A Few of My Favorite Things, by Elayne Riggs
Back in the days of Usenet, I used to hear a lot of variations of “Why are there so many negative reviews and so few positive ones?” As one of those reviewers who not only discussed the art half of comic books but who also wrote a lot of positive reviews in my 4½ years of doing Pen-Elayne For Your Thoughts, I would see this manifest more as “Why are the threads responding to the few negative reviews so long, as opposed to those on the far more numerous positive reviews?”
The answer was pretty self-evident to most of us reviewers. In general it’s much easier for people to perpetuate clever putdowns, or to pile on a negative thread, than it is to engage in the vocabulary of positive discussion. One of the things we would identify as a next-to-useless post would be someone merely typing “Me too” or “Ditto.” It added nothing of substance to the online dialogue, it just took up bandwidth. But it had the opposite effect of the real-life etiquette advice that “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” It became “If you can’t add something of substance to a discussion rather than just agreeing with the original poster, you’re better off not contributing at all.” I suspect that what some of them actually meant was “Bored now. You’re being too nice; throw us some raw meat.
And of course, that was a shame. I’ve never found it that hard to say good things about comic books. I love comic books. I buy and read quite a wide variety of graphic literature, and as I’m generally not in the assumed demographic for much of it I’ve learned to adjust my tastes accordingly — that is to say, there’s still some subject matter that doesn’t appeal to me, but I’ll generally try to give most of my chosen reading a fair chance, and I think I tend to be easily pleased. Nitpicking details, while worth noting in a review, has never weighed as important to me as how the work made me feel, whether it held together as a whole and moved me during the time it took me to read it.
In other words, I enjoy talking about what I like, and why I like it. So since I’ve been talking about an artistic vocabulary, I decided to take the 95% of comics that I read from the latest comp box that DC sends my husband and talk about the art I really enjoyed from those books.
A few disclaimers first: (1) I’m not going to talk about Suicide Squad, for obvious reasons; even though I think Javi Pina’s doing some of the best work of his career, I realize I’m way too biased here as my husband’s inking him. (2) I’m also not going to mention every bit of art I thought was good and well-crafted, just the ones I considered my very favorites. Any omissions are not to be taken as an assumption that I didn’t like other stuff. (3) Some of these books were in stores 1-2 months ago, but hey, they’re new to me. (4) I’m eschewing more technical descriptors in favor of what I’m more comfortable reviewing — how the work affected me and made me feel. Let’s get to it, then:
Countdown #41 – Dennis Calero (late of Atomic Paintbrush) has a marvelous way of shadowing faces that enhances his characters’ expressions. Reminiscent of Al Williamson, although not as illustrative. Solid work on buildings and other background structures; nice details on clothing folds and hair as well. Dan Jurgens, on the backup story, is still one of the definitive Superman artists for me. His characters are not only idealized (i.e., attractive without being objectified), but they all look different; the body types are not merely interchangeable with costumes and hair colors. Love his single-page montage layout.
Batman #667, 668 – JH Williams is just a cut above. Terrifically moody page composition, gritty without being messy, very exacting sense of place and establishing shots. Always compelling.
Batman: Detective Comics #836 – Tom Mandrake; nuff said. So evocative. So creepy, without being inaccessibly gross. The flow is like nobody else. There’s the illusion of movement everywhere. Great use of shadows to define form. Nothing on the page that shouldn’t be there. Just gorgeous.
Batman Strikes! #35, 36 – Christopher Jones and Terry Beatty don’t get nearly as many accolades as they should, because they draw in a bigfoot “cartoon” style. But it suits the material, it’s easy to follow and easy on the eyes, and it’s a great example of accomplishing more with less. Terry in particular has been doing this for years, and he gets better all the time.
Birds of Prey #108, 109 – Nicola Scott and Doug Hazelwood retain the attractiveness of the female protagonists, again, without exploiting or objectifying them. The two double-page spreads in #108 show off Scott’s ability to diversify her characters, and she’s equally deft at intimate scenes and action shots.
Brave and Bold #5, 6 – I’m a major George Perez fan, and thought it interesting to contrast how Bob Wiacek inks him in #5 and Scott Koblish in #6. I think Bob’s inks come out somewhat cleaner, but they’re both shaping very attractive, exciting scenes. Just major fun.
Countdown to Adventure #1 – Speaking of clean, Eddy Barrows is pristine and illustrative. Perhaps too illustrative; having seen his pencils on Rob’s drawing board, my heart goes out to Julio Ferreira. But he’s more than up to the task. Very busy layouts, always something to keep the eye interested and moving. Eddy’s a real up-and-comer.
Flash #1 – I think Daniel Acuña’s art is charming. Not what I’m used to from this type of book, but evocative and fun and very animated.
Oh bugger, I haven’t even gotten halfway through the DCU titles alphabet and it’s time to post this. As my fellow columnists are fond of saying, to be continued next week!
Elayne Riggs is ComicMix‘s news editor, and is very, very tired.