New Comic Reviews! (2-8-14)

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Archie #652

“Archie’s Rockin’ World Tour pt. 3 – Blunder Down Under!”

Dan Parent (writer and artist). Covers by Parent and Stephanie Buscema.

 It used to be somewhat of a truism that Archie comics never changed. Trapped in an idyllic but anachronistic world that only every existed in the world of 1950s family shows, Archie and The Gang were an anchor of consistency (or perhaps stagnation) in an ever-changing industry.

 And yet, Archie comics have indeed evolved, especially over the past few years. The cast has expanded, and become more ethnically diverse. An openly gay teen was added to the cast. Perhaps most surprisingly, Archie finally gave up the Sisyphean task of chasing Betty and Veronica and ended up dating Valerie Brown, of Josie and the Pussycats fame. There’s also been a transition into using more serialized stories, instead of the easily to reprint four-to-six page shorts that were the norm for so many years.

 Part three of “Archie’s Rockin’ World Tour” takes Archie and his friends to Australia, where he and Josie try to work past a recent break up, while nefarious meddlers Cheryl Blossom and Alexandra Cabot try to keep the lovebirds apart. The story also features appearances from a ton of obscure ancillary characters from the past, from Katy Keene to the Madhouse Glads.

 While the massive cast of characters may prove to be intimidating for some readers, this is a solid comic book, perfect for a pre-teen audience (or older readers who want something lighter than the typical Marvel and DC fare). And hey, next month the Archies are coming to my own Home and Native Land, Canada… what a great time to hop on board, eh?

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Rover Red Charlie #3

“God Backwards”

Garth Ennis (writer), Michael DiPascale (artist and cover)

 Rover Red Charlie can be seen as the offspring of WE3 and The Walking Dead. It’s the end of human civilization as we know it, and three dogs – the eponymous Rover, Red and Charlie – try to find their way in the new world. It’s a surprisingly touching story about the complex nature of freedom, beautifully painted by Michael Dipascale. It’s also pretty screwed up at times.

 Despite the lush artwork that would easily fit a children’s book, this is decidedly adult-oriented material – though if you expected anything different from Garth Ennis, you’re probably not familiar with his body of work. Suffice to say, one moment it’s all Homeward Bound, the next there’s an interspecies act that’s a bit too much to even begin to describe in polite company.

 If you’re down with Ennis’ brand of humour – or if you have both Milo and Otis and The Human Centipede in your Netflix queue – give Rover Red Charlie a shot. If you’re more on the squeamish side, you may want to pass on this one.

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ImageAvengers A.I. #9

Sam Humphries (writer), André Lima Araújo (artist). Covers by David Marquez and David Nahayama

 It’s been a few months since we checked out Avengers A.I., and now we add to the fold a malevolent smart-phone app, superhero battles inside a virtual world unconfined by the laws of physics, and the introduction of an Avengers Megazord. We also have a new role for former Avenger Jocasta, and it’s one that I find incredibly problematic.

 As the story goes, the U.S. has passed legislation classifying sentient artificial intelligence as property, and S.H.I.E.L.D. has formed a Robot Hunter Squad to track down and eliminate rogue A.I.. Jocasta joins the group, nominally to preserve future peace between A.I. and humans, but since it’s been explicitly clear that S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t make any distinction between dangerous and benign A.I. units, how can one see Jocasta as anything other than an analogue for an Uncle Tom at best, or a Nazi-collaborating Judenrat at worst. Now that may well be exactly the visceral reaction that Sam Humphries is going for, but for the life of me I can’t see what direction he’s going with this story that doesn’t result in Jocasta being forever branded a voluntary collaborator to an A.I. ethnic cleansing.

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The Punisher #1

“Memento Mori”

Nathan Edmondson (writer), Mitch Gerads (artist). Covers by Gerads, Salvador Larroca, Chris Samnee and Skottie Young.

 For those of you who keep track of such things, this is the tenth comic series to go under the “Punisher” title. I’m pretty sure that’s a record. For this relaunch, Nathan Edmondson and Mitch Gerads are following Marvel’s recent trend of stripped-down, man-on-the-street books, inspired by the critical success of the Matt Fraction-penned Hawkeye. The story also relocates Frank Castle to California, which makes very little difference thematically, but at least gives a tenuous explanation for why Castle isn’t immediately recognized by everyone around him.

 There’s very little to differentiate Volume 10 from previous “Punisher” series. There’s a new story with all the trappings of past capers, there’s a new art team – I like Gerads’ take on Frank, he has kind of a Kurt Russell thing going on – but functionally, it’s business as usual. Then again, most Punisher fans (including myself) seem to be pretty content with the status quo, so I guess if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

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Painkiller Jane: The Price of Freedom #4

Jimmy Palmiotti (writer), Juan Santacruz (artist). Cover by Amanda Conner.

 Painkiller Jane really is an oddity in 2014. A relic of the “Bad Girl” craze of the early nineties, Jane has been resurrected in recent years, and presented in more serious stories, presumably in an attempt at legitimizing her as more than just cheap T&A. The cheesecake is still there of course, but these days it usually takes a back seat to the type of adventure-crime stories you’d expect to see starring The Human Target. “The Price of Freedom” was a decent enough story, which began with the simple premise of Jane being hired to protect a spoiled Middle Eastern princess, and featured some fun action sequences, and a fairly satisfying ending. It’s not brilliant, but it’s a competent enough story for fans of the genre.

 And if you’re just in it for the tits, they threw in a topless pin-up by Lee Moder at the end. Enjoy.

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X-Men #10.NOW

“Ghosts pt. 1”

Brian Wood (writer), Kris Anka and Clay Mann (artists). Cover by Terry Dodson.

 In the aftermath of the “Muertas” storyline, Marvel’s most estrogen-heavy mutant book sees M recovering from her battle with the Enchantress, while Arkea decides to expand the Sisterhood’s roster. Despite the “part one” in the title and the “All-New Marvel Now” branding, this is actually a rather poor jumping-on point for new readers. It’s a continuation from a prior storyline (that had no real ending), and deals with heavy, poorly explained continuity. This is also a comic where nothing really happens – the first three quarters of the story involves talking heads, while the last bit is mainly set up for a battle next month. I understand that the pacing of this series was probably planned out long before Marvel announced their second round of “Marvel Now” books, but to choose this particular issue as an introduction to the X-Men series is rather baffling.

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