Is It Wednesday Yet?
17 August 2010 — Here we are again with another installment of your favorite comic book review series. As always, the reviews are free of spoilers, so read on without fear of having your experience ruined!
Our grading scale is simple:
Buy: An excellent comic book.
Borrow: A good comic, but save yourself some money by reading a friend's copy.
Flip Through: Give it a once-over at the comic shop.
Skip: This doesn't need to be explained.
Captain America: Forever Allies #1
Released: 04 August 2010
Writer: Roger Stern
Artists: Nick Dragotta and Marco Santucci
Inker: Patrick Piazzalunga
Colorist: Chris Sotomayor
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher
Cover: Lee Weeks
Cover price: $3.99
Review: Tom Hemmings
World War II stories are all the rage in comics these days. In the past few years there have been J. Michael Straczynski's The Twelve, Ed Brubaker's The Marvels Project, Alex Ross' Avengers / Invaders, and more — all of which brought back a lot of forgotten characters. Now the problem is where do they draw the line with bringing back characters from that era? Possibly before the point where they try to reconcile the kid-only teams of that era into continuity, which is what this comic is all about. I don't know about you, but Bucky's retconned history makes a lot more sense to me if they cut this stuff completely, but apparently every comic ever made is worthy of a miniseries cash-in tribute after enough time has passed.
The comic itself is divided into two parts: modern and classic, with two different art styles drawing the line between the two. It was charming and innovative in 2003 when Bendis did it with Alias, but at some point this has to be seen as less an artistic choice and more a convenient way to pump out a comic without relying on a single artist. The first problem is that the art intermingles, with a serviceable modern style and a classic style whenever Bucky fancies remembering something, even if it's only for one panel. The only logical conclusion we can draw from this is that Bucky's mind works like Kenneth's from 30 Rock: he sees everything through a psychotic haze of reality-altering, rose-tinted spectacles.
The plot spends most of its time trying to reconcile the existence of the Young Allies with the new Cap continuity, mostly done through these flashbacks. While the modern stuff collapses under the weight of Bucky's internal narrative, stopping only for a cameo from an obscure Cap ally that I can't imagine was required in any way, shape, or form. The direct continuity clash between those classic comics and the modern stuff is explained away by having the old comics be propaganda reflecting the real kid team, which makes the mixed art styles here completely pointless. Classic art is meant to reflect an older comic; if the classic comic is in-continuity propaganda, then there's no point in employing a second art style for the real events of that period. While the execution is okay, conceptually this book misses the point of the devices it's employing. When it fails on that basic level, then your confidence in the writer plummets. I don't hate this — a lot of the art is nice and the writer is clearly not phoning it in — but thanks to the way it was conceived this comic was never going to work properly.
I'm laying into this book far more than a throwaway cash-in miniseries deserves, but Captain America has been such a tightly woven, retcon-based narrative for the past few years, especially when it comes to Bucky being rehabbed from being a mere kid sidekick. Bringing back all the paraphernalia of his old role negatively impacts what Brubaker did for the character, not to mention it instantly means that WWII era Bucky was on as many teams as Wolverine is now. This book is completely optional of course; nothing in here will ever change anything that Brubaker is doing, which leaves the question why would you buy this instead of Captain America? Skip it. There are better World War II books out there.
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 28 July 2010
Writer: Sterling Gates
Penciler: Jamal Igle
Inker: Jon Sibal
Colorist: Jamie Grant
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher
Cover: Shane Davis
Cover price: $2.99
Review: Tom Hemmings
In the old days, the content of this comic would fill about four pages. Nowadays it's fluffed out to an entire issue. That being said, there's nothing wrong with Gates' work in the characterization department (I'm assuming Jimmy Olsen: Action Hero is consistent with prior issues), and he find enough stuff for everyone to do that you sort of forget that this is largely filler with a dose of Comics 101; there's no plot or sub-plot here that hasn't been done countless times before. What matters here is execution, and Gates does it well. This is worth mentioning because these fundamentals can elude even the biggest writers.
Okay, now for a little bugbear I have with DC. Can we please have a recap page? Those of us just jumping on board really won't get more than the most perfunctory explanation of Supergirl's motivations in this issue. I think we get one line covering it, but it would be nice to have that going in from page one as opposed to midway through — when we've already been mystified for half the comic. Something, for example, is clearly up with Jimmy Olsen, but by the end of this I've no better idea than I did at the start, and I don't know if that's deliberate or just the result of me not reading all the issues before this one.
When I initially flipped through this, I wasn't sold on the art. It seemed quite dense in a way that I'm not usually a fan of, probably due to the compression of dense color-tones over a great deal of detail. That sort of style usually means that a lot of the bold, well-defined art that works best in superhero comics is gone. Given a second look, however, I turned a corner. Jamal Igle isn't a name I'd seen before, but I'm quite happy to look out for his name again. He's achieved great consistency with the character models through intense action scenes, and his eye for detail is amazing. Not many artists would bother to correctly draw the underside of a car that's been flipped in an evil rampage, but he does it. He also makes time to identify the PC monitors being used at the Planet as Kord Industries, which is a nice touch. Once the coloring is thrown in you can see occasional hints of Frank Quitely (e.g. the smoke, close-ups of the eye), but Jamal's character models are his own. There's a neat little hint towards a reveal in this comic that makes really nice use of reflection, and the readers own deductive skills that almost bumps the comic up a grade by itself.
On the colors there are occasional issues with skin tone changing from panel to panel; at any given point Jimmy Olsen's face appears to both be paper-white and three-weeks in Barbados-brown. I'm also unsure why there's so much red in this book. Street surfaces are very rarely actually red, nor are they composed of the sort of reflective materials that might appear red at points. These are nitpicks, but the dramatic lighting that seeps in through the colors doesn't really feel in keeping with the Hitch-esque, reality-based attention to detail in the initial pencils.
If you're going to buy this you might as well commit to buying the whole storyline, but whether you're likely to do that really depends on whether you've been keeping up on your Superman family current events. This has good art and decent writing, but it's down to you to find a connection with this one. Flip through it.