Over the weekend, I read some things that I’d been meaning to get to. Hence, some of the reviews following are not of “new” books. They are, however, fairly recent, so I trust you’ll forgive me.
This is kind of embarrassing, since I work at a comic book store and purport to know a more-than-moderate amount about comic books, but…I’m basically unfamiliar with the Creeper.
I mean, I know a little something about him. I can recognize him on sight, obviously, since he has a fairly distinctive appearance and I seem to recall that he’s basically a Jekyll and Hyde-type of character, but that’s about it. In fact, those background details are probably a result of his appearance on the Batman animated series (of which I’m a religious devotee).
So you’ve got to ask yourself why, aside from my equally fanatical devotion to the Vertigo line, I would be picking this book up, much less reviewing it.
Well, the answer to why I picked it up is that both of the creators attached to it come highly recommended by those who make it their business to recommend comic books (and, in my experience, the recommendations of Hall and Chiang are justified). As for why I’m reviewing it though, the answer is even simpler:
It’s quite good.
Judith and Maddy are sisters, living in the decadent, free-spirited world of 1920s Paris. Both of an artistic bent, Maddy chooses to devote the majority of her time to a “practical” occupation (as a seamstress) rather than her more personal inclinations (to be a playwright). Judith, on the other hand, lives a promiscuous, carefree lifestyle that her sister is less than approving of. She mingles amongst the burgeoning surrealist crowd, mixing freely with people like the expatriate Ernest Hemingway and local do-gooder Inspector Ric Allain, as well as the overtly creepy would-be artist (and child of privilege) Mathieu Arbogast.
Appearances are everything to this story, the theme emerging through Judith’s dream sequences (where she makes love to a devilish figure only to have him transform into a masked, cackling being of another sort) and the false romance that Maddy teases Inspector Allain with (his infatuation with Maddy springs from letters that she sent him during the Great War; he is unaware that those letters were penned by Judith, a secret kept by both sisters). However, the notion makes its stand on the identities of our story’s hero and villain.
Violent rape scenes bookend the issue’s primary story and, given Arbogast’s behavior, he would be the primary suspect for the role. But isn’t that a bit too obvious? I’d like to give Hall more credit that that, personally. As well, it seems initially that Maddy is a shoe-in for the secret identity of this new “old” version of the Creeper, based on the figure’s appearance in her dreams and her cavalier attitude towards life. However, the closing scene leaves that theory in question, casting more than a bit of suspicion towards another character.
Simply put, this is a great way to open a mini-series, undoubtedly providing teasers that, when all is said and done, we’ll look back on and say, “I should have seen it right THERE.” At the same time, the story reads smoothly and clearly, supported masterfully by Cliff Chiang’s animation-esque artwork (which is highly reminiscent, to me, of Darwyn Cooke’s work, which I also love). I can’t wait for the next issue.
Some comics are worth waiting for, no matter how long that wait may be. The Ultimates, obviously, is the first example that springs to mind. You’re well aware that Millar, Hitch and Marvel are making absolutely no promises about how regular that book is going to ship; rather, you’re simply assured that when it does see the light of day, it’ll kick ass and that’s all you should need to know. As another example, any time Alan Moore writes anything, like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen for instance, it’s going to be worth your patience. Even on his very worst day, Moore is heads and shoulders above the vast majority of writers out there, so no problem there. You know that in advance and you know the schedule on his books usually slips.
Now, Dark Knight Strikes Again, on the other hand. That was a book that was not worth the wait. It was a title that inexplicably slipped off the shipping radar, whose tardiness was never explained. And then when it did finally ship, it just left you wondering, “This? This is what I waited all those months for?” You can’t figure out what took so long, because surely it can’t take too much time to crank out a lousy book (Frank Tieri is a hemorrhoid on the industry’s ass and even he can meet a monthly schedule).
This is all by way of introduction to this issue of Fray, in case you were wondering about the tangent. It’s relevant because, by my figuring, this book is well over a year late.
So which camp does Fray fall into? Let’s put it this way: it might as well be called Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer Strikes Again.
It’s amusing though, to find all the things that are wrong, production-wise, with this book. I mean really, after more than a year’s worth of delays, Dark Horse couldn’t even be bothered to include a summary page on the inside cover? Would that have been too much to ask? Because, to be honest about it, I can barely remember what’s going on in this book. And hence, I just don’t care.
However, if you’re a current (or former, really) follower of the television series that this serves as an unofficial sequel to, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you’ll be more than familiar with the series’ plot. Basically, there’s a bad guy and he’s going to open a portal to Hell. When that portal’s opened, demons will come screaming out the gate and consume the souls of those living in the physical world. Naturally, only one person has the strength to stop that from happening. In this case, the good guy (or girl, as the case may be) is Melaka Fray, the post-apocalyptic version of Buffy, and the bad guy is her brother (now a vampire), Harth. And while it always looks like the odds are in favor of the forces of evil, there’s a reasonable assurance that, in the end, good will triumph (though undoubtedly some sacrifices will have to be made, for melodrama’s sake).
Essentially though, you can substitute Buffy for Fray and any number of the TV show’s villains for Harth and the plot remains the same. It’s just so terribly archetypical and even more amusing when you figure that the primary complaint of the rabid legion of Buffy fans is that the show has long since run out of good ideas and begun rehashing itself to death.
So what happens this issue? Not much. There’s some pseudo-dramatic speechifying, some pop culture references, an army of vampires (opposed by a small force of veritable pitchfork waving villagers), and a big snake-like monster that Harth rides about the city.
To boot, apparently after all this time, the only issue that Whedon actually had in the can was this one. You would hope that he could have managed to write both of the missing issues during the interim, but evidently that’s not so, as the final page claims that the concluding issue will ship in June (yeah, right). Worst of all, there’s no apology or explanation of any sort of the excessive delays. Rather, the letter column simply chugs along like there was no gap whatsoever between issues.
In the end, once you get over the disappointment that this was the best Whedon could produce with over a year to resolve the story, Fray stands as a very pretty, moderately entertaining (in a lowbrow sort of way) action book. That’s about the most positive thing I can say about the book.
Man, I’m torn here. I’ve always been a big fan of Namor; I think he’s a great character. The problem though is that he’s not a terribly sympathetic one and hence, it’s rather difficult to make a solo series about him work. For me, Namor is a character best used as a supporting cast member in someone else’s book, rather than the lead role in an ongoing series of his own. This first issue of the prince of Atlantis’ new book doesn’t do much to dissuade me of that notion, but it is markedly better than I had feared it would be (no matter how much I like Andi Watson, the thought of Bill Jemas being allowed to write anything, after Marville, makes me nervous). However, there are some glaring incongruities that kept me from enjoying it more than I would have liked.
The book opens with a very young Prince Namor emerging from the Atlantic waters and playing on a public beach with a young surface girl. Chasing each other down the shoreline, the heir to the aquatic throne of Atlantis builds an intricate sand castle to illustrate for her the world that he lives in (much to her disbelief). When jellyfish begin to sting the swimming tourists, all are rushed back onto dry land and Namor slips away alone to submerge himself once again and descend to the borders of his kingdom. There he is whisked away by his doting mother in a series of strikingly beautiful panels by Larroca that more than adequately convey a sense of awe and majesty for the sunken domain that Namor makes his home in.
A passing reference to the Atlantian practice of gathering food in a giant net, driven forward by a small group of dedicated workers, becomes a plot device when the story jumps forward several years from Namor’s childhood to his young adulthood. Therein, the self-assured prince complains that he must spend his time manning the net when he would rather serve as a forward guard, ever watchful for the attacks of ravenous sharks. Spotting a pair of Atlantian children playing directly in the path of an oncoming predator, Namor springs forward to distract them, but tragedy appears to strike as the issue closes.
The narrative flow of the story is jarring at best, given that it skips about liberally in both locale and timeframe, but that inconsistency is generally smoothed over by nice transition panels by Larroca. Honestly, I shudder to think of what this book would have read like without his art. I know in interviews Larroca has expressed an irritation at being reassigned to Namor, but personally, I don’t see how this book could be any more of a waste of his time than the abysmal X-Treme X-Men and in any event, he makes a serious impact on the readability of the story here.
The problem I have is that there are some inexplicable problems with the story, such as the fact that no one on the beach seems to mind that the young Namor is scampering about completely naked, much less the fact that one of their daughters has run off with this nature boy. Then when the girl’s parents do arrive to whisk her away from the stings of the jellyfish, her father seems more concerned with the fact that Namor’s parents are not around than he is with his lack of any clothing whatsoever. Even more ridiculous is the idea that I can take seriously the threat of the death of a character named, I kid you not, Bobo. I don’t know what conventions the denizens of Atlantis use when naming their young, but on the surface, I’m under the impression that we try to avoid names for our children that make them sound like circus monkeys.
The plot itself is not without flaws, as we’re never given any reason to care about Bobo (I just can’t get over that name) other than the fact that we’re told that he’s Namor’s close friend. If he dies, so what? He’s only been around for a couple of pages anyway and he didn’t really do anything then except possibly die.
In the end, the book certainly could have been a lot worse. As I said before, it would have been seriously hampered by anything less than above average artwork, a problem deftly solved by the pencils of Salvador Larroca. I applaud the fact that the book is set in Namor’s past, as an exploration of his present seems unnecessary, repetitive and dull. As well, Watson and Jemas have done an adequate job of evoking the sense of arrogance that is Namor’s trademark, so that’s definitely a step in the right direction. It just seems a little rushed though, overall, never really sure of which era of its protagonist’s life it is focusing on. However, with a 25-cent cover price, it can afford to be a little unremarkable. So long as the next issue moves things along a little bit better, I’ll have little cause for complaint.
I haven’t reviewed New X-Men for quite some time now. That’s not a slight against the book; the exact opposite, rather. Morrison has, for basically his entire run, maintained a pretty respectable standard of quality. However, the drawback to that is that while each individual issue is probably worth your money and your time, it becomes harder and harder to say nice things about the book, because eventually you run out of ways to say the same thing. This month though I felt compelled to review the book because Morrison has accomplished something here that no other X-Men writer has ever managed to do:
I found Bishop moderately interesting.
That’s quite a feat too, since Bishop is on my list of terrible ’90s X-Men characters whose primary character traits consist being unnecessarily mysterious and having a code-name that has absolutely no connection to his powers (other proud members of the list include Gambit and Cable).
Arriving at Xavier’s mansion to investigate the murder of Emma Frost, Bishop and Sage (both members of the team that regularly appears in Claremont’s X-Treme X-Men) begin questioning the likely suspects and weeding out those with plausible alibis. However, a chance discovery and an unexpected confession complicate matters, leading to a bizarre ending.
If that sounds overly simple, I apologize, but that’s basically the best way to summarize the issue. The worth of the story is not so much in the plot itself (though the Murder at the Mansion story arc is shaping up to be one of the best in Morrison’s run, simply for being inherently different from the rest), but in the execution. Morrison plays Bishop and Sage’s investigation like it was a Sherlock Holmes novel, not another episode of Marvel’s eternally popular mutants. Bishop delivers, in the opening scene, a concise and entertaining version of the classic “everyone is a suspect” speech, simultaneously setting up the issue’s plot and resolving some unanswered questions from the previous issue (such as what, exactly, was used to kill the former White Queen). From there, it’s on to a series of interviews with those under suspicion, eliminating one of the prime suspects (but still not removing the shadow of doubt from Cyclops). Things look like they’ll rapidly proceed to a parlor scene when the two mutant detectives will reveal the murderer’s identity, but things rapidly get out of control once again.
If I had to make a complaint, it’s that I have no idea who Sage is (given that I’ve never really devoted much time to X-Treme X-Men), so I’m equally clueless about what exactly it is that she does. To boot, I was confused to begin with as to why Bishop would be chosen to investigate it, but that’s quickly cleared up on the second page, when he announces that he is a “mutant detective.” The book’s summary page claims that Sage possesses a “near computer-like brain,” but I’m not sure exactly what that entails. Is this simply an overly elaborate way of saying “she’s really smart?”
In any event, The Murder at the Mansion is shaping up to be a watershed moment in Morrison’s tenure on New X-Men. A lot of the hype about the book has died down in recent months, but this arc stands to prove that the fuss was warranted.