March 9, 2009

 

Marvel Comics’ comic-book adaptation/spin-off of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series has become a runaway success, so it’s no surprise that the company is hoping lightning strikes twice with The Stand (Marvel). A hardcover collection of the first story arc, Captain Trips, just hit shops, as did the first issue of the second arc, American Nightmares. But while The Stand is a better novel overall than the collected seven-book Dark Tower series, the opposite is true of the comics adaptations. While both are being overseen by King himself, and both are following the same five-arc, 30-issue structure, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who’s handling scripting on The Stand, simply can’t hold a candle to old pro Peter David, who’s writing the Dark Tower spin-offs. Even with strong source material and an occasionally exciting artist in Mike Perkins, the story is as flat and dead as a superflu victim. For those who have already read the novel, the comics add nothing new; for newcomers unfamiliar with the story of warring factions of good and evil after a global pandemic, things aren’t much better. Aguirre-Sacasa constantly ignores the writer’s maxim—even more vital in comics—to show, not tell. There’s nothing but tell here: A caption describes exactly what you’re about to see, and then you see it. Which subverts whatever surprises Perkins’ art has in store, as well as slowing the overall pace to a crawl. If the comic doesn’t improve with the new story arc—and the first issue of American Nightmares suggests it won’t—this will be a long 30 issues… Both: C

The beautiful, lovingly crafted Nexus Archives Vol. 8 (Dark Horse) collects the final issues of the regular series run of Mike Baron and Steve Rude’s groundbreaking science-fiction comic, as well as some additional material. The material itself simply can’t be beat: it features some of the greatest Nexus stories of the series, including the mass panic that ensues when the boundless energy source known as the Gravity Well begins to collapse; the vengeful scheming of the Loomis Sisters, whose father had been one of Nexus’ victims; the ultimate fate of the Quatro assassin Kreed; and the journey of Nexus, Judah the Hammer, and the Badger (Mike Baron’s other memorable creation from the 1980s) to the mysterious Bowl-Shaped World. The art is also unimpeachable, with Rude’s already-fantastic work significantly enhanced by his experiments with painting; even a few issues where Rude isn’t present are beyond reproach, because his fill-in artist is the outstanding, idiosyncratic Paul Smith. The only problem with Nexus Archives Vol. 8—and the likely reason few people will buy it unless they’ve been buying them all along, is the prohibitive $50 cover price, which is steep even for such a gorgeous hardback… A

When Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis were handed control of the venerable Justice League super-team in 1987, their mandate was twofold: bring in some new blood, and expand the team’s horizons beyond the borders of America (hence its eventual name-change to Justice League International). But more importantly, they had to wipe fans’ minds clear of the disastrous, poorly received “Justice League Detroit” era that proceeded them. They succeeded admirably, but not in the way DC management expected; fans were lukewarm on the team’s new international scope, but they absolutely loved the wicked sense of humor Giffen and DeMatteis brought to the title. Justice League International Vol. 1 (DC) collects the first issues of this era in a no-frills trade paperback edition, where readers can encounter the rich characterization and strong sense of the absurd that characterized this era. Batman retains his ultra-bad-ass demeanor, but it’s leavened with a previously unsuspected nasty humor; Green Lantern Guy Gardner becomes one of the most insufferable jerks in comics history; Blue Beetle and Booster Gold transcend their second-banana status to become hilariously useless third bananas; Martian Manhunter displays a curious passion for Oreo cookies; and new members like Fire and Ice, the Rocket Reds, and Mister Miracle and Orion provide unexpected emotional depth to the stories. Some people are still put off by Kevin Maguire’s love-it-or-leave-it art, but it’s never seemed as appropriate to the material as it is here. Anyone who loves the characterizations in the Warner Brothers animated Justice League cartoon needs to pick this up, as much of the show’s humor is drawn directly the run’s unforgettable interpretation of the characters… B+

 Fantagraphics launched the Mome anthology series four years ago to spotlight the rising tide of young art-comix talent, but at times Mome’s reliance on a core group of recurring artists has had the opposite effect, making this new generation of cartoonists seem too insular and boho—more influenced by their art and design classes than by the classics of comics storytelling. Mome 14 opens up the stable to let in some fresh air, and while the work by this volume’s first-timers isn’t uniformly brilliant, the array of new looks and styles makes the indie realm look more vibrant than it has in a while. Mome 14’s highlights include one story by a vet and one by a newcomer. Dash Shaw’s “Scenes From The Abyss” is a half-naturalistic/half-impressionistic look at life on the set of James Cameron’s underwater science-fiction classic, while Lilli Carré’s “The Carnival” is a lengthy, haunting story about a troubled young man and a single mother who meet and flirt at the fair. Both combine striking illustration with a nuanced sense of place and character for a winning mix of the classic and the progressive… B

It’s long been a complaint that writing for the virtually all-powerful and incorruptible Superman puts too many limitations on writers. The guy can do anything, after all, and he does it with the assurance that he’s doing the right thing. But that hasn’t stopped plenty of writers for from finding ways out of the Superman trap. One solution: Take the Man Of Steel himself out of the picture. Action Comics and Superman are currently in the midst of an extended storyline called “World Without Superman,” which leaves other heroes to deal as Superman heads off-world to find his place in a newly revived Kryptonian society formed from the Kryptonians freed from the Bottle City Of Kandor and exiled from Earth, which didn’t take kindly to hosting hundreds of thousands of supermen. Co-written by current Superman stewards Greg Rucka and James Robinson, the 12-issue miniseries Superman: The World Of New Krypton (DC) finds Superman having a tough time fitting in with his fellow Kryptonians, and quickly running afoul of an old enemy. The first issue, featuring nice art from Pete Woods, gets the series off to an intriguing start, with Superman out of his element and in a society where his heartland values may not apply. If subsequent issues put the emphasis on that discomfort, they could be on to something. Meanwhile, Action Comics #875 (DC) focuses on a new variation on the old team of Nightwing and Flamebird that looks like it has potential… Both: B

Revisiting another attempt to shake Superman out of his rut, Superman: Kryptonite Nevermore (DC) collects an early-’70s run by writer Denny O’Neil, artist Curt Swan, and then-new editor Julius Schwarz in which Superman inadvertently helps neutralize Kryptonite, Clark Kent is forced to take a TV job working for a boss with an anti-Superman agenda, and a mysterious Superman duplicate starts dogging the hero. It’s a fun run with some O’Neil signatures—lefty politics, endless introspection—weighed down only by a weak conclusion featuring characters on loan from O’Neil’s simultaneous work on Wonder Woman. The hardcover collection is the first of DC’s DC Comics Classics Library, reprinting famous classic arcs à la the Marvel Premiere Classic Line. It’s a fine idea, though the choice to present the stories with their original, muted newsprint colors might divide readers along the purists-vs.-restorationists line. Though if the alternative is Neal Adams’ George Lucas-like tinkering with his old art, put us in the purist camp… B+

Editor and archivist Craig Yoe (Arf!, Clean Cartoonists’ Dirty Drawing) has developed a neat sideline exploring the forgotten corners of comics history. Boody: The Bizarre Comics Of Boody Rogers (Fantagraphics) continues that trend, unearthing the wild work of its title subject, a man born in Oklahoma before it was a state, and whose work carried more than a taste of the Wild West. Rogers’ signature titles, Sparky Watts (starring an incredible shrinking kid) and Babe (starring a superhuman backwoods beauty), make up for in raucous energy and sheer weirdness what they lack in sophistication and craftsmanship. Boody collects some of Rogers’ most memorable work from his 1940s heyday. Stories like “The Mysterious Case Of Mystery Mountain,” in which Babe discovers a world in which centaurs kidnap beautiful women and ride them like horses read like uneasy fever dreams punctuated by cornpone gags. They aren’t funny ha-ha or funny strange, they’re funny with a touch of madness… B+

Leaping off the “Hey Kids! Comics!” rack as if to prove that the medium is as susceptible to utter dreck as any other comes M.I.L.F. Magnet (Moonstone), a cretinous one-shot that’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like. A young superhero is involved in a freak accident (what, another one?) that makes him sexually irresistible to women, which turns out to be more curse than blessing, as his attempts to fight crime are constantly interrupted by Benny Hill-level shenanigans, and readers are subjected to nonstop grade-Z innuendo from Starship Troopers writer Tony Lee. Daniel Sampere’s art is atrocious, the women are drawn in the top-heavy style that turned a generation of female readers off of comics, the humor isn’t funny, and Lee doesn’t even seem to understand what “MILF” means, as the women generally don’t appear to have children, and while the script refers to them as “of a certain age,” Sampere doesn’t have the skill to carry it off, and they all look like generic young bimbos. A decent writer might propose the title of this book as a joke; a particularly clever one might even be able to show us glimpses of it as a vicious satire, à la 30 Rock’s MILF Island. A terrible writer would actually create the book and go for the cheapest possible laughs while actually taking the premise seriously, and that’s just what Tony Lee did. Inexcusable. F

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