Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Capsule reviews: Comics from 12/22 and 12/29

(meant to have this up sooner - gotta love being sick with the crud)

Legion of Super-Heroes #8 (DC, $3.99, Paul Levitz, Yildiray Cinar, Daniel HDR) - Ah, at long last the tradition of letting the fans choose the Legion leader has returned.  Legion elections tend to be fun, if for no other reason than a sizable number of fans will vote for a particular character just to try to screw over the writer (okay, I'll admit it... I voted for Tyroc, a character Levitz had admitted he doesn't like, just to see what he would have done with him if the character was forced into the spotlight).  The actual result isn't as much of a plot-stopper if someone like Gates or Earth-Man had been elected, but given that the character who won was exiting the book an issue earlier, it's safe to say that some plot lines may have to be re-written a bit.  Still, this isn't Levitz's first time at the dance, so I'm sure he work things around without too much hassle.

Oh, and there's other stuff going on, as well.  The aftermath of Brande's assassination, and the ongoing battles with the Durlan assassins, form the crux of the issue.  There isn't really much else in terms of other plots or subplots showing up, which is somewhat odd; LSH is a title that pretty much demands long-term subplots, and Levitz has handled that sort of thing pretty well in the past.

The art by Cinar and HDR(?) is solid.  Not spectacular, perhaps, but all of the characters are visually distinctive (an important thing in a book with a cast this large), and the action flows smoothly enough.  There's a nicely framed cover by Cinar, as well.

Neonomicon #3 (of 4) (Avatar, $3.99, Alan Moore, Jacen Burrows) - Just in case you haven't heard of this title before, let me get the disclaimer out of the way... HOLY CRAP NOT FOR KIDS NOT FOR THE SQUEAMISH AND DEFINITELY NOT FOR THE EASILY OFFENDED.  Okay, that said, after last issue's horrific torment of agent Brears, this issue comes off as a little bit of a breather, before the conclusion next issue.  Oh, she's still in pretty dire straits, but not everything may be as it seems, and she just might have two unlikely allies to help her out when things come to a head.  Well, okay, one might not be an ally so much as someone playing their own game, which just happens to not be actively seeking to destroy her life in the process.  Given her current predicament, that's better than nothing. 

Moore is working the hell out of the meta-text on this one, which should surprise no one familiar with his work.  I also suspect he's having fun with Carcosa's lisp, possibly hiding some clues in plain sight.  Burrow's art really helps to sell all of this, with the weirdness (and a lot of playing with angles) grounded just enough to make it work.  A lesser artist could have easily screwed this one up, but Burrows knows when to pull the reins in, and when to cut loose.

Return of the Originals: Battle For L.A. (Moonstone, $9.95, CJ Henderson, Mark Sparacio) - Moonstone is trying to brand their various pulp characters as the 'Originals' (in the sense that these were often the original inspirations for many of the super-hero characters to follow), and this 84-page one-shot is meant to showcase several of these characters - the Phantom Detective, the Black Bat, Domino Lady, G-8, and Secret Agent X are the stars of this particular yarn, concerning a plot by Japanese forces late in WWII.

The layout is not that of the typical comic book, but rather uses text along the top and bottom thirds of the pages, with black-and-white artwork in the middle (readers of Moonstone's Spider: Judgment Knight will be on familiar ground).  Henderson's story isn't spectacular, but it is serviceable, with bonus points for some good characterization thrown into the mix.  Sparacio's art is quite nice; I'd like to see how he handles a more traditional comic book layout. 

Robert E. Howard's Savage Sword #1 (Dark Horse, $7.99, various writers and artists) - This is the first issue of an 80-page anthology series featuring various REH characters.  Page-wise, there's a lot of bang for the buck, but as with any anthology a lot will depend on how many of the individual stories work for you or not.

We lead off with part one of a three-part Conan story ("Conan and the Jewels of Hesterm"), by Paul Tobin and Wellington Alves.  It's decent enough, but there's little that distinguishes it as a Conan story, as opposed to any other sword-and-sorcery hero.  There is a good line from Conan, upon being asked by a tavern wench if he is a merchant. He responds, "I trade in lapses of attention, and practical lessons on how to protect one's wealth."  Heh.

Next is "John Silent: The Earthbound Dead" by Scott Allie and Ben Dewey.  Silent was a supporting character in one of REH's Solomon Kane stories, but here is the lead.  Unfortunately, this one isn't very engaging; a lot depends on how much you can accept this particular presentation of the character, which isn't terribly appealing.

Mark Finn gives us "Six Guns and Scimitars: the Wild West in the Middle East", an essay concerning REH's character El Borak, who will show up in future installments.  Finn does a good job of covering all the bases, giving us a hint of the kind of stories to follow.

"Dark Agnes: Storytelling" is the first of a two-parter by Marc Andreyko and Robert Atkins.  I've always liked Agnes as a character, whom REH only wrote twice if memory serves.  The art here doesn't work for me - I'd prefer something a little less cartoony, but the story does a good job of introducing the character.

Finally, we have a classic Bran Mak Morn story, "Worms of the Earth", by Roy Thomas and Barry-Windsor Smith, which appeared many moons ago back in the original Marvel run of Savage Sword of Conan.  This is easily the best story in the book; Thomas and Windsor-Smith are firing on all cylinders, adapting one of REH's best stories.  If you haven't seen this one before, it's easily worth the price of admission alone.

Jack of Fables #49 (DC/Vertigo, $2.99, Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges, Tony Akins) - All of our supporting characters begin to converge toward a mystical land called... Canada.  Manitoba, to be precise.  We get to see Jack Frost, the librarian sisters, Wicked John (who looks amusingly like Alan Moore at this point), and other Fables, as well as Jack-the-dragon and his one remaining friend Gary.  This is the penultimate issue of the series, and there's definitely a sense of finality as all of the pieces on the chess board come together.  Jack (the original) seems somewhat resigned to his fate, whatever that may be... but this is Jack, after all, so he may have a few surprises yet up his scaly sleeves.  Good writing (and humor) by Willingham and Sturges, and Akins (as usual) does a good job making all the different characters easily distinguishable from each other.

DMZ vol 1: On The Ground (DC/Vertigo, $9.99, Brian Wood, Riccardo Burchielli) - I picked this up on a whim (75% off the price will help do that), and I'm glad I did.  This trade paperback collects the first five issues of the comic book, setting up the basis for the ongoing story.  We start off five years into the second American Civil War, with Manhattan the demilitarized zone that the book's title alludes to.  The reason for the fighting isn't made clear, but that's probably because that's not really important to the story.  What is important is life inside the DMZ,  and how people continue to live with a war going on around them.  Our main character is Matt Roth, a naive photo-journalist intern who finds himself trapped inside the DMZ, and as the only journalist around, begins reporting on what life is like there, something that people outside of NY have no real concept of.  

Wood's wring is solid and grounded; he takes what probably shouldn't fly as a believable concept, and plays it just straight enough so that you're willing to buy into it.  Burchielli's art is gritty without becoming muddy.  The coloring is a bit too dark at times for my tastes; that's probably deliberate, given the setting, but it's still a minor detraction for me.

1 comment: