30 January 2005

The SideKick: Comic Books! Wow!

Greetings to all in the Interverse,

Once upon a time, not long ago, when people wore pajamas and lived life slow...before comic book stores, conventions and all that has grown from it (for better or worse), I was a youngster getting my fix from the local newstand.

Back then, there were no rules to collecting. I would walk in, past the temptation of Playboy magazines, and finger through the comic book wire rack; that crappy contraption made of reject coat hangers wrapped in licorice pinching the spines of various Archie, Richie Rich, X-Men, Avengers, Batman and Spider-Man titles.

Back then I picked up whatever "looked good," judging a book by its cover in its purest sense. Back then I could care less about what happened last issue. I wanted to see Thor slam his hammer into Absorbing Man; how Batman was going to escape the Joker's treehouse of terror; or if Archie would go for Betty this time.

Back then "see you in 30"...well, it actually kind of means what it does now, only back then, when I didn't get my conclusion to the Batman-in-peril story it wasn't because it was running late but because the newsguy didn't order Batman that month, or the three copies he ordered were already snatched up by some luckier kids. It was pure luck to come back in 30 days and get the next issue of the book I had picked up the month before. Most times, if I came back the next month and it wasn't there I'd just get something else...or buy candy instead.

Can it be that it was all so simple then?

It was, and yet it still can be.

Welcome to the SideKick.

I'm Stephen Maher and every month or so I'm going to bring you reviews from random comics, stuff I picked up at my local newstand or comic shop. The criteria for picking them up may be something simple like a hot Michael Turner cover, the creative line-up, or simply chance. The critique will be based on how the issue holds up as a stand-alone issue.

  • The "Previously in..." page be damned! I'm not going to read it. To me, that's cheating.

  • "To be continued..." be damned! I'm not falling for it. Not in this column anyway.

To quote Dennis O'Neil from The DC Guide to Writing Comics:

"One of the recurring and embarassingly valid criticisms of modern comic books, particularly the adventure & fantasy titles, is that they're extremely difficult to understand on the most basic level." (pg 24)
It's one of the reasons why it's hard to grow the fanbase of comic books and why new series don't have good life expectancies.

Anyhoo, I'm not going to waste any more time with the preamble. Let's review a comic, shall we?

Supreme Power # 10
J. M. Straczynski (writer) & Gary Frank (penciler)

I've been reading bits and pieces of this series over the last few months, in no particular order whatsoever. At first it just worked out that way, my friend had a copy lying around here and there. In a lot of ways, this series is the reason why I decided to write this column. Every issue I've read, regardless of order, has stood out for its solid storytelling, compelling characterization and handsome artwork.

Supreme Power is a vastly different take from the 80s Maxi-series, the Squadron Supreme (belated RIP to creator Mark Gruenwald), Marvel Comics' JLA knock-off. The only resemblence to those heroes under the DC Bullet is the wealth of character developement Straczynski has injected into these long forgotten capes.

Issue 10 introduces Power Princess (the Wonder Woman type), an ancient warrior goddess seemingly awoken to save Hyperion (the protagonist, Superman type) and be his mate. What's fascinating about this issue is how no one outside of Power Princess (called Princess Zarda by her servant) is named. A casual reader could pick this up and have no idea what's going on, appreciate Gary Franks' stellar artwork but put it back on the rack. Not so fast though there's actually something deeper here, something intentional in its obscurity.

This issue typifies the general theme of the series: Identity. All of the characters come to the series with a clean slate and they are mortally aware of it. For superpowered folk though mortally aware translates to weakness (physically, mentally or emotionally). We see Power Princess regain her strength when she is reminded who is was and we see Hyperion nursed back to health after Power Princess defines him, "I am the woman you love."

We have a similar exchange on page 16 where Dr. Spectrum (Hyperion's foil, the Green Lantern type) withdraws from his woman, a strange fishbird like creature, saying, "And when I come back, I'll bring you a gift. I'll bring you a name."

Straczynski flexed his poetry muscles with that one. Nice!

Gary Frank captures the emotional frailty of these characters with a maturity that harkens back to George Perez (Crisis on Infinite Earths) and Steve Dillon (Preacher). An added bonus is the breath-taking beauty he bestows upon Power Princess. She is nude the entire issue but she is no pin-up girl. You can feel the care he and Straczynski are putting into this series.

If you're a budding writer or artist with aspirations of making comics when you grow up, pick up the next issue and note how it holds its own despite being part of (I think at this point) a larger, 5-part story arc.

That's the SideKick, my friends. Until next time,



P2 said...


Anonymous said...

Bravissimo Stefano...che forte.... appunto. ~D

SMASHER said...

Thanks for the kind remarks. Picked up some fresh reads this week so I'll have an new review sooner than expected.

Until then,