Image, WildC.A.T.S #27, written by Alan Moore, drawn by Scott Clark, Dave Johnson and Dexter Vines, 1996
Back in 1996 Mr. Moore apparently tackled WildC.A.T.S (herein known as WildCATS). I find this incredibly strange, though I’m sure if you were a reader back in the day this would have seemed like quite the exciting move. To me, Alan Moore is a mysterious bearded magician who’s every penned word these days seems like a gift. He’s one of the most highly regarded creators in the medium. The fact that he’s decided to, for all intents and purposes, abandon the comic book community at large only makes his work more enticing. We don’t get much Moore these days and it makes us feel almost privileged to read anything he’s written. When such a highly opinionated, medium-loving, industry-hating figure graces the pages of the mid-90s Image bulge-fest WildCAT , curiosity gets the better of you. This isn’t Watchmen, folks, but it’s written by the same guy!
Well, considering that I’m only reviewing a single issue from Moore’s run, it’d be unfair for me to pass judgement on his entire run. This issue, however, is about as good as you’d expect. It’s Alan Moore and he knows how to make comics. His plot is tight, his dialogue pitch-perfect and the pace exactly where you want it. With #27 we find half the team in Khera, home world of Lord Emp. There’s a senate opening or some such political fanfare, Emp gives a neat speech and Spartan seems to have been covertly attacked and tampered with. Things get out of hand, fisticuffs ensue and an assassination attempt is foiled. It’s all very cleverly written and even being a stranger in the world of WildCATS, things aren’t too difficult to follow. When we’re finished with Khera the story switches down to Earth and we catch up with a gang of mobsters in their attempt to eliminate Max Cash (that’s Cole Cash/Grifter’s brother). The ever lovable Ladytron interrupts and some delightful bickering intertwines with bad-guy beat-downs. Like I said, Alan Moore knows how to make comics—it’s great stuff, even if it isn’t essential work in the Moore library.
The art is exactly what you’d expect. Scott Clark does his mid-90s Image thing and fits somewhere between Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld. It’s boobs and butt all over the place with way too many muscles and more skin than you bargained for. The real treat comes when we move to Max Cash’s story and the team of Dave Johnson and Dexter Vines take over. Johnson provides great layouts and Vines finishes them ably with nice thick lines in contrast to Clark’s super thin pencils. The work in the second half of this book has aged wonderfully and is a great surprise for readers thinking they’d be stuck with Clark’s work for the entire read.
Altogether, this issue makes a nice, if not strange package. We get the scholastic writings of a comic book icon, tacky 90s Image art, some respectable Dave Johnson work and a handful of fun characters in a story that’s surprisingly enjoyable. I’ll be keeping my eye out for more of this run!
Marvel Age, Mary Jane #2, written by Sean McKeever, drawn by Takeshi Miyazawa, 2004
Peter Parker was such a hit because he wasn’t the millionaire playboy or musclebound lady’s man. He was the kid reading the comics. He was us. Mary Jane, I imagine, was the meant to be the title for every normal girl out there.
For some reason, this title was not written by a woman. Sean McKeever was sort of the go-to guy for teenage drama comics, having mastered the genre early with his creator-owned title The Waiting Place. He got typecast pretty quickly and wrote the teen-centered Gravity and Sentinel for Marvel as well. He was never a teenage girl, but McKeever was still a logical choice to write Mary Jane. And he does a pretty good job too!
Issue 2 deals mainly with MJ’s search for a job, but it’s her relationship with Harry Osborn that really shines. Without a date for the upcoming dance MJ figures her long-time friend Harry is a natural choice. He’s nice, generous and part of her circle of friends. They make a nice couple, but MJ’s real crush is Spiderman. But this isn’t a superhero book and this issue isn’t a tale of love. Harry’s the nice, normal guy and his girlfriend is infatuated with the Marvel U’s equivalent to a celebrity. It’s a great foundation that adds surprising depth to stories we all know and love. The fact that this isn’t the center of the book makes it even stronger, as we’re forced to focus on MJ’s real-life troubles instead of some super-villain plot. She’s broke, tired and hopelessly enamoured with a mysterious man in spandex. This book is way more interesting than I expected!
While McKeever gives us a surprisingly deep story underneath a traditional teen drama, the art lacks layers. Takeshi Miyazawa draws with a heavy manga influence and I imagine that could be popular amongst the intended demographic. For me, it just didn’t work. The storytelling is great and the layouts are exactly how they should be, but the overall style just isn’t to my taste. If you’re into this sort of thing, you’ll find a lot to like. Characters are expressive, proportions are consistent, backgrounds are detailed and even the colouring is decent—once you’re used to the whole manga-esque style it’s actually quite commendable work.
I’m not heading out to find the rest of this short lived Marvel Age series, but I’m happy it exists. It’s well written, competently drawn and respectful of its target audience. It even plays to those with fond memories of Spiderman’s teenage days and doesn’t tamper with Marvel continuity. Surprisingly good job, I say!
Dynamite, The Lone Ranger #6, written by Brett Matthews, drawn by Sergio Cariello, 2007
I do not get nostalgic about The Lone Ranger. I had an awkwardly poses figurine of him when I was little, but that’s about it. I like westerns, I like comics—that formula alone points to my appreciation of this title, but the name Lone Ranger means nothing to me. Or at least, it didn’t before I read this book.
As far as westerns go, this is how I like them. Two men duelling against their environment, against their situation, against each other—it’s deep stuff with enough gun-slinging to keep even the shortest attention span satisfied. Brett Matthews cleverly writes his dialogue in all the rights spots. During heated battle The Lone Ranger doesn’t exchange quick witted comments, he gets the job done! Our villain also speaks without cliché and is impressively portrayed as evil, yet understandable. Without any context, these characters still come alive, thrive and thrill. It’s impressive that in the duration of a single issue I feel I know these characters intimately, albeit with enough mystery to keep everything alluring. Just the way a western should be!
Sergio Cariello does fantastic work here as well. With a cover from John Cassaday, I imagine most would be disappointed to open the book and find another artist inside. Not I. Cariello’s work is terrifically expressive without becoming cartoony. His layouts describe dynamic scenes, the level of detail is just right and the cinematic feel to everything lured me from page to page. Where Matthews is careful with the placement of dialogue, Cariello aptly fills in the story. If this were a silent issue I’d sorely miss the writing, but the tale would be just as clear.
If you’re like me and enjoy a good western now and then, this issue is definitely worth tracking down. I’ll be looking for more issues in the bargain bin—it’s a great change from the usual cape books!
Kitchen Sink, Will Einser’s The Spirit: The New Adventures #8, written by Joe R. Lansdale, drawn by John Lucas, 1998
I love, love, love The Spirit. Will Eisner’s classic detective is truly one of the pillars of comic book history. If you haven’t read any of the original Spirit stories, go do so. Right now. Yes, it is urgent. They need to be read. No, not all of them, but get a taste. I can wait.
Of course, if you have experienced the original Will Eisner tales (and yes, there are a lot of them) then you probably love The Spirit too. Well, I can whole-heartedly recommend The Spirit: The New Adventures as well, but not necessarily this issue. Past issues include work by Alan Moore, David Lloyd, Kurt Busiek, Paul Chadwick, John Ostrander and a host of other top-tier talents. This issue features Joe Lansdale and John Lucas, neither of whom I am familiar with. Still, I came into this issue with high hopes—this is The Spirit, after all. What a letdown.
We start in typical fashion—with a mystery! It seems a strange, beautiful, mute woman is seducing men, marrying them and then hanging herself, only to come back to life and repeat the cycle! Neat setup, I’ll admit, but the ending is abysmal. I won’t ruin it, but … no, I said I wouldn’t ruin it. This story simply isn’t worthy of The Spirit. It’s awful.
That being said, it is seemingly written well. Joe Lansdale isn’t an incompetent comic book writer and his dialogue is quite good. Really, until the final reveal (which convinced me that, perhaps, this was a parody all along) I was under the impression that this would be a decent story. There was a good mystery to hint ratio with clues popping up and enough twists and turns to keep things interesting. Had the story landed properly, I’d be recommending it. Unfortunately, this could be the most disappointing Spirit story I’ve ever read.
The art is neat, though. With a cover by Mark Nelson one might assume that the interior has a similar, realistic, shaded and detailed look. One would be wrong. John Lucas draws in a very loose, thick lined manner. It reminded me of Paul Pope actually, which is never a bad thing. His layouts aren’t great, action is confusing and the Spirit often looks like an ape, but overall it isn’t hard on the eyes.
I highly recommend every issue of The Spirit: The New Adventures except this one. For more Spirit fun, go read Darwyn Cooke’s reboot of The Spirit for DC. Oh, and continue reading, the issues after Cooke are great as well! And DC’s Next Wave The Spirit series too! Heck, read anything Spirit-related, it’ll be better than this issue.
Red Circle, New Crusaders #1, written by Ian Flynn, drawn by Ben Bates, 2012
It didn’t last long, but I really appreciated when DC had control of the Red Circle characters. The Shield and The Web were two really decent series and it’s a shame they never really caught on. Had DC concocted some sort of Crisis crossover we might still see those THUNDER Agents, the Red Circle bunch and a lot more Milestone cats. Of course, we’d probably also get an event headache of some sort and have a new batch of things to complain about. Either way, it’s good to see that these characters are still bopping around—they change hands so often it seems they may never fade away.
So how does the new Red Circle Comics handle their original creations? In an able fashion, I must say. The Shield, The Web, Jaguar, Comet—they all started at Red Circle and now that they are back home it feels so right. It also feels like this comic should be sold exclusively at Walmart—or at least come with an action figure. This book isn’t out to challenge Marvel and DC for market supremacy, this one is for kids. Void of side-boob, thongs and ultra-violence (but certainly not void of intelligence) this series is actually aimed at a younger audience. Imagine that, a comic book!
I was raised in a time when you got a Batman Returns toy with your happy meal, despite being too young to see the movie. I never wanted a “kids comic”, I wanted to read about Batman getting his back broken and Superman being beaten into a messy pulp. I’m sure my parents would have appreciated age-appropriate books, but I craved the scantily clad X-Men (though not necessarily because they were scantily clad). I don’t know how I’d feel if 8 year old me was presented with a comic book full of cartoony looking, unfamiliar, “safe” looking heroes. I mean, this is a kid’s comic, but how will a child actually respond to it? I really don’t know, but I liked it.
Our story begins with the “old” Crusaders getting together for a family barbeque. They’re all responsible adults with normal lives and children—the superhero stuff is over. They’re kids are a typical bunch—the smart one, the hot headed one, the outcast—there’s even an interesting backstory or two. An unexpected, villainous guest shows up and the parents bust out the powers while the grandfather-like Shield whisks the kids to safety. Looks like it’s up to these teens to become heroes! Unfortunately, we never get to that point in this issue; it’s all setup.
This is a capably written book, I’ll give it that. I felt like I was reading a Saturday morning cartoon. There’s nothing mind-blowing or deep, but it’s easy to read without being dumb and exciting without feeling forced. The dialogue is suitable, if not basic, but that’s exactly what I expect from a kid’s book.
The art feels even more like a Saturday morning cartoon. It’s dynamic with great layouts that make the action clean and clear, while the detail is bare-bones. It almost has a “flash animation” feel to it, but luckily it’s much more polished. I’d hate to see artist Ben Bates tackle one of my beloved DC or Marvel books, but for this New Crusaders series he has just the right touch.
I’m not in a rush to find the other issues of this series and honestly, if I did I don’t know that I’d buy them. It’s a fine book—it just didn’t capture me. If you’re looking for an age-appropriate title for someone 8-12, this might be the ticket. If you’re a big fan of the Red Circle characters, again, give this a shot. If you’re looking for something deep, complex and beautiful—well this one probably isn’t for you.