B.P.R.D.: The Black Goddess #1
Black Lightning: Year One #1
Dr. Doom and the Masters of Evil #1
Vixen: Return of the Lion #4
B.P.R.D.: The Black Goddess #1 (Dark Horse, 2009, $2.99)
While I've long enjoyed the art of Mike Mignola, I've never understood the popularity of his Hellboy universe. I've made repeated attempts to delve into its arcana, but every time I just end up shrugging. I also hate a printing conceit Dark Horse pioneered: the ongoing series disguised as a cycle of accessible minis. Every time I've been suckered into buying one, I feel cheated by a largely inaccessible narrative that I've clearly been dumped into the middle of. My first shot at reading B.P.R.D. proved both these irritating rules. I don't know these characters. I have some idea of where they've been through an inside cover primer, but the information seems to be out of date. I gleaned enough through context clues to mostly orient myself, but by the last page felt no compunction to read on.
There was little in the way of characterization, and the best bits followed the recollections of an elderly member of a Doc Savage style heroic troop. His story wrapped this issue, while those tasked to follow up on it didn't hook my interest. John Arcudi's script was solid enough, so I expect the blame falls on overall series plotter Mignola. The rough cartooning of Guy Davis also failed to impress.
Black Lightning: Year One #1 (DC, 2009, $2.99)
I grew up in the barrio/ghetto, and while I'm unquestionably a honky, I always related to the experiences of my mostly black friends growing up. Marvel ruled the roost in my neighborhood, as they treated their street characters with respect and an air of authenticity. DC's few attempts at creating African-American heroes always felt prefabricated and obligatory. That might explain why no one I knew collected Black Lightning appearances, and only I followed Titans-- with Cyborg among my least favorite members. Both, especially once B.L. joined the Outsiders, reeked to me of tokenism.
Black Lightning himself was hampered by a slew of handicaps: an afro-wig attached to his mask to hide his identity; the shirt open to his navel; the modest powers artificially generated by a belt; and so on. I know Tony Isabella had the best intentions with the character, but stacked against Black Panther, Power Man, Storm, Roadblock or Stalker? He just seemed hopelessly lame. Even the Falcon had a better costume and power set, if possibly even less personality. I've tried often to embrace the character, including his second solo run in the '90s, but all that came of that was a bitchin' action figure as part of the Total Justice line.
I bought this new mini-series because it was offered to me at a heavy discount. I expected nothing from it, so color me surprised when it turned out to be the best take on Black Lightning I've ever read. While I initially dismissed Judd Winick's retconning of a secret adult daughter for Jefferson Pierce, because Judd's a tool, I'm amazed at how Jen Van Meter turned this possible strike to her advantage. The mini-series establishes Pierce as a family man who, due to circumstances and personal convictions, is tragically growing ever distant from his loved ones. The internalization of the Black Lightning power is sidestepped as an issue by retroactively making them a part of Pierce from the beginning, which actually makes his motivation and inevitable consequences more plausible. Pierce's new extended family reminds me of Louise Simonson's work on the Steel character, before everything went completely to hell there, and enriches the hero-to-be.
The plot itself is nothing special, especially if you've ever watched any of those inspirational low-income school movies like "Lean On Me," or maybe the more paranoid vigilante franchise "The Principle." What makes it work here is the presentation, both in how well it suits the character, and as visualized by some of the finest art Cully Hamner's ever produced. Even the coloring of Laura Martin is inspired, mingling day-glo graffiti with moody blues and ominous brown-reds. This is one great looking, well thought out book, and I will be back for the trade! Thanks to the creative team for finally transforming Black Lightning from a idealistic concept into an intriguing character!
Dr. Doom and the Masters of Evil #1 (Marvel, 2009, $2.99)
Was this story originally produced to run in the back of some "Marvel Jr." magazine or something? Paul Tobin's plot is barely there, his sarcastic characterization is limp, and the whole affair seems pointless. Dr. Doom beats up a collection of Spider-Man villains, then forces them into a "Usual Suspects" scenario against Tony Stark for no clear reason. In the process, Iron Man and Dr. Strange (of all illogical combinations) are made to look like fools, the Sinister Six come across no better, and the next issue promises actual Masters of Evil the same treatment. Not even the wonky, kid-friendly art or cel-style coloring were appealing. Expect unsold copies in the discount bin in short order.
Vixen: Return of the Lion #4 (DC, 2008, $5.99)
Well, this issue was less disappointing than usual, if I can damn with faint praise. Halle Berry, one of the most boring actresses alive, continues to serve as a likeness, and apparently excitement, model. This reminds me of Berry's awful turn as Storm in the X-Men movies, and all this "finding herself in Africa" bullshit just makes me figure G. Willow Wilson overdosed on old Chris Claremont scripts. Gerry Conway created a flirty, fierce heroine, but every take I've seen since has leaned decidedly toward the milquetoast. At least the Justice League Unlimited cartoon got her right, and would that future writers looked toward her appearances there, I'd be a happier reader.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
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