Thursday, February 12, 2009

Back from my un-announced hiatus

I've been thinking about baby stuff and job stuff and honestly haven't been paying attention to comics much this past week and a half, but now I want to get into things again. I have some catching up to do.

I think it's best if I skip ahead to my review of 'The Hammer'. If you're a regular Zudie you might have caught me in a moment of weakness earlier this month.
As an art critic, there's great value in maintaining some sense of objectivity about the works I'm reviewing. It's hard to take me seriously if I'm pimping my friends all the time, isn't it? I'm dangerously close to the edge this month and now I've no choice but to justify my vote, so that's what I'm going to do.
I'm not going to pull any punches but I'm also going to make what I feel is a very strong case for 'The Hammer'.

The Hammer - Sam Little, Gabe Ostley, Rob Berry, Steve Steiner

When you first see page one I want you to think about all the other competitors that came before and consider that it is not only rare for an entry to start out with a splash page but also an entry that dives into the action immediately.
A hook.
Now think about that one too.
'The' hook is a hook. A right hook to the face.

In the lower right is a little line of dialog which gives a voice to our protagonist (sadly un-named, so one demerit to Mr. Little for that gaffe) and identifies the antogonist.
However, that's a very dangerous line of dialog. It's so clearly Sin City. Close your eyes and picture Marv speaking, but then open them and take in the reality of a huge pink bunny.
Thank God for anthropomorphic characters to take the edge off.
Had this been played 'straight' it would've been a turn-off. Too obviously derivative. Turning the protagonist into the Easter Bunny turns the thing on it's ear (pun intended) and makes it a cousin to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles instead.

The Turtles played it pretty straight of course. The 'once and done' shock of seeing talking walking turtles playing out a riff on an earlier style of Frank Miller's sets up a sort of blueprint that 'The Hammer' can follow, (or not follow) the statement having been made already that this is NOT a strict send-off of Sin City but rather maybe an homage or a commentary.
We are sent a clear message from the creators that there is an idea germinating beneath the surface.

If you're familiar with Scott McCloud's 'six steps' then you should recognize 'idea' as an endpoint in the creator's journey. The goal of a master creator.
Now I don't mean to suggest that the presence of an idea is grounds for enshrining these four in the comic book hall of fame, but I think that it's mighty damn impressive that so much craft was expressed in just that one page.
Shit. One PANEL.

Moving right along. Pages 2-4 serve mainly as exposition for the story proper, a bit of an action scene, some solid cartooning and a bloody little beatdown to set the mood, but page 5 is where they REALLY get you.
Bones Charlie looms over the cityscape, blood trickling down from the top of the page and seperating the actions of Calvin's walk through the city, giving a sense of the passing of time to the scene and dialing the dark mood up to 11.
Well.... 11 minus whatever points must be subtracted for the presence of a tall pink bunny in a leather coat. Ahem.
And Calvin's monologue ties everything together and makes very clear what this story is going to be about. Cut, wrap, print. Most Zuda entries would be happy to get even this far into the establishment of their plot but fortunately for all of us fans there's still 3 pages to read.

Page 6 has us back into the thick of the action again, and page 7 leads us into another nice splash page.
Imagine, two splash pages and yet I'm not feeling gypped on story.
The final page is another very nice mood piece. Actually just that page alone provides us with most of the necessary plot information. Consider it the closing statement. You could read just page 8 and feel like you've got some idea of what's going on. Calvin even looks slightly heroic as he stands there thinking about bashing someone's head in with a hammer.

So I'm sure you've rarely seen me so effusive in praise for a comic. It is true, I very much enjoyed 'The Hammer' and I certainly feel that it's worthy of my February vote, but I stop just short of suggesting an instant win and I withhold the golden standard of 'five star comic'.
But why?
I wasn't happy about the fact that the protagonist was not named in the comic. That's a bit of a pet peeve of mine. Not really a major point when judging the total craft of the submission mind you, but totally annoying.
The pencils are just a little bit too cartoony for my tastes. Although I'd have been mortified to see a strict interpretation of Frank Miller's high contrast work, I do think that there's a bit of a disconnect at times between Sam's gritty-sounding dialog and Gabe's funny bunny faces.
I think Rob Berry could've exacerbated this problem a little bit as well, although not through any particular fault of his own. I LOVE his inks. I instantly knew that he'd be the inker when I first saw his name listed on this project, but he's got a brush style that comes off as slightly 'whimsical' at times and although I can see how much he toned it down, it's still in there a little bit. Another stylistic disconnect.
And since I'm an equal opportunity complainer, I didn't particularly care for the thick red 'claw marks as motion lines' that Steve Steiner most likely bears the responsibility for.
If I were further along in my color theory education I'm sure I'd have something more useful to add than this, but I did think that the colors were beautifully done.

So there you have it. 4 stars, best in show, fave and vote. If I have any advice to give it would be that it's probably difficult for a group of four individuals to come together and mesh perfectly the first time out of the gate. Given more time to learn about each other I'm sure that the idiomatic complaints that I raised could be smoothed over and laid aside and we'd have a true five star entry at last.


Steve Steiner said...

i agree with you on the name thing. i didn't know the character's name at all until I colored page 9 or 10 i think. I figured the synopsis would cover it though for the readers. but then not everyone reads the synopsis. at the last minute, sam almost had to change the name of the strip for Zuda. I think the new title in teh lead was Calvin School: The Hammer. Which would have cleared up the problem. So close to those 5 stars!

oh - and the red claw marks are all me. good call.

Sam Little said...

Thanks for the in-depth review, Paul. I appreciate the kind words and the crits were well-considered. The name thing is all on me. D'oh!

mpd57 said...

Looks like you are back on your un-announced hiatus! We need eight more indepth reviews or you're fired!!! Ed.

mpd57 said...


Buster said...

Wow. Nice review. I admire your detail.