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H-E-R-O #14

August 7, 2012 Leave a comment

March 8, 2004

Quick Rating: Very Good
Title: Ch-Ch-Changes Conclusion

Stuck in the body of Electro-Lass, what does a common construction worker do when his girlfriend is being held hostage and his best friend wants to marry him?

Writer: Will Pfeifer
Pencils: Leonard Kirk
Inks: Wade Von Grawbadger
Colors: JD Mettler
Letters: Ken Lopez
Editor: Peter Tomasi
Cover Art: John Van Fleet
Publisher: DC Comics

Trapped in the body of Electro-Lass after using (and promptly losing) the H-Device, the former burly construction worker goes through a roller-coaster in this issue. His best friend tells him he’s in love with him, his girlfriend is being held hostage by a couple of muggers he took out last issue, and he still can’t find the only thing that could give him his own body back.

This issue really shows off the sort of stories you can tell in a book like this with no regular cast, focusing instead on a concept that leaps from character to character. The way this story unfolds and concludes could probably never be done with a continuing character. It makes for an original read that really shouldn’t feel as original as it does.

Will Pfiefer doesn’t skimp on the major subplot of this title either, giving us a scene with the original device-wielder Robby Reed that promises to start tying together the various tales that this book has told since issue one.

It’s always a pleasure to see Leonard Kirk penciling a comic book, and it’s a shame that he doesn’t have a regular series at the moment. He’s one of the most underappreciated artists in comic books – he always has good characterization, dynamic poses and strong storytelling. It’s only due to a quirk of his own (which he freely admits) that he’s no longer penciling JSA. This book only whets my appetite and makes me want more. Together with Wade Von Grawbadger and JD Mettler, they do great work on a comic book bereft of supervillains and with only a few characters in spandex at all (although there are plenty of energy effects which are done very well).

This is a solid book that tells interesting superhero stories that you just couldn’t get anywhere else. The subplot with Robby promises to really kick things into high gear very soon – if you aren’t reading this title, why not? You’re just depriving yourself of one of the smartest superhero comic books out there.

Rating: 8/10

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Smallville #7

June 26, 2012 Leave a comment

March 13, 2004

Quick Rating: Good
Title: Chronicle & Parenthood

Chloe Sullivan gets a visitor that dredges up a case from the past.

Writer: Clint Carpenter
Pencils: Tom Derenick & Tom Grummett
Inks: Adam DeKraker & Kevin Conrad
Colors: Guy Major & Trish Mulvihill
Letters: Rob Leigh
Editor: Tom Palmer Jr.
Cover Art: John Van Fleet
Publisher: DC Comics

DC comics and the WB network begin a multimedia assault with a story that picks up a thread from a season one episode of Smallville, continues on the show’s website and will wrap up two months from now in the next issue of the comic book. If you’re going to do a story like that, this is the way to do it – “Chronicle” is a story that has a fairly satisfying ending to it, even if you don’t decide to log on to the website and check out how it continues, but the option to keep reading is there if you want it.

A man arrives on Chloe’s doorstep with new information about the mysterious “Level Three” that Luthorcorp moved out of Smallville under mysterious circumstances. Chloe and Clark go out to investigate. In a back-up story, Jonathan and Martha Kent get stranded on the side of the road due to a series of Clark-related mishaps. The backup is a quick funny story with a predictably sappy ending, but in the context of the television show it works fairly well.

It’s always a challenge, when adapting a TV show or movie, to draw characters that resemble the real actors without completely surrendering the storytelling needs of a comic book. Tom Derenick does a great job with this – his characters look enough like Allison Mack and Tom Welling to remind us that there is a TV show but he never sacrifices the conventions of comic storytelling. Tom Grummett isn’t quite as successful at this – his faces, especially John Schneider as Jonathan Kent, tend to be a bit over-detailed, but overall, the story looks all right.

This issue also includes a few text pieces – an article about visual effects on the program, the beginning of the season two episode guide and a weird “Voices From the Future” report that uses that annoying internet technique of substituting numbers for letters. You’re welcome to try to decipher it if you want – I got frustrated in two sentences.

This is a decent comic book, but I don’t think it gets used to its fullest potential. I’ve never seen an issue outside of comic book stores. This should be out there on magazine racks where kids and teenagers who watch the TV show can find it, read it and hopefully make the transition to other comic books. It’s time DC learned how better to market the best tool for grabbing new readers they currently have.

Rating: 7/10

The Matrix Comics Vol. 1

September 13, 2011 Leave a comment

April 29, 2006

Quick Rating: Very Good
Contains: Twelve short stories originally presented on the Matrix website.

A satisfying sampler of stories featuring both worlds of The Matrix.

Creators: Andy and Larry Wachowski
Editor: Spencer Lamm
Cover Art: Geof Darrow & Steve Skroce
Back Cover Art: Kaare Andrews
Publisher: Burlyman Entertainment

From the beginning of the The Matrix franchise, they’ve included original comic book stories on the website, done by some of the big names in both mainstream and independent comics, and for almost as long, fans have been clamoring for those stories to see print. This paperback collects four stories from the first three series of Matrix comics online, giving us a very satisfying sample of stories that flesh out both the “Real World” and the computer world of the films.

Bits and Pieces of Information
Writers: Andy and Larry Wachowski
Art: Geof Darrow
Fittingly, the first story in the book is written by the creators of The Matrix, with art from the primary conceptual designer of the trilogy. This story, which ties nicely into the “Second Renaissance” film on The Animatrix DVD, is the story of the robot B1-66ER, who murdered his owner and was the catalyst for the first war between humans and machines. This story gives us a little insight into how the machines, created to serve mankind, were driven to a bloody battle against them. Darrow’s design for the robot is very retro, very evocative of the sort of design you would see in a 1950s B-movie or an Isaac Asimov story, which makes the brutality of its actions all the more chilling.

Sweating the Small Stuff
Story and Art: Bill Sienkiewicz
Sienkiewicz, a real comic book legend, does one of the most visually striking passages in the book. His scattershot, almost schizophrenic style is perfect for this brief story about a man slowly waking up to the reality of The Matrix. Unfortunately, the story isn’t too innovative – we saw Neo’s awakening in the first film, and although he doesn’t appear anywhere in this book, this story echoes his a little too much. It doesn’t offer us quite enough in terms of adding to the world the Wachowskis created.

A Life Less Empty
Story and Art: Ted McKeever
This story is almost the converse of “Sweating the Small Stuff” – it has a starting point very similar to the movie and takes it in a completely different direction. In this story we meet a woman who, like Neo, tracked down the hacker named Morpheus and was presented with a choice – a blue pill or a red pill. This woman, however, made a different choice, and here she deals with the ramifications of that. McKeever has a stark, angular art style that gives this story a real air of despair, perfect for this tormented woman who is forced to live with the knowledge that she rejected a chance at a greater truth than the world she knows will ever give her. This is one of my favorite stories in the collection.

Goliath
Writer: Neil Gaiman
Art: Bill Sienkiewicz & Gregory Ruth
Sandman impresario Neil Gaiman makes a unique contribution to this volume in that he did not write a comic book story. Gaiman instead wrote short prose story with a few scattered illustrations by Sienkiewicz and Ruth. Gaiman delves into a facet of The Matrix that is never fully explored in the films – the nature of time in the Matrix. A man is forced to live multiple lives in the computer world, all leading up to a mission in a Real World he doesn’t even know exists. This is a great piece, and it really stands on his own, even outside of the context of the films.

Burning Hope
Story and Art: John Van Fleet
This was one of the less memorable stories in the book. Van Fleet tells the first story to take real advantage of both worlds in this universe, computer and real, but he wastes it on a fairly generic story of a crew chasing down a person still trapped in the Matrix in the hopes of extracting him. There’s a twist at the ending that gets back to the basic premise of the films, that reality is not always what we think it is, but that point is driven home far better in other stories, not to mention the films themselves.

Butterfly
Story and Art: Dave Gibbons
The famed artist of Watchmen, and the writer of a recent very good run on Captain America, wears both hats in this brief, largely wordless and extremely effective tale that contrasts a man running from Agents in the computer world with a man still jacked into the Matrix living a fairly contented life – until the Agents crash in on it. Without even knowing what’s going on, the man is faced with a choice – the other great theme of these movies. The choice he makes defines both the story and, I like to think, most humans as a whole.

A Sword of a Different Color
Story and Art: Troy Nixey
Colors: Dave McCaig
Nixey has a really good visual style in his story, it almost looks like he could have clipped frames from an Animatrix short. The story is a fairly common one, the old “wounded soldier tells his story” formula, but he handles it well. McCaig’s colors leap out. This story looks better than it reads, but it still reads okay.

Get It?
Story and Art: Peter Bagge
Bagge is probably on of the last people I would have expected to contribute to a Matrix comic, with the twisted, cartoony style he always uses, but he tells a really funny tale that I’m pretty sure most of us can relate to – a group of friends walk out of the first Matrix movie, two of them trying to explain the film to a third that just didn’t get it. It’s really short – only three pages – but really funny.

There Are No Flowers in the Real World
Story and Art: David Lapham
Not being a regular reader on the website, this is the only story in this collection I had read before, since Lapham included it as a flip book with last year’s Free Comic Book Day edition of his own title, Stray Bullets. A man is trapped in the Matrix after his ship is brought down and struggles to deal with injuries his real body sustained, but that don’t have to constrain his computer-generated body if he can think past them… and if he wants to escape the Agents, he’ll have to. It’s a really good, solid story that plays with most of the toys the Wachowskis created very well.

The Miller’s Tale
Story and Art: Paul Chadwick
Chadwick, of Concrete fame, tells one of the better stories in this collection. Shortly after the One before Neo freed the first humans from the Matrix, a man named Geoffrey became obsessed with the idea of finding and producing wheat, of bringing humanity real bread to eat again instead of the false loaves they had always eaten in the computer world. It’s a good, classic science fiction tale and, in the end, manages to add a bit to one of the main characters of the films.

Artistic Freedom
Story: Ryder Windham
Art: Kilian Plunkett
Colors: Jeromy Cox
In one of the better stories, an artist begins to craft horrifying sculptures of giant, squid-like metal monsters she believes she saw once in a dream. People who see the sculptures are growing terrified, having nightmares, and an oddly familiar little boy takes it upon himself to teach her a lesson. This story is as much a statement about modern art as it is about the movies, and it works really, really well.

Hunters and Collectors
Story and Art: Gregory Ruth
In the final story in this book, Ruth shows what happens when a man in the Real World gains a Captain Ahab-like obsession with the murderous sentinels that plague humans in the war. The artwork here is dark and bleak and fits perfectly.

Overall, this book reminds me more of the Animatrix DVD more than any of the main films – it is a series of short tales, some little more than vignettes, that exist to explore the world of The Matrix without really changing or advancing anything important to the films If you like the short animated films, and I do, I think you’ll like this book as well.

Rating: 8/10

H-E-R-O #11

November 9, 2010 1 comment

December 7, 2003

Quick Rating: Very Good
Title: The Great Leap Forward

A self-contained issue tells the story of the first bearer of the H-Device

Writer: Will Pfeifer
Art: Kano
Colors: JD Mettler
Letters: Ken Lopez
Editor: Peter Tomasi
Cover Art: John Van Fleet
Publisher: DC Comics

The most interesting aspect of this title for me is the prospect of, after all these years, finally having a story behind the H-Device. We get a bit of a clue in this issue that spirals back in time 50,000 years to a group of cavemen who find a strange glowing device that comes crashing to Earth. Archeologists through the centuries find the remnants of the power a caveman is granted, without ever grasping the true significance of their finds.

This is a quick read, as there is no English in the long prehistoric segments (caveman dialogue seems limited to “Oot” and “Hurm”), but it’s a good read nonetheless. This is a consistently good title that doesn’t get quite the recognition it deserves. Since issue one it’s been an exploration of superheroism. With this issue it becomes an exploration of superpowers throughout history.

Kano may not be a comic book superstar artist, but he’s hands-down the right artist for this title. He has a slightly more iconic style than you average superhero artist, but it works really well on this title, and on this issue in particular. The cavemen look very good, and the later museum scenes work equally well.

For a book like this, which is increasingly hinging on the mystery of the H-Device, it’s nice to take a look at the backstory once in a while. I’m left with just one question, though… when the Device crashed to Earth in 48,000 B.C., why were the letters in English?

Another mystery to ponder, Mr. Pfeifer. Thanks a lot.

Rating: 8/10

Batman and Poison Ivy: Cast Shadows #1

November 2, 2010 Leave a comment

March 30, 2004

Quick Rating: Very Good
Title: Cast Shadows

When a new tower blocks the sunlight to Poison Ivy’s cell in Arkham Asylum, somebody must be made to pay.

Writer: Ann Nocenti
Art: John Van Fleet
Letters: Todd Klein
Editor: Joey Cavalieri
Cover Art: John Van Fleet
Publisher: DC Comics

This issue marks something of a return to comics for Ann Nocenti, who has been out for a while. (Honestly, I can’t remember seeing anything out of her since her days on Daredevil.) Fortunately, she returns in style in this solid issue about Batman trying to solve a mystery that, to the reader, clearly seems to be the work of Poison Ivy – only to ask her help. The men responsible for building the new tower, a monolith that blots out the sun and threatens the plants Ivy is trying to keep in her cell, begin to drop dead from a mysterious toxin. For the reader, the mystery seems pretty cut and dried already. Fortunately, there’s more to it than that.

Like I said, this is a solid Batman story, although it’s not really anything spectacular. It’s not something that will make lasting changes to the mythos of the character, although Ivy ends up a little more fleshed out, a little more human, and that makes for a satisfying read.

John Van Fleet is a name I mostly know from great cover art, particularly on H-E-R-O. He carries the entire 64 pages of this issue well, with a very bizarre style that suits the madness of the Arkham inmates but doesn’t sacrifice straightforward storytelling. At several points he uses photo collages both for backgrounds and for characters, taking a technique Jack Kirby pioneered to the next level, and he gives the whole book a feeling that it is one step removed from reality.

If anything will hurt this comic book, it’s the price point. $6.95, even for a 64-page prestige format comic with no ads, is just more than a lot of people will be willing to pay. I know, I know, rising paper costs and all that, but people will still think they’re shelling out seven dollars for a done-in-one story that won’t impact regular continuity and brush it aside. This book would have been better served if it had been expanded to 96 pages, given a $10 price tag and released as an original graphic novel.

The format and price point are not the fault of the creative team, however. Nocenti and Van Fleet do a fine job on this issue, and fans of the two title characters, especially Poison Ivy, won’t want to miss it. It’s just a shame that the high price will likely keep it out of the hands of others who would enjoy it too.

Rating: 8/10