New Comic Reviews! (6-6-16)

Batman Rebirth

Batman: Rebirth #1

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

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

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


Spider-Man 2099 11

Spider-Man 2099 #11

“Something Sinister This Way Comes” pt. 2

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

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

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

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

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


X-Men '92 4

X-Men ’92 #4

“Pages from the Book of Sins”

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

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

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

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

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New Comic Reviews! (10-17-14)

Batman 35

Batman #35

“Endgame pt. 1”

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

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

Spoiler Alert

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

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

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

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Amazing Spider-Man 7

Amazing Spider-Man #7

“Ms. Marvel Team-Up”

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

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

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

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

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

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Constantine 18

Constantine #18

“Half a Chance”

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

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

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

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Rocket Raccoon 4

Rocket Raccoon #4

“A Chasing Tale pt. 4”

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

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

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

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Trinity of Sin 1

Trinity of Sin #1

“The Wages of Sin pt. 1- Nightfall”

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

Well. That certainly was terrible.

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

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Earth 2 World's End 2

Earth 2: World’s End #2

“Drums of War”

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

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

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

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

New Comic Reviews! (9-13-14)

Spider-Man 2099 3

Spider-Man 2099 #3

Peter David (writer), Will Sliney (artist). Covers by Francesco Mattina and John Tyler Christopher.

Man, how weird is it to see such an inherently Nineties character headlining his own monthly book in 2014? Building on Dan Slott’s work in Superior Spider-Man and its satellite titles from last year, Peter David delivers a cool take on the Webslinger of the Future. Marooned in the present day, Miguel O’Hara is forced to protect the integrity of his timeline by ensuring the success of the somewhat evil corporation Alechemax. He’s also stuck babysitting his own grandfather, the self-serving and utterly amoral Tiberius Stone.

I’m enjoying this book for the most part, though it does have a few plot holes that nag at me while I’m reading it. Miguel O’Hara is worried that Liz Allan will expose his secrets to people like the Avengers… why is that a problem exactly? As soon as he ended up stuck in the present, why wasn’t his first thought to phone up Iron Man or Mister Fantastic, have Peter Parker vouch for him, and have all his problems solved in a matter of hours? These guys do time travel and inter-dimensional jaunts like Adam Sandler does shitty movies… Miguel could have been back in the year 2099 before you could say “half-baked cyberpunk”. And, putting on my extra-strength nerd hat here, worrying about winking out of existence if your ancestor dies? That’s not how the Marvel Universe works – changing the past creates a branching timeline within the multiverse. I’m not saying that would be common knowledge for the average Joe Schmo in 2014, but by 2099, you’d think some of this stuff would have made it into high school science textbooks.

But hey, minor quibbles, right? This is still a pretty clever book, and David is carving out an interesting niche for the secondary Spider-folks to operate in. I’m not completely sold on the long-term viability of a Spider-Man 2099 title, but hey, we’ll see where it goes, right?

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Death-Defying Doctor Mirage 1

The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage #1

Jen Van Meter (writer), Roberto de la Torre (artist). Cover by Travel Foreman.

Speaking of holdovers from the Nineties, The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage represents Valiant Entertainment’s latest attempt to breathe new life into their dormant intellectual properties. The time around Shan Fong is a paranormalist for hire with the ability to speak to the dead. In between begrudgingly helping out grieving widows, Mirage spends her time trying to contact her dead husband Hwen (who shares a name at least with Valiant’s original Doctor Mirage). In her latest case, Shan has been hired by a billionaire recluse, who may or may not have gotten himself bonded to a Nazi-conjured demon.

I think that’s what’s going on, anyway. At this point, a lot of the story is being kept vague and mysterious, but overly so – I shouldn’t have to go through an issue three times just to figure out the main character’s full name. Jen Van Meter sets a lot up in the first issue of this five part miniseries, but I’m not sure any of the plot hooks were enticing enough to bring me back for book two. There’s nothing overtly wrong with Doctor Mirage – I just find myself thoroughly underwhelmed.

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Miracleman 10

Miracleman #10

“Mindgames”

Alan Moore “The Original Writer” and Mick Anglo (writers), Anglo and Rick Veitch (artists). Covers by Veitch, Joe Quinones and Mico Suayan.

I’ve thus far resisted the urge to review Marvel’s Miracleman series, because normally I don’t see the point of talking about reprint books. But hell, this run is every bit as though-provoking and poignant now as it was when it started thirty years ago. Besides, I was still in diapers when the original Miracleman #10 hit shelves, and due to the book’s convoluted legal history, there’s a generation of readers who never had a chance to experience this saga the first time around. So what the hell, right?

One issue after giving birth – in what is unquestionably the most graphic depiction of female genitalia ever published in a Marvel comic – Liz Moran and her husband Mike are adjusting to the difficult realities of parenthood. Of course, this isn’t exactly Mike’s daughter – little Winter Moran was conceived while Mike was in the form of his alter-ego Miracleman, and as such the precocious little darling is a super-advanced mutant freak baby. Still, with Gargunza dead and Moran recovering from injuries sustained at the hands of (for lack of a better term) “Miracledog”, things seemed to have settled into a state of relative calm. Of course, readers of the original series (or anyone who takes more than a passing look at this issue’s cover) know that this is just the calm before one hell of a storm, as the wheels are already in motion for the imminent return of Kid Miracleman, and all the carnage that promises to bring with it.

While Alan Moore “The Original Writer’s” run on Marvelman/Miracleman isn’t as widely known as some of his other books, like Watchmen or V for Vendetta, especially in North America, this really is among his most ground-breaking work. It’s almost impossible to overstate just how influential and sweeping the effects of these stories were, paving the way for the dozens (if not hundreds) of superhero “deconstructions” that have come since. Though I know I’m risking a Northampton-based druidic curse for saying this, I’m ecstatic that somebody finally threw enough money at the Miracleman legal quagmire to secure the rights, and I’m double impressed at just how well Marvel has presented the whole thing, even going so far as to throw bonus content into every issue, like original page layouts and reprinted Mick Anglo Marvelman strips from the 1950s. For anyone interested in the history of comics, the narrative evolution of the superhero trope, or just a damned gripping story, this is absolutely required reading.

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Figment 4

Figment #4

“Journey Into Imagination pt. 4”

Jim Zub (writer), Filipe Andrade (artist). Cover by John Tyler Christopher

Right, hands up if you’ve ever heard of Figment, the mascot to the Epcot Center’s Imagination pavilion. Anybody? Bueller? No?

As a proudly dyed-in-the-wool Canadian, I don’t take many trips south of the Mason-Dixon Line, so my knowledge of Florida theme park mascots is admittedly a bit spotty, but I can’t imagine that many people were clamouring for a Figment origin story, but, well, here we are. The question is, is it any good?

Well, yeah. It kind of is. Figmenti is a steampunk fairy tale about clockwork armies, seas of unfathomable sadness, magical sound sprites, and imaginary dragon friends brought to life through the power of Disney-brand whimsy. It’s a story about the beautiful chaos of creative thought triumphing over the rigid order of mundanity. It incorporates elements from the best fantasy stories of this sort, from Alice in Wonderland to The NeverEnding Story to the Golden Compass, with even a little bit of Doctor Who thrown in for good measure. And maybe it’s all the echoes of things I read and watched growing up, but Figment warms even my cynical and jaded heart.

Also, on the odd chance you’re reading this and your name is Shane Zeagman, this review was pretty much written specifically for you. You’re welcome.

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Deadpool vs X-Force 4

Deadpool vs. X-Force #4

“Time to Die pt. 4”

Duane Swierczynski (writer), Pepe Larraz (artist). Cover by Shane Davis.

This issue wraps up the untold first battle between Deadpool and the New Mutants – not X-Force, techinically, despite what the series name would have you believe – that took place before their heretofore first documented meeting. At a time when Deadpool had even less of a moral code, he’s been hired to go back to the 1940s and save Hitler from dying at the end of World War II, while also protecting him from all the other time-traveling do-gooders who keep trying to kill the bastard off. Meanwhile, Cable and his mutant buddies are bouncing around correcting errors in the time-stream, from the battlefields of Germantown and Gettysburg to the newly Nazified Nineties. Of course, the end returns everything to the established status quo, with a jab at the low-hanging fruit of old Rob Liefeld comics.

It’s never a good sign when your comic needs an afterward to explain just what the hell you just read. It’s also not great when that afterward explains in great detail the only good joke in the issue, thus making it no longer funny. It’s rather difficult to produce a Deadpool comic that I don’t enjoy on at least some level, so in a weird way, I have to applaud Duane Swierczynski, because he sure worked hard at making Deadpool vs. X-Force lousy in every possible way. And didn’t Marvel just do a big storyline about how Time Is Broken, and how this sort of crap shouldn’t be happening anymore? Great editorial consistency there, guys.

If you like Deadpool, go read his monthly book. If you like Cable and X-Force, go pick up the collections of their series from last year. If you like seeing Hitler being made an ass of, go look up “Herr Meets Hare” on YouTube. There is no reason to read Deadpool vs. X-Force whatsoever.

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Superboy Futures End 1

Superboy: Futures End #1

“Super”

Frank J. Barbiere (writer), Ben Caldwell (artist). Cover by Jorge Jimenez.

When reviewing a book, I generally try to avoid criticizing artwork most of the time, since so much of art appreciation comes down to personal stylistic tastes. In this case, though, I’m coming right out and saying it – the artwork in Superboy: Futures End is objectively terrible. The page compositions are all off, there’s no consistency from panel to panel, and even allowing for stylization, the anatomy and perspective are both atrocious.

All of that might have been inconsequential if the story here was any good. Spoilers: It’s not.

New Comic Reviews! (6-19-14)

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Amazing Spider-Man #1.2

“Learning to Crawl pt. 2”

Dan Slott (writer), Ramón Pérez (artist). Covers by Alex Ross, Pasqual Ferry and J.G. Jones.

 Right, first things first, let’s get the obvious out of the way – what’s with the numbering on this issue? Well, for those who haven’t been following along, Marvel relaunched Amazing Spider-Man back in April, with a new #1 issue. That oversized book included both a story set in the present day, and a back-up set at the time Peter Parker first gained his superpowers. Both of those stories are ongoing, with the present day story being regularly numbered (#2 hit last month, #3 hits in a week or two), while the old school story will be in issues numbered 1.whatever. You get all that?

 “Learning to Crawl” shows the story-behind-the-story for Spider-Man’s earliest adventures, as seen back in the original Amazing Spider-Man issues from the 1960s. And while Peter begins to grow into his new costumed identity, it turns out he’s inspired another teenager to become a superhero. Clayton Cole – Clash to his enemies and anyone within earshot – is absolutely brilliant and absurdly rich, but doesn’t quite possess the same driving sense of morality and responsibility as Spider-Man does. In this issue, the two heroes cross paths for the first time, when Clash outright hires Spider-Man to go a few rounds with him.

 Like man big-name superheroes, Spider-Man has had his origin told and retold a great many times, to various degrees of success (Ultimate Spider-Man probably being the best, and Chapter One being one of the worst). Though these “reimaginings” often feel tedious and unnecessary, this is one of the best approaches I’ve seen. Because the older stories are mainly relegated to quick snippets that bridge scenes in the new story, “Learning to Crawl” feels fresh and exciting, while also staying true to the spirit of the original Stan Lee/Steve Ditko stories. And despite the considerable continuity that the story draws from, it’s also incredibly accessible to new readers, something I always appreciate seeing.

 If you’re willing to brave the idiotic book numbering for this story, pick it up – otherwise, wait a few months and grab the eventual trade paperback. Either way, if you’re a Spider-Man fan, new or old, this one’s worth checking out.

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Original Sins #1

“Terminus”

Nathan Edmondson, Ryan North and Stuart Moore (writers), Mike Perkins, Ramon Villalobos and Rick Geary (artists). Cover by Mark Brooks.

 Note the second S in “Sins” – this five issue miniseries is a companion to the current blockbuster Original Sin (singular) miniseries/event. (I haven’t decided whether or not to review an Original Sins single issue or review it as a whole once it’s complete, but the short version is it’s awesome, and you should be reading it).

 Anywho, Original Sins features short stories and serials that show how various denizens of the Marvel Universe deal with the fallout of the Truth Bomb that aired out everyone’s dirty laundry for all to see. That’s the pitch, anyway, as the first story here is only peripherally related to Original Sin, instead serving as a prologue to the upcoming Deathlok series. The tie-in is that because of the Truth Bomb, a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent learns the identity of the new Deathlok, and idiotically decides to track him down to say hello. That’s a ludicrously weak premise for what basically amounts to a ten page “coming soon” trailer, and it the fact that it serves as the lead off story is ridiculous.

 The second strip is a major improvement, the first part of a serial starring the Young Avengers. Hulkling, Prodigy and Marvel Boy become embroiled with the events of Original Sin, based on the involvement of Exterminatrix, a femme fatale with whom Marvel Boy has some serious unresolved issues. The story is witty and moves at a brisk pace, and Ramon Villalobos’ artwork has a groovy indy feel about it. One minor complaint – no matter how long and hard I stare at that last panel, I have no earthly idea what I’m looking at.

 We wrap up with a two page Lockjaw comedy strip – it’s cute for what it is, though you’ll see the punch line coming a mile away. Overall, despite the good Young Avengers section, this book isn’t really worth purchasing on its own… if you’re absolutely starved for Original Sin content between issues of that series, this may briefly satisfy you, but you’re probably better off buying another one of the event’s myriad of tie-ins.

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Wolverine #8

“Three Months to Die pt. 1 – Games of Deceit and Death”

Paul Cornell (writer), Kris Anka (artist). Covers by Steve McNiven and Ryan Stegman.

 “Three Months to Die” sees Wolverine struggling with his newfound fear of death. To come to terms with his newfound mortality, he joins Iron Fist and Shang Chi for a mystical pilgrimage to confront the physical manifestation of Death herself. Meanwhile, Sabretooth and crime lord The Offer negotiate over control of mysterious spherical MacGuffin.

 I like that Paul Cornell is delving into the samurai / martial artist elements of Wolverine’s character, which I’ve always thought were relatively untapped. But that’s burying the lead – While removing Wolverine’s healing factor was a clear attempt to strip away some of his plot armour, Marvel has now gone so far as to outright announce that they’re killing him off with the imminent Death of Wolverine miniseries. Naturally, some readers are sceptical that Marvel will actually pull the trigger, and absolutely no one buys that his death would be a lasting change, but I do appreciate the attempt to show a vulnerable side of a character that’s often a bit too emotionally disconnected. Besides, it’s not that he “dies” for a few months that matters, so much as how the story unfolds. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.

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Tales of Honor #3

“On Basilisk Station pt. 3”

Matt Hawkins (writer), Sang-Il Jeong with Linda Sejic (artists). Covers by Jeong and Sejic.

 Tales of Honor is a science fiction military procedural based on David Weber’s Honor Harrington book series (which I have not read). Like many book adaptations, it’s heavy on unnecessary monologues, having made a rocky transition into a visual medium. That wouldn’t be a deal-breaker if the book still told a compelling story, but good lord is this one ever boring. The action scenes (such as they are) are bogged down with dialogue, and the intentionally talky bits are almost insufferable. It’s like watching the version of the film Blade Runner with Harrison Ford’s narration, but at half-speed.

 The artwork is fine, though not to my taste. Sang-Il Jeong’s style is just too plastic and artificial to me – the book looks like a fumetti comic made from Mass Effect screen shots. There is one double-page spread of an alien seaport that is absolutely breathtaking (based on concept art by Matt Codd)…

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 …Which shows that if nothing else, Jeong can draw the hell out of a panorama. Not that it’s worth picking up this soporific issue for, but credit where it’s due.

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Avengers Undercover #5

“Descent pt. 5”

Dennis Hopeless (writer), Kev Walker (artist). Cover by Francesco Mattina.

 This is a stupid, stupid comic, based on ugly, nihilistic garbage. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear I was reading a DC event book.

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The Sixth Gun #41

“The Grey Witch”

Cullen Bunn (writer), Tyler Crook (artist). Cover by Crook and Brian Hurtt.

 As much as I hate to admit it, this is the first issue of The Sixth Gun that I’ve read – and given that the series is winding towards its planned finale in issue fifty, I’m a bit late to the party on this one. Still, better late than never, especially with a comic as cool as this one – think Hellboy by way of Jonah Hex, if you have to boil it down to the bare essentials. This particular issue is an intermezzo of sorts, telling the story of the evil Grey Witch, and her monstrous rise to power. It’s a fun story, though while I enjoyed guest artist Tyler Crook’s style a whole lot, I would have liked to have seen what regular penciller Brian Hurtt brings to the table. I suppose that just means I have to go out and hunt down some earlier issues, doesn’t it?

New Comic Reviews! (6-12-14)

ImageThe Midas Flesh #6

Ryan North (writer), Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb (artists). Covers by John Keogh and David Malki.

 The Midas Flesh is high-concept science fiction at its best, reimagining the story of King Midas in a very literal way, wherein the dead king’s body and its transmutational capabilities have been weaponized by both a plucky gang of space rogues, and your prototypical Evil Empire types. It’s a brilliant concept, and one that really showcases the versatility of writer Ryan North.

 Best known for the web comic Dinosaur Comics and the Adventure Time comic series (and for being absurdly tall), North is one of the most versatile creators in the industry, slipping effortlessly from the rigid fixed-panel narrative of the former strip to the bombastic insanity of the latter. With The Midas Flesh, we find him exploring a darker fantasy world, one that operates on a grand scale, and tells a story with very serious things at stake. And while the tone is mostly kept light-hearted (in large part thanks to the cartoony artwork of his original Adventure Time collaborators, Braden Lamb and Shelli Paroline), this is a series where destruction exits on a massive scale. It’s somewhat tricky to maintain a cavalier spirit of adventure when the villains (and for that matter, the heroes) are toying with weapons fully capable of causing planet-wide genocides. Anyone who remembers the “Death Star independent contractors” scene from Clerks knows what I mean.

 That said, these are classic Space Opera tropes, rejuvenated by both the series’ clever hook, and by an excellent creative team. We’re nearing the end of The Midas Flesh’s eight-issue run, but even if you can’t go back and find the previous issues, this one is definitely worth snagging when it eventually gets collected in trade paperback.

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Thanos Annual #1

“Damnation and Redemption”

Jim Starlin (writer), Ron Lim (artist). Covers by Lim, Starlin and Dale Keown.

 Staying within the same genre for the moment, we go to a story written by the gentleman who all but defined the Space Opera comic book. Thanos Annual sees Jim Strlin reuniting with his Infinity Gauntlet co-creator Ron Lim for a tale that explores the full story behind Thanos’ many deaths and resurrections, while neatly recapping his complicated history for newer readers.

 Between Infinity and the eventual third Avengers movie, Thanos has been neatly positioned as the Biggest of the Big Bads in the Marvel Universe. And with all due respect to Jonathan Hickman, nobody writes a Thanos story quite like Starlin, the man who created him in the first place. Starlin never fails to bring a sense of grandness and majesty to his Thanos stories, and this annual is no different. Not only is this a great primer for newcomers, framed by a great new story, it also offers a tantalizing glimpse into the possible near future of the Marvel Universe. Check it out.

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Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man #2

Brian Michael Bendis (writer), David Marquez (artist). Covers by Marquez and Amy Reeder

 Following up from last issue’s major cliff-hanger, the long-thought-dead Peter Parker has reappeared, hale and hearty, and ready to reassume the mantle of Spider-Man. Though Miles Morales quickly comes to the reasonable conclusion that Peter must be a clone, in a world that just nearly saw its destruction at the hands of a giant purple planet eater, nothing is a sure bet anymore.

 At this point, Miles Morales is pretty much the only argument against the notion that the Ultimate Marvel Universe has overstayed its welcome. Ordinarily, he provides a sense of freshness to his costumed pursuits, but this time around I just wasn’t feeling it. In this issue alone, we Have Parker’s return, the return of a major villain, two fight scenes, and the tease of Morales revealing his identity to his girlfriend next month. And even with all of that, it feels like nothing of consequence really happened. I don’t mean that as a knock against Brian Michael Bendis’ signature decompression storytelling either, because it’s not necessarily the pacing of the story that’s to blame. It’s just that nothing grabbed me, nothing made me care about the characters or events, nothing sold the drama as being worth emotional investment. It’s quite possible that this was just an off issue, but it still feels like five minutes after I finish typing this, I’ll forget this comic ever existed.

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Loki: Agent of Asgard #5

“This Mission Will Self-Destruct in Five Seconds”

Al Ewing (writer), Lee Garbett (artist). Cover by Jenny Frison.

 “This Mission…” wraps up the first story arc of Loki: Agent of Asgard, with the series now going on hold until September, replaced in the interim by an “Original Sin” tie-in miniseries. Al Ewing and Lee Garbett send us out with a bang, in the form of another brilliant heist, which pulls together all the allies Loki has made over the past four issues. The caper this time involves Loki breaking into the deepest dungeons of Asgardia, which unbeknownst to him are the home to his own doppelganger, the evil and crotchety Old Loki.

 This is a thoroughly satisfying mid-season finale of sorts, offering both a solid adventure story, and a surprisingly thoughtful treatise on the pros and cons of predestination. The one disappointing things is that the conclusion seems to spell the end to Loki’s role as the titular “Agent of Asgard,” which would be a real shame, since there’s still lots of mileage in that premise. Still, anyone who watches 80s action movies could list off a dozen scenarios to bring Loki back into the Asgardian fold, so let’s not give up home quite yet.

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The Victories #12

“Metahuman pt. 2”

Michael Avon Oeming (writer and artist), Taki Soma (artist). Cover by Oeming.

 One year into the second volume of The Victories, the team is in disarray, following the apparent defection of Lady Dragon, who has seemingly joined her father as a card carrying member of the villainous Advisors. Sleeper takes to the astral plane to determine what’s what, but an encounter with a far more powerful mystical entity might leave him changed forever.

 The Victories was a key title in Dark Horse’s “Superhero Initiative,” but even this far into the affair, I’m still not sure what this series I trying to accomplish. Is it a serious book about superheroes’ neuroses and hang-ups? Is it a cheeky series about superhero sex? Is it a grim story about failure, in a world where the villains are predestined to come out on top?

 There’s no denying the talent of writer/artist/series creator Michael Avon Oeming, or of his wife Taki Soma, who provides the artwork for the backup story. They certainly have created a non-traditional series, one which evokes works as diverse as Powers, The Boys, Invincible and even Watchmen. In a way though, that’s the problem – it feels like all of this has been done before, and better. After this much time, The Victories should have a much more defined sense of its own identity.

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Earth 2 #24

“The Kryptonian pt. 4”

Tom Taylor (writer), Eddy Barrows (artist). Covers by Philip Tan and Ant Lucia.

 I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to look at Earth 2… I’ve certainly been meaning to for awhile. For those not in the know, the premise is that the Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman of Earth 2 sacrificed their lives years ago to stop an invasion by Darkseid’s forces (or at least they seemed to have – Superman has since resurfaced as Darkseid’s brainwashed thrall). In their place, a new generation of heroes has arisen, largely in the form of re-imagined versions of classic Golden Age heroes. Now, Darkseid’s army is back, and it’s up to the heroes (dubbed the Wonders of the World) to save the world again.

 I wish I could say that I enjoyed this comic. All the elements of a good book are certainly there. The story is exciting, the characters are interesting, the artwork is solid. In fact, taken in a vacuum, Earth 2 might be considered one of the better books DC is putting out right now. But at a time when the entire DC line is defined by its grim and depressing tone, Earth 2 just feels like more of the same nihilistic garbage as Forever Evil and Future’s End. It’s probably unfair to paint Earth 2 with the same brush as those stories, but I’m just too disillusioned with the New 52, too burnt out on DC Comics, to give any of their books the benefit of the doubt anymore.

New Comic Reviews! (4-12-14)

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Superior Spider-Man #30

“Goblin Nation pt. 4”

Dan Slott and Christos Gage (writers), Giuseppe Camuncoli (artist and cover).

 Regular readers of this blog will no doubt remember that I’ve often been critical of the Superior Spider-Man series and its assorted tie-ins. Though most of the individual comics have been well written and drawn, the main concept (that Peter Parker was killed, and his body commandeered by Doctor Octopus, who declared him to be the new, Superior Spider-Man) rubbed me the wrong way from day one. I didn’t like the way that Parker so thoroughly failed in his final battle, and I especially didn’t like all the plot-driven stupidity that was necessary for Otto Octavius to operate as Spider-Man for more than a day. Every single supporting character had to ignore the radical differences between Parker and Octavius’ behaviour, attitudes, speech patterns etc. And that’s hard enough to accept from Spider-Man’s friends and families, but from the myriad of telepaths, sorcerers, mutants and gods he associates with on a daily basis? That demanded too much suspension of disbelief, even from me. Yeah, I know these are superhero comics, and anything goes… but while you can set pretty much any kind of crazy rules for your fictional world to operate by, if you don’t follow those rules, the narrative ultimately falls apart.

 With that lengthy tirade out of the way, this issue is nothing short of excellent. At this point in the story, everything has pretty much gone all FUBAR. The Superior Spider-Man’s reputation lies in shambles, his illegal activities have been revealed to the Avengers, and his girlfriend has been kidnapped by the Green Goblin’s forces. In addition to that, the Goblin has commandeered Mayor Jameson’s army of “Goblin Slayer” androids and is using them to wreak havoc on New York City… and if all that isn’t enough, the Green Goblin is well aware that Otto Octavius’ mind is in the driver’s seat to Spider-Man’s body. One brief glimmer of hope remains, as Peter Parker’s suppressed consciousness has begun to reassert itself over Octavius… and since it’s no secret that Parker is coming back full-time next month, it’s pretty obvious where all of this is heading, but to get there… what a ride.

 The final days of the Superior Spider-Man has turned out to be a surprisingly emotionally impactful story. Octavius is forced to put aside his arrogance to see his legacy as Spider-Man for what it truly is, for all the good and evil he’s been responsible for, and the decision he is ultimately forced to make to save the woman he loves is genuinely moving. I also absolutely loved the double-page splash that accompanies the return of Peter Parker’s consciousness, where he’s surrounded by a web of old comic panels, recalling nearly every major Spider-Man milestone of years past. I’m a sucker for that sort of thing, and as soon as I got to that page I was immediately smiling from ear to ear.

 If all of that isn’t enough to convince you to buy this issue, dig this – the comic also reprints the first issue of the exceptional new Black Widow series in its entirety, at no extra cost. How awesome is that?

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ImageMarvel Knights: X-Men #5

“Haunted pt. 5”

Brahm Revel (writer, artist and cover)

 In this final issue of the Marvel Knights: X-Men miniseries, Brahm Revel has officially lost me… actually, I’m not sure he ever really HAD me, but this story has certainly changed from what it started out as, and that change hasn’t been for the better.

 “Haunted” began with a small team of X-Men descending on West Virginia, where they quickly discovered a drug cartel that had been harvesting mutant DNA and transforming it into powerful narcotics. The situation was further complicated by the appearance of two young mutant girls- Krystal, who possesses the ability to influence the actions of others, and Darla, who could transform memories into physical beings under her control. And of course, since the X-Men’s memories are filled with all manner of monsters and super-villains, our heroes are now stuck fighting doppelgangers of all sorts of demons from their past.

 For me, the two biggest problems with this comic are the mutant girls. Darla is an obnoxious, petulant teenager, whose drug-addled antics has led to the near-destruction of her hometown, immeasurable property damage, and untold ruined lives. She’s the villain. Krystal, on the other hand, is an obnoxious, petulant teenager whose selfishness led her to inadvertently murder her mother, risk the lives of dozens of unwitting mental thralls, and caused Darla’s mental breakdown. Somehow, Krystal is ostensibly one of the heroes. Both of them ultimately entirely avoid facing responsibility for any of their actions.

 I also question whether the X-Men can be considered to be heroes in this series. The dubious moral decisions made by the X-Men range from allowing Krystal and Darla to lie their way out of their crimes, to allowing Krystal to mentally subject an army of heavily armed bikers and force them to charge guns a-blazing into a warzone. Granted, the bikers in questions are Grade A assholes who probably deserve whatever’s coming to them, but it still makes me uncomfortable seeing “heroes” turn anyone into mental slaves, and sending them to their likely deaths.

 The entire premise here is also inescapably silly, and seems like a rather forced excuse to throw in whatever characters from the past that Revel felt like including in the story, free from the constraints of current continuity. That’s not a problem to me in and of itself – Kurt Busiek and George Perez did almost the same thing in the JLA/Avengers miniseries, and I unabashedly love that book – but here the effort seems wasted, since the ensuing battle scene is so (intentionally) chaotic that it quickly devolves into barely comprehensible nonsense.

 All in all, Marvel Knights: X-Men feels like a missed opportunity, a framework of good ideas that never came together, and as a result was far less than the sum of its parts. What a shame.

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Suicide Squad: Amanda Waller #1

“Sacrifices in the Storm”

Jim Zub (writer), André Coelho (artist); Cover by Giuseppe Camuncoli.

 Although there are a lot of characters that suffered from detrimental “New 52” redesigns, Amanda Waller fared worse than most. Visually, she was changed from one of the few plus-sized characters in the DC Universe into a skinny, generic, Halle Berry lookalike. Her personality was streamlined to the point of self-parody – on the outside, Waller is as tough as nails, but deep down she’s vulnerable, haunted by the hard decisions she’s been forced to make. The subtle nuances that made her so fascinating in the old DC Universe – the moral ambiguity, the ruthless and calculating nature balanced with an unwavering commitment to do what she believed to be right, no matter what the cost – all these things allowed her to work as a hero, an antihero, a villain, whatever role the story required of her. The “New 52” neutered her to the point of being little more than two-dimensional set-dressing, a familiar name attached to a hollow new character with none of her predecessor’s wit or charm.

 With the new Amanda Waller now the subject of her very own one-shot story, have any of these problems been addressed or corrected? Nope. In fact, I have no idea why this comic exists. “Sacrifices in the Storm” introduces (and kills off) a few new characters, none of whom have any real depth to them. The story has no real ramifications to it, and it doesn’t tie in to any current stories – in fact, according to an editor’s note in the very first panel, by the time it was published, this story was already five months out of date. There’s a token attempt to add some depth to Waller’s personality, but really, “Sacrifices…” only shores up the already existing clichés.

 If you’re not a fan of Amanda Waller, there is no conceivable reason you might feel the need to pick this one-shot up. If you are a Waller fan, you’re probably already annoyed with DC right now, and this book will only frustrate you further. Spend your money on something more worth your while.

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DC Universe vs. Masters of the Universe #6

“Cracking Skulls”

Keith Giffen and Tony Bedard (writers), Pop Mhan and Eduardo Francisco (artists). Cover by Mikel Janin.

 From the pages of fanfiction.net comes this wacky crossover that re-enacts the kind of battles every child of the 80s had with their action figures at least once. This issue sees the miniseries culminate in a final stand, with Justice League Dark teaming with the Masters of the Universe and their unlikely ally Skeletor, against an army of mind-controlled heroes and villains, who are all under the thrall of (I kid you not) Dark Orko. Really,there’s not much more to say than that – either you’re sold by the idea of Superman and He-Man teaming up to fight Orko, or you’re completely mystified by the concept. In either case, it’s a hell of a lot more satisfying than the last time they crossed paths, back in 1982’s DC Comics Presents #47… though come to think of it, that comic had Superman straight-up giving Skeletor a kidney punch… so I guess it’s kind of a wash after all.

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Silver Surfer #1

“The Most Important Person in the Universe”

Dan Slott (writer), Michael Allred (artist). Covers by Allred, Francesco Francavilla, Chris Samnee and Matthew Wilson.

 This latest attempt at a Silver Surfer ongoing series is one of the cornerstones of the “All-New Marvel Now!” event, and it certainly is… interesting. The story revolves around the Surfer being conscripted to fight for an impossible space empire against an unknowable enemy, with the life of an Earth woman on the line – a woman who is seemingly ordinary in every way, but is also apparently the titular Most Important Person in the Universe.

 Both in visual and narrative terms, this series recalls the work of Moebius – not just his own two-part Silver Surfer story from the late 1980s, but also his more personal works, like Arzach and The Airtight Garage of Jerry Cornelius. One thing that sets this take apart from its predecessors though is Dan Slott’s decision to move away from the Surfer’s signature purple prose. The more humanized dialogue makes the story much more accessible, and allows Slott to slip in some of his signature humour.

 As of this first issue, this series feels like more style than substance, but we’re also just getting out of the blocks. Certainly, there’s enough to like here to come back next month to see where things are going.

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Worlds’ Finest #21

“First Contact pt. 4”

Paul Levitz and Greg Pak (writers), RB Silva (artist and cover).

 Stop me if you’ve heard this one – Power Girl is a female character who went from being complex and nuanced in the pre-“New 52” DC Universe, to a one-note shadow of her former self. Though once one of my favourite DC characters, Power Girl now has just two gears to switch between – irrationally angry, and insufferably mopey. Throw in a less-than-compelling villain, and the duelling monologues for Batman and Superman that stopped being cute years ago, and you end up with a comic that I have almost no interest in.

 Almost, mind you. This comic does have Power Girl German Suplexing Kaizen Gamorra through an inter-dimensional portal, and that’s pretty damned awesome.

New(ish) Comic Reviews! (3-1-14)

ImageA+X #17

Jeff Loveness and Gerry Duggan (writers), Paco Diaz and David Yardin (artists). Cover by Diaz.

 Once the bloom was off the rose for Marvel’s post-Avenger vs. X-Men “Heroic Age”, the appeal of A+X for me quickly became its pairings of characters who you would never ordinarily see together, a perfect example being this issue’s teaming of Iron Man and the Jean Grey School student Broo. The story does a fantastic job of capturing what makes both characters unique, and does a great job exploring Iron Man’s need to control the world, and Broo’s wide-eyed excitement at the world around him. Moreover, it’s just a fun story, which provides some hearty laughs, most of them at the expense of resurrected super-villain team The Chessmen.

 The back up story, an ongoing serial teaming Cyclops and Captain America is a bit weaker. It’s cool to see a group as obscure as Cadre K featured prominently in 2014 – they’re a group of Skrull mutants that hung out with Professor X for a few months almost fifteen years ago, in case you were wondering – but other than that, there’s very little about this one that drew me in. Still, the lead story is strong enough on its own to warrant a recommendation from me, so if you’re so inclined, give it a shot.

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Simpsons Comics #209

“American History F”

Tom Dougherty (writer), Rex Lindsey (artist). Cover by Jason Ho.

 A common criticism of the Simpsons television series is that the show has long since lost its creative spark, that the counter-culture rebelliousness of the early seasons has long since been dulled to empty and toothless satire. Whether that’s a valid complaint or not in regards to the show, it could easily be applied to the latest issue of Simpsons Comics, which is somewhat of a disjointed mess.

 

 As you might expect from the Citizen Kane-esque cover, “American History F” eventually features Grandpa Simpson going into politics, but Lord does it ever take a circuitous route to get there. The issue starts with Bart playing a typical prank, leads to Springfield going bankrupt and firing all its teachers, which results in Grandpa Simpson becoming a history teacher, followed by the students of Springfield Elementary going on a trivia game show, before Grandpa is finally lured away to lead a Tea Party analogue led by the Rich Texan. There are a lot of potentially funny premises there, but because of the lack of focus, the story lurches from one concept to the other without ever really drawing out any of the potential humour. As a result, the entire affair is unsatisfying, and a good bit of ammunition for those that would argue that the entire Simpsons franchise should have been euthanized years ago.

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He-Man and the Masters of the Universe #10

“What Lies Within pt. 4”

Dan Abnett (writer), Michael S. O’Hare (artist). Cover by Pop Mhan.

 I’m a bit too young to hold much nostalgia for the Masters of the Universe franchise – growing up, I knew a few kids who collected the toys, but I never had any of my own, and I only ever watched the cartoon a handful of times. As such, everything in this comic feels rather silly.

 Chapter four of “What Lies Within” finds He-Man and his allies trapped in the underworld, battling demons, unearthly storms, and chthonic serpent men. If you’re about five years older than me and were raised on Saturday morning cartoons, you’ll probably eat all this up, but personally, between the Snake Men and the faux-Shakespearean dialogue, I’d rather just strip out the science fiction elements and reread old issues of Conan the Barbarian.

 I will say this, though – I like He-Man’s new costume. Not that you’d have to do much to improve on his original “homoerotic Nazi” look, but the new look has a nice design and color scheme, and has just enough classic elements incorporated to still feel familiar, even without the furry brown El Gigante speedo.

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Superior Spider-Man Team-Up #10

Kevin Shinick (writer), Marco Checchetto (artist and cover).

 As we approach the return of Peter Parker, one of Otto Octavius’ (presumed) last outings as Spider-Man is set to be a showdown with the Green Goblin. This issue concludes the Goblin’s opening salvo, as the Superior Spider-Man, Daredevil and the Punisher face off against the treacherous Spider-Patrol, who have been armed with the weapons and accoutrements of Spidey’s deadliest enemies.

 There’s a lot to enjoy about this comic. I like Octavius’ descent into growing paranoia as the life he carefully crafted begins to crumble around him. I like that Daredevil clearly knows that something is wrong with Spider-Man, but he can’t quite bring himself to doubt his own superhuman senses. I like any comic that has the Punisher flying around on a Goblin Glider. It’s a well-writen, well-drawn outing (though not the best edited, as the wrong creative team is credited on the cover, and the wrong cover artist is credited inside the book). Overall though, good work.

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Wonder Woman #28

“Icy France”

Brian Azzarello (writer), Cliff Chiang and Goran Sudzuka (artists). Covers by Chiang and J.G. Jones)

 Ever since the “New 52” relaunch started, one of DC’s consistently best books has been Brian Azzarello’s Wonder Woman. Under Azzarello’s purview, the series has served as a sweeping epic of divine politics and betray, centered around the scions of Zeus. Included among them are Wonder Woman (who learned that the story of her being formed from clay was a lie told to protect her), the implacable warrior the First Born, the manipulative mind-controller Cassandra, and a young baby named Zeke that Diana has sworn to protect. This issue sees the series-long story building to a climax, as Apollo and the First Born battle for control of Olympus, and Cassandra makes a move of her own by kidnapping another god.

 In addition to the excellent story, Wonder Woman is also one of the best looking comics on the shelf, thanks to the fantastic pencils of Cliff Chiang, working with assists from other excellent artists, like this month’s collaborator Goran Sudzuka. Chiang’s eye for design and visual pacing is superb, with pop-art elements reminiscent of Mike Allred or Paul Chadwick, brought together in a style that’s all his own. If you haven’t been reading Wonder Woman, you’re really missing out on an absolute gem.

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New Warriors #1

Christopher Yost (writer), Marcus To (artist). Covers by To, J. Scott Campbell, Chris Samnee and Skottie Young

 We wrap up this week with a look at Marvel’s latest attempt to bring back the New Warriors, and honestly, this one over delivered. My expectations for this series weren’t high going in, but I ended up having a lot of fun with this one.

 There’s a lot to take in with this issue, which reaches into some rather obscure corners of the Marvel Universe. Aside from the New Warriors themselves, and the characters set to imminently join the team (Sun Girl, the Scarlet Spider, Hummingbird and a new Namora), this comic also features the New Men, the Morlocks, some Atlanteans, Salem’s Seven, Hybrid, the High Evolutionary, and some new robot baddies (which bear a strong resemblance to Salvador Larroca’s redesign of the Living Laser, but that might be coincidental).

 It’s a lot to take in, but it personally reminded me of Avengers #1 from that series’ 1998 relaunch, which brought together every single former member of the team and threw a truckload of mythological monsters at them. That’s the issue that I always credit as the one that turned me into a serious, life-long comic collector, so anything that brings it to mind will probably be met with a wave of nostalgic glee. That said, even if I’m not the most objective judge of this comic, I’d still say it’s well worth checking out.