Doctor Strange: From The Marvel Vault #1
Memoir #1 (2011)
Star Wars: Darth Vader and the Lost Command #1
Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever #1
Doctor Strange: From The Marvel Vault #1 (Marvel, 2011, $2.99)
Someone at the big two got it into their head that comic companies should start burning through unpublished file material that had already been paid for to turn a quick buck, and the other company followed suit. A single issue Roger Stern Dr. Strange story from 1998 was pretty much guaranteed to be better than some Batman Family mini-series by a moonlighting editor, if only for using a proven talent on a less drawn out effort. However, there's a reason these things were mothballed. Batman: Orphans was visually quite attractive, depending on your tolerance for Amerimanga art, but the script was rancid. Stern once again proves himself one of the great Master of the Mystic Arts scribes, but the art doesn't match.
"This Old House" has a pretty great hook that, for all I know, may be the first explanation of how Stephen Strange found his Sanctum Sanctorum. There is an appropriate recollection of Dr. Strange's origins, some human sacrifice, the old "All My Sins Remembered" jazz, and a fair amount of demonic activity. Basically, it's everything you'd want for a done-in-one introductory tale from an anthology title.
Unfortunately, if you're a Doctor Strange fan, you're aware of his exceptional artistic legacy through the early '90s. Strange Tales was the closest thing Marvel had to a mature readers comic for years, with some of the company's finest talents producing stories yet to be fully appreciated by fans. Neil Vokes is... not among them. The art is nice and cartoony, so if you're doing comedy or all-ages material, I'd be singing its praises. In a book exploring Stephen Strange's literal and psychological demons, it pisses in the punch bowl. Since it is a quality professional effort, it doesn't ruin the story, but it is such a mismatch as to terrifically mute its effectiveness and completely mangle its tone. As a result, I recommend the comic to Doctor Strange fans who will be aware of the rights and wrongs done here, but I'd steer the uninitiated elsewhere to avoid hurting the Sorcerer Supreme's rep any more the Bendis already has.
Memoir (Image, 2011, $3.50)
Artist Nikki Cook likes Paul Pope's style, so if you also like Paul Pope's style, this book has a passing resemblance to something by Paul Pope. The story is by Ben McCool, and reminds me of guys like James D. Hudnall and Rick Remender. That is to say, guys who write like they're adapting their unsold screen treatments to a comic book in hopes of generating Hollywood interest in the script. There's a solid if familiar horror premise, an asshole protagonist who will probably come to a bad "ironic" end in the final pages, and an ending just as things were starting to get interesting. As a first issue, it reads like it could be a good trade paperback.
Star Wars: Darth Vader and the Lost Command #1 (Dark Horse, 2011, $3.50)
I'm not 100% sure that the following sentiment hasn't come up on the internet at some point in the past, so I won't claim undisputed authorship of this revelation yet, but here goes: The prequal trilogy may, perhaps, have ruined Star Wars for many people.
Twenty years ago, a story about Darth Vader in his early days having to prove himself on a mission to find the missing relative of Good Moff Tarkin would have sounded kind of bitchin'. Today, I keep hearing that melodramatic "noooooo" from Hayden Christianson's transformation into James Earl Jones. I'm also experiencing cognitive dissonance from the artist's leaning heavily on original trilogy design reference while throwing in prequel Stormtroopers and such. Rick Leonardi is one of those artists I usually hate, but he actually works really well on a Star Wars property. That's a good thing, because scripter Haden Blackman sees his job description as more of a guideline than a rule. The majority of the book is either silent or terse, so an enterprising reader will keep a stopwatch handy to count their time spent by the second. I'd guestimate I came in at about 180.
Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever #1 (Dark Horse, 2011, $2.99)
In the original cut of the drama A Few Good Men, Ed O'Neill, who had played Popeye Doyle in a TV sequel to The French Connection, appeared as a Marine general. O'Neill was and remains most famous for playing Al Bundy on Married... With Children, so his mere appearance generated laughter, and the scene was cut. Just a few years ago, he tried to revive Dragnet in the Joe Friday role, to similar effect. I'm glad Modern Family finally came along.
John Severin made his name on western comics in the Silver Age, but I grew up with him as the Mort Drucker of Cracked Magazine, the primary artist for their broad film and television satires. Even when I tried to read a serious Severin comic, I couldn't get past the expectation that a sophomoric gag would be forthcoming. Projects like Rawhide Kid: Slap Leather didn't help.
At eighty-eight years old, John Severin is drawing a Hellboy spin-off, and it's a goddamned revelation. Maybe three decades distance from reading Cracked helps, but instead of seeing slapstick in these pages, I'm instead bowled over by the lush detail and varied technique. I see contemporaries like the Russ Heath, Reed Crandall, Sam Glanzman, Joe Maneely and Francisco Solano Lopez. Severin's idiosyncrasies are like those of Kirby or Ditko-- "flaws" that no other artists have naturally or can fake believably that set them apart and above the throng. The art deserves a recommendation alone, but it is supported by a good (if decompressed) opening chapter story by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi. It was a pleasure, and an eye-opener.
Monday, March 7, 2011
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