Friday, September 26, 2008
"The Resurrection" is an ambitious project produced by Marc Guggenheim in partnership with Oni Press. Guggenheim is a Hollywood screenwriter, that has produced some mainstream superhero comics work, and is the co-creator of ABC's "Eli Stone" TV series. Oni is a small publishing house dedicated towards aiming beyond the traditional comics audience, perhaps most famous for being the home of "Queen & country" and "Scott Pilgrim". Together, they developed "the Resurrection" as a very HBO-friendly comic book, which has since being optioned as a film by Universal, despite having made little buzz among comic fans. And yet, with the proliferation of independent titles featuring post-apocalyptic settings, it works very well as a comic-book, and I'll try to review it as such, instead of grouping it with TV's "Lost" and "Jericho" it still has a lot in common with.
Looking at it in terms of an ongoing series, "Resurrection" is much more akin to the survival drama "Walking dead", than the more heady "Y the Last Man". In fact, thanks to the enthusiasm of multiple independent creative teams, it has debuted in a marketplace that is already publishing several similar series, chief of which are "Wasteland" and "Drafted". Speaking of "Drafted", it's interesting to note how the American comic book scene has been very open recently to the alien invasion scenarios, no doubt for their unique ability to both serve as escapist entertainment, as well as discuss the world's current political issues from a very specific standpoint (which is something that even Marvel has figured out, re-focusing all of their superhero titles to feature the threat of alien Skrulls).
"The Resurrection" offers a very distinctive standpoint, though, it's high concept concentrating on the world that has just repelled an alien invasion. That way, the basic sci-fi idea is tweaked just enough to form a unique hook, but still squarely falling into the domain of post-apocalyptic fiction, which by now has become such a durable sub-genre that most of the readers know whether they like to read that particular brand of fiction.
Guggenheim dresses the series in a very fluid and distinctive format, never letting up the pace, keeping reader on his toes with well-chosen flashbacks and a never-ending series of sharp turns. Through all of the cliff-hangers, his dialogue remains very dynamic and life-like, eschewing the highly stylized fantasy speak for the realistic approach, that is in keeping with the way the series always keeps it's foot on the ground. Still, from the start the series was troubled with long delays between the issues, which are all too frequent with independent publishing. It's clear that a lot of thought and ambition went into the project, and perhaps we have Hollywood to thank that both Oni and Guggenheim have not given up on the series and are still pushing to have it published and remain on the shelves until the end of the story.
Still, even as the creator of the series, Guggenheim can only do so much, as he has to rely on Oni for the promotion and, most importantly the art department. The publisher has tapped David Dumeer, the artist of John Layman's "Armageddon & son" to depict the post-invasion Earth in a style that is both down to Earth and gritty. Dumeer's work is very effective when it comes to clear layouts and his characters are all distinctive when it comes to age and body type. Still, some of his work is very uneven, and even at it's best, his pages look a rushed, with characters sporting an almost caricatural look, that clashes with the book's tone. Perhaps it would've been better if Oni had invested more in the project, at least by giving Dumeer an inker that would help his work stand out a bit more, thus complimenting the project itself and rounding out "the Resurrection" as a really formidable independent title. It goes without saying that the addition of color would've also benefited the book immensely, and at least Oni has promised their readers that much, when the series soon returns for volume 2, as even the washed-out look of the covers helps give the book more energy and excitement.
Action's certainly not something the book lacks, as most of it's characters are forced to constantly prove their mettle in the new landscape. The creators start off with a small cast, that has been chosen very carefully, giving us a look at many different and essential character types, spotlighting both the major and minor players in a natural way. Even though the book frequently employs flashbacks to depict the events that happened both during and right after the invasion, most of the times we're it's very clear what's happening and the events depicted have direct repercussions on the characters and new situations they found themselves in. Adding to the fact that it's not uncommon for the story to suddenly jump a few weeks in the future, it's goes to the creator's credit that the book remains cryptic in the right way, even when referring to the people and events that have happened during the invasion the reader knows very little about.
The authors also take great pains to avoid falling into the irony some of post-apocalyptic sci-fi chooses to employ by not depicting the actual cause of world-wide catastrophe. Even though the story is about the human spirit dealing with the ultimate challenge, "the Resurrection" is always clear that the human race faced alien invaders, usually through the enigma the alien technology still poses to the American survivors.
The story does not shy away from using hard language and some grizzly depictions of violence. It goes without saying that it's all a part of the way the heroes of post-apocalyptic Earth would have to behave, in order to rise out from the wilderness and make their place in the new world. Coupled with the fact that most of the depictions of the alien threat, both during and after the invasion, have been very low-key and symbolic, it still makes one wish to see it all depicted as a pilot to an R-rated mid-level budgeted TV-series.
And yet those concerns are moot, knowing that Universal has bought out the film version, and that "the Resurrection" is a very decent and interesting comic in itself. Despite the success of some of the creator-owned comic-book movie adaptation, American comic-book industry is still heavily focused on superheroes, even though most of those readers would do well to give this series a chance. Ironically, it could very well happen that they end up discovering Guggenheim's creation through the movie version and in a roundabout way come to give their much needed support to an original series published by a small but ambitious publisher that needs it.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
"Hellboy the Crooked man" is the name of Dark Horse's recently concluded three-issue mini-series. It was published as a spiritual follow-up to Hellboy's creator Mike Mignola and his artistic collaborator Richard Corben's "Hellboy Makoma "mini-series from some years back. Considering that Dark Horse is benefitting from the major attention the Hellboy movie sequel is getting them, the creators must have thought the franchise strong enough to support another spin-off.
Corben is a veteran horror/fantasy artist, and it makes sense that Mignola would've jumped at the chance to work with him again, especially if it meant dabbling with yet another culture's take on folklore and superstition, which has influenced so much of his writing for the last decade or so. Dealing with themes of witchcraft actually enables Hellboy's creator to show us another side of the subject, which has figured in such a major way in the main title.
It's clear that the creators like this kind of tale, and Dark Horse has never shied away from it's pulpy influences.What Mignola and Corben serve up is a grizzle short story, no doubt inspired by the horror magazines they liked in their youth, filtered through the world of Hellboy. Unlike "Makoma", with its focus on African tribal tradition, "the Crooked man" shows us the wild province of American countryside and all of the otherwordly dealings the common folk turn to in fear and desparation.
The tale starts off slow, throwing the young Hellboy into a strange, exposition-heavy setting, but later on more than makes up for it, delivering on every cruelty and injustice hinted at by the eclectic cast. Hellboy is brought on to investigate the case and we are treated to several glimpses of his futre fate, but, odd as it sounds, he remains mostly in the background, as someone who is new to the local history of evil, much like the reader is.
Corben's visceral pen does a lot to color the foreboding atmosphere, but he is second to none when it comes to applying caricature in order to depict the twisted faces of country folk, their sinful features exaggerated for effect. Story-wise, drifting through all the grim and despair can be a little confusing, and for all the detail Mignola puts in the proceedings, he does not make us care a whole lot for the characters. When you're heaped with the long list of atrocities all of these individuals have damned their lives with, it's hard to care whether any of them will find a way to Heaven. And that's the point of the story, one which the creators only aspire to, but do not reach, no matter how urgent the whole ordeal purports to be.
For better of worse, "the Crooked man" keeps trying to hit the same not of hysteria, and it succeeds on the level of a comic book horror story. It gets it's point across, even if we don't get too interested in the heroes' fate. The mini's got two of the most influential horror/fantasy comic book creators behind it and it shows, no matter the personal preference.
And yet, it fails as a Hellboy story. Sure, Mignola's signature creation's in it, but he gets treated more like an ornament than a character, his very existing clashing with the pseudo-realism the creators try so hard to convey. Hellboy ends up looking too superheroic and out of place in his own book, which is telling of the greatest problem with "the Crooked man".
In agreeing to publish this story as a Hellboy tale, much like "Abe Sapien: the Drowning", Dark Horse is asking the reader to expect something different than the usual fun romp through the highly stylized horror and mythology backdrop. This time around, there is no doubt that this story would've worked better devoid od the strenuous Hellboy connection, yet that would guarantee Dark Horse a lot of problems with how to market it, ensuring it would never sell on the level of the Hellboy spin-offs. That all goes to further establish how Hellboy is rapidly becoming a franchise capable of supporting a whole line of titles, being developed by different creative teams. Time will tell whether Hellboy as a brand can withstand the kind of stretching that allows titles like "the Crooked man" to exist, without shedding readers in the process.
Corben himsels seems in a hyperactive phase, producing work for Conan and Haunt of horror Lovecraft, back to back with his work on "the Crooked man". To his credit, the art does not suffer, no matter what motivated him to seek extra work from his old editors all of a sudden.
Taking all that into account, we are left with a short story that does most of what it sets out to do, being a pet project of the authors. And perhaps it's best that they rod the wave of attention Hellboy the Golden Army has brought Dark Horse, packaging it as an adjacent mini-series, if that meant allowing this tale to exist, and entertain us.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
David Lloyd is an artist most famous for "V for vendetta", his collaboration with Alan Moore. And yet, much like Dave Gibbons and Eddie Campbell, Moore's other contributors, he did not subsequently rise to fame. The general impression seems to be that all of those artists are still around, but dabbling into experiments and alternative projects not really worthy of anyone's time. I guess that's what happens when your style is so associated with a particular Moore collaboration that most of your audience don't actually want to see you doing anything new.
And yet, if Lloyd's latest offering, the Kickback graphic novel, is cracked open, it reveals that the artist has matured into a very capable write/artist. Or perhaps he always was, and we didn't really get to see it before.
Make no mistake, "Kickback" is a genre piece, a neo-noir story in the same vein as "Romeo is bleeding". And if it indeed doesn't break the confines of sub-genre for the case of high-brow experimentation with comics' form, it's still a very good read. Once again, it's the specific nature of American comic books that leaves us with impression that doing superhero stories in that form is the norm, and that the creators should have found a way to employ their noir ideas in Hollywood. And I guess that's why David Lloyd's "Kickback" was first published in France.
In any event, Lloyd treats the sequential from as a real veteran. Utilizing his unique position as both the writer and the artist of the book, he tells the story in a way that is both very seamless and pleasant to look at.
The story starts a bit on the fast side, but eventually finds its pace, framed around the main character's enigmatic dreams. Yet, Lloyd manages not only to heap trouble upon his main character, showing us if police detective Joe Canelli can find his way out the toughest time in his life, when all his decisions come to haunt him, but also succeeds in presenting a character that actually has a social life to help him round it all out. Choosing to leave the setting of the story, largely ambiguous, Lloyd serves us up with Franklin city, a depressive and bleak town, that gives us right from the start an idea of the type of story we're about to read.
Much like David Lapham's "Silverfish", it's not really hard to envision the story as a movie, but that holds true to many of the crime novels too. Lloyd's handsome male-lead only helps further that assumption, but helpfully the supporting characters show up to deliver the realism with their all too common and true physical personas. Unfortunately Lloyd doesn't escape the most common of artist's traps, depicting regular women as super models, but that doesn't detract so much of the work, as does some of the more simplified characterizations, a few of the key players sport.
And yet, the story is all about the main character, who is, despite his solid looks and a beautiful caring woman beside him, a man troubled inside and out. By concentrating on really developing the main character's past, the rest of the story boils down to pitfalls necessary for him to "come of age", becoming a more complete person in the process.
As the book goes on, some of the more surreal symbolic elements are helpfully explained by the characters, and are dealt with a bit more directly than it would appear to be at the beginning of the story. Make no mistake, it's still a genre story, about a policeman facing the corruption in himself and his own department, but it goes about it in an interesting way, and most importantly, shows us how David Lloyd would develop such a scenario.
In any event, "Kickback" is a breath of fresh air, and goes to show how much the current market misses such well thought-out and artistically achieved books. David Lloyd has not only gave us a great thriller to read, he has left his fans eagerly awaiting the next project he chooses to develop, in whatever genre he decides to approach it.
Sunday, September 7, 2008
Devil's Due is an interesting publisher. Most of their line consists of licensed or licensable properties that work in the similar vein, that of updating the Saturday Morning cartoons for an audience that is more mature. Thus, the titles feel fresh and happy to channel the video-game violence in hope of ending up adapted as a Hollywood action flick.
And that's pretty much the deal with Spooks, yet another Devil's Due publishing title that has pretty much flew under the radar of most of the fans and critics. It has apparently sold enough copies to warrant an ongoing series, and that's what's finally got me to check out the mini-series the concept originally debuted in.
Now, Spooks' autorship is a very complicated thing. It's apparently an idea of Ryan Schifrin and Daniel Alter, who thought it would be cool to envision the movie that mixes Larry Hamma's GI Joes fighting RA Salvatore's RPG monsters. And yet, the creators decided it's best to hold on to embelisshing the movie script and just send the concept over to Hamma and Salvatore to develop as a comic. Hamma accepted the job of co-scripting the book with Schifrin, no doubt in order to have it presented to the Hollywood producers as soon as possible, and Salvatore (with his brother, Geno Salvatore, even!) ended up briefly summing up the way he saw some of the monsters could be used for good effect. Add Adam Archer, a quick, up-and-coming aritst to the mix, and you've got a Devil's Due series, fast and furious, as it tries to capture everyone's attention.
Getting into the story is easy, as the principal players are quickly introduced, and everything is set up for the action sequences, that are at the heart of the story. The characters are easy to distinguish, their personalities as simple and quick to grasp as their code names. There is even a hint of romance with the introduction of a female soldier, but make no mistake, she's mostly there to tease the audience and smooth up the breaks between the showdowns with monsters. As for the villains, they are even less distinctive, and except for some contrived ties to the heroes' pasts, defined solely by their bestial nature.
The story takes some twists and turns, as the soldiers of yet another S.H.I.E.L.D. knockoff agency (complete with a witty and quickly-forgettable acronym), sporting familiar blue jumpsuits reveal themselves as ready for anything, battle-scarred anti-heroes. After numerous takes on this post-Aliens and Starship Troopers idea, the whole thing seems very campy and tired.
The rushed and not quite ready for the prime time artwork certainly doesn't help endear the series to new readers, but it's at least clear in depicting numerous complicated battlefield scenarios. Some of the variant covers are very nice to look at, though, and it's a real shame that DDP didn't pare up Schifrin and Hamma with an artist who would depict these characters and their world in a slicker way in this, its introduction to the audience.
On the other hand, the writers take the whole thing seriously, and manage to help tie the project into a coherent tale. "Spooks" does not aspire to experimentation with the form and structure of sequential art, it's a concept that's by chance premiered in the comics form, as it tries to communicate its take on monster hunting to the readers. It's not novel in any way, and certainly doesn't distinguish itself enough to fulfill its goals in the first mini-series, but the writers help make it into a real story, one that's readable and entertaining.
The most glaring problem is that it simply does not have a lot going for it. From the beginning to the end you get GI Joe fighting the undead, and little else that is new or unique. The book tries to divert the readers' attention by introducing us to the secret government organization and characters from its Alpha and Beta teams that already have some history with each other, even setting up the black-ops Omega division, that has since become the star of the ongoing series. Yet, all that aside, it reamins the sum of its parts, ie. the story about army grunts trying to stop a zombie apocalypse, brought on by a sorcerer a mad-on for humans.
Arguably, the book works best when dealing with little details, such as the arms and equipment used to fight supernatural, and some of the action sequences do come off as fun and unusual. The focus on the main characters doesn't succeed as much, though, and they remain little more than cyphers, occasionally trying for melodrama, but mostly resorting to sprouting one-liners in the middle of the fight. Perhaps using the standard 6-issue story arc would have helped the book utilize more space for developing its ideas.
To sum it up, I'm not sure that the set up like this fits for an action movie it so desperately wants to be. I see a lot of a generic video-game in it, what with it's heavy focus on short bursts of formulaic story spliced between all the gory fights. Despite the cliches and overall blandness of the whole thing, the irony is that it could work as an ongoing series. DDP did not make a mistake by going forwards with the ongoing series, because some of its concepts could benefit with a lot of space for re-tinkering and development that a monthly provides.
Here's an old review I once wrote for Newsarama's readers review section. It discusses the Thing's last series, canceled just days after I wrote why I think the sales are winding down.
(Pull my) Thing #1-6 review
The Thing is a classic superhero supporting character of Silver age whose book Fantastic Four works so well that Marvel has always kept it close to the Lee-Kirby original. He has meant a lot to superhero universes, as the ideal sidekick. He has indebted the genre by visual and powers first, springing forth many follow ups the most famous of which being the Hulk and broadened the team superhero dynamic by establishing a rule of the big lug powerhouse all teams must have. In terms of personality he was also exceptional for his time with his working man blue collar ethic later much imitated in everything from Doom Patrol's Robotman to Mike Mignola's Hellboy. Adding the two gave us a perfect Marvel creation - Stan Lee's humanity and Jack Kirby's epic vision together in one character that works wonderful as a quick fan-favorite. He had a team up series in the 70-ies when he was still widely popular while She-Hulk has previously been in and out of spotlight without much successes, even replacing the Thing as a member while he was having solo adventures in yet another forgotten chapter of his latter part of publishing history. Coupled with a gimmick related to roaming the post event world of Secret war crossover Thing proved unsuccessful in the 80-ies and was canceled 3 years into the book's history considering the books sold better then. Since, Thing has proven incapable of carrying his own series partly because he lacks individuality and works best when justapoxed against others and partly, because he's an afterthought - all (the only kind there is - old) readers know everything there is to know about him and get enough of a reminder in his parent book. Times have changed and nowadays many creators cite Reed Richards as a favorite Fantastic Four character with Thing staying in the background providing old favorite sound bytes, unable to alter his appearance, grow beyond his horseplay with Johny Storm or get back at Yancy streeters. New characters don't sell, icons appear not to sell steady except when driven through life changing crossover events - even hot creative teams don't make much change when not dealing with the lesser known characters.
the New series
Thus writer Dan Slott has successfully rebuilt She-Hulk with a bold new and thought-out concept, his creativity has since showed up in the GLA mini-series. Thing on the other hand was too much of a no-brainer and no creative challenge - Marvel liked Spiderman/Human Torch Slott's old, continuity inspired fun with a lot of heart in it very much. The problem was that it was written for the movie crowd mini ala Wolverine/Punisher and Spiderman/Daredevil oneshot which went a long way past it's original intent. Marvel coupled Slott with a hot penciler Andrea Divito and a proven icon with the potential for tongue in cheek superhero adventure which is where it fails. Thing is a well-rounded character that will work as a lucrative licensed property as long as the freelancers keep updating it to modern fans with minimal changes - exactly where Slott and the editorial tripped. Dan Slott seemingly follows John Byrne's career, tackling with properties Byrne played around on the side in the 80-ies (GLA, Thing and She-Hulk) while producing much bigger successes on Superman and Fantastic Four, providing there literally second most important versions to some of the most popular American comic books. The irony is that the Thing and She-Hulk's co-creator Stan Lee had a much more prophetic take - limiting the first to a sidekick role in Fantastic Four and providing the second with an ongoing series. Strangely, Slott became instrumental in showing that to readers releasing much of She-Hulk's potential by recreating the simpler character while being in the dark with what to do with previously fully developed Thing. Green Arrow-like Thing has no arch villains of his own leaving the anti-hero supporting character to be his own biggest enemy, also the feel of Thing's adventures is that of a Fantastic Four episode where he is a main character providing a break from the more adventurous SF tales. Ironically, Slott avoided this by divorcing She-Hulk from the Avengers and showing her character and up to date momentum all in the first issue while spending three ones to do the same with the Thing, dropping the ball afterwards when it came to revisioning the book and making it's own originality. The book is the perfect sum of its parts but no more than that, in truth it's too retro and unambitious for it's own good. Marvel launched the book on previously established strengths with the only new element of the story premise being that all of a sudden Ben is a billionaire and it fails which is a strange scenario already dealt with everywhere from the Flintstones to Carl Barks' duck books. It's a silly setup considering his parent book always treated him and his teammates like superstar celebrities living in SF technology heaven of a Doc Savage-inspired headquarters which even if ignored can be expected to go away as abrupt as it showed up as a status-quo restoring trick. Slott is spreading himself too thin writing similar books at the same time, we have seen him showing us obscure characters before and here they don't do much to build a convincing new status quo - Even Lockjaw, the most permanent addition to supporting cast does show up until issue 4. The solicitations promise more of the same which is, in itself, not a bad thing considering it will borne out even more solid old-fashioned done-in-one comics which is strangely a rarity on today's market, itself built on that very definition. Just like with She-Hulk a year ago, Slott is fighting to keep the book alive but the situation is different - the same comic that does not manage to convince us that it has a reason for existence beyond that, especially compared to Fantastic Four and She-Hulk covering the same ground, it is moving small numbers, the penciler has been shifted to Annihilation which is a huge crossover that popularly reinvents a corner of a Marvel universe, much like She-Hulk once did. It remains to be seen what change will the new penciler Kieron Dwyer bring, along with the announced trade paperback. Perhaps previously introduced characters Constrictor, Carlotta la Rosa and Sheckie will reshape the book when (or if) they show up again, - until then it's back to the Thing trying to work out a relationship with Alicia Masters.