The Spark and the Flame Part 1
Writers: Ray Fawkes, Jeff Lemire
Artists: Renato Guedes
Colorist: Marcelo Maiolo
Letterer: Sal Cipriano
21 pages, $2.99
I must confess something right away: I love John Constantine… Love, love, LOVE him. And I am so very sad to see what DC Comics is doing to the character. I’m also sorry to see how right we were when we predicted the Terrible Triumvirate™ of Dan Didio, Geoff Johns and Jim Lee would continue to rape and minimize DC’s Vertigo Comics line long after they had reintegrated Swamp Thing and Madame Xanadu into the New 52 Universe. (We felt unnecessarily moving these two characters was just a precursor to the inevitable dismantling of Vertigo-as-we-knew-it, and we were right.) Those three men can continue to announce loudly and proudly that the spirit and mission of Vertigo is alive and well, but I am far too old to believe this particular line of corporate bullshit.
Which leads me to Constantine #1, the train wreck I have been fearing for months. Yes, I could have ignored it, but I’m only human… And like most human “lookee-loos”, I had to check out the carnage foisted upon the once great John Constantine. I’d like to say I was happily surprised by what I read, but I wasn’t. I’d like to say the comic wasn’t bad, but I can’t. I’m no longer in the mood to sit idly by as characters I have enjoyed for years are hoisted on the sorry ass stink of the New 52 petard.
I’m also getting sick and tired of watching characters plopped down in the middle of some action (or, in this case, a mystery involving some ancient cabal.) American comics go in cycles and embrace fads just like their Movie and TV counterparts– and the new “thing” in comics seems to be this kind of storytelling. Less talented writers must really embrace the trend, as they don’t have to be bothered with pesky things like relating rich backstory, characterization or even explaining their characters’ actions. They just stick their heroes down in the middle of an ongoing plot and let the action begin. What better way to fill up 21 mammoth comic book pages?
If I were writing this shit, I’d be laughing all the way to the bank… And smile slyly when I realized I’ve left all the heavy lifting to the comic book artists.
And that’s exactly what I imagine writers Ray Fawkes & Jeff Lemire did when they finished working on Constantine #1. Besides the ominous, moody title “The Price We Pay” making no sense, the rest of the book involves an extremely standard John Constantine story. Is it the worst JC story ever published? (No.) But it isn’t the most exciting or mind-blowing JC story either. It’s just there. This isn’t the Constantine Vertigo fans know– and more importantly, it is not an improvement on the Constantine fans already enjoyed.
So rather than sit here and tap out 5 more paragraphs of vitriol and describe in great detail how stupid it is that John Constantine can’t exist in both DC’s New 52 Universe and their Vertigo Universe at the same time (I stole that thought almost verbatim from Locusmortis’ last Previews Hit or Miss™ column), I’ll just tell you what I have already said: Constantine #1 is not an improvement on the “old” John Constantine that appeared in Vertigo’s Hellblazer comic book every month. (By “old” I mean the last Hellblazer issue saw release just a few weeks ago.)
A free world/economy is supposed to be all about choice– something the current DC Comics Powers That Be seem hellbent on depriving their customers of. If they’re stupid enough to deprive me of that right, I’d like to think I’m not gullible enough to just accept it. Do yourself a huge favor as well: Forget this comic and use the $2.99 you save every month to buy the Hellblazer trades. I’m no soothsayer (usually) but I can guarantee these Vertigo tales will still be read long after the corporate correction known as the Constantine comic is nothing more than a bitter memory. – Ian MacMillan
Judge Dredd Year One # 1
All the Young Juves, Carry the News Part 1
Writer: Matt Smith
Artist: Simon Coleby
Colorist: Leonard O’Grady
Letterer: Chris Mowry
22 pages, $3.99
I’d like to know why IDW bothered publishing that garbage written by Duane Swierczynski (in their “main” Judge Dredd title) when they had this comic book in their possession… Because Judge Dredd Year One by Matt Smith and Simon Coleby utterly fucking kills Swierczynski’s take on Dredd book stone dead.
I was a bit tentative about this series after being appalled by the first few issues of IDW’s regular title, but my worries were completely assuaged after the first few pages. Matt Smith has been the editor of 2000AD for about 10 years and has presided over the second golden age of the title– but I can’t recall him ever writing anything other than a few Dredd comic strips for a British newspaper. As first long-form stories go, this one’s a cracker.
Unlike Swierczynski’s attempt, this was a Judge Dredd I recognized with a Mega-City 1 I recognised. Judge Dredd Year One felt like it was created by people with a lengthy knowledge of creator and his city– whereas IDW’s other series feels like a pastiche.
Year One is set during a period that hasn’t heretofore been extensively mined by 2000AD, so the tale can quite happily slot into existing Dredd continuity and please veteran fans. New readers don’t need to worry either, they can hit the ground running because Year One isn’t burdened by the vast mythology surrounding Dredd’s career as a senior Judge.
As the name would suggest, this is a young Judge Dredd, much younger than he’s portrayed in 2000AD these days. As such, he isn’t weighed down by long years of experience and doubts about the Justice Department’s administration of the city. This is Dredd when he was young, fast, brutal… Willing to blast the crap out of any lawbreakers who mess with him, even children. (Ok, in Dredd’s defense, it was one child and he was trying to kill JD at the time.)
There’s a lot of plot in this book and Smith doesn’t bother with pointless scene-setting. This is fast-paced stuff, but there’s also a lot of content delivered– so it feels like you’re getting your money’s worth. One of the most refreshing techniques Smith employs: He deftly uses the narration boxes to convey Dredd’s inner monologue. This is a good method of conveying Dredd’s character to the reader– given that his spoken dialogue is typically minimal.
Simon Coleby is a veteran 2000AD art droid and honestly, I’ve never been his biggest fan. His penciling often looks rather loose and ragged but the smaller dimensions of the American comic book page really seem to suit him. The art is tight, it even has a slight Jae Lee feel to it at times. There are no splash pages at all in this pamphlet. The art serves the story, not the other way around. The layouts adapt to the story’s pace. In essence, this is a comic book artist performing his craft, not just drawing pretty pictures.
The colouring from Leonard O’Grady suits the art for the most part. It is relatively flat but uses bright colours in judicious amounts so as to attract the eye to the most important parts of the panels. The lettering is on the money too.
Judge Dredd: Year One #1 hits all the right notes. If Smith and Coleby can keep this high level of quality, IDW should also give them the regular series too. My concluding words for you something I rarely utter in my IMJ reviews, “BUY THIS COMIC!” – Locusmortis
What Kryptonite Does Not Kill…
Writer: Frank Hannah
Artists: Robson Rocha, Oclair Albert, Julio Ferreira, Mariah Benes
Colorist: Dave McCaig
Letterer: Rob Leigh
20 Pages, $2.99
Not only was Supergirl one of the best comics to come out of DC’s New 52 stunt (at least it looks more and more like a stunt every day, when compared to a wise, well thought out publishing strategy), but it also gave fans some of the best Supergirl stories in a long while. Admittedly, the book could move a bit slow at times but overall I really liked Michael Green and Mike Johnson’s take on Kara. And even though I liked their writing and characterization, I don’t know if I would have enjoyed those issues nearly as much if Mahmud Asrar hadn’t been the comic’s artist. Asrar’s rendition of Supergirl was perfect– and he also seems to be the only artist capable of making Kara’s new costume work.
In truth, as much as I was enjoying the comic– I stopped buying it with Issue #13… As DC made the ill-considered decision (one of many recently) to make Supergirl part of a crossover with all the Superman family titles… Several of which I wasn’t remotely interested in reading. Here’s the choice they gave me by forcing this MONTHS long crossover on their fledgling titles: I could either continue to buy Supergirl and only read part of the story… Or I could choose not buy to it at all– since I think making customers buy additional books they don’t want in order to get a complete story is a very shady business practice.
As I often do when faced with a semi-moral dilemma like this, I stopped buying Supergirl… But I did miss the character so I started thinking about giving the book another chance. So when I noticed last week that Supergirl #18 would be the first issue after the crossover’s conclusion– and also saw Mike Johnson and Mahmud Asrar (What happened to Michael Green?) were the creators– I decided to pick the book up and review it.
You know how I found out who the creative team was for this issue? While I was compiling covers for our weekly Rate The Covers post. The cover was also here, on DC’s own website (Ed. Note: And it still is, as of 3.26.13 at 8:49pm EDT)… Where Johnson and Asrar’s names clearly appear on the cover and in the accompanying text description. Anyway, to make a long story short (too late?), here are the credits that actually greeted me on the comic’s first page:
Two days before Supergirl #18’s release, news came of Andy Diggle leaving Action Comics and Joshua Fialkov dropping both Green Lantern Corps and Red Lanterns. The reason for these two writers walking away? Supposedly DC Editorial interfering with their already approved stories and outlines. In Fialkov’s case, he was supposedly told John Stewart would be dying in an upcoming issue of Green Lantern Corps– and Fialkov would need to write this death into his current plans for the series. Ah yes… Yet another comic character death. Problem is, John Stewart is not just any expendable character. Stewart is, without doubt, the most well-known and prominent African-American character in DC’s entire stable.
Seriously, the idea that DC might even think Stewart dying was going to be acceptable– on any level– makes me send a mighty middle finger their collective way.
Writers have been fleeing DC Comics for months now due to reported last-minute editorial mandates, so Diggle and Fialkov leaving for more of the same was not a big surprise. I hope the irony is not lost on DC that Supergirl #18 shipped during the same week they were getting skewered in the media over their ridiculous editorial choices… Which also nicely brings me back to the comic book I am supposed to be reviewing. (I knew I’d get there eventually. Never doubt me.)
So there I sat, looking at the credits listed on the first page of this new Supergirl comic and thinking, “Well, shit…”. Saying I was disappointed by the creator substitution is an understatement. But regardless, I needed to read this comic so I could review it… And this is what I encountered as I read: The first page is a full splash page (with credits) consisting of Lex Luthor’s head. The next 8 pages consisted of 4 double page layouts of 2 to 6 panels each. The dialogue is some of the most bland generic comic book tripe I have ever read. To call it boring would be a compliment. And the plot… Supergirl being attacked out of nowhere while flying near or around the Earth’s core? Like everything else in this issue, it feels like its only purpose is to waste pages. I can’t remember a comic struggling so much to reach its 20-page conclusion. There’s also one more thing I found kind of odd for its inclusion… The use of thought balloons. When was the last time any of you saw thought balloons in a modern-day Marvel or DC comic book?
No Johnson or Asrar on the comic. THREE inkers. Story decompression that makes Brian Michael Bendis look like an amateur. And paint by numbers writing + the weird use of thought balloons… All by a writer named Frank Hannah– which The Beat points out is a Hollywood screenwriter probably best known or co-scripting The Cooler starring William H. Macy and Alec Baldwin. (That last bit is more than a little bizarre to me.) Lacking any evidence to the contrary, Supergirl #18 looks to be a rushed job created to replace Johnson’s and Asrar’s story. It also reeks of more editorial meddling. With DC’s stronger-than-ever presence in Los Angeles, it’s not the least bit implausible someone out there called in a favor when somebody in NYC decided they needed a fill in, for whatever reason.
I don’t think Hannah has ever written a comic before (I searched the Net assiduously and discovered no evidence), which is most likely why there are thought balloons in the issue. No one at DC either bothered or had time to mention to Hannah that cloud-shaped thought balloons are currently considered an “outdated” storytelling technique. But then again, DC Editorial could have easily had the balloons changed to captions despite the script’s instructions– so it seems quite clear they either didn’t care about the final product or just wanted to get the comic out the door as quickly as possible in order to meet a long-standing solicitation date.
DC has been taking a beating in the press lately and many fans have been critical of their recent behavior. In this digital age, there’s no excuse for promoting a comic book with incorrect information– especially when they were still doing it less than a week before Supergirl #18 hit store shelves. These sudden “screw the fans” creator switches are something Marvel is usually known for. (They’ve done it lots.) But as Ian and I have already mentioned several times, DC Comics is becoming more like Marvel with each passing day. And sadly, DC isn’t copying any of the small positives Marvel actually shows on occasion. Even sadder: DC has no one to blame for their current crop of problems other than themselves. Every creative force at the publisher– from the suits at the top down to the individual book editors– are helping dig the hole deeper and deeper.
At this point, the only thing that may stop this juvenile behavior is a whole group of the right people being summarily removed from their mismanaged posts.
– Jose Melendez
Captain America #5
Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: John Romita Jr, Tom Palmer Jr, Scott Hanna
Colorist: Dean White, Lee Loughridge
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
20 pages, $3.99
Long time readers may remember my review of Marvel Now’s Captain America #1. I found a LOT of things wrong with that comic– which really surprised me, because I usually enjoy the majority of writer Rick Remender’s work. But I didn’t like his take on Captain America one bit…. Especially his bastardized version of Steve Rogers’ backstory– which went into gritty and gory detail illustrating Steve’s turbulent childhood– complete with an inveterate drunk/wife beater for a Dad. Two or three pages of Steve’s Dad beating the shit out of Steve’s Mom (while young Steve huddled scared shitless under the kitchen table) left a sour taste of sensationalism in my mouth and I never recovered from it.
In truth, I also didn’t like how Remender almost immediately zapped the present day Captain America into a weird, alternate dimension lorded over by Arnim Zola. I don’t know about you ,but I don’t usually associate Cap with sci-fi– and I always feel a little cheated when a writer takes a character like Rogers and forces him into an ill-fitting genre like this one. (Let’s be honest– Steve Rogers has never seemed like the brightest bulb in the superhero bunch, so plunking him down in a world like Zola’s far out Dimension Z does little to show off his strongest character traits.)
This criticism may sound more than a little contradictory to our usual message here… Since we often encourage and applaud comic book creators who try new, ballsy things. But I think my biggest problem with the whole idea came down to my just not liking the whole affair. Captain America is THE symbol for “old school” action for me. I don’t want to see him running around on some dystopian alternate world anymore than I want to see Indiana Jones confronting some Crystal Skull loving aliens.
But like it or not, this is exactly the scenario Remender has saddled this new Cap comic with… And he plays the situation to the sci-fi hilt– in a story that forces Cap to alternately act like a character from Tron crossed with a bit of Mad Max. Things have gotten so confusing by this issue (at least for me), that even the fairly lengthy summary at the beginning of the comic had no hope of bringing me up to speed. (It may have actually confused me even more.) Whoooheee…. There’s a lot of info to digest in those few summary paragraphs too– immediately reminding me this tale is nothing like the story I thought I was signing up for when I purchased Captain America #1. I only came back for this issue because I thought, by now, Marvel Editorial might have had the foresight to pull the plug on this horrendously derivative idea.
No such luck. I quickly realized I was confusing Marvel Editors with their DC counterparts. DC is the publisher that suddenly curtails or makes major shifts in approved plots in the middle of story arcs now… And Marvel is The House That Decompression Storytelling Built.
Like the first issue, John Romita Jr’s art is still somewhat sketchy– with big bold lines replacing the gloriously detailed pencils that once characterized the earlier part of the artist’s awesome career. As is often the case these days, Romita seems far too willing to rely on the excellent color work of Dean White and Lee Loughridge to cover for his sloppiness. And whoever came up with the idea of making Zola’s visage (Zola has no head, his face usually appears on a flat video screen in the middle of his torso) into a 3D-like hologram that now protrudes from his chest should be shot on sight. Zola’s nearly monochromatic face staring out from a two-dimensional screen was what made him so creepy (and almost pitiful) in the first place. Watching his noggin come swirling out of his chest like DC’s Elongated Man is a silly effect. Ironically, the 3D style effect helps turn the villain into much less ominous 2D stock character.
Given that Captain America #5 was just one long fight sequence, I suspect the comic’s regular readers will be stuck watching Cap (and his “son”) careening around Dimension Z for at least another issue– if not two… Bringing this unsatisfying storyline up to the required page count for a trade collection– which is virtually how all Marvel creators are expected to design their story arcs these days. – Ian MacMillan
Justice League #18
Main Story: The Grid
Back-Up Story: Shazam Part 10
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artists: Jesus Saiz, Gary Frank
Colorist: Jeremy Cox
Letterer: Nick J. Napolitano
30 pages, $3.99
This is my first DC Comics review in my 3 months as part of the IMJ Review Crew™ and the worst thing is, I freely volunteered to read this turkey. I received carte blanche from Ian & Jose on what DC title I could pick… And well, here we are. If this is what I have to suffer, it might be another 3 months before I review another DC book.
The basic premise in the main story (all of 18 pages long): The Justice League needs more members– so they put out a call to a variety of heroes. It isn’t a new idea but it is sort of a traditional team book trope, so I won’t hold the lack of originality against Johns. What I will hold him to account for is the lamentable way the plot is executed. A bunch of heroes are transported up to the Justice League Satellite and mill around (having pointless small talk for a few pages) before one of them (Platinum of the Metal Men) goes mad and ends up fighting everyone for another half-dozen pages. Then the story cuts off with an ominous warning (from whatever mysterious agency hijacked Platinum’s programming.)
No context is given to what happens in the story. There is no introduction and no narration– absolutely nothing to tell you what came before and why the Justice League is in need of more members. What you get is “stuff happens, stuff happens, blah blah blah blah, pointless fight, the end” and all of it is conveyed with the passion of a dead fish. The sum total of this lackluster mess is quite simple: Justice League #18 feels like someone is writing on autopilot. This comic is meant to be DC’s flagship title, yet it feels more like an afterthought. I may have disliked Jonathan Hickman’s last Avengers issue but at least it showed some ambition– whereas Johns’ Justice League is just badly executed derivative shit.
I’ve liked Jesus Saiz’s art for a number of years, so at least the visuals on offer are pleasant enough… Even if the layouts aren’t exactly the most dynamic I’ve ever seen. (I imagine he struggled mightily to do something with John’s stolid plotting but I can’t expect him to work miracles.) The colouring from Jeremy Cox is better than the murky crap that’s inflicted on most DC books. Even with that improvement, it’s still not on a par with Marvel or most Image titles.
The second story is 10 pages of Shazam– Part 10 of an ongoing story, apparently. Realizing this, I decided not to read the second feature. I know this might be breaking the “reviewer’s code” slightly, but fuck it… Expecting any new reader to jump in with Part 10 of a continuing story is utterly ridiculous and frankly, I was too pissed off to care. DC Editorial doesn’t seem to have a clue how to use their back-up features. It’s like they think chopping up a long story into tiny bits and haphazardly chucking them into the back of a monthly comic book makes some kind of sense. It doesn’t take a Brainiac to tell that’s exactly the wrong way to do it… But then DC Management is hardly a beacon of intelligence at the moment, is it?
If you want to see the proper way to use second features, go back to Detective Comics from about 10 years ago– when DC showcased the Batman: Black and White backups as complete 8 to 10 page stories. Even further back, the classic X-Men title from about 25 years ago published complete stories focusing on just one character in each issue. The way DC configured the back-up story in Justice League #18 did little but anger me. It also helped me make up my mind never to buy this comic again– at least not while Geoff Johns is involved with it anyway.
There’s no way I could advise anyone to waste $3.99 on this, when there’s plenty of better stuff out there to buy. – Locusmortis