Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Man Show

And a great showing it is, on this second Wednesday of August 2012. Let me of course start my reviews with Conan the Barbarian 7, drawn by the increasingly incredible Becky Cloonan. Her panels are like fairy tales etched in bark, and, coupled with Dave Stewart's softly gorgeous colors, are the reason I rediscovered the Cimmerian months ago.

Naturally, writer Brian Wood (DMZ) helps, in this fleshed-out adaptation of Queen of the Black Coast, a 1934 short story by Conan's creator Robert E. Howard. This comic unfolds in three issue arcs, making today's the first part of "Border Fury.'' Young Conan, traveling with the haughty, striking Queen Belit (referred to above), returns to his homeland of Cimmeria. Conan's mother welcomes him back to the dismally pastoral realm with, "Ah. A slave girl. Nice to see you didn't arrive empty handed."

Savage Belit refrains from killing Conan's mother. But she does try to gut the women who laugh when a dog frightens her, causing her to slip in the mud. Conan intervenes, assuring her that worthier enemies await. The next issue will bring our hero and his Queen up against Conan of Canach, a misfit Cimmerian who's been killing and torching villages indiscriminately. A comic with more righteously chopped limbs, you won't likely find.

Or, if you like 'em suave, Gambit (of X-Men fame) stars in his own series with today's first issue. A Cajun thief and heart-breaker by trade, Remy LeBeau currently teaches at the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning. But don't start yawning yet. Being one of legendary Uncanny X-Men writer Chris Claremont's last creations, Gambit can charge non-living objects with explosive kinetic energy. Playing cards are his signature weapon, though he's fairly mean with a bo staff, too.

Writer James Asmus is joined by artist Clay Mann (X-Men Legacy) in giving Gambit an addictive, stylish start. While infiltrating an education fundraiser, thrown by a man who bankrolls super-villains, LeBeau is true to the character longtime Marvel readers know (without the tedious french accent). Our leading man, of course, plans to rob his host blind. It doesn't hurt that the fundraiser is staffed by sultry and school-girlish women. Whether they help or hinder the Cajun, as he breaks into a tesseract room of super-curios, will have to wait for issue 2 (though I'm thinking the whole series will give this question a hard riding).

A hard ride, unfortunately, awaits anyone hoping to enjoy Before Watchmen: Ozymandias 2. Writer Len Wein, who helped create comic icons Wolverine and Swamp Thing decades ago, has the challenging task of scripting Jae Lee's artwork. Page for page, it's ethereally flawless in line, composition and texture.

Wein doesn't seem to care how many words a picture might be worth. While dialogue balloons alone wouldn't take much from Lee's layouts, white narration boxes, clumped together in twos and threes, reduce beautiful pages to science fair posters. And, "You don't tell me what I want to know, and you'll just wish you were dead," is typical of the pap mustered for the origin of Ozymandias, a character from Watchmen, the greatest graphic novel of all time.

Still, with Lee's superhero art rare of late (he drew most of Stephen King's Dark Tower comics for Marvel) this project is substantially alluring. Toward the end of the six issue series, there will hopefully be less to say and more to show.

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