New Comic Reviews! (4-2-14)

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American Vampire: Second Cycle #1

Scott Snyder (writer), Rafael Albuquerque (artist). Covers by Albuquerque and Jae Lee.

 DC’s fan-favourite horror title has made its triumphant return, with a new ongoing series that catches up with our titular American Vampires in the mid 1960s. Aspiring actress-turned-bloodsucker Pearl Jones has returned to her birthplace in the Midwest, where she’s taken to sheltering a mysterious group of runaways. Meanwhile, roguish antihero Skinner Sweet has become a highwayman operating on the U.S.-Mexico border. As fate would have it, the two are set to be reunited by the emergence of a common enemy known only as the Grey Trader.

 The first volume of American Vampire hit at a time when vampire stories ruled nearly every form of mass media. Now that Twilight-mania has thankfully faded (and the zeitgeist has moved on to endless zombie stories), a lesser property may well have overstayed its welcome. That said, Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque continue to impress with their ambitious attempt to reinvent vampire mythology, through the eyes of the fascinating characters of Pearl and Skinner. In this issue, we only scrape the surface of what’s changed with the duo since they last crossed paths, but that’s actually a good thing – though Second Cycle is a direct continuation of four years’ worth of American Vampire comics, this issue is nonetheless a perfect jumping on point for new readers. If you’re not completely burnt out on all-things vampire, cheek this book out.

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Anne Bonnie #1

“The Journey Begins”

Lelan-Estes  and Tom Yates (writers), Yates and Lelan Estes (artists). Cover by Yates.

 I knew absolutely nothing about this book when I picked it up last week, based solely on its striking cover image. It’s always somewhat of a gamble to grab a first issue of a new series, from a publisher you’ve never heard of (the upstart company Blue Juice Comics in this case) – suffice to say, there are often issues with quality control. I’m happy to say however that Anne Bonnie #1 was a pleasant surprise, delivering the first chapter in a high-fantasy pirate adventure story that evokes the best of Disney, with a little Avatar: The Last Airbender thrown in for good measure.

 The story stars our heroine Ariana, a young adventurer who grew up as the ward of the dickish Lord Firestorm. Using an amulet given to her by her only childhood friend, Ariana absconds with a magical galleon that Firestorm had kept chained within her keep, and sets out become a pirate, inspired by her hero, the legendary buccaneer queen Anne Bonnie.

 Ariana is instantly likable as a protagonist, and I love the quirky charm Tom Yates gives to her expressions and movements. At a time when it’s increasingly hard to find comics appropriate for younger readers, especially ones outside the superhero genre, this book is incredibly refreshing.

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Trinity of Sin: Pandora #9

“Forever Evil: Blight pt. 17- The Battle of Nanda Parbat”

Ray Fawkes (writer), Francis Portela (artist). Cover by Julian Totino Tedesco.

 For those of you who stopped paying attention to “Forever Evil” and it’s “Blight” side-story ages ago, Felix Faust has been weaponizing magical heroes in service to the Crime Syndicate, but with the death of his ally Nick Necro last issue, suddenly the whole plan is falling apart. Now’s the time for Pandora and the Justice League Dark to strike back… and it’s only been several months since the point that I would have cared.

 There’s nothing functionally wrong about this particular comic… the artwork is good, the story is inoffensive and goes along at a brisk enough pace to at least keep my attention. For god’s sake though, at this point “Forever Evil” has dragged on for SEVEN MONTHS. And, given that the storyline started off as below average and just went downhill from there, I’m completely running out of ways to say that “Forever Evil” is just a complete and utterly dismal failure on every conceivable level. And thanks to shipping delays, we still have two months to go before someone finally sticks a fork in this turkey. God help us.

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God Is Dead #9

Mike Costa (writer), Juan Frigeri and Fernando Heinz (artists). Covers by Jacen Burrows and German Nobile.

 Well, here’s a comic that I should have been reading from day one. Thebrainchild of Jonathan Hickman, God Is Dead began with the premise that all the ancient gods of myth and legend have returned to Earth, and as a result all hell has broken loose. By this point in the story, several of the most powerful gods have been permanently destroyed, their pantheons are left in chaos, and a group of humans are gathering allies to declare war on the nigh-omnipotent Gaea. Meanwhile, a conspiracy between trickster gods that began over a century ago nears fruition. All this, plus ultra-violence and gratuitous nudity! It’s like this comic was made just for me.

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Iron Man #23.NOW

“Rings of the Mandarin pt. 1”

Kieron Gillen (writer), Luke Ross (artist). Covers by Michael Del Mundo, Leonard Kirk, Jennifer Parks and Joe Quinones.

 In a departure from the last few “All-New Marvel Now!” comics I’ve reviewed in weeks past, the latest issue of Iron Man actually succeeds in its presumable goal of offering a solid jumping-on point for new readers. “Rings of the Mandarin” continues the ongoing threat of the Mandarin’s sentient and incredibly dangerous rings seeking out hosts to wield them against Tony Stark. Now, the looming threat to Stark and all he holds dear grows even larger, as the rings earn the attention of Malekith, king of the Dark Elves, who would love nothing more than to add their might to his already impressive power.

 This comic is great. Kieron Gillen has been absolutely killing it on this title for the last year, perfectly balancing action with humour, and nailing the cocky charm that makes Tony Stark such a fun character to read about, whether he’s in or out of the armour. Luke Ross is no slouch either – I’ve been a fan of his since his run on Captain America a few years back, and it’s really cool seeing him working with more fantastic elements, like the mystic realm of Svartaflheim.

 The concept of evil power rings still feels a bit too much like a Sinestro Corps rehash for my taste, but I can’t deny that Gillen is slowly winning me over. This is definitely a series worth checking out, an this is the perfect issue to do so.

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Thor: God of Thunder #20

“The Last Days of Midgard pt. 2- All Worlds Must Die”

Jason Aaron (writer), Esad Ribic (artist). Covers by Ribic and Nic Klein.

 “The Last Days of Midgard” sees the God of Thunder taking on the role of an eco-warrior, alongside Roz Solomon, an idealistic young S.H.I.E.L.D. agent assigned to the organization’s fledgling Environmental Action Team. On the other side of the situation is the empirically evil Roxxon Energy C.E.O. Dario “The Minotaur” Agger, a ruthless businessman whose corporate malfeasance falls squarely in the realm of cartoonish super-villainy. And in a parallel story set far in the future, King Thor stands alone on the burnt out husk that was once the planet Earth, the last line of defence against the planet’s seemingly inevitable final fate – complete annihilation at the hands of Galactus.

 As much as I agree with their message, stories like this often turn me off, as they usually devolve into heavy-handed moralizing and forced clichés. In fact, I was just complaining about a story like that that appeared in the pages of Savage Wolverine over the past few months. Thankfully, Jason Aaron escapes that trap by exaggerating the conflict to the point that it becomes ridiculous. The scene where Dario Agger runs through Roxxon’s various anti-Green policies is so insanely creative and over-the-top that he goes from being a stereotypical evil business magnate into a straight-up Bond Villain, by way of Charles Montgomery Burns. The “save the world” message is still there – and it’s no less valid or poignant – but for once, it’s also fun to read about.

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