Title: In Those Days
Writer: Bill Willingham
Art (Prologue): Rick Leonardi & Ron Randall
Art (A Delicate Balance): P. Craig Russell & Lovern Kindzierski
Art (A Magic Life): Zander Cannon & Jim Fern
Art (The Way of the World): Ramon Bachs & Ron Randall
Art (Porky Pining): Adam Hughes
Letters: Todd Klein
Colors: Lee Loughridge
Cover Art: Joao Roas
Editor: Shelly Bond
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo
One of the best things about Fables is that, even after all these years, Bill Willingham keeps finding ways to mix up the formula of the book. In-between longer stories, he often does one-off issues that may set the seeds for future storylines, or tie off past storylines, or maybe just stand on their own. This issue feels like it does at least two of those at once, as we see a magical travelling performer weave several short stories about Fables both new and familiar.
Among the stories, we see a tale of a faithless queen and the punishment she brings upon her kingdom, a sorcerer whose downfall led us to the background of our more prominent Fables, a sailing clan unaware of the true nature of their world, and a hysterical story of a porcupine with an inventive curse. Of the four, it’s the longest (Cannon and Fern’s “A Magic Life”) that seems least complete in and of itself, ending up as it does off to the sidelines of our regular cast. The text itself implies that this story may not be over yet as well, but it stops far short of promising a return. “A Delicate Balance” and “The Way of the World” are tied together in an interesting way and create a world I’d like to see the title return to one of these days. And “Porky Pining”… well, it’s just funny as anything, and it’s got some rare, gorgeous interior art by Adam Hughes.
It’s an offbeat issue, but it’s exactly the sort of thing that Fables needs once in a while. I’m glad that the title has the freedom to do things like this when the creators see fit.
Title: Infinite Oppenheimers
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Nick Pitarra
Letters: Rus Wooton
Colors: Cris Peter
Publisher: Image Comics
The Manhattan Project: the US think tank that helped develop the atomic bomb and win World War II. But what if there were more to it than that? What if the Project was just a cover for something even bigger – a chance for the greatest minds in the world to carry out virtually any sort of experiment the mind can conceive? And what if, like the project itself, not all of the minds involved were exactly what they appeared?
The Manhattan Projects, the new project by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra, starts out with an intriguing premise and then goes to a very different place. As a sort of alternate history project it starts with Oppenheimer – in real life one of the minds behind the Manhattan Project – and takes him to some very unexpected places. Well… unexpected before you start reading the book, anyway. I heard a lot about this issue’s big twist ending, and to be honest, it was a twist I suspected pretty early on.
That’s not to say it isn’t a really great issue, though. If it was nothing but the twist, there’d be no real reason to come back for issue two. The very concept is clever, original, and plump with potential to take the characters and their world into weird, unexplored, totally unique circumstances. That’s what has made Jonathan Hickman’s work on Fantastic Four so great, and it’s wonderful to see him bringing a similar sensibility to these other characters, who feel totally new despite a bit of familiarity that comes when you attempt any sort of alternate history project.
Nick Pitarra, Hickman’s partner on the recent The Red Wing miniseries, returns with this book as well. There’s only one real scene of sci-fi weirdness for him to illustrate, and he does it well, crafting robotic creatures that look time period appropriate and excitingly bizarre at the same time. Hopefully future installments will give him even more of a chance to branch out and cut loose.
It’s a promising beginning, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes in the future.
Title: A Princess of Mars
Based on the Works of: Edgar Rice Burroughs
Writer: Roger Langridge
Art: Filipe Andrade
Letters: Cory Petit
Colors: Sunny Gho, Arif Prianto, Benny Maulana & Sotocolor
Cover Art: Filipe Andrade & Skottie Young
Editor: Mark D. Beazley, Jennifer Grunwald, Jeff Youngquist
Publisher: Marvel Comics
In recent months, I’ve become quite a fan of all things related to Edgar Rice Burroughs’s John Carter character, so I decided to take a chance on the Marvel Comics adaptation of the first book in the series, A Princess of Mars. Despite being scripted by the great Roger Langridge with covers by the equally great Skottie Young, this collection of the series was, in fact, just okay for me.
Strictly taking it as an adaptation, it does its job. It tells the story of John Carter, ex-Confederate soldier who is mysteriously whisked away to the planet Mars and forced to struggle for his life. That struggle doesn’t really gain meaning other than survival until he meets the lovely Martian Princess Dejah Thoris, and his new world begins to become a home.
Langridge does a decent job with the adaptation, but there are some strange choices in here. Carter, for example, has a tendency to speak in more modern slang and contemporary dialogue than feels appropriate for the character, particularly having read the novels just a few weeks ago. The way the ending is condensed feels off as well – it’s actually similar to the movie, cutting down the time Carter spends on Barsoom drastically, and with less of a purpose than before. Some of the changes are easier to accept – the way Carter figures out where he is, and the almost too-cute combination to the atmosphere plant.
Filipe Andrade’s art is, similarly, okay. It tells the story, but feels a bit too blocky, too angular, and not quite as smooth or energetic as one would hope for this property. It probably doesn’t help that it’s compared here to Skottie Young’s covers – he’s one of the great fantasy artists of the day and the interior work just doesn’t live up to the stuff he does in his five cover sketches.
It’s okay, and I wouldn’t mind reading the other Barsoom novels adapted by this team, but it’s not the knockout that the Oz adaptations have been.
Wondering what Somebody’s First Comic Book is all about? The explanation is on this page!
TITLE: The Double-Or-Nothing Life of Superman
Writer: Cary Bates & Elliot S! Maggin
Art: Curt Swan & Bob Oksner
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Publisher: DC Comics
PRIOR KNOWLEDGE: Superman I know – but why is his suit empty? And who are these guys surrounding him?
IMPRESSIONS: Evidently, Superman’s next-door neighbor is an alien. But not a nice one, like Superman is. He’s the sort who is planning an invasion or something and has gone about it in a ridiculously roundabout way – somehow he’s found a way to remove Superman’s powers whenever he changes to Clark Kent. Superman has decided to test this out by spending an entire week only as Clark, then a week only as Superman. After his time is up, he’s about to decide on which life to stick with full-time (for some reason), when his alien adversary rounds up nine of – as Superman puts it, “the most fearsome super-villains [he’s] ever fought!” I don’t know about how fearsome they are. Lex Luthor, sure. The Parasite and Brainiac look pretty formidable too, and I’m sure I can understand why he’d be afraid of someone named Kryptonite Man. But we’ve got a dwarf in a derby hat called Mr. Mxyzptlk, a chubby guy in a plaid coat called the Prankster, a weirdo called the Toyman, a goofy cowboy called Terra-Man, and someone named Amalak who doesn’t do much but stand around looking purple. (A lot of Superman’s enemies seem dedicated to a purple-and-green color scheme for some reason. Five of the nine wear those colors exclusively, and only Toyman doesn’t have any of them at all.)
Anyway, Superman goes out to round up these guys in a fashion that comes so easily one must seriously question how tough the rest of the criminals in Metropolis are, if these are the most fearsome of the bunch. Then we get an explanation for Superman’s power loss that makes you wonder why the hell it took him three weeks to figure it out, and then he beats the alien using an even more convoluted series of events.
There’s a bold proclamation on the first page of the issue: “The greatest hero the world has ever known in his most magnificent adventure of all time!” I’m hoping this was mere hyperbole, because as far as adventures go, this wasn’t particularly magnificent. I understood this just fine. That didn’t make it less silly.
Title: Birds of Prey
Writer: Grant Morrison
Art: Chas Truog & Doug Hazlewood
Letters: John Costanza
Colors: Tatjana Wood
Cover Art: Brian Bolland
Editor: Karen Berger
Publisher: DC Comics
Ah, the Invasion! Crossover. I’d nearly forgotten this one. Back in 1988, a coalition of alien races banded together and invaded the Earth, concerned that their proliferation of superhumans may one day be a threat to the rest of the cosmos. In the “First Strike!” crossovers, such as this one, the Invasion hadn’t begun full-scale yet and many of the heroes didn’t realize quite what they were facing.
Fortunately, even when staring down the barrel of a company crossover, Grant Morrison finds a way to do something unorthodox. Animal Man faces off with a pair of invaders from Thanagar, home planet of Hawkman. Instead of battling a warrior, though, Animal Man is facing a self-styled “performance artist” who uses death as his canvas. It’s a weird, unique way to work the title character into the crossover without doing just another “superhero vs. alien invader” story. It’s still that at the core, of course, but the trappings are different enough to make it feel like a different sort of story, and that’s exactly what readers were hoping for.
Chas Truog and Doug Hazlewood provide pretty strong artwork here. The characters look like a part of the greater DC Universe, with styles and designs that fit in with other depictions of Thanagar and its culture of the time. There isn’t quite as much of a chance to cut loose with typical Animal Man-style weirdness as usual, but it’s okay to go a little more straightlaced once in a while.
This issue is definitely a pit stop, something that takes us off the larger path of the Animal Man arc for an issue, but it’s not a bad one. It’s nice to see something a bit more traditional for a little while.
3 Geeks: Slab Madness (3 Finger Prints)
By Rich Koslowski
I’ve been a fan of Rich Koslowski‘s 3 Geeks for about ten years now, ever since I stumbled across his one-shot, How to Pick Up Girls If You’re a Comic Book Geek. Adventures with the geeks have been few and far between, but I’ve always loved getting a new one. Last issue, Allen got in a shipment of comics he had graded and, hypnotized, constructs a dome out of the comics. As his friends arrived at his house to find out what happened, they were interrupted by a mysterious cabal of hooded men seeking out their Chosen One. This issue, the mysterious “Cee-Gee-Cee” organization reveals the history of their faith, and explains Allen’s place in the new order — unless his friends can get through to him. Koslowski‘s stories and characters never fail to sweep me up. He takes cliched stories that any comic book reader would recognize, then turns them around on the characters that represent the readers themselves, and in the process, makes them fresh, new, and funny. This is a fantastic issue — check it out.
Quick Rating: Very Good
Title: Something the Cat Dragged In (or An Even Bigger Quest Than in the Last Story)
A Tharmic Null has been sent to kill Thessaly – so she’s out to find out how to kill it first.
Writer: Bill Willingham
Art: Shawn McManus
Colors: Pamela Rambo
Letters: Phil Balsman
Editor: Mariah Huehner
Cover Art: Tara McPherson
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo
Vertigo’s best writer continues the story of the eternal witch, the ghost who loves her, and the monster that wants to kill her. Thessaly sets forth on a quest to find out how to kill the supposedly indestructible monster that Fetch unwittingly sent out to destroy her. The result is more or less a tour of Thessaly’s world, giving us a real sense of how she operates and how powerful she really is. As an added bonus, we get a quick visit from some of our old pals from The Dreaming.
The story itself, surprisingly, isn’t advanced a whole lot in this issue. Instead, we have an issue that focuses more on character and world development, and that’s just fine. Every page drips with imagination and the characters are exciting and amusing, even the nasty ones. In a four-issue miniseries, it would usually be superfluous to have an issue where very little happens. This didn’t feel that way at all.
Shawn McManus is an artist I feel could do so much more than he does – and I mean that in terms of quantity, because his quality is great. He’s got a nice, clean style that I’m a big fan of, something that works great in this fantasy series, but that could be applied equally well to superheroes, to horror, to comedy, or to just about any genre the big, wild world of comics can encompass.
Of all the Sandman miniseries we’ve gotten since that epic ended, I think this as been one of my favorites. Willingham’s contributions to the world of the Sandman are second only to Gaiman himself, and he’s carved a very nice corner for himself in these series. I hope to see a lot more of Thessaly in the future.
Assuming the Tharmic Null doesn’t get her, of course. After all, it’s never failed yet.