New Comic Reviews! (3-5-14)

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Cataclysm: The Ultimates’ Last Stand #5

Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Mark Bagley (artist). Covers by Bagley and Jorge Coehlo.

 There was a time when I was a huge proponent of the Ultimate Marvel Universe. At a time when many Marvel books felt stagnant, the Ultimate line was a fresh and exciting new look at established characters, in a line that allowed writers to take chances and make changes, presumably with the aim of creating accessible comics for new readers who weren’t interested in slogging through decades of established continuity. For awhile, all of that worked… gradually though, the Ultimate Marvel Universe grew to be nearly as convoluted as the regular Marvel line, and several awful storylines in a row (namely the abhorrent Ultimates 3 and Ultimatum) put the entire line in a tailspin it never really pulled out of.

 As such, Cataclysm was really Ultimate Marvel’s last stab at relevance. With the story hook of a transplanted Galactus coming to eat the Ultimate Earth, this was an opportunity to either clean house, or to end the line completely. Without spoiling anything you wouldn’t get just from seeing what books are solicited for next month, the Ultimate Line doggedly lives on… but the question is, where can they go from here that will really matter?

 Questions of the future aside, this was a solid enough miniseries, which delivered some decent twists, and enough ramifications that it at least felt like it happened for a reason. The reteaming of long-time Ultimate Spider-Man collaborators Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley was an always welcome pairing, though it perhaps underscores just how far the Ultimate line has strayed from its starting point. I suppose we’ll see next month whether Cataclysm’s legacy will be a revitalization of what was at one point Marvel’s flagship imprint, or if it was just another nail in the coffin of a line that has seemingly overstayed its welcome.

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The Wake #6

Scott Snyder (writer), Sean Murphy (artist). Cover by Andrew Robinson.

 After a brief hiatus, Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy’s sci-fi/horror series return, bringing with it a change in venue and genre. Gone are the nods to Alien and The Thing, as the series jump forward in time by two centuries, to a post-Apocalyptic Earth that perhaps brings unwanted comparisons to Waterworld. A race of savage Merfolk have caused the polar icecaps to melt, sinking all the world’s coastal cities, and relegating humanity to inland shantytowns. What remains of America is now held in the iron grip of the evil Governess Vivienne, and any attempt to contact the rest of the world is seen as treasonous, and punishable by death.

 In all honesty, I preferred The Wake’s previous narrative style, so this second act has thus far left me feeling a bit underwhelmed. It feels like all of these regressed-civilization dystopian tropes have been done before – sometimes better, sometimes much worse, but done to death in either case. Still, Snyder is one of the most inventive writers in DC’s stable right now, and clearly he has ambitious plans for the remaining four issues of this miniseries. So let’s say, we’ll give it one more month, and see how things shake out. Right now though, as second parts go, this is less Godfather II, more Highlander II: The Quickening.

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Legends of Red Sonja #4

Gail Simone, Mercedes Lackey and Marjorie M. Liu (writers), Jack Jadson, Nei Ruffino and Phil Noto (artists). Covers by Jay Anacleto and Frank Thorne.

 As one might expect from the title, Legends of Red Sonja is a miniseries that looks at the mythology of the She-Devil with a Sword, but with the clever selling point of having an all-women writing team. Gail Simone, writer of the ongoing Red Sonja series, is joined by a rotating cast of female collaborators, this issue being veteran fantasy novelist Mercedes Lackey, and Marjorie Liu, of X-23 and Astonishing X-Men fame.

 Given that Red Sonja is a character that can just as easily be written as a feminist icon or as a T&A bad girl stereotype, it’s refreshing to see how well Simone and company have managed to establish her as a strong, well-rounded heroine. In this particular issue, Lackey plays with how Sonja’s larger-than-life mystique contrasts with her more grounded real self, while Liu provides some good old-fashioned sword and sorcery action, with a surprising twist ending. Simone’s contribution (which serves as both framing sequence and the ongoing plot thread between issues) falls somewhere in the middle, pitting Sonja against a band of mercenaries that are out for her blood. It’s all very well written and drawn (my favourite artist this time around is Phil Noto, whose slightly unpolished style fits the story perfectly). For fans of Red Sonja, or of the low-fantasy genre in general, this miniseries definitely deserves a look.

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Guardians of the Galaxy #12

“The Trial of Jean Grey pt. 4”

Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Sara Pichelli and Stuart Immonen (artists). Covers by Pichelli and Dale Keown.

 I’m not going to go into this one too much, since we just looked at the previous part of “The Trial of Jean Grey” a few weeks ago. The story is still well written, the art is still great, you know the drill. With that said, the scene where an emotionally vulnerable teenage Cyclops is comforted by a sexy female clone of Wolverine? Guaranteed, that inspired at least a thousand slash-fics this week. Good work, Bendis.

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Forever Evil: A.R.G.U.S. #5

“The Cages and Courageous”

Sterling Gates (writer), Neil Edwards (artist). Cover by Jeremy Roberts.

 Yes folks, “Forever Evil” continues to lurch along, far past the point that it went from being hilariously bad to just plain awful. A desperate plan has been hatched to rescue the superheroes trapped within the Firestorm Matrix, and now the fate of the world rests on the burly shoulders of Wonder Woman’s dickhead ex-boyfriend, Steve Trevor. This time around, his mission brings him into conflict with the Cheetah and her fellow escapees from the Island of Doctor Moreau, and given that Trevor’s sole superpower it to speak completely in exposition and action movie clichés, the world’s pretty much doomed.

 Forever Evil: A.R.G.U.S. was one of the first comics I ever reviewed on this blog, and while it’s at least developed into a coherent story, it hasn’t really gotten any better. Steve Trevor still isn’t a likeable protagonist. I can’t imagine that anyone cares much about villains like Zebra-Man and the Weasel. The dialogue here is among the worst you’ll see in any professionally made comic. Most of all, the entire “Forever Evil” storyline feels like it’s gone on three months past the point that anyone cared. Enough is enough, already.

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Superman #28

“Under Fire”

Scott Lobdell (writer), Brett Booth (artist). Covers by Ed Benes and Jeff Wamester.

 There’s a famous bit of wisdom that Stan Lee used to impart on Marvel writers, that being that every comic book is somebody’s first. The idea is a simple one, but it’s often overlooked – if you want to build and maintain a reader base for an ongoing series, each issue should be at least somewhat accessible to new fans. With that in mind, let’s say this is my first Superman comic – I’m passively familiar with the characters and setting, but this is my first look at the comic. I open the book up, and immediately I’m lost. Lois Lane has psychic powers now? Superman is hanging out with a purple-haired woman in lower Earth orbit? Jimmy Olsen is a billionaire, but he’s sleeping on Clark Kent’s couch? I’m not saying we need pages upon pages of forced expository dialogue or anything, but can we maybe get a recap page or something?

 When I last looked at this series three months ago, I came down on it pretty hard. Coming at it with fresh eyes, there have definitely been some improvements. In fact, outside of Grant Morrison’s run on Action Comics, this might be the best portrayal of Superman in the post-“New 52” DC Universe. For once, Superman is kind and inspirational, thoughtful and a pillar of strength, not the dense thug or bubble-headed Pollyanna he’s usually depicted as these days. And that’s good, because the role of overly combative, obnoxious “hero” goes to this month’s guest star from Scott Lobdell’s other book, Red Hood and the Outlaws’ Starfire. So while we come so, so close to this being a quality comic book, it still ends on the distasteful note of heroes acting like assholes to one another, and fighting for absolutely no reason – a pattern that much of the “New 52” has been built on, and not for the better.

 I will say though, I loved the artwork in this comic. Brett Booth is often lumped in with the many artists at DC right now that seem like Jim Lee clones, and while Lee’s influence is certainly evident, Booth’s work really stands on its own. His pencils are clean and stylish, with a slightly cartoony flair. I also loved Andrew Dalhouse’s coloring, which made this book exactly as bright and vibrant as a Superman comic should be.

 So I don’t know… I’d say give this comic a shot, but if you maybe get distracted by a phone call part way through, and forget to read the last three or four pages, you’ll probably enjoy the whole affair all that much more.

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