Friday, November 21, 2008

kracka-THOOOM!!! - My favorite ______ is drawn by _____

A brief respite today, while I get busy devouring Usagi Yojimbo tpb Vol. 8 "Shades of Death" & The GOON tpb "Chinatown"...

Daredevil / Joe Quesada – Joey Q does DD, my favoritest Marvel character hands down, all swirly and curvey and has him falling upside down 20 stories up from the Hell’s Kitchen street below, his nun-chukas splayed out with the wirey cord wrapped around and around and around him. Shits great. Some of my favorite images ever are of DD going to see Dr. Strange and Quesada drawing the Sorcerer Supreme getting all Doug Henning and introducing other dimensions.

Midnighter / John Paul Leon – Maybe not really fair because JPL is my favorite artist out there (Wintermen represent!!) but his guest shot on Midnighter was HOW I want to see the character! Also it was cool to see cyborgs and animal/machine experimentations. Oh what I wouldn’t give to have a 5-issue JPL Queen & Country run. That sombitch can drawr!

Batman / Jim Lee (just edging out Andy Kubert) – Not really much to say here. I guess the one thing I could bring up is an idea I’ve been toying with lately, dunno if I can write it into a full length article or not, but, is Batman an icon and an institution because he’s inherently a really cool (and really established) character…or is he an icon and an institution because some of the best writers in the biz have done their best work with him?

Thor / Olivier Copiel – Again maybe not fair because I never ever looked at a Thor book, or Thor IN a book for that matter, until Millar & Hitch (who is easily my favorite artist) did the Ultimates, so I don’t really have much of a frame of reference with him. Copiel’s got skills though and he gives Thor such a heavy presence. All Asgardian and shit.

Tara (Q&C) / Rick Burchett – All right now I’m just bullshitting because on Q&C: Declassified Vol. 2 Burchett doesn’t even DRAW Tara. But I just HAD to talk about this artist! The story is about Tom Powell’s earliest days and the only thing better than the who-dunnit? is Rick Burchett’s ability to create such a beautiful book, clean and sharp yet not sacrificing any of the frenetic pacing and energy the story demands. He truly is my favorite artist in the world.

Bizarro / Eric Powell – One last time…un-fucking-fair because I just wanted to mention Eric Powell’s name because he is…without a doubt…my favorite artist there is. The GOON is like my life’s bl—oh!! I was talking about Bizarro huh?

Heath Huston / Jerome Opena – No offense to anyone else on that fanastic book but something about the way JayO draws it…to me THIS is Fear Agent.

Ms. Marvel / Frank Cho – I guess you all can tell I’m fairly new to comics but dammit if they shouldn’t just not let anyone else at Marvel EVER draw Ms. Marvel basept Frank. Basically all women, just let the Cho-ster draw the wimmin folk.

Spider-Man / the Dodsons (just edging out McFarlane)
Wonder Woman / the Dodsons – Sensational S-M was a great friggin title and they rocked it for the first dozen or so issues. They’re up in the tops of my faves anyhoo, clean crisp lines and a real slinky and sensual style. They’re the only reason I would ever pick up a book with WW…she bores me.

Wolverine / Humberto Ramos – I swear…I dunno…it’s just with Wolveirne being so small and scrappy and full of attitude, as well as being so overexposed and all…I think Ramos’ graf/anatomically impossibly contorted style works great here. I also really liked his take on the costume and webbing in a few Spider-Man issues I caught back 5-6 years ago. You know the ones.

Captain America / Rob Leifeld – Pretty much the GOAT, am I right? Until I saw the master at work I never knew Steve Rogers was Chinese…or that he had hooves…or that sometimes his muscles have been working out and then THEY get muscles of their own!

Read More......

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

kracka-THOOOM!!! - Bad Guys & the Team Dynamic

I enjoy “team” titles for various reasons. The varied characters, the inter-team conflicts and relationships, the fight scenes are often on a much grander scale, and the possibilities for storylines are seemingly endless. Within this realm of books I have an affinity for books featuring evil team-ups. The books Villains United & Infinite Crisis planted this seed for me.

Villains United: While I find this book to be well written but poorly illustrated, what I liked most about it was that it was my introduction to a vast amount of lesser-seen criminal characters and how it really helped flesh out the DC Universe for me when I was relatively unfamiliar to anything beyond the Justice League. The book also introduced me to the dynamite storytelling and compelling plots spinning out of the head of Gail Simone.

Identity Crisis...the GOAT of the new millenium (so far)? Even if one leans to the side of it not being the GOAT (its not) one might still lean toward the opinion that it’s pretty fockin brilliant (it is). And I absolutely lurv the way it opens: following the good guys who are following the bad guys and how they do both do business…Firehawk & Elongated Man watching Bolt watching a couple of hoods while trying to scramble up info. From the criminal 411: Calculator. Also cool for the way it bookends Merlyn’s narration up on the bad-guy satellite o’ love with his good-guy “master arrowsmith” doppelganger (and the guy who I think the story is actually about) Green Arrow. Following Merlyn as the main voice of the baddies, It was really interesting to follow the way one bad guy views others of his ilk. There are those he despises, those he fears, and those he seems to reluctantly admire. The camaraderie is out of necessity and most definitely not borne out of affection. The bad-guy team ups as Merlyn seems to portray it, and as we see Calculator arrange, are borne out of financial motives with a tinge of a revenge factor.

I have followed bad guy teams in other books featuring: Secret Six, Spider-Man’s Sinister Six, Thunderbolts, etc. and one 3 issue run in a book, ironically following the exploits of a super-HERO team, really got me thinking on villain teams. That run was JSA Classified Issues 5-7. Now, I don’t mean the kind of “every single criminal getting together” type of enterprise like the Society, nor the “one chief will tell all the super-villains what to do” type of conspiracy depicted as Two-Face’s elaborate plot to take over Gotham featured in the slickly-written and stunningly drawn Batman: Dark Victory. JSA Classified Issues 5-7 featuring a formation of the “Injustice Society” comprised of: Icicle (the narrator), Tigress, Wizard, Ragdoll, Solomon Grundy, Gentleman Ghost, & The Thinker. I really liked a lot of the runs in that title. I especially liked THAT little run, produced by the incredibly talented team of Van Meter, Oliffe, & Geraci, as it focused more on the IJSA[/b] and how they depended upon, came to the aid of, and supported each other, as opposed to the JSA and they’re usual troublesome travails. An aspect of the storyline I enjoyed, and to tell the absolute truth I’m not sure if this is good comic book or bad comic bad storytelling, was icicle’s solid friendship with Wizard and how determined he was to assist his friend in his friend’s hour of need. Even though the risks were great and he wasn’t quite sure of what he was dealing with, Icicle was not going to let his friend give up without trying everything to help him. He also used the formation of their little cabal in order to re-ignite his love affair with Tigress. Like I said, I can’t tell if its good comic book writing or bad comic book writing to have a bad guy, a through-and-through villain, be so driven by friendship and romance. Its not that he does stupid and illegal things for his friend and lover and only do crime because he has to, no…he’s an avowed evil-doer. Rehabilitation is not in the cards for Mr. Mahkent. However, he is given complexity and layers to his character so that he’s not hated without reason and he’s not just a caricature of a nefarious ne’er-do-well. I’ll come down and say it’s GOOD comic book writing.

Soon though, the baddies all learn who and what they’re dealing with and aren’t really all that excited about letting Johnny Sorrow back into this dimension as he is not known to play well with others. Ragdoll double crosses them all, as they expected all along, and ends up getting fricasied by Mr. Sorrow’s return to this dimension. they expected all along. It ends with Johnny Sorrow eagerly voicing that he is back in command of the Injustice Society, and is the only one in the room happy about this turn of events.

Long story short…what I’ve been thinking about is the dynamics of “super teams” and specifically, super-villain teams. It seems like there are specific key elements to comprising teams that comic book authors and illustrators follow faithfully. I think it’d be a kick in the pants to be able to bounce around ideas of who could fit well with who and what they could be good at. But I’m a nerd like that. Here are some I’ve noticed:

1. Each team needs a physical powerhouse. Whether its IBAC, Solomon Grundy in the JSA run I mentioned or Solomon Grundy in Dark Victory, each team needs one character who’s going to be able to fight several people at one time and, subsequently, take a large amount of the blows.

2. Each team needs a meta-human, magical, or alien powerhouse. Well, they need one if they want to be successful, that is. Some key member that can lay waste to a city by blinking or something. Someone to lend some credence to the squad’s cache and someone possessing the firepower to make any serious threats believable. I’m thinking someone like Prometheus, Amazo, or Black Adam. Black Adam filled this role in the Society, IMO (although with Luthor, Deathstroke, and Calculator on the squad that’s like a literal “Murderer’s Row” line-up there).

3. Each team needs a legitimate “psycho”. Someone who actually scares the other bad guys on the team. This is vital because when you’re on a bad guy team doing bad guy stuff, someone is going to have to get their hands dirty. Just in case you’ve comprised a team of somewhat squeamish bad guys, it pays to enlist someone like Joker, Crime Doctor, Shadowthief, etc.

4. Each team needs to know that one of their own is going to double-cross them all. That’s just the price of doing business with the baddest of the bad, I guess, but there will always be one member of the team to say “Screw you all” and go for themselves. I think this plot twist has borne itself out in every bad-guy team ever. EVER.

Read More......

Monday, November 17, 2008

Kracka-THOOOM!!! - My love affair with a samurai rabbit

I’ve been reading Usagi Yojimbo (UY) pretty much exclusively as of late and I have to say that nothing has touched me, and inspired me, so much since I began my infatuation with Usagi’s stable-mate The GOON. Much like Mr. Powell’s work from 3-4 years ago, Stan Sakai's subtly splendriffical creation strikes the perfect note with me. It’s cartooney and simple on every page, but that’s not meant as a negative here at all. I’ve used the words “cartooney” and “simple” but I consistently find Usagi Yojimbo conveying an advanced, perhaps “dignified” is a better word(?), sensibility. For perfect example of what I mean regarding UY’s dignity, take a look at the sketch that serves as the guest artists’ introduction to the Dark Horse UY trade “Duel at Kitanoji ” (Vol. 17). Legendary MAD Magazine mad-genius Jack Davis duplicates a distinctive UY cover that displayed the sword wielding rabbit donning a traditional Japanese straw hat, poised with his back elbow raised high, his face set in a grim determination and his blade ready to strike its target true. In JD’s rendition of the image UY is replaced by the artist, Samurai Davis-san, and suddenly becomes less real. Both drawings would correctly fit the dictionary definition of “cartooney”, meaning that neither one of them convey a sense of “lifelike” illustration, only somehow in some way Sakai’s drawing of a Samurai rabbit conveys more composure and believability than Davis’. This is no knock on Mr. Davis at all, I just feel it best illustrates Stan Sakai’s ability to be so consistently and abjectly cartooney yet never be silly about it.

I truly believe while operating at its zenith, Sakai’s book expects very little from the reader by way of design, plot development and characterization while simultaneously demanding the same reader possess a modicum of intelligence in order to follow along. The anthropomorphic creatures are unapologetically cartooney, their actions are black & white good & evil, and very little exposition and/or plot development is left un-said, but I have yet to find even one panel to be buffoonish or childish. The storytelling is also pitch-perfect for me as it moves at a brisk clip with events unfolding rapidly. Usagi Yojimbo also often juggles storylines as it follows several distinct characters unwittingly meandering their way toward their ultimate convergences with one another, and once again I find it’s all to the goodage.

The wanderings of Yosagi & Co., in this little slice of feudal Japan, never seems forced, never seems heavy handed, and it never gets stilted and bogged down. This is where the simplicity is a boon to the storytelling. The storytelling is also benefited, however, by the delightful brush work of Stan Sakai and the incredibly rich and detailed backdrop he’s able to wring out of black and white. Technically…its black ink and the absence of black ink on the page that we’re looking at, but in Stan’s masterful hands it becomes a beautiful display of heavy and fine lines, of intricate patterns, of vibrant flora and fauna and of ornately detailed architecture. The rigid straight lines of Japanese architecture and design are given a soft, bouncy treatment on the pages. Straight lines don’t exist in Mr. Sakai’s world and God bless him for it! I adore his style.

I think panel for panel this book offers more action, literal “mano y mano” combat type action, than 99% of the books out there. And though the life of the sword-swingin’ Samurai (or in Usagi’s case: the life of a Ronin) living by the Bushido code is bound to be violent, when the samurai shit hits the Japanese folding fan the book never goes the grisly gross-out route. Sword slices are more implied than anything, with the poor unfortunate slice-ee simply uttering a “GOO!” or a “HYUK!!” and their face contorts in a grimace. Curvy lines arc from Usagi’s back to his sword, which offers a simple “shnuck”, and the unseen blood is spilt. Seriously guys…with as many sword fight scenes are in every one of these books…I think what if Rick Remender, Tony Moore, or even Eric Powell drew this?! There’d be bone fragments, entrails and brain matter flying every which away. But somehow in some odd way, Stan Sakai manages to stuff his book full with beautifully drawn action and swordfight scenes without once EVER veering into the sophomoric or slapstick avenues most would take it.

Long story short, I recommend picking up the TPBs “Grasscutter” (Vol. 12) or “The Mother of Mountains ” (Vol. 21) and check it out.

Read More......