing together in this book and that includes the generic Marvel threat that is standing in for Nazis in this book. All of the characters in this book feel interchangeable because Chaykin hardly does anything with any of them. They have all of the character and intrigue of game pieces that Chaykin is moving around a board.

For some reason in the past few years, Chaykin has relied more and more on computer coloring to enhance his artwork. There are moments that it works, such as the opening panel of this issue, showing a rain-soaked Times Square. Jesus Aburtov's colors actually glow in the rain and do a wonderful job of completing Chaykin's image. Chaykin gives Aburtov plenty of room to let the colors complete the artwork but, in doing so, Chaykin seems less interested in that tightly packed-visual storytelling as he once embodied. His artwork isn't as dense, puzzling or interesting as it once was. It is not as inventive as his artwork has become codified over the past 10 years with inset panels, wide horizontal layouts and Photoshopped effects that he once accomplished by hand.

Marvel has a lot of Chaykin-influenced writers working on comics right now, like Brian Michael Bendis, Brian Wood, Matt Fraction and Jason Aaron. In certain pieces of those writer's works, you can see them trying to create their own American Flagg! so Marvel would seem to be a nice home right now for Chaykin to school them and show them that there is only one Howard Chaykin. On paper and in solicitations, Avengers 1959 #1 sounds like it should be the perfect showcase for Chaykin, playing to all of his storytelling strengths but it reads more like another creator doing their best attempt to create a Chaykin-esque comic book. It has almost all of the elements of a Chaykin story but those elements never come together in any interesting way. The characters and action never find that Chaykin zing that brings his best stories together. There's a distinct flavor to Chaykin's best works, but Avengers 1959 #1 tastes more like a standard Marvel comic instead of a Howard Chaykin book.

 

Action Comics #2

Written by Grant Morrison

Art by Rags Morales, Brent Anderson, Rick Bryant, and Brad Anderson

Lettering by Patrick Brosseau

Published by DC Comics

Review by Edward Kaye

‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Click here for preview

In recent years, Grant Morrison has become known for his non-linear narratives, as well as his complex and multi-layered plots. While I love this about Morrison’s work, I have to say that it’s pretty refreshing to see him playing it straight on the opening arc of his Action Comics run, and telling a fun and action packed story that is easily accessible to new readers.

While the story is set in the modern age, many aspects of the character are taken from the original 1930s stories. Much like the original Superman, this new one isn’t anywhere near as strong as he would later become, and instead of flying can only “leap tall buildings in a single bound." Not only that, but Morrison writes the character much closer to how Siegel originally cast him - as being a brash and impulsive young man, who acts without thinking, never considering the consequences. It’s a completely different character from the Superman that we’ve become accustomed to over the last few decades, and as a result feels like a breath of fresh air! Part of this is undoubtedly down to the fact that the character has had the weight of 70 years worth of continuity lifted off his shoulders, allowing Morrison to reinvent him and tell fresh stories, without having to worry about conflicting with anything previously established.

This second issue finds Superman in military custody, at the mercy of a group of scientists headed by Lex Luthor, who subject him to a number of brutal tests. It’s a pretty straightforward story, but contains a couple of interesting surprises near the end. While the plot may be simple, Morrison uses the issue to introduce readers to the comic’s cast, with some great character work that shows us the tough and obstinate nature of this new Superman, the ruthlessness of the new Luthor, and the determined spirit of Lois Lane. The issue contains no monologue at all, or any exposition, relying instead on well-written dialogue to move the issue forward, as well as the artwork. It’s very modern storytelling, and incredibly new reader-friendly.

Brent Anderson joins Rags Morales on penciling duties. The majority of the art in the issue is of a very high standard, with incredibly detailed linework and fantastic composition. Unfortunately though, there is an uneven quality to the art, which results in a number of weird looking scenes, featuring some very strange looking faces and anatomy. For example, there are a few panels where Lex’s facial features look to be crammed into the bottom half of his head, making him look a bit like an egg with a face. Another example would be that in some panels Lois is tall, thin and beautiful, but in a few other panels, she looks a lot like a female Shrek. This is a real shame, because as I mentioned, most of the penciled artwork is gorgeous.

Rick Bryant is the book’s inker, but is once again joined by Brent Anderson. There’s some interesting inking going on in this issue, with some creative use of hatching and cross-hatching to add textures to backgrounds and shadows, some nice use of Kirby Krackle, and highly effective use of force-lines, which make Superman’s actions look dynamic and energetic! Though once again, there are a few panels that look less than perfect, where figures look to have been inked too heavily, and end up looking flat and lifeless.

Brad Anderson colors the issue, and while it’s a perfectly acceptable looking color job, it’s a little bit unremarkable, and nothing about it really jumps out. My one comment would be that there is perhaps a little bit too much reliance upon computer-generated light effects, which look a bit fake in places.

The best-looking art in the book is the one-page splash of Superman in the electric chair. The linework here is perfect, and one gets a real sense of the torturous pain that Superman is enduring. At the same time, the inking brings the image to life and gives the scene a nice 3D quality. It’s actually a much better image than the one of the cover, which I thought was rather poor.

One final comment I have is that I was a bit disappointed to see this book priced at a $3.99, when there are only 20 pages of story. Admittedly, there are 8 pages of “bonus” material that were relatively interesting, but I begrudge having to spend an extra $1 for it, especially considering the fact that much of this content has already appeared for free on DC’s blog!

Storywise, Action Comics #2 is a really strong follow-up to the action packed debut issue, but unfortunately, the comic is let down a bit on the art front and it feels like some sacrifices were made in order to get the book out on time. 

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