First off, a quick word about my selections this week.
I had intended to pick up copies of All-Star Superman #4, Astonishing X-Men #15, and the re-launch of The Flash. I even checked out Flash artist Ken Lashley on the Gallery of Comic Art, just to see what I could expect. I liked what I saw, and actually got a little excited about picking up the book.
Then I saw what they did to his art.
Flash #1 is without a doubt one of the ugliest comics I've ever seen (and I own a few Rob Liefeld books). I don't blame Lashley at all. Here's an example of his uninked work:
Not flawless, but kind of dynamic. Certainly not the screaming mess that it turned out to be. Coloring, since it all went digital, is a hit or miss proposition in comics these days. When done well (Jamie Grant, for instance in All-Star Superman), it can really propel a book's art into another realm of realism or fantasy. But when done this poorly, it can ruin a book completely. I'm not the only person that left Flash on the shelves because of it.
This is what I bought with the money I'd planned to spend on Flash, and I think I made the right choice. I'm not familiar with Neil Gaiman much beyond 1602 (which is just ok), I never read Sandman or any of the other billion things he's written on his way toward becoming one of the most respected names in the business. So I picked up Eternals not because of his contributions, but because even on a cursory flip-thru read in the store, I was impressed with John Romita Jr.'s artwork. The Eternals are a Jack "King" Kirby creation, which was quite obvious even as I cracked the book open in the middle. You can tell a Kirby character immediately, even through another artist's vision. One thing I'll love forever about the King was that he was a cigar chomping New Yorker who created a pantheon of space age gods and goddesses. Here was a guy that appreciated how deeply the thread of mythology runs in our lives, and used it to create some of the most memorable characters in comics history, side by side with Stan Lee. But I'd never heard of The Eternals, which was Kirby doing for Marvel upon his return what he'd done at DC with the New Gods. Wikipedia tells me it ran for what looks like two years under The King's hand, starting in 1976, then popped up sporadically through the decades.
This version of The Eternals, anyway, is off to a good start. Gaiman has a good grip on Kirby's world, distilling a lot of information (and I mean a lot) but making it all fairly digestible. Again, not being a long term reader of the Eternals, I don't know if they were always trapped in these modern day lives, having forgotten their true identities as immortals. If not, this move by Gaiman is more than a little similar to Grant Morrison's treatment of DC's Kirby crew, the New Gods, over in the Mister Miracle mini. Though when it comes right down to it, that may be the only way to introduce these kind of characters in a modern context.
Regardless, this is a good issue, and the art is stunning in places. I can't quite tell if it's Romita's pencils I'm responding to, or if if Danny Miki's inking, but the whole operation strikes that balance between Kirby homage and something brand new. If Romita Jr. still resides under the shadow of Kirby and his father, it's no great knock against him, as practically every comic artist since those two has been aping one of them. This is a book with energy and life. I'm not sure I could see this world existing past the six-issue mini Gaiman's planned, but I'd be pleasantly surprised if it did.
ETERNALS #1: B
ASTONISHING X-MEN #15
As anyone who saw Serenity (and is being totally honest with themselves) knows, Joss Whedon has a tendency to spin his wheels a bit. His storylines are set up like a sitcom, set-up:punchline, set-up:punchline, drama, set-up:punchline, climax. Which is all well and good when you're on the punchline or the drama or the climax. But when he's setting up, sometimes your patience wanders. This issue seems rushed is what I mean. Everything, right down to John Cassaday's art, feels like we're just doing this to get to there. On whatever end, also, whether it's Cassaday or Whedon's fault, this is a poorly "directed" issue as well, in that scenes begin before we need them to and end before we need them to. This is disorienting, when we've got several strands of story to follow: Emma's turn, Scott's coma, Kitty sinking down to the abyss, the X-kids and their dire predictions, Wolvie and Beast's fight, the rise of Hellfire, the return of Danger (the sentient Danger Room from Whedon's last Astonishing arc which will interesting, but poorly executed), and the imminent peril of Breakworld.
Whedon's X-Universe is bursting at the seams, and it doesn't always seem like he has it under control.
There are fun moments as well, who doesn't love seeing Logan making paper dolls?
And the last page in the book is a nice reference back to Claremont and Byrne's Dark Phoenix/ Hellfire run. Again, though, Whedon's cramming this whole 'Kitty Pryde as potential badass' thing down our throats. Buffy she will never be, Joss. I half expected her, as she turned to 'camera' to be saying, "Do you know who I am? I'm Shadowcat, bitch."
Get it together, guys.
ASTONISHING X-MEN #15: B-
ALL-STAR SUPERMAN #4
Thankfully, some things in this world you can count on. All-Star Superman delivers, issue after glorious issue.
This time, our focus is on Jimmy Olsen (Superman's Best Friend, as the silver age title told us); here transformed from naive, freckled sidekick to ultra-modern, metrosexual adventurer. Everything about Jimmy, his hair, his apartment, his luscious gal-pal, seem like a culmination of what people in the 60's thought people would be like in the new millennium.
To contrast specifically to Astonishing X-Men, here we have an issue that deviates from the central storyline of Superman's seemingly unavoidable death and doesn't feel like mere filler, but an expanding of the universe (wanna bet Krypto gets his own issue somewhere down the line?). Superman appears in the issue, but only as a Super-foil for Jimmy's adventures. While running Leo Quintim's P.R.O.J.E.C.T. for a day, Jimmy stumbles across Black Kryptonite which, they soon discover, turns Superman evil.
I love the way the effects are revealed, with Superman carving his symbol into the desk like a truculent teenager in detention:Evil Superman was the kind of thing that happened every other week in the silver-age, and everything about the fight is exciting. To go back to what I said above, just look at what Jamie Grant adds to these scenes with his coloring: One thing I'm loving about Quitely's layouts in this series is that even though he doesn't deviate from the standard 'block' format panels, his pages feel expansive, unlimited, because of the composition within the panels, a valuable lesson for most modern comic artists. Instead of trying to make the page look dynamic with jagged and ugly panels and exaggerated musculature, just learn solid anatomy and motion, fellas. What you end up with is so much more elegant.
Grant is unloading every silver-age fantasy he ever had into this series. This another title bursting at the seams, but Grant is able to make it all run smoothly. He knew going in exactly what he wanted this book to be, and his vision is being carried out phenomenally by his collaborators. As usual, this is the best book on the stands right now.
ALL-STAR SUPERMAN #4: A