Monday, January 14, 2013

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 1/9

Dark Tower: The Gunslinger- Sheemie's Tale #1
Story: Robin Furth
Art: Richard Isanove

After four mini-series directly adapting the novella "The Little Sisters of Eluria" and the majority of the first of the Dark Tower novels, The Gunslinger, Marvel has returned to the world of Stephen King's magnum opus with the oft delayed tale of young Sheemie Ruiz, the sweet but simple boy with the amazing psychic powers. While I've enjoyed many of the new tales of the Dark Tower world that Marvel has released, I feel like this mini-series, as well as the earlier one shot, Sorcerer, are stories better suited to this format than additional stories of young Roland; stories that fill in the backstory of some of the myriad supporting characters King introduced over the course of the now eight books and one novella of the Dark Tower series. There's a large gap in the narrative about young Sheemie, the boy who become squire of sorts to Roland, the titular gunslinger of the series, and who was eventually met again in the Devar Toi, the prison at the heart of End World. This issue fills in some of those lost years, showing Sheemie's time in the prison, seeing how sweet he is, and how, when he learns the evils that he and his fellow Breakers, the psychics used by the servants of the evil Crimson King to destroy the beams holding up The Dark Tower, he does his best to stop it. Sheemie is an innocent abroad, trapped in a world he doesn't fully understand, and is at odds with the demonic world he is in. King's word tends to be one of relative light and dark, where good and evil blend together; Roland is a hero who is far from pure. But Sheemie is one of the few purely good characters we meet in the course of the series, and seeing him trapped in this prison is painful, and seeing the faith he has in Roland hurts, knowing that Roland thinks rarely of Sheemie, driven as he is by his quest for the Tower. Yet still, his hope is something that also stirs warmer feelings, ones of amusement and happiness. There are appearances by some of King's other characters, including Sheemie's fellow Breaker Ted Brautigan, who first appeared in Hearts in Atlantis, and Marten Broadcloak, King's most recurring villain, also known as Randall Flagg of The Stand and by many other names. Richard Isanove's art is perfect for this series, mixing the horrors of the mutants creatures of End World and the taheen, the human/animal hybrid guards, with some of Sheemie's visions of great beauty. There is a second issue of this series next month, and I hope more issues series follow it focusing on Sheemie and the other minor characters of The Dark Tower before Marvel dives into more adaptations.

Detective Comics #16
Story: John Layman
Art: Jason Fabok/ Andy Clarke

In Friday's recommended reading for Gotham Central, I commented that one of the best parts of the Joker story in that series, "Soft Targets," is to see how the police and the common people of Gotham react when the Joker appears. This issue takes a similar concept, but one twisted into a much stranger shape. This issue shows how Gotham's lunatic fringe reacts when the Joker returns. The idea of Joker inspired gangs isn't a new one; The Jokerz in Batman Beyond popped up in the first episode and are featured in the current arc of the series featuring that branch of the DC Universe. But John Layman gives them a very creepy air, not making them just Joker fanboys, but a psychotic, if inept, threat. These aren't just muggers and vandals who put on makeup, they're actual killers who give into their baser instincts. As Batman takes out each of the pathetic gangs, each whose name is a worse humor based pun than the one before it, we cut to scenes of another group of Joker imitators, these ones far better organized and far closer in style to their purported idol. One such Joker, Rodney the Torch, an arsonist, has teamed up with a group of others and are preparing to massacre the gathered families of some Joker victims. Rodney's fate is tragic, after he has a bout of conscience, but the rest of his group, who he tells Batman are called the League of Smiles, escape to their leader, the Merrymaker, who dresses as a plague doctor, a costume that I've always found particularly creepy. The backup once again features Ignatius Ogilvy, the man calling himself Emperor Penguin. Layman has done a great job of tying the backups in with the main feature, and after seeing Ogilvy leave corpses of his enemies looking like they had been killed by Joker in the main story, we see him explain his reasoning to some of Penguin's allies in the backup. Ogilvy is proving clever, and I'm curious to see what happens when (if?) the Penguin makes it out of Joker's party in Arkham how he will react to his former assistant taking over his rackets.

Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files: Ghoul Goblin #1
Story: Jim Butcher and Mark Powers
Art: Joseph Cooper

The second original mini-series set in the world of Jim Butcher's best selling Dresden Files novels kicks off with a very solid first issue. Back in October, I recommended the first original Harry Dresden comic series, Welcome to the Jungle, and while this series takes place deeper into the novels, in between book 2 (Fool Moon) and book 3 (Grave Peril), it is still remarkably continuity light, making it a perfect entry point for new readers. Harry Dresden, wizard/p.i. for hire, has been called to a small town to help save a family who are seemingly cursed by mysterious deaths, many of them perpetrated by things that could only be monsters. New readers will get a good introduction to who Harry is and how he operates, both his mind and his magic, and will get to meet one of Harry's regular support staff, Bob the talking skull. There's some great action to start, with harry fighting the Creature from the Black Lagoon's steroid using cousin, and then the story moves into more of the private eye mode, which is how a Dresden story works. While the plot of the mini-series comes from series creator Jim Butcher, the script is by Mark Powers, who has been adapting the Dresden novels for Dynamite, and I'm happy to say that Powers has Harry's voice down pat. I could have read this issue with no knowledge of the scripter and thought it was coming right out of Butcher himself. One interesting difference between the novels and the comics is that the series opens to a flashback set in 1917. The Dresden stories are all written first person, so these scenes are something we don't get in the books, and while I found it an odd choice, it's one I'm willing to accept as part of a different medium where having a long sequence of exposition about an event is tedious when you can show, not tell. Since Adrian Syaf, who drew the first original miniseries and the first half of the adaptation of the first Dresden Files novel, Storm Front, left for the greener pastures of DC Comics, the art for the second half of that novel and the adaptation of the second has been inconsistent, but I feel Joseph Cooper, new artists for this series, has a good feel for the character and has a good visual sense. If you've heard of the Dresden Files series from me or from its ever growing legion of fans, this is a great place to give it a shot and see if you want to try some of the novels. Trust me, once you start, you won't be able to stop.

Star Wars #1
Story: Brian Wood
Art: Carlos D'Anda

The time in between Star Wars: A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back is one of the most thoroughly mined of any span of time in the Star Wars universe. It's probably also the span of time that most non-hardcore Star Wars fans want to see, since all the classic characters are in play. Dark Horse's idea for the new, ongoing series being a continuity light series seemed like a good idea to entice in new readers, but I wanted to see how it felt to me, a die hard fan. And I have to say, this first issue was a resounding success. Brian Wood, best known for gritty dystopian sci-fi and vikings, slips right into the galaxy far, far away with ease. The issue starts out with Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Wedge Antilles on a mission to find a new home for the Rebel base after the events of the original movie, and quickly turns into an action packed dogfight between their X-Wings and a TIE Fighter wing. By the issue's end, we've seen Han Solo and Chewbacca on a mission for the rebellion, and Darth Vader confronted by the Emperor about his continued failure to stop the rebels. All the elements that are easily recognizable to the public are there for a good Star Wars story. Wood does toss in some nods for those of us who know the lore well, including appearances by less well known movie characters like Wedge and Mon Mothma, as well as pilot slang from the X-Wing series of novels, but its all so minor that there's no way it could alienate a new reader. Carlos D'Anda does a great job on art as well, capturing the looks of characters that are a major part of the public consciousness while still making them dynamic. While I'm still concerned about the future of the Star Wars license, I'm going to enjoy this series while it's here. May the run be long and the Force be with them.

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