5/27/2015

Unexpected Answer to an Age-Old Question

Bullet Bouncing by Kerry Callen. Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston.
Go to: Go to: May Contain Content by Kerry Callen

The real question is why are the two just standing there like dorks when they can move at super speed? Is there like... a kid behind them?

And yes, henchmen need to grow up.

5/25/2015

Wonder Woman '77 Special #1

WONDER WOMAN ’77 SPECIAL #1 by Marc Andreyko, Drew Johnson, Matt Haley, Jason Badower, Richard Ortiz, Nicola Scott, Annette Kwock, Romulo Fajardo Jr., Wes Abbott
Writer: Marc Andreyko
Artist: Drew Johnson, Matt Haley, Jason Badower, Richard Ortiz, Nicola Scott, Annette Kwock
Colorist: Romulo Fajardo Jr.
Letterer: Wes Abbott

Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston and drawn by Harry G. Peter

Wonder Woman ’77 is an attempt to capitalize on the nostalgic appeal of the only adaptation of William Moulton Marston’s comics heroine to have gained widespread fame, let alone universal acclaim. While fans debate the merits of Adam West vs. Michael Keaton, as far as the general public is concerned Lynda Carter is Wonder Woman. That's the central appeal and crucial limitation of this series. Every panel or page is suffused by her iconic presence. The other protagonist is, of course, the 70s itself. For anyone drawn to such cultural signifiers such as the Cold War, polyester shirts, hot pants, bell bottoms, roller skates, disco and Studio 54, this comic has them covered.

As such, the art team assembled for this series is tasked with capturing Carter's and Lyle Wagonner's appearance. There's inevitably some variation in how well they succeed in their task which might be distracting to some of the more attentive readers. Nicola Scott and Annette Kwock supply a pinup for the cover to this collection which is such an archetypical representation of Carter's Wonder Woman that nothing inside quite matches it, though Jason Badower draws several panels of Diana Prince that are near perfect in their photorealism. While Matt Haley and Richard Ortiz can portray a passable action sequence, the interior art leans heavily towards illustrative detail than to efficient comic book style storytelling. Drew Johnson doesn't make the characters particularly close in resemblance to the television cast, but he's the best in reproducing the "mod" sensibilities of the era. Diana's white pantsuit may well be also be a nod to the Denny O'Neil era Wonder Woman. Uniting all these artistic efforts is colorist Romulo Fajardo Jr., who bathes everyone in a warm rose-tinted glow that imbues every page with a faded quality.

WONDER WOMAN ’77 SPECIAL #1 by Marc Andreyko, Drew Johnson, Matt Haley, Jason Badower, Richard Ortiz, Nicola Scott, Annette Kwock, Romulo Fajardo Jr., Wes Abbott

The WW'77 Special collects two stories which mimic the episodic structure of the TV series. But writer Marc Andreyko isn't all that faithful to the source material, as the series itself played fast and loose with the original comic book. Andreyko adds those missing comic book elements which a late 70s show would not have been able to include due to budgetary constraints or the limitations of special effects. The most obvious insertion is WW's rogues gallery. Sonic-powered villain Silver Swan is reimagined as a nightclub diva with a hypnotic voice and accompanied by two backup singers who are also capable fighters called the Starlings. As drawn by Johnson she reminds me of a more fabulous version of Marvel's Dazzler. Cheesy but appropriate to the spirit of the show. By contrast Doctor Psycho is disappointingly generic as a short, elderly, white haired man sporting a lab coat and an elaborate salad bowl shaped helmet that seems to be the source of his powers. But I suppose the look is meant to recall a cheap television studio prop, so I'll give it a pass.

But the most notable villain of the comic is another Wonder Woman who's a not so subtle reference the mostly forgotten Cathy Lee Crosby version. For a time, she even has Diana confused about her own identity. But she eventually rallies and defeats her nemesis because there can only be one true WW. The book isn't very shy about hammering in that message.

WONDER WOMAN ’77 SPECIAL #1 by Marc Andreyko, Drew Johnson, Matt Haley, Jason Badower, Richard Ortiz, Nicola Scott, Annette Kwock, Romulo Fajardo Jr., Wes Abbott

5/21/2015

Archie vs. Predator #1

Archie vs. Pradator #1 by Alex de Campi, Fernando Ruiz, Rich Kozlowski, Jason Miller.
Writer: Alex de Campi
Penciller: Fernando Ruiz
Inker: Rich Koslowski
Colorist: Jason Millet

Archie et al. created by Bob Montana
Predator created by Jim Thomas, John Thomas, Stan Winston

Archie Comics may have a history of venturing into some really odd territory, but even by its standards a crossover with the Predator seems quite unexpected. The simple appeal of that character arises from the idea of an alien hunter searching for big game by traveling to Earth and deciding to go after humans. In the original movie, this well-armed extraterrestrial easily takes down a Delta Force unit making their way through a South American jungle. Much of its entertainment value comes from watching this group of he-men played by the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, and Jesse Ventura reduced to screaming like little girls while trying to escape an invisible bogeyman who's more testosterone-addled than all of them put together. Since then Dark Horse has paired the Predator against everything from the xenomorphs of the Aliens franchise to the iconic Justice League America. With a track record of such formidable opponents, what exactly does the cast from Riverdale High offer as potential prey?

Apparently, they have a lot to offer our would-be killer. The comic is drawn in the traditional house style and presented in the publisher's classic humor format. Archie Andrews and what feels like the entire Riverdale student body are spending spring break at an exotic beach resort. But while the usual  teenage hijinks occur, they're being stalked unseen by the Predator. If it weren't for this disturbing presence and one rather gory scene, the story would look like a conventional Archie comic. The beach vacation-inspired plot elements are fairly unoriginal, the humor is rather forced, and the cast's behaviour is pretty over-the-top. The boys talk and act like horny twelve year olds. And the rivalry between Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge spills over into physical violence, which is what actually draws the Predator to them.

Archie vs. Pradator #1 by Alex de Campi, Fernando Ruiz, Rich Kozlowski, Jason Miller.

What exactly is it that he sees and approves of? Does he admire their fighting style? Is he attracted to their taste in clothes or horrified by it? Is he some kind of peeping tom? Does he believe targeting the two is some form of public service? Is he fed up with the Archie-Betty-Veronica love triangle? Or is he seeking a change in pace? And what's up with the emojis? Whatever the reason, it looks like a lot more people are going to die, preferably in ways both funny and appropriate for each character.

5/16/2015

Thor #8

Thor #8 By Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman, Matthew Wilson, Joe Sabino, Mike Mayhew.
Story: Jason Aaron
Art: Russell Dauterman, Mike Mayhew
Colors: Matthew Wilson
Letters: Joe Sabino

Thor created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby.

After seven issues chasing down what are now obviously a bunch of false leads, we finally arrive at our destination - the big reveal as to who is the new Thor. That is unless you already know her identity from reading various online leaks. Given how definitively she was ruled out much earlier in the series, this might prove to be a sticking point for some readers. But there is a certain fannish logic to her assuming the mantle of the Thunder God considering her deep association with the lead character. The reveal itself is a perfect mirror of the final pages of the first issue, a slow transformation obscured by tightly composed panels arranged in a grid, only to pull back to get a wider perspective for the final one page spread.

Otherwise, the primary action is the massive battle between the unstoppable Destroyer armor being possessed by one of Odin's more reprehensible lackeys, and new Thor backed up by the heroines called on by original Thor (who now goes by the name Odinson) because they were on his shortlist of possible new Thor suspects. It's a fun set piece that demonstrates how the series' art team has come a long way in portraying the requisite over-the-top action. Unlike most of his predecessors, Russell Dauterman draws his figures with a certain studied elegance eschewing the usual exaggerated anatomy, kinetic poses, and dramatic perspective of a traditional Thor comic. He carefully composes the action so that his characters have room to breathe and smashes the grid layout in order to create dynamism, tilting the panels to better reflect the chaos within them. But much of the action would still be incomprehensible if it weren't for the efforts of Matthew Wilson, who Dauterman heavily leans on to differentiate the large and colorful cast. Wilson seems to summon every tone possible in offset printing and employ every technique in the digital coloring process to render every bolt of lightning, every magical hex, and every Kirby crackle. It's a virtuoso display of what modern comics technology can achieve with the right talent.

Thor #8 By Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman, Matthew Wilson, Joe Sabino, Mike Mayhew.

Unfortunately, the battle ends a little prematurely to build up to the big reveal, leaving this issue without a very satisfactory conclusion. The reader might know Thor's true identity, but that just raises more questions. Even more troubling are all the various plot threads left dangling, such as the machinations of the series' two arch villains seemingly about to pay off. This abbreviated quality is due to the fact that Thor is being forced to wrap up for now because the entire Marvel Universe is presently caught up in the crossover event called Secret Wars. It's an unfortunate reminder of the corporate nature of these properties. And just as the series' creative team was hitting their stride.

5/09/2015

Ms. Marvel #14

Ms. Marvel #14 by G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa, Jake Wyatt, Jenny Frison, Ian Herring, Joe Caramagna.
Story: G. Willow Wilson
Art: Takeshi Miyazawa, Jake Wyatt, Jenny Frison
Colors: Ian Herring
Letters: Joe Caramagna

Kamala Khan created by Sana Amanat, G. Willow Wilson, and Adrian Alphona

Ever since a young Kamala Khan took ownership of the longstanding mantle of "Ms. Marvel" she's had to navigate a complex web of paradoxical identities from the mundane to the fantastical. But this cultural melange has made her one of the most compelling new characters to come out of Marvel. The comic's blend of measured optimism and good humor has also kept Kamala from becoming just another dour attempt to replicate the historic success of Spider-Man. But has she finally met someone who's going through the exact same thing as her in this latest chapter? "All this time, I thought I was alone... that I was the only nerdy Pakistani-American-slash-Inhuman-in the entire universe. And then suddenly I wasn't." Oh Kamala, if only life were that fair.

Artist Takeshi Miyazawa joined the series in the last issue when this particular story arc began, and he's proven to be an apt choice. His manga-influenced style is particularly adept at capturing the varied moods of the book's youthful cast and the story's melodramatic milieu. What can be more romantic for two love-struck and rebellious teenagers (super-powered or otherwise) living in Jersey City than breaking curfew to sneak out and and gaze upon the glorious New York skyline?

Ms. Marvel #14 by G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa, Jake Wyatt, Jenny Frison, Ian Herring, Joe Caramagna.

But this issue's emotional heart is a short conversation between Kamala's pious older brother Aamir and her best friend/wannabe beau Bruno. As the former explains to the latter why Kamala could never date, let alone marry a non-Pakistani/Muslim, Bruno's face shifts from registering shock, defiance, and finally to crushing disappointment. His gradually slumping body contrasts next to Aamir's upright posture and his helpful but overall placid expression. It's all drawn with the right amount of understatement. The scene unveils a new layer about the two characters, particularly Aamir, who was in danger of becoming a caricature of the narrow-minded ethnic figure. More significantly it humanizes two divergent paths faced by immigrants: Bruno's integrationist philosophy which is often taken for granted by mainstream pundits in the U.S. as the correct course of action, and Aamir's often villainized but perfectly understandable desire to preserve what's left of his cultural legacy in the face of an aggressively bland conformity.

Given such ground-level concerns, Kamala dealing with the ugly side of her Inhuman heritage actually feels like an escape, or at least a diversion, as the superhero conflict provides a far more clear cut version of those problems while also handing her something convenient to punch. Now, Marvel's Mutants have generally played the role of less than convincing race metaphor, the not as well-known but no less potent Inhumans behave more like members of the upper-crust. They're essentially a magical race of elves and wizards who would rather conceal themselves within their enchanted communities far from the reach of mere mortals. But occasionally, one of these snobs resorts to more drastic measures. As an acolyte of this issue's would-be Voldemort proclaims what every fascist has basically ever preached: "Why should we hide what we are and play by the rules of a society that wasn't built for us. We're better than all these people..."

It's a cliched idea for anyone who's been following the X-Men or any Marvel superhero comic for the last 60 years. But it makes for a sudden if somewhat obnoxious presence coming right after the preceding low-key conversation touching on the nature of multiculturalism.

Ms. Marvel #14 by G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa, Jake Wyatt, Jenny Frison, Ian Herring, Joe Caramagna.