Singles Going Steady 12/17/13: Tarnished BronzeA comic review article by: Zack Davisson, Daniel Elkin, Bill Janzen, Taylor Lilley, Keith Silva
Singles Going Steady is Comics Bulletin's weekly single issue review roundup.
Doc Savage #1
(Chris Roberson / Bilquis Evely; Dynamite)
Old heroes don't die, they just get rebooted. By different publishers and creators, at erratic intervals, for ever-dwindling audiences. Until. They. Disappear.
And so we get a Dynamite Entertainment #1 for Doc Savage, complete with Alex Ross cover, a writer with solid reboot form (Chris Roberson, of Masks fame), and bland visuals from relative unknown Bilquis Evely. Standard Operating Procedure for Dynamite #1's, see Red Sonja, Masks, Shadow, etc. Here's that cover, to entice you….
Welcome, welcome one and all, and join Doc Savage on a journey deep within the sinkhole of the niche character! Gaze… upon the rarefied intrigues of well-to-do bros! Behold… as the 1930s appear before your eyes, just a little vaguer than you remembered!
We could recap the plot, but honestly? This is an "is that it?" read, whose meagre impact depends wholly on your ignorance of its specifics. Roberson tacks a foreboding sentence onto the opening and beginning, seemingly voiced by a narrator from the present, so this is clearly the set-up issue, "the adventure is just beginning!". If you're a #1 apologist, or just patient, maybe you won't mind the comprehensive dullness, the prototypical "rational man versus deluded malcontent" plot. You'll pick out the nuggets of Doc Savage lore seeded in there (like the HQ location, World War I reference, Doc's funny skin colour, and the two bickering Fab Fivers, who come off more bitchy dom/sub than brotherly Torch/Thing), and maybe you'll declare this a sign of (wait for it…) "world-building" (there it is!). Good for you.
Otherwise, you may question the value of preserving these legacy characters so slavishly. Polishing their amber bespeaks a lack of faith in the characters themselves. If Doc Savage justifies publishing a comic, he's worth doing something interesting, progressive, or innovative with. Try something! If he's lasted this long, he must have something to him, something interesting, that's the logic, right? Right?
Instead, Doc Savage #1 is what Alan Moore thinks of on those rare lonely nights when he thinks of mainstream comics; just another tired rehash, a futile nostalgic flailing from modernity's waves. I hope, at least, that it brings some joy to the Doc Savage faithful. Because if they aren't pleased by this, then it really is a total bust.
- Taylor Lilley
Inhumanity - The Awakening #1
WWE: Superstars #1
"You can't see me." Thus begins legendary professional wrestler Mick Foley's foray into the world of comic books. This is one of the (many) catch phrases said (often) by one of WWE's most popular (and most hated) superstars, John Cena, and by Foley using these words in the context of the fictional world of Titan City, WWE: Superstars #1 opens up meta-worlds within meta-worlds within worlds (within worlds).
See, the "real" world of professional wrestling is already filled with fictional characters – huge, over-the-top personalities, the more outlandish the better. While their athletic ability is certainly part of their appeal, what truly distinguishes a WWE Superstar is his or her ability to convey character – wild, bombastic, larger-than-life. You can be good in the ring, but you sell the most t-shirts if you're good on "the mic".
The idea of an artist taking these hyperbolic and exaggerated creations of others, and then jamming them into a, by comparison, more mundane crime noir story, while still keeping true to both "realities," is either the most self-referential thing ever attempted, or the recipe for a great disaster.
WWE: Superstars #1 is not a good comic. The writing is stilted, the art devolves into sludge page by page, the coloring is inexcusable at times, and even the lettering wonks-out towards the end. As representational of the medium it presents itself in, it fails on almost every level. What it is, though, is a daring work of ART. It's commentary on what is already commentary and skews reality in such a manner that almost rips open an already wide hole.
This thing is relatively impossible to read without having prior knowledge of who the characters are. Without an understanding of the Sophocleian narrative each one of these characters already provides with just their very presence in the "actual" ring in WWE, the average reader will miss the layers of creation that Foley has provided, and by doing so, miss what IS WWE: Superstars #1.
The artistic audacity of this book boggles the mind. Taking characters like the aforementioned John Cena or Randy Orton or CM Punk or Daniel Bryan or Zeb Colter and putting them in a Sin City-like tale of political intrigue and classic Dashiell Hammet crime drama while still giving them ample opportunity to use their signature finishing moves in wrestling rings while wearing wrestling speedos (or jorts) and sprinkling their dialogue with signature catch-phrases pushes boundaries that heretofore nobody even knew existed. And if that sentence seems bogged down in subordinate clauses, I'm sorry, it's only because that's what you have to do when you are describing this book.
Like I said, this is a truly shitty comic book, but that's ultimately NOT the purpose of WWE: Superstars #1. This book is the next step in artistic endeavor. As we cut and paste our way into a new dawn of consciousness created from the vision ensconced in that frightened but ironic eye we've turned away from the night of our present reality, the one too ugly to stare at head-on any more, it is books like this that stand as a blueprint for what the new day brings.
Whatever it is, it knows how to choke-slam, five-knuckle shuffle, and use the RKO.
YES! YES! YES!
Daniel Elkin backs Damien Sandow all the way and cannot wait for the day they move Tyler Breeze up to the Main Roster. Then again, he still can't understand why 3MB aren't tag-team champs. He's on Twitter (@DanielElkin), so you can yell at him there.
Justice League #25
(Geoff Johns / Doug Mahnke; DC Comics)
- Bill Janzen
Conan the Barbarian: Queen of the Black Coast #23
There are only two issues left on Brian Wood's run on Conan the Barbarian: Queen of the Black Coast and the series is ending with a weird vibe. It's like an election turn-over; everyone's so excited about the new guy (Fred Van Lente!) they don't really care what the old guy does in his last few days. Maybe if Wood's run had been more beloved there would be more excitement about his exit and swan song, but "mediocre to blah" pretty much sums up the entire series.
So issue #23. It's a good issue. But does that even matter? Taken by itself—and credit where credit is due—sure it matters. Wood and artist Riccard Burchielli do good work this issue. They effectively tell the story of the strange flying primates that haunt the island, evoking some of Howard's "past life regression"-style storytelling. Wood sticks mainly to the original description, but throws in a few of his own words. Burchielli's art is nice. The best praise I can give this issue is that is looks and feels like an old-school Conan comic.
Special praise for the King of Colors Dave Stewart this issue as well. He has had the unenviable task of trying to forge some consistency between Wood's Carousel O' Artists that each swing in and pencil a story arc, then swing out, never to return. I often wonder how much of the amazing color work comes from the artists' imaginations and how much is pure Stewart. But looking at some of his finished pages, I am just in awe of the guy and how he can boost the drama with simple color choice.
The flaws in this issue are all the same as for the series. We have some big showdowns, like the battle between Conan and N'Gora. This should be a bigger deal than it is, but because the relationships haven't really been built up over the course of the comic, it feels lifeless. And Belit's big scene … no spoilers to those who haven't read the book yet, but … I can't help but remember how Roy Thomas did this same scene in his adaptation for Marvel's Conan the Barbarian, and how much better it was.
This just feels like wrapping up loose ends rather than a climax. It's a good issue. It's well done. But I'll be glad when Wood's run is finished and we can move on to something cooler.
- Zack Davisson
Alex + Ada #2
(Jonathan Luna, Sarah Vaughn; Image Comics)
Prep to pine, prepare to swoon. Alex + Ada presents a precious story about ennui in the face of privilege. What does the man who appears to have everything really need? Love, actually. Alex stands in as the self-serve single person prototype, the loneliest guy at the party. So even when he is given the gift of companionship, Ada, he rejects it not because she's an android, no, but because he's still hurting seven months after a break-up. The heart wants what the heart wants and Alex isn't ready to move on.
This is a comic about thoughts, not actions. Writer Sarah Vaughn and artist Jonathan Luna draft a near silent interlude dependent upon subtlety, sterility and repetition. Alex + Ada #2 brims with careful differences in similar compositions. As a cartoonist, Luna has the exact line to repeat this visual motif with precision. The downside is such industrialism has the potential … to … get … very … very … tedious; add in the story's glacial pacing and it will be a miracle if these two canoodle by issue #47. For the reader on the prowl for lonely emasculated-male-on-female-android-sex, Alex + Ada ain't it.
To further demonstrate Alex Wahl's languor -- yes, Wahl -- Vaughn has him prefer to communicate via a brain implant called 'Prime Wave.' So even when twee Alex talks, he's mute. Symbolism! In a cool bit of irony, his grandmother says: ''Why can't we talk screen-to-screen like civilized human beings?''
What about Ada? It's curious, Vaughn and Luna use a '+' in the title and not an ampersand or an 'and.' Is this down to design or does that '+' mean more? Could Ada be 'more human than human?'
Alex + Ada marks an advent story; it's about waiting, a will-they-won't-they-romance with appointments by Apple. The deliberate pace Vaughn and Luna set makes the story feel airless, that's the point. In twenty-two page portions Alex + Ada's hermetically sealed aestheticism feels like a playful choke hold. The trade-off may be this story reads best when it has room to breathe.
It's in the form and not the function where this story about a reluctant protagonist and his female android fails as serialized fiction. It would be like if Tim and Dawn or Mulder and Scully's romance played out once-a-month instead of once a week. Alex + Ada is as soapy as a Jane Austen drawing room dramedy. Either allow it its soapiness or get out of the Scandinavian-designed kitchen.
- Keith Silva
Criminal Macabre: Eyes of Frankenstein #4
(Steve Niles / Christopher Mitten; Dark Horse Comics)
Well, that was unexpected …
Of all the things that happened in the conclusion of Criminal Macabre: Eyes of Frankenstein, the last on my list of things I expected would be Cal McDonald transforming into … I don't want to give away the surprise!
This was an excellent issue as always, and a nice conclusion to a fun mini-series. But that's just what I expected. Honestly, I don't think Steve Niles has it in him to write a bad issue of Criminal Macabre. Some are better than others, but they all dish up solid entertainment with a side of melancholy. This is a severely messed-up group of people and they keep getting more messed-up with every issue. If Niles keeps abusing and tearing chunks off of his characters like this he is going to be left with the ongoing adventures of Cal McDonald's left eyeball.
I'd still read it, though.
Some great scenes in this final issue: Cal gets to show off exactly how powerful he is. We don't get to see that very often, as Cal is usually the self-depreciating underdog. His showdown with the giant red demon was fantastic. I was taken off-guard by that, as I thought Cal was finally out of his depth and would need some rescuing. I guess not. As always Adam—the Frankenstein Monster—gets the best lines. His dialog is sparse, but his plainspokenness and droll, dry sense of humor makes a nice contrast to Cal's bombast.
I feel like I bang this drum with every issue of Criminal Macabre, but here it is again for those who haven't read my past reviews—I think Christopher Mittens's art is good, but it just isn't my cup of tea. I don't think that's ever likely to change. He is an incredibly talented stylist, but that means that not everyone is going to like his style. I like some of his scenes, and his facial expressions are interesting, but I find the art over-lined in general. It's too busy. Too angular. At other times, however, he is right on the mark. He draws a demon getting its face ripped in two like nobody's business.
All in all, Criminal Macabre: Eyes of Frankenstein was a great series that leaves you wanting more. Things don't wrap up in a tidy little package, so I'm looking forward to the next mini so I can find out just what the hell happened.
- Zack Davisson
Star Trek #28
(Mike Johnson / Erfan Fajar / Beny Maulanan/ Gilberto Lazcano; IDW Publishing)