Posts Tagged ‘Dave McCaig’

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One of the series, along with DMZ,  that made Brian Wood a “household name” among comic-book fans was his  Viking-era epic Northlanders, so when word got out that he was going to be returning to that same time period with his artistic collaborator from The Massive, Garry Brown, in tow, for a new book from Image called Black Road, folks — including yours truly — were pretty well stoked. Wood’s few carefully-chosen words on the (then-) forthcoming title indicated that it was going to be less a work of historically-plausible fiction and more just, well, completely made up, but no matter — if you feel the need to demand “accuracy” from your four-color “floppies” you’re about a hundred years too late, anyway.

Wood was going back to the proverbial well in terms of tone and temperament, to be sure, but the locales, personages, and even some of the timelines were going to be wholecloth inventions more concerned with storytelling expediency than they were with any vague notion of “realism,” and that’s not something that I, at least, have any particular “beef” with.

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Nor should you, if the semi-spectacular debut issue of this first “Magnus The Black Mystery” is any indication, the particulars of which can best be outlined as follows : in the Norwegian town of Iskfold in the year of who-the-hell-knows, a mercenary-for-hire named, as you may have already pieced together, Magnus Black accepts a perilous gig to accompany a Christian “holy” man to his destination that lies at the northern end of the dangerous and titular Black Road that runs along something called the Hammarusk Coast. The region is suffering under the iron fist of monotheistic conversion when our story opens, and Black himself, for reasons not yet entirely clear but suitably hinted at, is considering ditching the old gods of Odinism or Asatru, but isn’t entirely sure this new faith being forced upon his fellow Norsemen is much to his liking. The incoming spiritual regime, needless to say, isn’t necessarily keen on folks taking a “wait and see” approach to the “salvation” they’re “offering,” though, and so treachery abounds around every corner — heck, even the job Black has taken on doesn’t prove to be what he thought it was, as he’s actually been charged with protecting an entirely different (and perhaps more sympathetic) party altogether.

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The action in this opening chapter (titled “The Holy North”) moves at a nice clip, and Brown is a pro at delineating combat sequences, so that’s something to look forward to over the course of this title’s planned six-issue run (with further “mysteries” to follow should sales warrant it — and let’s hope they do, given that the recent Wood-scripted Rebels met a premature end at issue ten, and that his absolutely superb Starve is now slated to do likewise), as is his grim-n’-gritty depiction of both village and county life during what was undoubtedly a rugged at best/ vicious at worst time.  Colorist Dave McCaig is employing a limited yet highly effective palette to drive the point home in these pages, and so far the results — aside from an overly- abstract cover which I feel missed its mark by a rather wide margin — are bordering on the breathtaking.

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Now, maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but I still feel that “keep it simple” is solid advice when constructing a first issue, and that’s probably where Black Road #1 finds its greatest success (among a fairly healthy number to choose from). Wood gives us just enough information about each of his characters, puts them in peril precisely at the point where we know enough about them to genuinely give a fuck if they live or die, and then uses the end result of the dangerous predicament he’s foisted upon them to add further layers of intrigue to the proceedings rather than actually resolve anything. That’s good storytelling basics right there, that is, and should go some way towards insuring that the always-precarious sales drop between issues one and two of any and every given series is minimized. As a reader — generally speaking,at any rate — you want your first issues to give you reason to come back for the second, and this comic serves up plenty of ’em.

My advice, then, would be an unqualified “hop on board now.” Black Road doesn’t seem to have any particular ambitions beyond giving us an intelligent, reasonably thought-provoking story packed to the gills with lusciously moody and emotive artwork, but — oh, wait a second, that’s a pretty solid definition of what makes for a good comic right there, isn’t it? At this point I can probably just safely say “what more do you want?” and wrap this whole thing up, and so I shall!

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In case you haven’t been paying attention — can’t say I blame you for that — DC axed a slew of low-selling comics fairly recently and, rather than have the “New 52” become the “New 47” or whatever, quickly supplemented the ranks with several new monthly books, a staggering three of which are set in/spun out of (take your pick) the Batman corner of their corporate universe — even though the word “Batman” doesn’t feature in the titles of any of these series at all.

But is it really Batman per se that these new additions to the former National Periodical Publications’ line-up are tying into, or is it the new Batman-based TV show, Gotham?

Okay, fair enough, the latter wouldn’t exist without the former, but when you notice that two of these books — Gotham By Midnight and Gotham Academy — have the Gotham name, quite obviously, front and center, it seems like the powers that be at DC have, to borrow some nauseating business lingo, decided to “position” these titles in such a way that readers will associate them more with the Gotham City “brand” than the Batman “brand.”

Certainly, there are stories to be told in Gotham that don’t involve its most famous masked vigilante, and characters as far apart conceptually as Jack Kirby’s Demon and Metamorpho have called the city their home over the years, but dumping a trio of new books based there out on the market within the space of a couple of months of the TV show making its debut is, obviously, no mere coincidence.

What the hell, though, right? When was the last time either of “The Big Two” did anything that wasn’t  all about marketing and cashing in on a perceived “hot” property?

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In addition, strange as it sounds to hear — and believe me, it’s doubly strange to be saying it — DC appears to be willing to allow all three new comics to “break the mold” somewhat in terms of eschewing the dull “house style” of art so prevalent throughout much, if not all,  of the “New 52” line (think mid-’90s Wildstorm comics only with more established characters) and to also take a different approach tonally with the scripts for each series. I guess when you’ve got something like 20 “Bat-books” coming out every month, at least a few  of them can afford to be somewhat unique.

The best of the bunch, at least so far, was also the first one to hit the stands — Gotham Academy, a suitable-for-all-ages title that comes our way courtesy of co-writers Becky Cloonan (who also provides the variant covers for each issue) and Brenden Fletcher and artist Karl Kerschl (who is on main cover chores, as well). Also a key contributor to the overall aesthetic of the series in colorist Dave McCaig, whose computerized palette is being put to work here giving the panels a rather pleasing animation cel-type look.

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I’ve seen this comic described by other reviewers as being a “Hogwarts in Gotham,” and while that’s an understandable enough comparison, rest assured that the kids aren’t learning to fly on broomsticks or conjure rabbits out of hats. The curriculum, in fact, seems to be pretty standard stuff, if a bit overly-obsessed with local history, but rest assured, if such things are your cup of tea, that there is a dose of the supernatural to be found in the school’s infamous North Hall building, which appears to have a ghost in residence.

That’s only one of several mysteries to whet readers’ appetites, though, given that our main protagonist, a young girl named Olive Silverlock who’s attending the titular school thanks to a Wayne Foundation scholarship, seems to be rather full of secrets herself. Who is her oft-referred-to-but-never-seen mother (my money is on Silver St. Cloud)? Why is she so hesitant to talk about what she got up to over the summer? Why does Bruce Wayne (who speaks at a school assembly in the first issue and apparently was a student there at one time himself) know so darn much about her? Why is she trying to quietly break things off with her boyfriend, Kyle, even though she still seems to like him as much as ever? And, most importantly (and annoyingly) to her, why does Kyle’s kid sister — nicknamed Maps due to her love of and proficiency with, well, maps — follow her around like a shadow at all times?

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I won’t kid you — it’s been a long time since I was a teenager, and quite obviously I was never a teenage girl, but  Cloonan and Fletcher seem to nail it in terms of capturing Olive’s “inner voice” and matching it seamlessly with her outward actions. She’s a likable, interesting, and respectfully-portrayed young lady who, granted, looks to have a bit more “on her plate” than most kids her age, but in the end  istills mostly concerned/consumed with the same stuff we all were at that point in our lives — namely, finding out who she is and what sort of niche she’ll find in both her present environment and the world at large. We’re only two issues into things, but I already find myself looking forward to seeing what her creators have in store for her every month.

Frankly, for a fresh-out-of-the-gate series like this, that’s about the most you can ask for, along with nice art, which Gotham Academy certainly has, provided you don’t mind its somewhat “cartoony” look, which I find to be a breath of fresh air in comparison to the heavily formulaic, “cookie-cutter” look of most of its DC contemporaries.

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All in all, then, I think we’ve got ourselves a winner here. I’m fairly sure this book is designed from the outset to have a finite run, and that when Cloonan, Fletcher, and Kerschl have finished telling the story they’re looking to tell — however long that may take — it most likely won’t be handed over to another creative team to continue on ad infinitum. That’s cool with me, especially since the overall “vibe”  of this series, which feels very “contemporary teen-ager,” will no doubt date itself in a certain amount of time given how fast youth culture changes these days. For now, though, Gotham Academy seems well-realized indeed, and with a clear direction, purpose, and trajectory, so count me in for the forseeable future.