Wednesday, July 1, 2015

6/24/15

BEST OF WEEK: SUPERMAN #41 — I love every page of this. I really for the most part enjoyed the first arc by Johns/JRJr, but this is just some next-level business. Terrific opening three-panel sequence that we never even catch up to (and that will probably be the end of the arc?). And then we’re back to the soon-to-be-expired status quo, Clark as a reporter with only Jimmy clued in on his secret identity. It’s nice of Yang to provide us at least one adventure of the big guy having an adventure with his best friend before Lois blows the door wide open. I love the line, “Superman is here. DAMN.” That is, indeed, the correct reaction. We get a quality adventure with Jimmy running support before our hero rocks the serious solar-flare vision, which was terrific, but I can’t believe there was not a single dot of Kirby krackle to be found anywhere on that page. I mean, that was a decision, right? Couldn’t be an accident and, respectfully, it was the wrong decision! No sweat, though, the following two pages with Lois bring us right back into rhythm. I dug her repeating Jimmy’s “anonymous tip” motif and even that line about people with secrets not sleeping at night, usually that kind of retro-hindsight reader-foreknowledge line doesn’t work for me, but this one completely landed. An interesting hint that maybe she taking the whole thing personally is a principal reason for the outing, perhaps. And then, frankly, an alarming back half of the issue. Nobody wants to see Superman blackmailed! This is another interesting wrinkle, though. Maybe this leads to Clark having Lois blow the whistle on his secret identity with his blessing? Solid set-up here. Romita/Janson/White continue the dynamic work that they executed in the first arc, but it’s Yang who really shines here, showing up with a dramatic and exciting script that highlights the first superhero’s strengths while boldly carrying him into a new era. Recommended for one and all.

BATGIRL #41 — Oh, BurnsideGirl, we missed you so much. Stewart sits out on the layouts, but Tarr has got it more than under control with a fellow named Lopez assisting on backgrounds. We open with a follow-up to all of that Mother Electric business, which is a fine way to introduce the new Bat-status-quo before cutting to the meat of this series, the interpersonal interactions between the cast, most notably welcoming James “Dad” Gordon to the fold. It’s true about the clean-shaveness, so much of Gordon is apparently his mustache and glasses, it’s a little hard to believe. No black borderlines in the panels or word balloons, was that a thing in this book before the break? It really stands out here, lending a softness to the scene of father and daughter while also really making Lapointe’s washed-out palette of several yellows and greens stand out. And of course, Stewart/Fletcher are wise enough to give us exactly what we want for a cliffhanger, the situation implied by the cover. A welcome return to form, but I really can’t wait to see What Happens Next.

GRAYSON #9 — Oh, how I missed Dick so much. Now, they’ve got me doing it. That’s a pretty sad opening page there, how’s our boy going to get out of this one, Mr. Malone? An interesting upgrade on the Spyral hierarchy while Seeley/King take the meta-dialogue winking to another level entirely. If you’re looking us in the collective eye and having to ask, bro, no, you’re probably almost certainly bi-sexual. The one misstep, I am seriously not okay with Dick referring to him as “Bats.” Maybe this has already happened in this series once before? It is not cool. Might have been when he was twelve. I’m going to need a translator for those last couple of pages. All praise to Janin once again for drawing the absolute hell out of this, the man is an art-beast who should never be let out of his cage but fed very well and treated with all love and kindness.

THE FADE OUT #6 — I feel like that Dottie Quinn is maybe kind of a bad apple. Don’t really trust the squint behind her spectacles. Not quite buying Charlie as this beachcombing lover-man all of a sudden. There’s really not too much to this as a single when you go through and try to find a lot to talk about, but that’s owing to how well the creators manage to get out of the way and just tell the story, whether through words, lines, or colors. They’re some of the best working today.

EMPIRE: UPRISING #3 — That old Tumbril is not a nice fellow. Xanna’s arc is definitely playing out to be the most interesting thus far, though she’s certainly had the most on-panel time, so maybe that’s not fair. It’s, I don’t want to say, “nice” to get Golgoth time for more than a single scene. Rewarding? Chilling? Waid/Kitson/Sotomayor continue turning in quality work.

DAREDEVIL #016 — This run has been going on for several years now, so it’s definitely a big deal for Wilson Fisk to finally show up on-panel. Waid and crew do a good job injecting the opening scene with enough give-and-take and enmity to capture the reader’s immediate interest, as many times as we’ve seen Matt, if I may, stare down the Kingpin. Samnee/Wilson knock that Page Six splash of the many artistic deaths of Matt Murdock out of the park. And Foggy and Kirsten’s mutual sigh on the following page, oh, they both love Matty so much. And but everything seems to be circling round the drain all of a sudden! “NEXT: FINALE PART 1”? I hadn’t heard that Waid was moving on, but I suppose that’s what’s happening. Well, sad but it should be a rip-roaring curtain call.


UNCANNY AVENGERS #005 — The End? I think Remender might actually potentially be done with these people. Which is a little bit bittersweet, this ends a line of excellent serial storytelling he’s been doing in the Marvel Universe that has been unbroken since UNCANNY X-FORCE got going quite a few years back, now. I was definitely a bit lukewarm on this arc while it got spinning up, but it finished strongly enough that I feel good about the whole deal. Maybe I’m just a sucker for the Vision & the Scarlet Witch. But aren’t we all? Amidst all the reasonably blatant editorial set-up (Here comes another Evolutionary War! The twins have a dark secret!), Remender brings his characters to the end of their time with him and provides a satisfying coda for at least Wanda, though I expected a little bit more for Rogue. But everything ends, as they say.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

6/17/15

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #1 — This issue blindsided me in more ways than one. I didn’t realize it was coming out today. I had no idea that there were going to be six (or seven?) variant covers featuring every member of the League (which looked quite striking side by side on the rack, by the way). I didn’t know that it was going to be $6 or feature 48 damn pages of glorious Hitch art. And I didn’t expect the script was going to be as rock-solid as it was. Really, just a terrific opening on every level. A very immediately engaging premise that is of course a very foreboding set-up for the tale to come. Nobody wants to see a pile of dead Supermans (pretty sure that’s how the plural of that should go). You know, it took this issue to make me realize, for all of the criticism that Snyder took for the disaster porn aspects of the fiasco that was MAN OF STEEL, that aspect of it really is just coming full-circle with the widescreen city-leveling madness that Hitch first popularized with Ellis back on their THE AUTHORITY fifteen years gone already. Think about it, though, every Hitch project since then, of course THE ULTIMATES and then the FF run with Millar and that mini-series with Wossy all the way up to the original AGE OF ULTRON thing with Bendis, there are a loooooot of finely rendered depictions of cracked-ass skyscrapers getting torn down to rubble by unmitigated superheroic destruction. And while we are quick to criticize that going down on the big screen (really kicking into gear with JOSS WHEDON’S MARVEL’S THE AVENGERS, as well, let it be said), we’ve always just been stunned by Hitch’s draftsmanship. Certainly no one’s coined the term “disaster porn” to describe it that I’m aware of in all these years. Maybe it’s just because the characterization in the comics has been better and so the destructive catharsis feels more earned? An interesting discrepancy. This issue here, though, is nothing but Hitch at play with DC’s biggest guns. The Aquaman scenes are an interesting standalone juxtaposition with the other more straight-ahead superhero action. There was maybe a little bit more mostly gratuitous swearing than seems ideal for a book you’d want to get a bit evangelical with amongst the younger crowd (In just the centerpiece ensemble fight scene alone, Batman busts out two “Dammit”s [which actually almost could have become more of an entertaining thing if he’d maintained the rhythm and just stuck with that as like a sort of an involuntary epithet Tourette’s crutch for while high-powered business is just breaking down], a “damn” that broke that rhythm, Parasite calls Wonder Woman a bitch, and Superman even gets in on the action with a “damn,” as well). Overall, though, this is a tremendously entertaining issue and a pleasure to feast your eyes on, as well as an intriguing premise that actually feels like something we haven’t seen before, after all of these years. You’ve got to almost feel a little bad for poor Mark Millar, the golden boy who can churn out creator-owned Hollywood-ready books that get optioned just as fast as he can sign up an A-list artist for “pages”/storyboards but who is apparently still blackballed at DC from scripting his dream gig on basically this very title. When the script is this solid, though, we don’t even miss him. I fervently hope that all of the DC cinematic folk who have apparently fetishized Miller’s DARK KNIGHT run from thirty years ago are still paying attention and can swerve the situation of their output a little bit in this direction. They can still get their buildings all smashed to powder while everybody stays true to who they are as a character and not be deconstructed into some apology that was played out around the time Marvel went bankrupt. But, I digress. Go, Hitch!

ROBIN, SON OF BATMAN #1 — I have made no secret that early on in the now-bygone days of The New 52, BATMAN AND ROBIN shot out in front of the pack in terms of quality, consistency, and overall emotional devastation, really packing it in in terms of what your monthly superhero sequential can and should be able to deliver on a regular basis. Those guys did such a strong job that they brought a tear to more than one fanboy’s eye through the at-the-time soul-crushing trick of putting Batman through two years of shit in order to earn a single smile that is one of the most rewarding payoffs I can recall expecting in serial fiction. So, when writer Peter J. Tomasi went on to other projects, all were sad but then buoyed by the news that at least the art team would soldier on with Patrick Gleason taking on scripting duties singlehandedly. My optimism was tempered by the fact that for every Darwyn Cooke or Paul Pope or Erik Larsen one-man-band storytelling engine, there are the cautionary tales of Todd McFarlane cutting his teeth on one of the best-selling polybagged comics of the nineties and not, in fact, managing to rise above it all. Or, um, that time they let Andy Kubert out from behind his drawing board to wreak serious havoc on this very character. But hey, this series apparently has a Man-Bat sidekick named Goliath, so right off the bat, we’re starting out ahead of the game. And never looking back. Of course, the art maintains the very high standard that Gleason/Gray/Kalisz have set for themselves, but the terrific news is that Gleason appears to have already spent so much time with Damian Wayne and be so invested in the character that he gives every indication of being the only person besides Morrison or Tomasi to be able to strike the right balance of arrogance and relentless drive to honor his father’s legacy that is such a core component of what makes Damian who he is. And oh, it does my heart good. I really wanted to be able to fully invest in this title. Not only is this a very satisfying pilot episode representing the new status quo from Page One, but the Year of Blood/Atonement storyline sounds like a perfect long arc and is perfectly in line with Damian’s long-term development as a character. For all the rebooting, reimagining, and streamlining going on these days (see: BATMAN, GRAYSON, SUPERMAN, BATGIRL, STARFIRE, and this next one down below), as important as that is to kick off the cobwebs and dust of years of accumulated continuity in order to pull in new readers to this ever-diminishing fanbase, it is just as important to reward the long-time stalwart readers with palpable non-illusory growth over time to characters who we have become invested in over the course of years. I couldn’t stand Damian Wayne when he showed up in Morrison’s first issue anymore than anybody else could. But somewhere along the way, maybe as early as him shit-talking Dick & “Pennyworth” that very first time he was in the suit in that first Quitely issue of BATMAN AND ROBIN, I realized how much I actually liked the little bastard, shit though he was. And the work that Morrison and Tomasi put into him in the intervening six years made him one of, if not the, most nuanced, interesting, and well-developed new character in at least mainstream superhero comics, if not the entire medium. It is so gratifying to see that he remains in good hands while entering this new fatherless time in his crimefighting career. God help us all.

BLACK CANARY #1 — I have been seriously onboard with both the Burnside BATGIRL and GOTHAM ACADEMY since their first issues and also really dug the Annie Wu/Kate Bishop issues of HAWKEYE (which I realize isn’t like a controversial stance on either count), so it was a foregone conclusion that I was going to try this thing out. Though I have to say, I worried that maybe we were stretching ourselves a bit thin already spinning Dinah out of Barbara’s book, there. Any concern was completely misplaced; this book is totally its own thing and a more compelling direction for the title character than I recall reading. It’s certainly nice to see her fronting an eponymous band as opposed to completing the phrase GREEN ARROW & _______. This series is rock and roll all the way. Like, already more rock and roll than SCOTT PILGRIM, and those books had a backbeat built in to every turn of the page. An all-new supporting cast here, the band gets interesting character tics but not too much exposition out of the gate, but there’s enough to invest in. Hell, anyone who can cause a guitar to phase and flange, echo and delay without stompboxes has my full attention. What a terrific counterpoint to Dinah. Love Fletcher’s scripting, love Wu’s art, I’m all in for the big rawkshow.

BEST OF WEEK: ASTRO CITY #24 — Okay, and then something like this comes along and just blows everything away. I’ve been trying to parse exactly how Busiek/Anderson and friends made me care so much about a super-powered gorilla who just wants to be a rock-and-roll drummer, but somewhere along the way, I realized that I was already answering my own question. There’s also the fact that we’ve been visiting ASTRO CITY almost-regularly for twenty years now*, and the roving-eye constantly-shifting protagonist aspect of this series has resulted in some of the most concise, consistent, and fully realized world building that it’s ever been my pleasure to encounter, the kind of work that you can really only do panel by panel, year after year. Serious respect to Busiek for not only having Samaritan explicitly quote the mantra of ALL-STAR SUPERMAN, “There’s always a way,” but have him deliver this line during a rooftop scene that’s a cover version/homage to the all-time classic Saving Regan scene from #10. And you’ve got to love a little touch like just throwing Astra in, a supporting character that doesn’t have to mean anything unless you remember her being a little girl in #2 of Volume 2 many many years ago, and then she had that incredible one-shot just a few years back when she graduated high school. So there’s all of that character investment charged up in a character who’s just one of six in an opening fight scene that’s just meant to establish the status quo for the issue before immediately upsetting it. These guys make all of this look easy, and it’s so enjoyable to read, but the level of craft required to make all of this happen requires master storytellers, and we are lucky to have them bringing us tales that we can care about as much as they clearly do. There have been so many times when I’ve finished an issue and just hollered, “That’s the series! Do that! Don’t put that person on the bench for the next five years, I’m begging you!” Even though that’s the beauty of this series. It’s an entire fully realized universe in one single title. But I have never ever wanted a spinoff ongoing title from this book more than THE NEW ROCK’N’ROLL ADVENTURES OF POWERCHORD! Please, Kurt Busiek, make it happen. I’m begging you.

TREES #10 — Okay, yeah, so Ellis doesn’t appear to be even writing this with breaks in mind, the page count just runs out and we’ll see you next month. As hoped for, that flashback that ended #9 makes a little more narrative sense when we can actually have the back half of the scene. This mayor guy is an interesting new character. And then we’re back with the surviving doc, managing to insult her new locale while not offending the locals. Jason Howard remains a cartooning barbarian on this thing; every turn of the page really is a delight, no matter what horrible shit Uncle Warren has the characters doing or saying or thinking about.

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #9 — Nice reversal here. We zoom out to the sheriff and get most of the sympathy/empathy we might have built up for old Euless Boss over the course of the last arc beaten out of us with a single baseball-bat-maimin’ scene. What is it about this county and big ol’ sticks? The shifting character focus might be the most interesting aspect of this series, but I think all most folks are waiting on at this point is for Earl Tubb’s daughter to show up and just start chucking napalm out on the street, cooking barbecue in the undying flames. I enjoyed the nooks and crannies of this issue and had no problem dialing in to our new temporary lead, but I wish they wouldn’t have gone with the straight MAD MEN pilot ending on the last page. That was such a powerful thing when it happened the first time, you can’t really do it again without suffering from inferior comparisons, certainly not in the last beat of your first episode.

GOD HATES ASTRONAUTS #9 — Who among us was prepared for the secret origin of Pandor? Not I, fellow Stunned! Really glad to hear about 3-D Cowboy’s newfound sobriety and improved situation at home. But then this whole issue is batshit crazy! Once again. There is nothing in the world like this series, and I am grateful for that, but then I recommend that you all ascend into its finely rendered insanity as often as possible but no less than once a month. Long live King Pandor of the Royal Burger!

LOW #7 — Mmm, this is an interesting little zoom-in here where we completely bail on the main plot fired up from the first arc and cut to another city, focusing on a pair of woman, one of whom is basically imagination police, an upgrade from Bradbury’s firemen from FARENHEIT 451, whose job it is to eradicate artists, which is unfortunate because her lover is a really talented painter. There’s some meaty character work here, reminiscent of THE OUTER LIMITS, a very solid done-in-one that’s a rewarding experience all on its own. Tocchini throws down maybe his best pages yet again. This is still an interesting one to watch, especially in light of this new wrinkle in the narrative format.

BUCKY BARNES: THE WINTER SOLDIER #009 — As usual, Rudy absolutely paints the hell out of this thing. The layouts are dynamic, and the eye can’t help but be drawn across the page, torn between the desire to marvel at the depth of skill and technique inherent in every innovatively bordered panel while eager to devour the next images. Kot’s script, however, leaves much to be desired. We burn basically the entire issue on Loki taunting our hero in rhyme before eventually being overcome at the end, which comes across as terribly self-indulgent and, if not squandering Rudy’s considerable talent, at least not making optimum use of it in terms of telling a story that’s engaging and entertaining. I wish this thing felt a little bit trashier, a little bit pulpier, a little bit less impressed with itself and packed in with more heart-pounding moments of action, adventure, wonder, and space-opera glory. It doesn’t have to just be an analogue of FLASH GORDON or ADAM STRANGE, but it feels like it’s trying so hard to range around and not be those things that it’s failing to do the most important thing: latch on to the reader and never let go.

THORS #1—I’ve been tradewaiting Aaron’s run on THOR but had to go on and jump right in to this situation to stay current with the event as it unfolds. This is a great take on things that Aaron has going here. The vibe that Hickman was rocking in #s 2 and 3 of the main series was a sort of Thor Corps, very much an analogue to what Hal Jordan and friends get up to on the other side of the corporate spectrum. Here, Aaron doubles-down on that concept, making this almost a straight procedural in which the Thors have partners, investigate murders, are called into Odin’s office and berated for not clearing cases, drink mead in bars when they’re not solving murders, the whole nine realms (forgive me for that). That’s a great look for this title even before featuring Ultimate Thor & Beta Ray Bill as our two leads. Terrific interplay to be had between the two throughout this book. And all kinds of great supporting characters waiting in the wings, Storm is a Thor here, as is a Destroyer, and even Thor-frog gets in on the act as a medical examiner. The art team shows up in force with Sprouse/Story providing dynamic visuals and Gracia making them look as beautiful as he always does. I am all in on this one, to be sure.

OLD MAN LOGAN #002 — Bendis/Sorrentino don’t let up as they just right away set out to maximize the potential of a set-up this nutty and straight-up kick our grizzled Man Named Logan into the Age of Apocalypse, which results in more confusion than anything else this issue, a slight momentum-killer that Creative mitigates by just bringing dude face to face with Apocalypse himself by issue’s end. Grand and glorious fun, both of these SECRET WARS tie-ins are the high end of what is possible when the creators embrace the madness inherent in a premise this wide open and just get to work telling the best stories that they possibly can.




*is this the first time, in all these years, that an ASTRO CITY volume has made it to #24? Seems like that Volume 2 shut down at #23 and we’ve never made it this far since, what with all that THE DARK AGEing for all those years. Huzzah!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

6/10/15

BATMAN #41 — Well, I thought those bunny ears they put on top of that armor looked as stupid as anybody else did, and that first image was certainly not putting their best foot forward in terms of advance PR, but I was confident that once we actually got to the interior pages, these guys weren’t going to let us down. It’s Snyder/Capullo/Miki/Plascencia, after all. This is definitely a compelling pilot episode for Gordon Batman/Commissioner BatGordon? I guess I don’t want to be the one to coin a stupid name for him, surely somebody else will take care of that (Update: Bullock does a few titles down with Bat-Robot, apparently). These guys have certainly earned my trust in terms of getting it done inside Gotham City and I’m interested to see where they’re going to take this. It does seem a liiiiiiiiiittle bit soon to already be teasing Bruce Wayne’s return, but I guess that’s the nature of the beast.

GOTHAM ACADEMY #7 — In the vernacular of this milieu, I am Team Kerschl all the way and had serious doubts about anyone else being able to bring the artistic thunder on this book to a similar degree, but Mingue Helen Chen does exactly that. We don’t even need Olive on-panel for a single page as Maps steps up to the plate with a charming misadventure co-starring new enrollee Damian Wayne. She’s such a wonderful fully-realized character, and they play very well off of one another. My favorite panel has got to be Ode to the Grapple-Gun of My Dreams. And was Damian quoting Luke Skywalker on the next page before they went swinging across campus? You’ve got to love the reference to Inishtree and old Contarf Wayne leading in to an untold case of The Batman and a demon bird. Good times! Professor Macpherson & Ham the mystery-solving dog are also interesting company to keep. Damian almost slipping and calling Batman his father is another instant classic. Really wish he was going to be staying around, but I guess him joining the ensemble was too good to be true. It would be hard for him not to dominate the whole book, Mercutio-style, I suppose.

STARFIRE #1 — I had high hopes for this one based on Conner/Palmiotti’s involvement. They’re the ideal team to tackle writing Kori’s solo adventures, but with the help of Emanuela Lupacchino, they absolutely knock it out of the park. Starfire stays true to herself and expresses the openness and alien naïveté that characterized her earliest appearances back in the Wolfman/Perez heyday without being overly sexualized and just shabbily treated the way she has been here lately since the reboot. We get an interesting enough new supporting cast; I was completely engaged as our heroine rocketed from adventure to misadventure. The only stumbling block for me was when the two of them just broke down in the car crying over the dead grandmother. That seemed a little out of nowhere to me, but it did get us into the bar for some beers, so I’m willing to let it slide this time. Definitely onboard to see where this one goes.

DETECTIVE COMICS #41 — I like these guys writing Bullock as the lead character much more than I do them handling Bruce Wayne, apparently, because this script was clicking for me in all the ways that the Anarky plot wasn’t, as gorgeous as the art remained throughout. It’s an interesting new status quo, and making this title the modern-day equivalent of GOTHAM CENTRAL is a great call, as much of a deal as that is to live up to. But Bullock hollering, “Lies!” while roaring off his barstool to join Montoya in the cop vs. biker brawl is a terrific launch out of the gate.

CHRONONAUTS #4 — What a hail-Mary finish! This double-sized finale pulls this strange trick where it kind of pivots like the third act of a motion picture and suddenly drops the majority of the humorous time-travel gags (not that there could have been that many left, those last two issues were bananas) in favor of suddenly reinforcing traditional ideals and values of family and security, all while still sprinkling in amusing subversions such as the final fate of Mannix and, of course, the very last beat of the series, which had me laughing out loud and applauding. Terrific scripting from Millar and absolutely fantastic art from Murphy/Hollingsworth. I look forward to the inevitable cinematic adaptation brought to us by Matthew Vaughan.

NAMELESS #4 — Okay, so this is just basically some deeply scarring shit for folks who always kind of wished that EVENT HORIZON had taken it about thirty-five minutes further. Which is a group that I used to think that I was a part of, but it’s some terrifying frontier out here, mi hermanos! Burnham plumbs new depths of horror and fine linework and my man Morrison is, shall we say, not using the medium to encourage and inspire us to unlock and activate our own true potential as much as just icepick nightmares directly into our brains. And Fairbairn’s colors are immaculate. Everybody here is doing terrific work, as long as you have no problem that they’re basically dumping a fucking horror show into your eyes. Last night, I soaked my contacts in bleach-water and now everything is much better.

BEST OF WEEK: DESCENDER #4 — Good Lord, I love this book. I thought that last issue was as much as they were going to elevate the game, but I didn’t realize, it frankly wasn’t until that shot of the cover for next issue that’s a pin-up of all of them together that I realized that this is just another ragged group of a crew who has no reason being in each other’s company thrust together due to circumstances beyond their control, which is of course a trope of these things, but this slow burn is a bit more nuanced and controlled than the way that the crews of the, say, Millennium Falcon or Serenity came together, which creates a much more pleasant result because there’s the illusion of this organic coming together that’s totally unforced (pun intended) even though obviously that’s not the case. But the way that no-nonsense Captain Telsa riffs off of the somewhat cowardly Dr. Quon and both of them off all three ’bots, it’s just . . . this is some really really good storytelling here. And that’s just Lemire’s scripting, I haven’t even gone into the sparse but beautiful destruction that Nguyen has been throwing down on every single page. He’s a master of cartooning, and the sincerity in Tim’s face when he exclaims, “I want to help!” is so earnest, it’s immediately heartbreaking. Stunning. I know this has got to be a mini-series because these guys are just too in demand, but please, no one tell me when it’s going to end because I never want it to. Wonderful wonderful.

BLACK SCIENCE #15 — This series is really accelerating toward a crazy place, but every page is already more than worth the ride. Scalera came out guns blazing in #1 and continues to find a way to escalate his craft. That splash on Page 16 revealing the next potential distraction is a thunderous piece of interior art that mandates a judicious level of Kirby krackle, to be sure. And I’m crazy for the scrawls of velocity in the sky behind Grant any time that he’s flying. To say nothing of Dinisio’s colors, and Remender is obviously really putting his heart into this one. Just really terrific work all around.

INJECTION #2 — I have more questions at the end of this one than I did after #1, but I enjoyed the hell out of the ride. That Declan Shalvey can really stage a fracas throwdown for you. Ellis is in no rush to make us fully acquainted with our ensemble, but there are some key conversations in this one that help flesh out their relationships to one another. Beautiful colors from Jordie Bellaire again. I’m just grateful that Uncle Warren has seen fit to grace us with monthly shots of his madness once again.

SAGA #29 — As dedicated Wednesday Night Faithful know, I am in the minority of individuals who are not completely falling over themselves to proclaim the supernova greatness of this book and how it’s saving comics and the greatest thing since STAR WARS back before George started calling it EPISODE IV. Sometimes, these singles rub me the wrong way. This one didn’t. Maybe it was because they surprised me by holding off on the “Oh no they di’n’t” moment until that horrific double-splash on Pages 6 and 7 as opposed to just blasting it in our faces first thing. The last panel on Page 5 leading up to that spread is incredible. Since it’s this book, we know that our eyes and imaginations are about to be permanently scarred, but it’s still a pretty horrifying turn of the page, there. And the requisite shocking character death(s) abound once again. But leave dear Ghüs alone. Never Ghüs!

THE FOX: FOX HUNT #3 — Mae gets in on the superheroing act, making it a full-on family affair, though Paul is too busy fighting a disgusting tentacle-woman to get hip to the situation. Haspiel & Waid serve up more of the same Silver Age thrills with dynamic art and a script that krackles. This issue is good fun all around and Douglas Wolk’s essay on the fox legend is a charming piece of back-matter.

SAVAGE DRAGON #204 — Well, I can’t believe I didn’t see this coming, but the screwball teen sex comedy vibe that was dominating this one for the last little bit, while at the time seeming like a completely organic plot development reflecting the age of its characters, was also just a serious set-up for all of the conception difficulties that are about to rein down on poor Malcolm. It shouldn’t be funny, but it almost is, how when any previous liaison tells him that she’s knocked up, his immediate go-to response is, “Abort! Abort!” like he’s watching TOP GUN or something. Of course, the elephant in the room is that we haven’t heard about Maxine’s status yet, but so far we’re two for two for fertilized eggs. Not a good sign, methinks.

SILVER SURFER #012 — “THE END?” Does that mean we’re done with this series? If so, this was a lovely and elegant way to go out with all of the cosmic threat removed, the conflict stripped down to the relationship between our titular protagonist and Dawn Greenwood. Slott never spun his wheels with this one; several of these status quos would have been entertaining as more than single-issue set-ups. I was just getting used to bearded-fisherman Norrin Radd. He seems like a fun guy to knock back a few with at the bonfire, you know? I cut my teeth on Jim Starlin and Ron Lim throwing down the absolute justice on SILVER SURFER around 1990 while bringing Thanos back before INFINITY GAUNTLET hit and that run will always have a special place in my heart, the beats it hit on a month-to-month basis, but these guys and gal might have produced a more iconic run that speaks to the Platonic ideal of who the character really is at his core. I certainly hope there’s more to come.


SPIDER-GWEN #005 — Okay now but what? This issue straight-up ends with a To Be Continued, but then editorial just slams the door on that when you turn the page and says that we’re done here. I am interested in following the adventures of this character somewhere else but would really prefer for Latour/Rodriguez/Renzi to be chronicling them for the next two to eight years, please. Especially when this series is doing nothing but picking up steam! As if there’s not enough going on with developing the regular cast, we get Felicia Hardy dropped into the mix complete with a double-page origin that tells us all we need to know before the rock show commences. You’ve got to love Matt Murderdock’s early-days costume in this universe being identical to the Netflix version. He seems to kind of be shaping up as Gwen’s nemesis, yet another inspired choice in a series full of them. The script is tight. All of the art is on point. Please bring this book back to us intact after all of the Secret Wars are over with. Don’t show us what a world with SPIDER-GWEN could be like before cruelly ripping it away after a handful of issues. Really, a drum solo in just the perfect place might have been all that this book needed to put it over the top and steal BEST OF WEEK from that DESCENDER, no mean feat at all.

Friday, June 12, 2015

6/03/15

ACTION COMICS #41 — I have been loving this book ever since Pak/Kuder came on board, but these guys really take advantage of the line-wide relaunch/soft reboot/whatever we’re calling it to substantially elevate their game on this title (and without renumbering, even, what a trick). We’re thrown into what turns out to be the beginning of the resolution of an all-new desperate situation involving our hero just barely making it to the fringe of civilization after presumably walking from a Fortress of Solitude that turned against him and possibly had something to do with depowering him? It’s a risky non-linear maneuver, kicking events forward and promising via cheeky editorial footnotes to fill in the gaps later on in subsequent issues, but it pays off, creating an immediately engaging story in which the reader is just as uncomfortable and thrown out of the comfort zone of the usual status quo as our protagonist. Kuder’s dynamic layouts guide the reader’s eye along the page with an energetic hum, but the real work is happening in the excellent character acting that he accomplishes through emotive facial expressions and striking body language. These people really do come alive. Morey/Hi-Fi lend the proceedings a decidedly European tone with the employment of earthy hues throughout, which serve to complement the back-to-basics approach that Pak & Kuder’s plot have brought us around to, echoing the situation that Morrison had going back in #1 of this volume, not only bringing back the jeans-and-a-T-shirt look but even working in a faster-than-a-speeding-bullet sprint and a leaps-tall-buildings-with-a-single-bound hop in successive pages, to the point that when Brother punched the shadow creature, as great as that splash was, my first reaction was, “Hey now, where the hell is that locomotive?” But the best thing, the very best thing about this issue is that two-panel shot halfway through when one of the very cool and grateful neighbors of Kentville asks our boy if he’s still strong, and the guy big responds by dangling a bunch of kids off of his biceps while beaming, just smiling so wide. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. That’s not just MY Superman. That’s Superman, full stop. Such terrific work these guys are doing, so glad that they seem to be absolutely roaring into a second wind on this run.

JUSTICE LEAGUE #41 — Now, this is the business that I’ve been waiting for. I have not been loving Johns’s work ever since the reboot but checking in intermittently, and the fellow finally throws it down. This is a very satisfying issue on every level with all of the balanced interplay between the ensemble that this book requires to be successful and plenty of Mister Miracle and Mother Box to boot. My sole scripting quibble was that he’s got Superman saying “For who?” which is grammatically incorrect and basically impossible for a genius reporter who sometimes goes by the name of Clark Kent to utter. Other than that, glory throughout. Jason Fabok finds a way to elevate his previously jaw-dropping game and brings the absolute thunder throughout with several iconic splashes that always arrive at just the right time and never at the expense of narrative clarity. There could have maaaaaaybe been a little bit more Kirby krackle throughout, but I’m probably always going to say that, as much trouble as I give poor Scioli for bringing krackle on even like 14 out of 20 pages with his latest series sometimes over at IDW. I bought this issue on a hopeful note, and it really delivers on every level. I’m all in for The Darkseid War and glad to be.

STAR WARS #006 — A pretty legendary wrap-up to the first arc here. It’s a shame to have to say goodbye to John Cassaday & Laura Martin, but I am certainly grateful to have had them providing interiors for a full six issues.  They certainly blow it up on the way out the door, though. We get Luke Skywalker fighting Boba Fett in Ben Kenobi’s old place with a blue lightsaber versus a jet-pack and a trusty droid to help save the day. There is a terrific series of cliffhangers. I’m sure that there will be people howling about the big reveal with Han, but it seems perfectly in character to me and certainly makes the situation a bit more complex, going forward. Finding Obi-Wan’s journal certainly opens the door to a bevy of interesting tales filling in the Jedi Knight’s lost years on Tatooine. Paging Ewan McGregor! And that last scene, man. Some pretty iconic business.

DARTH VADER #006 — This is really just two scenes. We have an in-depth review of all of those new bad guys that bum-rushed Vader at the end of last issue, which is all well and good but I didn’t care too much about it. The business kicks in, though, in the back half of the issue when Boba Fett shows up to make his report. Now, at first I was calling Bullshit, as they were just giving us the same thing we just got at the end of the main title, word for word, but then Vader’s reaction kicks in and Larocca starts dilating the time with flashbacks to key moments from the prequels featuring dearly departed Padme, which really adds a great deal of narrative weight to a scene that already played well but definitely deserved to be expanded. Very solid craftsmanship on the interweaving between titles here.

PRINCESS LEIA #004 — Waid & the Dodsons keep up the thunder as our princess makes plans to trade herself for an Alderaanian that the Empire is holding hostage and two members of her staff try unsuccessfully to recruit the people of Espirion to the cause, a subplot that I’m sure will build to something worthwhile but that feels totally shoe-horned in here.

SECRET WARS #3 — Now that the bar has been raised so high by #2, we’re walking into this expecting some pretty serious business. As Sheriff Strange and the Thor Corps begin to unravel the mystery of the interlopers from Earth-1610, God Doom & Imperial Consort Susan Richards weigh his reign. Man, even just a relatively simple summary of this thing sounds just too cool. When Strange explains the new status quo to the crew who have been in stasis and reveals who’s been playing God, the stunned reaction shot is one for the ages. Ribic/Svorcina are still drawing the hell out of this, but it’s Hickman’s vast imagination that is propelling this series into arguably already the most enjoyable Big Event I have ever enjoyed from the House of Ideas. Very very strong material.

ALL-NEW X-MEN #041 — We come at last to the final issue of this title, as apparently the Bendis run is concluding in what they’re calling UNCANNY X-MEN #600. It’s definitely a bittersweet issue, very well made, but I’m just kind of sad because the ride is almost over. This is especially a bummer as Bendis brings in a whole new crew of favorites (as well as Random) who have been consigned to mutant limbo the past few years (not Illyana’s place either, I mean, the unpublished kind). I was always a fan of the Madison Jeffries incarnation of Box. There’s a terrific riff on generational humor as Boom-Boom straight up screams at the titular characters to get off her lawn. Asrar/Gracia throw down the kind of thunder and lightning to which we’ve all become accustomed. I am really going to miss this book. 

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN: RENEW YOUR VOWS #1 — Wow. All right, let it be said that no one hated the neck-breakin’ climax of MAN OF STEEL more than I did. I won’t belabor that anymore but only mention it here as context to say that while that ending absolutely did not work for me, this one does. A very similar set-up, but Peter making the same decision makes total sense, and I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a parent who wouldn’t do the same thing. You’d have to search a lot harder to find an psychotic alien symbiote as an antagonist, but you get my point. This really just serves as the pilot episode for what is a completely reset status quo by issue’s end. This one has A-list talent all the way with Slott/Kubert leading the charge, but more importantly, it follows the initial premise to its inevitable conclusion: if Peter & MJ really had a kid, there would be a brief period of not-yet-getting-it because he’s Peter Parker, but pretty soon, he would realize that he’s got to hang it up for the greatest responsibility of all, being a parent. Very interested to see where this one is going next issue.

BEST OF WEEK*: NONPLAYER #2 — It’s impossible to discuss this issue outside of the context of the fact that it’s been a little more than four years since #1 came out. My little girl was only two years old when we got blown away by #1 and I said to myself, “I hope this Simpson guy has a couple more of these in the can because it looks like these pages took a loooooooong time to produce.” Well, I was certainly right about that. He did not, and now my little girl is done with kindergarten. But let’s just talk about the issue on its own merits, yes? It’s a pretty staggering situation. Both inside covers are in-story art, bringing the total page-count to thirty uninterrupted ad-free pages of a singularly unique and absolutely gorgeous story that is as immersive and all-encompassing as the truly massive multi-player online virtual role-playing game that is such a critical element of this series. If anything, creator Nate Simpson ups the ante on his insane, super-precise detailed visuals that have basically anyone who lays eyes on them running for cover. Every page is basically a staggering feast for the eyes that I suspect even has Geof Darrow shaking his head, muttering, “too much, too muuuuuuuch.” The colors evoke strong Moebius tones, which is a perfect fit for the futuristic science-fiction tone of the series. But hey, we all knew that Simpson could draw like the greatest badass of his age. The really good news here, particularly after such a long wait, is that his script does everything that it should be doing here. He seriously zooms out and rather than provide another very gorgeous set-piece (which was a great opening hook on #1, don’t get me wrong), Simpson gets on with some serious world-building, introducing several new characters who populate the real world in which Dana Stevens lives (and with whom we are so busy meeting, we only get Dana for two panels this time out. Simpson is berserker!). We open with Jeff Homer, the charismatic but clearly sinister CEO of Lands Unlimited, the manufacturer of “Warriors of Jarvath,” the fantasy virtual reality game that apparently over a billion people are playing at one time. So the deal is, this game is such a ridiculous simulation that it actually has an entire artificial planet up and running at any given time, creatures living and dying in the deep oceans that nobody ever sees and so forth. The girl interviewing Homer brings up some allegations about the non-player characters, a title-referencing exchange that is obviously a huge deal going forward. Apparently, the non-player characters in “Warriors of Jarvath” can straight-up pass a Turing test, but Homer assures us that it’s all “smoke and mirrors” and nothing to worry about. Famous last words! Then, we do need a little action, so cut to a hostage crisis at a fish market where we meet Roland Hanley, a police detective who’s seen it all but appears to be a pretty good dude. Simpson doesn’t really sink his teeth into this character to let him break out of his basic good-guy tough-cop archetype, but he’s likeable enough. Probably his defining trait at this point is that he’s unflappable, completely not fazed by all of the crazy tech and giant robot business that’s got all of us readers bulging our eyes at every turn of the page. Then, there’s Alan, the apparently genius programmer who Homer fires from Lands Unlimited because it looks like he’s maybe been breaking some sanctions on coding AI and making them technically human? That seems like a safe bet. Alan eventually goes home to meet a synthetic customized Queen Fendra android. She was the one who Dana killed last issue, remember. And he’s just basically a sad sack who’s trying to code his idealized virtual reality into real life as well as he can, bless his heart. We also learn about the National Artificial Intelligence Bureau (NAIB), who use a riff on the MINORITY REPORT triad called CUBE (Cognitively Unlimited Bulwark Entity) to solve crimes. And then we head back to the South Realms of Jarvath to check in with King Heremoth, who is wounded but learns from a soothsayer that Queen Fendra yet lives in another dimension (they call it Hell, but it’s just the real world), and so he asks for his sword and then the door slams shut on this gorgeous expansive tale. No wonder there was no time for Dana this issue! Hope no one has been waiting too long for any kind of insight into her tamale delivery methodology! Simpson is an unparalleled force. This issue was very much worth the wait on every level; it had a lot of expectations to live up to multiplied by the massive gap in publication, but it exceeded my very high hopes for it. I am hoping that we can maybe get a look at #3 some time before 2017, but whatever works. Certainly don’t start rushing it at this point, my man, hey.

TRANSFORMERS VS. G.I. JOE #7 — Yikes. This is the THE PRISONER-Scarlett’s- goin’-crazy!/goin’-crazy? issue and totally works, even though it’s so intentionally jagged to reflect her experiences that it really took me a second pass through to fully even understand what was happening on several pages. The deal with Scarlett’s family was a bit disturbing. The way Scioli has the panels go askew in a mist of blood when she slits Fred’s throat is a very intelligent piece of panel layout. When she comes face-to-face with herself, the backmatter mentions THE PRISONER, but I was thinking that cave in Dagobah all the way. The following one-page fight is some strong mirroring work, that double-kick really is a thing of beauty. And what symmetry, on that last page, she’s juuuuust about to chop of Zarak’s head and then we see her in headmaster-of-Scorponok mode returning Bumblebee’s head to Optimus, which also calls back to the start of the issue. If you had asked me ahead of time, I would have said that I would prefer for this insane book never to zoom in on any one character at the expense of the whole massive ensemble, but great comics is great comics, and Scioli’s done it once again. Just tremendous work. I guess this series will have to stop one day, but not for many issues, I hope.

JUPITER’S CIRCLE #3 — All right, finally we’re shifting focus, maybe we’re going to do a bunch of two-parters on individual team members? This is really nothing new but all in the execution, as a member of the team decides to trade in his wife/family for a newer sweet young thing. I don’t think it’s going to end up very well for him, no. More solid work. Between STARLIGHT, CHRONONAUTS, this series, and its parent title, I think I just about trust Millar to produce quality again, no matter what. It’s been a tough road back.

MORNING GLORIES #46 — Even ten-year-old Irina is a terrifying battle-beast! That fight in the bathroom was almost funny. Another –centric here brought to us by those Spencer/Eisma rapscallions. I definitely appreciated all of Professor Meylikhov’s discussion of #22 in the backmatter. And here comes Zoe again, this could be a fearsome match-up if Irina would just put down her sniper rifle. Kind of worried about how crazy it’s going to get for #50, this ramp-up kind of snuck up on me.

THE WICKED + DIVINE #12 — Jesus, you guys! You’re not supposed to DO that! Not cool at all! Jesus!

(but thank you for the PHONOGRAM ad at the end, you know it made my week)

ZERO #16 — This one’s a little bit more coherent than last issue as the adventures of William S. Burroughs continue. Terrific likeness work from Robert Sammelin, particularly that one black-and-white page with Patti Smith, that business pulls you all the way right back to the Bowery.

AIRBOY #1 — Oh my goodness, these guys. I’ve never encountered Greg Hinkle before, but he is clearly a force in the world of cartooning. Robinson’s script is wry, funny, and unflinchingly honest. I feel like I’ve read that he’s gotten sober since the events depicted herein? Probably a Good Thing. This is indeed some Hunter S. Thompson shit right here, it probably was indeed the call to go ahead and just explicitly state that. What we have here is a couple of creators engaging in the loveable antics of a very serious bender that apparently results in the Morrisonesque meta-appearance of the public domain Golden Age character who they’ve been trying to channel all along. Getting Robinson to write this, however close to the truth the opening scene really is, was a stroke of brilliance. I very much look forward to the next issue. I did think the blurbs at the end were overstating the situation just the least bit. Maybe the creators got to read all four issues; maybe they just really related in a way that I haven’t had the means to thus far. Don’t get me wrong, I quite enjoyed the issue, it’s just that calling it the best thing that Robinson’s ever written seems kind of harsh to the denizens of Opal City, you know? Ah well, we live in hope.



* Any other week, perennial champions ACTION COMICS, STAR WARS, SECRET WARS, or TRANSFORMERS VS. G.I. JOE all would have been shoe-ins for top honors, but how can it be anything but NONPLAYER? I mean, wow, dude’s been working on it since before The New 52 was even announced. Think about that for a minute. Nate Simpson, take very good care of yourself, please sir.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

5/27/15

BEST OF WEEK: SANDMAN: OVERTURE #5 — A lot of expectation, really a massive amount, builds up in between these issues, just because the wait has been so long in the first place and is certainly no easier to take between installments. It is then incumbent upon the creators to deliver a very serious amount of bang for the buck each and every time in order to meet the very high standards that the most loyal readers find themselves almost involuntarily firing up to astronomical heights as the issues tick by. So here we are at the penultimate issue of this prequel series, and Gaiman/Williams/Stewart/Klein once again knock it out of the park, doing their utmost to push the medium as far forward as possible while still, above all, telling a story that engages us, a story that matters. How do you make trapping your protagonist in a black hole appealing in a visual medium? Look no further than the genius of J.H. Williams III. We already met Dream’s father, so I can’t believe that I was surprised to find him calling upon his mother, as well. Their dialogue rings true and timeless. But it is the scenes with the Book of Destiny in which Williams’s prowess elevates the entire situation, actually splitting a page from Dream’s eldest brother’s book across our own page turn so that we read the panels vertically with one interpretation that makes perfect sense the first time only to turn the page and learn that we have let our eye travel vertically down the bisected left half of the page when we should have waited to have access to the right side first, which we can only know after our own page turn. It kind of makes my head hurt. And that’s before the three-dimensional ship that Destiny claims is not in his book even as it bulges up out of the page. The page on the comic book page. My head. The script is symphonic. The art is virtuoso. I do not trust that Dream of Cats. This series will be over far too soon for my liking, no matter how long it takes the final issue to ever be released.

CONVERGENCE: SHAZAM #2 — This one right here is just the bee’s knees. Head and shoulders and even torso above every other CONVERGENCE-related thing I’ve read or even heard of, this creative team’s work is a revelation. Parker provides a pitch-perfect script that is a great tonal fit for the Marvel Family, casting recent questions like, “What if Billy Batson was an asshole?” off to the abyss that they deserve. I love him reveling in his newly-returned power of flight or especially the involuntary “Neat,” when he sees Batman’s wings. I’ve never heard of this Evan “Doc” Shaner prior to this series, but the man absolutely puts it down. That double-page lightning-crackle spread with Marvel at the top and Billy at the bottom is first-rate business. As is every other page on this thing, though, it should be said. And Jordie Bellaire continues to take the industry by storm with more perfectly chosen hues throughout that always enhance the overall story without calling attention to themselves individually. And all of that is before the Gotham by Gaslight guy shows up. The original Elseworlds business! The shot of all of Batman’s villains tricked out for the Victorian Age is gorgeous and horrifying. Highest possible convergent recommendation.

CONVERGENCE: DETECTIVE COMICS #2 — Man, Cowan/Sienkiewicz/Sotomayor show up with the serious art. Really good-looking scratchy pages. And Wein fills this one with plenty of heart. I really dig the relationship between Dick & Helena and am glad to get a cop-out to last issue’s cliffhanger. Quality work, here.

CONVERGENCE: FLASH #2 — I missed this one last week. A pretty solid offering, if veering a bit too meta occasionally with Barry and this genius Superman calling bullshit on the premise that they’re supposed to be selling in this very title and even none-too-obliquely referring to Didio himself. Everything plays out the way it ought to, though, with Barry’s looming pivotal role in CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS #8 rendering him immune from being defeated. And some Kirby krackle to seal the deal on the way out, good fun.

ALL-NEW HAWKEYE #3 — I find myself increasingly torn on this book. Taken on its own, it’s terrific. Jeff Lemire scripts a fast-moving and engaging adventure with the two Hawkeyes trading quips and generally demonstrating charming chemistry throughout, but then Lemire being Lemire, he has to throw in the juxtaposition of the wide-eyed wonder of Clint as a little brother to Barney as they are on the cusp of apparently falling under the tutelage of the Swordsman. So, all of that works on the level of a mentor/mentee relationship down through the years, and we get nice little reveals like the knife at the end of this issue. And Ramon Perez draws the heeeeeeeeell out of this. He’s got his own painted heavily watercolored style happening for the scenes with the Barton brothers, and then colorist Ian Herring and he do an amazing riff on the sparse flat-colored thing that Aja and Hollingsworth perfected in the first volume. But therein lies the rub. If you just handed a new fan this volume without any context, you would get a one-hundred percent verdict of This Is Damn Awesome, Best Hawkeye Ever! But there’s this weird vibe where they’re doing such an uncanny cover version of the previous volume, only instead of it being set in Clint’s building in Bed/Stuy and pointedly about what happens when Clint isn’t being an Avenger, they went and just paraphased Claremont’s old Wolverine slogan with, “what they do when they do what they do best,” which I’m sure is meant to be charming and cute, but it just scans as kind of eerie. Maybe it wouldn’t be the case if the final issue of the first volume had come out first. But, it just feels, I don’t know, a bit disrespectful? Derivative? Eerie? Methadone as opposed to the mainline Fraction/Aja/Hollingsworth straight stuff? I feel like I’m almost betraying the first volume I loved so much by giving this the thumbs-up. Totally strange deal. Um, this is a really well-crafted comic book?

OLD MAN LOGAN #1 — I loved those Eva Bell annuals that Sorrentino drew and was expecting to love the hell out of this, and that’s just what happened. Bendis takes Millar’s rock-solid concept and runs with it, giving us all sorts of fun for such an extended portion of the issue that I was actually surprised when he reminds us that this is all still on Battleworld and there’s still Doom and a Wall and all that, so then of course, we get what we want right away on the last page. I’m not spoiling one detail of this, but if the concept and/or creative team is in any way intriguing to you, I highly recommend jumping all over this. Terrific fun and all kinds of SNIKT! to be had throughout, rest in peace, you old Canucklehead.

CHEW #49 — Layman does terrific work making this issue engaging all on its own even while very clearly setting up all of the pieces for the last act of this entertaining and wonderfully unique series. The tenderness in Mason & Olive’s moment totally blindsided me. Very deft work with the characterization of that relationship to bring us to this point. And Guillory’s pages look as tremendous as ever. Very much looking forward to #50, which I suppose is going to be some kind of pretty big deal, given everything that’s sliding into place here.


PROVIDENCE #1 — Well, we began the evening with a rare sequential appearance by our Neil Himself, so it is terribly proper that we conclude with his mentor and fellow quasi-prodigal writer Alan Moore dropping back in to the glorious world of singles, which I had heard was off the table for anything not pertaining to LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, but of course, he can’t stay away. Maybe just to show Nic Pizzolatto how he thinks it should be done? Because yes, Wednesday Night Faithful, though the word “Carcosa” is never uttered in this issue, Robert Chambers and his Yellow King are all up in here, which is never what you really want to stumble across in the very late night when you should have already gone to bed and the last light bulb is slowly but inexorably flickering toward burnout. I’m not terribly familiar with prime Lovecraft text, only read “In the Mountains of Madness,” and other than that, have only directly experienced him through his massive influence on subsequent generations, but this appears to be a sort of prequel story set in the Lovecraft world of 1919, presumably just before all of the really horrible shit with the Ancient Ones kicks off. In stark contrast to this set-up, Jacen Burrows channels his hardest Dave Gibbons and provides plenty of zooming and panning camera shots that take us through an immaculately rendered Manhattan of nearly one hundred years ago. Things are really only getting started, but the journal in the backmatter helps the reader dial in to the protagonist to even greater effect than the sequential pages. The very fact that nothing overtly sinister or evil transpires this issue imbues the proceedings with a creeping, slow-burning sense of dread that I believe would warm even old Howard Phillips’s cold, black heart.

Monday, June 1, 2015

5/20/15


STAR WARS #5 — This is another really good single, and they manage to make that happen without the presence of Vader or -3P0, even! Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Boba Fett is rampaging around Tatooine trying to steal this book. I, in particular, dug that three-panel montage of him making the rounds on Page Two. The last shot in silhouette is classic STAR WARS. Aaron is managing to gradually escalate Han & Leia’s bickering without making it grating, which is kind of tough because we all know that at the end of this whole deal, they can’t be any cooler with each other than the whole “scruffy-looking nerfherder” deal. Cassaday’s actor likenesses continue to be masterful with Harrison Ford maybe taking top honors. They’re all really impressive, though, it must be said. Even the asshole bartender from the cantina.  And Laura Martin’s colors, I can’t praise them highly enough. Her Tatooine sky alone is absolutely gorgeous. Great narrative hooks all around, I’m definitely interested to see how this is going to go at the top of next issue, as we all know Luke Skywalker doesn’t really need sight to be effective in combat.

UNCANNY X-MEN #33 — Dazzler gets her resolution here. It’s another great-looking issue with Kris Anka once more killing it. But there’s a really gross thing at the end when the new kids decide they don’t have to be X-Men anymore, and just when I’m questioning whether or not this is because of the whole Marvel Studios/Fox shitslinger, one of the kids actually brings up the Fantastic Four and is told that’s no good, too. Just to really slam the point home. I did not find that cute in the slightest or cool in like a meta- kind of way but really just a disgusting invasion of all of the Hollywood nonsense into the relatively pure artform that gave all of these concepts birth in the first place. I wouldn’t care so much in another situation perhaps (if Deadpool was throwing all of this shade, for instance), but I have really really loved Bendis’s entire run on these books, and the penultimate issue ending on this note really just makes me sad.

BEST OF WEEK: A-FORCE #1 — After all of the nonsense with that New Yorker essay a couple of weeks back, this book shows up and knocks it damn out of the park. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Jorge Molina’s work before, but he’s knocking on the door and ready to hang out with Coipel and the rest of the big dogs on a massive ensemble big-event type situation. Marguerite Bennett & G. Willow Wilson craft an all-star tale of basically the Marvel Universe’s version of Themyscira (only it’s totally okay that Luke Cage and other dudes live there; they just don’t do any fighting/border patrol). Given apparent carte blanche to just pick up anyone with XX-chromosomes they can think of, Creative pulls together a very interesting and diverse line-up with She-Hulk running the show, Medusa barking in her ear that she could do a better job, Nico from RUNAWAYS and Miss America from YOUNG AVENGERS representing the new generation, Carol Danvers apparently captain of the guard, and then every damn X-woman and Alpha Flight lady you can name. Hilariously, Jean Grey is just totally hanging out in her pre-Dark-Phoenix Phoenix duds, and that’s no thing. No one cares (though it seems like they might be underusing her power set just a liiiiiittle bit). Oh, and of course Spider-Gwen is in the mix. Just the cast makes it kind of an event unto itself, but what makes this book really special is what a tight first issue it is, the way that it starts off with a day like any other, though of course, it’s the day when our story really begins. It’s a shame that, by design, I don’t think that this book is going to run longer than through the summer because of the event it’s tied to because it is immediate greatness.

DAREDEVIL #15.1 — I didn’t know they were still doing this .1 thing, which I always found a bit pointless, but the track record on this title is strong enough that I’m willing to stay with them, especially with the regular team’s name on the cover. It turns out that Waid only shows up for the first page to set the retrospectives up, but Guggenheim/Krause deliver strong work in the main feature. Krause has evolved quite a bit since starting that IRREDEEMABLE run with Waid. This is a smart story taking place at the beginning of Matt’s dual career and dealing with the tension between busting bad guys as a vigilante by night and then having to defend them as a lawyer by day. Then, regulars Samnee/Wilson turn in a charming little tale of Matt getting all jacked up on Diablo’s extra-sensory dust. I wouldn’t have minded one more page of Matt, Kirsten, and Foggy to bookend the deal, but all told this was pretty solid, even though a better deal at $3.99 than the $4.99 we’ve got. Greedy Marvel!

EMPIRE: UPRISING #2 — Waid/Kitson deliver another installment of this second volume that continues the interesting tension of keeping our proto/antagonist Golgoth off-panel for almost the entire issue (and dialogue-free for the whole ride), electing rather to explore his character through the menace, dread, and fear that he evokes in the higher echelons of his command, who are all compelling enough characters. This one is a slow burn, but very engaging.

THE FADE OUT #6 — This title is getting into that territory that FABLES did after they cracked triple digits where every issue is very very solid from a craft standpoint and moves the narrative along just fine, but there’s not much I find myself able to say about it month after month other than, “Good job, thumbs up, everybody!” Brubaker/Phillips and now Breitweiser have really carved out their own little corner of the medium where nothing else feels like their work, tonally or visually. It’s funny, I forgot until now that Brubaker and Fraction are, I think, Portland buddies, so it’s interesting that this is kind of a Hollywood riff on SATELLITE SAM. And I never met a segueway that I didn’t let segue, so . . .

SATELLITE SAM #14 — Not as much the home stretch as kind of the climax, here. It seems like next issue will be more of an epilogue, as there’s really not that much left to resolve. I totally don’t get how Gene got out of that noose, though. He was hanging and then when Eve was shooting those guys, something just started going KRAK! and then he fell down? Seems like that action should have been a little bit more on-panel. The art on this has been amazing, but these people are all so shitty, I’m not really going to be at all sorry to see this one wrapped up and put to bed.

WYTCHES #6 — Well, this one certainly took an ugly turn. I haven’t been that into the dad as our protagonist from the get-go. I get that Snyder’s really trying to present a fleshed-out character who’s very flawed, but the execution has just left me feeling stuck with a lead who’s kind of weak and who I’m not really rooting for at all. I’ve been more on board with this title in appreciation of the stunning Jock/Hollingsworth art, but, without spoiling the way this story pivots at the end, I am much more interested to see what the second arc of this title looks like. I pledge to continue picking it up.


TREES #9 — After killing off most of his ensemble, Ellis zooms in on Dr. Joanne Creasy, the apparent sole survivor of all of that horror that erupted off the coast of Svalbard at the end of the first arc. She’s your typical Ellis protagonist: smarter than everyone in the room but won’t take shit off of any of them. She’s compelling enough to bring us around to the next series of beats, anyway. We meet one new character, Ridley Calderwood. I wonder if there will be more new faces to become acquainted with in the issues to come. Last arc was such a well-balanced cast. There’s a kind of odd tease at the end of this issue. We burn an entire five pages on a flashback to when the trees first dropped down eleven years ago. Gorgeous Jason Howard art notwithstanding, it’s strange to use up that much real estate at this point on something that doesn’t at this time appear to move things forward. This is, of course, addressed in-dialogue in the final panel, so I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see. Jason Howard’s art is breathtaking once again, I don’t think I emphasized enough. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

5/13/15



BEST OF WEEK: SECRET WARS #2 — Now, forgive the pun, but as good as the first issue was, this was some seriously thunderous next-level business. It seems to me that it would have made a much better first issue of this whole deal, with the previous issue in hindsight serving as a much more effective finale to all that had come before packaged in a single entitled AVENGERS #45. Last issue was the end of all that came before. But this was a new beginning. And what a beginning it was! Even though the Ross cover should have acclimated us to the insanity of what’s essentially a Thor Corps, the opening scene with the young worthy from Higher Avalon serving as our entry-point character into Doomgard, a world (or nation, as it turns out) that houses the thunder knights of Doom, who go forth to wreak justice in his name. Just when we’ve barely got our brains wrapped around that, it’s off to meet a Braddock dynasty headed up by a sane James, and then there’s Mr. Sinister and Hyperion allegedly conspiring against the crown, oh but then they go to Doomstadt and the executive folks that God Doom has crouched around him are almost too much to handle in that first opening shot. And a version of the Future Foundation are still alive and well, as Dragon Man and Alex Powers-with-an-S unearth a crashed ship while giving voice to scientific speculation that borders on treason, and Doom’s ears are everywhere . . .

This is a fantastic conceit for an event. It’s kind of funny to see how CONVERGENCE basically ripped off the old SECRET WARS, but then Hickman comes roaring up doing them one or five better. Of course, I was expecting an insane map at the end and was not disappointed. He’s put that same level of craft and world-building that he did on EAST OF WEST into this monster, and there is a whole lot of ground to cover on this new Battleworld, many potentially very interesting stories to be told. Really, at first blush, given most of the creative teams listed on the solicits, it seems like just a few months isn’t enough. I could do an entire year of this. Ribic/Svorcina continue to excel, giving these pages the gravitas and weight that the massive plot demands. Very impressed with this, and they’re still just really barely getting started.

BUCKY BARNES: THE WINTER SOLDIER #008 — Good lord, Marco Rudy! These are probably the most beautiful pages yet, and that is really saying something. You just want to take a bath in all of that celestial brilliance. The innovative layouts, the mixed media, this book really pulls you in and never lets go. Those two sideways double-page splashes, in particular. This issue is a trip in every sense of the word, but it’s over too quickly and at such a tantalizing place to break off, too. Very glad to see the next issue solicited for a mere five weeks from now. Don’t chafe your wrists on the handcuffs keeping you at your board, Marco! This is all worth it! We love you!

DARTH VADER #005 — The creators continue to plunder the depths here and make Vader a workable protagonist, which is no mean feat. The plot thickens as we add an entire new faction to the cast, a welcome development. Larocca/Delgado once again absolutely slay it on the interiors, and Gillen is able to keep a surprise up his sleeve until just the right moment, even though it’s spoiled for you right there on the cover (I thought this was more one of those hypothetical covers that doesn’t necessarily have to come true). And of course, all of this is just set-up to make us really impatient to pick up the next issue. Fine work, all.

UNCANNY AVENGERS #004 — All right, knowing the copyright politics behind it, I (along with most other folks, I’m sure) do indeed find the retcon on Wanda & Pietro’s parentage absolutely stupid as hell. No, they were never mutants! That said, Remender sells it in-story as well as possible, and I was surprised to find my eyebrows involuntarily raising when presented with the alternative. And hell if Sabretooth’s internal monologue re: Logan wasn’t pitch-perfect Claremonty enough to make me interested in where this guy is heading. I haven’t been feeling this second volume too strongly, but this is more than a step in a positive direction. And the fold-out ad insert for all of the SECRET WARS mini-series and their creative teams, man, I wasn’t aware of those until reading this issue. That is quite a presentation, all stacked up one after another like that.

BLACK SCIENCE #14 — These guys appear to have found a way to up their game on this title again. Of COURSE we believe that Remender will kill the teenage daughter, he’s offed everybody else here and over in LOW without remorse, so the stakes are very palpable throughout this one. And but then there’s a great reversal with our hero’s overall attitude that was definitely needed, the disconnect between the principles that got them to where they are and the effect that all of this jumping has been having. Man, is this like Cosmic Time-Jump Wednesday or what? Just about every one of these titles is science fiction as hell and involves some form of time-travel or dimension-hopping. I mean, poor old DARTH VADER is the most boring one, is how we’re doing tonight. Oh well, cue the next round of yahoos.

CHRONONAUTS #3 — The hits just keep on coming. Millar can’t seem to resist having too much fun on nearly every page with laugh-out-loud concepts flying all over the place as all of the hijinx start bleeding innocent civilians together across multiple times. Players in Super Bowl 1969 getting gunned down by future timecops with their bodies flung into London 1895. A Lee Harvey Oswald gag with a punchline beat so perfect, it simply must be experienced to be believed. And the pace is so fast and furious, you can’t help but be dragged along in all of the insanity’s wake. Terrific fun, and Murphy/Hollingsworth continue to display an absolutely intimidating command of craft. Strong work all around.

ODY-C #5 — We zoom in on beautiful, bearded Hera this time out, and Christian Ward continues to deliver absolutely loony-bird eye-popping pages. Interesting tension building throughout, and then what a terrific release on that last page there. Fraction has crafted a really cool situation for himself here, very much out of what I perceive to be his comfort zone, and it’s causing him to dig deep and deliver some really compelling work.

EAST OF WEST #19 — Oh man, Babylon issues are just the best issues. Seriously, nuke everybody else in #25 and make the whole series suddenly now be nothing but him and that balloon wandering across the post-post-apocalyptic landscape of the seven kingdoms or whatever we’re calling them, and it would be one of the best books ever. Something about the tabula rasa innocence with which he views the world while simultaneously being such a hyper-genius about it all, delivered through that youthful naïveté, man, it just really works.

SAGA #28 — Staples really has this straight-digital thing worked into a very distinctive style that I feel like I could spot through a crowd of wannabes. The script was all right and didn’t put me off as much as it usually does, though once again, just opening with that aside about abortion feels like being needlessly transgressive for the sake of just being transgressive, which is happening way too much in this series, I feel like. I miss the guy who walked me down the road with Yorick Brown and 355 and that wonderful damn Capuchin named after the little sign on your keyboard up above the 7.

ASTRO CITY #23 — A talking gorilla drummer. This set-up is so immediately wonderful, it seems nearly impossible that it took twenty years for us to get to this point. I guess Busiek was out of pocket for a little while, but still. Once again, the creators join up in lockstep and do tremendous work getting the reader to not only care about Sticks in general but actually invested in seeing him fulfill his dreams. Of being a rock and roll drummer even though he’s a talking gorilla. There’s nothing in the world like this book, and we are all so lucky.


INJECTION #1 — Oh my goodness, Uncle Warren can just rat-a-tat-tat that dialogue can’t he? He’s talked before about the effect of percussion in general and (I want to say?) his father’s drumming in particular on his writing, and that’s almost never been more evident than when you get to the bottom of Page 3 here. Past that, it’s fairly standard creator-owned Ellis, which is not intended in a pejorative manner. If someone handed Uncle Warren the boilerplate, he would grab your free hand, sear all of the epidermis off of your palm with the boilerplate, and then type out some insane kind of nanite science that grafted new stem cells onto the damaged area while muttering curses about your grandmother’s dental hygiene (the cells doing the muttering, to be clear). There is nothing normal about this man or the way he crafts plot and character. We have a couple of lead protagonists, an interesting high concept that we can barely even see the tip of, and plenty of Englishness (not Britishness) to go around. And Shalvey/Bellaire are as wonderful as ever. The pacing here is the opposite of the MOON KNIGHT deal; this is very much open-ended and not a done-in-one, and I wonder if the folks who complained about devouring the other series inside of four minutes are finding this more to their liking. This is nothing more than an interesting beginning that actually barely gets its hooks into you, but I have so much regard for the creators that I can’t wait to see what happens next. The only blip in the entire affair for me is that I didn’t care for the unboxed block yellow letters in the narration, but there you have it.