Monday 31 December 2007

2007: Long, long, long

I posted a while back about the short comics that I liked most in 2007. Now it’s the turn of their longer brethren, each filling at least one separate publication.

This isn’t a “best of 2007” as such, because my tastes aren’t catholic enough to compile one of those, and because I haven’t read everything that might be a candidate for such as list. But here are some of the longer comics, newly published in serial or book form in 2007, that I particularly enjoyed.

Bryan Talbot Alice in Sunderland. A remarkable catherine-wheel essay. My seven-part review starts here.

John Rogers, Raphael Albuquerque and others Blue Beetle. Cheeringly good-spirited superheroics. I reviewed an issue here.

Joss Whedon and Georges Jeanty Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8: The Long Way Home. The best adaptation of a television series into comics since at least the heyday of TV21. I reviewed the opening story here, and individual issues here and here. The second main storyline, written by Brian K Vaughn, was a relative disappointment, given its lack of character humour and Georges Jeanty’s inability to draw a good likeness of lead slayer Faith.

Warren Ellis and Raulo Caceres Crécy. An idiosyncratic (and foul-mouthed) history lecture, reviewed here.

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips Criminal. Straightforward, noir-ish crime stories – a staple genre in any other medium, but a rarity in comics. Brubaker and Phillips’s work would be good enough to shine even if there was a glut of them. I reviewed one issue here.

Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang Dr 13: Architecture and Mortality. Postmodern fun and games, with appealing clear-line artwork. I reviewed it here.

Adam Warren Empowered. The first volume, at least (reviewed here), is an inventive exercise in having your cheesecake and eating it too. The second volume tones down the metatextual games and seems much sleazier for it.

Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith Fell. Taut, grim policiers. Templesmith’s art works even better depicting the mundane than it does dealing with the undead.

Simone Lia Fluffy. One of the strengths of comics as a medium is the ease with which it can deploy the unreal to give new perspectives on the familiar. Here, a talking rabbit provides Lia with a lens through which to examine parenthood and emotional commitment.

Andi Watson Glister. Frothy and magical. I reviewed the first issue here. The third makes a smooth turn into perfectly-pitched folk tale territory, complete with repetitive tasks and, seasonally enough, the robin as an emblem of resurrection.

Paul Grist Jack Staff. Grist’s sparkling unconventional storytelling is a delight every time, and the use of obvious avatars of old British boys’ adventure comics characters hits my nostalgia buttons. There’s a review of one issue here.

Jeff Parker and Juan Santacruz Marvel Adventures: The Avengers. Funny, inventive and each story self-contained in one issue. Jeff Parker’s work here and on X-Men First Class suggests that superheroics can still be a valid genre for casual readers. One of the best issues was reviewed here.

Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen Nextwave: Agents of HATE. Superhero comics with all the humour, violence and wild invention of prime 2000AD. Sadly missed.

Andi Watson and Simon Gane Paris. A romance with beautifully appropriate artwork. My review is here.

Joann Sfar and Emmanuel Guibert The Professor’s Daughter. Not new, but newly translated into English. A beautifully painted pulp horror rom-com. Reviewed here.

James Turner Rex Libris. Wacky, literate and visually unique. I reviewed one issue here.

Nick Bertozzi The Salon. A fine piece of storytelling, with something to say about creativity, too. I reviewed it here.

Posy Simmonds Tamara Drewe. The stuff of literary prose fiction, with jokes and pictures. Simmonds’s best long-form work to date. I reviewed it here.

Lewis Trondheim and Fabrice Parme Tiny Tyrant. Not new, but newly translated into English. A glowing jewel of a children’s comic, reviewed here.

Rick Geary A Treasury of Victorian Murder: The Saga of the Bloody Benders. Geary’s meticulous but off-kilter non-fiction series moves into the nineteenth-century American countryside to find it just as disturbing as the cities.

Nicholas Gurewitch The Trial of Colonel Sweeto and Other Stories. A compilation of Gurewitch’s Perry Bible Fellowship strips (see the link in the web comics section of the side-bar). Simultaneously funny and disturbing; a Terry Gilliam in candy colours.

Various The Wallace and Gromit Comic. Gone, alas. See this review for why I miss it.

Sunday 30 December 2007

DVD Extra

Doctor Who Online reports that one of the extras on the DVD release of the Doctor Who story “The Time Meddler”, due in February, will be:

Stripped for Action - The First Doctor - a look at the First Doctor's comic strip adventures. Features interviews with artist Bill Mevin, comic historians Jeremy Bentham and John Ainsworth, as well as former DWM Editors Gary Russell & Alan Barnes.

Mevin drew the Doctor Who comic strip in TV Comic from October 1965 until April 1966, and so is roughly contemporary with “The Time Meddler”. The last piece of art I saw from him was a new cover he provided for Doctor Who Classic Comics issue 15 (January 1994), which reprinted that Christmas story I blogged about a few days ago.

Ainsworth wrote the definitive catalogue of the old Doctor Who comic strip, Vworp! Vworp!, which also ran in Doctor Who Classic Comics. Bentham is more of an all-round Doctor Who buff than specifically concerned with the comics. (He is also, I gather, related to the famous utilitarian philosopher of the same name, who, among other things, invented a kind of prison called a Panopticon – a name later used for the Time Lord capitol. Small cosmos, isn’t it?) Russell, as well as being a former editor of Doctor Who Magazine (and of Doctor Who Classic Comics), is writing the upcoming Doctor Who comic from IDW.

So it’s a decent set of interviewees. I hope they follow this up with instalments on the other Doctors.

Lack of Christmas Spirit

According to the “DC Nation” page in The Brave and the Bold issue 9, this is one of the titles out this week that we should all be rushing to buy.

Except, of course, that it doesn’t exist. I don’t think that it was ever even solicited. The listing for The Spirit issue 13 in the October issue of Previews has a blown-up panel of the Spirit kissing Silk Satin where the cover should be, and the blurb describes a set of short stories about the series’s femmes fatales. Far from issue 13 being out this week (or last week, as I think that The Brave and the Bold may itself have been delayed), even issue 12 won’t be out until mid-January.

Still, let’s hope that the material intended for this issue doesn’t just disappear, but that it’s published next year. If nothing else, I’d like to see something better than a tiny, fuzzy reproduction of that Darwyn Cooke cover.

Update, 3 February Much to my surprise, issue 13 was published, with that Christmas cover, at the end of January 2008. The lead story was about Hallowe'en. No, I don't get it, either.

Friday 28 December 2007

What I’ve been doing today when I could have been blogging

Except that I don’t have a cat, so I’ll be eating the cheese myself.

Vampire Loves “Could Cupid Care Less?” by Joann Sfar, translated by Alexis Siegel, First Second, 2006 (original French publication 2001)

Monday 24 December 2007

I’m Gonna Spend My Christmas With a TARDIS

Since its revival, Doctor Who has become as much of a part of Christmas broadcasting as the Morecambe and Wise Show, celebrity guests and all.

It was not always so. Discounting spin-offs (the wretched K-9 and Company saw K-9 singing “We Wish You A Merry Christmas”), Doctor Who had just one Christmas episode in its original 26-year run. “The Feast of Steven” (named after one of the Doctor’s travelling companions at the time) was broadcast on Christmas Day 1965. Famously, it concluded with the Doctor turning to the camera, raising a glass, and saying, “Incidentally, a Happy Christmas to all of you at home.”

That same year, TV Comic also treated us to a Doctor Who Christmas story. I think that it is fair to say that anyone who was old enough to watch the TV show would have found this comic strip too juvenile. The TARDIS lands the Doctor and his grand-children, John and Gillian (fixtures of the comic strip until well into Patrick Troughton’s time), in a snow-covered land. These are non-consecutive panels.

Actually, the children all wanted Daleks, but TV21 had the rights to those, so TARDISes it is.

Fortunately, the Doctor has brought a magic box with him, which can magically replicate toys. Yes, a magic box. Well, two of them, luckily enough.

Because while Santa is replicating toy TARDISes, the Doctor and his grand-children run into the wicked Demon Magician of the Forest.

They have to use the magic box to shrink polar bears …

… enlarge squirrels …

… and melt killer snowmen.

Silly, isn’t it? I mean, even a five-year old is going to have difficulty accepting a story in which the Doctor carries round a single, unexplained tool which just happens to be able to do whatever the plot needs at any given moment.

Oh. Right.

Incidentally, a Happy Christmas to all of you at home.

Panels and pictures

Doctor Who “A Klytode Christmas” Part 1 by Trevor Baxendale (script), John Ross (art), Alan Craddock (colours), Paul Vyse (letters), Doctor Who Adventures Issue 44, BBC Magazines, 6 December – 12 December 2007

Off-screen photographs from “The Feast of Steven” (BBC TV, 25 December 1965) taken from The Doctor Who Missing Episode Nexus

Doctor Who, art by Bill Mevin, TV Comic issues 732-735, 25 December 1965 to 15 January 1966, reprinted in Doctor Who Classic Comics issue 15, 15 January 1994

Illustration by Mike Collins and David A Roach to Doctor Who “The Hopes and Fears of All the Years” by Paul Cornell, Daily Telegraph, 22 December 2007

Saturday 22 December 2007

Paper boy

In case you’re reading this in Britain on Saturday and the newsagents are still open, here are a couple of reasons to buy the daily papers.

The Daily Telegraph has a new Christmas Doctor Who short story by Paul Cornell (author of the TV episodes “Father’s Day” and “Human Nature/The Family of Blood”), called “The Hopes and Fears of All the Years”. It’s not comics, but it is illustrated by long-term Doctor Who comic strip artists Mike Collins and David Roach. You can also find the story online here, with one of the illustrations. But not this one. Note the pure Frank Bellamy shading on the sonic screwdriver!

The Guardian’s “Weekend” magazine section carries a two page strip by Simone Lia (author of Fluffy) about an aggressively virtuous woman and her (ahem) guardian angel.

Meanwhile, in the “Review” section, the regular feature “Writer’s Rooms” is given over to Posy Simmonds, who provides a half-page illustration and hand-written text. She reveals herself to be a fan of the brushwork of the late great political cartoonist David Low, and now that she mentions it I can see the influence on her own linework. (Click to make legible.)

I couldn’t find either of these on The Guardian website, though you’re welcome to have a search. But the “Comic” section is given over to a two-page Christmas puzzle picture by “Lorenzo” (possibly Lawrence Etherington), which can be found at the mostly empty DFC website.

Wednesday 19 December 2007

2007: We like short shorts

“Best of the year” lists have been mushrooming, but, understandably, most of them tend to emphasise longer, more substantial works: graphic novels, collected editions and ongoing series. Here, by contrast, are some of the shorter pieces of comics I have enjoyed through the year, none of them long enough to fill a single issue. (But you can, at least, click the pictures below to make them bigger.)

”You’re A Good Man, John Stuart Mill” by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey. Not all of van Lente and Dunlavey’s Action Philosophers (Evil Twin Comics) worked for me, either as entertaining comics or as potted accounts of the thought of major philosophers. But this spot-on Charles Schulz pastiche hit both targets perfectly.

Mark Waid’s super-hero origin stories from 52. As superhero comics sank into a congealed mass of stodgy continuity, Waid performed small miracles every week by boiling down the essence of each of DC’s main cast and presenting it in just two pages. It didn’t hurt that the series attracted artists like Brian Bolland and Adam Hughes, long lost to the more lucrative field of cover illustration, back to telling stories instead. Here are Waid and Hughes on Wonder Woman, from 52 issue 12.

My Own Genie by Jamie Smart. British children’s humour comics have long been refreshingly free of moral didacticism. If My Own Genie was a TV series, Lula, after wishing for something selfish and irresponsible, would have to put it right, while learning a Valuable Life Lesson. In The Dandy, she can just compound the mayhem, while having a good time. It helped that the once-staid publisher D C Thompson is willing to publish artwork as wild as that provided by Smart. This example is from The Dandy Summer Special 2007, as the strip was sadly missing from the regular title for most of the year.

”Maggie La Loca” by Jaime Hernandez (Love and Rockets Vol 2 Issue 20, Fantagraphics). If brother Gilbert is the Gene Kelly of comics, all flash and effort, Jaime is the Fred Astaire: he makes it all look so simple that it’s easy to underestimate the amount of talent, skill and craft he employs. Plus, I’ve got a soft spot for long-running fictions that age their characters in real time.

Tom Gauld’s letter column illustrations from The Guardian. Weird little flights of fancy that brighten my Saturdays. This one is from 1 December.

Eleanor Davis’s pieces in Mome (Fantagraphics) are often the highlights of this consistently interesting and well-produced anthology. Their unsettling charm makes me wonder if this is how the first generation of comfortable burghers felt when reading the earliest, unbowdlerised Grimm folk tales. These panels are from “Stick and String” in Mome issue 8.

Bryan Talbot’s 3-page History of British Comics, using his Alice in Sunderland style and published by The Guardian to accompany the BBC’s Comics Britannia TV series. I missed this when it came out. For the next few days, my every conversation began, “You didn’t happen to buy The Guardian on Saturday, did you?”

The Mini Marvels, by Chris Giarrusso, appear seemingly at random and often unheralded in various Marvel comics. Really, they should get the cover every time, because Giarrusso’s kiddy versions of the Marvel superheroes are a charming delight, matched only by Jeff Parker’s occasional short X-Men strips with Colleen Coover. This panel comes from “Hulk Date”, which appeared in Spider-Man Family issue 3.

Jack Black from Viz comic. Of all Viz’s parade of grotesques, nothing quite captures the true, vindictive, self-righteous, Daily Mail-reading face of modern Britain quite like Jack Black.

And a Merry Christmas to you, too

Tuesday 18 December 2007

Take the Hyacinth Challenge

Dick Hyacinth is paying for the five-minute argument, and who am I to quibble? (Yeah, I know he says it’s a fake, but let’s try it and see.)

Says Dick, “Newspaper strips set back the comics industry/medium 50 years: Because they were so much more prestigious and lucrative than comic books, the most talented cartoonists gravitated towards newspapers rather than comic books. Newspaper strips are an excellent format with many advantages, but there are limits to what one can achieve in three or four panels. Furthermore, newspapers made comics a wildly popular form of art in the United States, but also conditioned the public to think of comics as disposable. Comics as a medium and an industry would have been better off if left to struggle in the comic book format. Such a Darwinian landscape would have forced cartoonists to produce more ambitious material sooner.”

Now it is rare that history provides perfect counter-examples, but in the case of anglophone comics, the British and American experiences are pretty much mirror images.

In the USA, comic strips first proliferated in the newspapers in the 1890s. It wasn’t until the 1930s that separately published and sold comic books became commonplace. In the UK, comics as separate publications took off in the 1880s, but it wasn’t until the 1920s that comic strips started appearing in newspapers. In Britain, comic strips appear in a handful of national newspapers, there are no syndicates to allow anyone to make a living by selling strips to local papers, and the newspaper comic strip is just too small to syphon off talent on a large scale.

So, if the Hyacinth hypothesis holds, Britain should have been the home to more ambitious comics material earlier than the US. Not so. Apart from a few imitators of the US undergrounds, it wasn’t until the 2000AD generation grew up in the 1980s that Britain started producing artistically ambitious comics, with the possible exceptions of the works of Raymond Briggs, who never worked in either periodical comics or newspapers, and Posy Simmonds, who has since been able to use newspaper serialisation as the basis for ambitious and complex works such as Tamara Drewe.

So Dick needs to look elsewhere for reasons why American comics were held back relative to bandes dessinées and manga. My own preferred culprit is the Comics Code Authority. In the 1950s, EC and some others were providing a generation which had spent World War Two reading The Boy Commandos and learning from Will Eisner how to repair Jeeps with comics which could have broken through into more adult and ambitious forms. But America took a collective political decision not to go down that route.

Of course, you could argue with that.

The Adventures of Mr Stanley Deadstone and Company art by Tom Browne, from The Halfpenny Comic, issue 1, 22 January 1898, reprinted in Denis Gifford Victorian Comics, George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1976

Sunday 16 December 2007

Soft Boys

So, which one's Robyn Hitchcock?

The Beano All-Stars "Santa's Little Helpers", art by Robert Nixon, as reprinted in The Beano issue 3411, DC Thomson, 15 December 2007

Saturday 15 December 2007

DC Presents All-Rape Western

One good reason to avoid the Palmiotti and Grey revival of Jonah Hex has been the frequency with which rape has featured in their stories. It’s as monotonously repetitious as gore and dismemberment in a Geoff Johns comic, or the death of leading characters at the hands of Judd Winnick, but even more distasteful.

Now, at least Jonah Hex was always supposed to be at the nasty end of the spectrum of westerns, though long-time writer Michael Fleisher used to keep things more varied. But a revival of Bat Lash, DC’s answer to Bret Maverick? With stories by co-creator and noted humourist Sergio Aragones? And drawn by John Severin, a veteran of the days when American comics were suitable for children? That’s got to be different, surely? That’s going to be banter and frolic, right?

Apparently not.

The problem, I think, lies with DC’s branding strategy. Compared to Marvel, DC as a company publishes a much greater variety of material. But with Marvel, everything – cartoon capers with Franklin Richards, standard superheroics, adaptations of The Iliad - comes with that big white-on-red Marvel brand.

DC, on the other hand, subdivides its publications into a range of imprints each of which has a very consistent tone. Johnny DC emulates television animation. Vertigo is about applying modern urban sensibilities to the fantastic (or, in the case of Northlanders, to the historic). Minx brings you stories of girl outsiders who find social acceptance without compromising their individuality. And CMX … well, to be honest, I’m not sure what kind of manga CMX prints, not having read any, but from their adverts it hardly seems to be casting its net very wide in Japanese stylistic waters.

So there can be western comics under DC’s DC Universe imprint, but it seems that they have to have the tone of their standard superhero books. Out with the banter and frolic, and bring on the blood and the pain and the rape. Because that's what the DC bullet stands for, now.

Do you think they could start an imprint for people who are sick of that?

Bat Lash Issue 1 “Guns and Roses” Chapter 1 “Splendor in the Sage”, by Peter Brangvold and Sergio Aragones (writers), John Severin (artist), Pat Brosseau (letterer), Steve Buccellato (colourist), Rachel Gluckstern and Michael Wright (editors), DC Comics, February 2008

Thursday 13 December 2007

Review: Tamara Drewe

Tamara Drewe by Posy Simmonds, 126 pages of comics, Jonathan Cape, 2007, £16.99

Unlike Woody Allen, Posy Simmonds has had no problem moving away from the early, funny stuff to more complex, serious works. Of course, it helps that she hasn’t left the humour behind. If her portrayal of defunct Britpop band Swipe in Tamara Drewe is much less broad than that of Hugh Janus and the Dropouts in Mrs Weber’s Diary, there is still plenty of sly social observation here, as well as an appreciation of the farce of everyday life. Key revelations are overheard from the toilet. One of the two tragedies with which the book ends flirts with the absurd (and involves a herd of cows). And although Simmonds told the Comics Journal recently that she regretted ending her previous book, Gemma Bovery, with a joke about Jane Eyre, she still brings Tamara Drewe to a close with a punchline.

Like Gemma Bovery, Tamara Drewe is based on a well-known work of nineteenth-century literature, in this case Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, with Tamara herself as a counterpart of that novel’s heroine, Bathsheba Everdene. The plot revolves around the disastrous effects of her relationships with two unsuitable men, while ignoring the virtues of a salt-of-the-earth local (Andy Cobb, here standing in for Hardy’s Gabriel Oak). But Simmonds shifts the emphasis away from Tamara, by presenting events from the viewpoints of three other characters – Beth Hardiman, the wife of one of the men Tamara becomes involved with, Casey Shaw, a local teenager, and Glen Larson, an academic who wants to be a novelist, who resembles Joubert in Gemma Bovery in both physical appearance and narrative role – the apparent outsider whose tangential involvement may be crucial to the plot (he also shares a name with the American TV producer responsible for The Six Million Dollar Man and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, but I assume that is a coincidence).

All three of these characters contribute extensive prose monologues, whereas Tamara’s inner thoughts are revealed only partially through excerpts from a vacuous column she writes for a newspaper (none of which we see whole). A wide range of other devices is used to convey information alongside the conventional comic strip sections: magazine articles, e-mails, texts, mobile phone photos ... All are seamlessly integrated, helped by the compatibility of clear bodytype and Simmonds’ meticulous hand-lettering and her calm, measured compositions and fluid lines. Even effects such as blurring out text have been achieved without the jarringly different style that would be produced by recourse to easy Photoshop filters. Simmonds is able to deploy complicated layouts using these diverse elements on the broader-than-usual pages without creating confusion about what to read next. (Gemma Bovery was on narrower-than-usual pages, each being the product of the column widths in The Guardian newspaper in which the stories were originally serialised.)

Throughout, Simmonds displays her familiar virtues: sharp observation, impeccable draughtsmanship, a rare ability to convey character though the details of expression and dress, speech pattern and body language. The plot is meticulously constructed and paced. I have mentioned before, though, that while I admire Simmonds’s craft, I am often left cold by her subject matter.

And Tamara Drewe is, like Gemma Bovery, a tale of the privileged urban English engaging in adultery in what they hope to be a rural idyll. But Tamara Drewe broadens the social perspective by drawing in a group of local teenagers with nothing to do all day but hang around in bus shelters and throw eggs at passing cars. It can be hard to sympathise with the self-destructive self-absorption of the more familiar middle-class characters here, but the way that boredom and romantic fantasy play out for their younger, poorer, less experienced counterparts is much more affecting.

The later, humane stuff. And still funny.

Tuesday 11 December 2007

Graveyard of Lost Posts

While you’ve been looking at a static, un-updated blog, I’ve been filling my hard drive with unuseable posts.

There were several attempts to review recent comics (such as the Hibernia reprint of The Thirteenth Floor, written by John Wagner and Alan Grant and drawn by José Ortiz, above), but there wasn’t really anything interesting or amusing that I wanted to say about them.

There was my attempt, sparked by a remark by John Sutherland to the effect that the price of hardback novels had remained constant as a share of average income throughout the twentieth century, to see if the same was true of The Dandy over its seventy-year life. But while my rough calculations suggested that 2d (old pence – 240 of them to the pound) in 1937 was indeed about the same proportion of weekly GDP per head as £1.99 is now, that post fell apart when I realised that The Dandy now only comes out every two weeks, and is, for the first time, a different price from The Beano (95p), so I wasn't comparing like for like. In any case, I was unsure about the figures I was using for GDP, as national accounts data only began to be collected the way they are now after World War Two, and for population, as neither 1937 nor 2007 was a census year. And I couldn’t find the exact quotation from John Sutherland, either. Fell at three successive fences, that one.

And there was the humorous post, attempting to link this poll, showing that a quarter of Britons could not name Bethlehem as Jesus’s birthplace, with Cat Sullivan’s “Merry Xmas, Jesus” strip in the new issue of Viz (no 171, Christmas 2007, below). Maybe include some sarky remark about how “don’t know” was actually the most accurate answer, given that the whole Bethlehem story is such an obvious and clumsy ret-con. But I couldn’t make it sing.

And then there was the self-pitying post about how I couldn’t write any good posts this last week. Just be thankful I spared you that one.

Oh … Right.

Anyway, a review of Tamara Drewe should be along shortly. I’ve got things to say about it. Interesting or amusing things? You’ll have to be the judge.

Monday 3 December 2007

The Indy Dandy

The first issue of The Dandy was published a little over 70 years ago, cover-dated 4 December 1937. To mark the anniversary, publisher DC Thomson has provided UK newspaper The Independent with a history in comics form of The Dandy and its younger sibling, The Beano.

I couldn’t find this on The Indy’s web-site, so here are scans. Click to enlarge, of course.

It’s good to see that Dudley D Watkins, Davey Law, Leo Baxendale and Ken Reid (and The Dandy’s first editor, Albert Barnes, for that matter), are all credited. It’s a pity, though, that the people who wrote and drew this particular strip are left anonymous.

Update, 11 December Lew Stringer identifies the artist on the anniversary strip as Ken Harrison.

Sunday 2 December 2007

Butterflies (or “Gad! I actually agree with Geoff Johns!”)

Here’s Geoff Johns, interviewed for Newsarama, May 2007, about the 52 parallel worlds just unveiled at the end of the story of 52.

"Right now, they're just out there. 52 earths. That's all. And you'll start to see them here or there, but the goal really is, like the end of the issue said, 'It's a world full of possibilities.' We don't want any rules on our stories. So let's be able to tell stories of all sorts of different things."

DC Comics has decided to list them instead, also on Newsarama.

DC editorial: where they believe that butterflies are much prettier after they’ve been gassed and pinned to a board.

Doom Patrol “The House That Jack Built” by Grant “And no crossovers! Each of the parallel universes should exist in its own separate stream with no contact from the others…” Morrison (writer), Richard Case (penciller), Scott Hanna (inker) and John Workman (letterer), Doom Patrol Issue 24, July 1989, reprinted in Doom Patrol: Crawling from the Wreckage, DC Comics, 2004

Saturday 1 December 2007

Review: Angel – After the Fall

Angel: After the Fall Issue 1, “After the Fall” Chapter 1, plotted by Joss Whedon and Brian Lynch, scripted by Brian Lynch, illustrated by Franco Urru, coloured by Ilaria Traversi, lettered by Robbie Robbins, edited by Chris Ryall, cover by Tony Harris, 27 pages of comics, IDW Publishing, November 2007, US$3.99

It’s probably unfair to reach judgements after just one issue, but it’s still harder to resist the temptation to compare IDW’s new Angel series, After the Fall, the first to show us what Joss Whedon thinks happened after the end of his TV series, with Dark Horse’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 8: The Long Way Home, which did the same for its big sister (and which I rather liked).

And the similarities are striking.

First, there is a shift of scale and setting to something that could not be managed on a TV budget. Buffy is now leading an army of slayers based in a Scottish castle; Angel is riding a dragon over a Los Angeles that has been sucked into Hell.

Second, there is an excess of recurring characters and a reluctance to move on from those already left behind. So, in the last TV episode, Wesley Wyndham-Price was killed as decisively as any character could be. He’s back here, admittedly as a ghost, but with more dialogue than pretty much anyone else. Gunn is back too. And we get Connor. And Electro-Gwen. And Angel’s werewolf girlfriend. And Wolfram & Hart. True, Spike is being held back for next issue, and Illyria and Harmony haven’t turned up yet, but that may just mirror the structure of The Long Way Home, in which Giles and Willow only appeared in later issues. It’s odd that a professional writer should seem to be writing fan fiction about his own creations, but then Joss Whedon often comes across as his own biggest fan (if we discount the outright certifiable).

Third, like Buffy, Angel seems now to have discarded the idea of an overarching metaphor. This is a particular shame in Angel’s case, as it was only in its last season on TV that it settled upon a satisfactory approach, using supernatural stories to address the compromises of adult working life.

But alongside these similarities are major differences in the level of craft on display.

The big change from Buffy is that the Angel comic only has Whedon as a co-plotter. He shares the plot with Brian Lynch, who also writes the script. Lynch gives us page after page of macho posturing and dull threats, with only a smattering of wit. Odd touches of quirky originality – a telepathic fish, apparently carried over from Lynch’s earlier Spike comic – are counterbalanced by such tired clichés as a harem of women in chains and a group of men forced to fight as gladiators. Lynch is a television writer by trade, but, unlike his colleague, he does not seem yet to have mastered writing in his new medium. It’s often unclear who is providing the first-person narrative caption boxes, for example, and their relationship to the pictures is unsteady, neither juxtaposed nor properly supportive. The shock ending is undermined as much by bathetic final words as by the difficulty of recognising the character in the last panel (it took me two reads, and I am not the most casual and inattentive of readers. Perhaps it would have helped if artist and colourist had followed the script’s hints about co-ordinated clothes).

Franco Urro’s artwork is often sketchy, but mostly serves the narrative, apart from a curious addiction to panels showing characters standing in straight lines left-to-right, looking out at the reader. Perhaps this is some sort of parodic reference to the “power shots” that always ended the TV show’s title sequences, but it is so artificial as to pull you right out of the story.

The big problem with the art – as has been the case on most IDW comics that I have seen, apart from those with colour art produced by Ben Templesmith – is the crude and muddy Photoshop colour and effects that quite overwhelm Urro’s already non-too-robust drawing. This seems to be a house style, so I am not inclined to blame Ilaria Traversi too much for it.

Altogether, not an inspiring start. I’ll give it another issue, but I remember watching the dismal, incoherent and leaden fourth television season of Angel (the one with Cordelia giving birth to an evil goddess) as the biggest act of misplaced loyalty to a TV show that I’ve committed since mid-1980s Doctor Who, so I am reluctant to repeat the mistake in comics.