Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Reviews: Atom, Simonson’s Fantastic Four, JLU, Superman

The All-New Atom, Volume 1: My Life In Miniature by Gail Simone (writer), John Byrne and Eddy Barrows (pencillers), Trevor Scott (inks), Travis Lanham (letters), Alex Bleyaert (colours), Ariel Olivetti (cover and original issue covers) and Mike Carlin (editor), DC Comics, 2007 (originally published 2006-2007), 143 pages of strip, US$14.99

This collection of the first 6 issues of the new Atom, plus the teaser story from Brave New World is almost as much fun as I’d heard.

Gail Simone throws in one splendidly mad idea after another: an invasion by a microscopic alien race living on the hero’s dog, a Cthuloid monster being worshipped by film-fan puritans, the Atom being swallowed by a naked giantess, foul-smelling ants and chemically-dependent scientists. She holds this all together using some off-beat narrative devices, and deftly sketches in our new hero, Dr Ryan Choi, and his supporting cast at the same time.

So why “almost”? Well, there’s a knife-wielding psycho with a taste for dismemberment who seems to have wandered in from a different story (possibly by Geoff Johns) and doesn’t fit the wacky tone here at all, despite his fondness for poetry. And then there’s the art problem.

Byrne’s stuff is fine: characterful, energetic, action-packed and humorous by turns, and with a fuller finish than I remember from the last comics of his that I read about a decade ago. But half way through, he hands over to Barrows, who provides another argument for DC establishing remedial art classes for its pencillers. He lacks most basic skills, but in particular his perspective drawing is appalling. In the panel below, for example, Choi is supposed to be full sized and sitting on a chair which is level with the feet of Dean Mayland (the character in the foreground). Instead, Choi appears to be minute and Mayland must be on a raised platform. The walls don't match the floor, either. (Amplification added later: The floor tiles appear to be converging on a vanishing point to the left, but the bookshelves and horizontal window frames run parallel to each other.)

There is still enough enjoyable material here for the book to be worth buying, but if Barrows is still the artist on the second volume, and hasn’t managed to learn some draughtsmanship from his assignment pencilling over Keith Giffen’s layouts on 52, I won’t be bothering with the next one.

Fantastic Four Visionaries: Walter Simonson Volume 1 Fantastic Four by Walter Simonson (writer and artist), Rich Buckler and Ron Lim (pencillers on opening stories), Romeo Tanghal and Mike DeCarlo (inkers on opening stories), Bill Oakley and Todd Klein (letterers), George Roussos and Max Scheele (colourists), Ralph Macchio (editor), Marvel Comics, 2007 (originally published 1989-1990), 182 pages of strip, US$19.99

A quick tip: skip the first 73 pages of this book. The first three issues of Fantastic Four that Walt Simonson wrote were part of a long-forgotten, dreary corporate cross-over called “Acts of Vengeance”. In them, the FF go to Washington to testify against a proposed Super-Human Registration Act (yes, yes, how ironic), and are attacked by various C- and D-list villains. Simonson seems bored, and the art is by other hands.

Then, with his fourth issue, everything changed. Simonson took over the art and went cosmic. The FF, augmented by She-Thing, Iron Man and Thor, travel into a future that seems to be vanishing, and encounter a plethora of Kangs the Conquerors, a galaxy-sized Galactus who is devouring the whole Universe, the gigantic armouries of the Shi'ar Empire, guarded by Superman-alike Gladiator, and the ancient implacable menace of the Black Celestial. Wild ideas, artwork so energetic you could plug it into the National Grid and some remarkably daft double-talk from Reed Richards – it's everything you want from the Fantastic Four, really.

Justice League Unlimited issue 33, “Everything Old Is New Again” by Jason Hall (writer), Carlo Barberi (penciller), Bob Petrecca (inker), Robert Clark Jr (letterer), Heroic Age (colourists) and Rachel Gluckstein (editor), DC Comics, July 2007, 20 pages of strip, US$2.25

In this issue of JLU, the League’s oldest member, the Crimson Avenger, and its youngest, Stargirl, find themselves in body-swap comedy territory after they try to stop Morgaine Le Fey from stealing the London Stone and using it to de-age her son Mordred. As is often the case with JLU, our heroes learn a life lesson along the way: constantly sniping at each other for being too old and too young respectively, by the end each has come to respect the other’s viewpoint.

This air of lecturing prevents Hall’s otherwise zippy and well-constructed story from being as enjoyable as it might be. Of course, it is aimed at children, but children can recognise adult propaganda when they see it.

Barberi and Petrecca’s art is efficient and attractive in the animated DC style. The thick outlines they use to delineate characters actually provide something of the feel of a previous generation of animation, when characters stood out more from static backgrounds.

Superman issue 662, “The Weight of the World” by Kurt Busiek (writer), Carlos Pacheco (penciller), Jesús Merino (inker), Sinclair & Loughridge (colours), Comicraft (letters) and Matt Idelson (editor), DC Comics, May 2007, 22 pages of strip, US$2.99

I haven’t followed Superman regularly since the days of Byrne, Wolfman and Ordway, but I normally like the work of both Busiek and Pacheco, so I thought I’d see what they are making of it.

Unfortunately, this issue seems to fall in the middle of a longer story arc. Superman is trying to establish the truth of a prediction by the magician Arion that his interventions will eventually lead to the death of humanity, while also investigating the claim by an alien called the Auctioneer that there is another Kryptonian on Earth besides himself and Supergirl.

On the plus side, I could easily work out what was happening, despite not having read the earlier issues. On the minus, Superman doesn’t find the answers to his questions, and nothing much else happens. The artwork is as nice as expected – detailed but clear, fluid and expressive – but otherwise the main thing I found to enjoy was the delightful new style of lettering used for Zatanna’s backward magic spells, which is as stark a case of damning with faint praise as I can think of.

This issue also features a new superhero called Sirocco. He is active in Iran, but had planned to call himself by an Arabic, not Persian, name, before adopting the one suggested by Superman: an Italian (and English) word for a wind that blows in North Africa. His main personal characteristic is that he is easily offended if he thinks his integrity is being impugned. Really, he just needs a scimitar and a camel to hit all the orientalist buttons. It’s good that DC Comics have decided to create a hero from the Islamic world, but it’s a shame that they seem to think that Berbers, Iranians and Arabs are all the same thing.

Not reviewed this time
Also out this last week were Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil issue 3, Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 issue 3 and Welcome to Tranquility issue 6. All are running serial stories which I plan to review when they are complete (and since issue 6 did end the current Tranquility story, I’ll have a review of that for you in a few days’ time).

In the meantime, I should advise fellow drooling fanboys (and fangirls) that Willow does not wear that outfit on the inside pages. Is there no truth in advertising?


Sean Kleefeld said...

Couple of notes on Simonson's FF...

The last issue of that original first "Acts of Vengeance" arc was drawn by Ron Lim. For what was effectively a fill-in for a fill-in, I thought he turned in some excellent work, and he gave us a fine rendition of the FF. Worth a look through that portion of the book, even if you don't read the story.

Second, I don't know if this is cited in the TPB or not, but Simonson made good use of the then-fledgling base of Internet fans in writing the "Acts of Vengeance" story. He was given the basic structure from editorial, but he spoke with an FF fan base online concerning how the FF ought to react to the situation. In the original printing of FF #336, he publicly thanked the dozen or so people who contributed to the discussion, including John Ostrander and Dan Mishkin. Further, some of the senators shown in the book were named after some of the other significant contributors.

Andrew Hickey said...

Barrows' art doesn't improve in the second volume, and the stories take a definite turn for the worse (Choi is pursued by zombies who used to bully him in school, and that whole storyline seems to be almost Johnsian). But the first few issues were *so* good I'm giving the title a lot of slack before dropping it...

Steve Flanagan said...

Sean - No, there's no mention I could see of any advice Simonson took about those Acts of Vengeance Issues - from the execution, I'd guess that it amounted to "take the mickey".

Andrew - That's a shame. It was such a good start.