Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What I've Been Reading - Comics of April 2010

When the April solicits rolled out, I was struck by the number of both singles issues and expensive hardcovers that were offered that I wanted to buy. Buying single issues is kind of inconvenient for me and expensive hardcovers are, well, expensive. Trying to come up with a way to get the comics I wanted at the lowest price I could in order to get all of the ones I wanted, I remembered that I could pre-order them with an on-line mail order service and get both the single issues and hardcovers from the same place with a nice discount and have them delivered to me.

While the number of comics I got for the month was far less than what I originally ordered due to things like advancing solicitations and delays, I still got a nice selection of comics that were very enjoyable. Hit the jump to see what I got for the month of April and what I thought about them.

Written by Eric Calderon and Samuel L. Jackson
Art by Jeremy Rock

I figured that, at some point, I should read a comic simply because it was written or created by a celebrity. Why? Well, why not? Actually, I think it's one of those types of comics that anyone who is interested in comics should read at least once. Just like everyone interested in comics should read at least one manga, one literary/art comic, one adaption of a story from another type of media, etc, etc, etc. And, if I'm going to read a comic by a celebrity, why not one by Samuel L. Jackson?

Normally, I'm kind of hostile to celebrity comics since they usually seem like vanity projects that the creator, usually an actor, can use as a movie pitch but this series is co-written by Eric Calderon, who was one of the writers on Afro Samurai: Resurrection (which I enjoyed), so I figured, even if this wasn't particularly great, it wouldn't outright suck either.

Overall, this is a thoroughly average comic, from the writing to the art and everything in between. The issue is all set up, and while done well enough, is not particularly compelling. In fact, all of it pretty much fits into one standard cliche or trope in one way or another. For example, the main character, Mulberry, is pretty much a typical Jackson character so if you've seen enough of Jackson's movies, you've seen the character before. None of it is particularly bad though, just pretty generic and uninspired.

If Cold Space were a movie, it would be the kind of movie that you'd watch on a Saturday afternoon on cable when you were bored and didn't feel like doing anything else. It's the kind of entertaining that you enjoy while, in this case, reading the comic but it leaves no impression on you as soon as you are finished with it. This could change as the series goes on, obviously, but, right now, its just a competently executed comic with nothing you haven't seen before. I'm going to stick with the series though, despite the $4 price tag, since it is only four issues long. Hopefully it will get better as it goes on.

Verdict - Check It.

Written by Shirow Miwa
Art by Shirow Miwa
Adapted by Katherine Schilling

Back story is the key word for this volume. Miwa reveals more about Heine's history as a well touching on Badou's some more as well. The biggest, and most surprising, reveal was about the Bishop and how he fits into the whole story. On the one hand, it does answer some questions about the character that have been brought up in the previous volumes, such as why he was helping Heine and Badou, but, on the other hand, it also means the story might become overly convoluted. It's one of those "everything is connected" type of reveals that, if not handled correctly, can just bring a story to a grinding halt with all of the impossible coincidences that are needed to make the story work. So far, Miwa has done a good job of keeping the plot streamlined and straightforward with some nice twists and turns so it's not something I'm overly concerned about but it is still something that could be problematic in future volumes.

As for the rest of the volume, it's as good as the previous. Mihai actually shows up in the story, his absence was one of my problems with the previous volume, but he's only around for a gunfight. Miwa continues to bring the characters into a more cohesive group and there is some nice comedy in the volume as well. The plot and story remain on the lighter side but the action still does a good job of making up for that while also working well with the story so that it never overpowers or undercuts it. His action sequences still have a wonderful fluidity to them, though his art still has a rough and unfinished look to it at times but it works better in this volume since it feels more like a stylistic choice rather than looking like he was rushed. All in all, Miwa continues with what made the previous three volumes work well and there are no major missteps.

Verdict - Buy It.

Interested in Dogs: Bullets & Carnage, Vol. 3? Buy it on Amazon.com and help support the Weekly Crisis!

Written by Jane Yolan
Art by Mike Cavallaro

I haven't read that many fantasy comics so Foiled caught my eye and, since it was by First Second, a publisher I've always heard good things about, I picked it up because I'm always on the look out for something new to read. Foiled ended up being a very enjoyable read even if there were some problems with it.

The biggest problem with the story is that it all feels like set up one way or another. The first half of the book sets up the second half which itself sets up the next book in the series. This is not to say that the story is anything but set up but that is the overall feeling that I got from the book and made the story seem a little hollow as a result. Surprisingly, this doesn't really bring the book down that much either since there is other stuff to balance it out, mostly the main character and the art.

The main character, Aliera Carstairs, definitely carries the comic but that's a good thing as she is a very engaging and well rounded character. Although she feels like the only character in the story at times, given how much of the story focuses on her, Yolan writes her in an interesting enough manner so that it doesn't matter. Yolan also has her play off the few supporting characters in interesting ways as well, especially Avery Castle, who is the only other character to get anywhere near as much page time as Aliera. Avery is the story's antagonist  and, as already mentioned, he plays off Aliera well. There is a lot of great humor in the book as well, which is helped by Mike Cavallaro's wonderful art. He has a fantastic cartooning style and there is a highly articulate quality to the facial expressions and body language he uses in his character work. Even though there are some problems with the story, the strong characters and artwork more than make up for it and I'll definitely pick up the next volume because of them.

Verdict - Buy It.

Interested in Foiled? Buy it on Amazon.com and help support the Weekly Crisis!

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Sean Murphy

This issue of Joe the Barbarian is just like the last three - very good. The story still remains a little on plot related content but it moves along at a nice pace and progresses nicely from issue to issue with something always happening. Morrison and Murphy continue to fill the book with tons of nice little touches and details, some of which are nice plays on standard fantasy tropes and such that delight me to no end. I particularly like that one group of characters took a "vow of cowardice" instead of a vow of non-violence. I also liked the development of the hallucination/reality aspect of the series in the issue and it's actually got me interested in it, depending on where Morrison goes with it. I also really enjoyed the way the cliffhanger from the last issue played out in this one. Definitely went in a way you wouldn't expect.

As much as I'm enjoying the story though, Murphy is still the star of the series. The attention to and amount of detail in his pages is still astounding and really brings the story to life, more so than Morrison's scripting does at times. I believe this is the first time that Morrison's work on a series isn't my primary interest in it - Murphy is just that good. I'm looking forward to the rest of this work on the series and whatever he does in the future.

Verdict - Must Read.

Written by Svetlana Chmakova
Art by Svetlana Chmakova

Chmakova brings the same level of quality to the third volume of Nightschool and continues on from the previous two volumes while creating the best volume of the series to date. Partly, this has to do with the fact that most of the minor annoyances I had with the other volumes are gone but, it mostly has to do with the amount of character development and plot progression in the volume. Most of the volume is spent either fleshing out the characters and expanding on how their relationships work or moving plot forward and revealing some of the backstory for the series. Chmakova does a wonderful job of making all of the exposition feel like a natural part of the narrative and unveiling things in a way that gives readers enough information to make it informative while leaving enough out to make them look forward to more.

The way she deals with the character development is very much the same. She naturally works it into the story while simultaneously providing development and leaving some things in the dark to keep readers interested. The volume also got me interested in the Hunters, a group of characters who appeared in the other volumes but I never particularly cared about them one way or the other. In part, this was because they didn't really seem connected to the main plot but this volume brings them into some more. I also just found more interesting in this volume but I'm not sure why.

As I already mentioned, all of the minor annoyances I had with the previous volumes are gone in this. Most noticeably, the use of emoticons is gone and Chmakova's comedic timing as improved as well. The quality of this volume isn't leaps and bounds better than the previous two but is a continuation of the increasing quality that Chmakova has brought the series as a whole. Each volume is an improvement on the previous but it's a gradual one where something that is good becomes better because the creator is improving rather than one where serious problems are simply gotten rid of. Overall, this volume continues on with the solid foundation laid by the previous two volumes while improving on the overall quality of the series.

Verdict - Buy It.

Interested in Nightschool, Vol. 3: The Weirn Books? Buy it on Amazon.com and help support the Weekly Crisis!

Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Jamie McKelvie

I went into this expecting a poor substitute for Phonogram but was pleasantly surprised with what I found, which was well, surprising, since this is a random one-shot for what is arguably Marvel's weakest event in recent years.

Gillen and McKelvie deliver a fantastic story that honestly makes me want to read more, which I never expecting from anything Siege related, but, that said, I actually have no intention of following up on that impulse because I am prompted to buy both Thor #609 and Siege #4 at the end of this issue to get the full story. This is one of the main reasons why my interest in superhero comics is almost zero at this point - it's incredibly hard to get a full story from just one series. Granted, I knew this going into the issue but doesn't make it any less annoying.

The other reason why I'm not really interested in following up on this issue is because I have no idea whether the idea is Gillen's, Brian Bendis's, Matt Fraction's or some sort of remnant from J. Michael Straczynski's run on Thor. This is a major problem with comics created by committee - you don't know who was responsible for what or which plot threads are going to get the most attention. Bendis seems far more interested in the fall of Norman Osborn and the Sentry than the fall of Asgard and, because of that, I didn't have any faith that Loki's plot will be continued in a satisfactory manner in Siege, which ended up being right.

So, bitching aside, this was a great story. Gillen writes a very compelling Loki who is determined to escape his fate as an Asgardian god. He's tired of being "Loki" and wants the freedom that being an Asgardian can never give him. Gillen's Loki is great because he's a villain whose goal is rational and, honestly, kind of reasonable, but he goes about achieving this in a less than "good" way, such as deals with Mephisto and manipulating Osborn to destroy Asgard. This is why he's a great villain here - his goal is very sympathetic but his methods are not.

Gillen manages to keep Loki's schemes complex without getting convoluted in way that these things tend to do. This is also helped by the fact that Gillen explains his plans in way that never feels like info dumping, which leads me to my favorite part of the issue - Loki's interaction with Mephisto. Gillen writes them as old pros playing the same game they've played many times before and are both aware that they can't cheat each other and have to act in something resembling good faith. This leads to some highly enjoyable dialog and banter between the two. Mephisto's reason for going along with Loki's scheming is also a nice touch and works well with the character's personality. The interaction between the two characters leaves the issue on the high note that, as I said before, makes me want to read more.

McKelvie's art works is up to his usual standards as well. The subtle facial expressions and body language his characters exhibit brings them to life in a way that most Marvel and DC artists seem incapable of doing. My only problem with the art was the coloring by Nathan Fairbairn. It made McKelvie's art feel kind of flat, unlike the work of Matthew Wilson on Suburban Glamour and Phonogram 2, which made the art feel rounded and fuller, giving it a more substantive appearance. The coloring in the issue isn't bad though, it just doesn't add anything to McKelvie's art in the way that Wilson's did.

Verdict - Must Read.

Written by Jonathan Ross
Art by Tommy Lee Edwards

Another celebrity-written comic I got from April, though, unlike with Cold Space, I got this one for the concept and art. I hadn't heard of British TV personality Jonathan Ross before I saw this series in the Image solicits and, for someone who has never written a comic before, he is surprisingly skilled at it, even if his work is overly wordy, which is the first thing you notice about this comic. The amount of text on the pages, either dialog or narration boxes, can be kind of astounding at times but, shockingly, it never actually gets in the way of the art, which Ross and Edwards should get a lot of credit for. That said, a chunk of the dialog and narration could get cut out and nothing essential would be lost, which is the weirdest thing about the issue. None of the text seems like it could be gotten rid of but there is definitely too much of it anyway. Still, it is nicely written even if I had to consciously drag my attention away from the text at times just to make sure I looked at the art work. A minor annoyance but it was still an issue every now and then.

As for the story, it's very enjoyable. Vampires vs. Prohibition-era gangsters vs. aliens is definitely a concept that could end up very cliched very fast but Ross avoids that, for now anyway. One thing that does stand out is that he doesn't romanticize the gangsters or Prohibition, which is something of a different take on the era, for me anyway, as anytime I read or watch a story about the era that tends to happen so it's a nice change of pace.

The cast is well rounded and, though there are a lot of characters, Ross does a good job of introducing them all and giving a reader a feel for their personalities. The story itself is mostly set up and introductions but it's engaging since the characters are interesting and it is just generally well plotted. The only real problem is that the alien part of the concept barely cameos in the issue so there is no hinting as to how that aspect of the story will play. Overall, this is a great piece of work by a new voice to the industry that is more than ably assisted by an industry vet which has convinced me to pick up the trade when it comes out.

Verdict - Buy It.

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Anonymous said...

I buy online too! Even with shipping, I pay less than I would at the LCS. As much as I hate not buying local, I just can't afford to read everything I want to at cover price. The only downside is that I only get 2 shipments a month, so I get a little bit behind, but nearly as much as I would if I waited for the trades.

I want to give a shoutout to mailordercomics.com b/c that's where I buy my books. They have excellent customer service, and all their items are discounted 38-50%. They have montly specials (I got Flash #1 and the afforementioned Siege: Loki one-shot for $0.75 each).

This month, I ordered the JMS Thor Omnibus for $38.99. Not a bad deal as I see it. I would never be able to pay full price for an omnibus at retail.

Anonymous said...


@anonymous: damn! the prices of both the monthlies and the TPBs is so high here in Mexico to afford mos of them. We just have one main comics store called "ComiCastle" and they are rising the prices...

Well I'm just jealous about your online shopping =(

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