Grant Morrison’s latest event, The Multiversity (DC), has finally arrived after much anticipation. Enough time has passed since the initial announcement that readers could be forgiven for having given up on waiting. Readers could also be forgiven for detecting a slight musty odor to the proceedings. Multiversity is an enjoyable book that nonetheless suffers as a result of both its lateness and its familiarity: Morrison’s customary ideas and themes appear almost obviated by events of the last decade.
On its surface, Multiversity appears to have been designed to accomplish two goals. The first is to serve as a more-or-less direct sequel to Morrison’s Final Crisis, from 2008. The second is to provide a tour across a few of the new alternate Earths extant in the new post-Flashpoint New 52 DC cosmology. It’s important to remember, however, that this story was originally conceived long before the New 52 reboot. The idea that there are 52 alternate Earths in DC continuity was introduced in the weekly series 52 in 2007. Morrison (one of the architects of 52) took the idea and ran with it in Final Crisis, presenting the 52 universes as part of a gigantic orrery of worlds watched over by a race of omnipotent—and yet strangely ineffectual—Monitors (all descended somehow from the original Monitor back in Crisis On Infinite Earths).
Multiversity picks up after Final Crisis: The orrery is still in danger and the Monitors are gone, all save for the mysterious Nix Uotan. The issue begins with a few direct nods to the original Crisis. The automated remains of the Monitor’s satellite collects a group of disparate heroes from across the multiverse for the purpose of doing battle against… well, something that has corrupted the orrery, and which takes the form of a clan of monsters called The Gentry (the spokesperson of which is a giant flying eyeball with bat wings).
Surprisingly, none of the assembled heroes hail from the current post-Flashpoint DC Earth (although we have seen the Superman of Earth 23 in Morrison’s Action Comics). With the exception of Captain Carrot, most of these heroes appear to be new analogues of familiar faces—a nerdy, gay Flash, a female Aqua(wo)man, tiny chibi Wonder Woman, and Steel. There’s even a fin-headed not-so-savage Dino-Cop, not to mention a whole world filled with Marvel analogues. (Although his work inevitably gets short shrift in any discussion of Morrison’s story, Ivan Reis does a commendable job juggling dozens of new characters and unorthodox settings.)
The problem isn’t that the story isn’t engaging—it hums along fairly well, especially for those with a good memory for the past 10 years or so of Morrison’s other DC projects. The problem is that the tune sounds awful familiar. Back in the ’80s when Morrison started at DC, producing character-defining runs of Animal Man and The Doom Patrol, his work was fresh, sitting at an abstruse angle from that of fellow British Invasion writers like Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman, and successfully carving out its own independent niche in the context of the larger DC Universe.
But Morrison has been with the company for so long—almost 30 years, save for a brief run at Marvel—that his once strange and iconoclastic approach to writing superheroes has been thoroughly metabolized. He appears to have cycled through his own strongest influences to arrive at a place where the biggest influence on his new material seems to be his own older material. A familiarity with Morrison’s past work is necessary to understand the plot, but with that background it’s also difficult to avoid seeing that he’s repeating himself, once again moving over very familiar territory, shuffling the same tropes we’ve seen half a dozen times back into the deck for another deal.
It is no surprise that artists repeat themselves, but at a certain point it becomes difficult to draw the line between further elaboration of fertile ideas and simple self-plagiarism. Morrison devotees will delight in digging through these pages in search of all the Easter eggs linking Multiversity to the tapestry of Morrison’s previous works. But more casual fans—those with less investment in the ongoing meta-story of Morrison’s own narrative—may begin to wonder if they maybe haven’t heard this tune before, and more than a few times at that. [TO]
The Eisner Award winner for Best Anthology three years in a row, Dark Horse Presents is an acclaimed title featuring some of the industry’s brightest talents, but a $7.99 price tag made the previous volume a hard sell, even though it was a good value for the amount of content provided. Dark Horse Presents, Vol. 3 #1 (Dark Horse) lowers the page count to 48 and the price to $4.99, making it a much more attractive package, especially with the lineup of creators in this first issue.
The book is headlined by the return of Frank Miller and Geof Darrow’s Big Guy and Rusty in a short story written and illustrated by Darrow, a visually astounding piece that gives Darrow complete freedom to draw what he loves regardless of whether it has any narrative importance. While Big Guy fights a giant sea monster in the background, Rusty tries to control a massive crowd of people that are preoccupied with chilling out on the beach, drinking booze and hanging with their dogs. It’s really just an opportunity for Darrow to spotlight his figure drawing skills (both human and canine) for eight pages while filling a sandy environment with an abundance of tiny details, and like the artist’s recent Shaolin Cowboy miniseries, the lack of plot doesn’t harm the experience at all. The story is all about being bombarded with artistic detail, and it’s a huge accomplishment in that regard.
This first issue also marks another big revival, as David Mack returns to his seminal creation Kabuki for the first time since the conclusion of The Alchemy miniseries in 2007. Mack is one of the most innovative creators in the industry, and his gorgeous mixed-media artwork in this issue overwhelms the reader with visual stimuli as the story dives into the complex history of its main character. Whereas Darrow emphasizes sensory impact over plot, Mack balances both elements gracefully, giving background information to new readers while pushing the character’s narrative in a new direction to whet the appetites of longtime fans. Hopefully this means a longer Kabuki project is in the works at Dark Horse, because Mack’s evolution as an artist has brought more depth and ambition to each new Kabuki story.
Quality over quantity should be the guiding principle of any anthology. Having a large selection of stories means nothing if the stories aren’t good, and this more compact volume of Dark Horse Presents forces the publisher to be more selective with its content. And the editorial team picks very wisely. This first issue also features an exquisitely animated one-shot starring Damon Gentry and Aaron Conley’s Sabertooth Swordsman, and all the first chapters of longer stories provide plenty of reasons for readers to return next month.
Brendan McCarthy’s “Dream Gang” features his signature psychedelic art in a story that is surprisingly accessible; Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse construct a stylish, fun Resident Alien short; and Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, and Andy Kuhn introduce supernatural cage fighting in “Wrestling With Demons.” Hopefully these ideas will reach a wider audience now that the anthology is just a dollar more than most comics. That price point makes this title one of the best buys of the month, and if it maintains this level of quality, it’s well on its way to another Eisner. [OS]
Variant covers are common practice in the comic-book industry, but The Fade Out #1 (Image) makes the case for variant comics with a stunning movie magazine edition that prints the story in an oversized format with extra bonus features. This is a new project from the all-star creative team of writer Ed Brubaker, artist Sean Phillips, and colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser, and the book’s magazine variant is a brilliant way of making it stand out on the stands, accentuating the story’s late-1940s time period by echoing the design of an old Hollywood trade publication.
The variant costs a little less than double the price of the regular printing, but considering what most publishers release for $3.99, $5.99 for a 48-page oversized comic produced with this level of craft is a totally reasonable price. Readers familiar with Brubaker and Phillips’ past collaborations know what to expect from this first issue: an immersive period-specific environment, multidimensional characters, and a captivating mystery that starts the story with intense forward momentum.
Brubaker loves setting stories in the past, but this is his first true piece of historical fiction, and as such, the 1940s time period plays an even larger part in the narrative. The studio system and the blacklist factor heavily into the plot, which follows a Hollywood screenwriter as he tries to piece together the events that lead to him waking up in the bathtub of a young starlet, who lies murdered in the next room. From the opening sequence explaining the “phantom planes” flying over Los Angeles, there’s a pervasive sense of paranoia throughout the issue, and it only gets more tense as central character Charlie Parrish finds himself at the center of a studio cover-up.
For The Fade Out, Sean Phillips makes the leap from traditional ink-and-paper to digital rendering, and while the difference isn’t extremely noticeable, the artwork in this first issue is sharper and smoother thanks to the added control provided by the digital medium. The linework is still incredibly textured and atmospheric because of Phillips’ use of shadows, and in the issue’s final moments, the darkness plays an important part in the storytelling. As Charlie realizes how badly he’s messed, shadows begin to cover his face, visualizing his descent into the pitch-black world of crime noir.
Phillips’ meticulously detailed environments and character designs pull the reader into the period, and Breitweiser completes the time warp with a palette that evokes major color trends of the late-1940s, particularly in the use of pastels. Breitweiser is a colorist with a talent for emotional storytelling, and her work on this titles punches the fear, disorientation, and confusion of Charlie’s experience while still embracing the glamour of the larger Hollywood environment. The exclusive back-matter outlining Brubaker and Phillips’ creative processes is a good incentive to buy the movie magazine variant, but the real reason to get the oversized edition is to see the work of this art team on a larger scale. [OS]
By late 1941 when the United States entered World War II, Japan had already been fighting for a decade. Even before Hitler rose to the Chancellorship in Germany, Japan was fighting wars of conquest across Asia as early 1931. Fueled by dreams of a united Asia, during the early Showa period (denoting the rule of Emperor Hirohito, 1926-1989) the Japanese government pursued a policy of aggressive military expansion and territorial conquest. Whereas the Western powers had humiliated Asia for centuries by carving up the East into colonial spheres of influence, the Japanese sought to replace European domination with pan-Asian nationalism—all under the guidance of a bellicose and culturally chauvinistic Japan, naturally.
This is the context of the second volume of Shigeru Mizuki’s period history, Showa 1939-1944: A History Of Japan (Drawn & Quarterly). Alternating between large-scale historical narrative and personal biographical anecdote, Mizuki communicates a clear sense both of the political and military machinations of Japan during the war, and his own seemingly hapless circumstances as a student and later as a soldier. Japan was an imperial power before it was fascist, but after allying with Germany the country lost little time in implementing a uniquely Japanese form of Nazism. Mizuki shows us that although much of the country was swept up in the rush to war, there were still many who rejected military expansion as well as the foreign transplant of fascism. This is especially true of students, such as the young Mizuki, who lazed around for months on end reading the Bible and Goethe, convinced of his impending death and searching desperately for some kind of meaning.
The author finds no meaning in the military. Drafted in the early days of the war in the Pacific—during the height of Japan’s runaway successes against the Pacific fleet—Mizuki initially seemed destined to sit out the war in the bugle corps. Stupidly, he requests a transfer that sends him into the South Pacific at the height of the fighting. This happens just as Japan is reeling from its loss at Midway, and the Allies begin the slow process of retaking the region island by island. Again, he somehow manages to avoid being present for any real fighting, right until the very end of the book, which is where the reader is left on a cliffhanger to await the next volume, covering the years 1944-1953. While it may be obvious that Mizuki survives the last year of fighting (he’s telling the story, after all), there is still a great deal left to be told in terms of how he survives the worst of the fighting, as well as how he adapts to the punishing deprivations of the postwar period in order to become one of the great mangaka of all time. [TO]
After spending an evening chatting with a cat, the human protagonists of I Was The Cat (Oni) wonders if other talking animals might exist, but decide it’s unlikely. “Just because we’ve found one crazy thing doesn’t mean the door is open to all other sorts of craziness,” Allison Breaking concludes.
That excuse for narrowing the scope of the book might be acceptable if writer Paul Tobin offered more compelling material about his subject. Instead, he shows the same weakness he displayed in his superhero novel Prepare To Die!: he can dream up an appealing concept but fails to drive it to a satisfying conclusion.
I Was The Cat tells the story of Burma, a highly intelligent house cat who has spent the last eight of his nine lives trying to take over the world. He’s enlisted Breaking, a blogger who runs the website “Breaking News,” to write his memoirs. His tales are of highly varying quality. The worst are when Tobin seems to have simply chosen an important historical figure and linked Burma to him with passages that basically break down into “I almost took over the world with Napoleon, but then he invaded Russia,” and, “I was in the Coolidge White House and the Great Depression wouldn’t have happened if he’d just listened to me.”
Much more fun are the ones the personalize Burma and deal with his dual nature as both a brilliant megalomaniac and a cat. In one tale, the object of his ambition is not the world but Audrey Hepburn, as he strives to be her feline costar in Breakfast At Tiffany’s. In another, he explains the tale of Puss In Boots through the lens of a clever plan to achieve power that fails because of some hungry dogs. Burma’s turn as the inspiration for James Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld’s feline companion provides a great opportunity for Benjamin Dewey to show off his flair for the absurd along with the detail the avowed “cat enthusiast” gives his furry characters.
Unfortunately, Burma’s tales are too often interrupted by Allison and her friend, Reggie, who chatter inanely about coffee and boys while denying that Burma could possibly be up to his old tricks because he’s just such a cute kitty. As his latest plot unfolds, it’s easy to wish Tobin devoted a little more time to the craziness around Burma, like who his mysterious enemies are and how he relates to other cats. Burma says he’s penning his memoirs to make him seem “more human.” But given how boring the two-legged characters are in I Was The Cat, he shouldn’t have bothered. [SN]
In just over two years, Valiant has established itself as one of the smarter superhero publishers. It keeps its publishing lineup limited to a very manageable nine titles, which means a regular culling of less popular books to makes space for new debuts. In the coming months, Valiant will be releasing quite a few miniseries and one-shots exploring different characters in its stable, and to clear some extra room, ongoing series Archer & Armstrong and Quantum And Woody are taking a four-month break while their titular pairs appear in their own crossover miniseries.
The Delinquents #1 (Valiant) combines the biting socio-political commentary of Fred Van Lente’s Archer & Armstrong with the raucous superhero high jinks of James Asmus’ Quantum And Woody, delivering an absurd, hilarious, and unexpectedly topical first issue about an evil bioengineering company looking for treasure using a map tattooed on a hobo’s skinned butt flesh. Mondostano CEO Gerald Stano has one half of the map, and he hires Quantum and Woody to find the other half, which is currently in the possession of Aram Anni-Padda, the immortal drunk otherwise known as Armstrong.
It’s a very silly but very fun story by Van Lente and Asmus, executed with lots of energy in Asmus’ quickly paced, banter-heavy script. This is a very dense first issue that provides all the necessary exposition needed for readers who may not be familiar with these characters, and that information is beautifully conveyed in Kano’s detailed, expressive artwork.
Kano is an artist that was underappreciated at Marvel and DC, and since his jump to Valiant, his artwork has become even stronger. After coloring his own art on Quantum And Woody, Kano continues to show his coloring skills on The Delinquents, using a vivid palette that accentuates emotional moments and intensifies action sequences by embracing unconventional neons and pastels.
Kano packs loads of information on pages that regularly contain more than 10 panels, and his coloring becomes a valuable tool for creating distinct beats within those stuffed layouts. The artist’s skill for facial expressions and body language makes him the perfect fit for the comedic script, and the colors add another level of humor by dressing everything in shades that give the art an especially clownish quality. It was only a matter of time before Valiant’s two odd couples faced off, and The Delinquents sets up a delightfully dysfunctional crossover that elevates the characters by bringing them together. [OS]
It’s easy to image that pop stars are corporate creations grown in a factory: perfect little products that make investors buckets of money by capturing the public’s eye for a short while before inevitable burnout and replacement. In Pop #1 (Dark Horse), that idea is reality. Britney, Mariah, and Bieber are all the property of a shady organization, and its latest experiment has escaped. (The escaped subject is named Elle Ray, a not-so-subtle allusion to current pop starlet Lana Del Rey.) Suicidal comic shop employee Coop finds something to live for when a gorgeous, half-naked blonde woman crashes into him outside his store, but he quickly discovers the terrifying reality of his new situation when he’s forced to carve a centipede-like tracker out of Elle Ray’s arm.
Writer Curt Pires made a big impression with his ambitious MonkeyBrain series Theremin, and Pop sees him improving the clarity of his storytelling without sacrificing the big ideas that made his previous title so memorable. Music plays a large part in the book’s conception—this first chapter shares a title with the Billy Idol tune “Eyes Without A Face” and directly quotes Gorillaz’ “Rhinestone Eyes”—and there’s a neat metaphor at work here regarding the relationship between entertainer and consumer. Elle Ray enters Coop’s life when he’s at his lowest, and caring for her distracts him from his own troubles in the way a really great song can pull someone from the emotional brink.
Publication design is becoming more and more important for establishing a distinct aesthetic for a creator-owned project, and Dylan Todd’s high-impact trade dress immediately draws attention to this first issue’s cover. Artist Jason Copland provides a simple close-up of Elle Ray’s face for the cover image, but pulling the eyes off-center is a clever way of visualizing the title of this chapter. Because the eyes don’t align and are presented in black and white, they pull focus from the rest of the face, which blurs into the bright yellow background the longer readers look in her eyes.
Copland’s interior art is far grittier than the cover, but Pete Toms’ colors maintain the bold graphic elements to create a contrast between the realism of the linework and the more figurative coloring. With a title like Pop, this debut should make an immediate impact, and the creative team crafts a multilayered, visually engaging opening act to get the crowd pumped for the rest of the show. [OS]
Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo strips are some of the early marvels of graphic storytelling, experimenting with layouts and perspective to create outstandingly imaginative images bursting with detail. It’s impossible to replicate the magic of McCay’s original works, but the creator’s spirit lives on in Little Nemo: Return To Slumberland #1 (IDW), a whimsical and magnificent return to glorious dream-time kingdom of King Morpheus. Written by Eric Shanower—who adapted L. Frank Baum’s Oz novels into some of the best kid-friendly comics available—with art by Gabriel Rodriguez and colorist Nelson Daniel, this first issue doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, detailing James Nemo Summerton’s journey to Slumberland and the obstacles that delay his arrival by waking him from sleep.
Much like Shanower’s Oz adaptations, the story of this debut aims for a timeless quality rather than trying to put a modern spin on things, and there’s a directness to the dialogue that makes things very clear for younger readers. The majority of the weight here rests on Rodriguez’s shoulders, and the former Locke & Key artist carries the load admirably. Rodriguez tapped into his inner McKay on the Locke & Key, and he pushes the spectacle and splendor to another level in Little Nemo, realizing each panel in intricate detail.
From the very first page showing King Morpheus and his expansive court of subjects, each with a distinct character design, this first issue is a mesmerizing read, and it only becomes more enchanting as Rodriguez begins to play around with the structure of his pages. Most of the book is presented on a 2-D plane, so when Rodriguez switches the perspective to add three-dimensional depth, the shift makes a big impression.
Daniel’s candy-colored palette emphasizes the youthful energy of the art, and the specificity of the coloring highlights the precision of Rodriguez’s linework. A two-page spread of Slumberland is a breathtaking example of this art team’s excellence, and this issue conveniently includes behind-the-scenes content breaking down the development of that spread, along with other stand-out moments of the story. The creators of Little Nemo: Return To Slumberland clearly have a passion for McCay’s work, and it’s refreshing to see the continuation of McCay’s bold visual tradition in Shanower, Rodriguez, and Daniel’s collaboration. [OS]
How should one begin to describe the work of Renée French to the uninitiated? The back cover blurbs from Warren Ellis and Guillermo Del Toro are certainly of sufficient wattage to convince the wary reader of French’s significance simply through association. But it would also be a mistake to use those two referents—or, really, any referents—to attempt to triangulate French’s style. Readers can see how it might intersect briefly with Ellis’ brooding cynicism or Del Toro’s gothic manner. But it’s more than that. Everyone who engages with her work engages on a different level: be it the unerring, precise creepiness of her smudged pencil drawings, the surreal sensibility perched halfway between the Davids Lynch and Cronenberg, or the sincere Dr. Seuss-ian innocence peering out from under the skirts of her stories, there’s something here for every reader who cares to look.
Readers unsettled by this kind of ambiguity should consider themselves forewarned, then, in regards to French’s latest, Baby Bjornstrand (Koyama). The story itself is barely a wisp: Three boys out for a walk one day discover a giant baby bird. (Or, at least, it looks like a giant baby bird. There’s no confirmation.) The bird doesn’t respond to words, although he eats food when it’s offered, and occasionally turns green and emits a ghostly “hooooo” sound. One of the boys—Cyril—befriends the bird and christens him Bjornstrand. One of the other boys, Marcel, has a tail. The boys wander around for a few days (weeks?) before Bjornstrand, for reasons known only to himself, jumps off a cliff and deflates like a balloon. If this sounds completely inexplicable, that’s because it is. French’s soft-focus sepia-tone, with brief flashes of color, mark the narrative as a type of dream. Whether it is a dream or merely a nightmare, only the reader can decide. [TO]