(Not So) New Comic Reviews! (3-25-14)

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Uber #10

Kieron Gillen (writer), Caanan White (artist). Covers by White, Michael Dipascale and Gabriel Andrade.

 It’s not often that a writer, when describing his new comic series, says that he hopes people won’t enjoy reading it. Partway through your first issue of Uber, you’ll see what Kieron Gillen meant. The idea of combining superhero tropes with World War II is a rather hoary old cliché by now, but here Gillen rejects the more fantastic elements of the capes and tights set in favour of a comparatively more realistic depiction of a world where the Nazis develop the technology to create superhuman forces. The result is something much darker, much uglier… and much more compelling to read about.

 This issue sees Uber approaching the end of its first story arc. Following the first major defeat of the Nazi’s superhuman “Battleships,” the Allied and Axis forces have reached a temporary stalemate. As the British scramble to develop a viable superhuman of their own, the Nazi forces prepare for a high risk offensive, sending one of the Battleships on a potential suicide run.

 Uber is superb. Gillen’s story is a well-imagined, logical extrapolation of actual history, drawing on both real historical figures and events, and seventy-five years of comic book ideas. His approach to superhuman science fiction shows a rare restraint and realism, and the story is that much stronger for it. Additionally, Caanan White’s artwork is absolutely stellar, capturing both the larger-than-life action of post-human warfare, and the visceral horror of battlefields and death camps. I particularly enjoyed White’s facial expressions – even without reading a word of dialogue, it’s immediately evident which characters are haunted by the atrocities of war, which are struggling with barely contained rage, and which are revelling in sadistic glee in the death that surrounds them.

 This is a series that goes down some very dark paths, and it should go without saying that’s it’s not for all tastes, and is certainly not for younger readers. If you’re willing to endure the experience though, Uber is one of the best independent series out there right now.

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X-Men: Legacy #300

“ForgetMeNot”

Mike Carey, Christos Gage and Simon Spurrier (writers), Tan Eng Huat, Steve Kurth and Rafa Sandoval (artists). Cover by Clay Mann.

 Using some impressively fuzzy math, Marvel Comics has somehow determined that this month marks the three hundredth issue of X-Men: Legacy… somehow. To commemorate this momentous occasion, past X-Men writers Mike Carey and Christos Gage join regular series writer Simon Spurrier to produce what may well be the worst comic of the year so far. This happy little tale starts with facial mutilation and the rape culture of college athletics, moves on to suicidal depression and pointless war, and eventually settles on racism and the emptiness of a life where no one cares about you. This meandering journey through the worst elements of the human condition then takes a turn for the emotionally exploitative, as Spurrier and friends try to tack on the heavy-handed moral that “the way the world sees you isn’t as important as the way you see the world.”

 It’s almost funny that even coming immediately after a comic where the Holocaust is a central plot point, X-Men Legacy #300 is still the most unpleasant thing I’ve read this week. This comic is an ugly, emotionally empty and utterly unpalatable geek show, that I can’t imagine would appeal to anyone. It’s one thing to produce a comic that has absolutely nothing worth saying; it’s quite another to write one that says nothing in the most obnoxious way possible.

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Death Sentence #6

Montynero (writer), Mike Dowling (artist). Cover by Montynero.

 So this one has an interesting premise… Death Sentence is set in a world threatened by a rare STD known as G-Plus, which gives superpowers to those who contract it, but also kills them within six months. One of the virus’ victims is a Jim Morrison-lookalike named Monty, who uses his newfound powers to go out in style, by brutally taking over England, slaughtering the royal family and the prime minister, and plunging the nation into violent anarchy. (One would hope Death Sentence’s Monty isn’t an author-insert character from the series’ similarly named writer… if so, someone might want to send Montynero in for a psych exam). The only two people who have any hope of stopping Monty’s reign of terror are two fellow G-Plus victims, a self-professed tortured artist named Verity, and a drug-addled burnout named Weasel.

 Death Sentence is highly sexually charged and incredibly violent, but also strangely poetic at times. Once again, it is also very dark… this is a hell of a week for super-powered rat bastards. On paper, the series might sound like just a dirtier version of the old Marvel series Strikeforce: Morituri, but it actually has a lot more in common with deeper work, like Alan Moore The Original Writer’s run on Miracleman. More than anything, Death Sentence seems like a reimagining of Akira (which this issue actually name-checks), both in terms of story content and even specific imagery. The difference is, whereas both the Akira manga and anime frequently crossed over into self-important navel-gazing, Death Sentence is aggressively unpretentious, actively working to deflate its own ego whenever things get a little too high concept. It’s very difficult to pull that kind of dynamic off without slipping into hipster-chic post-ironic bullshit, but Death Sentence treads the line perfectly. This is a book that’s every bit as thought-provoking as it is shocking, and with this first miniseries now completed, I’m eager to see where Montynero takes the property next.

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Black Widow #4

“Public Enemy”

Nathan Edmondson (writer), Phil Noto (artist and cover)

 Black Widow is another of Marvel’s current series of stripped-down Avengers titles, a stylish espionage comic with only the barest trappings of the superhero genre. This issue sees our eponymous heroine going up against a fanatical Russian assassin, whose brazen attacks on high-profile political figures has left S.H.I.E.L.D. at a standstill.

 “Public Enemy” is certainly a well-written story, but more than that, it’s an incredibly well-drawn one. The design and visual flow that Phil Noto employs here is nothing short of masterful. In particular, there’s a double page spread that achieves the near impossible, by capturing a sense of slow-motion in a medium where time and speed are entirely artificial constructs dependant on the reader’s perception. It’s a brilliant piece of narrative artwork, the kind that every aspiring artist should take notes on.

 I will say this though… this is a very strange time to read a comic about Russian acts of war – especially one which ends with a character being tasked with destroying an airplane. Any parallels to real-world events is, of course, coincidental… but that doesn’t make it any less awkward.

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Deadpool #25.NOW

“Deadpool vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. pt. 5.NOW”

Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn (writers), Mike Hawthorne (artist). Covers by Mark Brooks, Katie Cook and Phil Noto.

 Once again, Marvel has chosen a very strange issue to attach its “All-New Marvel Now” tag to. One would think that the last part of a five-part story, that is also the culmination of the entire series to date, would be the absolute worst time for a new reader to try to jump aboard… especially when the next issue promises, and I quote, “Time-Traveling Hitler,” which is pretty much the ideal Deadpool pitch. For now though, we get a rematch between Deadpool and Crossbones, and learn the final fates of semi-dead S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Emily Preston, and her traitorous former commander (and general douchebag) Agent Gorman. It’s typically excellent stuff, but if you haven’t been following the past year’s stories, you might want to hold off on checking Deadpool until next month.

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Fantastic Four #2

“The Fall of the Fantastic Four pt. 2”

James Robinson (writer), Leonard Kirk (artist). Covers by Kirk and Arthur Adams.

 Of all the “All-New Marvel Now!” titles, this is the one I’m the most torn on. I’m pretty sure I’ve written before about James Robinson’s inconsistency as a writer, having produced some of the best (Starman, The Golden Age) and worst (Cry for Justice, his Justice League of America run) comics I’ve ever read. So far, this might be the least polarizing book he’s done, falling squarely in the realm of adequacy. On the plus side, this issue features some cool ideas, like the return of the Heroes Reborn Counter-Earth and a big status quo shakeup for a member of the team. On the other hand, much of the dialogue consists of unnecessary exposition and stilted non-jokes, and the book frequently violates the golden rule of comics, which is “show, don’t tell.”

 Luckily, Leonard Kirk’s excellent artwork goes a long way toward elevating the inconsistent story. This is the title that Kirk was born to draw, as his clean, expressive line work and dynamic compositions reflect the visual style that Jack Kirby first established back in 1961, and that every subsequent Fantastic Four artist has done their best to emulate.

 While I’m somewhat on the fence about this book right now, the ambitious scope and impressive art are more than enough to stick around for a few more issues to see where this goes. Fingers crossed.

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