Thursday, August 28, 2014

7/16/14 (SECRET LOST EPISODE!)

Wow, so, I wrote this last month and then just forgot to post it. I guess just getting the words out was reward enough. But, I cannot deprive my Wednesday Night Faithful! So, out of sequence, but just as true as it was six weeks ago, we present without further ado: 

THE LOST EPISODE OF WEDNESDAY NIGHT MASS! 

BEST OF WEEK: ROBIN RISES: OMEGA #1 — Pity Peter J. Tomasi. He has a story so big that it cannot be contained within the pages of his regular monthly that has been delivering the most consistent destruction since The New 52 began almost three years ago. So, he needs a 38-page special with art by none other than Andy Kubert, Jonathan Glapion, and Brad Anderson to kick the momentum into overdrive. Of course, Kubert’s participation gives anything involving poor deceased Damian Wayne as much validation as it’s going to get this side of Morrison himself returning to script the adventure, and Tomasi has more than earned his stripes. The seven-page recap was a pleasure to read, though I knew every beat, a seamless integration of the continuity beginning with the O’Neil/Adams run and threading all the way through the work that both Morrison and the regular BATMAN AND ROBIN team did in the back end of the former’s seven-year run. The remainder of this issue is a continuation of the battle begun of late in the latter title, picking up directly from last month’s #32, with Ra’s al-Ghul joining forces with Batman & Frankenstein against the hordes of Apokolips. The camaraderie between Batman & Frankenstein is brought into excellent relief through the simple device of having them toss Frank’s sword back and forth during the melee. The new Justice League showing up as cavalry provided just the escalation that the issue needed with Tomasi showing deft character work pertaining to the villains who have recently joined the team. And there’s a great set-up with Captain Marvel that pays off aces on the page turn. And of course, Luthor’s also got to get punched out as a lagniappe. Tomasi keeps shredding throughout, and the art team really does some heavy lifting during an exhilarating extended fight scene that manages to thrill while of course setting up the inevitable To Be Continued . . . Really fine work throughout.

BATMAN ETERNAL #15 — This one takes kind of an expected dip after last week’s mid-season finale (I can’t help thinking of these weeklies in serial live-action drama terms, what with the crowded ensembles). It is always a pleasure to see Nguyen/Fridolfs dropping in on art. I care a lot more about the Tim/Harper dynamic than I do Jim Corrigan and the new Batwing guy, that’s not exactly the most dynamic duo. It was cool to have Barbara and Jason run into Kate, there. Looking for things to build up more momentum next week.

FUTURE’S END #11 — Oh man, Georges Jeanty. I didn’t recognize him from his style alone, but when I read his name at the end, it definitely made sense why the art hadn’t been hitting for me for the first time in this series. He’s improved a lot since the early days of BUFFY SEASON 8, but I don’t think I’ll ever stop holding that series against him. The guy in the Superman mask is starting to annoy me. Nobody anywhere should say, “‘Fess up,” I don’t think, and certainly not someone wearing that insignia. This is the first issue of this title that let some of the air out. An unfortunate week for both weeklies to diminish in quality! We do hope they’ll be back next week with adventures that are a bit more scintillating to the soul.

TEEN TITANS #1 — As much shit rained down on this cover when it was solicited a few months back, I remained really interested to see what Teen Titans book would look like with Kenneth Rocafort on interiors. Because he’s a monster. And the pages are beautiful. Will Pfeifer’s story holds together well enough. It’s not spectacular, but it gets the job done. Every member of the team gets their moment this first time out. Though Bunker just about assaulting the anti-gay guy scans as pretty forced and probably much more aggressive than would be ideal here in the very first installment. I’m cool with all of the character designs like Cassie’s lasso that looks like some strange love child of barbed wire and McFarlane webbing, but I hate the Raven redesign. Which maybe just shows my age. My favorite thing about this group of kids is the continuity they used to share that has now been completely reset. I’ll probably pick up another issue or two for the art and see if the character dynamics can hook me a little bit better than they did this time out.

FABLES #142 — Well, everything is seeming pretty dire as we start ramping up into the home-stretch. The fact that Snow seems so unwilling to go to war does not seem like a good sign since we still have many many pages for some sort of motivation to evolve for her in that regard. There really wasn’t anything spectacular about this issue, just more of the rock-solid storytelling we’ve come to expect or even become dependent upon from Willingham/Buckingham/Leialoha/Loughridge. Don’t ever go nowhere, guys, okay?

ORIGINAL SIN #6 — So Midas & Oubliette did it, right? That doesn’t seem to be such a mysterious deal. Aaron does let us know that Fury just started getting old right before this series started, so, nice of him to clear that up for us folks who might be more concerned about continuity than we perhaps should be. I dig Gamora’s reaction to everybody throughout. Deodato & Martin once again deliver A-game material that makes this feel like a Big Event that might actually still matter twelve months from now when the next one is going on. And I dig how everyone was freaking out that that was Cable on the cover of #7 when we can clearly see that it isn’t.

UNCANNY X-MEN #23 — I was expecting a little bit more from this, but I’m not sure why? I guess all of the gravitas that that title is slinging combined by the fact that I have very positive associations with Kris Anka on art, but this is one of the first issues from either of these Bendis titles that I didn’t feel like was slinging fire. Certainly not terrible by any stretch, but the fellow has set himself a pretty high bar, even in terms of singles. Maybe I just don’t care about this new mutant.

SILVER SURFER #004 — Now that we made it through what was essentially the three-issue pilot episode, I was interested to see what would happen with the established Surfer/Companion dynamic up and running, but of course Dawn Greenwood does not want to soar the spaceways even for a minute longer than she has to, so it’s back to Cape Cod for some of Dad’s seafood bisque. Though, of course, this being July, there are some certain Guardians of the Galaxy waiting to check out anyone entering even the distant proximity of earthspace. Man, I remember a few years ago when Iron Man was suddenly everywhere and we were all laughing about how he was the new ubiquitous character i.e. Wolverine/Punisher in the early nineties, but what a world we live in when the damn Guardians are being shoehorned into every conceivable title. At any rate, this title still ticks right along, Slott keeps everything humming and of course the Allreds never fail to bring their own unique form of justice. Four issues in and still good fun!

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #2 — Straight talk. Of course, the art is magnificent, McKelvie & Wilson can do no wrong. We all know that. And judging this series strictly on its own merits, I might be more forgiving. But unfortunately, this poor thing has to live up to not only following up the gorgeousness of YOUNG AVENGERS but in all truth should function as at least methadone to the surging heroin rush that is the promise of PHONOGRAM Volume 3, and Mr. Gillen’s script is thus far hitting me as much too precious and impressed with itself and not actually going out and earning sort of slavish wristcutting devotion from the reader that dear Kieron has made no bones about yearning for. One could argue that this will read better in trade, but if there’s anyone who is creating for the single, it’s this bunch. This is by no means a bad comic, it just doesn’t up the ante from the first issue. Because if you’re going to show up on the last page with the decapitated head of a pop star, it’s not enough to just talk about her for five pages leading up to that, we ideally should have seen her on-panel and really actually fallen in love with her, if we’re shooting for ideal. Let’s either crank this one a bit higher or wrap it up and get on with the story of Immaterial Emily and her mirror self. Please, darlings.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

7/30/14

SANDMAN: OVERTURE #3 — Okay, this is the first one where the insane release schedule worked against the book for me. I mean, this was announced two years ago, right? And then JWIII had, what, fifteen months’ lead-time before #1 hit. And we’ve stiiiiiill got to take like four-month breaks between issues? I guess that’s just what it takes. And the pages are certainly worth it, don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to rush the greatness. Just wishing the greatness operated at a slightly higher velocity now that the story’s finally started? But the deal with this particular installment is, of course it’s brilliant and terribly well written and every single two-page spread is more of the same rabid genius that we’ve all been routinely expecting of poor JWIII since around the second arc of PROMETHEA. Our Dream and Cat Dream run into three sisters and have a Very Important-Seeming Conversation, and it really has been too long for me because I actually needed Neil to insert the whole “kind” bit in-dialogue the full four times before I remembered who those ladies would go on to be, or already were. And then there’s the apparent innocent to be rescued and, Neil being Neil, Morpheus needs to tell A Story that necessitates an entirely new art style. This is all lovely and wonderful, but I felt like I burned through it too quickly when that last page showed up and the months ahead instantly yawned out before me. A madness of stars, indeed.

BEST OF WEEK: THE WAKE #10 — Well, they certainly landed this one. It’s one thing to capture the reader’s attention with the perfect synthesis of words and art alchemizing into an unforgettable story. That’s certainly a big deal, don’t get me wrong. But it’s something else entirely to be able to bring everything to a resolution, wrap up all the mysteries and lingering sub-plots, and have the reader feel satisfied when he or she reads the words THE END. There have certainly been those who sank their ship even within sight of their narrative destination, but I was never worried about these guys. They’ve never given us cause. From the first issue, this was a relentless thrilling ride that only escalated when it rounded the turn and shot two hundred years into an aquatic future. So much goes down in this final installment, it’s hard to believe that they get it all done in twenty pages. But every creator rises to the challenge and really puts forth his best work. Snyder ties the admittedly disparate elements of plot and genre together and makes it all fit, even working in a reference to Stephen King & Amy Tan’s rock band. Murphy continues his unbroken streak of throwing down a master clinic on composition with every single page: tight character work from body language to facial expressions/acting, breathtaking vistas, and intricate gear that never sacrifices coolness for the sake of realism. And Hollingsworth has stormed in and quietly done some of the best coloring in the business, pulling off the very tricky feat of substantially elevating the material through his craft while managing to call as little attention to it as possible. This is a prime example of what has made this one of the best mini-series that’s come out lately, the fact that you can’t tell where one man’s work ends and another begins. Oh, and Fletcher! I forgot to call out good job on the lettering, but especially great fun with the little fish-silhouette swear words in the future dialogue. Tremendous. Congratulations to all involved on a job very well done. Looking forward to a single-sitting no-ad read when the trade comes out.

BODIES #1 — This is a pretty cool concept. Four different artists draw six pages each that are chapters set in different times and revolving around a single dead body. The styles are all a great fit. Meghan Hetrick tears up the modern day with some fine linework that recalls Burnham. Dean Ormston is positively Victorian depicting the adventures during 1890, Tula Lotay’s washed-out palette has already been featured of late over in that new SUPREME book but is also a great fit for 2050, and then Phil Winslade nails the 1940 noir look. So, this thing looks great. I wouldn’t say that Si Spencer does a particularly good job at engaging the reader with a single one of these sequences. I mean, there needs to be more of a narrative hook than, Oh look, there’s that body again. Ideally, we should in some slight way, care about each one of these characters by the end of the first issue. I know that six pages isn’t a whole lot of space to do that, but it seems like something to shoot for. I’m thinking I’ll probably just tradewait this and be glad to stumble upon it at half price in a couple years, give old Spencer a single sitting to take care of however much heavy lifting he’s inclined to in a single go of it.

BATMAN ETERNAL #17 — All right, still thrilled to have Nguyen/Fridolfs on board, but I just don’t care much for this particular lurch in the narrative. Don’t care about Deacon Blackfire or the Joker’s Daughter or Batwing or Jim Corrigan. So, you see, have a pretty hard time investing in this issue. The first one that’s altogether misfired for me.

FUTURE’S END #13 — Patch Zircher tears it up. Brother-Eye’s dialogue to Mr. Terrific is pretty damn creepy. I did not know that Grifter was from Texas. That is some dirty pool showing Scott & Barda last week in the teaser images and then having that only be a flashback. Next week should certainly be interesting as these two thread converge.

CHEW: WARRIOR CHICKEN POYO — This was great fun but for some reason didn’t melt my heart to the degree that SECRET AGENT POYO did. Though of course you’ve got to love that last page, that’s all anybody’s going to be talking about. POYO WAS THERE!

EAST OF WEST #14 — The art on this thing continues to be smoking. Dragotta/Martin deliver drop-dead mind-blowing business every single time out. It’s just these characters, man. Maybe it’s the lettering, it could always be the lettering, but these aren’t people to me at all, just a gang of amalgamated stereotypes uttering badass overly italicized/emboldened dialogue, and as much as the art and plot make me want to dial in, these people, these words coming out of their mouths, they keep taking me out of it and I just find it so infuriating.

MANHATTAN PROJECTS #22 — All right, it’s official. Uncle, I give up. Rus Wooton’s italicized and emboldened lettering makes this book just about unreadable for me. Every damn word-balloon feels like a speech teacher guiding me toward a more refined understanding of syllabic emphasis. This is a cotton-pickin’ shame because Nick Pitarra’s pages have never looked better. As dynamic and intricate and crackling with Darrow/Quitely imagery as his work was when he exploded on the scene with THE RED WING, it’s very rewarding to see him refine the tools of his craft on more of an exponential than incremental level. There are so many lines in this book, but every single one carries its own narrative weight and deserves to be there.

LOW #1 — Can the day withstand the inherent density two hard science-fiction titles from Remender without super-collapsing into a black hole or white dwarf star or some such? The answer is, Certainly! The premise and characterization are all well and good, but the real star of the show here is Greg Tocchini, whose atmospheric illustration really puts this over the top. Which completely took me by surprise. His arc of UNCANNY X-FORCE was my least favorite solely based on the art, but I picked this up figuring he would crank his situation up on such a high-profile creator-owned deal with Remender. This certainly proved to be the case! I will pick up the second issue and see how Stel fares once she gets a little bit of momentum going on her narrative.

BLACK SCIENCE #7 — I’m still having trouble believing that the monumental events of last issue are going to stick, wasn’t even really entertaining that as a possibility, but Remender is certainly playing it that way here. I still figure every dead character is just one pillar-jump away, but Kadir as honorbound protagonist is certainly an interesting premise to fall into halfway into the first year of the book coming out. Scalera has managed to, if anything, up his game here. Really incredible spreads and images throughout. It’s not surprising that this book is a massive success. The only hitch is that the cliffhanger here (not so much with the hanging, but . . . ) is more than a bit reminiscent of where Remender just left us a minute ago at the end of LOW, but so it goes.

PROPHET #45 — Wow, man. It all comes down to this, the convergence of more John Prophets than you ever dared imagine in the halcyon daze of glorious nineties shoulder-pad rock! Series stalwarts Roy, Milonongiannis, Dalrymple, and Bergin are all on hand to help Graham bring it all crashing down. That opening four-page scene is about as in medias res as something is going to get. Always go for the oral neonaught birth on Page Two when you need to really shake the reader up! It’s satisfying when all of the various dudes come together, then Diehard gets to do something cool before being ripped in half, so I’d say that this issue definitely hits the beats that it needs to, though not such final ones as I’ve been dreading these past few months because this apparently just trapdoors into another series that might be twice as insane as this monster is, if that preview double-page spread is anything to go by. I’ll keep buying as many of these as they keep making. Who knew Liefeld was such a hell of a talent scout?

UNCANNY AVENGERS #022 — The mighty conclusion! You’ve got to love the Kirby homage on the cover. This is . . . a pretty dark way to go out. Of course, most of the folks got resurrected, but it looks like Alex’s face has gone the way of Harvey Dent and Rogue has somehow absorbed Simon. And Katie Summers, man. Rough. That Remender is so heartless with the kids this week! I mean, really No wonder the legions of fandom conspire against him. I have to say, though, this would have been an exponentially powerful ending if we had been given any opportunity whatsoever to invest in her as a character not just a concept. We’re all supposed to be upset because Alex & Jan lost their daughter, and of course that’s instant empathy shorthand for any parents (or most parents), but it would have been so much more crushing if we had been given just a two-page scene to fall in love with her ourselves. This was certainly a hell of an entertaining story, though. Not even counting Daken & The Grim Reaper quoting ANNIE on the way out, I certainly did not see that one coming.

UNCANNY X-MEN #24 — As great as Kris Anka is, Bachalo leaves shoes that are pretty impossible to fill. You’ve got to just get over that when anyone else is drawing this book.  I love that Bendis is still invested in devoting pages to introducing new mutants and trying to make us care about them, even though two issues in, he does not yet have me dialed in to this guy. Great twist there at the end, I love how both sides initially assume the same thing. Still really digging on this.

AVENGERS #33 — And then there was one. This arc has been heading more and more in the direction of science fiction (both dystopian and utopian versions) all along, but Hickman veers into hard sci-fi here with the revelation that the Star Brands are actually anachronauts created by an A.I. worldcore that fell away from the Ultron singularity. Heady business! Yu draws a pretty cool sequence of the Worldcore triggering the bomb that the Ultron Avenger doc hid inside Cap a couple of issues back, but then the issue just ends. This has all been pretty interesting but a bit decompressed for my taste, almost certainly a very compelling read in the trade, but spread a bit thin for $4 singles.

NEW AVENGERS #27 — Will they or won’t they? This title’s entire run has been heading to this moment. Does our team of self-appointed Illuminati have what it takes to destroy an alternate Earth in order to save their own dear and good 616? Valerio Schiti shows up and does good work with a drop-in from Sal Larocca bolstering his efforts. There’s a cool straight homage callback to that time in THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS when the lightning bolt hits Superman and he’s all skeletal. They do that same thing for the thinly veiled analogue Sun God. But it finally comes down to who has the stones to push the button and nuke the DC analogues’ Earth? (I know they have it as like Earth 4-million and something, but it would have been funny if they had just straight up called it Earth-2) Without spoiling the last page, I will say that Hickman writes the ramp-up very well, every man’s decision to either detonate the deal or not is perfectly in character and feels like it’s been very well set up before now. This is really a legendary run, I can’t believe Hickman’s just over here relatively quietly dropping all of this sickness and more people aren’t freaking out about it.

HAWKEYE #019 — I don’t know. I love this book. Love love love it. But this was the first issue that I thought was too cute for its own good. Maybe it’s the schedule. The non-linear releases, the fact that we’ve been sitting on that cliffhanger to #015 for months, very well might have worked against it. Or the sign-language thing. I guess it’s groundbreaking and all. But it felt too much like they were trying to do another #011, only with a concept that’s a little half-baked. Or at least, a shift down from #011, so it just plays as considerably less impressive. It’s certainly a good-looking issue. Aja is a master of the craft of sequential storytelling and Hollingsworth continues to make the perfect choice to complement the situation every single time. I just wanted a little bit more from this issue, was looking forward to it for too long, I’m afraid.


FATALE #24 — All good things come to an end, ladies and gentlemen. And the team comes out swinging here with a six-page knight’s fable that Uncle Dominic of all people is reading to Nick when he’s a kid (and still has that shock of Rogue skunk-stripe hair, strangely). This ending is kind of an odd duck. It does what it’s supposed to do. It looks terrific. Phillips & Breitweiser bring the thunder, as ever. It’s just, when all is said and done, I don’t care that much about these characters. Brubaker didn’t do enough over the course of twenty-four issues to get me invested in their plight. I felt in no way cheated by the ending but just kind of made it to the last page with a shrug. “Oh, that’s nice, then.” I feel kind of weird about it because I’ve enjoyed this series throughout its run and am a bit disturbed by my ho-hum response. I do appreciate the inclusion of a final Jess Nevins essay, though, always a treasure trove of information.

Monday, August 4, 2014

7/23/14


BATMAN #33 — Well, over the course of the past, what, fifteen months, I have gone on and on about how long Snyder/Capullo/Miki/Plascencia strung out this flashback arc. It was admittedly a dicey move stranding the narrative in the past this many months in a row for our hero’s eponymous title, not as like a one-off mini or anything. But you know what, we’ve certainly had no shortage of killer Batman stories told in the present with Tomasi and the gang throwing down all kinds of thunder every month and then that ETERNAL business that’s gotten going here lately and, dear lord, I think Morrison and Burnham were still in play when this arc started, even. Wow. Okay. So, it’s taken a very long time out here in the reader’s world for this story to reach its conclusion. But, man, was it worth it. The team fires on all cylinders with our hero engaging the nascent Riddler in a complex battle of wits while the clock is ticking on some fighter jets swooping in and nuking Gotham like they always like to do the last Wednesday of every other month. Snyder does solid work writing the riddles with great intelligence but also with a cumulative arc. And the resolution to the conflict is well done enough, earned and heroic and sacrifice and all like we want, but the real thunder comes at the end, which, I don’t even want to go into it, to even chance spoiling it for anyone, but let’s just leave it that I was really loving that one page of dialogue that Bruce and Julie were having but then that six-panel montage on the next page absolutely came out of nowhere and punched me in the gut while ripping out my heart. It was rough opening the night with this one because then I had to sit there for a full twenty minutes just getting it together when I was done. And that page has not let go yet, will maybe never stop haunting me. Fierce, fierce material. These boys have created a serious addition to the canon worthy of standing alongside and being known for all time in the company of the all-time greats.

BATMAN AND ROBIN #33 — Belligerent Batman being a dick to the Justice League is a pretty fun way to open up. And it’s too bad to see Frankenstein go, but you’ve certainly got to understand where he’s coming from. Gleason’s Hellbat design is of course slamming, but I’m an even bigger fan of the thought that goes behind the montage of all of the League teaming up to help build it. Probably my favorite character beat in an issue crowded with an ensemble of such heavyweights was the look on Shazam’s face while he said, “I’m ready,” and Cyborg coming back with, “Shut up, Billy.” Plays so so funny within the context of that scene. The depiction of Kalibak is insane and over the top in all the right ways. Definitely worth a splash page. Despite the fact that this issue does not have the densest content (the League tries to stop Batman from going to Apokolips twice, he and Superman have a conversation, we find out that he’s going anyway with three sidekicks and maybe Alfred), both art and script elevate the interactions between all of these characters into very engaging worthwhile exchanges that it takes more than a single pass to appreciate in full.

BATMAN ETERNAL #16 — Nguyen & Fridolfs stay on for another issue. I’m liking this trend of artists hanging out and doing entire short arcs, it lends a sense of coherency to this. The writers are digging deep into their apparent affection for eighties villains as this issue features the first time I’ve seen Maxie Zeus in I don’t know how long and then even throws in old Deacon Blackfire here at the tail end. I suppose it’s too much to hope that Berni Wrightson is drawing #17?

FUTURE’S END #12 — Good deal to open with my favorite crew, Frankenstein & Amethyst & Hawkman in Deeeeeep Space! Five pages of space-action but then I really dig how much weight the writers give Angie when she shows up, just recycles her crew and nukes our heroes and, most ominously of all, good old S.H.A.D.E.NET is offline! It’s pretty challenging to escalate the stakes of the threat of the unknown when the only thing we’ve seen them do is kill the majority of the Ellis/Hitch Authority crew, but this single page right here does a fantastic job of accomplishing exactly that. Blah blah in the middle, I didn’t really care about Mercy or Voodoo or the douchebag checking his phone and messing with Rampage, but then that is all of course mitigated by a terribly ominous thirty-year flash-forward to some old friends hanging out in Arkham. Really a terribly well crafted scene on both shock value, which is easy enough to do when you’re flashing forward, but then they really land the character beats at the end. I mean really land. Even if I didn’t care about half of the issue, the beginning and end are thunderous enough to make me feel good about hanging out with this title. Terrific art from Merino/Green/Hi-Fi. And is that Scott & Barda I see in the coming attractions for next week? For joy!

WONDER WOMAN #33 — Grim developments as this run hurtles headlong toward its thrilling conclusion. Azzarello/Chiang/Wilson continue to fire at the top of their game as they have for almost three years running. I love how they just pull the trigger right at the end and in three pages, Diana and Orion and Aleka all get stabbed or impaled. Brutal! I have to confess that I’m not one-hundred percent cognizant as to what’s happening with the identity of the Amazon on the last page, if that’s like some amalgamate of all three of them, which seems pretty cool, or even just the ladies, or what. I’m not sure that we’re supposed to know at this point. It is certainly a badass splash-page to go out on. Kind of stunning that there are only two more of these left, that’s really snuck up on me, here.

THE UNWRITTEN: APOCALYSE #7 — Carey & Gross continue to display an utter command and mastery of their craft as we are treated to our characters flickering in and out of an Arthurian romance with art style, narration, and character development also in flux, panel by panel. It’s all impressive enough before Pullman breaks the rules and sends in Armida, Orlando, and Orgoglio from Spenser. These gentlemen are accelerating the pace of the narrative as we careen headlong toward the conclusion, which is giving every indication of being one hell of a story, indeed.

RAGNAROK #1 — The return of the Maestro and his companions! This thing has a hell of a pedigree. Walt Simonson, who produced the greatest THOR run in history, returns to the Norse mythos for a non-Marvel blast through the aftermath of Ragnarok, brilliantly abetted by the industry’s best, Laura Martin on colors and veteran collaborator John Workman on letters. IDW has a real coup here scoring these heavyweights producing anything at all, but the fact that it’s Simonson returning to Norse mythology really puts it over the top. And of course, it’s a thing of beauty. Simonson is somehow still peaking, only getting better and better as the years go by. There was a strange disconnect for me in his work a very few years back on Bendis’s AVENGERS, but it looked like that might be down to possibly inking and strange coloring choices, and that’s very much borne out here as Martin’s hues make Simonson’s lines pop like never before. What’s really cool about this is that it’s set in a post-Ragnarok situation years and years after it all goes down, so if you are something of a continuity integrationist, there’s so far really nothing stopping you from sliding this in as an official sequel to Simonson’s glorious THOR run. The opening scene is as thunderous and world-breaking as anything we have seen from this great man’s pen before the narrative get grounded and we meet our protagonist, a Black Elf called Brynja who sets out to assassinate an unnamed target who very well might be the horrifying specter of death who appears adorned in chains in both Brynja’s daughter’s nightmare and the final page, as well as possibly providing the first-person narration that opens the issue on the inside front cover. This title sounded liked a slam-dunk the moment that it was announced and the creators do not disappoint.

BEST OF WEEK: TRANSFORMERS VS. G.I. JOE #1 — All right, admittedly, I am the bull’s eye Target Zero demographic for this book. I was aged seven and then eight when the animated adventures of these two franchises respectively debuted, and in a post-EPISODE VI world, was just as ravenous as everyone else for massive ensembles of new heroes and villains waging war against one another amidst an ongoing serial mythology that seemed to mature and evolve right along with us as the birthdays rolled by and the aircraft carriers and future cities that we asked for as presents grew in size right along with us. And then I got older and learned to revere the craft, untouchable dynamism, and seething energy of the one true King, Jack Kirby. So, as soon as IDW announced that GØDLAND’s own Tom Scioli was writing and drawing this book, I knew at once that I would treasure it, no matter what shape or form it manifested in this reality. And I thought that Scioli did a bang-up job with the zero-issue for Free Comic Book Day. But, holy shit! This is an optimum best-case scenario. If Kirby himself was convinced in 1985 to give Marvel a third chance and take over the sequential adventures of these two franchises, and he somehow once again unleashed the sheer furious thunder of his limitless cosmic imagination and tried to do his Fourth World saga one better, then it would be this good. Everything about this is total glory. I could write a couple hundred words breaking down what I love about each and every single page. Let’s just do a few bullet-points:

-that cover (above) that references both the original TRANSFORMERS #1 from the old Marvel series as well as the first page of the Hama G.I. JOE #1 while also giving us Snake Eyes turning his back on the whole damn mess of them, Silver Age-style (as noted in back-matter)
-the sheer clusterfuck insanity of just dropping us in on a no-context Springfield invasion on Page Two and making it both that crowded and instantly readable (right)
-Gung Ho calling Tomax & Xamot Siegfriend and Roy
-The “Face of Darkness” shout-out on Page Four
-The Biblical allusion in the title on Page Six introducing plane versions of both Sound- and Shockwave; also, Flagg calling the Autobot & Decepticon signs the masks of comedy and tragedy, which, I straight up involuntarily slapped my own forehead right away for never seeing it
-Ravage as principal negotiator
-Giiiiiiiant Soundwave reaching down to stop the Joes from fleeing in their jeep
-Page Thirteen, that insane foreshortened lineup of Decepticons with Ravage standing in for Cerberus as pointed out in the back-matter
-The Kirby Krackle around Gen. Colton at the center of Page Fifteen. And how he’s totally Highfather
-Page Sixteen. Any time Soundwave is in this book, he should totally have three splash pages or near-splashes. Minimum. That just seems like the call, and good on Scioli for starting us off right here; Also, “I offered you peace and you ran over me with your car,” is the sensational character line of 2014.
-The Revenge of Snake-Eyes
-COLTON BOLT!
-Yeah, and then just everything about the last four pages

If anything, I’m worried that Scioli has just maybe set the bar too high with this issue. But given that this appears to be actually set-up, and we really hit it hard next issue with the brilliantly inverted dynamic of Joes on Cyberton, well, I mean, in theory, I can intellectually grasp that there’s some hypothetical way that this could get better or that I could have more fun reading it, but I can’t actually imagine it. Beyond glorious!

SAVAGE DRAGON #196 — What an amazing lineup this week to get interiors from Simonson, Scioli, and Larsen, three men who have done so much to extend Kirby’s legacy while adding their own unique elements to his style. Certainly no one can do a double splash page for you like Erik Larsen, you get the feeling that the original linework displayed such energy and dynamism that the krackle appeared there all on its own “SPONTANEOUS GENERATION!” Larsen continues to entertain while depicting Malcolm bashing the hell out of Dart’s crew with whatever comes to hand. I tell you what, though, that GIANT-SIZE KUNG FU BIBLE STORIES he mentions at the top of the letters column does indeed sound like “the greatest publication in the history of mankind.” I also dig the comic strips on the last page, there, a nice sorbet to cleanse the palette before moving on.

SAGA #21 — It looks like some good old-fashioned married sex isn’t going to be enough to save Marko & Alanna’s marriage. If their infant daughter’s omniscient narration is anything to go by. So sad! The characters have settled into a consistent rhythm. All of their interactions feel natural and unforced. Good for BKV! It was probably a good move to bail out of that Dome debacle. Staples continues to do a beautiful job of crafting this unique universe page after page, as only she can.

ZERO #9 — Ah, God. This one snuck up on me, I really didn’t see that coming until it was happening. Deft character work, this thing spends almost the entire page count masquerading as a tense and very lean back-story piece for a supporting character that’s interesting enough but nothing that knocks your lights out before just gut-punching you right at the very end, there. More strong craft from Ales Kot. More killer art by someone I’ve never heard of called Tonči Zonjić, ably abetted by usual suspects Jordie Bellaire and Clayton Cowles. More people should be talking about this book.

VELVET #6 — The past couple of issues didn’t seem particularly skinny in terms of content, but this one’s got a lot more plot to sink your teeth into. Maybe I’m just dense, but I didn’t realize that Codename: Mockingbird was actually her real husband and that was a not-pretend non-undercover honeymoon when they tried to kill one another that time. That is a pretty solid secret origin for our girl-Friday-turned-deadly-protagonist. If anything, Epting/Breitweiser have stepped up their game since taking the short break. This is grade-A material through and through.

TREES #3 — I liked this one quite a lot. Jason Howard continues to produce nothing but jawdropping pages and Ellis provides us with some interesting characters beats between Professor Luca Bongiorno & Eligia Gatti, as well as a four-page interlude starring young artist Chenglei and his cool new neighbor, Zhen, who look like they’re on the verge of a great adventure. This series is a weird beast, very much a straight character piece starring an ensemble who for the most part seem in no way on the verge of intersecting with one another and then with this terribly ominous premise that’s already so far in the background, I only counted two in-panel appearances and this is only the third issue. Which maybe sounds like a complaint, but I’m enjoying the hell out of this, the writing and art are both first-rate and I dig the languid pace that kind of recalls Marquez or maybe even Borges a little, now that I think about it. God bless Uncle Warren.

SUPREME: BLUE ROSE #1 — Man, I can’t believe we get two Ellis singles in one day. It feels like eight years ago! Coming on the heels of the monster reboots of PROPHET and GLORY (and where is that old PROPHET, anyway? Just realizing that it’s been quite some time), Ellis and newcomer-to-me-at-least Tula Lotay arrive with a surreal piece about an unemployed investigative journalist who has a dream that may or may not take place in the kind of hyper-continuity limbo that Moore trafficked in during his run and that Morrison loves to have his folks go run around in from time to time, but then after this dream, she wakes up and takes a meeting with Darius Dax (the Lex Luthor analogue previously, as I recall), who pays her three hundred thousand dollars right up front to go dig around looking for the titular character. Whose alter ego makes a single appearance this issue. Oh, and our female lead is Diana Dane, the Lois Lane analogue. Lotay is a spectacular find to realize Ellis’s fever dream vision. Even when she’s awake, the washed out pastels and overall palette lend a sense of unreality to the proceedings, which is all well and good for the background, but then the fine linework on the characters’ faces and even some of Diana’s body language recalls Mike Allred. Which is certainly something to shoot for. And in the middle there is a two-page six-panel thing Diana’s watching on her phone called Professor Night (the longest adventure serial in the world), that I can’t decide if it’s anime that took acid and then gobbled up DOCTOR WHO or if Uncle Warren has just crossed over to the far side past Ultimate Mental and is never coming back or what, but it’s glorious. I’m sure some people are going to bitch about Supreme not actually flying around in this or leaping tall buildings with a single bound, but that’s never been the point, and I dig the solid character groundwork that they lay down in this first issue. Now, if only we can get Gordon Cole to turn up and scream at us as to what this is all about.

DAREDEVIL #6 — Hickman might still get the prize for folding this latest Big Event ripple-effect into what he already had going on with Cap’s suppressed memories, but Waid certainly gives him a run for his money here, as he uses Aaron’s premise to cast Battlin’ Jack Murdock in a decidedly less flattering light than we’ve already seen him. Which seems like should be enough to hang an issue on, only Waid is never content to rest on his laurels, instead letting that be nothing more than an inciting incident that propels Matt into some not as much international espionage as let’s just call it diplomatic spycraft involving his mother the nun and Wakanda. A lot going on in twenty pages beautifully illustrated by regular colorist Javier Rodriguez, who knocks it out of the park every chance he gets. I’m not picking up a lot of Original Sin tie-ins, but every single one that I’ve read from my regular Pull has been really solid.

AVENGERS 100TH ANNIVERSARY #1 —When they announced these 100th Anniversary books, the one that I was certain that I was getting was this one. James Stokoe is a singular one-man band whose gritty detail and linework is only surpassed by his unique kaleidoscopic palette. Even the recap page is more fun than it is has any business being, giving us a new logo, a Previously… summary that tosses off asides like a Seventh Gender War, Dr. Franklin Richards, Herald of Galactus, the American continent being trapped in the Negative Zone, and the Avengers for some reason basing their headquarters in Malaysia. And most importantly, an ad for Marvel Quiblets, horrifying sentient pets that now come in Marvel superhero flavors. Really, just this page by itself almost cooked my brain here at the end of the night. But then you turn the page and it turns out Stokoe is responsible for one-hundred percent of the interiors, too. Beast! The double-page splash of Stark Tower in Kuala Lumpur is by itself almost more than you can take and worth the cover price all on its own. I could go on and on about how much I love every page of this book, but you really should just check it out for yourself, particularly if you are one of those who dig the indie creators on STRANGE TALES aesthetic from that anthology Marvel was putting out a few years back. This is more than just stunning vistas, though, Stokoe crafts a story with a lot of heart featuring a limited ensemble that really makes you wish that this could just be a regular series. Particularly when you get to the last page, I love how he threw that concept out there and then just barely returns to it at the end with such emphasis that it sends your mind reeling. Strong, strong work! Only surpassed tonight by Scioli and that Gotham epilogue.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

7/09/14

INFINITY MAN AND THE FOREVER PEOPLE #2 — Jesus, that is a hell of a way to frame a first page! And they even go the AMBUSH BUG route two pages later, a classic callback, of course that’s not really Darkseid just looming over Dreamer’s sleeping form in a non-astral completely physical sense. Giffen returning to a New 52! teration of his thirty-year-old gag makes a hell of a compelling opening. And reminds us that Darkseid can, very very occasionally, be funny. Then, I dig how Didio manages the ensemble one-by-one introductions in not quite as clunky a fashion as The One True King threw down back in the day, even working in a genuine revelation with regard to Big Bear’s place of birth. And the sudden subplot about Vykin having a romantic attachment to Mother Box is pretty funny. This reads as a bit decompressed for a single, we had the entire last issue to get to know the cast and take this entire one to maneuver them into place to actually form the titular character, who doesn’t appear until the last page, but I’m definitely enjoying the ride and how well Didio/Giffen manage to channel the Kirby krackle into the present day and am of course on board for as long as this one lasts! Taaru!

GRAYSON #1 — I have never been much of a fan of Dick Grayson’s solo adventures. Which is actually a bit of a conundrum to me, now that I think about it. He’s always been one of my favorite characters, ever since I was a little kid. I mean, when I was four, I wanted to grow up to be The Boy Wonder, you know? But the stars never aligned for me to devour 150 or however many issues of NIGHTWING when they were coming out. Though, of course I loved him in what I’ve read of the legendary Wolfman/Perez NEW TEEN TITANS run and the brief time that Morrison scripted his adventures with Damian in BATMAN AND ROBIN already holds some serious real estate in my heart for all-time great runs. All of which to say, I’m in no way the best barometer for how well this series stacks up to previous iterations, but I can say that I dug the hell out of this. The writers manage to combine just the right amount of gripping espionage action with succinct little character beats to make this feel like a story that could only be starring this particular character. And as usual, Mikel Janin (three weeks in a row now I’m saying this!) shows up and knocks the lights out on interiors with dynamic fluid movement and beautiful acting through body language and facial expressions. And any fan of Morrison’s run has to appreciate these guys setting the premise with Dick as the undercover Agent 37 in Spyral. I’m definitely curious to see where this is heading.

FUTURE’S END #10 — Um, that is some goofy banter between Masked Superman and Lois. Intentionally so, I’m sure, it just certainly plays weird. You’ve got to love Tim spotting Bruce’s Deathless Tonga Death Strike from across the bar when Terry throws it. It’s funny that the outer-space crew was just Hawkman and Amethyst this week, but we’ll allow it. And bringing Barda into all of this can’t be a bad thing. Who else could Jan Kirby be? So many Kirby name-checks lately!

BATMAN ETERNAL #14 — Well, no one can accuse this series of spinning its wheels! I love Tim’s reaction, it rings so true. And but did he really not know that Harper was creeping up on him last week? I did not get that at all, thought he was just being cute. Fabok knocks another issue out of the park as we reload for the next horrible thing that I guess will be at Arkham before we head over to the inevitable Blackgate riot. They seriously better not be trying to set up killing Gordon, though. You have to give him at least a couple of arcs in the present-day title, Snyder! If we ever make it back!

DETECTIVE COMICS #33 — Had to score the Steranko cover, even before the trash-talk. As for the interiors, Manapul/Buccellato's art has quite possibly never looked better. Which is really saying something. But, I’m still having trouble sinking my teeth into the characterizations of all these random characters. No one except Bullock is landing for me. And then they go and do something borderline unforgivable by invoking TRUE DETECTIVE in a giant panel with the lightning crackling behind our guy. Batman comics shouldn’t name-drop modern zeitgeist explosions, I don’t feel like. Especially when the guy creating that other thing is writing the pants off of what’s going down in this iteration of Gotham. And pretty much everything else, to be fair. But, come on. Gotham City is the last place that anybody needs to be thinking about old Rustin Cohle. And shit, now I’ve got to watch all eight of them again.

AMERICAN VAMPIRE: SECOND CYCLE #4 — Snyder/Albuquerque are still seriously tearing it apart in this second volume with no sign of letting up. They even make you fear for the adorable little monsters! The art remains a tour de force. Really, the only negative thing that I can say about this is that it’s such a whirlwind dervish that I’m positive this will read better in trade. But it’s not like I’m going to pull up now and start waiting for it. Also, it does seem unfortunate that the Hep-V plotline from this final season of TRUE BLOOD has also apparently spontaneously generated over here round these parts (last night’s cliffhanger was the very same as this one, even!), but I’m sure there’s room enough for both of those stories to be told in this big old bad world.

STAR WARS #19 — We’re introduced to Leia’s old best friend, who’s been undercover for years, spurring our main crew out of their upper-level positions with Rebellion and out into the dangerous void of space for a rescue op. More importantly, Carlos D’Anda returns to the fold. I was afraid that he was out of the picture, but it’s nice to see his quality illustrations return before Dark Horse has to shut this glorious operation down.

DAREDEVIL #005 — Waid fiiiiiiiiinally lets us in on what’s been the deal with Foggy this whole time and, no surprise, it’s a terrifically fun romp executed to sequential perfection by Samnee/Rodriguez, as ever. I initially rolled by eyes at Foggy/Waid opening with the THE USUAL SUSPECTS paraphrase, but of course they more than earn it by issue’s end.

FANTASTIC FOUR #007 — I couldn’t imagine what could be so horrible, but I think the scale of the secret and Ben’s reaction to the revelation fits the scope of this book perfectly. More than almost every other superhero title that has sprung up in the wake of this world’s greatest comics magazine, this series has always been first and foremost about the way that the characters interact with one another, and the way this latest tie-in reverberates through is no exception. Kudos to James Robinson. Though he does have Reed saying “From who?” at one point, which completely threw me out of it, the big brain knows well enough to use the object of the preposition “whom” in the objective case every time. And Leonard Kirk and Karl Kesel continue to throw down absolute justice on every page of present-day adventure with Dean Haspiel and Nolan Woodard on hand yet again to lend that extra bit of krackle to the flashbacks, all colored in the popping palette of Jesus Aburtov. We don’t get Sue beating the hell out of the Avengers, as the cover promises, but this one right here is certainly a quality read.

ALL-NEW X-MEN #029 — X-23 shows up in time to be enough reinforcements to tip the balance just enough in our guys’ favor in the rematch against Baby Xavier. Which is all well and good but then Cyclops has got to go and draw the line against killing THIS Xavier and the reset button gets pushed again at the end, it looks like. Which is a little frustrating, but just another day in the life, I suppose. Far FAR more heartbreaking is the very sudden news that this is apparently the art team’s last issue. Can this be true? Of course, we wish them well and kudos all around for them going on to what’s got to be a higher profile (or at least more mainstream) assignment depicting Sam Wilson’s adventures as the new Captain America, but I have got to say that if Bendis has been the brains behind this series, then Stuart Immonen, Wade von Grawbadger, and Marte Gracia have been its beating heart and soul. Really, the main reason I even gave the first issue a shot amidst announcements of elevated price-points and double-shipping was their stunning cover, and then of course I was hooked. This has been one of my very favorite Marvel titles amidst a linewide roster that is jam-packed with serious talent and creative firepower, and I am going to miss them on this title very very much.


BEST OF WEEK: AVENGERS #32 — Man, it was past three in the morning, I had been tearing it up with the Fourth Coven in the Cattle Baron’s suite at the Driskell for the better part of the evening, and I was both sorely underprepared and in exactly the right frame of mind to experience Hickman bringing adult Franklin Richards from the far future back into our lives again. What an imaginative slice of glory this issue is. There’s actually barely even any conflict to speak of and it doesn’t even matter, we’re just grateful to be along for the ride as Franklin walks and flies Cap, Natasha, and Star Brand through the distant future and basically shows them how awesome everything is. Hickman has always excelled at that kind of accelerated bleeding-edge almost-plausible hyper-science that Morrison and Ellis have broke ground on down through the years, and this issue is probably the best example of that in his Avengers run so far as he has Franklin describe for us in detail exactly what it means to have an Avengers World five millennia in the future. The only hiccup actually has to do with that number. At the top of the issue, we get the standard “BETRAYAL +_____ YEARS” tag with the number of years this time being 5,045. And the issue is entitled “Five Thousand Into The Future.” So that’s all straightforward enough, but then early on in the issue, Franklin very clearly tells Steve that it’s 4,103 years into the future, or “four thousand, one hundred and three years, actually,” all spelled out there like it should be in-dialogue. So what gives? I thought he might just mean that’s the interval since their jump from last issue, but by my count they were only a total of BETRAYAL +470 YEARS at that point, so even that reduced number should have been 4,575. Where did those missing years go? That’s a pretty prominent piece of plot to have a discrepancy with. Am I the only one who cares? Probably? At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter, because this issue is a captivating glide through a future that’s full of wonder and hope, a positive futurist outlook that’s a refreshing break from the usual post-apocalyptic fare featuring Yu/Alanguilan/Gho’s strongest interiors on this title yet. And just when you think that Hickman can’t dig any deeper, he manages to land the Groot tie-in/punchline just in time for 8-01-14. Thank you, indeed.

Monday, July 21, 2014

7/02/14

BEST OF WEEK: SUPERMAN UNCHAINED #7 — Well, Snyder/Lee/Williams/Sinclair have spent some time laying the groundwork, but it all pays off here as they put the pedal all the way down on the floor and do nothing but drop the atomic thunder pretty much every single page, here. The arguably main part of the narrative deals with General Lane attacking The Fortress of Solitude while our hero does his best to protect Lois before donning Kryptonian battle-armor in yet another Very Iconic Splash Page by Jim Lee. But, you know. It’s Jim Lee. Even the splash of Gen. Lane in his attack-tank is pretty stunning in its level of technical precision and intricately detailed linework. If this issue was nothing but an Arctic slugfest, the creators would be doing a good job and all the readers could feel good about paying their four dollars for another collection of pages of Jim Lee drawing Superman making fight with Lois’s daddy featuring a nice little inversion at the end involving Lois saving our boy. However. What I guess we could possibly refer to as the B-plot of this thing is basically a fanboy’s wet dream and, for my money, the most impressive sequence that Jim Lee has produced since DC decided that it would be a wise investment to buy his little studio fifteen years ago. The entirety of HUSH and FOR TOMORROW have got nothing on this. Simply put, it’s Batman & Wonder Woman vs. The Superman from 1945 in the Batcave. And it is gorgeous. Let’s do a trick where I say what the shot is and you try to imagine how great it can be and then Jim Lee will roar up and stomp whatever you could come up with into the ground with the jawdropping expert craft he brings to each and every image. Begin!

Batman crashes the Batwing into The Superman from 1945. Batman sends All The Batmobiles at The Superman from 1945. Wonder Woman smashes The Superman from 1945 with the giant Lincoln penny. The Superman from 1945 smashes Batman and Wonder Woman with the giant robot Tyrannosaurus Rex. Sounds incredible, right? Good on Scott Snyder for envisioning such a ridiculous sequence of escalating nonsense, yah? Well . . .





















ACTION COMICS #33 — I liked this about as much as I could like a part of an event of which I’m only reading this one title. Pak and Kuder continue to deliver solid work, wisely holding on to Lana as a focal-point character. I don’t know, though, man, then something that I don’t care for gets shoehorned in, like Supergirl as a Red Lantern. Maybe that seemed like a pretty great bit of syngery when whoever first had the idea, combining the franchises, but why can’t she be like blue? There’s just so much darkness running rampant throughout The New 52, even when I try to dodge it, it crowds in on the stuff I otherwise really dig. Ready for these creators to get their book all the way back and just keep crafting memorable stories that are for the most part self-contained within this title.

FUTURE’S END #9 — Does anyone else get the vibe that Lois is hunting for the island from L O S T? The Hawkman moment was great, of course he’s fine. What terrible needlessly amputating people they are in that S.H.A.D.E. away team! And I read that that very same thing happened over in one of the JUSTICE LEAGUE books in the present. It is a bad month to be one of Hawkman’s arms.

BATMAN ETERNAL #13 — Okay, wait, Gordon’s kid is not supposed to be Bard? I certainly misread that last week, but I have to say that maybe Bard’s design shouldn’t have been like, you know, exactly the same as James, Jr.’s? Old Bard is certainly doing a good job in Gordon’s stead. To the point that you kind of wonder if he isn’t the actual Big Bad clearing the way of what he considers to be obsolete material, perhaps. Mikel Janin delivers another beautiful set of pages. They’ve done a great job keeping top talent on interiors for this series.

EAST OF WEST #13 — And lo, the shit it did rain down. Hickman/Dragotta/Martin pull no punches and maintain the insane momentum from last issue by sending Death head-to-head with that ultimate Texas Ranger fella they’ve got running around here, and the results do the Thing vs. Hulk proud. Really, this entire issue is basically one beautifully choreographed fight scene, and it is a thing of beauty. Dragotta juxtaposes opposing panel angles and countershots with total mastery, lending immediacy to every page. It is not an insult to say I read this thing in under five minutes the first time. I just couldn’t stop turning pages fast enough. After slowing down to build up a head of speed in the back half of its first year, this title is really ripping great guns ahead now.

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #3 — The plot thickens like smoky sweet barbecue sauce on the plate next to Shawna’s lip-smacking ribs. I don’t have much to add, but I’m enjoying the pace these boys are telling their story at and happy to stick around for as long as they take to tell it. It doesn’t as much feel like they’re conjuring up a world as telling a story that already happened right there outside their window.

SATELLITE SAM #9 — This is starting to ramp up a bit, here. I’m finding the individual plots a bit more compelling, like Guy suddenly making a principled stand, and Mike is a bit easier to root for when he’s not just drinking and fucking everything in sight. Which, I can’t decide if that’s counter-intuitive or not. But this is looking like maybe twelve issues and done? That length feels about right. Y’all can have that one for free.

MORNING GLORIES #39 — After an opening scene featuring a character meeting herself but not realizing on either side (I think?), we get another four-long-panel montage for four pages to check in with sixteen of our main characters, a much-appreciated reminder of just how many plates Spencer/Eisma have had spinning for quite some time now. Then, even better, we zoom right in on Casey waiting for Hodge and the rest of the issue (one nemesis-introducing flashback/almost-retcon notwithstanding) is nothing but the two of them postmorteming Casey’s jump. Only, and I know I keep saying this, but I really really am going to have to go back and read all this from the start, because certain fundamental aspects are getting by me that I don’t think should. If Casey jumped back and then lived out the intervening thirteen years up to the present, did she just eventually jump back into her present-day body with no memory of all that time? Or did like a fraction of her leave and go do all that and then this other part stayed at MGA the whole time? I bet Spencer’s master chart of all of this would get him committed.

ORIGINAL SIN #5 — The creators are doing nothing but pick up momentum here, as we’re treated to the secret ret-con of Nicholas J. Fury, who has basically been a one-man watcher on the wall, preventing alien invasions (in some cases preemptively) since witnessing the previous man who held the position, Woodrow McCord, die in 1958. Deodato/Martin continue to bring the thunder throughout, and Aaron’s script hums right along with a nice little moment in which Nicky decides not to assassinate a teenage Spider-Man just on a hunch. The only hiccup for me was the idea that Fury was actually running out of briefings and doing this new gig on the sly and none of his enemies in the espionage circuit ever got wind of it. I mean, everyone knew he wasn’t missing his Aunt Matilda’s birthday, but it seems like at some point, as out-maneuvered and –flanked as he’s been over the years, H.Y.D.R.A. or someone would have gotten hip to his other work. And I would also like to know at what point the LMDs took over and the actual guy stopped going out and just aging in private. Really digging on this one, though, and looking forward to seeing where they’re going to take it.

FANTASTIC FOUR: 100TH ANNIVERSARY #1 — This was magnificent fun. I wish they would have numbered it something crazy, FANTASTIC FOUR #1,693 or something. I’m not familiar with either of these creators’ work, but Jen Van Meter and Joanna Estep have crafted a very cool tale of the next next generation of the FF. It looks like Valeria had a son and daughter with Bart Banner, son of the Hulk? And of course the boy is named Kirby. That’s really becoming a thing lately. Van Meter does a great job giving us the shorthand and catching us up completely on a continuity that’s been invented just for this one issue, and Estep excels on full art duties, with the soft pastels of her palette in particular pleasing to the eye. And I dug the pair of footnotes referencing issues that don’t actually, as of yet, exist. Though who’s not down for GAMMA GIRLS? This issue sets out to provide tremendous Silver Age good times and completely succeeds.


MOON KNIGHT #005 — And then on the opposite of the tremendous fun spectrum, we have the penultimate issue of this Ellis/Shalvey/Bellaire horror show. The cover doesn’t lie; this one plays out as pretty much one of the best single-player guy-fights-his-way-through-a-building games ever, though of course Shalvey doesn’t limit the camera shots to side-scrolling (which would been kind of cool, too, honestly). There’s something gloriously unpretentious about this issue being nothing more than a simple hostage-saving fight scene. And that’s before Morris Day shows up on the fifth floor. I love the efficient way that our hero talks his way out of that hostage crisis in three panels so economical that they border on chilling. And then we get that perfect sole moment of pure characterization (as opposed to characterization through body language/fighting style/etc) with the kid correctly differentiating between mask and face. These are lean and mean little singles, man, I tell you what. It only takes five minutes to read them, but you can stare at them for hours and keep learning from them for always.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

6/25/14

SUPERMAN #32 — This has got to be the most anticipated mainstream superhero release of the week. After close to thirty years in the business, DC has finally wooed away Marvel legacy John Romita, Jr. from The House of Jack’s Ideas. I was cautiously optimistic when I heard that Johns was writing. I was a huge fan of his entire run with Kubert and Frank a few years back on ACTION but feel like the overall quality of his writing has taken a serious tumble since the reboot, to the point that it looks like I’ve dropped all of his titles, something that would have been unthinkable to me around the last time that he was scripting the big guy’s adventures. But I’m happy to report that it’s the other fella who showed up here, the guy who wrote SECRET ORIGIN and that terrific Legion arc and the one with Brainiac and is the only person to actually succeed in writing a sequel to SUPERMAN II (with the help of mentor and guy-who-knows-a-thing-or-two-about-it Richard Donner). Terrific opening scene. It threatens to buckle under the weight of its own cleverness but holds together well enough for me. But then you turn the page after Page Five with John Williams’s overture blasting through your head and JRJr spikes the dials to eleven right away with a staggering two-page splash of our boy punching the hell out of Titano. That’s just giving us the requisite amount of action before we get three pages of Perry White-centric Daily Planet dialogue that makes me feel like I’m home. This is how it should always be. Johns displays a very firm grasp of the nuances of these characters from the way they interact with another to a nice little touch like Perry giving Olsen grief over the streaky quality of his pictures. It’s Page 12 that I’m wild for, though. Clark takes Perry’s advice that he needs to talk to somebody but we’re only privy to his end of the conversations, first dealing with an apparent immediate reversal because Diana’s so glad to get him on the phone that she right away starts unloading some of the shit that Azzarello’s been shoveling at her back in the direction of Metropolis, quick cut to Lois ducking out of the bar before Lombard can buy her a drink, then my favorite panel of the issue, Clark cooking a steak on his stove with heat vision while saying, “No message, Alfred. Have a good night.” It’s such a powerful moment in its tension between the mundanity of cooking dinner-for-one while not being able to reach the person you want to talk to versus how he’s cooking it and the fact that he’s reaching out to his best friend who of course is too busy fighting crime while dressed up as a bat to take his call, but then on top of that the sincere friendliness toward Alfred in wishing him a good night. It’s just perfect, man. That’s who he is.

So, everything else about this issue also pretty much worked for me. I had no idea that Laura Martin was coloring this and that felt like the best surprise of the month, seeing her name in the credits, there. I am a fan of Janson’s inks over JRJr’s pencils, that man knows a thing or two about tightening up the situation. It’s interesting that Johns decided to open with an alternate Superman arc, which is basically exactly what the other big-name ticket in town has going down the way with Snyder/Lee’s UNCHAINED. It will be interesting to watch these two superstar teams execute their own visions of this basic concept that was such an integral part of the framework of Morrison/Quitely’s all-time classic ALL-STAR SUPERMAN, basically putting our guy in a room with various analogues and letting his character shine through to distinguish exactly what it is that makes him unique. I had pretty high hopes and expectations for this one that the creative team managed to exceed.

BATMAN #32 — All parties continue to knock the lights out here in the penultimate chapter of Zero Year. It’s getting kind of frustrating to come up with new things to say about them every month. The art is incomparable, some of the very best on the rack each month. Snyder takes his time on the characterization, letting a series of moments build, sometimes over the course of months, to rewarding payoffs. My favorite page of the issue is Page Sixteen, the message that Bruce is leaving for Alfred while walking to his final encounter with the Riddler. The familiarity, the affection, the respect, I finished the page and just had to marvel at it and reread it. Tremendous characterization. And then of course the kicker turns out to be the first caption on the next page. Strong work from Snyder, from all of them. Very much looking forward to next month’s finale.

FUTURE’S END #8 — If anyone thinks this series is treading water or in any way not worth it, in this issue, while approximately one hundred light years from Earth, Ray Palmer borrows Amethyst’s sword and uses it to hack off the arm of the recently killed Hawkman so that Frankenstein can use it after Black Adam ripped his off last issue in the Phantom Zone. So, there. It’s hard to make an argument that the epidemic of graphic violence spearheaded by IDENTITY CRISIS and INFINITE CRISIS is not still going stronger than ever one decade later, but come on. That’s just good fun, right there.

BATMAN ETERNAL #12 — HOW DID I NOT SEE THAT COMING? I was just thinking halfway through this issue what a good job they did introducing a new regular into the GCPD. I am also okay with Harvey Bullock calling him Bats. Just Bullock. That makes all kinds of sense to me.

TREES #2 — We zoom in a bit, here. Jason Howard continues to turn in pages that are nothing short of absolutely gorgeous. I love the line about the polar bear guards. A series about those fellows would be for me. These guys are channeling Ba/Moon here, I realized, the somewhat cartoony art juxtaposed against vast expanses of cityscapes. A great trick about the strategic Tree. I totally assumed the guy wanted to stage some vertical action. And then we’re back to our crew at whatever Arctic station they’re at that the letterer can’t be bothered to caption again this issue. This mystery with the black poppies is by far the most interesting aspect of the rather schizophrenic narrative thus far. It will be interesting to see how Uncle brings all of this together in his own time.

CHEW #42 — The sight of Baby Applebee toasting with his bottle might be the most terrifying thing that I have ever seen. Of course, this being a single issue of CHEW, there are several other flashes of greatness and horror liberally sprinkled throughout. This particular installment is generous enough to give us yet another two-page titles splash starring POYO! as well as another single-panel flash to #60 showing us that at least Tony, Applebee, and some assorted pamphlets scattered in the wind survive. Layman/Guillory continue to do tremendous work and we are lucky to have them.

SAGA #20 — Pretty compelling business. Our creators hit their marks of a shocking/titillating opening page and a crushing downbeat ending just like they like to do. I’m hoping for a curveball with the whole Marko/Ginny affair deal that BKV is teeing up, surely there’s going to be more to it than that. The highlight of the issue has to be Fiona Staples’ two-page spread of Alana blasting off on Fadeaway. What a long strange trip it is certain to be! Maybe next month’s opening page, even.

FANTASTIC FOUR #6 — It all keeps going wrong for our intrepid quartet. Sue freaks out against the Avengers (I guess that gets further developed in some other tie-in? It seems a bit odd to cut away from here. It’s not like it’s going to be happening over in Hickman’s books), and then we catch up with Uatu getting murdered, with the secret memory returning to The Thing turning out to be something to do with a failed attempt that Reed made back in the day to cure bashful Benjy of his ever-lovin’ rocky hide. It’s kind of an awkward deal, plot-wise, because Ben claims that it’s not his memory even though he’s right there in the middle of the story. I guess he loses his memory later? Nothing that happens this issue gives any indication of why Ben is now so pissed at Johnny, but I guess all will be made clear next issue. Kirk/Kesel/Aburtov continue to tear it up on the main feature with Dean Haspiel returning to the title alongside Nolan Woodard to provide just the right amount of dynamic krackle to the flashback sequence. Solid material!

UNCANNY AVENGERS #021 — There is all kinds of greatness in this issue as the team finally makes it back in time to undo their fuckup of planet-shattering proportions a few months back. Every page is a delight, from Tony and Doom talking shit at one another to Rogue reconciling with Wanda before soaking up everybody’s powers in a sea of Kirby krackle. The only bumps in the road come from some tics on her dialogue. Remender bungles the apostrophe on y’all twice, which drives me insane, but then doubles down with the confusing line, “Give me your sugar, Sugah.” Now of course, deliberately misspelling words to reflect the dialect or accent of their speaker is a tradition as old as Claremont himself, but I don’t think it’s supposed to be an affectation for the character, right? Rogue isn’t going around deliberately choosing to Southern up the word as “sugah.” That’s just how she talks, how she pronounces it every time. So, the last thing we should ever ever read is her saying “sugar.” The line, which I like, should read, “Give me your sugah, sugah.” Right? That’s probably a bit of overconsideration, but Claremont accent-misspelling is an old fascination of mine. The story itself clips along to tremendous effect, Acuña continues to knock the lights out with the able assistance of White. If the twist ending didn’t happen, I think we’d all be disappointed, but I certainly cannot wait to see how Remender is going to bring all of this crashing down.

NEW AVENGERS #020 — Well, I certainly thought that that cover was going to turn out to be malarkey. The House of Ideas is taking Dr. Stephen Strange to a very dark place, indeed. The DC-analogue Great Society crew pretty much took our boys apart. My favorite was the Boundless/Stark takedown. Hickman is really digging in and posing a very interesting moral conundrum with this premise, here. DO our guys have the moral right to engineer a planet-killing doomsday weapon in order to save their own Earth? Have they crossed the line? I would be interested where hardcore DC-reading Marvel-hatin’ fans fall on this spectrum. It does seem like a very Justice League stance to take, not to cross that line. I feel like the Superman/Batman guys SHould have at least offered up some kind of alternative besides just decrying the 616 crew as capable of unthinkable acts. Of course, the last page certainly bears out that accusation. What would an alternative even be? Whip up an artificial satellite world? There’s no way that a single Earth could sustain the lives of both populations. I guess our guys are about to do something really really horrible next issue. It’s the moment we’ve been building up to all this time, True Believer!


BEST OF WEEK: NEW AVENGERS ANNUAL #001 — Frank Barbiere & Marco Rudy show up with a devastating solo tale starring Dr. Stephen Strange that is as horrifying as it is strange. The basic set-up is no different from your favorite episode of L O S T, we flashback to our protagonist’s younger days when in his hubris he was convinced that he could fix anybody (so pretty much straight up Jack Shephard, yes), and this lends new context and greater resonance to what is unfolding in the present. A young princess adept has been taken from the mountains of Tibet where she was studying with the monks responsible for the good doctor’s indoctrination into the supernatural. The worse news is that she’s been abducted by a horrible demon that has bonded itself to her. As a premise goes, it’s fairly straight up for this character. But the magic lies in the execution. Barbiere’s script is lean and mean, managing to sing out several lines that resonate in transition between the two timeframes in that way that Alan Moore loved to do in the eighties that folks always aim for these days, but few hit the mark as well as Barbiere. But come on, as sharp as the script is, all anyone comes away from these pages thinking is that Marco Rudy is a beast beast beastmaster. His craft has certainly been on the ascendant these past few years as he graduated from a DC fill-in artist to wielder of destruction on that last Marvel Knights Spider-Man mini, but this is escalating matters to an entirely different level. Thirty pages of full mixed media art that vacillate between finely rendered pencils that might not even be inked to full-on balls-to-the-wall watercolor insanity with each choice of media in perfect service to the story and image itself, not the artist’s ego. Which is fortunate in a story about a protagonist’s crippling hubris. Rudy’s brilliant panel layouts continue to evolve, guiding the reader’s eye through the pages to feast upon images that will linger long after the issue has been set down. This is no $5 filler ordered up by editorial to empty fanboys pockets right on schedule. This is an emotionally resonant standalone that works whether the reader has never heard of the character or has been onboard since the days of Ditko. This is a work of art, an artifact that you absolutely have to clasp in your hands and hold up close to your face to experience viscerally, so raw and vibrant you can almost smell the paint drying and hear Rudy impatiently pacing behind you muttering about one last perfect detail always left to add.

6/18/14

BATMAN AND RA’S AL-GHUL #32 — The team behind my favorite DC book turn in yet another humdinger of a finale to yet another best arc so far. Batman and Frankenstein beneath Nanda Parbat battling for the corpses and very souls of Talia Al-Ghul and Damian Wayne. No more really need be said. This is crushing material on every page. We get a history lesson from Frankenstein, which earns him the respect of Ra’s, another Frankenstein-is-a-monster joke that still somehow manages not to fall flat but be wonderful, yet another masterful shot of Frank hurling himself into battle, Batman blasting his way out of the subterranean Lazarus Pit carrying his dead son’s sarcophagus on his back, Titus even, that terrific six panels on Page Fourteen of the camera just zooming in as Ra’s closes in on Batman followed by the close shot of that threat on the opposite page, climaxing with of course four pages of the two daddies scrapping in the snow like they never picked up a sword in their lives, and then just when Batman is set to go all Mountain-on-The-Viper with old Ra’s, we get a shocking surprise that was so terrific to not see coming. I mean, that bottom panel, the BOOM, I was thinking to myself, “Well, surely not,” but then what a last page! I was very very dubious when I heard that something called ROBIN RISES was coming down the pike, but I trust these creators right down to the marrow of my bones and can’t wait.

FUTURE’S END #7 — And Editorial scores Aaron Lopresti, another very talented fellow on sequentials. Opening with the first third being nothing but Phantom Zone conflict is just fine with me. But, tragically, they moved that aerobics Comedy Bang Bang! ad to the interiors, so you never know when those mostly hairless dudes are going to sneak up on you. SO MUCH WORSE. It’s cool that Lois is one of our protagonists for this series, interested to see where she winds up in her quest to unmask Tim. It’s hard not to read any scenes with Slade Wilson now and not think about ARROW. How could he not call her “kid” one single time? And sorry to see Terry blow his element of surprise. He’s kind of been a putz since he got here, I’m sorry to say.

BATMAN ETERNAL #11 — Ian Bertram is a revelation. I didn’t recognize his name and was the least bit worried, but wow. Seeing his pages reminds me of the first time Chris Burnham came in and blew the doors off the fourth issue of BATMAN INCORPORATED, or of how I felt the first time I laid eyes on Pope or Grampa or Quitely or Darrow. This guy has such a unique and singular vision. Thrilling. That panel on Page 10 of Barbara slamming Gonzolo against the wall is the very real deal. But that’s nothing compared to what happens a few pages later when young Stephanie Brown first lays eyes on Batman doing the same thing with her father and we see the Caped Crusader through the filter of her young terrified mind. Bravo. I love his Starfire. Thank you thank you so much. Just when he couldn’t kick ass any harder. She is an A-cup and still magnificent. And of course we have to have El Gaucho. I do wish Selina wouldn’t call him Bats. That kind of drives me crazy like it does John Byrne. At any rate, I dearly wish that Bertram is already hard at work on #19 or some such. This series has been clipping along very well so far, but the injection of his style that is so far afield from what we usually expect from mainstream superhero art is a very welcome and exciting turn of events.

WONDER WOMAN #32 — Once again, all Cliff Chiang has to do is show up for the cover and his presence is devastating. Though of course Goran Sudzuka holds the interiors down very well. Azzarello is definitely ramping up his endgame. Hard to believe that there are only going to be three more of these. I do love how the krackle presages Orion’s triumphant charge on the last page. Of course, I love those little dots any time they come seething right up, don’t I?

FABLES #141 — Wow, that is a really really dark place to begin the final arc. The final Big Bad will just be every single one of the other boxed horrors all taking up residence inside of Rose? That is certainly one way to burn it all down, Mr. Willingham. The council of the thirteenth floor folks is an interesting and well-crafted collision of characters. Of course Lumi the Snow Queen pops up in conversation, how could she not? Fucking Elsa. And Grimble! I love the second-person in the captions about him. It is always nice to be acknowledged as a reader. And a solid pair of closing scenes. Oh dear, I am not ready to say goodbye to any of these people. Can’t Mike Carey just take over when he finishes up THE UNWRITTEN? I apologize for the blatant segueway.

THE UNWRITTEN: APOCALYPSE #6 — All right, we’re ramping it up now. As much fun as it is to read Carey connecting the dots from maanim/graal/grail, I think my favorite part of the series remains the Tommy Taylor prose business. Just really love that voice. Gross continues to throw down thunderous stylistic changes by the page with all the nonchalance of the wind changing direction. What a cruel place to leave off this month out. I hate the tradewaiters. This thing, this story of all stories, is rearing up from deep in the heart of all the tales and getting ready to reach out and crush my heart, I can already feel it.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #21 — Part of the greatness of this book is that every two or three issues, it implies a spinoff series that seems like it would be at least as good as the main deal. I don’t know if this was just a well-timed convergence with the mounting GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY hype, but I would certainly tune in to the monthly adventures of this wacky band of interstellar irregulars. Ryan Browne continues to excel at one of the roughest fill-in gigs in the business while constantly tightening up his already ridiculous linework.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #1 — Oh, Team Phonogram, when will you quit batting my heart back and forth between your ravenous maws and produce the long-awaited Volume 3? Surely that Jamie McKelvie has eaten enough by now. He sounds like sort of a skinny fellow, anyway. But, we are all fortunate any time that Gillen/McKelvie/Wilson can synch up their schedules to produce glorious pages and of course expectations on another creator-owned by this crew have spiked to new highs on the heels of that crushing bit of YOUNG AVENGERS that season-finaled up last year. The lads are still very comfortable with their protagonists’ previously established demographic, telling the story of a bunch of teenage gods who are really really awesome and sing so good that basically everyone has epileptic seizures and comes their brains out every song and then also they can snap their fingers and make peoples’ heads explode. Wait, IS this the third volume of PHONOGRAM? Because that actually sounds about right. This thing is gorgeous, McKelvie and Wilson have one of the best blasts of synergy going on the rack today, and the narrative voice is razor-sharp. A debut that lives up to massive expectations.

SEX CRIMINALS #6 — Well, we’re back and of course things have to be on a down-swing. But whaaaaat a down-swing. Things were just getting to be so fun! Now, bro is like a eunuch! Was that supposed to be one of those metaphorical type things? Like, are his colors all faded to Suze when she looks at him? I don’t know. I just want the best for these kids, and it looks like things are veering off into an even darker place. Chippapotamus makes lines and colors so pretty just like McKelvie and Wilson. Maybe someone should snap their fingers and try to make KegelFace’s head explode?

FATALE #23 — Wow, Brubaker always of course carries more than his share of the narrative load, this Lovecraft noir half-breed springing more from his noggin than anyone else’s, I suspect, but Phillips and Breitweiser absolutely blow the doors off this month in a tour-de-force performance that does its very best at convincing a non-participating reader exactly how awesome it is to have sex with Josephine. They hit hypercosmic Starlin levels of greatness as no less than ten pages of the book are dedicated to five double-page spreads of our protagonists screwing across time and space while we finally get more than a glimpse into the secret origin of the eponymous femme. Like the rest of this series, none of it is that much of a surprise, it’s just the level of execution and mastery of craft that make it such a pleasure to behold, everyone involved well into years and years of firing at the top of their game and slinging out justice by the page because that’s the only thing they know how to do by now. The finale is going to be a hell of a thing.

MPH #2 — Superspeed is so fun and awesome, you guys! I’m pretty sure the pendulum is going to have to swing the other way pretty soon for our happy band of misbehaving crusaders from bad old Detroit finally taking some back for themselves. Millar’s characterizations are a bit more one-note than they have been lately but Duncan Fegredo’s dynamic art and detail certainly gives you everything you want from a book with this subject matter. This is good inoffensive fun. Which from Millar is pretty much a triumph at this point.

SAVAGE DRAGON #195 — Larsen once again makes the strong case that he is enjoying his job more than about anybody else on the planet right now. That’s the way he’s drawing this, at least. There’s a very palpable joy visible in every page, every layout. That first double-page spread is yet again a thing of beauty and exemplifies the reason I show up every Wednesday. But I certainly hope there are additional models of that red suit of armor that soared in at the end, there. That character design is too banging to waste on just a few pages. This title remains essential for the lover of all things Kirby in your life. And if you don’t have one of those, please strongly consider acquiring or becoming one immediately. It will make everything so much better, I promise.

AVENGERS #31 — Well, we’ll spare no suspense about how Hawkeye got split up from the team. That shit was disturbing. Of course, this is nothing but great fun throughout. Our intrepid band of timehoppers winds up 422 years in the future and are captured by future Avengers who turn out to all be Ultron-bots because of course, except for Thor and Hyperion who are just really old and broken now. Hickman is doing tremendous work keeping both of his AVENGERS titles so compelling while excelling and conquering at two creator-owneds. I mean, not counting INFINITY, dude has already slammed out more than fifty Avengers scripts alone. I feel like more people should be making a big deal out of this run, every issue is terribly compelling in its own right while slotting in seamlessly to a pretty immaculately plotted long-term game, the full shape of which has barely begun to make itself known thus far. Impressive business. Now, if we can just get Yu to stop drawing Natasha’s cans the size of her head, we’ll be golden.

UNCANNY X-MEN #022 — This is certainly the first time I’ve turned to a credits page, seen six inkers credited, and then wanted to high-five myself. It’s worked out so well before with Bachalo! And further tremendous news to get Jose Villarrubia assisting on colors. Nothing can stop the Bendis Juggernaut! Nice of him to finally clear up the deal about Scottie’s eyeblasts always going crazy at the end of every issue for the last little bit. Though I think I’ve already said that that was only getting better for me with time. Ripening like the fine Summers vintage that it is. And now it’s the Secret Xavier School? Maybe we can have a different cool name every issue now. It can be a thing. And but that Hijack fellow is pretty indispensable after all. This is a very solid end to all of the Dazzler/Mystique, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D./helicarriers vs. the mansion madness. Bachalo is a monster throughout.

DAREDEVIL #004 — Leland Owsley gets a serious upgrade that definitely sets him up to be the ultimate antithesis/nemesis to San Francisco’s newest arrival that was foretold in #50NOW or whatever the hell that was a little while ago that came out like the week after #001. This is nothing more or less than Waid/Samnee/Rodriguez continuing to kick ass on this title just like they have been for the past few years now. Hell of a cover, too.

SILVER SURFER #003 — I tell you what, that Dawn Greenwood is just the pluckiest Companion that the Doctah never had. Slott keeps things moving along at a brisk pace. These three issues amount to the season premiere and we’re now set up for ongoing adventures. It will be interesting to see how it goes next month once our duo is into their rhythm. The Toomie gag on the last page is a good sign of initial chemistry. But the Three Stooges gag seemed like an odd bit to shoehorn in there a few pages back. We’ll see how it goes! The Allreds have no problem bringing down the cosmic justice, as ever.

ORIGINAL SIN #4 — Deodato/Martin are shredding from the get-go. That Page 3 shot of Bucky doing nothing but showing up on the moon with a severed head is slamming. Aaron does efficient work bringing the far-flung characters and plots together here with a minimum of fuss. I love Logan’s line about Bucky. And you’ve got to give Aaron the elbow for having Dr. Strange quote Millar’s tagline for Civil War at T’Challa. But that’s got nothing on Bucky’s shot at poor old Frank. Low blow, Buck! But man, those cute introductory character captions remain just painful, as Rocket Raccoon’s illustrates. In whose mind does that business improve the reading experience? I’ve got to hand it to Aaron, though, for that last-page reveal. It’s the kind of retcon that makes too much sense and has been floating around the collective fanboy subconsciousness for quite some time now, and this is a hell of an elegant way to execute the concept into continuity. The entire first half of this thing was very good looking set-up and preamble, but I am very interested to see what is about to break loose now.

BEST OF WEEK: ESCAPO — It seems like Paul Pope is incapable of turning in anything that doesn’t hit somewhere between being a breathless tour-de-force and a masterpiece. Even way back when. I was previously unaware of this project that he jammed out over a broken up six-month period in 1998, but it is thrilling to see both the height of jaw-dropping talent that Pope had already reached sixteen years ago and also now be able to somewhat gauge how far he managed to push his longform sequential work over the course of just the next few years with HEAVY LIQUID, 100%, and BATMAN: YEAR 100. This book consists of two chapters starring a reluctant escapist* dealing with first love/rejection, and then death. The writing is sparse on characterization, hinging upon the protagonist’s voice coming through the dynamism of his kinetic on-panel action in large part juxtaposed with the rhapsodic barking of the ringmaster. But the art is more than enough to carry the show. Everything is much tighter here than what I’m used to seeing. In a closing essay that I might even have dug more than the pages themselves, Pope shares that he cranked out these pages at night while working for Japanese mega-publisher Kondansha by day, and the kind of trademark wildness with the brush that becomes such a trademark of his later on is only hinted at here. Aerobella’s appearance, in particular, manages to simultaneously veer over toward being more mangaesque but also suggest a far greater deal of time spent at the drawing board and careful consideration than later work, which oftentimes explodes from the page in its immediacy and crackling sense of the now. Of course, every hero is only as good as his antagonist, and young Pope spared no effort here designing our boy’s death-traps, a plummeting automobile and a locked waterwomb and Le Pinceur and the old Bizarre Box, all of which are convoluted and fantastic enough to do Kirby’s heart proud. This is not the book you want to put in someone’s hands to make him or her a Pope acolyte for life, but it is a fascinating document of one of the great talents of the medium in a nascent and formative time, not so much one of his deep cuts but more like an unmastered demo from a garage recording that doesn’t, can’t, punch you in the face with its production value but that still manages to just about bring tears to your eyes because the song is so good and everything you love about the band is right there amidst the crackling hiss of the tape and it’s obvious to everybody listening now and then that these guys are really going to make it, one of these days, sooner or later, these guys are going to be huge.





*and this just triggers, didn’t Pope spend a couple of years working on the trapped-in-development-hell film adaptation of Chabon’s THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER & CLAY? That is an interesting convergence, given that he self-published this comic of a hero escapist probably right around the time the idea must have either been percolating in Chabon’s head or more likely by the time he had already moved on to interviewing folks like Eisner and actually writing the damn thing. The world is a latticework.