Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Wed. Is Any Day For All I Care #16

Dragon Prince #1
El Diablo #1
Secret Six #1
Solomon Kane #1
Vixen: Return of the Lion #1

Sorry I took a few weeks break. I was out of town evading a hurricane, rushed the last edition to post without art, and haven't read many single issues since. Here's five newish comics to review, with more to come next week...

Dragon Prince #1 (Image, 2008, $2.99)
Okay, Ron Marz is an adequate writer, while Jeff Johnson is an artist I really grew to like some years back. I believe they started working together at DC, moved on to Crossgen, and planned this creator owned series for Dark Horse. However, Johnson wandered off into animation work, while Marz spent much of his time at Virgin until it imploded. The rest of Marz's time was devoted to Top Cow, which helped him resurrect this series, except with Lee Moder on art. Now, I've liked Moder since his days on "Wonder Woman," and furthermore, his work here seems intent on invoking Johnson. Certainly this art looks more polished than a lot of his recent assignments, and is quite pleasing to the eye. For some reason though, he drops a lot of seriously dated references for a book about a 13 year old. "Dragonheart?" Head phones? Did I miss an Anne McCaffrey bit somewhere?

The rub is that in the years since Dragon Prince was conceived, Phil Hester and Andy Kuhn introduced "Firebreather," a much more engaging and imaginative take on the same basic premise. Further, Marz is still the same middling writer he's always been, stranding Dragon Prince in a lukewarm, all-ages no man's land. It's resoundingly okay, and if the Harry Potter fantasy riff gets you off, mazel tov. For me, eh, whatever.

El Diablo #1 (DC, 2008, $2.99)
I was just talking about how much better Phil Hester's work was than Ron Marz, but that was as a writer. It took me a while to warm up to Hester as an artist, his sole chore on El Diablo. Blessedly, his distinctive style suits the material well. Writer Jai Nitz, does a fare job of introducing a new Latino anti-hero his own self. True, his take on El Diablo is essentially a cross between the modern and western-themed Ghost Rider, less than a continuation of the actual '70s hero's legacy. Also, a minority played as hardcore gangbanger is perhaps a tad shy of politically correct, but at least he's someone who finally earns the infernal nomenclature.

Secret Six #1 (DC, 2008, $2.99)
Ah yes, this is the Gail Simone I missed over her last year on "Birds of Prey." When she's on, Simone is marvelous at setting up the threat of a calamitous situation. She's also great at writing morally ambiguous (or just flat out evil) characters with pizazz (and without judgment.)

My grievance with this Secret Six remains the same as it has been since they formed in "Villains United," in that I can't seem to give a fuck about them. Catman has been transformed into a decent anti-hero, but not one I care to read about. Rag Doll and Scandal do absolutely nothing for me. Deadshot steals the show, but without the more upright members of the Suicide Squad to play off of, he's just one more bastard amongst many. New member Bane has a nice deadpan going, but it isn't quite enough to turn the tide. Simone, along with the pretty art of Nicola Scott, is solid with the black humor, and delivers a book that is a pleasure to read. Without characters I can invest in though, it's all for naught.

Solomon Kane #1 (Dark Horse, 2008, $2.99)
This book represents a dilemma for me, as I ordered it strictly for review, and usually just give this Robert E. Howard stuff a passing nod. It isn't that I didn't have my days as a Conan fan... It's just that they didn't survive much past grade school. However, Solomon Kane has intrigued me since I read an issue of the Marvel Comics mini-series a couple decades back. This first edition, scripted by Scott Allie, reminded me of why this character has stuck in my mind all these years. Kane isn't a swaggering brute like Conan, but a rigid Puritan well versed in especially graphic violence that hits harder than Hyborean barbarian nonsense. As rendered by Mario Guevara, Kane and his world are stark and brutal. I find his austerity intriguing, and as this opening chapter only hints at the mysteries of "The Castle of the Devil," I may have just been suckered into buying a trade. There are some familiar Conan elements, like the wanderer who happens by and joins Solomon on his perilous quest for shits and giggles, but the gothic atmosphere suits me. Maybe I just like seeing this type of horror-tinged adventure in an unusual time period, but I expect I'll be back for more.

Vixen: Return of the Lion #1 (DC, 2008, $2.99)
I've been meaning to give G. Willow Wilson's writing a try for a few months now, since I read excerpts from Vertigo's "Egypt" and "Air" within a short span of time. I'm sorry Wilson chose to go the decompressed route with "Vixen," as the main draw of my previous reading was the dense, quirky dialogue. Still, everyone's free to experiment/pad for the trade, and what makes it to the page isn't bad. The issue is mostly set-up, as the Justice League of America makes an obligatory appearance to open the story on an action beat. However, I was heartened by moments spent with Superman, which leads me to assume that Wilson bothered to read and reference the earliest tales of the admittedly minor titular heroine.

By mid-issue, the scene shifts to Africa, where Vixen returns to her childhood village on a quest for revenge. Vixen is given room for some extended manga-style silent combat sequences, which plays much better than an unfortunate earlier moment where Black Canary talks smack. The main villain makes an appearance to elevate the tension, and hopefully allow those of us who follow the horrific goings-on in Africa some relief when he will eventually get his ass whipped. Until then, we're left with a cliffhanger featuring our heroine in dire straights.

Yes, the script is a bit by-the-numbers, so your mileage there will likely depend on your patience or affection for Mari McCabe. For those falling outside both camps, there's the lovely art of Cafu. I'm so used to seeing b-listers slighted with poor art that I'm stunned Vixen was rendered so well. This is seriously a book you could buy just for the art-- which falls outside the comic norm, more reminiscent of religious/inspirational posters. The good kind, I mean. Colorist Santiago Arcas perpetuates that association, as his colors are slightly washed out and autumnal, but well suited to the art, which appears to be shot directly from the pencils.

I'm not sure that this book is for everyone, but I'd definitely recommend giving it at least a flip. Just look for that sexy Joshua Middleton cover.

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