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

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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! (5-2-14)

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Green Lantern: New Guardians #30

“The Godkillers pt. 3 – How the Gods Kill”

Justin Jordan (writer), Diogenes Neves and Brad Walker (artists). Cover by Walker.

 No matter how hard I try, I can’t think of anything interesting to say about Green Lantern: New Guardians right now. I’ve only followed the series sporadically over the past year, but whenever I read an issue, it feels like just more of the same, an episodic and perfunctory jaunt from one problem to another, with only the most minor of characterization or growth. And while Kyle Rayner certainly has a vocal fan-base, his current characterization is so bland and middle of the road that he just can’t carry this title on his own, and Carol Ferris is often reduced to nothing but set dressing.

 This issue sees our heroes and the Templar Guardians battling the fanatical but silly-looking Godkillers, who have targeted the Okaaran deity X’Hal (a character I will forever irrationally hate, only for her terrible pun name). There’s lots of yelling and punching and a sequel-bait ending and oh my god I just don’t care. Nothing about this comic offends me, but I could not feel less involved with the story, or less connected to the characters. Sorry… I’m out.

—–

ImageBirds of Prey #30

“Soul Crisis”

Christy Marx (writer), Robson Rocha and Scott McDaniel (artists). Cover by Jorge Molina.

 The Birds of Prey are threatened by both moral quandaries and ninja assassins, as Ra’s al Ghul makes his move against the mysterious Mother Eve. Black Canary must choose between her team and her husband, while Condor is presented with a Faustian pact to remove the biggest obstacle in his path to Black Canary’s heart. It’s a solid set up – which unfortunately falls apart, with one of the least satisfying endings in recent memory. Don’t get me wrong, I liked this book a lot more than Green Lantern: New Guardians, but I was left cold by both the way the Birds ultimately dealt with Ra’s, and with how Black Canary’s decision was completely justified by issue’s end, removing any sense of pathos or internal struggle. Everything’s just wrapped up in too neat of a package, in a way that doesn’t feel at all like an organic resolution to the story. Nice art though, and I can’t totally dislike a comic with this many ninjas in it… so call it a wash, I guess.

—–

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Red Hood and the Outlaws #30

“The Big Picture pt. 2”

Wil Pfeifer (writer), Rafael Sandoval and RB Silva (artists). Cover by Giuseppe Camuncoli.

 The problem with this series, as it has been since its inception, is that all three of its protagonists are so utterly repellent, no amount of rehabilitation or creative team shake-ups can make them likable. As such, unless you’re a huge fan of early-nineties Image Comics team books (or Eli Roth movies), there’s very little enjoyment to be found in reading about the douche bag trio.

 The story this month begins with Arsenal trapped aboard Starfire’s spaceship, which has been purloined by some nefarious alien hijackers. Red Hood has a plan to save him – a needlessly circuitous plan, which is further complicated by his and Starfire’s need to be completely antisocial asses. The conflict in this issue is primarily driven by its protagonists ignoring several simple ways of dealing with a problem, and instead choosing the worst and most self-destructive solution possible – something I like to call “One More Day syndrome”. It’s not just annoying, it’s borderline insulting to the reader’s intelligence. Then again, this comes from the writer of Amazons Attack, so I guess I shouldn’t expect much better.

—–

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Powers: The Bureau #9

Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Michael Avon Oeming (artist and cover)

 There was a time that Powers was one of my favourite comic series, at the top of my pull-list every month. Since the book’s inception, both the story and artwork have been consistently top-notch, and the audacious crudeness and over-the-top violence were always entertaining. Eventually, the erratic shipping schedule caused Powers to fall off my radar, and by the time The Bureau was launched, I had consigned the title it the status of “I’ll eventually get it in trade paperback.” I think this issue won be back over though, for one simple reason – Michael Avon Oeming’s amazing Rob Liefeld “tribute” splash page.

 Image

 That’s worth my four bucks all on its own.

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Image

Justice League United #0

“Justice League Canada pt. 1”

Jeff Lemire (writer), Mike McKone (artist and cover).

 So, as a Canadian comic fan, I guess I pretty much have to review this one.

 The first issue of Jeff Lemire’s much-ballyhooed relaunch sees the remaining members of the Justice League of America begin their transition to North of the border. Which is a natural move, if you think about it… spend enough time fighting supervillains, and suddenly socialized medicine looks pretty good. This change is brought about by way of a mysterious alien incursion that involves the New 52 debut of Adam Strange, and an appearance by (ugh) New Lobo.

 As cool as it is just to see Justice League running around my hometown of Toronto (to say nothing of their trip to Moosonee, of all places), this comic brings more to the plate than simple novelty. Jeff Lemire once again proves himself to be one of DC’s MVPs, with a great first issue, filled with both action and humour (even if it does feel like he’s only using Animal Man and Green Arrow because Booster Gold and Blue Beetle weren’t available to him). Similarly, Mike McKone’s artwork is as impeccable as always, providing exactly the clean and expressive style this series needs. If it weren’t for the appearance by Faux-bo (who is notably absent from the cover), this issue would be just about perfect. AS it is, it’s an excellent start to a fresh new creative direction, which I’m sure will no way be retconned or cancelled inside of twelve months.

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Batgirl Annual #2

“When Pamela Gets Blue”

Gail Simone (writer), Robert Gill and Javier Garrón (artists). Cover by Clay Mann.

 Generally, I consider myself to be a big fan of Gail Simone’s work – I’ve often cited her as one of the most consistently excellent writers today – but for some reason, this year’s Batgirl Annual just didn’t work for me. If I had to put my finger on why exactly, it would be that two of Simone’s usual strengths are playing against one another, those being her sense of humour and her willingness to tackle darker subject matter. Usually, she finds a good balance between these elements, but in this case it added up to whiplash-inducing tonal shifts.

 The story opens up with some fun (and bizarrely flirtatious) interactions between Batgirl and her BFF Black Canary and frienemy Poison Ivy. Eventually, the clever wordplay gives way to excessive melodrama, before going right off the rails with such cheery subjects as mutilated corpses and domestic violence. By issue’s end, we’ve taken another right turn, with an oddly uplifting epilogue, which despite being built to in earlier vignettes, feels tacked on and out of place compared to the main narrative.

 There’s still a lot to enjoy about this issue – Simone’s dialogue and pacing are as high-quality as one would expect of her, and the artwork by Robert Gill and Javier Garrón is excellent. For whatever reason though, this comic felt too disjointed for me to enjoy.

New Comic Reviews! (11-25-13)

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Superior Spider-Man Annual #1

“Hostage Crisis”

Christos Gage (writer), Javier Rodriguez (artist). Cover by J.G. Jones.

 For all of my complaints about the creative direction behind Superior Spider-Man, this annual is a good example of how the concept can be done right. There are no characters playing stupid for the sake of plot convenience. If anything, by actually applying his prodigious intelligence to dealing with his problems, Otto Octavius one-ups the Peter Parker we’ve seen in the past. Remember how a few years ago, Aunt May was shot, and instead of speaking to some of his friends (who include gods, mutants with healing abilities, time travellers etc), Peter decided it was a much better idea to make a deal with the effing devil? Yeah. The problem with characters who are supposed to be geniuses is that they’re still limited by the intelligence and creativity of their writers (and editors).

“Hostage Crisis” is a strong stand-alone story, that sees Aunt May kidnapped by Blackout (the demonic ex-Ghost Rider villain, not ‘the one with the ridiculous lightning bolt on his head,’ as Octavius puts it- he shows up in the next book we’re looking at this week). The story is tense and fast-paced, and shows just how ruthless the Superior Spider-Man can be, especially when one of the few people he genuinely cares about is threatened- lest we forget, May Parker is actually Octavius’ one-time fiancé. Weird, I know. Christos Gage’s excellent script is well-served by artist Javier Rodriguez, who both pencilled and coloured the book 9with inks by Alvaro Lopez). The result is an absolutely gorgeous book, one well-deserving of the “Superior” moniker.

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Superior Spider-Man Team-Up #6

Christopher Yost (writer), Marco Checchetto (artist). Cover by Paolo and Joe Rivera.

 In part-two of our Superior Spider-Man double feature, we have another fun little story which again gets the SSM formula right, but delivering a solid story that minimizes the series elements that test the reader’s credulity. This month sees Spider-Man and the mind-controlled Sinister- excuse me, Superior Six fighting to protect a scientific MacGuffin from the Masters of Evil and the Sinister Six, with young hero Sun Girl and her supervillain father caught in the middle. Admittedly, I’m a sucker for any comic that throws in scrubs like the Wrecking Crew (the Marvel Comics equivalent of the WWF’s Mean Street Posse), but even if you’re not as enamoured with D-List villains as I am, there’s a lot to like here. Christopher Yost delivers a fun, action-packed slug-fest and an organic progression of the Superior Six storyline, while Marco Checchetto’s pencils possess a kinetic energy to them, reminiscent of Jae Lee, by way of Jesus Salz.

Once again though, to thoroughly beat a dead horse, it leaves me wanting more in the progression of the main Superior Spider-Man story, the eventual revelation that Otto Octavius is in the driver seat of Peter Parker’s body. I realize that when the story finally hits the boiling point, it won’t be in this particular series, but opening up with a page of various characters (including Captain America and the brass at S.H.I.E.L.D.) reacting to Spider-Man fighting alongside a quintet of supervillains, it’s kind of frustrating knowing that another month will pass, and those characters will still be subject to plot-driven incompetence. I know it’s a point I’ve harped on time and again, but it’s galling, especially for anyone who has an attachment to the Marvel Universe from earlier than 2013.

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Birds of Prey #25

“Sunrise”

Christie Marx (writer), Romanlo Molenaar with Scott McDaniel, Travis Moore, Daniel Sampere (artists). Cover by Jorge Molina.

 Once upon a time, Birds of Prey was one of DC’s best under-the-radar titles, a book that may not have had the sales figures of a franchise player, but was consistently well-written, especially when Gail Simone was at the helm. The relaunched New 52 version of the title has been reasonably well received, but thus far it hasn’t clicked with me, and I can’t even put my finger on the precise reason why. It might be the team roster and the way those characters have been used (the presence of Oracle is sorely missed, and I’m in the minority who things Barbara Gordon should have stayed paralyzed). It might be the various creative teams, none of whom have wowed me. Whatever the case, any time Birds of Prey has found itself in my stack of new comics, it’s usually the last book I bother to read, and never one I start into with much enthusiasm.

This month features a stand-alone tie-in to the “Zero Year” storyline dominating the Bat-books right now, so I figured I’d give it a shot. My reaction to “Sunrise” is no more or less than a resounding ‘meh’. The story is harmless, but immediately forgettable, a by-the-numbers story of a pre-Black Canary Dinah Drake going from untrusting runaway to troubled sensei in Gotham’s slums. The art on the book goes through several jarring stylistic changes, the product of four pencilers whose pages seemed to have been assigned completely at random. The sections (which are uncredited, save for Scott McDaniel having a vague nod for ‘breakdowns’) range from competent if unspectacular, to the kind of over-rendered work more typical of mid-90s Jim Lee clones. This just felt like an exercise in mediocrity from beginning to end, and as a tie-in to the excellent “Zero Year,” it’s simply disappointing.

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Avengers A.I. #6

Sam Humphries (writer), Valerio Schiti (artist). Cover by David Marquez.

 Even in 2013, superhero comics are often dismissed by critics as being somewhat brainless, or at least one-dimensional. While it’s an unfair simplification, it can’t be denied that there are more than a few series of the genre that never introduce a problem that can’t be solved through the liberal application of kicks to the face. For anyone still clinging to that notion though, I humbly suggest they take a look at Avengers A.I., one of the smartest books Marvel Comics- or any major publisher- has ever put out.

Avengers A.I. is one of the most visually striking monthly comics coming out right now- and with some of the amazingly varied talent that has been recruiting over the past few years, that says a lot. Having taken over from Andre Lima Araujo last month, Valerio Schiti brings his own A-game to the book, mixing the clean lines and expressive faces of Kevin Maguire with an aesthetic that borrows from European greats like Milo Manara and Moebius. This month’s virtual battle between the Vision and Dimitrios lets Schiti really show off his versatility, jumping styles from panel to panel, and drawing from everything from the Street Fighter video games to Ingmar Bergman films.

The real hook for me though is the prevailing themes in Avengers A.I. about the nature of sentience and life. Sam Humphries challenges the reader with complex moral quandaries about what inalienable rights (if any) are due to artificial life forms- questions that may well go from the realm of science fiction to reality within our lifetimes. I’m also fascinated by how Humphries has written Hank Pym as a man living with mental illness- not in the typical comic book ‘I’m going to build flying robot sharks and attacks Washington’ way, but in a realistic and relatable depiction of a guy struggling with the depression and manic episodes that come with bipolar disorder. Pym has never been one of my favourite heroes- even as a life-long Avengers fan, he’s never done much for me- but this version of the character completely strikes home. The dynamic that Humphries develops between the therapeutic qualities of being a costumed hero, versus the incredible stresses that come with that particular career choice are nothing short of fascinating.

There are a lot of fantastic comic books being produced right now, and Avengers A.I. is absolutely one of the best.

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Red Hood and the Outlaws #25

“The Beckoning Dark”

James Tynion IV (writer), Jeremy Haun (artist). Cover by Giuseppe Camuncoli.

In our second “Zero Year” tie in this week, we’re looking at how Jason Todd fits into the muddled continuity brought about by DC trying to smoosh Batman’s entire history into a six-year timeframe. Apparently, that involves ninjas.

Of the few issues of Red Hood and the Outlaws that I’ve read, this is easily the best, if only because it’s not as aggressively obnoxious as the early issues, or as bland as the more recent fare. That might be part due to the focus on Jason Todd alone, who may not be my favourite character by a long shot, but is infinitely better than the detestable New 52 versions of Starfire and Arsenal.

I really wish that DC had declared some kind of moratorium on stories involving Talia al Ghul though. We’re only recently coming off the finale of Grant Morrison’s incredible run on the Bat-titles, and the entire final act involved Talia as the main antagonist of Batman Incorporated. It was arguably the best story she ever appeared in, and elevated her to the upper echelon of Batman’s enemies, but it was also a story with a definitive end point. To bring her back into the fold so quickly- albeit in a story set six years in the past- feels like it’s stepping on Batman Incorporated’s toes, and while I rather like James Tynion IV, anything that holds his work up against one of the most defining runs of Morrison’s career isn’t going to do Tynion any favours.

This is a better “Zero Year” tie-in than the one we saw in Birds of Prey, but it still feels somewhat superfluous to both the main series, and to the ordinary Red Hood and the Outlaws stories. Pick it up if you’re a completist, or a die-hard Red Hood fan- then if it’s the latter, consider re-evaluating your life choices.

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Image X-Men: Legacy #20

“The Epitath”

Simon Spurier (writer), Tan Eng Huat (artist). Cover by Mike Del Mundo

 You know, I’ve been reading X-Men: Legacy for a few months now, and I feel like I should have more to say about the book. But no… I’m pretty much completely ambivalent. It’s not a badly written series by any stretch, but it hasn’t especially grabbed me either. The art is competent, though not especially to my taste- and it feels crowded by a glut of unnecessary captions and word balloons this month, because this is an inordinately wordy comic book. It’s all just sort of… there. The key, I think, is that no matter how hard Simon Spurier works to try to make me care about Legion, ultimately I’ll always just think of him as a bland throwback to an era of X-Men comics I have no nostalgic attachment to. And really, I know it’s kind of his thing, but there is no way I will ever be able to take Legion seriously with that ridiculous haircut.

For those who are interested though, this month sees Legion battling against a destructive entity unleashed inside his mind, and the only way to beat it will be for him to unite his warring multiple personalities, and oh god I don’t care. I will say, I do kind of dig the fact that the de facto villain this month is a character who dates all the way back to 1940, but has barely been used in the modern Marvel Universe. I always geek out a bit when a writer dusts off a half-forgotten relic from the past, or even a newer character who isn’t being used much these days (which is probably why I rather enjoyed the Pete Wisdom appearances from a few months back). Honestly, the only element to this book that’s not clicking with me is Legion himself.

Cool cover though.