Scooby Apocalypse 2 (August 2016)

Scooby Apocalypse #2

It’s Aliens. Giffen and DeMatteis are doing “Serious Scooby-Doo Meets Aliens.” And it’s pretty good.

This issue has the gang trapped in an underground bunker where they have to crawl through the ceilings but avoid the monsters crawling through the ceilings. There’s a lot of emphasis on the humanity of the situation, but then there’s Porter’s art doing these exaggerated hero poses for the characters. What’s so strange is how little it has to do with Scooby-Doo. Giffen and DeMatteis have almost no interest in the dog (or his interactions with Shaggy). It’s not pop culture fulfillment, it’s a brand relaunch.

Hence the lack of Doo in the title?

It’s strongly plotted, great dialogue, excellent visual style. Scooby Apocalypse is great corporate product. It’s not sublime, but it’s great at what it’s trying to do. I just wonder how long Jim Lee, who’s credited with the concept, worked at it and whether or not he had help (or was filling a request from corporate).

CREDITS

Apocalypse Right Now!; writers, Keith Griffen and J.M. DeMatteis; artist, Howard Porter; colorist, Hi-Fi; letterer, Nick J. Napolitano; editors, Brittany Holzherr and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

Scooby Apocalypse 1 (July 2016)

Scooby: Apocalypse #1

I wouldn’t call Scooby: Apocalypse so much good as successful. It’s Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis doing a “grown-up” version of Scooby Doo, which isn’t something I would’ve thought there’d be an audience for but now I’m not so sure. All of Giffen and DeMatteis’s instincts when it comes to the characters are spot on. They’re “grown-up” and modernized but still annoying in the same ways.

And Howard Porter’s art is an interesting choice. Velma and Scooby are the most successful, with Daphne and Fred being somewhere in the more obvious realm and Shaggy being a riff on eighties Mike Grell Green Arrow for whatever reason. In look, not characterization. As far as characterization, it remains to be seen if Giffen and DeMatteis have arcs for the characters or just a lot of solid banter.

The story’s fine–it’s the team’s origin story, Scooby is a failed Army super-dog experiment, Daphne and Fred are lame TV journalists, Shaggy is Scooby’s hopefully stoned handler. I didn’t notice any bud though. If Giffen and DeMatteis can get away making Shaggy and Scooby actual stoners… well, it’d be funny.

Even though Porter’s visualizations of characters are sometimes weird, his art’s totally competent. He puts work into it and he does get how to pace out the script’s jokes.

It’s not a great comic, but it’s not a bad one at all.

CREDITS

Waiting for the End of the World; writers, Keith Griffen and J.M. DeMatteis; artist, Howard Porter; colorist, Hi-Fi; letterer, Nick J. Napolitano; editors, Brittany Holzherr and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

Fearful Symmetry: Kraven’s Last Hunt (October-November 1987)

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I remember when Kraven’s Last Hunt came out. I was eight or nine. Marvel advertised it something fantastic. I was a regular Spider-Man reader, but mostly from collections and it wasn’t like there were a lot of collections in the late eighties. Almost thirty years later and I still can’t think of a better Spider-Man story, not an eighties or later one.

J.M. DeMatteis writes Hunt for new and regular readers, which is in itself a little strange. When I think about eighties comics, Marvel and DC alike, it was always very hard to jump on. But in Hunt, Spider-Man had just gone through a lot of unusual publicity–he’d gotten married–and the story immediately follows the wedding. It was also a cross-over between the three Spider-Man books, which might have been a new thing? I can’t remember.

So, in other words, DeMatteis is working a lot on character. He’s introducing not just the guest stars–Vermin and Kraven–he’s also introducing the regular cast, as he needs them for this story. Peter and Mary Jane are going to have a very rough six issues and DeMatteis forecasts it. When it seems like he’s hit the limit on foreshadowing, he pushes further because he’s trying to make sure the reader knows what’s coming.

And the relationship with the reader is important. DeMatteis wants a lot of trust–he wants to jump around in place, he wants to use a whole bunch of narration–Kraven, Spider-Man, Mary Jane, Vermin–Last Hunt is ambitious. For an eighties Marvel comic, it’s through the roof ambitious, but it’s ambitious in general because DeMatteis is treating Spider-Man as the icon.

Even in the black costume, he’s an icon. I think he was just still wearing the black costume (and might eighty-six it as a direct result of this storyline), but DeMatteis uses it to establish what makes the character. It’s not hard to do a good Spider-Man story and it’s sometimes not even hard to do a better than good one, but it is hard to do an ambitious one.

DeMatteis succeeds in no small part thanks to Mike Zeck’s art. Last Hunt isn’t fantastical, it’s realistic, it’s depressing, it’s scary. DeMatteis and Zeck have a story about four people who are afraid, all the time, all to varying degrees. They’re afraid of themselves, of each other, of the world. It’s awesome.

I haven’t read the comic in ages; it holds up really well.

CREDITS

Writer, J.M. DeMatteis; penciller, Mike Zeck; inker, Bob McLeod; colorist, Janet Jackson; letterer, Rick Palmer; editors, Jim Salicrup and Tom DeFalco; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Moonshadow 4 (December 1994)

Moonshadow #4

This issue has Moonshadow and Ira getting forced into military service. It’s an intergalactic war, which gives Muth a lot of great stuff to draw. Moonshadow is conceptually low-tech and almost junky in how it shows extraterrestrial civilization, but Muth does find occasion for some really beautiful details. Space travel through individual bubbles, for example, is breathtaking.

DeMatteis has a lot about war, which he always tells from Moon’s romanticized point of view, even when Moon doesn’t think he’s being romantic. There’s a great little subplot for Ira too. DeMatteis tells it over a page or two–Moonshadow is told in summary, with short emphasized scenes. DeMatteis sometimes focuses these well, sometimes poorly. This issue he focuses them well throughout.

The most affecting part of the issue takes place in flashback, one of Moon’s mother’s memories. DeMatteis forces this flashback (as he does them all) but the content’s strong.

B+ 

CREDITS

The Crying of the Wind; writer, J.M. DeMatteis; artist, Jon J. Muth; letterer, Kevin Nowlan; editors, Shelly Bond, Laurie Sutton and Archie Goodwin; publisher, Vertigo.

Moonshadow 3 (November 1994)

Moonshadow #3

Things get a little too slow this issue, with Moon stuck in an asylum and Ira, his combination sidekick and antagonist, has to break him out. Why? Because Ira needs Moon to work odd jobs to support them. In the meantime, Moon has some encounters with his fellow inmates and there’s a lovely sequence when he plays the flute for them.

Muth’s art for that sequence is gorgeous. It flows, which is sort of strange, since the second half of the issue has a lot of action and a lot of examples of Muth not flowing. He does straight action scenes, very realistic painted panels. They’re technically good, but a little too static. It doesn’t help DeMatteis’s script kind of runs around in a circle too.

If there had been something along the way, something significant for Moon, it would’ve worked out a whole lot better. Instead, it’s gorgeous, troubled.

B 

CREDITS

The Crying of the Wind; writer, J.M. DeMatteis; artist, Jon J. Muth; letterer, Kevin Nowlan; editors, Shelly Bond, Laurie Sutton and Archie Goodwin; publisher, Vertigo.

Moonshadow 2 (October 1994)

Moonshadow #2

Moonshadow continues with DeMatteis going high sci-fi–Moon, his mother and his sidekick, Ira, investigating a desolate spacecraft–while also going absurdist humor. DeMatteis works emotion into both and one of the most startling things about the comic is how dark DeMatteis will take it. The humor and the fantasy never distract; in fact, DeMatteis uses them to amplify the importance of the emotional goings on.

It’s rather phenomenal. And very hard to take because DeMatteis doesn’t offer any relief. All the humor comes with the emotional weight.

Muth renders some fantastic visuals this issue, particularly with his mix of styles at the end. And his work on the spacecraft exploration is positively frightening. Even though Muth’s art often gets to be far more playful than the script, that element of dread still lurks. DeMatteis and Muth create beauty, hope, dread and fear and intricately tie them all together.

B+ 

CREDITS

A Very Uncomfortable Thing; writer, J.M. DeMatteis; artist, Jon J. Muth; letterer, Kevin Nowlan; editors, Shelly Bond, Laurie Sutton and Archie Goodwin; publisher, Vertigo.

Moonshadow 1 (September 1994)

Moonshadow #1

For Moonshadow, writer J.M. DeMatteis doesn’t shy away from showing off the comic’s sci-fi influences. There’s a little Douglas Adams, a little Kurt Vonnegut. But DeMatteis doesn’t rely on those nods to move the story along, they’re just around to make the reader feel comfortable.

This first issue introduces Moonshadow, a half-human boy being raised in an intergalactic zoo, and his supporting cast. There’s his mother, who was a hippie on Earth, their cat, Frodo, and then Moon’s de facto best friend, Ira. Ira’s a shaggy alien who looks like Cousin It from “The Addams Family.”

Not a lot happens in the first issue, just the setup–Moon, at twelve, ready to explore the universe–and a lot of good narration from DeMatteis and some beautiful art from Jon J. Muth. The comic moves deliberately and calmly, with DeMatteis carefully including some humor and Muth delivering gorgeous pages.

A- 

CREDITS

Songs of Happy Cheer; writer, J.M. DeMatteis; artist, Jon J. Muth; letterer, Kevin Nowlan; editors, Shelly Bond, Laurie Sutton and Archie Goodwin; publisher, Vertigo.

Justice League 3000 1 (February 2014)

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Being insincere and not funny are two things Justice League 3000 can’t handle. It’s a dumb idea–in the future, the Wonder Twins clone the Justice League so they can save the galaxy. Only there are problems. For example, Superman is a lot like the Giffen/DeMatteis Guy Gardner, only with some Ultimate Captain America thrown in. He and Batman threaten to kill each other every few panels. Then Batman quips about kryptonite.

3000 isn’t just not funny, it’s desperately not funny.

Keith Giffen gets a plotting credit, so he isn’t as responsible as J.M. DeMatteis, who scripts this terrible dialogue. He’s trying to surprise with the clones, which just makes things worse. Except not as bad as the Wonder Twins banter. Nothing is as bad as the Wonder Twins banter.

The Howard Porter art doesn’t fit the story and isn’t an original future design; clearly no one cares.

F 

CREDITS

Yesterday Lives!; writers, Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis; artist, Howard Porter; colorist, Hi-Fi Colour Design; letterer, Sal Cipriano; editors, Kyle Andrukiewicz and Joey Cavalieri; publisher, DC Comics.

Hero Squared X-tra Sized Special 1 (January 2005)

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Hero Squared is not high concept. Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis’s approach to it, however, is high concept. The plot’s simple–a Superman (and Captain Marvel) analog ends up in an alternate universe where Earth has no heroes (I think it’s Earth-3, pre-Crisis) and has to deal with his powerless alter ego. Oh, and the hero? He’s just a comic book hero on this Earth.

Except his powerless alter ego is a floundering, feckless twenty-something incapable of adult emotion. And the superhero? His entire universe has just been destroyed and he’s dealing with those events while trying to maintain the hero thing.

It’s excellent stuff. It’s a little awkward, pacing wise, since it’s a one shot, but Giffen and DeMatteis write fantastic dialogue; they establish their characters in two lines. Outstanding writing.

Joe Abraham’s art is mostly quite good, it’s sometimes off a little. But mostly good.

DC Retroactive: Justice League America – The ’90s 1 (October 2011)

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Bringing Giffen, DeMatteis and Maguire back for a “final” return to their Justice League works quite well. Even though DC’s historically challenged calling them an nineties team–weren’t they the quintessential eighties team?

The issue’s incredibly complex and layered–everyone gets a subplot, except Martian Manhunter, who just gets the unintentionally funny lines. Giffen and DeMatteis plot it like a sitcom episode. They have a couple running jokes; both work well. They’re even able to get all the foreshadowing the ominous future events to be amusing.

Maguire’s best work, besides being able to fit so many characters into panels, is his rendition of the drunken parademon whose presence kicks everything off. There’s just something stunning about a somewhat mystical character so realistically rendered.

All the dialogue is great, all the jokes connect. It’d be the best Retroactive title but its pedigree is too high to compare to the other ones.

CREDITS

Apokolips No!; writers, Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis; artist, Kevin Maguire; colorist, Rosemary Cheetham; letterer, Carlos M. Mangual; editors, Chynna Clugston Flores and Jim Chadwick; publisher, DC Comics.

Dark Horse Presents 2 (September 1986)

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Wow, does Chadwick ever try hard to be cute. His Concrete story this issue is a completely useless, inconsequential diversion… Maybe I’m missing the point. Maybe it’s supposed to be charming, but it just seems like he wastes a lot of energy. The art’s okay, Concrete being a really boring looking character but the desert setting is fine.

I certainly wish Chadwick was on Mindwalk, just because Emberlin is so weak. He’s got the occasionally well-designed panel, but the art tends to be broad or ugly. The broad stuff is fine, it just doesn’t look like he put in work. The ugly stuff… well, he put in work to no good effect. The script’s goofy in an annoying way.

Thankfully, DeMatteis and Badger’s Hellwalk, Inc. is fantastic. It’s this romantically involved detective couple who handle occult cases. DeMatteis grounds it in depressing and hopeful reality. A very nice closer.

CREDITS

Concrete, Under the Desert Stars; writer and artist, Paul Chadwick; letterer, Bill Spicer. Mindwalk, Crystal Vision; writer, Randy Stradley; art by Randy Emberlin; letterer, John Workman. Hellwalk, Inc., Cortege; writer, J.M. DeMatteis; artist and letterer, Mark Badger. Editor, Randy Stradley; publisher, Dark Horse Comics.

The Life and Times of Savior 28 5 (August 2009)

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Looks like DeMatteis has read some Alan Moore, doesn’t it?

In this issue, DeMatteis doesn’t just pull it off, he also reveals an unreliable narrator in Dennis, who’s apparently a psychotic anti-peacenik and has been for years. It adds some layers to him, since he’s really the least fleshed out character. He’s been too busy telling the reader what he thinks about Savior 28 to tell him or her anything about himself.

But some things come through the cracks, especially at the end. He becomes a hurt child.

Having such a dynamic finale, however, seems a wee contrived, since it leaves the series with a better memory than it earned throughout. All of the politics, in the end, were a McGuffin. It’s something else all of a sudden (not to mention the change of POV in the final pages).

It’s a success, but a machinated one, rather than organic.

B+ 

CREDITS

Day Of Drums; writer, J.M. DeMatteis; artist, Mike Cavallaro; colorist, Andrew Covalt; letterer, Neil Uyetake; editor, Scott Dunbier; publisher, IDW Publishing.

The Life and Times of Savior 28 4 (July 2009)

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You know the all-action issue, where it’s just a fight scene dragged out to twenty-four story pages? This issue of Savior 28 is a mostly-torture issue. I can’t remember much of what happens except the narrator–Dennis, the government stooge–and Savior 28 finally talk. But there’s the whole backstory thing still going on, with more of Savior 28’s history.

DeMatteis likes doing this revisionist look at superheroes–he did it with Hero Squared, only comedically–but the guy’s not a hack, he’s not piggy-backing on other people’s work (with Savior 28 being a Superman and Captain America amalgam), he’s commenting on the whole superhero comic book medium. These books are a lot like Grant Morrison trying to incorporate all elements of Batman’s history, or Superman’s, into the modern version. Except Savior 28 readers aren’t going to be mainstream readers.

I hope DeMatteis finishes well.

B 

CREDITS

Enemy Combatants; writer, J.M. DeMatteis; artist, Mike Cavallaro; colorist, Andrew Covalt; letterer, Neil Uyetake; editor, Scott Dunbier; publisher, IDW Publishing.

The Life and Times of Savior 28 3 (June 2009)

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It does seem a little like the comic everyone wants to write is the one where Superman goes batshit crazy and flips out. Mark Waid’s doing it now, DC kind of did it with Superboy, I can’t think of a Marvel example, but maybe the Sentry did it during “Civil War,” but doesn’t anyone remember Superman III? Savior 28 is really flashy, but it’s more “revisionist” than a Frank Miller book. It’s a depressingly stark look at superheroes; it’s a tad much.

While it’s a good book and I can’t wait to see what DeMatteis does in the final two issues, all this “grown-up” handling of superheroes sucks the wonderment out of the genre. Psychoanalyzing their hangups, et cetera, et cetera, it’s a whole new genre on its own.

But who wants only depressing, stark superhero books? Aren’t they still escapist entertainment?

(Sorry for not talking about this issue).

B- 

CREDITS

The Whole World is Watching; writer, J.M. DeMatteis; artist, Mike Cavallaro; colorist, Andrew Covalt; letterer, Neil Uyetake; editor, Scott Dunbier; publisher, IDW Publishing.

The Life and Times of Savior 28 2 (May 2009)

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Yeah, no, DeMatteis isn’t backing down. He’s got Dick Cheney killing Captain America here or Superman (or, what is it, Super-Soldier). It’s stunning, especially given how DeMatteis has got his ultra-liberal heroine (who’s been off panel so far, at least in a speaking role) and his narrator slash murderer slash Cheney flunky commenting on her not giving anyone slightly conservative any consideration (do they really deserve any?).

Obviously, by making the neo-cons the supervillains, DeMatteis is assuring no bigger publisher is going to pick this one up (I can’t believe IDW did, do they think they’re the new Avatar or something?) and, well, it’s a crazy mix. I mean, he’s got Savior 28 breaking up Secret Wars to tell everyone involved they need to stop being so full of shit.

It’s a hell of a comic. Not sure about it dramatically, but a hell of a comic.

B+ 

CREDITS

To Be or Not to Be; writer, J.M. DeMatteis; artist, Mike Cavallaro; colorist, Andrew Covalt; letterer, Neil Uyetake; editor, Scott Dunbier; publisher, IDW Publishing.

The Life and Times of Savior 28 1 (March 2009)

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Well, yeah, I didn’t see that ending coming.

Usually 9/11 shows up as a gut shot in comics–Ex Machina, Morales’s awesome Captain America run, Conway’s recent Animal Man–but DeMatteis brings it out here front and center. I have no idea where he’s going with it but it certainly seems a heck of a lot more thoughtful than some guy throwing a soda can at Spider-Man or whatever Marvel did.

Savior 28 is a strange book–Cavallaro’s style, particularly when he’s doing the drunken, downtrodden hero, is an odd fit. Cavallaro, broadly, reminds of Kirby or Infantino, which makes Savior 28 a Silver Age visualization of a very modern story.

It’s also got no laughs in it.

DeMatteis is good at laughs (he’s also good at other stuff, but laughs were his “strong suit”) and it’s a real departure from what I was expecting.

It’s very interesting.

B+ 

CREDITS

A Kind of Eulogy; writer, J.M. DeMatteis; artist, Mike Cavallaro; colorist, Andrew Covalt; letterer, Neil Uyetake; editors, Scott Dunbier and Chris Ryall; publisher, IDW Publishing.

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