Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Hoopla! - Episode 8: Beware... The Ivy!!!

Hello and welcome to Hoopla!, the comic-book review column that hopes someday to be known as the Fancy-Pants-Dan of comic-book review columns...

This week, we've got something kind of extra special... the debut of Ivy Smith, one of my all-time-favorite people and a very fine artist besides. As regular readers of Hoopla! know, I like to provide my own version of comic-book covers when possible... but the problem is that it takes me forever. In an ideal world, in which I am not wasting valuable time on things like my dissertation and going to conferences, I could really devote myself to the cover illustrations.

Alas, this is not that ideal world.

So, I have enlisted the help of my friend, Ivy, who I'm hoping will become a regular contributer to Hoopla! Later in this column, we'll have a brief interview with Ivy, but for now, here is her first comic-book cover for us...

For those of you who haven't been to a comic-book store lately, that's the cover to issue #3 of Superman Confidential, written by Darwyn Cooke with art by Tim Sale.

Let me tell you a little something about Superman Confidential...

Some of the best writers (and artists too, I suppose) are the ones who make it look the easiest. Think of Paul Dini and Bruce Timm on Batman: The Animated Adventures. What they did certainly wasn't revolutionary. It wasn't, as people are inordinately fond of saying, rocket science.

But, actually, it was.

They managed to distill the very essence of the characters and the stories and to leave out all the unnecessary crap that had latched onto the Batman mythos over the past 70 or so years. They took something that the very best writers/artists struggle with and make it look easy.

And fun.

Cooke and Sale have managed the same thing with their story-arc in Superman Confidential. It's set in the early years of Superman, before he really knew what he was capable of and back when he and Lois Lane were just beginning to get to know each other.

It's the very essence of a great, big, fun Superman story.

It's got big action-packed scenes, romance (with Lois, natch!), tragedy, heart-to-hearts with Ma and Pa Kent, and a sense of wonder and innocence that ought to be a given in any Superman story.

Now, if only we could get the same kind of thing in the regular, monthly titles... sigh.

Silent War
Written by David Hines
Art by Frazer Irving

This book hasn't gotten much reaction online; I suppose it's at least in part because Marvel already has two other, much bigger wars going on (Civil War and the whole Annihilation thing). People can only process so many wars at once and this one has received the least hype. It's too bad, though, because this looks to be a pretty good book...

The premise is pretty simple. The Inhumans are a clan of human-like beings who, at a certain age, expose themselves to the Terrigen Mists, which "releases" their super-powers/mutations. You might come of the Mists with telepathy or super strength or, if you're unlucky, you might come out with three heads and pus spilling out of your pores. There's no way to know before you enter the Mists and how it changes you determines your role in society from that point on.

Oh, and they live on the moon.

Incidentally, if you want to read the best Inhumans story ever, there's a 12-issue series written by Paul Jenkins with phenomenal art by Jae Lee; it's pretty much sheer bliss. It's titled The Inhumans, cleverly enough, and yes, it's available as a TPB.

Anyway, the set-up for Silent War is that in a previous story (Son of M, also written by David Hines) the Terrigen Mists were stolen and brought to Earth. The Inhumans managed to track them down, but the U.S. government had already gotten ahold of the Mists and decided that they wanted to hold on to them. At which point, the Inhumans declared war with the humans.

Which brings us to Silent War.

The first issue of the limited series (six issues) is about Gorgon, one of the Inhumans' warriors, leading a small group on a limited attack. The idea is to attack the public at a performance of The Tempest, put the fear of god into them, announce that they want their frickin' Terrigen Mists back ASAP or else things are going to get a lot worse.

Things quickly go awry.

As the attack is being televised and transmitted all over the country by the Inhumans, things quickly spin out of control and one of the Inhumans ends up 'accidentally' killing several of the audience.

[Great art by Frazer Irving on that part, as people's heads are popped off their bodies. Whoops!]

Gorgon leads the group of Inhumans out of there but they're soon confronted by the Fantastic Four, who are more than a little bit pissed off, and a battle ensues.

A couple of things really stand out about the first issue of this series. One thing is Frazer Irving's art. He's sort of an odd choice for this title but his art is quite lovely. The facial expressions on the audience that's attacked are wonderful and the initial appearance of the Fantastic Four is downright creepy. As a matter of fact, everything is creepy. Irving's art is a bit wasted on the action scenes, though he certainly does those well, but it's the quiet moments that are really most effective.

Another thing that I enjoyed about the book is the way it alludes to and comments on current events (on this world, that is... not in the Marvel Universe). One of the reasons that Gorgon's plan doesn't work is that the audience immediately latches onto the idea that the Inhumans are terrorists and so, rather than sit back meekly and listen to Gorgon's demands, they attack. And the second half of the book, after Gorgon has been captured and is being interrogated by the creepiest looking government official of all time, there are numerous allusions to the way the Bush administration has changed the rules of war.


Gorgon: I don't believe that your government has sanctioned this. There are rules governing the treatment of prisoners.

Scary Government Guy: You mean the Geneva Conventions? Perhaps you should read what the convention has to say on the subject of slaughtering civilians. Besides, you are illegal combatants. Terrorists.

Or this...

Scary Government Guy: I am sick and tired of being told that I have to respect other cultures while those cultures are doing their level best to destroy my own.

I have very little patience for comics that try to create ridiculous parallels between real world events and super-hero antics (see, for example, those god-awful back-up stories in Civil War: Front Line), but this simply uses the real-world situation as a context in which this story is taking place. Real current events help explain the reactions of the various characters in the story to what the Inhumans are doing.

Finally, I just like that the conflict arises logically from the situation instead of being a contrived "misunderstanding" or "mind-control." Sure, Gorgon didn't intend for things to get out of hand the way they did, but it's not unrealistic that things would play out that way. They were playing a dangerous game, declaring war and trying to frighten the public into acquiesence. Tactics like that were inevitably going to lead to escalation on both parts.

Silent War is a good read. It's a neat conflict and I have no clear idea of where it's going. Because it's a story about the Inhumans, there's really no reason to assume that things will end with a return to the status quo.

And the art...? The art is good stuff. Lacking the technical know-how to actually scan the art for you to see, here's some of Irving's art from other projects. This will at least give you an idea of his style...

See? Creepy...

And now, as promised, an interview with Ivy...

What's your full name?

Ivy Adele Smith

And what grade are you currently in?

4th grade.

What have been your biggest artistic influences?

I have always loved the art museum, but mostly I copy different art styles from books, cartoons but mostly comics.

What got you interested in art?

I have always loved being creative so I loved art right away but when I found out you could get paid for it I practiced even more.

What comics are you reading? Which is your favorite and why?

I'm reading Teen Titans Go!; Sabrina; Lions, Tigers, and Bears; and Gimmels. Teen Titans is my favorite because I love the characters and the main story ideas and it's not a serial so I don't have to worry about missing one.

Hopefully we'll be seeing a lot more of Ivy's work in the future, even though I find it totally humbling that a 10-year old kid can draw better than I can...

Well, I'm afraid that brings us to the end of another Hoopla! I hope you all survived The Holiday That Dares Not Speak Its Name and will join us next week for some more comic-book reviews and a look at the books being solicited for May 2007.

Until then, I leave you with this important message from Batman...

1 comment:

Julie said...

Where are Ivy's drawings?