Saturday, 12 May 2007

Reviews: Blade, Countdown, Cover Girl, Madame Mirage, Rex Libris

Blade issue 9, “The Big Fight” by Marc Guggenheim (writer), Howard Chaykin (artist), Edgar Delgado (Colour), VC’s Ron Wooton (letters) and Aubrey Sitterson (editor), cover by Marko Djurdjevic, Marvel Comics, May 2007, 21 pages of strip, US$2.99

That’s a pretty but rather misleading cover. This issue isn’t a World War Hulk tie-in (thank goodness), and no vampire guardsmen in bearskins appear (alas). I’m not really sure that Russian Constructivist graphics and German Black-Letter type spell “London” to me, but maybe they do to an American readership.

Because Blade is still in London, investigating the secrets of his family, and their relationship to the Order of Tyrana. It seems that one person who can help him is Union Jack. Cue self-referential joke.

"… a key member is a guy named Union Jack. (Which might sound as weird to the Brits as us calling a guy 'American Flag.')"

(That’s assuming, of course, that any of us readers still remember Chaykin’s American Flagg, given how long it has been out-of-print.) Conveniently, Union Jack is back at Blade’s hotel, trying to kill his side-kick Hannibal King.

This comic is a competent, professionally written and drawn issue which advances the overarching plot and gives us a decent fight scene. Even so, it does all feel a bit thin. This is not just because the page count has been dropped by one temporarily to accommodate a text recap page (as of next month, the letters page is being dropped instead). The remaining pages typically contain only four or five panels each, sometimes less, and those panels don’t contain an extraordinary amount of text or detailed imagery either. It's almost as if it was being scripted for a digest or manga page size. It’s worth a read, but be prepared for it to be a short one.

(Obligatory, pettifogging complaints by an Englishman about American comics set here: the story claims to take place in Soho, but, unlike in this comic, you can’t actually see the River from Soho, let alone Tower Bridge, which is miles away. And the Cenotaph is on Whitehall. I’m going to assume that the flat-cap and Model-T flashback scenes are set in the 1920s, so that’s OK.)

Countdown issue 51, “Look to the Skies” by Paul Dini (writer), Jesus Saiz (pencils), Jimmy Palmiotti (inks), Tom Chu (colours), Travis Lanham (letters) and Mike Marts (editor), cover by Andy Kubert, Townsend and Dajeco, DC Comics, May 9 2007, 22 pages of strip, US$2.99

What a disappointment! When I heard that Paul Dini was going to be the lead writer on the new weekly comic from DC, I was quite optimistic. Not only should Dini’s experience in the animated DC superhero shows have prepared him for the job of guiding a team of writers, but his TV track record showed that he could take the convoluted, angsty and increasingly gore-soaked DC Universe and transform it into accessible fun for a general audience.

So what’s the first thing we see here? Blood dripping from a naked man suspended from a meathook through his midriff. And the main plot revolves not just around DC’s barnacled continuity, which is bad enough, but around drawing attention to the contradictions in that continuity. Honestly, did Dan Didio’s mother never tell him that it won’t get better if you pick it?

Jesus Saiz’s artwork can best be described as serviceable. I just wish it were in service to a better story.

Cover Girl issue 1, “Hollywood Shuffle” by Andrew Cosby and Kevin Church (writers), R M Yankowicz (artist), Pablo Quiligotti and Brian Miroglio (colourists), Ed Dukeshire (letterer) and Marshall Dillion (editor), cover by Rafael Albuquerque, Boom! Studios, May 2007, 22 pages of strip, US$3.99

This debut issue is mostly set up. Aspiring actor Alex Martin capitalises on press coverage after he rescues a woman from a car crash (he neglects to mention that he caused the crash in the first place). But the women is being followed by mysterious men in suits and shades, and soon vanishes. Then the men in shades try to kill Alex, so the studio where he is now working hires a bodyguard, Rachel Dodd, the “Cover Girl” of the title.

It’s hard to see yet whether this will run well, given that the title character only appears on the last page. So far the writing is crisp and amusing, with a few good one-liners, and the art does its job perfectly well. As with the only other Boom! studios comic I have read, Mr Stuffins, the whole package feels like it might be more at home on TV than on the comic page. It also shares a muddy colour palette – though nowhere near as overwhelming and monotonous as on Mr Stuffins. But brown seems an odd choice for the dominant colour for a light thriller set in Tinseltown.

Even so, this is entertaining enough for me to want to check out the next issue.

Madame Mirage First Look by Paul Dini (writer), Kenneth Rocafort (artist), Blond (colours), Troy Peteri (letters) and Rob Levin (editor), Image Comics/Top Cow Productions, May 2007, 7 pages of strip, US$0.99

I like the idea of a taster issue like this, but it’s hard to draw any conclusions yet about whether the full-length comic will be any good. It’s a shame that the set-up turns out to be superheroes again, but the shadowy art holds out some hope that the treatment will have more of a pulp flavour than usual. Rocafort’s work is highly stylised (Madame Mirage is about nine heads high, for example), but this may be a sensible choice if he has to present a heroine so inappropriately dressed for running around shooting people.

I’ll probably give the first issue a chance, but if anything this has dampened my expectations rather than raised them.

Rex Libris issue 8, “Escape from the Book of Monsters!” by James Turner, SLG Publishing, May 2007, 32 pages of strip, US$2.95

Our two-gun librarian hero is trapped inside the Book of Monsters and has to fight his way out. Meanwhile, back at the Middleton public library, monsters are escaping from the book and attacking Hypatia and Circe.

Basically, this is just a string of monster fights with great one-liners, pretentious literary and philosophical references and in-jokes about traditions of comics captioning. Just my cup of tea.

Turner’s blocky computer-generated greyscale artwork looks like nothing else on the racks, and fits the surreal tone of his stories perfectly. In addition to the main story, the inside and back covers are packed with absurd humour. The whole thing is great value for anyone who doesn’t have a fetish for colour printing.


Sean Kleefeld said...

Thanks for the review of Rex Libris. It looked interesting when it first came out, but I couldn't squeeze it into my budget at the time. I was just toying with picking up the TPB lately, and I'm glad to see that it (at least generally) comes off as well as I thought it might.

Also, FYI, Dynamic Forces reprinted American Flagg in a collected HC last year.

Steve Flanagan said...

Thanks, Sean. But was the DF American Flagg actually published or just advertised? I was under the impression that it hadn't come out. Forbidden Planet International is declining to take orders, saying "Sorry, this title is currently unavailable - we are awaiting new release details from the publisher".

I'm not sure if it is the same edition whose delays Erik Larsen alludes to in the feedback section here.