New Comic Reviews! (5-27-14)

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The Shadow #25

Chris Roberson (writer), Giovanni Timpano (artist). Covers by Alex Ross, Dean Motter, Francesco Francavilla and Dennis Calero.

 With all due respect to the Shadow’s eighty-plus-year history, I’ve never really seen the appeal. As a character, the Shadow tends to be painfully melodramatic, shifting from expository speeches to painfully trite monologues and back again. That’s all very well and good for his radio and pulp novel roots, but in a visual medium, it detracts from the experience.

In this issue, the final one of this ongoing series, Chris Roberson makes a hearty go of it by throwing the Shadow up against an army of rampaging zombies (sort of). Despite Roberson’s best efforts at making the story feel epic and sweeping, it nevertheless falls flat, and any small amount of momentum that’s achieved is stopped dead by an abrupt and almost insultingly anticlimactic ending. There’s some decent artwork from Giovanni Timpano, whose energetic style makes up for some liberties taken with anatomical details, but all in all there’s not much to this, as The Shadow goes out with a whimper.

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Batman Eternal #6

“The Denied”

Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Ray Fawkes, John Layman and Tim Seeley (writers), Trevor McCarthy (artist). Cover by Andy Kubert.

It’s taken me a few issues to get around to DC’s new weekly series Batman Eternal, but even jumping in a bit late, I like what I see. Scott Snyder has been killing it on the main Batman title since he first took the reigns back in 2011, and it looks like with Batman Eternal, things are only going to get bigger and crazier.

Unlike previous weekly titles like the laudable 52 and the atrocious Countdown, Batman Eternal isn’t relying on a team of writers all working together on the same book each week. Instead, Snyder is heading the project, and each of the other co-writers will take turns crafting their own story arcs. This time around, James Tynion IV (story) and Ray Fawkes (script) take the floor, with a story that dips into the underutilized occult side of Gotham City. Specifically, this issue opens with Batwing slugging it out with the Gentleman Ghost, and as promised by the cover blurb, the Spectre (or at least Jim Corrigan) shows up to add to the fun. Unfortunately, we also get an appearance by the Joker’s Daughter, a character I’ve hated in every one of her incarnations, her asinine “New 52” version most of all.

One of the things I loved most about Grant Morrison’s epic run on the Batman books (and JLA before that) is the way he had the Caped Crusader deal with the more fantastic elements of his day-to-day career choice. Morrison’s version of Batman was pragmatic about the weirdness of the DC Universe – he kept a special Sci-Fi closet in the Batcave, dealt with psychotropic visions of Bat-Mite, and even fought the devil himself (or a reasonable facsimile thereof). With Batman’s blasé reactions to ghosts and angels in this issue, I’m happy to say that Snyder et al are keeping that spirit of fun going.

I really enjoyed this issue, and I heartily recommend it. I am also deeply in its writers’ debt for introducing me to the expression “running around like a blue-assed fly,” something I hope to work into day-to-day conversation as often as possible from now on.

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ImageAll-New Doop #2

Peter Milligan (writer), David Lafuente (artist). Cover by Michael Allred.

 All-New Doop is a five-issue miniseries written by the character’s co-creator, Peter Milligan, which promises to delve into Doop’s role as the X-Men’s unlikely heavy hitter in a way never seen before. Unfortunately, two issues in, it feels like the series has already missed the mark.

The first problem comes from setting this issue’s story in the middle of last year’s Battle of the Atom storyline. BotA was barely a blip on most people’s radar even when it was current, and six months after the fact, it’s practically ancient history. The connection is also poorly explained and fairly unnecessary – I’m really not sure why it was done in the first place.

The second, and arguably bigger issue I have with this series is the decision to make Doop learn to speak English, instead of the indecipherable gobbledygook he’s always communicated with in the past. Doop is effectively a joke character – he’s a parody of an ultra-competent Mary Sue, like Squirrel Girl, but without the genuinely bizarre first appearance that led to her memetic infallibility. The more you show what Doop is thinking, and the more you define his capabilities, the less funny that joke becomes. Far be it from me to second guess Milligan – it’s his creation, and he’s more than justified in portraying him in any way he sees fit – but to me, this version of Doop loses much of his bizarre charm.

While David Lafuente’s suitably wacky artwork does a lot to redeem All-New Doop, I just can’t get past the changes to the character, and the way the story is bogged down in unnecessary continuity from an out-of-date story. This one’s for Doop mega-fans only.

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Grimm Fairy Tales 2014 Annual

“Age of Darkness – Realms Fall pt. 1”

Joe Brusha, Ralph Tedesco and Pat Shand (writers), Andrea Meloni (artist). Covers by Jason Metcalf, Alfredo Reyes, Ivan Nunes and Michael Dooney.

The Grimm Fairy Tales line has come a long way from its humble origins, as a cross between classic fairytales and Tales from the Crypt, by way of late night Skinemax. Over the past nine years, it’s evolved into kind of a sleazier version of Fables, if Bill Willingham had handed the reigns over to Roger Corman. For all the T&A and cheap exploitation, Grimm Fairy Tales has evolved to encompass a complex and nuanced world, that exists on a scale that readers of the earliest issues never would have envisioned.

As part of the build up to the imminent Grimm Fairy Tales #100, “Realms Fall” begins with Sela Mathers and her allies in the Realm Knights battling the Dark Horde to secure the safety of humans with latent or undiscovered magical abilities. The action is fast paced, the artwork is well above average, and but for some forced dialogue, the script is solid. My sole complaint is that while every throwaway background character gets a full name check, the villains that show up at the end of this issue are never identified. An annual issue like this would be well served to try to draw new or casual readers in to the ongoing series, and small details like this can make all the difference. I managed to figure out three of the four characters (by wasting far too much time Googling random keywords), but even then, the ponytailed elf fellow is a mystery to me… and given my obsessive compulsive tendencies, that’s a huge pain in the ass.

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ImageUncanny X-Men #21

Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Chris Bachalo (artist). Cover by Alexander Lozano.

Marvel’s endless mutant melodrama marches on, as Cyclops’ and Magik’s powers rage out of control, and S.H.I.E.L.D. launches an unprovoked attack on the Jean Grey School. And while that’s a decent enough story pitch, I still can’t get into this series.

As well written and drawn as this volume of Uncanny X-Men has been, it still has the fundamental problem that even a year and a half removed from Avengers vs. X-Men, Cyclops and his team are still a bunch of despicable rat-bastards. I have no problem with reading books about anti-heroes with questionable morality – Deadpool, Secret Six and The Boys leap to mind as a few examples of that kind of book done right – but as a straightforward superhero book, this doesn’t click with me. Cyclops’ X-Men are now the radicals and terrorists that the world always accused them of being, the Mutant Menace incarnate, whose presence provides a justification for the very things they fight against, like Sentinels and aggressive government oversight. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a strong concept, with a ton of story potential, and it’s great when the Uncanny X-Men show up as supporting characters in other titles. As it is though, it’s hard to accept these characters carrying a book of their own when they’re all so irredeemable.

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ImageJudge Dredd Megazine #347

T.C. Eglinton, Mike Carroll and Alan Grant (writers), Boo Cook, Steve Yeowell, Jon-Davis Hunt and Mike Dowling (artists). Cover by Yeowell.

For British fans, Judge Dredd is a cultural touchstone, one of the most iconic characters in UK comic book history, whose thirty-seven year history has helped launch the careers of countless writers and artists, including some of the most prolific and influential creators in the history of the medium. On this side of the ocean though, Dredd is more of a curiosity – most North American fans likely associate the character first and foremost with the tepid Sylvester Stallone film from 1995 (and far to few with the infinitely superior Karl Urban flick from 2012).

At their best, Judge Dredd comics are deeply nuanced cyberpunk epics; at their worst, they’re a conspicuously anachronistic reaction to Cold War-era politics in general, and Thatcherism in particular. What you get out of a title like Judge Dredd Megazine can vary wildly from month to month, and given the serialized nature of the majority of the title’s stories, you really have to be all-in or all-out. With that said, I’m coming at this issue having not read a Dredd comic since mid-2012, near the end of the sweeping year-long “Day of Chaos” storyline. I’m interested in dipping my toes back into the 2000 AD world though, so now’s as good a time as any to check things out.

As usual for Judge Dredd Megazine, this issue features a number of stories, three of which are serials. The first is the beginning of a new storyline, “Rad to the Bone”, which sees Dredd become the target of a mutant serial killer, who is striking at him through his fellow Judges. It’s a decent enough set-up and well drawn, but suffers from being just the introductory chapter to a larger story – by the time it gets rolling, the story finishes, with this part being rather unsatisfying on its own.

Up next is the fifth and final part to “The Whisper,” starring ex-Judge turned private investigator Galen DeMarco, who teams up with her former Judge allies to hunt town the eponymous killer. Again, this story isn’t much on its own, and as excellent of an artist as Steve Yeowell is, cramped panel layouts and a black-and-white palette make the story’s frequent scene changes hard to follow.

Things pick up next with “The Irrational Lottery,” a one-off story that sets the Judges on the back burner to focus on Mega-City One’s disaffected youth population. The story is clever and funny with excellent artwork, a witty satire of the punk subculture that frames a decent little mystery. My favourite story though is the last of the four tales this month, part of the ongoing “Dead End” serial that sees Judge Anderson and her fellow Psi-Judges being targeted by a psychotic telepath, who is using mind-controlled Judges to sew chaos throughout the city. The story is good, but more than that, Mike Dowling’s artwork is just stellar, representing the extraordinary level of quality that made 2000 AD and Judge Dredd comics such an influential standout for so long.

Judge Dredd Megazine is priced at a hefty £5.70 (or about $7.99 US, assuming you’re not paying any international premiums), but you certainly get plenty of bang for your buck. In addition to the comic stories, this issue of Judge Dredd Megazine also features interviews with Mike Dowline and Declan Shalvey, a feature on the history of the Godzilla film franchise, and the first part of a text story by Jonathan Green. Also package in is a huge 64-page reprint supplement, which collects classic Judge Janus serials from the mid 1990s, as told by writers Grant Morrison and Mark Millar and artist Paul Johnson. It’s not either writer’s finest work by a long shot, but it’s an interesting curio for any of their fans who want to check out some of their more obscure offerings.

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