Friday, June 4, 2010

Review - I Am Legion

I Am Legion: The Dancing Fawn
Written by Fabien Nury; Art by John Cassady
2005 Eisner Winner for Best Penciller/Inker

I should give you a warning up front that this is another instance where I have only part of the story and it is unlikely that I'll ever read the whole thing. I Am Legion started as a set of French graphic albums. DC comics published the first of those albums in the U.S. but in the long delay between the release of the first and second the division of DC which published it folded. Last year Devil's Due publishing broke the albums up into shorter comic books and started to release it as a miniseries but now they're vanishing fast to financial woes.

So I've got I Am Legion: The Dancing Fawn which was the part that the Eisner was awarded for but I haven't read the full story. It's unlikely that I'll get the opportunity to read it any time soon. There won't be a full collection available in the United States any time soon.

As I've picked through the Eisner winners who have won for their artwork I have been almost inevitably annoyed by the story. It's almost like the category was the dumping ground for the pretty but dumb books. That isn't the case here. This is a twisting, complex tale that isn't told in the most straightforward way. It's a story of intrigue and I want to find out what happens next.

In the early days of World War 2 a German research facility in Romania has made a supernatural discovery. There is a creature that lives in the blood, that can spread itself among many hosts, and use them as its puppets. This ancient being is responsible for the legends of vampires and Biblical accounts of demons and the Germans are trying to train it to be a weapon. The British spy network is already in motion looking to assassinate the head of the research project but they don't know exactly what is being researched and someone at the highest level has already been compromised.

I Am Legion is an espionage story and I can already see the hints at the edges of the plots and counterplots as more sides that are immediately apparent play off each other. The portion I have is all set up for that as the players move into position so that things can be overturned, plots collide head on into each other, and loyalties will be questioned as the story progresses. I can't judge it from the first third but I want to see if my suspicions are correct or if Nury has something even more devious in mind.

I did have a problem with the plotting due to Nury switching scenes mid-page with little transition. I would be watching one group of people and then things would suddenly switch to a similar looking group of people who were doing things that on first appearance are still part of the same scene. Since this is a fairly complicated plot the unclear storytelling was a hindrance. It wasn't enough to make me want to walk away from the book; it just made things a bit more confusing than necessary.

Cassady's artwork is nice to look at though I suspect that the Eisner was intended more for his work that year on X-Men and Planetary. He does tend to draw faces and figures for his men too much alike. There's a cast of dozens in I Am Legion and it can sometimes be hard to tell them apart. This book didn't have a lot of action in it which I think works against Cassady's strengths. Still he does a reasonable job of presenting the many talking head scenes that are used to establish things in an interesting way.

I can't really render a final judgment on I Am Legion since I only have one third of the story. As it is I'd recommend it to anyone who likes both espionage and horror stories but that's only assuming they can read the whole thing. You wouldn't want to get stuck like me with only one third of a spy story.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Review - Top Ten

Top Ten
Written by Alan Moore; Art by Gene Ha
2000 Eisner Winner for Best New Series
2000, 2001 Eisner Winner for Best Writer

You won't find a lot of disagreement that Alan Moore's finest work is Watchmen. There might be the odd holdout for V for Vendetta, an appreciation for the richly textured From Hell, or just plain love for his other works but when you break things down what he'll be remembered for is the monumental impact of Watchmen. That series has cast a shadow over superhero comics since it was released as many creators took it as the handbook on how to create adult superheroes. I doubt that Moore intended it that way; Watchmen is a deconstructive work in the sense that it pulls apart the assumptions of the genre and tries to fit them together in a new way but there's more than one way to deconstruct.

Top Ten strikes me as Moore's response to how Watchmen affected the comic book industry. It is bright, cheerful, and hopeful in a way that superhero comics were in the past. It has the adult undercurrents that run in parallel to the goofiness in a balanced way. The book revels in the past and pop culture. And it takes the concept of the superhero and places it in the context of the everyday hero. Top Ten deconstructs superheroes like Watchmen and it shows a different way that things could be taken.

Top Ten is set in a city where everyone is a superhero. The entire population wears funny costumes, has some odd superpowers, and everyone works in archetypes. A city of superheroes still needs police and the men and women (and superintelligent dog) of the tenth prescient do that thankless job day in and day out. Early on it seemed as though the book would focus on the rookie and her hard boiled partner but Top Ten was an ensemble book with a huge cast. Together the cast deals with normal problems like a drunk , a traffic accident, or a homicide only the drunk is a giant monster, the traffic was in teleporters, and the homicide was the god Baldur who keeps getting killed by Loki.

The obvious comparison for Top Ten is the television series Hill Street Blues. Top Ten is also about the day to day life and problems of the police on the beat but it moves them into the realm of the fantastic. It would have been easy to just copy and paste the concepts of the police drama over and put a superficial layer on it but Moore's plays with the contrasts. They're similar enough to be recognizable but different enough that you couldn't transplant the stories easily back to a normal setting.

There is an overarching plot to Top Ten but when it came down to it I never felt like that plot was really that essential. I enjoyed the stories a lot more when they were about the minutia and the bulk of them were just that. I liked seeing the cast deal with the crazy guy who thinks he's Santa or an escalating Crisis on Infinite Mices. It's the little off kilter things that make the book so enjoyable.

And that brings me to Gene Ha. He a fine job illustrating the characters and building the story in his artwork. It wasn't at a level I'd call brilliant but I think that Moore's infamously detailed scripting tends to leave his artists with little room for expressing themselves. Where Ha shines and earns my respect is that every single panel is jam packed with pop culture references. The skies are filled with identifiably famous vehicles and heroes, the city is covered in advertising for products that are references. Top Ten might be the champion of nostalgic references as a given page will contain dozens of call backs but because they're all background details they don't become annoying.

What really makes Top Ten a spectacular book is its cast. There's over a dozen officers who wander in and out of scenes and all of them are interesting. They're not necessarily good people but they are interesting and seeing how they react to their troubles is fascinating. I wanted more about all of them but Moore's work with the series is just too short.

I have to confess that the setting of Top Ten doesn't make a bit of sense if you think about it for more than a second. And if you think about it for a second after that you'll realize that it doesn't really matter. To confront the oddness of the setting would be to confront the inherent problems with superheroes and that's the point. Top Ten is one of my favorite works by Moore but at the same time it is firmly grounded in spinning superheroes in a new direction. As long as you can accept that idea then it is worth checking out.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Alex Ross's Eisner Winning Covers in 2000

Alex Ross took the award back from Brian Bolland in 2000. Ross continued his string of covers for Astro City but that year also provided cover art for Alan Moore's new line ABC Comics and the Batman special that started the No Man's Land cross over. The Batman cover used a layered effect that does not reproduce well but here's a sampling of others that won: