Wednesday, November 24, 2010

After the Purge….

If you follow my blog at all, you'll note that I pretty much gave up on a weekly comic review, mostly because the things I was reading weren't making me happy. Every now and again, they'd raise a grin or I'd be pleased with some deft writing touches, but for the most part, it was all very meh. What you don't know is that I kept my huge subscription list, hoping against hope that they would get better, that someone would see the light and good storytelling would make its way back. This is not to say that there weren't good stories. I'll tell you right now that Jonah Hex may be the best comic that the big two are putting out right now, and anything that Paul Dini writes is worth looking at. The same can be generally said of Kurt Busiek as well.

Now rational-minded people would suggest that I needed to get beyond the Big Two, and I do have some titles that fall outside Marvel and DC, but not many. To me, it is very hard work to discover good independent titles as they come out, and I'm not sure if that is a worse indictment of me or the whole comics industry. And even the independents are doing some odd stuff of late—IDW and Dark Horse, once bastions of creator-owned comics and groundbreaking storytelling are both becoming primarily publishers of franchises, like Star Wars for Dark Horse and Transformers and Ghostbusters for IDW. So, combined with not being able to figure out what looks good as it launches, I have to dig through the franchise madness that appears to be moving from book publishing to comics.

As a result, a couple of weeks ago, I did the nearly unthinkable: I cut two-thirds of my subscription list. My local store owner, a long-time friend, was concerned I was having financial issues. And I explained to him that in some ways I was—I was tired of spending good money on drek. He didn't like it, but he accepted it. I also recognize, bless his soul, that I was perhaps one of his biggest customers and he was fighting not to lose money. And honestly, that played into my thinking about what I ultimately did, but I can't be responsible for propping up a store by myself.

I didn't go to the store this past week because of a cold. But I went today and got my stuff. Maybe it's having fewer books to read, and maybe I have a limited quantity of pleasure a week to devote to comics, so that happiness with individual issues was lower when I had so many titles to spread it across. Or, as seems more likely, the gods smiled down at me and comics did some really amazing things over the past two weeks.

First, Marvel's Ultimate Spiderman 150, a special issue to recognize the milestone. It's an above-average title, perhaps the best thing that Bendis regularly writes. And this story has its maudlin saccharine moments, as one might expect for a special issue of a comic built in large measure around teen angst. But that's not what got me. Towards the end of the issue, guest artists have supplied two-page spreads to accompany the narration of an oral report being delivered by Peter Parker in class; again, you expect this sort of thing in what used to be known as "key issues." But I turned the page and ran smack into a two-page spread of the Fantastic Four, drawn and inked and perhaps even colored by Dave Gibbons. If you don't know Dave Gibbons, he is the co-creator of Watchmen, the man tasked with trying to fulfill artistically the vision Alan Moore had. Critics recognize that Gibbons had nearly as much to do with the brilliant storytelling of Watchmen as did Moore. Since then, Gibbons's art is often used in the more science-fictiony titles. But this particular piece made my mouth hang open, by far his best art that I've seen since Watchmen and the best Fantastic Four since Jack Kirby let them out of his control (and honestly, probably surpasses a lot of the Kirby art as well). I have searched and searched the Interwebs for this image, but I cannot find it anywhere. If it were possible, I would buy the original art and frame it—it is really a stunning statement about the power and tradition of comic art. I cannot recommend going to your comic store enough to find this image.

Second, DC's Brightest Day 14. Brightest Day is a mini-series follow-up to Blackest Night, and so far it has been pretty meh too. DC really needs to think about what they want to accomplish with these full-year maxi-series, because they never seem to come together very well despite the best intentions. Perhaps they read better when they are collected, but reading them as they come out can be pretty painful. Once again DC has too many plot-threads dangling, so each issue either flits about between a cast of more than ten characters or it's devoted to a single character and so the other plot-threads hang in the balance for weeks. And to be honest, the story in this issue is not exceptional: it follows the cliché of a hero having a near-death experience and rediscovering just why he's a hero. There is some irony that the hero in question is Deadman, but that's about the most nuanced bit of storytelling in the issue. But some combination of writer Geoff Johns and artist Ivan Reis caused an amazing thing to happen on pages two and three of the issue, another two-page spread. Reis drew the pages in question, obviously; I just have no idea how much of what was drawn was at Johns's direction and how much of it came from Reis himself. But the result is perhaps the most glorious homage to Neal Adams when he was at the top of his form that I have ever seen. And fortunately, these images are available…I just wish you could see them side by side, as they are in the comic.

Page 2--

Page 3--

I'm pretty sure this image is based on the first appearance of Deadman in Strange Adventures; unfortunately my issues are in storage so I can't find the one I am thinking of for sure. But this first cover is some good evidence:

And once again I saw the power that comics can convey, given writers and artists who excel. It is really a spectacular image and if you are any kind of fan of Neal Adams, a splendid homage, down to the lines in Deadman's face and the placement of the word balloon. If you wander down to the local store to see the Ultimate Spiderman, you might take some time to check this out as well.

Finally, issue 0 of the new Batwoman, written and illustrated by uber-talented JH Williams. Fortunately, again, I can share some art, There is no other storyteller like JH Williams, who combines a new and arguably radical idea of page composition with some of the most striking art you'll ever see. The good news is that this is the beginning of a new ongoing series for DC. The bad news is that if Williams ever leaves it, its readership is going to fall off by 95%. If you don't read comics and want to get in on the ground floor of a stunning piece of work that may well be the next big thing, run out to your store and start checking out Batwoman.

So for the first time in a long while, my comics made me smile, made me stop and stare and the art, made me want to share the really awesome things I'd seen first with my wife and now with you. I'd insert something sappy here about tomorrow being Thanksgiving, but I won't. I just hope for more nights like these.

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