New Comic Reviews! (5-17-16)

Red Hood Arsenal 12

(Red Hood / Arsenal)

Red Hood / Arsenal #12

“Vote Now and Vote Often!”

Scott Lobdell (writer), Joe Bennett (pencils). Cover by Tyler Kirkham.

We’re two weeks out from DC Comics’ big Rebirth attempt, the publisher’s latest attempt to alienate any fans that aren’t forty-year-old white guys. Every one of DC’s non-Vertigo titles is slated either for cancellation, or a shiny new issue number one. Against all odds, one of the Rebirth titles is a new volume of Red Hood and the Outlaws, once again penned by Scott Lobdell.

Way back in the far-off time of September 2011, Lobdell’s RH&tO was one of the worst launch titles of the New 52 line. The book was critically panned, yet somehow lasted for over forty issues. Was there anyone out there who enjoyed that nihilistic garbage? Apparently so, because rather than cancel the book, DC relaunched it as Red Hood/Arsenal, with the same writer at the helm – presumably because no one else gives a toss about either of those characters at this point. And here we are, with the penultimate issue of RH/A on the racks, and a new volume of Outlaws after that. If anyone out there knows just what Scott Lobdell is using to blackmail DC into publishing this tripe, let me know – or leak it to Gawker, while you still have the chance.

Red Hood/Arsenal #12 continues the recent storyline that revealed a dark time in Arsenal’s past, when a group of mercenaries he assembled went off the rails and massacred an entire town. Instead of taking any kind of responsibility for the atrocity he was absolutely responsible for, Arsenal instead trapped the team in the shell of a wrecked building, then commandeered a drone plane to blow them to pieces. Because this is a comic book, the team of mercenaries survived and gained superpowers to boot, and now the Iron Rule (as they laughably call themselves) are out for revenge.

There’s an element of meta-humour to Arsenal’s predicament – captured by the Iron Rule, he finds himself at the mercy of an online “live or die” poll, which leans overwhelmingly in favour of his execution. For those not in the know, that’s a pretty obvious reference to a poll DC conducted for Jason Todd (Red Hood) back in the 1980s, back when Todd was still running around in elf-booties as the second Robin. The fans weren’t much kinder back then, and Batman quickly found himself auditioning for a new sidekick. Based solely on that, I’d almost give this comic the benefit of the doubt, if it weren’t for the fact that by page two, someone describes Arsenal as “charming,” which is a pretty clear sign that Scott Lobdell and I aren’t going to be on the same wavelength any time soon. Plus, by the end of the issue, they go back and all-but spell out the gag, because I guess anyone reading this title was too stupid to catch it the first time. A wise man once said, jokes are like frogs – you can try to dissect one to see how it works, but it definitely won’t survive the process.

The other story thread continued from last issue involved Red Hood’s attempts to help the Joker’s Daughter reform and become an antihero like him. With almost any other character, that idea might have worked, but from her very first appearance in the New 52 DC Universe, Joker’s Daughter has been shown to be utterly psychotic and without any redeeming qualities whatsoever. In fact, she’s so one-dimensional that she’s served little purpose other than being a plot device – in this case, proving that both Jason Todd and Scott Lobdell make remarkably poor decisions. Anyway, after Joker’s Daughter went back to her old habits of wearing her leathery face mask made out of the Joker’s severed facial skin – I’m going to just let that one sink in for a second – Jason decided the best way to deal with her was to shoot her in cold blood. You can see why Arsenal and Red Hood keep being teamed with one another; they share the same problem-solving skills. This issue, we see that he didn’t kill her – in fact, after putting a bullet in the Joker’s Daughter’s chest, Jason was even nice enough to call her an ambulance. So why then did he shoot her at all? If he wasn’t going to kill her, why not just use his vastly superior martial arts skills to incapacitate her and drag her off to Arkham Asylum? Well, obviously if he did that, he couldn’t brood in the shadows, monologuing about who the real crazy-people-wearing-dead-guy’s-faces really are.

This comic does have one positive thing going for it, and that’s Joe Bennett’s artwork. Though he’s mostly wasted on a subpar script, his clean lines and dynamic page layouts shine through, especially his fantastically creepy flashback to the Joker maniacally beating Jason with a bloody crowbar. In fact, here you go…

 

Joker

 

I just saved you three bucks. Go spend it on a better comic.

Darth Vader 20

Darth Vader #20

“The Shu-Torun War pt. 5”; “The Misadventures of Triple-Zero and Beetee”

Kieron Gillen (writer), Salvador Larroca and Mike Norton (artists). Covers by Mark Brooks, Reilly Brown and John Tyler Christopher.

When Marvel Comics and their Disney taskmasters officially launched their line of Star Wars comics last year, they seemed bound and determined to fight the unfair stigma that licenced comics, by and large, suck. Sure enough, thanks to some of the best writers and artists in the business today, Marvel’s Star Wars comics have been excellent, with Darth Vader perhaps being the best of the bunch. Set in the aftermath of the first Death Star’s destruction at the hands of the Rebel Alliance, the follows Vader as he recovers from the Empire’s first major defeat. Complicating matters further is Vader’s discovery that he has a son – a revelation that takes place in the single greatest scene in all of comics from last year. Seriously, go Google that shit. I’ll wait.

Wasn’t that awesome? Who would have thought you can get that much emotional impact out of a dude wearing an expressionless robot mask?

Anyway, this issue finds us nearing the end of the series’ fourth story arc. Vader has successfully dispatched his would-be rivals for his position as Emperor Palpatine’s apprentice, and now he’s off for revenge against the traitorous Doctor Cylo, the mad scientist who transformed Anakin Skywalker’s charred and de-limbed husk into the bad-ass cyborg we all know and love. Meanwhile, Vader’s agent Doctor Aphra has been captured by the damned, dirty Rebels. With the man himself otherwise occupied, Vader assigns her rescue to his personal Droids, 0-0-0 and BT-1 (Triple Zero and BeeTee, lovably murderous counterparts to C-3PO and R2-D2)… and naturally, if they can’t save Aphra, they’re to ensure her silence by killing her, and everyone else in sight.

Though setting this series in such a dense period of Star Wars lore ran the risk of handcuffing it creativity, Kieron Gillen has managed to carve out his own niche, building on both the classic Star Wars trilogy and the often regrettable prequels, bringing life and resonance to these characters in a way that few writers have successfully done so before.  The highlight of this issue is a brilliant monologue from the Emperor, charting his rise to power through the sacrifices of his previous protégés, Darths Maul and Tyranus. The speech does more to develop Emperor Palpatine’s motivation, personality, and his complex relationship with Vader than all six movies he appeared in. Instead of being an inscrutable shadow or a ridiculous caricature (or an old woman with chimpanzee eyes – look that up too), this Emperor is a Machiavellian genius, whose unwavering belief in his own vision is magnetic enough that you can absolutely understand why a troubled Anakin Skywalker would be drawn to him. At the same time though, Palpatine is shown to be fallible, his control of his Empire threatened by internal back-stabbing and the constant threat of betrayal. He maintains order through sheer willpower and constant manipulation – and though Vader is one of the few willing to call the Emperor on his bullshit, he remains loyal to him… at least up to a point.

What really strikes me about this series is that, far more so than in the movies it draws from, every character is smart, and their actions always make sense. Nothing is done simply for the sake of plot convenience – there’s no mouthy Admiral sassing Vader, just so the audience can see him get Force choked to death, while Vader spouts a bad-ass one-liner about his disturbing lack of faith. In this comic, Vader’s allies and enemies alike understand what he represents, and what he’s capable of – as much as anything, he’s treated as a virtual force of nature. His agent Aphra knows that Vader will inevitably kill her, but willingly serves him because, well, what else is she going to do? In this issue in particular, an enemy of Vader’s makes a point of not even bothering to try to deceive him, because come on, this is Darth Vader, it’s just not going to work.

Like most Star Wars tie-ins, the Darth Vader comic pays slavish attention to continuity, particularly in the form of visual details. This absolutely plays to Salvador Larroca’s skills, who shows an almost obsessive technical precision toward weapons, uniforms and ship-designs (for the most part anyway, there’s one background image of an Arquitens-class Imperial light cruiser that slightly off model, and I’m sure that put the fine folks at Wookieepedia into a right tizzy, but we’ll chalk that one up to artistic license). I could offer some mild complaints about Larroca’s style of drawing oddly incongruous faces, where his heavy rendering meshes awkwardly with colorist Edward Delgado’s vivid pallet choices – that’s entirely superficial and subjective though, personal tastes aside, Larroca’s artwork on this series is excellent. It’s certainly striking in any case, especially compared to this issue’s back-up story drawn by Mike Norton, which is perfectly fine, but fails to stand-out in any real way.

Darth Vader is a series that treats Star Wars as the grand space opera that it always should be, balancing an epic scale with some of the finest character moments the franchise has ever seen. If you’re not a Star Wars fan already, this book probably won’t convert you, but if you’re at all into the source material, this is well worth checking out.

Catwoman 52

Catwoman #52

“Faceless pt. 2”

Frank Tieri (writer), Inaki Miranda, Pop Mahn and Giuseppe Cafaro (artists). Covers by Joshua Middleton and Inaki Miranda

Shifting our attention back to another of DC’s lame-duck series, we have one of the more conspicuous Rebirth cancellations. Catwoman had a resurgence of sorts over the last few years, with former writer Genevieve Valentine revitalizing things with a new direction that saw Selina Kyle mostly hang up her catsuit to focus on running a major criminal empire. Once Valentine left the book, Frank Tieri quickly brought things back to the old status quo of jewel heists and dead fences. Although there was none of the innovation Valentine brought to Catwoman’s world, her take on the character admittedly wasn’t universally accepted, so at the very least Catwoman purists were happy with the return to form.

Unfortunately, it turned out that Tieri joined the series just as it was winding down toward cancellation. He’s done a decent job introducing some new ideas while evoking better Catwoman comics of old (especially Selina’s Big Score, a clear inspiration to Tieri). The thing is, how much can anyone accomplish when you know all of your ideas will be rendered meaningless as soon as you’re gone?

This issue has Catwoman caught between the Black Mask and the White Mask, having just learned that she has a very personal history with the latter. The False Face Society looms in the shadows, there’s a cursed artefact, and solicitations for this issue promise that Selina Kyle’s life with be changed forever. It won’t, though. Even if this issue ended with any sense of resolution – and it doesn’t – none of this matters as of next month. Everything Tieri’s done in the past six months will be swept away by the tides of Rebirth, and the odds are good that none of this will ever be referenced ever again. Catwoman will eventually resurface in the pages of another book, but elements like the Faceless Skull and the White Mask will be forgotten.

That isn’t to say that anything exceptional will be lost. Tieri’s story here was average at best, likely rushed to fit into the final issue. It concludes with a non-ending that resolves nothing. As for the artwork, nothing takes me out of a story faster than inconsistent work brought on by several different artists trading off pages in the same issue. It’s fine when it serves a narrative purpose (like the flashback sections of this issue), or the different artists have complementary styles, but that’s not the case here. With Inaki Miranda, Pop Mahn and Giuseppe Cafaro all sharing joint credits for pencils and inks, there are too many chefs in the kitchen. When you have can’t even maintain a consistent design for your main villain from one page to the next – especially when the work is further muddied by three different colorists.

Honestly, I’m disappointed – as one of the New 52 titles, Catwoman’s quality was always uneven, but after such a hot streak in 2015, I wish it wasn’t going out on a whimper and a mewl.

All-New X-Men 9

All-New X-Men #9

Dennis Hopeless (writer), Mark Bagley (pencils). Covers by Bagley, Pasqual Ferry and Ken Lashley.

This month’s issue of All-New X-Men begins a three-part tie-in to the current “Apocalypse Wars” storyline, a loose crossover between the current X-Men titles that I expected to have very little interest in. Of the titles involved, All-New X-Men easily has the best hook, as the time-displaced Beast and his teammate Genesis (the teenage clone of Apocalypse) find themselves sent back to ancient Egypt to witness Apocalypse’s rise first hand.

Beyond the trappings of an “event” storyline, this serves to highlight the main theme of Dennis Hopeless’ All-New X-Men, that being the battle for one’s soul. In this series, Genesis seeks to escape what he fears is his destiny, to become the same “megalomaniacal world-ending steroid Hitler” as the original Apocalypse. The teenaged Cyclops faces a similar conflict, having been brought to the present day only to learn that he shares a name and face with the most hated mutant terrorist in the world. The young Beast struggles with feelings of inadequacy over his failure to find a way to bring himself and his friends back to their own time, away from a darker modern age that he worries will corrupt them all. Oya is torn between her deep commitment to her faith, and a church that condemns her mutant powers as being satanic in nature. Since coming out as being gay, Iceman now finds himself pushing away teammates who were like brothers to him, because he no longer knows how to interact with them as he did before. Angel continues to deal with the repercussions of breaking up with Wolverine (the teenage girl version, not the short hairy guy), who he desperately loves, but cannot bear to watch acting in her reckless and self-destructive way.

That’s a lot of pathos for one comic series, but I’d argue that it all adds up to a larger idea – the battle for the soul of superhero comics in general. By that, I mean the ability to tell a gripping story without resorting to lazy conventions like shock violence, gratuitous sex and Women in Refrigerators. This is a comic that has the potential to connect with young readers in the way the first Marvel Comics of the 1960s did, providing entertainment not just for kids, not just for 40 year old men, but for everyone to enjoy.

There are a lot of fun things about this issue. You have ancient Egyptian battles, a scene of the Beast experimenting with a ton of obscure time-travel devices from old comics (my favourite being the time-crystal baseball bat from the Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine miniseries), and the pure awesomeness of Deejay Kid Gladiator. That’s not what I’m going to take away from this issue though. The thing that will stick with me is the scene where Genesis thinks about how exhausting it is to constantly maintain a happy face for the outside world, while hiding the depression or anger he feels inside. That’s something that hits incredibly close to home for me – moreover, it’s as poignant to me at age 30 as it would have been if I were reading this at age 15. Given the concepts involved in this series, I could see it resonating with a lot of readers in the same way.

As an aside, as I was writing this set of reviews, the news just broke that Darwyn Cooke passed away this morning from cancer. Cooke was one of the greatest Canadian comic creators of all time, whose timeless art at brought life to overlooked classics, and brought a grace and charm to every page he created. He’s probably best known for creating DC: The New Frontier, which is fantastic, as are his run on The Spirit and (funny enough) Catwoman. At a time when so many comics looked virtually identical to one another, his retro 50’s pop-art style always stood out as something fresh and exciting. Beyond his nostalgic style though, Cooke was a master storyteller, both as a writer and artist. His death leaves behind a void that few could ever hope to fill – but hopefully not for lack of trying, because if there’s one thing every aspiring artist in the medium could learn from, it’s the sense of inspiration, optimism, joy, and sheer love of the comic book craft that shone through Darwyn Cooke’s creations.

Darwyn Cooke

New Comic Reviews! (11-3-14)

Catwoman 35

Catwoman #35

“Comfort to the Hurt of the King”

Genevieve Valentine (writer), Garry Brown (artist). Covers by Jae Lee and Josh Middleton.

Loyal readers will remember that we just took a look at Catwoman last month, and generally I would never review two issues of the same series in a row. That said, this title is so unrecognizable from how it was last month, I had to triple-check to make sure I was still reading the same series. Spinning out of the Batman Eternal weekly series, “Comfort to the Hurt of the King” establishes a completely new status quo for Catwoman. Right up front, there’s a new creative team, with a style completely unlike what Ann Nocenti and Patrick Olliffe were doing last month. Beyond that though, the setting, cast of characters and overall tone have completely changed.

Over the past four weeks, Selena Kyle has hung up her cat-suit to become the head of a powerful crime family, formerly led by her estranged father. Using her newfound power, Kyle decides to rebuild Gotham City from the ground up, even if doing so means having to sink deeper into the criminal underworld than she’s ever been before. There’s no transition into any of this, mind you – if you haven’t been reading Batman Eternal, good luck, you’re going to have to play catch up as you go along.

The key to this new creative direction is the irony that as a simple thief, Kyle was a wanted criminal; yet, by running an entire criminal cartel, her power has legitimized her enough for her to be brought back into high society, to rub noses with Gotham’s cultural elite. It’s an absolutely brilliant idea for the character, and one that I hope Genevieve Valentine explores to its fullest. Despite the tonal shift without a clutch, Catwoman is suddenly one of the most interesting books in DC’s catalogue.

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A Town Called Dragon 2

A Town Called Dragon #2

“You Can’t Fight a Monster”

Judd Winick (writer), Geoff Shaw (artist and cover).

Stop me if you’ve heard this one – The residents of a Small Town America find their folksy way of life threatened when an ancient creature wakes up from hibernation. The beast begins wreaking havoc, and it’s up to the more capable citizens to band together and take the monster down. Basically, A Town Called Dragon is the movie Tremors, though without the acting tour-de-force of Kevin Bacon and Reba McEntire.

Now I will grant you, the emergence of a fire-breathing, man-eating dragon would no doubt prove troublesome for a sleepy rural community, what with its killing everything and growing at an exponential rate and all. But the solicits for this series literally say that on its own, the dragon threatens to Endanger Modern Life As We Know It, and that seems like a bit of an overstatement. Granted, we’re only two issues in to a five part miniseries, but it feels like we’re still much closer to the “just shoot the fucker” phase than we are to “carpet-bomb the whole county” or anything like that. I’m not convinced that this whole dragon problem couldn’t be solved by a quick run to the assault rifles section at the nearest Bass Pro Shop.

All the tropes you’d expect to see are here – the troublemaking teenagers, the stern but heroic sheriff, the naturalist whose warnings about what he was go unheeded, the black guy who might as well have “kill me” tattooed on his forehead (though I suspect that last one will be subverted). Honestly, A Town Called Dragon has thus far been completely paint-by-numbers. It’s inoffensive though, and the artwork is quite good, so if you’re a fan of the monster-thriller genre, you ought to give this one a look. Just don’t expect anything all that ground breaking – not yet, anyway. Stick around through the next three issues, and who knows how things will turn out. Maybe it’ll end up leading directly into the sequel, A Town Called Dragon 2: Aftershocks.

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Delinquents 3

The Delinquents #3

James Asmus and Fred Van Lente (writers), Kano (artist). Covers by Paolo Rivera, Khari Evans and Juan Doe.

In the latest adventure of Archer & Armstrong & Quantum & Woody (and the Goat!), our mismatched pairs finally join forces in their quest to find the a fabled horde of hobo treasure, led by a map tattooed on the remains of a dead man’s ass cheeks. As the unlikely heroes go native and hit the boxcars, they’re being stalked by the Veggie-Meat-Men Assassins from Uncanny Valley. That might be the most insane paragraph I’ve ever written.

 Delinquents is fantastic. It’s funny, irreverent, and stunningly creative. More than anything else, it reminds of Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonent’s much-missed Nextwave, and I can’t offer much higher praise than that. Not only is the story fantastic, the artwork is also stellar. Kano is at his very best here, demonstrating a brilliant eye for design in his layouts, expressions, gestures, nonverbal communication… and he draws a damned good fight scene to boot. There are a few times his non-traditional panel placement can become confusing in the story’s double-page spreads, but that’s very much a minor quibble.

As an aside, I was amused by James Asmus and Fred Van Lente’s use of Harry McClintock’s song “Big Rock Candy Mountain” as a leitmotif – mainly because of that last verse no one seems to know about, where the song turns out to a shifty vagabond seducing a young prospect with tall tales and fantasies, so he can get the chance to (and I quote) bugger him sore like a hobo’s whore. Kind of makes you look at the grizzled old Armstrong and his young pretty-boy companion Archer in a slightly different way.

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Avengers and X-Men Axis 3

Avengers and X-Men: AXIS #3

“The Red Supremacy pt. 3 – Good News for Bad People”

Rick Remender (writer), Leinil Francis Yu (artist). Covers by Jim Cheung, Nick Bradshaw and Humberto Ramos.

I try to stay up on my big Marvel mega-events, but I just couldn’t muster up any excitement for Axis. Continuing from the downright lamentable Uncanny X-Men series, we have a Red Skull with Charles Xavier’s dead brain in his head – I’m not even going to get into the many ways in which that doesn’t work – who has now becomes Red Onslaught, and has been wiping the floor with both the Avengers and the X-Men. Just when things looked their bleakest, Magneto showed up with a strike force of super-villains in tow, and it’s time for round two. Of course, this being a Rick Remender book, it all just leads to a long scene of everyone whining a whole lot, and the X-Men acting like insufferable pricks. I’ll say this for Remender, if nothing else, he’s consistent.

Any enthusiasm I might have had for AXIS was doomed to be quickly quashed by some of the most agonizing dialogue I’ve ever had to slog through. I’m not sure if it was clichéd lines like “Ridley Scott, eat your heart out!”, or the ever-so-timely references to George Clinton and the Monkees, but halfway through this comic I was ready to bin it and start fresh with something else. I persevered though, and so I can at least say with full certainty that the second half didn’t get any better.

—–

Vertigo Quarterly CMYK 3

Vertigo Quarterly CMYK #3

Steve Orlando, Gerard Way, Toril Orlesky, Marguerite Bennett, Diego Agrimbau, João M.P. Lemos, Matt Miner, Benjamin Read and Fábio Moon (writers), Emilio Utrera, Philip Bond, Orlesky, Bill Sienkiewicz, Lucas Varela, Lemos, Tanya Kurtulus, Christian Wildgoose and Moon (artists). Cover by Jared K. Fletcher.

CMYK is a quarterly anthology series that pays tribute to the comic industries past, with a quartet of issues dedicated to each of the four colors of the original color printing process. High concept, to be sure, but dear god, is this thing ever pretentious.

There are a lot of interesting visual styles on display here, but from a narrative standpoint, CMYK has little to offer. This is avant garde stuff, comics by way of Terrence Malick, and it’ll no doubt be roundly praised by snobby highbrow critics. Personally, I found nothing of substance to this issue’s vignettes (I hesitate to classify all of them as stories).

Maybe I’m just dense, too much of a philistine to appreciate such brilliant, experimental work. Then again, seeing as the best thing some creators came up with to explore the Yellow theme were two stories about lemons and one about urine, it might be possible that past the impressive visuals, CMYK just isn’t very good. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions – provided you’re willing to pay the hefty $7.99 cover price. I’d rather spend that money to buy two comics that don’t bore me to tears.

—–

Death of Wolverine Deadpool and Captain America OS

Death of Wolverine: Deadpool and Captain America #1

Gerry Duggan (writer), Scott Kolins (artist). Covers by Ed McGuinness and Declan Shalvey.

No one over the age of ten is liable to believe the premise of the storyline The Death of Wolverine. Sure, Logan may technically be pining for the fjords right now, but c’mon… there’s no way he won’t be back a year from now. There’s merchandise to move and movies to promote, and as long as Wolverine is one of Marvel’s most lucrative cash cows, he’s not going away for any length of time. With that in mind, I figured if I’d review any tie-in book, it might as well be the one that won’t take itself too seriously.

Here’s the thing though – DoW:DaCA has a surprising amount of heart. While the combination of the two lead characters may seem a bit arbitrary at first glance, Gerry Duggan does a typically excellent job of exploring the unique relationship between two veterans of military mad-science. Despite being nearly polar opposites of one another, America is one of the few people Deadpool respects, and in turn he’s one of the few people to treat Deadpool like an actual human being. Both men also had an unlikely friendship with Wolverine, with this issue seeing them come together to clean up the loose ends surrounding Wolverine’s death – and any number of the myriad ways he might end up being resurrected.

This one-shot could have easily been a simple cash-in, but it completely overachieves. While introspective and thoughtful at times, it’s also incredibly funny – I love the fact that even years after it was a recurring joke in Cable and Deadpool, we still have henchmen complaining about A.I.M.’s lack of an employee dental plan. The art is also stellar – Scott Kolins is at the top of his game here, especially with the flash-back splash page that lets him put his spin on the classic Mike Zeck-drawn cover of Captain America Annual #8. The man can also draw the hell out of a Black Widow cameo, and I will never tire of seeing Old Man Steve Rogers hit guys with his cane.

I didn’t expect much going in to this one, but it was a pleasant surprise… if you’re a fan of either Captain America or Deadpool, this one is worth a look.

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.

—–

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.

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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.

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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! (1-5-14)

ImageTalon #14

“End of the Run”

James Tynion IV (writer), Emanuel Simeoni (artist and cover)

Although Talon has been around for over a year now, this is the first time I’ve actually picked up an issue. I can’t really say why- the series is a spin-off from one of the best (non-Grant Morrison) Batman stories in years, James Tynion IV is a solid writer, the artwork is good – I guess the character just never really appealed to me. And of course, now that I’ve finally grabbed an issue and liked it, there’s a creative team shake up and all-new direction starting next month. Such is my luck.

As I said though, I enjoyed this issue. There’s a fun punch-up between Talon and the Gotham Butcher, and the tease of a new direction for the character moving forward. Admittedly, I’d probably appreciate the action more if this weren’t my first introduction to most of the characters, but with panels like this–

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–I might just have to go back and read what I missed.

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Aquaman #26

“Pressure”

Jeff Parker (writer), Netho Diaz and Paul Pelletier (artists). Cover by Pelletier

I’ve always felt that Aquaman gets a bad rap. As much as it’s a cliché to call him useless, or make fun of his powers, those jokes are usually the product of people who don’t know the character outside of the watered down– er, diminished– version seen on the Super Friends cartoons. The genuine article is actually a pretty cool character, a nice blend of contemporary heroics with the Arthurian mythology that gave him his name. When written well, Aquaman is as akin to Game of Thrones as it is to a traditional superhero book. And this is indeed a well-read book, as you would expect from new writer Jeff Parker, one of the most imaginative guys in the business today.

This month continues the political dissension in Atlantis, and pits our titular hero against a giant rampaging sea monster. It’s a fun little story, with excellent artwork from Paul Pelletier and Netho Diaz, one that’s far more accessible and even optimistic than the average “New 52” title. If you can get past Aquaman’s undeserved stigma, this title is well worth checking out.

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Teen Titans #26

“You Can’t Go Home Again”

Scott Lobdell (writer), Scott McDaniel and Tyler Kirkham (artists). Cover by Brett Booth

And we were doing so well, too.

So, this comic opens with Kid Flash witnessing his parents having their heads bashed in with a truncheon, followed by a scene where he undergoes the Ludovico Technique from A Clockwork Orange. This is part two of his new origin story, which began last month with the revelation that he’s a multiple murderer. Welcome to the “New 52”, everybody. And I swear, I tried to give this comic a fair chance, but by I was already pretty much done by the time we got around to the threat of child molestation eight pages in, after which Kid Flash murders someone by stabbing them in the neck with a shard of broken glass.

Seriously, fuck you Scott Lobdell. And fuck each and every person at DC who had a hand in approving any element of this piece of complete and utter trash. “You Can’t Go Home Again” is a great title, because this comic has almost singlehandedly convinced me to completely throw in the towel with anything to do with DC Comics.

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Catwoman #26

“Diamonds Are a Girl’s Worst Friend”

Ann Nocenti (writer), Rafa Sandoval (artist). Cover by Terry Dodson

In this comic, Catwoman finds herself caught up in the middle of a three-way war for control of the labyrinthine tunnels beneath GothamCity, and their population of societal washouts and rejects. Leading the conflict are the evil Doctor Phosphorus and his daughter Tinderbox, the certifiably insane Joker’s Daughter, and the survivalist scientist Warhog. Everything eventually comes to a head in a climax that leads me to believe Ann Nocenti is a big fan of the Hulk Hogan holiday classic Santa with Muscles.

First and foremost, this book features some of the most ham-fisted dialogue this side of an early Eighties Chris Claremont comic. With this much exposition forced down the your throat, you’d think everything would at least be crystal clear for the reader, but the story still often verges on the incomprehensible, in part due to Rafa Sandoval’s uncharacteristically cluttered artwork. This comic is a bit of a mess, but I will say one very positive thing about it– it’s a hell of a lot better than Teen Titans was.

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Black Science #2

Rick Remender (writer), Matteo Scalera (artist). Covers by Scalera and Robbi Rodriguez

 Black Science is a new creator-owned series from Image Comics, which sees an attempt to breach through the barriers between worlds go awry, stranding scientist Grant McKay, his team of experts and his two young children in an alternate dimension. With their reality-hopping device damaged – possibly sabotaged – McKay and his colleagues are stuck being shunted from one bizarre world to the next, hoping each time that their next leap will be the leap…home.

 Jokes aside, this is a pretty cool concept, a spiritual offspring of Jack Kirby stories and the kind of thing that might have popped up in an old issue of EC Comics’ Weird Science-Fantasy, with a healthy (one might say derivative) nod to Lost in Space. My biggest criticism however, as it often is with Rick Remender, is that a great idea ends up poorly executed. It happened with Remender’s Uncanny Avengers, Captain America, FrankenCastle… actually, scratch that, I was never on board with that one to begin with. The point is, a clever idea here is undercut by Remender’s slavish commitment to overly clichéd characters – the bitter ex-soldier, the obvious love interest, the wise-cracking black guy, the jerk-ass Doctor Smith. It just comes across as lazy, and turns what could have been a fresh idea into somewhat of a let down.

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New Avengers #13

“Inhumanity”

Jonathan Hickman (writer), Simone Bianchi (artist). Covers by Bianchi and Mike Deodato

The thing I love most about Jonathan Hickman is that no matter how high-stakes his stories seem to be, he always seems to be cooking up something even bigger and more mind-blowing. This issue gives us a peek into another aspect of the ongoing destruction of the Multiverse, and it’s a threat that makes Thanos look like Aunt May. New Avengers continues to be one of the biggest, most ambitious titles of recent memory, and it’ll be fascinating to see how this all ends up paying off.

Of special note with this issue is the always arresting artwork of Simone Bianchi, who absolutely kills it this month, particularly in a brief two-page spread featuring Doctor Strange which gave us the panel up above. It’s comics like this that make Marvel such an industry leader right now – it’s well written, visually striking, and leading to something big. Bravo, keep up the good work.