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! (5-17-16)

Red Hood Arsenal 12

(Red Hood / Arsenal)

Red Hood / Arsenal #12

“Vote Now and Vote Often!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Joker

 

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

Darth Vader 20

Darth Vader #20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catwoman 52

Catwoman #52

“Faceless pt. 2”

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

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

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

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

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

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

All-New X-Men 9

All-New X-Men #9

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

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

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

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

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

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

Darwyn Cooke

New Comic Reviews! (11-3-14)

Catwoman 35

Catwoman #35

“Comfort to the Hurt of the King”

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

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

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

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

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A Town Called Dragon 2

A Town Called Dragon #2

“You Can’t Fight a Monster”

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

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

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

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

—–

Delinquents 3

The Delinquents #3

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

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

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

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

—–

Avengers and X-Men Axis 3

Avengers and X-Men: AXIS #3

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

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

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

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

—–

Vertigo Quarterly CMYK 3

Vertigo Quarterly CMYK #3

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

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

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

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

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Death of Wolverine Deadpool and Captain America OS

Death of Wolverine: Deadpool and Captain America #1

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

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

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

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

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

New Comic Reviews! (5-27-14)

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The Shadow #25

Chris Roberson (writer), Giovanni Timpano (artist). Covers by Alex Ross, Dean Motter, Francesco Francavilla and Dennis Calero.

 With all due respect to the Shadow’s eighty-plus-year history, I’ve never really seen the appeal. As a character, the Shadow tends to be painfully melodramatic, shifting from expository speeches to painfully trite monologues and back again. That’s all very well and good for his radio and pulp novel roots, but in a visual medium, it detracts from the experience.

In this issue, the final one of this ongoing series, Chris Roberson makes a hearty go of it by throwing the Shadow up against an army of rampaging zombies (sort of). Despite Roberson’s best efforts at making the story feel epic and sweeping, it nevertheless falls flat, and any small amount of momentum that’s achieved is stopped dead by an abrupt and almost insultingly anticlimactic ending. There’s some decent artwork from Giovanni Timpano, whose energetic style makes up for some liberties taken with anatomical details, but all in all there’s not much to this, as The Shadow goes out with a whimper.

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Batman Eternal #6

“The Denied”

Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Ray Fawkes, John Layman and Tim Seeley (writers), Trevor McCarthy (artist). Cover by Andy Kubert.

It’s taken me a few issues to get around to DC’s new weekly series Batman Eternal, but even jumping in a bit late, I like what I see. Scott Snyder has been killing it on the main Batman title since he first took the reigns back in 2011, and it looks like with Batman Eternal, things are only going to get bigger and crazier.

Unlike previous weekly titles like the laudable 52 and the atrocious Countdown, Batman Eternal isn’t relying on a team of writers all working together on the same book each week. Instead, Snyder is heading the project, and each of the other co-writers will take turns crafting their own story arcs. This time around, James Tynion IV (story) and Ray Fawkes (script) take the floor, with a story that dips into the underutilized occult side of Gotham City. Specifically, this issue opens with Batwing slugging it out with the Gentleman Ghost, and as promised by the cover blurb, the Spectre (or at least Jim Corrigan) shows up to add to the fun. Unfortunately, we also get an appearance by the Joker’s Daughter, a character I’ve hated in every one of her incarnations, her asinine “New 52” version most of all.

One of the things I loved most about Grant Morrison’s epic run on the Batman books (and JLA before that) is the way he had the Caped Crusader deal with the more fantastic elements of his day-to-day career choice. Morrison’s version of Batman was pragmatic about the weirdness of the DC Universe – he kept a special Sci-Fi closet in the Batcave, dealt with psychotropic visions of Bat-Mite, and even fought the devil himself (or a reasonable facsimile thereof). With Batman’s blasé reactions to ghosts and angels in this issue, I’m happy to say that Snyder et al are keeping that spirit of fun going.

I really enjoyed this issue, and I heartily recommend it. I am also deeply in its writers’ debt for introducing me to the expression “running around like a blue-assed fly,” something I hope to work into day-to-day conversation as often as possible from now on.

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ImageAll-New Doop #2

Peter Milligan (writer), David Lafuente (artist). Cover by Michael Allred.

 All-New Doop is a five-issue miniseries written by the character’s co-creator, Peter Milligan, which promises to delve into Doop’s role as the X-Men’s unlikely heavy hitter in a way never seen before. Unfortunately, two issues in, it feels like the series has already missed the mark.

The first problem comes from setting this issue’s story in the middle of last year’s Battle of the Atom storyline. BotA was barely a blip on most people’s radar even when it was current, and six months after the fact, it’s practically ancient history. The connection is also poorly explained and fairly unnecessary – I’m really not sure why it was done in the first place.

The second, and arguably bigger issue I have with this series is the decision to make Doop learn to speak English, instead of the indecipherable gobbledygook he’s always communicated with in the past. Doop is effectively a joke character – he’s a parody of an ultra-competent Mary Sue, like Squirrel Girl, but without the genuinely bizarre first appearance that led to her memetic infallibility. The more you show what Doop is thinking, and the more you define his capabilities, the less funny that joke becomes. Far be it from me to second guess Milligan – it’s his creation, and he’s more than justified in portraying him in any way he sees fit – but to me, this version of Doop loses much of his bizarre charm.

While David Lafuente’s suitably wacky artwork does a lot to redeem All-New Doop, I just can’t get past the changes to the character, and the way the story is bogged down in unnecessary continuity from an out-of-date story. This one’s for Doop mega-fans only.

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Grimm Fairy Tales 2014 Annual

“Age of Darkness – Realms Fall pt. 1”

Joe Brusha, Ralph Tedesco and Pat Shand (writers), Andrea Meloni (artist). Covers by Jason Metcalf, Alfredo Reyes, Ivan Nunes and Michael Dooney.

The Grimm Fairy Tales line has come a long way from its humble origins, as a cross between classic fairytales and Tales from the Crypt, by way of late night Skinemax. Over the past nine years, it’s evolved into kind of a sleazier version of Fables, if Bill Willingham had handed the reigns over to Roger Corman. For all the T&A and cheap exploitation, Grimm Fairy Tales has evolved to encompass a complex and nuanced world, that exists on a scale that readers of the earliest issues never would have envisioned.

As part of the build up to the imminent Grimm Fairy Tales #100, “Realms Fall” begins with Sela Mathers and her allies in the Realm Knights battling the Dark Horde to secure the safety of humans with latent or undiscovered magical abilities. The action is fast paced, the artwork is well above average, and but for some forced dialogue, the script is solid. My sole complaint is that while every throwaway background character gets a full name check, the villains that show up at the end of this issue are never identified. An annual issue like this would be well served to try to draw new or casual readers in to the ongoing series, and small details like this can make all the difference. I managed to figure out three of the four characters (by wasting far too much time Googling random keywords), but even then, the ponytailed elf fellow is a mystery to me… and given my obsessive compulsive tendencies, that’s a huge pain in the ass.

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ImageUncanny X-Men #21

Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Chris Bachalo (artist). Cover by Alexander Lozano.

Marvel’s endless mutant melodrama marches on, as Cyclops’ and Magik’s powers rage out of control, and S.H.I.E.L.D. launches an unprovoked attack on the Jean Grey School. And while that’s a decent enough story pitch, I still can’t get into this series.

As well written and drawn as this volume of Uncanny X-Men has been, it still has the fundamental problem that even a year and a half removed from Avengers vs. X-Men, Cyclops and his team are still a bunch of despicable rat-bastards. I have no problem with reading books about anti-heroes with questionable morality – Deadpool, Secret Six and The Boys leap to mind as a few examples of that kind of book done right – but as a straightforward superhero book, this doesn’t click with me. Cyclops’ X-Men are now the radicals and terrorists that the world always accused them of being, the Mutant Menace incarnate, whose presence provides a justification for the very things they fight against, like Sentinels and aggressive government oversight. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a strong concept, with a ton of story potential, and it’s great when the Uncanny X-Men show up as supporting characters in other titles. As it is though, it’s hard to accept these characters carrying a book of their own when they’re all so irredeemable.

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ImageJudge Dredd Megazine #347

T.C. Eglinton, Mike Carroll and Alan Grant (writers), Boo Cook, Steve Yeowell, Jon-Davis Hunt and Mike Dowling (artists). Cover by Yeowell.

For British fans, Judge Dredd is a cultural touchstone, one of the most iconic characters in UK comic book history, whose thirty-seven year history has helped launch the careers of countless writers and artists, including some of the most prolific and influential creators in the history of the medium. On this side of the ocean though, Dredd is more of a curiosity – most North American fans likely associate the character first and foremost with the tepid Sylvester Stallone film from 1995 (and far to few with the infinitely superior Karl Urban flick from 2012).

At their best, Judge Dredd comics are deeply nuanced cyberpunk epics; at their worst, they’re a conspicuously anachronistic reaction to Cold War-era politics in general, and Thatcherism in particular. What you get out of a title like Judge Dredd Megazine can vary wildly from month to month, and given the serialized nature of the majority of the title’s stories, you really have to be all-in or all-out. With that said, I’m coming at this issue having not read a Dredd comic since mid-2012, near the end of the sweeping year-long “Day of Chaos” storyline. I’m interested in dipping my toes back into the 2000 AD world though, so now’s as good a time as any to check things out.

As usual for Judge Dredd Megazine, this issue features a number of stories, three of which are serials. The first is the beginning of a new storyline, “Rad to the Bone”, which sees Dredd become the target of a mutant serial killer, who is striking at him through his fellow Judges. It’s a decent enough set-up and well drawn, but suffers from being just the introductory chapter to a larger story – by the time it gets rolling, the story finishes, with this part being rather unsatisfying on its own.

Up next is the fifth and final part to “The Whisper,” starring ex-Judge turned private investigator Galen DeMarco, who teams up with her former Judge allies to hunt town the eponymous killer. Again, this story isn’t much on its own, and as excellent of an artist as Steve Yeowell is, cramped panel layouts and a black-and-white palette make the story’s frequent scene changes hard to follow.

Things pick up next with “The Irrational Lottery,” a one-off story that sets the Judges on the back burner to focus on Mega-City One’s disaffected youth population. The story is clever and funny with excellent artwork, a witty satire of the punk subculture that frames a decent little mystery. My favourite story though is the last of the four tales this month, part of the ongoing “Dead End” serial that sees Judge Anderson and her fellow Psi-Judges being targeted by a psychotic telepath, who is using mind-controlled Judges to sew chaos throughout the city. The story is good, but more than that, Mike Dowling’s artwork is just stellar, representing the extraordinary level of quality that made 2000 AD and Judge Dredd comics such an influential standout for so long.

Judge Dredd Megazine is priced at a hefty £5.70 (or about $7.99 US, assuming you’re not paying any international premiums), but you certainly get plenty of bang for your buck. In addition to the comic stories, this issue of Judge Dredd Megazine also features interviews with Mike Dowline and Declan Shalvey, a feature on the history of the Godzilla film franchise, and the first part of a text story by Jonathan Green. Also package in is a huge 64-page reprint supplement, which collects classic Judge Janus serials from the mid 1990s, as told by writers Grant Morrison and Mark Millar and artist Paul Johnson. It’s not either writer’s finest work by a long shot, but it’s an interesting curio for any of their fans who want to check out some of their more obscure offerings.

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.

(Not So) New Comic Reviews! (3-25-14)

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Uber #10

Kieron Gillen (writer), Caanan White (artist). Covers by White, Michael Dipascale and Gabriel Andrade.

 It’s not often that a writer, when describing his new comic series, says that he hopes people won’t enjoy reading it. Partway through your first issue of Uber, you’ll see what Kieron Gillen meant. The idea of combining superhero tropes with World War II is a rather hoary old cliché by now, but here Gillen rejects the more fantastic elements of the capes and tights set in favour of a comparatively more realistic depiction of a world where the Nazis develop the technology to create superhuman forces. The result is something much darker, much uglier… and much more compelling to read about.

 This issue sees Uber approaching the end of its first story arc. Following the first major defeat of the Nazi’s superhuman “Battleships,” the Allied and Axis forces have reached a temporary stalemate. As the British scramble to develop a viable superhuman of their own, the Nazi forces prepare for a high risk offensive, sending one of the Battleships on a potential suicide run.

 Uber is superb. Gillen’s story is a well-imagined, logical extrapolation of actual history, drawing on both real historical figures and events, and seventy-five years of comic book ideas. His approach to superhuman science fiction shows a rare restraint and realism, and the story is that much stronger for it. Additionally, Caanan White’s artwork is absolutely stellar, capturing both the larger-than-life action of post-human warfare, and the visceral horror of battlefields and death camps. I particularly enjoyed White’s facial expressions – even without reading a word of dialogue, it’s immediately evident which characters are haunted by the atrocities of war, which are struggling with barely contained rage, and which are revelling in sadistic glee in the death that surrounds them.

 This is a series that goes down some very dark paths, and it should go without saying that’s it’s not for all tastes, and is certainly not for younger readers. If you’re willing to endure the experience though, Uber is one of the best independent series out there right now.

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X-Men: Legacy #300

“ForgetMeNot”

Mike Carey, Christos Gage and Simon Spurrier (writers), Tan Eng Huat, Steve Kurth and Rafa Sandoval (artists). Cover by Clay Mann.

 Using some impressively fuzzy math, Marvel Comics has somehow determined that this month marks the three hundredth issue of X-Men: Legacy… somehow. To commemorate this momentous occasion, past X-Men writers Mike Carey and Christos Gage join regular series writer Simon Spurrier to produce what may well be the worst comic of the year so far. This happy little tale starts with facial mutilation and the rape culture of college athletics, moves on to suicidal depression and pointless war, and eventually settles on racism and the emptiness of a life where no one cares about you. This meandering journey through the worst elements of the human condition then takes a turn for the emotionally exploitative, as Spurrier and friends try to tack on the heavy-handed moral that “the way the world sees you isn’t as important as the way you see the world.”

 It’s almost funny that even coming immediately after a comic where the Holocaust is a central plot point, X-Men Legacy #300 is still the most unpleasant thing I’ve read this week. This comic is an ugly, emotionally empty and utterly unpalatable geek show, that I can’t imagine would appeal to anyone. It’s one thing to produce a comic that has absolutely nothing worth saying; it’s quite another to write one that says nothing in the most obnoxious way possible.

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Death Sentence #6

Montynero (writer), Mike Dowling (artist). Cover by Montynero.

 So this one has an interesting premise… Death Sentence is set in a world threatened by a rare STD known as G-Plus, which gives superpowers to those who contract it, but also kills them within six months. One of the virus’ victims is a Jim Morrison-lookalike named Monty, who uses his newfound powers to go out in style, by brutally taking over England, slaughtering the royal family and the prime minister, and plunging the nation into violent anarchy. (One would hope Death Sentence’s Monty isn’t an author-insert character from the series’ similarly named writer… if so, someone might want to send Montynero in for a psych exam). The only two people who have any hope of stopping Monty’s reign of terror are two fellow G-Plus victims, a self-professed tortured artist named Verity, and a drug-addled burnout named Weasel.

 Death Sentence is highly sexually charged and incredibly violent, but also strangely poetic at times. Once again, it is also very dark… this is a hell of a week for super-powered rat bastards. On paper, the series might sound like just a dirtier version of the old Marvel series Strikeforce: Morituri, but it actually has a lot more in common with deeper work, like Alan Moore The Original Writer’s run on Miracleman. More than anything, Death Sentence seems like a reimagining of Akira (which this issue actually name-checks), both in terms of story content and even specific imagery. The difference is, whereas both the Akira manga and anime frequently crossed over into self-important navel-gazing, Death Sentence is aggressively unpretentious, actively working to deflate its own ego whenever things get a little too high concept. It’s very difficult to pull that kind of dynamic off without slipping into hipster-chic post-ironic bullshit, but Death Sentence treads the line perfectly. This is a book that’s every bit as thought-provoking as it is shocking, and with this first miniseries now completed, I’m eager to see where Montynero takes the property next.

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Black Widow #4

“Public Enemy”

Nathan Edmondson (writer), Phil Noto (artist and cover)

 Black Widow is another of Marvel’s current series of stripped-down Avengers titles, a stylish espionage comic with only the barest trappings of the superhero genre. This issue sees our eponymous heroine going up against a fanatical Russian assassin, whose brazen attacks on high-profile political figures has left S.H.I.E.L.D. at a standstill.

 “Public Enemy” is certainly a well-written story, but more than that, it’s an incredibly well-drawn one. The design and visual flow that Phil Noto employs here is nothing short of masterful. In particular, there’s a double page spread that achieves the near impossible, by capturing a sense of slow-motion in a medium where time and speed are entirely artificial constructs dependant on the reader’s perception. It’s a brilliant piece of narrative artwork, the kind that every aspiring artist should take notes on.

 I will say this though… this is a very strange time to read a comic about Russian acts of war – especially one which ends with a character being tasked with destroying an airplane. Any parallels to real-world events is, of course, coincidental… but that doesn’t make it any less awkward.

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Deadpool #25.NOW

“Deadpool vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. pt. 5.NOW”

Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn (writers), Mike Hawthorne (artist). Covers by Mark Brooks, Katie Cook and Phil Noto.

 Once again, Marvel has chosen a very strange issue to attach its “All-New Marvel Now” tag to. One would think that the last part of a five-part story, that is also the culmination of the entire series to date, would be the absolute worst time for a new reader to try to jump aboard… especially when the next issue promises, and I quote, “Time-Traveling Hitler,” which is pretty much the ideal Deadpool pitch. For now though, we get a rematch between Deadpool and Crossbones, and learn the final fates of semi-dead S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Emily Preston, and her traitorous former commander (and general douchebag) Agent Gorman. It’s typically excellent stuff, but if you haven’t been following the past year’s stories, you might want to hold off on checking Deadpool until next month.

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Fantastic Four #2

“The Fall of the Fantastic Four pt. 2”

James Robinson (writer), Leonard Kirk (artist). Covers by Kirk and Arthur Adams.

 Of all the “All-New Marvel Now!” titles, this is the one I’m the most torn on. I’m pretty sure I’ve written before about James Robinson’s inconsistency as a writer, having produced some of the best (Starman, The Golden Age) and worst (Cry for Justice, his Justice League of America run) comics I’ve ever read. So far, this might be the least polarizing book he’s done, falling squarely in the realm of adequacy. On the plus side, this issue features some cool ideas, like the return of the Heroes Reborn Counter-Earth and a big status quo shakeup for a member of the team. On the other hand, much of the dialogue consists of unnecessary exposition and stilted non-jokes, and the book frequently violates the golden rule of comics, which is “show, don’t tell.”

 Luckily, Leonard Kirk’s excellent artwork goes a long way toward elevating the inconsistent story. This is the title that Kirk was born to draw, as his clean, expressive line work and dynamic compositions reflect the visual style that Jack Kirby first established back in 1961, and that every subsequent Fantastic Four artist has done their best to emulate.

 While I’m somewhat on the fence about this book right now, the ambitious scope and impressive art are more than enough to stick around for a few more issues to see where this goes. Fingers crossed.

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.