- Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #52, by Tad Williams & Shawn McManus (DC)
- Countdown #50 of 51 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, J. Calafiore & Mark McKenna (DC)
- Ex Machina #28, by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris & Jim Clark (DC/Wildstorm)
- Fables #61, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Steve Leialoha (DC/Vertigo)
- Justice League of America #9, by Brad Meltzer & Ed Benes (DC)
- World War Hulk: Prologue #1, by Peter David, Al Rio, Lee Weeks, Sean Phillips, and others (Marvel)
- Artesia Afire HC vol 3, by Mark Smylie (ASP)
- Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 HC vol 1, by David Petersen (ASP)
- B.P.R.D.: Garden of Souls #3 of 5, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
- Hero by Night #3 of 4, by D.J. Coffman & Jason Embury (Platinum)
Shawn McManus does his own inking in this month’s Aquaman, and the art is looking better. Still not quite the McManus style I know and love, but still. I think my biggest gripe about the book at this point is that Aquaman is getting lost in his own book amongst the large cast, and he’s being treated as a kid besides. Considering this Aquaman has been around for over a year now, and Kurt Busiek wrote him as a pretty strong character, I would like Williams to bring him to the fore and show that he can really carry the book.
Speaking of artists, I probably shouldn’t be as hard on guys like Ed Benes as I am, artists who seem to be strongly influenced by the Jim Lee/Rob Liefeld arm of the Image Comics style. While many details of his style are not to my taste, the guy does have some talent: In JLA #9, he not only draws a detailed panorama of gorillas riding giant lizards (and how can you not love a comic featuring such a scene?), but he can show some emotional range, as he does in a scene between Red Arrow and Power Girl.
The World War Hulk prologue is not really necessary, so I recommend you save your money for the real thing. Its main virtue is some nice artwork.
Mark Smylie’s Archaia Studios Press has become a nice little cottage industry over the last few years, and it releases two hardcover collections this week. ASP’s hardcovers are of very high quality (even the cover boards have illustrations, not just the dustjacket!), and they’re affordably priced at $24.95 – which for a comic book hardcover ain’t bad. I suspect ASP is targeting selling these in mainstream bookstores, and I have heard that bookstores refuse to stock fiction hardcovers priced about $25 (although I can’t find a link to support this). Consequently, I wonder whether ASP is making money on these hardcovers, or simply paving the way for the paperbacks?
Anyway. I got on-board with Artesia after its first volume had finished, and I was impressed with the sophisticated subject matter (which, I should stress, is not for children), and especially Smylie’s well-choreographed layouts and lovingly-drawn panels. Two more volumes have taken the shine off the series for me, as the cast of characters is huge and Smylie doesn’t make their faces sufficiently different for me to be able to keep track of them all. The story is also moving along at a fairly slow pace, and it’s not clear where it’s all going. Moreover, most of the characters – including the title character – are not really very likeable. These points make it difficult for me to stay engaged and to appreciate the series’ good points. Perhaps I need to go back and re-read all three volumes in a chunk and see if I’m missing something, or if the series really is just missing me. (A summary of Artesia here.)
On the flip side, Mouse Guard was a fun little series about the world of mice and their little medieval society. The art is simple yet effective, and it’s just good escapism. I hear a sequel series will start up soon.
Hero by Night #3 makes me wonder whether we should declare a moratorium on origin stories in superhero comics: Its first two issues concerned how its protagonist found the ring which gives him super powers, but the story only really gets moving in #3 when he starts using them and confronting the pros and cons of doing so. Maybe more comics just need to start in medias res and not from the very beginning. Let’s get straight to the excitement!