Thursday, May 03, 2007

Superior Showcase #1

Superior Showcase #1, 2006, AdHouse Books
by Nick Bertozzi, Mike Dawson, Dean Trippe, & John Campbell

I should clarify something. The week before TMNT was released, I dedicated a whole week to Turtles-oriented reviews. My first review for A Comic A Day honored the release of Superman Returns. So, as Spider-man 3 spreads its symbiote-like grip over global pop culture, I'm sure you're wondering why I've scarcely mentioned the webslinger of late. I mean, everyone else is talking about him . . . which is exactly why I've avoided the subject (aside from a blurb or two at my LiveJournal). Spider-hype has become a worldwide phenomenon, and while I'm really excited for the film -- and I'm going to tonight's midnight premiere -- too many other things are happening in the comicsphere to ignore. My emphasis on the Alternative Press Expo and my forthcoming Free Comic Book Day series are excellent examples, in addition to the other titles and projects on the horizon for the summer Con scene. The industry is a convoluted web right now in more ways than one, and we're all trying to untangle it.

That said, for the past two years, I've been particularly intrigued with AdHouse Books' FCBD offering, so when I saw their booth at APE, I couldn't resist purchasing a book or two. Superior Showcase features three different superhero-themed stories, each tastefully drawn and respectfully satirical, if only in their nontraditional illustrative style. Nick Bertozzi, Mike Dawson, and Dean Trippe aren't Jim Lee or Ed Benes, but their visual storytelling techniques best reflect the human aspect to these super-human concepts. For example:

Nick Bertozzi's story is essentially about a superhero supermarket. As one could imagine, catering to the superhero community would be a tough job in any business, but when handling and selling the very goods and services they need to live, it's a dire task, indeed. Unfortunately, while I enjoyed my initial read of "Super Mart," the first tale in this anthology, I didn't feel like it held water against the other two contributions, each more rich in character and conflict. Bertozzi essentially provides a storyboard for a concept that could be more developed; his pages are more springboard than story. Basically, the clerks just try to avoid getting robbed by major supervillains and goons, which is amusing enough to hold up on its own and to establish the general tone of the book, but nothing more. I'd check this one out in the "one good concept or less" aisle, for sure.

Mike Dawson's "Ace Face: The Mod with the Metal Arms" is a different story. By the guy behind Gabagool!, Colin Turney is retired superhero Ace Face, complete with strong metal arms, now a professor teaching Civil Rights and Cold War civics. When a young vigilante violently bursts onto the scene, Ace's students ask if he'll "try and get him," and although the Prof shrugs it off, an internal conflict obviously brews within him. The most poignant page,
briefly explores the longstanding superhero slugfest motif through a strained father/son filter, a concise, dramatic storytelling technique. In the end, when Ace confronts the Target, the kid turns out to be one of his students, and when he mortally wounds the young vigilante, Ace's massive arms are contrastingly conformed into humorous looking metal toothpicks, a tragic consequence for an otherwise acclaimed and introspective superhero. Dawson's yarn was highly entertaining though a bit sequentially choppy, a minor critique I can overlook for the installment's general use of the "one more time, old timer" shtick.

The final contribution, by Dean Trippe (with John Campbell) is a Bruce Timm-looking Batman and Robin riff. Birdy, Knight-Bat's sidekick, wants a new costume ("Just like Nightbird!" Batty quips) and roams the city in despair on Halloween night. Meanwhile, a kid dressed as a butterfly learns he really can fly and is later revealed to be the son of Super Duper. (The satire is really thin here.) When the kids collide and the Butterfly excitedly asks if he can be Birdy's sidekick, the young hero is encouraged enough to kick some ghosts' butt in an obligatory action scene. Despite the blatant goofy parallels between this tale and its source material, "Butterfly" was a fun story true to its roots in childhood -- when the Butterfly learns of his ability, his first thought is getting more Halloween candy -- which is something I admire in comics. As a medium originally intended for kids, it's nice to see it embrace youth in its stories, even if this briefly. After all, Robin was created to build that bridge to a younger audience! Peter Parker was a high school student so struggling high school students had a hero to whom they could relate!

See, it does come full circle. So, although I didn't read a Spider-man comic book on the eve of his third foray onto the big screen, I did manage to find a superhero book, even at APE, that paid some homage to Stan Lee's marvelous legacy. Like the origins of Marvel itself, AdHouse has a strong voice in the comic book industry, and with marketing tools like Free Comic Book Day, hopefully that voice will rise above a whisper. Again, with so many things happening in comics, it's hard to single out just one thread!

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