Thursday, August 28, 2008

Wed. Is Any Day For All I Care #12

A short while ago, I switched this newish comic review column to biweekly status, front loaded early in the month. Since I don't care much about being timely anyway, I thought I might round out the month with much older comics to review. Let's see how this works out...

Capes #1
The Legion #24
The Scream #1
Solo #1

Capes #1 (Image, 2003, $3.50)
I was reading an interview with writer/creator Robert Kirkman today where he stated that this book was not received well by anyone. On the one hand, that's a shame, as it's a cute little title. On the other hand, duh.

Despite some nods to a dramatic subplot, this was a broad super-hero parody, where super-hero fans take themselves entirely too seriously. Look at one of the few success stories, "Justice League International." That was heavily promoted as a serious reinvention in a hype-filled environment. The humor crept in over time, and came out of the characters unguarded interactions with one another. Also, it worked well as "counter-programming" against the more grim-and-gritty material of the time.

The heroes and villains in "Capes" are meant to be laughed at, not with. They are clearly caricatures of working schlubs as super-heroes, which no one who idolizes heroes is likely to invest in. Kirkman mentions that "Capes" was originally conceived as a wrestling comedy, which would have worked better, if only by filling a niche and employing idols of a more mercenary stripe. As for counter-programming, Kirkman's doing just that, better, with other books. "Capes" reads more like someone trying to write like Robert Kirkman, or more likely, Kirkman trying to write like Erik Larson. Artist Mark Englert seemed to have the same problem on his front.

The thing is, "Capes" is a perfectly agreeable book. The situations were amusing, and I would hope some of the more interesting characters would be lifted for "Invincible" and given a bit more dimension. The problem was that I never actually laughed at any of it, and felt no compulsion to buy another issue, especially at a $0.50 premium for no discernible reason. I'd recommend "Capes" if you can dig it out of a discount bin, but beyond that, eh. When the characters are so ready to take the piss out of themselves and their situations, what's left for the audience?

The Legion #24 (DC, 2003, $2.50)
I can't seem to do one of these columns without the Legion of Super-Heroes appearing in some capacity, even if I have to go back five years to do it. I'd actually dropped the Legion titles as Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning were coming in, as a combination of burnout and disinterest in seeing yet another dystopian turn in their future. If there's anyplace where optimism should be requisite, it's in a Legion book.

Anyway, while I think DNA are nice guys and all, I've never found any of their scripts to go beyond serviceable, and this was no exception. It's a done-in-one Umbra spotlight story, which does its job and gets out. I'm perfectly fine with that, as the effort was all in service to giving Steve Lightle 21 pages of figure art to draw with a bare minimum of backgrounds. It was not far removed from John Byrne's "Snowblind" prank from that old issue of "Alpha Flight." I adore Steve Lightle's lazy ass, since the images he chooses not to drown in India ink are consistently gorgeous, which is why he can get away with this nonsense. Besides optimism, sex appeal has been another major attraction to the Legion, since at least the 70's. There are some abuses of the thong here and there, but it's hard to fault Lightle's command of the female form, even when it's directed at Umbra's elderly mentor. About as beautiful as wrinkles and jowls get, I'd say.

The Scream #1 (Dark Horse, 2007, $2.99)
This was another "cute" book, with a drab nebbish of a lead character outshone by broad, wacky secondary characters. Unlike "Capes," Peter David writes some genuinely funny moments, particularly during a near-orgy in a post office. Also, there was an interesting subplot relating to the mental state of the lead character, and the effects of his powers because of it. The ending left me wanting for resolution, but not quite enough to bother with a trade. As for the art, I find mileage on Bart Sears varies wildly. It never fails to amuse me that an artist prone to such particular eccentricities was teaching Wizard readers how to draw for years. I'm sorry, but the first thing to attract the attention of my eye should not be those gnarly fucking knuckles of his. I'm also grateful Sears was back to drawing sequential panels that form a narrative, as opposed to his overly designed and nigh impenetrable pages of a few years back. Still, I generally found Sears and colorist Lucas Marangon's work pleasing to the eye, though they should be considered as a team for any future Plastic Man revivals.

Solo #1 (DC, 2004, $4.99)
I was introduced to Tim Sale through ads for "Billi 99," though I've never held a copy of the actual book in my hands. Still, I remembered it when Frank Miller started puffing his chest and claiming people like Sale should get their own art style, based solely off his "Deathblow" work. Never mind Sale was using the "Sin City" high contrast look before Miller, and that Miller himself stole his specific take on "chiaroscuro" from Steranko. I guess what set Sale apart was that unlike, say, Jim Lee, Sale's use of the effect was coupled with a storytelling sense that was actually comparable to Miller's. If anything, Miller's continued exaggeration in his figures has made them even more like Sale's. Anyhow, Sale rates, and it still surprises me how well he's done for himself in a field that tends to prize excessive rendering over personal expression. I was pleased to spend an issue of Mark Chiarello's tragically short-lived anthology ogling his work.
  1. "Date Knight," written by Darwyn Cooke, actually played to aspects of Sale's work that aggravate me. Jeph Loeb once quoted words about his own work to the effect of "where most comics are bathroom reading, you can finish a Jeph Loeb script while taking a piss." Tim Sale's routine use of spreads, splashes and large panels only enables Loeb, and would be excessive to the degree of early Image, were he not using the space so cinematically.
  2. "Christina" is a rare instance of Sale writing, and a damned good one. I'm a sucker for first person narrative, and here Sale does an excellent job of using that technique with art that obscures what exactly is going on until you read it proper. We all love to thumb through our comics to spoil them in our excitement, but Sale "proofed" this very writerly piece.
  3. "Young Love" featured another rare scripting outing, but this time from Diana Schutz, who's usually in the editor's chair. As usual, the ones who cross over the least do it the best. Schutz's story shows an understanding of the Supergirl character and mythos that is so rare and touching. Would that she had reintroduced the character instead of Jeph Loeb, there would be a great many more readers happy with the character. My favorite of the stories.
  4. "Prom Night" by Jeph Loeb wishes it could be so affecting. For a guy who really hates Loebs' work, this was relatively painless, but still embraced cornball cliché where a heart was meant to be.
  5. "Low Card In The Hole" by Brian Azzarello was one of those stories where you get to the last page, flip it to be sure, then go back over to work through. This was the one story where I thought everything came together the best, and since I couldn't find a colorist credit, I assume this was Tim Sale's doing. Definitely the densest and best looking tale in the issue, and challenging in a good way. If Supergirl hadn't gotten to me so well, this one would have gotten the nod.
  6. "I Concentrate On You" was another high point, accomplishing in three mostly silent pages what many struggle for at ten times the space. Very soulful, and more cause to wish Sale would do his own writing.

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