Quick comic comments

December 9, 2006

Welcome to Tranquility #1 (DC – Wildstorm): The premise for this series sounds a bit like an arc from Kurt Busiek’s Astro City, which is never a bad starting point for a look at the margins of a super-hero culture. Writer Gail Simone has set a murder mystery in a retirement community for “maxis,” powerful heroes and villains living together in relative peace during their twilight years.

Being a person of intelligence and sensitivity, Simone largely resists the urge to ridicule the citizenry’s mental and physical decline. Being a writer who thoroughly explores the scenario at hand, she can hardly ignore it. It’s a tricky balance to strike, but I think she does a nice job. Not everyone ages into an AARP commercial, and when people start with the kind of faculties possessed by the citizens of Tranquility, the results can be kind of frightening when they start to lose them.

Simone tells the story through the eyes of someone in her prime, Tranquility Sheriff Lindo. The character has her own tricky balancing act to pull off. She’s protective of the citizenry in several ways – she’s responsible for safety and order, which can require taking a hard line, but she’s also sensitive to their dignity and respectful of their accomplishments. It’s the sandwich generation conundrum through the eyes of law enforcement, and her handling of the conflicting demands makes Lindo immediately sympathetic.

The down side of having such a well-developed protagonist is that there perhaps isn’t enough time to take full advantage of the setting. As Lindo grudgingly baby-sits some visiting reporters, readers get glimpses of Tranquility and some of the people who live there, but the supporting cast can pass by in a bit of a blur. Introducing marginal characters in strong, specific ways is generally one of Simone’s strengths as a writer, and she succeeds more often than she fails, but the crowd can get a bit daunting.

It seems to overwhelm artist Neil Googe as well. Tranquility itself looks appealingly Rockwellian, but character design can be iffy. Googe is better at rendering action and motion than acting and emotion, so Simone’s script isn’t served as thoroughly as it could be.

But the book has definite potential. I like the underlying premise, and I’m a sucker for a murder mystery, so I’ll stick around and see where it leads.

*

Crossing Midnight #1 (DC – Vertigo): This is another series off to an intriguing if not completely satisfying start. Writer Mike Carey introduces readers to twins Toshi and Kai, born and raised in contemporary Nagasaki. Their thoroughly modern parents indulge their paternal grandmother, a survivor of the atomic bomb who insists they offer a prayer to the family shrine during the pregnancy. What harm could it do?

Mom and Dad would have been better off sticking to their principles, as the act of appeasement has unexpected, decidedly unpleasant consequences. Toshi, the younger of the twins, evaded the eye of the sonogram and surprised her parents with her arrival. The surprises continue as she finds she’s immune to physical injury. Carey takes an interesting direction with Toshi’s emotional reaction to her “gift” and does a nice job illustrating its impact on the family dynamic.

The story is nicely structured, but there’s an underlying detachment to Carey’s writing. The events of Crossing Midnight are never quite as urgent or intense as I think they should be. The book feels at times more like an artfully rendered case study than an organic story, more impersonally observational than visceral. (As an example, I generally hate the device Carey uses to establish the extremity of the menace Toshi and Kai face, but it just kind of rolls past here.)

I do like Jim Fern’s pencils, which are detailed and precise. It’s clean, clear rendering with some nice flourishes of imagination, and Fern’s work gets solid support from inker Rob Hunter and colorist José Villarrubia.

In the end, though, Crossing Midnight is kind of chilly, which keeps it from being very chilling.

(This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.)

*

Hero Squared #4 (Boom! Studios): I’m starting to wonder if Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis aren’t intentionally embodying the indie-spandex divide in their appealing super-hero parody. Sure, Captain Valor is a morally monochromatic Superman archetype, but I’m finally picking up that Milo is just as much of a pastiche of the common stereotype of the artcomix protagonist, so neatly summarized by Shaenon Garrity.

It’s probably taken me much longer to realize this than it should have, but it tickles me to think that Hero Squared is offering equal-opportunity mockery.


The suspense is killing me!

November 30, 2006

Well that was a pleasant surprise. I thought NBM was only shipping a new printing of Rick Geary’s The Borden Tragedy, but a copy of the paperback version of The Case of Madeleine Smith showed up in my reserves yesterday. New installments of A Treasury of Victorian Murder are always gratefully accepted.

Speaking of the accused Glaswegian, she’s made her way onto the list of nominees for the American Library Association’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens. (Yes, I’m still obsessively tracking those. Thanks for asking.) Nominations are now closed with a projected drop date for the final list in mid-winter of 2007.

It’s a little hard to tell what joined the list when, but accounting for my shaky memory, recent additions include:

  • Action Philosophers: Giant-Sized Thing #1 (Evil Twin)
  • American Born Chinese (First Second)
  • Brownsville (NBBComics Lit)
  • Chocalat (Ice Kunion)
  • Crossroad (Go! Comi)
  • Fables: 1,001 Nights of Snowfall (Vertigo)
  • Infinite Crisis (DC)
  • Inverloch (Seven Seas)
  • The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (Dark Horse)
  • Livewires: Clockwork Thugs, Yo! (Marvel)
  • Pride of Baghdad (Vertigo)
  • Same Cell Organism (DMP)
  • To Dance: A Ballerina’s Graphic Novel (Simon and Schuster)
  • Young Avengers Vol. 2: Family Matters (Marvel)

I hope the nomination list is still available after the final roster is chosen, because there are some great books on it. But barring some bizarre failure of decision-making, it’s hard to see how the final list could be anything but excellent.

(Edited to note: If I missed anything new to the nominations, let me know, and I’ll add it to the list.)


Kirihito contest

October 25, 2006

Tom Spurgeon is giving away copies of Vertical’s no-doubt peerlessly produced edition of Osamu Tezuka’s Ode to Kirihito. That is all.


From the stack: THE LOSERS 13

June 27, 2004

Warning: the comments below contain spoilers.

The Losers follow up on a lead in Qatar, but they’re sidetracked by local strife involving terrorists, the CIA, and the Qatari government. They’re presented with an offer they can’t refuse to intercede between two of those factions for the benefit of the third, but it may be too late.

The action movie rolls on, and I mean that in the best possible sense. The pace of events, from car chases to subplots to backroom deals, never flags. At the same time, writer Andy Diggle manages to humanize not only the principle characters but also the people they meet along the way. From the sleek and menacing Qatari adviser to the greasy CIA minion, ever character is distinct.

And, like a good action movie, there are plenty of laughs. They come in different flavors, too, from the “I can’t believe I just saw that” arrival of a tank to an absolutely hilarious sequence where the leads try to communicate in a bugged office. Then there’s Stegler, the agent tracking the losers. It’s hard to tell what he objects to more, the local office’s repellent mission or their disorganization. Priceless stuff.

This really is a terrific title. Try it.


This week’s stack, part one

June 10, 2004

I’ll be going through the stack in two parts this week, as one of the shops I use didn’t get their shipment in yesterday. Still, plenty of books to make it worth an entry.

AQUAMAN 19: This title has improved vastly since the end of the incomprehensible and overlong Waterbearer/Thirst arc. While this issue is basically a chat with the architect of San Diego’s destruction, it offers some twists to that formula. The antagonist of the piece views his actions as a necessary evil, difficult choices serving a heroic aim. He’s also clearly withholding a lot of details, and it’s nice to see the protagonists figure that out fairly easily. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it is a solid chapter in the ongoing story. And the Alan Davis/Mark Farmer cover is predictably gorgeous.

BATMAN, DEATH AND THE MAIDENS 9: Maybe it’s the extended gap between this issue and last, but the concluding chapter of this story is somewhat anticlimactic. It seems more like an epilogue than a finale. Still, the story as a whole has been an interesting character study while shaking up the status quo of Ra’s al Ghul, his daughters, and his organization. It also positions Nyssa as a promising new addition to Batman’s roster of enemies, vastly more interesting than Hush (not that that’s saying a great deal, but I mean it as a compliment). When time permits, I’m going to have to read these issues at once, as I suspect they’ll work better as a collection.

FABLES 26: The citizens of Fabletown try to fend off the attack of an army of disturbingly polite wooden soldiers. Essentially an issue-long battle sequence, it’s a lot richer than other stories of its kind. Filled with character moments, plot twists, politics, and sacrifice, it’s a standout entry from a consistently fine title. There’s also a preview of THE WITCHING included in this issue, which didn’t do anything to make me want to pick up that title. It looks competent, but the characters aren’t particularly vivid, and the art is kind of a queasy blend of cartoon and titillation.

FALLEN ANGEL 12: Peter David heads back in time to the first meeting of the Angel and Doctor Juris. Angel tracks a criminal to New Orleans and runs into Juris on his yearly day off. It’s a perfectly competent story, but I didn’t really learn anything new about either of the protagonists. It’s a decent stand-alone issue, though, and if you’ve been curious about the book, this would be a good chance to give it a try.

GLOBAL FREQUENCY 12: This is the last issue of the series of stand-alone action stories written by Warren Ellis and illustrated this time around by the very talented Gene Ha. The lack of any ongoing narrative from issue to issue doesn’t really make for much analysis, and the formula – mysterious threat to the public, creative and aggressive response by Global Frequency agents – is solidly in place. It’s been a good title, finely crafted entertainment. If it’s all a bit inconsequential, there’s nothing really wrong with entertainment for its own sake.

GREEN ARROW 39: The crisis in Star City concludes in a grimly predictable manner. The point, once again, is that Oliver is a success as a hero and a failure as a person. That’s been established pretty well by now, and perhaps we could move on to some slightly different subject matter? No? Okay, just asking.

IDENTITY DISC 1: I’m a big fan of Robert Rodi’s novels, and I want to like his work in comics, but he still doesn’t seem to have found his stride in the medium. His novels (particularly Fag Hag and What They Did to Princess Paragon) are tightly plotted screwball comedies that are grounded in very recognizable human emotions. You’d think that skill set would translate better to comics than it does. While he manages to humanize some of his characters – a mixed bag of villains blackmailed into pulling off a convoluted caper – it doesn’t hang together very well. (Continuity buffs will also wonder how the events square with any number of other Marvel titles, too.)

NIGHTWING 94: The spotlight is still locked on the truly repellent Tarantula, as Nightwing continues to be completely ineffectual. This book is grim far beyond the point of dramatic, and this is the last issue I’ll be buying for a while.

More to come tomorrow.