Sunday, August 22, 2010

Transmetropolitan Volume 2

One-sentence summary: Somehow lesser than the previous volume, Ellis still manages to deliver immanently readable sci-fi packed with his brand of futurism.

If you look back in the archives, you can see I gushed over volume 1 of Transmet. Maybe that's all that was off with volume 2 -- it wasn't new to me in the same way volume 1 was.

It begins with 3 one-off stories that are essentially just packages to deliver three different ideas. The book opens with probably the best of the three, the story of a girl crushed by her boyfriend's decision to destroy his physical body and become an immortal cloud of data. It's a pretty tried-and-true idea, essentially just an examination of one extreme end of post-/trans-humanism (how far can we adjust ourselves and still be human). Ellis does it well, though, by weaving the idea through a story of a betrayed girl who he's, seemingly, genuinely trying to cheer up. It allows Ellis to give free range to his dialogue, as well as dropping small hints about the pre-Transmet Spider Jerusalem.

The second story is probably the weakest, essentially because it doesn't do anything the last one did. While it's an interesting twist on another sci-fi trope -- what if we could successfully cyro-freeze people nearly-indefinitely, but when they come to no one cares -- it's done through the style of a column being written by Spider. Not the worst idea, inherently, but it plays against Ellis's strengths. Ellis builds his characters through dialogue, not backstory, so removing that takes the vigor out of his writing.

The third story I'm ambivalent towards. It's the most interesting idea of all of them, a future where we take the idea of preservation to the point of artificially preserving cultures of people, denying them access and knowledge of the modern world simply so that we can watch, again and again, their cultures exist and fall. The big twist of the issue is that the final environmental preservation is actually an artificially created future-society, in which barely-human techno-organic structures float and swim through the air, dying by the fistful via untested technologies (or, rather, dying through the field-testing of them) as a price to pay for constant advancement. Not much of a plot, but you're being blasted on all sides with shifting perspectives and drops of writing that won't coalesce until the end of the issue (and in some not for another three issues, though you can guess at them). Again, I'm ambivalent towards this one -- I think a decent argument made toward either liking or disliking it could pretty easily convince me. For now I'll slate it toward the "like" just for the eeriness of the final image of the future society, as the mostly-human technorganic man says "Look, it's my children" and turns around to welcome the three half-robot-fish people swimming in the air toward him, extending data cables as their embrace.

The most interesting thing about Transmet is its vision of the future. It is a future where all technology has been realized (to the extent you can artificially create the future, as it doesn't really require more technology) but the human mind hasn't advanced. Violence, struggles for identity, and most of all sexuality exist on all sides and seem the main drive for all the technologies you do see. The first thing the newly post-Singularity individual does upon becoming an immortal cloud of data is have sex with the first peer he sees. The driving theme of the final story is Spider's inability to get laid in the future, as there are now an infinite number of reasons not to have sex. In the future society he visits, we see an even more neutered group -- none of them even seem to have extant organic genitals, and we never see anything identifiable as a female. It's a future where the psychological need for sex is unquenchable, but where the physiological need for sex is essentially vestigial.

Anyway, I find the sexual aspect of Transmet to be interesting, as it's rare to see (especially in comics, let's be honest) an interesting, mature take on what is arguably the most universal theme of art.

The final three issues are one unified story, and they deal with the not-nice person Spider is. Not only has he surrounded himself with twisted freaks out to kill him, you get the feeling they're monsters of his own creation, and he may very well deserve that death (as you have four unrelated parties each trying to kill him for their own unrelated, usually justifiable reasons). It's a much more basic comic book plot, and while it makes for brisk reading, it (as of yet) has not struck me in any particular way, so I won't rhapsodize on it much.

It's interesting that the initial motif of the first volume of the messiah is almost entirely abandoned here. I might just be missing something, though.

I don't mean to ignore Darick Robertson's art entirely in favor of talking about Ellis. I just know writing better, and most of my comments last time remain true here (with an addition that, man, that guy must like to draw bulldogs). It's great art, but I don't have the adequate vernacular to say why.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Beanworld Book 3: Remember Here When You Are There

One-sentence summary: A genuinely unique comic experience, Beanworld is, I imagine, appealing to a very select audience of which happily I am a part.

Larry Marder's Beanworld has an odd history. Having begun years ago, it took a decade long hiatus as Marder went more behind-the-scenes in the comic world, and then joined with Dark Horse in re-releasing the old Beanworlds (which were Books 1 and 2 of this series) and has (yay) started creating new Beanworld tales, this being the first.

An introduction to what Beanworld is like: the genre listed on its back is "graphic novel/ecological fantasy" and that is actually pretty accurate. The long-form story of Beanworld is really about finding out how the world in which it exists works, with the individual episodes revealing some small aspect, or history (though it is, generally, a very linear story with very few flashbacks, and almost no whole episodes ever taking place in the past. We learn the history through the oral tradition of the Beans themselves).

What's most remarkable about all this is that it works. There are odd depths to Beanworld, and ultimately it's a story about stories; in a very Campbellian way, it is about mythology, but instead of being about individual stories or arcs (e.g., the Hero's Journey) it is about the reasoning and formation of an entire mythology.

I'm intrigued to see how Marder adjusts to writing 200-page stories as compared to 22-page ones. In this volume things still seem relatively episodic, but subplots tend to be more apparent than they ever were in the individual stories, and begin to emerge to true plot-dom. To me, it's fascinating that as the world in which this story-about-stories grows, the medium which is used to tell it grows as well.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Absolute Batman: Hush

One-sentence summary: Having not read Hush before and having heard mostly negative things, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself taken in with the story and thought the art served it very well.

Hush is a relatively simple story, and including Loeb's traditional story formula (lots of villains + surprise/12 months) makes it seem even simpler. That being said, simple doesn't equate bad, and despite it's detractors, I would say that Hush isn't bad. It's simple like meatloaf is simple -- easy, nothing glamorous, but danged good all the same.

That being said, it's not really a story you should think about too much. There're pieces that don't quite fit. One thing that became clear with some of the interviews with Loeb and Lee about it is that they genuinely considered the Riddler to be the main villain. I think the failure in the story is that you walk away from it thinking of Eliot as the central villain. Riddler was just a denouement.

I have some scruples with Lee's style (which I'll briefly address later) but I will say a detail-oriented artist like him is the perfect choice for this style of interactive mystery story.

Brief explanation of what I mean by that: there are your basic mystery stories, where you really just follow along the detective as they solve the crime, with a big explanation at the end where details are synthesized and observations are elucidated, but as a reader you aren't especially expected to have it figured out. Interactive mystery stories, on the other hand, are ones in which the reader is given enough clues during the narrative that they can figure it out (or at least parts of it) before the climax. There may be better definitions/terms for this out there, but this seems adequate to me.

Comics seem a uniquely strong way to deliver the interactive mystery story. They're a good medium between prose and film. In writing, in order to make the mystery solvable, the clues must be at least made to the reader, and if they are at all subtle, then their very inclusion will destroy some subtlety (as in, a detective walks into the room and notices a rug is furled like someone recently ran across it. In prose, you have to point this out, so either the reader immediately recognizes it as a clue, or you have to mislead them by deluging the text with observations, which just makes it a lousy read). In film, while you can have all the details you want, you still have a bit of a presentation problem in that certain details, for the viewer to be able to see them reasonably, must either be zoomed in on, have a particular focus brought to them, or have a shot linger on them, all of which can be a bit clumsy. You can, of course, have them simply present and do nothing to highlight them, but it would seem to me this makes the initial viewing of the film rather distracting for the viewer who actually wants to solve it before being told the solution.

Comics, on the other hand, can present essentially as many details as they want, as panels can be however large they want, all the way up to a double-page spread. They need no emphasis be brought to specific things, as the reader can spend as much time as they want studying every panel and it essentially doesn't harm the reading process (well, truly extreme amounts of study would, but looking over that opera house double-spread for a minute or so is no labor).

And, in fact, Loeb and Lee really do take advantage of this, Lee being such a detail-oriented guy as is that small clues don't especially stand out from the things in the background anyway. I can see why this was such a popular series at the time, and despite the knocks it's received, it's a fun read.

That being said -- the combination of Loeb and Lee is also some sort of magic formula to having the most perfectly awful depictions of women in comics. Loeb doesn't have any interesting writing with his women, and pretty much all of their roles in the story are of them as sexual or subservient (I think it's very telling that they desperately wanted a final panel shot of Poison Ivy and Catwoman kissing, which would be essentially out of character and most certainly unnecessary, but would be "hot" for the fanboys).

Look, I don't expect much when it comes to female characters in superhero comics (a sad truth, but a truth regardless). How much more powerful would the story have been if, at the end, it was Catwoman who left Batman and not the other way around? It would have made just as much sense, if not more (she seems the type to cut and run when things get that emotionally convoluted). Why did Huntress have to be the weak link in the Bat-family chain? Why did Poison Ivy have to rely on Superman to fight for her?

I know individually these questions are relatively silly -- the problem is when there's such a pattern of them, along with things like *ugh* Lee's design on Huntress (let alone his well-known love of the well-endowed). It's just one of those things that irks me a little bit more every time it crops up as I read a comic.

I do hate to end on a negative note. There certainly are problems with Hush, but I don't think they're enough to detract from the fact it is a fun read. It's in the style that Loeb writes well for; perfect for the sideline comic book fan, who might know the characters but doesn't really read the comics. It's a genre that Lee's work really works for (and the Absolute edition improves upon pretty much every aspect of the art). And ultimately it's a story that's fun.

It's popcorn comics, the junk food of sequential art, but sometimes that just hits the spot.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Scott Pilgrim

One-sentence summary: Comics don't get much better than this.

I am not a newcomer to the Scott Pilgrim series, though I did reread the previous 5 volumes in anticipation of the sixth. Therefore, my gushing is not quite that of a fanboy who has newly discovered some treasure trove of wonderment, but that of a completely satisfied fan(boy).

Scott Pilgrim manages one of the most difficult task in all narrative art: being truly funny (to the point of being light-hearted) while possessing some literary chops. I mean, think about it: there aren't too many movies that can pull this off, and usually the ones that can rely on satire. Instead, Scott Pilgrim turns one of manga's (well, comics in general, but manga seems especially tuned to this) weaknesses – the meshing of the absurd with the serious, the spandex-clad heroes duking it out with superpowers while shouting oddly-long meditations at each other – into a strength, by turning it into comedy and thus allowing it to exist within the predefined dramatic structure, so that the reader is not taken out of the experience in order to see the ideas.

Thus what felt jarringly out of place in the first volume becomes a commonplace aspect of the world by the second. Thus can this be a story of a guy fighting seven evil exes while also being the story of a guy discovering what life entails, what relationships mean, and what change is, all without it ever seeming over-bearing.

Now, for those who don't want to take Scott Pilgrim seriously – that's totally fine. You really, seriously don't have to. This isn't Asterios Polyp or, God help you, Jimmy Corrigan; this is fine comic art that can absolutely be enjoyed without having to think about it. It is funny enough that you can simply read it as a funny comic with a bit of a plot, and it would still be one of the best comics of the year by that alone.

Actually, those are two books I think it could be helpful to compare Scott Pilgrim to. All three use a non-realistic, somewhat minimalist approach (though the styles themselves are radically different; it's just their departure from a more realist art that is similar). All three, seemingly, use humor (though I didn't find Jimmy Corrigan particularly funny, I recognize that there are moments of intended humor there). And all three deserve to be treated as Art.

One argument against Scott Pilgrim as this high a level of comic is that, really, there is only one seemingly strong theme, and that is of change. I would argue, however, that this is dealt with in a thorough enough manner that it is sufficient on its own.

To wit, each volume progresses through a different idea of change, of the past. In the first, there is no change, the past doesn't exist. Though there are oblique references to the past, they are, quite literally, told to come back in later volumes. Forgive me for skipping ahead here, but I don't have the volumes in front of me and I can't quite remember specific lines from each, so I'll just roughly advance. The third, with the (more thorough) introduction of Envy Adams we have a past, but it's a very one-sided past. The respective significant others of our protagonists were clearly jerks who deserve anything that's coming to them, and the only change has been in a positive progression of the self to a better status. In the fourth, non-negative elements of the past begin to shuffle forth. Characters who come from the past and aren't so bad, while we finally have change, and it's a change that's in the current, and it seems negative. It's essentially the apparent fall from innocence. Then the fifth really starts to bring this theme, which was quiet enough in previous volumes to go unnoticed, to a head, as changes start piling up and overwhelming. Bands seem to grow apart, friends lose touch, and relationships seemingly end, as the past comes forward to reclaim and repeat. The sixth, then, closes it out beautifully. Change is finally revealed for what it is – an ever-present constant, something which has always been there, and even affects the past retroactively. Change occurred in the past, and things aren't as simple as they appear. People don't necessarily become more good or more evil; they just become different people. Sometimes the good can develop from the bad, and the past might not truly be the past.

As you can tell, I think highly of this series. I could write a whole other post about the humor.

One last detail: what's exciting to me about this is the potential it represents for all of comic-dom. I have never seen a comic book garner such main-stream attention at release as the sixth volume. I went to a store where there was a line at least twenty people long to buy it. That, to me, is nuts. I have no idea how many copies it's going to end up selling; I know last month volumes 1-5 were spots 3-7 on the NYT best-selling graphic novels list, which is an incredible feat on its own. And, unlike previous fervors, the movie of this will be quite obviously a comic book movie (versus Watchmen, which was a superhero movie based on a comic book. Semantic but important). If the movie is as good as the series, or even almost as good, or even sort of as good, I don't think it's over-stating things to say it could be a game-changer in the comic book market.

And, eh, I could be full of it and reading too much into my own anticipation. Just call it a hunch, though...

P.S. I wrote the above the day Volume 6 came out, but was unable to post it, and finally got around to doing so. I thought I would add that it was reported today that all 100,000 copies of the first printing run of Scott Pilgrim have been purchased. This is prior to the movie coming out. I reiterate: nuts.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Daredevil by Frank Miller Companion Omnibus

One sentence summary: A collection of all the later Miller Daredevil tales, this is an omnibus with about 350 pages of solid comic gold.

This is a superb collection of Miller's take on Daredevil, following his extended run from the late 70s to the early 80s (a run that, in my opinion, is important as one of the earliest cases of the modern, critically solid comics that would lead to Moore, Sandman, and the entire modern scene really).

Born Again, easily the most enshrined comic in this collection, is chronologically sandwiched between two other significant Miller pieces: The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One. I also think it's fascinating that the other lengthy piece in this Omnibus, The Man With No Fear, is essentially Daredevil: Year One, giving us a chronology where Miller does something original and game-changing with Batman, then mirrors it (successfully, it must be added) with Daredevil. They've always been similar characters, but this really does help cement that.

For ease, I'll just walk through the contents of the omnibus as it presents them. First, the inexplicably contained two issues of Spider-Man. I know that Miller did work on them, but they seem strangely out of place here. While involving Daredevil, it's certainly not the Daredevil that Miller would go on to script. Not only that, but the focus of the book is, outside of these, entirely on late-Marvel era Miller as a writer, while this is him as a tyro artist. Very strange, and while I rarely wish content wouldn't be there, I do wish this, if present at all, would be contained in some appendix, not the front of the book.

Next is Born Again, which is really the reason the omnibus exists. Born Again is the story that Daredevil has been ever since, just set on a loop as various writers remix it slightly. Mazzucchelli is a fascinating artist, as he really adjusts his style radically based on what the story may demand. Here there are shadows everywhere, lines invade the light like dirty water into a white napkin, and every panel presents the action in an incredibly straight-forward manner. Murdock may go insane, but the panels won't tell us this. It's the comic equivalent of using long shots -- a bit of an old style, but brilliantly effective.

It's tough to praise Miller's writing for a number of reasons. For one, though Born Again is sincerely great, the best parts about it have been taken and reused a thousand times since. Also, I realize another reason is something I completely skipped mentioning.

One thing that boils under the surface, but is quite lucid in the script pages in the appendix, is Miller's struggle to find a voice for Captain America, especially given his conflict in the story. I think quite a bit could be written on the differences Miller saw between Superman and Captain America's patriotisms and the reasons why. I won't now, but I'll say that it comes down to intelligence and skepticism, and given Miller's strong and bizarre political views could be an interesting topic. For a later time, though.

Between Born Again and the lousy Spider-Man issues are a couple other DD issues. One is a concluding issue of an arc that came immediately prior to Born Again and, while interesting, isn't especially worth talking about in length. However, the other is a one-off that is simply incredible, and that is "Badlands."

This was a one-off co-scripted by Miller that doesn't even feature Daredevil. While we know who the protagonist is, it barely matters. His name is never said, his occupation and abilities are never questioned, and his speech is kept to an impossible minimum. What happens instead is an entire town and history is created, elaborated, and brought to a close. The story itself is solid, and the writing is pretty tight (given the lack of dialog, Miller lets loose with prose verbiage, which I actually like though I could understand criticisms), but what is marvelous to me is the succinctness of it. When I was halfway through it, I just assumed it was a graphic novel I hadn't heard of, probably in the 64-page length. I was genuinely amazed when I realized it was only a 22 page standard. Anyone looking to see the utmost limits of gently compact storytelling should seek this out and learn it, as it uses all the tricks -- good and bad -- that it can.

After Born Again we have an interesting graphic novel with the bizarre, 80s-90s style art of Bill Sienkiewicz. I miss artists like this. That was thing the comic world of the 80s and 90s had over the modern age -- the ability of not just talented artists to do projects, but the acceptance of artists whose style could in no way be described as pop-art doing conventional comics. It was an era of Mack and McKean, and its passing is a bit of a bummer (not that modern artists are bad, but just that the most "avant-garde" of the artists doing things for the big names are still relatively traditional, like Allred or Cooke). As far as the story itself, it seems a bit of an anticlimatic mess, and I can see why it hasn't attained classic-status despite the creative team. Still an interesting read.

Then comes Man Without Fear, the Miller/JRJR project that oozes its movie-pitch roots. I don't really mean that as pejoratively as it sounds; the series is a captivating read that's almost had as much influence on later DD writers as Born Again. JRJR is an interesting companion to Mazzucchelli -- while Mazzucchelli has a fluid form that adjusts for every project, JRJR has one of the most distinctive looks in comic-dom which has remained largely the same for almost 20 years.

Really, the most interesting part of Man Without Fear is to see how Miller characterizes his most famous creation, Elektra. This early Elektra is not the stern, noble stoic assassin of post-Miller writers. This Elektra is friggin' nuts; she seems more akin to Bullseye than her later characterizations (which, in an aside, is interesting since Bullseye is probably the only classic DD character that does not show up in this mini. It's like Murdock requires that unhinged character to serve as a foil and make the reader see what would happen if he weren't in such tight control of himself).

Overall, it's a great collection and contains essentially all the best work Miller did for Marvel. It's interesting to me how much Miller stresses, both in the comics and out, how for Murdock, Daredevil isn't simply a costume done for protecting his identity or so forth. He has to be Daredevil to do what he does, because Daredevil isn't himself -- it's this "other," a literal alternate ego. It's an idea with subtle differences from the normal justifications for superhero identities (which generally exist in a spectrum from the Spider-Man to the Batman). The extras are nothing crazily unique (no shot against Miller, but his scripts don't tend to add a ton to the understanding of the work, but they're still nice to read over), but they're solid. Actually, my biggest gripe with the work? The name. When I first saw this existed, I assumed it was a companion to the Miller-scripted Daredevil run they had collected earlier, maybe featuring significant comics that influenced or were influenced by it, etc, such as would be expected from a "Companion." Probably should've just labeled this the second Daredevil by Miller omnibus.

Seriously, that's how good this collection was -- that's one of my biggest gripes.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Wednesday Comics

One sentence summary: Come on, who doesn't want giant-sized comics?

Wednesday Comics really is a gorgeous collection. Before I go into further details, it should be noted that that really is the most important aspect of this collection: it looks good. It is a big, cool book filled with art that looks amazing, at least partially due to how friggin' big it is. That really comes before any consideration of the quality of the stories.

Now to consider the quality of the stories.

Actually, let's talk about which ones are improved and which ones are hurt by the change between weekly newspaper strips and a smaller, glossy collection of the whole stories.

Metamorpho, Deadman, and the Catwoman/Demon stories are all helped by the reprint (probably in about that order). I'd say really only Kamandi and Flash are hurt by it, though they're still two of the best stories (especially Flash).

Maybe Wonder Woman is too, but it's a bit of a mess regardless. I feel bad for the Wonder Woman story; it's this story that, if just a bit better executed, could've been really cool and the most reminiscent of the more avant-garde old newspaper strips. As is, though, it's a continual mix of styles, with no clear distinctions ever made with the motifs. In my perfect world, it's this beautiful, lightly colored dream of a story where the panels just flow with the word balloons, letting your eye casually follow along in an almost hypnotic effect. But, instead, it just doesn't seem to have the balls to do anything that crazy, and opts for this in-between existence that just doesn't work.

OK, so quick reviews of the other stories:

Azzarello & Risso's Batman is fine. I don't dislike it, but it didn't do anything for me either. It's a pretty predictable story (what, crazy, the beautiful woman in a noir story is the villain, whaaaat) and the art, while good, never goes for anything more than that. It does offer a stylish frontpiece for the collection, I'll admit.

I liked Kamandi a lot, actually, and reading it more carefully made it all the better. The reason I said it was worsened by the reprint was simply that it makes it depart slightly from its base, which is pure Hal Foster-ian goodness. However, it's still a strong story. Basic, yes, but there's a high quality to that baseness (which actually reminds me of Gibbons work on Green Lantern). The story doesn't go for intellectual heights, but it is a very solid, entertaining romp. And one thing that Sook, the artist, does, which is so basic but still he's the only one in the whole collection to do it, is take advantage of the size of the panels in order to make key objects be relatively small in the background, which, given the size (even in reproduction) of the page still makes them easily seen. It's such a low-level thing, but he gets points in my book for actually doing it.

I'm still meh about the Superman story. It's not terrible, but it really is just a 12-page story. It barely takes advantage of any aspect of this incredibly unique presentation method. You'd barely have to rework it at all to make it a 12-page back-up.

I liked the Deadman story when it was coming out, and I think the print quality really helped make it pop in the trade. Again the story-line itself isn't anything particularly impressive, but I think the art & panel design is notable enough to merit praise.

Anything I have to say about the Green Lantern story, just take the Superman story criticism and bump everything up a level or two. Solid, but definitely not special.

Allred's one of those artists -- along with Darwyn Cooke -- whom I will always love. It really doesn't matter what he does; when I heard he was doing one of the Wednesday Comic stories, I knew I'd love it. And I do. The reprint helps this story so much -- that they would do not one, but two different 2-page spreads in a 1-page a week story is such a ballsy move. I will say that I think it was a misfire for Gaiman to play off the story like it's a pre-Marvel superhero book, since the format is specifically newspaper comics, but, well, it's so pretty, who cares? And at least it tries to be different.

Teen Titans. Ugh. Sorta interesting artwork that is in no way enhanced by being large. A storyline that is fine at best. Subplots that don't matter; narrative techniques that are never fully utilized; just a mess. Just a mess.

Strange Adventures is fantastic! Paul Pope's art is great, and he uses a relatively dynamic panel layout throughout the series. It also does a bit of a Prince Valiant-esque story (I defend the story is more Valiant than it is Flash Gordon, despite the space setting), though not quite so openly as Kamandi, and, importantly, introduces this idea of the other-ness of comics. Not only is Adam Strange transformed by entering the comic-realm of Raan, so are things metamorphosed mundanely by exiting. It's a neat idea that only works when you take Adam Strange outside the DCU proper (which Pope violates in a neat episode with weird panels & Dr. Fate, but I forgive him).

Oh Amanda Conner. I love her art so much -- it just makes everything fun! It's impossible for me not to enjoy myself when I read one of her comics, simply due to the art. It's just so utterly playful. She also does great background shots, adding to the playfulness of the story. I know Palmiotti's writing is what let's the story stay sprightly, but I can't help but over-praise her art.

Metal Men was another mess of a story. If you have bouncy art like that, and jovial characters like the Metal Men, what the hell are you thinking killing them all off tragically over a period of weeks? It's like they let Remender ghost-script this or something.

The Sgt. Rock story isn't special, but it's Joe Kubert art, which is always gorgeous. It's absolutely crazy to me that he's still producing that level of quality at 83. Absolutely insane.

The Flash! Such an amazing story! This is the story of Wednesday Comics. This is the one that best uses the newspaper style, this best uses the short form story, where every page is unique, and it just generally has the most ambitious story. I won't lie and say I totally understand the conclusion; I also don't care, because I enjoyed it so much up til then, I just accept at that point.

I liked the Demon & Catwoman story more than most. It's a solid story with solid art, and nothing seems out of place; it's nothing particularly special, so it may just be that I like it more because it has Etrigan in it, which always wins points in my heart.

I like the Hawkman story, but I have very mixed feelings about the art. I don't really like what Kyle Baker has done lately, with the 3-d overlaid with linework. The use of 3-d images forces a static-effect on the drawings that wouldn't be there otherwise. Maybe I wouldn't notice it if all comics were like it, but that's like the argument for 240 Hz TVs -- I don't care that it's technically better, it looks like crap and you know it. That said, even with the hit-or-miss artwork (sorry) the story is at least interesting, and very much embraces the newspaper tradition of rapidly changing directions in plot while maintaining a steady smoothness in the strip (it's really like a year of a normal Phantom strip compressed to 12 weeks).

There you go, a massive review for a massive book. Even with the medley of quality, totally worth owning to show off.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Criminal: The Deluxe Edition

One-sentence summary: One of the best series of the last decade is only improved by reading several arcs together.

I love noir, and I love Brubaker, so there was never any doubt I'd love Criminal, and I even specifically waited on buying the trades based on the assumption there would be a fancy collection of them eventually. This is one of those books they really cannot make too expensive for me, as it's always worth every penny.

The one thing that stood out to me so starkly when reading this collection is how well the universe knits together when the arcs are taken as one long story, Sin City-like. You learn families and histories; you see the old become young, the son become the father, the cynic become the hopeful. By setting the first story in the present and a later arc in the past, so that all those metamorphoses are in the reverse, takes the foreboding sense that the inevitability would present and transforms it into an empty resignation, which fits noir so well.

Sean Philips' art is like this impossible optical illusion, where regardless of the medium it always looks like it's made for it. On big pages with shiny glossiness all the darknesses pop, but I can totally see it looking equally amazing cheaply printed on cheap paper: faded, almost grimy, analogous the overly-artificial use of light in noir flicks.

The bonuses included in this edition are pretty solid. Nothing jaw-dropping, but enough to make me appreciate it. My personal favorite was something I'd never seen before: apparently they had put together a "trailer" for the first arc by taking some individual panels and having a couple pages of them. I don't know if they're the first to do it (neither are they) but it's a very cool idea that I'd like to see as an occasional alternative to the two current methods (giant splash page ads that are essentially a cover, or the first 5 or so pages stuck at the back of a book). For the purists, they don't have any of the essays that were contributed to the individual issues, as they had been freely given and so they felt iffy about reproducing them. I was a bit sad about it -- I mean, Patton Oswalt, my favorite comedian, wrote one of them -- but it's completely reasonable, so I don't mind.

There's so much to love about a book like Criminal. I love the artistic audacity they have: they're so willing to do interesting, new things but they never make a deal of it. The four issues that are all about a single night, each one readable as a standalone but all needed to get a complete picture of what happened, in particular stands out. A friend mentioned one technique I had noticed but not realized the novelty of: a character gets black-out drunk once, and to illustrate this there are fully black panels followed by a panel of action, jumping from scene to scene as we only get the perspective of flawed memory. So cool...just so damn cool.

That really sums up this book, and this whole series: just so damn cool.