Thursday, November 24, 2011

DC New 52 Review: Aquaman #1-3

Aquaman #1-3
Written by Geoff Johns
Pencils by Ivan Reis
Inks by Joe Prado
Cover Price: $2.99

In a nutshell:
The creative team from Blackest Night again takes something familiar and stale and makes it cool and frightening.

Arthur (Aquaman) is a character born of two worlds, his father being a human from the U.S., and his mother the queen of the underwater city of Atlantis. Unhappy leading Atlantis, Arthur chooses to once again live in the human world however he finds that he is not as respected by men as he is in the underwater world. Our real world jokes about Aquaman are the same in Aquaman's world. Meanwhile frightening creatures show up that originate from out of the trench of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, so deep that even Aquaman has never encountered them before. The creatures are like a cross between Piranas and humans and they have a huge appetite and seem to have the need to feed on humans as well as kidnapping humans in a cocoon of sorts and taking them back to the trenches for others of their species to feed on. Aquaman fights off these creatures and wants to find out what they are, where they came from, and how he can rescue the creatures that has been taken.

Why did I pick it up?
I feel a connection to the iconic "superfriends" that I grew up with, especially when they go "back to basics" or to the more iconic versions of the character. Geoff Johns revived Green Lantern and Flash and he and Ivan Reis also were the creators behind Blackest Night which is the only event book I've ever really enjoyed.

The Good:
This is the first time I can remember really connecting to Aquaman. What is often thought of as lame is played totally straight and feels cool. These new monsters are a different kind of threat but very creepy and frightening. In this story we also meet the brilliant Stephen Shin, one of Aquaman's mentors whom also once tried to kill him because of his obsession with Atlantis. There is a lot of foreshadowing in this encounter, a potential setup for a potential rivalry/threat, as well as the implication that Aquaman's Trident belonged to a threat that will return for it. Ivan Reis is an artist who has become more appealing as he goes on. He draws the characters and events clearly and the way they're supposed to be, and in a dynamic and exciting way. Oh, and Aquaman's wife Mera, she's a hottie!

The Bad:
In past posts I have commented about how it's more effective to imply something horrific than it is to display it out as bloody gore. There is a scene in issue 2 that does this perfectly. My only issue with it is that there used to be this rule in comics, kids don't get killed. If a superhero is representation of our hopes and fears, what is the point of the superhero if the child dies. What good is protecting the world in a child's eyes, if the child itself is dead. And I think this is another example how superhero comics have evolved from something for the inner child in all of us, to comics aren't just for kids anymore, to comics aren't for kids at all. So I think this scene is a powerful and effective scene, and horrifyingly scary. But I do think it is an example of something that is lost in the modern superhero comic.

The majority of the DC comics have gone from 22 pages to 20 pages and while that might not seem significant, it does feel a little lighter. What hasn't helped is that there have been six page previews of upcoming titles which becomes irritating when it's in every title and it just makes it clear how much story is missing that the last chunk of the comic is take
n up with these shameless promotions. Imagine what a letdown it must be to actually buy this comics and being totally bored with the first third of the comic being overexposed before you ever picked it up. These kinds of promotions make me not want to buy the comics as opposed to the other way around.

Is it worth it?
Again, $2.99 is too much for a comic and with two pages cut out (the supposed justification for not making it $3.99, disgusting, especially in this economy), it's hard to tell people who's jobs are disappearing to other countries (thanks to a bipartisan collaboration at selling out the American worker for the benefit of Wall Street) that they should spend the better part of a five dollar bill on a comic they'll read through in less than twenty minutes. But this is one of the better creative teams currently working on superhero comics and Aquaman is finally being treated like a character you want to read about.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

DC New 52 Review: Wonder Woman #1-3

Wonder Woman #1-3
Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Cliff Chang
Cover Price: $2.99

In a nutshell:
A darker Wonder Woman tale that plays with her origin

I wouldn't call this a horror story, but the story takes fantastic elements and interprets them in a horror setting. The Greek Gods in this story aren't as bright and shiny, they're very creepy and their presence is our world is quite startling. Paradise Island feels a bit like the island on Lost. Everything is a bit darker and Wonder Woman seems to be the most human of the characters we have met so far. In this story we discover a shocking twist about her origin, or at least it's shocking to Wonder Woman. It's hard to be shocked by twists like this in comics anymore and while Wonder Woman is one of the three big icons at DC, her iconic status is more associated with recognition rather than an intimate knowledge of her backstory. We know that Superman came from Krypton. We know that Batman's parents were murdered. But even as a comic fan I rarely think about the fact that Wonder Woman came from clay and it never seemed that important. Apparently Zues, king of the gods, likes to cheat on his wife and he has a number of illegitimate offspring. This pisses off Zues's wife Hera (I can't really picture Wonder Woman saying "Great Hera" after this story) and Hera is very jealous so she tries to kill these offspring when she can. Apparently Zeus is too busy being a slut to get involved in all of this. Zeus's latest conquest was a human young woman and Hera sends her minions to kill this girl whom Wonder Woman ends up protecting and bringing to her mother on Paradise Island. In the course of this Wonder Woman learns some shocking things about herself.

Why did I pick it up?
Wonder Woman is a character I loved as a kid but have had a very hard time connecting to as a comic book collector. Part of that is that it has taken this popular idea that feminism means being a better man than a man and a lot of the feminine qualities about her character have been swept away. Those characteristics, I felt, were a huge part of her appeal and, in my opinion, undervalued qualities in what is increasingly becoming a coldly competitive society. It's for that reason I feel that Wonder Woman could be the perfect hero to contrast that problem and show a reflection of something that's missing in us that we don't even know is missing. So whenever I know there is a new jumping on point for the character I give it a try.

The Good:
The story is well written in that it understands that we already know who Wonder Woman is, it's not just telling an origin story, but it has the character discover something about herself that allows the writer to say, here's your character, here's where she came from, here's how it's important to what she's dealing with right now. Although I was immediately put off but Cliff Chang's art as it marinaded it really started to grow on me and I think
it's perfect for this story and I'll definitely keep my eye out for him from this point on. While this isn't necessarily the Wonder Woman I have been waiting for, I really enjoy it when creative teams of quality take these iconic characters and drop them into a different kind of story than we're used to seeing them in. I like that Paradise Island feels big and mysterious. I like that it's not just glistening in the sun. This gives it more depth and makes it more interesting to tell stories. Brian Azarello knows how to make something feel important even if we didn't go into it feeling that way in the first place, which is no surprise if you look at the work that he made his name on. Not everyone is an Azarello fan but you have to admit, the guy's name is based off his storytelling, not just playing with franchise characters that already get a lot of attention. I also really like that Wonder Woman's mother, Queen Hippolyta looks like her classic appearance again and not an older version of Wonder Woman. That might be that might be purely aesthetic but it's the little touches like this that makes me feel the roots of a character haven't been forgotten.

The Bad:
My daughters both love Wonder Woman and this comic isn't appropriate for them. I understand that it's tough to brand a character like Wonder Woman because girls don't support the comic industry enough to hold up a title like this and kids barely have a presence in mainline comics anymore, which is really the biggest shift in comics (that my generation took them with us). So you have this issue where some of the people buying the book want to see the sex appeal of the character. Some want this ultimate fighter warrior so that she can look badass next to Superman. And I really think that Wonder Woman hasn't established an identity in mainstream comics yet. I like this take on her so far. She seems more human than I've seen in a while. But when the creative team next shifts it's hard not to consider it as a possible jumping off point because at this point Wonder Woman is still just an icon. DC has to really figure out how to brand this character because I don't see that they've figured it out yet.

Is it worth it?
I'm enjoying this comic and I would enjoy it if this creative team stayed on it for a while.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

DC New 52 Review: Action Comics #3

Action Comics #3
Written by Grant Morrison
Pencils by Rags Morales & Gene Ha
Inks by Rick Byrant
& Gene Ha
Cover Price: $3.99

In a nutshell:
Superman has a bad day, Krypton rocks!

This issue begins with a flashback sequence featuring Superman's birth-parents in his last days of Krypton. Gene Ha supplies the art for this sequence and while I normally don't like it when two artists with conflicting styles share a book, Ha is the perfect artist to present Krypton (which is why I've chosen to display the alternate cover featuring Ha's art) and the Krypton sequences are separated from the present day in a way that frames it well. In the present day Superman has found that the corrupt corporate interests that he's been up against own the media and has been turning public support against him. This hits him pretty hard and he takes it personally. Both the Krypton sequence and the present day sequence seem appear to be setting us up to introduce the new version of Braniac.

Why did I pick it up?
Action is the best book DC is putting out right now!

The Good:
Gene Ha's art is fantastic and is perfect for Krypton. You gotta hope that Morrison and Ha do a World of Krypton mini series after reading the prologue in this issue. Morales is continuing to do the great job he's been doing. Other fans have told me that they think his work has a Mark Bagely vibe going on and that's what I was feeling as well, except I think this is better than Bagely's art. This world feels real to me. Superman may have powers but he's living in our world with all the screwed up politics, corporate interests, and the really hostile media environment. I'm enjoying his relationship with Jimmy Olson, whose update feels perfect for this book, and I hope that that will be a staple in the book from this point forward.

The Bad:
The extras in this book featured the creative decisions behind the other Superman family books, none of which interest me as much as Action, and instead of feeling like cool extras like they did in the last issue when it focused on Action, it felt like all the other marketing crap that comics are filled with.

Is it worth it?
While the present day sequence didn't give us quite as much meat as I would have liked, it does seem to be setting us up for some cool excitement ahead and the Krypton sequence leaves me in anticipation for more! Action continues to be my must read book each month!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Who is this Pin-Up Artist?

I've come across two of these vintage Punchboards which I believe are kind of like the equivalent of old time scratch off lottery tickets, although obviously with a little more production value. They're both in excellent condition and feature gorgeous pin-up art featuring gorgeous girls. We're posting these for sale on Ebay and I want the artist names for the listings to help attract the right attention to them. The one with the blue background has a signature that is clear so I can identify the artist as Gil Elvgren. But this red one, which is my favorite of the two, only has a single initial which looks like an "E" and unfortunately my expertise on vintage pin-up artists isn't as sharp as it should be. I don't know if the E is the first name or the last name but I spent about an hour trying to figure it out and then decided I should

Basically I'm looking for help here. If you recognize the artist and/or the signature, I'd appreciate if you could leave a comment which is helpful not only for myself but for anyone else who might be interested in this art.


-Todd (beanlynch)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

DC New 52 Review: Swamp Thing #1-3

Swamp Thing #1-3
Written by Scott Snyder
Finished Art by Yanick Paquette

Cover Price: $2.99 each

In a nutshell:
DC brings Swamp Thing full circle.

Swamp Thing was first created by Len Wein and Berni Wrightson in 1972 as scientist Alec Holland who mutated into a plant like creature. The Swamp Thing was part of the DC Universe and at times interacted with characters like Batman as he did heroic deeds while trying to regain his humanity. When Alan Moore took over the character in the 1980s, he retconned the origin by having Swamp Thing discover that the real Alex Holland was actually killed in the event that created him and that the Swamp Thing was a completely new entity that had absorbed Holland's memories. This completely changed the focus and motivation of the character and it gave the character new life. It was also a landmark story in deconstructionism which inspired many of the trends that followed including the creation of the Vertigo imprint which Swamp Thing was a part of that were horror or crime stories set in their own context outside of the DC Universe. Swamp Thing, along with Sandman and other Vertigo titles that followed were the hip books to read in the late 80s and early 90s.

But over two decades have passed now and what was once new and and exciting is now overlooked as the more mainstream superhero comics have adopted many of the sensibilities (for better or worse) that were inspired by Vertigo. Not so much as reinventing the character so much as recontructing him, the Swamp Thing story has once again been folded into the DC Universe as the story is retconned once again as we learn that Alex Holland did not die at the Swamp Thing's creation after all and he has now been bonded with "The Green" and now has all of the Swamp Thing's memories. In these first three parts of this new series, Holland is the focus character who is trying to figure out who he is a world that has changed a lot since he went missing, and his internal struggle with these memories he has from the Swamp Thing.

Why did I pick it up?
With all the new titles and a limited budget I was on the fence but decided to pass the week the book came out. Having listened to some feedback from other readers I decided to pick up the second issue along with the reprint of the first issue. The covers by Yanick Paquette which basically displays the iconic Swamp Thing the way he's supposed to look certainly didn't hurt and knowing that the interiors were done by the same artist was the deciding factor for me.

The Good:
Apparently this Scott Snyder guy has been making a bit of a name for himself on a title called American Vampire which I'm yet to read, but the story drew me in. I find Alec Holland an easy enough character to latch onto and I'm really curious to see how things have developed since I last read Swamp Thing. You don't need to have read Swamp Thing to enjoy this book. It gives you everything you need to know what's going on here. And the Art by Yanick Paquette, unbelievably good! The idea to reconstruct Swamp Thing by bringing back Alec Holland is probably is a story that most writers and fans have imagined at some point, and the execution of it here is totally on the money. I'm looking forward to discovering where these characters have been.

The Bad:
I'm not sure that bringing the character back into the DC Universe is doing anything for it so far. We got an appearance by Superman in the first issue, who looked just dreadful in that awful Jim Lee designed costume (I will never stop bitching about it, it is just so wrong for this decade...) and the appearance really didn't serve the story except to make it clear to readers that he is in the DC Universe again.

There are a few grotesque scenes in the book and that's not unexpected in a horror comic but I'm not a big fan of gore for the sake of gore and I personally could do without that horror involving psychopathic children and then the grotesque murders of children. This kind of shock doesn't impress me as much as it puts me off. I might have enjoyed this more if I was still in my early 20s, but then again back then there wasn't so much of that in my face. These days these passe´ attempts to shock me just turn me off and bore me.

The idea that the Swamp Thing's origin was destiny rather than accident and that Swamp Thing is an agent of the greater good fighting against the ultimate supernatural evil (as opposed to human "evil" which is a culmination of choices) takes some of the humanity out of the story for me. This isn't a new concept to the Swamp Thing story but it is a heavy focus in the third issue. My feeling is that the best stories have to be a reflection of something real to the human condition (which can be pretty broad). It doesn't always have to be obvious, but the story has to mean something that is a reflection of something in us. The idea of supernatural evil is only interesting to me as a story device that might provide opportunity for context so my hope is that the supernatural good versus evil theme isn't the true meat of the story.

Is it worth it?
Yes. If you're put off by horror, then it's not the book for you. But it's smart. It's intriguing. The art is fantastic. And despite my reservations, which you have to bare in mind that I will nitpick things I like more than things I don't care about, it's a really good comic.