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! (8-16-14)

Extinction Parade War 2

The Extinction Parade: War #2

Max Brooks (writer), Raulo Caceres (artist and covers)

 The Extinction Parade is the product of veteran writer Max Brooks, whose previous works include the books The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. With last year’s miniseries The Extinction Parade, Brooks stayed well within the comfort of his wheelhouse, creating a world where the Zombie Apocalypse proves to be a threat not just to humanity, but also to a secret race of vampires, who are quickly losing their primary food source.

 In War, the conflict between flesh eaters and blood suckers escalates – that’s the theory, anyway. In truth, pretty much nothing happens in this issue, other than the introduction of an anti-zombie martial art technique, performed on some of the least threatening zombies I’ve ever seen. Seriously, the risen dead seem completely content to just peacefully mill about and wander aimlessly, until jerk-ass vampires show up and squash their heads. I don’t see what the problem is.

 If there’s any reason to pick up this comic, it’s Raulo Caceres’ artwork. It’s striking and incredibly ornate, though the crowded panels and dark color pallet sometimes make pages feel cluttered. It’s still above average work, and may prove to be a mild curiosity worth a cursory glance. Otherwise, The Extinction Parade: War is completely skippable.

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Lazarus 10

Lazarus #10

“Extraction”

Greg Rucka (writer), Michael Lark (artist and cover)

 Greg Rucka and Michael Lark’s critically acclaimed Lazarus tells the story of a near-future dystopian world ruled by the wealthy elite (insert Koch Brothers joke here). In the previous issue, Jonah Carlyle failed in his bid to overthrow his father and take control of their kingdom, which encompasses most of the American Midwest. Now on the run, Jonah seeks asylum from the Carlyle family’s rival, Doctor Jakob Hock – but as Jonah quickly realizes, the enemy of your enemy isn’t necessarily your friend.

 The concept behind Lazarus is a clever one, touching on such issues as unrestrained Capitalism, wartime propaganda, and all other manner of things that get Liberals in a tizzy and clog up my Facebook feed. In the hands of another writer, such matters could be dealt with in an overly heavy handed way, but fortunately Lazarus showcases Rucka’s typical inventiveness and wit. This particular issue might be a difficult one for new readers to digest, as it focuses exclusively on the conflict between antagonists. With no one to root for or get behind, “Extraction” may prove to be off-putting at first, but it’s a single chapter in a much larger story, one that I’m planning to continue to follow.

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Deadpool 33

Deadpool #33

“Out the Window”

Brian Posehn and Gerry Duggan (writers), John Lucas (artist). Covers by Mike Del Mundo and Pascal Campion.

 “Out the Window” wraps up Deadpool’s requisite Original Sin, which saw him reuniting with his lost daughter to save her from U.L.T.I.M.A.T.U.M.. To commemorate the occasion, Brian Posehn and Gerry Duggan write in even more comedic gore and over-the-top violence than usual, as John Lucas does his best to channel John McCrea on Hitman. In the end though, Deadpool deals with the head of the terrorist group with a unique level of restraint, in what is clearly meant to be a turning point for the character.

 The conclusion to this story is satisfying for the most part, especially the guest appearances of a couple of X-Men regulars. We do end on a hell of a down not through, though the bummer cliff-hanger serves to lead in to next month’s nineties-style interlude, which I’m very much looking forward to.

 Deadpool may not be the most consistent book out there right now, but even at its worst it’s still quite good, and when Posehn and Duggan get rolling, this title is completely on fire. This was one of their more middle-of-the-road arcs, but it was still quite entertaining, and introduced story elements that I’m eager to see play out down the road. Good stuff over all.

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Hulk 5

Hulk #5

“The Omega Hulk pt. 1”

Gerry Duggan (writer), Mark Bagley (artist). Covers by Alex Ross and Gary Frank.

 For those who haven’t been following the monthly adventures of everyone’s favourite green (non-Kermit the Frog) hero, the transition between last year’s Indestructible Hulk title to the “All-New Marvel Now” certified Hulk book involved Bruce Banner being shot in the back of the head by unknown parties. To save his life, Tony Stark repaired Banner’s brain using the Extremis process, and now a new being has emerged – not Hulk or Banner, but another mind completely. Doc Green, as he likes to call himself, combines the Hulk’s immeasurable power with an intellect far beyond anything Banner could have dreamed of… the question now is whether or not Doc Green is possessed by the Hulk’s rage, and whether or not he has any sense of Banner’s moral compass.

 In “The Omega Hulk”, Doc Green begins his first operation, which is to shut down ever other gamma-powered threat on the planet, targeting friend and foe alike. The idea is more than a little derivative of the Armor Wars storyline from the late 1980s, where Iron Man did pretty much the same thing to reign in exploited Stark technology. That said, the series’ new writer Gerry Duggan is taking an old idea and putting a fresh spin on it, evidenced by scenes like the one where Doc Green raids Kang the Conqueror’s armoury at the end of time.

 There was a time when I felt like the Hulk was one of Marvel’s most one-dimensional properties, but with stories like World War Hulk, Planet Hulk and much of Indestructible Hulk, Marvel’s top writers keep coming up with new twists on the formulae. So far, Duggan is following that path too, and I’m interested in where he plans to take things from here. Between Hulk and Deadpool, Duggan is quickly becoming one of my favourite Marvel writers.

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Devilers 2

The Devilers #2

Joshua Hale Fialkov (writer), Matt Triano (artist). Covers by Jock and Marc Silvestri.

 Reading the solicits for The Devilers, you’d likely go into the series expecting it to be a cross between The Magnificent Seven and The Exorcist. What you might not anticipate though is to find yourself reading a fairly po-faced take on South Park’s “Super Best Friends”. The quick version of The Devilers’ plot is that the Legions of Hell have invaded Earth, and it’s up to a comically mismatched band of multidenominational super-powered exorcists to stomp some demonic ass.

 At times, it feels like Joshua Fialkov hasn’t decided what he wants The Devilers to be, as it swings wildly from dark humour to a grim and serious tone, which in turn veers dangerously close to self-parody at times. Despite the uneven feel to the narrative, Matt Triano’s fantastically creepy artwork (which evokes comparisons to Brian Hitch and Steve Pugh) is enough of a draw in and of itself to give The Devilers at least a cursory look.

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Avengers World 11

Avengers World #11

Nick Spencer (writer), Raffaele Ienco (artist). Cover by Paul Renaud.

 In hindsight, this probably wasn’t the best issue for me to take a look at Avengers World, given that it focuses primarily on a group of characters I can’t stand, the petulant twerps known as the Next Avengers. Originally created for a direct-to-DVD cartoon, and later grandfathered into the Marvel Universe by Brian Michael Bendis and John Romita Jr. in the 2010 Avengers relaunch, the Next Avengers are the offspring of various contemporary heroes, no doubt each being the result of an inadvisable, drunken, post-Save The World hook-ups. For reasons that are completely beyond me, they are invariably written as being angsty and unpleasant, with the kind of undue entitlement that just screams the phrase “don’t you know why my father is?”.

 Fortunately, Nick Spencer doesn’t get bogged down trying to make us care about these characters… this is an action issue, pure and simple, which goes from the Next Avengers fighting S.H.I.E.L.D., to the two groups teaming up to infiltrate A.I.M. Island. People fight, stuff blows up, biff bam boom. It’s the only way I can find these characters palatable, and with Raffaele Ienco’s fantastic artwork on the endless fight scenes, I can honestly say that this is easily my favourite comic to feature the Next Avengers to date. Plus, how can you know love a book that ends with the promise of “The War to End All Time”? That’s some straight up Jack Kirby level bombast right there.

New Comic Reviews! (8-6-14)

Pariah 6

Pariah #6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Armor Hunters Harbinger 1

Armor Hunters: Harbinger #1

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

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

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

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

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Iron Patriot 5

Iron Patriot #5

“Unbreakable pt. 5”

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

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

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

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2000 AD 1892

2000 AD #1892

“A Night in Sylvia Plath pt. 1”

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

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

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

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Detective Comics Annual 3

Detective Comics Annual #3

“Icarus: Chaos Theory”

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

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

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

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

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V-Wars 4

V-Wars #4

“Red State”

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

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

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