Wednesday, March 4, 2015

2/18/15

BEST OF WEEK: THE MULTIVERSITY: MASTERMEN #1 — Wow. If you’re going to bang out a Nazi Justice League comic, I guess opening with Hitler taking a shit while reading a comic book with Superman punching him out on the cover is totally the way to go. And I mean, the deal with those alternate Ratzis peppering baby Kal-El with machine-gun fire is totally evil business. They knew what was going to happen when we first see it happen, meaning they had already done it while Hitler was on the pot. That is some next-level type material. Those Nazis were so evil!

Lee’s interiors are overall a bit rawer than what we’ve grown accustomed to. They look a little rushed in places, but really, as much as I’ve seen some folks just tearing him up for it, I almost prefer it. Instead of his usual hyper-cross-hatched anatomical perfection, these pages are a bit more stylized and have slightly more, I don’t know, vitality to them? It’s the sequential equivalent of realizing that Ivan Drago is just a man, after all. And that’s a reassuring thing. Even though of course the “seventeen years later” flash-forward double-splash is as technically horrifying as ever, and Lee can’t resist reprising his iconic standing-with-left-knee bent shot of the big guy on the next page. But that scratchier style suits the image of Uncle Sam slinking away from the Fall of Washington, sliding a contraband Superman comic into his coat while Nazis empty mugs of beer onto the decapitated head of the Lincoln Memorial. That shot kind of says it all even before you get to the swastikas on the Washington Monument in the next panel.

Now, Overgirl died in FINAL CRISIS, right? Or, I mean, in the backstory to the Overman who showed up in SUPERMAN BEYOND 3-D? I think I have that right, but my eyes are starting to bleed, lining all of this up. Total comprehension of Morrison Multiverse leads to absolute aneurysm. But holy shit, that Human Bomb guy who drops in to wreck Overgirl’s memorial, that’s Lee doing like a straight Liefeld homage. Worlds will live and worlds will die! And I love that the Aquaman analogue here is just Underwaterman, that’s got a really funny undertone of the literalness of the German language tucked in there. Casting the Freedom Fighters as persecuted minorities who survived Nazi purges is a strong choice. Morrison also sidesteps the tricky issue of making our hero complicit in the Holocaust with a three-panel flashback revealing that he was apparently off-planet for three years of the genocide. I understand that there’s only so much you can work in to a forty-page book, but that’s quite a little hop to make. Hey kids, it’s okay, our guy didn’t do any of that oven or shower stuff!

Overman bringing up the annual performance of The Ring Cycle to his presumed best friend Jurgen Olsen is an Easter egg that lends this installment of THE MULTIVERSITY a frankly massive amount of subtext that I didn’t dredge up all by myself with just Brunhilde’s name to go on. Okay. So, Jurgen the Olsen analogue was the traitor, yes? But he died with Brunhilde and everyone else when the Eagle’s Nest crashed into the concert hall? And he was narrating from beyond the grave? Or. What if Overman himself is the mole? I mean, he really doesn’t do anything for most of the issue except express regret over the Holocaust. In order to be truly heroic, he would have to take action against that, right that injustice somehow. Now, check out that panel last panel of the interview between Jurgen and the big guy. Overman says, and I quote, “MR. OLSEN, WE HAVE ONE OF THE TERRORISTS IN CUSTODY, AND I HAVE NO DOUBT THE OTHERS WILL JOIN HIM SHORTLY. THIS YEAR’S PERFORMANCE OF THE RING CYCLE WILL GO AHEAD AS IT HAS EVERY YEAR SINCE 1876. NOTHING HAS CHANGED.” Nothing has changed? As in, “All systems are still go, proceed”? If we entertain the notion that Overman is himself the mole and in cahoots with Uncle Sam, it’s no jump at all to consider that those lines are instructions addressed directly to the American terrorists, confirming the time and location for the strike. Of course, he still tries to stop it in the end. But he fails. Due to internal conflict? I’m still not sure. It seems like this installment might be second only to PAX AMERICANA as one to reward intense engagement and scrutiny with a great deal of the narrative/opera buried in subtext and Wagnerian references.

Even with the mighty A-list art team of Lee/Williams/Sinclair on the clock, this issue takes a bit of a dip after last month’s surprising escalation of the GUIDEBOOK following PAX AMERICANA. It has a ton of baggage to overcome due to its content and mostly does the job, but you can’t help feeling just a little bit fucked up and dirty finishing up the ballad of the Nazi Superman and how he was laid low by the terrorist Uncle Sam and/or the crushing weight of his own guilt.


BATMAN AND ROBIN #39 — That ACTION COMICS #1 homage is glorious. The further adventures of SuperDamian continue, and they are a beautiful thing to behold. You can understand his father’s concern, though. That line about the Karman Line being the “difference between being an earthling or an astronaut” is chilling enough without seeing the way he’s gritting his teeth in poor Penguin’s face. The double-page title spread is gorgeous, Bruce still doing his damnedest to regulate with the “Down. Now.” The following two-page fishing scene is a terrific piece of characterization even before that fantastic splash page to bring it all home. You’ve got to love Damian finally making it up on the Justice League’s satellite headquarters. The interaction with Superman is priceless. Does Shazam not have the secret-word transformation thing happening anymore? I thought that Damian was trying to trick him into saying his name and changing back to Billy, but then I turned the page and he was still “The Big Red Cheese.” I do love the panel with, “Yeah, so grateful he punched me in the jaw in front of everybody,” with Damian’s single raised eyebrow really selling the whole deal. Already can’t wait to see how it goes down next issue. This right here is twenty pages of perfection right up until the last word when the letterer forgets the apostrophe in “let’s,” but we’ll sure let that one slide.

BATGIRL #39 — Now, that Chiang variant cover is twisted and evil. Cameron Stewart continues to anchor this title, writing with Brendan Fletcher and providing breakdowns for Babs Tarr and Maris Wicks to work their magic on. This book really has some of the best-looking and most distinctive interiors on the rack today. I love that panel on Page Four with her hunched over up on the basketball goal. It’s a perfect microcosm of what this book does, embodying the Batman mythos while carving out its own unique place within them. And then on the next page, there’s terrific foreshadowing to the cliffhanger, that line of dialogue that Barbara walks in on about Riot Black getting rebooted and seeming like a totally different person. Hell, they even embolden “reboot.” Totally missed it the first time through, but it’s very catchable once you’ve seen how the issue ends. And I won’t spoil that last page, but that is certainly a hell of a way to get a bump on your SECRET ORIGINS sales. They’ve got my dollars, at least.

BATMAN ETERNAL #46 — Those Jae Lee covers are certainly distinctive! I usually hate it when anyone calls our hero “Bats,” but for some reason, it sounds totally appropriate coming out of Julia Pennyworth’s mouth. It must be her wonderful English accent. I love the page where Batman has visions of his potential successors. Good call, Tim Seeley and those four other writers, on nailing what makes that #666 Damian Batman the greatest to wear the cowl besides the original. “Is Batman eternal?” At last, we’re getting to it! I’m sorry to say that everyone on ARROW but the Asian couple mispronouncing Ra’s al-Ghul’s name is starting to infect me. Not cool. And Lord Death Man! Always a pleasure. It seems like we’ve had our last round of misdirection and will actually be gearing up to confront the Big Bad of this thing just any week now. Perhaps.

FUTURES END #42 — Oh good, I wasn’t ready for Ray Palmer to be toast, even five years from now. So, it appears that this version of Brainiac will have a great deal to do with dat old dang Convergence rearing its ugly head up from over yonder. I believe that we are going to see that cover of FLASH #123 and the JSA sitting around their table several times in the months to come. Some kind of happy resolution on that front. But I’m a little unclear on what Terry “did” to cause the deal with Brother Eye at the end. Possibly just fail in his mission, I guess? This issue was a bit of a bump up from what we’ve been getting lately, not so much water-treading.

FABLES #149 — All right, well yeah, I certainly had hopes, but Willingham was just fucking with us pretty hard, coasting for a few months and most of this issue, even, before hitting the gas right there in the final four pages. So, at long last, we’ve got our final bit of exposition flashed back, the full reason why it’s got to be Snow vs. Rose for all the power has been revealed and there’s nothing left but the making it to that final THE END. Which experience with this title suggests won’t be very final in any way, shape, or form. I like how Buckingham’s shot of Rose and Bigby making out in the forest on Page Thirteen is so evocative, Nimit Malavia pretty much exactly repaints that for the cover. Really going to miss this title. I wonder if I have time to power the whole thing through in the next month. Probably not if I’m going to rewatch all the MAD MEN as well, and that’s no choice at all.

BITCH PLANET #3 — This one is all right. A little boilerplate. I definitely feel like I know the character but didn’t find a reason to particularly care about her, which seems like kind of a waste of an issue, considering it’s a –centric devoted to her. Robert Wilson IV does fine work guesting on interiors. I found the backmatter more compelling than the issue itself, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Overall, this one isn’t that offensive but doesn’t really pull its weight for me in The Pull, pun honest-to-God not intended but left in for the sake of editorial integrity. Going to see if we can get something started next month when we return to the present, but this one is looming close to getting cut.

MPH #5 — A strong resolution to a mini-series that managed to remain compelling despite featuring characters that I never really managed to dial in to on any measureable level. I am a sucker for the superspeed, and that 11-page fight that took place in between the TICK and TOCK was a serious technical feat. Kudos to Duncan Fegredo for executing Millar’s inspired choreography. The twist at the end kind of borrows from the RED SON twist that Morrison gave Millar back when, but I didn’t mind. Overall, an entertaining read, though I would probably only roll in for the inevitable cinematic adaptation if Matthew Vaughan sees fit to stack it into his crowded slate.

SAVAGE DRAGON #202 — The sexual hijinx continue! And probably conclude for the most part, at least all the three-ways and the porn tape and that one four-way. College kids be crazy. Larsen escalates the deal substantially but then appears to most likely bring the arc to a close with a net-yield of would-be nemesis now waiting in the wings. This series continues to showcase strong narrative work by one-man-band Erik Larsen (aided and abetted by Chris Eliopolous on letters, but it’s Larsen’s show) and great fun all around.

SILVER SURFER #009 — The Galactus arc hits the turn here in its second act as our hero does his best to stop his former master from chowing down on the six billion souls on Newhaven, which is of course a pretty dicey endeavor considering the planet-devourer can take away the Power Cosmic as easily as he granted it to his first herald so long ago. Slott’s scripting remains pitch-perfect, and the Allreds continue to turn in beautiful pages. Norrin surfing the moon is a fantastic concept but Allred nails the imagery and staging to perfection.


UNCANNY X-MEN #031 — Well, huh. I can’t figure out what this cover has to do with anything at all, but other than that, this one right here is thunder. Bachalo is back going great guns with Antoino Fabela assisting him on color and, once again, no less than six inkers. I keep not being able to figure out how one guy can get so ahead of six. Maybe it would be one thing if he was doing loose loose work, but if that’s the case, these guys have done tremendous work tightening up the situation and making it look uniform. Massive resolution here as Bendis puts several genies back in the bottle, resurrecting a gang of beloved characters who of course had to come back but doing so in a way that didn’t feel like a cheat through the monumental circumstances that bring it about. Okay, and I’ve got to hit the SPOILER TAG here, but doesn’t this deal pretty much spell out how the whole run is going to end? Granted, I don’t recall the exact specifics of time travel rules that got laid out here when Beast tried to send the kids back early on, but what happens this issue proves that time is mutable and, at least via Eva Bell, events can be altered with no apparent consequence. So, can’t she just herd up all those teen X-Men and scoot them on back to #8 of the original run to fight Unus? No problem once we retrieve Teen Cyclops from making Star-Lord jealous by gallivanting through outer space with his not-dead daddy? It seems like kind of a simple fix to write in here near the very end, but I guess we’ll see how it all plays out. Bendis continues to do tremendous work with Eva Bell here. Rather than spread the love around the rest of the ensemble before he shuts it down, it looks like she’s just going to be the breakout star of his new roster, full stop. I was a fan of the backtalk she was giving Xavier last month and absolutely love the way that she dresses down Scott at the end of this issue. Terrific work, all around. Really going to miss this run when it’s over. This one and the guys on BATMAN AND ROBIN come really really close to the subtextual Nazis-vs-American-terrorist action that Morrison and the boys have going on.

Friday, February 20, 2015

2/11/15

BEST OF WEEK: TRANSFORMERS VS. G.I. JOE #5 — Well, Scioli keeps the thunder crackling, picking up right where he left off with last arc’s final page of Optimus Prime, Duke, and Snake Eyes tumbling unprotected into the seething blast of space-time. Once again, every single page is a symphony of licensed characters and blinding mad ideas supercolliding in distinct snapshots suggesting raging quantum foam if motion was only added. This double-page spread on Pages Two and Three is another hearkening back to how Kirby would just hammer you with that first page turn on every issue of his Fourth World Saga, but Scioli ups the ante here to a ridiculous extent, providing no less than thirteen panels inset against the monster splash of Trypticon vs Fortress Maximus as they lumber toward the sprawl of Metroplex. Then, you turn that page and get nothing less than a blue-skinned Zartan-in-disguise reveal, the most I have enjoyed that trick since Miller’s third issue of (HUNT) THE DARK KNIGHT way back almost thirty years ago with Old Bruce hollering about the Sebbin-Lebbin. The alternating question with Tomax and Xamot is classic and ridiculous. That Page Six flash to the damn Cybertron Viking Kirby Norse Gods rowing is insane. I don’t even know what it means, but it’s like my mind won’t fully let me process it or the white-hot truth will be too much to bear. And then you’ve got the damn Fortress Maximus advent calendar. As much love as this book received last year, it’s still not getting nearly enough praise. I mean, I could go through every single page expressing something I love about it and how it continually ups the ante on all that has come before, a streak that Scioli has kept going since the first FCDB issue last May. All the way through to Optimus Prime using his energon sword to slice through Ace’s Skystriker and the Coltonbolt satellites as he plunges down from orbit. This comic is everything that I ever hoped it can be and so much more.

ASTRO CITY #20 — Is that opening splash dialogue meta-commentary on corporate work-for-hire superhero gigs or just dialogue uttered in good fun by a fish man? Busiek and all of the usual delinquents continue to stretch out on this multi-part Quarrel arc, deepening her characterization through contrasting the way she treats poor MPH in a relationship as opposed to that scalawag Crackerjack, all in service of her undying obsession to train. Without powers, you can’t let up! The twist at the end is deftly executed. It seems inevitable in hindsight, but I never saw it coming because the creative team makes all of their foreshadowing work seem not like setting up a twist but just more details that flesh out this nuanced world. Almost twenty years in, and this is still one of the best books on the stand.  

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #7 — It keeps not going young Euless Boss’s way. He finally gets a season of Rebel football, and the damn Jasons blast through the whole blamed thing in a montage. He stands up to his no-good daddy, though. This issue doesn’t dig in quite as deeply as the past couple, but it still does what it’s supposed to. I wonder if this arc will end next issue, or if old Coach Boss will tip over into being our main character longer than that Earl Tubb. Latour’s red-dominated palette stands out this issue, a good fit, given this book’s content. It’s impressive that he’s cranking out full sequentials and color on a monthly gig, not even counting the fact that he’s cooking up the soon-to-be unmissable adventures of Spider-Gwen, the Sensational Character Find of 2014!

SATELLITE SAM #11 — Well, it’s back to business as usual here, so there’s a bit of coitus, a bit more drinking before noon, and a whole bunch of shit-talk, all delivered in glorious Chaykin black and white. I think there are four more of these left, which is probably a good thing. It almost feels like this one is overstaying its welcome already in terms of character development and plot advancement. But damn, is that uncolored Chaykin art beautiful.

MORNING GLORIES #43 — Why can’t this book just be THE ADVENTURES OF CASEY & IKE? I would be all over that. Not that the Abraham flashback isn’t riveting in its own nasty way. And of course Ike wrote the books. I really should have seen that coming at this point. Lots of callbacks here to #25, I bet an infographic that visually depicts the links and references between issues of this series would just blind you. It’s funny that Ike explicitly mentions a tesseract here, there is definitely an extra-dimensional component to this narrative that makes you feel like we’re just getting a glimpse at these little corners folding down where we can see them, but that the bulk of the narrative exists in a higher dimension that we can’t quite understand. At least until some issue in the late nineties, one hopes!

BATMAN ETERNAL #45 — This opening scene, man, I have no idea how last issue ended. Weekly series fatigue. And oh good, more Jim Corrigan and Batwing. Don’t care, bro! We can certainly do without such scathing commentary as, “Gotham’s getting weird,” Jim Corrigan. And having Stephanie say the same thing the very next scene is not exactly Alan-Moore-level business. I am a fan of further development of the Bruce/Julia relationship. That is worth pages any time. And I’m pleased about the new antagonist reveal on the final page. Hoping this ramps up into greatness as we hit the home stretch, here.

FUTURES END #41 — Ha, Adam West! If all of this upcoming convergence brings the ’66 business screaming into the multiverse, then it will be worth any amount of horror committed under the specter of red skies. But that is some cold-blooded sterilization type business with Katar! All those dead guys on the first page with Batman, Tim, and Plastique really look like S.H.I.E.L.D. agents (not the ones on TV, kids!). But Tim threatening to kill Plastique in the elevator if she calls him Robin again seems like a bit of an extreme reaction. And that is a grim last couple of pages. Futures end, y’all.  

STAR WARS: DARTH VADER #1—This team had some serious heavy lifting to do, coming up on the heels of Aaron/Cassaday/Martin’s near-flawless opening salvo from the flagship launch. They’re also a little bit hamstrung by the series conceit. Rather than have the full ensemble, the, ah, somewhat unsympathetic Dark Lord of the Sith is now our lead. And we’ve got to care about that. Which Gillen gets us to do for the most part. He’s got to lean on a lot of fanboy love to make it work, though. The first sequential page is an homage to the opening scene of JEDI, which is an element we’re seeing probably too much of already here in the first issues. These creators have got to shed their desire to take us to Cloud City so that we can see what a scoundrel Lando is again or back to the Mos Eisley cantina for just one more drink and dismemberment in favor of providing actual new material. The art is out-of-the-park terrific, though. Sal Larocca has come a very very long way since rolling with Fraction on the monthly IRON MAN gig. I mean, he almost outdoes Cassaday here, it’s not too controversial to say. However, ultimately, it’s hard to become too invested in the stakes of a scene in Jabba’s palace in which the three major players that we care about, Vader, Jabba, and Boba Fett, are in no danger whatsoever because they’ve still got beats in the original trilogy to hit. The latter two hadn’t even yet showed up on camera when this takes place! The flashback scene in the Emperor’s throne room on Coruscant does a nifty little job of connecting this one back up to REVENGE OF THE SITH in a way that’s organic and not as forced as the other references to the original trilogy. And Vader hiring Fett and a craaaazy Wookie bounty hunter to find Luke and get to the bottom of the deal with the Emperor’s new confidante sounds interesting enough, but that whole set-up feels like it’s going to once again be hamstrung by timeline. Can Luke even meet Fett this early, really? The week after it turns out that he first swung his dad’s old lightsaber at the big bad Darth Vader? We’ll see. Not completely sold on the long game with this script, but the art is stellar. That last shot is tons of payoff for folks who haven’t scoured all reference to Hayden Christiansen from their memories, but there probably should have been at least some barely-vague throwaway line in Jabba’s palace about how Vader doesn’t really like Sandpeople for some reason.


ALL-NEW X-MEN #036 — What a magnificent opening splash. Mahmud Asrur and Marte Gracia produce stunning work. After presumably a trade paperback’s worth of running around, all of our Teen X-Men are reunited and manage to hack their way back to good old 616, but not before Teen Jean plants a chaste kid of fan-favorite Miles Morales’s masked face. Oh, when are they going to do that on the big screen, everybody? Bendis once again milks the assorted doppelganger interaction for maximum comedy. But oh no, now even Teen Hank is growing disgruntled with his current situation. It is never never a good deal when one of those Beasts starts trying to fix things with science. That’s how we got here in the first place. This is the first issue that I’ve read since news broke that this monster Bendis run will be over soon, and I am already a little sad, knowing that events have just about stopped careening all around taking us who-knows-where and are instead gearing up for the grand finale, which should of course be one hell of a thing.

Friday, February 13, 2015

2/4/15

MIRACLEMAN #15 — And so at last we come to the end of Moore/Totelben’s storied run on this title. I expected Marvel’s reprint of this one to kick up a bit more of a fuss, presuming that this is lots of folks’ first time to read it like me, but maybe everyone who cares has already tracked it down over the years. This is the climax, bloody death and devastation on a scale and at such detail that it must have certainly been of a revelation in 1988, pun intended. Kid Miracleman returns and just absolutely wrecks anything and everyone in London in gratuitous and absolutely horrible ways. Totelben’s nightmarish depictions of graphic violence are unparalleled. The resolution to the ultimate conundrum of how to stop Kid Miracleman for good is completely expected but no less tragic, in large part due to Totelben’s staging. The last three panels of Page Eighteen are haunting, that smile on Johnny’s face. And then our hero crying his eyes out on the last page really just cuts it out of you. I’m not sure if Moore had already fallen out with DC by this point, but I suspect that he had, and this was him, deftly and quite dramatically slamming the door on all of the Silver Age wonder that had first fired his imagination as a boy. It is a haunting deconstruction of superheroes in the real world every bit as profound as WATCHMEN though lacking the latter’s sublime and elegant balance of form and content in the panelwork. This is a terribly sad place to leave off a run and laid me pretty low the first time through. I am very glad that we have Gaiman of all people in the queue for next month to steer us back in the direction of hope. Which, at this point, would really be any direction at all. We have bottomed out at the absolute South Pole of crippling sadness, is what I’m trying to say, and there is no direction to go but up.

ANNIHILATOR #5 — Morrison/Irving find a way to somehow ratchet up the manic madness of this thing a couple of notches higher. The in-script sections are certainly becoming more insane. This is veering into some heady hard science-fiction zones that Morrison hasn’t really explored since finally pulling that pin on THE INVISIBLES. Everybody’s in place, we’re back at the haunted house on the sinkhole, Max Nomax is on the verge of curing death, Ray Spass is having an aneurysm or some shit while on the cusp of finally finishing his grand and glorious screenplay. And Frazer Irving’s art has everyone looking absolutely terrifying, even the nice people. I’m just kidding, there are no nice people in Hollywood. Next month can’t come too soon.

NAMELESS #1 — Strong work from all parties. Burnham and Fairbairn actually do most of the heavy lifting here as Morrison doesn’t give us that much to dial into in terms of character hook here this first issue, but we’re happy to go along for the ride with such beautiful artwork. The last couple of pages just barely explain this cover image that we’ve been seeing for months; it looks like Brother Morrison is conjuring up the serious sigil-magic once again. If he ever really stopped. We’ve got our mysterious lead, we’ve got our extinction-level event to prevent, we’ve got out “Strawberry Fields Forever” quote to mull over for another month. Next issue should be roaring great guns from the get-go.

SAGA #25 — All right, dude calling out the number “twenty-five” here is some pretty weak-ass meta-sauce for the first-page gag. I have not gotten more acclimated nor appreciative of the modern-day slang, such as when our narrator says that everyone was “poor as shit” or “had skin in the game” or especially a fucking “spoiler alert.” Jesus wept. I don’t want it to, but that business just rips me up out of the story every single time. “They weren’t degenerates, they were actors,” is a terrific line, though. The old BKV can still get some in there! I just pine for the days of cross-country hijinx with that Yorick & Ampersand & 355.

VELVET #9 — This one’s solid enough but felt a bit like filler. At least David Carradine drops by to drink some liquor and throw in a John Thomas reference free of charge. The cliffhanger leaves a bit to be desired in terms of stakes. This one is not really keeping the momentum of the first arc in singles.

WYTCHES #4 — The noose tightens as Charlie struggles to help his daughter in multiple time-frames, and we get a little bit more explanation about the mechanics of the whole “pledged is pledged” deal. Probably enough explanation, for my money. A little bit goes a long way in matters such as these. Pretty solid escalation in the cliffhanger, as well. Jock & Hollingsworth continue to blow it up on the interiors, and Snyder takes us on a trip down memory lane to his first encounter with horror at a summer camp when he was nine, which of course involved EYES OF THE DRAGON as the gateway. Man, that was everybody’s first Stephen King book, seems like.

EAST OF WEST #17 — Oh, Mister President Samuel Clemens, it is your italicized and emboldened pontificating that I like the most. We jump around the ensemble here a little bit more than we have lately. A quick manga-fueled romp in Jordan before checking in with the genius and extremely socially awkward son of Death, winding up with the entity himself and his one true love, Xiaolin, climaxing with a beautiful 16-panel Dragotta/Martin page that juxtaposes love/lust and violence. And then Hickman slams the gate shut on all of that shut with an out-of-nowhere final caption that is more than a little heartbreaking. These characters still aren’t quite breathing with beating hearts for me quite yet, but I do care about them at least.  

AVENGERS #041—Now, I know some folks who were actually pissed off that they just recycled Hitch’s THE ULTIMATES #1 cover here, but I found it pretty funny. I dialed out of the Ultimate Universe after the tragic first issue of Loeb’s ULTIMATUM abortion, so I have no idea what the deal with this Reed is, but I assume the other three are dead and he’s just a super-villain-in-secret now, which works well enough for me, particularly if he’s been killing other worlds all clandestine-like. 67 is a lot. Oh, and what a turnaround on the fate of Namor. I have to say, I bought it last month. It’s a bit of a cheat, walking back something that we saw on-panel last issue. All of those images were just like in T’Challa’s head? I wish they just would have not shown us those three panels of Namor lying there all stabbed and pissed off with the T’Challa dialogue captions, just keep everything off-panel once T’Challa and Black Bolt bail, and that would have not been a cheat. I was able to read what Black Bolt said this time, so that was fun. It will definitely be an interesting dynamic to see what happens next with evil teen Reed and the not-so-ended Cabal.

STAR WARS #2 — This issue had quite a sophomore slump to overcome after that slam-dunk first blast, but I am thrilled to report that this is enough action, excitement, and wonder to do the job. We understandably skip the first three pages of titles from last issue and go straight to the crawl before picking up where we left off with Luke and Vader, whose lightsabers clash for the first time at the bottom of the first page of sequentials. Hardcore purists might balk at the retcon of placing this first encounter before EMPIRE, and they’ve got a point, but as long as such a thing is in service of a gripping story, then I’m okay with it, as is the case here. Vader just starting to recognize his old lightsaber is amazing. Of course, Vader is more than a match for Luke in these first weeks after The Battle of Yavin and is just on the verge of killing him before Han and the gang stomp through the roof with an AT-AT, naturally. All the characterization is perfect, Han & Leia bickering, Threepio’s absolute ineptitude, the whole deal. I can’t decide if Luke’s line about bull’s-eyeing womp rats is too precious for its own good, is almost my only hitch. Vader using the Force on the walker before Leia opens fire on him is lovely. This one rockets to a close fast, which is a good choice. It’s better not to string us along with some five-issue written-for-the-trade arc, just get the next thing going. Vader’s last line is also maybe a little bit too fanboyish for my taste. It would be better for Aaron to just write quality new dialogue rather than shoehorn in a bunch of favorite quotes from the original trilogy, particularly when these characters haven’t even uttered those famous lines yet in this timeline. Cassaday/Martin completely knock it out of the park once again. Hope they’re staying on for another issue or two. Minor dialogue quibbles aside, this one is still tremendous fun all around.

HAWKEYE #021 — First of all, actually, only of all, I must confess that for whatever misunderstanding and Internet-comprehension-related difficulties, I somehow thought that this was the final issue of the run, and so kept making excuses not to hit it until three in the morning of actually the Wednesday after it came out. Because I have so much trouble saying goodbye to things that I love and was just in denial? Active denial. But it seemed a blasphemy to hold it out past a whole entire other week. And so of course, every single Aja page assumed so much more weight and import, this was The Last Time and it almost didn’t even matter exactly how it all went down, I was just so grateful for the ride all this time, etc, etc. But this misconception elevated that final joyful Pizza Dog panel right up way past the sublime when I realized that apparently there’s one more of these things still on the way. I don’t care if it takes another year. I just hope Clint makes up with Kate. And maybe even kisses her. He’s such a doof.

(BEST OF WEEK: I kind of want to give it to HAWKEYE, but then there’s also STAR WARS hanging out, and it’s really about a tie for me between those two, but then you’ve got two Morrison originals plus that insane Moore swan song up top. Final verdict: this week is too close to call!)

ACTION COMICS #39 — I am really not getting tired of bearded Superman, but organic-steel-bearded Superman is even more fun. And then a line like, “We’re just MORTAL—eventually, you’re going to lose us all,” has to come along and wreck the good vibes. The one-page flashback to the aftermath of the Kents’ death at the Lang household was sweet too, and but then, there was nothing but wreckage as bleak and desolate as the day is long until the simplicity of the sweet syllables, “Ah, Lana,” save us all. Even from the sound-effect on that last panel, I hope.

DETECTIVE COMICS #39 — So, it’s Harley Quinn variant cover month, apparently? That really confused me at first. I got the ACTION, DETECTIVE, and GRAYSON ones and thought it was some sort of cross-over at first. People really like her! But the issue at hand. The art continues to be absolutely terrific. Buccellato’s work on colors, in particular, is soaring and has never looked better. Scriptwise, I am not a fan of Batman and Bullock just saying that the unfortunately named Yip did it on Page Two. That’s a pretty crucial plot-point to just exposit right away after last month’s cliffhanger. You know what, though? These guys can draw snow falling like nobody’s business.

GRAYSON #7 — It is always a little bit of a shame when we pull a fill-in for Brother Janin. I would not mind waiting for the great goods, DC Sales Force! This Mooney guy’s work here is a little bit stiffer than I remember seeing on ETERNAL a few weeks back. Which can be all right in other situations, but Janin has us conditioned to expect this living breathing hyper-fluid super-dynamic really badass photo-realistic kind of Neal Adams/Alan Davis type of thing. Oh, and Hitch. I wouldn’t mind so much if Midnighter would just quit asking for a Door to remind me how it can be. I kept thinking that this Clutch guy was supposed to embody the band Clutch and having to remind myself that this was not the case. Yes, I’m a New World Samurai. The page with the kiss is of course the most fun of the issue, but as great as the “clean thoughts” reference was probably intended to be, all I could think was, “Didn’t Alan Moore script that line for Jason?” Silly reboots! Probably hacking away at continuity is never the call. But what is Fleischer doing here at last? The Sensational Character Find of 2015 is here! And but that last page is the first serious misfire of this book. “A better world.” A better world?!? I’m pretty sure that directly referencing the initial Ellis/Hitch THE AUTHORITY arc is only going to make even this terrific series suffer by comparison, but for God’s sake, don’t half-ass it and tweak “finer” over to “better.” I’m all for spending a little bit more time with our antagonist to add character depth, but it’s been a long time since he was a member of one of the most influential teams of the modern age.

BATMAN ETERNAL #44 — That is one clean EVS cover! And solid art from Aco. Who- or whatever an Aco is. The names of people, these days. I love the map with the requisite creator love (SEE: Janson Building and K. Jones Convention Center), but I’m not sure what set of circumstances makes “th” acceptable to place after “433” instead of “rd.” Good call on punching Stephanie in the face, Harper. This is not what all the people who have been clamoring for her return have been pining for, I am certain. So, apparently Caracas is a real place in Venezuela. I had a series of synapse firings that caused me to initially read that as Carcosa, and I got all messed up again. “Expecting Gotham police to stop Batman”? You certainly should have known damn well better, Achilles Milo. Come on, now!

FUTURES END #40 — Wildfire’s “Humph!” is silly but great fun nonetheless. I also dig Bruce giving Tim shit about responsibility. Also, Katar calling Ray “Dr. Genius.” This one is really chock-full of the zingers. What a last page, though, man. Zircher tears it up once again.  

AMERICAN VAMPIRE: SECOND CYCLE #6 — It’s been quite a little while since the first arc of this second volume. And there was a decent enough gap between that and the original run that I have forgotten most of the ancillary characters and their lineage. Like, I remember that Felicia Book maybe had a dad who was a big deal in an earlier arc? The only ones I still really know about are of course Skinner and I’m pretty sure that the female lead is Pearl/Dolly, our initial protagonist from the very first arc. Maybe I’ve been glamoured by one of these things? At any rate, there’s not just a lot of action in this issue, which is a bit of a risk returning from such a hiatus, but Snyder gives us enough big answers about overall mythology that it feels more like a creepy story at the campfire than the massive info-dump that it also is. And what a set-up! I am all in on “Vampires in Space.” Every time! Albuquerque’s work continues to be a thing of total sequential glory. Bring on #2 right away, please.

SUPERMAN #38 — Well, this was certainly explosive enough. Is this the first issue of The New 52 to actually slip through into the following month? A little bit embarrassing after that “January 2015” ad ran in all of the issues last month. Some folks might kvetch about how many pages are taken up with just exploding solar flare madness, but they made a big enough deal of the oh-my-gosh New Power that I would have been disappointed with anything less. I’m not as much a fan of the resolution to this arc’s climax as I am the epilogue. Of COURSE he wakes up in the Bat-Cave. Where else would be the default facility for recuperation? The absolute best part though is the hope that our hero inspires in Jimmy. In this day and age, I am totally okay with Johns just straight up spelling it out and telling us that the reason that our guy is the first and still-greatest hero is that he inspires. He creates hope. Give that to me every Wednesday night, man. We can all do good. We can all be better. We can all of us fly.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

1/28/15

BEST OF WEEK: THE MULTIVERSITY GUIDEBOOK #1 — This was devastating. I was expecting like a straight dossier-type book more in the vein of WHO’S WHO IN THE DC UNIVERSE but should have known better. Never mind what’s happening in a couple of months, the convergence is right here! We open with a shot of that scariest Lecter-type Sivana from THUNDERWORLD right before he turns his flamethrower on a cute li’l version of J’onn J’onzz from Earth-42. Nice touch for Morrison to have Li’l J’onn’s last word be calling out his wife’s name just the way he did way back in FINAL CRISIS #1. Still so cute, even in his death throes! There’s wonderful tension here with this li’l Batman’s cuteness thrown into stark juxtaposition with the mortal stakes that have suddenly erupted on his earth. I missed it on the first read-through, but that Lecter-Sivana has a copy of this very guidebook in his pocket rolled up in his pocket there on the first page. There’s a weird deal on the third page where Batman tells Li’l Hawkman and Green Arrow, who are all that’s left of this earth’s League, to retreat and then they just immediately disappear without comment, never to be seen on-panel again. And not like disappear-in-a-flash-of-light disappear, just suddenly gone. It’s a little abrupt. That’s all right, though, because we get the Atomic Knight Batman from Earth-17. I read his specialized dialect with a Scottish accent. Marcus To does really terrific sequential work in this sequence. He’s leveled up his situation a bit since doing fill-in work a couple years back over on THE FLASH. It isn’t long, though, before our heroes run across one of those picture books, and who amongst us wouldn’t crack open some random comic that we find strewn about a laboratory containing a word-controlled transmatter array? This leads, gloriously, into a tale of Earth-51, which is apparently just straight Earth-Kirby. Kamandi and Tuftan have a new friend who turns out to be a BiO.M.A.C., and the confederacy stumbles across the empty tomb of Darkseid, which is as grim of a deal as it sounds, footprints emerging from the grave and all. Paolo Siqueira absolutely murders the interiors on this section, to the point that I was positive that Ryan Sook was reprising his run on the character from WEDNESDAY COMICS. Oh, and I forgot to mention that Atomic Knight Batman says that he came from the Dark Tower of Luthex and then Kamandi is looking for a girl named Flower who apparently causes roses to grow in her wake. These are pretty much direct references to Stephen King’s THE DARK TOWER cycle of stories that takes up around half of his total written output in the past forty years. An entirely different multiverse! But back to Kamandi, it looks like Highfather and the rest of the New Gods are watching his efforts and talking about how dire the situation is with multiple Darkseids rampaging throughout the multiverse. Barda’s comment about all of these worlds hosting multiple versions of the New Gods seems to indicate that these right here are the folks who are actually on New Genesis in the Map of the Multiverse, but that the crew who’s in the Didio/Giffen book FOREVER MAN AND THE INFINITY PEOPLE are just Earth-0 analogues? I think that’s what it means, anyway. Of course, Kamandi and his crew happen upon the equivalent of cave paintings, which takes us down another level of fiction into a six-page recap of all DC multiversal crossover crises ever, beginning, as it must, with good old Barry Allen. That first page that opens with AND THEN! and introducing Monitor-Mind the Over-Void is some pretty heady business. Morrison has done incredible work drawing a through-line through all of the multiversal DC insanity that has stacked up through the decades all the way back to the simple fact that Barry Allen took on the mantle of The Flash because he grew up reading Jay Garrick’s adventures. The simple conceit of comic books as not only idea-delivery mechanisms but portals between alternate universes is brilliant. It’s a hell of a montage with a narrative tone that doesn’t mind a couple of in-jokes. Labeling the 1986 post-Crisis DC Universe “post-traumatic” is just funny. And we follow that up with the nineties silliness. “And so it was reality changed AGAIN. And changed AGAIN.” And I love how Morrison slides Hypertime right back into the mythology in a manner that borders on sleight-of-hand with all of this other insane shit going on. “And The Flash--always there at the electric heart of EVERY momentous transformation,” is a really nice turn of phrase.

Another weird deal with that first page back in the Batmen of Two Worlds story. The Li’l Batman busts out LI’L GOTHAM #12 and says that it “tried to warn us of an approaching cosmic invader.” However. I went back through the issue and could find no evidence of such a thing. But also, that blurb on the cover of the issue that he holds up isn’t on the comic published on our world here on Earth-33. The book that we got contains Thanksgiving and Christmas stories while the blurb is Halloween-themed, which more than implies alternate interior content. Also, Batman refers to the issue as “the latest” while in this world, it was also the final issue. And “local multiverse?!?” Does that imply an omniverse?



And but then the actual guidebook itself. A quick paragraph and team shot of 45 out of the 52 Earths. This is a lot to take in, of course. A few bullet-points:

-Not having Jim Lee do the Earth-0 art, or even re-purposing an old pin-up, seems ridiculous. The smirk that Brett Booth gives Superman, the current in-canon Man of Steel, for God’s sake, is wrong wrong wrong.
-Gary Frank & Nathan Fairbairn are monsters on that Earth-1 shot. Just perfect.
-The Earth-3 shot of the CSA looks nothing like any Finch/Oback art that I’ve ever seen.
-Juan Jose Ryp did a pretty good job copping a Quitely vibe for the crew of Earth-4. Though it really is a shame not to have Quitely, of all people. Calling The Question a “rogue crimebuster” is an amusing tip of the cap to the source material by The Original Writer.
-As much as I adore Cameron Stewart doing layouts on his new BATGIRL book, I would be more than happy for Babs Tarr to just provide full art and leave Stewart time to bang out that THUNDERWORLD series that everyone wants him and Morrison to get on. Please!
-The Just Imagine Stan Lee one-shots get Earth-6? That’s a bit surprising.
-Is that a typo in the Earth-7 write-up, saying that “the sole survivor of Earth-4 is THUNDERER, an incarnate storm god.”? Got to be a typo, that would be a really strange place to put that information, even for this series.
-That’s the Tangent Universe on Earth-9? My multiversal DC knowledge over the years is not as sharp as I might have thought.
-Earth-10, that’s the Jim Lee book for next month? But we saw this Overman guy bak in SUPERMAN BEYOND 3D, right? Having an Underwaterman is hilarious.
-Giving the Beyond universe its own Earth-12 instead of just stating that it’s in the future of Earth-0 is an interesting move. So, the past of Earth-12 is where all those fucking awesome Timm cartoons took place?
-And wow, that cosmic grail that Atomic Knight Batman’s mentioned is all that’s left of Earth-15 after Superboy-Prime’s rampage back in INFINITE CRISIS. Comics are crazy, y’all.
-Earth-16. While I enjoyed the hell out of that issue, these kids really do come off like the douchbags they are when cast in juxtaposition to all these other folks.
-Where’s the Earth-17 one-shot? Why can’t THE MULTIVERSITY be like an eight-year event?
-It’s a shame they’ll never be able to lure Mignola back for an Earth-19 one-shot.
-Of course Cooke’s THE NEW FRONTIER deserves its own Earth-21. Nice contrast to see that one hanging out next to Waid/Ross’s KINDGOM COME. I might have positioned those splitting the whole deal right down the middle at Earth-26 and -27.
-Is the Earth-23 Bruce Wayne’s identity Amazing Man? Why is he still white? I want an ongoing with this Earth more than most.
-Is Morrison going to pay off these “7 Unknown Worlds created by an Inner Chamber of Monitor Magi for a mysterious purpose” here in a just a couple months with the end of MULTIVERSITY, or is he seeding business for the rest of the decade and beyond?
-The Unjustice League of Unamerica are horrifying. Green Lantern’s slouch possibly most of all.
-This Ultra Comics character is a native of Earth-33, that’s an interesting new wrinkle, there.
-Earth-34, man, I’m familiar with most of these other ones but have no idea about these jokers.
-So, those comics that Barry Allen was reading back in 1956 were depicting adventures from Earth-38 instead of Earth-2 in this revised system of numerology? I think?
-“Repeated use of this technology might be addictive and ruinous,” is a terrific line from Earth-39.
-And wow, that Savage Dragon analogue rates an entire Earth-41? Morrison must be a fan. How could he not be?
-Could the great and terrible secret hidden on Earth-42 be that they are, in fact, robots created by The Gentry and controlled by The Empty Hand? And doesn’t The Empty Hand belong to Krona? I thought that was a well-established deal.
-Of course Kelley Jones had to draw Earth-43, but holy shit, screaming vampire Batman is terrifying. Pretty much one sentence is all you need to accompany that horror. It would have been funny if there was no copy at all, just that image. You can hear that vampire shriek all the way from three Earths over.  
-Bring Duncan Rouleau back for an Earth-44 series! I just finally made it to those eight issues of METAL MEN he did a few years back and they were stellar.
-Cool to see Superdoomsday positioned on Earth-45. I really did enjoy that ACTION COMICS #9.
-And wow, the alternate world from the Timm JUSTICE LEAGUE series when Superman avenged Flash’s murder by killing President Luthor even rates an Earth-50. That’s a deep cut, right there.
-And Earth-51 is indeed Earth-Kirby. Maybe Paolo Siqueira should start drawing a nothing-but-Kirby series set on this Earth. Didio can write it, even.

And we’re finally through all of that. Very comprehensive! I suspect that the first issue of THE MULTIVERSITY is going to make a whole gang more sense now, at least those crowd scenes. Of course the sky is red, Tuftan! “We all got drawn here, just like you,” is another classic line. The final couple of pages seem to confirm my suspicion about the cute little Earth-42 heroes. This was really such an incredible reading experience, the levels of fiction trapdooring down, us reading about Earth-42 Batman reading about Earth-51 Kamandi reading the cave paintings about the history of the multiverse. This issue is a hyperdense microcosm of everything that makes the DC Universe great. 

BATMAN #38 — Boy, that Scott Snyder likes him some mythology building around those old Gotham neighborhoods. It’s a cool element of a monster run like he’s embarked upon. The reader’s eyes are going to glaze over pretty quickly if you go on and on and on about all of this hundred-year-old architecture and dynastic history, but sprinkling in little bits here and there goes a really long way. And that is a stark way to kick things off here, Jim Gordon takes out the ax that the Joker buried in his chest and wields it at Batman while grinning manically. That is a terrific page with the five panels zooming in on Joker swimming through uncharted waters. Capullo/Miki/Plascencia continue to be basically unstoppable on this title. Oh, and on the previous page, it’s very cool to hear Bruce appropriate Clark’s “There’s always a way” catchphrase from ALL-STAR SUPERMAN and tag “out” onto the ending. Really nice little touch there. And then we just get plunged headfirst into this deal with the jellyfish guy, Paul Dekker, who isn’t afraid to get totally meta on his third page with the “doesn’t feel like a Batman story anymore” comment. Snyder does terrific work stitching Vandal Savage to Ra’s al-Ghul’s Lazarus Pits to The Demon to our own charming White Duke of Death. It’s starting to be a shame that this run is in monthly continuity, as this is really shaping up into a potentially very excellent Last Batman Story. And what a hell of a last page. It makes me afraid that Snyder/Capullo are going to bail pretty soon. The stakes have never been higher and they seem to be circling back around to where the run began. Crushing. As for the backup, it’s once again a bit anti-climactic after the main feature but perfectly respectable when taken on its own merits. You’ve got to love it any time that Sam Kieth is drawing some Batman.

GOTHAM ACADEMY #4 — Kerschl continues to blow it up on art. The acting with his characters’ facial expressions is, if anything, an improvement on his previous terrific work. The pages came through a bit dark overall for my taste. Of course, that’s a solid way to evoke the mood and atmosphere that this title is going for, but it was hard for me to make out the action on some of the pages. Cloonan & Fletcher continue to strike a great balance doling out hints on long-term mysteries like Olive’s lost summer while advancing the narrative in palpable ways every month. Though I have to say, I hope that that isn’t going to be the end of Millie Jane’s ghost. The interpersonal relationships drive this story, as they should, but big moments like the splash on the next to last page certainly don’t hurt. Recommended for Bat-fans of all ages.

BATMAN ETERNAL #43 — DC poached the LaFuente from the Marvel! It’s almost always the other way around. He sure does a terrific job throughout. Opening with the aftermath of rescuing Stephanie very much confused me, I was positive that I had just spaced on the rescue last week. Weekly series are hard! Where FUTURES END feels like it’s losing momentum, this one is picking up steam as our guy dumps Stephanie in Harper’s lap and they totally bond over the fact that Kingpin Selina doesn’t have buttons on her shirt. Which actually sounds awful but plays well.

FUTURES END #39 — Man, those first four pages with Firestorm aboard the satellite felt like eight. Rapidly running out of fucks to give for this storyline. “All eight-year-olds are vindictive” is a good line. I am okay with burning an entire page on the gin gag, that’s about right. But you can’t really use the phrase “take Manhattan” without evoking the Muppets, so that’s probably not how you want to set up a bad guy’s scary-evil plan. But good on Constantine for still smoking! I’ve never heard of this Stephen Thompson, but he turns in some decent pages. Nothing too flashy, and a couple of the Superman faces look pretty rushed (that’s like the last thing you ought to rush in a crowded ensemble like this, I would think), but overall, solid work.

INFINITY MAN AND THE FOREVER PEOPLE #7 — The Daniel Hdr draws pretty faces, but I sure do wish that Giffen was on interiors, given that our time with this book is far too short. I dig that opening splash of Sad Mark Moonrider on the beach in his New Year’s hat. Big Bear’s Kirby-inflected thoughts on vibrational alignment in the New Year are spot-on and a pleasure to read. Next issue is “Resolutions,” does that mean we’re one more and done? Man, I was hoping that O.M.A.C. would show up in these pages and then Scott Free & Barda could do a quick guest spot and spinoff into their own book, then maybe even Jimmy Olson could start cruising around in a hot new Miracle Machine or something. We need more Kirby in the world, not less! That is a universal axiomatic truth as old as the seething “Big Bang” itself!

THE UNWRITTEN: APOCALYPSE #12 — And so we come to another THE END of another beloved Vertigo series. I have enjoyed the ride along the way, and Carey/Gross/Chuckry do a very elegant job of sticking this landing, which had to be comparable to actually harpooning that white whale, as many rules and wrinkles as they have stacked up for themselves all along the way. Wilson retreating to write the entire finale is, of course, the only thing that makes sense, as is Tom’s final Jonahesque sacrifice down the gullet of that Moby Dick. The farewell between Lizzie and him carried as much poignance as it needed to, but it was the aftermath, the epilogues for each character, that really sold this ending for me. The agent not going for Wilson’s manuscript rings so true, and the misery on Wilson’s face is very deserved. No redemption for you, sir, certainly not. It is nice to see Savoy and Lizzie actually find their happy endings. Pauly “Mr. Bun” Bruckner, even more so. I appreciated the one-panel shots of various other members of the ensemble, but we had to go out with Wilson in what turns out to be this unresolved and actually really unsettling last shot that feels just perfect. There are many more stories left to be told, always, and that is the best truest ending that we will ever, or should ever, get.

FABLES #148 (one week late, thank you, Diamond) — Well, once again, this one’s not that satisfying of a read in singles. It’s apparent why we’re suddenly having an extended flashback to the tale of Snow & Rose’s Mother & All Her Sisters, but it’s more than a little late in the game to suddenly be taking up the majority of the issue with this business. I mean, this is the next-to-next-to-last issue, and most of this is dedicated to a character whose first appearance is in this very issue. That plays a little lopsided, no? Especially for someone like Willingham, who has demonstrated such a mastery of the form all along the way. So, we learn part of the story of the girls’ mother, but not even that gets resolved, we check in on Lancelot and Brandish for a page, that’s not resolved, then Snow has a bad dream and then flies away. Great art, as always, but kind of a frustrating issue again. Surely, the business will start smashing down next month. Surely.

UNCANNY X-MEN #030 — Well now, oh my stars and garters! Our Mr. Bendis is certainly hitting the acceleration at this point! That is a very tense conversation between the late Charles Xavier (c. vol. 1 #5, I believe I read somewhere?) and our Eva Bell. Xavier’s “I am so offended by you being here. You’ve ruined my life,” is so perfectly in character, it hurts. I love how Eva just drops it on him like a dime, the “this is the other Charles Xavier I’ve heard about.” And Matthew Malloy trying to resurrect Scott & Illyana from dusty skeletons is certainly a stark enough B-plot before he just takes out Emma, too? How is Bendis going to reset this business? Not much is crazier than that last page, though. I haven’t heard how much longer this run is supposed to go, but it can’t be much more. We’re running out of room to escalate.

UNCANNY AVENGERS #1 — I don’t knooooow, man, the first volume of this series started out slinging such dynamite with Cassaday/Martin and the Red Skull eating Charles Xavier’s brains or whatever, and then Remender managed to sustain it for all those issues and escalating arcs, and it was better than any proper Marvel event, only as soon as it bloomed into a proper Marvel event, that AXIS just wasn’t as much fun, and here we are in the afterflow of that, such as it is. It’s not offensive, but this feels like just a random grab-bag of more folks flying off to save Wanda yet again, and winding up on Counter-Earth is not that compelling of a deal. I’m not in the zone of considering dropping it yet, but I hope that Remender was being a scamp and holding back quite a bit in this issue that he’s going to lay on us ASAP. It’s certainly always a pleasure to hear Rogue call someone “Sugah,” I will say, but that’s not really enough to justify cover price.

NEW AVENGERS #029 — Huuuuh, I didn’t even realize that the cover contains a quasi-spoiler about not only the end of this issue but maybe potentially also what’s going on with the returning character’s true allegiance? Wacky times. There is a massive payoff in this one as a character last referenced in conversation waaaaaaay back in #008 finally shows up brings some friends. This is another issue of a lot of heroes and not-so-heroes-any-more standing around talking, but once again, Hickman’s done so much to set it up and has so many massive plot points knocking on the interdimensional wormhole that it’s all compelling as hell. The air of finality in Reed & T’Challa’s one-page conversation is chilling and really just quite sad. Crazy news about so many universes suddenly winking out of existence, but it does raise the stakes quite dramatically. This goes quite some way to potentially setting up SECRET WARS. We know that there needs to be a Battleworld on the horizon, and it’s getting closer every day. For all of his great work, Bendis’s greatest flaw is that he occasionally pushes things to a really interesting point and then the next month just knocks it out by flash-forwarding and giving us resolution via exposition. Here, Hickman drops the opposite of that with a two-page six-panel montage in which the Illuminati crew relates what could have been a year’s worth of stories just as fast as they can (okay, six months’ worth of stories at this publishing rate). Really. In two pages and six panels, we have (deep breath) T’Challa, Reed, Hank, and maybe Shuri using a cosmic cube to fucking create a new planet to use as an exodus world for the entire 616 Earth. Then, that goes south and they lose the cube. Then, Hulk and Reed and T’Challa parley with Galactus and a couple of Celestials to try and get some help. But those guys disappear. Then, they try “multiversal solutions” (which you just really keep wanting to involve all of the business that Morrison has cooking up across the street), but that goes south and is why Captain Britain got his arm jacked up, apparently. And so then, they strapped poor Franklin into some sort of Kirby engine and presumably got him to work with either the Heroes Reborn he’s got stashed in his closet or another one that he made from scratch (because why not?), and that went worst of all, and I hope the poor kid’s not dead from the way Reed was losing his shit hugging him in the final flashback panel. But, you see? That was two damn pages of shit that we had no idea happened that Reed and crew were just catching Steve and everybody else up on. Hypercompressed narrative glory. And then our mystery guest returns. This issue was really terrific and somehow manages to raise the bar on all of the madness that has already come before.

THE DYING AND THE DEAD #1 — But on the other hand. I don’t know, man, this has become the trend. I find Hickman’s balance of characterization and plot really compelling on his Marvel work-for-hire books. He’s probably my favorite modern-day Marvel writer overall, better than Fraction, Aaron, Remender, and even nudging Bendis out of the top spot for me. But then his creator-owned stuff, it all looks amazing, and the insane big ideas are certainly still there, but overall, it doesn’t move me nearly as much. You could argue that it’s of course because I know those Marvel characters so much better, but it’s what Hickman did with the FF that moved me, not how familiar I was with them. Because I wasn’t that dazzled by anything about Fraction’s immediately-following run except Allred’s art. But when that THE RED WING came out, I adored Pitarra’s interiors, but the characters’ story had no weight whatsoever for me. It was all Millenium Falcons and lightsabers but a little bit light on the Skywalker hero’s journey. SECRET, nothing to sink your teeth into. EAST OF WEST, some of the best art on the rack. But that ensemble’s all over the place, and my strongest feeling about this series is that everybody sure likes to talk in italics and emboldened words a lot. It’s a hell of a backstory, but I don’t care about those folks almost at all, even after all this time. Same deal, here. Bodenheim has never looked better. And RED MASS FOR MARS and SECRET weren’t exactly hurting. These pages are stunning. And there are 59 of them! You can’t fault these guys for the value. For just two quarters more than that Hickman AVENGERS book right up there, we get three times as many pages. That’s amazing. And it looks amazing. But once again, I don’t care about this guy. Oh, his wife’s dying, he’s got to go on a quest to save her. Boilerplate as far as character motivation goes, and he doesn’t do one thing to distinguish himself otherwise. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Millar did so much of a better job drawing us in and making us immediately invested in the set-up for STARLIGHT in that first issue. I’m going to keep picking this up for the art alone and hope that the story becomes more compelling.

ZERO #14 — Well, Marek Okeksicki certainly draws a hell of a fight scene that brings Geof Darrow and Juan Jose Ryp to mind in all the right ways. Unfortunately, there still wasn’t enough narrative content to this issue to fully satisfy. I haven’t spent enough time with Sarah Cooke for her blowing herself up to really affect me in any way. Usually, I jump from trades to singles, as I did with this very book, but I might have to go the other way this time, as I’m sure Volume 3 will be a gripping enough read all in one go, but piecemeal, this one’s not really knocking me out the way it was not that long ago.

BITCH PLANET #2 — And we have entered the Fraction/DeConnick portion of our program, delight! That Valentine de Landro is a force. Solid work overall, nothing too flashy, but then we erupt into that double-page splash for the titles. And the five pages with the ladies running on the treadmill are my favorite scene of the book. Our heroine’s body language provides a cool amount of non-verbal characterization, and I am a big fan of the fracas unfolding in the background, particularly the nonchalant manner in which Violet makes her proposal, sees her friend is in trouble and then is just like, I’m out. I’m not like ready to cut open my veins for this book or anything, but it has provided solid entertainment thus far.

SEX CRIMINALS #10 — “und zex und ZEX!” Well, that’s a really ominous first page that we don’t get any follow-up on, but there’s no way that it bodes well for our hero and heroines. It is nice to see Jon on an upswing, anyway. And hey, look at Rachelle and Robert more than holding down their own scene. That’s some pretty well-written chemistry, I could totally hang with an issue of just the two of them, even without the time-stopping orgasms or anything. Sometimes just a regular orgasm is enough, am I right? Jon & Suze’s reaction to Miz Kincaid’s bag of tricks is just about right, and you’ve got to dig the escalation of the weird sex ghost. Another wonderful issue, another incredible letters column. Such a good damn book, man.


CASANOVA: ACEDIA #1 — Well, after the bugfuck insanity that was such a hallmark of the last volume, this is really quite a rational and understandable piece of work, here. Almost a, dare I say, jumping-on point, even. I assumed that was Zephyr when she first showed up, but I’m a little bit less certain after our boy kills/almost drowns her. The “elephant/element of surprise” gag is terrific. I definitely shrugged when I read it the first time, but that’s a funny payoff on the following page. Oh, Fraction! Fabio Moon’s panel work is as glorious and delightful ever, there’s such a sense of play in his lines, regardless of the subject matter. Cris Peter continues to provide absolutely beautiful colors. The headlining twenty pages ended far too soon for my taste. And but how cool to get Chabon pages illustrated by Bá! It really makes me miss the old UMBRELLA ACADEMY, particularly that stack of horizontal shots introducing the non-Imago members of the group. So much detail and crackling energy in those lines. And these nine pages are far too tantalizing and not nearly enough. Brother Chabon’s plot races along at a delightful madcap pace. I am a little shocked that he of all people shorted us on Oxford commas not once but twice (The “Hype, Tits, Auto-tune, and Cheap Nihilism” on Page 7 and then in between the Adderall and the Black Mamba condom in that very last line there on Page 9). That is disheartening and makes me question my otherwise stable world-view. Otherwise, this entire electric b/w combo comes up aces and eights, great American times!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

1/21/15

BEST OF WEEK: BATMAN AND ROBIN #38 — Well, this was perfect again. Those first two pages alone. These guys are just so inspired and inspiring, collectively firing at the top of their game and boosting one another to loftier creative heights. I’m insane about that cover, and then the splash/titles page is almost just as great. And you’ve got to love the following page of Damian just walking up while the dude is unloading his machine gun into the Boy Wonder’s bulletproof chest. Damian trying to assert himself by flying back home is yet another masterstroke of characterization from Tomasi. And then that dream is truly horrifying! And what beating heart amongst us doesn’t quicken at that majestic shot of Damian hovering far above Gotham and then having a brief encounter with that firefly? Just gorgeous. And then, wow, a terrific exchange with Aquaman leading to a sweet and sad coda to the issue. I was expecting nothing but absolute greatness, and these guys knocked it out of the park once again. This is, hands down, the best book in The New 52 and a master class on writing, penciling, inking, coloring, and lettering a mainstream superhero serial. Breathtaking, and they really have me believing that the best is somehow yet to come.

BATMAN ETERNAL #42 — It’s time to give the female teenage sidekicks a turn as this issue focuses on both Harper and Stephanie. The former’s trial by fire alone against The Mad Hatter leads to a terrific and very stylish splash of her declaring victory while the latter finds herself in still more trouble by issue’s end. The Sudzuka pages are terrific, wish he could be queued up for two or three issues at a time in the home-stretch, here.

FUTURES END #38 — And speaking of giving the women equal time, it’s nice to see Madison finally assert herself a little bit more, but it’s kind of ridiculous for Shazam/Superman and that new guy to make such a deal out of the fact that she is a girl/woman, kind of insulting. The Fifty-Sue/Lana/Grifter plot is running out of steam and needs some kind of momentum injection. I will be interested to see what’s going on in Castle Frankenstein next week, maybe we can make a whole issue out of that action.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #7 — Well, I can’t quite put my finger on what it is about this one, but this issue did it for me in a way that the series hasn’t so far. I would almost recommend just starting with this issue. The tone between character interactions clicked better for me in a way that I’ve tried to define but am having trouble parsing. McKelvie worked in that two-page graphic design map monstrosity and, more audaciously, set out to educate Frank Quitely on how to draw a scene of two people walking down some stairs, upping the ante to five damn stories while evoking a side-scrolling 8-bit video game by way of Chris Ware. And there were Tron costumes. Or cosplay. I’m not sure there’s a difference in this universe. At any rate, terrific fun, this.

FANTASTIC FOUR #642 — We’re ramping up another beginning of the end, it looks like. Valeria coming back was played with as much gravitas and emotional weight as the moment deserved. Robinson manages to up the ante on what an evil dick The Quiet Man is by working in the bit about him destroying the cure for cancer. And that’s before giving him the Ozymandias moment. That evil little Bentley-23 gets a terrific payoff before that final scene that sent me bug-eyed with shock. It is a truly bold choice to bring in a character who is so associated with the overall dip in quality that hit mainstream superhero comics by the mid-nineties. This art team can certainly carry the load, though.

BUCKY BARNES: THE WINTER SOLDIER #004 — I had a serious back-and-forth about this book before even getting started: Oh good, another issue of this great title! Oh no, Rudy is relegated to only four pages. Oh good, Langdon Foss is terrific, at least, so we’re in good hands. Huh, why is this coming out only two weeks later, I had really hoped that Rudy would get more issues before he needed a fill-in. Maybe we need to burn through a certain amount of material before SECRET WARS rampages in and destroys this status quo? Leave our Bucky and Daisy alone! Well, obviously that’s not going to be the case. There is, at least, a solid in-story narrative reason for the change in art style as Foss illustrates the tale of Future Bucky. And I’m not hip to Jordan Boyd on colors, but those were some interesting palette choices that set the mood very well in a drastically different manner than what we’ve seen thus far from Rudy, who returns with more absolute devastation on Page 17. Yes, Bucky, this is beautiful indeed. The Polarity Paradox Engine is out of control. And, um, that is a pretty rough last page there, yes.


ALL-NEW X-MEN #035 — Wow, Asrar/Gracia going for it on that opening splash. That is incredible. I am so so tired of the old convention of dropping the reader/viewer in medias res in the middle of something crazy and then flashing back to How We Got Here, but it works quite well in this instance. I got so caught up in the beats of the issue, I completely forgot that I had already seen the battle that they were flying off to have. I really love Bendis’s interaction between the two Jeans, but the best exchange of the book has to be that static shot on Page Ten of Miles and Teen Warren and Ultimate Kitty. Miles slapping his face is just the best. And then Hank gives us another Geoff Johns Chalkboard of Future Plot Developments. The only new thing I think I see on here is “Avengers Disappear.” But the last page provides no advancement on the Page Four cliffhanger except an exterior shot of part of Castle Doom blowing up. CAN THIS BE THE END FOR MILES MORALES?!?!?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

1/14/15


BEST OF WEEK: STAR WARS #1 — I was fully expecting this to be a couple notches up the ladder from Wood/D’Anda’s recent excellent Dark Horse run that’s basically the exact same concept as this, but man, this is so much better, it’s embarrassing. First of all, those first four pages. HOW has no one ever thought to open a STAR WARS comic that way in the past four decades? Just Death-Star-lasering everything to bits from the get-go. If you’re ever about to spring this issue on someone, it’s a great idea to have Williams’s opening fanfare queued up on your phone or a nearby “CD player” and then when the new reader turns that first page and sees the title, blast that shit in their ear at the exact same instant. I pulled that one on the little girl to tremendous and emphatic success.

But the success of this book of course goes a lot deeper than burning the first four pages to cop the movies’ opening titles. Jason Aaron’s authorial voice disappears in these characters’ dialogue. The 1977 version of the actors all deliver terrific performances in your head. There aren’t really any surprises in terms of plot twists; it’s pretty immediately obvious who’s on that first ship and who the Imperial negotiator is going to be, but that’s just fine. There’s plenty of enjoyment to be had in the execution of the narrative. John Cassaday & Laura Martin, no surprise, deliver astounding sequentials throughout, from that first tracking shot from the crawl to gripping action scenes to jawdropping photo-realistic likenesses of the actors that border on the uncanny. I love that by his third page, Darth Vader is levitating Stormtroopers to shield himself from being assassinated by Chewbacca. The body language that Cassaday gives him is ridiculously dynamic and a pleasure to behold.

This first issue does every single thing that it ought to and then some. It’s pretty much perfect; I cannot conceive of a single way in which it is deficient or needs to be improved. I do hope Cassaday/Martin can hang out for longer than three issues this time before taking off like they did on UNCANNY AVENGERS but am of course delighted to get as many pages from them as possible.

JUPITER’S LEGACY #5 — Always worth the wait, this issue continues the trend of being better than what’s come before. Terrific opening scene introducing Major Wolfe and poor doomed Skyscraper. Everything’s tense enough that we’re completely invested in the outcome even though we’ve never seen these people before. It also raises the stakes right away by setting Wolfe up as an adversary who is worthy of our heroes. The deal about the kid tripping up by getting his reflection caught in a raindrop is a smart little detail. Him asking for his mommy to help him really cuts right into you. And what a terrific resolution to the fight. Obviously, Quitely stages the shit out of it. There’s really no one like him, the very best that the industry has to offer. This was a hell of an ending to Book One, and I am certainly looking forward to finding out what happens next. In a couple of years! It’s almost reassuring to know that there’s an in-progress mini-series that’s going to take longer than SANDMAN: OVERTURE to finish up.  

SUPREME: BLUE ROSE #6 — Well, this gorgeously mental thing continues. It’s certainly going to make a fever-dream read in a single sitting. Ellis/Lotay are synergizing to really do a good job of putting the readers in the protagonist’s headspace and making us all feel like we’re slipping over the edge into the shores of madness. I never would have thought that another run could ever step to Moore’s seminal charge through the previous volume of this character’s series almost twenty years ago now, but this not only occupies the same delirious headspace, it challenges what has gone before and attempts to advance the concepts. No small feat. That “Shall we dance?” panel is absolutely gorgeous. And . . . was that Professor Night (or his alter ego) crossing over into the woods where Diana Dane winds up? Is Professor Night the most “Sensational Character Find of 2014?” Or any other year? This series makes my retinas bleed and say thank you.

SAVAGE DRAGON #201 — I dig how Larsen is giving us a frank and even graphic depiction of how much and often teenagers discuss and engage in sexual activity. Rampant! It rings true and is not the kind of thing you see in comics that often, certainly not in the superhero genre. But, he’s listening to his characters. This is exactly how they should be acting. And it’s very impressive how steadily he keeps the ship going, one month after another. That #199 was staggeringly impressive, and he just rolled it into the big anniversary issue, and here we are again, another twenty ad-free pages to the good. Here’s to breaking the all-time record with another hundred issues and then beyond!

ASTRO CITY #19 — The multi-part Quarrel arc continues and keeps delivering in every way we’ve come to expect from this volume of the title. Busiek imbues Jess with a lot of heart, a complex character with ambition and drive while still retaining vulnerability due to the inevitable progression of time. Once again, you kind of wish this could just be the status quo, a book about Quarrel & Crackerjack instead of them just taking centerstage before the spotlight moves on to other players. Brent Anderson delivers perfect sequential work that Alex Sinclair makes pop without calling attention to what an excellent colorist he is. Just another day at the office for these guys.

ALSO BEST OF WEEK: AVENGERS #040 — As much as that crew up top nailed it with our friends from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, it’s impossible not to heap accolades on Hickman and former SECRET WARRIORS collaborator Caselli for the thunder that they drop here, paying off nearly two years of tension that has been masterfully simmered into this world-shattering confrontation. The third flashback scene from months ago with the knife confirms what we’re already pretty much positive, Chekov’s gun and all that, this is definitely going to be used as a murder weapon before we get to the end of this particular $3.99 installment. The only question is whether or not the victim is going to be the intended individual or will that rather resourceful and indeed savage fellow find a way to turn it back on his attacker, which almost seemed more obvious to me. Hickman has so many moving parts and wheels spinning at this point, it would be easy but momentum-killing to fall into the trap of letting the various three Avengers factions square against one another for at least a couple more issues (instead, we get like one page of comic relief, included here because just every other shot worth sharing is a massive spoiler) (Hickman really seems to dig on Bobby & Sam goofing around), but instead, he throttles all the action forward with a plot to strand and murder The Cabal while they save our universe yet again from another incursion. So many heroes betraying that absolute confederation of villains who are doing good. Which is twisted enough before Sue’s “Where’s T’Challa?” Her facial expression during the delivery of that line is perfection. And then that last scene, which I’m not even going to talk about except to say that it was played to perfection and shocking and perfectly timed within the overall span of the series. This moment had to be earned, and it very much was. It was a tremendous surprise to see play out but completely in keeping with all the character motivation and story beats that came before. I kind of wish that first panel on the last page could have gotten its own splash, but even that decision makes sense. The button had already been pushed. This makes my heart heavy and twists up the horrific morally gray space that Hickman has been exploring since the very first issues of his run. A very thought-provoking and intelligent blast of superhero fisticuffs, indeed.

SILVER SURFER #008 — Well, it’s pretty sweet how Slott is developing the relationship between Dawn & Norrin. They’re just a fun couple. And the board figures in there somehow, I guess. The Allreds continue to absolutely burn it down. That first splash of Dawn taking a nap is happening (no mean feat!) and then I really dig it a couple pages later the way that the board’s trail bleeds into the panel borders. Comics are fun! I love Norrin’s, “You people,” that one’s an instant classic. All of that is only preamble, though, for the massive development that fills up the back half of this issue. Slott has done a really good job pacing this thing out, giving us a few early adventures and establishing the status quo before dropping the hammer here with this. This title has only begun to soar through the spaceways.

DAREDEVIL #011 — Another case open and shut. Waid once again keeps it drum-tight, internally consistent with what has gone before while still surprising. Samnee & Wilson keep drawing the hell out of everything. Who doesn’t want to see Matt drive a convertible with his cane in a chase scene with a stunt bike? And, aw. What a sweet last page. Which is probably horrible news for poor Kirsten, if the past thirty-five years have been any indication.

S.H.I.E.L.D. #002 — Ramos brings the heat. I haven’t actually picked up that new MS. MARVEL yet (I know, I know! I don’t like hitting 9/10 on all those Best of Year lists any more than you like seeing it happen), so I didn’t know her power set and found that first super-stretchy shot of her running away delightfully stylistic. And admittedly, I could have paid more attention to the cover. But Waid has this all intelligently constructed. Naturally, the trio of Coulson, Jemma, and Kamala plays very well off each other. So, I guess this is going to be more of a done-in-one anthology type thing pulling different agents and guest starts off the bench at any given time with various A-list artists dropping by? I can hang with that.

BATGIRL #38 — Another just terrific-looking issue with Tarr once again knocking it out over Stewart’s layouts. Cloonan & Fletcher do a nice job pushing several plot elements forward with Dinah condemning Barbara’s newly heightened social media presence, moving out, and singing in a band being just basically background for the tension of the age-old trope of our heroine dating someone on the side of law and order who she really likes but who has got it in for her alter ego. Almost an Anti-Lois Syndrome, really. It’s also a good idea to show that our heroine is fallible and, in fact, really screws up quite badly here. There was never any doubt in my mind, but this run is turning out to definitely have some legs. (ßnot a misogynistic pun)

GRAYSON #6 — And but speaking of legs, dat ass! It’s almost funny how little these guys care about just straight-up objectifying Dick issue after issue. The regular creative team continues to just crush it on this series, which is already racing up near the top of the list of the most reliable top-quality reads of The New 52. Setting Midnighter as the series antagonist is, of course, both a logical and inspired choice that continues to yield terrific fight sequences, but just when we’re getting comfortable with all of that, it’s into shiftship bleedspace? That’s a massive expansion of scope and scale for this series. Our man Agent 37 has come a long way from Bludhaven.

BATMAN ETERNAL #41 — Now, I think Joe Quinones is a hell of an artist. His Green Lantern really stood out of a crowded pack in WEDNESDAY COMICS a few years back. However, he seems to have veered in an even cartoonier direction, and it was an odd fit for this title after all the scratchy gothic linework courtesy of South America that we’ve been getting lately. I adjusted, but it took a bit of time. The sidekicks charging was a good fit in the crowded ensemble for Quinones to tackle. And Harper fiiiiiinally puts on that costume that she had in BATMAN #28. Hey, it only took 41 issues!


FUTURES END #37 — Ha, Amethyst calling Constantine out for being duplicitous and sending an astral projection is a bit hypocritical right after she stabs him. And but Christ, the new Firestorm is just tedious. They cannot have a first page together without expositing the fact that neither one of them is enjoying the current status quo. How many people’s first issue do the writers think this is, at this point? Seems like you should service the folks who are here every week rather than the random people who might pick this up and be the least bit confused by Firestorm being a woman. Otherwise, this one moves along all right. An average issue. So ends the night.