Last time I wrote this column, there was a bit of unpleasantness that occurred not long after its conclusion. I'm going to roll on ahead with this new installment, and serve fair warning: if similar unpleasantness occurs after this one, then you folks can consider this my retirement from the writin'-'bout-comics bidness.
I feel confident that's not going to happen, though, on that mocking-the-gods note, let's proceed.
First up this week:
|The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger -- Sheemie's Tale #1 (of 2)|
Yay! A Dark Tower comic! I love it when this column can actually be about Stephen King.
"Sheemie's Tale" was announced way back in, like, 2010 or so, and then never appeared. Matter of fact, hold on for a moment while I do a bit of research and find out exactly how long this sucker has been in the wind.
dodododododohdeedahdum, deedahdahdahdahdumdeedahdum, deedumdumdeedumdeedumdumdeedum...
A-ha! The first place it was mentioned seems to have been its announcement in the back of the final issue in the arc "The Journey Begins," which included the artwork shown above and promised that it would be the next issue. That was in September of 2010.
So, two years later, with the entirety of The Gunslinger wrapped up, "Sheemie's Tale" is finally appearing, as a two-parter. I have no idea why the delay happened, although a few things jump out at me right off the bat: first of all, Peter David -- who wrote the script for every issue of the series thus far (except for one) -- is nowhere to be found. Secondly, the art comes courtesy of Richard Isanove, who has not had solo art duty on the book since "The Fall of Gilead" wrapped up back in September of 2009.
The one issue that Peter David had not, heretofore, been involved in was "The Sorcerer," a one-shot that appeared in April of '09, sandwiched between the final issue of "Treachery" and the first issue of "The Fall of Gilead." For that issue, Robin Furth supplied the script, as well as the plot (which she has done for every issue of the series), with solo art duties handled by ... Richard Isanove.
Given that the credits on "Sheemie's Tale" are exactly the same, it sets my to wonderin': is "Sheemie's Tale" in fact a holdover from roughly the same time period as "The Sorcerer"? It is tempting to think that that might be the case.
There are 34 total issues that comprise the first Dark Tower omnibus, and if a similar tome for The Gunslinger should be produced, it will currently consist of 27 issues. Might Marvel have delayed "Sheemie's Tale" for no better reason than to pad a potential omnibus from 25 issues to 27 issues? Possible, but it doesn't seem all that likely to me.
We'll probably never know, and to be honest, it doesn't much matter. Let's focus instead on the quality of the issue itself.
I've been fairly harsh toward the Dark Tower comics on more than one occasion. I found the final arc of The Gunslinger -- "The Man in Black" -- to be mostly dreadful, and I've also mentioned my dissatisfaction with "The Fall of Gilead," "The Battle of Jericho Hill," and "The Journey Begins," all of which feel less like legitimate Dark Tower stories to me than like mediocre fanfiction. That's a harsh assessment, and in case you're wondering: yes, I do realize that I am merely a doofus on a blog, and possibly not at all qualified to judge the work of professional writers.
Guess what, though? I don't let that stop me. I judge anyways, and if my judgments have no basis, then I figure nobody will pay attention to them anyways. It's a self-regulating system in that regard, and so when I feel the urge to be negative, I just go ahead and let the negativity fly. Hopefully, I never do it without trying to back it up with some well-reasoned rationale, but either way, I gots ta be me.
The upside to that is that when I feel the urge to praise something, I am just as quick to do so. And folks, I am here to tell you, I loved the first issue of "Sheemie's Tale." It took me right back to 2008-2009, which was the period when I was just loving each and every issue of The Dark Tower. The second and third arcs, "The Long Road Home" and "Treachery," really felt to me like natural extensions of the story we knew from the flashback portions of Wizard and Glass. I did not know then, and still do not know now, the extent to which King himself was involved in giving Robin Furth plot points. Maybe a bit, maybe a lot, maybe not at all. It doesn't much matter; whoever was contributing the specifics, they -- from my vantage point -- were totally dialed in to the same wavelength King was on when he wrote his novels.
Same goes for "The Sorcerer," which for my money was the last time that was ever truly the case with the comics. Following that was "The Fall of Gilead," which was good -- and especially benefited from Isanove's art -- but also seemed a bit off somehow. There are events in that arc that were later contradicted -- and therefore rendered non-canonical -- by King's new novel The Wind Through the Keyhole, and that's a bit of a problem for me. It makes me less invested in the comics than I would like to have been. I should also say that I don't much care for the way John Farson is depicted, a problem that only worsened in the next arc, "The Battle of Jericho Hill." That arc did not work for me at all, and I utterly reject it as the story of what happened between Gilead's fall and the beginning of Roland's quest for the Tower.
From there, the story turned to The Gunslinger, and some of those comics work well. I especially like the adaptation of "The Little Sisters of Eluria," although the timeline doesn't seem to match the novels. "The Battle of Tull" and "The Way Station" are also solid adaptations, but the first and last arcs -- "The Journey Begins" and "The Man in Black" -- are rather awful, for my money.
In other words, the comics have been in decline for the better part of the last four years. With that in mind, the excellence of "Sheemie's Tale" makes me think that it must have been sitting in a vault for a while; put simply, it is too good to feel of a piece with what has been going on in the comics lately.
Regardless of when it was written and drawn, it is very good stuff. The focus is Sheemie, and what surprised me was that the story is told from Sheemie's imprisonment in Thunderclap. "Sheemie's Tale," then, is literally the boy telling Roland the story of how he came to be in the Devar Toi, imprisoned as a Breaker in the employ of the Crimson King. In the process, we also get a hard look inside the world of the Breakers themselves, including some absolutely terrific art depicting the Breaker's assault on the Beams.
It's always galled me a bit that Isanove wasn't given full art duties once Jae Lee left the series. Isanove and Lee shared art duties on the majority of the first five arcs (the only exceptions being issues on which Isanove had the art to himself), and he has been present as a colorist on all of the arcs that have comprised The Gunslinger. However, since all five of those arcs have had different pencillers, the art has been very inconsistent, both in terms of design and in terms of sheer quality. That makes reading the entirety of Marvel's The Gunslinger a thoroughly unsatisfying experience. I'm not a fan of the story in "The Fall of Gilead" and "The Battle of Jericho Hill," but I'll say this for the art: it was consistently great, and also visually consistent with the three arcs that preceded those two.
With that in mind, it really confuses me why Isanove was not allowed to handle full art on The Gunslinger. What a missed opportunity.
However, he's sitting solo at the painter's table again for these two issues, and the first one is just terrific. Among the delights: excellent taheen guards in the Devar Toi; exploding pigs; awesome Breaker scenes worthy of some of Marvel's more cosmic superhero tales; good character work for Sheemie himself; and excellent use of varying styles during the portions of Sheemie's tale that cover ground we are already familiar with.
The issue is capped by "The Origins of Sheemie's Tale," an essay by Furth in which she divulges some of the impetus behind giving Sheemie his own story. I love that sort of stuff, and could read it for pages and pages and pages.
What Furth is doing with this comic, ultimately, is filling in a major gap in the Dark Tower story. We can -- and probably will -- quibble over whether we feel she is doing so successfully, but hopefully we can agree that the comics themselves are probably best suited to this sort of thing, as opposed to the straight-adaptation trap that much of The Gunslinger fell prey to in graphic form. Don't get me wrong; I love reading comic-book adaptations. But I'd be lying if I didn't admit that they tend to feel familiar and unexciting. This is especially true if you read them on a monthly basis, as opposed to digesting the whole thing at once in the same way you would a novel. That type of comic doesn't feel vital to me, even when it's good (which The Gunslinger was about three-fifths of the time).
Comics like "Sheemie's Tale," which are building upon and illuminating corners of the Tower mythos that were previously mostly unexplored, always feel vital to me. Even when I don't agree with the direction they go in (e.g., "The Battle of Jericho Hill"), they at least feel fresh and engaging, and make me glad to go to the comics store to pick up a new issue each month.
For now, the future is still unclear when it comes to Marvel and The Dark Tower. Part of me still hopes for an adaptation of The Drawing of the Three, but part of me hopes that never happens. I think that a better direction would be to do a series of shorter stories that, like "Sheemie's Tale," tell us something we didn't know, and may not have even considered previously.
No matter what the future holds, I'm definitely looking forward to the second issue of "Sheemie's Tale." To all involved, I say thankya, big-big.
This one-off story, called "The Gray Trader," seems to indicate that American Vampire is getting ready to head in a new direction. I can't rightly speculate as to exactly what that direction might consist of, but it may be awhile before we find out for sure. The series is going to be on hiatus for much of 2013, so that writer Scott Snyder and artist Rafael Albuquerque can clear out their busy workloads a bit, and also so they can get far enough ahead on the upcoming stories for American Vampire that it will allow Albuquerque to be on-board for more issues, and not have to rely on fill-in artists.
Fine by me! I love the series, and since they're merely taking a bit of a battery-charging break (as opposed to be being forced out of production for some reason), I'm all in.
I'm also all in for this issue, which is excellent. Let's start with that heartbreaker of a cover, which is only a heartbreaker if you know what it means. And just in case you were wondering: no, those two do not appear in the actual comic. Instead, the cover is functioning as a coda of sorts for the previous issue.
This issue is all about Abilena Book, who is an old woman in 1954. She receives a visit from a young man who claims to be a census worker, but is in fact a VMS agent. He comes bearing potentially bad news: he thinks the Gray Trader is in America.
Now, I don't have a clue who or what the Gray Trader is. And that's on purpose; it's obviously going to be a big deal in upcoming stories, though, and the sole purpose of this issue seems to be to introduce that concept. As such, it's not a particularly satisfying issue in and of itself. But it's not bad; there is excellent art, and some creepy telepathic visions, and a finale that ... well, that confused me, but in a way that I think is intentional. So I'm fine with it.
All in all, #34 is far from being the series' finest hour, but it's good enough for me to give it a thumbs up.
I've been somewhat harsh toward the past couple of issues of Swamp Thing, and while I don't think the harshness is entirely unearned, I do kinda feel as if maybe I've been missing the point. This "Rotworld" thing is probably not really written for me; it seems, instead, to be the sort of event storyline that is aimed at the longtime reader of DC's superhero mythos. I'm not that guy. I sometimes I wish I was; heck, even when they're lousy, I love superhero comics, so there is definitely a part of me that wishes I could somehow be an expert on all things DC and Marvel.
I'm not, though, and when I get excluded from storylines on books like this one, it's frustrating. It recently made me stop reading Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, and it's going to cause me to drop both Swamp Thing and Animal Man once Scott Snyder departs ST after issue #18. So be it, I guess.
In any case, it pleases me to note that Swamp Thing #16 is considerably better than either of the previous two issues had been. It's still not great, and it's certainly not doing many of the things that I'd previously been loving about Snyder's run. However, it's a step back in the right direction, and while I'm still only onboard for two more issues, I do at least feel there's a chance I'll enjoy them.
As for this issue, it includes some solid Batman stuff -- without actually including Batman himself -- and also includes a final panel that is flat-out horrifying. Not sure where things are, um, headed from here, and I'm almost scared to find out.
Just as there are some true horrors in this month's Swamp Thing, so there are in this month's Animal Man. I was delighted by the appearance of Medphyll, a Green Lantern from the planet J586. Alan Moore created Medphyll for an awesome issue of Swamp Thing in the '80s, and given the intertwined nature that Animal Man and Swamp Thing are sharing right now, Medphyll's appearance seems totally in keeping.
The issue is a decent one overall, and while I'm definitely hanging up Swamp Thing after #18, I'm enjoying Animal Man enough that I might consider sticking around to see what writer Jeff Lemire does with the book. I'm definitely interested.
I'm glad this one is over.
I can't honestly say it's bad, but I can honestly say that I didn't care about it even a little bit. Part of this is due to the art by Andy Kubert. Not a fan. Sorry; I know the guy's got fans, but I'm not one of them. (Although there are good moments here, no doubt.)
This particular arm of Before Watchmen ended up being as much about Roschach as about Nite Owl, and while I suppose that makes a certain amount of sense, given that they were partners, I'm considerably less sure that it's a satisfying use of a supposedly-solo miniseries.
The storyline involving the Twilight Lady comes to a conclusion. I'm not all that convinced by it, but it doesn't do anything to weaken her brief appearance in Watchmen, and I guess that's good.
|Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Willow Wonderland #3|
This miniseries is doing a sort of epic fantasy thing, but with Willow. It's not bad, and has a lot of imagination behind it. However, it isn't really connecting with me, for whatever reason; it may be nothing more complicated than that I'm having trouble reconciling it with what I think of as Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Or maybe I'm just not giving it a fair chance. Either way, I'm just feeling blase about it.
I'm more invested in the main Buffy series, which is pretty good this time around. Billy the Vampire Slayer has some good scenes, and there are several good Xander / Dawn bits.
And, of course, Illyria. She's drawn a bit too bug-eyed for my tastes, but not to such a degree that it ruined things for me.
And finally, we have the first issue of a brand-new ongoing Star Wars series that is set between episodes IV and V.
I had not particularly intended to pick this up and buy it, but I saw it there in the comics shop this week and said, well, why not? I've been feeling a mild surge in Star Wars fandom ever since Disney bought the franchise and announced the new movie for 2015, and a new interquel comic series seemed like a decent way to indulge that surge.
I wish I could say I enjoyed the comic, but sadly, I kinda didn't. It isn't bad, but the fact is that it doesn't really deliver on what I would want from this sort of series. Very little happens in the issue; Luke and Leia are in X-Wings and have to evade some TIE Fighters, and they end up on a planet in hiding for about ten minutes, and then they bug out and go rejoin the rest of the Rebel fleet. Han and Chewie have a conversation, and Darth Vader gets a new boss after being dressed down by the Emperor for a few minutes.
There's nothing bad here, but there's nothing particularly inspiring, either. It's ... just a Star Wars comic.
Somehow, I was expecting more. I didn't get it, and as a result, it is extremely unlikely that I'll be picking up issue #2.
That's all for this time, folks. See you again soon!