Singles Going Steady 12/3/2013: Things Blow UpA comic review article by: Nicole Brunner, Daniel Elkin, Rafael Gaitan, Bill Janzen, Taylor Lilley, Chris Wunderlich
Singles Going Steady is Comics Bulletin's weekly single issue review roundup.
(Jonathan Hickman / Jim Cheung / Dustin Weaver; Marvel Comics
The Infinity Gauntlet was the first comic event series I ever read and it blew me away. Ever since that series, Thanos has been one of my favourite characters and I've measured every other event series against the greatness of that one. So you can imagine my excitement when Infinity was first announced with Thanos on the promo images. With the event now concluded, it's time to talk about whether Infinity measured up to its classic predecessor. Hint: It didn't.
- Bill Janzen
Catalyst Comix #6
(Joe Casey / Paul Maybury / Ulises Farinas / Dan McDaid)
What did I just read? This is a Joe Casey comic--that question shouldn't be a surprising start. Had I read the previous five issues of Catalyst Comix, though, I'm sure I'd be less in the dark. Even a few of the '90s issues from Dark Horse's "Comics Greatest World" probably would have helped. I'm still debating whether to go back and catch up.
Let's begin with the cover. According to the credits, this is a Brendan McCarthy cover. Looking at the colouring, I believe it's part of a Brendan McCarthy drawing. I cut my teeth on the "New McCarthyism" that drew Shade the Changing Man covers. My head nearly exploded from his issue of Solo. The Zaucer of Zilk, Spiderman: Fever—that is the Brendan McCarthy I know. Looking back at the previous 5 issues of Catalyst Comix I see we get wraparounds from McCarthy, Paul Pope and Rafael Grampa. Some look better than others, but the minimalist, white background and single character drawings go against everything I love about all three of those artists. That's an all-star team of cover artists and a pretty unimpressive result. McCarthy's cover for issue 6 is so plain and boring, I almost passed this issue up entirely.
The opening story doesn't do anything to improve upon the already poor impression. Paul Maybury's art for "Amazing Grace" is weak. The storytelling isn't awful, some of the pages have neat layouts, but the illustrations themselves feel like fan art from Wizard. The characters look rushed, incomplete or just plain poorly constructed. The details look wrong, the colouring (not Maybury's fault) subpar and the impression is that of a cheap web-comic. I'll go deeper into the writing later, but it didn't help that the story was also fairly straightforward, unimpressive and unoriginal.
Ulises Farinas's "Agents of Change" art doesn't fare much better. Perhaps hindered by Maybury's work, "Agents of Change" can't shake the feeling that this is all just a cheaply produced web-comic. The colouring suits Farina's style better here but still falls short of elevating the art. I enjoy Farina's indie vibe, but something here doesn't work. I'd like to see the other "Agents of Change" stories to compare. In this rather uneventful snippet of the larger story, Farina's has brief moments to shine but struggles with the close-quarters conversations. There's potential, but this comic isn't out of the clear yet.
Story number three, "The Ballad of Frank Wells" almost completely redeems this book. I've been a fan of Dan McDaid's art since his Jersey Gods days and here, he does not disappoint. McDaid is simply terrific, which unfortunately makes the previous stories look even weaker. His dense detailing, terrific inking and cartoonish (without being messy) tendencies make every page sing. It also helps that this is the most interesting story in the book.
Speaking of story, did I mention this is a Joe Casey book, based on Dark Horse's old superhero line, "Comics Greatest World"? Sounds like an interesting revival, no? I thought it did, but maybe I was wrong.
If there's one thing Joe Casey nails in this book, it's style. That man has a way with words. Every caption reveals his slightly off-beat, comic adoring, pop-cultural drenched sensibilities. When Joe Casey writes something it instantly seems cool. Even with stories that don't break any new ground, as seen here, Casey knows how to make it seem like he's thinking outside the box. Things feel like they're completely off the rails, even when the story is rather simple and straightforward.
And that's the biggest problem here. I know I've missed plenty, but the stories here just don't seem special. There was nothing distinctly original. The characters lack distinct personalities and by the end of the book there was only one I was interested in seeing again—Frank Well's guru-like sidekick. With cliff hangers that made me shrug and a cast I couldn't get into, I'm still wondering if this series is worth another shot.
Though it seems like this could be an off-the-wall, crazy-Casey fuelled indie style revisit to a seemingly forgotten corner of the 90s superhero explosion, instead I found Catalyst Comix to be a disappointing mixed bag. We get hints of Casey-kookiness and a few pages of brilliant art, but it simply isn't enough. If you're going to make a book that aims to break the fundamentals of mainstream superhero standards, you're going to want better art (throughout). If you're going to get Rafael Grampa, Paul Pope and Brendan McCarthy to do covers, you're going to want to let them go nuts, not limit them to character sketches. If you're going to buy Catalyst Comix #6 without reading the first five, you're going to want to lower your expectations.
(Matt Fraction / Annie Wu; Marvel Comics)
If the above isn't your reaction whenever you see that beautiful pen name on a comic book cover, you're doing it not right. It seems pointless to review his works as it's almost a sure-shot that when you see “Matt Fraction and ____” on the cover, you're in for some of the finest of the form sequential art can offer.
Regardless, of all the books that Fraction has been LeBronning (fuck you), Hawkeye has been the most praised, and with good reason- it's a fringe title in the mainstream, a book that cares more about providing a tight story and characters than selling copies, so it's almost hilariously in spite of itself. This is a book that made me look forward to Clint Barton on a monthly basis instead of just hoping he wasn't in this one, much like he did with the homie Danny Rand.
FULL DISCLOSURE ALERT: THIS ISSUE WAS PROBABLY WRITTEN FOR ME AND HERE'S WHY-
The current story follows an Avenger on each coast- Clint Barton and his coffee cups are holding it down in New York while Kate Bishop and Pizza Dog are struggling out in Los Angeles. Fraction once said that he saw Hawkeye as “the Jim Rockford of the Avengers” and that lineage could not be clearer than in this issue. We find a plucky yet poor Kate trying to make ends meet, and she decides her best course of action is to superhero on the cheap, helping a couple recover a rare stolen orchid for their wedding. It naturally leads to smoky backrooms, coffee-cup ringed steel desks in L.A. Precincts and the return of manila tabbed folders to comics.
One of the book's killer points has been its small yet atmospheric nature, in that stories unfold in a small timetable and location, which is largely commuted by the impressive murderers' row of artists: David Aja, Francesco Francavilla and Javier Pulido have all blessed the india ink on the book.
*Insert additional praise for Fraction here* but Annie Wu is what gets this comic cracking- her linework is swift and detailed and she captures the mid-70s California vibe that Matty Frax is going for- she has a knack of detail and scenery as well as mastery of facial expressions, which is all too important with the mercurial and youthful Kate Bishop. Going hand-in-hand with Matt Hollingsworth's gradient-hued color-palette, the whole book captures that West Coast sunset sensation that y'all who don't live here are missing out on.
MILD SPOILER ALERT:
This is the one-shot comic version of The Long Goodbye, and if you recall the previously all-capitalized letters tag, this is what I meant. You should watch the hell out of that movie too. Even if you don't care about ANY of this, HAWKEYE still a goddamned great comic- it's sharp, gorgeous and clever and literally unlike anything Marvel or any retailer is publishing. It's also a great jumping-on point for a series that knows no nadir.
- Rafael Gaitan
The Maxx: Maxximized #1
(Sam Kieth / William Messner-Loebs; IDW)
IDW is fulfilling a longtime desire of mine (and I’m sure many others) at last: to have The Maxx live up to its fullest potential with modern artistic flare. This republished version is overseen by the master himself Sam Kieth (Zero Girl), with a bit of help from William Messner-Loebs (Wonder Woman The Flash). The comic debuted in 1993, making me 13 at the time — the perfect age to come across such a singular piece of art split into two worlds.
As I plopped open this newly remastered edition of The Maxx #1, I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic in regards to my love affair with this unhinged comic. Indulge me whilst I reminisce…
I was always drawn in by the female protagonist, Julie Winters, because she looks, acts, and moves like a real woman, and not just some baseless female damsel in distress or typical comic book chick. I’m sure men have delighted in her scantily-clad outfits and surly attitude, so she is also liable to get some attention from most reasonably intelligent mammals. Julie is real and that much more appealing with her issues and flaws, always keeping us on our toes as any good woman should. You never know what’s going to come out of the Leopard Queen’s mouth…
Ms. Winters takes care of the title character known as The Maxx by way of her freelance social work in the real world.
The Maxx himself is only a superhero in that he’s big, he’s purple, and has huge sharply toothed mask and giant yellow, razor-sharp claws. In reality, he’s simply viewed as a homeless man who lives in an alley box of New York City, humorous and twisted. He shifts uncontrollably from the real world to the unconscious, a so-called safe place also referred to as the Outback (but not the Australian outback, oi oi oi!). In the other world, he is Julie’s protector; there she is the Leopard Queen, the role switch and world warp is tantalizing.
The only character that seems to have a clue what is going on is the villain, serial rapist, and student of the mystic arts, Mr. Gone. Still, this is all Julie’s world; this is her journey and the other characters seem more aware of it as time goes on. I can’t blame Julie or The Maxx for the confusion, because we all need a safe place where we can escape reality. With The Maxx (and partially what makes it all so terribly fun), you never know which world is actually real, seeing how both planes are so rich and vivid. The story reminds us that we all have an outback, an unconscious world we live, whether we are aware of it or not.
Don’t we all!
Most of us who were kids in the '90s are somewhat familiar with The Maxx‘s animated series on a side-show style program called MTV’s “Oddities” (1995). “Oddities” being a very random platform for an even more irregular storyline such as The Maxx. The show brought quite a bit of attention to the books and even spawned some video game play as well. The animated series pays tribute to how well crafted the comic book is/was because the show is mostly directly from the comic panels. Unfortunately, the show ended up largely unfinished. Perhaps this revamp of the comic will inspire Kieth to actually finish the animated series?
The new art in The Maxx: Maxximized first issue is as gorgeous as you’d imagine, with a personal addendum from Mr. Sam Kieth. The former Incredible Hulk andSandman artist goes on to explain the extreme time restraints put upon comic book artists to finish — often only a weekend alone! — in this particular case of renowned colorist Steve Oliff (Akira, Spawn). In fact, Kieth was working simultaneously on The Maxx comic and MTV show at the same time, which lead to some short-cutting on the artwork in the comic. Now, IDW’s Ronda Pattison (TMNT) takes the helm to help Kieth with this revamp.The Maxx is even more purple and bold than ever before, and Julie’s blue eyes are simply.. beautiful.
Thankfully, Kieth hasn’t messed with the core story at all, because — in all fairness — The Maxx is truly sublime in its original psychedelic, albeit imperfect splendor. It remains one of those comics that most people just don’t get, and therein lies the draw of it all: not getting it is getting it, and I’m sure the new art will draw new fans.
If you are truly interested to see more of Kieth’s wonderful world, this Neophyte can’t help but recommend the animated series (which is available on Amazon, or wherever good Maxx stories are shown). I promise after you’re done with it, the world will never be the same size again…
- Nicole Brunner
Nicole joins us this week courtesy of our pals at God Hates Geeks. Check 'em out; the site is a religious experience for any geek!
New Avengers #12
(Jonathan Hickman / Mike Deodato; Marvel Comics)
New Avengers is the comic where men formerly known as the Illuminati gather to fix stuff so the world can relax. This particular issue should by rights be celebratory, since it's an epilogue to Infinity, which ended with Big Bad Thanos getting Han Solo'd by his own son, and the Builders (who actually, and this is weird, are, like, super destructive) being repelled. Infinity? Fixed! But celebrating means smiling, joy, all that mess, and we already had that "Who's on first?" gag back in Avengers #11 with the non-Illuminati crew, so we're all out of levity for 2013. Comics aren't for kids, after all. But in case any of that didn't make sense, have a recap page.
Did you get all that? Reed is equal parts confused and aroused (see his cheeky grin while he trades non-sequiturs with Black White Swan Lady). Namor and T'Challa are like tired old lovers who can't commit, slinking around Wakanda's Necropolis and cuckolding their nations. The Boltagon Boys are running buck wild. Doc Strange just got possessed (read: owned) by a Thanos stooge, in an epic Magic Fail. In short: STUFF IS NOT GETTING FIXED. So no celebrations here.
No, New Avengers #12 is all about Real Talk. Namor schools T'Challa in the living death of Kinghood, Maximus the Mad retools a Terrigen Bomb-diminished Black Bolt, and Black White Swan Lady rules the science bros, explaining that they ain't seen nothing yet, "There are worse things coming". Meanwhile, nobody really knows where Doc Strange's head is at, but he is definitely through with all these science bros calling the plays.
Hickman, like Snyder at DC, is deep in the "go bigger" hole. Deodato, like Finch (but better) is working a steroidal groove, spritzing layouts with flash that his characters could really use. Find a facial expression amongst our boys. I'll wait. And we're not counting Namor's impression of Jin from Tekken. This is a superstar team on a big money book, but nothing's popping. I'm all for going large, for supplanting the false event cycle with a more circadian continuity of peril, 20/20 endangerment feels more existentially authentic, but there has to be some relief. Yes, it's great that this crazy lady is around to puncture the patriarchal pomp, and yes, the Namor/T'Challa/Humanity love triangle is compelling, but every issue reads like Physics major fan-fic laid over beat ‘em up cut scenes.
The problem with having your last-page closer be "Everything dies", is we know it isn't true. So stop flogging solemnity, and try serving doom with a side of fun. It just tastes better.
- Taylor Lilley
(Peter Milligan / Roberto de la Torre / David Baron / Dave Lanphear / Alejandro Arbona; Valiant)
The Blood. The Vomit. The Bodies. In the world of Shadowman, if you're Jack Boniface, you've got some problems. First off, you've got violent psychotic tendencies and you're possessed by the Shadowman Loa. Next, the people who are supposed to be on your side, the Abettors ... well, now they want to kill you.
What you need is a Mambo, a punk rock backwoods priestess whose spirit guide is Sid Vicious and whose ritual of separation involves sniffing glue.
Oh, and one more thing, “Before she helps you... she'll want a human skull.”
This is the central plot for Shadowman #13 from Valiant. The cover of this issue screams “ALL-NEW ARC! ALL-NEW BEGINNING! ALL-NEW TEAM!” so, if you missed Shadowman issues 1-12, this is what you call one of those jumping on points.
I recommend that you take that leap.
Oh, and that “ALL-NEW TEAM” Valiant is screaming about? Well it happens to be Peter Milligan and Roberto de la Torre. Now I've been a huge fan of Milligan's since his X-Force/X-Statix run in the early 2000's, but with Shadowman #13 he seems to be exploring a world more shaded with darkness than satire. And speaking of shading, let's talk about de la Torre's loose line work and interesting perspective choices. His art adds to the “not-quite-of-this-world” tone Milligan is creating.
Adding a further layer to this is the fog-shrouded color palette of David Baron. The art team have made this book moist, dripping, with humidity and sweat. Even though there is little kinetic action in the narrative, each panel pulses with potential energy, a fecundity of possibility, as everything seems to be on the verge of blowing up or blossoming into something evil. There's a dank heaviness to these pages that adds tension and dread.
When art and narration work in such harmonious congress? Well, we got ourselves a damn fine comic.
In a recent interview with Bloody Disgusting about his work on Shadowman, Milligan said, “I see the book staying dark. And not afraid to get weird.” For me, when a guy like Mulligan starts bandying about the adjective “weird,” it makes my small heart grow three times in size and I find the true meaning of Christmas and the strength of ten Grinches, (plus two)!
All the Valiant titles I've read since their relaunch have been top notch books, and they've quickly cemented themselves as a publisher whose output is constantly on my radar. Whomever the people that are making the talent and editorial decisions over there are, they should all be given a HUGE X-mas bonus.
The Blood. The Vomit. The Bodies. Yeah, this is Milligan and de la Torre's Shadowman – it's not going to be pretty, but it just might be spectacular. As Milligan writes on the final page of this book, “The REALLY scary thing is – this is only just beginning.”
- Daniel Elkin
The Shadow Now #3
Quantum and Woody #6
(James Asmus / Ming Doyle; Valiant)
The Flash #25
(Francis Manapul / Brian Buccellato / Chris Sprouse / Karl Story; DC Comics)