New Comic Reviews! (8-29-14)

Elektra 5

Elektra #5

“Bloodlines pt. 5”

Haden Blackman (writer), Michael Del Mundo (artist and cover).

“Bloodlines” sees Elektra hired to track down an ageing assassin named Cape Crow, who’s already being hunted by a plethora of deadly mercenaries. As this issue opens, Elektra has run smack into Cape Crow, but not only does he have zero interest in going quietly, it also turns out that he’s one of the few combatants on the planet that can stand toe-to-toe against her. And even as they begin their inevitable battle, a crazed cannibal telepath named Bloody Lips is drawing ever closer…

Marvel’s newest attempt at an Elektra ongoing series has flown under the radar for the past few months, but even once I learned about it, my interest levels were pretty low. I like Elektra as a supporting character, but because her personality is so inscrutable, I find it difficult to feel any emotional connection to her as a leading protagonist. Still, W. Haden Blackman co-created my favourite female-led comic of all time (Batwoman, natch), so I went into this one with an open mind at the very least.

The most notable element to this new series is Michael Del Mundo striking artwork – like most post-Elektra: Assassin artists to tackle an Elektra book, he’s gone the Bill Sienkiewicz expressionist route, while still putting his own spin on things. Each page is awash with sharp angles, distorted limbs and spraying blood, and the resulting fight scenes certainly pack a punch. The centrepiece to the issue is a highly stylized double page spread that gives us a glimpse at Elektra’s complex psyche. I’m not sure I can say that I really like the artwork here, but it’s certainly interesting, and I always like to see mainstream books experiment with unconventional art styles.

The All-New Elektra isn’t bad by any means, but I’d be lying if I said it hooked me in any way. If you’re a big fan of the character, you’ll probably get a lot more out of this than I did… personally, I’d rather stick to some of Marvel’s other thematically-similar titles, like Black Widow and Daredevil.

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All-New X-Factor 12

All-New X-Factor #12

Peter David (writer), Carmine Di Giandomenico (artist). Cover by Kris Anka

So, what if I were to tell you that one of the best superhero comics this week is one in which there isn’t a single action scene, where no punches are thrown, and nothing blows up? “Pshaw” you would say, and I would glare at you scornfully for doubting me. Because, sure enough, this comic is about as pacifistic as a Marvel book gets, and it’s pretty damned great.

There’s a lot going on in All-New X-Factor , and this issue advances a ton of ongoing storylines. Warlock continues his awkward seduction of oblivious fellow-robot Danger. Gambit accuses Serval Industries C.E.O. Harrison Snow of unfairly screwing with him, just because Gambit accidentally slept with his wife. Cypher tries to help Georgia Dakei with the trauma of having being reunited with her lost birth parents, only to watch them be killed moments later right in front of her.

The star of this book though is Quicksilver.  First off, he finds himself torn between two superhero teams (the Avengers and X-Factor), each of one includes one his mentally unbalanced sisters among their numbers. Then, the shit really hits the fan when Serval and X-Factor stage their first press conference (an idea that’s treated as being just as dangerous and stupid as it really would be). In front of a huge media presence, an old enemy publically calls Quicksilver out for being a thief, a murder, and an occasional terrorist.

This may not be everyone’s idea of an exciting comic – and I’ve mentioned many times in the past that I’ve got mixed feelings about Peter David’s writing style – but I really enjoyed this issue. I’m glad that David is delving into the complexities of Quicksilver’s recent past, since his prior excuse of “a Skrull did it” was a pretty big cop out, albeit a fairly clever one. I’m interested to see where David takes things from here – will Pietro have to face major ramifications for his past crimes, or will they be swept aside again, perhaps via the intervention of Serval’s considerable political power? And with his decision to defy Havok and side with X-Factor, how will the Uncanny Avengers react? I’m looking forward to finding out.

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Secret Avengers 7

Secret Avengers #7

“Watch the Tlöne, Make Things Explode, Get Into Our Zone”

Ales Kot (writer), Michael Walsh (artist). Cover by Tradd Moore.

Well then. I’ve read some uneven comics in my time, but this one is downright schizophrenic.

On the one hand, Secret Avengers deals with some serious issues; Black Widow is missing and presumed dead, and Spider-Woman blames herself for not saving her. Nick Fury Jr. lays unconscious in a hospital bed, recovering from having acid splashed in his face. Hawkeye has been captured by an A.I.M. cell, and Phil Coulson has gone off the grid. That’s half the story, anyway – the rest is wacky, madcap comedy.

The issue guest stars Deadpool, and every page he appears on gives Ales Kot carte blanche to go absolutely crazy. There are sight gags, slapstick explosions, and as close as a comic can get to a musical montage. And you know the recurring joke that Deadpool realizes he’s in a comic book, and occasionally breaks the fourth wall? Boy howdy, does Kot ever beat that joke to death. With no hint of subtlety whatsoever, Deadpool chats with both Kot and the readers, and methodically explains the entire “we’re not real” situation to an oblivious Hawkeye. Daffy Duck was less self-aware in Duck Amuck, the old cartoon where he spent the whole time arguing with his animator.

The real problem with all of this is that you can’t have it both ways… it’s impossible to build up the drama of things like Fury’s horrific wounds, when it’s being reiterated over and over that none of this is real, or matters in any way. It’s one thing to have a character like Deadpool slyly wink at the reader, but quite another to repeatedly pull the audience out of the story, shattering the narrative tension.

Another issue is the way that Kot combines the very serious issue of Coulson’s possible post-traumatic stress disorder with gags like his randomly cross-dressing. Granted, I’m rather amused by the fact that Coulson subscribes to the Hunter Gathers school of espionage, but it’s still a problematic depiction of a serious mental condition. To his credit though, Kot directly addresses the dissonance in the letter column, assuring readers that he’s taking Coulson’s PTSD seriously, and that it’s part of a long-term story, not just fodder for throw-away gags… so for now, I guess I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Michael Walsh does an excellent job on art duties. His Hawkeye pages are pretty close to what David Aja has been doing on that character’s solo series, but that’s in no way a criticism. Walsh also has a great gift for facial expressions, and his requisite Jim Steranko-inspired page comes across well enough.

 Secret Avengers has a great creative team, and a ton of potential… I just hope Kot can pick a tone and stick with it, because right now, this series is less than the sum of its parts.

—–

Original Sins 5

Original Sins #5

“How the World Works”

Al Ewing, Ryan North and Chip Zdarsky (writers), Butch Guice, Ramon Villalobos and Zdarsky (artists). Cover by Mark Brooks.

I already did a write up for the first issue of this miniseries a few months back, but since the writing team this month features a pair of my local Ontario boys, I figured I’d give it one last look.

In reviewing the first issue, I came down kind of hard on this title, largely because of the poor quality of the lead-off story, which was only tangentially related to the Original Sin crossover that Sins spins off from. This time around though, we’re right in the thick of things, with a powerful entry into Nick Fury’s ongoing fall from grace. It’s an excellent story – though I did have to look up what a “hairshirt” was.

As for the five-part Young Avengers story that ran through this series, I already mostly said my piece last time – the art is still striking, the story is still clever, and we wrap up with an interesting twist. I was tempted to make some kind of snarky comment about the actual feasibility of breaking military-grade encryption, but then I realized that this is the Marvel Universe, where Reed Richards probably solved the P versus NP Problem over a long weekend. (Look it up).

We wrap up with another two-page comedy short, with an assortment of heroes and villains confessing their deepest, darkest secrets. What could have been throw-away filler is instead absolute comedy gold, with a ton of fantastic gags, none of which I’m going to ruin here – pick up this issue and read them for yourself.

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Green Lantern New Guardians 34

Green Lantern: New Guardians #34

“Sacrifices”

Justin Jordan (writer), Brad Walker and Rodney Buchemi (artists). Cover by Walker.

Why do I keep coming back to New Guardians over and over, despite being consistently underwhelmed by the title? Search me. Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment, maybe it’s Brad Walker’s great cover (which channels the intricate detail of a George Perez or Art Adams). Whatever the case, this is probably my favourite New Guardians issue to date.

“Sacrifices” finds Kyle Rayner, Carol Ferris and the Templar Guardians at the mercy of the Psions, who received a New 52 revamp that turned them from goofy crocodile men into a threat more akin to Star Trek’s The Borg. Having gotten his hands on an errant Mother Box, the Psion’s leader, The High, plans to dissect the Guardians and strip-mine them every bit of knowledge and power they have within their Smurfy forms.

At first, this was just another run-of-the-mill Green Lantern title for me, but things took a darker turn with the revelation of lost Guardian Quaros’ fate, which is easily one of the most disturbing images I’ve seen in any recent mainstream comic. I’m not sure if he was shown on panel before now – I confess, I missed last month’s issue – but from the way it’s laid out in the story, I suspect not. Assuming I’m correct, I’m surprised they didn’t go for a full page splash, instead of placing it in an understated four panel sequence. For once, maybe DC played things a bit too subtlety (something I never thought I’d say in this day and age).

The artwork in this issue was solid, despite being the product of two pencillers and three inkers. The large team gels well together though, and if they were trading off pages with one another, the result is seamless.

What can I say? I went in with low expectations, but this comic over delivered in pretty much every way. It’s still not DC’s best book, but it’s above the average, and certainly good enough to warrant a recommendation.

—–

Bodies 2

Bodies #2

“Identity”

Si Spencer (writer), Dean Ormston, Phil Winslade, Tula Lotay and Meghan Hetrick (artists). Cover by Francesco Francavilla.

Right off the bat, Bodies has one of the most interesting premises I’ve come across in a long time. The miniseries follows a quartet of murder mysteries, all set in London, but spanning a period of over a century and a half. The various killings are investigated by a fascinating set of protagonists; There’s Edmond Hillington, a Victorian inspector and avid Arthur Conan Doyle reader, obsessed with scientific methodology, and hiding a personal life that would land him land him in prison if revealed. Then there’s Karl Weissman, a wily Polish immigrant with a mysterious past, trying to dodge both Nazi bombing raids and some dodgy Irishmen with a score to settle. In the present day, Shahara Hasan is a tough-as-nails cop, who finds herself the subject of a media hatchet-campaign because of her faith. Finally, we have the mercurial Maplewood, an amnesiac woman from a post-apocalyptic London that I personally can’t make hide nor hair of, but which promises to tie everything else together in the end.

Beside the circumstances of their murder investigations, the four featured detectives bear another element in common, that being that each one is on the fringes of his or her respective society. Hilington is a closeted gay man at a time when homosexuality was criminalized; Weissman is a Jew facing overt anti-Semitism; Hasan is a devout Muslim in the Islamophobic, post-9/11 Western world; Maplewood seems to be the sanest mind in a world gone mad.

The stories set in each era are given an equal six pages to unfold, with each driven by a different artist and visual style. My favourite by far is Dean Ormston’s fantastic take on the hidden grime and excess of 1890s society, which he depicts with a wonderfully lurid and filthy tone. All four segments are excellent though – this is an easy Eisner nominee, for my money.

Just two issues in, Bodies is still at the point when the first pieces of the puzzle are starting to fall into place, but I’m already completely invested. This comic is really, really good – maybe the best Vertigo title right now – and absolutely deserves your attention.

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