Archive for Watchmen

Batman #689

Posted in Batman, Comics, DC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 14th August, 2009 by Adam Redsell
Winick's new Batman is a joy to read.

Winick's new Batman is a joy to read.

“Long Shadows Part Two: New Day, New Knight”
Author: Judd Winick
Artist: Mark Bagley
Inker: Rob Hunter
Colorist: Ian Rannin
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher
Assistant Editor: Janelle Siegel
Editor: Mike Marts

I’ll be the first to admit that I absolutely hated Judd Winick’s run on Batman prior to Grant Morrison’s “Batman and Son” arc, but I have to hand it to him this time – I love what he’s done with the place since Bruce has gone.

As the title suggests, “New Day, New Knight” takes on a much lighter tone than we’re used to in a post-Miller Batman story, thanks in no small part to Dick Grayson’s circus sensibilities and Mark Bagley’s joyous artwork.  There are plenty of moments that brought a smile to my face, and they should do yours as well.  Batman #689 opens with a smile, as the new Batman busts up a gambling racket.  Granted, this particular incarnation of Batman is a little too talkative for my liking, but it’s good to see Dick finally revel in his mentor’s shoes.

Behind the curtain, Two-Face and Penguin posture themselves for control of Gotham’s underworld.  Two-Face’s camp has been filtering out Penguin’s plans to Batman through the appropriate channels, while Penguin forges dark alliances with some very dangerous people.  His days as a “legitimate businessman” could well be numbered as their cold war is brought to the boil.  I’ll be following this development with keen interest.

Despite this issue’s lighter tone, there’s plenty of room for an emotionally poignant exchange between Dick and Alfred.  I think we all miss Bruce, so I never get sick of these scenes.  Judd – through Dick – really cuts to the core of Batman’s butler, bringing out the human element in him and the rest of the cast, from Dick to Damian, even to Bruce  posthumously.  Winick emotionally grounds the story with a very simple and clever device.

The closing scene is reminiscent of Watchmen, as Batman races to extinguish a burning high-rise in his hovering Batmobile, no less.  He puts on such a splendid show, I half expected him to make coffee for the rescued residents a la Owlman.  It’s not all fun and games, though, as a classic rogue returns to ruin all of that.

Winick’s new Batman is a welcome departure from his old Batman.  It may be light-hearted, but it’s certainly not light on heart.

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.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century: 1910 #1

Posted in Comics, Knockabout, LXG, Top Shelf with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 25th May, 2009 by Adam Redsell
Alan Moore: The Musical

Alan Moore: The Musical

“What Keeps Mankind Alive?”
Author: Alan Moore
Artist: Kevin O’Neill
Letterer: Todd Klein
Colorist: Ben Dimagmaliw
Editor: Chris Staros

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century: 1910 #1 is Alan Moore: The Musical.  In his continuing experiments with the comic book form, Alan Moore has taken his trademark lyricism and cranked it to eleven, for better or worse.  As the first installment in this new era of LXG, it begins with apocalyptic visions of the future, and most of these are conveyed in song.  Moore fans will appreciate subtle references to his earlier work, including, but probably not restricted to Watchmen, From Hell and perhaps even Green Lantern.  They’re not necessary to your enjoyment of the story, but they serve as little easter eggs to enhance it for those that do.  The most obvious connections I made were to the League’s investigation into the Whitechapel slayings of 1888 (From Hell), and the prostitute’s prophetic Song of the Black Raider (Tales of the Black Freighter, Watchmen).

Unfortunately, I had a lot more trouble placing the characters in this incarnation of the League.  At first, the only familiar face was that of Mina Murray, who hadn’t aged a day since 1898.  Then there was Captain Nemo, on his death-bed.  The rest of the team weren’t familiar to me at all – Carnacki the ghost-hunter, Orlando the immortal hermaphrodite, and Raffles the master thief – the only one I could latch onto was Captain Nemo’s estranged daughter, Janni, who arrives in London under the name of Jenny Diver.  It wasn’t until I read Moore’s fake serial back-up “Minions of the Moon” (by ‘Josh Thomas’) that I realised Allan Quartermain Jr was in fact Allan Quartermain Sr, albeit after a dip in the Fountain of Youth.  I didn’t make this realisation earlier because his role in Century: 1910 is reduced to nothing more than a bit-part, which is a sad thing to this LXG fan.  I couldn’t ‘get’ who these characters were, and I was blaming myself for it.  I felt as though there was a gap in my knowledge  – admittedly, I hadn’t read all the appendices in Volume II, nor have I read The Black Dossier – but surely this couldn’t be expected of me, let alone any potential new readers.  Perhaps I was bringing too much baggage to the table, expecting a classic Quartermain/ Mina/Nemo League story, instead of a clean slate (here I am, still willing to blame myself before Moore).  Either way, for LXG fans, I’m almost inclined to recommend reading “Minions of the Moon” first to give yourself a bit of background.

Probably the most fleshed-out characters were Janni and Orlando.  Janni is a hard-headed woman, angered by her own father’s stubbornness, who runs [swims] away from home to escape from Nemo’s shadow.  She’d rather forge her own path in London’s shadow than assume her father’s mantle.  Orlando is casually detached by the trappings of timelessness, mysteriously devoid of the wisdom of experience or duality, always eager to brag of his/her brushes with fame, and concerned chiefly with the pursuit of base pleasures.  (In case you couldn’t tell, I didn’t particularly like Orlando, but he was an interesting character nonetheless.)

What was familiar, however, was Kevin O’Neill’s inextricable artwork.  O’Neill’s art is as integral to the League as Moore’s writing: no-one else is fit to draw it.  This really hits home when the Nautilus re-surfaces (for the fans).  He makes even the mundane streets of London seem interesting.  He gives every panel a dark secret.

Century: 1910 #1 opens with Carnacki’s dream visions of bloodshed on the waterfront and a secret cabal of magicians conspiring to conceive a Moonchild to usher in the Apocalypse.  Mina believes it may somehow be connected with the upcoming coronation of King George the Fifth.  From there, it only gets weirder, and having read “Minions of the Moon” at its conclusion, I suspect the weirdest chapters are yet to come.  Based on Moore’s statements and Top Shelf’s solicitations, this will be an epic of space and time.

As a first chapter, this is a real slow-burner, but I can’t help but feel this is going somewhere big.  LXG fans will be intrigued by this new entry, but newcomers should check out the first two volumes first.

Stephen King’s The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born Hardcover

Posted in Comics, Dark Tower, film, Marvel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 24th May, 2009 by Adam Redsell
Welcome to Stephen King's living, breathing world.

Welcome to Stephen King's living, breathing world.

Creative Director: Stephen King
Script: Peter David
Plot: Robin Furth
Artist: Jae Lee
Inker/Colorist: Richard Isanove
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Associate Editor: Nicole Boose
Editor: John Barber
Senior Editor: Ralph Macchio

Stephen King is no stranger to comic books.  I can confirm, for one thing, that he has at least read Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series.  Whether or not he read the whole thing, I can’t say for certain, but he definitely knew his stuff when writing the foreword to “Worlds’ End”.  What came through in King’s foreword was not only his deep respect for Neil Gaiman as an author, but also for the comic book medium itself.  It should, then, come as no surprise that King enlisted the services of two notable comic book artists to illustrate his long-running series and “magnum opus” The Dark Tower, Dave McKean and Bernie Wrightson.  Then I read King’s afterword to The Dark Tower, and discovered that he’s also read and loved Watchmen, Preacher, and V for Vendetta.  All of this bodes well for a Stephen King graphic novel.

The Dark Tower, as a comic book adaptation of a Stephen King novel, is a difficult book to review.  If it’s well-written (and it is), who gets the credit for it?  Stephen King, who wrote the original novels?  Peter David who wrote the scripts?  Or Robin Furth, who plotted the thing?  Well, if I had read the original novels, I’d be able to tell you!  But I haven’t, so I’m just going to have to thank King for the source material, Peter David for his speechcraft, and Robin Furth for his encyclopaedic knowledge of Mid-World (apparently he knows more about the world of Dark Tower than Stephen King himself!).  I’ve also been informed that The Gunslinger Born is a prequel after some fashion, beginning the story in chronological order for the first time, and so in many ways, this is new ground for the series.

Mid-World – the world of Dark Tower – is an interesting milieu of cultures.  The gunslingers are Old West, but their dialect is known as the High Speech.  The consistency in language really contributed to this feeling of a living, breathing world.  There are wizards and mystical orbs of power, but they still need oil supplies to refuel their World War I tanks.  The unusual placement of familiar objects is all at once surreal and fantastical, but with echoes of reality.  It feels as though Mid-World has always existed, and is simply being revealed to us bit by bit, rather than being built from the ground up.

The Gunslinger Born follows a pretty simple mythic structure.  A boy named Roland Deschain undergoes a rite of passage to become a man, then leaves his family and sets out on a perilous journey with his mates (or his ka-tet).  The gunslingers are an Arthurian Order, Roland falls in love with the damsel in distress, and all the while a dark lord is preparing his army.

The presentation of this comic is probably the most cinematic I have seen, so I have little doubt that this will work brilliantly as a feature film under J.J. Abrams’ care and attention.  The characters are beautifully drawn by artist Jae Lee – again, playing on that grounded surrealism – while Richard Isanove’s colours are moody and atmospheric.  My only qualm with the art, and indeed, the entire book is that the backgrounds are a little too samey from panel to panel.  One the one hand, it maintains this consistency of place and atmosphere, but still, it’s a little minimalistic given the stunning foreground detail, and it did wear me down eventually seeing only one background colour per page.  I know it’s cinematic, and I know it’s fantasy, but it’d be nice to have a hand-drawn background every once in a while.  Still, the book is gorgeous.

As someone who’s never made it through a Stephen King novel, I can honestly say this was an enjoyable read with an enticing world and interesting characters.  The Dark Tower is a great touching point for anyone who’s new to the medium and wants to read a story without the baggage of continuity.  It’s also a great place to start for Stephen King fans who want to gain an appreciation of graphic storytelling, to see what it can do with their favourite story.