Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Weekly Chain Reaction: March 11, 2009

The saddest thing about Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, the more I think about it, is that it’s such a terribly unambitious film.

Say what you will about Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ story: At the very least, it was groundbreaking and influential, both as a superhero narrative and as a comic.

The movie’s highest ambition, by contrast, seems to be to slavishly re-enact a comic that was groundbreaking 25 years ago.

Isn’t that a terrible waste of potential, as well as a great disservice to Mr. Moore and Mr. Gibbons’ work?

On that note, here are this week’s comics.

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Action Comics #875, by Greg Rucka, Eddy Barrows, et al. I was hoping for the kind of character-driven work that made Mr. Rucka’s contribution to 52 so compelling, but no such luck. This, in comparison, seems awfully perfunctory. Instead of endearing me to new protagonists Nightwing and Flamebird by giving me an inkling of who they are, what they want and why I should care, the story keeps throwing loads of supporting characters at me, along with lots of exposition on seven different fractions of Kryptonians and what have you. I’m sure all of this means something to people who’ve followed the various Superman books over the last few years. As someone who’s just looking for a good Greg Rucka story, though, I find it terribly unexciting. The best part of the comic is the editorial page, which suggests that Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely are collaborating on a Batman comic. That’ll be fun.

(DC Comics, 22 pages, $ 2.99)

Grade: C

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The Amazon #1 (of 3), by Steven T. Seagle, Tim Sale, Matt Hollingsworth, et al. This is a dusted-off, newly colored version of a miniseries first published 20 years ago by Comico. As such, the story looks very pleasant, and it holds up nicely compared to what’s produced today. Like a lot of current genre material, though, The Amazon fails to really develop its characters to a point that makes me care about something beyond the plot; and, you know, the plot has some U.S. journalist wandering up and down the Amazon River investigating the disappearance of an American who may have gone mad. If you’ve read Heart of Darkness or seen Apocalypse Now, there’s really no reason to expose yourself to this comic, which never rises above being competently generic. The small print, which says that “the distinctive visual likeness” of the protagonist is owned by Mr. Seagle, is very funny, by the way: Dude, Edgar Allan Poe is on the phone, and he wants his face back.

(Dark Horse Comics, 26 pages, $ 3.50)

Grade: C

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Captain Britain and MI13 #11, by Paul Cornell, Leonard Kirk, Mike Collins, et al. Mr. Cornell slows down time effectively in here, by switching to several paragraphs of prose on one page, while two of the characters are in a free-fall after their plane blows up. I’m not sure doing yet another invasion story so soon after “Secret Invasion” is a particularly good idea, but the creators take care to stay close enough with the characters for it not to matter. In terms of superhero ensemble books, Captain Britain is one of the best ones you can get right now. It’s refreshing to have a writer who doesn’t go with the most obvious storytelling option in every panel.

(Marvel Comics, 22 pages, $ 2.99)

Grade: B

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Charlatan Ball #6, by Joe Casey, Andy Suriano, et al. Well, to paraphrase Caesar, the not-so-little white rabbit on steroids: Shite! According to the rather ambivalent editorial page, this is it for “Season One” of Charlatan Ball. In fact, the way the creators are working themselves into the story here recalls the final issue of Mr. Casey’s Automatic Kafka series, which also came to a premature end. Presumably, sales and the fact that Mr. Suriano actually gets to do some paying work for DC are related to the decision, but at least the creators don’t seem to have given up on Charlatan Ball entirely yet. Overall, I should point out there hasn’t really been any character development throughout the series, which is certainly a major flaw. But then again, Mr. Suriano’s dynamic in-your-face art and storytelling and Mr. Casey’s delightfully demented dialogue (“He eats aggression! He craps punishment!”) have still made Charlatan Ball a blast. I hope this isn’t the last we hear of it.

(Image Comics, 18 pages, $ 2.50)

Grade: B-

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Ex Machina Special #4, by Brian K. Vaughan, John Paul Leon, et al. It’s another detective story. Ho-hum. As usual, Mr. Vaughan throws in a lot of commentary on all kinds of things, but much of what’s going on here seems random—what’s the point of the fight flashback in the middle, for instance, other than to provide a cheap red herring and serve the fisticuffs quota? The increasing self-referentiality also seems grating, because it’s now left the realm where it makes sense for the story. Am I really supposed to buy that the mayor of New York City worries about what paper comic books are printed on? Mr. Leon’s artwork is great to look at, as usual, but Mr. Vaughan seems on autopilot. Don’t get me wrong: Brian K. Vaughan on autopilot is still much better and more character-driven than what you find in most superhero books, but I don’t get the sense that these specials are actually contributing anything to the overall story, or that they’re at least stories that particularly screamed to be told.

(DC Comics/WildStorm, 32 pages, $ 3.99)

Grade: B-

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Ghost Rider #33, by Jason Aaron, Tony Moore, et al. Visually, this issue is much of an improvement on the last few. Not that I don’t like Tan Eng Huat’s art—quite the contrary, in fact—but when he cancelled his subscription to the school of thought which says that backgrounds and textures are advisable in action comics, his work on Ghost Rider became a little boring and sad. So, Tony Moore: much better. The story sets out to map the history of the Ghost Riders here, from the distant past to the future, intercut with new sidekick Sara’s quest for meaning in her own life. There’s a lot of stuff with potential in here, but the writing ultimately fails to break the surface and add some depth to Sara. Instead, the material seems rather flat and obvious—it appears Mr. Aaron was more excited by the one-panel existences of the Ghost Flyer of World War I, the Undead G-Man of the 1930s and Devil Rig and Hell-Driver of the 1970s than by the story he happens to be telling right now. Why not just go and tell the story of the Burt Reynolds Ghost Rider, then? Maybe it’s exciting.

(Marvel Comics, 23 pages, $ 2.99)

Grade: C+

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Invincible Iron Man #11, by Matt Fraction, Salvador Larroca, et al. You wouldn’t guess it from Mr. Fraction’s work on Uncanny X-Men, but his Invincible Iron Man remains one of the smartest, most engrossing superhero action series in the market right now. There are minor storytelling issues like the full-page splash of Pepper Potts early on that doesn’t go anywhere, while the subsequent brawl between Iron Man and War Machine could certainly have used the space. Other than that, though, the level of depth and invention that’s evident in characters, lines of dialogue and plot twists here is superior to pretty much everything else that’s happening in superhero comics this side of Grant Morrison right now.

(Marvel Comics, 22 pages, $ 2.99)

Grade: B+

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Also this week: The Life and Times of Savior 28 #1, by J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Cavallaro.

A review of Waltz with Bashir is in the pipeline and will be up shortly. I also bought the comic, which happens to be by the same creators, so I might review that one as well—should be interesting to compare and contrast the storytelling choices between the two media.

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