Is It Wednesday Yet?
10 February 2009 — Here we are again with another installment of your favorite comic book review series. As always, the reviews are free of spoilers, so read on without fear of having your experience ruined!
Our grading scale is simple:
Buy: An excellent comic book.
Borrow: A good comic, but save yourself some money by reading a friend's copy.
Flip Through: Give it a once-over at the comic shop.
Skip: This doesn't need to be explained.
The Astounding Wolf-Man #12
Released: 28 January 2009
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Artist: Jason Howard
Colorists: Fco and Ivan Plascencia
Letterer: Rus Wooton
Cover: Jason Howard
A new villain, a docile looking flame-haired lady that calls herself Construct, has just escaped a prison transport, freeing fellow villains Thrill Kill and Eruptor in the process. Despite some growing pains, the three decide to form an evil group: Triple Threat. (When you start stealing ideas from Shane Douglas, you're really scraping the bottom of the barrel.) The new group is looking to make an impact by killing a superhero, and they all agree that Wolf-Man would be a pretty good idea. Of course, Wolfy is having some issues of his own at the moment, what with being pegged for the murder of his wife, and a daughter that wants to kill him out of revenge, not to mention a mentor that one day just decides to up and bail.
There is a lot to absorb here, but it's far from the hardest in the world to follow. For a book as clean and colorful as this one, the tone is surprisingly dark, and anyone looking for some light humor may find themselves more than a little disappointed. When you're dealing with dead wives, there isn't a lot of room for comedy. And given the absurd concept, I'm surprised this book is trying to be so heavy. That said, there does seem to be a sense of genuine focus here, and I imagine it's something that regular readers find much more rewarding.
All that said, Jason Howard's art isn't too bad. Yes, it looks exactly like an Esurance commercial, but it works in most cases. There is a rather nagging habit of everyone looking the same, and Construct's weight goes up and down more than a street walker at a truck stop, but it's not distractingly bad. Wolf-Man in particular always looks great, and it's clear that Howard's strength lies more in drawing non-human characters. The bright colors betray the tone of the narrative, but that's really more of a line-wide problem than anything.
If you've never read The Astounding Wolf-Man, there are worse places to start, but there are much better places as well. Considering the relative young age of this series, it shouldn't be too hard to hunt down some back issues and just start from the beginning. As far as this one goes, however, it's really nothing more than a flip through.
Buckaroo Banzai: Big Size #1
Released: 28 January 2009
Writer: Mac Rauch
Story Consultant: WD Richter
Artist: Paul Hanley
Colorist: Renato Guerra
Letterer: Bernie Lee
Cover: Michael Stribling
Over two decades since he first arrived as the star of an eponymous feature-length film, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, our hero is back in the saddle again. Under the guiding influence of Mac Rauch and WD Richter, the same writers responsible for the aforementioned celluloid exploits, Banzai's adventures have picked up precisely where the film world left them without skipping a beat. A born renaissance man, he's a surgeon, a rock star, a noted physicist and a famed racecar driver all rolled into one. He's the counterpoint to James Bond, the intellectual equal of Albert Einstein and more than a physical match for both Lebron and Kobe.
Although Richter and Rauch's new tales may be set in another galaxy, ages from now, they're more Tombstone than Blade Runner. The majority of the plot centers on a wild pack of desert-dwellers and Banzai's objections to their mule-poaching ways, and the title character doesn't even appear until the last pages of the issue. Though I think the point was to shock and surprise readers by building up his mystique a bit before his arrival, it really only serves to drag things out. Instead of racing straight into the action, most of this issue is spent setting up the players, listening to their idle chitchat and waiting for the shit to hit the fan. On one hand, that gives us a chance to get to know the cast before they're thrown into the fire. On the other, I didn't find any of them interesting enough to share that much time with in the first place.
Paul Hanley's artwork is dull and unfocused, and his paneling is hard to follow. Although the issue's cold open offers him several opportunities to spread his wings and show us what he's got, Hanley completely misses the boat. When Banzai's sidekick, Perfect Tommy, throws a punch with "the wallop of a country mule," it looks more like a love tap. When the same character makes his escape from armed gunmen moments later, it takes so much time that I wondered if maybe he managed to put them to sleep beforehand. God knows they wouldn't have been the only ones. Hanley has a major problem with pacing; actions that needn't fill more than one or two panels eat up six or seven. He illustrates every minute action, no matter how redundant and unnecessary, and that further slows down an already-crawling narrative. This isn't easy to read as it is, and the artwork only manages to make it worse.
While this book's premise likes to give the impression that it's a nonstop ride through a landscape of excess, the truth is it's more of a long, dreary, insignificant stroll. If you haven't already developed a relationship with this cast, it provides no inspiration to delve any deeper. This is an adventure that would've been best left untold. Skip it.
Hero Squared: Love and Death #1
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Released: 28 January 2009
Writers: Keith Giffen and JM Dematteis
Artist: Nathan Watson
Colorist: Digikore Studios
Letterer: Ed Dukeshire
Cover: Joe Abraham
Six months ago the world was a very different place for perennial loser Milo. When Captain Valor, the star of one of Milo's favorite comic books, actually showed up in the flesh, that was one thing. When the hero confessed that the two were actually interdimensional clones, that was another. But when he revealed that his archenemy shared a similar connection to Stephie, his loving girlfriend, well, that threw the weirdness scale completely off the charts. It also sent our lead character's imagination in a new and not entirely noble direction. All of which begs the natural question: is it really cheating if the girl you're banging on the side is just an alternate reality version of the one you're already dating?
Known for their collaboration on Justice League International and later Justice League America throughout the 1980s, Keith Giffen and JM Dematteis have reunited on this series. And, like their work on those superheroic adventures, the tone of Hero Squared is thoroughly tongue-in-cheek. This is humor in the same vein as The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. You won't get any winks or nods from the cast along the way, but you likewise won't find them immune to the temptation to completely halt the plot and step back a few steps for some off-the-cuff observations about their situation. The humor is hit or miss; it's either charmingly cheesy, or well beyond the limits of good reason. I'll take what I can get.
Free from the reigns of a rigid mainstream publisher, Giffen and Dematteis are able to really cut loose and explore subjects that would have been taboo with more established characters, for better and for worse. At times their remarks are welcome and unusual, such as their musings on the soap opera that is the love life of a superhero. In other moments, there's little argument the pair could have benefited from the contributions of a stern editor. I guess the best friend of a creative genius is someone who can say when they're off on a tangent and need to reel it in a bit.
Nathan Watson's artwork may not be the most striking, but it fits the bill for the tone of Hero Squared. His loose, hurried strokes make for a good continuation of the haphazard style of the storytelling, as if neither really takes themselves too seriously. Watson has his moments of weakness, where his cast looks like it's been momentarily lobotomized and I wonder why they aren't drooling on themselves already. But in general he keeps it together and tells a coherent, if not entirely exciting, ongoing visual narrative. Watson seems to be doing his best to mimic and update the style of Giffen's earlier work, but he doesn't quite have the chops to pull it off. It's a close enough approximation, but there's just something missing.
On all fronts, Hero Squared has its ups and downs. The story is original and interesting, and when it's firing on all cylinders it's tough to tell where it's going next. Giffen and Dematteis bring a good mix of serious moments and off-the-wall comedy, although their passion is clearly in writing the latter and the plot drags when they focus on the former. Paired with artwork that's at least serviceable, this is worthy of a quick flip through.
The Stand: Captain Trips #5
Released: 28 January 2009
Writer: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Artist: Mike Perkins
Colorist: Laura Martin
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Cover: Lee Bermejo
Stephen King is in many ways the anti-Alan Moore. He is a man that will let absolutely anyone from any medium take his work and do what they please with it, quite often with his very blessing. My planned Broadway musical adaptation of The Shining aside, it's perhaps most surprising that King's work is just now venturing into the world of comics, the success of the recent Dark Tower adaptations no doubt a catalyst for this series.
I read The Stand so long ago that I couldn't tell you much about it. I also briefly caught some of the TV series, but my fourth grade crush on Molly Ringwald at the time prevented me from absorbing much of the narrative. Thankfully, Marvel, the wonderful company that they are, put in a recap page for me. Thanks, guys!
A deadly virus known as Captain Trips has been accidentally unleashed on the world, and has had a grand old time wiping out a good chunk of the world's population. Government assistance has been lax, and survivors suspect they know more than they're letting on. At the center of this epidemic is a man named Stu Redman, who is somehow immune to the virus, but is constantly haunted by a faceless man in his dreams.
What we have here is a book that is very true to the source material. Normally this would be commended, but the problem here is that it's so true to the source material that it feels like it's the very same thing. Many narrative passages are ripped from the novel. I would imagine that if you're adapting a story to another medium, you're looking to bring it to an audience that may not have enjoyed it previously, but to trudge through the sheer density this book brings is almost the same as reading the novel itself.
Visually, the book stands (no pun intended) pretty well on it's own. Everyone is suitably ugly and emotive, but really, Perkins didn't have very much to do here outside of drawing some sullen faces.
You really have to sit and invest some time to get through this, and if a reader actually has that sort of time to burn, wouldn't they just read the novel? Maybe it's not so much the fault of Aquirre-Sacasa as it's the fact that The Stand simply doesn't translate to comics that well. It's a good story, but here, it makes for a dense, surprisingly boring read. Skip it.