IMAGE COMICS: PAST, PRESENT, FUTURE
In honor of today's Image Expo event in San Francisco, I'm going to review every Image comic I've read in the last week. This includes titles that were released last week, will be released this week, and are arriving in a store near you next week. I even read one that's not due out until the week after, but let's not get completely ahead of ourselves here...
Past: July 26 Releases:
"Sex" is a series that I think found its footing with its third issue. After a couple of issues of introducing characters and setting a tone, Joe Casey, Piotr Kowalski, Brad Simpson, and Rus Wooton hit their stride and started to advance the story and the themes of the series in issue #3. With issue #4, they're moving forward and having characters make moves based on what they learned in the last couple of issues. It's a middle issue of an on-going story, so it's not going to have an amazing finale moment or even a major twist. It is, indeed, a solid step forward for the series.
Simon starts to make amends and attempts to find a life for himself outside of his past superhero persona. Keenan ("Dishwasher. Mysterious. Ambitious") jumps into action. And The Old Man lives up to the title in longing for the good old days of superheroics.
The whole package ends with Joe Casey's four page letters column that sets a standard for what letters columns should try to do more of today: Be extremely personal. He's self-aware, but also deeply honest and probably a bit controversial. This month, we get this gem in the midst of a longer response about the perceived negativity of his letters column:
"I don't know if I have the high level of righteous fanboy rage that I used to have. It was great when I had it. I enjoyed the hell out of it, but at some point you have to loosen your grip a little bit."
I hope more internet comic fans learn that lesson someday. I know I have, for the most part. There are things that will still set me off into a rant here in Pipeline, but I've learned to ignore the more ridiculous and contrived flare-ups. I shake my head and move on. Eventually, I think all of those people embroiled in those flame wars will learn that lesson, too. There's more to life than internet flame wars and ticking people off for sport.
"Lazarus" #1 compares favorably to "Sex," of all series, due to its text pages in the back. Greg Rucka spends six pages detailing the development of the series and of its main character, complete with Michael Lark's development art. He cites the current events that inform the future world in which the series is set, and his plans for the book's future. (It's a longer series with a definite ending.) It's a great companion piece to the story, itself, without wallowing in the kind of self-congratulatory babbling that a lesser creator might have been subject to.
The story, itself, starts strongly and gives the reader just enough information to understand what's going on in this new world. (Money controls the world. It's a world of serfs and a small number of wealthy families controlling everything. This is the story of one family's protector, Forever.) I'm sure there's a lot more to it, but Rucka concentrates his focus enough to tell the story at hand while leaving enough for the reader's imagination to be piqued to want to see more. The issue is self-contained. There is a end. It's not just a hook to bring you back for issue #2 with a shocking cliffhanger. No, Rucka and Lark earn their reader's interest by creating an interesting world and telling a story that makes you think. I wish more creators would have the respect for their audience to do that.
"Clone" is a series that I don't think gets enough attention. The scripts from writers David Schulner, Aaron Ginsburg, and Wade McIntyre can be a bit over-the-top and silly in how seriously dramatic it gets while telling a story filled with cliche elements, yes. But they come together nicely. It's not the kind of book, I think, that would hold up to stringent critique. Just sit back and enjoy it for what it is, then move on.
In the end, it's the art of Juan Jose Ryp that takes center stage. His inking technique is excessive and at times makes the art look too busy for its own good, but it's a unique style in comics today that's a thrill to watch develop from month to month. Thankfully, his colorist, Andy Troy, keeps the colors bright and simple to highlight that art. Nothing gets lost in mud, even in scenes at night in the desert.
"Clone" #8 involves a Native American ceremony to miraculously heal Luke, his wife's peril back at the lab (warning: nakedness), and the last minute reveal of another of Luke's "brothers." As with "Sex," this is a middle issue of an on-going story. While it's new enough in the story arc that you could jump in and try to figure things out from here, it'll really only make total sense if you've been reading all along. There are a couple of satisfying scenes that work in isolation, but mostly a lot of on-going churn.
"Five Ghosts" #4 is nearly the end of the miniseries, though my interest faded fast. After an appealing first issue, successive issues felt too much like creators throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. They wanted to include all the genre tropes that they could, but it too often came at the expense of a cohesive story. With this issue, things are starting to pull back together, but I might be too far gone to come back. Maybe a reading of the entire five issue series once it's done will expose the structure of the story in a better way than the monthly grind did? We'll see.
"Jupiter's Legacy" #2 moves the series into a Shakespearian drama, with family double dealing, flawed people making bad decisions, and ultimate power potentially corrupting absolutely. It's less about what shocking imagery Mark Millar can conjure up for Frank Quitely to draw and more about what crazy things people strongly motivated will do. From the outside, it's obvious that some decisions are bad ideas and that some people are not going to be doing good things. To those inside the story, it's a logical progression based on motivations and external forces pushing on them.
The colors are still too dark and the tails on the word balloons are still oddly thin and curved, but overall I'm liking this series more after the second issue than the first. We can see the overall series conflict now clicking into place, and that gives me hope for the rest of it.
"The Bounce" #2 proves that as some series find their feet as they progress, others just never grab me. I'll read the next issue to be sure, but I'm just not the audience for this book. Stoner Superhero as a character type does nothing for me, even with Joe Casey selling it. Not too much happening in this second issue grabbed me anymore than in the first. David Messina's art is nice in a Terry Dodson meets Adam Hughes's coloring kind of way, but the story just isn't my thing.
The Present: July 3rd Releases
"Spawn" #233 features another cool Todd McFarlane cover. I don't care much for the insides of the book, to be honest, but I'm loving this run of covers. You shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but I wouldn't fault you for buying "Spawn" just for them.
"Satellite Sam" #1 is going for a specific look and feel and story that, honestly, I just don't get. I like a lot of what Matt Fraction does and some of what Howard Chaykin does. This just doesn't click for me. I'm not going to say it's bad or tell you to avoid it. It left me cold. I'll give the second issue a shot to see if I can work my way into it, but otherwise I'll pass.
"Five Weapons" #5 is a satisfying conclusion to Jimmie Robinson's miniseries. There's a lot more going on in this final issue than I had anticipated. Mysteries of the series that took a back seat to the main plot come back up and are quickly dealt with. If anything, the issue suffers from explaining so much stuff in so little space. Loose ends get tied up in exposition, often in the form of origin stories and the bits of shared history that unite the characters. These are the backgrounds and plot points that needed to fall like dominoes. They couldn't be stopped once started. It's nice to get so many answers.
If anything, it just makes Robinson's next move more challenging: the back cover proudly proclaims that the "Five Weapons" on-going series will begin in January. I'll miss it in the next six months, but I'll definitely be looking forward to seeing more, and which way Robinson will take the series. When the trade for this comes out, give it a chance. It's a very strong book.
"Thief of Thieves" #15 brings the Venice job back to the forefront, as Conrad prepares to lead his motley crew to Italy to pull off the heist he needs to save his son, Auggie [sic]. It's a surprisingly tense issue for a story in which so little happens. The script from Andy Diggle keeps the dialogue terse, which keeps the pages moving and gives the reader room to question a lot of what's going on. The story is a collection of untrustworthy people working together. Redmond isn't in a great position going in, and we know he has tricks up his sleeve that are waiting to be caught or played. Meanwhile, his ex-wife is drunkenly spilling secrets (I'm guessing on purpose), and everyone's favorite FBI agent is still obsessing.
This is how you set up a story. You can see the wheels at work in every single character's mind. There are games within games, and nothing happens incidentally or without motive. It's going to be a lot of fun watching this story progress, because the stakes have never been higher for Conrad.
Shawn Martinbrough's art is ridiculously beautiful, especially with the help of Felix Serrano's bold color choices. I couldn't imagine this book with anyone else drawing it. "Thief of Thieves" is another great example of how a series can maintain its momentum better with a singular artist behind it. It's Robert Kirkman's biggest and most obvious trick -- develop a series, maintain the consistency, and treat the art as an equal. The art must be as consistent as the story for the series to succeed. Also, notice how Kirkman doesn't start miniseries, generally speaking? He goes for on-going series and it's all or nothing. It succeeds more often than it fails. He has a pretty good track record.
"Invincible Universe" #4 makes Best Tiger into the Batman of the Invincible Universe. Over the course of the issue, he systematically wipes out the entire Guardians of the Globe team and its government backers. It's obvious all along that this is a made up story of some sort, but it's still enjoyable. Phil Hester sells it by making it entertaining. It's not about killing everyone one by one, but by out-thinking them and outperforming them. At the point in the issue where things start to feel a tad repetitive -- I pegged the moment at Pegasus' death, 12 pages in -- he switches things up and moves the book in another direction. By the time we get to the end, we see what it's all about, but we're still left with the slightest feeling of dread. I don't want to spoil it, but it's a good ending.
Todd Nauck excels in drawing what amounts to an all-issue action book with all your favorite colorful characters and costumes in various locations. It's a real highlight for his storytelling skills. For old school Nauck fans, he sneaks in a Mystery Science Theater 3000 reference onto the opening splash page. (Can we get a "NewMen" collection now, please, Rob Liefeld?)
"Chew" is a damned funny and entertaining book. If you haven't figured that out by now, starting at issue #35 is probably not going to do it. Just go back to issue #1 and start from there. The book has been consistently entertaining since Day One. It found its tone quickly and has been firing on all cylinders ever since. I like the direction it's moving in now, but it does require a certain knowledge of the history of the series to appreciate it. We're deep into the "mythology" here, though there are isolated laugh out loud funny moments that stand well on their own. Reviewing just about any page would be a spoiler at this point, so just believe me when I say there's lots of stuff in this issue that will appeal to long-time readers.
The Future: July 10th Releases
No spoilers. Just vagueness.
"The Walking Dead" #112 has two big double page splashes near the end. One's a close-up, and one's an extreme wide angle. They both hit hard, for very different reasons. "The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry," right? Whoa, Nellie!
Things are moving fast now, to the point where I'm wondering what they're going to announced today at Image Expo for the series. The teaser ad at the back of the book is teasing something for October, which should time out well to be the beginning of the next arc/trade paperback. I'm a little worried but also excited that we could be in for a major change in the status quo in the next couple of months. Keeping its readership on its toes, though, is something the series has always done well.
Negan's dialogue is so much fun to read quietly under your breath at the opposite end of the house where nobody can hear you. Can we get Sam Jackson to play him in the "Walking Dead" movie at the conclusion of the television series?
"Sheltered" #1 is the new miniseries from Ed Brisson, who last gave us the excellent time travel tale, "Comeback." This one is billed as a "Pre-Apocalyptic Tale," in which a group of people are preparing for the apocalypse and living as if it had already happened. And when you have a community living that far on the edge, you never know how people are going to react to bad events, or what secrets they might be keeping, or even where the true fissures in society are breaking. Sometimes, it's in the most unexpected place.
The first issue isn't a complete story, but it is a complete first act to the larger story. It ends with the events set into motion that are going to upset the characters and have them act out in ways that will make for a dramatic series. That works.
The art by Johnnie Christmas is clear and strong, helped by Shari Chankhamma's bright color scheme. Both art and colors are deceptively simple and sparse. Christmas does an excellent job with the more subtle moments, like when characters exchange a meaningful glance behind someone's back. He finds the right way to isolate the two and convey that emotion and that meaning very simply.
"Sheltered" is off to a good start.
"Savage Dragon" #189 forces me to admit that I'm lost sometimes. I've lost track of the myriad characters in this series and their many variations across multiple dimensions. There's a big chunk in the middle of this issue that I couldn't get too invested in, just because I was racking my brain trying to remember who was who and where they came from. It's another example, though, of the kind of deck clearing Erik Larsen has been doing in recent months.
The power of the issue comes in the scenes set in prison, where Dragon is on Death Row and many of his fellow inmates would happily make his stay a short one. But Dragon, when he needs to be, can be a shrewd and logical man. That leads to a couple of memorable moments in the issue, particularly on that last page. I love the last page.
Also out next week, in time for San Diego, you can get t-shirts named "Walking Dead Ezekiel Has A Tiger" or "Saga Lying Cat". I imagine both may be big sellers in the weeks ahead, as far as apparel goes.
PIPELINKS FOR 03 JULY 2013
- There has been an update to the Kickstarter page for the only such project I've backed so far, the Image Comics documentary from the folks at Sequart. They're promising a finished film this summer, with a preview at Comic-Con in a couple weeks. The end is, at last, near.
- Did you see the story this week of the performer who tragically fell to her death at the Cirque du Soleil production, "Ka"? Did that show name sound familiar to you? It should; Marvel did a comic based on the show. You can read issue #1 at that link, though I don't know if an issue #2 ever came out.
- Conan O'Brien visited E3, the video game convention, last month. From his experiences there, he pieced together a package based on all the same jokes he probably used last year at Comic-Con. The conventions may change, but the jokes never do. (Girls in costumes? Check. Virginal men? Check. Get a life? Check.)
- It's a big fall for Jeff Smith. Besides the Artist's Edition of "Bone: The Great Cow Race," we're also getting the color edition of "RASL". The first color pages are now available for your review. I like them. The art is easy to read. The colors are eye-catching without being distracting. There's some nice texturing bits that don't overwhelm your eye. It's a good start.
Is it better than black and white? I don't know. I still prefer "Bone" in the original black and white, but I will grant you that the colors on the Scholastic edition are as good as they come. Consider it a personal preference. The sad fact of the matter, though, is that there are people out there who won't read black and white books because they look "unfinished" to them. Remember, too, that people once hated movies in their original aspect ratio because of the black bars on their TV screens. Creative purity can be a tough thing to pull off, economically.
- TED is hopping on the Comic-Con bandwagon this year, with a series of videos about the real world implication of superpowers. Is a "TED X: Comic-Con" conference asking too much? There's probably no space in the city to put it on during that week.
- Have you been reading the "Scatterlands" webcomic at WarrenEllis.com? The last few strips (#44 - #50 or so) have had particularly stellar art from Jason Howard, completely unlike anything you've ever seen from him. The choice of angles and the movement in those panels is great. The whole thing is moving to its own domain soon, but it's never too late to catch up.
- There's a French commercial for the new "Asterix" book due out later this year. It's a silly commercial that, most notably, shows no art from the new art team. Argh! (Hat tip: Sean Kleefeld)