DC, Animal Man #0-29 +annuals, written by Jeff Lemire, drawn by Travel Foreman, Steve Pugh, Timothy Green II, John Paul Leon, Alberto Ponticelli, Rafael Albuquerque, and Jeff Lemire, 2011-2014
The year is 2011 and everything is about to change. DC wants you to buy their comics. They know people like first issues. What if they had fifty-two #1’s in just one month!? Crazy, right?
When I first heard about the New52 I was thrilled. Frankenstein, OMAC, and Stormwatch were all going to get ongoings, Batman would continue under Scott Synder, Batwoman was back and Batman Inc. wasn’t over yet. Continuity be damned. Brightest Day be damned. Things were getting all shook up and there was light at the end of the tunnel!
I was excited for a lot of the titles DC had in their stables, but the best news by far was about Animal Man. Grant Morrison made me a lifelong fan of the character when he tackled the series back in the day, revolutionizing both the title and the notion of the “B character” (not to mention the very nature of comic books themselves). Peter Milligan followed with an appropriately bizarre yet brilliant stint and Tom Veitch gave us a handful of memorable issues as well. There was some neat stuff in Animal Man’s Vertigo era too, but I longed to see him back in the DCU proper. When I heard Jeff Lemire was at the helm, I swooned.
Lemire’s take on everyone’s favourite animal powered, family focused, multi-dimensional actor/stuntman extraordinaire was–focused—that would be the polite thing to say. One might say it was a great twelve issue series that somehow got stretched to thirty. The truth is Lemire seemed to have only one story in mind. Month after month we crawled along a plot that went in circles—at a snail’s pace. Buddy Baker is powered by animals via another dimension called The Red. There’s also The Green and The Rot. The Rot wants to take over, Buddy’s daughter has a strong connection to The Red and eventually Brother Blood tries to usurp control. Swamp Thing pops up, there’s some family in-fighting, we meet a few neat characters in The Red and there’s the occasional brawl with gross rotting carcass things. For flavour, we also get a few issues revolving around Buddy’s acting career, but these are more of an aside and an interesting way to comment on the main plot.
If you’re like me and get tired when a series sticks with the same conflict for the majority of the series (hello New Avengers) then Animal Man will surely disappoint. I mean, for all thirty issues (that’s including #0) we’re essentially dealing with the same issue. Buddy doesn’t like being controlled by the powers that be in The Red. He needs to maintain the balance so The Rot doesn’t take over. His family flees from gross rotting creatures. His daughter is really powerful. That’s it. I want more!
And to be fair, there’s a little more hiding here and there. The two annuals are actually really good. In the first, Lemire shows us that Animal Man is something of a legacy hero, a concept I always enjoy. In the second we deal with a spider-like creature/woman who messes with Buddy’s mind. There’s a decent amount of story in each and they thankfully peel away from the main plot to give us a much needed break. The few issues revolving around Buddy’s movies are nice too (especially considering they are drawn by the great John Paul Leon). There might be more to the world of Animal Man, but most of the time we’re trapped in a never-ending story loop inside The Red.
Besides that all too common issue of molasses paced plot, Lemire does an admirable job in the writing department. His dialogue is usually suitable and sometimes surprisingly creative. There are a few standout characters from The Red that become real treats thanks almost entirely to the unique syntax Lemire voices them with. The plot is filled with some neat concepts too, and had it been twelve issues instead of thirty, this could have been quite the standout series.
The art, however, rarely misses. We start with Travel Foreman (who I’ve commented on twice before). His work very strange here, yet surprisingly appropriate. Lines are thin, angles are odd, features are blotchy and frightening—it’s neat stuff. He’s an artist that tends to flop more often than not, but when he nails it, he really nails it.
Timothy Green II draws sections here and there and he’s a good fit as well. He’s got an angular, thin style similar to Foreman’s but unique in its own way. I really appreciated the sections he drew. When Foreman leaves permanently, Steve Pugh fills his spot more than admirably. I’ve always been a Pugh fan (expect for his less than stellar Doom 2099 work) and he’s at the top of his game here. It’s worth noting that he drew a sizeable (and impressive) chunk of Animal Man’s Vertigo years prior to this run, so he’s no stranger to the character—and it shows. His monsters are just as frightening as Foreman’s but his work is overall more organized and consistent. There isn’t a single panel that seems rushed or unfinished. When Pugh hops on board he brings a sense of professionalism with him and the title seems better for it.
Unfortunately, Pugh doesn’t finish the title. Luckily, when he leaves it’s Rafael Albuquerque to the helm! The art doesn’t get any better or worse, but the style changes drastically. Albuquerque’s at bat finishes off the game in style, but Pugh’s attention to detail is sorely missed.
We also get fill-in work from the great John Paul Leon. Yeah, there’s that, and Lemire takes a stab at the art here and there as well. When Lemire is illustrating his own work, it’s in a league all its own. His words seem heavier. His themes seem more relevant. Everything about his work increases tenfold and it’s a joy to read. This isn’t to say other artists don’t “get” what Lemire is saying, but his unique, crooked, independent art style adds numerous layers to his fairly straightforward words.
It’s certainly a nice effort, but it isn’t the return I was hoping for. For those without large expectations (this isn’t Essex County by way of Morrison existentialism, wearing a cape) there’s a lot to like here, if you’re patient. For those that tire of a single plot stretched to its limits, try the first few issues and go from there.
DC, Stormwatch #0-30, written by Paul Cornell, Paul Jenkins, Peter Milligan, Jim Starlin, and Sterling Gates, drawn by Miguel Sepulveda, Ignacio Calero, Will Conrad, Cliff Richards, Eduardo Pansica, Yvel Guichet, Allan Jefferson, and Jeremy Roberts, 2011-2014
Oh Stormwatch, you could have been a contender. Your characters, your concepts, your bold, fresh start! All the ingredients were there! You even had a nice set of creators on board.
Well, the first thing that happened was Paul Cornell and Miguel Sepulveda. When I heard that these two would be taking the reins of one of my favourite super-teams, I was thrilled. I love a good Authority story and when Warren Ellis took control of Stormwatch all those years ago, everything just seemed to fall into place. Sure, the team dwindled for a while, being passed around to different writers and artists and lacking an overall direction. Stormwatch was the New52 title that would throw all my favourite Authority characters (and Martian freaking Manhunter to boot!) into mainstream continuity. Again, there was light at the end of the tunnel.
While the first arc opened to yawns from the critical community at large (solid B’s and unimpressed C’s all around) I was thoroughly engaged. Cornell was writing the much loved cast perfectly, I thought, and even created a new batch of characters that both intrigued and fit perfectly into the team dynamic. Adam One, Harry Tanner and The Projectionist were damn cool when they were introduced! Cornell even managed to create that perfect sense of “larger than life disaster” that made The Authority such a memorable book. The team was handling off-the-wall issues and trying to tackle everything at once, we were slowly learning about their place in the New52 and everything looked like it was coming together. Then it fell apart.
Cornell departed the book on something of a sour note. I’m not talking from a business perspective, but from a story perspective. His initially exciting arc wrapped up in a manner I wasn’t entirely satisfied with and fill-in writer Paul Jenkins quickly whipped the story in his own direction. I remember these issues being decent but not much else. Memorable they were not. The title wasn’t quite ruined, but the initial energy had worn off.
Then came Peter Milligan. To say I was excited for Milligan’s takeover would be an understatement. I thought this book would be my favourite title, hands down. Milligan is the king of inconsistency, however, and despite the fact that he’s written some of my favourite books over the years (go read his Human Target, please) there’s always that chance that he’ll churn out some absolute crap. This just happened to be the king of those craps.
Milligan’s writing sunk this title so low, I’m not sure how it crawled back up. Under his pen characters sounded off (and often, annoying), decent plot threads went out the window and any potential this book had was completely buried. To top it all off, the plot (which was now a negligible part of the book altogether) slowed to a crawl as well. This book was so bad that I continued to buy it out of sheer amazement.
So the title seemed doomed. How it wasn’t cancelled I don’t know, but I’m glad it wasn’t because things were about to get very interesting. When issue 1 changed everything we knew about Stormwatch, I was impressed. In a very strange move, DC decided they needed to change everything again—without a new issue 1! With #19 Jim Starlin and Yvel Guichet came aboard and gave the entire series a soft reboot, essentially killing off the old team and planting new stories in a newly created reality. This Stormwatch was akin to the one we knew and loved before, with Apollo and Midnighter sporting their classic designs. Original Starlin creation The Weird was now a part of the team, Lobo became a major focus and former Stormwatch mainstay Hellstrike made a surprise return.
Yes, things were looking up. Jim Starlin had taken a dead title and given it a new lease on life, making it a book worth reading (no surprise there). Even the logo reverted to its ancient Image design! The plot was finally moving in an interesting direction—Starlin explained the demise of the team’s previous incarnation and gave us a reason to care about the new one. Again, we even got a few new characters that turned out to be quite interesting in their own right. This was in no way the Stormwatch I was expecting, but it was the Stormwatch we all deserved. Things were good for a nice little while and eventually Starlin put his story to rest. It wrapped up nicely, albeit in a very traditional comic book manner, and I was finally ready to let go.
DC wasn’t done, however, and they gave us one more. Sterling Gates and Jeremy Roberts wrapped up the title with their single issue epilogue that basically cleaned house and set the team back to their pre-Starlin continuity. On the surface, this seemed like a bad idea, but it turns out I actually missed Cornell’s iteration of the team. The potential that was once there seemed to rush back in. Things were ending, but there was hope for Stormwatch yet. The great new characters and interesting concepts that got me excited in the first place were back, and we were allowed to forget that mess that occurred between Cornell and Starlin. Smart move DC!
That’s the story of Stormwatch, now let’s talk art. In the beginning, there was Miguel Sepulveda and it was good. His art was detailed, dynamic and dark—perfect for the title. If I have one complaint, it’s that everything seemed squished. It looked as if he’d drawn beautiful cinematic 16×9 sequences and they’d been crammed into a 4×3 television set. I’m not sure how much digital manipulation was at work that, but it seemed like the art wasn’t all it could have been. Still, it was decent and I enjoyed it.
Ignacio Calero’s take was brief but capable. His characters were more muscular and everything seemed beefier, but it wasn’t an improvement over Sepulveda’s work. His stint was short lived and Will Conrad quickly hopped aboard. He and Cliff Richards would have the unfortunate experience of illustrating the worst run on the book and despite their initially able craftsmanship, it couldn’t hold up in a book that was sinking so fast. Conrad and Richards, while great on other titles, did not live up to expectations and their pictures flopped right along with Milligan’s words.
When the great Starlin re-vamp came, so did Yvel Guichet. His work his peculiar, combining classic superhero styling with off-putting angles and distorted appearances. The layouts were great and his art was a breath of fresh air, but it had a funny smell to it as well. Faces never seemed right—proportions always slightly off. I can’t say they made the best choice hiring Guichet for the job, but the title improved altogether so things were looking up either way.
The last issue drawn by Jeremy Roberts wrapped up the artistic package nicely. His art is very Jim Lee-esque and suitable for Stormwatch, but in many ways it isn’t memorable or unique either. For the single issue he drew, he did a fine job.
I’d say grab the first arc and then skip right along to Starlin’s stuff. Or you could skip this series altogether, you’d be forgiven. For somebody who read it month after month as it was coming out, this book was one outlandish roller coaster ride. Collecting it after the fact, however, might not prove very fulfilling.
DC, Dial H #0-6, written by China Mieville, drawn by Mateus Santolouco, Riccardo Burchielli, and David Lapham, 2012
As you can see, I’ve only read the first half of Dial H. I meant to buy the series as it was coming out, but my pull list was already overflowing. Trade waiting proved to be the wrong move and this series only lasted thirteen issues (including #0). It’s a shame, too, because by the end of this volume things are looking pretty darn cool.
The first thing you’re likely to notice about this book is the writing. It’s unusual, to say the least. China Mieville is a novelist by trade and his adjustment into the world of comic books seems uneasy. The narration is hard to follow, the dialogue misleading and the story surprisingly confusing. The first arc deals with Nelson Jent as he discovers the mysterious dial that transforms him into different superheroes. Jent is a down-on-his-luck, overweight nobody who quickly welcomes the chance to become a hero. He first tries to defend his friend and take down a group of drug pushers, but the true villains slowly emerge and the story gets convoluted quickly. It’s easy to get lost and not until issue 5 do things become clear. Once we get into issue 6 and 0, however, things start to get really fun, but that first arc is heavy with indistinct threats and a minimal amount of useful information.
What Mieville does excel at is creative thinking. His villains aren’t your average lot with typical goals and superfluous powers. There are some real unique concepts here—my favourite and the most obvious being the variety of heroes the dial dishes out. I loved seeing all the kooky ideas Mieville churns out, from Snail Commando and Captain Lachrymose to heroes with hoses for hands and hula-hoops for bodies. It’s great stuff—exactly what I was hoping for.
The art is something of a mixed bag. The first arc is done by Mateus Santolouco and I can’t say I was all that impressed. His designs were spot on and many panels were actually quite breathtaking, but the storytelling simply isn’t there. Strange angles and dynamic postures are favoured instead of clear panel-to-panel action and there’s more than one occasion where you really need to study the page to find out what’s going on. Faces are often uglier than necessary and bodies more distorted than I’m used to. Then there’s another brilliant character design and a gorgeous splash panel and I fall for it all again. Santolouco is talented; I just hope he becomes more consistent.
Issue 6 drawn by David Lapham. It’s brilliant, revolving around Nelson’s day off and exploring some of the downsides to using the dial. The art is great, the story is simple yet effective and as a single issue it achieves the potential this series has. If the rest of this title is as great as issue 6 I’ll be truly impressed.
Issue 0 is great as well. Riccardo Burchielli does an admirable job on art, telling a clear story that’s somewhere between Santolouco and Lapham’s styles. A few truths are revealed about the dial and we get a story completely removed from Nelson and his situation. Suddenly, the world of Dial H is filled with even more potential and I can’t wait to grab the second trade.
If you can make it through the admittedly frustrating first arc, there’s a lot to like about this series. It’s dense stuff, almost in the same league as early Grant Morrison but not as polished. Mieville may have had to settle into his comic chops, but he clearly gets comfortable and things start to fall into place. Be patient and you’ll agree, this title is a neat one. And those Brian Bolland covers don’t hurt either!