One Shot 1: Sandman #8

Twenty-two pages fills up fast.  There’s no denying that.  Action sequences often eat up huge chunks of a book, and you can only fit so much dialogue on the page before it becomes cluttered, not to mention how much of the probably excellent art you’ll be covering up by doing so.  So, understandably, most writers will have their stories run in arcs, getting 44, 66, 88, etc… pages to tell it.  It’s not hard to see why, but the tendency to keep expanding the story is part of what makes it so rewarding when you come across a single issue that manages to not only exemplify what it is you so love about the book, but that manages to do so with an impressive economy of storytelling.  One Shot is meant to take a close look at why those issues work as well as they do, the way they do.

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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 5 Best Comics of April 2009!

This is a new feature. Let me know what you guys think. I read 26 comics in April, and these were the best.

But first, let’s kick things off with the worst book of the month:

Batman: Battle for the Cowl #2 (of 3)

Batman: Battle for the Cowl #2

Written by Tony Daniel

Illustrated by Tony Daniel

Published by DC Comics

No, this wasn’t actually the worst book of the month, but it was the worst I read. And the fact that it’s so high-profile, gives me all the more reason to bash it. But, to be fair, this isn’t a terrible comic. In fact, I wish it were a terrible comic, because then, at least, it’d be a bit interesting. What we have here, is forgettable, generic hogwash. I suppose, if you were a huge fan of Tony Daniel, you might have a bit of a good time. I’m not that fan. Again, Tony Daniel isn’t terrible. In fact, if we were ranking mediocre 90’s, Post-Jim Lee artists, Daniel is near the top of the list. However, that’s still not nearly enough to keep me entertained while reading a story completely written for the art. Why the hell did DC let Daniel write this? “Hmm, what writer should we get to follow Grant Morrison? I know! Tony Daniel!” I could write more, but I’ve bashed this comic more than enough. This book isn’t even that fun to hate.

Secret Warriors #3 (Wolverine Art Variant)

5. Secret Warriors #3

Written by Jonathan Hickman & Brian Michael Bendis

Illustrated by Stefano Caselli

Published by Marvel Comics

Wow! Who knew I was craving a book like this? Oh wait, I did! I’m awesome! Only three issues in, and Secret Warriors is arguably the best comic that Marvel is currently publishing. It’s definitely the most exciting. First, we got that kick in the pants about Hydra. Then, we got the return of the freakin’ Gorgon. This issue’s Dum Dum reveal really wasn’t that exciting, but who knew that some of Phobos’ prophecies from the second issue would already come to pass? Oh, and Gorgon said something like, “Someday, I will kill a god.” Yeah, whenever a badass talks about killing gods, it’s always pretty cool.

Boys #29 (Cover B)

4. The Boys #29

Written by Garth Ennis

Illustrated by Darick Robertson

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

This was the conclusion of “We Gotta Go Now,” an arc that spent a little too much time on masturbation jokes. But man, did this issue blow the damn doors down. First, we get the chilling truth about the G-Men. Then, Hughie gets his badass moment. And…well, the shit pretty much hits the fan after that.

Walking Dead #60

3. The Walking Dead #60

Written by Robert Kirkman

Illustrated by Charlie Adlard

Published by Image Comics

It’s always hard to rate The Walking Dead on an issue to issue basis. That’s probably the reason why most people read it in trade. However, with this issue featuring  the conclusion of that horde business, the ever-growing madness of Morgan, and the feeling that Dale may finally turn on Rick, this was a terrific installment.

Read my full review here.

Secret Six #8

2. Secret Six #8

Written by Gail Simone

Illustrated by Carlos Rodriguez

Published by DC Comics

Ah, Secret Six, a title that never fails to put a big, stupid grin on my face. Actually, I wasn’t too impressed with the last issue. It wasn’t bad, but for the conclusion of the first arc, which was pretty awesome, it just wasn’t completely satisfying. This issue, however, was sweet and charming, while still managing to provide all that sick, twisted humor that the book continues to deliver. Oh, and Tiny Secret Six? Classic.

Detective Comics #853

1. Detective Comics #853

Written by Neil Gaiman

Illustrated by Andy Kubert

Published by DC Comics

So, I guess this arc wasn’t nearly as well-recieved as people hoped, huh? Then again, a lot of people don’t care for Morrison’s run, either. So what the hell do people know? Gaiman managed to pack everything he could about Batman into just two issues. He does a good job expressing the appeal of Batman, touching on everything from his love to his mortality. However, the undisputed star here is Andy Kubert. He produces possibly the best work of his career. Well, I don’t know if it’s better than Batman #666. I love that issue.

Read my full review here.

Pretty even between Marvel, DC, and Indies, but DC did snag the top two. Then again, DC was also responsible for the worst book of the month. Overall, I’d say that April was a pretty good month for comics. All five of these books were a hell of a read.

Review: Detective Comics #853

tec

I admit to being a few days behind the time on this one.  I read it the day it came out – I devoured it, in fact.  However, I was unsure of what to make of it.  As I read it, I was struck by the extreme anti-climax of it all.  I put it down, disappointed, and moved on to the next book in my read stack.

As the day and then week wore on, however, I found my thoughts often returning to Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?  This second part featured some of the best work Andy Kubert has ever done, I recognized that right away.  I also appreciated the continuation of the stories from issue 1, as they remained skillfully handled.  Though the full stories are no longer shown, the snippets we do get are emotionally powerful – from the Mad Hatter being haunted by Batman’s last words, to the redemption of Clayface – and through them, Gaiman mines the mythology of the character to find its hidden heart, the vast, powerful supporting cast that Batman has developed over the years.

Like Morrison, Gaiman realizes that Batman isn’t about tragedy, but hope.  Batman isn’t about fear, but love.Not loss, but family.  Batman will fight the devil, fight off the God of Evil, and afterwards, he’ll be right back to fighting off muggers in Gotham.  In a way, Gaiman’s issue comments on that perfectly as Batman is led by a figure from his past to witness these stories, his many deaths, and learn what the purpose of this ordeal is, and while the ultimate message of the issue does serve as metacommentary on the Batman comics themselves, it also fits in quite well with his Omega Sanctioned fate in Final Crisis.

In some ways, perhaps Whatever Happened came a little too close at the heels to The Butler Did It, a more exciting, storyline relevant two-part meta-commentary Bat-arc by a famed writer from across the Atlantic.  That is up to each reader to decide for him or herself.  What I do know is that part 2 of Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? was a deeply respectable, emotional send-off to a character who is, at least for now, gone, but not forgotten.

Grade: B+

Review: Detective Comics #853

Detective Comics #853

(*****)

“Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?” is a wonderful tale, about paying homage to seventy years of storytelling while providing a new, unique tale that gets to the core of what Batman is really all about. It’s masterfully drawn by Andy Kubert and…wait? This isn’t written by Grant Morrison? Yes, as I talked about in my previous review, this arc is very much in the style of Morrison’s run.

So, story-wise, if you loved Morrison’s run, you’ll probably love this. If you didn’t, for now…courage. Really, and I’m sure Neil Gaiman would agree, the art is the star here. This is easily Andy Kubert’s best work. He completely nails everything here, from the technical aspects like storytelling and tone, to the multiple artistic references. Just about every artist who’s ever made his mark on Batman is part of this book, but Kubert still manages to put his own spin on the classics. Hell, you’ll even get some Dave McKean in here. So, the art is fabulous, and the story, for my taste, is fantastic as well. For all the darkness that Batman is known for nowadays, Gaiman keeps things positive, and I thank him for that.

For more comic goodness, go here.

Review: Batman #686

Batman #686 (Cover B)

(****1/2)

Neil Gaiman’s Batman is here! Does it live up to the hype? Yes. Will it please everyone? I don’t think so. In fact, it’s a lot like Morrison’s run.

As you probably know, in the 80’s, Alan Moore wrote Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? This is Gaiman’s answer to that. Moore’s tale was supposed to be the Man of Steel’s last adventure. It was packed with action and memorable moments. Gaiman’s tale is, appropriately, more of a mystery. It’s full of absurdities, quasi-realities, and references to old comics. Sounds Morrisonian, right? As I said, this is a mystery. So I’m not entirely sure where this story is going, but this first part was thoroughly entertaining. It’s surprisingly lighthearted, full of humor, and it even pokes fun at the goddamn Frank Miller!

It’s nice to see Andy Kubert return to Batman. His work looks good as always. Maybe this means he’ll be back for some of the upcoming Morrison issues. Though there’s still more to come, Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader is a proper homage to seventy years of Batman.