Thursday, January 31, 2013

365 Comics...31: Higher Earth vol.1 tpb (2012)

This is unfortunately one of those books I came at too late, a book I should have loved and championed from the outset, only to discover it when it's already been cancelled.

Higher Earth is a grandiose science fiction epic, one that overreaches on occasion, sure. but any crazy sci-fi worth its salt should.  It start off small in scale but epic in scope on a planet of trash, an Earth with many moons in its sky from which garbage seems to perpetually fall.  A man one day falls from on of the moons, a most dangerous man named Rex, in search of a girl.  As we soon learn, the "moons" are not really moons, but dimensional portals, and this version of Earth is just one of many which serve the multi-dimensional Empire as landfill planets.   Other planets serve as population displacement projects, or as resource planets, or as elite territory, or as military and scientific centers.  The empire has conquered hundreds of dimensions and will continue to conquer hundreds more.  But Rex has the key, this girl from the trash planet, she can undo it all.  Theoretically speaking at lest.

Sam Humphries is still relatively young in his professional comics writing career -- having made his biggest splash with the futuristic sci-fi romance/bestiality one-shot Our Love Is Real -- so he's got no shortage of ideas.  Higher Earth, particularly, puts on display a dizzying array of SF concepts (my favourite are the utterly bizarre animal/cyborg exo-skeletons), rarely calling attention to them, just keeping them as part of the atmosphere.  His accomplices in this are penciler Francesco Biagini and  inker Manuel Bracchi, who quite ably bring all these concepts to the page.  Biagini and Bracchi work in a looser style than I prefer for my science fiction (I like tight pencils to show off the intricacies of the environments) so it took some acclimatizing on my part, but by the time Morning Glories' Joe Eisma adeptly fills in on the fifth chapter, I actually found I was missing Biagini's consistency on the characters.  This is a book populated with dozens of characters, but most are different iterations of the same two or three, so they need to be boldly designed so that they're readily identified as an analog, but also changed in design to distinguish each iteration.  Biagini and Bracchi resolve this exceptionally well.

 If there's a flaw with Higher Earth it's that it's a little to rapid paced for my liking.  I want to spend more time in each environment, and have a bit more insight into the effects of the Empire on its people in those environments (though, given the fact that the series was cancelled and he would have to compress his end game anyway, it's probably for the best it's this briskly handled).  At the same time, when things do slow down, particularly the fifth-chapter interlude detailing the creation of the Empire, it interferes quite a bit with the pacing.  Still, it's a testament to how rich and stimulating both the concept and execution of the concept are that I crave more. Maybe Humphries should continue it as a novel?

This trade paperback is exceptionally cinematic in its feel, and I think Higher Earth could be adapted into an exceptional A-list feature largely as-is (or a less impressive B-list movie with a smaller budget and few key set pieces).  I only mention it because any kind of mainstream exposure would probably allow Humphries and co to do more.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

365 Comics... 30: Fringe: Tales From The Fringe tpb (2011)

12 pages is not enough to tell one satisfying Fringe story, never mind twelve.  There is not one satisfying story in this collection.  Vignettes, asides, and set-ups a-plenty but nothing integral to the show.  The story that gets the closest to being necessary is the Nina-centric "Plan B" in which a young Nina has to choose between her unborn child and her cybernetic arm. Unfortunately, the story sets up a plot/character arc that never came to fruition in the show.  Overall the collection is irrelevant to the show and the myth building is hoaky.  Bleh, what a waste of potential.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

365 Comics...29: Action Comics #586 (1987)

One of my favourite comic book series of all time is DC Comics Presents, a 97-issue, 4-annual series that starred Superman and one other guest star each issue.  As a kid, before Who's Who came along, it exposed me to a vast number of different characters in the DCU pantheon and I loved it for it.  I loved it so much I've filled the gaps in my collection as recently as 2 years ago, though I haven't yet gone back and read them all.  I'm saving that bit of special something for retirement.  After completing my hunt for all things DCCP, I felt a little... wanting, or in need of some new sort of treasure hunt, so I thought I would extend myself past that and pick up the logical continuation of DCCP, John Byrne's run on Action Comics from about issue 580 - 599.

I actually bought many of these on their original issuance to the newsstands, but in the intervening years some have gone missing and others I never had, so I made a list and promptly forgot about it, until today, when I came across a handful of that 20-issue Action Comics run.  Unfortunately the only one there I knew I didn't have was this one, in which Superman teams up with the New Gods.

Okay, he teams up with Darkseid.

But not really.

Unfortunately, unlike DC Comics Presents, which did a great job at making fun comics out of big superhero team up spectacle, Byrne's taking this stuff way too seriously and this is the third part of a three-part story that crossed over from Superman #3 and Adventures of Superman #426 along with being a Legends tie-in (Chapter 19... those "Chapter Indicators" back then were such bullshit, since there was no logical story flow from one chapter to the next for the most part.  The only way they really connected was through the main Event comic itself, but I digress).  As well it seems, even with 25 years between me and the comic, that Kirby had just put the New Gods to bed and with this and Legends Byrne is throwing stones at their window and stomping his feet to wake them up again.  They needed their rest.

There is some absolutely terrible exposition bogging down the first 10 pages of this book.  Deathly dry and dull, particularly as Amazing Grace and Darkseid mince on and on about the grand scheme that's taking place in Legends. Snore!

The crux of this issue is Superman has been brainwashed by Darkseid into thinking that he is his son, and when Orion and Lightray come knocking, he's sent out to challenge them.  Meanwhile Lightray resists the temptations of the comely Amazing Grace, because, really, we all know that Lightray is totally Sam Wise jonesing for Orion's Mr. Frodo.

In the end Orion uses wits instead of brawn to defeat his amnesiac foe, and has Mother Box apply a mental remedy so that Supes is all normal-like again (but minus the memory that he slaughtered hundreds of Darkseid's servants during a quelled uprising.  Because, as Orion explains, that's not something a champion should worry about, and that he's something special (methinks that Orion is perhaps Sam Wise-ing for Superman's Mr. Frodo).

Monday, January 28, 2013

365 Comics...28: Deadpool Killustrated#1 (2013)

I'm not squeamish when items to violence or gore.  What tends to repulse me is stupidity, and the psychopathic id that is Deadpool is the definition of the word. He's a one-note character whose murderous antics become very tiresome to me very quickly.   I've largely avoided the character knowing quite firmly that he wasn't for me, and yet I keep getting suckered into picking up his books: the random issue of his backwards-numbered Deadpool Team-Up or the Kyle Baker-illustrated Deadpool Max, or comic Brian Posehn writing the Marvel Now Deadpool series.  I never last more than 2 issues though before the mind-numbing sets in.  

Deadpool Killustrated suckered me back in with its rather glorious cover as well as Cullen Bunn on writing chores.  This is a ridiculous comic but one that is so clever and so smart it is baffling to me that a conceit this ingenious is used merely to service the rampant death-dealing and mayhem of comics first officially retarded character.  And I do mean that literally.  He's a really, really dumb guy with serious mental challenges.

I'm in awe of Bunn's metatextual extremes here.  He's hitting Morrison levels of inspiration, but its so wasted on a character that is barely a character.  Are Deadpool's die hard fans constantly high? It's about the only way his popularity makes sense to me. 

I suppose there's something Looney Toons about him, a bloodthirsty Bugs Bunny, but even with my tolerance toward  bloodshed I just can't seem to like him. But I do like this invading Classic literature as well as the multidimensional angle Bunn is taking it so I'm torn about whether to pick up issue two.  Bunn is close to transcending the character, but all to often the conceit of Deadpool drags it down.

This series particularly brings Deadpool very close to Ambush Bug territory for me, the kind of character fully aware of his place in the world, both fictional and real.  But instead of the Bug's style of pranking and pestering the characters in the fictional universe and its creators, Deadpool is solely out to kill them all.  Sigh.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

365 Comics...27: Avengers Arena #3 (2013)

Picked this one up in order to do a massive review (for Thor's Comic Column) of the most dangerous game retreads (see also Threshold from DC and Deathmatch from BOOM!).  Here's a snippet of what's in the works, subject to change:

While I haven't read the first two issues, diving within the pages I cannot escape the Battle Royale or Hunger Games comparisons. But then, you're not supposed to. Most tellingly, the Avengers Arena's logo is a flagrant copy of the Battle Royale shield, while the Greg Horn cover to issue 3 is a brazen pastiche of the flaming Mockingjay symbol from The Hunger Games. Marvel isn't even trying to hide the fact that it's just doing it all over again.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

365 Comics... 26: Malaria

This may be a bit of a cheat but I'm just so damn impressed.  This is a new style of comic books, motion comics, animation and cinema. It's a new form of visual storytelling.  It's like shadow puppetry and sequential arts had a baby.  I don't see there being a revolution towards this type of story presentation but it certainly feels innovative and artistic, fresh and different.  It's a slight story but certainly captivating in its uniqueness.

Friday, January 25, 2013

365 Comics...25: Batwoman #16 (2013)

The title of this third story arc in the Batwoman series, "World's Finest", is a reference to the classic Batman/Superman team-up series of the same name.  Often, when a Bat-family member meets up with a Super-family contemporary, they use the "World's Finest" moniker for such a meeting (Superboy/Robin, Supergirl/Batgirl, that sort of thing).  But that to me seems like a dilution of the phrase.  If Batman and Superman are truly the "world's finest" then it kind of stands to reason that gender-alternates and junior versions are more like copies of the world's finest.  But here, with Batwoman pairing with Wonder Woman, it feels truly appropriate, not analogous.  Batwoman, more than any other member of the Bat-family, does not feel like just a member of the Bat-family, but a truly autonomous hero.  Greg Rucka, and J.H. Williams III, ensured that Batwoman's origin and development wasn't at all dependent on Batman or Bruce Wayne.  Keeping her independent of Bruce Wayne's Batman, Inc. initiative (likely Morrison's nod of respect to his "52" co-creator) served to further increase her distance, and the bulk of Batwoman's stories -- in Detective Comics prior to Rucka's departure, and the lengthy wait for Batwoman's return with the New 52 -- she's been defined as her own character, never measured up to her counterpart.  To me, she's the most interesting character in the DCU, and has been since her inception.  A thoroughly complex character, written by Rucka and continued by Willams and W Haden Blackman as exceptionally grounded, fallibly human.  There's been little trace of myth building that typically accompanies superheroes.

So it's definitely a wonderful dichotomy to put the most grounded of heroes beside one of the most infamous and powerful, and have her face down an ever expanding roster of monstrous enemies, leading to this issue where Medusa and her cadre of freaks lead a full fledged assault on Gotham, upping the stakes dramatically with a hydra... sorry, THE Hydra.  Williams, the genius illustrator that he is, along with Dave Stewart, the brilliant colorist that he is, fade the Hydra into the background, like looking at a mountain across a vast distance.  It's true enormity a mere concept, but still incomprehensible.  It's wrecking the city, and having destroyed Batwoman's home and headquarters, she feels the effect of this monstrous invasion intimately.  The fight she's in isn't just a job, this isn't like being in the military, this isn't following orders, this is something she's committed to, the motivation coming from within.

Williams and Blackman construct this issue as a hybrid comic and illustrated prose.  Each two-page spread wavers between a look inside the thoughts of the books players -- Batwoman, Wonder Woman, Maggie Sawyer, Medusa, Chase, Flamebird (in her particularly triumphant return) -- in prose, with an elaborate mural illustrated by Williams, and more conventional word-balloons sequential art.  Williams is ever pushing the comics medium in visual storytelling also seems to be doing so in his scripting with Blackman.  

I was just commenting on how Brian Azzarello is slowly laying out Diana's character in the pages of Wonder Woman, building her myth by making her largely a character of action and intelligence, with hints at her compassion.  In the pages of Batwoman, Williams and Blackman provide some of the humanity Azzarello has willfully restrained from showing, and yet equally maintaining her image as a woman-of-action, intelligence and compassion.  We're in a Wonder Woman renaissance, with these three writers.  I've been ignoring Justice League since the first are, and Wonder Woman made little to no impression on me during that time (characterization doesn't seem to be a focal point of that series), but I've heard tell that Geoff Johns doesn't quite adhere to the same template.  If so, it's a shame, because she's better than she ever has been right now in Azzarello, Williams and Blackman's hands.

The Thor's Comic Column gang had an email discussion today about why DC seems to be floundering and Marvel succeeding.  One of the points Adam made was that in his opinion "DC's universe is the one that's set up to emphasize standalones and relegate continuity to the backburner, plus it's more obviously kid-friendly, and yet Marvel's the one that's acting the way I think DC ought to be acting."  I heartily agree with him, but these two books are the rare and strongest exceptions in the New 52.  With Azzarello and Cliff Chiang (and alternate artist Tony Akins) on Wonder Woman and Willams/Blackman here on Batwoman, DC is doing what they should be doing, giving premiere creators largely free-reign to tell their own stories and not worry so much about what the larger picture of the New DCU is supposed to be or care so much about continuity.  I *could* ask whether Wonder Woman's appearance in Batwoman predates her receipt of her gauntlet-swords (a gift from Hephaestus) or not... but it doesn't really matter and is irrelevant to the story at hand.  Continuity itself does not make good storytelling and DC editorial in grand sweeps seems intent on cramming it down its writers throats as if it were all its readers demand.  I'm glad to see these Marvel-like oases in their lineup.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

365 Comics...24: Wonder Woman #16 (2013)

Okay, So cooler heads prevailed and Diana and Orion didn't wind up throwing down (again) as l had anticipated, but that's okay because Azzarello has started tightening up the weave on this story.  The first year of this book is starting to fold itself back into this second one.  Month after month I am continually amazed by how much I am enjoying a Wonder Woman book.  The last (and only) time I enjoyed it this much prior was Greg Rucka's great run almost a decade ago now... and I think I like this so much more.  Diana's so stripped-down, raw, primal and yet Azzarello is giving her more flavour in small doses.  I kind of dread reading anyone else writing her in the New 52... but then I look at the other books this week and I know that's not true... 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

365 Comics...23: Wonder Woman #304(1983)

There's a new issue of Brian Azzarello's Wonder Woman out today, one which, I'm sure (or I hope), has Diana squaring off against Orion, a clash of Greek and New Gods.  I haven't read it yet, but I did read this not-so-classic tale in which Wonder Women and a disguised-as-Green Lantern Steve Trevor square off against Dr. Polaris.  Polaris has the power and technology to shift the Earth on its axis, and what does he hold the world hostage for? Green Lantern. He just wants to square off against GL.  Idiot.

Meanwhile, in the Huntress backup, Mr Wind and Mr. Kid (sorry, just watched Diamonds Are Forever) have put our heroine onto a conveyor heading into a cremation furnace an left her unattended so that she may escape without interference.  Fight, explosion, cliffhanger ending.  A tight 7 pages from the middle of the story with very little context.

The letter column is shockingly 6 or 7 issues behind.I thought 4 was always standard.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

365 Comics...22: Quantum & Woody #1(1997)

I mentioned in yesterday's Firearm review that by the mid-90's I had tired of "New Universes".  Quantum and Woody came out early in the Valiant relaunch but I had abandoned the line completely after the cancellation of Archer and Armstrong and wasn't going back.  Though I was tempted genuinely by this series, because it was getting very well reviewed by fans and critics alike, and I've enjoyed most, if not all of Christopher Priest's work to that point (and after).

I suspect the drawbacks at the time were budget and a general dissatisfaction with MD Bright's art tracing back to the late '80's...he's an old-fashioned comic artist, and not as flashy as all the new talents that were emerging at the time (the "Image era").  To be honest, I still don't like his style much, mostly his jowly, square-jawed faces put me off. But I have to concede, nay, appreciate how good a visual storyteller he is.

Of course, Priest nails this one too, with a deft sense of humour that doesn't hold back, particularly when it comes to race.  The opening pages, delving into the titular character's history together is the book's highlight and the tease of them in costume without any real explanation is frustrating but clever from a sales standpoint.  It's a buddy comedy about two friends who discover they can't stand each other.  That's a good character premise in any genre.

The rumors were true. I need to track more of this down in the bargain bin.

Monday, January 21, 2013

365 Comics...#21: Firearm #1 (1993)

I go through these obsessive phases where I think that just because I love one thing an artist does, I'm going to love everything they've done (or, sometimes, I think I need to love everything they've done as a form of validation of the love I have).  James Robinson was one of the many, many objets d'amour I had in the thick of the 1990's, thanks largely to his run on Starman, but bolstered by the amazing mini-series The Golden Age.  I started making it my mission to track down everything he had written, although with limited means, and a lack of presence of  e-commerce, I didn't get too far, and by 1998, despite Leave It To Chance, Vigilante, a Batman Legends of the Dark Knight tale and some other brief stories, Robinson had fallen out of my favour.  The dwindling quality of Starman in its second half, and his quickly abandoned stints on JSA and Hawkman in the late 90's... I dunno, all left a sour taste of him as a writer in my mouth.

I gave him a second chance when he re-emerged in the mid-aughts, with his Batman/Detective Comics run and his Superman run, but none of it worked for me.  Recently his mini-series The Shade actually managed to recapture the admiration I felt for him when Starman first started, but little else of his work in recent years has even remotely come close to feeling like Robinson in his mid-90's heyday.

Firearm #1 I picked up shortly before I turned on Robinson in '98.  It was one of those works of his I had been meaning to read for some time.  I never bothered to read it.  I recall hearing that, of the Ultraverse line, it was one of the best.  I never read many of the other titles (I had burned out on "new universes" at that point), so I can't truly judge that statement.  I think I always hoped it was another of Robinson's mid-90's triumphs, especially paired with Cully Hamner.  Alas.

Firearm is, well, it's not good.  The title character is a private detective, a British ex-patriot establishing himself in Pasadena.  He seems to specialize in dealing with "Ultras", and in many respects he seems more like a bounty hunter than a PI.  Robinson's character has a few nuances substituting for character.  He says "Streuth" a lot, which... do Brits really say that?  He likes the L.A. Kings, and seems fixated on Wayne Gretzky.  He also likes his gun.  

He takes a case, and winds up in a ridiculous high-speed chase with gunfire and car-hopping.  It's an illogical and indecipherable action sequence, which is followed by an encounter with a snake man disguised as a police officer (it's not as cool as it sounds).  I dunno, I can't blame Robinson for all of the mess here.  Hamner's art is not terrific.  It's not as stylized as it was back on Green Lantern Mosaic, nor is it as clean as it is today.  It's very dated in the '90's, seemingly taking a stab towards "Image"-style: lots of useless lines, sparse backgrounds... but that might be John Lowe's inks as well giving off that impression.

The big thing about Firearm was that it was had a "zero" issue that was, actually, a 30 minute film, released on VHS and limited to 30,000 copies.  Amazingly, it's not on YouTube.  I have to wonder what the retail price was on the video (edit: $15 apparently). as limited to only 30,000 copies, they can't have any budget for that movie, not if they were expecting to make any money anyway.  Even if it was on YouTube, I'm not sure I'd watch it... probably not the whole thing anyway, if it's as bad as I envision it only can be.  I mean, look at this:

This was back in the 90's when everything was EXTREME!  Notice they don't even show the comics in the commercial.  Back in the 90's around this time there was a lot of discussion about how to grow the industry, to bring more people to comics, and "advertising on TV" was constantly brought up.  Well, Malibu/Ultraverse did it, and now you know why it's never been done again.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

365 Comics... 20: Superman # 401(1984)

  1. A transcript of my live tweeting of Superman #401. In reverse order, because that seems to be how copy-paste works from twitter.

    Pg 25-26: Letter column! Nerds!
  2. Pg 24,''You owe me nothing, cousin,besides, some time or other, I'll be the one asking you for help." In other words, you owe me.
  3. pg 23. A firm handshake between cousins and a detailed explanation for everything that just happened ... in case you're slow...
  4. pg22. Turns out Trogdor was just Supergirl in a rubber suit.which she tears out of and lets fall to the ground, smothering & crushing dozens
  5. Pg21. "Next he'll make it sound like I'm giving a testimonial to Superman! I'll be the laughingstock of the underworld." The best laid plans
  6. Pg20.It looks like Lex Luthor is defending Metropolis from this alien menace. Wah Wah, Lex.
  7. pg 18."Holy crow! He's starting to do a number on the building!" ''Thank the stars that was the unoccupied generator floor he demolished"
  8. Pg 17... two days later... "Good grief! It's some way-out warrior from another world.'' Trogar, a 60ft flying Viking, to be exact.
  9. Pg.16... a secret heat ray message in Kryptonese burned into Jimmy's wall. There goes the security deposit. Wah Wah.
  10. Pg14 pt.2"I've never felt so manipulated... so helpless."Really Supes? Never? Never ever? So diabolical, Lex hurting your feelings like that
  11. Pg 14. Ah,in the armor he looks & sounds like Lex.Jimmy is giving him shit.''How diabolical, being forced to face the hatred of my friends."
  12. Pg 13.Lex has him trapped in his warsuit but has no control over him... but he is taunting him with bad puns. That'll show him, Lex.
  13. pg 11... can't crash or burn it off... he's stuck. Lex looks like Telly Savalis as Blofeld in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service"...
  14. Pg. 10.. Somehow between fighting the twins on Pg8 and Pg 10 Superman has wound up inside Luthor's warsuit. Supes is perplexed.
  15. Pg.7..A nice Clark-into-Superman panel here from Curt Swan. How low on the henchmen totem must you be if a warsuit is calling you "imbecile"
  16. Pg-6.. Luther's having conversations with his warsuit. I was going to say its totally crazy but its just like Iron Man.. only totally crazy
  17. Pg.5, the twins have hijacked the station to issue Luthors ultimatum to Superman.Meanwhile, Luthor macks it with a bombshell in a hoverchair
  18. Pg. 3 Oh no, Yoda-talking rocket powered siamese twins are totally interrupting the broadcast. "Obeyed us peacefully, you should have."
  19. Pg. 2. Lana & Clark's newscast is ridiculously hyperbolic: "And what diabolic scheme of malevolence and mayhem will usher his dread return?"
  20. Page 1. in a prev issue a 60-story-foot-tall (or "Kong-sized") Lex Luthor hologram attacked the Daily Planet. Giant light, so scary!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

365 Comics... 19: The Daring New Adventures of Super girl #9 (1983)

From the ratty old comic bin...
Pre-Crisis DCU Comics are a strange, strange place.  It's like there is a clear divide between storytelling style and artistry in that short gap between 1984 and 1986, but I often find pre-Crisis DCU to be generally clunkier to read, more old-fashioned in story structure and illustrative style.  It's not that I dislike older comics or comic book art, but its definiteIy not as readable.  I wonder if this is what the kids are going to say about pre- and post-New 52... naah

The unruly titled The Daring New Adventures of Supergirl features typically great art from the legendary Carmine Infantino and a goofy little story from workman Paul Kupperberg.  Here Kupperbeg's Doom Patrol makes a guest appearance as they battle Reactron, although the Doom Patrol seem to be in a sort of A*Team on-the-run-in-a-van mode.  Reactron seems to have no motivation (although this is the second part of the story) and the Doom Patrol seem keen on stopping him as Tempest has some personal history with him back in 'Nam.

Really the only thing worthwhile here is Infantino's art, distinctive and special as always.  I love his Kara who is attractive but not sexied up.  Her blousy top and short shorts is fantastic, simplistic, probably my favourite Supergirl look.  On the other hand Infantino did not seen to understand that Arani from the Doom Patrol is supposed to be Indian. Either that, or he didn't know how to draw an Indian woman... she looks like Liz Taylor.  Gil Kane does a little better on the cover though.

The book is divided into 2 parts: a 15-page lead story and an 8-page Lois Lane back-up, with a 2-page letter column between them (featuring this great missive:

"Dear Sirs,
  I'm sorry to have to tell you how disappointed I am in the Daring New Adventures of Supergirl.
  You have not only done the unforgivable by making her 19, but you have also made her selfish, smart-alecky, rude, arrogant, and snobby.  She is also a crybaby, a wimp and a nerd."

Gasp! 19! Gasp!
A...A NERD!? Noooooooo!

The Lois Lane story is rediculous as Lois goes into the hard-hitting field of celebrity journalism accompanying Jamie Lee Curtis analog scream queen (star of "Hallowe'en's Day") who has all the Daily Planet boys flustered then causes riots in the streets.  Lois joins her for all the Superman-related sights and a little "slap dancing".  At the end of The evening Lois gets a gun waggled in her face by a deranged hotelier and accused of being a witch.  Could be worse, the place he took her to looks like a total rape dungeon.  Yeah, it's nuts.

Friday, January 18, 2013

365 Comics...18: Winterworld HC (2009)

I love post-apocalyptic concepts, and I love stories that take place in a winter and/or snow covered setting.  Winterworld seems like it was made explicitly for me.  Of course, it was originally published in 1987, so I'm not even sure both those tastes of mine had formed yet (well, I knew I loved winter-set stories already because of the Hoth sequence on Empire Strikes Back).

At that time, being around 11 or 12, I remember finding random Eclipse comics at "San Francisco", a novelty store in the neighbourhood mini-mall near my house - Reid Fleming: World's Toughest Milkman and Kamui, if I recall correctly.  In one or more of those 4 or 5 issues I found, there was an ad or perhaps "bullpen" page writeup on it.  The art looked great and the name, Winterworld, simplistic, catchy, and evocative, reflecting the concept perfectly.  Not that it stuck with me but when I somehow overlooked IDW's reprinting of the 3-issue mini-series in 2009, but the started seeing it in the remainder shops around town mid-last year I was drawn to it instantly.  It was only a matter of time before I picked it up.

This is one of those post-apocalyptic environments where the events that occurred happened long enough ago that memories of the old world are scarce, and the supplies of former civilization are nearly depleted.  Times are tough, people are generally desperate, and it's truly survival of the fittest.  Scully is a born forager, intelligent, somehow educated, accustomed to a solitary life looking out only for himself amidst a cold world of savages.  He's known in the terrain as a trader, but people don't really earn reputations here, as everyone is constantly viewed with suspicion.  When Scully runs into trouble with some other traders and rescues, then in turn is rescued by the teenaged Wynn, he finds himself for the first time questioning his loneliness preference.  Along with his loyal (and vicious) badger Rahrah they traverse the dangerous ice and snow covered wastes of the southwest, constantly finding themselves at a disadvantage and frequently paying a price for their isolationist ways.

The story and characters of Winterworld are well-developed and excellently conceived.  Dixon obviously has a larger world envisioned than what actually made it to the page, as well as more back story for Scully than what we ever learn, but it's this richness what makes it so easy to invest in.  The pacing and flow, particularly of the first series, can be choppy at times (which may be a result of translating the script to his Argentine artist), and Scully's mood swings are puzzling at first until you begin to realize that he's just kind of like that.   Chuck Dixon had been working in the industry for about a half decade by the time Winterworld came about, mostly on creator-owned projects for Eclipse like Airboy and Evangeline, and it wasn't long afterwards that he established himself as a key player at DC throughout the '90's.  Obviously he's established a name for himself over his journeyman years that will draw attention back onto an earlier title of his, but once there, the focus (which Dixon plainly acknowledges) falls to Argentinian artist Jorge Zaffino.

There are some incredible, nay, awe-inspiring illustrative skills at work in this book.  Zaffino's art is at once effortless and passionate, there's a free-hand element to it that gives it a roughly hewn look, but it comes from the hand of someone who is fully confident in what he's drawing.  Shading and hatching are used to their utmost effectiveness.  He captures the bleary whiteness of a snow-covered landscape, but exacerbates the dreariness of this dying land and the darkness of its people with shadows and heavy lines.  It's a style of comic illustration we see from Latin cultures past, like Enric Bada Romero (who I'll get to in the near future with some Modesty Blaise coverage) and Paolo Serpieri, and we still see in creators like Mike Deodato Jr., Sal Velluto.  It's not as popular a style anymore as the influences on artists have gone international, as well, artist are striving to define their own sensibilities more by straying away from anything deemed too traditional.  But looking at the black and white art of Zaffino, and we could stand to do with more art like this in our modern comics.

This collection reprints the original mini-series, and the 2-part follow-up, Wintersea, that was never before published (though originally intended for Marvel's Epic line before it was dissolved), so it's a special treat.  I'm always happy to see hard work that was once shelved come to light.  Zaffino's style between the first and second parts changed somewhat noticeably, becoming a little looser, more free-form in the second but at times even more powerful than previously.   The most amazing element of Zaffino's work is the thought he put into the details, particularly the character's wardrobes.  There's a plantation that exists in a half-buried Texas stadium (the Houston Astrodome I'm guessing), and all the guards are decked out in remnant baseball gear.  It's wonderful little touches like these that really sell the reality.

Overall, a beautiful piece of work which I wished I had picked up sooner, but am happy to have now.  A third part to the trilogy was planned but, as Zaffino sadly passed away in '02 at a young 42 years of age, Dixon doesn't feel right continuing on without his stellar collaborator.  I think that's the right choice, Chuck.