Friday, June 28, 2013

Terra Obscura Vol. 1 Trade Paperback Review

Terra Obscura Vol. 1
DC Comics - America's Best Comics
160 pages
$14.95 (2004) Trade Paperback
$24.99 (2014) S.M.A.S.H. of Two Worlds w/Vol. 2
ISBN 9781401202866

Contributors: Peter Hogan, Alan Moore, Yanick Paquette, Richard Friend, Karl Story, Jimmy Palmiotti, John Dell, Tony Avina, Jeromy Cox, and Todd Klein

Reprints: Terra Obscura #1-6 (of 6)

Synopsis: Tom Strong is the science-hero of Millennium City and has been for the past 100 years.  During his career he discovered a counter-Earth on the exact opposite side of the galaxy containing its own pantheon of science-heroes.  He named the planet Terra Obscura and had several adventures with his own native counterpart Tom Strange.  Decades later Tom Strange appeared on Earth and enlisted Tom Strong's aid in freeing the planet from a powerful alien being which had incapacitated Terra Obscura's heroes.  The two Toms were successful in freeing the heroes and defeating the alien, but not without casualties.  Tom Strong went back to Earth and Terra Obscura's heroes returned to a world which had been left in the hands of the villains for three decades.

Grant Halford identifies the body of his former
partner Lance Lewis
We pick up several years after the heroes have returned.  It's been rough going as many people resent the returned heroes for disappearing and leaving them to fend for themselves against super-villains.  S.M.A.S.H. (Society of Major American Science Heroes) has disbanded and several former members have gone missing.  Tom Strange is among them and his whereabouts are unknown.  The Terror was killed during the battle with the alien invader, but his consciousness was revived in a sophisticated computer program which has begun a campaign to eradicate crime across America.  He/it is aided by The Terror's sidekick Tim Roland who has matured and is involved with another hero named Miss Masque.

Carol Carter fought crime alongside her father, the Fighting Yank, but lost her powers when he was killed during the battle against the alien lifeform.  She has settled somewhat uncomfortably into a mundane, civilian life, but reunites with gal-pal Miss Masque in Invertica City, home of the Terror Program.  Grant Halford was known as The Magnet, but traded in his costume to become a private detective.  He opened a detective agency with former hero Lance Lewis, the Space Detective, who came from the future.  Lance knew all sorts of events that would eventually happen including his own death.

The Terror Program and Tim Roland try to figure
out who is behind the darkness phenomena
When Lance disappears Grant assumes the worst and vows to solve the mystery of his death.  He is caught up in a horrific event that begins engulfing the United States in darkness.  Creatures live in the darkness and no one is safe once they enter it.  Somehow Lance's death is linked to the phenomenon, but who is the powerful villain behind it all?  Can the former members of S.M.A.S.H. put aside their differences to mount a rescue and where is Tom Strange?

Pros: Continuation of the Terra Obscura storyline from Tom Strong's series, Alan Moore is involved, artist Paquette has some talent and loves to draw big-breasted women!, based on old comic book characters from the 1940s (published by Standard Comics aka Nedor Comics)

Cons: Confusing to new readers who are unfamiliar with Tom Strong and the world/characters of Terra Obscura, Alan Moore merely co-plots the book, events happen too quickly at times without any backstory

Mike Tells It Straight: Alan Moore's Tom Strong series reintroduced a group of Golden Age characters from the 1940s whose rights had lapsed into the public domain.  He put them on a fictional Earth called Terra Obscura and then spun them into their own mini-series.  Each character was relatively the same as their original versions, but with a few minor changes here and there.  The novel idea which was repeated by Alex Ross and Jim Krueger (known for Earth X and Justice) in their Project Superpowers line from Dynamite Entertainment.

Carol Carter comes home to witness a superpowered battle
I found the series to be just okay and readers must be familiar with the first story from Tom Strong or they will be completely lost due to the multitude of characters.  Paquette's art was good (he draws women with very large breasts, particularly Miss Masque and Carol Carter) and was a mix of Terry Dodson/Adam Hughes.  Hogan delivers decent writing and dialogue although not quite up to Moore's caliber.

Where the series loses is the lack of backstory given to the reader (especially with such a large cast of characters) and the rushed ending (although I did enjoy the Miss Masque and Carol Carter final scene).  I did like some of the ideas and dialogue which made it a fairly decent read.  A second volume followed this series and I'm hoping the story gets a little better.  2014 will see a new trade paperback printing and collecting both volumes.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Greyshirt: Indigo Sunset Trade Paperback Review

Greyshirt: Indigo Sunset
DC Comics - America's Best Comics
224 pages
$19.95 (2002) Trade Paperback
ISBN 9781563899096

Contributors: Rick Veitch, Russ Heath, David Lloyd, Al Williamson, John Severin, Dave Gibbons, Hilary Barta, Todd Klein, and Wildstorm FX

Reprints: Greyshirt: Indigo Sunset #1-6 (of 6)

Synopsis: Greyshirt is the premier science hero of Indigo City, a teeming metropolis built on the ruins of a once-rich sapphire mine.  The city is known for an extensive history of crime and locals are hardened to the rough side of life.  Local folklore tells of a monster living underground named The Lure which snares unsuspecting people and devours them.  Even the Native Americans have local legends about the beast and it's said to live in the abandoned mines honeycombing the city.  Is it merely fiction or deadly fact?

Greyshirt dresses in elegant clothes and wears a chain mail suit underneath to give himself an edge against criminals. He's really a former gangster named Franky Lafayette who is thought to have died in an explosion with his partner in crime, Johnny Apollo.  The two were best friends who grew up together on the wrong side of the tracks.  Franky's dad was a big-time mobster and he naturally fell into the family business.  When the two boys were young they experienced a horribly traumatic encounter with the mythical monster The Lure.  Johnny was forever changed.

Mobsters vs. Monster
Franky's father, Carmine Carbone, was always in a killer rivalry with Spatz Katz.  We learn the origins of Greyshirt's supporting cast: Pluto Plutarch the first upstanding mayor Indigo City has seen in decades, Spatz's main squeeze Candi, the newspaper stand biddy Lady L, Ella Bly songstress of the Mood Indigo Lounge, and the rest.

An amazing amount of pop culture work was derived from Franky and Johnny's lives.  The works include the comic book Hoodlum Hit, an entire pop art movement (called Pow! art) actually ripping off the comic book, a soap opera called The Carbones, and an upcoming movie.  The patron of all of these works is a mysterious figure nicknamed Fanman, but never photographed.

Greyshirt's origin is linked to the heart of Indigo City and his life mirrors the dirty yet beautiful backdrop of the city.  What is the true secret of The Lure?  Franky started out poor and became a criminal, but he ended up as a  tarnished angel.  Who is the enigmatic Fanman and how did Hoodlum Hit end?  It's a tangled web of deceit and bloody sapphires as Greyshirt's world explodes from the inside out!

Pros: Complex storytelling which covers several generations in Indigo City, Greyshirt's origin is fully explored, The Lure was a fun element adding a little horror to the story, some great artists help illustrate a few chapters for Veitch, very extensive Indigo Sunset faux-newspaper articles at end of each issue adding backstory and hints to the series, Veitch's writing range and sheer amount of effort put into this series is impressive

Cons: All short story chapters including a bunch of seemingly side stories, The Lure feels like a swipe from Stephen King's It, art is not flashy (although great storytelling), ending was a bit too neat and tidy (although still pretty good), covers were a bit goofy and related to the newspaper articles in the back (vs. the actual main storyline), Frank Cho's short story was kinda lame with the billionaire kid playing pirate
A satire on Roy Lichenstein's 'reinterpreting' of comic book panels
into expensive pop art - here it's classic Hoodlum Hit panels
Mike Tells It Straight: I read Greyshirt in Alan Moore's Tomorrow Stories (Vol. 1 Vol. 2 Specials) and thought the collaboration with Veitch produced a nice homage to Will Eisner's classic work on The Spirit.  Tomorrow Stories was an anthology book featuring 8-page tales of several new characters created by Moore and different artists (Jack B. Quick with Kevin Nowlan, The Cobweb with Melinda Gebbie among others).  The series lasted 12 issues and won an Eisner award in 2000 for Best Anthology Series and Greyshirt was the only character who got a solo title.

Rick Veitch writes this entire mini-series without the help of co-creator Alan Moore.  Veitch is himself a fairly renowned creator who wrote bitingly cynical works in the 1980s concerning the deconstruction of the generic superhero (The One, Bratpack) and worked with Moore on DC's Swamp Thing during the character's successful revival.  He largely shunned mainstream comics until he and Moore got roped into indirectly working for DC when the company acquired Jim Lee's Wildstorm.  Moore left a few years later, but Veitch actually stuck around and worked with the company for awhile (Aquaman, Army@Love).
The covers are actually depicting news stories from the
supplemental prose articles in the back of each issue

This series was different than I expected.  Tomorrow Stories featured short chapters of Greyshirt in each issue and I thought the mini-series would be full story issues, but it was actually a series of short stories.  Two stories per issue, some one-pagers, and an extensive 'newspaper' prose section in the back.  The format was okay and actually worked pretty well to give backstory on the main event of Franky and Johnny's falling out. Veitch had a few artists give him a hand on some of the side stories and a few of them were duds, but overall a nice tapestry.

I like Veitch's work and this series was a good read.  It's mature crime noir with a few science fiction elements.  The Lure was a great addition and I'll ignore the fact the creature was a bite on Stephen King's It (a horror book about a killer clown who preys on children in their dreams, but is really an ancient extraterrestrial creature living under the sewers).  I would definitely recommend reading Tomorrow Stories before this mini-series to get the full backstory on Greyshirt.  This series was pretty much it for Greyshirt aside from a short chapter in ABC: A-Z and I think that's good enough.

TO BUY and Recommendations: