New Comic Reviews! (5-15-14)

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New Avengers #17

“A Perfect World II”

Jonathan Hickman (writer), Rags Morales (artist). Covers by Leinil Francis Yu, Phil Jimenez and Paolo Rivera

 It’s been a little over a year since New Avengers launched with a story about the violent collapse of the Marvel multiverse. It was undoubtedly a huge concept, which echoed in the background of the main Avengers title, and served as an undercurrent to the Infinity event. Somewhat surprisingly, we’re still in the thick of it, with this issue setting up a battle between the Illuminati and a team of Justice League analogues, with both teams’ respective universes on the line.

 There’s no end in sight to the story that began with the ominous title “Everything Dies,” but unlike other recent storylines that dragged on and on (I’m looking at you, Forever Evil), Jonathan Hickman’s epic story continues to impress, and only seems to grow bigger and more impactful with every issue. Rags Morales is also the perfect compliment to the story – not only is Morales a huge talent, but he’s also one of the most influential artists in DC Comics’ recent history, lending extra impact to the JLA-inspired Great Society that have appeared in the last two issues.

 Hickman has always been a creator in the vein of Alan Moore, Grant Morrison or Jim Starlin, who writes on the largest scale possible. When the dust settles on his runs on both the New Avengers and Avengers titles, this may end up being seen as the story that forever defines his career.

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Clockwork Angels #2

Kevin J. Anderson (writer), Nick Robles (artist). Covers by Robles and Hugh Syme.

 There are a lot of things I might expect to see when I open up an indie comic with no prior information going in… seeing the credit “based on a story and lyrics by Neil Peart” isn’t really one of them. But sure enough, Clockwork Angels is the comic adaptation of the novelization of a 2012 Rush album of the same name. And as crazy as that might sound on paper, veteran science fiction writer Kevin J. Anderson and newcomer Nick Robles manage to pull it off.

 Clockwork Angels tells the story of a young man named Owen Hardy’s voyage through Crown City, a steam-punk fantasyland ruled by the enigmatic Watchmaker. The Watchmaker’s reign is only challenged by the equally mysterious Anarchist, whose acts of vandalism and urban guerrilla tactics threaten Crown City’s perfect clockwork order. It’s an interesting tale, one that lets the reader come to their own conclusions about the relationships between order and fascism, and between freedom and chaos. In the next few issues, the relation ship between the Watchmaker and Anarchist will no doubt be further revealed, as will be their influence on Hardy, but for now the moral ambiguity makes Clockwork Angels all the more interesting. Add in Nick Robles’ beautiful illustrations, and you end up with a real winner.

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Forever Evil Aftermath: Batman vs. Bane #1

“Batman vs. Bane: Black Dawn”

Peter J. Tomasi (writer), Scot Eaton (artist). Covers by Eaton and Kevin Nowlan.

 Huh… you know, I never would have thought of Commissioner Gordon as being a big fan of the Kinks. You learn something every day.

 As promised by the title, this one-shot sees Batman returning to Gotham City in the wake of the Crime Syndicate’s defeat. Now it’s time for him to set his own house in order by retaking Gotham and thoroughly kicking Bane’s ass. There’s not much more to this comic than that – it’s a seventeen page build up to Batman’s big homecoming, followed by a giant slugfest, replete with cheesy dialogue right out of an early nineties action movie. Hell, at one point Batman almost quotes the “I am the law” line from Judge Dredd.

 This comic is completely superficial, but gleefully so. It doesn’t aspire to be high art, but for what it aims to be, it’s quite well done. Now for God’s sake, can we please put Forever Evil behind us, once and for all?

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WWE Superstars #4

“Money in the Bank pt. 4- Last Ride”

Mick Foley and Shane Riches (writers), Alitha E. Martinez and Puste (artists). Covers by Jolyan Yates and Art Nichols.

 I don’t know who exactly it was that came up with the idea of taking the WWE Superstars and putting the into the world of Sin City, but that’s easily one of the most brilliant ideas I’ve ever seen on the comic page. WWE Superstars is completely and unapologetically over-the-top, but also manages to be weirdly true to every wrestler’s established gimmick and personality, and even does a good job of reflecting current WWE storylines (at least as of when the issue launched last December).

 This issue wraps up the series’ opening story arc, which began with disgraced ex-cop John Cena serving a year in prison, after being framed for the theft of a briefcase containing ten million dollars. Since then, war has broken out between Cena, the crooked district attorney Randy Orton, the revolutionaries Daniel Bryan and CM Punk, and each of their assorted allies within the denizens of Titan City.

 For the most part, the artwork in the pages of WWE Superstars has been above average – there have been a few awkward panels here or there, but given the demands of replicating not just the likeness of over a dozen wresters, but also their signature mannerisms and manoeuvres, Alitha Martinez has largely excelled. Unfortunately, this issue sees guest-artist Puste fill-in for four pages, and the result is a jarring decline in quality, which worse yet comes right at the climax of the plot. Puste (who drew the Hot Topic-exclusive preview to this series, which I haven’t read) simply isn’t at the same level as Martinez, and his lack of detail and awkward layouts don’t do this book any favours. Puste’s section also sees a change in colorists (from Jayjay Jackson to Laurie E. Smith), and with that an unwelcome and unnecessary change from realistic backgrounds to panels backed by Technicolor speed-lines. It’s a shame too, because the drop in art quality almost sucks the life out of the big scene that everything up to this point has been building up to.

 Moving forward, it’ll be interesting to see how changes in the real-life WWE will be reflected in this series. Most notably, the “Money in the Bank” storyline was largely built around CM Punk, who made a very abrupt exit from the company at the end of January.

 This comic certainly isn’t for all tastes – non-wrestling fans will likely be baffled by it, and wrestling purists may hate the elaborate setting – but I unabashedly love it, an can’t wait to see what happens next.

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All-New X-Factor #7

Peter David (writer), Carmine Di Giandomenico (artist). Cover by Kris Anka.

 Having previously operated as a team of undercover “mutant hunters,” a government-sponsored strike force, and a group of private investigators, Marvel’s newest version of X-Factor seems the team reorganized as a corporate-run superhero team. This issue sees our mostly-mutant-heroes working outside their purview though, as they delve into the murky life of Scott Dakei, an anti-mutant bigot who just happens to also be a best-selling author. This being the Marvel Universe though, the writer isn’t just an Orson Scott Card stand in… he’s also a heavily armed survivalist who operates out of a high-tech fortress, and who commands his own private militia.

 Most of the story deals with the moral questions surrounding Dakei’s daughter, who he may or may not be holding against her will. Should she be “rescued,” if that means abducting her from her father? Does she even want to go? These are complicated issues, and Peter David does his usual bang-up job of exploring all the gray areas. Ever member of the team has a different opinion about what they’re doing – not all of them agree with the direction they’re going, and everyone approaches the issue with their own set of morals and prejudices.

 I can’t say that this is one of my favourite books right now, but David and artist Carmine Di Giandomenico are still serving up a high-quality product. What really grabbed me, even more than the main story, are all the little quirks I noticed the second time through… the way Gambit is always surrounded by stray cats, and Warlock’s quiet (and fruitless) attempts to impress Danger. It took a little while, but All-New X-Factor eventually won me over… at least enough to check it out again next month.

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Action Comics #31

“Superman: Doomed – Infected pt. 1: True Believers”

Greg Pak (writer), Aaron Kuder, Rafa Sandoval and Cameron Stewart (artists). Covers by Kuder and Mike Allred.

 The latest knock-down, drag-out battle between Superman and Doomsday has ended with Doomsday torn to shreds, but in defeat he may have brought the Man of Steel to his knees. Having absorbed Doomsday’s newfound death-aura to save the town of Smallville, Superman is now becoming something new – something angry, violent, and exceedingly dangerous.

 The Superman: Doomed storyline is an interesting take on his the relationship between the hero and villain. It’s sort of an expansion and reversal of an issue of Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman, in which Superman began to turn evil, and Jimmy Olsen turned himself into Doomsday to stop him. There’s a huge amount of potential for this storyline, and while I’m wary of yet another story where Superman turns into a jerkass, at least this one gives him a good reason to do so.

 I was also struck, reading this comic, by just how excellent the artwork was. It’s rare that you find a book with three different artists that still hangs together cohesively, let alone stands out as much as this one does. Aaron Kuder, Rafa Sandoval and Cameron Stewart are all incredible talents, who provide some absolutely beautiful pencils here, and some fantastically dynamic layouts… just an impeccable job over all.

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