I’ve been smiling since Wednesday.
Made some considerable progress on the creative side of things, and Ultimates #12 finally dropping didn’t hurt either. Combine this with Employee Appreciation Week, which swells my bookstore discount to forty percent off, and you’ve got the recipe for a few good days. And if I’m sharing the bad moods, and the disappointments, and the aggravation with everyone, it seems only fair to share this. Spent the weekend reading several trades, and along the way found yet another writer to pay attention to, renewed my admiration for one of the finest runs in comics, discovered another reason to fear
Joe Casey, and gave Hush a second chance.
Thoughts are printed below, along with a tease of things to come.
Invincible: Family Matters (Robert Kirkman/Cory Walker/Bill Crabtree)
Kurt Busiek tried to warn me. The award-winning writer supplies the introduction to this four issue collection with a stern warning…get out while you still can. Busiek claims the writer/creator of Invincible, Robert Kirkman, is setting us all up, and that by the end of the trade, we’ll be completely hooked on the adventures of Mark Grayson, a teenager who inherits superpowers from his dad. Several of the popular conventions that define teen superheroics are present, including the high school setting, the part time job, and the trouble with girls, so if you want to get technical, the deck is stacked against him, because when you start talking teenage heroics, you’ve gotta mention Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man.
Compared to one of the most consistently well written titles on the stands, Invincible still manages to carve its own unique signature into the genre. How in the hell does he manage that? For starters, his book’s got heart and it’s got charm, whether its Mrs. Grayson worrying about her “boys,” the obvious attraction between Mark and teenage heroine Atom Eve, or the clever banter between a boy and his father, who just happens to be the most powerful hero on the planet. Kirkman isn’t attempting to deconstruct the genre, or infuse everything with “realism,” he just tells smart stories with smart and likable characters. And it works. Tremendously.
While it’s important to salute the efforts of creators working to alter what a superhero looks and acts like, we shouldn’t forget how satisfying the whole thing can be, in the right hands. I’m putting Robert Kirkman and Invincible on my list. I advise you to do the same.
Absolute Authority Vol. 1 & 2 (Warren Ellis/Bryan Hitch/Paul Neary &
Mark Millar/Frank Quitely/Chris Weston/Arthur Adams/Gary Erskine)
Switched it up here, and reached for the ultimate in progressive thinking with Wildstorm’s The Authority. Now, I’m sitting down, twenty-four bold chapters at the ready in all their oversized glory, expecting to get through maybe Vol. 1 and the beginning of Vol. 2. Maybe. Several hours and a couple of reading breaks later, the last page of Millar’s Brave New World turns, and I’m feeling like that kid again, the one capable of devouring a couple dozen comics in a day’s time with little trouble. Energized, even though I finished in the middle of the night. That’s what this damn book was, pure kinetic energy from two of the sharpest minds in comics.
It’s been said over and over again how Warren Ellis, and later Mark Millar, changed the face and scope of superhero comics with their respective runs. We’ve heard about Hitch, and we’ve heard about Quitely, and the incredible visuals they created to match these stories, elevating a bar that to this day, remains relatively untouched. You may have reached the point where you’re tired, sick to death of hearing about this damn comic, and what it did to the industry. Well, too fucking bad.
It’s impossible to look at this material with anything less than the respect it deserves, and after you’ve finished reading it, it’s a little hard not to immediately read it again. Every arc simultaneously feeds off and builds upon the one before it, and even with a concluding storyline that the Internet tells us was marked with a number of hurdles, The Authority serves as an effective blueprint for how things can be done. How writers can think with reckless abandon, murdering God and evacuating the entire population of the Earth in the process. It’s all different now, and the proof is collected in two volumes.
Codeflesh (Joe Casey/Charlie Adlard)
Leave Joe Casey alone. If left to his own devices, allowed to pursue his own instincts, Casey will deliver some inspired storytelling. Check the man’s record and the titles he’s excelled at, and admittedly, it hasn’t been the bigger books, that often come with a larger set of constraints from both a continuity standpoint and an editorial one. When Casey has his way, we get things like Wildcats, like Mr. Majestic, and now, like Codeflesh.
Cameron Daltrey is a bail bondsman that specializes in superhuman criminals. When someone skips their court date (and these guys always do) he dons a mask and brings them in himself. Let’s ignore the fact that Daltrey has no powers to speak of, and is often terribly outmatched when he squares up with a guy. Let’s also ignore the fact that his girlfriend is growing increasingly pissed at Cam’s inability to keep any of their dates. Hell, the fact that Daltrey is under court order from a judge NOT to bring in his own skips anymore (hence the disguise) is also slightly irrelevant. What matters is that Casey’s running the show, with another strong artist at his side (Charlie Adlard) and you can tell from the results.
The scribe’s influence extends beyond the dialogue and the characters featured in this collection, because as the excellent covers on his Wildcats series can attest, if there is a way to take fuller advantage of the visual medium, he’ll take it. The covers, serving as chapter breaks alongside a bit of prose from Casey, range from incredibly solid to exceptional, and even the manner by which the title “Codeflesh” is introduced in the opening of every chapter indicates some additional attention. The stories are tight, the emotions are valid, and the package is another impressive offering from AiT/PlanetLar. But, at its core, it’s a few more reasons to leave Joe Casey alone.
Batman: Hush Vol. 1 (Jeph Loeb/Jim Lee/Scott Williams)
Hype kills, you know. More times than not, it sells incredibly, but despite that, it helps to break down projects before they can even get started. Last year, for twelve months, DC held a tight stranglehold around one of the top spots on the sales chart with Hush. Personally, I thought the ending to this story was incredibly anti-climatic, and not of the same quality often found when Loeb takes control of Batman. He understands the character and the way he thinks, and because of that, and the incredible artwork of course, I was willing to give the whole thing another read. Truth be told, I really want to like this story.
After a second reading of these first five chapters, I don’t have any huge problems. Whether that’s due to my previous belief that the arc showed its strongest signs of life at its inception, and a couple instances near the end, or if I’m just getting soft, is anybody’s guess. What I am aware of, is that Jim Lee art makes anything much easier to accept, and for the superstar artist to arrive on Batman, and not use the opportunity to leave a visual mark on every character he can get his pencil on, would be a waste of everyone’s time. Suspending our sense of disbelief, and ultimately making sense of this whole thing, is a task that would injure most writers, and for the first five months, Loeb keeps control. The guest spots blend into each other, a hostage taking Killer Croc here, leading to the ransom money being stolen by Catwoman, who’s really under the control of Poison Ivy, who’s later chased to Metropolis, only to hypnotize Superman. And Batman and Catwoman kiss. And there’s some mysterious figure watching, and possibly directing it all. And one of Bruce Wayne’s childhood friends appears from, well nowhere really.
Hush should be an absolute train wreck of a story, and it’s far from it. It not might be reinventing the wheel, but not everything needs to, and if there’s one word to describe the work in this first arc of Hush, it’s solid. And there’s a lot of things out there that can’t even manage that. Solid I can live with.
And that’s all I could manage to get done before football swallowed my Sunday. By the way, the reason I’ve had a smile on my face for the last few days, is because the first five pages from my very first creator-owned work came through my inbox last week, and shortly after I had a panic attack over having to lay dialogue over them, I had this twinge of satisfaction that’s hard to explain. It’s very likely that next week, the pages will appear somewhere for all to see, so watch for them.