Monday, February 27, 2012

Five Comics Worth Reading - February 2012

At this point, having a comic book blogger tell you that you should give Archie Comics a second look because they’re doing some pretty remarkable and groundbreaking stuff is not the shocker it was a year ago (I already more or less did as much recently). However, just because it’s getting exposure is no reason not to talk about something good, and Archie is indeed something good right now. I’ve always appreciated the rock solid and consistent grasp of storytelling and characterization the folks from Riverdale have, but the material they’re producing right now is pretty bold and standout, not to mention something I can sink my teeth into as an adult while still recommending it to my sister who is a school teacher to give out in class. If you want to see issues like gay marriage or the economic crisis covered with intelligence and wit but also restraint and balance, Archie of all places is where you should be turning. Also, there are guest appearances from rock bands and parodies of movies; it’s like how Sesame Street got cool again, but more up my alley. I’ve been meaning to sample more of the line, such as the fairly acclaimed Life with Archie, but for now I’m recommending the titular flagship since that’s where my amigo Alex Segura’s recent “Archie Meets KISS” story just wrapped and where he’ll be tackling “Occupy Riverdale” in the coming months.

So perhaps you checked out the first three issues of Avenging Spider-Man because Joe Madureira made his return to comics, and likely you were not disappointed because Joe Mad has still got it and kicked some ass. However, while marveling (pun not intended) at Joe drawing eight zillion Moloids, you may have found yourself chuckling at Spidey’s banter even more than usual. You may also have been shocked at how much you were seeing J. Jonah Jameson as a complex character rather than just a gruff curmudgeon (but also still a gruff curmudgeon). You may further have empathized with The Mole Man, gasped when Red Hulk went down and marveled at Spider-Man’s solution to the whole conflict. All of these reactions came in large part thanks to writer Zeb Wells, who is indeed the goods. Peter Parker is fortunate enough (or as fortunate as comic characters can get given the high tragedy rate they suffer through more or less monthly) to be handled with regular love and care by the brilliant Dan Slott, but Zeb comes from another direction on this book, focusing exclusively thus far on the Spidey side of the equation, and with results I’m digging. It really clicked into place with me on issue #4, a standalone team-up with Hawkeye drawn by Greg Land, where Wells inverted the usual Spider-Man/anybody else dynamic by having Spidey as the frustratingly responsible one, and then nailing a core character trait of Clint Barton from an angle I’ve certainly never seen, and if it’s been done before surely not any better than this. Zeb Wells is a busy dude out in Hollywood who doesn’t get to write nearly enough comics, but when he does, you should rush to appreciate his twin barrels of genuinely hilarity and razor sharp grasp of what makes the characters he’s writing tick; that he’s currently on a book where he gets to play with the coolest heroes in the Marvel Universe while top notch artists draw them is the proverbial gravy sauce.

On a recent trip to Midtown Comics, I decided to put my money where my mouth was re: a claim I made recently in an Art Attack post that the covers for the new Extreme books were enough to entice me to check out at least one or two with no idea what I was buying—and I’m glad I did. I have no familiarity with the character Glory, either in her original or Alan Moore incarnations (are they the same?) and further had no knowledge of who Joe Keatinge and Ross Campbell were outside of names my more sophisticated comic reading friends drop when discussing folks good at writing and/or drawing. The story by Keatinge in the first issue (technically #23) is all over the place both in terms of chronology and focus, but while that can take me right out of some stories, here it was done wonderfully, as I felt immersed in a huge saga within 20 or so pages, getting glimpses of tons of stuff I knew a little about and want to learn more of, but also feeling like I got a good enough sense of this character and her world that I am invested in what comes next. Campbell’s art is wild and unique, certainly outside my normal comfort zone and I ate it up, man. Glory is terrifying in her proportions and the visual violence she reaps, but she’s also quite beautiful, both in the quiet moments and glimmering in the heat of battle. This is also a comic where I really noticed the colors, given how much white and grey there is so kudos to Shatia Hamilton for really making it stand out. Discovering new comic book universes where I’m a total neophyte but want to know more is one of my favorite things, so I’m quite pumped to be reading this book!

For the longest time I didn’t really “get” the New Mutants. Weaned on X-Force as I was, they were only ever the younger, wimpier, less cool versions of the characters I really liked to me, and Cannonball looked like a dork. I had no desire to read about that incarnation of my beloved team and even less to see them regress to that point. When Generation X and later the New X-Men came into being while X-Force quietly dissolved back into being reserve X-Men, the mutants I grew up loving seemed to suffer the same middle child syndrome as the original Teen Titans, just kind of hanging around in the background as less competent adults or out-of-place young people. It’s only recently that I’ve really started to appreciate through trades the endearing quirkiness of the original New Mutants—it helps that I’m not 12 years old and baffled by characters under 20 without earrings or leather jackets anymore—just in time for Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning to find a niche for the characters today. Having just departed my 20’s, I dig how DnA writes the original Muties as that drifting lost generation too old to live on Utopia with Cyclops and company but still too young to know quite what they’re doing with their lives. For a team that includes techno-organic aliens and other-dimensional doppelgangers, the New Mutants seem refreshingly “normal” amidst an X-Men Universe of the extraordinary (which I also love, but there’s room for chocolate as well as peanut butter; well, not for me, I’m lactose intolerant, but you get me). Tossing this weird yet relatable group up against gonzo threats like demonic metal bands or islands of monster birds plays the contrast beautifully, and the soap opera aspects are also finely tuned, feeling more Reality Bites than 90210, as befitting the protagonist demographic. With guys like David Lopez manning the art, New Mutants is also one of the prettiest book on the stands. And did I mention they had a whole issue that was Magma on a date with Mephisto and it was phenomenal? Mephisto truly is the most lovable character of 2012…

Ok, on the surface, Red Lanterns would seem to have a lot going against it for the discerning reader. There’s the pretty absurd violence level and the fact that most of the characters are literally vomiting up acid blood more often than not. There’s also the overblown sexualizing of many female figures in physically impossible poses. The book gives you plenty of reasons not to give it a shot, and nobody would blame you if you wanted to pass and try something else—I won’t—but if you do elect to sample Red Lantern, you may be surprised to find you enjoy it; I kinda was. It’s not a surprise that Peter Milligan can write a good series, but given the material of perpetually pissed off monsters whose personalities consist more of yelling than anything else, it’s pretty impressive how much depth he gives them. Without a traditional heroic lead, Milligan chooses instead to muse on the concept of rage and anger getting somewhat deep in the process, but never lapsing into boring. As the series has progressed, he’s gone a bit further and explored the gamut of emotions, how those that drive the Red Lanterns fit in the mix, and how they can be exploited. The power struggle between Atrocitus and Bleez is reminiscent of something you might see on Apokolips, and as the cast expands, the intrigue grows. Ed Benes’ art may not be for everybody, but you can’t deny it’s striking, and when it comes to designing or portraying out there beasts, his skills can shine quite nicely. So yeah, I didn’t think Red Lanterns would be a book I’d be championing six months in—and again, this is one of those “your mileage may vary” cases—but I do contend it’s worth a look if you’re even slightly curious.


Ritt Deitz said...

I'm not a comics fan, but boy did I love reading them as a kid. I have a blog about creativity and the humanities some of you may enjoy reading, and this morning's post is about my erstwhile cartoonish stepdad, with important references to Calvin and Hobbes...

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