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Captain Atom #1-10 (DC) by Cary Bates, Greg Weisman (#10), Pat Broderick, Bob Smith, Carl Gafford (#1-4, 6-10), Bob LeRose (#5), John Costanza (#1-3), Agustin Mas (#4-5), Duncan Andrews (#6-10), Denny O’Neil
It’s not always an easy distinction to make, but there’s a difference between doing good and being good, and Captain Atom is all about skirting that line. The title character is a good man who does bad things for good reasons, and then uses those bad things to allow himself to do good things, too. After gaining his powers, he is coerced by the U.S. military into being a superhero, but I believe that he probably would’ve chosen that life (or something close to it) for himself anyway because of his core decency and sense of responsibility. He’s a good person doing good deeds, but doing them in an arguably bad way, lying to the world about his past and present in the name of protecting the less-good men who control his life. And there are consequences for his deceptions, sometimes serious ones, meaning that for all the positive work he does, there’s always a certain taint around him, a hidden shame he can never entirely shake. It makes him an extremely interesting character to follow, because even when he’s saving the day as a superhero, the reader understands that he’s still trapped as a soldier, following orders and keeping secrets he doesn’t always like. Captain Atom is a sad but also hopeful figure, improving his life and earning his freedom inch by difficult inch. Continue Reading »
1987 And All That: Fantastic Four #304-307 (Marvel) by Steve Englehart, John Buscema, Joe Sinnott, Glynis Oliver (#304-306), George Roussos (#307), Phil Felix (#304), Janice Chiang (#305), John Workman (#306-307), Don Daley (#304), Ralph Macchio (#305-307)
There are two core components to the Fantastic Four: 1. awesome sci-fi superhero excitement, and 2. familial relationships and the drama that comes with them. Every creative team strikes their own balance between these elements, and I’m not here to say one blend is better than any other. I will say that these four issues, the first in a long run written by Steve Englehart, definitely focus hard on the interpersonal stuff (though there’s a healthy dose of action in each issue, too), and the results are great. Almost every character we see, whether they’re part of the titular team or not, has a lot on their respective plates, everyone carrying heavy personal baggage that informs what they do and how they act in interesting ways. There are villains with pathos, heroes who sometimes act like childish jerks, and many characters who seem as though they might break down completely at any second, adding a nice underlying tension to everything else that goes on. All of this is heightened by John Buscema’s expressive artwork, which delivers moments of quiet, brooding reflection with just as much oomph as the most hard-hitting action, and nails everything in between as well. Though these issues are not at all flawless, they’re consistently entertaining, they’re not afraid to make big, bold moves, and they shake up this title effectively and efficiently, which seems to be their primary goal. And they’re a nice reminder that we are all many different thing, that each and every one of us has our own inner turmoils and conflicts to wrestle with, and that these kinds of things don’t necessarily ever resolve for good so much as they grow and change and become more complicated over time. Continue Reading »
I have sort of a weird relationship with Wild Dog. Unlike most of the comics I review for this column, this is one I’ve read before. Multiple times, in fact. But I don’t revisit this series because it’s one of my favorites; on the contrary, I find it mostly disappointing, with too much wasted potential, mostly flimsy characters, and a glorification of violence that’s extreme even for a superhero comicbook. Wild Dog is arguably not a superhero title since the main character has no powers, but if you put on a mask and have a fake name, you’re a superhero in my mind. If Batman and Green Arrow count, Wild Dog certainly does. Anyway, my original point is that I’m not a very big fan of this comic, but even after all this time, I want to be a fan. I wish this book was better, meatier, more worthwhile. It seems like it wants to do a lot of things that I would really enjoy, but it never quite gets there, too trapped in its own weird structure and mixed-up priorities. Continue Reading »
Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #122-130 (Marvel) by Peter David (#122-123, 128-129), Roger McKenzie (#124), Danny Fingeroth (#125-126), Len Kaminski (#127), Bob Layton (#130), Rich Buckler (#122), Malcolm Davis (#122), Dwayne Turner (#123), Greg Larocque (#124), Jim Mooney (#125), Alan Kupperberg (#126-129), Jim Fern (#130), Mike Esposito (#122), Bob McLeod (#122), Art Nichols (#122-126), Vince Colletta (#125, 130), Nel Yomtov (#122-123, 127), Bob Sharen (#124-125, 128, 130), George Roussos (#126), Julianna Ferriter (#129), Rick Parker, Jim Salicrup
I went back and forth a few times while reading these issues, debating with myself about whether or not it would be better to look at this entire run (meaning every issue of this title from 1987 before the “Kraven’s Last Hunt” crossover*) or if I should simply choose a single issue/storyline and zero in on that. Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man (henceforth referred to as PPSSM) is effectively a collection of Spider-Man short stories, with most of the issues being self-contained one-shots. There is a throughline that connects several of them, but it comes and goes from month to month fairly arbitrarily, separated from itself by stories that have absolutely nothing to do with it and don’t even all take place at the same time. That lack of connective tissue is a big part of why this series leaves me feeling fairly cold, so ultimately I decided it made more sense to look at these nine issues as a whole, because when viewed together they leave a slightly different impression than taken individually. Continue Reading »
A good villain should do two things: 1. Work as a compelling character in their own right, someone the audience is interested in regardless of circumstance, and 2. Jive with the hero within the specific context of their shared story. Judged by these two metrics, Iron Man #219-221 is a tremendous triumph, introducing readers to the Ghost, a supervillain whose concept is simultaneously so strong and so simple that he works as a character despite (or because of) a total lack of background details or origin story. We don’t need to know exactly where he comes from to understand his motivations and the danger he represents, and he’s a perfect foe for Iron Man because of both his power set and his ultimate goals. It’s always nice to come to the end of a story and feel fully gratified by it while still somehow wanting more, and that’s exactly what this Iron Man arc delivers. There are no glaring loose ends when the narrative concludes, but there are plenty of open doors and unanswered questions, so that it feels complete but also like it’s the start of something bigger (which, of course, it is, insofar as the Ghost has made numerous appearances throughout the Marvel Universe in the decades since this initial storyline was published). Continue Reading »
Booster Gold #13-22 (DC) by Dan Jurgens, Gary Martin (#13), Mike DeCarlo (#14, 18), Bruce D. Patterson (#15), Bob Lewis (#16), Arne Starr (#17, 20), Al Vey (#19), Ty Templeton (#21-22), Gene D’Angelo (#13-15, 17-22), Bob Lappan (#13, 17), John Costanza (#14, 18), Agustin Mas (#15), Albert de Guzman (#16), Duncan Andrews (#19), Steve Haynie (#20-22), Barbara Randall
Booster Gold is kind of a jackass. My previous exposure to the character had always been in the context of the Justice League, so I knew he was cocky, but the true depths of his self-importance surprised me when reading his solo title. Yes, I was aware of his origins as a former star athlete from the future who stole technology from his own time, brought it to our own, and used it to make himself into a superhero. None of that screams altruism, so I suppose I could’ve expected the brash, reckless, in-love-with-himself hero I got, but for whatever reason it caught me off-guard at first. I guess I had always assumed that since he was a professional superhero, he must have a strong core goodness that would trump his immaturity and arrogance when it mattered. In reality, his self-interest is his core, and any genuine goodness that results does so almost in spite of his personality. He likes the superhero lifestyle, but his enjoyment comes first from the thrill and then from the fame, with any satisfaction he gets from actually helping someone or fighting evil being largely incidental. He’s not a bad person; he has loose morals that guide him and the hint of a sincere desire to be better and do more. Yet all of that keeps getting overshadowed by his continued focus on maintaining his public image, getting rich, womanizing, and having fun. Continue Reading »
1987 And All That: Star Brand #4-10 (Marvel) by Jim Shooter (#4-7), Roy Thomas (#7), Cary Bates (#8-9), George Caragonne (#10), John Romita, Jr. (#4-7), Arvell Jones (#8), Keith Giffen (#9), Mark Bagley (#10), Al Williamson (#4-6), Rick Bryant (#6), Al Milgrom (#6), Art Nichols (#7), Danny Bulanadi (#8), Bob Wiacek (#9), Pablo Marcos (#10), Christie Scheele (#4), Janet Jackson (#5-7), Petra Scotese (#8), Andy Yanchus (#9-10), Joe Rosen (#4-5, 7-8), Rick Parker (#6, 10), Ken Lopez (#9), Jack Morelli (#10), Michael Higgins (#4-9), Howard Mackie (#10)
There is no single, unifying narrative or theme that bonds all of these issues together, and often when that happens, I will review only one arc of the title rather than the entire year’s worth of material. In the case of Star Brand, though, the most interesting element of this particular run of issues is just how different they are from each other, and in particular the stark change that occurs when Jim Shooter and John Romita, Jr. leave the book. Continue Reading »
It’s unfortunately rare to find a comicbook—or any piece of entertainment, really—with a voice that is both unique and fully realized from the start. Concrete knows exactly what it wants to be right away, and it succeeds even though what it’s doing is off-beat and brave. It’s not an earth-shattering series, or even necessarily all that innovative in it’s look or storytelling techniques, but it still manages to stand out as a singular effort, the clear and well-executed vision of a creator who’s allowed to tell the stories that interest him in precisely the ways he wants. Paul Chadwick writes and draws the book, and it’s immediately clear how much thought, care, and time he’s devoted to it. Chadwick loves the world of Concrete and all the people in it, and his love is contagious, jumping off the page and infecting the reader before anyone knows what’s happening. Continue Reading »
Mister Miracle Special #1 (DC) by Mark Evanier, Steve Rude, Mike Royer, Anthony Tollin, Todd Klein, Richard Bruning, Robert Greenberger
There’s something very comforting about Mister Miracle Special #1. It’s fun yet unremarkable, and takes itself exactly as seriously as it deserves. A lot of story gets packed in, but so much of it is so goofy and/or low-stakes, it ends up being airy overall. While some sections fall flat, most of the book is successfully zany, and there are even some legitimate superheroics in a couple of scenes. It’s hard to do something this feel-good without it becoming saccharine, but this is just sweet enough not to be off-putting, a nice, simple story about two super-people in love working on their relationship.
At the beginning of the comic, Mister Miracle/Scott Free is getting back into death-defying escapes, like being locked in a safe that is dropped from a plane, which his wife Big Barda is not happy about. She understandably doesn’t like to watch her husband willingly put his life on the line, but Scott loves escaping and is having a hard time giving it up. Continue Reading »
At the level of the most basic concept and plot, the opening few issues of 1987’s The Question seem almost too simple to work. A guy who wants to improve his hometown accomplishes it by creating a superhero persona for himself, not based on any special powers or skills he has, nor even really because of any personal vendetta, but simply because with a mask and a codename he can get away with stuff that would be harder to pull off otherwise. His opponents are agents of the corrupt local government, which is officially run by a drunk and inept mayor, though in reality the mayor himself is controlled from the shadows by an insane reverend. None of this is inherently bad, but it doesn’t scream originality, either, at least not on the surface. The creative team behind The Question uses the series’ core simplicity to their advantage, though, producing something rich and nuanced despite the relatively straightforward foundation. Every villain, including several of the smalltime minions, has a full and distinct personality. The titular hero has a fascinating, somewhat tormented, and often contradictory internal life, so following his thought processes is always an interesting experience. The action sequences are gorgeous and well-choreographed, easy to follow but still visually gripping and unique. And all of this is made possible by the clean, clear narrative—because the larger story isn’t all that complex, all of the players and individual scenes can be. It makes for some mighty fine reading, the sort of comic where every line of text and every new image pulls you in all over again. The ultimate destination of the narrative might be obvious up front, but the route it takes to get there, and the stops made along the way, are as surprising and exciting as anything I’ve read, from 1987 or any year. Continue Reading »
Though not a great story by any stretch, there were two dominant themes in this pair of Daredevil issues that I always like to see explored, even if they’re not handled especially well. The first is the notion of superheroes being as bad for the world (or worse) as the villains they fight. This was not a new idea in 1987, and it’s been discussed many times since, but for any consistent fan of superhero stories (not just in comics but across all media) it’s a point that bears repeated examination, because there is no wholly satisfying answer. Are the protagonists of these narratives really deserving of the title of “hero,” or are they merely super-people fighting against other super-people in a self-fulfilling and never-ending cycle of violence begetting violence? The truth likely falls somewhere in between, and attempting to uncover it is a worthwhile activity. Continue Reading »
When examining an adaptation, in any medium, there are two obvious metrics to determine how good it is: 1. How true is it to the source material? and 2. How well does it justify its own existence, i.e. does it work as a standalone piece of entertainment, or is it merely a pale rehash of a story that was done better in its original form? Unfortunately for the Little Shop of Horrors comic, it doesn’t stack up in either area, failing to capture much of what makes the movie so good, and also ending up a subpar comicbook in its own right. It’s not unreadable, and there are a few things it does well, a handful of smart choices that pay off. On the whole, though, it’s boring, thin, and poorly paced, plus it fluctuates between remaining so true to the film that it reads awkwardly and straying so far from the film that it loses some of its core appeal.
Captain America #325-336 (Marvel) by Mark Gruenwald, Paul Neary (#325-329, 331), Tom Morgan (#330, 332-336), John Beatty (#325-327), Kent Williams (#326), Vince Colletta (#328-329, 331), Sam de la Rosa (#330), Bob McLeod (#332), Dave Hunt (#333-336), Ken Feduniewicz (#325-330, 332-334), Bob Sharen (#331, 335-336), Diana Albers (#325-332), Bill Oakley (#333), Ken Lopez (#333-334), Jack Morelli (#335-336), Don Daley (#325-334), Ralph Macchio (#335-336)
In some respects, this is a tricky run of issues to review, because they include the beginning but not the ending of the “Captain America No More” saga in which Steve Rogers turned in his shield, his costume, and the moniker that comes with them, and John Walker was appointed to replace him. Rogers’ retirement occurs in issue #332, and Walker becomes Captain America in #333, so while there are a few issues from 1987 exploring that new status quo, the resolution wouldn’t come until February 1989’s Captain America #350. In that sense, then, the issues I’m covering here represent something incomplete, the start of an epic storyline that doesn’t yet finish. But there is still plenty to discuss in terms of what these issues have in common, and how they lead up to and deliver the rather bold, shocking, and powerful moment of Rogers’ decision to give up his Captain America persona. This is a comicbook about the downside of idealism, the strain that any rigid belief system puts on those who follow it, as well as the dangers and evils which that kind of extreme thinking can engender. It’s not necessarily a cautionary tale, but it does warn against believing in anything too intensely or blindly, and shows the readers and characters alike how impractical and unpleasant it can be to try and live life according to a strict set of rules. The world is not rigid or simple enough for any idealism to be a perfect fit, and that’s a lesson learned many times in many ways over the course of these issues. Continue Reading »
I’ve made seven or eight attempts at writing an opening sentence for this review, and none of them have quite clicked for me, so now I’m doing this. The trouble is that it’s hard to know where to start with Aristocratic Xtraterrestrial Time-Traveling Thieves. Every issue is a full, self-contained story, and each of those stories has its own themes and narrative focus, so on the one hand the series is a little all over the place. On the other hand, it always maintains a very particular comedic tone, even if it uses that tone to tell a wide variety of tales. The main characters, Fred (full name Pansafredicopacog) and Bianca, have a natural, fun relationship with one another, and their shared spirit of adventure and self-interest is at the heart of every story. They’re up for anything, and always aiming to come out on top, which allows writer Henry Vogel and artist Mark Propst to throw their protagonists into all kinds of crazy situations with equally entertaining results. The comic can sometimes be brazenly meta; Bianca and Fred are aware of their existence as comicbook characters, occasionally talking directly to Vogel and Propst and even, in one instance, escaping the book itself. At other times, it’s a much more direct, simple, even familiar series about a pair of lovable criminals getting into and out of trouble with the law, pulling off heists, and other such low-stakes antics. No matter what is going on plot-wise, AXTTT is never just one thing, because its stars and creators are too energetically playful to let the book sit still or even settle into any single idea for very long. Yet it manages never to stray too far from the central concept of any given issue, consistently telling complete, clear stories even as it refuses to entirely define itself. Continue Reading »
I’ve never been crazy about the Punisher. It’s not his morality (or lack thereof) I object to, though admittedly I do prefer it if my superheroes try to avoid using fatal tactics. Although…I guess he’s not a superhero in the strictest sense because he has no powers, but he wears a costume and has a codename and hangs out with lots of other Marvel super-folks, so I think the label still applies. At any rate, what has historically turned me off about the Punisher is that he’s seemed too simple to me, too one-note. Even the Hulk, a literal embodiment of instinctual rage, turns back into Bruce Banner sometimes, and thus has multiple facets to his personality. Frank Castle is always the Punisher and vice versa, his violent hatred for crime never subsiding or even being hidden under the mask of a secret identity. He’s so narrowly and determinedly focused on his personal war, it has never felt to me like he allows for much room for any storytelling beyond locating the next battle, the next villain to slay. I’m sure every creative team finds (or tries to find) their own angle, a way to freshen or expand Castle’s character and world so that he isn’t just the pissed off guy with huge guns all the time. Nonetheless, that’s the way he’s come across whenever I’ve encountered him in the past, and it has consistently failed to capture my interest.
Mike Baron and Klaus Janson’s The Punisher, which marks the first time the character ever had his own ongoing series, somehow manages to play up the single-mindedness I thought I disliked in Castle, yet still be a comicbook I enjoy. A lot of that is Janson, who does all the art from pencils to colors, producing strong work with several breakout panels over the course of these first four issues. Credit where it’s due, though, Baron writes Punisher as a man who’s not necessarily pleased with the life he’s chosen for himself, but commits to it 100% anyway, and that’s an approach I can get into. In his rare moments of self-reflection, Castle points out the same problems I just did above, namely that his life has no room for anything other than fight after fight after fight. He doesn’t exactly struggle with that, but he is at least aware of it, and somehow that tiny bit of acknowledgement, combined with Janson’s visuals, sold me on a hero I’d always avoided before. Continue Reading »
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