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Review: Jem and the Holograms Volume 1 – Showtime

91rrp7cw9llWriter – Kelly Thompson, Sophie Campbell as co-plotter

Covers & Interior Art – Sophie Campbell

Colors – M. Victoria Robado

Lettering – Shawn Lee, Tom Long, Robbie Robbins

Editor – John Barber

Variant Covers – Stephanie Hans, Amy Mebberson, Sara Richard, Agnes Garbowska, Amanda Conner (colors by Paul Mounts), David Lafuente (colors by John Rauch), Marguerite Sauvage, Tommy Lee Edwards, Jenevieve Broomall

Jem and the Holograms is the best impulse purchase I’ve ever made. The day it arrived I read the book cover to cover, then immediately read it again. I would be happy having that as the entire review, but I think I’ll go a little more in depth as to why this comic is worth your time.

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Darkwing Duck #1-3: Orange is the New Purple

I intended to review the new Darkwing Duck issue by issue (because show of hands, who wants a review as long as my last Darkwing Duck one?), but my Friendly Local Gaming Store’s incompetence made that an impossibility. Now that I have access to the first three issues, I can discuss the opening arc Orange is the New Purple as a block – a cell block.

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Darkwing is actually swinging over to kick me in the head for that joke.

For those of you unfamiliar with the show or comic, Darkwing Duck is Disney’s comedic take on superheroes and pulp shows starring the eponymous masked mallard of mystery, his wayward ward Gosalyn Mallard, and aerial ace (and crash connoisseur) Launchpad McQuack transplanted from Ducktales. The fondly remembered cartoon ran for three seasons from 1991-1992 and its return for a miniseries (changed to an ongoing based on massive pre-orders) was the subject of tremendous buzz. The series ran for eighteen regular issues and one annual, with its first sixteen issues divided in to four four-issue arcs, beginning with what I called “The best Batman story never written”, The Duck Knight Returns. For me, it passed the test of a truly great licensed comic – my friend and a great fan of the show enjoyed it, my little cousin who had never heard of the show enjoyed it, and so did I (a casual viewer who knows the theme song better than the cartoon).

The new comic is a continuation of the continuity from The Definitively Dangerous Edition, which collected (and somewhat rewrote) the first seventeen issues of the BOOM! series (excluding the DuckTales crossover Dangerous Currency, for reasons of legality and quality). If you read the original series or The Definitively Dangerous Edition, you can ease yourself without trouble in to the new comic. The same is true of viewers of the original show, which is given loving attention by way of callbacks by the creative team of writer Aaron Sparrow and artist James Silvani, who also serves as co-plotter/co-writer.

As to whether the comic is quite so accessible to new readers, that’s a little more difficult to say. Sparrow notes in an editorial that Darkwing creator Tad Stones suggested “action, action, action” for the new story, and that they used this to structure the return of the crimefighter by asking, “What would we, as readers, like to see in the first several issues?” With the appearance of obscure villains from the show, BOOM! comic, and 90s Disney Adventures comic, the team seems to have decided on a more challenging approach – showing everything they loved about the original series and throwing new readers in to the deep end, trusting the fun to carry them along rather than retread The Duck Knight Returns. And in my opinion, they succeeded.

In the first issue alone, they showcase the life of Darkwing Duck, his civilian identity of Drake Mallard, and adopted daughter Gosalyn Mallard in equal measure, bringing the reader up to speed in terms of tone and humor rather than narrative – and let me be clear, managing fourteen pages of setup while keeping it entertaining is no small feat. The only misstep in this opening section is from a one-page scene on a space station run by SHUSH, Darkwing’s former and now current employer. This doesn’t quite jive with the flow of the story or give the reader enough information to know what’s going on or why it matters.

But after that, it’s all forward momentum with a prison lockdown and Darkwing forced to combat every old enemy that Sparrow and Silvani can think of. Smart is the name of the game with this new Darkwing Duck – from the jokes to the solutions for the predicaments the villains put our heroes in. The dialogue is excellently characterized, with unique speech patterns showing through even without the benefit of the original series’ amazing cast reading the lines. Lesser comedies will fall in to a trap of losing the individual voices of each characters, which can make the jokes and dialogue seem same-y. This isn’t the case here, where each page feels fresh and the action exciting. Which brings me to my next point…

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Ladies and gentlemen who draw things, I present to you – the newly elevated bar.

I’ve gone almost the entire length of this review without going absolutely crazy over the art of James Silvani, and that’s unacceptable. I adored his work in the first run, but he leaves that in the dust with the Joe Books issues. Silvani never shies away from a crowd scene, and his interpretations of the characters are never played safe. It’s easy to go too big on a wild take, leaving a characters’ reaction looking stupid instead of funny. Even worse, they can seem disconnected from panel to panel. That’s simply not the case here. He handles that fine line beautifully, making each page a pleasure to read and always, always selling the action or joke.

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It would be so very easy to make these poses look ridiculous, but Silvani never makes a hint of a misstep.

Andrew Dalhouse’s colors make some of the best linework I’ve seen in quite some time look even more stunning, whether it’s a two-page spread or a short scene in the Mallards’ kitchen. DC can only wish their non-Harley Quinn/Bombshells art looked this good.

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The only area where I feel they falter is cover design – the designs don’t quite pop for me the way the BOOM! covers did. At least there aren’t five different variants for each issue.

With all that said, Darkwing Duck surpasses the quality of the first comic series in virtually every way. And more importantly, it’s a good comic in its own right. The jokes sing, the characters are entertaining, the art is fantastic, and it’s just a great read. While it doesn’t go for the more heavy narrative focus of the original series that I enjoyed so much, Silvani and Sparrow appear to be playing the long game. Rather than forcing every story to stay contained in four issues, questions are unanswered and Chekhov’s gas guns unfired even as the main action ends – with a promise that it won’t stay that way. Who knows what’s going to come later in the story?

As an additional note, every issue has special behind the scenes material. That includes an editorial from Sparrow about each issue and Darkwing Duck in general, dossiers on characters, and the promise of a full on letters page. I don’t think you could ask for more in a comic like this, but I’m sure that more is coming nonetheless.

Darkwing Duck – The Definitively Dangerous Edition in Review

0Darkwing Duck – The Definitively Dangerous Edition is an odd duck, to say the least. Collecting the 2010-2011 BOOM! comic book series, at first blush it commits cardinal sins against how trade paperbacks should be collected. The seventeen issue collection has been given the Lucas-esque Special Edition treatment, with new dialogue, art and lettering. The final four issue story arc, “Dangerous Currency”, wasn’t reprinted. In any other situation, I’d be yelling “Off with their heads!”

But I’m not.

That’s because the new collection wasn’t treated like Star Wars, with a lack of respect or understanding of the source material that was hacked apart by a dictatorial lunatic. It’s been treated like Blade Runner, where the omnibus fixed the problems that were imposed upon the original series by outside circumstances, and turned the mixed bag of the original in to something truly great. But to understand why that happened at all, we have to discuss the issue of credit.

Aaron Sparrow is credited as the sole writer on the omnibus, though Ian Brill is credited as writer for the original series. According to Sparrow, as well as Darkwing artist James Silvani, he and Silvani ghostwrote rewrites of the series even after Sparrow was fired from his position as editor, and BOOM! as a whole. Brill insists that he was the sole writer for the comic and that Sparrow’s input was limited to the first three issues. When word of the rewrite came out for the omnibus he asked for his name to be removed from the book (as well as Sparrow’s replacement editor, Christopher Burns). The request was honored, which was a shame as it seems they were both responsible for the structure, if not the plots, of a fair amount of the book.

But I’m moving forward with the assumption that Sparrow and Silvani’s assertions are truthful, and clearly so are the people at Joe Books. While there are a number of reasons to believe it and numerous claims have been made on both sides, I only needed one fact to convince me: An examination of the rewrites shows a tone consistent with the first three issues which originally credited Sparrow as editor. There’s a greater focus on distinctive character voices, stronger comic timing, and more of an effort to have an identity that matched the TV show, rather than just a “funny superhero book.” While I enjoyed the original run, and adore Silvani’s art, there is no doubt in my mind that this is the definitive version of this series, and that it is Sparrow’s vision in the omnibus. Mostly.

Which brings us to the stories themselves. They comprise the first four story arcs and the annual, forming an overarcing story about the character of Drake Mallard, aka Darkwing Duck, and the point of taking up the mantle of the terror that flaps in the night.

I’m going to go over each story arc, then discuss the book as a whole.

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