Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Quick Hit Review: Orc Stain #2

Written, Drawn and Colored By: James Stokoe
Lettered By: Unlisted
Publisher: Image Comics

If the fantastical world, title or insanity of the artwork has not gathered enough attention; then, let me add that there is some actual subtext in development within the pages of Orc Stain.

For the unknowing, Orc Stain is the latest creator-owned spectacle from Image Comics. Artist and writer, James Stokoe, is bringing his talents from Oni Presses’ Wonton Soup to tell the tale of One Eye – a loner orc who works as a looter in a world buried in the blood of war. One Eye has a special gift though: he can unlock the secrets of objects. It is a gift which aids One Eye in his day-to-day business, but also has attracted the unwanted attention of the Orc Tsar. The talent One Eye possesses makes him the perfect candidate for the Tsar’s ultimate goal. The goal of unlocking an organ which once belonged to a powerful Orc-god. One Eye must avoid the Tsar’s grasp.

The first exposure of this book left my mind impressed by the creativity. Works which instill a sense of “Wow, there is a world here” always stand out, and Stokoe accomplished that sensibility very well in the first issue. The combination of his artwork and premise weave together so well to establish this sense of existance within the pages: the existance of something large. As a reader, I can feel that this universe carries its own rules even though they are not technically being presented to me. It holds life, it holds balance, it takes care of itself and it evolves by itself. That is the sign of a true cartoonist – when the lines laid on a page spring life rather than just being lines. This attribute immediately made James Stokoe a stand-out comic book artist in my mind, and it made him an artist well worth watching.

So, the second issue has finally arrived, and even though I did not need another reason to love this project, I found one. The orcs are more then meet the eye.

With this second issue Orcs are no longer just a high concept but more of a metaphor – a metaphor for humanity and the typical male persona. We live in a world that prides itself on the ideals of the “macho-man”. The guy who can bench-press two hundred and twenty-five pounds and bong plenty of beer is the one who seems to rule the social atmosphere. Much of our view of the modern man (and man really throughout time) relies upon these aspects of savagery which we try to think as civilized and correct. Our youth is subjected to this ideal and pushed to live it. Stokoe finds his fuel from this source and underlines his work of Orc Stain with it. His commentary subtley breathes an air of cynicism, with a side of potential warning and a dash of sarcasm.

So far, the character of PointyFace exists as his main bullet. Pointyface is a slime ball who prides himself on his ego and his loud attitude. It is not so surprising when we see him in this issue rallying the crowd of a local bar, proclaiming the ways of his dangerous adventures. In all reality, it was One Eye who was the hero of such stories, but Pointyface is a liar and desires the attention and repuation. He will lie as long as the drinks and women are at stake.Even though a mythical creature, the character resembles the common roughneck we all stumble so easily upon. Stokoe uses this connection and the character’s actions to show the reader this “ideal” male persona really is not so great to be. It is more savage than anything. Just like the Orc is a savage creature.

Stokoe also continues the idea of the “ideal man” with the theme of acceptance within the society. Execution in the world of Orc Stain is not death (in a literal sense) but (for lack of a better word) being neutered.

When One Eye and Pointyface return from their mission of grave robbing and have not a coin to present to their mob-like boss, they find themselves in a predicament which implies severe punishment. A trip to the chopping block. An appointment to loose their “gronches”. This piece of commentary works so well because it forces a reader to sense a hint of the ridiculous.The idea of a man having his manhood taken from him is a worse punishment than death itself. Yet, if applied to what society accepts as a “man”, a dude without his dick does not meet the standards of the “ideal”. With this event in the book, and the extreme circumstances present, Stokoe comments on the fact that too many men, and society in general, focus too much on that aspect of the body. In the world of Orc Stain, an Orcs’ “gronch” seems to be his soul, and without one, an Orc may as well be dead. I think this idea probably holds true in our world as well. How many times have we all joked with our friends and said, “Oh, dude, if I lost my dick, I’d kill myself!” Again, Stokoe wants us to see the oddity of this mindset: the idea of our entire person is in our dick.

I truly loved this issue - pure imagination and a bit of depth. This title is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. The combination of Stokoe’s artistic style and personal commentary make this a project hard to look away from. People, you must find this title and read it.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Episode 72 - Criminal: The Sinners #5 and More!

This week on Teenage Wasteland...

I deliver two announcements (the show is a changin' in a teeny, tiny aspect). Also, a nice talk and review of two DC Animated features, and a wrap up on Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips and Val Staples' Criminal: The Sinners.

Items Discussed
Green Lantern: First Flight
Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths
Potter's Field
Criminal: The Sinners #5


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Quick Hit Review: Brightest Day #0

Written By: Geoff Johns and Peter J. Tomasi
Pencils By: Fernando Pasarin
Inks By: John Dell, Cam Smith, Prentis Rollins, Dexter Vines and Art Thirbert
Colors By: Peter Steigerwald
Letters By: Nick J. Napolitane
Publisher: DC Comics

What is Brightest Day?

52 part two? A spin-off of Blackest Night? I would accept both answers, but as the status quo currently stands, this story is all about characters. Characters who have been offered a second chance and wish not to waste any time.

Main complaint I have heard: “What is the point?” “Where’s the high concept? “Where are the werewolves and vampires and zombies?” Well, I do not see Brightest Day as that type of story. At least, not yet. Like 52, Brightest Day is going to be much more centered around character: the arc, the study and the presence. I am not saying all this will be is some sort of trippy, deep adventure into the head of Martian Manhunter – the audience will see their fair share of action – but in this issue, it appeared to me that the main intent of this book will be to rediscover who these twelve characters are and where they fit. Name example would be Deadman. In a living state, who is the character and what purpose does he play? It is obvious he is going through some sort of arc (smashing of tombstone).

The Martin Manhunter sequence (my favorite one) offers another example of my point. This is not J’onn J’onnzz collecting data for the Justice League or backing away from open flame. This is Martian Manhunter returning to his roots on his native planet. The character is beginning to rediscover himself as the audience does. Yes, J’onn has his “Mars mission” at hand, but the mission is more about the character’s own hope and sense of wanting to act rather than the high concept of “Hey, Mars may be resurrected”.

Two examples, but I think the same point could be pulled from all twelve: this is a collection of character arcs and not just the next status quo in the DC Universe. A point I can appreciate as long as the amount of characters are handled well. This will be a series centered on twelve characters for twenty-six issues, and I will say that this issue did make me feel the grind of that in some aspects. Every two or three pages the reader is thrown across time and space (ala Boston Brand) to a new situation with a new set of rules. Some situations are highly interesting, while others fall a bit flat and appear jarring in the grand context of the issue. An oversized issue, and I already felt a grind of “too much going on”. That makes me a bit wary for the following issues presenting twenty-two pages and at least eight different situations. Pacing is everything to me, and if I feel any sense of being rushed it can really affect my ability to sink into a story. For the most part, this complaint has been an issue with all of DC’s weekly publications; it is the nature of the product. I just hope Johns and Tomasi can finally work out the formula in this one.

Art. I was not crazy about it. Technically, it is good. Pasarin tells the story sequentially well enough. If Hal Jordan and Guy Gardner are flying around Mars, he captures it. Maxwell Lord falling backwards into a pool of water, his sense of motion is on. I just could not get into the style. It is clean. It is straight forward. It is boring. I like artists who can provide a more unique eye when it comes to anatomy and line (Gabriel Ba, Erik Larsen, John Romita Jr., Kirby, Sean Phillips). That approach is not within these pages, and for that fact I was not head over heals. It is not bad, just not praise worthy or something to let your eyes rest on.

Now, this is a zero issue, a premier, and I believe it does the job it should (introducing the basics), but I will say within the next few issues it needs to quickly progress past the information we already know. Meaning: I do not feel I learned anything new with this issue. The book really just places the press releases we have all seen into the context of a story and makes them “real”. Again, a zero issue. It cannot give much away, but I do not wish to see Aquaman in issue #6 still asking, “Why am I alive?” The audience understands that question; it is the main question of the series, so do not shove it up front every scene of every issue. Move past, push the story to new territory starting next issue, and have fun.

Good start. I like the idea. I will read until I grow bored.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Episode 71 - Digital Comics

This week on Teenage Wasteland...

Digital, digital, digital. That is all the comics universe has buzzed about in the past week as Apple released its world-changing device, the iPad. So, I find that it is time to finally sit down and lay my thoughts on the line. What does digital mean to me, and do I approve? Listen in!


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Quick Hit Review: Shuddertown #1

Written By: Nick Spencer
Art and Colors By: Adam Green
Letters By: Thomas Mauer
Publisher: Image Comics

What have Keanu Reeves and Christian Bale been up to lately? Well, if you read this comic, you may get the impression that they have taken up law enforcement…or modeling. Issac Hernandez has a case to solve, like most cops do, but as he digs deeper into his mystery, it becomes apparent that all of his suspects of murder are well…dead themselves.

I found it funny that the same day I watched the movie Street Kings, I read this book because both share some pretty heavy similarities. The Keanu Reeves aspect obviously, but more of what I mean is that both lead characters share the conflict of doing their job. Tom Ludlow (of Street Kings) spends most of the film working his way past his own corruption, while here in Shuddertown, Issac Hernandez seems to have trouble focusing. He is a character, a cop who almost seems to not have a cause and instead appears irritated working cases and tries to drown his annoyances in pills. A reader could also say that the corruption angle works with Issac Hernandez as well – again, the drug use and the strippers.

Yet, even with that sense of “done before” against it, I still enjoyed Shuddertown #1 in terms of story because of the strong narrative throughout the issue. Spencer constructs the character right before the readers’ eyes very well with his method. Placing us right into Issac’s mind and story works as the best possible way to “get” this character because Issac, and in the way he thinks, tells us who he is himself…whether he knows it or not. Also, just as a first issue, I think this was very well organized and paced. Everything a reader needs to know for this tale is planted: the character, the conflict and the case.

The artwork this book presents is its main barrier though. I joked about Keanu Reeves and Christian Bale staring in this book, but in all seriousness, the book does really appear that way at times. To give a comparison, it is pretty obvious Adam Green takes a heavy influence from Alex Maleev – from the style down to the color palette. I do not mind when an artist takes an influence, but this was a straight “let me try to ape Maleev” situation, and I do not think it worked very well. In many cases I felt that the sequential aspect was pretty stiff (page 10 – car hitting guard rail), and again, the photo reference was not all too well covered. In many instances I felt that this was just a collage of actual photographs, pieced together trying to tell a story – it was just distracting. I do not mind photo realism as a style, but when you are producing comic book artwork, it is important that the photos also develop some sense of atmosphere behind them. That is something I think Maleev captures well, but Green does not.

Shuddertown is not a horrible comic book in any circumstance, and I am not claiming that Nick Spencer is ripping off Street Kings (for all I know, he has never heard of it). The artwork could use a makeover, but I think the character and the situation are good enough to give this book a pass. Not great, but still worth checking out.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Episode 70 - 100 Bullets, Adam Strange and a Thought

This week on Teenage Wasteland...

The big 7-0. Before I start the session of reviews, I have bit of a gripe to call with, wait for it...Vertigo (shocker!). Usually Vertigo is my safe-haven, but their Crime OGN Line...I am having some issues. Plus, reviews of three books that simply made me a happy reader in the past week.

Books Discussed
100 Bullets Vol. 1
Adam Strange: Planet Heist
Fantastic Four: Books of Doom

Quick Hit Review: Hercules: Prince of Power #1

Written and Drawn By: Bob Layton
Colors By: Christie Scheele
Letters By: Rick Parker
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Before the Van Lente and Pak success, Hercules found himself contained in the 1984, four issue mini series from comics craftsman Bob Layton. This mini series takes the ancient, Greek god and contrasts him against the Earth of 2385, and shows to the reader how much of a soar-thumb Hercules can really be.  

The idea that I really enjoy about this opening issue is that it takes no time to explain why. Now, sometimes the 'why' is important, and failing to explain the 'why' is a fatal flaw (see my House of Mystery review), but with Hercules: Prince of Power...the 'why' is not needed. All this book is, all it desires to be is Greek gods in space, and that simple fact, that high concept is described by the cover alone. When you flip to that first page, after having the cover install that idea in your mind's focus-point, you know what is going on and that allows Layton to skip the introductions and take the reader on an adventure.

This book provides your action and big punches, but it also supplies the humor. At first glance, the concept of this book (Greek gods in space) is pretty laughable, but Layton uses that to his advantage by placing Hercules into awkward situations. Take the idea of Hercules checking himself into a future hotel - a man dressed in seriously out-of-date clothes, speaking in ye' old english and telling off a robotic bag boy...it is quite funny, and it provides a light tone to the book. Plus, I think, it also emphazies the specific quirks Herc has to offer as a character in not just a futuristic setting, but a classic Marvel Universe setting (Hercules could speak for Thor in the same aspect). 

Overall, it's a nice issue, and I will finish the mini series to see what other character moments Bob Layton has to offer with good ol' Hercules.