Wednesday, October 3, 2012

All-Star Western #0, Aquaman #0, Flash #0, I, Vampire #0


The Zero Month issue of "All-Star Western" dismisses with the back-up to present a 30 page story, with artist Pia ("Y the Last Man") Guerra helping out with the epilogue. The Moritat-drawn pages depict Jonah Hex's origin, telling a decades spanning story involving the complex set of circumstances that birthed the violent bounty hunter.

The back-up reveals the story as a drunken ramble related by Hex, but this doesn't really account for many of its problems. Namely, the writing duo of Gray and Palmiotti choose to depict the numerous events by briefly setting up the context and following it up with an action scene. What should have been a graphic novel is thus relegated to a vulgar string of fight sequences that cover the character's contradictory back story of growing up an Indian and serving in the confederate army.

The reader invests in each of these scenes thinking it will show the signature scarring of the character. Instead, this is how the flashback ends, supposedly climaxing the theme of Jonah being "a man of two minds, a man who is both good and evil". Yet, as depicted in this issue, Hex seems more selfless and naive, trying to make the most out of a thankless life.

In retrospect, given the limited page count, the story would have benefited from being confined to Jonah's time with the Indians. That way, the co-writers would be able to properly set up the dynamic between Hex and his Indian foster father, as well as the rivalry between Jonah and his Indian "brother". Alternately, the additional focus on his childhood could have made for a more involving story as well.

Moritat's artwork likewise starts off loosely, but finishes up in very broad strokes. Perhaps DC would have been better off to pair him with an inker, as the artist clearly has troubles with the Zero Month increasing the page count by half. The abstraction that serves as the establishing shot of Fort Donelson clearly has no place in a DC comic, especially when compared to Guerra's clean and controlled look that finishes the issue.

To be fair, the climatic fight between Hex and Noh-Tante likely fails because of the density of the script, serving as yet another reminder that the series could have done without this prequel issue. It's doubtful that the story would have been much improved with the changes in the creative team, as the Zero Month format inherently limits the potential of a sprawling western epic. This is presumably why the co-writers concentrate on using the Pia Guerra illustrated pages to set up the next month's story, involving Dr. Jekyll's potion.


The #0 issue of Aquaman is almost equally split in the way it serves as a showcase for Aquaman's powers and the set-up required for the second year of stories regarding the character. All of this is conveyed via the flashback tale of Aquaman searching for his mother.

Geoff Johns and the artistic team of Ivan Reis and Joe Prado hardly achieve an uneasy balance, with an immature Aquaman substituting a father for a mentor figure in Vulco. More importantly, this prequel issue sets up Arthur's half-brother, Orm the Ocean-Master as the credible new threat for the character.

Unfortunately, due to scheduling, this inclusion comes on the heels of the last issue's unresolved cliffhanger. The creative team makes no effort in presenting this prequel story as something that in any way follows up on the previous issue, and will likely be eventually collected separately.

As a story in its own right, the issue is still lacking, as it discards the characters Aquaman spends the most dynamic part of the story saving. They wind up merely as innocent bystanders justifying the use of an action sequence in what is otherwise a static issue, setting up the upcoming stories. There is a some closure regarding the issue of Arthur's search, but the story nominally tries to entice the reader with the additions to the mythology.

Yet, the audience is likely to be continue with the title based on the strength of the creators. The consistently competent work, dressed in the lush colors of Rod Reis, helps complete this version of Aquaman, that is in keeping with the current trends. Working from a similar model to the Johns and Reis' work on "Green Lantern", "Aquaman" is set to crossover with "the Justice League", no doubt in another attempt to keep the relaunch to the forefront of the company's output. Despite the teases of Atlantean mysteries, the real question will be how the title fares once the penciller officially leaves to work on "JL".


For their part in contributing to DC's "Zero Month" Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato undertake to updating the Flash's Silver Age origin with the Geoff Johns' invented retcon. The resulting story feels a bit more poignant than their recent efforts, but still succeeds primarily in delighting the reader on a visual level.

The creative team uses watercolors to highlight the moody origin of the Flash, recasting the archetypal superhero as the victim of family tragedy. In their hands, Barry Allen is a smart and talented child, who dedicates himself to police work following the death of his mother in what appears to be a domestic quarrel. Manapul and Buccellato concentrate on the love triangle that lead to the tragedy, with the mystery of Flash's powers treated almost as an afterthought.

The limited space relegates the character's eventual appearance in costume to a two page sequence, just one of the many flashbacks that make up this zero issue. The constant back and forth is eased by the use of captions, which try to make the reader sympathetic to the events shown. The character of lieutenant Frye adds some much needed nuance to the continuity implants, but the origin of the Flash still feels somewhat extraneous to the creators' own vision.

It seems to be devoted to a version of the character directly preceding the "New 52" reboot, which was in turn inspired by Marvel's own flawed heroes. Manapul and Buccellato's take on "the Flash" has so far been decidedly lighter and plot-based, with Barry himself mostly defined by his powers and the role of the superhero. Having the character of Miguel (whose friendship with Barry was the backbone of their first "Mob rule" story arc) completely missing from this prequel is very telling.

Finding themselves hard pressed to boil down a graphic novel sized plot into a mere twenty pages, the creators have decided to proceed with an origin that will be relevant beyond their immediate take on the character. It remains to be seen whether the duo will still be involved with the character in a year's time, while Chief Creative Officer Johns's reinterpretation of the Flash is set to remain as definite status quo.

Where Manapul and Buccellato are allowed to leave a much stronger mark is once again consigned to the visuals. It cannot be overstated that their delicate, well realized artwork stands up as the most gorgeous rendering of the property since the days of Scott Kolins and Mike Wieringo. The sepia toned, kinetic pages seem equally lively when they are laid out as a double page spread or as a single image filled with dozens of tiny panels. The characters still exhibit a limited set of expressions when speaking to one another, forcing the dialogue to assume an additional layer of directness that seems unnatural, but otherwise it's hard to find fault in the visual presentation of the material.


The "I, Vampire" title offers a Zero Month flashback to 1591, when Andrew was originally turned into a vampire. Fialkov adjust the dialogue to correspond to mimic Shakespeare, but despite the tragic events the tone never becomes too serious. The issue basically consists of a single scene, framed by the letters Bennet writes to his mother and Mary, with Sorrentino having to draw merely a handful of characters.

As per usual, the artist resorts to double page spreads and large pages featuring these costumed characters, helping the pacing and imparting a singular mood to the proceedings. The artist assumes a very graphical Gustave Dore -inspired art style in one of the double pagers, depicting the villain's Biblical-inspired past.

Returning to Cain, the issue gets back to a plot point that set in motion the "Rise of Vampires" crossover, explaining what at the time seemed like a particularly unlikely twist. The confrontation between Andrew and Cain hinges upon a very on the nose premise, but it helps that the writer doesn't belabor upon it. The execution, particularly Sorrentino's inventive layouts help the story along, even if the point of view sequence following Bennet's turning lasts at least a page too long to enable the eventual reveal to work to its full effect.

Eventually, the story doesn't end so much as stops, without elaborating on the character's relationship with Mary, and her eventual transformation. Thus #0 of "I, Vampire" feels more like a prologue to the longer story, featuring the two's original Renaissance pairing. Faced with the title's financial realities, i's doubtful that DC will decide to flesh out that story with a follow-up mini-series. Taking this in consideration, Fialkov and Sorrentino by and large present an interesting pseudo-historical vignette, that sheds light on the protagonists' past, while never forgetting to entertain the reader already aware of the outcome.


It's impossible to discuss "the Justice League Dark" #0, spotlighting John Constantine and Zatanna's shared past, without comparing it to their past incarnations. "Hellblazer" is a Vertigo title still published by DC, but with this issue, the editorial takes great pains to separate the two continuities.

John that appears on the opening page wears a Mucous membrane T-shirt and makes a reference to Newcastle, but otherwise shares only the most superficial characteristics to his appearances in his own title. Lemire replaces his years of hospitalization in Ravenscar asylum (which is admittedly a point that most of the writers had to find a way around when talking about his past) with the character's literal migration to America.

Lee ("the Highwaymen") Garbett's style, previously associated with various Wildstorm titles, likewise presents a standard modern occult superhero aesthetic, akin to that found in "Witchblade" and "Darkness". There is no understatement when it comes to Zatanna, "a backwards-talking gothic princess", who spends most of the story in corsets, and serving as little more than a point of contention between two of the rivaling mages. There is an effort on the part of Lemire to tie her to the cult that keeps interfering with their activities, but it hardly elevates her beyond the level of love interest.

The story serves to shed light on the mastermind behind the still yet to conclude "Justice League Dark" storyline, and is defined by his relationship to Constatine. Nick Necro turns out to be a little more than a more experienced version of John himself, tainted by greed and corruption. He is chiefly distinguished by his hair color, with the whole of the prequel serving to explain the two character's shared past, and their split, which feeds into Lemire's ongoing story regarding the Books of Magic.

This prequel sacrifices everything to depict a simple mentor/understudy dynamic, and the reasons it went awry, but it primarily disappoints on the technical level. As if he was following Garbett's superficial renderings, the writer incorporates lines like "He was the greatest mage I knew. He was the best... the king", which have no places in a professional script, especially when associated with the character that had a rare privilege to be consistently well-written by the group of the genre's most talented scribes.

As a statement of intent regarding a younger, more superhero-friendly John Constantine, this #0 issue of "Justice League Dark" could not be more clear. It also does much to flesh out the character of the group's current villain, even if the character proves beyond derivative. The writer could be excused for extending what is by all merits a flashback sequence when faced with the editorial dictate, but the presence of four inkers indicates that even the artist was assigned to work against a very tight deadline.

No comments: