Monday, June 29, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 6/24

The Fade Out #7
Story: Ed Brubaker
Art: Sean Phillips

As readers get deeper into Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips's filmland noir, The Fade Out, they see that every player in the series is haunted by something. Most of the issue is actually taken up by the romantic and sexual romp of the series protagonist, screenwriter Charlie Parrish, and Maya Silver, the starlet who replaced the murdered Valeria Sommers. But even as the two of them dance and have sex at a beach house away from all the pressures of Hollywood, that world doesn't release them. A particular physical trait of Maya's causes Charlie to ask a question that once again brings to mind Val and the suspicions he has about the hedonism of the head of the studio he's working for and exactly how much that might play into Val's murder. And when they're called back to the city early, Charlie gets himself immediately sloshed and into a fist fight with another writer who attacks him for naming names and getting his old partner, Gil, blacklisted. Charlie is haunted by Val's death and his own writer's block, by the corruption of the world around him. And when he goes to clean up after getting beaten down, he finally has a conversation with the man he remembers seeing the night of Val's death, who identifies himself as Drake Miller from the studio, who clearly knows that Charlie is a front for Gil's writing. Charlie knows the threat for what it is, that being outed as a front is suicide in Hollywood at this time, and still does nothing. This paralysis of action is Charlie's defining character trait and flaw, and clearly is connected with his wartime experiences in Germany. The issue also has us drop in on PR girl Dottie and Tyler Graves, the closeted gay James Dean analogue, forwarding their plots, but it's really Charlie and Maya's issue. We do get a little more about Maya and exactly what she went through to get her job on this movie. Brubaker doesn't forward the plot of the series as much as the character, although the final scene with Miller and the note he slips to Charlie are clearly important, something he's done with various issues of his earlier series as well. Phillips balances both the lovely beach scenes with the deeper darks of the bedroom scenes, which are not graphic but sexual. The Fade Out, more than any of Brubaker and Phillips previous series, is a slow burn, piecing out its information slowly while bathing us in atmosphere. I'm wondering if there were clues in this issue that will come back around to be more important later. Oh, and if you've been enjoying Devin Feraci's essays on Hollywood of days gone by that accompany each issue, you should check out You Must Remember This, an excellent podcast about the history of Hollywood in the 20th century.

Gotham By Midnight #6
Story: Ray Fawkes
Art: Juan Ferreyra

After the two month Convergence hiatus, Gotham By Midnight returns with its strongest issue to date, thanks in no small part to new series artist Juan Ferreyra. Ben Templesmith did a good job on the first arc, but I'm a huge fan of Ferreyra's from his work on Colder and Kiss Me, Satan and his talent for drawing the supernatural and the disquieting is well suited to Gotham City in general, and the macabre cases of the Midnight Shift in particular. The ghost haunting Powers Corp R&D is grotesque and shiver-inducing, exactly what I'd expect out of Ferreyra. The issue's story picks up shirtly after the conclusion of the previous arc, with the Midnight Shift attending the funeral of Sister Justine, who fell to help stop the Spectre from wiping out Gotham, and still under investigation by Sgt. Rook of Internal Affairs. After a tense argument about the powers of both Jim Corrigan as The Spectre and his partner, Lisa, Drake, who is part banshee, the two are sent to investigate the aforementioned haunting at Powers Corp. The story there is a tale we've heard before, of corporate greed run rampant, caring more for the bottom line than the human lives of those who work for it, but Fawkes infuses it with character, and makes you really want to slap around the unctuous Mark Jenner, whose corporate think and ultimatums led to the death of George Wooley, who haunts Jenner and Powers to get his justice, something the Spectre can understand. Meanwhile, Lt. Weaver spends time with Dr. Tarr, the Midnight Shift's resident scientist, who has taken Sister Justine's death the hardest, and who continues to investigate the black flowers from Slaughter Swamp, which take on an eerie turn. If that wasn't enough, the final page reintroduces one of my favorite DC characters, one who hasn't been seen since the universe reshuffling that was Flahspoint: Kate Spencer! Yes, the last character to bear the name Manhunter, the tough as nails superhero/attorney is back. Methinks this might mean a recommended reading for Manhunter is coming soon from this very blog, but for now I just want to thanks Ray Fawkes for bringing Kate back, and adding her to the cast of this comic.

The Shadow #100
Story & Art: Various listed below

I don't know exactly what math was used to determine that Dynamite was at issue one hundred of the comic featuring pulpdom's original masked vigilante, but however they got to the number, the celebrated it with an impressive prestige format anthology collecting six stories of The Shadow.

Story 1: "The Laughing Corpse," written and illustrated by Francesco Francavilla, is the story of the Shadow following leads as prominent scientists are dying with their bodies contorted and  with grotesque smiles on their faces. No, it's not a crossover with another famous masked avenger (that's for later), but a story of revenge with Francavilla's usual style and grace, with gorgeous layouts an tons of atmosphere.

Story 2: Writer Victor Gischler and artist Stephen B. Scott's story deals with members of the card club frequented by the Shadow's alter ego of Lamont Cranston being robbed and killed. It's the most detective oriented story in the collection, although the reader is on on what's going on from the beginning.

Story 3: "Black and White and Red All Over" by writer/artist Howard Chaykin, who has quite a history with the Shadow, deals with The Shadow dealing with an old friend of his from World War I who is now a published of this new fad, comic books. We get a tale right out of the early days of comics, with gangsters and unscrupulous businessmen. And the final page shows an incensed Margo Lane, the Shadow's female companion, irked that the same crooks who bought out Shadow's old friend are no publishing a Shadow comic, something the Shadow takes in stride. Less so in...

Story 4: Michael Uslan, best known for being the producer of the Burton Batman films but who has written some comics featuring both the caped crusader and The Shadow in the past, and artist Giovanni Timpano, tell a story with so much 30s charm and in jokes that I couldn't help but smile. After The Shadow saves a couple and their young son from being mugged (if it wasn't clear who they are to readers at the outset, there's a bit with pearls that seal the deal), the Shadow slips off to tell off the guy who's voicing a radio version of his, something the Shadow does not approve of. If you know anything about the classic Shadow radio show, you know who this is, and Timpano captures the actor's look perfectly, and the final page mentions of Hearst and Rosebud  again make it clear what famous actor the Shadow has set on a course to make his masterpiece

Story 5: Left out of the credits at the beginning of the comic, the back cover told me this story, of a criminal watching as the Shadow takes apart the underworld, comes from Chris Roberson and artist Ivan Rodriguez. This story feels like it follows in the footsteps of some of the best Will Eisner Spirit stories, where the Spirit, or in this case The Shadow, serves as more a plot device, letting us get into the head of a denizen of the city, in this case a crook with a sense of honor who the Shadow seeks to add to his collection of agents.

Story 6: The collection is rounded out by " The Curse of Blackbeard's Skull" a prose story with accompanying illustrations by Matt Wagner. The format, similar to that of the pulps where the Shadow comes from, makes it an excellent choice to end the anthology, and Wagner knows the Shadow. A story of rich men dying after possessing the cursed skull turns into a story of greed and avarice.

If you've never read a story of The Shadow before, or only know him vaguely, this is a great place to first read him, as it will give you a good feel for the character and his world.

We Are Robin #1
Story: Lee Bermejo
Art: Jorge Corona & Rob Haynes

The final major issue one of this month from DC is We Are Robin, where the idea of Robin, of a teenager doing something to protect Gotham from the crime that infests it, has reached a point where it has become a movement. But we only get hints of that this issue. The main focus of this issue is Duke Thomas, who will be the series point of view character. For those of you who haven't read Duke's earlier appearances, he has popped up a couple times in Scott Snyder's run on Batman, most recently in "Endgame," where the Joker used Duke and his parents as bait for Batman. This issue opens with Duke in foster care, as his parents are among the missing after the Joker's rampage. His case worker is long time Batman supporting cast member Leslie Thompkins, who has popped up intermittently and inconsistently since the reboot, and writer Lee Bermejo captures her in a way that makes me hope she is a regular supporting cast member in the book. As for Duke, one issue in and I love him. He's likable, clever, with a bit of an attitude, but he's not written to be a stereotypical street kid in any way. He's already well rounded by Bermejo just by drawing on his few appearances in Batman and what Bermejo does in this one issue. Looking for his missing parents, Duke goes into Gotham Underground and comes across a plan to blow up Gotham City proper. And when he's in trouble, that's when the Robins show up. Someone has been directing them to Duke, and we don't exactly know who that is or what their agenda is, but the final pages indicate someone with some resources is backing up the Robins.Jorge Corona, drawing off breakdowns by Rob Haynes, provides art removed from the DC house style, but with a lot of energy, appropriate for a book that is going to be populated by young, acrobatic characters. With mainstream superhero comics' recent push for greater diversity, a book featuring a young African-American lead and a group that looks to cross every possible societal group is a smart choice for the less than diverse recent DC Universe, but Duke is presented as a character first here, and that's the key to a solid character and title, something this first issue of We Are Robin sets up well.

No comments: