Sunday, 1 July 2007

Reviews: Blue Beetle, Spider-Man Fairy Tales, The Spirit

Blue Beetle issue 16 “Total Eclipso: The Heart” by John Rogers (writer), Rafael Albuquerque (artist), Phil Balsman (letterer), Guy Major (colourist) and Joan Hilty (editor), cover by Cully Hamner, 22 pages of strip, US$2.99, DC Comics, August 2007

Under probably the worst punning title of the year, Rogers and Albuquerque tell a decent little superhero story. Villainous spirit Eclipso is trying to gain a new host by occupying a baby with no past experiences to act as weaknesses. She is opposed by sorceress Traci 13, who drags the Blue Beetle and his supporting cast into the fight.

Although this fits into events in DC’s current mess of interconnecting crossovers, the story is a standalone one: everything you need to know is within its pages. The only fact you might need from past DC continuity is that Eclipso’s current human host murdered Sue Dibny, wife of the Elongated Man, and that’s probably something you could infer from events. There is unselfish heroism – not just from the super-powered characters – teenage romance, banter and a handful of good jokes (especially the one about “the secret power fantasy of a teenager with an alien killing machine at his command” - Rachelle Goguen has the joke scanned if you still don't want to buy the issue). Albuquerque delivers a few jerky panel progressions, but has a particularly good command of subtle facial expressions.

This is a good, entertaining comic which relies on amusing characterisation and solid storytelling rather than shock tactics and vacuous claims that its events are “important” to those who like to catalogue the “facts” of a made-up universe. Naturally, it’s one of DC’s poorest sellers.

Spider-Man Fairy Tales issue 2 “The Spirits of Friendship” by C B Cebulski (writer), Niko Henderson (artist), Dave Landhear (letterer) and Molly Lazer (editor), 23 pages of strip, US$2.99, Marvel Comics, August 2007

This second issue of Spider-Man Fairy Tales is wholly separate from the first, drawing on West African myth rather than European household tale. God-cum-folk-hero Anansi sets off on a quest to find the spider orchid that will grant him new powers. On the way, he fights and befriends four elementals, and eventually decides that their friendship is of more value than his original aim. The Bee creature that they all kill together to get at the orchid might wish that Anansi had reached this conclusion rather earlier.

“The Spirits of Friendship” scores over the previous issue by making less use of aspects of conventional Spider-Man stories, uncomfortably shoe-horned into place. Here, the only intrusive echo of the Marvel Universe is the appearance of Anansi’s Uncle Nebasti, to remind him of the old line about great power and great responsibility. You could, if you wish, regard the four elementals as being avatars of the Fantastic Four, but this relationship is neither obvious nor forced, and can be easily ignored.

Niko Henderson provides sinuous and earthy artwork that is wholly appropriate to the tale. C B Cebulski uses a narrative voice that has something of the tone of stiff formality we associate with translations of folk tales. They may all sit together a little oddly in the eventual trade paperback, but the individual issues of this limited series are worth a look.

The Spirit issue 7, 24 pages of strip, cover by Darwyn Cooke, US$2.99, DC Comics, August 2007
Features “Harder than Diamonds” written by Walter Simonson, art by Chris Sprouse and Karl Story, colour by Dave Stewart, letters by Jared Fletcher, editor Scott Dunbier
“Synchronicity” Jimmy Palmiotti (story), Jordi Bernet (art), Dave Stewart (colours), Jared Fletcher (letters) and Scott Dunbier (editor)
“Hard Cell” by Kyle Baker (story and art), coloured by Dave Stewart, editor Scott Dunbier

For this issue, regular writer/artist Darwyn Cooke provides only a cover, which pretty much demands a soundtrack of ‘60s go-go music. Would it seem so amusing, I wonder, if it showed a crowd of hunky men stripping an attractive woman? And, if not, would that be hypocritical, or valid because the confirmation of stereotypical relationships is less pleasing than their overturn? Probably that’s too heavy a question for such a frothy image.

Simonson and Palmiotti provide their versions of two stock Spirit tropes. Simonson gives us the manipulative femme fatale, and Palmiotti writes a story of the Spirit’s actions affecting the lives of people he never meets. Despite attractive art by Sprouse, Story, Bernet and Stewart, these feel rather like Eisner pastiche by the numbers.

“Hard Cell” is a rare misfire from Kyle Baker. It seems more like a parody of Frank Miller’s Sin City than of Eisner’s or Cooke’s Spirit, complete with bad hard-boiled monologue and extreme chiaroscuro. There are some amusing jokes about the Spirit’s relationship with Ellen Dolan, but the whole story is sunk by a disjointed, fragmented narrative.


Andrew Hickey said...

The fact that Blue Beetle and Atom are DC's lowest-selling superhero titles is a sad thing. Scarily, only three times as many people read them in a given month as read my blog. That's just *wrong*.

SallyP said...

I haven't read the others, but I adore Blue Beetle. It just seems to get better and better every month. Now if only more people would buy it.