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The Shade (2011 Series) #6

August 14, 2012 Leave a comment

June 16, 2012

Title: Las Cinco Esquinas

Writer: James Robinson
Art:
Javier Pulido
Letters:
Todd Klein
Colors:
Hilary Sycamore
Cover Art:
Tony Harris
Editor:
Wil Moss
Publisher:
DC Comics

With the Inquisitor cutting a bloody path through Spain, the Shade and La Sangre are joined by one of the local heroes, Montpellier, to try to hunt him down.

This isn’t really what I expected from James Robinson returning to the Shade. While there’s still plenty of cool weirdness (what with the vampires and all), it’s not as surreal as a lot of the previous Shade stories have been. It’s a more personal story, and a more straightforward one as well. None of these are bad things, it’s just a departure from what he’s done with the character in the past, and that may be turning off a few people.

One thing I really enjoy about the book is how he’s reaching out to some of the unexplored corners of the new DC Universe. With a few exceptions, most of the New 52 titles are still pretty America-centric, and I like seeing him go around Europe and show off some of the different characters that are in the DC toy box. I’d like to see more of Montpellier, and I’d read a whole miniseries of La Sangre by herself. (In fact, DC, if you’re reading, why not at least give her an arc in DC Universe Presents?)

Javier Pulido is really perfect for this story. His style isn’t like your typical superhero comic. It’s a little darker, a little more Mike Mignola-esque. That Hellboy vibe is perfectly suited for this title and the characters that we’re playing with here.

This halfway point helps show that the book is going into some different directions, but overall, I think that’s a good thing.

Rating: 8/10

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The Shade (2011 Series) #3

February 28, 2012 Leave a comment

February 18, 2012

Title: Dreamtime

Writer: James Robinson
Art:
Cully Hamner
Letters:
Todd Klein
Colors:
Dave McCaig
Cover Art:
Tony Harris
Editor:
Will Moss
Publisher:
DC Comics

To seek the mysterious Darnell Caldecott, to help further define himself, the Shade has traveled to Austrailia. After a brief encounter with local hero the Argonaut, Shade meets up with his old rival Diablo Blacksmith to help him find Caldecott – a quest that will take him to the depths of the Dreamtime.

This series is going in some odd directions, but James Robinson is definitely using it to expand the DC Universe. We meet some new characters here, and while neither of them have a huge part, they could easily lay in wait until they’re picked up by other writers, or by Robinson himself. Even though the Argonaut appears to be a bit of a parody, that’s how Lobo started too.

The Dreamtime stuff, the battle we see there, is the real meat of the issue, however, and it delivers well. Simply from a visual standpoint, it’s cool to see the Shade using his shadow powers to make himself a legitimate threat to a character that, physically, is a hell of a lot bigger than he is. On a less dramatic scale, the character’s personal journey is really being reflected in the story. The other characters don’t know what to make of the Shade – someone who historically was thought of as a villain but, in the past few years (DC time, nearly 20 years in the real world) has acted as a hero sometimes, but usually occupies a much grayer area. Even the Shade doesn’t really know how to classify himself anymore, and that’s one of the things that makes his story so compelling.

Cully Hamner’s artwork is cool, and Dave McCaig’s colors are vital to making this story work. The action takes place in the Austrailian outback, in desert terrain, in broad daylight. It’s not the Shade’s natural habitat. But it looks very good on the page and the contrast helps the story in turn.

This series is delivering for me, and big-time.

Rating: 8/10

Superman: Cover to Cover

July 17, 2011 Leave a comment

June 7, 2006

Quick Rating: Great

Over 270 of the most memorable Superman covers of all time!

Art: Alex Ross, Ed McGuinness, Matt Wagner, Neal Adams, Curt Swan, Joe Schuster, Walt Simonson, Leinil Francis Yu, Jim Lee, John Byrne and hundreds of the greatest Superman artists of all time
Commentary: Grant Morrison, Jeph Loeb, Mark Verheiden, Mark Waid, Elliot S! Maggin, Murphy Anderson, Al Plastino, Jim Mooney, Nick Cardy, Bryan Singer, Richard Donner, Jack Larson, Erica Durance and more
Collected Edition Editor: Robert Greenberger
Senior Art Director: Robbin Brosterman
Publisher: DC Comics

The follow-up to last year’s popular Batman: Cover to Cover, this handsome hardcover volume collects over 270 of the most memorable covers featuring Superman since the character’s first appearance back in Action Comics #1. Note that I say here “most memorable,” not “best” – while a great many of the covers included here are magnificent works of art (Alex Ross’s work on Superman: Peace on Earth and Kingdom Come #4, for example), many others aren’t quite as powerful from a purely aesthetic sense, but still deserve a place for honor for what they represent. Several covers from the Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane series are included to demonstrate how a bizarre cover, such as Superman standing by the graves of Lois, Lana Lang and Lori Lemaris, would entice a reader to grab the issue.

The book is divided up into several segments, each showcasing a different aspect of the man of steel – one section focuses on his relationship with Lois, another on the members of his extended family, one on Metropolis and one on Krypton, a section of patriotic covers and a section devoted entirely to his team-ups with other superheroes. The book is divided into over 20 such categories, and looking at the list it’s hard to think of any aspect of the character that isn’t covered somewhere.

In addition to the sections focusing on the different aspects of Superman, several times some of the writers, artists and other people most associated with Superman take a page to present their personal favorite Superman cover, and those covers are usually placed in the category they most belong. Classic artist Nick Cardy, for example, chooses his cover to Justice League of America #102, where Superman stands on a hilltop and announces that one of the assembled members of the Justice League and Justice Society must die to save the world. This powerful cover is, appropriately, placed in the “World’s Finest” chapter, which includes Superman’s great team-ups. Brandon Routh, who plays Clark and Superman in the upcoming Superman Returns film, chooses the simple but elegant Ron Frenz cover to Superman Vol. 2 #120 – a classic image of Superman bursting through chains with the entire cover colored green except for the S-shield. This is included in a section of covers selected for their clever and innovative graphic design qualities.

By the very nature of this project, not everyone will agree with the final covers selected. Everybody will have their own favorite covers that may not be included, and they’ll come across a few they may think less than deserving of inclusion – but the art by its very nature is selective. Most readers will be hard-pressed to argue this isn’t, overall, a very entertaining collection of iconic and eye-popping Superman images. This is a book that every Superman fan needs to have on his coffee table.

Rating: 9/10

Ex Machina #2

January 19, 2011 Leave a comment

July 18, 2004

Quick Rating: Average
Title: State of Emergency Chapter One

Mayor Mitchell Hundred faces a new foe… a painting.

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Pencils: Tony Harris
Inks: Tom Feister
Colors: J.D Mettler
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
Editor: Ben Abernathy
Cover Art: Tony Harris
Publisher: DC Comics/Wildstorm Signature Series

Last issue we got introduced to the Great Machine, a superhero with the power to control complex machinery. After stumbling around for a few years, he hangs up his mask, goes public and wins the mayorship of New York City. The first issue, to me, seemed to be part shock value and part political posturing, which is sure to make it a darling of a lot of critics, but doesn’t particularly endear it to me.

This issue Mitchell Hundred, now mayor of New York, faces the first crisis of his stewardship. It’s not any high-flying threat, though… it’s a much more benign crisis – an artist has created a scandalous piece of work and the wrath of the public is liable to come down on him.

I absolutely love Brian Vaughan’s work on Y: The Last Man, but I don’t like feeling like a comic is preaching to me. The first issue of this series tread that line very carefully. This isn’t isn’t as bad on that front, but it winds up committing a far more egregious crime: it’s kinda boring. Sure, the issue of using taxpayer money to fund offensive pieces of art is an important one worthy of debate, but it doesn’t make for a very good comic book. It isn’t easy to work a civics lesson into a comic book, but it could certainly have been done better than it was here.

Harris and Feister do a very good job with the art chores. They have a very nice (if all too brief) action sequence at the beginning, and manage to make each character distinct and unique. They also deserve a lot of credit for a fantastic, eye-popping cover that will get the attention of anybody passing by the comic book rack.

A great cover can only take you so far, though, and the story within just isn’t gripping enough to hold my attention. Vaughan has done a lot of really great storytelling. Just not, so far, in this series.

Rating: 5/10

Ex Machina #1

December 31, 2010 Leave a comment

June 12, 2004

Quick Rating: Average
Title: The Pilot

The world’s first superhero runs for political office… how will the world handle it?

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Pencils: Tony Harris
Inks: Tom Feister
Colors: J.D. Mettler
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
Editor: Ben Abernathy
Cover Art: Tony Harris & Tom Feister
Publisher: DC Comics/Wildstorm Signature Series

I’m going to go out on a limb and predict this title will become a critical darling the instant the first issue hits the stands, but frankly, it just leaves me feeling kind of flat. I’m a huge fan of Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man, but I’m never a fan of “soapbox” entertainment – not in television, not in movies, and not in comic books, and this title runs dangerously close to that line.

Mitchell Hundred has the startling power to talk to and control machines. He used this ability for a year as a masked superhero before deciding that any good he was doing was negligible. Hoping to do more good, Hundred unmasked and ran for – and won – the mayorship of New York City. This book bounces around quite a lot in time, from his childhood to some indistinct point in the future where he’s telling his story of tragedy and woe to an unseen off-panel companion. We see, at various points along the timeline, an assassination attempt, a blackmail attempt and the remnants of what may either be Mitchell’s greatest triumph or greatest failure, depending on your perspective.

Vaughan’s stories frequently take on political overtones, but this story draws the lines too starkly, verging on the preachy at some points. He also pulls in one of his now-infamous last-page twists, one that completely took me by surprise, but that’s mostly because the image you see is so striking, so startling for people in our real world that it takes advantage of a visceral gut reaction you can’t help but have. It’s either very clever or very tasteless, and frankly I can’t decide which it is at this point.

Helping this series along is some great art by Tony Harris and Tom Feister. They’ve been doing a lot of fantastic cover and interior art together over the past few years, from titles ranging from Fantastic Four to The Legion, and in this issue they paint a very realistic portrait of a superhero with Mitchell’s unique ability. Their designs are, for the most part, very utilitarian, very functional, and that’s what this book requires.

I’m not sold on this series, but I don’t hate it. I have no doubt that a large number of Vaughan’s fans will jump right into this issue and enjoy it. When you get right down to it, it may simply turn out to be a story that’s just not for me.

Rating: 5/10

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2006 Series) #3

October 28, 2010 Leave a comment

December 16, 2006

Quick Rating: Very Good
Title: Freddy’s War Part Three

Jade and her father take the battle to the Dreamscape!

Writer: Chuck Dixon
Pencils: Kevin West
Inks: Bob Almond
Colors: Tony Avina
Letters: Wes Abbott
Editor: Ben Abernathy
Cover Art: Tony Harris
Publisher: DC Comics/Wildstorm

Her brother dead, her best friend critical, Jade decides the time has come to take the fight to Freddy’s world. She’s not alone, though – this is one battle her father will join her in.

Chuck Dixon has really taken the Nightmare franchise in a unique direction in this story. The cliché in this series is for the adult characters to be ignorant or actively harmful, ignoring the Freddy problem until it’s too late. Jade’s dad not only believes her, not only decides to stand by her, but proves himself a capable warrior in the dream world. He and Jade take the fight straight to Freddy, showing the sort of fearlessness that saps his power. At the same time, Freddy isn’t neutered in this story – he’s a violent, brutal monster, in his scariest incarnation. The conclusion of this inaugural story arc really feels bittersweet, which is the happiest a Nightmare story can ever get, and that’s a good thing.

Dixon and the art team have done a fantastic job breathing life back into this franchise. This is a much more character-centered story than recent Nightmare comics, with a very strong, intelligent, driven story. The artwork, by Kevin West and Bob Almond, is equally strong – clean and clear, telling the story with just enough gore to get the point across effectively, not blowing their wad just because it’s a “mature readers” story like a lot of artists do. This isn’t a comic for little kids by any stretch, but nor is it so graphic that you have to worry about a kid getting nightmares (no pun intended) should he happen upon an issue while looking for Teen Titans Go!.

In the end, I’m highly impressed with Wildstorm’s new incarnation of this horror classic, and I’m anxious to see where the story will take us next.

Rating: 8/10

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2006 Series) #1

October 2, 2010 Leave a comment

October 7, 2006

Quick Rating: Very Good
Title: Freddy’s War Part One

The new girl on Elm Street is in for a Hell of a ride!

Writer: Chuck Dixon
Pencils: Kevin West
Inks: Bob Almond
Colors: Tony Avina
Letters: Wes Abbot
Editor: Ben Abernathy
Cover Art: Tony Harris, Jim Clark & J.D. Mettler
Publisher: DC Comics/Wildstorm

I read the recent Avatar Press Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th comics, and while they were okay, they really didn’t blow me away. It seemed that the creators behind those comics thought all you need for a successful horror franchise is buckets of blood, curse words and the occasional naked girl. And it’s true that all of those things are pretty much staples of the slasher genre, but is that what really makes for a good story? Not in my book.

Now those titles have jumped from Avatar to Wildstorm, and if this first issue of A Nightmare on Elm Street is any indication, it’s a change for the better. Chuck Dixon knows how to generate suspense, and puts those skills to use here in the story of Jade and Brad, the two new kids moving to the town of Springwood with their single father, a man who has never quite gotten over his wife’s death. Jade begins having horrifying dreams, and a new friend at school tells her about a local legend, that of a killer and child molester who was killed by a lynch mob of parents, then returned from the grave to exact his revenge.

Dixon doesn’t assume that the reader is already familiar with Freddy Krueger’s story (although it’s probably safe to assume that almost everyone who reads this comic will be), but the recap feels like a seamless part of the story, not gratuitous or dull at all. What’s more, he uses the good parts of Freddy – the sort of psychological horror aspect that sets him apart from the Jasons and Leatherfaces of the horror world – to base this story. He seems genuinely scary here, not the macabre clown he’s become in his films.

Kevin West does a really good job on the artwork. He’s got a nice, clean style with strong character designs, not going too overboard with the gore but giving us enough to get the point across. The color scheme is a little brighter than I would expect for a story of this nature, but that’s a minor quibble.

On the whole, this is a really strong launch for Wildstorm’s new line of New Line horror comics.

Rating: 8/10