Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Quick Comics Reviews 5

Incorruptible volume 1 by Mark Waid and Jean Diaz – I’d heard plenty of good things about this series and Irredeemable. I’ve only read the first issue of Irredeemable, and even though Incorruptible is sort of the sister title to that series, the first volume is a good introduction to the story. Irredeemable is about the Plutonian, a Superman-like being who turns out to be a psychopath, turning on Earth, and just unleashes the full force of his wrath upon the planet. Incorruptible is sort of about the opposite: A supervillain decides to become a superhero so somebody can stand up to the Plutonian. It’s an unusual perspective for a superhero comic, and Mark Waid is a reliably talented superhero writer. He does a good job building the world and setting up the backstory and characters.

It actually feels like Incorruptible isn’t a spin-off series because it stands on its own so well. The artwork, however, is rather bland and inconsistent. One of the characters is supposed to be a sixteen-year old girl named Jailbait, but she doesn’t look like a kid, and sometimes the artist gives her freckles, and sometimes he doesn’t. The character designs aren’t very inspiring, either. Despite all this, Diaz still tells Waid’s story clearly. This is an expensive trade paperback, though. For four issues, this trade costs seventeen bucks. I get that Boom! is a smaller publisher, but I just can’t justify paying retail for this book. I’m interested in seeing where Waid takes this story, but right now it doesn’t feel like an essential must-read.

Empire State: A Love Story (Or Not) by Jason Shiga – This piece of semi-autobiographical fiction is about an Asian-American post-college grad named Jimmy who lives in Oakland. His best friend is a Jewish girl named Sara, but she hates Oakland and moves to New York City to have a life. Jimmy ends going through a bit of a funk before he decides to take a cross-country bus to meet up with Sara and confess his love for her. It’s an earnest comic that never degenerates into any pretentiousness or self-indulgence.

The honesty of Jimmy and Sara’s friendship feels real and the story excels at evoking feelings of nostalgia and logic simultaneously. Shiga effectively conveys the sense of hope that Jimmy feels for Sara, but it’s tempered by a realistic understanding of how to handle disappointments in life, so the story never feels wishy-washy, but grounded. The seemingly simplistic artwork belies rather masterful storytelling craft. Throughout the comic, Shiga uses negative space and layouts that really serve to control the pace of the story. Using negative space can often be difficult to execute properly (a lot of times, this comic book storytelling tool can be used for no real discernible purpose) but Shiga does it well. The duotoned colors impart emotion and mood into the scenes, and his characters’ eyes are particularly expressive. This is a fantastic piece of work, and a great read for anyone interested in straightforward good stories. I highly recommend Empire State.

Superman: Earth One by J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis – Imagine a story about a young, unsure Clark Kent, fresh out of junior college, newly moved to Metropolis, trying to decide what to do with his life. He’s grown up with solid American values but hasn’t decided to become Superman yet. Then an alien armada invades Earth, looking for him, and he ends up putting on the costume and beating them to save the day. Well, you don’t have to imagine that story because JMS and Shane Davis have given it to us.

What’s the point of this? Is there really any purpose for yet another Superman origin story? This comic doesn’t do anything to make me appreciate Superman more. It doesn’t have anything noteworthy to say about Superman or the Superman mythos that we haven’t already read before. Even all that isn’t unforgivable, but this book doesn’t even have an interesting plot. I also don’t like how some of the characters sometimes talk out loud to themselves when no one else is around. Why not use thought balloons or narrative captions instead? Shane Davis’ art is horrible, too. From his uninspired designs (the primary villain looks like The Crow with metal death wings) to his overreliance on thin lines and cross hatching, Davis gives Earth One a really mediocre style. He doesn’t do a good job handling facial expressions or body language, and seems more suited to drawing middling fight scenes. The panel-to-panel storytelling is marginal at worst, merely adequate at best. His work here reminds me of a homeless man’s Jim Lee.

I also feel obligated to point out how badly Davis failed in illustrating a scene where Clark tries out for Metropolis’ pro football team. Not only does he fail in drawing the proportions of the players on the field, he seems to lack a complete understanding of football as a sport. The players are wearing seemingly random numbers (numbers should be assigned based on position) and Davis draws them haphazardly all over the field with no sense of how football is played. It’s the fudging of details like this that really show the lack of serious attention the creators put into making this book. Skip this and read Mark Waid’s and Leinil Yu’s Superman: Birthright instead, if you feel you must read a modern Superman origin story.

Amulet Book Three: The Cloud Searchers by Kazu Kibuishi – The third volume of the series continues the nice level of quality of the previous books. Heroine Emily and her unlikely band of rebels and misfits go on a journey in search of a fabled lost city that floats in the clouds. She gains some new unruly allies and a dangerous new foe. Kibuishi keeps the story flowing along, striking a nice balance between humor, action, and quiet moments. The artwork, as usual, is breathtaking and I think one of the nicest things I can say about Amulet in general is how well it’s able to kindle that sense of adventure in anyone’s imagination.

Gen 13: I Love New York by John Arcudi and Gary Frank – In this run of stories from the mid-nineties, Arcudi and Frank take the established premise of Gen 13 (a team of superpowered teens on the run from shadowy government agents) at the time and make it readable. I think anyone reasonable can look back on just about any of those early nineties Image books and see how shallow those efforts are. Gen 13, when it was first created, didn’t have a whole lot going for it other than the fact that J. Scott Campbell (whose art I particularly disdain) would draw all these unbelievably big-breasted teenage chicks in varying states of undress. I guess they knew their audience back then.

By the time Arcudi and Frank came aboard, I suppose Image (or WildStorm, at least) started to realize how badly the stories sucked and wanted to improve. Thus, we had Warren Ellis (who also did a couple of giant-sized issues of Gen 13) on Stormwatch and Alan Moore on WildC.A.T.s. Gen 13 never reached the heights of Stormwatch or WildC.A.T.s, but this was definitely a step in the right direction until Adam Warren took over the book. I Love New York takes the kids out of their usual digs in San Diego and brings them to the Big Apple where they continue to elude the people on their trail. It isn’t anything revelatory but it’s a competent superhero comic with nice art, which is all you can ask for sometimes. I don’t think it’s anything you need to go out of your way to look for, but reading it doesn’t feel like a complete waste of time, either.

Avengers Academy volume 1: Permanent Record by Christos Gage and Mike McKone – I’ve enjoyed just about every Christos Gage comic I’ve encountered. Avengers Academy is a fairly straightforward teen superhero comic. It actually reminds me a bit of The Intimates, only far less subversive and more conventional. Avengers Academy is about a team of six teens who are being trained by Hank Pym and a handful of other C-list Marvel heroes to be future Avengers. There’s a nice little twist at the end of the first issue (which is, unfortunately, spoiled on the trade’s back cover synopsis) that adds an interesting element to the teens’ adventures and what being in the academy means. I like McKone’s artwork. His clean style is always appealing when paired up with a good story. Maybe Avengers Academy doesn’t look as good as his art on Teen Titans, but this is still some of his better stuff. All in all, this book is a nice tour through one corner of the Avengers’ section of the Marvel universe. It’s a cool superteen team book with just enough thematic depth and character development to keep me turning the pages. The only misstep was when a guest artist drew one of the issues; it was noticeably mediocre compared to McKone’s issues.

NYX: Wannabe by Joe Quesada, Josh Middleton, and Robert Teranishi – NYX takes place in the New York City of the Marvel Universe and follows a small group of superpowered teens who basically have nowhere to go. It’s a bit darker and more cynical than Gen 13, though. Whereas Gen 13’s characters are generally likeable, and even the uncouth and buffoonish Grunge has a certain charm, I don’t particularly care for any of the characters in NYX. On one hand, I don’t think there’s any intrinsic problem with a story having unlikeable characters. Sometimes, it is to the benefit of the story. However, in NYX, I really don’t see the point of why Quesada chose to portray his characters as insufferable jerks who basically deserve all the cruelty they have to endure. (Or maybe it’s just me, and my own personal biases which taint my view of them.)

NYX is a frustrating book because I think it had so much potential to be something better than it is. If Charles Xavier and Magneto are different sides of the same coin, then the mutant outcasts in NYX are the dirty dollar bills floating in the gutter. These teens are involved in gangs, drugs, prostitution, and all that stuff. It’s interesting that the artwork is so bright and lively because the contents of the story are rather depressing. Quesada’s dialogue can come off as awkward and forced (especially when he writes street lingo), the plot doesn’t really have a satisfying resolution, and, like I said, I didn’t like the characters. Still, NYX might be worth a library read because it’s got an interesting premise and it’s obvious that Quesada was trying to say something with his work. I just don’t think it comes across too clearly, if at all.

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