Judge Dredd 1 (December 2015)

JudgeDredd_MC001_cvrJudge Dredd is a venerable British pop culture icon who’s only recently grabbed a toehold in American pop cultural consciousness. Doctor Who, another sci-fi icon as British as The East India Tea Company, has made far more progress towards American popularity. The two couldn’t be further apart in terms of personality, although the stewards behind both franchises have made worthy efforts over the decades to use the sci-fi genre as an exploratory tool for ideas and satire, in addition to being a platform for fantastical adventure. One entirely valid explanation for the disparity in popularity is that Dredd is an inimitable archetype while The Doctor is, superficially, more relatable to an audience despite his not being human. Dredd is both a hypermasculine power fantasy and self-reflexive critique of that fantasy’s fascist authoritarianism – not unlike the American film he inspired, Robocop, whose darkly humorous irony is also often lost on audiences taking the premise at face value.

Doctor Who, despite hefty volumes of back story across decades of adventures, is nonetheless what he appears to be: a nerd in a scarf. His cosplay won’t deplete your bank account, and his esoteric, extraterrestrial lack of communication skills are a gentle reassuring nod to the socially withdrawn. He is a genteel aspirational role model of science and justice, whereas Dredd is a living setup to rude and irreverent punchlines about how life in a dystopic future metropolis isn’t all that different from the present day.

The most significant cause of Doctor Who surpassing Judge Dredd in an American popularity contest, of course, is that today’s nerds have never been less likely to read a comic book. The BBC continues to produce Doctor Who shows. Dredd 3D tanked because 1995’s Judge Dredd was so bad that the stench lingered for almost 20 years. Word of mouth gave it enough of an American cult following that the character was no longer a joke, but short attention spans still dictate the consumption habits of geeks. If it’s not a TV series or movie franchise in 2015, it doesn’t exist. Witness the multitudes who’ve never read The Killing Joke blowing Heath Ledger’s mummified member, or the middle management drone who couldn’t tell you Judge Death from Judge Judy informing me that Dredd 3D “finally got it right.” I don’t expect people to pass some bullshit nerd test designed by the Eltingville Comic Book, Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Horror and Role-Playing Club before being allowed to have an opinion – but could everyone please stop pretending to be an informed longtime fan just to state that they enjoyed some recent movie or Netflix original series?

IDW, admirably, grabbed the post-Dredd surge of interest in the character with both fists, publishing Dredd artist collections, colorized reprints of classic stories like The Dark Judges and The Apocalpyse War, and most excitingly, a new regular title and various mini-series for the new American audience. The range of success has been inconsistent – Anderson, Psi-Division and Judge Dredd: Year One were forgettable, while Mega-City Two and Mars Attacks Judge Dredd were fun romps. The flagship series was a platform for selectively incorporating pieces of favorite storylines and characters, like Marvel’s “Ultimate” reboot, and maintained a fairy consistent level of quality across 30 issues from writer Duane Swierczynski and Nelson Daniel. Its only real shortcoming was the absence of variety in artists or writers that 2000 AD enjoyed; an unavoidable production difference between a weekly-produced strip and a monthly book.

When a series is relaunched, it’s sometimes hard to tell if the move is an act of desperation in the face of sluggish sales or affirmation in good faith of continued success – number one issues tend to sell well either way.

The all-new Judge Dredd 1 is a competently made, narratively risky point of entry for any new reader not already following IDW’s revival. It’s unclear if there’s meant to be continuity from the previous regular series (probably not) but it wouldn’t matter at the offset of this initial storyline anyways: Ulises Fariñas, the excellent illustrator of Mega-City Two and his co-writer Erick Freitas have gone all Crossed +100 on Dredd and flung him into the post-post-Apocalpse, a storyline entitled Mega-City Zero, where he finds himself at the moss covered remains of what might be the last Mega-Block on Earth. The concept is certainly intriguing, as is the business calculation that a casual fan of Dredd 3D will feel familiar enough with the character to begin investment in a story where he’s out of his element.

Or rather, it’s a refutation of what had to be a really underwhelming response to 2000 AD‘s own attempt to appeal to Dredd 3D fans directly.

The proposal is thoughtful insofar as Dredd 3D also stranded him without support from the Justice Department, though it also stands to reason that anyone picking up this comic in lieu of a Dredd 2 would want to see more of Mega-City One, rather than Dredd again bringing The Law to another block under control by a despotic ruler. Granted, the issue ends before any major antagonist is revealed, so it would be nice if the storyline isn’t as predictable as it seems. Anderson makes a pointless cameo at the beginning of the story, hopefully this tossed-off introduction isn’t solely so she can later save Dredd’s hash as she’s often done when Old Stony Face gets stranded in another time or dimension.

Plot aside, Fariñas & Freitas’ script has some nice contrast between Dredd’s by-the-book proceduralisms and the slang of the kid hoodlums he first encounters outside the perimeter of the lone Year Zero block. There are some world-building details in spite of the usual rules not applying – robot judges guard the block, humanoid animals are seen outside (the Mutant/mutie slur goes unuttered) and Dredd reviews the ammunition of his Lawgiver – as did Dredd 3D. I’m a little irritated that the trio of ragamuffin savages who are arrested by Dredd and thereby taken under his protection get almost as much of the spotlight as he does, in this new debut.

Dan McDaid’s art is less clean and precise than Nelson Daniel’s, which at least fits the grunginess of this particular story. The lack of detailing only really hurts peoples’ faces – it feels even sparser than Mega-City Two. His figure composition has a nice Mike McMahon-esque dynamism, including during the action sequences. Ryan Hill’s colors bring an appropriately lush earthiness to the outdoor meadows – I’d just like to know what their Mega-City One will look like.

The new Judge Dredd’s opening arc might not turn out to be the best initiation for new fans, but as Dredd adventures go, this one seems to have serviceable talent behind it.

CREDITS

Mega-City Zero: Part One, writers, Ulises Fariñas and Erick Freitas; artist, Dan McDaid; colorist, Ryan Hill, letterer, Chris Mowry; editor, Denton J. Tipton; publisher, IDW.

The New Deal (2015)

The New Deal

If it were still the nineties (or even the early 2000s), The New Deal would be the hot Vertigo book with TV or movie buzz. How could there not be? It’s perfect. It’s got two strong female protagonists and one lovable, but not dismissive, male protagonist. Creator Jonathan Case goes a little overboard with the celebrity name dropping, but he’s doing it affectionately.

And the idea of someone not caring about being directed by Orson Welles in 1936 is kind of awesome.

There’s a peculiar pace to the comic too. Dark Horse didn’t go with a limited series, even though the comic is split into four thirty-two page chapters, and it’s hard to say if Deal would read as well in multiple sittings. The art would still be fantastic, but Case employs a few too many red herrings. They’d get annoying stretched out over four months. Over forty minutes or so, however, the red herrings just become part of the comic’s texture.

The format also allows Case’s art room to breathe. He’s got a lot of detail in the setting, but he’s more interested in the characters and how they interact with one another. He paces out conversations beautifully. He never quite goes long enough to call it “talking heads,” either. And he manages a lot of visual expression humor in a realistic style.

Maybe I just want it to be a Vertigo series from twenty years ago because then it would definitely get another series. Case sets it up beautifully; it’s a complete change from the beginning of the comic, but an entirely reasonable resolution.

It’s an awesome book.

CREDITS

Writer and artist, Jonathan Case; editors, Spencer Cushing and Sierra Hahn; publisher, Dark Horse Comics.

Rocket Girl 7 (November 2015)

Rocket Girl #7

It’s probably too soon to say Rocket Girl is back. A lot of it seems back, whether it’s Reeder’s artwork (amazing as always, like Blade Runner meets The Rocketeer for kids), or just how much Montclare gives Dayoung to do. She’s the hero and she needs to be treated as such.

Once again, the comic toggles between past and future. Well, present (1985) and past (2025 or something). The future stuff really isn’t interesting. Montclare doesn’t give the teen detectives any character beyond playing with cop and young adult stereotypes. It feels like a lame cartoon.

But the past? The past is just amazing, at least this issue. One of the nicest textures of it is how Dayoung isn’t just stuck in a time before teen detectives, but she’s in a culture different from the reader as well. I’m not sure how well Montclare does with it (I wasn’t a teen of the eighties), but it reads fine. Though who knows how much Reeder’s art affects it. The comic wouldn’t work without her.

Rocket Girl needs her.

CREDITS

Now What?!; writer, Brandon Montclare; artist, Amy Reeder; publisher, Image Comics.

Johnny Red 1 (November 2015)

Johnny Red #1

I wonder how long Johnny Red is going to go. Unlike writer Garth Ennis’s usual war comics, he gives this one a modern-day frame and an American protagonist (in the modern day). I think Ennis used to give his historical series some kind of frame, but I haven’t seen one lately (or ever in War Stories), so it’s weird.

But Johnny Red isn’t just another war comic. It’s Ennis doing a relaunch, something he doesn’t do as often as one might think (especially lower profile).

On the art, Ennis has Keith Burns. It’s a fine pairing. Burns handles the larger than life aspects of the plot, but he also has extremely detailed, extremely realistic air battles. There’s an energy to Burns’s art, an enthusiasm to his lines. He’s excited about the contrast–the present-day settings, the flashbacks to the forties. Ennis puts those connections entirely on Burns this issue, comparing modern Russia to early Soviet.

There’s a lot of dialogue before the flashback too. Ennis has a good time with it. He’s practically breezy with Johnny Red; it’s serious, but somewhat removed thanks to the framing.

CREDITS

P7089; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Keith Burns; colorist, Jason Wordie; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Kristen Murray and Steve White; publisher, Titan Comics.

Birthright 12 (December 2015)

Birthright #12

Ah, a good old-fashioned subway fight. Not New York subway, Chicago subway. The setting should give Birthright some kind of distinction, but it doesn’t. In fact, there’s no distinct this issue, except maybe the first time I’ve seen Bressan rush through a scene so bad he loses his detail. The last seven or so pages feel like an entirely different artist, sort of aping Bressan’s style, but not really.

There’s also nothing special as far Williamson’s plotting. It’s sort of a bridging issue, but nothing happens. Just build-up for something later on, the good guys from Conan-land are going after Birthright’s “hero.” Hopefully his little big brother will stand up for him, but he’s asking questions too.

And the stuff with the mom and the now grown son’s pregnant girlfriend? The pregnant, flying warrior woman girlfriend? They get jumped by these bozo men in black guys. It’s really lame. It’s a weird issue.

I think I might be done with Birthright. I just can’t make the time.

CREDITS

Writer, Joshua Williamson; artist, Andrei Bressan; colorist, Adriano Lucas; letterer, Pat Brosseau; editors, Arielle Basich and Sean Mackiewicz; publisher, Image Comics.

The Comics Fondle Podcast | Episode 29

Sorry in advance for the audio troubles, folks. Vernon and I are trying to figure it out and we’re having separate technological failures concurrently. No fun. But eighty-four or so minutes of Comics Fondle goodness this episode.

These are the books we talk about.

  • Where Monsters Dwell
  • Johnny Red
  • War Stories
  • A Train Called Love
  • Black Magick
  • Lazarus
  • Fade Out
  • Velvet
  • Minimum Wage
  • Tokyo Ghost
  • Miracleman
  • Dark Corridor
  • I Hate Fairyland
  • Monstress
  • Birthright
  • Klaus
  • Manifest Destiny
  • Paper Girls
  • Pretty Deadly
  • Midnight Society
  • Rocket Girl
  • Twilight Children
  • Over the Garden Wall
  • Empowered
  • Mystery Girl
  • We Can Never Go Home
  • Ringside
  • Limbo
  • Humans
  • Dark Knight III
  • Providence

you can also subscribe on iTunes…

The Dark Knight III: The Master Race 1 (November 2016)

1500x1500_f7053631fab02ddb09c3e5e2680f91c2a783acc3d0f517464c4f38b4In December 2001, a follow-up to The Dark Knight Returns was a momentous occasion. Batman fandom was in hibernation. The character had been in the mainstream spotlight for a solid ten year epoch, starting with The Dark Knight Returns, continuing through the Burton movies, the animated series and finally flaming out with Batman & Robin. In hindsight it was a time of limbo between disinterest from the general public and the oncoming renewal of interest from an unholy collusion of bros and manboys in the form of sadistic video games and Christopher Nolan movies: Batman reinvented for the torture porn set.

At the time, it had been two years since Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and three months since September 11th. We not only needed the reassurance of our pop cultural icons, we needed reassurance that our pop cultural icons would not let us down again. Into this maelstrom returned Frank Miller, who’d made Batman grimdarknight forevermore in the pseudo-cyber, pseudo-punk decade of the 80s, that time which in 2001 hadn’t even yet been consummated (along with the 90s) as consumer pop culture’s halcyon era. Surely Frank would not, could not let us down. He would make – or rather, re-make (again) Bats and deliver the gut punch to the brain that The Dark Knight Returns had been to any young reader in 1986, or 1996, or even 2001.

Instead, The Dark Knight Strikes Again was a colorful, hyperkinetic pinball ride around the DCU. It’s “about” post-9/11 stuff, sure. The police state, terrorism, media schizophrenia – but in the abstract and without the specific real world references Miller used to address similar topics in 1986. Reagan, for example, was in The Dark Knight Returns, but Bush 2 was not in Dark Knight 2. The story was barely even about Batman: he and Carrie Kelly go around gathering up an all-star team-up of every retired superhero from The Atom to Plastic Man in a crusade against Lex Luthor and Brainiac. Meanwhile, Dick Grayson pretends to be the Joker to take revenge on Batman, a twist DC and Judd Winick obviously liked enough to rip off a few years later in Under the Red Hood. Caught up in the middle somewhere are Superman, Wonder Woman and their daughter Lara.

The story was a mess, but the art was pretty cool in a completely loose and crazy way, so jarringly different from The Dark Knight Returns that it was extremely difficult to appreciate at the time. Miller going wild with DC iconography, instead of telling a focused Batman story, was frustrating.

Another 15 years later we now have Dark Knight III. The phrase that became a franchise unto itself. The Dark Knight. The first Batman movie about something, for smart people. “‘The Dark Knight Returns’?” she asked me. “Don’t you mean ‘The Dark Knight Rises’?”. No, I began to explain, it’s a new animated movie based on a graphic novel from 1986…

Dark Knight III is still, at least, an event. An event for whomever so loves characters-appearing-in-publications-by-DC Comics enough to buy some of those publications, and perhaps be persuaded to shell out a little extra for some many dozens of variant covers. Really, it’s all a promotional expense to drum up enthusiasm for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Per that unspoken edict, the comic already feels like Dark Knight 2 redesigned by committee. Gone is the unhinged Frank Miller art and Lynne Varley colors, replaced with the clean modern pencils of Andy Kubert, and colors by Brad Anderson which resemble Dark Knight ’86. Gotham City’s skyline resembles the 80s near-future of Anton Furst, and on the very next page is the return of Commissioner Ellen Yindel. Ellen Yindel!! She wasn’t even in The Dark Knight Strikes Again. While Superman and Wonder Woman’s daughter Lara is back from Strikes Again, the otherwise total lack of continuity from The Master Race’s predecessor strongly suggests that Miller and co-writer Brian Azzarello were instructed by DC to work from the supposition that Strikes Again never happened. I’m shocked they even titled it numerically.

While Wonder Woman and Superman (who, not coincidentally, are both in Batman v. Superman) show up along with their daughter and even The Atom, Miller & Azzarello are already making it clear that this is a Batman story. The opening, narrated with text messages, shows him save a black kid from murderous cops (ooh, topical!) and by the end of the issue he is revealed as a she (ditto) – Carrie Kelly taking over as Batman for an apparently dead Bruce Wayne is the paint-by-numbers sequel people wanted in 2001.

The provocative subtitle was seemingly chosen to troll liberal-progressive fanboys still sore about Miller’s “Islamaphobic” Holy Terror graphic novel (which originally starred Batman) and anti-Occupy Wall Street comments of recent years. The Black Lives Matter theme is something of a curveball for everyone, but considering Lara wants The Atom’s help to big-ify the bottled city of Kandor it’s not hard to predict that “The Master Race” probably refers to how the Kandor-ites will regard themselves upon attaining human size, in yet another humdrum routine of the essential Batman vs. Superman conflict about human/superhuman power/responsibility. But we’ll see.

The only really intriguing and positive aspect of The Dark Knight III’s debut is that 15 pages of it are a mini-comic-within-a-comic, drawn by Miller himself, covering the scene wherein Lara brings Kandor to The Atom. Playing with the medium’s format is always good. Miller reigns in his art style to a conventional look compatible with Kubert’s, and he must really love The Atom because Strikes Again opened with a near-identical sequence of Carrie Kelly rescuing him from prison. It’s his own little nod to his own private Dark Knight Universe, and anyone who’s kept up with it.

Which isn’t easy. And only intermittently rewarding. Topical or not, “Book One” doesn’t immediately grab you the way The Dark Knight Returns does to this day, or even the way The Dark Knight Strikes Again did with its expectation-defying audaciousness. But he’s still got seven more issues to do something with old Bats even as inadvertently iconic as “I’m the Goddamn Batman.”

CREDITS

The Dark Knight III: The Master Race Book One; story, Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello; pencils, Andy Kubert and Frank Miller; inks, Klaus Janson; colorists, Brad Anderson and Alex Sinclair; letterer, Clem Robins; publisher, DC Comics.

A Train Called Love 3 (December 2015)

A Train Called Love #3

What is this comic book? Back in the nineties, did Garth Ennis really want to write a whacked out sitcom? A Train Called Love isn’t set in the nineties, of course, but it feels like it could be. There are just some technological alterations.

It’s a strange book from Ennis because it’s the first time I’m aware of him fully embracing his knowledge of pop culture. And he’s not doing pop culture references, he’s creating something in that vein. He’s showing up Kevin Smith, for example. He’s showing you can do these stories with the pop culture reference being transparent and all encompassing.

I really hope it works out. I can’t imagine it won’t. This issue, which has two outrageous things in both subplots–though to varying level of pressure–is a combination of inventive and, to some degree, realistically acceptable because of Ennis’s skill. But he does set up some characters for big changes.

This one had better go six issues.

CREDITS

What A Lady, What A Night; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Marc Dos Santos; colorist, Andrew Elder; letterer, Rob Steen; editor, Rachel Pinnelas; publisher, Dynamite Entertainment.

Pretty Deadly 6 (November 2015)

Pretty Deadly #6

I missed Pretty Deadly. I forgot what it was like to read a comic aware of its genre possibilities, acknowledging of them to some degree, but entirely disinterested in taking part. As a result, the comic is its own thing, something strange and ethereal and beautiful from DeConnick and Rios.

This issue definitely starts off a new arc, dealing with the descendants of the previous characters (set in World War I, at home and in France). DeConnick doesn’t introduce or reintroduce anyone (the text prologue has very little to do with the majority of the issue). Instead, it’s just time to read Pretty Deadly again.

The amount of work Rios and DeConnick put into the visual construction of the comic is reason alone to read it. It’s cohesive, yet full of little visual sequences–not subplots as much as narrative tangents–all with a mildly different approach.

DeConnick’s thoughtful, deliberate characterizations keep it from ever getting too hostile to distracted readers. Even though there’s a fantastical, dreary, magical world, because the characters are able to navigate it, so is the reader.

It’s great to have it back.

CREDITS

Writer, Kelly Sue DeConnick; artist, Emma Rios; colorist, Jordie Bellaire; letterer, Clayton Cowles; editor, Sigrid Ellis; publisher, Image Comics.

Letter 44 21 (November 2015)

Letter 44 #21

Even with a fill-in artist (Ryan Kelly), Soule sticks to the Letter 44 standards. It’s a flashback issue, so he does a couple characters. It’s Letter 44 so there’s a lame cliffhanger.

The series didn’t always have lame cliffhangers. It used to have characters. When it had characters, those cliffhangers worked. Though I don’t think this one would work regardless. It’s some painfully obvious lionizing of one of the characters. Of course, this character doesn’t appear in his own flashback–I’m not hiding the name, I just can’t remember it–until those last few, bad pages. Otherwise, it’s good. The whole issue’s pretty good.

Kelly’s art matches the book’s unfortunate, cartoonish style, but Kelly’s got his composition and depth figured out. There are detail problems, but no visual flow ones.

Besides the lionized guy, the other flashback is the mission astronomer. How did he get on the mission and so on. It’s interesting to compare to the army guy’s flashback because the latter is all about the recruiter, not the recruited. It’s a nice contrast and Soule takes them both seriously.

Clearly, Soule cares about Letter 44, which is what always makes it so frustrating when it never manages to boil above the mediocre level anymore.

CREDITS

Writer, Charles Soule; artist, Ryan Kelly; colorist, Dan Jackson; letterer, Crank!; editor, Robin Herrera; publisher, Oni Press.

Providence 6 (October 2015)

Providence #6

Moore is such a show-off. He really does manage to include the reader in the appreciation of his deft moves. It’s that eighties vibe. Look what we’re going to do, me by writing, you by reading. Moore makes Providence feel like he’s just coming up with it after every scene change. It’s stream of consciousness only it can’t be.

The main part of the story has some really creepy art from Burrows–after an awesome open with Robert in a presumably dangerous situation–as Robert reads. A lot of the comic is about someone reading. And the read material doesn’t factor in. It’s all about the visual pacing. Moore talks about the read material at length in the back matter, which works beautifully.

There’s a big awful, amazing scene in the last few pages. Robert finds out what’s going on. Some of it. Only it’s not the stuff the reader already knew about, the stuff Robert is too oblivious to notice. It’s big Providence stuff, showing Moore definitely has something in mind for the entire series.

It’s so good. Moore finds a way to make horror incredibly accessible, not too gory, and infinitely disturbing. With Burrows’s able assistance, of course.

CREDITS

Out of Time; writer, Alan Moore; artist, Jacen Burrows; colorist, Juan Rodriguez; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

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