Sunday, August 07, 2005

Comic Reviews for August 3, 2005

Have a triad of impulse buys for you this week, as none of my usual books came in. Spider-Girl 89, PVP 0, and Girls 1.

Spider-Girl 89 – “The Girl Who Fell To Earth”
By Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz

It’s always dodgy to do a superhero book where the hero doesn’t appear in costume. It’s also dodgy to do an “issues” book, where the hero faces a social problem in lieu of a supervillain. This issue does both, which means the crew is taking a big risk. I don’t begrudge them tackling the problem of teenage domestic abuse; the book’s demographic certainly makes it relevant and worth doing. But they don’t quite pull it off.
DeFalco chooses a second-person narrative technique that draws the reader out of the story too much. It’s too artificial a device; first or third would have made May’s thoughts easier to swallow. There’s also too much of it, and it’s often overwrought. This sort of thing calls for a bit more subtlety.
There are some good subtle moments, particularly our brief look at Howard’s father, but most of the story is a too heavy-handed, failing to avoid the “After-School Special” feeling. Particularly blatant is the big speech from the social worker around the middle of the book. Howard’s dialogue is a bit too stereotypical-crazy as well.
Frenz’s art brings the story an emotional level that the writing doesn’t quite live up to. His expressions of anger, doubt, and sadness hit the right beats; it’s a shame the words don’t sync up. He does blow a moment during the hospital scene, but I sense a script flaw there as well.
Domestic abuse is a serious problem, and I certainly approve of the crew’s intentions here in bringing it to the fore. Unfortunately, the story here doesn’t quite measure up.
Grade: C+

By Scott Kurtz

This 50-cent issue is designed as a primer for the popular web strip and comic series, and in that vein, it works. Under the auspices of an admitted cliché, a quick selection of past strips and storylines are highlighted, hopefully illustrating the usual hijinx that the cast gets into. The humor is weird, but character-focused; none of the gags requires any extensive geek knowledge (save the strip where Jade has apparently been turned into a Frank Cho character). Some of the humor depends on boob jokes, but boob jokes are okay in moderation, and Kurtz does demonstrate here that he can hit numerous funny bones.
For people already familiar with PVP, the book also contains a short backup featuring the origin of Skull. I saw the ending “twist” coming, but was still pleased, and got a chuckle out of it. It’s a sweet story, and I liked the “Pete’s Dragon” gag.
The art style is appropriately cartoony, with excellent use of line to convey subtle emotional change. The pacing works, too, stretching or compressing jokes in just the right way to maximize the impact. This may sound like faint praise, but there’s a reason they say “Dying is easy, comedy is hard.” Anyone can do it, but few can do it as right as Kurtz does here.
PVP’s a good comic, and a welcome addition to the strip stable. And at 50 cents, this issue is a slam-dunk for anyone who likes jokes about geeks, girls, and pandas.
Grade: B+

Girls 1
By Jonathan and Joseph Luna

You don’t think a comic book about a guy who can’t get laid and takes his frustrations out on the people around him is too on the nose, do you? Nah, me neither.
All kidding aside, though, the Luna Brothers make good use of this first issue of their new project to explore a somewhat-but-not-wholly unsympathetic character. Our initial image of Ethan, our erstwhile hero, is unflattering, as we watch him masturbating to a bikini model (the art is tasteful, with the first page’s depiction of the fertilization process bordering on zen). In spite of this, we feel a sense of sympathy through him for most of the book, as he tries and fails to break out of a strikeout streak with a cute girl at the minimart where he works. He doesn’t seem too different from the best of us during a slump, and that establishes cred with the reader. It’s only at the bar scene, as we see a sense of his darker side (as well as those of the townsfolk) that he starts to creep us out. And before we can recover from that mild shock, the story hits us with a strange twist that will, it seems, explore these themes of men, women, and what to do with them in an unexpected fashion.
The art uses good economy of line and pacing to match the script perfectly; I suspect the pages were drawn before the dialogue was fully composed, as in the old Marvel style. As you might not expect from a book with this title, the women are drawn in a non-cheesecake style that still makes them all attractive, in their own ways. Unfortunately, the face work makes some of the characters look like teenagers, including Ethan, who’s got to be in his 20s at least.
I have to thank the Lunas for including the small town map in the inside front cover; referring back to it helped me keep a sense of Pennyville as a real place, matching people and establishments to their locations.
The ending threw me for a loop, and I’m not at all sure where this is going. But I definitely want to find out.
Grade: A-

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