Comic Book Review – Miracleman Book Four: The Golden Age (2016)

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Marvel is finally reaching the point where they’ve republished all the existing Miracleman work from Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman and are about to continue a saga that’s remained unfinished for decades. This fourth hardcover release collects the first act of Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham’s planned three-act story, and to date the only one that has been printed in its entirety. The Golden Age doesn’t quite meet the standard of Moore’s run, but with new material on the way perhaps history will look on it more favorably.

Though Miracleman is often held up as the most infamous example of an unfinished comic book epic, the truth is that Moore’s run told a complete, cohesive and satisfying story. It’s only Gaiman and Buckingham’s story that remains unfinished. Their work is sometimes looked at as an unnecessary continuation of a conflict that should have ended with Miracleman ascending to godhood and reflecting on the utopia he created in Miracleman #16. The Golden Age explores what happens next, not so much with Miracleman himself, but various inhabitants of this post-war utopia. I’ve seen Gaiman and Buckingham’s work compared to Before Watchmen in terms of being an unnecessary addendum to a revered Alan Moore work. That’s not an entirely fair comparison, but in some ways it’s apt.

At the very least, Marvel’s decision to relaunch the series with Gaiman and Buckingham’s first issue was unfortunate. The fact that this book is labeled “Vol. 1” might make it seem like a proper jumping-on point for those that don’t wish to start from the beginning, but The Golden Age is very much a direct continuation of Moore’s saga. If you’re not familiar with the background behind the Miracleman family and how characters like Mr. Cream, Dr. Gargunza and the Qys fit into that tapestry, this book will be more confusing than entertaining. This is one case where it’s best to start from the beginning or don’t bother at all.

Each of the issues collected in this volume offers a standalone tale that focuses on one character or a handful of characters confronting and adapting to the utopia Miracleman and his allies created in the aftermath of their final battle with Kid Miracleman. One issue follows a small group as they spend days ascending Olympus to pray at Miracleman’s feet. Another centers around one of several dozen androids imprinted with the memories of Andy Warhol as he strikes up a friendship with the similarly resurrected Dr. Gargunza. Another focuses on an entire city of spies playing out an elaborate but pointless game of espionage and counter-surveillance. Miracleman himself is little more than a background figure for much the book. As a god, his struggles are of little concern to readers compared to those of his humble subjects.

Gaiman explores plenty of interesting ideas and conundrums in these issues. The Golden Age is largely concerned with how humans adjust from living in an age of science to an age of miracles, and also the question of whether utopia can truly be achieved when its inhabitants have no free will. It’s lofty and intellectual, but the focus on very flawed, ordinary protagonists helps keep the book grounded.

In some ways, Gaiman’s prose compares favorably to Moore’s work on the previous 16 issues. Moore’s Miracleman run is fascinating as a sort of time capsule of a master writer perfecting his craft. The early issues are a little loose and rough around the edges, whereas the later issues reflect a writer who had cemented his voice and was increasingly losing interest in traditional superhero fare. Gaiman, by comparison, already had several years of Sandman under his belt by the time he took the reins of the series. There’s a confidence to his writing here, as well as a greater willingness to step back and allow Buckingham’s art to tell the story rather than showering the page with text. With the way these issues jump from one protagonist to the next and often shift in terms of tone and presentation, reading Gaiman’s Miracleman isn’t so different from reading his Sandman.

Buckingham’s art is crucial in that sense. While there’s a certain playful quality to Buckingham’s art in Fables, Miracleman is a true showcase for his ability to juggle multiple styles and play with the medium. Each chapter in this hardcover has its own distinctive look. One extended segment is rendered in the style of a children’s storybook and is packed to the brim with fantastical imagery. The issue focused on Gargunza and Warhol is a fitting tribute to the Pop Art sensibilities of the latter. Buckingham is constantly pushing himself and experimenting over the course of these issues. Frankly, if he weren’t returning alongside Gaiman for the remainder of the series, there would be little point in continuing forward.

The one real weakness of The Golden Age is that it doesn’t add enough to the larger Miracleman saga. Taken on its own, this book reads essentially as an extended coda to a story that didn’t really need one in the first place. Gaiman and Buckingham’s exploration of life in utopia is fascinating, but thematically it’s the sort of thing that could just as easily be explored in one or two issues rather than six. There’s a vaguely unfocused, repetitive quality to this collection that isn’t found in Moore’s comparatively more dense issues. For all the lofty ideas and engrossing character work in these pages, does The Golden Age really improve or expand upon Moore’s story in any significant way? Not really.

The question is whether the remainder of Gaiman and Buckingham’s work will ultimately redeem that flaw in The Golden Age. The intent was never to simply dwell on life in utopia, but to showcase Miracleman’s perfect world before the cracks formed in The Silver Age and the whole thing came tumbling down in The Dark Age. Those plans were dashed by the collapse of Eclipse Comics, but they’re finally about to bear fruit now. Hopefully this well-crafted but somewhat long-winded approach will pay off in the remaining two volumes of the Miracleman saga.

On a final note, this hardcover is definitely the way to go for readers who don’t already own the single issues. The physical quality is nothing to write home about, but it’s certainly a better value than the overpriced single issues. The book also includes a hefty amount of bonus material that reprints various sketches, covers and script excerpts.

The fourth book in the Miracleman saga doesn’t quite live up to its predecessors despite being more technically accomplished in many ways. Gaiman’s writing is strong, and it’s tough to imagine anyone else following a comic book titan like Alan Moore. Mark Buckingham is even more impressive as he constantly alters his style and channels big events and heady ideas with ease. But ultimately, this book spends too much time dwelling on utopia and not enough on really pushing the saga forward.

 

5 out of 5 stars

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Comic Book Review – Jupiter’s Legacy Volume 2 (2017)

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I’ve been reading comics for over thirty years and I like them as much now as I did when I was kid. But as my knowledge of art, drama, history, geography, cinema and psychology has grown, my expectations for mainstream entertainment and superhero comics have soared.

Some of my favorite books have been about the unilateral grasp for power by the world’s most powerful and the capes that arise in opposition. A quick list: Squadron Supreme (86), Watchmen, Kingdom Come, Civil War (06 – I understand I am loose in putting it on this list), and the dazzling Rising Stars (especially the first two volumes). The Jupiter series (Circle and Legacy) honors and possible surpasses all of those (a few of you might think Garth Ennis’s “The Boys” should go on this list, but that is mostly a dark and violent satire of the genre).

The work that Mr. Millar and Mr. Quitely have performed in this book is astonishing. Frank Quitely’s art is truly spectacular and dynamic – from facial expressions to movements to backgrounds to splash pages. His skills have only improved with the years.

Mark Millar’s plotting and dialogue are superb in this volume, and he builds the anticipation for the conflict deftly. The so-called heroes are the villains and vice-versa: the world seems upside down, which is a scathingly blatant critique of the current social, economic and political climates of the Western world (particularly the USA), though if you blink you’ll miss them. The arrogance, stupidity and knee-jerk actions of the leadership is both eerie and funny at the same time. The motivations of the rebels (villains/heroes that have been in hiding) are both personal and globally altruistic – and they are consistent and logical. This is truly a wonderful feat of writing. There were many moments where I paused as I caught myself smiling and shaking my head at both the content and the style.

The action in issues 5 and 6 in this volume could have been spread out a little more, but I’m only whinging about it because I liked this story so much. The other irritant is that it took Millar and Quitely 2 1/2 years to offer this up after the glorious first volume. If the last page is to be believed, then we won’t see “Jupiter’s Requiem” until 2019. Brutal.

 

5 out of 5 stars

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Comic Book Review – Miracleman Book Three: Olympus (2015)

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The fantastic conclusion to one of Alan Moore’s first on-going comics is finally back in print. “Miracleman – Book 3: Olympus” has been one of the most expensive out-of-print graphic novels for many years now. The hardcover version being frequently posted for sale for insane amounts of money (think 4 figures). So, it’s a blessed relief for fans and newcomers alike that there is now a more affordable option for enjoying the finale to Moore’s 8 year opus.

Much has been written about Moore (aka “The Original Writer”) and John Totleben’s work on Miracleman, but needless to say that it’s more than a fitting resolution to all the sub-plots introduced in Books 1 and 2. Told via flashback in a utopian 1987/1988, Miracleman writes the “official” account of late 1982 to his present day. He narrates being reunited with Miraclewoman, meeting the Warpsmiths, the loss of much of his personal life, and the horrific return of Kid Miracleman in 1985. At the end of the book, Miracleman saves the day “for good”, but at what cost?

Moore presents some fascinating themes and realistic consequences of the existence of actual super heroes. Unlike in “Watchmen”, where all the masked heroes were regular people for the most part, Olympus confronts head on how alien the main characters are. From Miraclewoman’s detached attitude to her sexual abuse by Dr. Gargunza; Kid Miracleman’s effortless massacre, slaughtering half the population of London creatively in a matter of hours; to Miracleman’s own personal transformation as he desperately tries to hold onto his humanity, before slipping into other world benevolence.

The conclusion will definitely divide your thoughts and opinions if you see morality in anything but black and white. An apparent utopia is achieved, but are the humans in Miracleman’s fantastical society really free? It’s a very complex ending to the comic, with Miracleman himself unsure about his actions and the future of the world that he’s created.

Totleben illustrates all of these scenarios magnificently, and Book 3 is, by far, the most beautiful of the three volumes. This is incredibly high praise considering Garry Leach’s highly detailed work on the first book, but the consistency of Book 3 really takes it above and beyond. The art really imbibes the mythological tone of Moore’s writing, with Totleben drawing breathtaking imagery seemingly every other page. And when I say breathtaking, I mean in multiple different ways. But these descriptions do not do Totleben’s craft justice – no amount of words probably could. Please, buy this book and experience it yourself. The artwork is worth the price alone.

Moore’s writing in this book far surpasses Watchmen or any of his other work and Totleben’s striking line art seems to be sharper and more detailed in this new edition. Steve Oliff’s new digital colouring also does a good job of matching the quality of Sam Parson’s original traditional colouring and everything appears to be much more vibrant, but not at the expense of compromising the dark atmosphere of the book. This is by far the best chapter in my favourite comic of all time, and it is as fresh and striking today as it was in 1990.

Highly recommended.

 

5 out of 5 stars

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FanExpo Toronto 2018 – DC World’s Finest Panel

Celebrating its 24th year, FAN EXPO Canada has grown from a small comic book convention attracting 1,500 fans into a multi-faceted, 4-day citywide event that attracts over 129,000 people from around the world.

Some of the most brilliant and creative minds behind DC’s multiverse are gathered to give you an exclusive look into the thrilling world of DC comics! Drop in on this panel and check out what they’ve got in store next for The World’s Greatest Super Heroes!

Dan DiDio
Peter Tomasi
Marguerite Bennett
Steve Orlando
Frank Tieri
James Tynion IV
Joshua Williamson

FanExpo: https://www.fanexpocanada.com/en/abou…

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Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/andrew_g_fe…

 

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Comic Book Review – Superman: Action Comics: The New 52 (issues 1 to 18) – 2011 to 2016

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Ok, I have to admit that writing these reviews is a little harder than I thought. I mean, how many ways can you say, “it has good art and a good story”, and vice versa. I guess I could just pad out the article by describing the plot, but I’ve never been a huge fan of that approach with entertainment reviews in general. It just seems a bit lazy.

A quick scan of the internet and review of other sites critiquing comic books has produced insipid results, unfortunately. I mean, I shouldn’t really be surprised. As much as I love the medium, we’re not exactly critiquing War and Peace. Each issue has 22 pages, and story arcs tend to run five or six issues so that it can be collected into a trade paperback for sale in bookstores at a later date. That’s 110 to 132 pages, which let’s be frank, is not quite as dense as 110 pages in a novel.

Comic book writers and artists need to convey a lot of information in a very limited space, so they have to be efficient, maybe even ruthless, with what they show and what they don’t show. Which means that building comfort and creating emotional moments through connection to the characters is extremely hard for comic creators. Novelists on the other hand have the luxury of spending more time with characters and narratives, which allows the reader more time to connect with the characters and the material.

All that said, I think it’s better to review story arcs versus single issues. Especially in the case of Grant Morrison who tends to use non-linear story telling and also inculcates quite a bit of foreshadowing. His run on Action Comics is no different and for me it was best binge-consumed instead of reading each issue individually as it was released.

I don’t know if this is a symptom of his story telling style, but at times the story seems to staccato step. Almost like I skipped a page. For me, I feel like that happens quite a lot with his stories and unfortunately it makes it hard to follow the central narrative. You always feel like you’re missing something.

That said it is a really good re-introduction to Superman and he does evolve quite a bit over the story arc into a more recognisable version of the character. I also really liked the re-introduction of Brainiac and how he used this villain to introduce well know story elements from the Superman mythology, like the Fortress of Solitude.

There’s also a sub-plot/thread devoted to Mr Mxyzptlk which starts in issue one and runs for the entire series culminating in Grant’s last issue which is number 18. It is easily the most inventive interpretation of the character and fits this rebooted version of Superman quite well. I’ve never been a big fan of this villain because Superman is primarily a science fiction hero, and the magical aspect of the character has never felt congruent with Superman’s universe.

Rags Morales art is on point as usual. He is easily one of my favourite artists, dating back to his time on Forgotten Realms and some of the other D&D books of the ‘90s. His characters are kinetic, which adds motion to the story. He’s very good at displaying emotion, which adds depth to the story and he doesn’t seem to cut corners at all. Some artists will get a bit lazy and skimp on the detail, but Rags doesn’t do that. His panels/pages are always very detailed and give you allot to look at.

All in all I’d rate Grant and Rags 18 issue run on Action Comics as a solid 4 out of 5 stars.

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Comic Book Review – Final Crisis: New Edition (collecting issues 1 to 7) – 2008

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Ok. The usual disclaimer here: this review may contain spoilers, so if you haven’t read the series then it may be best to skip the main body of this review until you have.

Created by Grant Morrison, J G Jones, Carlos Pacheco plus others, it is……..just about okay. To be honest, it’s not that great. It has some good ideas, the concepts and narrative are quite brilliant, but the execution/delivery is poor and scattered, which makes it an odd read at times.

Let me explain.

Grant Morrison’s writing style is challenging to completely grasp at times. He’s sometimes so abstract, you’re not sure exactly what you’re reading. He tends to use quite a bit of foreshadowing, and when coupled with non-linear story telling it means that the series or story arc is best consumed in one sitting versus monthly or periodic installments. So, if you do decide to read this series, it’s best to do it in one sitting.

I read this series back in 2008 when it first came out and felt, like everyone, that Grant could do no wrong. I mean, he’s one of the top comic book writers of all time and he has written some great iconic stories, however this is not one of them. I really wanted to like it at the time of first reading, and it wasn’t until I read the series again recently that I was able to weight the story on its own merits.

I liked the exploration of the New Gods as an idea; their fall from Heaven to Earth after a war between Good and Evil, only to be planted in normal humans as an idea that grows and evolves, transforming the person into the respective New God. I loved the concept of delivering the anti-life equation through electronic media to infect and ultimately subjugate the Earth’s population with an idea. It’s so close to what is going on today with social media and the whole SJW culture that is infecting everything (to the point of it being detrimental). That Grant could see this as a possibility back in 2008 is brilliant on his part.

I also liked the deconstruction of the heroes, the way that he dispatched the super heroes so that the New Gods could infect and subjugate the populace.

Beyond that, it’s just weird. Libra acts as the Prophet for the coming of the New Gods by evangelizing and organising the super villains into one group to provide support for their arrival, and then he disappears in the second half of the story.

Superman and Batman are dispatched early on and then you don’t see them again until the final issue. Superman’s absence is odd and not fully explained, just briefly referenced when he reappears at the end of the series. And that’s really my problem with the story, there isn’t a central character or set of characters which carry the narrative and can be used to revolve the story around. It would have been better to tell the story from the villain’s perspective by making them the central characters.

I also wasn’t keen on the story pacing. Long arcs dedicated to Mary Marvel, without showing how she was corrupted, fighting the uninfected heroes, Supergirl in particular, I thought was unnecessary and didn’t really move the story along at all. I mean seeing these two square off against each other is fun, but maybe that should have been used for a supporting one-off story in it’s own separate book.

All that said, it is worth a read. It does have some really neat concepts, but it ultimately falls flat and fails to connect.

3 out of 5 stars.

 

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