Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Brother to Dragons, A Companion to Owls

Rodolfo Loaiza's meme-tastic "Drunk on Love 2"
  My day job is gallery director of La Luz de Jesus Gallery, and I write a blog called ArtOfficial that details the events there. This past week and a half was quite busy as we opened José Rodolfo Loaiza Ontiveros' first solo show. We have featured him before, but his latest Disasterland exhibition exploded when Liberty Ross tweeted his painting of a drunk snow white to Kristen Stewart, after learning of her affair with director/husband Rupert Sander. This explanation is my long winded apology for going void for a week here at Pop Sequentialism, but having two titles to review at the same time offers an interesting opportunity for comparison.

 Last week saw the release of NITE OWL #2, part of the intertwined Before Watchmen line of comics from DC that gives more page count to the back stories of the WATCHMEN heroes created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons 25 years ago.

This second installment of famed television scribe J. Michael Straczynski and second generation illustrators Andy & Adam Kubert's take on the Blue Beetle inspired Nite Owl does a great job in filling out the specifics of how a young Dan Dreiberg came to idolize original Nite Owl, Hollis Mason, and become a masked avenger himself. The JMS script is well handled in that respect, as he seems to really love the character. This strength exposes a great weakness, however, in his heavy reliance on Rorschach to tell Nite Owl's story.

I don't know if there is a fear that Nite Owl isn't interesting enough on his own, but the first two issues of this series could very well have been called NITE OWL & RORSCHACH, as equal space seems to have been given to both. Rorschach is a fan favorite and his appearance in these issues is sure to keep the value higher as collectibles than they otherwise might have been, but this version of the character is weaker and more flawed than the narrator of Alan Moore's original series, and I don't like how JMS has handled him. By resorting to the uninspired use of a beloved supporting character rather than enriching the tale of the titular hero, these Rorschach appearances serve the same purpose that Death (of Neil Gaiman's Endless) did in an infamously maligned Captain Atom comic: cheap exploitation.

I'm also very disappointed in the artwork this issue, which was scratchy, sketchy and unfinished looking. It was almost as if the Kubert boys were attempting a poor copy of their dad's late 70s war comics, but instead succeeded only in making the pages looked rushed. I have a Steve Niven preliminary drawing for one of his Old Man Wolverine covers that is exponentially more detailed than the published pages of Andy & Adam's NITE OWL #2. Maybe they spent the majority of their deadline on the excellent cover, leaving not enough time to properly illustrate the interiors.  Although. in that respect, they really did capture the look of the original Charlton comics that served as source material for the WATCHMEN...

This week OZYMANDIAS #2 hit comic shop shelves, and let me start by saying that Jae Lee delivered a Brian Bolland-esque cover that is sure to sell more issues than it probably deserves to sell. Lee has been delivering some of the best artwork of his career, and June Chung is supplying the best color of any of the Before Watchmen books on this title, which is all more the shame that Len Wein's dialogue is so cringe-worthy. This is exactly the type of comic book villain narration that Alan Moore called-out in his Antarctic climax to the original series. Wein borrows action description from the recent Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes films, and continues with an arrogant, preachy, omniscient-subjective narration that succeeds at being neither realistic nor likeable. Wein has completely lost the connection between Alan Moore's creation and the Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt character on which it was based. Moore's Ozymandias was a cross between Robert Redford, Joe Namath and Warren Buffet. Wein has lost the necessary likeability aspects of his superstar personality and replaced them with Donald Trump by way of Brett Easton Ellis' Patrick Bateman and Howard Chaykin's Lamont Cranston. Wein's Adrian Veidt is little more than a filthy rich douchebag in tights. I don't believe that a person so narcissistic would have set the master plan of Alan Moore's WATCHMEN into motion. Moore's Ozymandias traded the lives of millions to save the lives of billions; he really believed this was a necessary and humane solution to the cold war politics that had placed the entire planet on the brink of annihilation. Wein's Ozymandias is so self-absorbed that there is no way he would be able to hatch a plan of that magnitude without taking credit for it (and thus failing). At the end of thus issue we are treated to a final page cameo by The Comedian that will likely provide some petty reason as to why he got bumped off, and I'm sure it will involve getting the better of the world's smartest man.

The Curse of the Crimson Corsair back up tale in both issues is unremarkable.

Great splash page from Canales & Guarnido's BLACKSAD
A title I just got hip to a few weeks ago and which has been unread until recently is BLACKSAD, a comic album series from Spanish creators Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido published by France's Dargaud, and recently released in English by Dark Horse in slick hardcover volumes. The success of this series is credited as single-handedly reinvigorating the anthropomorphic animal genre that helped establish the black & white independent comic scene in the early 80s (though David Petersen's MOUSEGUARD laid a heavy foundation).

BLACKSAD is full color, rendered in watercolor via a clean, realistic style that screams "European" in all the right ways. In other words, the art is beautiful. There are stylistic homages to Art Spiegelman's MAUS, but this is a hard-boiled detective story in the tradition of Hammett or Chandler. The writing is crisp and compelling, the characters believable and the story rewarding. The erratic publishing frequency of the original translated comic books make the two all-encompassing volumes published by Dark Horse a welcome and appreciated compendium.

Once again, it is a creation from Europe that rescues my fading optimism for the medium. I've got a huge stack of bound re-issues to sort through and read, and I'll be sure to post my reviews as I complete them, but it'll probably be after the Before Watchmen line is done. Next week brings DR. MANHATTAN #1, and I'm hoping that it gives comic fans an Adam Hughes collaboration worthy of his talents.

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