Saturday, April 16, 2011

The beauty of Big Red


I had never heard of Big Red soda before coming to Austin. As far as I can tell it's an overly sweet, vaguely cream soda of indiscernable flavor. It has me curious, if only there was some way to find out the history of this intriguing beverage...

Ah, Yes.

I leave it to other consumers to decide the flavor for themselves. In this instance it's not the taste that excites me (as a patron of cream sodas I've had many better), but the "Delicious" design screened over what could only be yet another offering of the retro label throwback trend. Its beauty is in its bold simplicity, and while it mysteriously found the need to make use of five fonts (on the whole), it is thankfully bereft of any additional "retro" or "classic" branding so often forced on the public as if we'd be so shocked by an certain aesthetic that we might think the actual decade had changed around us. In fact the only truly anachronistic detail on the bottle is a discreet listing of www.bigred.com under the UPC.

Should you visit the site you'll no doubt notice the current logo and branding has nowhere near the class or charm of this red and white treat.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Hellboy: The Wild Hunt

Hellboy is a unique book in a couple ways beyond the amazing art and crafting of Mignola's macabre and oddly humorous world. First, it's a rare book that "stuck," a smaller title that endured long enough to steadily grow devoted followers. And unlike the majority of classic comics characters, fans of Hellboy have been there since it's beginning. While that's going on -gasp- 18 years now, it's a far cry from the decades upon decades heaped onto Marvel and DC historians. There is a much younger generation that knows the whole of Hellboy and has grown along with it.

Second, Hellboy is fortunate to have a greater than average readership of "people who don't read comics." That is, an audience outside of the weekly warriors and die hards. Certainly a feature film or two helped grow this audience, but I'd bet far more people are going to be familiar with Hellboy than with, say, Booster Gold.

Hellboy's roots will always be in the comics, found in increasingly better formats as trades and Library Editions. Even though I resigned myself to the Library Editions at first sight, it is difficult to not pick up a new trade. Hellboy: The Wild Hunt is one of the most recent, and one of my favorites. What sets The Wild Hunt apart is that it is not only a great self-contained story, but a huge payoff to longtime Hellboy readers. Many old plot threads and characters start coming together out of seemingly forgotten tales and quickly build to a fever pitch. There is a foreboding finality to it all, as the book as a whole begins to build to the crisis point that may or may not define Hellboy's existence. Mignola as a storyteller is firing on all cylinders here, sweeping through his mythology with bravado and giving all those around the campfire a rollicking good time.

Mignola has a firm grasp on the story, probably more so than ever, and does treat us to his artwork in chapter breaks and covers. It's a shame that he can't maintain the work on actual story art, but... not really. Hellboy's cache is such that is can draw in some of the greatest talent in the field. The Wild Hunt brings on Duncan Fegredo, who is no stranger to the pages of Hellboy already. And I LOVE Duncan Fregredo! Always have. Fegredo's interpretation of the house that Mignola built is filled with the wonderful contrasts and interspersions of detail that make Hellboy unique. The populating characters are eccentric, the environments mysterious, and the monsters epic. It's not as minimalist a look as Mignola's signature, which is good, there's no real point in xeroxing. Fegredo's personality shines through the character and does a tremendous justice to the world he inhabits. It's awesome.

It's not a huge secret that Mignola is wrapping up Hellboy to meet its climactic end (literally), and book like The Wild Hunt keeps the anticipation at peak levels.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Superman: Brainiac

I've been a fan of Gary Frank since near the beginning of his career. His early work on Hulk would end up eclipsing superstar Dale Keown's fervent re-invigoration of the title, and it was Frank who would set the character's signature style for years to come. He would hop around titles quite a bit after that, with the occasional creator-owned work like Kin filling in the gaps. And of course his time on Gen13 is near and dear to me, marking a period of the book that was the most mature it's ever been, this in spite of the immaturity required of the series.

It was only to my joy to see that what I feel is his best work has exploded in the last couple of years. When I first saw a fill-in of his on Superman, my first thought was an odd familiarity mixed with an artistic excitement that rarely comes over me. Probably not unlike many comics followers, I said to myself, "This is Gary Frank?" Indeed it was and on further inspection it had all of his qualities encased in a hard-edged, crisp determination that fit Superman like a glove. Thankfully more than a few recognized this as well, and Frank was soon onto producing story arcs and regular covers. Frank is currently oft-aided no less deftly by Jon Sibal, a highly skilled (and adaptable) inker in his own right.

With Superman: Brainiac, we are treated to a re-introduction of the titular villain that is one of the best. Writer Geoff Johns continues his path on quilting the DCU from his personal whole cloth, which I've found questionable on more than one occasion. But I do have to say, when he gets it, he gets it. It's a very powerful and driven version of Superman and Clark Kent, facing off against a Brainiac that's every bit as cunning, calculated, and ruthless as one would expect him to be. Some riveting conflicts and truly great battle scenes lead to a tragic end, where the climax of Superman and Brainiac's rivalry shadows the far away death of Pa Kent. The theme of Superman not being able to save everyone has been seen many times-- here the combination of story and art make it one of the more memorable ones.

Again, enough can't be said of Frank's work on these chapters. His Superman's features ever-so-slightly invoke the memory Christopher Reeve with an effortless consistency that can only be the mark of a master artist. All of his characters are great, from Lois Lane to Supergirl, and the supporting cast as well. Rarely is a villain as one-note as Brainiac been represented with a depiction of power that matches his eerie state of being. The fight scenes are just fantastic to look at. And all the moments in between-- the whole book is a visual treat from start to finish.

Oh, and everything said above can also be said of Superman and the Legion of Superheroes, which is even better!