Sunday, January 06, 2008

Occasional Reviews: Legion, Incredible Herc, and Dorian Gray

Legion of the Superheroes #37
Writer: Jim Shooter

Artists: Francis Manapul & Livesay

Publisher: DC Comics

Seeing Jim Shooter back on Legion of the Superheroes -- the series he wrote so many moons ago as a teenager -- is sort of like putting on a comfortable old pair of sneakers. You get the impression that he knows these heroes inside-and-out. And when you hear Phantom Girl call a fellow Legionnaire by a personal, dare say obscure, pet name, you wonder if that's how Shooter himself refers to the character.

The layout for this issue is very reminiscent of those he did (or mandated) for early Valiant comics like Harbinger and Magnus Robot Fighter. There are relatively many panels per page; though true to his "classic comics" storytelling philosophy, there's an economy to the process. Every panel means something -- whether it's a beat, a crucial action, or a plot point.

This said, the problem in Legion of the Superheroes #37 for me lies in the art not matching the needs of the storytelling approach. Francis Manapul is a very talented artist -- he has a slick, modern "Wildstorm" type style. But it doesn't quite complement Shooter's writing. The multitude of panels shrinks Manapul's figures (sometimes to outrageously tiny size) and robs them of their detail & impact.

A multitude of panels and dialogue crowds out the art and discourages the reader

Again, this is neither a critique of Shooter or Manapul -- simply an observation. In a scene halfway through the story depicting a brawl, the art works great, because it's mostly action and there are relatively few panels and word balloons. The art has a chance to breathe. But in the issue as a whole, the art is too crammed and it is both distracting & discouraging in terms of my desire to continue reading this series.

I've heard the old chestnut many times -- pair up an older "Classic" writer with a "Hot" young artist to assure sales. (Thank God this was not done with Jim Starlin on Death Of The New Gods.) But a traditional Valiant-style artist (say, David Lapham back in the day), would have served the story so very much better.

An example of the "Shooter" storytelling style from "Harbinger" where the artist makes it work

So my recommendation for Legion would be to either get a new art team or edit Jim Shooter's writing down...and really, it would be far easier to just get a new art team.

Rating: B-
Would I buy again?: Not unless the art situation was addressed.

The Incredible Hulk #112
Writers: Greg Pak & Fred Van Lente
Artists: Khoi Pham & Stephane Peru

Publisher: Marvel Comics

I really thought this book would suck. But surprisingly, it's quite good.

It's just that when I hear things like "they're bringing The Champions back" and "it's Hercules in "Hard Travelin' Heroes," I start to worry.

(Boy Genius) team up to kick "The Incredible Herc" is actually a very well-written and -drawn offbeat spinoff sprouted directly from the pages of World War Hulk. In it, Hercules (Strong Man) and Amadeus Cho (Boy Genius) kick SHIELD's ass (or at least give them a wedgie). Along the way they might each move past their respective godlike abilities and help each other be a little more human.

Absoutely stunning art by Khoi Pham & Stephane Peru

Pak & Van Lente give Hercules a believable "voice" that escapes the trap of "camp" but certainly doesn't take itself too seriously, either. Their Hercules is very much its own unique quanity, neither that of the movies or TV adaptations.

Pham & Peru have beautifully rendered this story, hitting all the requisite beats in terms of emotion and nuance. This level of art is usually reserved for "A List" titles or prestige projects -- not quirky Hulk spinoffs. Enjoy it.

Rating: A
Would I buy again?: Yes

The Picture of Dorian Gray
Writer: Roy Thomas

Artist: Sebastian Fiumara
Publisher: Marvel Comics

The Picture of Dorian Gray is one of the most beautiful comic books on the stands right now. I always find these classic literature adaptations a very mixed bag -- they can be great, or they can be hacked out under the aegis of "well, it's just educational stuff for the kiddies anyhow." I used to co-edit Acclaim's Classic Illustrated series, and while I'm proud of the original adaptations we produced, the recolored reprints were rather dry.

That said, the art and coloring on The Picture of Dorian Gray is absolutely gorgeous. Which, when you're dealing with a story by Oscar Wilde that in some ways is like Victorian slash fan-fiction, only heightens the reading experience. They should release this is a manga edition and call it "Yummy Painting Life."

I'd buy it in hardcover.

Rating: A
Would I buy it again? Yes, though I would rather have it collected in one volume.


  1. Jim Shooter has long been my favorite comic book person ever. A buddy of mine and I were discussing just this past week how no one from the 80's Marvel era likes him because he actually ran the company like a business. He is the perfect guy to run a comic book company because he understands how a good story should read. Anyway, I *really* liked Legion for that reason. Once Shooter gets a better feeling for Manipul's art, the stories will only improve.

  2. Pak always gets these projects that sound like they are going to be TERRIBLE, but then they turn out to be GREAT, like Planet Hulk (hey, add that to my 2007 was saved by sci-fi comics list).

  3. I guess its cool that Marvel has two major titles (Hulk and Cap America) without the title character. Weird but cool.