Sunday 25 March 2007

Reviews: Aquaman, Hellblazer, The Brave and the Bold

Aquaman, Sword of Atlantis issue 50: “Cold Water” by Tad Williams (writer), Shawn McManus (penciller), Walden Wong (inker), Todd Klein (letters), Dan Brown (colours), Joey Cavalieri (editor), cover by Mario Alberti. DC Comics, May 2007, 38 pages of strip, US$3.99.

I hadn’t encountered Aquaman since Grant Morrison’s JLA. But Scipio at The Absorbascon has a list of fun things from this issue, and with a new writer and a new art team starting here, I thought this might be a good jumping-on point. I was wrong. Oh, there’s lots of good humoured silliness and oddity, particularly involving King Shark and the new version of Topo, but the story is highly confusing. There are no fewer than four leading characters who are either amnesiac or living under assumed identities, or both. At least two of them might be Aquaman. What I take to be the new plot – about a nasty underwater church – seems to be tangled with untucked threads from early issues that are not adequately explained.

Shawn McManus’s art is clear and expressive, but Walden Wong’s inks seem to have robbed it of the texture and character I remember from McManus’s fill-in issues of Swamp Thing. Most oddly, whole pages go by without anything to remind the reader that the action is supposed to be taking place underwater: characters stand rather than swim and talk without breathing out air bubbles. Several have long hair, which resolutely refuses to billow around in the water.

A curious feature is that all the intelligent sea creatures have human bodies, albeit topped with heads derived from marine life. Topo, for example, is no longer an octopus, but a humanoid with a squid-like head. Presumably, the authors either find it impossible to maintain sympathy for beings that look too odd, or they expect their readers to feel that way.

Overall, a disappointment. Despite all the welcome humour and invention, I don’t think that I’ll be back for issue 51.

Hellblazer issue 230: “In at the Deep End” Part 1 by Andy Diggle (writer), Leonardo Manco (artist), Lee Loughridge (colourist), Jared K Fletcher (letterer), Casey Seijas (editor), cover by Lee Bermejo. DC Comics/Vertigo, May 2007, 22 pages of strip, US$2.99.

This was another return to a character I’d neglected for some time, facilitated by the arrival of a new writer. Unlike Aquaman, this really works as an issue for new readers. All you need to know to follow Andy Diggle’s debut issue is that John Constantine is a supernatural expert mixed up with low-life, and that is explained within the story itself. This is a modest vignette, about how Constantine found himself tied to a pier support waiting to drown, and how he gets out of it, but it makes confident use of flashback, with solid characterisation, and a slow reveal of the plot. The cockney hard-man dialogue is perhaps a little overdone.

Leonardo Manco’s art seems perfect for this series: it is dark and gritty, and shows a particular talent for realistically varied faces.

Overall, this issue is spot-on, both as an entertaining story in its own right and as a hook for the continuing series.

The Brave and the Bold issue 2: “The Lords of Luck, Chapter 2: Ventura” by Mark Waid (writer), George Pérez (penciller), Bob Wiacek (inks), Tom Smith (colours), Rob Leigh (lettering), Joey Cavalieri (editor), cover by Pérez. DC Comics, May 2007, 22 pages of strip, US$2.99.

Oh, dear, this is an unpleasant surprise.

The first issue of the revived Brave and the Bold was light-hearted superhero fun. But this issue, telling of Green Lantern and Supergirl’s attempt to recover the Book of MacGuffin from the gambling-mad planet of Ventura, is dominated by teenage Kara’s blatant passes at Hal and his response.

Significantly, we are given Hal’s internal monologue, but not Kara’s; a clear signal that we are intended to identify with his viewpoint. Unfortunately, this seems to be same opinion held by puritans of assorted religions – that women are temptresses who inflame innocent males to lusts which they must manfully resist.

The whiff of antedeluvian sexual politics becomes stronger when Hal tells Kara that she’ll never get a boyfriend, because no man wants a woman who is stronger than he is. This proves to be the inspiration for Supergirl’s decision to flush out the man with the Book by hiding the big red “S” under a four-year old’s impossibly short pink dress and pigtails.

Yes, really.

Illustrating this distasteful tale, Pérez, as usual, portrays his hero and heroine with the looks of Ken and Barbie, though Supergirl is drawn with a genuinely young and animated face. The art team manage to convince us that they are giving an accurate portrayal of a crowded and gaudy planet, rather than just producing crowded and gaudy pictures. Tom Smith’s colours, in particular, are appropriately bright, and help ensure that no images dissolve into confusion.


Unknown said...

If it wasn't for Supergirl, I think I really would have enjoyed this issue a lot more.

I had read the preview of the book with Hal valiantly trying to avoid statuatory rape, and even though I thought it was a little bit on the shady side I was willing to give it a shot.

But then I read every scene in which Supergirl acts exactly like every stupid teenager ever and I remembered why everyone hates her so much.


Unknown said...

It's easy to forget how impressionable a handsome, older man in uniform can be to a teenager who (I'm guessing) doesn't get much down time.

This issue had light-hearted fun that Marvel comics seem to lack in spades.