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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Review: Iron Man 11

Kieron Gillen is, I think, one of the smartest guys writing comics today. He has written what in my mind is one of the greatest runs Marvel has ever had in "Journey Into Mystery", the only Marvel run that has ever brushed up against the Pre-Vertigo DC runs of old (I've always found it interesting that Marvel generally does the superhero book better and has a better line-wide appeal, but DC has traditionally had the truly great runs, even if they are adrift in a more mediocre sea; but that's a post for another time, perhaps).

But despite this, I find much of Gillen's work in the mainstream to be languid, unexciting, even bland. I felt that way about his Thor run. I've felt that way about his Iron Man run, about the majority of his Uncanny X Men, about the first 4 issues of Young Avengers. It's an odd thing, to be able to see the gears turning, to know that there are great depths being plumbed, and yet to be wholly unengaged.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

So They Cancelled The Legion


Now I'm a big fan of the Legion. I came into comics in a serious "I want to read everything" sort of way in the early 2000s, just in the midst of DnA's run on the property, and I really, really enjoyed it. I went back and collected further runs - starting with the Great Darkness Saga, more for Darkseid than for the Legion - until, now, I can say I've read and owned every issue of a Legion-centric story in some form or another. From Adventure to "Superboy and..." to all the various "Legion" titles, I devoured the high concept sci fi, the soap opera, the superheroics.

But along the way, something sort of became clear to me; there has never been a perfect run of the Legion.

Don't get me wrong, there have been some GREAT runs. Giffen's 5 Years Later will always be my favorite, flawed masterpiece that it is. Nuanced characters, real and purposeful change, wonderful new ideas, spectacular sense of design (both page design and character design), and a density - with backup material - that could not be matched. This was a real post-Watchmen Legion, but in the best possible sense; a post-Watchmen comic book which understood what made Watchmen work in the first place, beyond 'grim and grit'.

The Levitz/Giffen Legion was a nice balance of that kind of drive for change with Levitz's more conservative (and somewhat awkward) tastes. Shooter's was a bevvy of fun - if narrowly superheroic - ideas.

But there has never been a perfect Legion run, and I find myself drawn to the franchise more for what it COULD be than what it HAS BEEN.

Certainly by no stretch of the imagination could the current run have been called perfect, or even really adequate. It was, in a word, languid. Completely lacking in verve, energy, innovation, or excitement. And, in that way, it was a true betrayal of the Legion concept.

Let's examine the franchise a bit, looking at what came before and what we might learn for later.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Suicide Squad 20 Review: New Start, New Depths

Written by: Ales Kot
Pencils and inks by: Patrick Zircher
Colors by: Jason Keith
Letters by: Jared K Fletcher
Edited by: Wil Moss, Harvey Richards, and Brian Cunningham

Suicide Squad is a title with a long history at DC comics. First "Task Force X", a war comic, John Ostrander completely revitalized and revamped the concept in the 80s, spinning out of the "Legends" crossover. That book became a cult hit, one of the things to put John Ostrander on the map, for it's daring approach to standard superhero tropes, it's willingness to take risks, and perhaps most of all it's eerily prescient take on international politics. It remains one of the most articulate comics of its day, and it's legacy can be seen all throughout the DC and Marvel universes; books like Secret Six, Checkmate, and every iteration of the Thunderbolts post-Warren Ellis (inclusive of Warren Ellis)  owe  a huge debt of gratitude to Ostrander's pioneering work there. Along the way, Ostrander gave us incredibly nuanced takes on previously un-dimensional characters like "Deadshot", gave new life to carelessly broken characters like crippled Barbara Gordon (yes, John Ostrander and his wife Kim Yale created "Oracle"), and created cornerstones of the DCU like Amanda "The Wall" Waller, a character that seen in feature film and animation alike.

The legacy of the actual title post-Ostrander, unfortunately, hasn't been nearly as positive. An aborted, 12 issue run by Keith Giffen somewhere in the nineties, a short mini series by Ostrander himself that didn't quite capture the magic in the 2000s...Certainly Simone's "Secret Six" was a worthy spiritual successor, but Suicide Squad itself didn't seem to have the legs, despite an amazing name and high concept.

With the New 52, they relaunched the book with Adam Glass at the helm, and while I only dipped my toes into the title (after having been badly burned by Glass's mediocre work on a preface Flashpoint mini series), I found this iteration of the Suicide Squad to be exactly the opposite of what Ostrander did; violence for the sake of violence, stupidity reveling it it's stupidity. More "Commando" than "The Hunt for Red October".

But with issue 20, we have the new team of Ales Kot and Patrick Zircher, and with them a new direction and a new pedigree. I'm happy to report that they also bring with them marked improvement.

From a craft perspective regarding the writing, I think this was a good, not great start; promising more than mind blowing. It seems clear to me that Kot is still familiarizing himself with the single-issue monthly format, and I think we'll see him improve as he goes. The art of writing a 20 page comic book is not the same as writing a 90 page graphic novel is not the same as writing a television show, is not the same as writing a movie, is not the same as writing a novel, etc.

What I mean is this; a good 20/22 page comic is structured in certain defined ways. Now, obviously, there is room for experimentation and change, but those first issues - especially of a new writer with an unproven track record to the public - should ideally include something extremely attention grabbing in the first 2-3 pages ("All the men are dead --", "My name is John Horus and I've just killed the President of the United States", "The old man is beating his fists against the glass..."), should establish your characters, your world, your tone, your direction, and should end with something big.

I know that seems like a lot, but it's doable, and all the very best, and most popular, comics started out that way. Y the Last Man, Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, Grant Morrison's Animal Man/Doom Patrol, Ellis' Planetary...really, Brian K Vaughn, who is the master of keeping audiences engaged, adheres to this formula doggedly (without repeating himself), and it's really a wonderful thing to watch him serve all these masters effortlessly in books like "Saga" and "The Private Eye", where he's finally upping his conceptual creativity.

What I'm saying (long-windedly) is this book did quite a bit, but it didn't give us the big beginning and it didn't give us much in the way of jaw-dropping moments. It was insidious, it was very deliberate in its pacing...that isn't a bad thing, but it's not quite the ideal first issue.

There was, however, a lot to like here. There was a sense of...intelligence...and the off kilter, little echoes of Morrison's "Arkham Asylum" or Gaiman's "Black Orchid" brought to the characters, applied to their habits and proclivities. There was some nice psychology -- though some of the storytelling from Kot was unclear, especially in regards to Faux-ker/Harley -- and some nice reveals (some that were quite significant and shocking, some that meant  nothing to me, because I haven't been following the series). The inclusion of a certain character from modern continuity is, in its way, a stroke of genius; it mirrors the Oracle element from Ostrander's run, and is yet actually MORE appropriate for the tone of the book.

Zircher, though, is a massive asset; one of the great storytellers in the business, his characters dripping in emotion, acting on every panel with body language and facial expressions, his worlds solid and real, his action kinetic, his finish moody and shadowed. He's JUST the man for this job, and I think Kot is just the collaborator for him; it seems to me that Kot is a great collaborator in a true sense of the word, taking into account what the artist wants and his storytelling instincts, and Zircher has a lot of great ideas in that regard on his own. There is one panel in particular, making use of the "Scrabble" game our characters are playing, that has gotten a lot of play on the internet already, for good reason.

What I'm saying is that while this one issue didn't knock me down quite yet, I think the seeds are planted for a truly special run, and I have a feeling that it's only going to get better and better as we go.

Cheers and kudos to Wil Moss and company for putting this team together, and cheers to Kot and Zircher for putting together a great issue. To a long and healthy run, and one that leads to many future opportunities.

Monday, April 29, 2013

So They Closed ComicsAlliance

I was sad to hear that AOL closed the comics news site Comicsalliance

I didn't often agree with the opinions of reviewers and commentators there, but I appreciated that they were more than just a publicity machine; they posted some of the more thoughtful criticism and analysis on mainstream comics, and I’m sorry to see them go.

That said, most of the main movers have their own blogs where I’m sure they’ll continue to do good work. Some of the better reporting a lot of those individuals were doing were posted on their own websites, like David Brothers' expose of comic book pirating.

That said, it seems inevitable that diaspora will occur, and at least a few of those individuals will lose part of their casual audience, and that's a shame.

It falls to all of us, everywhere, to raise the bar; more thoughtful and analytical reviews, constructive critique rather than entropic raging, and  a greater focus on issues of substance rather than flash in the pan controversy. In general, we need a greater effort to put out articulate and positive articles -- even if sometimes the form of that positivity means being negative about a particular piece of work.

Comicsalliance always made that effort, even if it was sometimes guilty of those things I mention above. The mainstream has lost something significant, and that's a real shame. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Alan Moore on Writing

Saw this randomly on youtube, and had to post it up. Really simple, beautiful, insightful and uncompromising bit of wisdom on writing

Check it out!