06 March 2005

ménage à trois: 3/2/05

[One Marvel, one DC, both published the previous Wednesday, plus a random indie from whenever I feel like it, each reviewed quickie-style: 1 Minute=bad, 10 Minutes=good. Connections, if any at all, may be forced purely for the experience.]

A bit of an off-week for the Big Two found me scouring the shelves at Midtown Comics for something new, different or even vaguely interesting; something more impressive in person than in Previews. Marvel still came up short, with Araña #2 their only title making it into my stack; DC had a couple of books catch my eye, but Lex Luthor: Man of Steel #1 made the best first impression; and from the indie ranks, the appropriately named Alternative Comics represented with the oddball "graphic novella," A Strange Day. In the end, a light stack, but a pleasurable one overall.

In an industry dominated by white guys in spandex, I freely admit that I will buy certain comics simply to support a minority character or writer. That doesn't mean, though, that I'll buy ANYthing, or keep buying it if it sucks. That's the kind of mentality that gets movies like White Chicks greenlighted. Two issues into her solo run, despite its supposedly not being written for me, Araña still has my support, if for no other reason than it seems like so many fanboys want to see it fail, still offended by Marvel's PR campaign that clumsily focused on her ethnicity over her story. While it may not be Watchmen, neither is anything else being published these days, and it's certainly better than half of what is. Fiona Avery writes a fun, old-fashioned comic book that happens to feature a young Latina as the heroine, something that makes it unique in the industry and, unfortunately, results in it receiving extra, typically negative, scrutiny. Marvel's intent, to publish a comic that would be appealing to young girls, is an admirable one, and not being a young girl myself, I can't judge its success in that regard. I can say that I enjoy Araña and her supporting cast, if not necessarily the slowly evolving plot that is the Marvel way, and I was glad to see a specific villain introduced for her to play off of in this issue. I also like Roger Cruz and Victor Olazaba's manga-influenced art with their varied layouts and distinctive character designs. This is the kind of comic book that got me into comics when I was a kid: 7.5 Minutes

I had no interest in Brian Azzarello's overhyped run on Superman, and am completely unfamiliar with his acclaimed Vertigo series 100 Bullets, both primarily because I know him as the writer of the offensive Cage mini-series from a few years back. As a result, the combination of him, writing an unappealing character, initially kept Lex Luthor: Man of Steel off my radar. I do like Lee Bermejo, though, and after reading some good things online about this mini-series, I decided to give it a shot. Comics fronted by villains are always a dicey prospect as most writers are unable to provide the necessary characterization to pull it off, but Azzarello manages an impressive job here, making Luthor sympathetic and Superman scary. Opening with a scene featuring Luthor and a janitor in his office, Azzarello presents a multi-faceted take on one of comics' most famous villains, showing him as capable of good as the evil he is best known for, not unlike the Lex of the Smallville TV show. Empathetic, comfortable in his skin and with his power, he sees himself as an example of humanity's potential, "of the heights humanity can aspire to." In Superman, though, he sees an alien, "something no man can ever be... The end of our potential. The end of our dreams." It's an intriguing setup and Bermejo delivers beautifully, especially in depicting Superman's alienness, making him more Predator than ET. I'll be back for the next issue: 8.5 Minutes

After reading Craig Thompson's wonderful graphic novel, Blankets, I've been on the lookout for similar work -- personal, sincere, unpretentious. By most accounts, DEMO was supposed to be that comic but fell way short in the unpretentious department, and I'm still pissed over the $45 I spent buying the full run and its scriptbook. Undaunted, my search continued and I decided to give A Strange Day a try, partly because of writer Damon Hurd's sincere introduction, specifically his request to: "open this book as the sixteen year old that fell in love at first sight and took themselves all too seriously. you won't regret it." A "graphic novella," A Strange Day is the story of two high school-aged Cure fans meeting cute at the record store the day a new Cure album is being released. They're both social misfits of sorts, alone amongst their friends in their love for the Cure, and they awkwardly stutter-step their way to a first kiss and, more importantly, a first connection. Hurd writes with a sincerity that suggests this could be autobiography, but it's not the self-indulgent navel-gazing typical of such works. Like Blankets, his story stays rooted in the moment its depicting and his characters speak realistically, like "the sixteen year old that fell in love at first sight" he mentions in his introduction. Tatiana Gill's artwork is perfect for the story, heavy on the black for the introverted Miles, while mixing it up for the free-spirited Anna. Her backgrounds are minimal, pulling the camera back occasionally to give a sense of place, but primarily framing the story around Miles and Anna, as it should be. Together, they beautifully capture the jitters and edgy hopefulness of a first love, and true to Hurd's word, I didn't regret it: 9 Minutes

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