Posts Tagged ‘john higgins’

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I have no idea how many words have been spent — digitally or in print — praising and/or occasionally lambasting, to say nothing of parsing the rich minutiae of,  Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, but it’s surely gotta run into the billions by now, and I confess to being one who has contributed to the ever-growing landfill of opinion on this most seminal of works, but please give me some credit — I at least never stooped so low as to regurgitate the depressingly common line that it represents “the last word on superheroes.”

Oh, sure, at one point during its gestation its creators may have harbored illusions that it could be viewed as such — and for a long time it stood as both of their final words on the genre/phenomenon — but eventually both of them (Moore in particular) decided that they each had more to say on the subject, much of it a direct response not so much to Watchmen itself, but to the industry-wide excesses that sprang up in its wake. By now it’s painfully obvious to all of us that DC editorial never really knew what to do next after it was done and, lacking the vision to understand that its runaway success meant that audiences were ready for more good comics, instead they chose the easier path of just giving us more dark comics. Those, after all, can be cranked out without much effort, or even thought.  And so here we all are, three decades later, still wondering why a work that its creators sincerely hoped would be eclipsed in terms of quality in fairly short order never has been.  And here we are still talking about it.

Not that it isn’t worth talking about, of course — Watchmen is such a dense, multi-faceted, complex, and sophisticated narrative that it can literally take dozens of re-reads to unpack all it has to offer. It’s just more than a bit depressing that neither of the “Big Two” have produced a work of even greater quality in all the years since, and that the superhero genre has never had the guts to look at itself in the mirror this honestly again, despite being under a larger and more all-pervasive microscope than ever.

So, yeah — the final word on superheroes? It’ll probably never be written. But what of the final word on Watchmen?

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In all honesty, that’s probably decades — perhaps even centuries — away from happening, as well, but it’s certainly high time for somebody to at least have something new to say about it. Enter cartoonists Dave Baker, Nicole Goux, Rachel Dukes, Malachi Ward, Nick Diaz, Emilie Vo, Sam Ancona, Chuck Kerr, Colby Bluth, Robert Negrete and Sabrina Deigert, and their “mondo” self-published collaborative “jam” effort, Shitty Watchmen.  Baker, who’s selling the book via his website at http://www.heydavebaker.com , has stepped forward as the nearest thing to an unofficial spokesperson for the project in recent weeks, and while his standard line is that the book was designed to highlight Dave Gibbons’ often-overlooked contributions to the original work by proving  it’s so damn visually powerful that it even flows and makes sense when re-drawn in the “shittiest” manner possible, in truth he’s selling he and his compatriots’ perhaps-accidental (and perhaps not) achievements here almost criminally short — this, you see, is actually a nuts-and-bolts deconstruction of a comic that is, after all, a brilliant piece of deconstruction itself, and when you sit down and really think about that, it’s kind of like Russian dolls, isn’t it? You open one, and there’s another hiding inside it. At the risk of making Alan Moore cringe by even invoking the name, maybe Grant Morrison was exactly right when he said those things were a model of the universe.

Double-negatives being the equivalent of a positive, then, it would stand to reason that deconstructing a deconstruction would ultimately add up to being a reconstruction, and damn if that’s not the case here. In fact, I’m downright stoked to read Watchmen (yet) again now that I’ve seen its beauty besmirched so thoroughly. I’ve always loved it, of course, and always will, but as familiar as I am with every page, every panel, every sentence of it, I admit — it’s been awhile since I felt in awe of it. That deficiency in my viewpoint has already been corrected.

To get the obvious out of the way, then, yes — the art in Shitty Watchmen (formatted in such a way that each artist tackles a single chapter, except for Baker, who takes on two of ’em) is absolutely atrocious. That’s rather the point. Odds are better than good that each of the contributors involved can actually draw pretty well, but damn, they sure don’t do it here. To which I can only say — so what? The likes of Gary Panter and Art Spiegelman, among others, certainly don’t or can’t “draw well” on a purely technical level, but does that in any way detract from the power or immediacy of their work? Heck, in Panter’s case his decided lack of anything like “finesse” only adds to its visual impact, and the same can be said of much that’s on display here. Yeah, it’s uniformly crude. It’s ugly. It’s barely above kindergarten scribbling. It’s as “shitty” as it bills itself as being. And it also proves, without question, its over-arching thesis — that Watchmen as a whole, and Gibbons’ art in particular, is, if anything, under-rated.

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That’s probably a decidedly “uncool” thing to say in this day and age, where trashing Watchmen has become something of a fast-track to gaining instant “street cred” with the self-appointed “hip” and reflexively contrarian members of the comic book critics’ “community,” but I’ll let you in on a secret — a lot of that, perhaps even all of it, is a fucking pose. Divorce Watchmen from its context — whether asked for (“the first major deconstruction of the superhero genre”) or unasked for (“the book that started the ‘dark age’ in comics”) — and guess what? You’ve still got a soaring, ambitious, expertly-executed, revolutionary work. And if it takes reducing it to to a beyond-bare-bones shadow of itself in order to to either prove or remind people of that, so be it. Shitty Watchmen isn’t just throwing the genius of its “source material” into sharp relief, but people’s reactions to it, as well. A veritable “cottage industry” of opinion has sprung up around this comic over the years, much of it illuminating and some of it infuriating, but for my money I can’t think of any other interpretation of it that’s been this unflinchingly honest and utterly free of pretense. “We love Watchmen — let us prove it to you by wrecking it” may seem a contradictory assertion on its face, but often the most essential truths are hidden in some surprising places.

But it’s not just Gibbons’ art that is atomized on these pages — Moore’s script is presented verbatim only in chapter nine, while others either decimate it with as much gusto as they do to the illustrations or leave it out altogether (which is also the case with John Higgins’ color, this book being a strictly black and white affair). That’s a move certain to offend purists, and perhaps even a fair number of more casual fans, but are members of either camp all that likely to be interested in a project such as this in the first place?  Exactly.

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Admittedly, then, Shitty Watchmen is a book with a decidedly narrow focus that will appeal to a perhaps-even-more-narrow readership. For what it’s trying to do, though — and for those interested in what it’s doing — it’s a borderline revelatory experience. If you’ve ever wondered “could Watchmen still be good — even if it wasn’t?,” then here’s your answer, and it’s a resounding yes. Turning the most celebrated work in the history of the graphic story medium into a sorry, sloppy mess may be a “shitty” thing to do, but it’s also a brilliant one.

 

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Before we get rolling on our look back at 2016 in the world of comics, let’s take a brief moment to acknowledge the passing of two masters, shall we? Darwyn Cooke and Steve Dillon were  very different artists with very different visions and very different styles, no doubt about that, but both were among the very best at what they did, both entered this undeserving world in 1962, and both exited it, leaving it a decidedly poorer place for their passing, in 2016. Both gentleman turned the medium upside – down with their brilliance and created bodies of work that are more than guaranteed to stand the test of time, so I feel it’s only appropriate, prior to diving into our annual retrospective (which, you’ve officially been warned, will take a minute, so buckle in) to say “thank you” and “we miss you” one more time to this pair of undeniable greats. And now, onto the business at hand —

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Wow, it’s been quite a ride, hasn’t it? In a year when both of the “Big Two” decided to hit the “reset” button again, it’s probably fair to say that DC Universe : Rebirth #1 — and the entire Rebirth initiative in general — will go down as the major “event” of 2016, given that it essentially catapulted the publisher from a distant-second-place competitor to Marvel to “Top Dog” in the industry in the space of one month. That doesn’t mean that the comic itself was any good, of course — my feelings on it are well-known and I believe that Geoff Johns and his artistic collaborators Gary FrankEthan Van SciverIvan Reis and Phil Jimenez essentially churned out a stinkbomb here that will ultimately do both the DCU “proper” as well as the so-called “Watchmen Universe” no favors by setting them on a collision course with each other — but at this point, what’s done is done, and in the short run that means we’ve got a two-horse race for the top spot in the Diamond sales charts every month as DC’s decidedly mediocre twice-monthly efforts compete with yet fucking another round of “Marvel Now!” relaunched books that by and large are, in their own way, every bit as uninspired and predictable as their rivals’ four-color “floppies.” Honestly, this has been the most convoluted path back to the status quo that I’ve ever seen, and just goes to show that a bunch of hype is all that’s needed to sell readers on the same old crap. Of the two reboots, Marvel’s is the most promising, given that they’ve made an effort to carve out some space for genuinely interesting and off-beat titles, but you know most of ’em aren’t going to last, as the so-called “House Of Ideas” is putting far more promotional muscle behind crap like this —

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than they are behind intriguing and potentially subversive fare like this :

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So, yeah, on the whole, count me as being more or less completely uninspired by both major initiatives by both major publishers. Marvel’s in the awkward position (although it’s one they’re well used to after last year’s Secret Wars) of rolling out a raft of new books hot on the tail of a major crossover that hasn’t even ended yet, given that Civil War II was beset by the usual delays we’ve come to expect from these things, but I do give ’em credit for having about a half-dozen or so pretty good books stemming from “Marvel Now!” 2016 — and that’s roughly four more than post-Rebirth DC is giving us. For all that, though, once you move outside the Rebirth realm, DC is actually putting out a fair number of quite good books, which brings us to our main order of business here —

Ryan C.’s Top 10 Comics Series Of 2016

Same rules as always apply : these can be either “limited” or “ongoing” series — as long as they came out within the past 12 months in single-issue format (our preferred consumption method around these parts), we don’t discriminate. But it’s not a “real” Top 10 list without at least a couple of “honorable mentions,” though, is it? So let’s look at those first —

Honorable Mention #1 : American Monster (Aftershock)

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Brian Azzarello — whose name will be coming up again later for decidedly less complimentary reasons — is proving he’s “still got it” and then some with this decidedly sleazy, amoral small-town crime series that features a cast of pedophiles, gun-runners, neo-Nazis, corrupt preachers, and other fine, upstanding citizens. And Juan Doe‘s animation-cel inspired art is absolutely killer. Unfortunately, this book has seen so many publication delays that we only got three issues all year. If it was coming out on anything like an even remotely consistent basis, this would not only be “Top 10” material all the way, it might be “Top 2 Or 3.” I love this comic. Now feed me more of it.

Honorable Mention #2 : Power Man And Iron Fist (Marvel)

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David F. Walker is The Man. You could ask for no more perfect writer to chronicle the exploits of Luke Cage and Danny Rand. And Sanford Greene and frequent fill-in Flaviano Armentaro are doing a nice job on the art. Unfortunately, this title got sidetracked for no less than four months into the creative black hole that is Civil War II, and while these issues weren’t bad for tie-in nonsense, they were still — well, tie-in nonsense. Now that we’ve got the real story rolling again, all is right with the world, and you can blame this one narrowly missing out on the Top 10 squarely and solely on Marvel editorial, who steered the ship into “event” territory before it even had a chance to properly get its feet off the ground. It was a real momentum-killing decision, and I sincerely hope it won’t prove to be a fatal one, as well — but it may turn out to be just that given that sales on this series have been tanking in recent months. So much for the notion that cross-over “events” boost interest in a book.

Honorable Mention #3 : Love And Rockets (Fantagraphics)

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I’m not too proud to admit it — seeing the first issue of this new series from Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez on the shelves of my LCS, and back in its original magazine format at that, was enough to make me tear up just a little bit for a second. It was hardly an issue for the ages or anything, but everything about this just feels right. I love it when life comes full-circle, I love Los Bros., I love their characters, and I love this world. It’s a shoe-in for the Top 10 next year, but one issue is simply too small a sample size for me too include it in good conscience this time out. Not that I wasn’t tempted.

Honorable Mention #4 : The Fix (Image)

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Nobody does fuck-up criminal low-lifes like Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber, and in the pages of this book they up the ante by making their fuck-up criminal low-lifes cops, to boot. This comic is all kinds of perverse and depraved fun, and I’d dearly love to have found a spot for it in the Top 10, but there simply wasn’t room for more than — well, shit, ten titles. Nevertheless, it’s a series you absolutely should be pulling.

And now onto the main event —

10. Doom Patrol (DC’s Young Animal)

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The flagship title of Gerard Way‘s new “art comics” imprint, this book is proving a mere three issues in that it’s gonna push these characters in directions even Grant Morrison never dreamed of. Way and artist Nick Derington are doing the genuinely unthinkable here — producing a well and truly experimental comic with the full blessing of one of the “Big Two” publishers. All may not be lost, after all.

9. Deadly Class (Image)

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Rick Remender and Wes Craig gave us the “Holy Shit!” moment of the year in comics when they actually fucking killed their protagonist (doubly shocking when you consider he was an obvious stand-in for a youthful Remender himself) twenty-some issues in, but the new crop of students at King’s Dominion Atelier For The Deadly Arts is decidedly less interesting than was the last, hence the drop for this series from its loftier perch last year.

8. Southern Bastards (Image)

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Jasons Aaron and Latour just don’t let up. This deep-friend southern noir is loaded with so much gallows humor, spot-on characterization, and low-rent evil that not even a spotty publication schedule and a lackluster fill-in issue could keep it outta the Top 10. A legend in the making, even if it ends up taking a decade for it all to get made.

7. Jacked (Vertigo)

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As near as I can determine, nobody other than myself actually read Eric Kripke and John Higgins’ superb six-part tale of pharmaceutically-charged super-hero revisionism, and that’s a damn shame as it’s one of the single finest and most honest portrayals of mid-life crisis that this beleaguered medium has ever produced, and the art is simply sensational. Do yourself a favor and grab it in trade — you won’t be disappointed, and you won’t hate yourself for that beer gut and receding hairline anymore, either.

6. The Vision (Marvel)

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Enough ink — both physical and digital — has been spilled in praise of Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta‘s admittedly Philip K. Dick-inspired techno-Shakespearean tragedy that adding to it just feels like piling on against the rest of the industry at this point. Suffice to say all the superlatives you’ve heard are true and then some and yeah, this one has “destined to be talked about for years to come” written all over it.

5. Hip Hop Family Tree (Fantagraphics)

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Ed Piskor put the wraps on the 12-part single-issue reprintings of his cultural history milestone earlier this year, and while I’ll certainly continue to collect and enjoy his oversized hardcover volumes, there was just something about having these previously-told stories presented on cheap, pre-yellowed newsprint that was beyond awesome. And the last issue even came packaged with an old-school floppy record — that was actually a code for a free digital download, but whatever. This book was more satisfying than a 40 of Olde English on a hot summer day.

4. Glitterbomb (Image)

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Jim Zub and deliriously-talented newcomer Djibril Morissette-Pham came out of nowhere with this series about Lovecraftian horror intersecting with the seedier side of post-fame Tinseltown (with bloody results) and just blew me the fuck away. The surprise hit of the year for this armchair critic and a book I can’t stop thinking or talking about. The first trade should be out soon enough and collects the self-contained story presented in issues 1-4,  and they’re coming back in late 2017 with a new arc that — man, I just don’t even know where they go from here. But I’m dying to find out.

3. The Flintstones (DC)

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Believe it. Mark Russell and Steve Pugh are putting out the most socially- and politically-relevant comic on the stands, and the satire in this book is by turns hilarious and heartwarming. A truly “mature” take on characters we thought we already knew everything there was to know about, and consistently one of the smartest books you’ll have the pleasure of reading. I don’t know that I have words to adequately describe how unexpectedly awesome this series is — when I said that DC was actually putting out some damn good stuff outside its main Rebirth line, this is exactly what I was talking about. If you’d have told me a year ago that one of the books I was going to be most eagerly looking forward to month-in and month-out was going to be The Flintstones, I would have thought you’d lost it. In fact, I probably would have said that Donald effing Trump had a better chance of being elected president. And yet, here we are — ain’t life crazy? And shitty? But at least we have this comic, and as antidotes to a new age of right-wing anti-intellectual barbarism go, you won’t find much better.

2. The Sheriff Of Babylon (Vertigo)

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The Vision may have gotten all the attention, but Tom King‘s best series of 2016 — by a wide margin, in my view — was this Iraq-set murder mystery drawn heavily from his own experiences as a CIA case officer during that bloody boondoggle of a war. Every aspect of this comic is almost painfully authentic, and Mitch Gerads rounds the package out with artwork so gritty you can feel the sand underneath your fingertips. This. Shit. Was. Amazing. Or maybe that should be “is” amazing, since — well, more on that in a minute.

1. Providence (Avatar)

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I’m out of superlatives, honestly. I review each issue of this series as it comes out, and my mind is blown more completely every time. I said last year that Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows were potentially creating the comic of the young century with this volume of their “Lovecraft Cycle,” and with one installment left to go in this 12-parter, I think it’s safe to say we can take the “potentially” qualifier out of that statement :  Providence is, in fact, the best comic of the century so far.

Wait, though! We’re far from done —

On the graphic novel front, it’s gotta be said that 2016 was a banner year, as well, in many respects — but I’m always a bit perplexed on how best to assemble a “best-of” list when it comes to the GN format because it only seems fair to subdivide it down into wholly original works, trade collections, old-school vintage reprints, etc. Throw in the fact that may “original” graphic novels got their start as serialized installments on the web, and things get even dicier. What really constitutes “new” work anymore? Still, there is definitely plenty outside the realm of the single-issue “floppy” that deserves a mention, and so —

Original Graphic Novel Of The Year : Patience By Daniel Clowes (Fantagraphics)

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Five years in the making, and it shows in every panel on every page. Clowes outdoes himself with each new project, it seems, and this is jewel in his creative crown — until the next one, at any rate. Love, obsession, longing, time travel, regret, loneliness, desolation — even optimism? This work encompasses all of it and then some; a monumental achievement of staggering proportions.

Best Collected Edition Of Recent Work : American Blood By Benjamin Marra (Fantagraphics)

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Anyone who’s read Terror Assaulter : O.M.W.O.T. knows that Ben Marra exists on a planet of his own, and this collection of the self-published works issued under his awesomely-named Traditional Comics imprint runs the stylistic gamut from insanely exaggerated pseudo-“realism” to Gary Panter-esque primitive id-channeling. WaPo columnist Maureen Dowd as a sexy super-spy? Bloodthirsty barbarians from distant worlds? Gang-bangers who do nothing but fuck and kill? Freed slaves who can tear white men apart with their bare hands? It’s all here, in suitably gaudy purple-and-white.

Best Collected Edition Of Vintage WorkMarvel Masterworks : The Black Panther, Volume 2 By Jack Kirby (Marvel)

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In recent years, the awesome body of work produced by The King Of Comics during his second, late-’70s stint at Marvel has finally been given its due as the visionary output it so clearly was, but while books like Machine ManThe EternalsDevil Dinosaur and “Madbomb!”-era Captain America have now taken their rightful place among the rich pantheon of Kirby masterworks, Jack’s Black Panther run from that same period still doesn’t get anything like the love it deserves. Hopefully this handsome hardbound collection will finally start to clue readers in to what a magical and imaginative Wakanda Kirby created in this high-flying techno-fantasy epic.

It wasn’t all good news, though, and since we’re on the subject of T’Challa, we might as well segue into some of 2016’s lowlights —

Most Disappointing Series Of The Year #1 : Black Panther (Marvel)

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There’s no doubt that Ta-Nehisi Coates is a literary and journalistic genius, and his voice in this ugly new Trump-ian era is more necessary and urgent than ever. Unfortunately, he can’t write a comic to save his life, and his dour, humorless, self-absorbed, navel-gazing take on The Panther reads like a relic of the worst sort of over-wrought 1990s excesses. This is a genuinely lousy title, and it doesn’t help that neither of its usually-reliable artists, Brian Stelfreeze and Chris Sprouse, are delivering anything like their best work.

Most Disappointing Series Of The Year #2 : Batman (DC)

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Tom King giveth, and Tom King taketh away. We’ve already covered the great stuff he’s given readers in 2016, but he’s also taken one of the most consistently-good super-hero books and turned it into a massive fucking train wreck. Lots of people were jazzed when he was announced as Scott Snyder‘s replacement on the “main” Bat-book, but King has struggled to find a “voice” for Bruce Wayne either in or out of the cape and cowl, his two major storylines to date have featured ridiculous plots, and 13 issues in all we can really say is that he writes a pretty good Alfred. The illustration by David Finch on the first five-issue story arc was atrocious, and the only thing that saved this title from being dropped from my pull for the first time ever was when the magnificent Mikel Janin took over art chores with the second arc and delivered work of absolutely breathtaking scope and grandeur. Still, at this point, I have to say — when he goes, I go. And I think he’s gone after next issue. And yet, horseshit as this book has been, it’s nothing compared with our —

Worst Comic Of The Year : Dark Knight III : The Master Race (DC)

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Unmitigated garbage that plumbs new depths of hopelessness with every issue, Brian AzzarelloAndy Kubert and Klaus Janson (with nominal involvement from Frank Miller) are doing something here no one thought possible : making fans yearn for the days of The Dark Knight Strikes Again!  (which, admittedly, I’ve always liked, but no one else does). Also, they seem to be doing their level best to match that title’s glacial publication schedule. At this rate, we’re gonna wait three years to complete a story that’s been a total waste of time from the outset. This series is honestly starting to rival Before Watchmen  in the “artistically-bankrupt blatant cash-grab” category. I expected nothing from it, true — and yet somehow we’re getting even less than that.

I’m going to close on something of a high note for DC, though, if you can believe it, because they also get the award for —

Best Development Of 2016 DC’s Young Animal

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I’m still not sure what the hell a “pop-up imprint” is, but Gerard Way has one he can call his very own, and so far all four series released under this label’s auspices — Doom Patrol (as previously discussed), Shade, The Changing GirlCave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye and Mother Panic — have been not just good, but great. While at first DCYA sounded like little more than a stylistic heir to vintage-era Veritgo to my mind, in fact its aims seem to be much different, while admittedly utilizing a number of characters and concepts from that fan-favorite period. This is an imprint where anything both goes and can happen, and we’ve sorely needed that for waaaaayyy too long. In short, this is the most exciting thing either of the “Big Two” have done in — shit, as long as I can remember. Long may it continue.

So — What About The Year To Come?

By the sound of it there’s plenty to be excited about, from Warren Ellis spearheading the re-launch of WildStorm to the debuts of much-publicized new series from Image such as God Country and The Few, but my most-anticipated events of 2017 (at least as far we know now) would have to be —

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March 31st (seriously, guys?) is slated as the provisional release date for Providence #12, and to say that I can’t wait to find out how it all ends would be an understatement of criminal proportions. It would also be an equally-proportionate understatement to say that I’ll simply “miss” this series when it’s over. So, ya know, maybe take your time with that last issue, after all.

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The so-called second “season” of The Sheriff Of Babylon is due to hit sometime in the latter part of the year and, simple as the “teaser” image shown above was, it was still enough to get me excited. And finally —

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January sees the release of the first installment of Kamandi Challenge, a “round-robin” 12-part series from DC starring The Last Boy On Earth that features a different creative team on each issue trying to solve the cliffhangers left by the folks the month before, as well setting up new messes for the next bunch to get themselves out of. This is the first of what I hope to be many releases commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Jack Kirby that we can look forward to over the next 12 months — in fact, DC has just also announced an omnibus hardcover reprinting of Kirby’s entire original Kamandi run, so let’s hope that 2017 really will be a vintage year for fans of The King.

Whew! Okay! We’re done for the year! Enjoy your holidays — or what remains of them — and we’ll see you back here in January, when we get to start the whole thing all over again!

 

 

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.