Saturday, September 8, 2012

Bryant Has Issues #17

I'm kinda tired, and to tell you the truth, I'm finding it difficult to summon up the enthusiasm to write a comics column.  However, I won't have time for it tomorrow, or Sunday, or Monday, and I don't want to put it off until Tuesday because then it'll be almost time to write another one.

So it's kinda now or never.

Pardon me while I take a moment to try and wake up a bit.








Gosh, you know, that really didn't work as well as I'd hoped.  Oh, well.  There were some pretty good comics this week; maybe those will help me stifle all these yawns.

First up for review:



That's a fairly bad-ass cover, and it houses a fairly bad-ass comic inside it.

In this month's issue, the general who is holding Captain Chase prisoner sends his son out with a team of men and the task of having Chase bury the corpse of the witch doctor (who he killed in the previous issue, thereby, somehow, gaining the witch's power of flight).  Things don't go so well for the Vietcong from that point forward in this issue; that'd be putting it mildly.  If you were a fan of the carnage in the first miniseries based on The Cape (like I was), then odds are good that you'll enjoy this one, too.  All I can say is that a man who can fly and has a flamethrower is somebody you do not want on your bad side.

The art here is probably the best selling point.  Nelson Daniel does a terrific job with the flying scenes, which ought to look ridiculous yet somehow are persuasive, dramatic, and threatening.

Only one issue left.  I'm looking forward to seeing if Jason Ciaramella can wrap it all up in a nice, tidy bow.




Yes, you read that correctly.  Swamp Thing #0.

Now, for those of you who don't pay much attention to the comics industry, you have almost certainly never heard of this "Zero Month" thing DC is doing all September.  You may not even know what "The New 52" refers to.

Well, I'm no expert, but here's a brief summary of my understanding: launched in the summer of 2011, "The New 52" was essentially a company-wide soft reboot of the entire continuity of the DCU (i.e., the DC Universe).  The idea was to relaunch the company's comics -- 52 of them -- from the ground up, with issue #1s, starting the stories over so that new readers could jump onboard.  However, rather than simply start the stories all the way over, they opted for a lighter touch, coming up with stories that new readers could latch onto without any prior knowledge, but at that the same time not necessarily saying that all of the pre-existing stories were somehow rendered non-canon or outside of continuity.

Confused yet?  If so, it's the correct response.

Now, Zero Month.  This is a company-wide stunt in which all 52 comics are doing #0 issues, which go back in time to tell the origin stories for these characters.  These, in other words, are the stories of what happened before Issue #1 of each New 52 title.

I read exactly three of the New 52 comics (Swamp Thing, Animal Man, and Batman), so I'm mostly oblivious to all of this foofaraw.  But I can tell you this: the final page of this issue states clearly that the first appearance of Swamp Thing was in Swamp Thing #1 in 2011, which means that the original series as created by Len Wein and Berni Wrightson never existed as far as these comics are concerned, nor did the legendary mid-eighties run by Alan Moore and his team of artists.  I'm okay with the concept of a reboot, so in and of itself, this fact does not bother me.

However, it is supremely annoying that DC didn't just come right out and say "Hey, we're doing a full reboot!" from the very beginning.  Why play it coy?  Why lie about it?  I can answer those questions, and here's another question I can answer: how long will I continue to read these three books?

Easy: as long as Scott Snyder is at DC, and is writing at his current level of excellence, I'll read what he's doing.  And not an issue further.  There are plenty of DC characters I like, and in a perfect world -- one in which I've got unlimited time ad unlimited money -- I'd read all 52 of these, just because.  We don't live in that world; we live in the world where I can afford to spend about $50 a month on comics, and I'd prefer not to give any of it to a company that can't be more honest with its fans than DC seems to be capable of being.

Rant now ends.

As for Swamp Thing #0, it's pretty solid.  The focus here is very much on Anton Arcane, the avatar of the Rot who has been causing so much trouble lately.  He hunts and kills one avatar for the Green, then sets his sights on an avatar-to-be (namely, Alec Holland), which leads to the events that cause the birth of the creature we know as Swamp Thing.

Swamp Thing is, traditionally, a horror comic, and this issue has some excellent moments of horror, including one that is worthy of John Carpenter's The Thing, but possibly even more disturbing.  Yep.

The art this issue is by somebody named Kano.  I've never heard of Kano, but his work here is very strong, especially in the more horrific moments.  The colors by Matthew Wilson are also excellent, and on the whole, it's a strong issue.  It helps to blunt the annoyance this whole Zero Month/New 52 thing is inspiring.




Anton Arcane is also the villain of note in Animal Man #0, and while he doesn't come into contact with Buddy "Animal Man" Baker here, it's cool to see him behind the scenes, making bad things happen that lead to Buddy getting his powers.

I enjoyed this issue, too.  There is some solid wit, much of it involving a movie Buddy is shooting a stunt for just prior to being visited by the "aliens" who give him his powers.  The art by Steve Pugh is generally excellent, too.  I know nothing about Animal Man outside of these New 52 comics, so I don't know to what extent his origin as presented here by Jeff Lemire matches up with the origin(s) as presented elsewhere.  In theory, I'd like to research that at some point.  Finding the time to do so is another story.

I'm continuing to enjoy what Lemire is doing here, though, and even though I'd deeply like to drop a title or two off of my monthly list, I'm onboard Animal Man as long as Lemire is.




By my count, this marks the fourteenth issue of Before Watchmen, which means that I have now spent something like $56 on a series I am opposed to and am only enjoying about a third of the time.

And we're not even halfway done yet.

Ughhhhh.....

That said, I'm enough of an Alan Moore fan that -- perversely -- I'd like to have these comics just so at some point in the future I can write about them in-depth and wax philosophical about the many ways they didn't work...

...and maybe also about the small handful of ways in which they did work.  I was on the record last week as being rather impressed by The Minutemen #3, especially in terms of Darwyn Cooke's art.  Cooke handles the scripting duties on Silk Spectre, and he's doing pretty well on that score.  The art on this particular part of the series is courtesy of Amanda Conner, and she -- along with colorist Paul Mounts -- is just crushing it week after week.  In no way is she attempting to replicate the style Dave Gibbons established on Watchmen, and that is the correct move.  In general, that's been true of all of the Before Watchmen titles, so visually, DC has done a solid job with these books.
 
The plotting and scripts have been another story, but if anyone has excelled in that regard, it's been Darwyn Cooke.  His Silk Spectre so far has virtually nothing to do with the original story, and that's a good thing.  Instead, he's really just telling the story of a rebellious young girl whose rebellion is leading right into the type of life she was rebelling against.

This month, Laurie continues to trip balls on the drug she was given by Gurustein.  The art in this sequence is terrific, and is trippy enough that even Alan Moore might grudgingly approve.  robably not, but hey, anything is possible.   Laurie comes down eventually, finds that her boyfriend is in the hospital after overdosing, and decides to enact some vengeance.  It's all pretty solid stuff.

I've got no hesitation in saying this is a good miniseries.  There is one issue remaining, so there's still room for Cooke and Conner to screw it up, but there's no evidence that will happen.  Is it as good as the Moore/Gibbons original?  No.  But here, it is doing its own thing altogether, and so the comparisons are less easy to make, and therefore less important.

It may not be a masterpiece, but it is GOOD, and that's good enough for me.  I only wish I could say the same about some of the other Before Watchmen titles.




As I recall, I complained during my review of the previous issue of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man that I was confused a bit by the crossover into this "Divided We Fall" event, whatever that is.  Well, evidently, that event continued into this month, but the results this time are far more satisfying: this didn't feel like a chapter in an event story, it merely felt like a chapter in the life of Miles Morales.

And boy, it was a good one.

As the cover might have indicated, it's (sort of) a team-up between Miles' Spidey and Captain America.  Cap is insistent that Miles NOT take up the duties of a superhero, and even threatens to have him thrown in jail if Miles disobeys his "orders."  Miles doesn't listen, and he ends up taking part in a fight between Cap and the Rhino (who, in the Ultimate universe, appears to be a guy fused inside some sort of battle armor).

That's all pretty cool, but the coolest part is a gift that Miles receives from Aunt May: Peter's webshooters.  So if you've been enjoying the tale of Miles Morales but wish he could go for a swing through the city like the real Spider-Man, then you, sir or madam (as the case may be), are in for a treat this issue.

Brian Michael Bendis has done an excellent job writing Miles so far, and if this issue is any indication, he's got big, big plans in store from this point forward.

Count me in, buddy.




I have saved the best for last this week.

Yep, it's a week that brings a new Alan Moore comic, which is always a cool thing on the increasingly rare occasions it happens.  Here, we have issue #1 of Fashion Beast, a ten-part series from Avatar Press that fills in a major spot in the Moore collector's collection.

A bit of background: in the mid-eighties -- at the same time he was doing his landmark simultaneous work on Watchmen, Swamp Thing, and Miracleman -- Moore collaborated with music-industry impresario Malcolm McLaren on the story for a screenplay called Fashion Beast.  The story was apparently a bit of a take-off on the Beauty and the Beast fable, involving a reclusive fashion designer, a transvestite (or two), an approaching nuclear winter, and ... well, since I haven't read it, I don't know what all else.

I say "read" because the movie was never made.  McLaren had no luck selling Moore's 200-page screenplay to investors, and as a result it has remained a tantalizing mystery to Moore fans, who are aware of its existence but have mostly never had an opportunity to read it.

At some point a few years ago, Moore launched another collaboration, this time with Antony Johnston, who adapted his Lovecraftian short story "The Courtyard" into a graphical format (a process referred to as a "sequential adaptation") and then later provided the art for Moore's sequel, Neonomicon.

Now, Johnston has taken Moore screenplay and performed another sequential adaptation.  The first issue has arrived; nine more will follow it.  Moore is apparently supervising the entire project.

As you might expect, it is outstanding.  It won't be for everyone; if you have a deep aversion to reading a tale in which the (seemingly) lead character is a man who dresses as a woman, then you might want to stay away.  I had no idea that's what it was about, and it threw me for a bit of a loop; but hey, I'm a trouper, and I'm relatively open-minded, so game on.

The issue opens with a couple of pages involving a mysterious figure sitting at a desk, reading tarot cards.  He is in a factory of some sort, and he raps on the window of his office, getting the attention of a couple of very, very well-dressed and very, very haggard-looking old women.  (I say "women"; I'm not at all sure that this is in fact their gender.)  They summon a young girl and tell her to go turn on the lights for the building, which she does.

A few blocks away (I think), five men in a very ramshackle apartment building are getting ready to go out for a night on the town.  Two of these are drag queens of one type or another; two more are a gay couple who are seemingly both in the military; the other is a black man looks a bit like Arsenio Hall.

Turns out they are all going to a nightclub at the end of the same street they live on: The Catwalk, where one of the drag queens -- who is called Doll and dresses like Marilyn Monroe -- is a coatcheck "girl."  The other drag queen -- who is dressed like a girl dressed like a boy! -- shows up and makes some trouble for Doll.

And that's the end of the issue.  Next to goddam nothing happens here, and yet I was utterly riveted by every panel of the thing!  Much of this is due to the art by Facundo Percio.  His is another name I'd never heard of, but he does phenomenal work here, along with colorist Hernan Cabrera.  I especially like the way they depict Doll, who is perhaps my new second-favorite transvestite (behind Tim Curry in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, of course).  Percio is especially good at demonstrating Doll's attitude through the way he walks.  Check out one of the alternate covers to this issue for some proof of that:




There is another excellent sequence in which Doll steps away from his job at The Catwalk and dances to the music the band is playing.  The art in general is just outstanding, from first panel to last, and if that continues throughout the series, then it's bound to get some major attention.

The script was written by Alan Moore, so the plot and the dialogue is presumably all his.  It's somewhat spare here, which is atypical for Moore, but his wit pokes through more than once, especially in terms of the many snarky comments Doll has while checking coats in for the patrons entering The Catwalk.  What a bitch!

I'm a bit unclear as to exactly what a "sequential adaptation" is, but my limited understanding indicates that it's roughly the same thing as storyboarding a screenplay: Johnston, then, took Moore's screenplay and planned out the specifics in terms of what to tell Percio to draw.  Percio's job was to execute that plan.  Johnston, then, likely deserves much of the credit for the excellent pace of the issue, which has a fine -- if languid and mysterious -- sense of the dramatic.  One page, for example, is a four-panel layout involving showing us a street: panel one begins at one end of the street, looking toward the other end; the second panel takes us about half of the distance down the street; the third halves the distance again; and the fourth reveals that what we are focusing on is the apartment building on the end of the street.  Then, the next page consists entirely of six panels that combine to form an image of the front of the building: five windows (in each of which a man is turning on a light of one sort or another) and the front door.

The pacing is deliberate; it forces you to pay attention to what is happening.  The next six pages or so are a graphical sort of montage involving these five men all getting dressed and leaving the apartment building.  Over all, the sound from the nearby factory is present (courtesy of some wonderful lettering by ... actually, there IS no credited letterer, which I take to mean that Percio handled those duties); as the men dress, some of them turn on televisions or radios or record players, and then noise from those sources is laid over the top of the noise from the factory.  The lettering here is absolutely fantastic, and so is the montage Johnston creates.

How much of this comes from Moore screenplay?  I don't know, and while I'd love to eventually find out, the end result appears to be a great comic book, and for the time being that's good enough for me.

I'm looking forward to seeing where Fashion Beast goes from here.  I have a suspicion you're going to catch me raving about it once a month for the next nine months or so.

Time will tell.

*****

Well, unsurprisingly, blogging about comics has completely made my sleepiness go away.  If I didn't have to be at work in nine hours, that would be okay, but now it appears I might have created a night of too little sleep for myself, given that I've still got laundry to wash and dry.
 
Such is the price I pay!

2 comments:

  1. Hell yeah new Moore comics! It's enough to make me *almost* buy singles again.

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    1. My sense of "Fashion Beast" based -- and, obviously, this is incredibly subjective and WAY too early to call for sure -- on the first issue is that it is going to be outstanding, BUT that it will be a less satisfying read in single-issue form than it will be when collected.

      As long as I've got a pull list, though, anything Moore writes will definitely be on it. Heck, I'm even springing for variant covers on this one, and I almost never do that.

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