Sunday, November 8, 2009

I Need More Zip-a-tone!

NAMOR, THE SUB-MARINER #8


February 1990

I've got a few minutes this afternoon, so how about another review? You down with that?

Right after High School, I was big into John Byrne. It was a good time to be into John Byrne, too. He had produced Omac for the DC, West Coast Avengers, She-Hulk, Next Men and of course, Namor, the Sub-Mariner. Of course he didn't do them in that order, but those are the comics that he worked on in the late 1980s and early 1990s that just seemed to be Byrne flexing his artistic muscles. I got rid of a lot of my mainstream comics a long time ago, but just cruising bargain boxes has gotten me replacement copies of a few that I really remember fondly.

This particular comic was stashed away in an office paper box, since it's not really among my prized possessions, comic-wise. I have to admit that nostalgia is the main reason that I own this, so a lot of this review will hinge on that perspective.

As always, Spoilers abound from here. That means I'll tell you exactly what happened.

SUMMARY

In 1961, German agents, including a scientist stash away a project before the Russians seal them into the city of East Berlin. While escaping the scientist is shot, and the two agents violently get him past the US checkpoint in an effort to get him help.

Namor wakes up in a puddle of sludge on top of a skyscraper, after flying a viral agent into the heart of a Sewage based creature inadvertantly created by scientists that was threatening New York. In attempting to fly down, he finds that his ankle wings have vanished and only his strength and skill save him. Namorita escapes from a pod she'd been placed in inside the creature, and she proceeds to rescue other captives as Namor walks up. One of the scientists to survive tells that the creature was an attempt to escape funding cuts, and Namor and the authorities were misled by the creator, now killed by her creation. Phoebe Marrs then runs up and begs Namor to help her brother, who struck a horrible deal with the corporate raider known as Headhunter. he rides off with her, and seems to be falling prey to her charms.
Meanwhile, Misty Knight and Colleen Wing are shocked to see the return of Banny Rand, aka Iron Fist, who they believe to be dead. Namorita is being brought uiup to speed by Namor's allies, Caleb and Carrie Alexander, as Carrie confesses her love for Namor, which does not appear to be returned, as Namor looks to be enthralled by Phoebe Marrs.

Namor and Marrs arrive at Headhunter's offices and we learn that her agreements with businessmen come at a high price as she reveals her collection of their mounted heads on her wall!




REVIEW:

The story flows by a series of coincidences, someone walks up, someone runs up, and everything happens in the course of an afternoon. There's not really a reason for this, as time could have passed before Marrs approached Namor, with no ill effect to the story. Namor's personality is very stoic and pompous, which is the biggest trouble in centering a book on him. Byrne did seem to make it work, but Namor's thought balloons should reveal more of the trouble in dealing with his loss of flight.

The largest attribute to the art that's noticeable is the zip-a-tone. Byrne used this on Omac and after leaving Namor, on She-Hulk. He uses it for shading and the colorist Glynis Oliver adds subtle colors to accentuate them so it doesn't get terribly distracting. It's an added effect that Byrne didn't need, but took the time to add, which gives some sense at how much pride he took in his work on this book. No one can fault Byrne's anatomy or basic artistic skill. If I find fault with anything in this comic, it's in the writing.

Byrne took, in this issue, a character seen at the time as one of the more powerfuul characters in the Marvel Pantheon and gave him more limitations. At the same time, there seemed to be no pondering of the circumstances that brought about it. The dialogue seems to render the characters two-dimensional in the context of this issue. Byrne was better at writing long-term, and in an era of sub-plots, he was able to excel at that. In smaller stories, he seemed hindered.



NOTES:

Like many comics that I've reviewed, this issue has never been collected. Also like most of the comics that I've reviewed, it should be cheap, provided that you can find it. Don't pay more that two bucks for an issue, and if you do, pick one up, try to pick up a run of several issues. Byrne makes Namorita interesting.

FINAL RATING: 6(out of 10)

The story weakness really hurts this comic. If it was on par with the art, then we'd be looking at at least an 8. John Byrne comics of this era probably need to be read in a series rather than individually.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Dani and the Demon Bear


Because my Sims Game crashed after a Saturday at work, I retreated to my comics for some solace. While digging through a box of comics I tried to sell at the flea market once, I looked over at the spinner rack and saw this little gem staring at me, literally.

NOTE: This is a repost of one of my reviews of old comics from a blogger account I set up some time ago. In an effort to consolidate everything I post blog-wise, I'm posting it here.

I had intended on doing a new review of this old comic until I realized that I'd already done it.

New Mutants #18

August 1984

New Mutants #18 was the beginning of a new artist on the Mutant books, Bill Sienkiewicz, who had made a mark on Moon Knight and a few other books. This was a real turn, as Marvel's style was far from artsy, and the comics industry was still recovering from the heavy influence of Neal Adams. Sienkiewicz had developed a style that was based on Illustration and it showed in page layouts that, looking back, set the stage for the modern age manner of irregular panel shapes, overlapping images, and borderless panels.

I remember as a twelve-thirteen year-old young artist being blown away by this new style to comics, and was instantly drawn to it. For Christmas of 1984, I actually copied a panel from this comic and used mixed media to make a Christmas present.

As always, Spoilers abound from here, so don't complain that you weren't warned.

SYNOPSIS:

We open on New Mutant team leader Dani Moonstar having aterrible nightmare of the Demon Bear that killed her parents. We then see the X-Mansion under attack by the military as a young, red-haired girl uses her powers to shield herself as she makes her way to Professor X trying to reason with the troops telepathically only to be killed. It's revealed that these are the memories of a young woman from the future, the girl from the before, just older, and looking much more ragged.

The New Mutants, except Dani and Illyana Rasputin training in the Danger Room, and proving successful, even with some difficulty. Illyana answers the front door to find the red-haired young woman who runs off in tears since she remembers seeing Illyana die.

In space an alien named Warlock is on the run from his brtual father. This Interlude leads into Dani training in the Danger Room against holographic bears. to the confusion of Illyana. That night Dani sets out in the snow to confront her Demon Bear, as she knows it's close. She uses her mutant power on the bear to find its deepest fear is her, and finds the strength to apparently slay it with surpising ease. Until she realizes that's she made a terrible error.

Rahne wakes screaming from the rapport that she shares with Dani and leads the New Mutants to the woods where they find Dani unconscious and lying in a pool of blood.

REVIEW:

If you didn't catch my meaning from the intro, this is a beautifully drawn comic. Glynis Wein must've had a helluva time doing the coloring on this issue. Sienkiewicz made very good use of black areas and each character is unique in their depiction. Illyana is cute as a button. Cannonball is lanky and awkward, a quality no other artist since has been able to capture like Sienkiewicz did. Previously in this series, Dani was sexualized, which is disturbing, given that the character is still in her teens. Sienkiewicz managed to make her attractive and exotic without being sexual about it. The only drawback is the technology of the time, as I sit and think of what this comic would've looked like if it had been printed with today's technology and paper quality. Heck, even thinking about what kind of work he's doing now, if today's Sienkiewicz had drawn this book.

The script is Chris Claremont at his peak, as he foreshadowed a subplot in a way that was intriguing and made time travel seem not quite so hokey as the previous times he used it. Dani's motivations, while a little cliche, are written well enough to be believable.

NOTES:
This issue has been collected twice, first in 1990 and earlier this year in the third part of Marvel's collecting of this series. They are very affordable, and I recommend buying them. You may have luck in finding it in back issue bins, and it should be affordable. I wouldn't pay more than three bucks for a near-mint copy.

If you feel inspried to look for more Sienkiewicz, then look for Elektra: Assassin, Stray Toasters and even some art books collecting Sienkiewicz's work.

FINAL RATING: 8.5 (out of a possible 10)

Why not higher? It's mutants, and the stretching of suspension of disbelief is too much, from mutants, mysticism, aliens and time travel just being a bit much to ask. If the story kept on the main story of Dani and her Bear, then we'd be in good shape.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Work In Progress


Thursday and Friday saw my drawing time go into a redraw of a previous strip.  There's no lettering in the original strip, and I'm really thinking that adding captions would be counter-productive. I'll research a little about captions, especially in the context of sci-fi comics, but right now, the impulse is to leave the strip captionless. The Science Fiction comics of the 50s, especially the really great EC comics made heavy use of captions, but they were building upon the prose science fiction of pulp novels. So far, I've not used captions in this story, aside from the "elsewhere" blurbs, and I really feel like captions in this setting would be useless and be telling things that I can show.

Also, I'm aware that some may be using larger monitor settings to view the Internet, so if you're having trouble reading the lettering, here's a tip, if you're using Windows XP. While pressing "Ctrl", slowly roll the scroll wheel on your mouse away from you. This'll enlarge the page and rolling it back will return it to the larger resolution.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

No, really, it was a vampire with no legs!


PREZ #4

March 1974

I must be out of my mind to put this one here, but my studio is a mess, and I've discovered a great cache of e-comics. I do own a copy of this gem, though. As a matter of fact, I have every issue of this series and only lack the comic that has Supergirl carrying Prez on the cover to have every appearance of this character.

SYNOPSIS:

After returning from a state trip to the European nation of Moravia, where Prez's administration has helped build a billion-dollar canal for irrigation, Prez and Eagle Free (head of the CIA) remark on the Moravians' strange custom of wearing garlic wreaths. That night, the White House is unexpectedly visited by a bat shaped helicopter carrying Wolfman, the Transylvanian ambassador. It seems that the Moravian canal has drained the lakes of Transylvania. When Prez refuses to destroy the canal, the Wolfman delivers a formal declaration of war on behalf of his country's leader, Count Dracula. Wolfman storms out, with noone realizing that he has left his coffin-shaped briefcase behind.

Prez calls a meeting of the cabinet only to be frustrated by a lack of intelligence on the area other than the superstitions of legend. The next night sees Wolfman's briefcase open to reveal a vampire with no legs strapped to a small cart for mobility, wearing blocks on his hands to ease his propulsion. Dracula's attempt to turn the sleeping Prez into one of the living dead is thwarted by Eagle Free who fights off the vampire with a Indian hooked cross, which resembles a swastika.

The Monrovian Ambassador reveals that Dracula plans to release thousands of rabid bats over America. Prez goes before Congress for a declaration of War against Transylvania, but Congress doesn't believe him and launches an investigation. Eagle Free concocts a final solution against the Transylvanian plane (their only plane), using birds on a suicide mission to dive into the planes jets and cause it to crash, apparently killing Wolfman and Dracula who were at the controls of the jet.


REVIEW:

This is just goofy, and for the time that it exists in, is wacky enough to make the various elements work in the genre of the story. As a reader, you cannot take this comic seriously. The absolute best part of this particular issue is the timelessness of it. If a young cartoonist produced something like this today, without DC having already done Prez, we'd all be talking about it. The fact that this was written by one of the co-creators of Captain America is a testament to the talent behind that creation and the range that is possible in comics, even with just one creator.

The art conveys the story very well, and for its weaknesses, still is strong enough to add to the bizarre nature of the story, and not distract from it. Neither the story nor the art go into a wacky area that would be so easy with this issue.

I'm serious, though, this series should be on the reading list for alternative comics creators. It reads like something that could have been published by any of the larger independent publishers or even self-published.



NOTES:
Everything I can find about this series shows it as uncollected. Finding it may prove tricky, given that because of the character's appearance in Sandman, demand went up and most likely now everybody that wants a copy has one. I wouldn't pay too much for a copy, since the collectability value of it has come and gone. You still won't find a Near-Mint condition copy in any dollar bins, but you should be able to get a reading copy for not much more than a new comic today. My advice is ultimately that if you think that a shop is charging too much for it, they probably are.

FINAL RATING: 8 (out of a possible 10)

Well, I suppose that the real reason for no higher than a 8 would be the nature of the story itself. It's not the type of comic to change your life, but it has stuck with me.