Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine #1
Fathom: Blue Descent #0
Predators #1 (2010)
Wonder Woman #600
Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine #1
(Marvel, 2010, $3.99)
Joss Whedon was temporarily unemployed and John Cassaday wanted a more widely read project to spread his fame, so Marvel gave them an ongoing X-Men title. However, one of these guys was a big shot TV dude, and the other drew Planetary, so Marvel wasn’t going to get the schedule on a pre-existing title all Kevin Smith’d. Thus was born the Astonishing brand, which doesn’t mean it’s a new continuity like the Ultimate line, and isn’t degrees of mature readers like Marvel Knights or Max. Basically, Astonishing is just a way of saying “Look at me! I’m relatively self-contained, unbound by crossovers, and generally less shitty than the main line!” Alternately, it’s fucking pointless, like when you throw a medium hot Vertigo writer and the lesser Kubert boy at two major headlines in a cash grab. The favorite super-heroes of whiny everyman nerds and rageaholic dorks get tossed through time together, hanging out with cavemen until they run smack dab into the ending of Tim Burton’s Planet of the Clueless Remakes. There is no chemistry, Adam Kubert makes John Romita Jr. look excited to still be drawing Marvel characters after thirty years and an appearance by the Orb is the book’s highlight. There’s also a pin-up section by unknowns and middleweights which still manages to blow Batman #700 out of the water.
Michael Turner’s Fathom: Blue Descent #0 (Aspen, 2010, $2.50)
After the Image Comics bubble burst, only Todd McFarlane and Jim Lee still seemed to be riding high. Marc Silvestri had spent the early years keeping up with Wildstorm and Extreme’s output, putting out the finest gun-toting cyborg super-hero gobbledygook he could manage. Silvestri was also busy training a studio of artists to do the exact same thing, sort of like Continuity Studios if it had been spearheaded by Mike Grell instead of Neal Adams. Mike Turner came up from that system, but it was his grotesque Barbie doll anatomy and the bad girl fad that rebuilt Top Cow in the likeness of Witchblade. Gone was the X-Men pastiche, the sci-fi action, and all that purple/green leather. In its place were autumnal shades, decorative borders, doe eyes, and dark fantasy. Speaking as a retailer let me tell you, the ladies lapped that shit up—especially all the soap opera hotties with a y-chromosome. Besides massively refurbishing Top Cow, I think Turner might have even laid the groundwork for the acceptance of manga like Sailor Moon.
Eventually, Turner wanted a place of his own, and with some acrimony, Aspen Comics was built. As Jim Balent drawing big ‘ol titties was to Broadsword, Turner’s company mostly existed for the artist to draw anorexic chicks in bikinis with crusty H.R. Giger shit hanging off them. Whatever floats your boat, but Aspen was still just a poor man’s Top Cow, and by the time of his death, Turner was probably best for his rubber people super-hero covers at the Big Two. Like the Shakur family, Aspen keeps digging up Tupac covers to trade off of, but since Top Cow keeps the Turner clones busy, their interiors don’t hold up. Having tried a number of Aspen books over the last year or so, I figure their days are slightly less numbered than the rest of the industry.
Take Fathom, the book for which the company was named. For two-fiddy, you get a ten page original story and a sketchbook section by an entirely different artist who’ll handle the actual series. The story reads like one of the those old Marvel Age Annual two page “trailers” stretched long. J.T. Krul has been the Peter Stone of Aspen so far, but it seems like he spends most of his time these days at conventions, explaining that he’s not Eric Wallace, and to please stop blaming him for killing half of DC’s Asian characters. In his absence is some dude named David Schwartz, who I like better, but it’s still like comparing the acting careers of Jessica and Ashley Simpson. The art is by Scott Clark, who lost a lot of his game during a hiatus from comics. Consistently the weakest link in the Brightest Day art chain, Scott seems to have a pathological fear of ruled panel boarders/gutters, and the pages look shot from pencil roughs. Jeff Chang’s colors try to save the day, but there’s only so much you can do with cool featureless aquatic backgrounds with the occasional digital texture. Taken as a whole, Aspen and Fathom are one of those needless endeavors that don’t even inspire other publishers to buy their properties after a bankruptcy. Well, except maybe DC. Those guys are buy worthless companies like they were low bid eBay auctions.
Predators #1 (Dark Horse, 2010, $2.99)
Predator 2 was a travesty, but has it really taken a couple of decades to get a third film in this franchise? Then again, everything good about Predator was exhausted in the first entry. Reagan-era steroidal G.I. Joes firing Gatling guns in the jungle against an invisible alien killing machine hunting them for sport? There is nowhere to go from there but down. Sure, you could get into the Predators culture, or have future battles in space, but that’s fucking nerd shit. Predator was for doods who fire up the grill for Super Bowl parties and watch Spike network and relate to According To Jim. You expect them to get excited about Adrian Brody? Please.
This here is the comic book prequel to Predators, sans Predators. Fourteen pages are devoted to soldiers getting blown to meaty pieces. Rambo proved how glorious that can be when done right, but this is more like one of those no-budget horror movies where the “director” thinks he’s a gallon of fake blood away from a masterpiece, but will at best rate a twenty second clip on YouTube with 143 views. There’s a prolog to this prequel that either fails to provide the lead character with a quality back story, or fails as a fake-out if the guys dying there are supposed to be the same guys dying later on. None of it means anything in context, so it’s just a waste of time with below average art.
The six page back-up is by David Lapham, which sets up the lead’s motivations and an interesting story relevant to the world we live in. The art by Gabriel Guzman and Mariano Taibo is attractive and successfully references Adrian Brody without being slavishly stiff. It isn’t worth paying three bucks for six pages though, so it’ll get lost amidst the trade collecting that other garbage.
Wonder Woman #600 (DC, 2010, $4.99)
After the embarrassments of DC’s recent seven-hundredth issues, my expectations for this renumbered anniversary were pretty low. Blame the bar, but I liked this one okay. Television’s Lynda Carter started things off with a brief essay, with a rousing speech that explains the essence of Wonder Woman, then trails off into some new age hippy shit at the end. This was followed by an Adam Hughes piece of the Amazon Princess lifting a pachyderm for the kids. Solid so far.
I’ve been meaning to write withering reviews of a couple of Gail Simone’s trades, but her swan song fared well, probably in part due to its feeling more like a farewell to artist George Perez’s era. We’ve got an army of B/C-list heroines (on the heroine scale, I mean) along the lines of Phil Jimenez’s preoccupations during his run, but drawn better, and written like human beings speaking aloud. I’m not sure I was meant to come away with the feeling Batwoman was bashing Obama (she is moneyed,) and Miss Martian was unusually mature, but I dug everyone’s voices regardless. I bit of much needed closure arrived in the form of Vanessa Kapatelis’ graduation after fourteen years in high school and a villain turn, offering a very welcome human moment between the ladies.
After two very attractive pin-ups by Nicola Scott and Ivan Reis (channeling Steve Lightle,) Amanda Conner delivered the best story of the book solo. This was mostly an off-duty hang out session with Power Girl, and offered good humor and a believable rapport between the vastly different heroines. My only slight complaint is that Wonder Woman hanging out with a female Superman variation and a girl Batman incarnation felt a bit like she was slumming in the knock-off broads’ ghetto, but I like these characters, so screw it.
Guillem March’s pin-up, aside from a touch of cheekiness, offered a stunning visual representation of a power often depicted statically, all with Diana pulling a gloriously intense expression. Certified bad ass. Greg Horn had next, with a respectful piece. It was a touch dim, but I like the shine on WW’s metals. Then came Francis Manapul, an artist I increasingly dislike, as Diana joined a grim Amazon hunting party in the bush. Phil Jimenez presented a typically busy and stiff centerfold that felt like an ode to himself.
On seeing Louise Simonson credited with a Wonder Woman story, I was all “why didn’t she ever have a run?” Then I figured her only window of opportunity was during the Eric Luke period, by which point she’d already burned through her goodwill on a Superman title. Then I read her story, a team-up with the Man of Steel that reminded me of the fallow years leading up to the cancellation and relaunch of Wonder Woman in the ‘8os. Ohhh.
I don’t really care for Jock, but his Wonder Woman was so stylistically jarring, it reminded me of Randy DuBurke’s Black Canary serial and Mark Beachum’s rare non-pornographic paintings, all of which is to say kool-moe-dee. I also usually dislike Shane Davis, but his lightly rendered patriotic shot nicely recalled Diana’s WWII origins, adding an ethnic nose to zing the tea partiers.
I’m enjoying Scott Kolins new wash style, and I would be interested to see what Geoff Johns would do with the Amazing Amazon as a proper assignment. However, this is just a six page metatextual tease to set up the JMS reboot. Wah-wah.
Finally, there’s the All-New Adventures of Trailer Trash Wondie by J. Michael Straczynski and Don Kramer. I figure Kramer got the assignment because JMS’ fee ate into the art budget, and he was the only artist hungry enough for attention to draw Diana’s excessively ornate belt and accessories. Diana battles a group of Men in Black and leaves crappy looking “W” imprints on their heads, because Wonder Woman wasn’t derivative of enough male heroes already. Now she’s an urban avenger who lives in a sewer with mannequin Amazons, because Eastman and Laird didn’t make enough fun of Frank Miller to hip folks to the joke. Diana then meets up with a quirky oracle, because we haven’t seen enough eccentric mentor figures in popular culture. Even though the oracle is a young blind street urchin who can’t afford to buy bubble gum, she still manages to dress like a mall slut from 1996 and not get raped hourly under a bridge (that we know of.) For her part, “Wonder Woman” cops the bad attitude one would associate with a street level vigilante, because that’s what folks really want from the world’s greatest super-heroine. Finally, we’re “shocked” by the image of a fallen Paradise Island, take 346.
A text piece sees Jim Lee trying to over-explain his new costume design, proving once again that Jim Lee can’t write any better than he can gauge fashion. It’s so painful to read a guy trying too hard to sound more articulate or knowledgeable in an area than he really is. Worse is JMS’ contemptible contribution, showing his lack of self-awareness or the most basic understanding of the character he’s trying to “improve.” JMS is a sensationalist on a downward career trajectory, and whatever faults the mod Wonder Woman of the ‘60s might have had, they’ll likely pale before this misguided jackass’ upcoming abuses.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
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