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Sequential Art
by Matthew Peckham
This week Matt checks out Vertigo's answer to all those witchy teenage TV shows, Warren Ellis's brand new work for the evil empire, and the 2004 Eisner-award winning muscle-headed one in his own monthly; includes a complete list of the just-announced 2004 Eisner award-winners.

For a list of what's hitting newsstands at comic shops near you, you should check the Diamond Shipping Lists or grab a copy of Previews.

If you're a creator who'd like to submit a work or body of work for review, or anyone wishing to recommend a book or series for review, drop me a line at mattpeckham@mac.com.

Need To Know:
The 2004 Eisner Awards have been announced. The awards ceremony took place at this year's Comic-Con in San Diego July 22-25, and DC Comics dominated the evening.

[Editor's Note: Here you will find the other Sequential Art columns and a popup window for Sequential Art Links.]

28 July 2004


The Witching #2, "Earth Oddity"
Writer   Pencils   Inks   Colors   Letters   Cover   Publisher  
Jonathan Vankin Leigh Gallagher Ron Randall Brian Miller Phil Balsman Tara McPherson Vertigo (imprint of DC Comics)

The Witching #2, Earth Oddity It's still tough to get a feel for where this series wants to go after the second issue, probably because it's trying to cram three storylines into twenty-two pages, emphasis on one in particular. I've managed to avoid Buffy and its television spawn, which I honestly couldn't even name, and I'll admit I'm a bit disturbed that this series just happened to arrive around the same time Marvel's Witches hit stands (you know, the way two Hollywood movies about, oh, say an asteroid striking the planet, happen to come out within a few months of each other). Still, Vankin is a solid writer, solid with dialogue, good at keeping the teenage valley girl wisecrack stuff in without it getting annoying. What we've got so far is a story of three witch-wannabe (or not) teens and twenty-somethings, as yet unaware of each other's existence, dabbling in various petty magical activities and the usual day-to-day doldrums of human existence. A Korean high-schooler dating a sex-focused high school football jock crashes her father's car and nearly kills the boy, a blue-dreadlocked goth musician tries to cope with playing second fiddle to a musical superstar named Osiris and her witchy (literally) mother, and the most powerful of the trio seems trapped in a pattern of ongoing sex rituals and confrontations with the devil himself. The devil in this case is Lucifer, the same tux-and-martini character from the Mike Carey series. It seems Elsa's (the name of Miss Do-Me-To-The-Moon, literally... see issue #1 for more on this) father ticked off the big 'L' by ripping a hole into Lucifer's creation (long story, see this page for the full tale). Now Lucifer wants Elsa to take out her father's followers on principle, and he won't allow her back to the moon (where her soul's from) until she's succeeded. What's a single witch to do against legions of devil worshippers? Get help, thus the impetus for the next several issues. It's not a bad story, just not a very interesting one. Leigh Gallagher's line work is generally good, sometimes a little cartoony, but often (in a good way) reminds me of Pia Guerra's work on Y: The Last Man. Tara McPherson's covers are divine, of course (there's someone I'd love to see do a painted graphic novel). If you like teen-angst/black-magic stories, that's where this one's aiming, but so far it's not breaking new ground.


Ultimate Fantastic Four #9, "Doom" part 3
Writer   Pencils   Inks   Colors   Letters   Publisher  
Warren Ellis Stuart Immonen Wade von Grawbadger Dave Stewart Chris Elipoulos Marvel Comics

Ultimate Fantastic Four #9, Doom part 3 The first six issues of this series were, to put it plainly, not very good. Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar are fine writers, the art on their issues looked great, but the story somehow falls a bit flat. Let me give you the short version: the "Ultimate" series is Marvel's vehicle for taking various aging properties and plugging them with turkey-baster sized syringes filled with fountain of youth serum. The result is supposed to be old heroes pepped up for a younger generation, as in l33t roxorz stories, dude: Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate Six, Ultimate X-Men, and for The Avengers, a series entitled simply The Ultimates. Each book spins a character's or team's original origin story, so instead of turning into a photo-journalist for the Daily Bugle in Ultimate Spider-Man, Peter Parker becomes the newspaper's web editor (yuk yuk). In Ultimate Fantastic Four, the Millar/Bendis trick is to have Reed Richards' ultra-smart interdimensional teleportation experiments trigger an event that flings him, Susan and Johnny Storm, and Ben Grimm through another dimension and back; the result = the same strange set of powers that belong to the original series' characters painted on the backdrop of contemporary society. Millar and Bendis' job was to get in, get the origin story together, and get out. They did an admirable job given the number of books each is currently juggling, but nothing approaching their previous efforts. Enter Warren Ellis, a name synonymous with the best speculative fiction in or out of the comic idiom, but also a name recently equated with "sell out" by fans who can't believe he's doing work for the industry 800-pound gorilla and corporate little-guy-crushing behemoth, Marvel Comics. My vast oversimplifications and cynical barbs aside, it really is a bit strange seeing Ellis's name in lights under the Marvel marquee.

That said, three issues into his first story arc, "Doom," Ellis is knocking fast pitches out of the park. In fact, to turn back one of his pull-quotes off a recent graphic novel called Less Than Heroes, if there have to be superhero comics, I want them to be David Yurkovich's and Warren Ellis's. Think of Warren Ellis as the guy that asks the questions no one else will, then answers them using cutting edge speculative physics. You might say Ellis is really a combination of the speculative "explain everything" approach on a show like Star Trek: The Next Generation, but with a heavy dose of David Lynch noir to suck all the cornball-geekiness out of the story. Apply that to a group like the Fantastic Four, and you're suddenly encountering uncomfortable questions like: What does a man that can stretch like plastic eat? Or in the case of this book, why doesn't he need to eat? What's the matter/energy relationship? How might you function without organs? How does a creature made out of solid rock/granite/whatever use the little boy's room? What does phase-space with time ripples invoking Hawking and Heisenberg have to do with the experiment that transformed the group? Does that sound like code for "get-your-geek-on"? It's not. Ellis's style is to ratchet up the human drama and simultaneously overlay a scientific superstructure, a system of rules everything plays by, then use the latter to trigger the former with just enough mature restraint to eschew geek-hyperbole. Take the current issue, part three of the "Doom" story arc, mostly a frenetic action bonanza with lots of super powers and special effects on display: Sue Storm, power of invisible girl, slings a series of flat energy plates at a swarm of killer robot bugs, then pressurizes the space until they explode; afterward, she's wiping blood from her nose. Moments like these are trademark Ellis, time spent meditating over the way things work, as opposed to simply thrusting us forward through another goofball action-adventure that's all plot, no substance. I wish this issue had been a tad less FX-heavy, but I suppose that's part of the tradeoff when your publisher's target demographic is more into Harry Potter (and there's a nice swipe or two at Hogwarts here) than Mervyn Peake. That's fine with me on this title. I'll take what I can get of Ellis's re-work, because no matter how many sparks and bullets and flames and invisible-force-projectiles are a-flying here, Ellis never shies from giddy hypothesizing, and few writers, hard SF or otherwise, have his talent for distilling complex speculative theories into charged quasi-scientific revelations that sing rather than sink. Highly recommended for SF fans.


Conan #6, "Day of Farewell"
Writer   Art   Colors   Letters   Cover   Publisher  
Kurt Busiek Cary Nord, Thomas Yeates Dave Stewart Richard Starkings and Comicraft Joseph Michael Linsner Dark Horse Comics

Conan #6, Day of Farewell Is this or is this not one of the most beautiful comics coming off the assembly lines? I've been stunned by Cary Nord's art since issue #0: pencils without inks, colored over to give the book a raw, kinetic look, lines like musical strings, struck and vibrating right in front of you. Dave Stewart's colors are so vivid everything looks almost like it has been dipped in brilliant oils. Most or all of you are familiar with Conan, whether through Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter, and everyone else right up to the movies starring Ah-nuld himself. This series takes place, as I understand it (having avoided Howard and his progeny, thus being clueless on the chronology), in Conan's earlier years. Here we have a young and brash Cimmerian wending his way through the world, fighting for justice, hacking off heads like nobody's business, and ultimately (we learned, a few issues back) questing for fabled Hyperborea, another proverbial milk-and-honey hangout for the romantic in you. Not surprisingly, Conan has since discovered it's a big joke, an aristocratic culture of fools so utterly bored with their placid existence they eventually throw themselves into a pit with their retainers in an act of mass suicide; all of this, of course, funded through the energies of hard working brawny slaves force-fed drugs to keep them submissive. In issue #6, Conan's freed himself of the drug, manages a brief and bloody uprising, loses, climbs down to the bottom of the pit the Hyperboreans throw themselves into, and discovers a final painful truth about the Hyperboreans' suicide "cult of bliss."

Short and simple, this is a love-letter to swords and sorcery fans, done up professionally with lots of action and stunning art. In fact, the art is so good, it's that much harder to fault the story for being fairly run of the mill brute force vs. magic stuff, and that's the only concern I have about this book transcending commercial success to win a 2004 Eisner award for "best single issue" when the real thunder here is Cary Nord, and not so much the nonetheless highly talented Kurt Busiek, who is again, doing a very admirable job of spinning a fun old-fashioned ripper, but one not even in the same league as some of the other stuff that's come out this last year, much of it from indie or alternative labels beyond mainstream attention. But enough carping, you're here to see if Conan is all that, and I'll say one more time, it is if you like swords and sorcery and scantily clad women and noggins-a-flyin'; in fact there's nothing presently better, nor has been for years, which perhaps explains why it's getting so much attention now. If anything, pick it up and savor the bewitching art. I guarantee you've never seen anything quite like it in a comic.

Copyright © 2004 Matthew Peckham

Matt Peckham lives in Nebraska and Iowa. His first book, a guide to Mike's Carey's Lucifer, will be published by Wildside Press. For more about Matt, check out mattpeckham.com


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