Singles Going Steady is Comics Bulletin's weekly single issue review roundup.
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Edgar Allen Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher #2
(Richard Corben; Dark Horse)
This is the second and final issue of Richard Corben's brilliant adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher. I've been in heaven reading his recent Edgar Allen Poe series from Dark Horse; each issue proves that they gave Corben that Eisner Hall of Fame Award for a reason.
Corben is fluent enough in Poe that he doesn't have to do a strict adaptation. He has been threading other Poe tales though The Fall of the House of Usher, and here we get a wink to The Cask of Amontillado along with the previous nod to The Oval Portrait. Because it is all Poe — and because Corben is such a master — the pieces fit smoothly as if the stories were originally written that way.
What really makes this issue shine (or cringe. It is a Horror comic after all) is Corben's art. He has taken Poe's psychological horror and added a grotesque element. This is most evident in the opening scene, where Roderick and the Narrator take Madeline's corpse to the fault for internment. Corpses in Corben's world decompose in a most disturbing way — their faces are sunken and hollow even while their breasts and bodies are fleshy and ripe. And Roderick Usher is even more depraved, admiring his Grandmother's long-dead body while talking a few moments to molest the corpse of his freshly dead sister before locking her away.
Something I don't usually notice a lot but did notice here was the panel work. Corben made interesting choices with the panels — not big, bombastic wide panels, but small, intimate boxes that are tightly and perfectly arranted. The boxes help focus the psychological feel of the story, of being "boxed in" and trapped by the crumbling House of Usher. In fact, the more I look at his panels the more impressed I am. Some of them are slightly larger, giving the panel the feel of being raised up from the storyline and isolated from the flow. It's an interesting, subtle technique with a payoff that is felt when you read the story.
After this and The Conqueror Worm, I hope Corben keeps going with his Edgar Allen Poe series. I'm sure they'll be collected into a pretty little trade somewhere along the line, but with comics this good there is no way I can wait.
– Zack Davisson
X-Files Season 10 #1
(Joe Harris, Michael Walsh, Jordie Bellaire; IDW)
As you can tell from the art, Walsh works hard at his likenesses, key in this sort of book. These can be make-it-or-break-it details for fans, and hard core series fans are really who might be most likely to read this sort of thing. We're hoping the comics will take us beyond where the disappointing films and final seasons left us, back to the core of the spooky mysteries and brittle chemistry these two heroes shared. Buffy, Angel, Spike, Faith and Willow have all found viable life in the funny pages; why not X-files, even at this late date?
To that end, Dana is still undercover (as Dr. Blake) and Mulder is still grumpy and sardonic. But the odd follows them around, and Dana knows this well enough to be worried about the child they gave up for adoption. She wants to check in, despite all logical arguments to the contrary. Can they continue that story here without impeding any future movies? Chris Carter's involvement hints they might find a way. Of course, Carter is also the originator of delayed expectations, anticlimaxes and disappointments when it comes to Mulder/Scully. So it could go either way. So far, so good.
The story isn't yet as scary as the last good X-Files outing, their creepy crossover with 30 Days of Night, in which the amazing Vertigo-esque art by Tom Mandrake focused more on scares than likenesses. Walsh's style is more cartoonish, giving a somewhat lighter tone. Still, there's clearly something really wrong with that little girl and her affect-less mom. And the story, by giving us a classic Mulder moment (where he plays harmless head games with some kids), bringing Skinner in for some plot development, and letting Scully be our most beguiling agent-in-peril as ever, is on the right track.
In fact, this may be the version that finally gets the transition from screen to page right, considering: Scully is menaced by a group of hooded strangers (st
andard horror trope), betrayed by a seeming ally (ditto), and then saved by a mysteriously powerful stranger in a cape! Can superheroes fit into the X-files mythos? Well, they'll probably have to be tortured and doomed despite their good works, but who minds that these days?
– Shawn Hill
(Greg Pak, Jae Lee, Ben Oliver; DC)
File it under No-Brainer, the two biggest icons in modern American fiction team up again in an monthly ongoing. Separate Batman and Superman are unique and dissimilar, each with massively thick mythologies and frenetic fanbases, and somehow, for years, they've worked together splendidly.
The first "volume" of this team up, Superman/Batman, was out of continuity (not that matters now),but this one is certainly in the New 52. Set during the Superman jeans age, Greg Pak, Jae Lee and Ben Oliver unite for a plump debut that pushes together Bruce and Clark and then portals the reader to an provoking, though somewhat mundane, twist in the action.
Pak takes advantage of the DC king's dichotomy in the terms of plot, but the Batman/Superman #1 fails in voice and characterization. The time spent in Clark's head sounds alright to me, he's passionate, idealistic and has a thin threshold for his anger. The start for Bruce Wayne is promising as we find him watching children in a park (whoa!), and quietly hoping a bullied young boy will gain the balls to fight back (Oh. Ok.). However, as the internal dialogue begins to pour out the mystic of the Dark Knight unravels. I get that we're reading Batman 1.0, but I think venturing inside the head of Bruce Wayne in his early days of fighting crime is a tricky endeavor, and this this isn't the setting for it. Know what the real problem is? Narration captions. I have a love/hate relationship toward them and this bends toward the negative.
The noticeably ashy, painted look at times looks like a ghetto Alex Ross. Jae Lee's layouts are the true visual draw, using sharp angles and incorporating architecture into the paneling effortlessly. The high action, quick-pace plot makes for a fierce read, but some of the heavy-impact fights are a tad stagnant,. Ben Oliver pencils the shorter alternate section, and the less involved style feels more in DC's wheelhouse. The layouts take a hit, certainly, but more importantly the fight gets more confusing. How did Supes torch his father's tree? I missed that.
It's not a terrible start, but for their opening adventure there's a lack of urgency and meaning. The time-travel puts a wild swirl on what we think this would be, and I like that, but it needs to pay off big. I would have preferred something more paced and methodical, two big players feeling each other out rather than a couple of rash costumed kids galloping into a messy confrontation.
– Jamil Scalese
Conan the Barbarian: Queen of the Black Coast # 17
(Brian Wood, David Gianfelice, Dave Stewart; Dark Horse)
With his revamped X-Men being the best-selling comic in the U.S., and his own creator-owned The Massive a critical success, I sometimes wonder if Brian Wood has lost interest in his work on Conan the Barbarian. The series has had its ups and downs to be sure, but the latest story arc "The Nightmare in the Shallows" is a deep decent.
The Nightmare in the Shallows is what the price guides used to call an "album issue" — basically a rundown of "the story so far." Conan and Belit are day-trippin' on the Hyborean Age's finest yellow lotus flower, traveling through psychedelic landscapes and re-visiting all that has happened up till now. In this issue they roam through Conan's imprisonment in Messantia, Belit's trip home to see mom in Cimmeria, and a quick wink at her pregnancy and miscarriage.
One of the things that stands out about this issue is how schizophrenic the dialog has become. Either update the dialog or keep it period, but don't do both at the same time. Conan goes from talking like a modern kid — from Britain, no less — saying "Bugger this" after chilling his heals in prison too long, to spouting thick prose at Belit atop a mountain top: "I am your killer from the North, your wolf." It isn't exactly bad, just… weird, reading both kinds of dialog popping out at different moments. Either update the dialog or keep it period, but don't do both at the same time.
(Although I admit a little chuckle when one of the guards yelled at Conan "Wake up, you pansy!" I wonder if this was Wood letting off a little steam at those who have accused his Conan of being… slightly less than mighty. That was a clever seen and my favorite in this issue.)
I'm also not a fan of Davide Gianfelice's art. He has a really flat, simplified style that I just don't think works too well with Conan. Some of his costume choices are bizarre. I have no idea why he puts Belit in a thong string-bikini and thigh-high boots. And, of course she is wearing this outfit in the middle of Cimmeria's winter. In another scene she is decked out in fishnet tights and chaps. The ladies in Conan's world can be pretty scantily clad, but this is the first time I can remember seeing one that looks like an actual stripper, and a modern one at that. Belit is one of the most powerful women in Robert E. Howard's library, so it is a little disturbing seeing her reduced to a sexual toy.
And maybe the problems I have with this issue are all about the art. One things I have noticed about Wood's Conan is that the quality of the story changes drastically with the artist. The story itself is told almost entire
ly in exposition boxes, so the art has a huge impact. Maybe if someone like Becky Cloonan or Mirko Colak was drawing this, it would be a 5-star issue. But we'll never know.
– Zack Davisson
(Keith Giffen; J.M. Dematteis; Scott Kolins; Mike Atiyeh)
I've never read a Green Lantern comic.
At least not in the modern age. I've spun through a few trades of Dennis O'Neil's stuff, but that's about it. I have nothing against the space narcs, I just don't vibe with their flow.
Larfleeze breaks all rules. I discovered the mutt through some message board or wiki and I fell in love him from the moment I read the de-facto oath of the Orange Lantern: "Mine!". DC managed to make Red Lanterns work, so they shifted it down a shade, and frankly, I'm too damn curious for my own good.
A main character driven by greed, powered by theft and hoarding,… that's a tough sell even to an asshole like me. I had no clue this would be a humor comic, and that makes its quality all the more disappointing. The Giffen/DeMatteis duo take on the big horned dog and fumble nearly every aspect of it while the Benny Hill theme song playing in the background.
The first terrible thing is the framing sequence which involves Larfleeze ignoring and harassing his "butler", some little smart mouthed dude. The tone of the main character, of which I have no frame of reference, fluctuates from sanctimonious to street, and it's hard to get a hold of the overall flavor. The second terrible thing is the thing it frames — a agonizing retelling of his origin. Notoriously dry, undercut with flippant humor at every turn, a story I was extremely interested in didn't do anything to promote the character. Larfleeze's existing origin could have been retold in much more compelling way. The best part is Giffen and DeMatteis know how much it sucks by having the butler dude comment how it sucks. The third terrible thing? It's about as funny as the old guy who talks to you on the bus, the one who tells lame jokes that you chuckle at as to be nice. So, it's not funny.
There remains a high point. Scott Kolins draws an appetizing space comic, and with copious amounts of orange by Mike Atiyeh the book offers something for the $2.99. I've never enjoyed Kolins work much, but in a book of alien races and exaggerated emotions and actions he's in a zone he can excel in. It's got an elasticity that can move from frightening to fun.
Strip it down to its bare bones and there is the twinkle of a shining star, however, in the current incarnation Larfleeze #1 fails to make the case for this comic existing at all.
– Jamil Scalese
(Greg Rucka; Michael Lark; Santi Arcas)
There's this Michael Che bit about how no one ever kills someone they're “in like” with. The reverse is basically true as well– you don't die for someone you merely like. But family and other loved ones inspire a loyalty in us so deep that we're willing to sacrifice our own well being in order to keep them safe and protected. Greg Rucka and Michael Lark's new Image series Lazarus may look like a post-apocalyptic noir, but it's really a story about family bonds and how they can be both beautiful and tragic things.
Forever Carlyle is our titular Lazarus, a member of a powerful family in a quasi-dystopic future, who protects her loved ones by continuously and painfully dying for them. Like so many families, she's situated at the bottom rung of their specific dynamic, loyalty functioning as an easily manipulated weakness that offsets her impressive durability. The comic opens with Rucka and Lark killing her off in brutal fashion, only to just as quickly revive her so that she can in turn brutalize her attackers. Rucka and Lark immediately unveil an extremely intriguing world, full of high tech armaments and low tech survivors in equal measure. Forever and her family have a smooth Matrix quality to their style and design, but most of their surroundings look worn down and slovenly, with even Forever's killers appearing closer to medieval peasants than Agent Smith.
The symbiotic relationship between Rucka and Lark was one of the best components of Gotham Central and that's no different here. Rucka trusts when to back off and let Lark take the spotlight, and Lark more than rises to the occasion with his painful yet tastefully efficient action scenes. This issue's opening stands out as one of the most memorable opening sequences in a comic in recent history, and that has a lot to do with the way Lark frames Forever's murder– what could have been an ugly scene of horrific violence manages to be gracefully choreographed and impeccably shaded, with Santi Arcas's coloring forcing your eye to focus on all the right details at all the right moments. Rucka, of course, is no stranger to efficiency and this issue functions as a master class in how to kick off a brand new property. In a single issue, Rucka and Lark establish an entire world, set up the major players and their rivalries, and provide plenty of reasons for us to sympathize with our enigmatic heroine. There's still plenty of mystery, there's still lots to explore, but there's no reason to feel exhausted or overwhelmed, and that's a major achievement in a work as different and tense as this.
– Nick Hanover
SOME COMICS ARE GOOD, OTHERS NOT SO MUCH
Captain Midnight #0
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Microseres #3