Weekly Checkup – 03/20/2013

This is the best thing.

This is the best thing.

Saga #11
It’s often difficult to maintain the same magic that can ensnare a reader with a first issue. Story and art can be maintained at high levels, but there’s nothing quite like reading the first issue of a series, it’s something impossible to recapture. Except that’s a blatant lie.

Every issue of “Saga” manages to bring the same level of excitement and challenge as the very first issue and this month is no exception. It flows flawlessly from funny (and very NSFW) anecdotes to massive sighs of relief to true, tear-inducing heartbreak. I laughed and cried, then read it again. It shows a true understanding of comics that the creators of this book are able to so capably move between different story beats, all in a single issue. The Wednesday reviews are supposed to run longer, but it’s difficult to discuss this book without feeling like I’m repeating what I’ve said before, so I’ll leave it at this. Vaughan and Staples are both masters of their respective forms, combined their work is sublime.

Go read this book. It is the best thing you can spend $2.99 on.



Five Ghosts: The Haunting of Fabian Gray #1
Genre pieces either transcend their tropes and tell a story greater than the combined elements which normally define them or rest upon the tropes to tell both good and bad tales alike. It’s unclear which category “Five Ghosts” will fall into, but either way it is likely to be noted as an enjoyable comic.

“Five Ghosts” pulls in elements from classic adventure stories like Indiana Jones and horror stories like those of H.P. Lovecraft. Many of the scenes are familiar, while simultaneously unique, like seeing an old friend after many years. Fabian Gray fights Nazis, is haunted by tragedy, and plagued by mysterious other worldly forces. The plot summary could read as the back of a bad paperback, but in Berbiere’s hands become an enjoyable romp through a pre-WWII Europe that’s just explosive enough to be very entertaining, but is not too odd to feel distant or unrelatable.

The end game of the series is unclear, but the first issue establishes the players and their motivations, leaving enough mystery to bring readers back begging for more. There is a fine line between playing with obvious cliffhangers and hackneyed caricatures and crafting explosive moments and interesting characters in this sort of book. After reading it though, it falls far into the latter category.

Whether this book will be transcendent or an enjoyable adventure tale has yet to be seen. It’s worth a read either way.

The only thing that's really lifeless on this cover is the main character. What a twist!

The only thing that’s really lifeless on this cover is the main character. What a twist!

Constantine #1
I really tried to give this book a fair shot. If you’ve been reading, you know my feelings on the editorial decision to end “Hellblazer” (I wasn’t a fan), but I mentioned that I liked Jeff Lemire’s attachment to this book. So rather than dismiss it out right, I decided to give it a shot.

There’s nothing particularly bad about this book, but there’s definitely nothing I would call good about it. Constantine appears at first to be interesting, but that quickly fades. Any initial gusto the book manages to muster isn’t based on the writing itself, but on what came before. If you read “Hellblazer” you already know that John Constantine is a great character. However, in “Constantine” it quickly becomes apparent that this is a shadow running on fumes. He speaks in a sort of British accent, he’s sort of snarky, and he’s sort of a bastard at the end. The trick is that all the characteristics that made “Hellblazer” great are watered down. For all of the “sort of” things, at heart it’s obvious that he’s out to save the world. He’s a goddamn superhero. There’s nothing wrong with superheroes. I like superhero books. This just happens to be one that’s lying about what it is. The focus of the book is on a character that turns out to be nothing more than smoke and mirrors. It’s not about magic, it’s about charlatanism.

When the core of your book lacks that much, it’s hard to make up for it with other strengths. This book doesn’t really make up for it with anything. The art is okay. It’s not terrible, but I can’t think of a single memorable image, so we’ll go with mediocre. All two of the other characters are props: poor innocent used to show that Constantine is sort of a bastard and new villainous rogue! It’s a bit of a sham. The writing is an imitation of what Ennis’ and others have written and it reads as such. The best the book manages is to imitate an industry standard, which at DC Comics right now isn’t saying much.

I will say this. I’m being harsh here because there’s an expectation of excellence when dealing with such a great legacy. Perhaps it was impossible for this book to be very good, maybe it was always going to be just another superhero book, but then they shouldn’t have labelled it “Constantine” then. As another superhero book, it’s okay, but probably not worth three dollars. As a book about John Constantine, it’s a cruel joke.

Consider this book fairly dismissed.

Just try to tell me you don't want that jacket.

Just try to tell me you don’t want that jacket.

Private Eye #1
First thing, if you don’t normally read comics or think you don’t have the money to spend, that’s okay. This issue is free. It’s being offered exclusively online at the link I’ll post at the end of this review. You can spend as much or as little as you’d like, so check it out. There’s nothing like good and free comics.

I was happy a year ago when Brian K. Vaughan started writing his first new comic book in years. Now he’s writing two, I must be in heaven. “The Private Eye” is a genre blend with elements of detective noir and science-fiction. Rather than taking the more fantastical “Saga”-like approach to sci-fi, this book steeps itself in the effects of technology upon our lives. It’s a “Star Wars” vs. “Star Trek” style comparison, neither is right per se, they’re just different.

Similar to “Saga” though, the book dives right into a fully-realized universe without looking back. It kicks off with a chase between the central protagonist and a police-like press corps, the book doesn’t slow down from there. Lots of ideas load each page and help the reader understand what has occurred in the last sixty years to create the setting of the book, without bogging it down with backstory.

It’s not enough that the sci-fi elements are pitch perfect, the book shows a great deal of love to classic noir fiction, wearing its affection on its sleeve (note the “Maltese Falcon” poster in the background). This leaves not just the secondary cast, but our primary antagonist as a bit of a mystery. His past and motivations are not one-hundred percent clear, but much like Sam Spade, you’re left rooting for him.

The great mash-up of genre tropes is equalled by Marcos Martin’s (Daredevil) art. As always, it’s gorgeous. He renders both characters and backgrounds in a detailed style, that avoids being too realistic or cartoonish. It’s difficult to describe, but it is a style perfectly suited to the comics medium, providing information while capturing attention. If the inclusion of Fiona Staples on “Saga” didn’t prove that Brian K. Vaughan understands the important factor of choosing the correct artist for a given story, the Marcos Martin’s work on this issue certainly does.

So even if you’re still skeptical, it’s free, you only have to pay as much as you feel it’s worth (I gave $5 happily). Check it out.

Coming up on Friday we’ll take a look at:
All-New X-Men #9
Chew #32
Fables #127
Invincible #101
Superior Spider-Man #6
Wonder Woman #18

Check back before then though, I may have something very special to share.


About chasemagnett

Chase is a mild-mannered finance guy by day and a raving comics fan by night. He has been reading comics for more than half of his life (all 23 years of it). After graduating from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln with degrees in Economics and English, he has continued to research comics while writing articles and reviews online. His favorite superhero is Superman and he'll accept no other answers. Don't ask about his favorite comic unless you're ready to spend a day discussing dozens of different titles.
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