Review: Wednesday Comics #3

Wednesday

Last week’s Wednesday Comics was the first to really disappoint.  The premise of the project should suggest that the creators compress their stories as much as possible, at least in general – when all’s said and done, they only really have 15 pages to finish the story.  While some creators have risen to the challenge, like Caldwell on Wonder Woman or Pope on Strange Adventures, some strips that started out strong have begun to peter off already.

There is still the seeds of genius that were strongly evident in the first two issues, but there are too many non-starters here.  The flaws remain relatively unfixed, with the weakest pages among the first two issues showing little improvement.  Not all is bleak, of course – a project with this many gifted creators is bound to have some astonishing moments – but I am not sure that a book facing all the challenges that Wednesday Comics faces can afford to have many more issues like this one: Not bad, but not quite worth the trouble.

Grade: B-

– Cal Cleary

Wednesday Comics #2

Wednesday Comics #1

Review: Wednesday Comics #2

Wed2

Though Wednesday Comics #2 didn’t do much to improve over the flaws of the first one, and certainly won’t change any minds about the project as a whole, it also kept all the charm, wit and creative energy of the first issue, and even improved upon some of the slower stories.  The keyword with Wednesday Comics is variety, and you get a lot of it.

Busiek’s Green Lantern is a wonderfully retro The New Frontier-style sci-fi adventure, while Pope’s Strange Adventures is classic pulp action.  Flash reads like a bizarre blend of romance and super-hero stories, while Baker’s Hawkman offers a dark, fascinating look at a frequently muddled character.  As with the first issue, not every story is a hit, and the two biggest offenders from #1 (Teen Titans and Sgt. Rock and Easy Co.) remain relatively weak, though both show at least some signs of improvement over the previous issue.

Meanwhile, the creators are making full use of the space, sometimes in interesting ways.  The Gaiman/Allred Metamorpho is essentially one enormous panel while Caldwell’s surreal Wonder Woman features roughly fifty panels on its only page.  

The format is definitely bringing out the best in many of these artists, most of whom have admirably risen to the challenge.  The less-glossy pages and creases that come from the folding were a worry to some people when it came to the quality of the art, but rest-assured, this is rarely the case.  Only Caldwell’s Wonder Woman and the Arcudi/Bermejo Superman seem to have been hampered by the fact, each of them a little too dark for their own good.  Despite that, however, both pages remain well-crafted and interesting.

Wednesday Comics is too scattershot to appeal to everyone, but those who try it out will find a selection of interesting stories by star creators that hearken back to the early days of comics and the traditional stories without being lazy or condescending.  Everyone involved seems to be having far too much fun to either.

Grade: A-

– Cal Cleary

Read/RANT

Wednesday Comics #1

Review: Wednesday Comics #1

Wednesd

Wednesday Comics is here!  While DC often struggles to stay relevant in the fact of a vastly more trendy Marvel Comics, it’s had a few successes in recent years.  One such success was their year-long event, 52, a weekly with an absolute powerhouse of a writing team that managed to gain both critical and fan acclaim – no small feat for an event comic largely lacking Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman.  After that, of course, DC felt the urge to repeat their success story with the watered down Countdown and then again with Busiek’s Trinity.  Still, three years in and the weekly format, once a fresh revival, had begun to seem stale.

That all changed with the announcement of their next weekly, Wednesday Comics, a 12 week long project, packaged as a newspaper, in which superstar creative teams would be given continuity-free reins on a vasty supply of DC characters to tell their stories… one page each week.  There were a lot of risks, obviously, but the announcement of the creative teams was where they had it: Gaiman, Busiek, Allred, Azzarello, Risso, Gibbons, Pope, Baker and many more, all getting involved in the project.

So, with all that expectations, how does the issue stack up?

Very well.  Very well, indeed.

It’s tough to review due to the grab bag nature of the book – Caldwell’s Wonder Woman, for example, is gorgeous and surreal, while Kubert’s Sgt. Rock and Easy Co. on the very next page is about as bland as can be.   I toyed briefly with the idea of reviewing each story, but the simple fact is this: these stories stand together or fall together, but the strength of an Azzarello/Risso Batman doesn’t necessarily offset the slow start of the Berganza/Galloway Teen Titans.  You buy one, you get ’em all.

And, as a collection, it works.  This, this is traditional super-hero comics done right.  For those yearning for a set of simple, gorgeous stories, Wednesday Comics delivers.  Not every story will be a hit, but #1 offers a number of strong starts and relatively few missteps.  I eagerly await seeing where it will go.

As a note, however, the stand-outs of the issue for me were Batman, Kamandi, Supergirl, Metal Men, and The Demon/Catwoman, with Superman and Wonder Woman having okay starts but gorgeous art.  The only pages I didn’t really appreciate at all were Teen Titans and Sgt. Rock and Easy Co., so the bulk of the issue was, for me, a hit.

Grade: B+

– Cal Cleary

Read/RANT

Top Ten Best Comics Of 2008

Better late than never, eh? This is my list for the top ten stories of 2008! Woo hoo! Now, before we get to all the fun of me voicing my opinions and you disagreeing with them, I have to get a few rules out of the way.

1. These are the top ten stories/arcs/whatever. Not comic in general, not trade, but best stories (What can I say, I’m trying to be somewhat unique).

2. These are stories that ended in 2008. They could begin at any time, but as long as they concluded in 2008, they’re eligible.

3. I tried to keep the list as diverse and reader-friendly as possible. I love certain writers, but it would be boring if it was three Morrison books, two Fraction books, etc. So a writer/artist will only appear once on the list. Same thing goes for characters. I’m not going to have a list made up of a bunch of X-Men comics or in the case of 2008, Superman books. Lastly (Sorry, #3 is a long rule), I tried to spread the love even when it came to companies. You will see Marvel, DC, and even indies on this list.

Wow, with all those rules, how did I come up with a great list? Well, I hope I did. Anyway, let us begin the fun!

The Crooked Man #1

10. Hellboy: The Crooked Man (Hellboy: The Crooked Man #1-3)

Written by Mike Mignola

Illustrated by Richard Corben

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

I sound like a broken record. I’ve written for this site for about seven months now. In that time I have reviewed nearly every Hellboy comic. And over and over again I have to point out how wonderful Mike Mignola really is. It’s not just his art. He’s a terrific artist. What fascinates me more are his words. Though Mignola’s obsessed with the past, his comics constantly evolve. 2008 was a fantastic year for Big Red. A new movie that not only didn’t disappoint, it was better than its predecessor. A new comic actually drawn by Mignola himself, the start of the longest Hellboy journey yet and of course this little gem that I’m here to talk about. The Crooked Man, like most Hellboy stories, is deceptively simple. It’s difficult to express one’s love for Hellboy comics because they all have similar beats. Hellboy goes to some marvelous landscape. He encounters a mystical problem. He then beats the crap out of everybody until they fall down. But unlike most Hellboy yarns, The Crooked Man doesn’t take place in some faraway land. It’s set in deep Deliverance hick hell. It’s not about old artifacts or odd Guillermo Del Torro creatures. This is about the classic struggle between man and the devil. It’s about facing your fears and temptations. Hellboy is almost a supporting character for God’s sake! And of course who better to bring this horrifying masterpiece to life than Richard Corben. He’s a perfect fit for this book. The man is 68 years old and he’s still pouring his soul into his projects. This Hellboy tale is not to be missed.

Joker HC

9. Joker (Original GN)

Written by Brian Azzarello

Illustrated by Lee Bermejo

Publisher: DC Comics

Available here. Do you want to see the bloodiest and most brutal Joker story ever? This is it. Joker is a gritty crime graphic novel that’s all about the titular character through the lens of sanity, Jonny Frost. Lee Bermejo spent two years working on this project. This book looks perfect. And in a Joker comic that means the book looks like hell. Bermejo and Mick Gray share the inking duties. Gray has a softer look while Bermejo has a terrifying painted effect. I began to dread Bermejo’s inks as it meant something gruesome was ahead. Azzarello throws us into a mad dark world with realistic versions of classic Batman rogues. The Dark Knight does appear but he only says three words. This is a fascinating yarn and the fact that Bermejo’s Joker mirrors Ledger’s makes it all the more creepy.

Made To Suffer

8. The Walking Dead: Made to Suffer (The Walking Dead Forty-Three through Forty-Eight)

Written by Robert Kirkman

Illustrated by Charlie Adlard

Publisher: Image Comics

Collected here. The Walking Dead is a comic that suffers in this format. In fact, I even feel uneasy putting it here because it doesn’t really have arcs. Walking Dead is one giant story, but it deserves to be on this list. For several years it’s been one of my favorite comics for its character exploration in a brutal and harsh situation. Though this story does contain one of this series’ few blunders (The return of the character you see on that cover), it was undeniably excellent. Testing these poor characters once again, Kirkman created the most suspenseful story of the year. The amount of hell inflicted on these men, women, and children was unsettling and powerful. Clearly, this is a landmark in a fantastic monthly book.

Northlanders #5

7. Northlanders: Sven the Returned (Northlanders One through Eight)

Written by Brian Wood

Illustrated by Davide Gianfelice

Publisher: Vertigo

Collected here. On the back of the trade (That’s only ten dollars! Eight issues for ten bucks is so awesome) there are quotes comparing this tale to Conan and 300. If that’s what you need to hear then I’ll agree with that comparison and even throw Braveheart into the mix. But really, this is the classic tale of the man born in the wrong time. It’s more than the modern language (You like the F-word right?) and evil uncle (That brings Hamlet to mind). Sven is a modern man trapped in a society based on dying with honor. Would you charge an army of one thousand if you were alone? I don’t think so. Yes, on the surface this is an enthralling adventure with Vikings, boobs and blood by the barrel full. But beneath the flare is a classic tale with a fantastic and unexpected conclusion.

Scalped #17

6. Scalped: Dead Mothers (Scalped #13-17)

Written by Jason Aaron

Illustrated by R.M. Guera

Publisher: Vertigo

Collected here. Dash Bad Horse and Chief Red Crow are incredibly intriguing characters even though they don’t have a lot to say. That’s one of Aaron’s strengths as a writer, he knows when to shut up and let his artist shine. Guera provides the usual rough style of art you’re used to seeing in these types of comics, but with a twist. It’s hard to put into words. You’ll just have to see it for yourself. Scalped, like Walking Dead, is an ongoing epic that’s hard to judge from arc to arc. But Dead Mothers is particularly amazing. And by amazing I mean heartbreaking. It’s hard not to spoil things, but Dead Mothers is about well, what do you think? Two people have lost their mothers and their murderers need to be brought to justice. But it’s so much more than that. Scalped is a crime western history epic filled with shocking twists and turns.

Black Summer Litho Juan Jose Ryp San Diego Ed #1

5. Black Summer (Black Summer #0-7)

Written by Warren Ellis

Illustrated by Juan Jose Ryp

Publisher: Avatar Press

Collected here. I dare everyone to read issue #0 (It’s one freaking dollar) of this series and not pick up the trade. It will pique your interest. Heck, you may have even seen this comic on the news if your town is small enough. Though it may be deemed by some to be liberal propaganda, you must remember this is written by Warren Ellis. It’s much more complex than that. This series is also enriched by the amazing and detailed visuals of Juan Jose Ryp. Though the story may devolve into a big action blockbuster (It does have summer in the title after all), I doubt you’ll find another blockbuster more thought provoking than this.

Criminal TPB Vol. 04 Bad Night

4. Criminal: Bad Night (Criminal Vol 2 #4-7)

Written by Ed Brubaker

Illustrated by Sean Phillips

Publisher: Icon

Collected here. I got into this book late, very late. I wouldn’t have believed it, but Criminal really is Brubaker and Phillips’ best work. I’m sure you’ve heard of this book’s general accomplishments, so that gives me the opportunity to talk about Bad Night specifically. The first volume (Coward and Lawless) offered crime stories that seemed familiar but were told well. Brubaker provided lovable baddies and established the mood and tone wonderfully. And as for Sean Phillips, there’s a difference between pretty art and art that belongs. One can be replaced and one can’t. Phillips belongs in the latter category. I can’t imagine anyone else on this book. Phillips’ quality continued in the second volume, but Brubaker stepped it up a notch. He began to tell more unconventional crime stories. Bad Night was his most experimental and his best to date. He demonstrated true noir. I’m not talking about the watered down crap you’ve seen in the last few decades. I’m talking about the gritty old-school, where every character is scummy. Bad Night is about lust, creativity, and obsession. Its finale packs quite a punch.

Punisher #54

3. Punisher: Long Cold Dark (Punisher #50-54)

Written by Garth Ennis

Illustrated by Goran Parlov, Howard Chaykin

Publisher: MAX Comics

Collected here. This is the year that made all Punisher fans (And anyone who appreciates great comics) cry. Garth Ennis left the big scary skull dude. But still, even in the winter of Ennis’ Punisher years, he managed to produce some damn fine comics. In fact, Long Cold Dark and Valley Forge, Valley Forge are two of his best. Now, Valley may be a better story for those who read the whole series, but Long Cold is for everyone (Except maybe children, old people and the squeamish). The first issue is drawn by the legendary Howard Chaykin and the rest of the arc is cinematically rendered by Goran Parlov. This is fun, twisted, and full of no holds barred action. And I really do mean that. Barracuda (The big black guy, not the Heart song) returns and has a piece of Frank’s past with him. I won’t spoil anything, but it’s a hell of a plot device. Possibly the Punisher’s best villain finds a way to get under Frank’s skin. It’s a terrific and bloody ride. 

All Star Superman TPB Vol. 01

2. All Star Superman (All Star Superman #1-12)

Written by Grant Morrison

Illustrated by Frank Quitely

Publisher: DC Comics

Collected here and here. Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely are phenomenal. These two Scots collaborate again and again and every time they produce pure magic. All Star Superman is the best Superman story. Some would say that this is the only Superman comic one would ever need. To me, every Superman tale actually improves because of this. All Star Superman breathes new life into a seventy year old character. But this is more than nostalgia or a Silver Age throwback. It’s a unique and fascinating tale that’s extraordinarily memorable. Superman and Lois kissing on the moon. A man playing cosmic fetch with his dog. Superman saving that kid from suicide. Earth Q, the world without Superman. It’s all so beautiful. So if this is my #2, what the heck is my #1?

Casanova #14

1. Casanova: Gula (Casanova #8-14)

Written by Matt Fraction

Illustrated by Fabio Moon

Publisher: Image Comics

Casanova, that’s what. I do not put Casanova ahead of Morrison’s Superman lightly. I put much thought into this decision and in the end, Casanova’s (Or is it Zephyr’s?) charm won me over. This book is purely transcendent. From its cost of two dollars to the fact that every issue is packed with more information, emotion, etc. than most mainstream six-issue arcs (And I’m just talking about Gula. The first arc, Luxuria, was even denser). Casanova is genuinely groundbreaking.  It won’t be as easy to recreate as something like The Dark Knight Returns which is why it will probably never receive the credit it deserves. And speaking of the Dark Knight, what sets Casanova apart from its genre defining (Or redefining) counterparts is its undeniable sense of fun. Casanova, on top of everything else, is funny! So please, each issue is only two bucks if you want the floppies (Which you probably should since each issue is filled with wonderful back matter from Fraction himself) and the first trade is a little more than ten dollars. Casanova is worth your time.

Legacy of Vengeance (Marvel Must-Have)

Honorable Mentions

Incredible Hercules: Sacred Invasion (Incredible Hercules #117-120)

This was the best thing to come out of Secret Invasion. Well, it wasn’t a great new series, that was Captain Britain. But it was the best story with the words “Secret Invasion” on the cover. Incredible Hercules is a fun, humorous and refreshing comic. Sacred Invasion features the awesome God Squad! It also contains the most shocking Skrull reveal ever (That was ruined on the cover of the trade)!

Superman: Brainiac (Action Comics #866-870)

Superman had a fantastic year. Along with All Star Superman, Geoff Johns wrote three wonderful Superman tales. Superman: Brainiac was my favorite. Gary Frank’s art is worth the price alone. He captures all the sci-fi, horror, and emotion perfectly. Superman’s ensemble cast also shines here. And those last few pages are heartbreaking. It’s too bad I couldn’t get Geoff Johns on the list this year, but with Blackest Night coming up, it’s a safe bet he’ll make the list for 2009.

Thor: Ages of Thunder (Thor: Ages of Thunder, Thor: Circle of Blood, Thor: Man of War)

The best Thor story in years, it explores the Thunder God’s early years. Fraction delivers some giant-slaying fun. If you’re looking for a good time with Gods, Monsters, and lascivious Odin, this book is for you!

Thunderbolts: Caged Angels (Thunderbolts #116-121)

I love this run so much. Why did I put Black Summer on my list instead of this? Black Summer isn’t well-known, Caged Angels is only half of the story, and Black Summer has complete creative freedom.

X-Force: Angels & Demons (X-Force #1-6)

This was on my list for so long. I do love it and isn’t that cover awesome? I figured I could only use one for the honorable mentions and that is by far the best. This is the dark and bloody version of the X-Men. X-Force also gives us a few continuity surprises. Clayton Crain renders some stunning images.

So there it is. That took a lot of time, so much so that we’re already in the second month of the new year (Time flies). I think it’s a pretty good list. I’m sorry Marvel fans. There aren’t any traditional Marvel comics on my main list (Though Punisher and Criminal kind of count), but at least you have my honorable mentions. Other than that, I think I spread the love, right? 2008 wasn’t that great for the real world (In fact, it was pretty horrible), but at least the comics were good.

Review: Captain America #45

Captain America #45 (Villain Variant Cover Edition)

(***)

First off, I’d like to apologize to the people who read my review of Captain America #44. I jumped the gun. I said that the mysterious figure was Death-Stalker. It isn’t, it’s the “man with no face”. Although this new character does look an awful lot like him, and given Brubaker’s love of old DD villains, it’s safe to say that the man with no face was at least inspired by Death-Stalker. And really Brubaker, could you please either change this characters name or get rid of him? I really don’t want to type “man with no face” in my future Captain America reviews.

Anyway, this is the conclusion of the Time’s Arrow arc. There was a definite dip in quality here. This is kind of Bucky’s first adventure as the established new Captain America (Until now, we’ve been dealing with the death of Steve Rogers) and I am not impressed. We see another villain’s grand scheme falling into place. This issue also features a reveal related to Cap’s past.

Luke Ross was the new artist on this arc. He did a decent job. A foul here and there, but for the most part his work looked dynamic. The real unsung hero of this book’s art department is Frank D’Armata. His colors have given this series a nice uniformed look. Thanks to him, the pencil changes aren’t jarring.

I have a few complaints, but Captain America #45 is still a good issue. It continues the theme of past and present. A previous battle and a present one are juxtaposed to demonstrate the difference between the way Winter Soldier operates and the way the new Captain America does. This series has always been solid and I hope that can continue in the next arc. “Onward and upward” as they say.

Bruce Castle Presents: Halloween Comic Review Extravaganza!

The Long Halloween #1 of 13

Ah, Halloween. A time when comic fans reread Batman: The Long Halloween. Or maybe the entire trilogy! Read my reviews for those books here, here and here. No I’m not Jeph Loeb, but I am going as Jeph Loeb for Halloween. Hey, his writing is terrifying. Terrifyingly terrible! See, I praise them and then I make fun of them. That’s how I role. Anyway, instead of going out and being social at parties (Who wants to do that?), why don’t you kick back and get your scare on comics style!

Final Crisis Rage Of The Red Lanterns #1 (VARIANT COVER)

“EEEK! Red Lanterns!” Final Crisis: Rage Of The Red Lanterns (*****)

So many awesome covers this week! But I don’t think this one is my favorite (More on that in another post. Stay Tuned!). Yes, the art is a big part of this issue. I was originally going to praise Shane Davis, but I don’t think he’s the artistic star. Sure his character designs for the RL’s (Including one of the funniest most awesome lanterns ever!) are amazing and he does help make this comic epic, but I think his inker (Sandra Hope, the sexiest inker in the biz) and his colorist (Nei Ruffing) save his ass. Davis’ art is just a bit too inconsistent. The awkward faces don’t help either. Still, due to the aforementioned ass savers, this book still looks fantastic. Johns brings the goods as expected, but I have to criticize (as I must in all of Johns’ Final Crisis tie-ins) him for this issues’ lack of relevance to Final Crisis. But besides that, this comic is creepy, funny, bloody (So much red!) and entertaining!

In the Chapel of Moloch (one-shot)

“What The Hell Is That!?” Hellboy: In The Chapel Of Moloch (****1/2)

Ah, the good old days. A Done-In-One Hellboy story written and drawn by Mike Mignola. Yeah, I said “drawn by Mike Mignola”. What’s it been? Three years since he’s done interiors? I’d pretty much love this just for that even if the writing was terrible, but it’s not. I’m talking 24 pages of advertisement-free Hellboy awesomeness. All the classic Hellboy elements are present. This means it’s not quite as unique as this years Hellboy: The Crooked Man, but it’s just as fun. Throw the Mignola art into the mix and you definitely have a winner.

Astounding Wolf-man #9

“AAAHHH! Wolf-Man!” Astounding Wolf-Man #9 (****)

This comic isn’t usually scary and…I guess this issue isn’t any different, but it’s definitely shocking! I’ve written about it a lot in my recent Invincible reviews, but I don’t think I’ve covered it in my Wolf-Man posts. FCO Plascencia is the man! Sure, Jason Howard does do a great job, but FCO makes it magic with his spectacular colors. I’ve noticed lately that Invincible has been more violent and FCO achieves that here as well. Kirkman is great at reveals, but never before have the reveals been so devastating or plentiful. There are like 4 times in here when I yelled “Whoa!” or “Jebus!” or whatever popped into my shocked brain. After the slow pace in last issue, things seem to be moving at lightning speed. This book is worth reading!

Joker HC

“Oh My God! It’s The…” Joker (*****)

To hell with Scarecrow! The Joker is Batman’s scariest villain. This is the highly anticipated graphic novel by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo. Most people are excited about this because of the new Batman movie and because this Joker looks so similar to Heath Ledger’s version. Take a look.

Just in case you haven’t heard it elsewhere, THIS IS NOT A SEQUEL TO THE DARK KNIGHT! Azzarello and Bermejo have been working on this for years. Bermejo talks about it here. Apparently, Bermejo has been working on this for two years (Wow!) which was before Ledger was even cast. The similarities are purely coincidental which is perfect for this book. Everyone will be thinking of Ledger and hear his voice when they read this. It sort of adds an element of madness, eh?

Madness is the name of the game here. This is a character study of the Joker and a new henchman, Johnny Frost. This graphic novel is heavily influenced by noir and everything is more realistic, or is it? What is reality when you deal with the Joker? But what I meant was there are very few costumes in here. Sure Harley, Croc, Penguin and Two-Face are included, but they have a different look. This isn’t what’s most unique about the comic though. I’ll get to that later.

I haven’t seen much of Bermejo’s art, but it’s very impressive in these pages. Especially considering the two years he put into this, if you’re a Bermejo fan, you need to pick this up because of the art alone. Besides looking pretty, the book’s look serves another purpose. There are two different styles in here. One is when Bermejo inks himself that adds a painted look in addition to being featured in the “important” scenes. The second look is when Mike Gray inks. This has a much more traditional feel to it. The original reason was to speed up the artistic process (Two years wasn’t enough) and to supposedly control the speed of the reader’s eyes. The idea was to have people slow down and look at the glorious Bermejo inked pages. Whatever the reason, this worked in favor of Joker. It adds another level of insanity and obscurity.

My main criticism of Bermejo’s art and probably of the entire book is the inability or choice to censor certain things while pushing almost too far in other areas. I’m sure you can guess what I’m referring too. The violence is very hard core and the language, nudity and even a damn middle finger is played down. Bermejo, in that aforementioned interview, takes the blame for it, but it could have very easily been DC’s decision. Though this “decision” isn’t too off-putting, nor does it detract from the overall quality of the book, it’s still annoying. If I didn’t see it all the time in comics (I just brought this up in a recent Daredevil review) I probably wouldn’t be as bothered.

Anyway, what impressed me the most about this book was its tone and dialogue. It’s so incredibly intriguing. This is one of those stories you can read over and over again. You’ll notice new things or react differently making each read something special. I hate to make assumptions, but I think the people who will dislike this story will be those who don’t absorb the subtleties. This isn’t a straightforward book. It’s bizarre, it’s realistic, it’s disturbingly humorous and disturbingly violent. I knew there was a reason why this book was called Joker.

Whew! That was exhausting! Oh well, it only comes once a year. I hope you all enjoyed reading this stuff and I’m sure you’re all scared now. I’m off to continue my horror movie marathon, up next? The Shinning!

Yeah it’s not comic related, so what? You enjoy your Blade while I enjoy my favorite horror film. Happy Halloween!