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Posts Tagged ‘Phil Balsman’

Sandman Presents Thessaly, Witch For Hire #4

July 12, 2012 Leave a comment

May 4, 2004

Quick Rating: Very Good
Title: The Last Full Measure (or What Are All These Dead Guys Doing in My Living Room?)

The Tharmic Null is getting closer, and Thessaly’s only chance for survival is the lovelorn ghost named Fetch.

Writer: Bill Willingham
Art: Shawn McManus
Colors: Pamela Rambo
Letters: Phil Balsman
Editor: Mariah Huehner
Cover Art: Tara McPherson
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo

As much as the third issue in this miniseries was a tour of Thessaly’s world, we still have new things to explore in this final chapter. She goes off to set free various creatures in her captivity or servitude in anticipation of her battle with the unstoppable Tharmic Null, then enters a battle armed with nothing but a clever twist on some pre-existing information. Surprisingly, there’s almost no action in this issue – the battle with the Null is pretty well glossed over, but there’s no sense of dissatisfaction either. Every character does exactly what you would expect him or her (or it) to do, even while throwing some surprises at you.

Having Thessaly release the monsters she’s captured, for example, is a brilliant piece of characterization on Willingham’s part. Believing she could die, this supposedly cold, stoic witch has a big enough heart not to want to leave these creatures to starvation, and at the same time, is sensible enough to protect the world from them once they’re loose. Fetch continues to be a charming scoundrel with a fair amount of courage as well, all fueled by his inexplicable love for Thessaly (if you were a composite ghost made up of the souls of hundreds of people all killed by the same woman, would you fall in love with her?). Willingham also uses a unique device to show the effects of the Null’s passing, how each world he touches on his path is beset by some tragedy.

The ending of the miniseries is somewhat bittersweet – bitter because it’s over and sweet because there’s a clear set-up for a third miniseries starring this character, one you can bet I’ll pull for because nobody has done as good a job with these Sandman spin-offs as Willingham has.

Shawn McManus has been with Thessaly since her introduction in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, and he continues to do fine work here. Riding the border between a horror comic and a cartoonish comedy, his art style compliments the story perfectly, and the cover painting of Tara McPherson is a perfect example of what a comic book cover should be. It gives us a glimpse of the story without giving too much away, and once you’re done reading you can look at it and think, “Ah, so that’s what she was getting at.”

I genuinely hate to see this miniseries come to a close, although at least I can still get a double dose of Willingham with Fables and Robin every month. In the meantime, I think I’m going to read this from the beginning and wait for the third series to be announced.

Rating: 8/10

The Authority: More Kev #2

June 21, 2012 Leave a comment

June 18, 2004

Quick Rating: Below Average
Title: The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers Part Two

A dip into Kev’s past tells us why Earth has been targeted for destruction.

Writer: Garth Ennis
Art: Glenn Fabry
Colors: David Baron
Letters: Phil Balsman
Editor: Ben Abernathy
Cover Art: Glenn Fabry
Publisher: DC Comics/Wildstorm Universe

Okay, let’s start by looking at the cover. Isn’t that baby tiger the cutest little thing you’ve ever seen?

Now keep going, because that’s the best thing about this issue. Garth Ennis, who reached brilliance with his Preacher series and continues to entertain with his Punisher tales, succumbs to the same trap that every Authority story I’ve ever read: shallow blood, sex and cursing for pure shock value.

With the rest of the team out of commission, Midnighter and Apollo turn to Kev to help them save the world from an alien invasion, but it turns out Kev may have a past with them as well. Through two flashback sequences which serve to give the book its requisite amounts of gore and kink, respectively, we find out why a dunderhead in Kev’s old unit may have inadvertently caused the downfall of humanity. (Naturally, the only character in the book to display any compassion at all turns out to be the idiot.)

Glenn Fabry’s artwork is fine considering what he has to work with. His troopers slagging through the jungle, his explosions and gunfights are just fine, and he does a very good job with the animal characters in the story. The superhero characters don’t have much to do in this issue except stand around and listen to Kev talk about himself, but they look just fine.

This is supposed superhero action with slasher movie blood and guts and teen sex movie jokes thrown as though they were redeeming qualities. Ennis is capable of much better than this. I don’t think I’ll ever understand what it is about The Authority that sucks talent into a black hole.

Rating: 4/10

The Monolith #2

June 5, 2012 Leave a comment

February 28, 2004

Quick Rating: Good
Title: Down in a Hole (Heart of Stone Part Two)

Princeton wants Alice and Tilt – and more secrets of the past are unearthed.

Writers: Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray
Art: Phil Winslade
Colors: Chris Chuckry
Letters: Phil Balsman
Editor: Joey Cavalieri
Cover Art: Phil Winslade
Publisher: DC Comics

Last issue Alice Cohen inherited the dusty old home of her grandmother only to learn that a creature, a powerful Golem, was walled up in the basement. This issue, she reads more of her grandmother’s diary, unearthing more of this fantastic creature’s origin. What she doesn’t know is that her drug dealer Princeton is after her and her best friend, Tilt, and he’s not coming for a friendly visit.

This is a good issue, but not as good as last month’s premiere. We open up with some scenes from the early career of the Monolith, which lets us know how his life really began, but doesn’t give us a tremendous amount of insight. The same goes for the present-day sequences. Last issue the thugs from Alice’s past resolved to go after her, and this issue they do so. It advances the plot, but not as much as one would like, and it’s hard to resist the temptation to compare this to the “decompressed” storytelling we see in books like Ultimate Spider-Man.

The characters are very interesting — Alice is by no means a standard protagonist for a superhero title, and the existence of the creature has the potential to make the most original superhero comic book in a very long time. It just feels like it’s taking us quite some time to get there, and I hope that the book manages to hold its readers long enough to reach the payoff.

Phil Winslade is great for this book. Alice has a look unlike pretty much any other character in comics, although if she doesn’t change those distinctive clothes of hers pretty soon they’re going to get kind of ripe. Visually, every scene works well, from the Golem’s eyes glowing in the shadows to Alice getting sick in the kitchen as she suffers withdrawl symptoms.

It’s also a brave choice to make our star a junkie going through withdrawl. While that’s not even a little unique in fiction, or even in comic books, it gives this book a real feel of someone who’s at the end of her rope, struggling to pull things together, and finding a giant man made of clay inhabited by the soul of her dead grandmother’s lover walled up in her basement doesn’t make things easier on her.

This is really an unusual title for DC Comics, and it’s one I find I’m quite interested in. It’ll be interesting to see if it can keep its momentum going.

Rating: 7/10

[2012 Note: The book did, most certainly, find its stride, and although it only lasted 12 issues, it’s one of those books that has gone down as an under appreciated classic. Image Comics is producing a hardcover of the first four issues, currently available for preorder. Go. Preorder it.]

Sandman Presents Thessaly: Witch For Hire #3

March 22, 2012 Leave a comment

April 11, 2004

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.

Rating: 8/10

Swamp Thing (2004 Series) #2

February 23, 2012 Leave a comment

April 10, 2004

Quick Rating: Fair
Title: Bad Seed Part Two

Tefé finds help in strange places, while the Swamp Thing declares his separation from humanity.

Writer: Andy Diggle
Art: Enrique Breccia
Colors: Martin Breccia
Letters: Phil Balsman
Editor: Will Dennis
Cover Art: Enrique Breccia
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo

As Tefé’s body literally gets up and walks out of the morgue, Swamp Thing and Abby share a tender little moment where he announces his disdain for humanity.

While I do enjoy this title more than Andy Diggle’s work on Losers, I have a similarly blasé reaction to it. There doesn’t seem to be anything exciting, anything that pops and makes me want to keep reading. The elemental who hates humankind scheme has been done and done and done some more, and Tefé’s plotline is just plain confusing. I do, however, give Diggle credit for bringing back an old character that was pretty well forgotten – that’s something I’m always in favor of.

Enrique Breccia’s artwork has both its high and low points. He does a fine job with the otherworldly elements like Swamp Thing himself or the reanimated corpse of Alex Hammond. His human characters don’t work as well, though, including a few police with blank faces that look like they were peeled right out of an old John Severin Mad comic book.

This is a book that will mostly appeal to old Swamp Thing fans, and while most people will find something or other to like, the casual reader probably won’t find enough to come back month after month, not necessarily because there’s anything wrong, but because there’s a lot of other stuff out there that’s a lot better.

Rating: 6/10

Legion of Super-Heroes (2005 Series) #4

December 8, 2011 Leave a comment

March 28, 2005

Quick Rating: Great

The Science Police make a play for the Legion – and one member holds the key.

Writer: Mark Waid
Co-Plot: Barry Kitson
Pencils: Leonard Kirk & Dave Gibbons
Inks: Mick Gray & Drew Geraci
Colors: Chris Blythe & Paul Mounts
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher & Phil Balsman
Editor: Stephen Wacker
Cover Art: Barry Kitson
Publisher: DC Comics

The United Planets finds a way to crack down on the “dangerous” Legion of Super-Heroes activity, and one unsuspecting member holds the key to the attack. This issue covers more of the team than usual, but the focus is very solidly on a few characters. Cosmic Boy is justifiably outraged at how a member of the team hid the past from them, and equally outraged that Brainiac 5 went along with it, and it all works well in character.

It’s hard to say much more without spoiling the secret of the Legionnaire who’s at the heart of this issue. Suffice it to say, it all comes together well, and furthers the overarching plot of this title, the mysterious “war” that seems to be approaching.

Filling in on the art chores is the always-welcome Leonard Kirk, who has almost as good a handle on this book and its characters as regular artist Barry Kitson. There’s a lot of action this issue, more than we’ve gotten used to seeing in this title, and he handles it all really, really well. The book, overall, amps up the level of intensity and the interest in this title, while still managing to serve up a complete story in a single issue.

In fact, they manage to serve up two complete stories. The second, with art by Dave Gibbons and Drew Geraci, is a quieter story about Karate Kid and Phantom Girl. As the Kid tries to get closer to the biggest heartbreaker in the Legion, Mark Waid explores a really interesting application of her power that, to my knowledge, has never been touched upon before. What makes this series work so well, I think, is the new twists Waid and Kitson have put on this title – the new twists on Phantom Girl, Colossal Boy, Chameleon and others has made this a really great reimagining of the series.

I’ve loved this book from the day the first new issue hit the stands. I still love it. This is one of the best periods the Legion has ever had.

Rating: 8/10

Richard Dragon #2

September 19, 2011 Leave a comment

June 29, 2004

Quick Rating: Good
Title: Enter the Dragon Part Two

Richard Dragon faces down his old enemies on the streets of Bludhaven.

Writer: Chuck Dixon
Pencils: Scott McDaniel
Inks: Andy Owens
Colors: Tony Avina
Letters: Phil Balsman
Editor: Michael Wright
Cover Art: Scott McDaniel & Andy Owens
Publisher: DC Comics

Nightwing fans, do not be fooled. While it’s always great to see Scott McDaniel penciling the former Boy Wonder, he makes little more than a cameo appearance in this issue, setting up a full-fledged guest-starring role next month. This issue is about Richard and Ben Turner going to Bludhaven to begin their war with the enemies who drew Richard out of retirement last issue.

This issue is a definite step up from issue one – there’s still plenty of action, and it’s all done well, but we get a little character development as well. Dixon serves up a flashback sequence that shows how Richard and Ben first met, as well as providing a little more insight into why our title character made himself into the warrior he is. It’s a well-done bit that has me liking the character a bit more.

That’s not why you buy this book, though, you buy it for the fights, and the Dixon/McDaniel team do some of the best street-level fighting sequences in comics today. We’ve got fists of fury, flying kicks and great marital arts moves that make this title what it is.

That said, I still feel like I should be liking this title a bit more than I do now. It’s good. It’s fun. But it’s not giving me that “zowie” feeling I want out of it. Perhaps as the first story arc continues, the book will continue in that direction, but right now it still kind of feels like “Nightwing-Lite” instead of having an identity of its own, and that’s exactly what it needs.

Rating: 7/10