Comic Book Reviews 11/2/11

Action Comics #3

I’ve heard a lot about Grant Morrison but I’ve never read anything he’s written. That’s why I wanted to read the new Action Comics. I had never really been a big fan of Superman, but I gave it a chance based on Morrison’s pedigree. Unfortunately I haven’t read anything particularly appealing three issues in.

Gene Ha pencils the introduction, a seven-page recap showing the destruction of Clark Kent’s home planet Krypton. Exposition with technological terminology is in over-abundance that proves to be obnoxious rather than engaging world-building. Jor-El looks ridiculous with a glowing headband, a silly planet logo, and a canine sidekick. This is supposed to be a traumatic scene, the single event that altered Clark’s future that left him without a family and a home. What should have been a serious scene comes off as campy.

People are afraid of the unknown and therefore Superman must be a threat. People who were saved by Superman in the first issue complain that he should have done more for them. As he saves a little girls kitten from certain death anti-Superman protesters ambush him. This makes him sad so he throws away his costume. What makes me sad is how boring, cliché, and generally stupid this all is. This wouldn’t happen in real life – people would be thankful for his help. Sure, his existence may scare people, not of Superman, but of what else might be out there. Simply put, Superman has only helped people, so making them angry with him is illogical.

Rags Morales’ continues to pencil with vast inconsistency. Characters faces’ change inexplicably panel to panel, so characters lack true definition. Clark practically has two faces for his two identities (and that’s not because of the glasses). Either Morales isn’t that talented or he doesn’t care, either of which should not be tolerated. And when compared to Gene’s introduction, Morales’ pencils look brutally inferior.

Seeing as how this series is priced at $3.99 (for no apparent reason), I expect a higher quality than what this book strives for. Other books showed great promise over the past two months, but this one has always felt as if it was coasting on by with no real promise to capitalize on. The characters are flat, the plot is silly, and the art is inconsistent.

Animal Man #3

Travel Foreman lets loose in this book to create gorgeously fucked up images. The first page shows Buddy morphing uncontrollably as he and Maxine travel deeper into the Red and Foreman pencils this with twisted elegance. His body unravels and shifts in inhuman ways, yet still resembles his former human self. You can see what’s organically changing as his mouth enlarges, with his teeth clustering sporadically, and his eyes disappearing into his mouth. These intense moments of horror are complimented by the subtle interactions between Buddy and Maxine. Seeing Buddy revert back to his normal self in page two after he’s reconnected with his daughter is disturbing yet simultaneously heartfelt – a balance this book constantly achieves with seemingly little effort.

Back at the Baker household, Ellen and Cliff wait for Buddy and Maxine return. Cliff is playing a video game, humorously titled Slaughterhouse Valley 6 while eating the equally amusing Froot E Dooz cereal. As Ellen looks at his son, while undead animals agitate him, unable to focus on her work, you can feel how uncomfortable this situation makes her. She even asks to play the game only to realize how graphic and disgusting it is (if she thinks that’s gross…). And BAM! Just as everything feels as normal as it could be, one of the Hunters Three attacks with swift intensity. This panel is the scariest in a book filled with intense moments, and that’s due to what came before. Seeing these two try to cope with the situation together, only to be put in an equally terrifying position, is masterful pacing for a horror story (yet somehow, when the monster says, “I am hungry…pleassse…” you almost become sympathetic to it, as if it can’t control its need to feed. It appears to be exhausted by its compulsions).

The action at the end with the other two hunters is hard to follow. I had to read through it a few times in order to realize that Buddy was getting his ass handed to him the whole time. He punches one, then gets punched, grabs one, and then he’s trying to not get eaten alive. The transitions between each panel are erratic and you never have a good sense of what took place. Page 16 is equally confusing and silly looking. If more fights are to take place, Foreman needs to improve the flow or else they’ll continue to bewilder rather than excite.

With an exciting cliffhanger (the red eyes and flies buzzing around are so perfectly creepy) to end this issue, Animal Man continues to impress. It has its issues, and the new retconned origin of Buddy feels cheap, but I have every reason to believe it’ll continue to be the engrossing, disturbingly charming story I look forward to most every month.

Swamp Thing #3

Scott Snyder is an incredibly talented writer but, at times, he’s not a great comic book writer. The first two issues of Swamp Thing had a lot of exposition, which made it feel like the art and text were constantly at odds, trying to prove that they were both capable of crafting a great Swamp Thing comic. Issue three lives up to, and exceeds, the promise of the first two issues.

Having an evil child antagonist may be cliché in the horror genre as a matter of principle, but this issue goes to great lengths to humanize William. William lives in a mobile plastic chamber because he’s allergic to chlorophyll. When some brat tries to burst his bubble, we meet the true William as he disfigures several people with his mind in a terrifying sequence. William is also Abigail Arcane’s little brother which makes this a more personal story but also forces you to wonder how they’ll stop him. This book ends on a total high note: William wearing the same scuba equipment the doctor used to catch the fish that spoke to William as he walks towards whatever’s calling him.

On pages 16 and 17 there’s a fantastic full page where Abigail talks about the rot and how it calls to her. These two pages show the pain and suffering that comes with being an Arcane, and by extension, shows us the pain William must also endure. It’s a poignant scene that captures a bunch of emotions for multiple characters. You have Swamp Thing’s love for Abigail as his only connection to his past life, Abigail’s feeling of escape and protection with Swamp Thing, and her suffering without him. Amidst all of this there’s even a nod of appreciation towards Tom Yeates (a penciler for Swamp Thing back in 1983) in the form of a label on Abigails jeans.

Victor Ibanez and Yanick Paquette’s pencils are so similar that I didn’t realize there were two artists at work here (Nathan FairBairn’s colors help make their styles coalesce). While Paquette has more inventive page layouts (such as pages 16 and 17), Ibanez pencils everything involving William, which suggests his grasp on horror is better than Paquette’s. Next issue is penciled completely by Ibanez, so it’ll be interesting to see how it compares visually to what came before.

Swamp Thing finally finds itself fully entrenched in its horror origins. This can be mostly attributed to William and his ability to creatively and fiendishly mutilate whoever stands in his way. It’s compelling, beautiful, twisted, and totally Swamp Thing.

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