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DC Comics:
The Most Recent Crop of Graphic Novels

The League of
Extraordinary Gentlemen: Volume II

Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Kevin O'Neill

The first volume of Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen accomplished a rare feat in comics. It took a somewhat gimmicky concept - a team of Victorian-era literary figures teaming up to save the world - and made it believable, humorous and unique, garnering well-earned praise from fans and critics alike. It also accomplished an all-too common feat, that of spawning an absolute abomination of a movie. Forget about the movie. It never happened. Instead, let's all focus our attention on The League of Extraordinary Gentleman: Volume II.

The new series, now collected and reprinted in hardcover format, catalogues the further adventures of Mina Murray, Alan Quatermain, Captain Nemo, The Invisible Man and Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, this time reunited to face a new threat: the Martian invasion of England, as told in H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds. Moore again delivers everything that made the first volume so wonderful, though once again, the story takes a back seat to the evolution and strengthening of his borrowed characters.

Despite the supernatural premise, the League's members are made wholly believable. With such radically different people thrown together under fantastic circumstances, the result is palpable tension on every page. These are characters you can't help but become attached to. Let's face it - when a hulking, murderous rapist like Edward Hyde is made endearing to an audience, the writer has done his job. And this time around, we've got aliens, sex, betrayal, the deaths of major characters and more.

The dialogue is sharp and witty, but Moore knows when to let the artwork speak for itself. Kevin O'Neill's "absinthe doodles", carried over from Volume I, are a perfect match for the story and time period. His incredible level of detail leaves hidden jokes and literary references in every panel, yet it never feels overdone. In addition, the hardcover collection reprints the "almanac entries" from the individual issues, as well as humorous magazine ads and games all set in the time period.

Overall, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Volume II is just good, smart storytelling. Say what you will about Alan Moore, but this is how comics were meant to be. You might say that it's in a League of its own. But don't say that. It sounds retarded.

Grade: A+





Vertical

Writer: Steven T. Seagle
Artist: Mike Allred

I really have no idea what they were aiming for with this one. Vertical is a love story set amongst the backdrop of New York City in 1965. Brando Bale, a hip and guilt-ridden young man, spends most of his time working for Andy Warhol and whining to himself in the form of poorly written narration. In his spare time, he likes to throw himself off of buildings, miraculously surviving every time. Unfortunately, the plot and any hint of subtlety go with him, and are smashed to a million pieces on the ground.

The theme here is falling. Falling off of buildings is just like falling in love. If you can't quite grasp that, don't worry, because writer Steven Seagle bludgeons you with it on every page. It gets old fast, and it doesn't help that Brando and his love interest Zilly Kane are angst-filled, self-centered and unlikable. The love story isn't convincing, and the whole thing just seems like a cheap throwaway contrivance. The only saving grace here is Mike Allred's artwork, but you can find that in Madman Comics and X-Statix.

The book's format - a slim, vertical (get it?) top-stapled affair - is as unwieldy as the dialogue. This story might - and I stress MIGHT have worked as part of a collection of short stories tied to the theme or the era, but not as a standalone. Maybe I'm just not part of the target audience, but I can't think of anyone who would enjoy - much less buy - this book. No deal, Vertical.

Grade: D



Lovecraft
Writer:
Based on a screenplay by Hans Rodionoff, adapted by Keith Giffen
Artist:
Enrique Breccia

The works of Howard Phillips Lovecraft aren't exactly light beach reading, but if you put in the time, you'll be rewarded with some of the creepiest and most disturbing horror stories around. Elder gods, dark rituals and unspeakable evil - I'm talking serious nightmare-type shit, here. The man was a gothic genius and his works have influenced and an entire genre, from Stephen King to Hellboy. He either had one hell of an imagination...or everything he wrote about was real.

Such is the premise of Lovecraft, a new graphic novel from DC's Vertigo imprint that imagines H.P. Lovecraft's writings as fact instead of fiction - a chronicling of the author's lifelong contact with evil from another dimension. The result is partly a biography and partly a macabre tale placing the author inside what is essentially one of his own works. We're treated to an inside look at the man behind the madness, from his childhood and writing career to his ill-fated marriage. Yet woven into the story is a tale worthy of H.P. himself, featuring a cursed book, terrifying visions, and familiar faces and locations resurrected from his various works. It's a great concept based on a screenplay by Hans Rodionoff, and aside from some jumps in the narrative and a slightly rushed ending, it works very well.

The artwork is where this book really shines. I've never heard of artist Enrique Breccia before, but this is how Lovecraft was meant to look. Breccia's pages are a mixture of Edward Gorey, Steve Templeton and fantasy novel illustration, with a hint of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen thrown in to reflect the era. If that sounds like a crowded dance floor, it's because Breccia frequently shifts his style, creating a world of stark contrasts. Reality is drab and highly detailed, while each nightmarish creature is an explosion of blurred watercolor. Everything is slightly off-kilter in Lovecraft's world, emphasizing his descent into madness. The deranged protagonist himself is no exception, with his protruding lower jaw, glaring eyes and slightly tilted head. Very nice.

With its focus on the reclusive author and subtle references to his works, this is ultimately a story aimed straight at H.P. Lovecraft fans. If you swim in that end of the nerd pool, this book is a must-have. It brings a fascinating new perspective to the man and his mythos, with a background that is clearly fiction, yet almost believable. Plus, it's beautiful to look at. On the other hand, if you've never read The Call of Cthulhu, and you think Brown Jenkins is a sexual position, you might want to skip this one. It's still a solid horror read, but probably not worth the hardcover price.

Grade: A- for Lovecraft fans, B for everyone else


The Losers: Ante Up

Writer: Andy Diggle
Artist: Jock

It doesn't happen too often, but every once in a while a comic book will take me by surprise. Such is the case with The Losers: Ante Up. I caught the first issue of this series when it was initially released last year, and promptly forgot about it. It wasn't terrible, it just felt like yet another action/conspiracy-type book, and there were a lot of them floating around at the time. Now that the first six issues of The Losers have been collected in one volume, I felt ready to give it another chance…and it ended up being the most fun I've had reading comics in a long time. An all-around guilty pleasure.

The premise is straightforward enough: a team of highly skilled CIA black ops is presumed dead after being double-crossed by their own corrupt agency. Now they're back, with nothing to lose, and they're looking for revenge. That's about it. Not exactly high-concept, but therein lies its charm. The introductory issue and the 5-part storyline that follows play out like a big budget action movie, complete with complex heists, high-speed chases, big explosions and some of the old ultra-violence. It's fast, fun and over-the-top, reminiscent of the recent remake of The Italian Job. But much better, because that movie sucked.

Of course, the tradeoff here is that The Losers also inherits some of Hollywood's weaknesses, primarily that of character development. There's a slick team dynamic, but there's not much more to the individual characters aside from some snappy one-liners, sometimes making it hard to distinguish between them. This can be overlooked, as it's only the first story arc in an ongoing series - by the end of the story, the stage is set for further adventures. It's harder to dismiss the dialogue, which is unapologetically ridiculous at points, and conversations seem forced and tailor-made for the reader's benefit. Plus, writer Andy Diggle never seems to tire of showing off his extensive knowledge of snappy military lingo. Is it accurate? I don't know. It's cool, though.

The artwork is really nice, which is extremely important for a book so heavy on action. There's some real style here. Broad, bright colors are juxtaposed with solid black shadow, creating a feeling evocative of Mike Mignola's work on Hellboy. That's never a bad thing. And the covers are amazing - kinetic pop art worthy of framing.

The Losers: Ante Up is basically comic book junk food, which is strange considering it's a Vertigo release. This is an unfortunate marketing decision, and may cause the book to miss out on a more mainstream audience. If you like fast-paced action flicks, don't let the imprint deter you - you'll dig The Losers. And at 10 bucks, it's the same price as going to the movies. So make some popcorn, kick back, and enjoy. It sure is nice to be pleasantly surprised.

Grade: B+



-- Dave Brennan


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