Thursday, March 28, 2013
Wednesday, July 4, 2012
I realized it's been a while since I reviewed a comic book I actually liked, even though I have read one of those recently, so here's Adventure Comics No. 343.
In the year 3000, a bunch of bored teenagers who all idolize the superheroes of the 1950s decide to form a super hero club, the Legion of Superheroes. They put on costumes, assume heroic identities, and just chill in their clubhouse until they happen upon some event or other they feel like investigating. In this issue the Legion decides to find out if bad luck is real, and if so, discover its source. The answer of bad luck's existence turns out to be "yes" and "no." They find a group of fortune-controlling aliens called the Luck Lords on a distant planet. But it turns out that the Luck Lords just hypnotize their victims into subconsciously causing whatever bad luck they're afraid of.
The story moves at a steady clip, proposes a big, lovably weird idea, gives the payoff all the room it needs, and does it all in 16 pages. The dialogue is a little stiff, but no word is wasted. The story was drawn by Curt Swan, a rare treat as he mostly drew covers. Everybody is basically the same beautifully-proportioned figure, but just enough is done with their costumes, hair and faces that there's no confusing any of this very large cast.
Every single panel is a clean composition that shows exactly what it needs to with just the right amount of detail. I instantly get everything I need to from every panel at first glance, but as I read this my eye would linger on the fringes of its perfection, gazing in awe at perfectly-rendered shadows, forearms and heads of hair. I was amazed that a comic this consistently beautiful could exist. This is the kind of craftsmanship that convinced pop artists that comic books belong in art museums.
This is basically a surrealist Hardy Boys-type story, and it's an undeniable success in concept and execution.
Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Whoops! Looks like everything's coming up Spider-Man. Just as well, the webbed wonder's new movie opens today. Let's hope it's better than this comic.
The plot actually makes some sense. Nick Fury paid a bunch of brilliant scientists to find ways to turn people into super-powered mutants for the U.S. government. The scientists all accidentally got a taste of what they were making and became freaks of nature themselves. They all became supervillains, got beaten up by Spider-Man and then got put in a secret superjail by Nick Fury and held without a trial. All of these villains escape superjail. They threaten to tell the world that Nick Fury paid them to create deadly monsters and unfairly detained them unless they get paid to stay quiet. They kidnap Spider-Man. Since they can't convince him that they're innocent compared to Nick Fury, they threaten to hurt Aunt May and Mary Jane if he doesn't act like he's on their side.
Not a bad story. Unfortunately, after the bad guys find out that Nick Fury won't buy their silence, instead of calling a press conference to expose the secrets Nick Fury wouldn't pay them to keep and making HIM look like the bad guy, they just go on a crazy rampage. And then they get beaten up and put in superjail again, the end.
Ultimate Six takes forever to get anywhere because most of it is long-winded conversations. I think that's why the bad guys just pick a fight at the end, because the writer kept putting off the fighting and he had to make up for it right at the last. This comic is basically a Spider-Man-flavored knockoff of 24, it's mostly tough guys having very long, melodramatic conversations, but sometimes they're interrogating Aunt May and the bad guy is the Green Goblin.
The bizarre storytelling priorities of Ultimate Six waste the potential of its own ideas. The bad guys actually do have something of a point, Nick Fury is not a nice man, and Spider-Man being forced to form a public alliance with his (somewhat sympathetic) enemies is an interesting new way to ruin the wall-crawler's reputation. There's no room left for any of these ideas after multiple issues of boring talking preceding their introduction. The basis for an interesting story that's mostly about talking is swimming around in this boring, stupid story that's mostly about talking.
The covers are beautiful, (unlike the interior art, as usual) and promise a completely different story where Spider-Man puts on his mask and fights the bad guys. I can't imagine a dumber thing for the cover of a Spider-Man comic to lie about containing inside than "Spider-Man putting on his mask and fighting the bad guys."
The covers of all seven issues of Ultimate Six can be seen for free online, and they are the only part of this comic book mini-series I recommend.
Saturday, June 16, 2012
A teenage girl lives a happy life as a superhero's sidekick when suddenly the world ends. She survives by escaping into a parallel universe, but now she lives in a place where everyone she cared about never existed and every good thing she did never happened. She has no one and belongs nowhere, yet still she walks the earth. Sounds great, right? Sadly, despite its claims to the contrary, that's not what this comic is about. If Nomad ever felt anything powerful about her unusual burden, she got over it before this story even begins. What do we get instead? Supervillains rigging a student body election at Nomad's high school. Just what I'd expect to find in this comic called "Girl Without a World." I guess if I want to read about a girl without a world I'll have to pick up "Student Body Election Mystery."
Not only did this comic deny me what I wanted, what it actually delivers isn't very good, either. Writer Sean McKeever is known for his portrayal of teenagers, but I could only hear a middle-aged man who's not as witty as he thinks he is in Nomad's voice. The cover looks great, and nothing like the lackluster interior art, so the between promising an interesting premise and eye-catching visuals, the cover let me down twice. Actually, three times, because in the actual comic she doesn't even have a gun.
How can you make an idea this good into a comic this bad?
Friday, June 1, 2012
In the 1970s, superhero comics began tackling hard issues. Green Arrow's sidekick Speedy became a drug addict, Lois Lane a liberated woman. Though the results were corny by today's standards, they got across to a lot of previously uninformed parties that comics, about superheroes and otherwise, were free to comment on important issues in a serious way. Unfortunately, all this "relevance" and "realism" eventually crowded the fun superhero comics off the stands, and to add insult to injury, to crave the light and fluffy stuff now gets you accused of trying to drag the superhero genre and the comics medium back to the stone age. Don't get your diplomas wrinkled, smart guys, you can have your "graphic literature." It's your idea that I'm trying to take it away from you by enjoying something else.
This is my kind of superhero action. There's no philosophizing, just a bunch of guys in tights bopping each other around. Jack Kirby chooses not to wax poetic about what our world is coming to in his caption boxes, preferring to stick to naming the animals Captain America moves like. This comic is especially satisfying for featuring Magneto, a future poster child for "relevance," in a deliciously cornball portrayal. In a few years Magneto would be rewritten as a bitter Holocaust survivor, but here he's got nothing to say about his troubled childhood or its influence on his decision to kidnap the smallest man in the world and force him to loot a tiny alien spaceship. As Magneto tells Captain America, "I have NOTHING to explain to you -- save the manner in which I shall DESTROY you!"
The art is pure pop art perfection. By 1977 the fanzine critical establishment had written off Kirby's art as a clumsy copy of a copy, but it looks more to me like after a lifetime of drawing explosions and conversations, he's distilled his drawings of these things to their essence. As Kirby did this, pretty much every other superhero artist was trying to render everything as realistically (and with as many lines) as possible. As with "realistic," "relevant" writing, the philosophy that ran counter to Kirby as an artist would inherit the superhero comic world. Kirby the artist left the seventies all but forgotten in the shadow of Neal Adams and George Perez.
This is the kind of comic book that people who don't ever read them imagine they're all like. It's cotton candy, and it's a shame that there are so few like it, then and now.