Friday, July 28, 2006

The Longbox 7/28/06

Casanova #1
writer: Matt Fraction
artist: Gabriel Ba
Image Comics, released 6-20-06
It's not too often when you finish a comic book and you sit for 10 minutes thinking about what it is you just read. But Casanova pulled it off. Reading this was comparable to the effects I was left with after listening to OK Computer for the first time -- it's like instantly knowing you've come into contact with a piece of art you're sure to cherish for years. It didn't quite go as far as handing me the mindfuck that an initial viewing of a Kubrick film typically does, but I wouldn't be shocked if this title eventually takes me to similar places. It clearly has that anything-can-happen vibe going for it.
So what is this budding, unpredictable masterpiece all about? Well, the short of it is that we'll be following Casanova Quinn -- a time-traveling, womanizing, scoundrel extraordinaire. He's essentially James Bond living in Doctor Who's universe with many of the complexities exhibited in Jorge Luis Borges' short story "The Garden of Forking Paths."
His story begins here with a contract to steal the Seychelle Ruby. Too bad for his client that the provided info has led him to the residence of Ruby Seychelle. But that's not Quinn's problem, he'll deliver her regardless. In the middle of his escape with Ruby, a high-ranking soldier of E.M.P.I.R.E. comes to arrest him at the behest of Cornelius Quinn, our hero's father and Director Supreme of E.M.P.I.R.E. Turns out Casanova's twin sister, Zephyr, was killed while investigating a tear in the time continuum. Quinn now takes it upon himself to solve his sister's murder through combining his underworld contacts with a few less-than-honorable methods of information extraction. This, of course, leads to mentally dueling with a mutant brain, jumping out of a flying casino, meeting with the leader of a "global theft and terror network," and hopping into additional streams of reality, among other adventures. All of this happens between quite a few surprising, yet earned, twists and before we discover the truth behind Zephyr's fate. Pretty damn memorable for a first issue, in my book.
All of this craziness is depicted wonderfully by Gabriel Ba, who I don't believe I've had the pleasure of being exposed to before. His work on this book is really quite impressive. Not only does he handle standard action scenes effectively, he even makes the mental duel mentioned above incredibly exciting, which I find very impressive since the scene is basically comprised of two people sitting down at a table. Another aspect of Ba's art that must be addressed is the color scheme. The entire issue uses only black, white and a dull green, but this limited pallet is hardly noticeable after a few pages in. He makes great use of shadow, which is reminiscent of Mike Mignola, but this is no rip-off. It is very evident here that Ba employs his own style.
Just as I had never picked up something by Ba previously, I hadn't heard of Matt Fraction before either. I was totally blown away by the scripting of Casanova, not only by the plot itself, but also the layout of the panels. First off, this issue is jam-packed with story. It doesn't take a break and action panels never takeover the page. They are strategically placed between key plot points and sly jokes (I laughed out-loud a lot when reading this issue). Probably my favorite feature in this book is the little panels of a character's head below a bit of text, usually from their perspective, explaining either who they are, what importance they have to Quinn, or another great joke. Some even contained all three in the span of two sentences. I've never seen that utilized before, but it's a fantastic method of storytelling that would be most effective in comics than any other medium. I hope it remains a standard feature of Casanova.
Finally, I have to address Fraction's afterward on the interior back cover. In it, he vaguely explains where the ideas for Casanova came from, including discussions with Warren Ellis and Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound." For those of you not familiar with Spector, he was a prominent music producer in the 60's for pop groups such as the Ronettes, the Righteous Brothers, and Ike & Tina Turner, and pretty much all of his production featured various layers of music that created an extraordinary and unique sound, one that no one else during that era could duplicate well. Spector's Wall of Sound is the impetus that gave Fraction the ideas that we see as Casanova. I found this revelation absolutely fascinating because I've never heard an author in any medium cite a style of music as the construction of their story, and it's the Wall of Sound!!! Who is this crazy man that thinks of reality-jumping men of espionage when he's listening to "Be My Baby"?
But, you probably don't care about the Ronettes, so I'll wrap this review up. Based on everything that went on in this book, Casanova looks to be on the path of a great run -- as long as you all pick it up off the stand, that is. I fear that titles such as this one will be ignored by fans for not being published by one of the big two and for residing outside of the superhero genre. I also believe that Fraction will be a big name in the world of comics if this one takes off or if he starts writing a high-profile book for Marvel or DC. Either way, pick up Casanova the next time you're at a shop. You won't be sorry.
10 out of 10

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Shortbox 7/20/06

Uncanny X-Men #475
writer: Ed Brubaker

artist: Billy Tan
Marvel Entertainment, released 7-5-06

Is any writer in the biz as on as Brubaker is right now? If so, let me know about them because I'm not reading anything by them. From Sleeper to Captain America to Daredevil, Bru's been knocking everything he touches out of the park. (Slight spoiler warning for those not having read Deadly Genesis yet). Picking up where his X-Men: Deadly Genesis mini left off (another recommended pickup), we find a walking, powerless Prof. X forming a new team of X-Men. Comprised of Nightcrawler, Warpath, Marvel Girl, Havok, Polaris and himself, Xavier's new squad is on the hunt for Vulcan, the third Summers brother, who is traveling straight into Shi'ar space to enact his own brand of revenge upon them. While there's not a ton of action in this issue, it really sets the stage for a potentially classic X-Men run. I have no idea where he's going with this collection of characters, and those stories are usually the ones I end up loving the most when all is said and done.
Also, I sense that I'll eventually grow a little tired of the Civil War overload during the next few months from my Marvel titles, but with this team gallivanting
in deep space, I suspect it'll be a nice change of pace from the rest of the company's books in my stack.
8 out of 10

Green Arrow #63
writer: Judd Winick
artist: Scott McDaniel
DC Comics, released 6-14-06

The ferocious battle between Green Arrow and Deathstroke that started last issue comes to a great close in this one, and that happens by page six. The remainder of this installment brings the return of Brick and the continuation GA: Star City mayor. I've really been enjoying the one-year-later jump for Ollie, particularly compared to the other DC titles in my stack. It actually makes sense for a man in Oliver Queen's millionaire playboy position to make a run for mayor and win under the mantra of simply rebuilding his city. Of course, politics are never simple in fiction, and while it's unlikely Winick will take the complexity of GA's maneuvering to levels seen tv shows such as The Wire or Brotherhood, I hope he doesn't abandon this political arc too quickly. Another solid Green Arrow effort from Winick and company.
8 out of 10

Star Wars: Legacy #1
(with review of companion issue #0)

writer: John Ostrander
artist: Jan Duursema
Dark Horse Comics, released 6-21-06

For all the enthusiasm I had for this new Star Wars title once I heard the Republic team of Ostrander and Duursema was being reunited, the initial image of its hero, Cade Skywalker, really had me worried. He looks like a smack-addicted pretty boy with a Jack Sparrow complex. How I could have been so foolish minded after experiencing Ostrander's phenomenal work with the conflicted Jedi knight, Quinlan Vos, I now have no idea.
Legacy takes place roughly 130 years after the Battle of Yavin (the end of A New Hope for those less intimate with the Star Wars timeline). In that time, a few generations of Skywalkers have come and gone, as have threats from legions of Sith. Cade, once trained as a Jedi, has left that path behind him and is now a smuggler by trade. Of course, we have yet to see any of the current exploits of Cade because this first issue finds him at a time when he first reveals hints of being a descendant of Anakin Skywalker through his inability to control his anger and brushes with the dark side. #1 is a good introduction issue and is in the process of laying the groundwork for an incredibly complex world. I know that it'll be intricate after reading the 25-cent #0 issue. In it, Ostrander gives quick overviews not only of Cade, the Jedi and the Sith, but also members of the Empire, the Imperials, Bounty Hunters and Stormtroopers, among other aspects of Legacy's world.
There's still a lot to prove here for Duursema and Ostrander, as this entire web of characters could fall apart, but I'm betting against it. They clearly have a grand scheme already in place this time out as opposed when they took over Republic, so as long as they have the creative freedom from Dark Horse to tell their tale, you'll be sorry if you don't jump on with this title now.
#0 - It's 25 cents! Pony up that friggin' quarter!
#1 - 7 out of 10

Brave New World #1
various writers and artists
DC Comics, released 6-28-06

What's that? 80 pages of comics for how much? A whole dollar!?!? Count me in.
I have to admit, this is a great marketing ploy by DC and one I'm surprised isn't done more often in comics. For one dollar you get previews of six new minis/on-goings: Martian Manhunter, OMAC, Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters, The All-New Atom, The Trials of Shazam!, and The Creeper. Out of this bunch, OMAC probably has the best chance to hold my interest with it's Total Recall-esque plotline, but for $1, I certainly can't complain. In the future, however, I hope they offer a more interesting selection in this format.
It's a dollar! Do you really need a rating to pick it up?!

New Avengers #21

writer: Brian Michael Bendis
artist: Howard
Marvel Entertainment, released 6-28-06

After reading a slew of Civil War-related books that focused primarily on Iron Man and Spider-Man, I was really starting to wonder what Cap was up to because his own title has yet to catch up to the Civil War continuity. Well, my curiosity was filled once I opened this book -- he's holed up in a secret Nick Fury bunker. Normally, I probably would have loved an issue like this, but Chaykin's art really turned me off. The way he draws faces are all too boxy for my taste, and with each turn of the page, my annoyance quickly escalated to wrath (well, as much wrath as reading a decent comic book will allow). Eventually, even my enjoyment of the fairly exciting escape scene at the close of the issue was affected. Really, I came to appreciate two things after reading #21 -- unless Alex Ross and Steve Epting are busy, no one should be allowed to draw Captain America in a book he is featured prominently, and today's news of Frank Cho doing the art on the brand spankin' new The Mighty Avengers title will kick some major ass! (Had to toss that one in there; I've been thinking about it all day.) I just hope Chaykin's time on NA is short.
6 out of 10