New Comic Reviews! (6-30-14)

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Batman and Ra’s al Ghul #32

“The Hunt for Robin pt. 4: Dark of the Son”

Peter J. Tomasi (writer), Patrick Gleason (artist). Covers by Gleason and J.G. Jones.

 The latest issue of Batman and Fill-in-the-Blank sees the Caped Crusader once again teaming up with Frankenstein to confront Ra’s al Ghul in Nanda Prabat, where Ra’s plans to resurrect his dead daughter Talia and grandson Damian Wayne, re-establishing his twisted legacy. With Batman pushed further than ever before – stealing a guy’s son’s corpse will do that – he finds himself at the limits of his personal code of honour. After all, the first two rules of comics are Batman Never Uses Guns and Batman Never Kills… except of course for when he totally does.

 All of this is a lead up to the upcoming Robin Rises event, which signals the presumed return of Damian Wayne. The last-page cliff hanger introduces the Fourth World elements teases by Robin Rises teaser interviews, though it does so with all the subtlety of a frying pan to the face.

 So, does Damian’s return mean anything? You could argue that it cheapens Grant Morrison’s epic Batman run somewhat, which he began with Damian’s introduction and concluded with his death. Of course, that depends on whether or not you place any value in death as a narrative device in superhero comics. There’s certainly a “been there, done that” feeling about the whole thing, and I never doubted for a second that Damian would be bought back eventually. As I said last week though, it’s not that a character dies or returns that matters at this point, it’s how they die or return. Let’s see what Peter Tomasi’s got up his sleeve.

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ImageGeorge Romero’s Empire of the Dead: Act One

George Romero (writer), Alex Maleev (artist). Covers by Maleev and Arthur Suydam.

 George Romero’s Living Dead film franchise has certainly had its ups and downs over recent years, between the impressive Land of the Dead, the horrendous Diary of the Dead, and the ambitious but under-budgeted Survival of the Dead. Romero’s first foray into the comic medium may prove to be the most controversial entry into the Living Dead cannon though, based largely on his questionable decision to throw vampires into the mix.

 Empire of the Dead tells the story of post-zombie New York City, where survivors have bunkered down within various fortified structures. The city is secretly being run by a cadre of vampires. Smart zombies have started to emerge, with the strongest of them taken in and trained to fight in a gladiatorial arena. And on top of everything else, there’s a group of militants on their way up from Georgia (led by the dubiously named Dixie Peach) ready to spark off a new Civil War.

 That’s a lot of stuff to cram into one story (even if this is just the end of the first of three five-issue “acts”). As much as I understand the desire to pull back and tell a story on a larger scale than a film’s budget and run allow for, the bloated cast of characters and endless plot threads really bog down the story, especially if you compare it to the tight scripting of Romero’s early Living Dead films. There’s also a noticeable absence of the social commentary that Romero’s films are famous for – most of Empire operates on a very superficial level, and anything deeper that it has to say is certainly treading over well-worn ground.

 It also feels as if main story concepts just weren’t thought out. Dixie Peach’s stated motivation is the acquisition of money – would that really matter in a post-zombie world, where one would assume the entire economy would have drastically shifted, if not collapsed completely? Why would the survivors take the risk of bringing zombies into their midst, let alone the smartest of their kind, then train them to be more efficient killing machines? That seems short sighted at best. And the one that really drives me nuts is a line from the vampire nephew of New York’s Mayor Chandrake, who when a fellow vampire kills a prostitute and her john, says “we can’t run the risk of someone from homicide suspecting that we might actually exist”. Dude… why? You guys are vampires, you run the mayor’s office, you’ve infiltrated the police… even if humanity wasn’t busy dealing with the goddamned ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, you’d still have all the power in this situation. Also, the guy says this while running around in a black and red cape… subtlety isn’t exactly his strong point.

 Honestly, this comic was just massively underwhelming. Alex Maleev is a great artists, but he’s given virtually nothing to work with, at least in this issue. The story is below average at best, nowhere near the quality of Romero’s own earlier work, or of contemporary comic series like The Walking Dead. What a total disappointment.

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Trinity of Sin: Pandora #12

“One in Ten Billion”

Ray Fawkes (writer), Francis Portella and Tom Derenick (artists). Cover by Victor Ibañez.

 I have no idea why I keep coming back to this series every few months. Frankly, I’m surprised it’s still going. The production is solid, but it seems completely superfluous within the current DC line. This is a pretty decent issue though, given that it’s a twenty-page three-way fight scene between Pandora, Vandal Savage and a rogue S.H.A.D.E. agent. The artwork is excellent, with very clean pencils from Francis Portella, and nicely vibrant coloring by Andrew Dalhouse. Come to think of it, if I had to name the best looking DC book right now, Pandora would be on the short list. And Ray Fawkes certainly writes a badass Vandal Savage.

 Honestly, with an issue that’s this driven by action scenes, there’s not much I can say about it. Instead, I’ll leave you with this though: In the New 52 DC Universe, the spirit of hope, the very embodiment of hope itself mind you, carries a gun and stabs people. Make of that what you will.

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The New 52: Futures End #7

Brian Azzarello, Jeff Lemire, Dan Jurgens and Keith Giffen (writers), Aaron Lopresti (artist). Cover by Ryan Sook.

 I thought about just posting a one line review of Futures End, something along the lines of “Nope” or “Screw you, DC.” But this project involves some really talented creators, so I feel my visceral hatred of Futures End requires some explanation.

 This is not a badly written comic, in and of itself. Every member of the writing team is talented and brings something unique to the table, and the pacing and dialogue are both well done. The art is also well above average, with Aaron Lopresti delivering his usual high-quality pencils. Unfortunately, you can’t shine a turd, and at its core Futures End is completely emblematic of every single thing that’s wrong with DC Comics, and has been for nearly a decade now. The tone is utterly nihilistic, and it fetishizes the death and dismemberment of its own heroes. Futures End is a stark example of the apparent embarrassment and disdain that the current higher-ups at DC have for their own characters and history, as if they feel the need to be apologetic for involving themselves in such superhero silliness.

 There are a lot of minor elements in Futures End that could be a lot of fun – the series brings Batman Beyond into current continuity, revisits underused characters formerly of the Wildstorm universe, and introduces new characters like the brilliantly named Fifty Sue. But that said, I can’t imagine who this book is intended for. If you’re a fan of the Batman Beyond cartoon, why would you want to read a comic that’s diametrically opposed to the tone of the DC Animated Universe? If you love Wildstorm, would you want to follow a series where half your favourite characters are slaughtered within the first few issues? Though I guess if you’re a fan of hologram gimmick covers, needless tie-in books and severed limbs, Futures End should be right up your alley.

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All-Star Western #32

“This Town’s No Good”

Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray (writers), Staz Johnson and Fabrizio Fiorentino (artists). Cover by Dan Panosian.

 The latest issue of All-Star Western sees Jonah Hex and his current riding partner Tallulah Black hunting down their latest bounty, and finding themselves surrounded by unseen enemies. I’m happy to see Hex back in the Wild West (as opposed to his jaunt to the present day from the last time I looked at this series), though the insular nature of this title does mean I have a little less to talk about.

 I like the current direction of this series a lot. Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray provide a level of vulnerability to Hex that makes him much more interesting than the bad-ass Mary Sue he’s sometimes written to be. I really enjoy the ongoing pairing with Tallulah, whose take-no-shit attitude balances well with Hex’s slightly more reserved approach to things. These characters exist within an interesting moral grey area, but do so in a way that’s fare more organic than the typical “edgy” antihero. Throw in some appropriately grizzled artwork (reminiscent of Moebius’ Blueberry books), and you have one of the better DC titles on the shelves right now.

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God Is Dead #15

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

 In our latest trek into the realm of sacrilegious insanity, Jesus Christ has returned, brought legions of dead people back to life, and blessed humanity with the gift of immortality. Unfortunately, now the world is overpopulated and in disarray, the sick and injured can’t find relief in the succour of death, and Jesus is too busy getting high off his ass to notice that mankind is royally pissed off at him. Meanwhile, Hephaestus and his fellow outcast gods make their final attempt to escape the Aztec realm of the dead.

 God Is Dead #15 features (in no particular order) sex, drugs, violence, nudity and cannibalism. It’s absolutely and unequivocally not for young readers, and that’s even before you get to the fairly graphic necrophilia scene in the backup story. That said, this is once again a smart and wickedly funny comic, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun, especially for a mythology nerd like me. As long as you can dead with having Jesus and corpse-fucking show up within the same twenty three pages, this series is a hoot.

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