Reviews by KC Carlson
No turkeys for Thanksgiving here! All good reads this week!
ANGEL: AFTER THE FALL #1 (IDW) — The most eagerly awaited genre comic book since, well, Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 — Eagerly awaited because, in each instance, the comic book was to become the follow-up to a popular TV series. Interesting situation, that…
Angel: After the Fall picks up after the final episode of the television series that ended with a major cliffhanger, but the action doesn’t pick up immediately after that cliffhanger. A couple of weeks have passed, in which L.A. has been seriously compromised by an influx of demons, monsters, vampires and other creepy-crawlies. The “final” battle between Angel and his allies and the minions of the evil Wolfram & Hart law firm has not gone well — as Angel reveals that there were losses on both sides. However, it soon becomes obvious that we’re not going to be immediately privvy to exactly what happened in that battle, as new skirmishes with various beasties take up much of the plot in this first issue. We do get a little info on a couple of previous cast members — including the seeming return of one we thought was dead — but we find out, in the best Joss Whedon manner, that Things. Have. Changed.
Whedon, however, is only co-plotting this book (“only” being a relative term, as one must assume that much of this has been gurgling in Joss’ brain for years with no place to go). The writer doing the heavy lifting is Brian Lynch, who, we’re told in an excellent and informative text page, has gotten big props for a previous Angel-related work: Spike: Asylum. (And huge thanks to IDW for including said page! I’m so tired of having to go to elsewhere to find out the origins of a new series, when it should always be a part of every first issue. Hear that, Big Two?!) Lynch does an amazing job of capturing Whedon’s “voice” for the dialogue, which led to Joss hand-picking him for this “re-launch” of the core storyline.
The other Spike: Asylum alum, artist Franco Urru, is the regular artist for this series and does a very creditable job in relation to other media-related (“licensed”) titles. It’s always hard to judge the artwork in licensed titles, because you never know if the book has been okayed to use the actual actors’ likenesses, or if the likenesses were denied, and the artist must use generic likeness (or the third, worst-case scenario: likeness have been approved, but the artist cannot draw likenesses.) I’m guessing that in this case, since the property has been dormant, that actor likenesses weren’t even bothered with (they often add much $$$ to a budget), so that Urru has been instructed to keep the faces generic. This leads into a couple unfortunate instances where existing characters are re-introduced, usually in a surprising/shock way, and the art kinda looks like the character, but you’re not really sure until the character is actually identified in dialogue. This is especially so in the scene where the previously-thought-dead character is introduced. On TV, you’d see the actual actor and be shocked — but in the comic you have that initial doubt and it takes you out of the story for a moment, while the brain has to process the info (a real no-no in comic storytelling, says the former editor). This can be easily fixed by the writer i.d.-ing the character the instant s/he shows up, although it takes some creativity to do so without being clunky.
Consistency in the artwork is doubly needed in a series like this, where many of the main characters wear everyday clothes (as opposed to easily identifiable super-hero outfits). And if the artist must use generic faces for main characters, s/he loses another artistic “hook”. It’s imperative that these characters have some sort of easily identifiable feature about them that instantly identifies them as being unique. Towards this end, one of the main characters is revealed to have a newly-minted facial scar.
I’m less enamored of the coloring in this issue. Yes, Angel is a dark series, with lots of scenes in dark alleys or even underground, but some pages here are overwhelmingly brown or gray and “read” as muddy. And this renders some of the fight sequences almost impossible to follow. Yes. it needs to be dark and moody for setting, but your characters still need to “pop” away from the background for story clarity.
Despite my reservations about the visuals, this is a good solid first issue. I’m a bit frustrated that more questions weren’t answered, but that’s always the way that Whedon’s projects have rolled, so I’m happy to roll along with it.
CAPTAIN AMERICA #32 (Marvel Comics) — The problem with long, twisty and involved storylines is that it’s hard to review an individual chapter, without giving away plot twists — and doubly hard when the comic is one of the very best superhero storylines going.
Captain America #32 continues “The Death of Captain America” storyline in a long, twisty and involved way. One character gets out of immediate harm, only to find himself in even deeper doodoo, while there’s a glimmer of hope for another cast member. And Cap is still dead. Spoiler alert.
I find it quite fascinating to be on this particular roller coaster. Just how long can a title survive — and thrive — without its starring character? This particular one could probably sustain itself for quite a long time, based on the strength of the current cast. I wouldn’t have believed it a year ago that I would be looking forward to seeing what the Falcon was doing each month. And the return of Bucky — what a bad idea! Only that it’s not. He’s one of the most intriguing characters that Marvel has spotlighted in years.
There is no doubt that we are witnessing comic book history on a month-to-month basis with this storyline. Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting are working on the story of their careers (to date). And the best thing about it is that even if the anticipated happy ending — the ultimate return of Captain America — doesn’t happen, this is still a great epic, and an amazing story that’s a tribute to his character and his effect on his friends, the Marvel Universe as a whole and the “real” world itself. An amazing accomplishment.
But as an offering of sage advice — Even the very best roller coasters will make you sick if you ride them too long. So with that in mind — guys, take the time you need, tell your story, but keep your eyes on the prize.
THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #8 (DC Comics) — One of the current mysteries in current comics (at least for me) is why this book — featuring two of the industry’s top-talents doing some of their very best work — is not selling better than it is. I’m secretly hoping that everybody’s waiting for the collected editions (the HC of #1-6 is out soon!), but why the individual issues don’t fly off the shelves just bewilders me. Bewilders me, I say! Especially, when I see some of the Krap (that’s crap with a big stinky “K”) that outsells it.
So, here’s a bunch of reasons why you should buy it:
1) It’s DC Comics’ secret weapon. I’d tell you more, but its a secret! And they’d have to kill me.
2) It’s not just a team-up book! You might think that, because the title previously belonged to DC’s longest running series of team-up stories. But the truth is that this series has its own ongoing internal continuity that weaves in and out of what (at least right now) seems like individual stories. But it’s obviously leading to something. And Mark Waid is writing it. And so you gotta know that something deeper is going on here… And they’re being given the time to play it out.
3) And that continuity is…? There’s a mystic tome — The Book of Destiny — that reveals the entire history of, well, everything — and there is a mystery surrounding it. Something that is referred to as “Megistus.” The problem is that actually reading the book is impossible without being driven insane by mystic forces. The search for the Book of Destiny takes place in issues #1-6 in a cleverly winding story, ultimately including over 50 DC characters including Batman, Green Lantern Hal Jordan, Supergirl, Lobo, the new Blue Beetle and the Legion of Super-Heroes. At the conclusion of that story, the Book is recovered and placed into the hands of the Challengers of the Unknown (the real ones), who, because they “cheated death” by surviving a horrible plane crash, are the only beings not mentioned anywhere in the book. And because of this, they are the only ones who can actually read the book without going whacky. In the current run of stories, the Challs are shown investigating what appear to be individual team-up stories (Wonder Woman & Power Girl, The Flash & The Doom Patrol), each of which turns up a new clue about “Megistus.”
4) Really? I thought the first six issues were just team-up stories. Nope, although it looks that way from the covers. They follow-up on an old B&B tradition of spotlighting the two main team-up characters. This new series actually uses the entire DC Universe as its backdrop, but the stories have that continuing thread and often have more characters than the two that are spotlighted. So, there’s often a surprise (or many) in every issue!
5) Surprises? Yep. Every so often there’s a cameo by a surprising guest like Adam Strange or Metamorpho. Or an old piece of DC “business” being referred to. (Stands to reason with Waid and George Perez — two major DC continuity geeks — doing the book.) But some of the best surprises are the way that the two masters handle some of the characters — like Supergirl — better than they are handled in their own titles. A great example is the Doom Patrol in the current issue (#8).
6) Ewww. The Doom Patrol? Yeah, it’s hard to argue with that impression, especially since DC has been through so many incarnations of the characters over the last decade or so — none of which has made any real impression. But what Mark and George have done with the team in this one quick story is so amazing that it actually makes me want to see this version back in action in a regular series. And what they’ve done is so simple — they boiled the team back down to the basic four characters (after first explaining where the other team members are — a Mark Waid specialty), and re-cast them back to the original kinda-creepy and kinda-odd vibe they gave off back in their original series (currently being reprinted in the Doom Patrol Archives, but deserving of an affordably priced Showcase Presents volume or two), with a big healthy dose of the way out-there personalities from the Grant Morrison era. Throw them into a setting of the classic Hammer Horror films and — viola! That’s the way to re-introduce a classic team! (And is it just me, or has George Perez re-cast the Chief as a much older, embittered projection of the John Byrne of years to come?)
7) George Perez. OMG. Have you looked at these pages? ‘Nuff said.
8) Mark Waid. “I sincerely apologize for the way that you choose to react.” The Chief: Issue #8. Hee hee hee.
9) Doesn’t this sound like a lot more fun than Countdown? Well, I think so…
10) Isn’t this internal discussion kind of weird? Shut up, you’re the one making me schizo. Am not! Are too! You’re a weenie! Yeah? Well, you–
(Please buy this book! It’s obviously driving KC crazy that it doesn’t sell better.)
SHORT TAKES: Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn pay a heartfelt tribute to former Flash artist Mike Wieringo in The Flash #234. Mike passed away last summer at the too young age of 44… Kyle Baker draws the 2-page Origin of Mr. Mxyzptlk in Countdown to Whatever #23… Most Effective Use of “Red” in a Comic Book This Week: Grendel: Behold the Devil #1…. Battle of the Crossovers: “Messiah Complex” vs. “The Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul” I gotta give Ra’s the slight edge this week, with the intriguing art job by Ryan Benjamin in Detective #838. But great to see some movement in the mutant storyline as well… I’m happy to report that Captain Carrot and the Zoo Crew #2 undoes a dastardly deed, and does it in such as way that should do the missing Zoo Crew creator, Roy Thomas, proud. Bill Morrison and Scott Shaw — take a bow!