New Comics Wednesday

I got four.

Had lunch with a friend recently and afterwards went to a comic store with him. While nothing hit me on the the mainstream rack, the indies had me curious. So here, in no particular order, and possibly not as new as “this weeks long underwear books”, is a smattering of what caught my eye, and got me to purchase them.

Pope Hats #4,5– when I got home, I discovered I had issue 4 in my “stack”, so I read ‘em both. Hartley Lin, current master of short stories about everyday people with issues, goes with an anthology style of shorts in 4 with good results. A half a dozen quick narratives are the stomping ground, with a huge swath of characters and some poignant conclusions on them. While each has a distinctness of it’s own, it s in issue 5 where Lin lets his inner talents loose with a lengthy 60 page story all about his well realized Frances, a young lady who’s watched her bff/roomie move away for work, and now deals pretty much alone with her position as a law clerk at a huge firm. While I could say it’s a more complicated version of Betty and Veronica, the love he has for the fate of Frances is more than communicated with a warm, formal, cartooning style that nearly brought me to tears here more than once. I now love Frances, I just can’t help myself.

Black Hammer-Age of Doom #8– while I picked up this middle issue cold, I was still familiar enough with the concept and the group here enough to catch on to the endless reboot theme thats underlying here. While there’s not terribly much meat on this comic, Dean Ormstrom’s art carries it, along with just enough willingness on my behalf for patience to see where Jeff LeMire is going with this. On the edge of teetering from it’s own weighty premises, Black Hammer gives something for those too crazy or stupid to give up on superhero comics.

House Amok #5 – one of those favorite Vertigo replacement series from Black Crown, Chris Sebela manages to take a fast paced crazy family story with likable characters and just about kill all the momentum he built in the first four issues. Not the ending I wanted, but Shawn McManus’ great cartooning helps digesting this mess immensely. Decent first four issues, though, the train wreck that composes issue 5 kills it.

Lodger #2 – Another Black Crown book, noir styled authors Maria and David Lapham relate a story here about a nomadish guy that gets involved with certain peoples lives, mostly for a bad ending for them. Lapham’s experience with down trodden folks and a love for depicting real violence give this one a convincing tone, and makes me curious for another.

All in all, not bad. Makes me want to try it again sometime. The threat of walking into a comic series cold was balanced by enough talent, and for the exception of Black Hammer, the ability to read a copy of something and get a warm fuzzy feeling while experiencing comics again, enjoying the random issues.

Descender 4 (June 2015)

Descender #4

I’m not sure if I’m more on board Descender after this issue, which doesn’t reveal where Lemire’s going, but does show he’s got some actual ideas. Many of them are, as usual, familiar sci-fi tropes. He just arranges them a little better this issue.

And the story itself feels very comic book. Lemire puts the emphasis on the supporting players, mostly the ship captain, as well as pulling back and letting the reader see the familiar cast members in a new environment. Descender feels a little more solid.

So why aren’t I more excited about it? Because it’s still not clear Lemire’s got anywhere to take this story worth going and this issue features the first less than great Ngyuen art of the series. Where’s the art go wrong? The outer space stuff. Where’s Lemire taking the story? Outer space stuff.

The rest of the issue’s gorgeous.

Descender frustrates.

CREDITS

Tin Stars, Part Four; writer, Jeff Lemire; artist, Dustin Nguyen; letterer, Steve Wands; publisher, Image Comics.

Descender 3 (May 2015)

Descender #3

I want to be able to keep reading Descender, but I’m getting close to my limit. It’s just A.I. with some flourishes on it. It’s like someone tried to make a comic book sequel to A.I., only instead of taking its visual template, Nguyen is grabbing from Alien and Outland and other seventies to early eighties sci-fi.

This issue has robot Tim dying and going to robot purgatory, where all the souls of the robots from the alien invasion are living. Okay, maybe more A.I. mixed with one of the Ender’s Game sequels, suffice to say, Lemire doesn’t have anything original in this series. And maybe he’s not supposed to, maybe he’s just supposed to sell the option to Hollywood and the comic’s going to sell on Nguyen’s art.

After all, Lemire’s just unoriginal, it’s not bad.

But I don’t know if Nyugen’s art alone is worth the time.

CREDITS

Tin Stars, Part Three; writer, Jeff Lemire; artist, Dustin Nguyen; letterer, Steve Wands; publisher, Image Comics.

Descender 2 (April 2015)

Descender #2

Lemire sure does know his sci-fi–this issue of Descender continues the A.I. vibe while throwing in some Outland. He also knows how to go straight for the heartstrings, which he does with a bunch of flashbacks to Tim–21 (he’s the android protagonist) in happier days.

And Lemire does a good job with it. He can get away with almost anything with Nguyen’s art. Descender will always be worth looking at. Nguyen’s color washes give each page a distinct separate feel, even when the action continues between them. It’s a lovely comic.

This issue doesn’t do much to develop the world of the comic, just Tim–21. Lemire’s careful not to give the robot too many emotional observations (again, A.I.) and it’s unclear if he can get legs out of story with a purely sympathetic lead character.

But he’s off to an okay start. It’s gloriously manipulative stuff.

CREDITS

Tin Stars, Part Two; writer, Jeff Lemire; artist, Dustin Nguyen; letterer, Steve Wands; publisher, Image Comics.

Descender 1 (March 2015)

Descender #1

Descender isn’t the most original thing under the sun. It’s hard to read it and not be reminded of the Spielberg movie, A.I.. Writer Jeff Lemire borrows major android concepts, but apparently not a lot of emotional heft concepts, which is good. Because, even though it’s got a lot of problems, Descender is far more successful than A.I..

Dustin Nguyen’s art makes the comic. He does this watercolor-looking thing and it’s great. He still has detail in his panels; the painting style doesn’t overtake the lines. It’s fantastic looking.

And the story has some unexpected moments, but there’s a nice collaboration between Lemire and Nguyen going on. Like Nguyen’s got more detail than Lemire’s putting into the story. Even though the story’s somewhat predictable and the details are mostly bland sci-fi things, the comic engages. Nguyen’s art is the right mix of mainstream and not to sell it.

CREDITS

Tin Stars, Part One; writer, Jeff Lemire; artist, Dustin Nguyen; letterer, Steve Wands; publisher, Image Comics.

Trillium 8 (June 2014)

Trillium #8

Lemire has a great device in this issue–lots of small panels full of conversation to show a rapid-fire exchange. Not sure if it's his own creation but it's a wonderful tool for pacing the reader while still having visually dynamic panels. They're just smaller panels.

The good composition and pacing continues until about halfway through the comic, when it all goes to pot.

Lemire goes for a really cheap ending to Trillium; really obvious, really self-indulgent (he changes styles at one point and I think photoshops in panels from earlier issues, regardless where the panels are from–he photoshops badly). The ending reveals how the series's pacing problems disabled it too much. The characters have changed too much, too quickly and the ending Lemire goes after needs a lot of thorough work.

Lemire ignores the series's finest qualities for its finish.

Oddly, I liked his art here more than anywhere else.

D 

CREDITS

Two Stars Become One; writer and artist, Jeff Lemire; colorists, José Villarrubia and Lemire; letterer, Carlos M. Mangual; editors, Sara Miller and Mark Doyle; publisher, Vertigo

Trillium 7 (May 2014)

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Until the hard cliffhanger, which is just too jarring both in the narrative and visually, Lemire finally gets back to fulfilling Trillium’s potential.

He makes a decision about his characters too. He’s been wishy-washy on assigning a protagonist lately–not just for issues, but for the whole series; letting his time and star crossed lovers share the position wasn’t working. He decides well.

What’s most impressive is how he lets himself go with the sci-fi spectacular visuals. Lemire’s been doing a lot with trying to dictate how the reader approaches the book (the vertically flipped pages, reading back to forth, practically choose your own adventure). This issue had grandiose visuals (many tying to previous issues’ imagery). It works beautifully without any artificial attempts to control how the reader digests it.

Lemire does well with the B plot too.

As far as penultimate issues go, this one’s outstanding.

A- 

CREDITS

All the Shadows Have Stars in Them…; writer and artist, Jeff Lemire; colorists, José Villarrubia and Lemire; letterer, Carlos M. Mangual; editors, Sara Miller and Mark Doyle; publisher, Vertigo.

Trillium 6 (April 2014)

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The pace is a mess. Lemire blows six pages or so on a flashback to Nika’s childhood. She’s the future lady, stuck in an alternate reality past–or who knows, maybe the whole thing has a different history and Lemire is just messing with the reader. But opening with a tragic flashback and burning about a third of the issue? And not giving Nika’s counterpart William a flashback? Padding.

There’s a lot of talking this issue, another sign of padding. The conversations are all about what a character’s going to do or what the character has just done. It’s not exactly a bridging issue because Lemire does take his characters on a journey… he just skips the most interesting part. He skips the journey.

Instead there’s talking.

There are also a lot of the flipped pages, which are losing their effectiveness.

Lemire’s winding Trillium up; shame the plotting isn’t holding.

B- 

CREDITS

Escape Velocity; writer and artist, Jeff Lemire; colorists, José Villarrubia and Lemire; letterer, Carlos M. Mangual; editors, Sara Miller and Mark Doyle; publisher, Vertigo.

Trillium 5 (February 2014)

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What a strange issue. Not because Lemire splits it between his two characters–literally, one gets the top, one gets the bottom, reversed so the reader goes through the comic twice. Rather because it’s just a bridging issue.

It’s a neat concept. Lemire throws the characters into each other’s lives and recreates the worlds around them to make it fit. For instance, the future girl is living in a post-World War I Britain where women are military officers and the men are the cannon fodder. Strangely the art in this part isn’t as thorough as in the guy’s future adventure.

Lemire has been pacing the series really well until this point, but the concept seems like it grabbed him and he forced the story to make it fit.

It’s good, to be sure, but it doesn’t go anywhere really. And the whole split issue design is cute but unnecessary.

B- 

CREDITS

Starcrossed; writer and artist, Jeff Lemire; colorists, José Villarrubia and Lemire; letterer, Carlos M. Mangual; editors, Sara Miller and Mark Doyle; publisher, Vertigo.

Trillium 4 (January 2014)

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I really hope DC didn’t cancel Trillium. The issue ends with a very final note, but Lemire is playing with time travel and black holes so hopefully it’s not some unannounced cancellation.

It’s a good issue, even if the finish is a little rushed. That rushed feeling again seems like Lemire wanted to get a few things done before he lost the series. Something about how the supporting casts resolve… it feels abbreviated and final.

Lemire gives somewhat equal time to both his future scientist and her past explorer love interest. Lemire never goes for the kiss; he moves around it in intense scenes, which is kind of nice. He also lets them have cultural arguments, also nice.

The art continues to underwhelm and the reveals are never particularly original, but the core relationship Lemire has between his time travelers keeps the book going.

I mean, if it isn’t canceled.

CREDITS

Entropy; writer and artist, Jeff Lemire; colorists, José Villarrubia and Lemire; letterer, Carlos M. Mangual; editors, Sara Miller and Mark Doyle; publisher, Vertigo.

Batman: Black and White 2 (December 2013)

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While Dan DiDio and J.G. Jones’s story is good–though Jones is a little static and one has to question whether Batman should really be allowing Man-Bat to eat people, even if they are really bad guys–it’s also the only decent story in the issue. The rest are atrocious.

Rafael Grampá, who has a very indie style until he apes Paul Pope’s Batman, does this terrible little story with the Joker and then a big reveal at the end. Awful narration.

Rafael Albuquerque does something similar, just without narration and it makes a little less sense. Batman in purgatory, confronting his past. Dumb final reveal, bad sting.

Then Jeff Lemire goes for the heavy narration too–about Thomas Wayne mostly–set against Alex Nino’s nearly incomprehensible action art.

The last story, with lovely Golden Age inspired art from Dave Bullock, has an idiotic script from Michael Uslan.

CREDITS

Manbat Out Of Hell; writer, Dan DiDio; artist, J.G. Jones; letterer, Travis Lanham. Into the Circle; writer and artist, Rafael Grampá; letterer, Steve Wands. A Place in Between; writer and artist, Rafael Albuquerque; letterer, Sal Cipriano. Winter’s End; writer, Jeff Lemire; artist, Alex Niño; letterer, Dezi Sienty. Silent Night… Unholy Night!; writer, Michael Uslan; artist and letterer, Dave Bullock. Editors, Camilla Zhang and Mark Chiarello; publisher, DC Comics.

Trillium 3 (December 2013)

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Lemire doesn’t put off today what he could do tomorrow with this issue. It’s not as much of a wow issue as the previous one and some of his composition choices aren’t the greatest, but it’s a good comic.

It’s an all action issue, with Nika the future girl trying to escape her “friends” to return to the temple where she traveled back in time and met Billy the explorer boy. Lemire gives them both some good scenes, but the future ones are so full of exposition the past ones come across a lot cleaner.

Even though they’re exposition heavy too. Just not overloaded.

There’s the sad moment when the future humans decide to exterminate the indigenous people on the planet. Lemire’s metaphor is a little heavy-handed; the comic overcomes it though.

Trillium has its problems, but Lemire is honest with his protagonists, which helps the issue a lot.

CREDITS

Telemetry; writer and artist, Jeff Lemire; colorists, José Villarrubia and Lemire; letterer, Carlos M. Mangual; editors, Sara Miller and Mark Doyle; publisher, Vertigo.

Trillium 2 (November 2013)

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The first issue of Trillium didn’t impress me much. I’m glad I stuck with it for the second. It’s an utterly charming little bit of comics, if Lemire can maintain the emotional quality of the finale… he’ll really have a nice series.

William, the British explorer, and Nika, the future diplomat (or whatever), try to communicate in the Amazon jungle in 1921. She doesn’t know where she is, he doesn’t know where she’s from–he’s actually got a crisis going on–and her universal translator doesn’t work. Lemire does a back and forth where they slowly start to understand each other, complete with some very cute coincidences as far as their impressions of one another.

For over half the comic, Lemire keeps up the back and forth. Then there’s the big communication scene, which he handles beautifully, and then the finale.

I feel bad I dismissed this one so soon.

CREDITS

Binary Systems; writer and artist, Jeff Lemire; colorists, José Villarrubia and Lemire; letterer, Carlos M. Mangual; editors, Sara Miller and Mark Doyle; publisher, Vertigo.

Trillium 1 (October 2013)

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Trillium might be a lot more innovative if it weren’t for, you know, Stargate.

Jeff Lemire starts out with some really boring sci-fi with a female scientist lead who is trying to stop the spread of a sentient virus. It’s unclear why a thinking disease would eradicate its possible hosts, but it’s an emergency.

She goes to meet with this alien race who have magic flowers to stop the disease. Only she ends up going through the aliens’ star gate to reach Earth in the past.

Lemire splits between the scientist and the explorer in the past. The past stuff is far better. Lemire writes exaggerated twenties dialogue a lot better than his future dialogue.

The art is gorgeous when Lemire’s not drawing people. He’s rough with all the people; it’s just not interesting. The sketchy, watercolor alien landscapes? Nice.

But Trillium’s a lot of work for nothing.

CREDITS

The Scientist/The Soldier; writer and artist, Jeff Lemire; colorists, José Villarrubia and Lemire; letterer, Carlos M. Mangual; editors, Sara Miller and Mark Doyle; publisher, Vertigo.

Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. 3 (January 2012)

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Lemire continues the uptick on Frankenstein, but it’s hard not to think it’d be better as a series of backups, not a feature title.

The format of the issue suggests chapters. For example, once the team gets done with one disaster, they talk a couple pages and have another disaster. The pacing would be perfect for an eight-page backup.

Besides the first few pages and the middle monster fight, the issue’s almost entirely exposition. The cast stands around and figures out what to do next. There’s bickering, joking and flirting and Lemire does it all pretty well.

It’s still unclear if we’re supposed to laugh at Frankenstein or support him. This issue he comes off a little like Peter Griffin from “Family Guy,” only right all the time.

Ponticelli is the key to Frankenstein‘s success though. His off-beat monster art makes the lengthy exposition scenes fun to read.

CREDITS

War of the Monsters, Part Three: The Titans of Monster Planet!; writer, Jeff Lemire; artist, Alberto Ponticelli; colorist, Jose Villarrubia; letterer, Pat Brosseau; editors, Kate Stewart and Joey Cavalieri; publisher, DC Comics.

Animal Man 3 (January 2012)

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Foreman shows why he belongs on Animal Man this issue. Not because he’s a great artist, but because he can draw disgusting things without making them discomforting.

It’s an all-action issue featuring Animal Man turning into a mutant thing and fighting other disgusting mutant things and… Okay, there’s not much content. However, it’s the first issue where I felt like I should stick with the comic.

Lemire has this one scene–Animal Man’s wife is bitching about the son’s bloody video game, then she herself starts playing it. It’s a tiny little thing, a subtle pin in a haystack of the obvious, but it shows some imagination on Lemire’s part.

Whether Lemire can synthesize subtle character detail and big, gooey action remains to be seen. And he’s a little cheap–the comic’s compelling because a four year old is in danger–but Animal Man is finally rising above mediocrity.

CREDITS

The Hunt, Part Three: Totems; writer, Jeff Lemire; artist, Travel Foreman; colorist, Lovern Kindzierski; letterer, Jared K. Fletcher; editors, Kate Stewart and Joey Cavalieri; publisher, DC Comics.

Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. 2 (December 2011)

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This issue’s actually pretty good. Frankenstein didn’t make much impression (I’d almost forgotten it exists) and I don’t know if this one really will either. It’s pretty good in the sense it’s wholly mediocre with some wit involved. Ponticelli’s art smoothes things along.

But the change is Lemire. He’s no longer introducing his derivative plot details and characters, he’s not even doing much with the titular Frankenstein. He’s concentrating on the supporting cast—the new DC Universe’s Creature Commandos—and it works a lot better for him.

There’s a long flashback explaining their origin, all from the fish-girl’s perspective (think DC can get Dark Horse to do a crossover date issue with her and Abe?). Lemire can’t quite make it compelling, but he doesn’t bore. And he gets in some good observations.

The banter between the Commandos works too.

Still, it’s definitely undecided if Lemire can make Frankenstein work.

CREDITS

War of the Monsters, Part Two: The Dissection of Nina Mazursky; writer, Jeff Lemire; artist, Alberto Ponticelli; colorist, Jose Villarrubia; letterer, Pat Brosseau; editors, Kate Stewart and Joey Cavalieri; publisher, DC Comics.

Animal Man 2 (December 2011)

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Lemire’s plot for Animal Man is far from original—I think the idea of a little girl controlling “the Red,” or flesh, is from Mark Millar and Brian K. Vaughan’s Swamp Thing, definitely Vaughan’s. And Lemire’s dialogue is occasionally weak between Buddy and his wife… but the issue’s still compelling.

Foreman is the wrong artist for it, because as Buddy starts getting weird looking, how are we supposed to be able to tell he’s any different from how Foreman usually draws him.

Still, this issue is a lot better than the first one suggests Lemire is capable of doing on the title. It’s mostly a suburban talking heads book and then it becomes a father-daughter story. The uncanny domestic situation takes up about half the issue—animals resurrected, neighbors deformed—and Lemire’s pacing of it is fantastic. It’s panicked and stressful and excellent.

Lemire’s starting to win me over.

CREDITS

The Hunt, Part Two: Maps; writer, Jeff Lemire; artist, Travel Foreman; colorist, Lovern Kindzierski; letterer, Jared K. Fletcher; editors, Kate Stewart and Joey Cavalieri; publisher, DC Comics.

Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. 1 (November 2011)

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I was expecting more from Alberto Ponticelli. The art’s good… but it’s hurried. I guess it’s hard to care when you’re on DC’s attempt to knock-off the Hellboy franchise.

Frankenstein is little more than recasting the Creature Commandos as B.P.R.D., only with Frankenstein’s Monster as Hellboy. It’s not a bad idea, it’s just totally unnecessary.

For his part, Jeff Lemire doesn’t do a terrible job writing. He doesn’t do a good job, just not a terrible one. Frankenstein is constantly referring to his creation and creator, which is supposed to interest the reader in his origins.

Instead, Lemire is obvious and the references are annoying.

But having Professor Bruttenholm decide he wants to run around like a mix of Hit-Girl and Harley Quinn? That bit’s funny.

Frankenstein at least appears, visually, to be amusing. Sadly, I doubt the writing will ever be amusing by itself.

CREDITS

War of the Monsters, Part One: Monster Town, USA; writer, Jeff Lemire; artist, Alberto Ponticelli; colorist, Jose Villarrubia; letterer, Pat Brosseau; editors, Kate Stewart and Joey Cavalieri; publisher, DC Comics.

Animal Man 1 (November 2011)

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If it weren’t for all the narration, Animal Man would be a lot better. Jeff Lemire’s narration for Buddy isn’t bad, it’s just too omnipresent. After a while, Lemire relies on it for everything.

The opening scene establishes Animal Man as a family drama–with appropriate comedic touches. Once Buddy’s solo though, Lemire goes self-aware, inwardly hip superhero who thinks in lengthy exposition. Maybe it’s because he gets Buddy alone and doesn’t know what to do.

The comic makes a good impression off the family scenes and Lemire’s reasonably solid writing quality. It isn’t sensational, but it’s not bad either. Lemire’s very safe with Animal Man.

He also has a good partner for staying safe in Travel Foreman. Foreman’s style for the book is indie mainstream superhero–he’s sparse in his lines, no shading, but still well-composed action scenes.

Animal Man probably won’t be special, just thoroughly readable.

CREDITS

The Hunt, Part One: Warning from the Red; writer, Jeff Lemire; penciller, Travel Foreman; inkers, Foreman and Dan Green; colorist, Lovern Kindzierski; letterer, Jared K. Fletcher; editors, Kate Stewart and Joey Cavalieri; publisher, DC Comics.

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