Some reviews, originally written for last week’s Best Shots, which unfortunately got lost under that big metaphorical couch that is someone’s Spam filter:
Savage Dragon #152
Story & art by Erik Larsen
Published by Image Comics
Review by Russ Burlingame
There is a lot going on in the pages of Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon these days.
With Dragon apparently killed by the new Overlord a few months ago, the brain-eating alien called Virus, whose body Dragon has been inhabiting the last little while, took this month to go on a rampage while the new Vicious Circle competed with Dragon’s kids for samples of their father’s blood and the Golden Age Daredevil and his Little Wise Guys recovered from the jarring battle with Mako the Shark-Man last month, all the while unaware that the girl nursing Daredevil back to health is actually a murdering sociopath.
So it’s little surprise that Larsen is using some very cinematic touches—such as cutting back and forth quickly between scenes with no dialogue and no sound effects—to give emphasis to the idea that he’s not merely overloading the comic, but building an effect. The chaos is becoming palpable, and one has to wonder if anyone left in Chicago is equal to the task in Dragon’s absence.
There are some great character moments in this issue—particularly the bits involving Dragon’s kids’ interactions with the family of late police captain Frank Darling. While Dragon’s son Malcolm refuses to give up hope that his father will somehow return from the grave, his insistent mantra of “He’s not dead” doesn’t feel nearly as immature or naïve as those same words, uttered by Tim Drake over in the Batman books. Ironically, we all know Tim is right and he still seems like an irritating little whiner when he does it…where Larsen has made it clear that Malcolm may be wrong.
Larsen’s art is tight and it starts with the cover—this issue’s front image is very inspired by the genuinely creepy version of Venom depicted by Larsen in the early ‘90s. With rows of teeth, drool everywhere, empty, soulless eyes and a long, ropelike tongue, Virus/Dragon’s power and terror inside the pages is communicated pretty well in this one, static image that Larsen himself described as Brian Bolland-inspired.
Without the benefit of a universe to upset every time something big happens, Savage Dragon isn’t entirely unlike Image’s tentpole series The Walking Dead—it’s virtually impossible to guess what might happen next, or who might not make it through the arc. That, along with Larsen’s willingness to play around with layouts and the like, is lending this post-#150 Savage Dragon arc a sense of consequence and quality that’s not only a little better than Savage Dragon has been in a while, but heightened as compared to just about any mainstream superhero book.
Solomon Grundy #7
Story & art by Scott Kolins
Published by DC Comics
Review by Russ Burlingame
In what appears to be the only Blackest Night tie-in of the week, the final issue of DC’s seven-issue Solomon Grundy miniseries actually backs up to “Prelude to Blackest Night” territory and tells the story of how everyone’s favorite undead villain (who always seemed more interesting as a gentle giant in James Robinson’s Starman), the titular Grundy, became a Black Lantern in time for the already-solicited issue of Superman/Batman in which he appears as one.
It’s interesting to note, too, that while Golden Age Green Lantern Alan Scott has been a fixture in the Justice Society of America for years, it’s here (in the pages of a comic that claims a connection to Scott’s successors through its Blackest Night tie-in) that he gets some of the best character beats he’s had in a long time. The static “old soldier” of the JSA has real presence and personality in this book, holding his own while standing shoulder to shoulder with one of DC’s most compelling characters in the Phantom Stranger. Memory also fails as to the last time Scott got to actually recite his Green Lantern oath on page–something that we’ve seen the other GLs do plenty since Geoff Johns and company resurrected the Green Lantern Corps five years ago.
The comic itself isn’t bad. It’s well-rendered from an artistic standpoint, it has the catchy hook of the seven days/seven issues thing, and while there’s too many narrative boxes — too much telling instead of showing, as they say — there’s an awful lot happening in a small number of pages, too. The boxes aren’t used as a crutch to explain a plot made unclear by muddy art, as is so often the case. Rather, they’re an insight into the history and thought process of the characters whose current actions and motivations are all right there on the page with us.
That Etrigan the Demon, who has been featured in his own monthly series — and often toggled back and forth between hero, antihero and villain — plays the demon/villain role pretty straight in this story has been something of interest. When you’re dealing with the story of a villain’s path to redemption/peace/salvation/whatever, the characterization of the other villains whose paths he cross is worth noting, especially other villains who have as tortured a history as Grundy himself.
A little sympathy may be in order for the character of Solomon Grundy, though, whose moment in the sun — his first and probably only miniseries — gets usurped at the last minute by a mega-crossover. It feels a bit like what happened to Kyle Rayner when, immediately prior to “Sinestro Corps War,” he starred in an Ion miniseries, which went from being a nice, character-based story by Rayner’s creator Ron Marz, through various art teams, fits and starts, until it was finally taken over by prequel chapters to Tangent: Superman’s Reign and obliged to tease “Sinestro Corps War” on the last few pages instead of offering any real resolution to Kyle’s plot. Grundy fares somewhat better, wrapping up the story’s threads before the black ring finds him and insists that the reader make their way to Blackest Night for more.
Justice League: Cry For Justice #3
Written by James Robinson
Art by Mauro Cascioli
Published by DC Comics
Review by Russ Burlingame
For the second month in a row, James Robinson and Mauro Cascioli’s Justice League: Cry For Justice has the potential to whip up a firestorm of controversy on the first page. After last month’s infraction, implying that there may have been a three-way sexual dalliance between Hal Jordan and a couple of the Birds of Prey brought on by an evening of grappa, this issue opens up with a familiar and already-much-discussed image. After arriving as the heroes’ salvation at the end of the series’ second issue, Supergirl stands three-quarters off-panel on the first full-page splash, but the bits of her that are clearly evident? Well, let’s just say that if Superman were real, he wouldn’t cotton to your staring at his teenage cousin that way.
Once you get past Supergirl’s initial, ahem, appearance, this issue is more of the same: A lot happens, but in a number of different venues and featuring a number of different characters, lending the book a kind of manic energy that might be good for a sitcom but isn’t ideal for a dark and violent superhero comic book.
The banter between characters — and there is a lot of it; these guys can talk — feels like it owes something to the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League comics of the late ’80s but the story itself lacks the lighthearted sensibilities that made superheroes talking about one another’s costumes and sex lives seem plausible in the face of global chaos. Green Arrow making the “everyone’s-heard-it” joke about Captain Marvel looking like Elvis seems very strange coming only moments after Supergirl, crying, tells the assembled almost-League that she’s looking for information about her father’s murder. And if someone were to make a drinking game out of the number of times someone said “justice” in this book (never following it up with “League,” as one might expect), they would probably lapse into an alcohol-induced coma.
With Solomon Grundy’s last vestiges of personality flying off into the ether this week and his lifeless husk raised as a Black Lantern, the blue-skinned Starman’s scenes with Congo Bill are not just the most compelling dialogue in the story, but a little bittersweet, too. Mikaal’s interactions with the big lug hearken back to the way he used to sit, meditate and talk with Grundy during Robinson’s beloved run on Starman.
Frankly this issue begins to give way to everything awful and mediocre about today’s superhero comics. Mindless violence is backed up by sketchy morality on the part of the heroes, but dismissed by the readers because you get to see the villain killing a number of minor characters in single-panel flashbacks, leaving anyone who may have actually liked those characters to feel jilted and everyone else to agree the lives of anyone below the B-list are pretty much worthless. We’re going to go around abusing and killing villains because Batman got blasted, but the Global Guardians aren’t worth two panels each when they die? For the heroes, given the long-ranging consequences of the JLA (including some of the same folks we see here) making some very wrong decisions about how to treat their prisoners in Identity Crisis, the cavalier attitude toward torture is not only a little unheroic in this book, but frankly illogical. One hopes that by the time this story resolves itself these characters will come to their senses, but that doesn’t seem to be Robinson’s direction.
Three months in, and it seems official: Don’t be drawn in by this book’s pretty pictures.