New Comic Reviews! (8-19-14)

Batman 34

Batman #34

“The Meek”

Scott Snyder and Gerry Duggan (writers), Matteo Scalera (artist). Covers by Scalera, Rafael Albuquerque and Ryan Sook.

 Having completed their “Year Zero” epic, regular Batman creative team Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are off on vacation, turning creative duties over to the guest team of Gerry Duggan (him again!) and Matteo Scalera. Working from a story laid out by Snuder, Duggan and Scalera tell the surprisingly grim story of Batman tracking down a serial killer who targets Gotham’s forgotten denizens – the homeless, the unloved, the unwanted. Despite his best intentions, Batman is forced to face the fact that he’s failed a section of Gotham’s populace who managed to slipped beneath even his watchful gaze.

 This is a darker story than I’m used to seeing in the Batman title, though it does have some of Snyder and Duggan’s usual cleverness, with moments like Batman using a holographic disguise to pose as a potential victim, and the way in which he ultimately deals with the killer’s desire for anonymity. Actually, I’d be interested to find out, between the two of them, who came up with what. Duggan’s Batman has a unique charm to him too – he has a sense of humour (albeit a very dry one), he seems fond of animals, and he’s genuinely disturbed by senseless murder. He feels much more human than the virtual force of nature that many modern writers depict him to be, and that’s a refreshing change.

 The serious tone of the story fits well the moody artwork created by Matteo Scalera’s scratchy pencils, and Lee Loughridge’s washed out colors and limited palette. No one’s touching Capullo right now as the definitive Batman artist of the day, but Scalera certainly holds his own in the guest spot.

 This isn’t exactly a whimsical flight of fancy – in fact, it’s not an especially fun comic to read – but for what it is, “The Meek” is a well-made story, which explores an interesting element of Batman’s world. Can we go back to colourful super-villains now?

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Thunderbolts 29

Thunderbolts #29

“The Punisher vs. Thunderbolts pt. 3”

Ben Acker and Ben Blacker (writers), Kim Jacinto (artist). Cover by David Yardin.

 So, the Punisher tried to quit the Thunderbolts, but because nothing can go the easy way when Thunderbolt Ross is involved, he got home to find a bomb in his fridge. Now, it’s officially on – Frank has already taken out the Red Leader, and next up on his hit list is the latest addition to the team, Ghost Rider.

 There are serious problems with this story. Heroes like the Black Widow, the aforementioned Ghost Rider and (in a single panel cameo) Doctor Strange are depicted as acting completely out of character. Both established history and common sense are thrown out the window to make the Punisher into the kind of ultra-competent Mary Sue that even Batman would call bullshit on. At many times, the internal logic of the story is cannibalized for joke fodder.

 With all of that said, I kind of love this story. I love the idea that Frank Castle is paranoid enough to bomb-proof all his kitchen appliances. I love that he’d have the foresight to come up with strategies to take down a demonic enemy, and that because this is the Marvel Universe, he has several different means at his disposal. The story unfolds like the finale to the original Marvel Knights Punisher ongoing series, “Confederacy of Dunces”, where another group of heroes tried to take the Punisher down, to similarly disastrous results.

 As long as you don’t take anything too seriously – and really, if you are, you’re missing the point – “Punisher vs. Thunderbolts” is a hell of a lot of fun.

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Archer and Armstrong 23

Archer and Armstrong #23

“American Wasteland pt. 4 – Ouroboros”

Fred Van Lente (writer), Pere Pérez (artist). Covers by Michael Walsh and Donovan Santiago.

 In the finale of “American Wasteland”, young prodigy Obadiah Archer and hedonistic immortal Armstrong find themselves at the mercy of the Church of Retrology. Leading the celebrity cult is the Lizard King, better known as an aging John – pardon me, “Douglas” – Morrison, who has engineered the rise of a Justin Bieber facsimile to serve as an unholy messiah to humanity’s destruction. Come to think of it, I can totally buy the Biebs as the Antichrist…

 Fred Van Lente is clearly having a blast with the subject matter here, poking fun at the quasi-religious fanaticism of Beliebers, and their manic predecessors from generations past. As a huge fan of The Doors, it does bum me out to see Morrison cast as the L. Ron Hubbard of the music world… nothing here is taken too seriously though, as evidenced by a fantastic gag about Elvis always stealing from Black people.

 This entire storyline was and incredibly funny take on a brilliant concept, though the ending was maybe a little bit too Bill and Ted. Still, this is one of the best sleeper hits on the shelf right now, and one of the most pleasant surprises I’ve encountered in quite some time.

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Inhuman 3

Inhuman #3

“They Fall”

Charles Soule (writer), Joe Madureira (artist). Covers by Madureira and Ed McGuinness.

 Does anyone else remember the period of time in the mine Nineties when Joe Madureira was the most heavily-hyped artist in the comic book industry? Man, did his stock ever fall… nothing against him, mind you, if you’re a big fan of American faux-anime, he’s your boy, but in 2014 he’s barely a name anymore. I blame the cancellation of Wizard Magazine, which spent almost as many pages hyping Joe Mad as they did making puerile fart jokes.

 Anyway, the Black Bolt is believed to be dead, the Terrigen mists have been unleashed upon humanity, revealing hundreds or dormant Inhumans, and the queen Medusa has stepped up to try to unite her splintered people. Tonally, Inhuman isn’t far off from the earliest X-Men stories, as a parental figure gathers and trains people who have developed strange and unexpected powers, while battling a counterpart with a more extreme ideology. There are some differences though, one being that the new Inhumans aren’t all young white people, instead coming from all walks of life. You’re also not likely to mistake Medusa for Professor X any time soon – not only does Medusa take charge and lead from the front lines, she also wears a lot more skin-tight spandex. I assume. Inhuman doesn’t break too much in the way of new ground, but it does offer its own spin on an old formula – you could certainly do worse spending your requisite $3.99, but you can also probably find something else more interesting to read instead.

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FBP Federal Bureau of Physics 13

FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics

“Wish You Were Here pt. 6”

Simon Oliver (writer), Robbi Rodriguez (artist). Cover by Nathan Fox.

 You know, I’ve tried to give FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics the benefit of the doubt, I really have. The concept behind the series is interesting – who wouldn’t want to read about a special police force operating in a world where the laws of physics are disrupted with alarming regularity? But Simon Oliver’s nonsensical plotting, random scene transitions and dialogue jam packed with technical gobbledygook combine to make this series completely incomprehensible. This issue is supposed to wrap up the “Wish You Were Here” story arc (in which characters are trapped in an alternate dimension, blah blah blah), but while one plot point is wrapped up with an infuriating deus ex machina solution, the conclusion offers no sense of resolution whatsoever.

 Believe me, I can get behind high concept sci-fi tropes – Matt Fraction used them well in Casanova, likewise Jonathan Hickman with The Manhattan Projects, hell, Warren Ellis built his entire career with transhumanist neo-cyberpunk insanity. But with FBP, it feels like Oliver spends so much time trying to convince his readers of how brilliant he is that he forgets to actually say anything of value. This is pseudo-intellectual twaddle of the worst kind.

 Robbi Rodriguez’s artwork is ordinarily quite good, with expressive characters and interesting angles, but the snow effect he’s been using since last issue quickly becomes overpowering, and reading the first half of this issue gave me a headache… it’s like staring at the static between channels on an old television. Still, if there’s anything redeeming about FBP, it’s been Rodriguez’s work… and since this issue marks his departure, I can’t think of any reason to give this series more any more attention.

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Nightcrawler 5

Nightcrawler #5

Chris Claremont (writer), Todd Nauck (artist). Cover by Jamie McKelvie.

 Right, first things first – this comic introduces a character named Ziggy Karst, and if I ever open a gay cabaret, I’m stealing that. But moving on…

 It wouldn’t be a stretch to call Chris Claremont the greatest X-Men writer ever. During his incredible sixteen-year run on the series, he helped turn the series from one of Marvel’s worst-selling titles into a juggernaut franchise. He co-created scores of major characters, and redefined others for a new generation of readers. His work has influenced every major X-Men adaptation, from the insane Nineties cartoon to Marvel’s entire mutant filmography. Hell, he wrote X-Men #1 in 1991, which has been certified as the highest-selling comic book of all time.

 Recent history hasn’t been kind to Claremont’s legacy though. His classic stories, cutting edge and ground breaking for their time, are not often mocked for the clunky dialogue and soap opera plots. Though he’s had some success since the turn of the millennium, his work has been incredibly uneven, like a forgettable return to the X-Men books in the early 2000s, and an even more forgettable run on JLA. His work on New Excaliber and Exiles were poorly received by many readers, and his pet book X-Men Forever was little more than officially-sanctioned fan fiction. His low point was probably the three-volume epic X-Men: The End, which might be the least comprehensible comic I’ve read that wasn’t written by the Ultimate Warrior.

 In all honesty though, I’m really enjoying this series so far. Sure, the melodrama and awkward exposition are still there, but there’s also a tangible charm that’s been missing from Claremont’s work for a long time. The way that Nightcrawler pines for a simpler, happier time hits home – I suspect Claremont feels much the same way himself, and he sure makes a good case for it here. Even in an issue where Nightcrawler is mourning the loss of some of his closest friends, there’s still a sense of optimism, as deep down he’s still the roguish scallywag we know and love. Heroes jump into the fray with excitement, smiles on their faces, and their positivity is infectious for the reader. Add in Todd Nauck’s gleefully retro artwork (which bears comparison to Claremont’s long-time partner John Byrne), and this title is delightfully refreshing.

 And hey, credit to Claremont for bringing back characters he introduced fifteen years ago, that haven’t been seen since… maybe the second time’s the charm.

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