New Comic Reviews! (7-18-14)

Rachel Rising 26

Rachel Rising #26
Terry Moore (writer, artist and cover)

First off this week, we’re looking at the latest issue of Terry Moore’s critically acclaimed horror comic, Rachel Rising. Continuing the book’s second major arc, which kicked off back in April, this issue sees Rachel, Zoe and Aunt Johnny licking their wounds and adjusting to the new status quo in the town of Manson. Rachel gets her first good look at the mysterious sword that Zoe has been toting around, while the demon Maltus gets the feel of his new host.

Since its inception, two things have been consistent about Rachel Rising – first, the book has been universally praised by readers, critics and Moore’s fellow comic creators alike; Second, its sales have been disappointingly low, to the point that Moore lamented its possible cancellation, leading to a grassroots #SaveRachelRising campaign on Twitter. The series was optioned as a television property over a year ago, but with that project proceeding at a snail’s pace, Rachel Rising’s future remains uncertain.

Personally, I’m on the fence. For a story that involved witchcraft, a homicidal little girl, the sword of ultimate evil and a demonic murder plot, all in this issue mind you, it still feels like remarkably little has happened. The series just hasn’t clicked for me, and although Moore is unquestionably a master of the comic art form, Rachel Rising has thus far failed to recapture the magic of his seminal Strangers in Paradise. With that said, I absolutely hope Rachel Rising finds a larger audience – there’s a ton of quality to be found here, and while it may not be completely to my taste, the indie comics scene is much richer for having it around.

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Batman Eternal 13

Batman Eternal #13
“Infernal Relations”
Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV, with Ray Fawkes, John Layman and Tim Seeley (writers), Mikel Janin (artists). Cover by Dustin Nguyen.

As DC Comics’ non-execrable weekly series marches on, things in Gotham City have gone decidedly downhill. Commissioner Gordon is on trial for having apparently shot killed an unarmed thug, which in turn inadvertently led to a deadly train wreck. His replacement is a crooked cop on the payroll of mob boss Carmine Falcone, who has returned to Gotham and kicked off a vicious gang war against the Penguin. Luckily, Batman still has a few friends on the G.C.P.D., and Gordon has an unlikely ally as well – though to accept the help offered to him, Gordon will have to completely sacrifice the principles he’s always stood for.

Batman Eternal continues to be an incredibly ambitious project, which not only tells its own unique story, but also pays due respect to all kinds of elements from Batman’s rich history. In this issue alone there are elements from Grant Morrison’s Batman Incorporated saga, Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Batman: Year One, and Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s Batman: The Long Halloween. We’re also given the ongoing stories of Gotham’s newest super-cop Jason Bard (historically a character associated with Barbara Gordon), and developments surrounding the recent “New 52” debut of the fan-favourite character Stephanie Brown.

The biggest criticism one might have for Batman Eternal is that the story is perhaps overly complex, even for a weekly series, where you’d expect to have a lot going on at the same time. That said, 52 showed us that a multifaceted weekly series will still work, provided that it’s well written, and everything ultimately comes together in the end. On that level, so far so good – the story of Batman Eternal is both well told and fast paced, and the characters (both heroes and villains) are written to be intelligent, and driven by clear and understandable motivations.

Batman Eternal features rotating art teams, each with their own quirks and styles, but for this issue at least, the work is top notch. Penciller Mikel Janin (with inker Guillermo Ortego and colorist Jeromy Cox) provide impeccable visuals to perfectly maintain the story’s energy, which is especially impressive given that this issue is a little light on action. Not only can Janin draw the hell out of Batman swinging around Gotham’s rooftops, he also has an incredible eye for panel construction and placement, his backgrounds are rich and detailed, and he does a fantastic job of depicting each character’s unique nuances and expressions – just a superb job all around.

There have been a lot of good Batman comics, especially over the past decade, but as of right now, Batman Eternal is one of the best. We’re only a fifth of the way through the series right now, and it’s never too late to go chase down the issues you’ve missed, especially if you pick up your books digitally. If you’re any kind of Bat-fan, you don’t want to miss out.

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Justice League 3000 8

Justice League 3000
“Turning Point!”
Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis (writers) and Howard Porter (artist and cover).

Way back in December of last year, one of the first books I reviewed on this blog was the first issue of Justice League 3000. I absolutely hated the series now – has it improved any since then? Well… yes and no. Justice League 3000 still features one of the must unlikable casts of characters this side of a mid-nineties Image book, set in a world of nihilistic angst, all wrapped up in garish and brutally over-rendered costumes. The imperfect clones of the Justice League all completely miss the point of the originals – Superman is simpleminded and almost hopeless, Wonder Woman is brutish and devoid of passion, and Batman is antagonistic and lacking direction.

But here’s the thing – Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis are both clever guys, who are clearly in on the joke. As I see it, this book is absolutely intended to be a subversive critique of the editorially mandated tone of the current DC Universe. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make the series any less unpleasant to read… it just serves as a reminder that there are far better series available right now than the obnoxious twaddle that DC’s been churning out on a regular basis.

But hey, credit for having the cojones to take your last page cliff hanger ending and straight up throw it on the front cover. That’s about as no-fucks-given as it gets.

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Punisher 8

The Punisher #8
“El Diablito pt. 2”
Kevin Maurer and Nathan Edmondson (writers), Carmen Carnero (artist). Cover by Mitch Gerads.

Part two of the Punisher’s trip south of the border and subsequent butchering of the indigenous criminal element reads like any of about fifty different Mike Baron Punisher stories from the late-Eighties or early-Nineties. Not that I’m complaining – I have a special place in my heart for those comics. There are also a few unique creative elements in play here – I really liked the overhead splash page that depicted the multi-angle shootout between the Punisher, his soldier ally, and Crossbones and his men. It’s not a perspective you usually see in comics, and it’s surprisingly effective.

There is a glaring problem with this book though, which is the ending. Without spoiling anything specific, the story ends with the Punisher in peril, then abruptly skips a year forward, revealing that the entire story was a flashback. Only this is a direct follow up to the last Punisher story… so is the entire Punisher series set a year in the past? Did our narrator somehow travel through time? For a story that’s grounded in a fairly realistic setting, it’s pretty strange to see things suddenly go all Lost on us. I suspect that the decision to end things this way was made by guest co-writer Kevin Maurer, a veteran military journalist with a background in mostly nonfiction writing. This kind of an ending might work in some mediums, but it just doesn’t translate in a serialized story like this, and the misstep feels it stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of how an ongoing monthly series works.

Still, if you’re willing to ignore the continuity headaches created by the last page, this story was classic “Punisher in the jungle killing dudes” action, with some Band of Brothers-y military overtones thrown in for good measure. If that sort of thing floats your boat – and if you’re a long-time Punisher fan, it probably does – you could certainly do worse.

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2000 AD Sci-Fi Special 2014

2000 AD Sci-Fi Special 2014
Emma Beeby, Alex Worley, Jody LeHeup, Robert Murphy, Arthur Wyatt and Guy Adams (writers), Eoin Covenay, Mark Simmons, Jefte Palo, Duane Redhead, Jake Lynch and Darren Douglas (artists). Cover by James Biggie.

After an eighteen year hiatus, this issue marks the return of the annual 2000 AD Sci-Fi Specials, a fixture of the 1980s and early 1990s. This homecoming comes in the form of a sextet of short stories featuring an all-star 2000 AD line up, including Judge Dredd, Orlok the Assassin, Sam Slade the Robo-Hunter, Durham Red and the Rogue Trooper.

Sadly, there really isn’t much here though. The leading Judge Dredd story is amusing enough, but the shortness of the other stories means that none of them really have a chance to get going. Of the backups, the Orlok entry probably had the most complete story, while the Rogue Trooper tale had the coolest artwork.

For 2000 AD newbies, this one-shot may work as an entry-level sampler. For anyone looking for something more meaty, you’re probably better off just picking up any given week’s issue of the ongoing 2000 AD series.

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Fables 142

Fables #142
“Happily Ever After pt. 2 – Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?”
Bill Willingham (writer), Mark Buckingham and Eric Shanower (artists). Cover by Nimit Malavia.

With Fables approaching its grand finale with issue #150, we’ve returned to where things all began, the relationship between Snow White and Rose Red. Fate has cast the sisters in the roles of eternal enemies of Arthurian archetypes, the Black Knight and Golden Knight, sending them toward a seemingly unavoidable war – a destiny that Snow will do anything to escape. Meanwhile, Bigby Wolf has returned from the dead, though as a twisted reflection of his previous self, more vicious and bestial than ever.

I’ve had somewhat of a complex relationship with Fables over the years, largely due to the occasions when Bill Willingham’s staunchly conservative political views have crept too far into the narrative. Things like Bigby’s uncomfortable speech about Israel in issue #50, and the tacit association of abortions clinics to child-eating witches, have made it impossible for me to completely enjoy the series, despite it featuring one of the richest worlds ever seen in a self-contained comic series.

Politics notwithstanding, Fables is unequivocally brilliant, on every level. The core concept was inspired, the execution was ingenious, the characters are rich and varied, the artwork is outstanding. Fables should absolutely be considered to be required reading for all comic fans.

Oh, and if you haven’t played Telltale Games’ The Wolf Among Us, you’re missing out. I might write a full review of that one down the line… for now though, my lips are sealed.

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