Reviews by KC Carlson
HEROES: VOLUME 1 (DC/Wildstorm) — Wow! This book is SO much better than I even imagined it would be.
I was thinking that this would be another thrown-together collection of stories as a total cash-in on yet another overhyped media project with tangential comic ties. Instead, the architects of this collection have taken the concept of Heroes — The TV Show that Wants to be a Comic Book — and have actually made it into a Comic Book (albeit, a fairly expensive, hardcover one).
The gloriously designed table of contents is a parody of the classic “Treasure Chest of Fun” comic book ads, which are indelibly etched onto the frontal lobes of anyone who’s seen a 1960′s comic book, with such iconic images like hypno-disks, secret spy scopes, army tanks, exploding gum, x-ray specs, and Dynamic Tension! The introduction by Masi Oka (Hiro) looks like a mocked-up Marvel Bullpen Bulletins page from the days of yore. And an interview with Executive Producer Jeph Loeb and writers Aron Eli Coleite and Joe Pokaski looks ever so much like a old “Sock It To Shellhead” Iron Man lettercol (complete with a “Heroes Value Stamp!”).
Best of all are the mocked-up “9th Wonders!” comic book covers that serve as chapter headings for the 34 (!) complete short stories that make up the bulk of the book. The cover mock-ups use much of the painted artwork prepared by Tim Sale and Dave Stewart that was used on the TV series itself. It’s a great way to incorporate that acclaimed artwork into the overall narrative (although, my only — very tiny — quibble, is that I would have liked to see the paintings reproduced larger, and without copy, as they were originally presented on the show.)
The stories themselves are the 4-5 page comics first posted on the Internet on a weekly basis during the First Season of the TV show. They are produced by a different creative team for each chapter, mostly written by creators from the show and illustrated by a wide range of comic pros. The early chapters help to introduce and enhance the huge cast of characters from the TV show, but eventually characters were created to be (mostly) exclusive to the webcomics. Foe example, a long series of stories entitled “War Buddies” focuses on Hana Gitelman, a third-generation Israeli soldier with the power to act as a living electronic transmitter and receiver.
The introduction by actor Masi Oka is a very moving remembrance of growing up surrounded by classic manga. It is inspiring and thoughtful, just as the character Hiro is himself. Curiously, the piece is “signed” by both Hiro Nakamura and Masi Oka, blurring the lines between fantasy and reality in an oddly meaningful way.
The Hardcover shipped with two different covers — one by Jim Lee and the other by Alex Ross, the latter of which is now reportedly “sold out.” Luckily, the Ross piece is also reproduced — full-sized and without copy — inside the book, so that purchasers of the Jim Lee cover actually get both pieces. The Ross piece is his usual outstanding work, but although the Lee cover — a wraparound — initially disappointed me, now that I’ve been staring at it for the last six hours, I find that it is growing on me. Upon closer inspection, I see a possible Gene Colan influence, something I have never before seen in Lee’s work, but is very appealing.
If you haven’t picked this up yet, better hustle on down to the store and snag one — before they’re sold out completely!
GROO: HELL ON EARTH (Dark Horse) — Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier have been doing Groo stories for 25 years. Thank goodness!
Like the very best of the old-time comedians that Evanier adores, the talented duo have their act honed down to the precise detail, the perfect timing, the silly set-up and killer punchline. If the comics world had its own version of It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World, there could be only one role for Groo — he’d be the one dressed like a fireman stoically waiting for Mickey Rooney and Buddy Hackett’s plane to crash (replacing the perfectly-cast Three Stooges) — except that Groo would somehow actually find a way to bring the plane down sooner — and in more pieces.
In the first issue of Groo: Hell on Earth, Groo actually manages to create something, instead of his usual destruction. Through a series of the usual Groo calamities, Groo inadvertently invents — pollution! And, as if this weren’t bad enough, this leads — through a chinese-box of a plot — to increased paranoia between neighboring villages, the escalation of manufactured weaponry, the threat of open warfare and — as Sage predicts — the eventuality of global warming. Or, in other words, just another day for Groo.
How is one to judge the always wonderful artwork of Sergio Aragones? Maybe by saying that it is simply always wonderful! All of the classic Groo trademarks are here from the perfectly designed characters to the understated but flawless storytelling to the trademark splashes with their incredible detail. It’s these panoramas that are Sergio’s true genius, as they always ground the story with the needed reality to anchor the free-wheeling comedy.
Mark has the somewhat thankless job here, as there’s a lot of exposition to get the story moving — more than usual for an average Groo story — but I get the feeling that this will be a more-than-average Groo story given the background presented here. And as usual, colorist Tom Luth and letterer Stan Sakai provide the story with warmth and personality, without getting in the way of the idiot with the sword.
And if this wasn’t enough for you to check out this book, let me tell you that this is the only comic on the market this month with multiple exploding cow emissions. It’s that good…!
NEW AVENGERS: ILLUMINATI # 5 (Marvel Comics) — It’s always the quiet ones.
After spending the past four issues jumping around through time in the Marvel Universe, the final issue of this five-part miniseries lands firmly in the present — right into the middle of Avengers continuity. A few months back, Elektra was killed and revealed to be a Skrull, leading to all sorts of speculation that other heroes in the MU might also be secretly Skrulls — and may have been for a long period of time. After Spider-Woman steals the Skrull’s body and dumps it in the lap of Tony Stark (Iron Man, for those playing at home), Shellhead calls in the Illuminati, the secret “Power Cabal” of the MU. After the events of the last year (Civil War, death, betrayal), many of them are hesitant to come.
The opening few pages of this issue are a textbook example of how you set up a comic book story — presenting your boring exposition and character introduction in an entertaining way that actually leads to something big. Co-writer Brian Michael Bendis pretty much forgoes his trademark annoying bantering in favor of some tight, character-driven dialogue — which may actually be attributable to co-writer Brian Reed. The Brians use a clever trick — the security system in Iron Man’s armor — to introduce all the players, instead of the usual clunky “Hello, Reed Richards.” “Well, if it isn’t Tony Stark,” tripe. However, the trick uses a ton of special balloons that threaten to overwhelm the page.
But that’s where penciler Jim Cheung brings his dramatic flair for storytelling to the fore. Cheung knows there’s a lot of “yak yak,” so he collapses pages 3 and 4 down to 15 tiny panels stretched across the two pages. The long tiers of panels serve to provide each character a chance to step “on stage” in his own space, as well as lulling the reader into a sense of “okay, nothing much is happening here,” which makes his full-page splash on page 5 give the reader a jump — and the double-page 9 & 10 knock the reader over backwards as all hell breaks loose.
I can’t rave enough of about Cheung’s heads-up choices in storytelling. Pages 17 & 18 are another double-page splash — Except that’s it’s not! There are actually two tiny tiers of 11 (!) more panels across the bottom of the spread, but you don’t actually see them until you blink a few times — such is the “power” of the first panel. And the rapid-fire tiny panels gives the eye just enough time to “power down” until — BAM! — He has the audacity to pull virtually the same stunt on the next two pages! Faboom!
For a team of characters who are normally quite passive — really, Iron Man and Sub-Mariner are the only “action” characters here — the Illuminati is really a quite dynamic group, and I’m sorry to see them go in this last issue. I thought the idea of a secret group of the Marvel intelligencia and Power Brokers was quite novel — as well as somewhat sinister — and I would love to see them as a team again. This issue is the forerunner to the next big Avengers storyline, which is apparently now called “Secret Invasion: The Infiltration” according to the cover. And this issue definitely answers the two big questions than have been posed by the storyline : “Have other Marvel characters have been replaced by Skrulls?” and “Who can we trust?”
The answers are “Yes,” and “No One.”
FAT MARVELS — For a couple of years now, Marvel has been selling extra ads in their November and December-shipping comics, bringing up the interior page count from 32 to 40 or 48 pages. The first of those books appears this week, so if you think that some of your Marvel comics seem thicker than usual, you’d be right. Unfortunately, the extra pages don’t mean that the stories will necessarily be increased as well, but it looks like a few “bonus” features will be added to random books in the weeks to come. So look out for special previews of Captain Marvel #1, sketchbook pages for New Exiles #1, a mini-interview with writer Matt Fraction, and “Questions That Need Answers!” in which a question is posed to various Marvel creators. This month’s question: “If you could date a Marvel Character, who would it be and why?” Best answer: “Galactus. I bet he has funny stories.” from Matt Fraction.
JONAH HEX #25 (DC Comics) — It’s so great to see the legendary Russ Heath’s artwork on display in this issue. It’s a mite stiff, probably because Russ hasn’t been doing much of late, but it’s just so nice in a classic way — almost as if you were reading the story in an old-fashioned stereopticon (look it up!). By the by, the “Mister Albano” line that Jonah tosses out to his son to “hide” his identity, is a shout-out to writer John Albano — the creator of Jonah Hex.