Friday, January 26, 2007

The Shortbox 1/26/07

Powers #21
writer: Brian Michael Bendis
artist: Michael Avon Oeming
Icon/Marvel Comics, released 11-29-06
Because this book has been erratic with it's publishing schedule since moving to Marvel's Icon line, when I opened up the first page, I had no idea what was going on anymore or who was lying dead on the floor before Deena and Christian. Unfortunately, Powers has not been the same since bolting from Image to allow Bendis to sign his exclusive deal with Marvel. While I jumped on the series with the beginning of volume two, I've since gone back and read all of the Image issues. Those 37 issues are absolutely amazing -- filled with fantastic action, huge plot twists, hilarious and poignant dialogue, and the great talent of both Bendis and Oeming at the top of their games. You should all log onto eBay and buy them when finished with this article. Sadly, the pace has dropped considerably since the move to Icon and the jump in time in the Powers universe. Well, until issue #21. This one was full with as many visual twists as there were plot divergences, most perfectly timed with the turn of the page. I'm dying to detail them all, but won't. Let's just say the dead "power" on the floor on page one isn't the last by book's end. I hope this is a sign of more crazy goodness in Powers. It's been too long.
10 out of 10

Winter Soldier: Winter Kills #1 (one shot)
writer: Ed Brubaker
artists: Lee Weeks, Stefano Gaudiano, & Rick Hoberg
Marvel Comics, released 12-27-06
Since his reintroduction to Marvel continuity, Bucky Barnes has been shrouded in mystery. Appearing almost exclusively in the pages of Brubaker's Captain America thus far, we have only gotten a few extended glimpses into Bucky's life. Now known as the Winter Soldier, he's tapped by Nick Fury to take down a suspected Hydra cell on his own -- on Christmas Eve no less, his one night off on the year. Throw in a trio of Young Avengers out on Civil War business, and there's a nice mix witty banter, furious combat, and insight into Bucky's state of mind. This issue is a great byproduct of the Civil War delay, because it probably would not have been written without it. As much as a part of me would love to see a Winter Soldier series, I hope Marvel resists that temptation and hands us the occasional one-shot focusing on him or a well-placed guest spot in another book from time to time. Revealing too much of a character such as this too quickly will only kill the intrigue that has built up.
9 out of 10

Union Jack #4 (of 4)
writer: Christos N. Gage
artist: Mike Perkins
Marvel Comics, released 12-20-06
This mini-series spinning out of the pages of Brubaker's afore mentioned Captain America series has proven to be a fine gem each month in my stack. (It also began strongly. See here.) Gage has been easing into the realm of comics, as he's well established in Hollywood for his work on shows such as Numb3rs and Law & Order: SUV. After reading this series, I now have my eye on him. With Union Jack, Gage explores one of the less-popular Marvel heroes in a politically charged story full of classic comic-book goodness, and it doesn't come off as dated or contrived in the slightest. Joining the title character are a nice trio of D-list characters, all of whom were interesting choices to form a team with given their interactions with each other, even though I had never heard of a single one of them beforehand. Added to a very good story is artwork by Mike Perkins that explodes off of the page in nearly every panel.
I have a feeling this title got lost in the shuffle with all the Civil War brouhaha, which is unfortunate because it deserved more attention. I'd also like to see another mini with this cast of characters. I'm pretty sure both Gage and Perkins have another story with this crew up their sleeves. In the meantime, I hope this story will be collected in trade. If you see it, definitely pick it up.
8 out 10

Monday, January 22, 2007

Low Blows 01.22.07

“Snakewoman” #6
Virgin Comics
Writer: Zeb Wells
Artist: Dean Hyrapiet

“Snakewoman” is a relatively new series from an equally new publisher that I took a chance on a couple months back. And while the earlier issues had their flaws, I was pretty happy with a turn that the story took in the fifth issue -- one that I didn’t expect, and one that I thought would surely set up future stories that I’d be interested to read.

As it turns out, though, I didn’t enjoy issue 6 as much as the previous ones. A large part of this is probably due to the fact that this is the first issue without the participation of Michael Gaydos (“Alias,” “The Pulse”), whose name attached to the title page of this book prompted its purchase in the first place. Another reason I was a little disappointed with “Snakewoman” this month is that there was very little forward motion to the plot. While I’m certainly no “anti-decompression” activist, there had better be a dynamite story in an issue that spotlights a certain character whom I barely knew was in the previous issue -- and will in all probability never appear again.

Unfortunately, Zeb Wells’ script for this issue focuses more upon the cliché ramblings of a mentally unwell janitor than on the much more compelling theme of Jessica Peterson’s descent into the acceptance of a life of revenge and murder. While the Snakewoman does appear towards the end of the book, just in time to make a very difficult choice, I definitely prefer her to be in center stage, especially when the other story elements aren’t all that compelling.

I’ve never run into Dean Hyrapiet’s work before, either, but his penciling brings to mind Roy Allan Martinez’s art. It’s certainly not as polished as Martinez or his predecessor Gaydos’ stuff, but it does the job well enough. There were some awkward panels, but I’m willing to chalk that up to Hyrapiet still getting a feel for the characters, and not any deficiency in his abilities.

Now, I’ve been reading comics long enough to realize that every series has its hiccups, and I’m not about to give up on “Snakewoman” just yet, especially when I consider the strength of the previous issues. I can appreciate that Wells has tried to make each issue a unique experience, and one mediocre issue out of six isn’t such a bad record. Better luck next time.

[6.5 out of a possible 10]

“Iron Man” #14
Marvel Comics
Writers: Daniel and Charles Knauf
Art: Patrick Zircher and Scott Hanna

When I first heard that Daniel Knauf, creator of HBO’s “Carnivale,” and his son Charles were going to take over the writing reins on “Iron Man” once Warren Ellis and Adi Granov’s six issues had been completed, I was a little disappointed. Not so much because I didn’t love “Carnivale” (I do!) but instead that Ellis was leaving a book that was so uniquely suited to him.

And when the Knaufs’ first six-part storyline ended up being yet another “somebody gets control of Tony Stark/Iron Man and wreaks havoc, thus creating self-doubt in Tony’s mind” story, I was even more disappointed. I’ve never been crazy about Pat Zircher’s art, and if I may be completely honest, it looked horrible on “Iron Man,” especially when compared to how pitch-perfect Adi Granov’s art was for the character.

Here’s the good news, though: the book’s getting better. I’m not crazy about the death of a long-running character in these pages, and the art still seems a little off, but we’re now starting to get some fascinating background for Stark’s mindset and actions in “Civil War.” In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that the character development beginning in issue 13 and especially this issue contains some of the best justification for Iron Man’s continued support of the Registration Act and the tough decisions he has had to make that I’ve read in the entire Civil War event. The meeting with Captain America, and how badly it goes, shows how Cap’s anger is clouding his judgment a bit, and how, like it or not, Stark is just doing the best he can in a difficult situation.

If this book keeps improving by leaps and bounds as it has over the past months, I have no doubt I’ll end up being very happy with it. Truthfully, I’m already feeling pretty good about it. And this is not to mention the addition in the coming months of incoming penciller Roberto De La Torre, fresh off of his great work on “Ms. Marvel,” which will no doubt address my other concern with the book, too.

I’m not sure where “Civil War” will leave Iron Man, or if Tony Stark will even be the bearer of the armor at all after the dust settles. If he is, in fact, going to become the head of SHIELD, as previous issues of “New Avengers” and this title seem to be hinting, that should be a real interesting direction for the character, and I assume, the upcoming “Mighty Avengers” comic. In light of the increasing quality of this book and these very interesting times for this character, my advice would definitely be to give it another chance -- even if you have just recently dropped it due to the Knaufs' lackluster opening arc.

[8 out of a possible 10]

Monday, January 15, 2007

Low Blows 01.15.07

"Sandman Mystery Theatre:
The Sleep of Reason" #1 (of 5)
DC/Vertigo Comics
Writer: John Ney Rieber
Artist: Eric Nguyen

A couple of years ago, when I was just getting back into comics and trying to catch up on all that I had missed in the last seven or eight years, I spent quite a bit of time on Ebay chasing low prices on full runs of comics. One of sets I won was a near-complete set of Matt Wagner and Steven T. Seagle's "Sandman Mystery Theatre" series for around $30 -- an incredible steal. This is the series that made me a huge fan of artists John Watkiss and Guy Davis, and also tied into another favorite series of mine, James Robinson's "Starman," in some really cool and rather shocking ways. I was hooked, and over 70 issues, even after the departure of Wagner, "SMT" maintained its strong characterization, rich 1920s "period piece" setting, slight mystical undertones, and subtle yet thought-provoking and often violent storylines all the way through. What was perhaps most appealing was the relationship between Wesley Dodds, the Golden Age Sandman, and Dian Belmont, his girlfriend and sometime sidekick.

It's a relief, then, that this new miniseries, which ostensibly introduces a new Sandman, begins with Wesley and Dian in the twilight of their life, once again getting into trouble in the Afghanistan of 1997, of all places. John Ney Rieber, whom I know from his long tenure on Vertigo's "Books of Magic" years ago, does a good job maintaining the established characterization of the pair, and providing a clear connection between this and the previous title.

Flash forward a few years, and embedded photojournalist Kieran Marshall is abducted while attempting to secure an interview with a terrorist leader. A subsequent meeting with the aforementioned terrorist goes sour, but also results in an encounter with a certain gas mask and sleeping-gas gun of interest to readers of the 1990s "Sandman Mystery Theatre" book. A compulsion takes control of Kieran, and he retaliates upon the terrorists who have captured him while bellowing the familiar command "SLEEP." (It's actually a lot cooler than it sounds.) Now, the present-tense story is compelling enough, but I assume the story of how Wesley Dodds' equipment came to rest in a madman's tent in Afghanistan for ten years' time will be told over the course of the miniseries, and I, for one, can't wait to read it and find out.

I found that Eric Nguyen's pencils and inks in this book were an acquired taste, but not entirely unlike that of Guy Davis when I first encountered his art -- and that is intended as a compliment. I ended up really enjoying Nguyen's quirky linework and slightly askew perspective in combination with Lee Loughridge's muted colors. There were a few times when I found myself a little less than positive about what was going on in a panel, but upon reading the book a second time, I found the fault lay more in too-quick reading on my part than any artistic inadequacy on-panel.

I'm not entirely sold on this new character yet, but the promise of seeing more of Wesley and Dian, and the potential that the strange dreams experienced by Kieran before even encountering the mask are evidence that Dream of the Endless (whose story is told in that one other "Sandman" series you may have heard of) may have a hand in this, as with Wesley Dodds before him, definitely intrigues me. The first issue of "The Sleep of Reason" certainly merits checking out the next issue, if not the entirety of the miniseries.

[7.75 out of a possible 10]

"Loveless" #14
DC/Vertigo Comics
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Artist: Danijel Zezelj

I'm a fan of Brian Azzarello's work, and I buy pretty much everything he puts out. But I'll be the first to admit that he can be pretty inscrutable at times. Most of his comics require two reads, minimum, to fully appreciate. His characters speak in a profanely poetic street verse, puns wrap themselves around page transitions, and callbacks to events in the series that go way back can be a real barrier to the casual reader.

And while Azzarello's other Vertigo book, "100 Bullets," has a healthy life on the graphic novel market, I'm a little worried about "Loveless." I was pretty shocked when the character which the book had been focusing upon for the majority of the previous issues was killed in issue #12. I was even more shocked that this was barely even touched upon until the very end of this issue, #14. It's brave, nearly crazy, choices like this that make me love this book. I just hope other people feel that way, because I can see how this would be a challenging read, to say the least.

For one, "Loveless" lacks the playful humor which humanizes and endears the bloodthirsty criminals of "100 Bullets" to the reader. In this issue, for example, the recently-deceased Wes Cutter's wife Ruth spends most of this issue cruelly killing members of the town who stood by while she was raped by Federal troops when the Southern town of Blackwater was taken over after the Civil War. She holds literally everyone responsible for this, and her husband's apparent death seems to have pushed her to take some very final action against those who have wronged her.

Artwise, I will say that series co-creator Marcelo Frusin is missed, but only because I love his artwork so much. I'm not sure what's happened, but he hasn't done anything but "Loveless" covers for quite a few issues now. The very talented Werther Dell'Edera and Danijel Zezelj have been trading spots every couple of issues providing the art, and I have no complaints about their work except that it is sometimes difficult to keep their individual representations of Frusin's characters straight. For instance, I'm pretty sure that's Wes' body which appears on the last page, not quite dead yet after all, but I'm not 100% sure.

If you're into "Deadwood" or hardcore western movies like "Unforgiven," this series is for you. There is a racial element brewing that is also fascinating, but which I don't completely understand yet -- and that's fine. There's plenty of time for Azzarello to bring those characters into play later. This series is slated to run about 36 issues long, assuming Vertigo is good enough to provide us with them. I have heard that many readers gave up on this series in earlier issues due to the difficulty in keeping the complex story and characters straight. I don't blame them, but this series is rewarding to the reader who is, frankly, willing to be confused for a bit and just go along for the ride. I have a feeling that the second half of this series is where everything will fall into place, and I'm impatient to see what is in store.

[8.5 out of a possible 10]

Friday, January 05, 2007

Newsflash -- LBM Quoted on Wasteland #5 Cover

Much to my surprise in this month's comics delivery, LowBrowMedia has been quoted on the rear cover to Oni Press' Wasteland #5. Mike and I had no idea this was going happen, but we are thankful to the folks at Oni for bestowing an up-and-coming site like this one with such an honor. This follows the two references of LBM in the blog section of Boom! Studios after they appeared in some our recent reviews, the first acknowledgements of the site from an outside source.
If you've come across our site by way of Boom! or Wasteland, welcome. Here at LowBrowMedia, we review comic books from all over the industry, not just Marvel and DC. We hold comics to a high standard. We want to tell you where a great story can be found, as well as where to avoid an underwhelming one. We try not to get too spoilery, and warn you if we do.
If there's something you want us to take a look at that we haven't reviewed yet, let us know in the comments section. I'm always looking for another great book, but my budget has its limits, so I can't pick up everything that looks tempting. However, a push from a devoted fan of comics certainly will spur me to find a copy.
Also, if you are a creator or a representative from a comic company and would like us to review your book, contact us at We can even post a review of it before the book is released if given ample time to read it.
On another quick note, I apologize for not posting in December, but the holidays got in the way. That said, discovering that our site is on the radar of members of the comic industry has inspired both Mike and I to take our little hobby to the next level. That means regular posting of reviews. I also hope to bring back my "Longbox" and "Graphic Novel Grab Bag" columns soon, which haven't been touched in some time, as well as some other ideas I've been toying with.
Happy New Year, everyone! We've certainly gotten off to a great start and hope you come back often in 2007.