18 January 2006

CBC Quickees: TPB Bonanza; Morrison Spotlight

Let's just get to it, yes?

Black Hole
By Charles Burns (Pantheon, 2005; $24.95)

There are some comic books that I simply do not have the critical vocabulary to properly review, like a casual art fan who finds himself in The Prado standing speechless before Breughel's "The Triumph of Death" in all its full-size glory. I know it's an amazing piece of art, but anything I might say about it seems inadequate. I felt that way after first reading Blankets a year ago, almost to the day, and I feel that way now about Charles Burns' freaky Black Hole. It's a stunning piece of work, textually and visually, and I was hard-pressed to not devour its 368 pages all in one sitting. What's particularly impressive is how well it held up in light of the hype surrounding it, often the kiss of death for me. This belongs on every comics fan's bookshelf. Grade: A

Full Moon Fever
By Joe Casey, Caleb Gerard, Damian Couciero (AiT/PlanetLar, 2005; $12.95)

I picked this up mainly because I've been digging Joe Casey's work lately, but also because I wanted to read a few more AiT books before deciding whether or not to write them off completely as not my thing. Publisher Larry Young is big on the high concept, and Full Moon Fever delivers in that regard, with a pretty simple pitch: werewolves on the moon. Unfortunately, it does absolutely nothing with the idea, stretching out what could easily be the opening 10 minutes of an entertaining B-movie into an overpriced, novella length OGN. Astronauts arrive at deserted moonbase, discover slaughtered scientists, discover werewolves, get picked off one by one, one survivor escapes, end of story. Or is it? One-dimensional characters and a by-the-numbers plot do little to complement Damian Couciero's solid b&w artwork, and the throwaway cliffhanger on the final page left me annoyed that I'd effectively paid $12.95 for a glorified prologue. Grade: D+

Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life (Vol. 1)
By Bryan Lee O'Malley (ONI Press, 2004; 11.95)

What can I say? Sometimes, the comics blogiverse is right. Unlike DEMO and Street Angel, both of which were incredibly overrated, Scott Pilgrim lives up to its billing as one of the best indie comics in recent years. Fun and irreverant, Bryan Lee O'Malley's Canadian slacker is one of the most appealing fictional characters I've come across, with or without pictures, and by the end of this first volume, I had a shit-eating grin on my face as I anticipated jumping right into Volume 2. (Which I did, but I'll save that review for a later date.) I laughed out loud several times throughout the story, but more importantly, I felt connected to each of the primary characters, interested to see what happens to them next, not because of the [insane] plot they were involved in, but because I cared about what fate had in store for them. Which is weird, because I usually hate slacker stories. Scott Pilgrim, though, is awesome! Grade: A

Strange Girl Vol. 1: Girl Afraid
By Rick Remender, Eric Nguyen (Image Comics, 2005; $12.99)

Real quick on this one, as I'm thinking my first Indie Roundup column for Buzzscope is going to cover Rick Remender's recent output, including this TPB. Great premise and solid scripting, combined with artwork that alternates between beautifully provocative and annoyingly indecipherable, sometimes on the same page. Well worth the cover price, though, and I'm adding the series to my pull list. Grade: B+

Okay, Grant Morrison time...

Batman: Arkham Asylum (15th Anniversary Edition)
By Grant Morrison and Dave McKean (DC Comics, 2004; $17.99)

As it was originally published in 1989, I feel like I have to cut it some slack and consider it in that context, the same way new readers of Watchmen have to approach that seminal piece of work. On the other hand, if one of the defining characteristics of art is how it stands the test of time, I'd think such context should be unimportant. Either way, I don't buy into this rather surface look at the thin line separating Batman and his villains. As is typical with these kinds of stories, where the writer has an interesting idea - in this case, the sordid history of Arkham Asylum - and attempts to shoehorn in whichever characters are at hand to tell it, the whole is less than the sum of its parts. There's a couple of good moments here, but the underlying plot and really dumb ending overshadow them completely. I had fully intended to read the first draft of the script that's included with this anniversary edition, but by the time I was done with the main story, I had no interest. It's like watching the DVD extras for a movie you were only mildly entertained by. Who cares? McKean's art is quite nice, generally speaking, but ill-suited for Morrison's relatively straightforward sequential narrative. Grade: C+

JLA: New World Order
By Grant Morrison, Howard Porter and John Dell (DC Comics, 1997; $7.95)

Wow. Another case of context, perhaps? Because based on the praise Morrison's received for his run on JLA, comics must've really sucked when this first came out. Wooden characterization, ridiculous plot and lousy art. Lame, lame, lame. Grade: D

7 Soldiers of Victory: Volume One
By Grant Morrison and a bunch of artists with wildly varied styles (DC Comics, 2006; $14.99)

I was intrigued by this little project when it was first announced, more for its attempt to revive Z-list characters and breathe new life into them than for the larger story Morrison's apparently working towards, a harrowing of some sort that seems to parallel, if not directly tie in to, the universe-changing effects of Infinite Crisis. Setting it in NYC also helped. Unfortunately, these initial [re]intros to Zatanna, the Guardian, the Shining Knight and Klarion the Witchboy mostly left me flat. Zatanna and Klarion are the most interesting of the bunch; the Guardian is an annoying combination of kewl concepts and by-the-numbers plotting; and the Shining Knight was relatively incomprehensible when approached on its own merits. The #0 issue, featuring a group of sad sack, ill-fated (original?) heroes taking on a magical spider, uses the Countdown method of build 'em up to kill 'em off and kickstart the Big Story(tm) that left me compleletly uninterested in how this all ties together, and highly unlikely to pick up Volume 2 to sate my curiosity about Zatanna and Klarion's stories. The key to big events is that they bring all your favorites into play. Something like this, featuring a cast of lesser-knowns, needs to rely on strong characterization to sustain interest, and Morrison misses the boat there. Grade: B-

A side note: between Klarion and Iron Man: The Inevitable, Frazier Irving is one artist to keep an eye on. I like his style a lot.

5 comments:

Erech said...

I started rereading Black Hole last night, but got distracted around halfway through and decided to finally finish Batman: Dark Victory (Sofia was the big bad?!).

BH is so damn pretty, but angsty stories just bore the a-hole out of me lately. Like how I just had no patience for Demo at all, I must really be getting old and grouchy.

I'll try finishing BH tonight though and see if I can actually decide if I like it or not.

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

Yeah, I don't usually like the angsty thing, but the combination of the period setting and the creepiness factor made it mostly work for me. I have a feeling I wouldn't have liked it nearly as much in sequential form, but collected, it's quite an impressive tome.

Does that make me a size queen? :-O

zilla said...

ok that's it i HAVE to buy black hole now... i've heard so much about it and this is the straw that broke the back as it were :) thanks.

ps when you guys say "angsty" what to you mean exactly? teen angst to what degree in BH?

Erech said...

"ps when you guys say "angsty" what to you mean exactly? teen angst to what degree in BH?"

It's not Iceman and Angel sitting around whining about having cool powers for 12 issues, to ease your fears. But it is pretty prominent, albeit handled in a much more realistic way than most slacker based comics, imo at least.

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

Zilla: I agree with Erech. It's the matter-of-fact way Burns handles things that keeps it from feeling maudlin or stereotypical. Even if you hate it, I think it's one of those must-reads.

RedLib: Hey, cool! I claim Karate Kid. Or maybe Wildfire? Are either of them still around?