New Comic Reviews! (6-12-14)

ImageThe Midas Flesh #6

Ryan North (writer), Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb (artists). Covers by John Keogh and David Malki.

 The Midas Flesh is high-concept science fiction at its best, reimagining the story of King Midas in a very literal way, wherein the dead king’s body and its transmutational capabilities have been weaponized by both a plucky gang of space rogues, and your prototypical Evil Empire types. It’s a brilliant concept, and one that really showcases the versatility of writer Ryan North.

 Best known for the web comic Dinosaur Comics and the Adventure Time comic series (and for being absurdly tall), North is one of the most versatile creators in the industry, slipping effortlessly from the rigid fixed-panel narrative of the former strip to the bombastic insanity of the latter. With The Midas Flesh, we find him exploring a darker fantasy world, one that operates on a grand scale, and tells a story with very serious things at stake. And while the tone is mostly kept light-hearted (in large part thanks to the cartoony artwork of his original Adventure Time collaborators, Braden Lamb and Shelli Paroline), this is a series where destruction exits on a massive scale. It’s somewhat tricky to maintain a cavalier spirit of adventure when the villains (and for that matter, the heroes) are toying with weapons fully capable of causing planet-wide genocides. Anyone who remembers the “Death Star independent contractors” scene from Clerks knows what I mean.

 That said, these are classic Space Opera tropes, rejuvenated by both the series’ clever hook, and by an excellent creative team. We’re nearing the end of The Midas Flesh’s eight-issue run, but even if you can’t go back and find the previous issues, this one is definitely worth snagging when it eventually gets collected in trade paperback.

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Thanos Annual #1

“Damnation and Redemption”

Jim Starlin (writer), Ron Lim (artist). Covers by Lim, Starlin and Dale Keown.

 Staying within the same genre for the moment, we go to a story written by the gentleman who all but defined the Space Opera comic book. Thanos Annual sees Jim Strlin reuniting with his Infinity Gauntlet co-creator Ron Lim for a tale that explores the full story behind Thanos’ many deaths and resurrections, while neatly recapping his complicated history for newer readers.

 Between Infinity and the eventual third Avengers movie, Thanos has been neatly positioned as the Biggest of the Big Bads in the Marvel Universe. And with all due respect to Jonathan Hickman, nobody writes a Thanos story quite like Starlin, the man who created him in the first place. Starlin never fails to bring a sense of grandness and majesty to his Thanos stories, and this annual is no different. Not only is this a great primer for newcomers, framed by a great new story, it also offers a tantalizing glimpse into the possible near future of the Marvel Universe. Check it out.

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Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man #2

Brian Michael Bendis (writer), David Marquez (artist). Covers by Marquez and Amy Reeder

 Following up from last issue’s major cliff-hanger, the long-thought-dead Peter Parker has reappeared, hale and hearty, and ready to reassume the mantle of Spider-Man. Though Miles Morales quickly comes to the reasonable conclusion that Peter must be a clone, in a world that just nearly saw its destruction at the hands of a giant purple planet eater, nothing is a sure bet anymore.

 At this point, Miles Morales is pretty much the only argument against the notion that the Ultimate Marvel Universe has overstayed its welcome. Ordinarily, he provides a sense of freshness to his costumed pursuits, but this time around I just wasn’t feeling it. In this issue alone, we Have Parker’s return, the return of a major villain, two fight scenes, and the tease of Morales revealing his identity to his girlfriend next month. And even with all of that, it feels like nothing of consequence really happened. I don’t mean that as a knock against Brian Michael Bendis’ signature decompression storytelling either, because it’s not necessarily the pacing of the story that’s to blame. It’s just that nothing grabbed me, nothing made me care about the characters or events, nothing sold the drama as being worth emotional investment. It’s quite possible that this was just an off issue, but it still feels like five minutes after I finish typing this, I’ll forget this comic ever existed.

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Loki: Agent of Asgard #5

“This Mission Will Self-Destruct in Five Seconds”

Al Ewing (writer), Lee Garbett (artist). Cover by Jenny Frison.

 “This Mission…” wraps up the first story arc of Loki: Agent of Asgard, with the series now going on hold until September, replaced in the interim by an “Original Sin” tie-in miniseries. Al Ewing and Lee Garbett send us out with a bang, in the form of another brilliant heist, which pulls together all the allies Loki has made over the past four issues. The caper this time involves Loki breaking into the deepest dungeons of Asgardia, which unbeknownst to him are the home to his own doppelganger, the evil and crotchety Old Loki.

 This is a thoroughly satisfying mid-season finale of sorts, offering both a solid adventure story, and a surprisingly thoughtful treatise on the pros and cons of predestination. The one disappointing things is that the conclusion seems to spell the end to Loki’s role as the titular “Agent of Asgard,” which would be a real shame, since there’s still lots of mileage in that premise. Still, anyone who watches 80s action movies could list off a dozen scenarios to bring Loki back into the Asgardian fold, so let’s not give up home quite yet.

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The Victories #12

“Metahuman pt. 2”

Michael Avon Oeming (writer and artist), Taki Soma (artist). Cover by Oeming.

 One year into the second volume of The Victories, the team is in disarray, following the apparent defection of Lady Dragon, who has seemingly joined her father as a card carrying member of the villainous Advisors. Sleeper takes to the astral plane to determine what’s what, but an encounter with a far more powerful mystical entity might leave him changed forever.

 The Victories was a key title in Dark Horse’s “Superhero Initiative,” but even this far into the affair, I’m still not sure what this series I trying to accomplish. Is it a serious book about superheroes’ neuroses and hang-ups? Is it a cheeky series about superhero sex? Is it a grim story about failure, in a world where the villains are predestined to come out on top?

 There’s no denying the talent of writer/artist/series creator Michael Avon Oeming, or of his wife Taki Soma, who provides the artwork for the backup story. They certainly have created a non-traditional series, one which evokes works as diverse as Powers, The Boys, Invincible and even Watchmen. In a way though, that’s the problem – it feels like all of this has been done before, and better. After this much time, The Victories should have a much more defined sense of its own identity.

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Earth 2 #24

“The Kryptonian pt. 4”

Tom Taylor (writer), Eddy Barrows (artist). Covers by Philip Tan and Ant Lucia.

 I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to look at Earth 2… I’ve certainly been meaning to for awhile. For those not in the know, the premise is that the Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman of Earth 2 sacrificed their lives years ago to stop an invasion by Darkseid’s forces (or at least they seemed to have – Superman has since resurfaced as Darkseid’s brainwashed thrall). In their place, a new generation of heroes has arisen, largely in the form of re-imagined versions of classic Golden Age heroes. Now, Darkseid’s army is back, and it’s up to the heroes (dubbed the Wonders of the World) to save the world again.

 I wish I could say that I enjoyed this comic. All the elements of a good book are certainly there. The story is exciting, the characters are interesting, the artwork is solid. In fact, taken in a vacuum, Earth 2 might be considered one of the better books DC is putting out right now. But at a time when the entire DC line is defined by its grim and depressing tone, Earth 2 just feels like more of the same nihilistic garbage as Forever Evil and Future’s End. It’s probably unfair to paint Earth 2 with the same brush as those stories, but I’m just too disillusioned with the New 52, too burnt out on DC Comics, to give any of their books the benefit of the doubt anymore.

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