Comic Review: Detective Comics #948

detective-comics-948-a

Detective Comics (Volume 2) #948

“Batwoman Begins, Part 1”

James Tynion IV and Marguerite Bennett (writers), Ben Oliver (artist). Covers by Oliver and Rafael Albuquerque.

As much as I love Batwoman, I pretty much washed my hands of the character when meddling from the higher-ups at DC comics led to the premature ending of one of the best creative runs of the past decade. For those unfamiliar with the situation, Batwoman’s first solo series was launched as part of 2011’s “New 52” line-wide relaunch, with J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman sharing writing credits. Despite being lauded with critical acclaim, the series was plagued by last-minute script changes, most notably the eleventh-hour decree that Batwoman would not be permitted to marry her fiancé, Maggie Sawyer. For accuracy’s sake, Williams has indicated that the decision wasn’t specifically due to it being a gay marriage, but rather a marketing decision to not have any major characters be wed in the new DC Universe, which included retconning away the marriage of Superman and Lois Lane, as well as that of the Flash and Iris Allen. Still, at a time when LGBTQ representation in mainstream comics was insultingly sparse, it was at best a tone-deaf decision, and at worst a complete slap in the face to the fans who were buying the Batwoman series in the first place. Williams and Blackman subsequently walked off the book, which ran for another year and a half with new writer Marc Andreyko at the helm before being cancelled in 2015.

A lot has changed in the last few years, and while the world of DC Comics remains disproportionately straight, white and male, major strides have been made toward including characters of all types. A new Batwoman series is slated to begin in March, written by Marguerite Bennett and James Tynion IV, both openly queer creators. This issue begins to lay the groundwork to that series, but introducing a new major supporting character – more on that in a bit – and by continuing the story of Jake Kane, Batwoman’s father and one-man support staff, who did a heel turn last year by siding with the paramilitary force known as the Colony. This issue asks the question that will likely serve as the leitmotif of the upcoming series – “What can Batwoman do that Batman can’t?”

Part one of “Batwoman Begins” follows from last year’s “Night of the Monster Men” storyline, in which Batman and his allies battled gigantic mad science-borne monsters created by Hugo Strange (which sums up in one sentence why I love comics). With the threat of weaponized megafauna still presenting a very real threat, Batman and Batwoman consult with ARGUS’ resident expert on the subject, Doctor Victoria October. After making an immediate impression by helping the Bat-duo take down a flock of mutated seagull-men (again, I love comics), October quickly catches the heroes up on the situation, showing herself to be completely at ease in their imposing presence. She’s witty, charming, eminently capable, and I immediately took a liking to the good doctor.

detective-comics-948-bThat’s almost where this review ended, until I stumbled across a much more interesting aspect to the character that I completely missed – Victoria October is transsexual, possibly the most high profile trans character in comics today. And here’s the thing – it’s not treated as a big deal. October makes an allusion to knowing Batman in her “pupal stage, before [she] came into [herself],” and makes an offhand remark about how her deadname didn’t have the same panache as her chose one. That’s it. It’s done so subtly, for anyone unfamiliar with the trans community and its terminology (myself included), the fact that Victoria October is transsexual probably flew right over their head. And that’s amazing, because the only thing more important than representation of marginalized communities is normalization of those groups, treating them like actual, fleshed-out characters, instead of cardboard cut-outs defined by a single attribute like gender or sexual preference.

Funny enough, what led me to discover the subtleties of Victoria October was an offhanded Google search about an unrelated Doctor October, who appeared as an in Dark Horse Comics’ series Ghost. That Doctor October was a villain who was presumed to be a male, until she dramatically revealed herself to be a woman by whipping aside her cape and revealing a pair of massive breasts.

doctor-october-dh

This was in a series about a female vigilante who spent her time running around in leather fetish gear (drawn almost exclusively in cheesecake poses) while monologuing about how much she hated men. She was considered to be one of the more “empowering” female heroes of the mid-1990s.

Like I said, times change – and sometimes it’s relieving to see that things can change for the better.

New Comic Reviews! (6-6-16)

Batman Rebirth

Batman: Rebirth #1

Scott Snyder and Tom King (writers), Mikel Janín (artist). Covers by Janín and Howard Porter.

Returning to last week’s themes of nihilism, consider the meaninglessness that runs as an undercurrent to serialized comic books – the heroes never age, the villains always escape from jail, no one stays dead forever, and Archie will never choose between Betty and Veronica. If the New 52 was about trying to break that cycle in the worst possible ways, DC’s Rebirth event is an ambitious attempt to both embrace the recursive nature of superhero tropes, while also trying to explore some bold new ideas. With that in mind, it makes sense that this one-shot doesn’t feature an A-list villain like the Joker or the Penguin. Instead, Scott Snyder and Tom King dig deeper into DC Comics lore to pull out the Calendar Man – and what’s more, they provide a brilliantly creepy new take on the villain, who for once feels like more than a walking punch-line.

On its own, Batman: Rebirth is a bit unsatisfying. It feels like the last page comes far too soon, with the story acting almost entirely as a set-up for King and Snyder’s upcoming ongoing series (Batman and All-Star Batman, respectively). As a prequel to those books, this one-shot does its job, setting up Batman’s relationship with his newest protégé, and establishing Calendar Man as a legitimate threat. Mikel Janín’s artwork is excellent as always, and the simple script and somewhat sparse dialogue gives him lots of room to show off his skills with big panels and impressive set-pieces. I wouldn’t call this issue required reading – if you’re just looking to follow the main Rebirth miniseries, you can skip this without missing anything vital to that story. Still, it’s worth a look if you’re planning to jump onboard for the new Bat-titles… and of course, if you’re a fan of the awesome Snyder’s awesome Batman run, this is probably already on the top of your pull list.


Spider-Man 2099 11

Spider-Man 2099 #11

“Something Sinister This Way Comes” pt. 2

Peter David (writer), Will Sliney (artist). Cover by Francesco Mattina.

History has not been especially kind to science fiction produced in the mid-1990s, with its poor understanding of then-burgeoning technologies and topical social issues. Given that Marvel’s original 2099 line was one of the most aggressively Nineties things to ever exist, it’s fared about as well as you’d expect. Other than a few – very few – stand out stories, and the so-bad-it’s-good Punisher 2099 (which is wildly entertaining), the entire line has long-since been consigned to the bottom of bargain bins at comic conventions, and fodder for internet click-bait. Yet somehow, in 2016, there is somehow enough demand to sustain a monthly comic starring Miguel O’Hara – at best, only the 3rd most popular character *currently* calling himself Spider-Man.

Spider-Man 2099 was probably the best book of the original Marvel 2099 imprint, starring a technically savvy hero fighting the mega-corporations of a cyberpunk dystopia. At the time, it was arguably better than the regular Spider-books of the 1990s, of which the less said the better. Through the magic of huge crossover events and unchecked nostalgia, Miguel O’Hara was brought into the main Marvel Universe two years ago, and has pretty much starred in his own ongoing series since then (notwithstanding the hiatus and re-launch nearly all Marvel books got during and after last year’s Secret Wars event). O’Hara’s co-creator Peter David was tapped to write the series, and effortlessly picked up where he left off when he left the book twenty years ago.

Here’s the thing – a lot has changed in the Marvel Universe in the past two decades. Peter Parker is finally being treated like the brilliant scientist he was always supposed to be, and in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man he’s fighting crime in high-tech armour using bleeding edge technology. Miles Morales – the Spider-Man of the defunct Ultimate Marvel Universe – fills in the role of spirited newcomer to Parker’s seasoned veteran. We’ve got a heroine named Silk, a Spider-Gwen, a Spider-Girl, a couple of different Spider-Women, a Spider-UK, a Spider-Ham, and an entire other team of Web Warriors across an infinite Spider-Verse. With all that considered, what’s so special about Miguel O’Hara, or the Spider-Man 2099 series?

What stands out and makes this book worth reading is its humour. David is clearly having fun with his pet creation, and right at the point that the story threaten to get too serious, he immediately defuses things with a joke. On some titles, that would be detrimental – David’s penchant for silliness is nothing new, and I’d argue it’s led to a rather uneven body of work – but in this case it works. This issue sees O’Hara back in a version of his home timeline, fighting futuristic counterparts to the Sinister Six… and honestly, how could one ever take villains like Future Venom, Aqua-Doctor Octopus and Cyborg Vulture seriously? They looks like cast-offs from a bad toy-line, the kinds that sat on the discount pegs in Wal-Mart until some harried relative grabbed them at random on the way to the birthday of a child they didn’t particularly like, causing the kid to throw a tantrum, because he wanted an action figure of ACTUAL Batman, not some bullshit Pirate Batman or Samurai Batman or – actually, I’m not sure where I’m going with any of this. Let’s move on.


X-Men '92 4

X-Men ’92 #4

“Pages from the Book of Sins”

Chad Bowers and Chris Sims (writers), Alti Firmansyah (artist). Cover by David Nakayama.

While we’re on the subject of Nineties nostalgia, we have Chad Bowers’ and Chris Sims’ love-letter to the 1992 X-Men animated series. I’ve been a big fan of Sims since the earliest days of his Invincible Super Blog, and clearly this is his dream job, teaming with long-time writing partner Bowers on a show he actually analyzed in depth, episode by episode, for the website Comics Alliance. So why do I find this comic so underwhelming?

First and foremost, there’s the artwork. Alti Firmansyah’s art is fine on its own, but its cartoony, manga-influenced style doesn’t match the visual aesthetics of the animated series at all, which was patterned after Jim Lee’s work. Come on guys, you couldn’t one ex-Image Comics penciler who had some spare time in his calendar? Hell, DC Comics keeps at least ten Jim Lee clones on staff at all times.

The real problem with this book though is that it feels like a complete re-tread – generously, a remix – of old Marvel stories, with very little new content added. The first arc of this ongoing series pairs the X-Men with Dracula, something that’s been done several times. In particular, this story lifts entire elements of 2010’s Curse of the Mutants storyline, including Jubilee being turned into a vampire, and Dracula teaming up with the X-Men to fight his renegade son. The conclusion recycles the Doctor Strange “Montesi Formula” storyline from 1983 (reprinted in 2006), filtered through 2005’s House of M. None of this is exactly kept secret – there are direct panel recreations and background details that show Sims and Bowers are going for homage, not outright theft. Even giving them the benefit of the doubt though, if you’ve read the original stories they’re sampling from, there’s an insurmountable feeling of “been there, done that.” For younger reader or Marvel neophytes, this is a decent book to flip through, but I can’t get excited about it until I see something new.

New Comic Reviews! (10-17-14)

Batman 35

Batman #35

“Endgame pt. 1”

Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV (writera), Greg Capullo and Kelley Jones (artists). Covers by Capullo, Andy Kubert and Brian Stelfreeze.

Batman versus the Justice League… need I say more? It’s certainly been done before, but there are few things in comics more fun than seeing a creative writer devise ways for Batman to even the playing field against his erstwhile allies – words cannot express how much I love his contingency plan for dealing with Wonder Woman. But why have DC’s paragons of virtue turned on the Caped Crusader? Fair warning, huge spoilers below…

Spoiler Alert

The lead story’s shocking final page reveals the shocking truth – the Joker is back, just in time for his own 75th anniversary, and he’s somehow taken control of the Justice League. And apparently that’s just step one of his master plan… presumably, step two involves finding a new face, since the old one he cut off is still in the possession of the psychotic ingénue Joker’s Daughter (no relation).

So is this issue worth picking up? Are you kidding me? If Batman fighting the Justice League isn’t enough of a draw on its own, we also get the first part of  back-up serial that promises to reveal the Joker’s origin – or origins, as the case may be – with art by classic Batman pencillers of the past. This month’s chapter comes courtesy of Kelley Jones, whose horror-influenced style accompanies a madman’s tale, which casts the Joker as the devil himself.

Seriously. Batman versus the Justice League, as written by Scott Snyder. If that’s not a selling point in and of itself, I don’t know what is.

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Amazing Spider-Man 7

Amazing Spider-Man #7

“Ms. Marvel Team-Up”

Dan Slott and Christos Gage (writers), Giuseppe Camuncoli (artist). Covers by Camuncoli and Cam Smith.

Let’s talk about the new Ms. Marvel for a bit. Kamala Khan is a American Muslim teenager of Pakistani descent. Born and raised in Jersey City, Kamala has grown up just on the outskirts of a world of superheroes that revolves around Manhattan (and the symbolism of being an outsider from that community shouldn’t be lost on anyone). Having had her dormant Inhuman genes activated during the Inhumanity storyline, Kamala begins a career as a superhero, borrowing the former identity of her greatest inspiration, the Avengers’ Captain Marvel. As an awkward teenager trying to deal with both newfound superpowers and the struggles of Real Life, Kamala’s story deliberately echoes the earliest Spider-Man stories, so it only makes sense that they would eventually end up teaming up.

I think the addition of Kamala Khan to the Marvel Universe is a great thing – it brings diversity to the Marvel line, in the form of a well-written and well-drawn series, one that appeals to an underserved audience of younger female readers. The thing is, though, I’m not part of that target demographic. And as much as I appreciate all that Kamala Khan can offer to some readers, as soon as she starts talking about shipping celebrities, I immediately zone out. The character just doesn’t appeal much to me, personally, and while it’s probably a good move to give her the exposure of a two-issue crossover in one of Marvel’s biggest titles, it doesn’t quite inspire me to check back in next month.

This issue is split between the lead and a back-up that ties into the Spider-Verse storyline, where Morlun and his family are traveling through the multiverse, killing and feeding on every Spider-Man analogue in the multiverse. Their murder spree attracts the attention of the Captain Britain Corps’ Spider-UK, who sets out to stop them. Though for the most part, this story just serves as a prelude to an upcoming issue of the Edge of Spider-Verse tie-in, it is nice to see a scene that acknowledges that some of Marvel’s cosmic higher-ups have finally started to notice the major events that have been going on in Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers.

This comic didn’t exactly wow me, but I’m okay with that. Although the lead story felt a bit short, it’s solid enough that I can easily recommend it as a umping on point for readers curious about the new Ms. Marvel, but who haven’t yet gotten around to picking up her own ongoing series.

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Constantine 18

Constantine #18

“Half a Chance”

Ray Fawkes (writer), Jeremy Haun (artist). Cover by Juan Ferreyra.

After being shunted to Earth-2 last issue, John Constantine battles the powerful sorcerer Wotan, leading up to his inevitable meeting with his extra-dimensional counterpart. Of course, Earth-2 isn’t doing so well at the moment – the Wonders of the World have fallen, and Darkseid’s forces are running wild like Hulkamania in the late Eighties.

Despite his ties to the occult, Constantine has traditionally been a character grounded in a relatively realistic world – in a way, that’s kind of the appeal of the character. Yet here we are, seeing him hopping dimensions and running across Parademons. It feels unnatural, like aliens in an Indiana Jones movie, or that time Jonah Hex was transplanted to a post-apocalyptic future setting. Other than the science fiction trappings, this is your typical New 52 John Constantine story – he’s threatened by a magical MacGuffin, survives by being a rat bastard, and grumbles about the cape-and-tights set. It feels rather perfunctory, without any of the intangible factors that might have given it a little extra oomph. If might be because I don’t care about the current version of Earth-2 – like, at all – but this issue just doesn’t do it for me.

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Rocket Raccoon 4

Rocket Raccoon #4

“A Chasing Tale pt. 4”

Skottie Young (writer and artist). Covers by Young, Pascal Campion and Alex Kropinak.

The latest issue of Marvel’s sleeper hit of the season sees Rocket learning the truth about his evil doppelganger, and battling an army of his angry ex-girlfriends. Has the lovably unrepentant bastard really found another anthropomorphic raccoon like him? Or is this just another plan by his most devious enemy?

Like the movie that rekindled interest in the character, the Rocket Raccoon series absolutely over-delivers. It’s wickedly funny, with a surprising amount of heart. It’s also another great example of Marvel Comics’ willingness to champion a title that’s just a bit outside the norm, because there aren’t many mainstream comics out there that look or read anything like this.

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Trinity of Sin 1

Trinity of Sin #1

“The Wages of Sin pt. 1- Nightfall”

J.M. DeMatteis (writer), Yvel Guichet (artist). Covers by Guillem March and Cully Hamner.

Well. That certainly was terrible.

The latest venture for the Trinity of Characters I’m Not Sure Anyone Actually Cares About sees them individually confronted by a trio of generic demon monsters, led by a similarly generic big bad, in a comic that I can at least credit for helping me with my chronic insomnia. Between the endless dreary monologues and the “shock” deaths that are completely ineffective and unnecessary, Trinity of Sin did more to knock me out than the tryptophan in my Thanksgiving turkey dinner. Maybe it’s just my personal rule to avoid any comic that contains child rape as an afterthought, but I absolutely loathed this book, and despite some above-average artwork, I can’t imagine how it could appeal to anyone outside of the creative team’s immediate families. Seriously, this might be a late contender for DC Comics’ worst series of 2014, and that’s some stiff competition it faces. Avoid this one at all costs.

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Earth 2 World's End 2

Earth 2: World’s End #2

“Drums of War”

Daniel H. Wilson, Marguerite Bennett and Mike Johnson (writers), Eddy Barrows, Tyler Kirkham, Paulo Siqueira, Jorge Jimenez and Scott McDaniels. Cover by Ardian Syaf.

I wanted to wrap up this week’s reviews by looking at the new issue of WWE Superstars. Based on solicits, that comic would have involved a retelling of the classic Marvel story “Secret Wars,” only with wrestlers, and the preview pages I saw featured the Iron Sheik fighting Daniel Bryan in a Roman gladiatorial arena. It sounds like a very silly concept, but also one that’s a lot of fun. Sadly, WWE Superstars was sold out. As such, we’re stuck with this hot mess – a comic that’s not only stupid, it’s also completely nihilistic and joyless, and badly produced to boot.

The story here features the latest twaddle about the Wonders of the World fighting their losing war against the forces of Darkseid, and because this is a New 52 DC Comic, that involves murder, torture, and the always lovely image of a guy jabbing his thumbs into another bloke’s bleeding eye sockets. But even putting aside the abhorrent subject matter, on a purely technical level, this comic is absolutely terrible. The dialogue is sloppy and repetitive. The story is badly paced, with scenes that end abruptly, often without resolution. More than once, the book cuts to and from an ongoing scene, but with major “off-panel” changes that throw the entire narrative cohesion for a loop. The artwork is uneven in terms of both style and quality, which provides yet another way for the book to alienate its readers.

The reason for all of this is painfully obvious, if you take a moment to look at the credits – despite being just the usual twenty pages in length, “Drums of War” somehow required the input of three writers, and no less than eight pencillers and inkers. The whole affair absolutely reeks of a book done by committee to follow editorial mandates, with no regard for cohesion or quality control. But then, that pretty much sums up all of DC’s problems these days, doesn’t it?

New Comic Reviews! (9/22/14)

Batman Futures End 1
Batman: Futures End #1

“Remains”

Ray Fawkes and Scott Snyder (writers), ACO (artist). Cover by Jason Fabok.

Before we get into it, for anyone not aware, all of DC’s regular books this month have been replaced with Futures End tie-in one-shots. While my interest in Futures End remains virtually nil, if anything was going to change my mind, it would be a Batman story co-written by Scott Snyder. And wouldn’t you know it, this is the most fun the Futures End storyline has been to date.  Not that that’s a huge benchmark to reach, or anything…

Set the requisite five years in the future, “Remains” sees a physically broken-down Bruce Wayne taking drastic measures to ensure that Gotham City will always have a Batman. It’s a well-conceived story, highlighted by a hilarious take on Lex Luthor, who appears in absentia as a series of pre-recorded messages to anyone foolish enough to try to mess with his shit. It’s a very clever idea, similar to the Cave Johnson recordings from Portal II. The funniest moment in the comic wasn’t intentional though.

You see, future Batman uses high-tech armour that allows him to mimic certain superpowers, like the Allen System, which causes him to vibrate through solid walls, a la the Flash. Only, the second time he goes to activate the device, there’s a rather glaring typo –

Batman Futures End 1 (int)

– which presumably gives Batman the power of lesbianism. Kind of treading on Kate Kane’s territory a bit there, no?

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Red Hood and the Outlaws Futures End 1

Red Hood and the Outlaws: Futures End #1

“Dark Days”

Scott Lobdell (writer), Scott Kolins (artist). Cover by Giuseppe Camincoli.

On the flip side of our last book, we have Red Hood and the Outlaws, one of the worst Futures End tie-ins to date. The title is somewhat of a misnomer – the Outlaws have gone their separate ways, and “Dark Days” focuses entirely on the Red Hood, who has devoted his life to killing people who are beyond the reach of justice. He’s so goddamned mopey about it though – for those of you who think the Punisher is far too jovial, or that Funk Winkerbean needs more homicide, then boy, is this ever the book for you. To me though, the incessantly whiny monologuing is too much to bear.

For what it’s worth, Scott Kolins’ artwork is as consistently awesome as always, and keeps the book from being completely disposable. He deserves a better showcase than this.

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Wonder Woman Futures End 1

Wonder Woman: Futures End #1

“Old Soldiers”

Charles Soule (writer), Rags Morales with Jose Marzan Jr. and Batt (artists). Cover by Tom Raney.

Third time’s the charm, right? This time around, we have a story about a Wonder Woman who has fully embraced her role as the God of War. Fighting against the endless demonic forces of Nemesis, Diana commands an army made up of the greatest soldiers and generals from all points in history. I’m honestly not sure how to feel about all of this – ordinarily I’d probably love this comic just for its sheer metal-ness and insanity, but when you have a scene where Wonder Woman discusses tactics with Napoleon and Alexander the Great, it’s rather hard to take the more po-faced moments seriously. If Charles Soule was going for something like Imaginationland or the Lego Movie, good job, mission accomplished… but he can’t then expect the reader to buy into the drama of Diana’s struggle against the corrupting influence of war and other oh-so-sombre concepts.

I also have no idea how any of this figures into the core Futures End story – although unlike the last two stand-alone issues, this one is continued in the upcoming Superman/Wonder Woman: Futures End one-off, so maybe that will clear things up.

The artwork in “Old Soldiers” is downright beautiful in places, with Rags Morales presenting a softer look than his ordinary output. There are some jarring inconsistencies though – I’m unclear whether Jose Marzan Jr. and Batt provided ink work, worked from breakdowns, or did full-in pages, but whatever the case, the shifts in style proved to be overly distracting.

Still, for all its quirks, I’d call this another successful Futures End tie-in… even if it feels like it exists in a universe completely removed from the last two books.

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 10 7

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 10 #7

“I Wish pt. 2”

Christos Gage and Nicholas Brendon (writers), Rebekah Isaacs (artist). Covers by Isaacs and Steve Morris.

Is Buffy still a thing? I mean, I know the comics are still going strong, but the show’s been off the air for over a decade. Does anyone outside the most rabid fan-base still care?

 Season 10 finds the Scooby Gang all rooming with one another in adjoining upscale apartments – and before anyone makes a Friends joke, Christos Gage and Nicholas Brendon already beat you to it. Buffy and Willow are coping with the recent upheaval of the very nature of magic itself. Giles is stuck in the body of a young boy, and Dawn has had her emotions “reset” to their state from several years ago. Xander and Spike (the focus this month) play the comical Odd Couple, bickering about maquettes and laundry while commiserating over their respective love lives. Oh, and the late Anya has returned as a ghost that only Xander can see, acting as his own personal Great Gazoo. So there’s that too.

I was never much of a Buffy fan myself, but from what I can gather, Season Ten keeps to the expected tone. The story is a bit reference heavy, and seems a little too married to Joss Whedon’s dialogue style. It all feels a little anachronistic – Friends reference notwithstanding, this still feels like a comic that’s somehow jumped forward in time from the late 1990s. Of course, much of this is down to personal taste – while I though Spike commenting that everyone around him speaks in expository dialogue was a bit too meta, the writing was otherwise very witty, and at times quite funny. And although at first I found Rebekah Isaac’s artwork to be a bit too cartoony, by the end of the issue I had warmed to it, especially her work during the climactic comedic fight scene.

 Season 10 isn’t going to rope too many new fans into the Buffyverse, but I assume it’s not really meant to. This is fan-service at its purest, though fan-service that’s at least of a high quality. Hardcore Buffy fans will probably love this one; for everyone else, it’s at least inoffensive fun.

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Deadpool Bi-Annual 1

Deadpool Bi-Annual #1

“Animal Style!”

Paul Scheer and Nick Giovannetti (writers), Salva Espin (artist). Cover by David Nakayama

You know, if you had asked me at the beginning of the year which forgotten Marvel characters would be the least likely to pop up in 2014, Brute Force would have been right at the top of my list, right next to the Power Pachyderms and Obnoxio the Clown. But here were are in September, and everybody’s nobody’s favourite cyborg animal eco-warrior are back, goofier than ever.

“Animal Style!” sees Deadpool being hired to protect the shady animal-based amusement park Water World from the five cybernetic terrorists who keep freeing its captive sea creatures. Naturally, Deadpool and Brute Force follow Marvel Comics’ traditional three steps of engagement – meet up, fight each other, team up to fight the real enemies, which in this case are the evil Water World CEO and his deadly murder-machine orca cyborg. Fans of Brute Force – all three of them – will find the team mostly unaltered from their 1990 miniseries, though curiously the majority of the roster is sporting new names. I wonder if it was a rights issue somehow, or if it’s just the case that nobody wanted to actually go back and reread the old books to get the names right. Not that I could blame them, really.

Produced by The League star and NTSF:SD:PSV creator Paul Sheer and comedy writer Nick Giovannetti, with frequent Deadpool artist Salva Espin, “Animal Style” is an unapologetic riff on last year’s controversial documentary Blackfish. There’s at least a modicum of a serious message involved, but for the most part that’s downplayed in favour of solid humour and animal-based carnage, striking a good balance between the different story elements. Due to prevailing theme of animal cruelty, this Bi-Annual might be seen by some readers as rather bleak comedy, even by Deadpool standards, but it’d be hard to argue that it isn’t well done. I know I was laughing as I went along – though admittedly, I have an inordinately dark sense of humour.

I’m always a sucker for stories that delve into the nooks and crannies of the Marvel Universe and resurrect old concepts and characters like this, and Deadpool is the perfect foil with which to lampoon the wackiness of Brute Force and their ilk. This certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste – I suspect it’ll offend at least a few animal lovers out there – but I quite enjoyed it.

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Teen Titans Futures End 1

Teen Titans: Futures End #1

“Team Effort”

Will Pfeifer (writer), Andy Smith (artist). Cover by Karl Kerschl.

No review here – just a friendly final thought. No matter how dark and grim the future may seem, we always have things to look forward to…

Teen Titans Futures End 1 (int)

…like flying pizza delivery drones. Technology is a beautiful thing.

New Comic Reviews! (9-4-14)

All-New Invaders 9

All-New Invaders #9

“Death-Locked! pt. 2”

James Robinson (writer), Steve Pugh (artist). Cover by Michael Komarck.

 When I looked at the first issue of All-New Invaders back in February, I came down rather hard on James Robinson – residual distaste from Cry for Justice and all that. At this point though, I’m more than willing to concede that his work on this book has been pretty damned great. Robinson has always been at his best when he’s given the opportunity to delve deep into established continuity and blend the classic with the contemporary, which anyone who read Starman or Golden Age can attest to. Playing to his strengths,  All-New Invaders is a title that’s richly steeped in the history of the Marvel Universe, from its very earliest days right up to the present. What really gets me though is the special attention paid to the wackiness of Marvel’s mid-1970s cult-classics – not only do we get Deathlok the Demolisher here, the issue ends with a revelation that’s set to introduce none other than Killraven(!) to the plot.

 At the same time, this is a story set squarely in the present day Marvel Universe. Major events like Infinity and Inhumanity are touched on, but instead of dominating and detracting from the story, Robinson folds them in organically, adding depth to the world that he’s developing and exploring. He manages the difficult trick of balancing the main characters’ complex histories with one another, without allowing their past to bog things down. In Robinson’s eyes, the Invaders aren’t an official team of any sort – they’re a fraternity, incontrovertibly bonded to one another by their shared experiences.

 This is an action-heavy issue, well served by Steve Pugh’s dynamic visual design, and some absolutely fantastic fight scenes. I’ve always tended to enjoy Pugh’s work, but when you just step back and compare his All-New Invaders pages to his work on, say, Animal Man, or Hotwire – also great, but miles apart stylistically – his versatility is nothing short of incredible.

 If I have anything to nitpick about this book, it’s that it seems counterintuitive to do a big Luther Manning Deathlok story so soon after Marvel introduced a brand new Deathlok (Henry Hayes) in Original Sins. It feels like a case of the left hand not knowing what the right is doing – I’m not saying it’s Robinson’s fault or anything, but it seems like a strange choice, if only from an editorial strand point. That’s a very minor quibble though, and if that’s the biggest thing I can find to complain about this book, that’s just a greater testament to how great of a job Robinson and Pugh are doing.

—–

Sinestro 5

Sinestro #5

“The Demon Within”

Cullen Bunn (writer), Dale Eaglesham (artist). Cover by Rags Morales.

 In the aftermath of his battle against the Pailing, Sinestro now has to deal with his arch-frienemy, Hal Jordan. Unfortunately for Jordan, things have changed with Sinestro as of late – he’s more powerful and driven than we’ve ever seen before. And now that Sinestro has devoted himself to shepherding the last surviving members of his race – a people that hate him for his former dictatorial rule over them – Jordan and the other Green Lanterns opposing Sinestro and his Corps face a moral quandary that won’t be solved through fists and power rings alone.

 This has been a very well-written series so far, which does a great job of making the reader empathize with Sinestro, despite his Machiavellian, supervillainy tendencies. I love that since this is Sinestro’s book, Hal Jordan is portrayed as being just that little bit more obnoxious than usual – it’s subtle, but you can feel the smarmy arrogance peeking through, the self-satisfaction, the holier-than-though attitude. He’s like the DC Universe’s John Cena.

 Even before I knew anything of the storyline, this book was an easy sell for me, based solely on the art team involved. Dale Eaglesham is one of the most underappreciated artists in DC’s stable, and when he’s switching off issues with a big name like Rags Morales, you already know going in that this book is going to be gorgeous. And it is – from the space-bound slugfests to the quiet but tense conversations, everything Eaglesham draws has a kinetic energy to it, and when he finally lets loose with a big Parallax double-page spread near the end, he completely hits it out of the park.

 As the first story arc draws to a close, My only concern with Sinestro is that I’m worried that the book won’t maintain the momentum needed to sustain itself as an ongoing series. Next month starts a six part storyline involving the New Gods, which will dictate whether this title continues its rise as one of DC’s better under-the-radar series, or if interest will fall off, and we’ll see yet another early cancellation. Fingers crossed, folks.

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Doctor Who The Tenth Doctor 2

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor #2

“Revolutions of Terror”

Nick Abadzis (writer), Elena Casagrande with Paolo Villanelli (artist). Covers by Casagrande, Alice X. Zhang, Rob Farmer and Arianna Florean.

 It’s been less than two weeks since the newest series of Doctor Who premiered, but for fans who still miss David Tennant, Titan Comics is here to hook you up, with this brand new series starring the Tenth Doctor. Trapped on a subway car with a Hispanic girl and her scary-ass monster doppelganger, the Doctor’s latest escapade finds him repelling yet another extra-dimensional invasion, this time by an army of invisible bug aliens that feed on people’s fears.

 “Revolution of Terror” isn’t really breaking any new ground, and at times the Doctor feels a little out of character – it seems very out of place for him to make a reference to something like the Ghostbusters films. Still, the Cerebravores are decent antagonists in the classic Doctor Who tradition – a friend of mine likened them to a scaled up version of the Vashta Nerada from the “Silence in the Library” serial, and that’s all that this book really needs. It’s marketed at pre-existing Doctor Who fans (I refuse to call them “Whovians”), and as long as you include a decent new threat for each story arc, and a convincing likeness of Tennant’s Doctor, those fans should be pleased easily enough.

—–

Batman Superman 11

Batman/Superman #13

“Eye of Satanus”

Greg Pak (writer), Jae Lee (writer). Covers by Lee, Ben Oliver and Dan Jurgens.

 Due to the machinations of the demonic Lord Satanus and the Apokoliptian trickster Kaiyo, Superman and Batman have been stripped of their memories – and in Superman’s case, his pants as well. Now they’re wandering through the usual chaos of Gotham City, which would be confusing enough, even before you throw in Catwoman, Lois Lane and a crazy mad scientist with an army of murder robots.

 Although using Batman and/or Superman to explore the issue of Nature versus Nurture is nothing new, Pak provides a decent enough spin on things. Both men clearly have an inborn instinct to act heroically, but can Superman still be Superman without the moral lessons instilled in him by Ma and Pa Kent? And what kind of hero can Batman be without the driving trauma of his parents’ murder?

 With the usual glut of Batman and Superman titles on the rack right now, the duo’s shared title is far from required reading, but it’s not bad, either. Pak’s story is just so decidedly middle-of-the-road that it leaves almost no impression on me. Jae Lee is always awesome, and I especially loved his cover this month, but does that justify spending your four dollars on Batman/Superman over any other half-way decent DC book? Not really – if you’re a completionist or a huge fan of the creative team, there’s nothing here that will offend you, and you might get more out of it than I did. Otherwise, this is a harmless but utterly skippable title.

—–

Catwoman 34

Catwoman #34

“Remote Life”

Ann Nocenti (writer), Patrick Olliffe (artist). Covers by Terry Dodson and Stephane Roux

 Hey, does anyone out there remember all those comics from the mid Nineties where people who didn’t really understand virtual reality or the internet would write stories about characters physically entering the World Wide Web? Remember how stupid they usually were? Well, Ann Nocenti has updated technological ignorance for the modern reader, only this time it’s in the form of a ludite’s view of online gaming. I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that Nocenti has never played World of Warcraft or Everquest or Ultima Online – if she has, she certainly doesn’t understand either the culture that’s developed among players of those kinds of games. That’s appropriate, I suppose, because Nocenti also doesn’t seem to really understand the process of videogame programming, or how 3D printers work, or the details of data encryptionw. Though to be fair, there’s at least one brief section without any glaring technical issues, that being when Catwoman picks up a club and starts smashing things like a Neanderthal.

 This entire book left a bad taste in my mouth. It’s the same old “look at the stupid nerds, they’re so socially awkward and neurotic” bullshit that was old hat decades ago. The tone to this book is right out of an 80s teen comedy, with Catwoman acting as Nocenti’s character-insert Biff Tannen. And maybe I’m being a bit harsh here, but when your villain shows up and he’s a pockmarked nerd in prosthetic elf ears, it comes across as being pretty goddamned condescending toward gamers. I’d be insulted, if the rest of the story wasn’t so terrible. As it is, I just want back the time I wasted reading this crap.

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Grimm Fairy Tales Presents Godstorm Hercules Payne 5

Grimm Fairy Tales Presents Godstorm: Hercules Payne #5

“The Watcher”

Joe Brusha, Ralph Tedesco, Pat Shand and Chuck Brown (writers), AC Osorio (artist). Covers by Paolo Pantalena, Eric J. and Vicenzo Cucca.

 Finally this week, we look at the last issue of a miniseries with a mouthful of a title. GFTPG:HP advances the brewing war between Zeus and Venus, as our hero with the kick-ass Blaxploitation name fights to face-punch his way through a bunch of criminal goons who kidnapped his girlfriend. If you’re a classic beat-‘em-up videogame player, this should all sound familiar… it’s basically the same plot as Double Dragon. And River City Ransom. And The Adventures of Bayou Billy. And Final Fight. And Super Mario Bros., come to think of it. Though in this case, the bad guys also murdered Hercules Payne’s brother, which is a slightly darker direction than the Mario games usually took.

 While there’s nothing really exceptional about GFTPG:HP, it’s a decent enough adventure story, set against the backdrop of a larger conflict. Once again I’m struck by how far Zenescope books have come from their early days of cheap T&A, broadening into one of the better fantasy/superhero setting in comics today. If you want to get a taste of what Grimm Fairy Tales is all about in 2014, this series is as good an entry point as any.

New Comic Reviews! (8-6-14)

Pariah 6

Pariah #6

Aron Warner and Philip Gelatt (writers), Brett Weldele (artist and cover).

 Pariah tells the story of a group of teenagers who, due to a genetic fluke, are so intelligent that they have become outcasts from the rest of society. Following a mysterious explosion, these “Vitros” are branded terrorists, and are rounded up and summarily exiled to a decrepit satellite high in orbiting. By this point in the story, the Vitros are preparing to leave their home system for a new life on a distant planet, when a global pandemic back on Earth forces them to consider their moral responsibility to either help or abandon the world that rejected them.

 Pariah is the brainchild of veteran film producer Aron Warner (best known for producing the Shrek series), with his stories realized by writer Philip Gelatt (screen writer of last year’s underrated box office bomb Europa Report) and artist Brett Weldele of the comic series The Surrogates (which was adapted for the 2009 Bruce Willis film of the same name). With all the Hollywood connections in play, one might expect Pariah to be just another vanity project from an outsider looking to dabble in the comic book medium, but in fact there’s actually quite a lot of quality content here.

 The backstory of Pariah plays on society’s fear of the future in a few different ways. Both the Vitros’ origin and the viral outbreak of this issue mirror the worst-case scenarios that crop up with any advance in the biological sciences. The Vitros themselves are a more literalized version of a generation of teenagers that have virtually nothing in common with the people currently running the world (which could more or less describe the youth of the world at any time in modern history).  At the same time, the reality of the Vitros’ lives in exile touches on a more primal side of the human psyche, as their de facto tribe clashes over conflicting personalities and ideologies. Warner and Gelatt have come up with a fascinating variety of characters, with varying degrees of maturity and emotional control, some of whom are clearly doing a better job of coping with their situation than others. The would-be leaders, schemers and outcasts reflect both a complex self-governing system, and a warped version of the rivalries and cliques you’d see on any schoolyard. Thematically, Pariah resembles nothing so much as Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Shadow series, by way of Lord of the Flies.

 There are a few minor things that stretch credulity within the world of Pariah – for me, the biggest stretch is accepting just how convenient and well equipped the Vitros’ satellite home turned out to be, considering they were sent there specifically to eliminate the serious threat they posed to the worlds’ governments. I suppose that’s just one of those little things you need to accept as fact going in to the story; if you pull on that string too hard, you’re going to have to ask why the Vitros weren’t just rounded up and summarily executed, which would have resulted in a much darker (and much shorter) series.

 With just two issues left in this miniseries, there’s still a ton of room to run with this concept, and Warner has already said in interviews that he has ideas for two different follow up stories. I hope those projects indeed end up seeing the light of day – we’ve only just scratched the surface of where Pariah can go.

—–

Armor Hunters Harbinger 1

Armor Hunters: Harbinger #1

Joshua Dysart (writer), Robert Gill (artist). Covers by Lewis LaRosa, Clayton Crain, Trevor Hairsine and Diego Bernard.

 Continuing with our current theme of precocious teenagers possessed of superhuman skillsets, we come to the kids of Harbinger, in their tie-in to Valiant Comics’ big Armor Hunters crossover. That story sees a powerful alien armada showing up in Earth’s orbit, looking to claim X-O Manowar’s suit of extraterrestrial armour, and more than willing to slaughter millions of humans without giving it a second thought. Even before the first panel of this three-issue tie-in miniseries, Armor Hunters can already boast levels of carnage usually relegated to a Warren Ellis book.

 The characters of Harbinger have always worked as a darker shadow to the early X-Men or Young Mutants stories, transplanting all of Marvel’s mutant angst into even uglier, more violent and nihilistic world. These are characters born of trauma, tortured and manipulated their entire lives who ultimately emerge into society as super-powered bundles of neuroses and scar tissue. These are damaged kids, and in this story they’re thrown into a damaged world, as the last two members of the Harbinger team, and their Pepsi Challenge counterparts Generation Zero try to provide humanitarian relief to a city that’s been all but scorched off the face of the planet. And of course, things quickly devolve into violence thanks to roving bands of drug dealers and kidnappers, who are just begging to be killed off in various violent ways.

 Back in the early- to mid-nineties, Valiant Comics was a big deal in the comic industry, and the company’s flashy return in 2012 proved that these characters still carry a huge cache of nostalgia for some fans. In all honesty though, I can’t claim to be one of them… I’ve only read a relative handful of Valiant books, new or old, and none of these characters really mean much of anything to me. I suppose I can see the appeal of Harbinger, at least in an abstract sense… if you’re looking for escapism from your comics though, the Valiant Universe is certainly a grim place to escape to.

—–

Iron Patriot 5

Iron Patriot #5

“Unbreakable pt. 5”

Ales Kot (writer), Garry Brown (artist and cover).

 In the final act of “Unbreakable,” Jim Rhodes has lost control of his Iron Patriot suit, and an ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent in power armour of his own is about to assassinate an ex-president right in front of him. Rhodey’s father has unexpectedly shown up in a spare Iron Patriot suit of his own, but as inexperienced as he is, stands little chance to stop the nameless villain. With no other options, Rhodey is forced to eject out of his armour and fight his anonymous enemy barehanded, in one of the most brutal fight scenes in recent memory.

 After finishing this book, I was surprised and disappointed to learn that Marvel had quietly cancelled the series as of this issue. I was even more surprised to learn that writer Ales Kot has gone on record saying that he considers this to be the weakest work of his career.  In just one issue, Kot made me far more emotionally invested in Jim Rhodes than I ever have been before. With so much left unresolved, it’s a crying shame that Iron Patriot is ending just as it started to hit its stride.

—–

2000 AD 1892

2000 AD #1892

“A Night in Sylvia Plath pt. 1”

John Wagner, Dan Abnett, Gordon Rennie, Ian Edginton, Leah Moore, John Mark Reppion and Cat Sullivan (writers), Colin MacNeil, Jake Lynch, Leigh Gallagher, Ian Culbard, Steve Yeowell and Sullivan (artists). Cover by MacNeil.

 While pretty much all Judge Dredd stories are laced with irony, the latest serial that opens this issue is more openly silly than most, thanks to the return of Dredd’s logic circuit-addled ex-service droid Walter the Wobot. Behind the wacky comedy, there’s a more serious story brewing, in the form of a con man who’s been dressing up as Judge Death to rob the elderly and infirm. Other serials this week feature assassins, gladiators, Vikings and doomsday supercomputers.

 Although the tonal shift in the Judge Dredd lead is a nice change of pace, this is an issue where none of the serialized stories really pop. It’s just an unfortunate bit of timing, but with nothing much to sink one’s teeth into (and very little for me to talk about), this is just another run-of-the-mill issue of a consistent series – good, not great, and not worth grabbing unless you’re in for the long haul.

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Detective Comics Annual 3

Detective Comics Annual #3

“Icarus: Chaos Theory”

Brian Buccellato (writer), Werther Dell’edera, Jorge Fornés and Scott Hepburn (artists). Cover by Guillem March.

 “Chaos Theory” tries to do the impossible, by actually creating a nuanced and compelling origin for one of the lamest of Batman’s villains, Julian Day a.k.a. the Calendar Man. The story involves dirty dealings for the designer drug Icarus, which has a nasty side effect of occasionally causing its users to burst into flame (a concept that would seem to be more at home in the Marvel Universe, dealt alongside Kick, Toad Juice and MGH). There’s also a recurring theme of unintended consequences, as Batman’s attempts to help a young boy almost gets the kid killed, and sets Julian Day on an even more dangerous path than he was on before.

 It’s always refreshing to read a comic where Batman actually possesses the capacity to smile once in a while, and even more pleasing to see that when he’s not terrifying criminals, he can be a friendly and inspiring figure to the downtrodden. This is also a comic where Batman beats the piss out of an abusive father, blows up a salt quarry to shut down an illicit weapons deal, and dons a massive suit of Bat-Armour to charge head first into a heavily-armed gang of thugs. In short, this is exactly the kind of Batman comic I enjoy reading.

 My only complaint about this comic comes from its three separate pencillers. Dell’edera, Fornés and Hepburn are all competent artists in their own right, but they don’t gel very well together, and the divergent visual styles between scenes kept pulling me out of the story. That’s not a deal breaker by any means, but it did result in my enjoying this comic less than I might have with a more consistent art team. Over all though, this was a satisfying done-in-one story, and the kind of story that works well for an annual like this.

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V-Wars 4

V-Wars #4

“Red State”

Jonathan Maberry (writer), Alan Robinson (artist). Cover by Ryan Brown.

 In the world of V-Wars, melting polar icecaps have somehow led to the revival of a dormant gene within the human genome, causing a portion of the race to become vampires. Yeah, that’s not how any of that works, but just go with it. As a result of the change, humans and vampires coexist in a state of cold war, with extremists on both sides of the equation screaming for the other group’s utter annihilation. Caught in the middle are rationalist science guy Luther Swann, and the V-8 counter-vampire military unit, led by the unapologetic anti-vampire bigot “Big Dog” Nestor.

 While V-Wars could have easily worked as either a work of satire or a serious, thoughtful dissection of prejudices and race wars, it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. There’s certainly a level of social commentary – it’s no coincidence that the racist Big Dog is one of the few people of colour in this story, as is the young vampire girl he ultimately dismisses as being a parasite. Yet overly clichéd moments like Big Dog’s “rah-rah America” speech serve to strip away any sense of subtlety to the narrative, and as a result the symbolism feels manipulative and facile. Points given for the concept, none for the execution.

 

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.

—–

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.

—–

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.

—–

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.