Archive for miniseries

Black Lightning: Year One #6 (of 6)

Posted in Black Lightning, Comics, DC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 27th May, 2009 by Adam Redsell
If only it was as straightforward as the cover.

If only the rest of it was as straightforward as the cover.

Author: Jen Van Meter
Artist: Cully Hamner
Letterer: Sal Cipriano
Colorist: Laura Martin
Editors: Rachel Gluckstern & Joan Hilty

This is the sixth and final chapter of Black Lightning’s origin story, and while this issue and the story as a whole was *good*, I have a major gripe with it that has detracted from my enjoyment of it.  I admire Van Meter’s attempt at parallel storytelling, but damn those narrative caption boxes get annoying by the sixth time around.  If you read the collected volume, do yourself a favour – read the caption boxes first from start to finish, then devote your attention to the rest of the story.  Instead of hitting us up front with all of the exposition in one go, Van Meter has attempted to spread it evenly across each panel.  The problem is, no real thought has been put into their distribution, and it’s impossible to maintain the narrative in your head in between dialogue.  Van Meter expects the reader to keep one foot [brain] in the past and the other foot [brain] in the present during the first two-thirds of this issue.  It just can’t be done.  The backstory interrupts the story at hand and vice versa.  Every single issue of this mini-series has been written in this fashion, and after six hits of it, I still find it a jarring experience and a clunky read.

What I believe Van Meter should have done was either begin with three issues of backstory followed by three issues of story (or even alternating between issues), or come up with an inventive way of putting all the exposition in one place.  Hollis Mason’s “Under the Hood” biography in Watchmen springs to mind.

As soon as the exposition is done with and Black Lightning’s thinking about the events at hand, it’s smooth sailing.  I just wished it was like that all the way through, which is why I recommend readers read the captions exclusively, and ignore them altogether on the second read-through.

Putting these issues aside (and you’re going to have to to enjoy it), the story is, at its core, a good one.  In essence, this is the story of Jefferson Pierce the man returning to Suicide Slum to break the spirit of defeat and despair that has strangled his hometown.  As the school principal, Pierce shows his students that they don’t need to accept mediocrity; that they don’t need to accept defeat.  As Black Lightning, Pierce shows his fellow citizens that they do not need to accept injustice and corruption.  This particular issue sees Black Lightning lead his students and the citizens in a final struggle against the corruption of their local government in league with the criminal organisation known as The One Hundred.  More on that later.

Whether or not you’ll enjoy this story depends on a few things:

  1. Are you interested in social reform?
  2. Do you believe the world of comics needs [conceptually] stronger black superheroes?
  3. Are you a young black person in need of a wholesome role model?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then Black Lightning is the strongest black role model you’re likely to find in superhero comics, and this book (along with Final Crisis: Submit and Final Crisis: Resist) is the best book I’ve read starring the character.

Artistically, Black Lightning: Year One is stylistically confident and cohesive across all six issues.  Cully Hamner’s style is best described as classic American cartooning with a dab of gritty realism.  It’s very well-drawn, but it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.  One could argue for more realism given the gritty subject matter, but I think this style helps incorporate the more supernatural elements of the story.

The final battle, I’d have to admit, is a little anti-climactic.  It felt as though Van Meter had run out of pages and needed to get it over with.  Had the mystery behind The One Hundred been preserved until this final issue, I think the impact could have been a lot stronger (although the revelation itself is strange and probably requires at least two issues to get used to).  That it all boiled down to superhero fisticuffs was also a little disappointing.

In case you couldn’t tell, I really did like this story deep down; there’s just a lot to look past in terms of execution.  If you’re a patient soul (or the next Malcolm X), and the positives I’ve mentioned appeal to your sensibilities, then certainly pick up issues 1 through 6 or the inevitable trade paperback.  If you’re a harsh bastard then save yourself the frustration and avoid.

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Wolverine TPB

Posted in Comics, Marvel, Wolverine with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 19th May, 2009 by Adam Redsell
Four parts brilliant to two parts...not-so-brilliant.

Four parts brilliant to two parts...not-so-brilliant.

Author: Chris Claremont
Artist: Frank Miller
Inker: Josef Rubinstein
Colorist: Glynis Wein & Lynn Varley
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Editor: Louise Jones
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter
Cover Artist: Frank Miller

Uncanny X-Men 172-173

Artist: Paul Smith
Inker: Bob Wiacek

Much like the recent Wolverine film, I recommend the first two-thirds of this trade paperback for the ideal Wolverine experience.  That is to say that I recommend reading the Wolverine mini-series penned and penciled by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, and not so much the issues of The Uncanny X-Men that succeed it.  While the additional issues may add to the perceived value of this collection, the drastic shift in tone, plot and pacing diminish the impact of the core 4-part story.  This shift can be attributed to two factors: the absence of Frank Miller, and the presence of the X-Men.

I can only conclude Frank Miller’s heavy involvement in the scripting of Wolverine, as the disparity in Claremont’s writing is striking.  Wolvie’s visceral tale of revenge and honour is not an easy act to follow, but the appearance of the X-Men is crude and garish by comparison.  The super-team feel like a cameo in their own book; an unwanted intrusion into Logan’s story.  I would recommend tracking down the mini-series alone if the price is right.  If this trade paperback is all you can find, then I implore you to stay your curiosity and stop reading when Miller stops drawing.  Not because Miller’s art is that much greater (though it is) – I honestly believe the issues that follow spoil the overall story.  I don’t know if that speaks to Logan’s character as the quintessential lone wolf, but I’ve still seen him operate effectively in well-written X-teams, and unfortunately this is not one of them.  Perhaps Claremont’s ongoing X-Men work was running on a tighter schedule and he was simply phoning it in.  Perhaps sales were flagging in the main book, and Wolverine’s re-introduction really was forced into the story, rather than the other way around.

Rogue’s character is particularly grating, both in dialogue and concept.  Case in point: Rogue casually mentions (in her irritating Southern accent) that she is half-alien, hence her immunity to poisons, and so of course she is the best candidate to help Logan on his mission!  Logan accepts her explanation as a matter of course, and is all of a sudden willing to put all his misgivings about her aside and take her on board(!).  Claremont infers that Wolvie employs good ol’ logical reasoning to arrive at this decision (“Hmmm…half-alien, immune to poisons…I guess you have a point”)!  On the back of a classic Japanese revenge tale, you can probably appreciate that I found this *a little* hard to swallow.  Also present is a pointless cameo of The Phoenix, Scott Summers’ new girlfriend who COINCIDENTALLY LOOKS EXACTLY LIKE JEAN GREY AND COINCIDENTALLY SURVIVED THE VERY SAME PLANE CRASH THAT JEAN GREY DIED IN – but it’s not Jean Grey; it couldn’t possibly be Jean Grey! X-fans curious as to the hallowed origins of Storm’s mohawk will also be pleased to know that its contrivance is explained herein!  See what I mean?  Well, I suppose you won’t until I elaborate on the mini-series itself.

Wolverine is the story of Logan’s battle for the heart of his ex-lover, Mariko.  Three obstacles lie in his path:

  1. Mariko’s father is Shingen Yashida, crimelord extraordinnaire.  His return to Japan necessitates:
  2. Her political marriage to an abusive Yakuza.
    And;
  3. Mariko is Japanese, Wolverine is a Gaijin (basically the n-word for white people, meaning ‘outsider’ or ‘foreigner’).

This means Wolvie has to try extra-hard to prove his worth.  That Lord Shingen is trying to kill him with his elite ninja force doesn’t help any.  To further complicate matters, maverick assassin Yukio also falls for Logan, despite being contracted to kill him.  Yukio proves to be an interesting character, surprisingly free-spirited for someone in the business of taking lives.  Unfortunately, this eccentricity is overplayed in Uncanny X-Men.  (To spare you the torture, Yukio has the dubious honour of inspiring Storm’s mohawk.)

Our (anti-?)hero’s position as an Westerner coming to grips with the Japanese ideology is well-placed from a writing perspective.  It would have been foolishness for Chris Claremont to claim mastery over a foreign culture.  As Claremont’s understanding increases, so too does Logan begin to embrace Japanese concepts of honour and duty.  Having read the very Japanese Ronin and Sin City, I can’t help but wonder whether this could have benefited from even more involvement from Frank Miller.  His artwork is cleaner and more academic than the style he’s become renowned for, but remains distinct and dynamic, especially during action scenes.

Without a doubt, Wolverine’s solo debut is a defining moment for the character.  Even his famous line “I’m the best at what I do” is coined here, but never overused; and the phrase feels fresher for knowing.  This is recommended reading for any comic reader.  Ignore the extras and you’ll be just fine.