Sunday, June 24, 2012

Bryant Has Issues #9

It's going to be a short one this week, folks; only three new titles for me to yak about.  Let's waste no time!

The Dark Tower -- The Gunslinger: The Man In Black #1

Here begins the final arc ("The Man In Black") in Marvel Comics' adaptation of The Gunslinger.  To the best of my knowledge, there has been no announcement as to whether the series will continue with an adaptation of The Drawing of the Three; I certainly hope that will happen, but if not, then we may be down to only four more issues of The Dark Tower after this one.

As has been the case with each new arc in the Gunslinger series, a new artist comes onboard with this first issue: Alex Maleev, who is probably best known for his work with Brian Michael Bendis on Daredevil.  I've heard of Maleev, but I have never read any of the comics he's worked on before, meaning that this is my introduction to him.


I'm not entirely sold.  Some of his work here is undeniably striking; for example, that cover is a beaut, as is the one coming up for issue #2.  However, some of this issue seems ... rough.  Almost unfinished, even.  Not being familiar with Maleev's work, I cannot say whether this is his style, or if maybe he simply isn't gelling with the material.  And heck, when it comes to talking about art, I'm perhaps a step or two above slack-jawed yokel status, but not much more than that.  Speaking of slack-jawed yokels, here's a picture of Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel, one of THE all-time best Simpsons characters:

I stole this image from someone named Lee Roberts at Deviant Art, and in case you're wondering: no, I don't feel bad about it.

Speaking -- as we still, amazingly, are -- of slack-jawed yokels, here's a shot of Jake as depicted by Alex Maleev:

This is the worst offender, I think, but there are numerous instances in issue #1 in which I simply don't like the way Jake is drawn.  In some instances, he looks like a mouthbreathing idiot; in others, he looks like some kinda of weird big-eared Hobbit-type creature; in at least one other, he -- and I mean no offense to anyone out there in saying this -- he appears to have down syndrome.  And yet, there are also numerous panels in which Maleev does a fantastic job of depicting Jake's emotions, many of which here deal with his decision to follow or not follow Roland into the darkness beneath the mountains.

All in all, it's a strange mix of successful art with what appears, to my eyes, to be unsuccessful art.  I'm reminded keenly of Marvel's The Stand, which was entirely drawn by Mike Perkins, who did great work mostly, but iyiyi! some of the facial expressions were awful.  (Speaking of Perkins, you can hear a really good interview with him here on the latest episode of the Word Balloon podcast.  He talks about The Stand for a while, and it's well worth listening to if you were a fan of that series.)

As for the story of the issue, it largely deals with Jake deciding whether to follow Roland or not.  The story, as plotted by Robin Furth and scripted by Peter David, veers away from the story as given by King in the novel, but it does so in a mostly successful manner.  I don't want to spoil any of that for the benefit of those of you who might actually read the comics at some point; suffice it for now to say that it seems like a pretty decent way of adding a bit of punch to what would otherwise be a dramatically inert issue.

By the way, in case you missed it, I did a write-up a few days ago that covered this month's backup essay by Robin Furth.  In it she talks, among other things, about the issue of continuity as regards the comics as compared with the novels, and she also talks about her rationale for diverging in this issue from the plot as found in The Gunslinger.  It's good reading.

Speaking of good reading...

Saga: Chapter Four

Oh, yeah, baby!  Chapter Four of Saga is here!

This comic has quickly become one of the things I look forward to the most each month. As you know by now, it's written by Brian K. Vaughan and drawn by Fiona Staples, both of whom are just swattin' 'em out of the park as though they were Ty Cobb playing tee-ball.

About half of this issue -- that's an unscientific estimate, by the way -- is devoted to The Will, who has finally arrived onboard Sextillion, the erotic adventure luxury liner.  I so very badly want to post the first page ... it's -- as the proprietor of Sho'Nuff Comics here in lovely Tuscaloosa, Alabama, put it when he sold me the issue -- the type of thing you just can't unsee.  Yep, I really, really want to post that image ... but I'm not going to.  Why?  Because if you're going to buy this series in trade format someday, you deserve to be surprised by it; and if you're not going to buy it at all, then you don't deserve to see it.  It's just that simple.

The exploits of The Will aboard Sextillion are of a decidedly graphic nature.  This ain't no kiddie comic, that's for sure; there's cunnilingus and strapons and vaginal penetration and penises.  It all culminates in a rather shocking plot development that is sure to lead the story in new directions -- yes, by all means read that aloud as "nude erections" -- and also comes with a nifty Scanners-style exploding cranium.  Gotta love that.

The remaining half of the issue deals with Alana and Marko and Izabel, who are still trying to get off planet with baby Hazel in tow.  As always, the dialogue is jaunty, and the artwork is excellent.

Final note: the letters column is a laff riot.  Honestly-final note: you need to be buying this comic every month, so get to it and stop making me pester you about it.

Before Watchmen: The Comedian #1

Three issues in, and I'm still digging Before WatchmenThe Comedian was one of the miniseries I was least anticipating; that wasn't made any less so by the first issue of The Minutemen, wherein the only real misstep seemed to be the depiction of The Comedian as a guffawing, egg-poaching douche.  Maybe Darwyn Cooke will iron that depiction out a bit in subsequent issues.

Here, though, we're dealing with early-sixties Comedian, as depicted by Brian Azzarello.  Now, as with my earlier mentions of artist Alex Maleev, I'm familiar with the name Brian Azzarello.  I know he is a big deal, partially due to his series 100 Bullets.  My knowledge ends there; I've never read anything he's written until now.

But I like his work here a lot.  The Comedian must be a tough character to write, given that we're inda supposed to hate him, but also kinda supposed to like him, and kinda supposed to hate that we like him, and also kinda supposed to like that we hate him, and even supposed to, amazingly, kinda hate that we hate him.  Should we like that we like him?  Absolutely not.  The Comedian, as written by Alan Moore in Watchmen, was easily one of the most complicated and conflicted characters; asking anyone to replicate that is asking for a lot, but based purely on this one issue, I think Azzarello may have actually pulled it off.

I'm going to dip into spoiler territory here, so if you don't wish to know some of the surprises that are to be found in this issue, you might want to duck out now.

Much of the issue revolves around Eddie Blake's apparently-tight relationship with the Kennedy brothers circa November 1963.  Now, as you may know from a recent historical bestseller by everyone's favorite novelist Stephen King, things don't go too well for JFK that month.

If you've come to Before Watchmen via the Zack Snyder movie (as I suspect many will end up doing), then you might be in for a bit of a surprise in this issue.  As you no doubt recall, in that movie, Blake is revealed as being the man on the grassy knoll; Blake, according to the movie, killed Kennedy.  However, in Watchmen the comic, that isn't present (unless I'm misremembering -- and if I am, somebody please keep me honest on the subject!), and in Before Watchmen it is blatantly shown that Blake had nothing whatsoever to do with the assassination.  In fact, The Comedian seems to be more or less devastated by the event; he's in the middle of taking down everyone's favorite costumed villain, Moloch the Mystic, but the takedown takes a wrong turn when Blake encounters poor Moloch, watching Walter Cronkite and weeping.

It's a powerful moment, one that effectively illustrates something that is becoming more and more apparent with each passing week: Before Watchmen is, so far a more than worthy endeavor.

The art here is by J.G. Jones, who you may know as the artist of Mark Millar's Wanted (the basis for the lame-o Angela Jolie movie).  His work here is terrific; he's especially good as depicting the poor Kennedy boys, and a sequence in which The Comedian walks away from a naked female corpse is both horrifying and incredibly touching.  It's fairly stellar work, frankly.

That's it for this week, kiddies.  I've stayed up monstrously past my bedtime, and I've still got some reading to do before I pack it in for the night/morning.  (I'm only about forty pages way from finishing up my first-ever reread of Peter Straub's Ghost Story, of which I hope to have a review for you in the next couple of days.)

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