Archive for May, 2004

Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman: Trinity

May 25, 2004 | Trades

Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman: Trinity Matt Wagner DC Comics $37.95/$24.95 US (Hardcover) **** (out of five) They are the big guns of the DC Comics’ universe. Batman. Superman. Wonder Woman. Together they have just less than 200 years of comic history. Thousands of stories have been told featuring one, two or all three of these icons. To try to say something new about them is difficult to say the least. When boiled down to its essence, Trinity is the tale of Batman and Superman’s first meeting with the Amazon princess. But acclaimed writer/artist Matt Wagner makes what should be a solid book into a super one by dealing with these icons as people. While anyone could write a battle-royal super-hero crossover, Wagner chooses to focus on why these people are as heroes by playing off the differences between them and simultaneously showing how alike they are. Superman and Wonder Woman are similar because of their incredible powers, but different because one was raised in Kansas, while the other was brought up in an all-female environment as royalty. Batman has always been wealthy and privileged, virtually royalty, but is just a human being, with no super-abilities. Wagner highlights the fact that, most importantly, all of them are good people. Just Clark, Bruce and Diana, three good souls who strive for justice and to keep humankind safe. And against the threat of a quintet of nuclear missiles and the combined might of Batman’s nemesis, Ra’s Al Ghul, Bizarro, the Superman clone and the Amazon warrior Artemis, they’ll need all that inner and outer strength. Trinity is a story befitting the assemblage of heroes and villains it contains. It is grand in its vision and outstanding in its execution. Let’s hope DC will allow Wagner to play with their big toys again soon.

Criminal Macabre: A Cal McDonald Mystery

May 25, 2004 | Trades

Criminal Macabre: A Cal McDonald Mystery Steve Niles, Ben Templesmith Dark Horse Books $20.50 (Paperback) **** (out of five) Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith’s debut hit 30 Days Of Night was an impressive debut that could be hard to top. Their sophomore effort does. Criminal Macabre, a combined hard-boiled detective and horror story, has crammed a lot of elements from both genres into an extremely entertaining package. The book’s hero, Cal McDonald, has many of the elements of the stereotypical 1940s detective, a la Sam Spade, complete with drinking and drug problems. He’s smart, sardonic and he knows his job: stopping the things that go bump in the night. Complemented again by moody images by Templesmith, Niles does a great job of creating something that is familiar, yet original. While some of the material is graphic and occasionally disturbing, there is an ease to reading it. This collection is enhanced nicely by a foreword by horror maven and musician Rob Zombie, an afterword by Niles explaining the origin of Cal McDonald and an eight-page bonus story. Criminal Macabre is definitely a book that leaves you wanting more. Hopefully this won’t be the last we hear from Niles, Templesmith and Cal.

Superman/Batman Vol. 1: Public Enemies

May 25, 2004 | Trades

Superman/Batman Vol. 1: Public Enemies Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuinness DC Comics $30.95/$19.95 US (Hardcover) **** 1/2 (out of five) Superman and Batman: the ying and yang of super-heroes. One, an idyllic symbol of hope, soaring through the sky, the epitome of speed, strength and courage. The other, cast in shadow, a human being who relies on his brains and inner strength as much as his outer to battle crime. But playing them off each other is not to be taken lightly. If done badly, Supes seems self-righteous and even whiny, while The Bat comes off as a humourless sociopath with a martyr complex. So it’s a good thing that DC brought in one of the best writers in the industry for this new ongoing series, the first monthly pairing of these heroes in nearly 20 years, in Jeph Loeb. The author of such memorable tales as Superman For All Seasons, Batman: The Long Halloween and last year’s highly successful Batman: Hush storyline, Loeb has, perhaps, the best knowledge of who these characters are and how they can be used to their best potential. In this first arc of Superman/Batman, he shows it. The interplay between the heroes — how they think so differently, yet achieve the same results, how they trust each other with their lives, yet still question each other’s motives — is brilliant. It takes what could have been just another team-up book and turns it into gold. A fast-paced storyline, which sees Superman and Batman forced to battle heroes, villains and even the President of the United States to stop an asteroid the size of Brazil from crashing into Earth just adds to the epic feel of this book. Topping off this near-perfect package is the outstanding art of Ed McGuinness, whose slightly cartoonish, yet ultra-dynamic work gives this title a larger-than-life feel. Public Enemies is a terrific first arc that makes you instantly crave the next.


May 25, 2004 | Comics

Clumsy Jeffrey Brown Top Shelf Comix $10 US (Paperback) **** (out of five) Jeffrey Brown is a dangerously honest man. He has a skill for telling autobiographical tales which are so unrelenting in their candour that it can start to make a reader uncomfortable. His debut graphic novel, Clumsy, is an unabashed look at love, romance, sex, relationships and the demise of the same. In a mildly confusing, non-linear fashion, Brown puts together a collection of remembrances of his relationship with former girlfriend Theresa — from how they met to their first sexual encounter to mundane phone conversations and shared meals. What makes this book such a compelling read is how Brown deals with these subjects — with no holds barred. He admits to being needy, dependent, moody, whiny and occasionally overbearing — all while portraying himself as ponch-laden with a hairy butt. Anyone who has gone through a relationship — and particularly those who were sent packing in the end — will likely cringe and wince their way through this book, but it is hard to argue that it isn’t thoroughly engrossing. The art could be considered the weak point of the book: it is crude and often unflattering to the tenderness of the tale being told. But as you read you may find that the mildly haphazard nature of the art suits the subject matter to a T.

Gotham Central Vol. 1: In The Line Of Duty

May 25, 2004 | Trades

Gotham Central Vol. 1: In The Line Of Duty Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka, Michael Lark DC Comics $15.25/$9.95 (Paperback) *** 1/2 (out of five) Being a cop in any city is a tough job. Being one of Gotham’s finest is brutal. In a place so filled with crime as to inspire a vigilante like Batman, the police face some unusual challenges. Take, for example, the morning two GCPD detectives stopped on their way home to check on a lead they thought was nothing and wound up face-to-face with Mr. Freeze. The exchange leaves one cop dead and another wracked with guilt. Why did this “super-villain” spare him? How can they stop him before he kills again? And how can he get this done before The Bat gets the collar? With Gotham Central, writers Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker, aided by the moody art of Michael Lark, smartly merge two genres: the cop drama and the super-hero book. While the idea of a police force dealing with a world of meta-humans has been done before, this is the first book that is coming at it from the everyday cop’s perspective. These are the same detectives trying to solve the same types of crimes as in the real world — they just live in one of the most messed up places imaginable. Well-constructed mysteries and strong characterization are what make this book work. It’s easy to identify with these detectives; they’re regular people. Even though they occupy the same world as the Joker, the Penguin, Catwoman and the like, they’re just doing their jobs, trying to keep the streets safe and hoping to catch the bad guys. There is great pacing and the premises are believable. It plays like any good cop show should: like you’re doing a ride-along. In The Line Of Duty only collects the first five issues of the ongoing series, but it is enough to make you want to take that next ride.

Red/Tokyo Storm Warning

May 25, 2004 | Trades

Red/Tokyo Storm Warning Warren Ellis, Cully Hamner, James Raiz, Carlos D'Anda Wildstorm/DC Comics $22.95/$17.95 US (Paperback) *** 1/2 (out of five) Warren Ellis is one of the most innovative writers in comics. The man behind such noted works as The Authority, Transmetropolitan, Planetary and Global Frequency, has earned the status most comic writers hope to reach — the point where people will buy books just because he wrote them. Readers may not know what a series is about, but they know they’re going to get a good read almost every time. And Ellis has been producing. Take Red and Tokyo Storm Warning, for instance. These two totally unrelated three-issue limited series were on and off the racks in short order. Unless you were a die-hard Ellis fan, likely you didn’t rush out to grab them. So someone with big brains at Wildstorm/DC Comics decided to use the Ellis name by putting these series together in one collection and marketing them with an almost in-case-you-missed-this kind of feel. Red, the story of a rogue agent of the CIA who snaps after an attempt on his life, is a dark tale that deserves the attention being in this collection affords it. On the surface, Tokyo Storm Warning (think Robotech meets Godzilla) seems a little more stereotypically comic bookish than readers may be used to from Ellis, but in the end the ‘what the. . .?’ factor is still strong. While neither of these stories is Ellis’ greatest by a long shot, collections like this one, as well as another recently released collection of his work, Reloaded/Mek, are brilliant and readers can only hope these off-beat pairings continue.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: A Stake To The Heart

May 25, 2004 | Trades

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: A Stake To The Heart Fabian Nicieza, Cliff Richards, Brian Horton Dark Horse Books $12.95 US (Paperback) *** (out of five) Buffy Summers is one of the most powerful people on the planet. She is the Slayer. But even she is helpless against something as horrifying to her as her parents’ divorce. This illustrated adaptation of the popular TV series is set just prior to the show’s first season, when Buffy’s parents announce they are calling it quits. An inexperienced Slayer, suffering with this turn of events, is spied by her future lover, Angel, who secretly tries to cast a spell to take away her pain and sadness. But, as often happens when dealing with black magic (especially in comic books and fantasy TV shows), things go haywire and Angel ends up unleashing a quartet of Malignancy Demons upon the unsuspecting Summers family. Each chapter deals with another demon — Deceit, Guilt, Abandonment and Trepidation — and another stage of Buffy’s familial destruction. Written by comic veteran Fabian Nicieza and featuring an interesting mix of pencilled pages by Cliff Richards and painted illustrations by Brian Horton, A Stake To The Heart is much darker than typical Buffy fare. It still has many of the show’s hallmarks — dry wit, solid dialogue and bad-guy butt-kicking — but the mood of sadness and loss is striking. For those still dying for another Buffy fix over a year after the series left the airwaves, A Stake To The Heart should do the trick. It may even send you running to your DVD player to watch the first season of the series over again — even if it is kind of weak.

G.I. Joe Vol. 4: Alliances

May 25, 2004 | Trades

G.I. Joe Vol. 4: Alliances Josh Blaylock, Brandon Badeaux, Mike Zeck Devil’s Due Publishing $14.95 US (Paperback) *** (out of five) A high-ranking member of each of G.I. Joe and Cobra is missing — and now their organizations will have to work together to get them back alive. The good-guys-working-with-the-bad-guys premise is a classic and this fourth volume of the new adventures of G.I. Joe, America’s special missions force, works it well. Writer Josh Blaylock, who displays a definite knack for how to write a fast-paced military action story, plays all the tensions, the unease and the suspicions properly. Blaylock also keeps many of the characters as the classics that fans of the 1980s animated show will remember, but gives them a fresh face for readers who may just be coming on board. Artist Brandon Badeaux shows a lot of flare and a real talent for both sequential action and terrific facial expressions. Comic veteran Mike Zeck provides this collection’s final chapter, a silent issue, which is an homage to the all-time classic Issue 21 of the original Marvel Comics’ G.I. Joe series. The new silent issue does seem a tad misplaced to conclude a short storyline and probably would have been better saved for a stand-alone tale. Only two things could have added to this solid collection: first, a plot synopsis to help new readers with a little background on some of the situations and relationships; and second, a brief character key, for those who may not know who every player is in a somewhat-cluttered G.I. Joe universe.

Three Strikes

May 25, 2004 | Comics

Three Strikes Nunzio DeFilippis, Christina Weir, Brian Hurtt Oni Press $14.95 US (Paperback) **** (out of five) Three strikes usually means you’re out — but for Rey Quintana it means he’s in. Rey is a decent kid. He’s got a girlfriend and he’s going to college. But after he’s caught during a foolish attempt at shoplifting after a couple of other minor scrapes with the law, Rey is slapped with California’s ‘three strikes’ rule meaning he’s facing five extra years in jail for each strike and five each for the two charges after being caught stealing. That’s 20 years for shoplifting. Deciding he can’t do that kind of time for such a small a crime, Rey, with the aid of ‘gangsta’ pal Billy, skips bail and heads off to make a new life on the lam. Enter Noah Conway, bail enforcement officer, or bounty hunter, if you prefer. Noah has got problems of his own, but when he’s asked to track down Rey, he gets more than he’s bargained for. This tasty little slice of crime-noir written by the husband and wife team of Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir, along with artist Brian Hurtt, takes a hard look at the choices people make and the consequences that every action can have. They do a masterful job of showing how good people can do bad things when they make a foolish choice and how even the right motivation can lead to the incorrect move. The writers make it tough to choose who is the hero and who is the villain. Rey is scared and desperate, but seems to be a good guy. Noah is just trying to do his job and even tries to help Rey avoid getting into deeper trouble. A grim tale of injustice and harsh consequences, Three Strikes is a smart and gripping volume.

Seth interview (May 2004)

May 3, 2004 | Interviews

Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang are finally getting the respect they deserve and much of the thanks can go to a local artist. Seth, an acclaimed comic book artist who made his home in Toronto for 20 years, is the designer on one of the most ambitious publishing projects in years: The Complete Peanuts. Charles Schultz’s classic cartoon strip, which ran for 50 years and brought the world such classic characters as: Snoopy, Woodstock, Lucy, Linus, Peppermint Patty, and good ‘ol Charlie Brown, will be reprinted in its entirety in two volumes a year for the next 12 years, all put together by Seth. “My design ideas came from the simple thought that I wanted Peanuts to be packaged in a much more sedate and sophisticated way than it had been traditionally,” the Ontario College of Art and Design grad said. “I wanted to repackage it in a way that would make people look at it as the high-quality piece of work that it was.” To that end, Seth got away from the happy, bright-coloured look and from the notion that Peanuts was for kids. “Schultz’s work clearly was, in the early days, written for an adult audience,” he said. “Only through 40 years of over-merchandizing and TV specials has it come down to (a child’s level).” Peanuts rarely got its due as a smart strip, said Seth. “(Schultz) really showed how clearly and simply and beautifully you can use the comic strip medium,” he said. “He had the ability to use the comic strip as a real medium of personal expression — it wasn’t just a gag a day. Even though it was very funny, he managed to infuse it with a great deal of melancholy that made up so much of his personality.” Seth, 41, whose work includes underground classics Palookaville and It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken, got involved in the project due to his connections to the publishers, Fantagraphics Books, and also because he’s always worn his love for Schultz’s work on his sleeve. “He was a big influence on me,” said the artist, who now lives in Guelph. “He was the first cartoonist I was interested in as a child.” The first volume, which covers 1950-52, is a fascinating look at the evolution of these now-beloved characters that is packed with firsts. Readers are re-introduced to Snoopy as a puppy, Lucy as a toddler, Linus and the piano-playing Schroeder as infants and, strangest of all, a smart-alecky little hellion named Charlie Brown. “I think historically it’s very interesting for the reader,” Seth said. “It’s a very different experience to read anything in sequential order. You really get to see (Schultz’s) thought process.” Being able to bring these strips together, some of them reprinted for the first time since they appeared five decades ago, has been both hard work and a privilege, according to its designer. “I think it’s such quality work that it’s important for it to be in print,” Seth said. “It’s something I’m proud to be part of.”