This Week’s Haul

The longest-running story in Astro City came to its end after 16 issues and almost half a decade of sporadic publishing. I’m going to write a separate entry on The Dark Age since it’s a pretty meaty story, but that’s been obscured by its slow release schedule.

Meanwhile, fans of cartoonist Charles Addams might want to check out the recent publication The Addams Family: An Evilution, which covers Addams’ development of the family in his comic panels years before they appeared on television (never mind the silver screen), but which mostly consists of scores of cartoons of the family, including many which have never appeared before. If you’re a big Addams fan like I am (and if you’re not, then you should be!), then this is a fine addition to any cartoon library.

  • Astro City: The Dark Age book four #4 of 4, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson & Alex Ross (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Batman and Robin #12, by Grant Morrison, Andy Clarke, Dustin Nguyen & Scott Hanna (DC)
  • Brightest Day #1, by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi, Ivan Reis, Pat Gleason, Ardian Syaf, Scott Clark, Joe Prado, Vicente Cifuentes, Mark Irwin, Oclair Albert & David Beaty (DC)
  • Secret Six #21, by Gail Simone & John Calafiore (DC)
  • Echo #21, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • Incorruptible #5, by Mark Waid & Horacio Domingues (Boom)
  • Irredeemable #13, by Mark Waid & Diego Barreto (Boom)
  • Hellboy in Mexico, by Mike Mignola & Richard Corben (Dark Horse)
  • The Boys #42, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
  • Dreadstar: The Beginning HC, by Jim Starlin (Dynamite)
  • Ghost Projekt #2 of 5, by Joe Harris & Steve Rolston (Oni)
The first issue of Brightest Day is an improvement on the zeroth issue, but not by a lot: Giving each of the characters (and there are a lot of them) just a few pages to advance their individual stories doesn’t make for very interesting reading. Green Lantern and some of the other rainbow lanterns investigate the mysterious white lantern that’s appeared, and no-longer-Deadman continues to monitor the other resurrected heroes.

The two action sequences are the best ones in the book: Aquaman commanding dead sea life, and Hawkman and Hawkgirl trying to recover their unearthed original bodies (although the fact that Hath-Set is the one who recovered them has an air of, “What, this again?” to it). But otherwise this is the first chapter of not one but about 6 different stories, and none of them are very compelling.

It’s really hard to tell an ongoing story with an ensemble cast like this, and that 52 did it well was probably a fluke. Brightest Day is not off to a good start in either its plot or its characterizations. It’s got about 2 more issues before I decide it’s not worth it, because after getting burned by Countdown to Final Crisis, these sorts of books are on a short leash with me.

Both Incorruptible and Irredeemable have guest artists this month, coincidentally. (Or, maybe it’s not a coincidence.) Irredeemable fares better, as Diego Barreto’s art is pretty good (though it’s still a step down since Peter Krause has done such a strong job of establishing the look and feel of the series that his are just huge shoes to fill). Besides which, this issue largely flashes back to the days when the Plutonian went bad, which feels like ground already covered (even though it’s been covered haltingly and piecemeal); Mark Waid’s done such a good job suggesting what happened that actually showing it doesn’t really feel necessary, and this issue doesn’t really advance the story very much.

(That cover, by the way, looks like it could have been from an issue of Miracleman. Which actually makes me realize that the Plutonian started off as a Superman-like figure, but his darker, cape-less costume resembles that of Miracleman. Intentional?)

Incorruptible doesn’t fare any better, as Horacio Domingues’ cartoony style and heavy ink lines felt like they clashed with the heavy subject matter. The story is okay, involving Max Damage recruiting a young woman to stand in for his missing sidekick, Jailbait, to prevent his enemies from learning she’s left him. The notion of the main character needing to be near his sidekick to keep her safe is an interesting twist on the premise (I’m not really clear on what Jailbait’s powers are, if any), but the issue ends up being a series of dark humor moments as the reluctant stand-in is overwhelmed with the realities of Max’s life. It seems almost like a gag-a-day approach to writing a very dark story, and it felt awkward.

These are both very good series, but they both had an off-month.

This week’s “true comics geek” issuing is Dreadstar: The Beginning. This is essentially the prologue to Jim Starlin’s Dreadstar comic, most of it originally printed as a series entitled “Metamorphosis Odyssey” in Marvel Comics’ Epic Illustrated magazine back in the early 1980s.

Epic Illustrated was essentially aimed as a competitor to the artsy European mag Heavy Metal, and the content often felt similar. “Metamorphosis Odyssey” certainly fits right in: First of all, the art is painted rather than drawn, and about half the story is in black-and-white, with no apparent point to which pages are in color and which aren’t. (The collection faithfully reproduces this, which seems even quirkier in this format.) Second, the story is often told in the distance, circling around its characters and not letting us see them act in the moment very much until the second half. It’s a very self-conscious story, but one which is also trying to feel very spiritual. While Starlin has often written stories with a spiritual component, he’s never been very good at selling that aspect, and it feels awkward here.

Fundamentally, the story is one of loss, as the war-loving Zygotean race terrorize the Milky Way galaxy, and the last of the Osirisians, Aknaton, recruits three unusual individuals to trigger the Infinity Horn to end the Zygotean threat, but at great cost. He also recruits Vanth Dreadstar, a warrior wielding a powerful energy sword, to help him defend the three until they can do their jobs. It’s a simple story elaborately told, and it’s clear that Starlin quickly found himself won over by the battle-weary yet strong-willed Vanth, which is why Dreadstar ended up being the one to go on to his own series.

The volume includes two other prologue stories, he first being “The Price”, in which the bishop Syzygy Darklock receives tremendous power on his way to becoming Dreadstar’s greatest ally, but must pay an equally tremendous price to acquire it. The second is an epilogue which sets up the ongoing Dreadstar series, and introduces the telepath Willow, and feels like a side story other than that introduction.

As you can guess from my tone, I don’t think Dreadstar: The Beginning is a very impressive volume, even though it’s the lead-in to the best work of Starlin’s career. Starlin isn’t a very accomplished painter, and his brushwork seems to accentuate the flaws in his art style, making some of the quirky compositions and beefy figures look even more exaggerated; his style is much better suited for dynamic action sequences than for the more contemplative material here. And “Metamorphosis Odyssey” itself feels very experimental, but I don’t think it really succeeds in being a deep or satisfying story. Although I don’t think it was intended to be, it feels like backstory to the real tale. “The Price” is a genuinely strong story, one of the best Starlin’s done, but it’s hard to recommend the whole hardcover on its back.

While committed fans of Starlin or people curious about where Dreadstar got started might enjoy this volume, I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, and in fact would suggest that people who haven’t already read Dreadstar start with collections of the regular series, as The Beginning is really not going to give you a good feel for what the hoopla was about.