Posts Tagged ‘Dan DiDio’

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Near as I can tell, 2017 looks like it’s gonna be a pretty rough year — what with an insane, mouth-foaming lunatic in the White House and everything — but on the plus side, it’s also the 100th anniversary of the birth of the greatest genius to ever grace the comic book medium with the fruits of his imagination, the one and only Jack Kirby. From all appearances, Marvel appears to be doing fuck-all to honor the man who created 90-plus% of the characters they’ve built a multi-billion-dollar empire off, but at least DC seems to be willing, perhaps even downright eager, to give “The King” his due, so kudos to them for that. First item up in the year-long celebration? Kamandi Challenge, a 12-part “round-robin”-style series that revives the old DC Challenge conceit of having a different creative team solve the “pickle” left for them by the previous one.

Truth be told, though, the rules of the DC Challenge were considerably more difficult — back then, writers and artists would lay down subplots and cliffhangers that the next folks had to solve using entirely different characters, while this time out, it’s strictly a cliffhanger-only affair and, of course, The Last Boy On Earth is the star of each and every issue. So, I mean, yeah — as far as “challenges” go, this one’s pretty easy. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t still be a hell of a lot of fun.

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DC co-head honcho Dan DiDio and veteran artist Keith Giffen get the ball rolling in this extra-sized first issue with a “prelude”-type story that sets the ground rules and provides a reasonably decent introduction of sorts to the characters, but before you all head for the hills, let’s remember that, for all his numerous and obvious flaws, DiDio is a massive Kirby fan and he and Giffen teamed up for an OMAC series in the early days of the “New 52” that was one of the best offerings that now-concluded (I guess?) revamp had to offer. DiDio also has at least a decent surface-level grasp of Kirby’s writing style and can turn in a respectable approximation of his absolutely unique dialogue, and Giffen, for his part, knows how to impart his illustrations with a certain amount of Kirby-esque dynamism and flair without being slavishly beholden to the idea of aping his style outright. All in all, then, the two of ’em do a more than adequate job of laying out the particulars here and then getting out of the way and letting post-catastrophe Earth take center stage.

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Enter scribe Dan Abnett, artist Dale Eaglesham, and colorist Hi-Fi, who bring us a brightly-hued, dare-I-say-magnificently flowing action spectacle that pits all the characters fans of the series love — Kamandi, Prince Tuftan, Doctor Canus, King Caesar, etc. — against all that the future world of intelligent animals and danger lurking around every corner has to offer, beginning with a fight to the finish against the giant ape, Tiny, and racing at breakneck pace from there to a less-than-imaginative, but staggeringly appropriate in its simplicity, “countdown clock” cliffhanger. Abnett’s dialogue is more than a  bit overly-expository by contemporary standards, but that’s all part of the fun as far as I’m concerned, and “fun” is definitely the operative word of the day here — a point driven home nearly relentlessly by Eaglesham’s gorgeously fluid art, which Abnett wisely allows to do the bulk of the storytelling. Does it “look like Kirby”? Hell no, but it fits Kirby’s world nicely, and besides, if straight-up homage is your bag, there’s always Bruce Timm’s splendid cover to make you (probably more than) happy. In short, I think that if “The King” himself took a look at this book, he’d be downright pleased to see what these guys have done with his characters and concepts.

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What if you’re a “Kamandi Virgin,” though? Hmmm — good question. I’ll be perfectly honest — longtime fans are probably bound to get much more enjoyment from this comic than newbies, but my best guess is that anyone and everyone, regardless of “experience level,” will find more than enough here to make the five bucks they plunked down for it seem like a fair trade. If “high adventure in a world gone mad” is a premise still capable of entertaining you, then Kamandi Challenge #1 is more or less stone-cold certain to be up your alley. It’s got highly likable characters in far-out and far-flung situations, cool monsters, and amazingly illustrated action, so I don’t care who you are — this is a comic that damn near forces a smile onto your face, and then dares you not to keep it there. Whether it can continue doing so is up to the creators that will be stepping up to the plate to handle future installments, but given that Peter J. Tomasi and Neal Adams are up next, something tells me it’s safe to assume that we’ll be in very good hands indeed.

So — how much did I love Kamandi Challenge #1? I’ll put it to you this way : Jack Kirby’s original Kamandi is quite possibly my favorite series of all time, and while this has absolutely no hope of supplanting of superseding that, it feels like a very worthy successor. Strap in for the duration, then — this promises to be an exhilarating ride.

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If you think I sounded like a pissed-off curmudgeon when I was ranting and raving about what DC did to Jack Kirby’s Darkseid and Desaad characters as part of the unfolding disaster that is their “Villains Month,” then you might want to skip what I have to say about what they’ve done to Steve Ditko’s Creeper, because at this point I’m positively livid.

We might as well be honest and admit that The Creeper’s origins as laid out by Ditko — ace TV reporter Jack Ryder goes to a Halloween costume party wearing some garish yellow-skinned, green-furred ensemble and ends up ingesting  a military super-secret formula designed to allow soldiers to stash their combat gear on a molecular level within their own bodies, thus bonding him with his crazy get-up and giving him the weirdest set of super powers ever devised at the same time (namely the ability to leap from building to building and laugh like a hyena that’s been hitting the nitrous tank) — but damn, at least it was a fun kind of nonsense.

The Creeper’s backstory circa 2013 is equally implausible, but damn, is it ever a drag. To sum things up quickly : he’s an ancient evil spirit from Japan that causes tornadoes and was banished to another dimension inside some mystical sword and got loose when tabloid TV journalist Jack Ryder got himself killed on the freighter ship the sword was being transported on. The “demon” (or whatever) then hitched a ride in Ryder’s animated corpse and now he goes around causing twisters and other natural disasters and then reports on ’em right away because he’s, naturally, the first member of the so-called “Fifth Estate” to be on the scene.

I suppose that comes in handy on slow news days, but damn, you’d think that it wouldn’t take too long for everybody to figure out that when Jack Ryder hits town, your best bet is to head for the hills pronto.

Anyway, that’s The Creeper #1 (or Justice League Dark #23.1 if we want to go by it’s quasi-official numbering) in a nutshell, and it’s even more excruciating to see played out over 20 pages than it is to read my slapdash plot recap, trust me. Veteran comics scribe Ann Nocenti does a competent enough job with the dialogue and pacing here, but the plot itself as laid out by — and here’s the problem — Dan DiDio is such a clusterfuck of bad ideas from start to finish that there’s not much anyone can do to save it, and the hastily-cobbled- together group of pencillers and inkers (the pencils being handled by something called ChrisCross with assistance from Fabrizio Fiorentino and Tom Derenick, with Derenick, Wayne Faucher, and Andy Owens providing the inks — don’t ask me who did which panels or pages specifically since I don’t know and don’t care, and neither will you should you ignore my advice and buy this thing anyway) are all uniformlyy non-descript and uninteresting, so that really doesn’t help matters much, either.

As with all this “Villains Month” crap so far, all The Creeper #1 manages to prove is that DC in its present creative death spiral can pretty much fuck up any given character, concept, or idea, and that a 3-D holographic cover is no substitute for even a halfway decent comic story.  Honestly, at this point I’m running out of  even semi-clever ways to say “avoid at all costs,” so I’ll just state it flat-out — avoid at all costs.