New Comic Reviews! (10-8-14)

New 52 Futures End 21

New 52: Futures End #21

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

After twenty issues of skipping frenetically between scenes, Futures End finally slows down enough to tell a somewhat coherent story, which lays out the story of the Parademon invasion, the arrival of the Earth-2 refugees, and the rise of the Global Peace Agency and the Cadmus Project. Of course, this is still Futures End, so there’s a subplot about superheroes being vivisected, but this is probably the least nihilistic issue to date.

With all of the larger-than-life space action and planet-side warfare, this issue might have been better served with a different member of the rotating art team. Cully Hamner is a very talented penciller, but for some reason his work here feels uncharacteristically static. When your big fight scenes largely consist of a group of heroes charging across the panel at a group of villains, you’d expect to have some kind of sense of motion, but the figures feel still and detached from their surroundings. It just feels off in places – though admittedly, I might be unduly nitpicking.

If you’ve been following Futures End with any kind of regularity, this issue is a must read, providing the first solid bit of narrative structure to date. It still gives me a headache though, and I’m glad the month of Futures End one-shots is over, so I can get back to mostly ignoring this event. But once more into the breach…

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Booster Gold Futures End 1

Booster Gold: Futures End #1

“Pressure Point”

Dan Jurgens (writer), Jurgens, Moritat, Will Conrad, Steve Lightle, Stephen Thompson, Ron Frenz and Brett Booth (artists). Cover by Jurgens.

Booster Gold was one of the characters hit the hardest by the New 52. The relaunch’s time-crunch managed to both regress the character by erasing a decade worth of evolution and growth, and completely mangled his backstory and past continuity. The last time we saw Booster, he faded out of reality, because apparently his existence depended solely on whether or not Superman and Wonder Woman hooked up. Incredibly, this one-shot manages to make things even MORE confusing, as it apparently stars not just the New 52 Booster Gold first seen in Justice League International, but also the original pre-Flashpoint version of the character.

The majority of “Pressure Point” sees old-school Booster bouncing between time periods and alternate worlds, which seems to serve no real narrative purpose beyond offering random fan-service cameos from characters like Kamandi and the Gotham by Gaslight Batman. Each jump is accompanied by a new art team, most of which remain within DC’s established house style, but which differ just enough to be distracting; thumbs up to Ron Frenz and Scott Hanna’s awesome Jack Kirby-inspired pages though, I’d love to have gotten more than three pages of that.

All of this happens while Booster is being tortured for information by ill-defined robot-alien-things, so I guess this is all in his mind? Or his memories? Except he’s interacting with people and places he’s never been around before, so that doesn’t make a lick of sense. And this all apparently ties in to both Futures End and the upcoming Worlds End, but I couldn’t begin to guess how. I like Booster Gold a lot, and I’m all for any glimmering hint of DC’s suppressed past, but Christ… this comic is just a complete mess.

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Cyclops 5

Cyclops #5

Greg Rucka (writer), Carmen Carnero (artists). Covers by Alexander Lozano and John Tyler Christopher.

Cyclops is pretty much the worst superhero ever. He started off as a humourless nerd, but unlike your Peter Parkers of the world, he was the type whose repressed moping just ruined everyone else’s good time. Eventually he evolved into the kiss-ass high school jock with the hot girlfriend from pretty much every Eighties teen movie. Over the past thirty-odd years, he’s abandoned his wife and infant son to hook up with an ex-girlfriend, carried on a long affair behind his second wife’s back, conquered the world as a totalitarian dictator – that’s kind of a big one – and murdered his mentor and father-figure, all while maintaining the same smug sense of self-satisfaction. But what happens when you throw all that right out the window?

The Cyclops ongoing series stars the time-displaced Young Cyclops of the All-New X-Men, an awkward sixteen-year-old, without all of his elder counterpart’s baggage and all-around shittiness. The result is something that’s pretty damned cool. This opening arc sees young Scotty reuniting with his not-dead space pirate father Corsair to battle intergalactic bounty hunters, and if that pitch doesn’t appeal to you at least a little, you and I will never understand one another. This Cyclops is filled with youthful idealism, but also has a streak of badass to him, as in this issue he manages to both channel Captain Willard from Apocalypse Now, and swordfight a hot alien babe while in his skivvies. More than the action moments though, the strength of this comic comes from father and son reconnecting and learning from one another. It’s a fantastic take on the character, and even with an already healthy respect for Greg Rucka’s writing, this book was an incredibly pleasant surprise.

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Action Comics 35

Action Comics #35

“After Doomed”

Greg Pak (writer), Vicente Cifuentes and Scott Kolins (artists). Covers by Aaron Kuder and Neal Adams.

Way back in January 1972, in Superman #247, Elliot S! Maggin and Curt Swan wrote one of the most important stories of the Silver Age, titled “Must There Be a Superman?”. The comic brought a new introspective side of the Man of Steel, as for the first time he questioned whether or not his presence was a negative influence on human growth, by acting as an outsider they could expect to solve all their problems, instead of looking to themselves for solutions. “Must There Be a Superman” ends on an ambiguous note, without coming to any solid conclusions, other than the rather morose reminder that even Superman can’t save everyone, and he certainly can’t fix everything.

Since then, we’ve had forty years’ worth of stories that have had Superman questioning himself. The premise has been developed into some incredibly memorable stories – Superman’s heart-to-heart with Hitman and the Kingdom Come limited series are two great examples, which are both phenomenal, but tonally couldn’t be further apart. We’ve even had the situation inverted with 1995’s “The Death of Clark Kent,” which was redone after a fashion in Grant Morrison’s recent run on Action Comics.

Most of the time, these stories reach somewhat of the same conclusion: Superman isn’t here to solve all the world’s problems, and he’s not infallible, but when it comes down to it, he can be seen as the ultimate embodiment of hope itself, an avatar for a human race that constantly aspires to better and more noble things. Moreover, and this is key to understanding the character, Superman never gives up, never stops trying, he will fight to his very last breath to make the world a better place. And that’s why The Last Days of Superman and All-Star Superman are two of the best comics ever written, why the Death of Superman was so impactful, and why Grounded completely sucked.

Superman’s latest crisis of conscience comes in the aftermath of a story in which he basically became the Incredible Hulk, fighting both the U.S. military and his own uncontrollable rage, before disappearing out in deep space for six months. Returning to a world that’ still more than a little bit pissed off at him, Superman (as Clark Kent) pens a blog post suggesting that the world might be better off without the Man of Steel – which is in turn passionately rebutted by a scathing article by Lois Lane. Lois makes the argument that while Superman provides a source of strength for the people of Earth to rally around, he also draws his own strength from their example – that is to say, he needs us as much as we need him.

There’s nothing in “After Doomed” that breaks any new ground – in fact, the story more or less admits that this is a re-tread through Lois’ polemic – but at least this is a story where Greg Pak shows that he understands what Superman is all about. There are also lots of great details, like Lana Lang’s anger and frustration about Superman’s failure to prevent her parents’ deaths, and Superman’s uncomfortable reunion with Batman, and there’s an interesting last page twist to set up the next storyline. This isn’t required reading, but as an epilogue to a storyline as uneven as Doomed, it over-achieves.

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Wonder Woman 34

Wonder Woman #34

“Madness Rains”

Brian Azzarello (writer), Cliff Chiang (artist). Covers by Chiang and Terry Dodson.

It’s been awhile since I’ve extolled the virtues of Wonder Woman, and as Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s landmark run approaches its final issue next month, I feel it bears saying once again – this book has been superb. The story told over the past three years has been nuanced and exciting, transforming an already rich pantheon of characters into one of the best ensembles in recent memory. The artwork and scripting have both been absolutely impeccable from day one, and there’s a sense of grandness and majesty that makes this series feel like something really special. I’m more than willing to say that Wonder Woman has consistently been DC’s best title since the New 52 relaunch, and it ranks right up there as one of my favourite runs on a mainstream superhero book, ever.

While I implore people to go out and read this series, by this point, the story has gotten much too complicated to just jump in head first. The final battle looms between the forces of the First Born and Wonder Woman’s team of allies, and accordingly the story is moving along at a breakneck speed. The entire series has been collected in hardcover up to issue #29 though, with the first three arcs also out in trade paperback, so there’s nothing stopping you going back and reading Azzarello and Chiang’s run from the start – take it from me, it’s well worth your time and effort.

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Swamp Thing 35

Swamp Thing #35

“Configuration”

Charles Soule (writer), Jesus Saiz (artist and cover).

You know what science fiction trope never made any sense to me? Computers and robots that apparently can’t parse basic English syntax. If you’ve ever read an issue of New Mutants with Warlock in it, you know what I mean – you get a character that’s supposed to sound high-tech, because its dialogue is made up of grammatical errors and pseudo-futuristic slang. If I were to imagine speaking with a super-intelligent artificial being, I’d expect it to understand my language backwards and forwards, and to sound like either Stephen Frye or a Dalek. What I don’t tend to picture is an ADHD-afflicted coke addict made to recite dialogue from old Marvel 2099 comics. And yet, here we are – Charles Soule introduces the living avatar of machine life, and it communicates through bad jokes and movie references.

Swamp Thing 35 (2)

Colour me unimpressed.

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