Posts Tagged ‘jae lee’

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I know, I know — it’s a slow pitch right over the middle of the fucking plate. When a character like Dr. Herbert West, the Reanimator (or Re-Animator, as the film would have it) is brought back from cold storage, the headlines for a review are just too easy and too obvious — “Reanimating ‘Reanimator,'” “Back From The Dead,” “Dynamite Breathes New Life Into Cult Favorite ‘Reanimator,'””Herbert West — Reanimated!,” the list is endless. Honestly, I tried to come up with something a bit more original, but I’m not even sure it can be done.

Fortunately, the creative team for Dynamite’s new Reanimator ongoing monthly comic book series doesn’t seem to suffer from the same lack of creativity as yours truly. Writer Keith Davidsen and artist Randy Valiente jump right in head first, introducing us to new supporting player Susan Greene as she finds herself immediately out of her depth in a “drug deal gone bad” situation, only to be rescued, and then offered employment by, the not-so-good Dr. West himself, who quickly catches us up on what’s been happening  in his life — or maybe that should be lives, since our recap is an amalgamation of events  originally detailed by our guy Herb’s  creator, H.P. Lovecraft, then expounded upon cinematically by the trifecta of Jeffrey Combs, Stuart Gordon, and Brian Yuzna, and finally encompasses the works of various creators who have tried to get something going with the character in various and sundry licensed comics prior to this one — before our anti-heroes, along with a shambling undead sidekick known as The Valusian, find themselves smack dab in the middle of a war between rival New Orleans voodoo gangs. Throw in a bit of mystery surrounding the perhaps-not-so-accidental meeting of West and Greene in the first place, and what you have is breakneck-paced debut installment that never takes its foot off the gas and provides more smiles-per-page than any right-thinking person with even casual exposure to “spin-off” comics of days gone by would dare hope for.

Then again, Dynamite has been absolutely killing it with their Shaft series, so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that they appear to have assembled a group of creators (although I guess it’s only a “group” if we count the cover artists — yes, there are no fewer than 13 variants for this issue; I went with Jae Lee’s, as pictured at the top here) ready to knock this one out of the park, too.

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Valiente’s art style may be a bit more “cartoony” than hard-core horror fans would either hope for and/or expect, but seeing as how Davidsen is clearly taking his tonal cues for this book from Stuart Gordon’s film — which was at least as much a comedy as it was anything else — I think it fits perfectly, and everybody looks like real people, warts and all. It’s not super-stylistic and doesn’t dish up a tremendous amount of “eye candy,” but it certainly works, and has a kind of free-flowing dynamism to it that is actually quite engaging. For my part, I dug the look of this issue quite a bit.

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Still, I gotta say that it’s the story that really grabbed me the most. Davidsen, whose prior work I confess to being unfamiliar with, really nails it here, and most of the lines he feeds West are the sort you can clearly hear Jeffrey Combs delivering with relish. Overall the impression of the Reanimator that we’re left with is of a guy who’s obviously nuts, completely lacking in morals and ethics, and single-mindedly obsessive in his pursuit of less-than-noble goals — but he’s just so awkwardly charismatic that you can’t help but follow him wherever he’s going, even though you know it’s nowhere good. Bravo to our intrepid freelancer for a job very well done indeed.

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Die-hard Lovecraft fans should find plenty to like here, as well, seeing as how tantalizing hints are dropped that the larger Cthulhu mythos will be playing a significant role in the proceedings going forward, and while I don’t expect them to be dealt with in the same “high-brow” intellectual manner that we’ll no doubt be seeing in Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ forthcoming Providence series from Avatar Press, it’s a safe bet that Davidsen and Valiente won’t be playing it all strictly for laughs, either. There are some decidedly treacherous undercurrents in these waters, and we’re pretty much assured a bumpy, but ultimately pleasing, ride. I’ve seen enough already to convince me that it would be wise to stick around for the duration — and to hang on really tight.

 

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I’ll admit, I was as psyched as anyone when I heard that Dynamite Entertainment had acquired the rights to the dormant Gold Key characters, and that they were assembling an “all-star roster” of creators to helm the various titles they were planning — and I guess my inner nerd is still looking forward to the debuts of the new versions of Magnus, Robot Fighter and Doctor Solar — but if the premier  issue of the range’s first title, Turok:Dinosaur Hunter is any indication, we could be in for something of a bumpy ride here.

It’s not that writer Greg Pak and artist Mirko Colak have fired off an actively lousy opening salvo here, mind you, it’s just that — well, it’s hard to fathom exactly what’s going on in the book, and characterization is so minimal that we’re left to scratch our heads about why exactly we should even care. It’s a very scant piece of work, all in all, that drops us right into the middle of a situation with no backstory , and the skeletal plot is miles away from providing us with any reason to keep shelling out four bucks month after month to obtain answers to any and all of the questions that will inevitably arise when actual details are this absent from the proceedings.

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As near as I’m able to discern, here’s what’s happening : at some unknown point in the past, Turok finds himself on the outs from his unnamed Native American tribe for reasons that are entirely unspecified. Then some flying dinosaurs apparently known as “thunder lizards” attack and Turok has to decide whether or not to help out the very people that have banished him. Then real trouble arrives in the form of European settlers. The end.

I assure you, the actual issue itself doesn’t take much longer to read than that “quickie” synopsis did. I get that minimalist dialogue is a hallmark of just about any Greg Pak script, but come on. At least clue us in as to why our giving a shit matters.

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On the art front, Colak’s pencils and inks aren’t by any means bad, but there’s nothing too terribly special going to distinguish them from much of the bog-standard super-hero and action/adventure fare weighing down the shelves at your LCS. His works achieves the level of “competent enough” from the outset and never really rises above that throughout. It’s clean and reasonably sharp and easy enough, I suppose, on the eyes, but so is most of what’s out there these days. I believe “thoroughly uninspired” is a fair summation of the state of artistic affairs here.

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This being a Dynamite publication and all, 1,001 variant covers are the order of the day, and I’ve reproduced the ones done by Bart Sears, Jae Lee, Rob Liefeld, and Sean Chen, respectively, to give you some idea of the multitude you have to choose from, but then, I have to admit that I’d be hard-pressed to offer up any actual reason to buy even one of these, much less several. Turok:Dinosaur Hunter was a strictly “one and done” purchase on my part, unless some seriously positive buzz begins emanating from some other quarters about how good successive issues end up being. I’m not holding my breath.

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Maybe I’m just showing my age here, but the fact that we now seem to be entering into a phase where Marvel’s short-lived, ostensibly “mature” “Marvel Knights” imprint is looked back on with some sort of warm, nostalgic glow surprises me a bit. Not because the books that comprised the line were lousy (although some of them were), but because, well — it just doesn’t seem like they came out all that long ago.

Of course, for Marvel and their new corporate parent, Disney, it may as well have been a lifetime ago, as the current situation at the self-appointed “House Of Ideas” bears almost no resemblance whatsoever to the circumstances that prevailed back in the late 90s/early 2000s, when most of the “Knights” titles were released. Back then, Marvel was  just emerging from a richly-deserved bankruptcy and looking for any sort of toehold to remain relevant in the comics market. In short, they were throwing a lot of shit at the wall to see what would stick. Today, they’re primarily an instant-blockbuster-producing movie studio that keeps one finger in the comic pie just in case some hot new IP turns up there that they can screw its gullible, 25-year-old creators out of, but by and large there’s not much new happening on that front and they’re just continuing to strip-mine the wealth of characters and concepts created by Jack Kirby (like those we’re here to talk about today, The Inhumans — which were supposedly the brainchild of both Jack and Stan Lee, but you know who really did all the work and who filled in the largely-written-in-advance-by-the-artists word balloons) back in the 1960s for all they’re worth. “Marvel Knights” gave way to the so-called “Ultimate Universe,” which has in turn given way to “Marvel Now!,” but no matter how many times they re-launch and re-brand their line, the game remains the same — throw a slew of new “first issues” out there, wait a few years until sales numbers drop back to their previous levels, then reload and do it all over again.

Still, once in awhile a genuinely good comic does manage to sneak under the metaphorical lines set up by Marvel’s editorial department, and in 1998-99 writer Paul Jenkins and artist Jae Lee delivered one such product with their 12-issue Inhumans mini-series (note that I said “good,” not “great,” because this is a work that really does have some serious flaws, most noticeable of which is its full-time sullen attitude), which has now been semi-animated into the so-called “motion comics” format by Shout! Factory and released on DVD (although not, apparently, Blu-Ray, not that it would make much difference with a product of this nature) as part of their “Marvel Knights Animation” series. Even though it’s not, strictly, speaking, fully animated. But I digress.

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For those unfamiliar with the characters, which were developed as a race of super-being foils to occasionally interact ,as either friends and foes depending on the situation, with the Fantastic Four (although Kirby always had plans to  put them in a book of their own that he was going to write and draw, and those pipe dreams were scuttled at every turn), The Inhumans are a race of genetic mutations who all exhibit very unique and different powers and who live in isolation from the rest of humanity in their domed (and apparently mobile, as it’s managed to shuffle around to a lot of spots over the years, including an extended stay on the moon) city of Attilan. They’re led by their all-powerful king, Black Bolt, who remains silent by choice because one word from his mouth can literally destroy, apparently, all of creation, and he is, in turn, joined at the top of their society’s feudal power pyramid by his wife, Medusa, who has long, flowing manes of super-hair that move around of their own volition (typically used to snare bad guys, naturally); her sister, Crystal, who I think is some sort of telepath or other; an aloof “deep-thinker” type named Karnak, who serves as royal adviser; top military commander/general bad-ass Gorgon; a green, amphibious Merman named Triton; and Lockjaw, the royal family’s gigantic St. Bernard who’s gifted with the power of teleportation. Really.

Generally a fun and admittedly hokey bunch of cool Kirby characters, Jenkins’ script takes things in a considerably darker direction that exposes the ugly genetic caste system that prevails in Attilan (apparently at puberty all “gifted” teens are exposed to something called the Terrigen Mists, which function as something of a high-tech cocoon, unlocking and  enhancing their mutations and turning them into “new and improved” beings that are completely unrecognizable when compared to their “former” selves once they come out the other end, and those who turn out ugly or end up being endowed with abilities deemed rather limp by the more powerful and beautiful are immediately shunned) on the one hand  while testing the royal family’s leadership abilities on a couple of fronts, both from the “have-nots” within their own society who are burning with the fires of rebellion,  and from  the humans outside their dome who are shelling Attilan with every type of ordnance they’ve got, on the other. Both situations have been engineered, and are being manipulated by, Black Bolt’s evil brother, Maximus, who has designs on the throne he believes to rightly be his, but at his society’s hour of greatest peril, the king seems to be suffering from — how ’bout this — some sort of mid-life crisis. Which is kinda strange since it’s strongly hinted that he might very well be immortal, but there you have it.

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Jae Lee’s art is pretty cool in an angular, stylized sort of way — at this stage in his career he hadn’t yet developed the unbearably stiff and lifeless look that he employs today  and he wasn’t yet too lazy to draw backgrounds — and makes the transition to barely-animated form well, but the paucity of dialogue in Jenkins’ for-the-most-part-pretty-interesting script results in a choppy viewing experience, with most of the story’s 12 “chapters” running no more than 10 or 12 minutes before  we have to sit through the next set of closing-followed-by-opening credits all over again. The whole thing is barely over two hours long, so why they felt the need to segment it like this simply in order to strictly adhere to the comic’s format consisting of 12 separate issues is beyond me.

On the plus side, Shout! Factory has employed several different actors —of both genders — to voice the different parts (none of whom you’ve ever heard of, trust me, but that doesn’t matter much and most do a perfectly serviceable job), so unlike the Watchmen motion comic we took a look at on these virtual pages yesterday, you’re not stuck with one guy voicing every single character, even the women. This was released just this year while Watchmen was translated into “motion” almost five years ago, so I guess things have progressed somewhat. The widescreen picture and 5.1 sound are both terrific, as well, but be forewarned — turn your volume down about eight notches from its usual setting, because the sound levels on this thing are loud as fuck.

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The package is rounded off with a pretty solid little 30-minute “making of” featurette that splits its attention between Paul Jenkins talking about this series specifically and Marvel head honcho Joe Quesada talking about the inception of the entire “Knights” line in more general terms, but relevant  and interesting as this is, it’s admittedly not something that anything other than hard-core comics fans will probably find very involving. Which is fine, I guess, since hard-core fans are obviously the only people that are going to bother with the whole notion of “motion comics” in the first place. All in all, it’s fair to say that the same final verdict applies to Inhumans as it does to all these things — if you liked the book, you’ll like this fine, despite some hiccups in the translation to a new format, but you certainly don’t need to watch it — and if you’re unfamiliar with the so-called “source material,” then the — let’s face it — pointlessness of essentially shuffling the comic panels in a slide show in front of your face, while the story is read  aloud, is only amplified and echoed.

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Hmmm — maybe it’s just the so-called “soft tyranny of low expectations,” but the fact is that I wasn’t quite as offended by the sixth and final issue of Len Wein and Jae Lee’s Before Watchmen : Ozymandias  as I was expecting to be and it didn’t quite piss me off as much as the previous five had.

Oh, sure, it’s still more than fair to say that nothing actually happens here, and that we’re just spoon-fed a bunch of over-written flashback scenes that don’t even do much to flesh out events as initially presented by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons over a quarter-century ago — as a matter of fact, Wein even goes down the ultra-lazy route (one he’s traveled before) of including a scene previously written by Moore verbatim here (in this case it’s the Comedian’s famous late-night visit to Moloch’s apartment and it takes up two of this issues 23 story pages), which I hope resulted in a commensurate docking of his pay.

And Lee’s art still sucks, too — it’s as stiff, lifeless, and devoid of backgrounds as ever. How this book ever ended up getting behind schedule is beyond me, as his panels are the most basic thing you’ll ever see. His cover (as shown above) is decent enough as far as these things so, as is Ryan Sook’s variant (shown below), but honestly, where all the “ooh”ing and “aah”ing in fandom comes from in regards to the art on this series is absolutely beyond me.

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So, what did I actually like  about this concluding chapter? Well — nothing, I guess, but I actually don’t recall saying I liked  it, only that I didn’t actively dislike it as much as I had some prior installments. Look, Wein actually has Adrain Veidt say “heavy is the head that wears the crown” in this issue and seems to be writing the scene with a straight face! So, no, this isn’t a good comic. In fact, it’s a decidedly lousy, completely unnecessary one.

But hey — it’s not as lousy and completely unnecessary as parts one through five. The conversation Veidt has with writer Max Fisher, and the explanation Wein provides for the pretext under which he recruited the artists, writers, scientists, and other “visionaries” to work on his hidden island, are actually somewhat interesting — if not terribly surprising or imaginative. So this book has a couple of things going for it, I guess (sort of), and that’s more than you can say for the segments of the story which preceded it.

Yeah, I know — that’s definitely damning with faint praise.  It’s also the first and only praise I’ve had for this series — and since this is the final issue it’ll be the last, as well.

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Just when I’m starting to lighten up a bit on the entire Before Watchmen enterprise, along comes a one-two punch from Len Wein to fully hammer home this project’s essential pointlessness all over again. It’s honestly tough to pick which is a bigger gaping black hole of nothingness, script-wise — the Dollar Bill one-shot, which I savaged in an earlier review today, or the fifth installment of Wein and Jae Lee’s Ozymandias mini-series. I’m happy to call it a draw, bag and file both books away, and not think about either one ever again, thank you very much.

I know, I know — this is a review, so a plot recap of at least some sort is in order, but seriously : nothing fucking happens here. We continue with Adrain Veidt’s narrated recap of his life and exploits and more a little bit closer to and ending that was already given to us 25 years ago by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. That’s it, barring a couple of admittedly somewhat interesting wrinkles, the first being that we get to see the origin of Ozy’s genetically-engineered super-cat companion, Bubastis, and the second being that we get to see how a famous episode of The Outer Limits that Moore’s often been accused of cribbing his conclusion to the original Watchmen from actually fits into the so-called “smartest man on Earth”‘s master plan.

Apart from those quick little touches, this is a dull and lifeless affair, in terms both literary and artistic, from cover to cover. Hell, even the supposedly climactic scene where Veidt reveals the secret of his dual identity to the press — and, by extension, the world — seems to catch none of the assembled media throng by surprise. And while Wein is bombarding us with his by-now-standard purple prose that says a lot but communicates nothing of any actual value, Lee dishes up 22 pages of artwork that frankly fits the bill perfectly by again being all style and no substance. Once again his work is completely stiff and lifeless, devoid of backgrounds, and he resorts to mere shadow-outline images whenever and wherever possible. There’s no flow to any of it, and it would all work so much better as a text story with an accompanying illustration or two on each page, because as a sequential narrative the marriage of Wein’s words and Lee’s drawings is a complete failure.

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Hell, even the covers this time around — by Lee and Jill Thompson, respectively, as shown — suck. This series has been struggling to prove its relevance from the outset, and with its fifth issue, Before Watchmen :Ozymandias seems to have finally given up altogether and Wein and Lee seem happy to just cash their checks and run out the clock.

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Here we go again.

Len Wein and Jae Lee’s Before Watchmen : Ozymandias mini-series is getting so far beyond redundant at this point that I really ought to have my head examined for still buying it. Every issue more or less completely drops and/or disregards the various plot threads that had snuck their way in the last time around and swaps them out for another set of themes that are sure to ultimately go nowhere as well. You doubt me? Consider the evidence:

The first issue centers around a leaden retelling of Adrian Veidt’s past, then throws in a wrinkle about his girlfriend OD’ing on unnamed “drugs.” In issue two, Ozy sets out to KO the drug trade, then gets sidetracked into finding out what happened to long-lost mystery man Hooded Justice. In issue three, after tussling with the Comedian while looking for answers to HJ’s ultimate fate, the so-called “Smartest Man In The World” gives up that quest and begins obsessing over Dr. Manhattan instead — all of which brings us up to the current issue, which sees  Ozy drop his fixation on the big blue guy and instead go into service as an unofficial adviser to President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis before briefly turning his attention to finding out “Who Killed JFK?” after he’s assassinated and then taking notice of some new costumed vigilantes when they arrive on the scene, namely Rorschach and the Dan Dreiberg-model Nite Owl.

The entire by-the-numbers affair concludes with the iconic first meeting of the Crimebusters, which we’ve also (and already) seen “re-interpreted” from the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons original in the pages of  the Nite Owl and Silk Spectre books, as well, the key difference here being — it’s actually not “re-interpreted” at all, just fucking redrawn. Seriously. The last two pages of this book are a word-for-word cribbing of the scene as originally scripted by Moore, it’s just that Jae Lee’s drawing it this time.

And speaking of Jae Lee — his art is as stiff, lifeless, and frankly downright soul-less here as ever, even if his take on Nite Owl and his ship, Archie, is pretty darn cool-looking in the most strictly formal sense.

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If I had to sum up the problem with Before Watchmen : Ozymandias in one simple phrase, I would just say “lack of inspiration.” Both Wein and Lee seem content to go through the motions and leave it at that, and the flat , neo-classical faux-romanticism of both  Wein’s embarrassingly purple prose and Lee’s moribund interior art has even managed to bleed its way into  the cover artwork (variants this time around by our guy Jae and Micheal William Kaluta, respectively, as shown), as well. Four issues in and we’ve gained no particular new insights into the character of Adrian Veidt, and his motivations have been more or less revealed to be exactly what we always figured they were. All in all, this book’s principal creators have expended who the hell knows how many hours of time and effort in telling  and showing us exactly what we already knew, and it’s getting duller and duller by the page.

Speaking of which, so is the “Curse Of The Crimson Corsair” back-up strip. This little pirate story was really rolling along quite nicely for awhile there, but ever since John Higgins took over the writing as well as the art, the basic plotting (and it is, indeed, fairly basic, considering it’s designed to be delivered, and consequently digested, in two-page snippets) has suffered considerably —- so hey, maybe Len Wein’s not all bad, after all. At this point, while it’s certainly still amazingly cool to look at, the story has degenerated into a bog-standard “quest for lost items to save a damned man’s soul”-type thing, and reading it has become an absolute chore. Again, the inspiration factor seems to be running decidedly low here.

Oh, and while we’re talking of all things uninspired — if you’re wondering just who, indeed, killed Kennedy in the world of Before Watchmen, the answer is (no drumroll, please) — Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. Of course.

 

Hmmmm — I’ll be honest, folks, this third issue of Len Wein and Jae Lee’s six-part Before Watchmen : Ozymandias perplexed the hell out of me.

On the one hand, it was pretty well-written as far as its depiction of the principal players involved goes. Like Amanda Conner and Darwyn Cooke, Wein seems to have a better handle on the characterization of the Comedian than the writer of Eddie Blake’s own book, Brian Azzarello, does. And Wein has quietly managed to get his own central character, Adrian Veidt, pretty well spot-on by this point, too. He’s also got a fairly nice handle on Dr. Manhattan, who figures rather prominently in this issue, as well.

On the other hand — the plot really goes off the rails here. Again.  Wein has Ozymandias all but abandon his search for clues as to what really happened to Hooded Justice — you know, the very plot device that led to his confrontation with the Comedian in the first place — and abruptly shifts gears here to focus on Adrian’s stalker-like fixation with and on Dr. Manhattan. All of which means that by the time we get to the end of this issue, which marks the halfway point of the series, it’s flat-out impossible to tell what the central storyline of this book really even is — assuming it has one at all. We’ve gone from an issue of needless origin recap to Ozymandias-gets-revenge-on-the-drug-dealers to the aborted Hooded Justice investigation to this latest Dr. Manhattan obsession, and while it’s all flowed together reasonably well, that doesn’t mean there’s an actual plot unfolding here. It’s all, frankly, a perfectly coherent mess, which is a bit of a rarity, I suppose, but doesn’t mean it’s any less messy. You’ve heard of throwing a lot of shit at the walls and seeing what sticks? Well, Wein seems to be throwing a lot of shit at the walls until something sticks.

As far as the art goes, well, it’s pretty much of a piece with the first two issues in my book. If you like Jae Lee — and lots of people seem to love him — then you’ll be in heaven. If you find his stuff fundamentally unimpressive and  more than just a bit lazy, as I do, then you’ll continue to scratch your head and wonder what all the fuss is about. I still think it all looks pretty stiff and lifeless, and neither of the variant covers (as shown, by Lee and Massimo Carnevale, respectively) does a whole lot for me, either, although it would certainly be unfair to say that either is actively bad in any sense of the term.

So, again, I’m sort of in a quandary here. Thus far in this series we’ve gone from one plot point that’s quickly dropped to another — and this time around it doesn’t even take a transition to do so! No sooner is Ozymandias’ opening battle with the Comedian over than Veidt’s “voice-over” narration informs us that he dropped the whole Hooded Justice thing that led to the confrontation in the first place. I guess we can only hope that Wein decides to see through this new Dr. Manhattan-based plot thread to its conclusion, which at least means the last four issues, starting with this one, will have some sort of point — but even then you gotta wonder, why make this series a six-parter when four issues would do just fine?

Finally, it’s time, at least by my accounting, for another quick look at the pirate-centric backup feature in all these books, The Curse Of The Crimson Corsair, now being written, as well as drawn and colored, by John Higgins. The strip continues to look great — Higgins’ art has pretty much established itself as the high water mark of the entire BW enterprise in my book — but the story, while pretty much exactly the same as when Len Wein was writing it tonally, has quickly devolved into a standard “quest for the missing objects”-type of thing. It’s still an okay enough read, but that’s about all I can say for it at this point. Oh well, we’re four days away from seeing what Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo have in store for us in Rorschach #2, which will either be the point where they nail things down after a promising enough first issue, or where they just let it devolve into another pointless career rehash a la what’s happening over in Comedian and, to a lesser extent, here in Ozymandias, as well.

 

 

As mentioned briefly in the write-up I did the other day for the second issue of Nite Owl, it seems that Ozymandias artist Jae Lee is getting all sorts of “ooh”s and “aah”s for his work on this book  and has firmly established himself as the “artist to beat” as far as this whole Before Watchmen thing goes, and while his cover for our guy Adrian Veidt’s second solo outing, as shown above (the alternate cover, by one Phil Noto, I’ll insert a paragraph or two down the road) is certainly — uhmmm — striking, to put it mildly (not that it has anything at all to do with the actual contents of the book itself, mind you — that sound you hear behind you is the Asian-women-in-gas-masks fetish crowd (assuming there is such a thing, and Christ, for all I know there probably is) closing the door behind them in bitter disappointment on the way out),  it’s also indicative of what I think is both right and wrong with Lee’s art — it’s got the ability to really grab your attention right off the bat, but spend any extended amount of time actually looking at it, and you’ll realize that not only is it stiff and lifeless as all get-go, but that there’s really just not that much going on with it, either.

For one thing, not since the (thankfully long ago) heyday of Rob Liefeld has there been a “hot” comic artist so apparently constitutionally predisposed to drawing more or less no backgrounds whatsoever. For another, while his page layouts are innovative and eye-catching, nearly 25% of the panels in this issue alone consist of nothing but shadow-outlines of figures, so it’s not like he’s technically skimping on the details — it’s that he doesn’t actually draw any in the first place! And finally, like I said, it’s all stiff as a board. Even the supposed “action” sequences of Adrian taking down various low-level thugs involved in the “drug racket” have the look of still-life illustrations of people striking action-oriented poses, and not like people in the midst of actual, fluid motions themselves.

All of which puts me in the rather uncomfortable position of saying that I think Jae Lee is an incredibly lazy artist, even though he probably spends a lot of time poring over his work. Two issues in, this guy’s full bag of tricks is on display for anyone and everyone to see, and how much longer he can keep hoodwinking readers into thinking they’re looking at something really special here remains, perhaps, the most intriguing mystery surrounding Before Watchmen in general.

It’s certainly a more interesting one than the one writer Len Wein shoehorns into this book at the very tail end, now that he’s written two issues of nothing but origin-recap crap and realizes he’s still got four more issues to fill up, to wit : Ozy decides to put his “smartest man on Earth” skills to use figuring out what actually happened to Hooded Justice. I’ve got a pretty damn educated (even if I do only say so myself) guess going in that regard, but I’ll keep my mouth shut about it for now. Suffice to say anyone paying attention to the last issues of Minutemen and Nite Owl is probably thinking more or less the same thing I’m thinking here, and the sudden appearance of the Comedian at the end of this story ( in a truly wretched splash-page illustration by Lee that looks like he’s trying to ape Kyle Baker in a big way) pretty much confirms that my (and probably your) hunch in this regard is fairly solid.

 

Apart from that, there’s really not much worth talking about here story-wise — there’s a scene where Veidt takes on a black drug “pusher” that would have felt comically over-the-top even if it appeared in an old ’70s issue of Green Lantern/Green Arrow, so ham-fisted is Wein’s “street thug” dialogue, and the book’s overall anti-drug tone is preachy, lame, and would probably have both Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons in stitches assuming they were ever to actually read this thing (especially Moore, who’s about as far removed from a “Say No To Drugs”-type guy as you’re ever likely to find). So anyway, yeah, more abject pointlessness all around is pretty much the order of the day here.

I’ll close out this (mercifully, I suppose) brief review by once again, as I do at the close of every four-issue cycle, looking back at the Curse Of The Crimson Corsair pirate story back-up feature by Wein and artist/colorist John Higgins (who apparently will soon be taking over the writing chores on it, as well). After a couple of installments where more or less nothing happened, and then another that got bogged down in some heavy-handed exposition, things seem to be moving along in an interesting enough direction with this once again. The art’s remained stunningly gorgeous and evocative throughout, as has Higgins’ use of color (his only rival for “best colorist” on this whole BW project is June Chung, in charge of the digital hues that are making Lee’s art on this particular book look so much better than it really is — she’s the real star artist on Ozymandias, never mind what anyone else says!), and with the story heading back into “near-enough to intriguing” territory , it’s safe to say that Crimson Corsair is still the best thing about any of these books so far, period. Hopefully the first issue of Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo’s Rorschach mini-series, which I’m about to read as soon as I’m finished posting this, will have me back here tomorrow saying something quite different.

For reasons that I’ll expound upon before this paragraph ends, the six-issue Ozymandias mini-series was the one Before Watchmen title apart from Darwyn Cooke’s Minutemen that people who were supportive of the whole enterprise would point to in order to say “hey, look, these books probably won’t be so bad.” I know Jae Lee is a fan-favorite artist, and writer Len Wein was the editor of the original Watchmen series as well as the guy who brought Alan Moore’s writing to America in the first place when he commissioned the Bearded One to take over the scripting chores on Swamp Thing, a character that Wein himself had co-created along with legendary horror artist Berni Wrightson. And then there’s the fact, of course, that Ozymandias himself is the most supposedly “cerebral” of the Watchmen characters, so having the imprimatur of these two established and well-respected creators on this series is, indeed, somewhat more impressive than leaving it in the hands of J. Michael Straczynski and, I dunno, Rob Liefeld or something. Yeah, it’s still not Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, but the thinking amongst the general comic-buying public apparently was something along the lines of “this is probably the best pairing they could come up with for this book apart from the original creators themselves.”

And hey, there’s certainly some truth to that. As far as these first issues go, this one wasn’t half bad. Lee’s art is rich, expressive, and even haunting in spots, evoking a classsical fairy-tale feel that’s as at home portraying the majestic and wondrous as it is the harrowing and frightful. Each individual panel (and Lee’s panel grids are both innovative and intelligent) is suitable for framing, especially complemented as they are by June Chung’s lush, digitally-“painted” colors. But therein lies the problem : this stuff has no sequential flow to it at all, and really would work better as a series of individual prints than displayed in a manner that’s supposed to blend seamlessly together — but doesn’t — on the  page. Each image is gorgeous to look at in its own right, but they’re all so stiff and devoid of movement or dynamism that it all feels more like looking at (and reading) a series of word-captioned gallery hangings than, you know, an actual comic book. Which is still what this is supposed to be, after all.

In addition, Lee doesn’t seem too concerned at all with backgrounds — most panels have more or less none at all — and his style doesn’t translate well into everyday situations. A scene where a young Adrian Veidt is being picked on by some bigger kids at school for his lunch money looks more like it’s taking place in the darkest recesses of an enchanted fucking forest than some suburban playground, and weird touches Lee throws in like having a map in Adrian’s classroom with China missing from it make no sense at all (I’ve seen some overly-obsessive fans speculating about whether or not this might mean that China has somehow been destroyed in the Watchmen “universe,” but I don’t buy it — Veidt is seen in Tibet just a few pages later, and that region/country isn’t on the map in question, either).

So yeah, it’s all damn near painfully pretty to look at, but it doesn’t exactly work when presented in this context, that context being — a pretty straight re-telling of Ozy’s origins as already related in Watchmen #11. Okay, a few new details are thrown in for good measure — like about Adrian having a boyfriend in Tibet and a girlfriend when he gets back to the US — but frankly his sexuality, like his hero Alexander the Great, was already pretty ambiguous to begin with, and all the other stuff presented here, such as his giving away of his inherited fortune, his travels around the world, etc. are all old hat. About the only thing revealed here that we didn’t already know is exactly why the so-called “Smartest Man In The World” decided to put on a mask and fight crime on his own when he could buy all the cops and private protection he wants and/or needs ten times over. The explanation Wein comes up with is, to his credit, pretty plausible, but it’s also kind of limp, all things considered. Just because something makes sense, in other words, doesn’t necessarily make it the best possible explanation.

In all fairness, though, Wein’s scripting is at least competent here, which means it’s got last week’s Nite Owl beat by a damn sight, but it’s certainly far from anything like inspired. It’s just a well-written re-hash of a comic that came out just over a quarter-century ago. Readable? Most definitely. But necessary? Most definitely not. And frankly, like Nite Owl, it’s pretty hard to see where this is all going apart from being an extended (in this case six-part) origin story. That might make for interesting enough reading, but really, weren’t we all hoping for something a little bit more — from all of these titles?

Finally, since this marks the last of the “first issues” of this whole Before Watchmen circus (at least until Rorschach and Dr. Manhattan make their way onto the scene in August), I thought I’d conclude this entry by finally talking, albeit briefly, about the other feature contained within the multiple covers of these books (in this instance said covers, as shown, being provided by Jae Lee, Phil Jimenez, and Jim Lee, respectively), namely the so-called “pirate story back-up feature,” Curse Of The Crimson Corsair, scripted by Wein and illustrated and colored by original Watchmen colorist John Higgins. Simply put, this kicks ass. I wasn’t too sure about where it was headed at first, and in two-page snippets, as presented, it still feels like pretty insubstantial stuff — but when read it’s consecutively, it becomes pretty clear that we’re witnessing the makings of a pretty solid little old-school supernatural adventure story here. Hardly groundbreaking stuff, but very well-written, and Higgins’ art is downright exceptional and perfectly suited to the material, as is the muted color palette he’s employing. It’s no reach at all to say that as far as some of these books go, this strip is the best thing about them, and I sincerely hope they’re all collected into a single-issue special/annual of some sort when all is said and done here.