Review: Green Hornet Year One #1

“Green Hornet: Year One”

Writer/ Art Director: Matt Wagner
Artist: Aaron Campbell
Colorist: Francesco Francavilla
Letterer: Simon Bowland

Four different covers available for this first issue, and no fewer than four ads for other Green Hornet titles inside the book itself. Dynamite’s definitely latched onto a presumed cash cow here and are intent on milking it for all it’s worth.

Matt Wagner cover for Green Hornet: Year One #1.

Kato? What're you doing down there?

Wagner, on the other hand, has always had a strong affinity for pulp heroes, and his genre reflexes are sharp as ever. There’s a lot of “What th’ hell is DIS crap?!” from Chicago mob mooks and long, inscrutable lectures from Kato’s samurai father. I did have a bit of a pause at Kato demonstrating his English, though; the line is written in dialect in a way that comes off as uncomfortable parody, sort of like Claremont’s crazy Scots and Irish brogues. I think I might’ve been happier with stilted syntax, in place of a written-in accent stereotype, in Kato’s case. Sure, the broad depiction of Asians speaking English is a 1930s pulp standard, but I’m uneasy with it all the same.

The book is divided into two A-plots, involving Kato and Britt respectively, and one B-plot where they team up to take on some gangsters. Kato and Britt’s separate plot arcs deal in a lot of the same emotional territory from different cultural angles, playing up their similarities. Where Britt is impatient with his father’s insistence on the power of journalism to dismantle the Chicago Mob, Kato disagrees with his father’s opposition to the rule of Emperor Hirohito. We don’t get to see, yet, how any of that adolescent rebellion plays out for them; we see them fighting together as adults, but the rest of that road is left for the next three issues.

Aaron Campbell provides gritty pencils and sharp, darkly-defined inks, while Francesco Francavilla lays down menacing oranges and reds in sharp contrast to Britt’s green costume. Wagner’s obviously had a hand here in specifying how the color work should look and what mood it should convey; I’m reminded of the work of Jeromy Cox, Wagner’s colorist on Mage: The Hero Defined. That’s not a bad thing; I’m a huge fan of Cox’s work, and Francavilla could do a lot worse than to earn the comparison. The reds and oranges spill into the gutters, too, a nice artistic touch that provides a sense of cohesion to the page.

We don’t get a lot of original development or new riffage on the Hornet’s gangbustin’ crusader concept here. What we do get is a lot of setup and one pretty solid gangster beatdown, and if you like the Green Hornet already, that’s probably what you were expecting. I could wish for a little more nuance, but that’s really not what pulp is for, is it?

Review: Madame Xanadu #19

Madame Xanadu 19 cover by Hadley and Friend.

Caution: Huffing Aqua Net may cause uncontrollable spells of nymphs and pixies.

“Broken House of Cards, Chapter Four: Squabbles and Spells”

Writer: Matt Wagner
Penciler: Joëlle Jones
Inker: David Hahn
Colorist: Lee Loughbridge
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher
Cover: Amy Reeder Hadley and Richard Friend

Slim pickings this week on my end; I handed Fantastic Four off to Chad when we got home, which left me with New Avengers and this book. I don’t feel like I have enough backplot to tackle New Avengers, so that leaves me with Madame X. (I also have the omnibus Losers TPB, but I’ve got to get to bed sometime tonight.)

Over the last few years, Matt Wagner’s fallen into the role of secret chronicler of the DC Universe. He filled in Bruce Wayne’s early adventuring career with Batman and the Monster Men and Batman and the Mad Monk, both of which occur in the space of time before the introduction of the Joker and the further solidification of Batman’s rogues’ gallery. Wesley Dodds and Dian Belmont had their pre-JSA adventures enumerated in Sandman Mystery Theatre. If there’s a space of a year, or a few years, where Wagner can think of a good spate of adventures for someone, chances are he’ll run with it.

Madame Xanadu takes the chronicler concept a step further, giving Nimue free reign to aid and abet heroes across the entire span of DC history. Sure, there’s a romantic subplot with the Phantom Stranger every couple hundred years, but Nimue’s primary arc is about how she copes with being one of the last ageless survivors of the Arthurian tragedy.

Of course, the book wouldn’t work if all Nimue ever faced were borrowed adversaries and her own problems with the Stranger, and this issue digs into the Madame’s own history with her siblings. Morganna is Nimue’s archfoe, her shadow sister, and their rivalry sets the backdrop for the entire book. They’re an epic-level Goofus and Gallant; if Nimue had an orange, she’d share it with you, but Morganna would always steal the last apple. Where Nimue gravitates to the wise-woman/ shamaness role, Morganna tends to work woe in the more active tradition of Old English and Norse spae-craft, causing mayhem and capriciously striking people dead.

Plot-wise, this issue isn’t anything we didn’t see in the first arc of Madame Xanadu; it recaps Nimue and Morganna’s early adolescence in Avalon and their constant conflicts. However, it does so beautifully. Joëlle Jones (also known for her work on Dr. Horrible at Dark Horse) handles the art deftly, lending the story a Classical touch. Inker David Hahn (Murderland, Fables) never overwhelms the linework, keeping everything crisp and well-defined. The color palette from Lee Loughridge (who doesn’t seem to have a central website of his own, more’s the pity) is sylvan and restrained, a striking contrast to the bright colors of the ongoing 1950s plot from last issue. Jared Fletcher busts out the proper medieval feel for the lettering, which just makes the issue seem like an actual tattered codex from the DCU’s past. Really nice work all around by the art team, and, well, Wagner writing high fantasy is Wagner writing high fantasy– you either love it, like I do, or you find it a bit on the purple-prose side of things. For the first part of a recap two-parter, this book is pretty solid in design and concept.

They Say It’s Your Birthday!

Today is Janice’s birthday, so happy birthday to her. As such things are a little busy around the Department as we celebrate. Not to fear, though! There’s another exciting segment of The Best Characters of 2009 in the pipe, and tomorrow night, being new comics night, will see more reviews. In the mean time, have some awesome art. This was a piece I commissioned from Department H favorite and all around great guy Matt Wagner as a wedding present for myself and Janice back in 2008. It was a surprise for her, and Matt was a real champ about both having it ready by SDCC that year and really milking the surprise when we got to his table. It’s of Tuncer and Rotini Barilla, our main characters that we played on City of Heroes.


He took liberty with the chest slider, but it's still awfully heroic.

Enjoy, and we’ll see you tomorrow!

Linguistic Adventures with Madame Xanadu!

Madame Xanadu summoning will-o-wisps.

"Look at her æsc, Becky. It's just so... ligated."

Madame Xanadu #19 comes out this week, which reminded me that I’ve long meant to get my linguistic freak on, haul out my grimoires, and provide some insight into my favorite fortunetelling wood nymph’s spellcasting technique.

Unlike, say, Zatanna or Bastard John, Madame X eschews modern English when she needs to throw down some sorcery. As one might expect of a mage who did most of her learning in the Arthurian era, she defaults to Old English— not the malt liquor, but the language of the Anglo-Saxons, common from the 5th to the 12th centuries.

Luckily for us, Old English is pretty exhaustively documented in resources like An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary by Joseph Bosworth and, later, T. Northcote Toller. Like some sort of Old English Tobin’s Spirit Guide, it’s often just called “Bosworth and Toller.” To compile the glossary below, I used Bosworth and Toller, supplementing it with Wiktionary‘s Old English resources and some references from Clark-Hall’s A Concise Anglo-Saxon dictionary.

If you were looking to follow along in Madame Xanadu, I’d suggest the online Bosworth and Toller; if you’d rather have a book beside you to reference while you read, use Clark-Hall, it’s only ten bucks and it covers most of the major vocabulary.

Anyway! The glossary of Madame Xanadu’s Anglo-Saxon spellcasting terms!

ábelpecian: Anyone? I’ve got nothing, not in Bosworth and Toller and not in Wiktionary, and not in Hall and Merrit.

áblindan: “To blind.”

áfeorsian: “To expel.”

ástencan: “To scatter.”

áswefecian: “To extirpate.”

atemian: “To subdue.”

áwærian ingemynd: “To avoid memory;” in this case, to escape being remembered by onlookers.

áworpennes ísenbend: “Rejection of iron bondage,” sort of an “Accio GTFO!”

cierran: “To turn,” I think. (cf. undercierran, “to subvert”)

clænsung: “A cleansing; a chastening.”

dæges: “daily.”

fisc hléapettan: “fish, leap up”

Madame Xanadu summons fish.

You'll think you're lookin' at Aquaman: Nimue summons fisc to the disc.

geanhweórfa: Actually geánhweorfan, “to turn again or return.”

geósceaftgást andswaru: “Dire spirit, answer.”

hæl abeódan: An evocation of health and well-being.

ingefeallan: “To declare or reveal.” Sometimes seen as ingefællan, which I think is a misspelling. I, personally, would not want to be the letterer on this book.

lædan néosan: “To seek out new roads.”

Madame Xanadu summons a questing orb.

For the rest of us, there's an app for that.

lígbryne geweald: “Burn with the power of flame.” (Actually spelled lígbyrne.)

lígetræsc: “Lightning,” or, in this case, will-o-the-wisps. (Actually líg-ræsc.)

niehst: “nearest”

níwia: No clue. Not in the dictionaries I’m using. Anyone?

slápian: An evocation of sleep. To make sleepy.

ymbsprecan neódfreón: “Speak earnestly and freely.” This is a super-compound phrase and you’ll have to look up the individual bits in Bosworth and Toller.

yppan: “bring forth”

(Mad props to Chris “Slarti” Pinard for providing images for this post.)