New Comic Reviews! (8-1-14)

All New Ultimates 5

All-New Ultimates #5

Michel Fiffe (writer), Amilcar Pinna (artist). Cover by David Nakayama.

 The latest issue of All-New Ultimates finds our young heroes stuck in the middle of a gang war, before being attacked in their own home by the villainous Serpent Skulls. The Skulls have captured and mind-controlled New Ultimates member Bombshell, after murdering her boyfriend last issue. And lurking in the background are the dual threats of a hostile NYPD, and the mysterious assassin Scourge.

For a regular twenty page story, this comic feels rather dense – doubly so because it stands in such stark contrast to the decompression style that the various Ultimate Spider-Man titles are famous (or infamous) for. It’s also a book that I find mildly troubling. For a series starring teenage superheroes in what is nominally Marvel’s more approachable imprint, you’d expect this to be fairly accessible to younger readers. And I suppose for the most part it is, but there are some rather dark undercurrents in play – there’s the execution-style shooting of Bombshell’s boyfriend last issue, officer O’Reilly’s junkie informant, and the superfluous Cloak and Dagger sex scene (which admittedly is done in the style of a Hays Code approved pan out). I was also troubled by the many ways that Bombshell’s situation evoked the “Purple” storyline from Alias, which explored Jessica Jones’ disturbing past with the mind-controlling Purple Man, a story that still gives me the heebie-jeebies a decade after the fact.

I also have mixed feelings about this issue’s artwork. Amilcar Pinna does a decent enough job capturing the action and intensity of the story’s fight scenes, but in several places there are clear problems with perspective and anatomy. Most notable is the last page, which features a splash page where the character’s face looks completely elongated and off-centre (in part due to the unusual light sources). Give that that image will be the reader’s final impression of this issue, and it’s intended to bring people back next month, it really should have been reworked somehow. I’m also mystified by a lot of colorist Nolan Woodard’s choices… you rarely see this many gang members and super villains dressed in soft pastels and neon pink, at least outside of a Joel Schumacher Batman film.

There’s nothing outwardly wrong with this comic, and indeed it may be a hit with a lot of readers. For me though, there are too many little problems to enjoy it, or to give it any kind of real recommendation.

—–

Daredevil 5Daredevil #6

Mark Waid (writer), Javier Rodriguez (artist). Cover by Rodriguez and Chris Samnee.

For those who came late to the party, the newest volume of Daredevil kicked off with writer Mark Waid resolving the lawyer/vigilante’s moral incongruity in the most drastic way possible. After being forced to admit his secret double life while under oath, Matt Murdock has been disbarred, and has left New York City in disgrace, relocating to San Francisco. Thanks to the events of Original Sin however, his change of venue has proven to be a short one, as recent revelations force Daredevil to return to the Big Apple.

Daredevil’s particular Original Sin revelation was that his long-lionized father Battlin’ Jack was apparently a wife-beating asshole. That throws our hero for somewhat of a loop (what with Jack’s death being the driving force behind his becoming a superhero and all), and he looks for answers from the only person who can offer them – his estranged mother-turned-nun, Sister Maggie. Nothing ever happens the easy way in the Marvel Universe though… as it happens, Maggie has been arrested without charge, held without trial, and faces extradition to a hostile foreign country. Kind of a bad time for Daredevil to have lost all standing within the legal system, huh?

As much as I love Mark Waid, I can’t help but feel that the emotional impact of Maggie’s story is somewhat manipulative. Sure, the idea of corrupt and authoritarian forces circumventing the legal system to imprison people without trial isn’t exactly a foreign concept in the post-Guantanamo Bay world… but that sort of thing never happens to Americans, right? I don’t know… the entire Sister Maggie story seems calculated to stir up all sorts of simmering political unrest within the reader, even before you arrive at the unfortunate implications of an innocent Catholic white woman being threatened by an evil foreign black man.

Then there’s the revelations about Jack Murdock, which are so overshadowed by issue’s end that I had all but forgotten about them. At first glance, the idea that Jack was a wife-beater seems like a major retcon – though perhaps less so when you remember that, despite what Matt says in this issue, papa Jack had a history of slapping around his son, at least if Man Without Fear is still considered to be cannon. Rereading this issue though, and after discussing some of the minor details seen in Javier Rodriguez’s meticulous artwork, I smell a fake out… there’s much more going on in that brief flashback than we’re seeing at this point, and I suspect that something in the next issue will render the whole point moot.

Though the bulk of this issue left me feeling somewhat cold, there’s still quite a bit to like here. There are some very clever moments, like a scene where Daredevil uses his powers to eavesdrop on every conversation in a building at once, for hours on end, and a clever retelling of the events of the Original Sin battle against the Orb, from Daredevil’s perspective. And of course, Rodriguez’s artwork is absolutely gorgeous, but if you’ve followed his work at all, that’s not any kind of revelation. Together, it’s more than enough to bring me back next month, so I can judge this two-part story as a whole.

—–

Cavewoman Journey 2Cavewoman: Journey #2

Rob Durham (writer and artist). Covers by Durham, Devon Massey, Monte Moore and Budd Root.

Well, we’re sure scraping the bottom of the barrel with this one.

Following the apparent death of her boyfriend Bruce, Cavewoman has retreated into the prehistoric jungle with her gorilla friend Klyde, where the two do SWEET FUCK ALL for twenty four pages.

So, God, where to begin? First off, the exposition captions in this book reach Chris Claremontian levels, but that’s the least of the problems with the dialogue here. The phrasing is awkward, and completely filled with glaring grammatical errors and blatant typos. I can accept a few minor mistakes when you’re working without an editor, but this is beyond amateurish, it’s downright brutal to read. Even at its best, no one would ever mistake Cavewoman for fine art, but if I were Rob Durham, I’d be utterly embarrassed to have produced this semi-legible garbage.

Cavewoman has big tits and a nice ass, and Durham can draw some pretty cool looking dinosaurs. That’s literally all the positive things I can say about this comic, and even that’s pretty scant praise. Even if all you’re looking for is unapologetic T&A, you’re much better off picking up one of the Grimm Fairy Tales books… at least Zenescope has a competent production team. Hell, even Tarot, Witch of the Black Rose would be a huge step up from Cavewoman: Journey.

Christ, why am I even reviewing this shit? Let’s just move on, shall we? I need a palate cleanser.

—–

Peanuts 20Peanuts #20

Jeff Dyer (writer), Vicki Scott and Charles M. Schulz (writers/artists), Scott Jeralds (artist). Covers by Schulz.

Ah, that’s much better… who doesn’t love the wit and occasional soul-crushing nihilism of Charlie Brown and his friends? With this comic we get a nice mix of new stories and classic Charles M. Schulz strips, the latter as both single-page gags and a long-form story. The full-length Schulz strip sees Peppermint Patty mistakenly thinking that Charlie Brown has fallen for her, and trying to figure out how to let him down. Other stories have Linus trying to fall asleep by counting sheep, and Patty suing Charlie Brown for losing her baseball, which went missing after she bounced it off his head.

Contemporary writers Jeff Dyer and Vicki Scott both do an excellent job of capturing the Peanuts gang’s quiet neuroses… my favourite bit by far has Linus stressing over the idea that by counting sheep, he’s keeping those sheep awake and forcing them to work nights. In drawing her strip, Scott keeps close to the established Peanuts “house style,” and she captures his mannerisms and expressions so perfectly that I had to double check the credits to confirm it wasn’t an original Schulz strip. On the other hand, in drawing Jeff Dyer’s story, Scott Jeralds pts his own spin on things – the classic aesthetic is still very much there, but he adds in some more modern design elements.

Really, there’s not much more to say here. It’s Peanuts. These stories aren’t wacky or zany, they aren’t even laugh-out-loud funny, but they’re clever and quietly amusing, good for kids and morose adults alike. If you’ve ever felt like an outsider, or that life’s been kicking you while you’re down, there’s probably something here that will resonate with you, and maybe even put a smile on your face.

—–

Life with Archie 37

Life with Archie #37

“One Year Later”

Paul Kupperberg (writer), Fernando Ruiz, Pat Kennedy and Tim Kennedy (artists). Covers by Alex Ross, Cliff Chiang, Walt Simonson, Tommy Lee Edwards and Jill Thompson.

Two weeks ago, Paul Kupperberg did the unthinkable – he killed Archie. Now, in this final Life with Archie issue, the rest of the Riverdale crew try to pick up the pieces.

Now, let’s be perfectly clear on the continuity here… the Archie seen in the Life with Archie is an adult iteration, whose existence spun out of the continuation of dual stories in which he ended up marrying either Betty or Veronica. His death serves as a conclusion to both of those scenarios, with his exact relationship to each woman obfuscated enough to remain ambiguous, and therefore applicable to both.

As for the specifics of Archie’s death, he selflessly took a bullet intended for Kevin Keller, his token gay friend who had been newly elected to the U.S. Senate on a pro-gun control platform. The politics in play are perhaps a little heavy handed, but they fall well in line with the progressive values espoused in other Life with Archie issues, which have tackled such hot-button subjects as gay rights and affordable health care for low-income earners.

A year after Archie’s death, Kevin is now preparing for a memorial in his honour by sharing stories with Archie’s closest friends. These memories (told in the form of teenage and Little Archie strips) show off the elements that have made Archie such an enduring symbol for so long – behind the silly jokes about detention and jalopies, there’s a selflessness and nobility to the character, a purity of intention that remains resonant over seventy years after he first appeared. I especially like the suggestion that one of the main reasons for the enduring Archie-Betty-Veronica love triangle is that Archie could never choose between the two girls if he knew his decision would hurt the other.

There’s an emotional punch to this issue that’s usually absent in long-running ongoing series, and a sense of closure. Yes, the classic Archie stories will continue to be churned out without so much as a hiccup, but the five year arc that began with Archie’s dual proposals and which finally let the characters grow and evolve into something new demanded a definitive conclusion. With the genuinely touching final scenes of this comic, I couldn’t think of a more fitting way to go out.

—–

Unwritten- Apocalypse 7

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #7

“Sang pt. 2”

Mike Carey (writer), Peter Gross (writer). Cover by Yuko Shimizu.

While I spent some time last week discussing the imminent end of Fables, another thematically similar and equally brilliant book is also nearing its conclusion, Mike Carey and Peter Gross’ own neo-fantasy epic, The Unwritten. At this point in our story, the lines between fact and fiction have blurred past the point of recognition, and our protagonist Tom Taylor and his allies are slowly making their way from the dawn of time back to the lives they once knew. By this issue, Tom and company have entered a world of medieval literature, and to move on Tom must fully conform to the role of chivalrous hero that he’s been cast in; however, the devilish rat-bastard Mr. Pullman has plans to trick Tom into breaking his resolve, one war or another.

Carey uses the trappings of Arthurian knighthood to explore the follies and falsehoods of classical chivalrous ideologies, in the type of meta-textual analysis that has been The Unwritten’s hallmark from day one. I was somewhat perplexed by how easily Taylor’s allies were turned against him, especially Lizzie Hexam, whose Dickensian namesake was representative of moral purity. Admittedly though, I haven’t exactly read every single issue of The Unwritten, so there are almost certainly nuances to her relationship with Tommy that I’m woefully ignorant to. There are so many layers to this series that it absolutely demands to be read from beginning to end – something I definitely intend to do once it’s eventually collected in its entirety.

As good as the story here is, the biggest draw is arguably Gross’ stellar artwork, which ranks among the best work seen in any monthly book I’ve ever read. The way in which he effortlessly transitions between art styles, while still capturing the classical aesthetics of the older tales seen in Apocalypse is simply incredible – how the man doesn’t have a shelf full of Eisner Awards is beyond me.

With this miniseries (and The Unwritten as a whole) ending in just five short issues, it might not exactly be the best time to start picking up new issues of the series, but I guarantee you there’s a trade paperback or two on the shelves at your local comic store just waiting to induct you into Tom Taylor’s world. Better late than never.

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