Transformers vs. G.I. Joe: The Movie Adaptation is a comic book tie-in to the non-existant movie adaptation of writer and artist’s previous comic, Transformers vs. G.I. Joe. That series got long in the tooth for me. The “Movie Adaptation” doesn’t exactly. It’s hurried, nonsensical–like so many comic book movie adaptations of yore–but it’s got some great art and some amusing scenes. It’s probably for interested parties only; it’s too hurried with the art for it really to be a succulent visual reading experience.
Writer, artist, colorist, and letterer, Tom Scioli; editor, Carlos Guzman; publisher, IDW Publishing.
Lemire gets Hammer’s second storyline–with Black Hammer’s (the dead hero, not the comic itself) daughter showing up in the farm. There’s a lot of comedy, there’s a lot of tenderness (which Lemire and Ormston handle quite well), there’s a lot of flashback on Black Hammer. It’s a great issue with a way too effective soft cliffhanger. It’s like you’ve got an all-new series to read.
Writer, Jeff Lemire; artist, Dean Ormston; colorist, Dave Stewart; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Cardner Clark, Brendan Wright, and Daniel Chabon; publisher, Dark Horse Comics.
Another long stretch between episodes so we talk a lot for almost two hours.
We talk about these comics: Extremity, Redline, Royal City, Grass Kings, Crime Destroyer, Loose Ends, Flintstones, God Country, Nights Dominion, Rat Queens, Dead Inside, Empowered Soldier of Love, Cinema Purgatorio, Motor Crush, Lady Killer, Copperhead, Ether, War Stories, Slam, Supergirl Being Super, New Super Man, Lake of Fire, and Demonic. We also talk about a couple more, but we didn’t have them on the outline so I don’t remember.
Then we talk about superhero movies and TV and get somewhat dejected.
In his foreword, writer and publisher Bruce Jones talks about his goals for Somerset Holmes. It’s a lot of text and a lot of ego, but I think the point is he wanted to go to Hollywood and thanks to Brent Anderson’s amazing artwork, he was able to get there on Somerset Holmes. Though I’m sure, given the ego, there’s a lot about his writing and publishing.
And Jones isn’t wrong. Somerset Holmes is pretty awesome. It gets long in places, but once Jones has established his style–even if the comic is supposed to be cinematic, his narrative plotting is so episodic each episode has a different guest star, you can wait it out. You can just look at the art a little more. You can wonder who had the forethought to put the little bowl under the leaky stop valve in the scummy small town bar where the pig bartender wouldn’t lend the distressed lead a dime to make a phone call.
Because there’s always at least two things going on with Somerset Holmes–Anderson’s exceptionally thoughtful artwork; Jones might think it’s cinematic or whatever but it’s beyond cinema, it’s comics, it’s sight gags, it’s understanding how a reader processes information. And it’s raw. Anderson’s experimenting, often because Jones has such “movie” moments, so he has to change the visual tone immediately. It’s awesome.
The other thing always going on is how every guy in Somerset Holmes is kind of a complete scumbag. Or insane. Because the introduction of the book isn’t the eventual action thriller it becomes, it’s a psychological horror thriller. In the context of a comic book issue, it might seem a little less weird–Somerset Holmes originally had an Al Williamson serial backup, which maybe sort of could affect how the feature reads after a certain reveal–but in the Graphic Album? It’s relentless. Jones is positively cruel with how naively he portrays the protagonist; even her daredevil prowess, which saves her life multiple times, is derided. The supporting cast treats it like a disability. It’s heavy.
Because the book is called Somerset Holmes. Okay, it’s called Somerset Holmes: The Graphic Album, which is appropriate, because it’s see Brent Anderson draw Somerset Holmes. Occasionally too much of her because it’s an early eighties Bruce Jones production and there’s going to be some cheesecake only it gets to be a little much in the collected setting. Especially after the bisexual prostitute she ends up partnering with scopes her out. Somerset Holmes passes Bechdel with flying colors, only it then turns around to be really homophobic but in a “sexy” way since it’s ladies after all.
And then they walk some of that back and they get away with it because Brent Anderson. And also because, even though there are literally men speaking exposition all the time–some of it just dangerous nonsense (Somerset Holmes would be great if Jones weren’t just a pragmatic writer)–Jones does work on Somerset’s character development. It’s “on page” but it never gets the dialogue time it deserves because there are all these dudes explaining, lying, or apologizing. Usually the same dude. The sidekick.
Somerset. Okay. Let’s talk about Somerset first, then deal with the sidekick situation.
The comic opens with a woman getting hit by a car. She’s walking down the road, gets hit by a car. Beautiful art, setting expectations high for what Anderson is going to do. The comic becomes about whether or not it’s always going to look so amazing, as well as Somerset. The two things are tied, especially since Anderson is so careful with her presentation. She’s the visual star of the book, even when the dudes are talking. She’s navigating through their noise. And word balloons.
Over the course of the story, there are all sorts of revelations–including some where Jones doesn’t even slow down to look at the connotations (though it turns out the Graphic Album isn’t a full reprinting of the six issues, so maybe things got cut)–and it turns out Somerset’s a great protagonist. Jones basically uses her like a Technicolor Hitchcock damsel only she’s an active lead. She’s not waiting for her manly sidekick to rescue her, which is good for a couple reasons. He’s a dope and he also tries to rape her the first time they meet.
But in a playful, wrestling sort of way.
And I just now realized how gross it turns out to be when you factor in the later revelations. Jones’s lack of character continuity is a problem. It’s more a problem with his writing in general than anything in Somerset Holmes because to mess up Brett Anderson’s art on this book, you’d have to be intentionally malicious. And Jones isn’t malicious, he’s just not interested enough. Not in making the characters have internal logic, not in the flow of the story. Maybe it reads better in the floppies, but collected, it’s start and stop, start and stop.
But it doesn’t really matter, because Brett Anderson.
So the dude sidekick is a gross, rapist, early eighties cheeseball. Turns out he’s even worse. But he’s still her sidekick who ostensibly is helpful in Somerset’s attempts to find herself.
I forgot to mention she has amnesia, didn’t I? Sorry. She has amnesia.
The other sidekick, the bisexual prostitute turned Somerset stan–is so much better. Jones’s handling over everything is so exploitative, but it’s still better than “if she’s not wearing a wedding ring, she must want it” man. Somerset Holmes is kind of jaw dropping in how messed up it gets just because Jones is so disinterested in writing it well as opposed to packaging it right for Anderson. But the female sidekick is at least nice. She’s at least a nice character to have in the comic. Once she forces herself on a sleeping Somerset… well, okay. She at least apologizes. She gets a lot better after that turn. The dude sidekick just keeps explaining, lying, and apologizing.
So. It’s problematic. Somerset Holmes is a problematic, exceptional piece of work. Jones mixes a bunch of genre elements, bunch of genres, throws it all to Anderson, who makes that mess visually seamless. And, despite his other problems, Jones does give Anderson all the right material to make Somerset Holmes a captivating experience.
Writers, April Campbell, Brent Anderson, and Bruce Jones; artist, Anderson; colorists, Anderson and Joe Chiodo; letterers, Gary Cody and Ed King; editor, Campbell; publisher, Eclipse Books.
There’s nothing wrong with Crime Destroyer exactly. It’s set in the seventies, about a black Vietnam vet (and POW) turned crime fighter. He’s lost his family and he kills people and he’s a vet, so Punisher. He also swings around and has gadgets, so Batman. He bickers and fights with a Superman stand-in called Atlas before they team up and fight the real bad guys. It’s pretty fun to read, given the Herb Trimpe pencils, but Josh Bayer’s script sometimes gets in the way. It’s a thoughtful enough script, it’s just not significant. Crime Destroyer amuses thanks to Trimpe, nothing else. Except maybe Benjamin Marra’s inks. On Trimpe.
Human Sacrifice; writer and editor, Josh Bayer; penciller, Herb Trimpe; inker, Benjamin Marra; colorist, Alessandro Echevarria; letterer, Rick Parker; publisher, Fantagraphics Books.
I Hate Fairyland returns on a high point, with Skottie Young embracing the “done-in-one” narrative while still developing Gert a little. She has to progress towards something now without a question. It’s very interesting to see in comics–the meandering narrative–but Young nails it. The issue itself is fun without getting too gory. Young’s expanding Gert’s snark, which has consequences. It’s great to have it back.
Writer and artist, Skottie Young; colorist, Jean-Francois Bealieu; letterer, Nate Piekos; publisher, Image Comics.
It’s an unpleasant issue; well, it’s more rough than unpleasant. Bad things happening, page after page, as Arcudi moves Dead Inside towards its conclusion. And it’s hard to say where it’s going after this issue. Some really nice art Fejzula, some nice twists from Arcudi. Again, not reinventing the wheel, just solidly rolling it.
Writer, John Arcudi; artist, Toni Fejzula; colorist, André May; letterer, Joe Sabino; editors, Cardner Clark and Daniel Chabon; publisher, Dark Horse Comics.
Copperhead is back with a new artist, Drew Moss, who brings a lot of motion to the proceedings. The sheriff is running around town trying to figure out who killed the mayor, with a visitor in tow, and Moss really makes it move. Meanwhile, Boo’s got his own future to think about. It’s a quick read, but a solid one. Faerber’s comfortable, even after the hiatus.
Writer, Jay Faerber; artist, Drew Moss; colorist, Ron Riley; letterer, Thomas Mauer; publisher, Image Comics.
You know what happens to Motor Crush when Babs Tarr doesn’t get a lot to draw? It plods. This issue plods almost the entire way though, with Domino confronting her dad about her past and her dad storming off. She then pushes away the ex-girlfriend before robbing a rival gang of their speed drug. There’s a chase scene, but it’s complicated by Domino ripping off the drugs. The weak characterizations and scenes–and lack of Tarr dynamism–make this one a snoozer.
Demonic has enough ideas in it for another twelve issues. Writer Christopher Sebela has six issues and he pretty much gives every couple issues their own subplot. But that subplot is distinct not because of its content but because of how Sebela writes it, how artist Nico Walter visualizes it, or a combination of the two.
For instance, the first couple issues are about a cop and his demon, with a whole bunch of exposition from every single person in the issues. Everyone does an information dump every time they show up. Except Walter’s got this fast, rough pace and he keeps it going. While Sebela’s banter between protagonist Scott and the various women in his life–whether its his wife, partner, or internal demon–it’s always lame. Sebela seems to think Scott’s charming when he’s really just kind of annoying, which helps. Not caring about the protagonist too much when the writing is bumpy isn’t a bad thing, because then you fall back on the art and Walter delivers.
Demonic is a crazy book. The first couple issues look like a strange Cloak and Dagger take, with Scott’s vigilante gear basically Cloak but with Freddy Krueger gloves. And his demon is a busty blonde, at least until he feeds her enough souls and then she gets a scarier form. The first issue is so beautifully paced–even though Sebela is exposition heavy, Walter makes all that information dumping work–and the rest of the comic is just watching how Walter is going to handle the next thing and the next thing.
So after it’s Scott and his demon, it’s Scott the cop trying to bring down the cult who raised him and put a demon inside him (there aren’t any Rosemary’s Baby references, which is kind of disappointing, actually). Walter does great stuff with the investigating, counting little visual devices through from the first couple issues, just using them in different ways. Demonic develops visually, which is cool. Walter never disappoints. It’s always visceral, always affecting.
The last bit is a showdown with the cult. There’s other stuff, bringing back the demon–now no longer a busty blonde but a Gigeresque winged she-devil–resolving the subplot with the family, which gets a lot of initial attention but then just becomes a place for Sebela to do the same character development scenes over and over again.
It’s a cool book to read because of what Walter does with the art, but Demonic is decidedly pedestrian otherwise. Sebela can’t write villains–he couldn’t write that banter–he does a little better with the cult flashbacks, but he abandons them right after setting them up. He’s got zero insight into his protagonist, cult-surviving cop turned demonically fueled vigilante and bad husband Scott. Everyone else–except the wife, who has no character whatsoever even though she’s supposedly Scott’s confidant (there’s first person narration for a bit)–but everyone else gets these kitchen sink back stories in order to always give them something to do. So they can always be active.
It’s annoying as hell, frankly. Sebela isn’t interested in his characters, he’s interested in his plot, but he’s also interested in facilitating Walter’s art. There’s a certain mercenary selflessness to Sebela’s script, which is work for hire. Robert Kirkman and Mark Silvestri created Demonic, not Sebela and Walter. Crazy good art to get out of someone when it’s not their property.
Does the plot get Demonic through the six issues? Well, it definitely could’ve run five. Especially given how Sebela and Walter show off their summarization skills in the first issue. It doesn’t need six. Most of protagonist Scott’s stuff in the last couple issue is just being a bad family man, but in ways his wife just can’t understand are for her benefit. Lame character turns are worse than no character turns at all, but it fills the pages so Sebela goes for it.
The protagonist’s partner is a lazy device more than a character. There was an affair, but it’s now forgotten even though she still wants to make fun of the wife–because no one in Demonic is actually nice enough to care about. So she’s around to play a morality card, which Sebela never integrates well. There’s no question about Scott the vigilante’s morality. Sebela doesn’t chicken out of asking, it doesn’t even occur to him. It’s like everyone was waiting for a demonically powered Batman-type to appear.
Because they are. Because evil cults and science demons or whatever. The stuff Sebela never gets around to explaining. He overdoes every other explanation but never does the ones potentially interesting one. The cop stuff is background, which is actually a problem, but it still eventually gets smoothed out in exposition. Or Sebela’s equivalent of smoothing out in exposition. He’s not particularly good at it.
And talking heads isn’t Walter’s thing. He rushes to get through them. He needs movement. So, while Walter saves Demonic, he doesn’t really save Sebela’s writing. Not a lot of synchronicity on this one.
By the end, after Demonic has gotten more obvious than it needed to get, the book feels a little too light. Good ideas weakly executed. Bad ideas weakly executed too. The villain is incredibly lame. And the absence of the protagonist’s demon just causes more problems then having her absent solves. Demonic is rushed. Sebela does get a lot in, but it’s still overpacked and he’s still missing better opportunities along the way. It’s overwhelming how much ground situation there needs to be to get anything to make sense. None of the reveals are simple, but none of them are insightful or worthwhile either. Because there’s no one to care about. Not even the kid, because she’s basically being protected by a demon so she’s safe.
But it’s all about Walter’s art. The art’s where Demonic succeeds.
Writer, Christopher Sebela; artist, Niko Walter; colorist, Dan Brown; letterer, Sal Cipriano; editors, Arielle Basich and Sean Mackiewicz; publisher, Image Comics.
After the first issue, which ends on a reveal (of sorts), Jeff Lemire seems to be setting Royal City up as an American tragedy. The small American city losing its manufacturing power and so on and so on. The series will be the story of one extended family coping. There’s a thinly written harpy mom, an ambitious daughter, a deadbeat son, a successful white male novelist son, a suffering dad. Lemire’s got a solid visual pace for the comic, but so far there’s no meat on the story.
Writer and artist, Jeff Lemire; letterer, Steve Wands; publisher, Image Comics.
Extremity is about this other world of humans with flying motorcycles, medieval weaponry, and flying fortresses. I say other world because I don’t think it’s supposed to be Earth. It’s kind of grunge, auto shop fantasy. Decent art from Daniel Warren Johnson; his execution is better than his design. Similarly, the script is fine. It’s uninspired and obvious, but fine. Extremity has competence but nothing to impress.
Writer and artist, Daniel Warren Johnson; colorist, Mike Spicer; letterer, Rus Wooton; editors, Arielle Basich and Sean Mackiewicz; publisher, Image Comics.
It’s an okay issue, which–for Cinema Purgatorio–usually means there’s something lacking.
First, Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s feature is the history of Felix the Cat “creator” Pat Sullivan, who was a scumbag both professionally and personally. O’Neill does a fine job on the art, but Moore’s script feels like he’s just hitting various details.
Garth Ennis has a similar problem with Code Pru. There’s a long setup involving ghosts for a full page visual gag payoff. Fine art from Raulo Caceres; there’s just no depth.
Gabriel Andrade takes over the art on More Perfect Union. He does all right, though he’s a little too fixated on human character design and not enough on giant ant action. Though the Max Brooks script doesn’t really offer any good giant ant action, just boring giant ant action.
And Modded is a lot less annoying than usual, maybe because Kieron Gillen’s script goes for brevity. Nahuel Lopez’s art is awesome.
Finally, The Vast. Boring, poorly paced, but with excellent art from Andrade. Very different from his Union art; he puts time into Vast. The other was a rush. The Christos Gage script is all right, I suppose, just disposable.
When Cinema Purgatorio doesn’t have a great Moore and O’Neill feature, the whole issue feels a little too rote.
Cinema Purgatorio, And the Blackness Moved; writer, Alan Moore; artist, Kevin O’Neill. Code Pru, Somethin’ Weird, an’ It Don’t Look Good; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Raulo Caceres. A More Perfect Union; writer, Max Brooks; artist, Gabriel Andrade. Modded; writer, Kieron Gillen; artist, Nahuel Lopez. The Vast; writer, Christos Gage; artist, Andrade. Letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.
Lake of Fire is thoughtful high concept genre material. It dabbles in genre. It never really engages it. Writer (and colorist and letterer) Nathan Fairbairn does a lot more with the history aspect of Lake of Fire than anything else.
So, real quick. Lake of Fire is a story about some knights of the real history Albigensian Crusade (1209–29) who fight aliens. These aliens are bugs, which is gross, but gives Fairbairn and artist Matt Smith to do a queen. I mean, it’s not really an Aliens reference, but Lake of Fire is very much a product of pop culture. It’s just a really good way of being a pop culturally accessible product. Fairbairn leverages the history–which is kind of pitch perfect for being culturally relevant today, at least teasingly, because Fairbairn gets to have a female action hero. A historically accurate one.
But Fairbairn does still make a religious judgment. It’s very strange, because there’s a lot of obviously bad religious stuff. There’s an obnoxious, evil friar out to burn the female action hero–who’s even got a cool sounding name, Goodwoman Bernadette, and then a cool sounding title, prefect–and Lake of Fire sort of comes down in the middle between the theologies. And it never questions that center space. It’s just a comic about knights versus aliens; that absence is a simultaneously a subtle weakness for Fairbairn and a strength. His characterizations of his extremes are fantastic.
It’s just his “leads” who have problems. Maybe because no one is going to find them interesting. There’s either a slight hint of romantic interest or young French knights in the thirteenth century kissed each other’s cheeks. I don’t know. It’s actually kind of frustrating, because it’d change the story a little if there were some kind of romantic interest between the leads. Anyway, those leads are teenagers Theo and Hugh. Theo is a bland, blond rich hipster bro. And probably historically accurate (enough). He’s going to be a lord someday but he wants to be a knight before then so he runs off to join the Crusade. Hugh’s his sidekick. He’s the smart one, who sees the good in Theo where everyone else sees a callow fool.
Except they’re only the leads for the first half of the first issue of Lake of Fire. Once Goodwoman Bernadette and Baron Raymond Mondragon arrive, it’s basically over for Theo and Hugh. They’re still around, but they’ve lost all agency.
Baron Raymond Mondragon, besides sounding like a Bond villain when you type out the full name, is the jaded, drunken old Crusader who gets stuck babysitting Theo, Hugh, and the aforementioned friar. There are some more people on their field trip, but they’re inconsequential. Fairbairn uses the supporting cast mostly for texture. Texture and exposition. Textured exposition.
Mondragon’s an okay de facto protagonist. He starts out as a deglamorization of knighthood, then ends up being a relic–regardless of the theological dismissal, Fairbairn loves writing Goodwoman Bernadette, so there’s a lot of hard banter between the two characters. Baron Raymond Mondragon’s gritty, Goodwoman Bernadette’s pure, but they both know the aliens are the real enemy.
But, even with that double-sized, almost entirely expository first issue, Lake of Fire ends up being an action comic. It’s a knights versus alien bugs action comic. Smith does a great all action issue, he does all the talking heads with the same frantic energy though. The comic opens with spaceship meets medieval farmer and the first issue and a half have a very jaunty pacing. Fairbairn’s doing big repetition beats and it’s like Smith is just trying to keep things going smooth. It works out, it’s just a surprise when Smith finally gets to that smoother pace in the script and lets loose on his layouts. Smith loves expression and relies heavy on it to move between panels. It’s great; cinematic and detailed but still nimble thanks to cartoon influences. And those influences aren’t just in a lack of realism, it’s in how Smith composes those panels too. It’s awesome art.
The aliens are a red herring. Them being bugs is a bit of a red herring too. It could be considered a narrative shortcut, but Fairbairn really wants to keep things mysterious. The opening spaceship could’ve been cut and they easily would’ve gotten away with the “demons are actually aliens but the knights don’t know about spaceships” moment. Fairbairn’s got a good distance with the characters, but not as much with the reader. You lose the coy privilege when you do knights versus aliens, which Smith seems to get. Hence the inherently humorous, thoughtful, deliberate facial expressions.
And, to be fair–maybe Lake of Fire is meant more as a showcase for Matt Smith’s art. He gets top billing on the credits page (not the cover, but the credits page, which is more imposing).
Anyway, Smith makes Lake of Fire, but Fairbairn’s attention to historical detail and thoughtful application of it–along with the somewhat topical setting–makes it a lot more. Comics do these genre Blizzards better than any other medium, especially the historical ones.
Writers, Jason Kapalka and Nathan Fairbairn; artist, Matt Smith; colorist and letterer, Fairbairn; publisher, Image Comics.
It’s a great issue. The Flintstones’ housewares are in crisis because there’s a new bowling ball, there’s a new bowling ball because Fred got fired, Fred got fired because Mr. Slate found a new, pro-capitalism god. Russell finds the right balance between humor, social commentary, and Stone Age sitcom revisionism; Pugh’s art is, as always, pure delight.
A Basket of Disposables; writer, Mark Russell; artist, Steve Pugh; colorist, Chris Chuckry; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editors, Brittany Holzherr and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.
There’s something a little off about this issue. Tamaki does “teenage Kryptonian on Earth in hiding” action tragedy and kind of runs away from Kara. She’s in every scene–save the ominous teaser cliffhanger–but she’s not present. Tamaki is more comfortable writing her thinking about other people than herself. There’s still a lot of good stuff–and excellent art–but the script meanders and avoids.
Hold On!; writer, Mariko Tamaki; penciller, Joëlle Jones; inker, Sandu Florea; colorist, Kelly Fitzpatrick; letterer, Saida Temofonte; editors, Paul Kaminski and Andrew Marino; publisher, DC Comics.