Sunday, December 25, 2011

Y: The Last Man Vol. 1: Unmanned, Zenith Book 1: Tygers, Fantastic Four 1234, Batwoman Vol. 1: Elegy

Writer:  Brian K. Vaughn 
Penciller:  Pia Guerra 
Inker:  Jose Marzan, Jr. 
Collects issues 1-5 
Title:  Unmanned 

In the summer of 2002, a plague of unknown origin destroyed everything containing a Y chromosome with the exception of one young man and his pet monkey.  The "gendercide" instantaneously exterminated 48% of the global population, or approximately 2.9 billion men. 

Now, aided by the mysterious Agent 355, the last human male Yorick Brown must contend with dangerous extremists, a hoped for reunion with a girlfriend on the other side of the globe, and the search for exactly why he's the only man to survive. 

Brian K. Vaughn has set up a very interesting world in this series.  The reader is learning about it as Yorick tries to figure out what happened.  The viewpoint cuts to others at times to present the various possibilities.  The mystery is that, at least at this point in the story, the characters are not exactly sure who caused the death of the men. 

Yorik is not a common name.  The best known use of it was in Shakespeare's Hamlet when Hamlet exhumed the skull of Yorick.  Yorick was a court jester whose skull shows that death is unavoidable.   

Another modern usage of Yorik is in the Star Wars:  New Jedi Order series.  In this series, the Yuuzhan Vong use the mighty yorik-trema to attack.  The yorik-trema is a bio-engineered transport vessel. 

If the reader were to combine those definitions, it would imply that Yorik Brown is a light hearted man but that death is inevitable for him.  He would also be the bio-engineered system used to transport the plague.  I will be curious to see if any of this proves to be the case. 

In the new world, Yorik's mother is the president of the United States.  Yorik undertakes a journey to join up with his her.  The problem is that any surviving man will be a target for the radical extremists.  So Yorik puts on a cloak and a gas mask to cover his identity.  Along the way Yorik runs into many obstacles. Vaughn does a good job of imagining what the new world would be like.  The classic journey for the hero is a good way of driving the story.   

The other situation that Vaughn establishes is that Yorik’s girlfriend is in Australia.  In the manner of the classic quest story the author sends Yorik on a double quest.  First he will travel to Washington D.C. to find his mother.  Then he plans on traveling to Australia to reunite with his girlfriend.  Vaughn has patterned the tale on the classic after the disaster quest story.  It is in the same genre as “Damnation Alley” by Roger Zelazny, “On the Beach” by Nevil Shute, “Earth Abides” by George Stewart, the many novels of J. G. Ballard, “A Canticle for Leibowitz” by Walter Miller, and Kirkman’s “Walking Dead”. 

The art by Pia Guerra and Jose Marzan, Jr. does not get in the way of the story.  It is very reminiscent of Chas Truog's art in Grant Morrison's “Animal Man”.  The panel designs are very basic old school comic book art.  Do not expect the detail or innovative layouts of someone like George Perez.  The art tells the story.  In this day and age, that is something that many artists forget.  At times the artists did not use sequential storytelling.  In those instances the eye is led to follow the action in the wrong direction.  The action of a character leads the reader’s eyes to the left.  Unfortunately, this is on the left side of the page so the only option is to read to the right.  With some slight repositioning of the action, the story would flow much better.  I get the impression that many of the current artists need to spend more time studying “Comics and Sequential Art” by Will Eisner.  It is a classic text that shows you how to design your pages to use the art to help with the flow of the story.  Guerra does a better job than many of today’s artists with the storytelling.  With a little more attention to the sequential storytelling, the art would be raised to the next level.  In general the artists do an acceptable job. 

Overall this is a very good start to a series.  If you are looking for story driven comics, this is the book for you.  I found myself interested in learning more about the changes to our world.  The initial mysteries held my interest.  I will be reading the other volumes in this series. 


Writer:  Grant Morrison
Artist:  Steve Yeowell

Zenith is one of the "Holy Grail" books for me. It has only appeared in collected form in England. Some imported copies have appeared but I always seem to miss them at conventions. I finally managed to track them down and they were definitely worth the search.

"Zenith Book 1" is another great Morrison read. The story begins with the showdown between the British superhero "Maximan" and the Nazi superhero "Masterman" at the end of World War II. Maximan is overly confident and Masterman easily beats him. At this time, the Americans drop the atomic bomb on the duo bringing an end to the conflict.

Back in England, their scientists use the procedure to create a super team called Cloud 9. Cloud 9 become the darlings of the 60s. Two of them end up together and become parents to the first of the next generation of heros-Zenith. Unfortunately for them, Zenith is only interested in partying and his music career. He does enough heroic acts to help further his career.

Unknown to the winners of WWII, a secret cult survived the war. They are followers of "The Many Angled Ones" who were the real power behind Masterman. As their plot unfolds, Zenith is forced into teaming up with the remaining members of Cloud 9 to take on the new Masterman and his masters.

This is a well thought out, tightly plotted, mystery filled story that is another example of why Morrison is one of my favorite comic book writers.

Highly recommended.

Writer:  Grant Morrison
Artist:  Jae Lee

The art by Jae Lee was a disappointment. It was not in the same class as his work on "The Inhumans". At times it looked good but overall it was sloppy. Sometimes it was hard to tell who the characters were. A more consistent art job would have helped the story.

Grant Morrison's story had flashes of brilliance but was not his best work. The concept of Doctor Doom being the bad part of Reed Richard's mind brought to life was intriguing. In Doom's mind, this makes Reed the biggest villain in the world. It absolves him of blame. All of the atrocities performed by Doctor Doom are actually Reed's fault. It is an interesting look into a fantasy created by a madman.

Doctor Doom's plot fell apart too easily at the end. "1 2 3 4" is a decent Fantastic Four story but there are many that are much better.

Writer:  Greg Rucka
Artist:  J. H. Williams

From Goodreads...
A new era begins as Batwoman is unleashed on Gotham City! Marked by the blood-red bat emblem, Kate Kane is a soldier fighting her own private war - one that began years ago and haunts her every waking moment. In this first tale, Batwoman battles a madwoman known only as Alice, inspired by Alice in Wonderland, who sees her life as a fairy tale and everyone around her as expendable extras! 

Batwoman must stop Alice from unleashing a toxic death cloud over all of Gotham City -- but Alice has more up her sleeve than just poison, and Batwoman's life will never ever be the same again. 

Also, witness the origin of Batwoman in the shocking and tragic story "Go," in which young Kate Kane and her family are kidnapped by terrorists, and Kate's life - and the lives of her family - will never be the same!

Sometimes a series happens that you hear a lot of good press about but, for one reason or another, never read until later.  This is such a series.

Greg Rucka is at the top of his game with this book.  He is one of the best at writing street level characters.  As Rucka reveals Kate's background, it is believable.  Her training in the military and the support of her father helps to give us a rich, fully realized character.  And the anatagonist of the series, Alice, is a perfect foil for Batwoman.  Rucka obviously put a lot of thought and planning in the development of this series.

Batwoman is a showcase of J. H. Williams' innovative layouts and panel designs.  The bat motif is in the design of many pages.  The non-standard panel designs help to pull the reader into the story.  It is almost like the character Alice has influenced the thoughts of the artist.  If Williams ever goes to Marvel Comics, I would hope they would bring back the old "Master of Kung Fu" series.  His layouts are similar to the work done by Paul Gulacy and Gene Day on that series.

The Rucka/Williams team was perfect on this title.  I hope that Williams is able to continue the quality in the new series.  Rucka has left for Marvel so he will not be scripting it.

Highly recommended.

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