By Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque and Stephen King
They had me at “Hello.” Okay, that’s not quite true. They actually had me by the second paragraph of the introduction when Stephen King reminded us that vampires are supposed to be killers. They’re vicious, literally blood-thirsty killers. For that reason, vampires used to be the villains. Yet, they’ve also always been fascinating which is why they’ve been elevated to heroes, anti-heroes and protagonists. So how do you strike the balance between a character who is sympathetic enough to be the series’ lead and vicious enough to be a vampire? Scott Snyder devised the brilliant solution. He introduced a new breed of vampires, American Vampires, who have different powers, different weaknesses, yet the same thirst for blood. The central struggle in this series is between the new American Vampires and their old-world counterparts. Their battle to distinguish themselves from the old-world, old caste system strikes a chord with the American spirit of freedom and individualism. Yet the new Vampires are still vicious, cold-hearted killers. Their continued cruelty disturbs us even as we occasionally cheer them on. It’s an inspired set-up, playing in the gray mists of morality.
The story itself is well-told. I admired the dual-story structure. The first half of each chapter focuses on the innocent Pearl Jones, a young lady trying to break into show business in the 1920s; the second half followed Skinner Sweet, the first American Vampire, who was transformed in the midst of a train robbery in the 1880s. Each story has its twist and its turns, its betrayals and its surprises. Together, they build a new mythology. I also liked the way that the new powers and weaknesses were slowly revealed as either Skinner or Pearl discovered them. It was interesting to learn the new rules alongside the characters. However, American Vampire is not for the faint-hearted. These are real vampires. The brutality can sometimes be a little disconcerting. Yet for those with a strong enough constitution, American Vampire is both interesting and unique.
By Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely and Philip Tan
I know that it’s heresy to write anything bad about Grant Morrison. When he’s at his best- as he was on All-Star Superman- the results are incredible and he rightly receives rave reviews. Yet he isn’t always at his best. There are flashes of brilliance in Batman & Robin but there is also a significant flaw which mars the final product.
First, the good stuff. Grant Morrison gets the characters and their relationships right. They feel real and that’s always critical. I appreciate the interactions between Dick Grayson as the new Batman and Damian Wayne as the new Robin, the sage advice from Alfred and the cautiousness from Commissioner Gordon. Morrison also does a great job of introducing new concepts or updating old ones. I like the new Batmobile, especially the windshield shaped like the Bat-signal. And I thought it was clever to have Dick, who was raised in a circus, fight across the Circus of Strange in his first outing as Batman. Circus villains are something of a comic book cliché, yet Morrison and Quitely managed to make these foes feel fresh and interesting. Another new villain, the Flamingo, also has a nice look though Quitely does a much better job with it on the cover than Philip Tan does within the story.
Unfortunately, Morrison has also adopted a minimalist approach to plotting and story-telling. He leaves out connecting scenes, expecting the reader to fill in the gap for him. It’s an experiment that works for a few of the fight scenes as it conveys the frenetic pace. But it doesn’t work on a larger scale. It’s often confusing or distracting. An amusing stakeout scene between Dick and Damian comments on the drudgery of detective work but we never actually see the dynamic duo do any detecting. Additionally, new villains are brought into the story with little information or introduction. I learned more about the Flamingo from the afterword than I did from the story, and that’s not a good thing.
by Chris Roberson and Mike Allred
What a wonderful comic! I was a little leery of the initial concept- a zombie detective who solves cases after eating brains. Ew! That had the potential to go terribly wrong. Instead, it’s gone terrifically right.
Gwen, the zombie, is a surprisingly sympathetic character. She has to hide her nature from her co-workers and come up with little excuses to get away to eat at night. The self-conscious concealment of her true self resonates with the audience. We’ve all felt like we’ve had to hide who we are at some point in our lives. It’s especially appealing to comic book fans who are used to being denigrated or dismissed.
Writer Chris Roberson does a great job of crafting both small scenes and a larger mythology. The individual scenes work on their own, whether they’re the depictions of everyday awkwardness or the sight of a vampire attack in an alley. Roberson also introduces a grand theory of dual souls which are occasionally prevented from leaving after death. The result is zombies, vampires, werewolves and more. Yet the mythology is presented in a way that’s visually arresting and pertinent to the story.
Mike Allred’s pop art is also a treat. His clean style is great for conveying humor and surprisingly strong at conveying emotion. Plus, it keeps the series from becoming too gross.
By Peter David, Rick Leonardi and Kelley Jones
Origin stories are often uninteresting. It doesn’t matter that much how a character got his powers- whether it’s a science experiment gone awry or cosmic rays- as much as what the character does with those powers. Yet Peter David defies conventional wisdom and comic book clichés by crafting an interesting origin story for Spider-Man 2099. In fact, one could argue that this entire 10-issue volume comprises his origin story.
Miguel O’Hara is an expert scientist working for one of mega-corporations of the future. When he tries to quit his job, his employers force an addictive drug on him. In order to combat the effects of the addiction, O’Hara attempts to cure himself with one of his experiments. Unfortunately, a jealous rival sabotaged the equipment. The experiment backfires and Miguel gains the powers of Spider-Man. As a new Spider-Man, Miguel finds himself on the run from his employers and the law, hiding secrets from his brother and his girlfriend, and battling bounty-hunters and crazies who want to make a name against him.
There are a lot of things to like about this origin. Miguel isn’t foolish or conceited. He’s not the typical mad scientist who experiments on himself to prove a point. He’s trying to save himself. He’s a victim, but not a helpless one. Plus, the experiment goes wrong as a result of someone else’s meddling. He’s transformed, but not incompetent. There’s also a wonderful voyage of discovery. Miguel doesn’t quite understand his powers- they’re slightly different than the original Spider-Man. Plus, he has to learn about them on the fly, while trying to run, battle, hide or rest.
There are other things to admire as well. Miguel is a great character. He’s got a quick wit- one of the many things he shares with the original Spider-Man. His sharp tongue adds a lot of laughs and lightens the mood. There are some fun relationships. Miguel and his brother Gabriel have an interesting rapport in which they intermittently trust and understand each other. And there’s the quick pace. Spider-Man 2099 moves along at a wonderful clip, maintaining momentum from scene to scene.
By John Ostrander, Jan Duursema and others
The story of Quinlan Vos is one of the great character journeys in all of comics. John Ostrander and Jan Duursema introduced their own creation into the Star Wars mythos. Far from being a diversion from the better known characters of the movies, Vos became one of the driving forces in Star Wars: Republic.
In this volume, we are introduced to Quinlan Vos, a Jedi suffering from amnesia. He escapes from the smuggler’s moon and embarks on a quest to restore his memory. In the process, he discovers that he has also lost his Padawan, Aayla Secura, and his quest expands to save her as well. Eventually reunited, Quinlan and Aayla continue their journey, taking on the forces that defeated, erased and enslaved them.
Jedi in Darkness is a long, sprawling story. We follow Quinlan across the universe. We visit the smuggler’s moon Nar Shaddaa, the twin planets of Kiffu and Kiffex, the capital city of Coruscant and the dark force haven of Dathomir. We bounce from slave houses to regal palaces to prisons. In between current adventures, we are treated to stories from Quinlan’s past. We discover important stories of Quinlan as a young knight and a young boy in which he builds relationships of friendship and trust with his mentor Tholme, his peer Obi-Wan Kenobi and his student Aayla Secura.
Those relationships are part of what defines Quinlan Vos. Although he holds himself at an aloof distance, Vos hides an ardent heart. He rescues Aayla because of his deep personal concern for her, rather than a sense of duty. He also develops friendships with unlikely characters such as the Devaronian Villie. He becomes an unusual Jedi, acting out of passion more than principle. That leads him into interesting places both in terms of plot and personality. And it makes Quinlan’s story a grand epic.