Friday, November 21, 2014

11/05/14

BEST OF WEEK: SUPERMAN UNCHAINED #9 — Snyder/Lee/Williams/Sinclair finally bring this bad boy in. It does what it’s supposed to, veering a little on the side of overly talky with Luthor monologing (sp?) most of the first half of the issue. But this is of course offset by all the heavy lifting that that art team does. It pretty much doesn’t get more A-list than these guys, and there are plenty of iconic shots sprinkled throughout the issue. My favorite page is before the big guy flies off for the final battle and he says goodbye to Lois, and I swear to God, Lee does this Gabriel Rodriguez homage, this same little trick that was in LOCKE & KEY: OMEGA #’s 1 and I want to say 3, where the last shot of the page is nothing but two hands, formerly clasped but now parting. Another standout is when Luthor finally shuts up just as the art team gives us their rendition of Warren Ellis’s favorite script prompt to Bryan Hitch: “The ships engage.” And there’s even a nod to that iconic shot of Superman getting struck by lightning in the last issue of Miller’s THE DARK KNIGHT FALLS. Snyder does a pretty good job sticking the landing on Luthor’s rant about Superman. It’s no ALL-STAR SUPERMAN, but I guess nothing else will be ever. The deal with Wraith swooping in and sacrificing himself was not set up at all in any way? Has there just been too long in between issues? I need to go back and check, but it seems like that came out of nowhere. And the Nguyen flashbacks came off as complete filler, as well drawn as they were. All in all, though, this was a pretty great ride. Not Snyder’s best effort but reasonably coherent, and of course Lee and the crew just drew the hell out of it.

ACTION COMICS #36 — Well, it looks like Smallville has a bit of a Halloween hangover. And I’ve missed some chapters? Did I skip last month because it was a fill-in? Or has a bunch of stuff happened elsewhere? Lana’s in bed with John? And Clark has a beard in the present, too? It really really is flattering that the architects behind “The New 52” are going to such lengths to make the big guy closer to my physical likeness, but it’s kind of taking me out of the story a little bit! I can’t fly, and Lana Lang is not my best friend, you know? Love getting Kuder back on the entire issue’s worth of interiors, in all seriousness.

GRAYSON #4 — This one is a little bit more of a romp than we’re used to, but after the heavy business that has frontloaded this series, it was honestly nice to just frolic around with our boy getting chased by some young killers-in-training at glorious old St. Hadrian’s. This book continues to do a nice job balancing out the character work with compact blasts of espionage and the requisite scrambled signal to Mister Malone hanging out in his cave fourteen miles out of Gotham, there. And the Mikel Janin pages are nothing less than exquisite. I love that Quitelyesque splash of how the mission got accomplished before Dick could even finish his sentence.

GOTHAM ACADEMY #2 — This one is a little bit more angsty in tone than I would prefer, but I guess that’s kind of what you get with the demographic of this ensemble. It does an interesting thing for a second issue, substantially raising the mystery quotient on Olive, particularly with regard to how she spent her summer and whatever the deal with her mom is. At first, it felt like an odd bit of pacing, but I’ve decided that I like it. It would have come on a little bit strong and maybe been doing to much heavy lifting last issue to introduce us to all these new characters and also throwing that in our face first thing. It was good to just meet everyone and now dig in a bit deeper. Kerschl’s art is again stunning, and the three colorists do a pretty good job of blending their styles so that the reader doesn’t get thrown when there’s a switch. All in all, a slight dip from the excellent first issue, but still really good material to be found here.

BATMAN ETERNAL #31 — When I saw this cover, my brain wouldn’t let me understand that it was Alfred standing on the left. This is a hilarious team-up. Julia Pennyworth on the threshold of not being able to hang on tech support is a pretty solid running C-plot. I am a fan of Fernando Pasarin on these interiors, this guy really showed up. Terrific splash page with Mr. Freeze, but the three-panel run a few pages later with Thunderclap Auriga is a very nice piece of work. Just a killer ending, though. It couldn’t have happened any other way. Very good, sir, indeed.

FUTURES END #27 — Once again, lots of plots clipping forward here. We are standing on the verge of getting it on, as the song goes. I’m still digging on Barda teaming up with the Green Arrow crew (can’t believe that show has made the first word in the dude’s name sound weird to me). Scott comes face to I guess eye with Brother Eye, but of course the big deal is Terry and Bruce are finally on-panel together, which should make for the series bat-slugfest next issue. Aaron Lopresti’s sequentials are looking a bit more rushed than they did when he first showed up, but this is a weekly! These Ryan Sook covers, though, man. Wow.

CHEW #44 — The Mighty Layman is still having fun toying with our hearts, delivering the near-mortal wound that was already given away on the final page of last issue but then only offering a scant four panels of development past that point. There’s a bit more no-holds-barred action in this one with Guillory delivering quite the kinetic fight sequence. The Babycakes fakeout on Poyo is only surpassed by the inevitable double-page splash showing where our boy really was. You get the sense that when this book is done, Layman’s still going to have a list of thirty-five more batshit ideas that are just as much fun as this one.

VELVET #8 — This is another meat-and-potatoes issue with Velvet executing her plan to storm HQ and running afoul of Roberts, who it looks like is getting set up as nemesis/antagonist. This entire issue is basically just a single action scene followed by a cliffhanger, but it does its job well and is very satisfying. It’s cool to see Brubaker not just drowning in noir (not that I ever have any problem with that), but the real draw here has got to be Epting/Breitweiser crushing it on art. Sorry that this one beat ZERO to the rack, as those make a charming double-feature, but so it goes.

PUNKS: THE COMIC #2 — Wow, the Skywalker/Adama/Fellowship of the Ring shout-out before the end of the first page. That is some hustle. That Page Three sequence of SuperDog flying in from the sky is maybe my favorite thing I’ve seen from this series. Until that panel of them all hugging him and telling him they love him. I hope to see more of SuperDog in the future. The Halloween masks are also a very nice touch. Reading this comic is like taking drugs, only it never lets you come down.

GOD HATES ASTRONAUTS #03 — A relatively rational opening four pages this month. Or I’m just getting more acclimated to the madness? Sir Hippothesis brings those murderous scamps Seal Armstrong and Buzz Owldrin to Planet Crabulon, where they apologize to King Tiger Eating A Cheeseburger for killing all of those crab people. King Tiger Eating A Cheeseburger accepts their apology by killing them both with an enormous battle-axe. But then cut to Doctor Rhinoceros (not real name) waking up, only it wasn’t all a dream, and then he runs into a messy room where someone called Dave is crashed out in bondage gear. Dave has a muscular green arm attached to his chest that might as well be the Hulk’s right arm. That’s the first four pages. I can’t believe that they seemed kind of average to me, in terms of weirdness, but there you go. Ryan Browne ruins everything.

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #009 — Well, I was enough of a fool for Spider-Gwen that I had to pick this one up. And it is pretty great work. Every time I check in with Slott’s run, he is making it happen on every level, truly a worthy custodian of this flagship character. That was a perfect opening scene, timeless and iconic and all, a perfect set-up for the lunar twist and surprise death. Coipel predictably knocks the interiors out of the park in his own inimitable A-list fashion. It is funny that with Hickman dragging all the Avengers through the multiverse and then of course with Morrison doing what he’s doing across the street that we’ve got enough multiverse for a Spidey-based spin on things. But, of course. I’m not sure how frequently this is coming out, but if I’ve got room, this is definitely worth staying with.


AVENGERS·X-MEN: AXIS #4 — Remender really hit a masterstroke giving Charles Xavier’s brain to the Red Skull. I defy anybody to engineer a superior way to slam together the X-Men and Avengers franchises in a manner that has more tension hard-wired into the premise. As soon as you beat the bad guy, all of the good guys can fight over who gets to keep him. But, damn! Did Captain Falcon just deck young Sam Jackson Fury? But man, why this compulsive return to our friendly neighborhood Carnage? I’m just not finding it compelling as of yet. I hope Remender proves me wrong. And then Tony sees U2’s free new album and raises the stakes pretty considerably! I guess that’s some kind of bad deal that he’s just swigging champagne there at home plate of Giants Stadium? But then Apocalypse onstage with the X-Men? Have I missed a crucial tie-in issue? And but then that goes double for all that business with the Avengers. And Kluh, the backwards Hulk’s Hulk. All of this characterization just took a bunch of LSD, man. Like, it’s kind of fun, you can’t say that nothing’s really at all happening early on, which has been the deal for the last couple of these, but there appears to be no in-book justification. Red Onslaught Xavier’s just making everyone do craaaaaaazy things to advance the plot? Strange times but good fun from your mainly mindless mighty Marvel superhero slugfest big event!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

10/29/14

BEST OF WEEK: LITTLE NEMO: RETURN TO SLUMBERLAND #2 — If anything, these guys somehow manage to up their game from the ridiculous level of greatness that they hit in the first issue. Our new Nemo becomes a bit more engaged with his situation, Bon-Bon returns, and Flip Flap finally makes an appearance. Gabriel Rodriguez continues to manage the herculean task of assimilating Winsor McCay’s kaleidoscopic style while still managing to make the pages his own, all beautifully colored by Nelson Daniel and masterfully paced by Eric Shanower. This really is the most magical endeavor. At MorrisonCon a couple of years ago, there was a panel (a very painful Sunday morning panel) wherein the mourners assembled took a character from the public domain and attempted to frame what a reboot would look like. That character was Little Nemo, and as talented and insightful as everyone there was, nothing uttered that morning came close to matching this take in terms of sheer brilliance of both premise and execution. Everyone is firing at the top of their game, yes, but Rodriguez appears to actively be attempting to surpass his work on LOCKE & KEY, which is about the highest that anybody can shoot for. My favorite thing about this is that it’s utterly engrossing for me on every level, but then I can share it with my daughter and she loves it just as much. This is why we have Wednesday nights. Just wonderful.

WONDER WOMAN #35 — This one is slam-bang and done. I would have gladly paid an extra dollar or two to get this story presented with all the ads at least in the back, but it’s kind of fitting that this run ends as it began, on the front lines of the mainstream, ARROW ads breaking up the flow, as ever. Azzarello/Chaing/Wilson’s final chapter does more of what they’ve been doing. And why not? It’s certainly been working out for them. There’s lots of pontificating wrapped up in clever wordplay and fighting and scrambling around to get a hold of Zeke. There’s a great moment when Diana takes off her wristbands and proclaims her various titles if only to point out how little they matter. She’s still going to kick dude’s ass. Azzarello weaves the golden lasso and submission into the resolution in an elegant manner. And then there’s a last-minute reveal that I didn’t see coming and hadn’t feel like we particularly needed, but as soon as it hit turned out to be a great latest reason to slap my forehead. My only quasi-gripe with this finale is that Orion never came back. I would have liked to see him take a final bow under this regime. However, everything pretty much turned into a sitcom whenever he was on-panel, so keeping him on the bench does make sense. It certainly would have broken up the breakneck flow we have going here. This team did more heavy lifting than arguably anyone in The New 52 reboot. Snyder/Capullo have been great, but that whole deal has been very much an extension of what Snyder was doing previously. No other creative team had such success taking an established mythology back to basically a reset point and then building it up into something resembling but unlike what had come before. I’ve never read the Perez issues from the eighties, but this is the best run on the character that I’ve ever experienced, and it has consistently been a terrific ride, month after month. Going to miss these creators but am grateful to them for showing us how it’s done.

FUTURES END #26 — Bruce meeting Michael is pretty grim, given what we know. I guess his important business was really giving the Jason & Robbie that gruff Bat-pep-talk? If all of this Madison Payne nonsense has been a lead-up to her getting fridged, I’m going to be unimpressed, but I guess they also set up her being the glue that brings Firestorm back together for good. It would be nice if she could just save herself. I was kind of sad for poor Fifty-Sue getting betrayed, there. Slade is just the worst in any continuity!

BATMAN ETERNAL #30 — Well. Kind of only one thing happens this issue, but it’s a pretty big deal. That is some pretty grim business with old Batwing, there. And I have got to say, I still really can’t get past how stupid I find the whole Joker’s Daughter business, and any time she shows up, it completely takes me out of the story. This series has been pretty solid based on protagonist interaction, but would do much better with antagonists that were worth a damn.

SAVAGE DRAGON #199 — Magnificent. A tour de force. Larsen blasts out ten double-page spreads and makes it look effortless. Not just the sequential content but the narrative flow. I mean, this must have been a bitch to compose this up out of nothing, but the impressive thing is that you can never see the strings, the eye glides effortlessly across the page. These pages were really over much too soon for my taste.

CAPTAIN VICTORY AND THE GALACTIC RANGERS #3 — I wasn’t able to lock into this one as well as the first two. I dug all the art. Fox continues to bring the crazy, and both Mahfood and Dalrymple show up with strong work. I just don’t care as much about this series as I feel like I should? I don’t know. They keep putting Kirby’s name in the credits, how can I not support these guys? Solid but not as batshit as I want it to be.

BLACK SCIENCE #10 — Ten issues in, and these guys are only picking up steam. It’s a good call to move Pia more toward center stage. That is one angry young woman! Though I have to say, I was surprised to see her mention dropping out of college. Scalera doesn’t draw her looking older than a girl in her early teens. I’ve been thinking this whole time that she was thirteen, fifteen tops. Maybe she gets that youthful appearance from her mother. She does make a solid new protagonist for this series if Remender doesn’t take her out. I am a fan of the multiple iterations of characters that keep creeping in. You can see the level of complexity gradually increasing as the series progresses. It seems like there will be pretty insane things happening by #25! Respect to the art once again, Scalera/White create such an immersive and beautiful world, month after month.

LOW #4 — This double-shot of hard-science Remender is a heady concoction! After the first three issues pretty much serving as the pilot episode, we get our next installment here, which takes place in the pirate city of Poluma. The mom behaves just the way you expect her to, but it’s nice to see Marik begin to act like an actual human being. Though that’s a harsh deal with his sister, there, not cool! I feel like this book would benefit from doing a one-paragraph recap on the inside front cover, not so much because the reader needs it as I suspect that it would be great fun to both read and write. Tocchini continues to turn in more absolutely gorgeous work. You have to respect Remender, locking down these guys on both of these books with this sweeping European style of art while simultaneously taking his turn running the Big Event over at The House of Ideas. Hickman and he are both doing a pretty incredible job of balancing out creator-owned and work-for-hire and making both seem like labors of love, never phoning it in.

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #5 — The Jasons pull off a nifty little trick here, shifting focus to our antagonist Coach Euless Boss and actually succeeding in making him just the least bit relatable. Flashing back to when he was a scrub at the bottom of the lineup causes the reader to feel a grudging respect for him, despite the shocking events of last issue. Not sure what to make of the fact that Coach Boss’s address is 616, what with Aaron being such an architect of the old Marvel Universe this last little bit, here.

SAGA #24 — After scaling it back for a few months, this title’s preciousness has returned. I don’t know if it’s a function of the massive amount of adulation it gets or what, but I feel like the tone and peccadilloes that I found somewhat annoying back when we were in single digits are really dialed all the way up by now, and I’m just shaking my head most of the way through this. The completely naturalistic twenty-first-century tone of every single character’s dialogue, how often everybody says, “Fuck!” just because they can. I am completely missing what is so cool about Lying Cat and why an utterance of “Lying,” ever ever merits its own splash panel. That page really kind of sums it all up for me. As soon as I turned to it, I was simultaneously hit by how flat it fell for me and the certainty that true fans around the world were throwing up their arms in victory. I don’t know. I’ll still keep picking this up just to be aware of what’s happening and in case it becomes less adoring of its own internal greatness. Staples is still producing some good-looking pages. I liked the gag at the end where Prince Robot’s screen is all red-skies crisis.

FANTASTIC FOUR #011 — The boys keep moving things along and bringing them to a head. Kirk/Kesel/Aburtov continue to produce beautiful pages. I liked Spidey’s dialogue to Johnny. It rings true that for all the shit they sling each other’s way, Parker is there for the Torch in a heartbeat when things start crashing down. And, hey, it’s just cool to have Wyatt Wingfoot in play across more than a single issue. My favorite dynamic in this entire mythology, by far, has to be Valeria & Doom. I would just devour an entire series focusing on only their relationship down through the years, across time and space. I was more than a little disappointed by the reveal that she’s not having as much of an effect on him as seemed apparent, but that is certainly in-character.


ALL-NEW X-MEN #30 — It felt like more happened in this one then in the past few issues. I was already loving the opening scene with Bobby before that Page Six splash page with the hilarious quip, a really nice piece of comic-booking, there. I guess you can always win me over by doing a homage, that is probably the easiest way in. Bendis has queued up some entertaining chemistry in his matchups for everybody. I’m particularly interested in seeing where it goes with Hank and Doom, though of course Miles and Jean are total sweethearts. More terrific work from Asrar/Gracia.

Friday, November 7, 2014

10/22/14

BEST OF WEEK: THE MULTIVERSITY:theJUST #1 — The superheroes of Earth-16 won. In an inversion of the FINAL CRISIS premise, Morrison posits the aftermath of a world in which good triumphed over evil and there are no more supervillains to fight. This creates a problem for the next generation, who are left to basically wallow somewhere in the spectrum between existential ennui and the same kind of vapid celebrity adulation that is so common in our own world. Morrison does a good job here making the characters relatable but also kind of pieces of shit at the same time, as they would have to be, born as they are into this powered privileged life but never having been tempered by the conflict and strife that shaped their parents. Right off the bat, there is a pretty definitive statement that, though the premise in some ways suggests that this could be the aftermath of ALL-STAR SUPERMAN (this world’s Luthor succeeded in killing Superman), this story is the polar opposite of that one. Arguably the defining moment of that all-time classic occurs in #10 during the non-linearly-presented last day of Superman when he takes time out from performing many many other tasks to talk the goth girl Regan out of committing suicide by jumping off a ledge. Man, that moment is still so moving, just even mentioning it now is getting me choked up. But! This is straight up not the deal here as Metamorpho’s daughter commits suicide by the very same method on Page 2 with the difference highlighted by the fact that she is not technically alone at all but in the middle of a telepathic link with Shilo Norman’s daughter. But, she still feels really alone, get it? To top things off, when son of Superman, Chris Kent shows up, he can’t even be bothered to call her by anything other than Megamorpho. She’s not a person to him at all, only a teammeate. ALL-STAR SUPERMAN #10, this ain’t.

We move on to my favorite dynamic of the story, a fully-grown Damian Wayne hanging out with Alexis Luthor, the bald and brilliant daughter of the world’s greatest criminal mastermind. Lexi is smart enough to know how cool comics are, but as regular readers know, that is the kiss of death in this series because, yeah, she’s got herself a copy of the haunted ULTRA COMICS and is actually reading through the thing for the duration of this scene. There’s all kinds of meta-dialogue zinging back and forth this entire time. Damian’s watching the Superman robots repel an invasion and Lexi calls it “boring,” which is a straight reference to Wayne Boring, noted Silver Age Superman artist who illustrated more than one tale of Superman robots back when. Damian expresses disdain toward folks who don’t like calling comic books comic books in one beat and then with “I bet the artists don’t get a single dime,” references both the prevailing corporate culture down through the years of not rewarding creative talent as well as the original cover price for superhero funny books. We’ve already seen Ultra’s costume before, but this was the first time I realized that he seems to be functioning on multiple levels: as a Miracleman analogue that appears to be in Carol Danvers’s costume but also (if the cover copy is anything to go by) as a potential fiction suit for our own charming selves (see: INVISIBLES if you’re ginchy on the term “fiction suit”). Maybe folks who follow solicitations already know this, but it now seems clear that ULTRA will have to be the last one-shot before we head back into the climactic final issue. But back to Gotham, I love love love Damian hustling Lexi into his closet behind the lead-lined coat so that his best friend doesn’t bust him hanging out with the daughter of the guy who killed Chris’s dad. Oh but wait, then the two-panel bit about Neil Gaiman’s Sandman is one of my favorite conversations that’s ever happened. Morrison NAILS what that Superman/Sandman story would be in three word balloons. And it is hilarious. I, of course, love getting to read more Morrison-scripted adult Damian (we all knew there was a *tt* coming). It is interesting that this is basically the opposite of the #666 future situation, a paradise instead of a hell, and naturally Damian is miserable. I kept waiting for Alfred the cat to show up, but maybe Lexi’s allergic? But it’s so perfect for them to be together, an example of Damian following his father’s taste in romancing the villain like with Selina and his own mother, even, but then the weird deal is, that starts heading into Oedipal territory really quickly. OH, Damian. You never had a chance. Was Alexis trying to get him to read the comic in order to deliberately infect him?

So, it’s a little weird that Ray Palmer is in this, just because he’s the only non-legacy hero. Can’t figure out what that means. When Kyle Rayner gets a look at Offspring’s copy of ULTRA COMICS, we get our first glimpse of two unlettered pages that have to be near the end of the issue, and they look pretty grim for our hero/us. It will be interesting to see if there actually is dialogue when we finally get our hands on the cursed comic book. This is the first time that I’m actually experiencing a sense of dread at the thought of reading this thing myself. I dig Kyle’s, “Dude! You’re into comics,” statement to Ernie, who it seems like is talking about analogues for the Marvel and Ultimate universes (and is possibly referencing all the shit that went down at the end of THE MULTIVERSITY #1? This shit is starting to make my head hurt).

Planet Krypton from KINGDOM COME showing back up really brings home the extent to which this entire set-up is just taking a bath in the mid-nineties. All of these versions of heroes with the exception of Chris & Damian are all who was running around back then (Artemis, for one).

This Chris Kent Superman is just terrible, though! There’s of course the initial failure to save Saffi, then him treating her suicide like a “super-mystery,” but Morrison keeps giving him these horrible moments, making fun of Batman behind his back and then just literally reading the chemical composition of the haunted comic, but then it looks like he even gets Ernie’s name wrong, calling him “Eddie” when they’re looking at the guy’s comics.

Damian and Chris try to rally their pitiful partnership at the end, tracking down leads. I just realized that I was so caught up in Megamorpho’s death being an anti-Regan thing that I missed that a hero(ine) landing on the sidewalk as an inciting incident is something that has been done before in a high-profile book.

Sister Miracle tweeting about how cool it would be to meet herself before looking out to see the devastation on the last page is a perfect last thematic beat embodying the rampant narcissism and navel-gazing that characterizes this entire issue. By now, we’re trained to know that some kind of really heavy shit is going to come raining down on the final page, and it apparently looks like Alexis has, in fact, been poison from the start. I love how Jakeem Thunder just suddenly shows up at the end, only ever having been mentioned on the cover. Which, I should have mentioned Ben Oliver before now. Assisted by Dan Brown on some coloring, the pair provide excellent visuals throughout, leaning on a likeness-heavy style that's a perfect fit for the content of this issue. Alexis is clearly Angelina, and Arrowette's shaved sides seem to be inspired by Miley's, but I'm having trouble placing who Chris and Sasha are supposed to be. That's usually a dicey Greg Land sort of move, but it works really well in this context. 

I have to say, though, that big ending was mostly hijacked for me by the opposite page because I had no idea when PAX AMERICANA was coming out. Morrison/Quitely are my very very favorite team working today and really just about of all time. I could not be more excited for their harmonic eight-panel-grid take on the Charlton/WATCHMEN universe. Soon. Soon.

BATMAN ETERNAL #29 — I am digging Julia/Penny-Two’s gradual assimilation into the family as an operator. Really don’t care about Blackfire or Joker’s Daughter, though. Or Hush, for that matter. Which, all those pages start to add up. This series is just all over the place. Everything blows up real good at the end, so hopefully I’ll be more into the players left standing next week.

FUTURES END #25 — Well! So honored to appear on the cover. It turns out that the old MIA Man of Steel decided to do a little bit of dressing up like me just to mix things up a bit. Good fun! The Stormwatch crew, who continue to be my favorite plot, get a great cliffhanger this week out. Slade dropping the uppercut on Cole while asking, “How bad does it have to get before the situation trumps the obsession?!” is my favorite incongruous panel of the week. And Brainiac, how many more times are we going to get another permutation of the old all-Braniacs-up-until-now-have-been-Doombots bit? I feel like Johns did it first a few years back but that it’s shown up more than once since then. Constantine certainly hasn’t felt the same since crossing over from Vertigo, but him dropping a “Sunshine Superman” is a nice touch. But man, I do not give one shit about that Firestorm plot. At this point, I’m only still halfway onboard this series. But if they keep putting me on the cover, I promise to keep picking it up.

INFINITY MAN AND THE FOREVER PEOPLE #4 — Now, that is one good-looking Howard Porter cover. That guy has really transformed his style since the Morrison JLA run. Didio once more demonstrates his love for Bat-Cow, bringing the bovine detective in for an opening scene that actually leaves you wanting more. Giffen is back with all the Kirby seething up out of every page. I haven’t been following the Green Lantern books since Johns took off so was a bit surprised to learn about what’s going on with all of this business between them and New Genesis. And is that Red Lantern a bearded Guy Gardner? Funny doin’s abound! If Giffen sees fit to maintain the old 3x2 panel grid while channeling the King’s krackle, I’m here every month with a smile on my face.

THE UNWRITTEN: APOCALYPSE #10 — We’re not quite roaring into the climactic finale just yet, but Carey/Gross move most of the pieces into place in this substantive issue. There’s an inevitability about the proceedings as Gross sheds most of the impressive stylistic tricks he’s been employing in the past few months, content trumping form at the same time that Carey scripts the line, “Form defines function” for Tom. Those two things keep rattling around my head, and I don’t think I’ve quite worked them out yet. But, just when it can’t get anymore compelling with our two factions remotely facing off against one another, it’s time to head where else but into one of the later Tommy Taylor novels. Terrific penultimate cliffhanger. Feeling really confident that these boys are going to nail the ending, always the trickiest part of telling any great story.

STARLIGHT #6 — A very strong finish to a series that debuted with a perfect first issue. $5 for 36 pages of straight-ahead no-ad science-pulp greatness as Duke McQueen barrels toward THE END as fast as his classic Ford Mustang can carry him. There’s no ebb and flow here, not a single page where we’re concerned that things are not going to turn out well for our hero. All of that has already come and gone, but this lack of tension is not a bad thing. There’s a simple, direct joy to be found in watching Duke save Tantalus without a shred of doubt or angst, just taking care of business like he did back when. The final battle deservedly takes up most of the page count, but it isn’t until Duke and Krish make it back to Earth that Millar drops a pretty effective little bomb resolving the principal conflict from #1 and getting me more than a little choked up in the process. Parlov’s work, once again, is the star of the show. He communicates the various climactic action scenes with a direct immediacy that channels Kirby dynamism, but then it’s the character work, the burly hero embracing his much-smaller sidekick at the very end of the story, that brings home that emotional beat and really pays off the entire series. This was a delight from start to finish, and I recommend it unreservedly to one and all, even if you think you’re done with Millar. Beautiful work. It would have claimed Best of Week, no problem, if not for multiversal Morrison machinations.

ZERO #11 — More of the quality that we’ve come to expect from this title. Ricardo Lopez rotates in on art, lending a kinetic energetic style that makes the “scrawls of velocity” accompanying Edward’s drive home from getting supplies arguably the most dynamic movement of the entire issue. There’s not a lot of text in this one, but the art rewards contemplation. The Day Five action scene is very exciting.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #5 — There’s a nifty little twist here right at the end, but my suspicion that the general vacuity of every character in this series is borne out when a major character is killed and I don’t care one tiny little bit. The art remains tremendous, but these guys are all ciphers.

AVENGERS·X-MEN: AXIS #3—All right, the opening Deadpool captions are funny enough, but I am not a fan of the voice Remender gives Carnage and Loki. Really, not a fan of Carnage in general so maybe that’s a lost cause, but I didn’t realize to what extent Gillen’s take on the character has laid claim to the way I see him now. And actually, by the middle of the issue, even Deadpool covering The Monkees is a bit grating. It feels like a misfire to have the majority of this issue filled up with villains quipping clever. And then I totally don’t get what happened with Doom and everybody disappearing over that time-lapse. Very unclear cartooning from Yu, who delivers an otherwise good-looking issue. The script, at least, gets back on track in the final six-page scene when the heroes all wake up and start bickering about jurisdiction. And you know, Xavier’s mind potentially being salvaged from the Red Skull’s body, that’s a tricky one. Remender drops a fairly major plot beat here with Havok’s resignation. Other than that, three issues in, not a whole lot has happened thus far. We’ll see if they can get something cooking in a couple of weeks.


AVENGERS #037 — Well, Hickman likes his reversals, doesn’t he? Now that we’ve got up with Reed’s gang over in the other book, we get the regular artist of that title over here to check in with Steve’s crew, hot off of ORIGINAL SIN. And Deodato continues to knock it out of the park. This is yet another one of those issues that when you break down the plot into a synopsis, not really that much happens in terms of long-term development, but it always feels like just enough, and each single is a satisfying read unto itself. Hickman has struck upon the magic in the DNA of CIVIL WAR that Millar was so unable to mine. When you set hero against hero, you don’t need armies of villains. You’ve got enough character collision happening right there. More than enough! He has spent close to two years setting this up, stacking the ranks with dozens of heroes, and it is a delight to watch them play off one another now that the fuse has finally gone off.

Friday, October 24, 2014

10/15/14

BATMAN AND ROBIN #35 — Bruce’s Orphean quest into Apokolips continues. Gleason/Gray/Kalisz drop the serious ruckus on the five-page opening scene that sees him raining down justice on a gang of parademons. But, as great as that is, it’s even more fun to watch the gang of sidekicks sneak back into the Bat-Cave and band together to trick Cyborg into Boom-Tubing them to their mentor’s aid. I dig Jason’s “Ping Pang Poom” comment, but Kate’s subsequent “Who’s the idiot?” quip is even better. A pretty economical two-page scene with her, nothing but housekeeping, really, but a logical step before so many members of the family go off-world. But that is some cold-blooded shit, their dialogue while poor Vic is voluntarily strapping himself in to help out. And but how great is Alfred’s retrofit of Damian’s suits for the trio? This is another perfect slice of sequential narrative, completely satisfying on its own merits in episodic form even while pushing the main story along and leaving the reader ravenous for the next installment. Keep them coming, gentlemen!

BATMAN ETERNAL #28 — I do not like Jason calling him “Bats.” I wonder if the Moffat Building is a DOCTOR WHO shoutout. Have I said that before? And maybe it’s got something to do with this week’s THE WALKING DEAD Season Five premiere, but I’ve got to say, as soon as dude cocked back that baseball bat, I was totally flinching, Selina-as-The-Don-in-#35 ads notwithstanding. Meghan Hetrick and Romulo Fajardo, Jr.’s art really stands out in that scene in the Moffat Building, particularly in the close-ups of Selina. I love the tones on her face. But isn’t this the second or third time she’s brought up pole-dancing classes in this book? Let’s move on, already. But, man. As soon as Jade’s uncle pulled the trigger, you knew what was going to happen. So awful. Killer last panel (see above). For once, the ad placement opposite the last page is perfect. Another great issue of this weekly, going strong now for over half a year already.

FUTURES END #24 — This one was all right. A little bit coasting. Funny to have Angie all over Katar. Nice to see Scott and Barda back together even while expositing a bunch of carnage that we missed. The big hitch with this series is that I don’t give one great goddamn at any point when Superman shows up. Which means something has gone quite horribly wrong. Who can save us now?

FABLES #145 — Still loving the cover-as-first-page gag. That is certainly a strong three-page opening with Snow & Cinderella. Clever of Willingham to tack it on to the front of the issue “out of turn” and then just kick it into the main narrative. I assumed that we’d just get two pages of Roberson at the back. But the real trick is, setting that opening scene a week in the future and then winding the clock back for the Rose/Bellflower vs Bigby fight sets us up to know that the ladies are safe but that, hey, maybe Bigby’s about to get taken out of play with five issues still left to go. It’s a canny bit of narrative stagecraft. Willingham is so good. As are all of his cohorts, still, after all of these years.

SUPREME: BLUE ROSE #4 — The plot thickens pretty substantially here as we follow Doc Rocket away from Diana Dane and head over to the Hotel Krohme, which used to be the headquarters for a superhero team but is now apparently a bar where you can get a glass of quality rye whiskey. There, he meets Zayla Zarn, who relates that the generation of a Supreme is basically an inevitable occurrence that takes place whenever the world needs an “extremely energetic actor in human affairs.” However, all of this destabilizes the continuum and necessitates a continuity revision. But the last time that happened, something really screwed up, and it looks like the next eight hundred years are going to be a massive Dark Age. Unless something happens, presumably. Old Zayla did not seem terribly optimistic on that point. But, there must be hope! Professor Night is as wonderful as usual, but then we get a flash-forward to c. 2100 featuring “late human render ghosts” that is some pretty out shit, as far as these things go. Warren Ellis has considerable stones putting this out there. It is diamond-hard sci-fi, very much deserving of its Lynch-inspired title. There’s a narrative in here somewhere, but every time you think you’ve got your mind wrapped around it, it slithers away through some inverted hyper-dimensional triangular apparent non-sequitur that might mean everything in hindsight. Tula Lotay’s work is beautiful again. I never would have thought that anyone would be able to step to Moore’s classic run from fifteen years ago, but this is doing the job just fine.

TREES #6 — This book remains a very interesting study in restraint or really almost premise avoidance. It’s kind of a wacky trick. Here, we have this really solid set-up of these trees, giant towering alien ships that landed ten years ago in several major cities and that have just hung out there doing God knows what for all this time and don’t seem to consider human life worthy of the least bit of consideration. With that established, Ellis swerves all the way in the opposite direction from mythology or world-building and instead zooms all the way in on his cast for some in-depth character interaction. The majority of this issue is devoted to Chenglei dealing with the emotional aftermath of last night’s orgy with Zhen and friends. This is a complicated situation requiring several pages of hashing it out with his transgender uncle because Zhen is also transgender and Chenglei has been thinking that he was bi-sexual but now having completely fallen for a beautiful “girl with a cock” is kind of messing him up. Ellis never loses sight of the emotional core and writes honest relatable dialogue that manages to play as fairly universal even to straight folks who are comfortable with their initial gender and have not yet had the chance to participate in an orgy (never say never, young one!). Ellis’s beats do a bit more work here than usual, but Jason Howard still shoulders the bulk of the heavy lifting, really magnificent work on every page. Seems like there are only one or two more of these before they go on break, but I’ve enjoyed the relatively quiet introspective ride thus far.

DAREDEVIL #009 — Man, just in time for Halloween. These purple kids are horrifying. I dig the interaction first thing between Foggy, Kirsten, and Matt, the way that Waid bounces their dialogue off one another feels completely unforced and natural. Nice gag with Kirsten compressing “terse.” But all of that gives way to the main event, Matt vs. Killgrave’s offspring, which Waid choreographs to perfection. It’s like the guy’s been writing comics for nearly thirty years or something. And of course Samnee continues to rain down the destruction, more than ably abetted by Matthew Wilson. This one is still as great as they say, kids.

FANTASTIC FOUR #11 — Things continue to deteriorate for our intrepid quartet as Reed gets a pep talk from Wanda, Jen & Wyatt meet to discuss how bad everything is looking, Ben takes a shower in prison, Sue makes it back to Reed, and then someone who surely isn’t Barney Barton tries to fill Wyatt full of arrows but is stopped by a friendly neighborhood cameo. Robinson keeps everyone in character and Kirk/Kesel/Aburtov are turning in some A-list art. These guys aren’t garnering enough praise for the quality of their work.

UNCANNY X-MEN #027 — It is a such a joy to get Bachalo back on interiors, this book never really feels right without him. He takes a break from coloring his own lines this time (which maybe should be the deal for always if that will necessitate less fill-ins?) with Jose Villarrubia and Rain Beredo stepping in to provide work that manages to pop and maintain an even subtlety throughout. Old Matthew Malloy proves as formidable as Bendis has been Bendis-speaking us that he is as he manages to add a notch to the count of helicarriers that this book has swatted down from the sky like nothing more than a pesky housefly. The turn at the end isn’t quite a plot twist, but it’s exactly the way Scott would play it. It will be interesting to see where things go from here. Doesn’t Bendis know you’re not supposed to introduce formidable new mutants until the timeless evil of Fox Studios can be quashed? Shouldn’t the editors have nipped this whole thing in the bud before Bachalo ever got eyes on the script?

AVENGERS·X-MEN: AXIS #2—More good fun to be had here as Tony’s Sentinels kick the teams’ collective ass all up and down. I like the voice that Remender gives him in the first-person narrative captions, but the deal about Tony’s mental journal detailing everybody’s weaknesses is a biiiiiiit “Tower of Babel” for my taste. Did anyone think Young Nova was going to get his ruin smote upon the mountainside? The falling-for-Rogue thing seemed like a kiss of death, but I guess they’re not going to sacrifice him quite yet. If only readers had cottoned to Jeph Loeb’s random reboot of the character! Come to think of it, Remender has no problem doing a pretty straight cover version of AMAZING #33 with Tony on Page 12, there. That dude has a thing for reprising his favorite iconic mighty Marvel moments! Great deal with Magneto bailing. I still don’t care about Alex and Jan. At all. Pretty much anytime someone calls Nightcrawler “fuzzy elf,” that’s all it takes to get me all misty and nostalgic, apparently. And maybe it’s just coming off tonight’s previous issue, but that last shot of Magneto’s Eleven (apparently recruited in MAGNETO #11, natch!) reeeeeeally looks like Bachalo drew it. Kubert & Martin certainly tore it up, throughout, it must be said. Sorry to lose them next week, but of course Yu and friends will certainly crush it.

NEW AVENGERS #025 — I am wild for the premise of this crew as just the straight-up bad guys of the Marvel universe with Tony still completely M.I.A.. I mean, the old deal about how the most timeless villain is a hero in his own eyes? How are you going to get more compelling than Reed Richards leading a team of the smartest people in the world to save it from itself? I’m definitely onboard with all of these shenanigans. It’s testament to how interesting the dynamic is, not much happens besides the guys getting set up in an old pre-Fury S.H.I.E.L.D. hideout (paaaaaaaging Dustin Weaver) and then just hanging out there on the other end of the line while Cho gets captured back in AVENGERS #035. That’s pretty much the whole deal, and it’s riveting. Kev Walker’s style is a bit looser than the insane realism we’ve come to expect on this book from Deodato and Schiti, but it’s also quite reminiscent of JRJr., so who’s going to question that DNA here in the glorious old 616? That’s some cold shit, though, Sue interrogating Amadeus. You kind of get the feeling that she knew they were being monitored and was just letting Reed have it via remote. Cold, Sue.


BEST OF WEEK: ANNIHILATOR #2 — Very nice balanced symmetry from Irving in these first few pages of Spass & Nomax, here. Morrison has really hit upon something here with the notion of the biography of a character beamed into the writer’s head as a data bullet brain tumor with the only hope for survival being that the writer has to tell the guy’s story. I love how Irving cranks up the art and washes out all the colors during the story-within-a-story screenplay scenes. Morrison plays up the interplay between writer and protagonist to comedic effect. It is good fun to hear Max going on about Act Three or demanding to know “what happened next.” Just realizing a funny trick here, Ray not only introduces Jet Makro the Arch-Annihilator in his script because it’s the end of Act One, but by issue’s end, that very individual makes planetfall, crashing into the Hollywood sign (and seriously, the colors that Irving drops on that last page alone are jaw-dropping). But on the previous page, Max tells Ray that he is “absolutely the bad guy.” All of this at the end of the second issue, which is about where the proper first act of this series is apparently landing. Morrison has been all about the meta- for twenty-five years, but it’s exciting to observe him kicking it back and forth on so many simultaneous levels. I saved this for the end in the headlining slot but probably should have paired it with SUPREME: BLUE ROSE in hindsight. Serious business, all around.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

10/08/14

BEST OF WEEK: BATTLING BOY: THE RISE OF AURORA WEST — This is a tough gig on art. Paul Pope’s BATTLING BOY was the best book released last year, adored in equal measure by critics and fans alike. It actually managed to surpass the monstrous amounts of hype that accrued around an A-list industry superstar taking more years than initially projected to produce a new original work of more than two hundred pages. Shortly after its release, this prequel starring the female co-protagonist was announced. I was thrilled until hearing that Pope was only co-writing. There was no way this project would be able to hit the heights of solo Pope, not with any other cooks in the kitchen. Enter David Rubín. I don’t know where Pope found him, but this guy does an uncanny cover version of Pope’s very distinctive style that completely sells the most jaded critic. The layouts are inventive and dynamic, and the body language is completely rocking the Kirby dynamism (particularly, crucially, in the action sequences). Rubín manages to straddle that same line that Pope does between over-exaggerated cartoony stylization that’s totally madcap and fun with this really creepy ominous foreboding inherent in the scratchy linework. Rubín does a fantastic job depicting Aurora at several different points in time, aging her in immediately recognizable and very convincing ways so that the reader can identify how old she is at a glance. Then, he’s got an entirely different skill set going on with Haggard and Gately, both of whom are these imposing physical presences whose massive statue and gruff exteriors belie their obvious affection for their young charge. I could go on and on about Rubín, how well his black-and-white work holds up next to Pope’s full-color situation last year. But this would all be nothing more than a bunch of brilliant technical craft without Pope and J.T. Petty’s script, which imbues the story with its heart and soul. There is, of course, a major theme of barely buried melancholy running through this entire thing as we examine what a massive hole the death of Rosetta West has left in the lives of her husband and daughter, which is unfortunate enough just on a surface level, but infinitely worse when you’ve already hit the original and know how that opening scene plays out, what’s just around the corner for these characters. On top of everything else, this functions as a coming-of-age story for Aurora as she figures out that her imaginary friend might not have been so imaginary after all. This goes a very long way toward fleshing out not just the title character but one of Sadisto’s previously generic henchmen as well and retroactively imbues BATTLING BOY with even more depth and pathos then a first reading could possibly provide. The writers never lose sight of keeping the family dynamic front and center, which goes a long way toward fleshing out these characters and making them fully realized. Which, of course, makes the wait until the next full-on Pope installment of BATTLING BOY all the more grueling.

G.I. JOE VS TRANSFORMERS #3 — Scioli continues to produce cracked-out mashed-up cracklin’ entertainment that is both celebration and codification of the medium’s vast potential. No matter how high the stakes escalate in this conflict between the various armies of two worlds, Scioli’s sense of thrill and exhilaration is always front and center, which makes this a consistently fun read page after page, no matter who’s getting blown up or killed for a fake funeral or what have you. This guy packs as much into a double-page splash as other artists do into entire issues. Scioli also continues to elevate the source material by providing richer backstories and character motivation than even Hama did during his immortal (and still ongoing!) run. I would devour an entire book about Destro and Megatron just hanging out, verbally sparring over tactics and the craft of war. I also love the fact that even though we weren’t on Earth at all for #2, Scioli goes ahead and says that an issue’s worth of business actually went down, but we just missed it and so have to catch up. Once again, one of the best books of the month.

BATGIRL #35 — Hopes have been high ever since Babs Tarr’s fresh and fun redesign of Barbara’s costume hit the Internet a little while back. It actually got to the point that the hype kept building and building and people kept posting more and more fan art, and I started to wonder if the poor script could possibly meet the expectations that were building to such a massive level, week after week. However, Cameron Stewart & Brenden Fletcher overcome the odds and manage to deliver a first issue that sets a definitive tone from the first page that is a bit more light-hearted than what we have come to expect from the majority of The New 52. Opening with Barbara’s move places the focus squarely on her secret identity and provides a richness of characterization that has been lacking in the character since Simone’s exit. And the interpersonal reactions with her new roommates are entertaining unto themselves. The reader certainly isn’t sitting around waiting for the tights to come out, it’s fun enough to watch the characters all bounce off one another the morning after Barbara’s debaucherous moving-in party that is sadly only depicted in flashback (though it should be noted that the method of depiction via our heroine’s photographic memory is a very cool trick that is running neck-and-neck with Scioli above for this week’s best “only in comics!” moment). Stacking the supporting cast with Dinah Lance crashing on the couch is a great idea, particularly in light of the last-page twist. This one is a little bit less all-ages than I was expecting. It’s probably just barely over the line of not being appropriate for my five-year-old in the way that GOTHAM ACADEMY totally is, but the slightly racier tone is a good fit for the character and plays well here. Yet another impressive launch from DC’s line of Batman books, the only corner of Editorial that has been consistently knocking it out of the park for the past three years.

BATMAN #35 — At last! It’s almost been half of this volume’s lifespan, but we finally made it back to the present. So great to open with the simple “GOTHAM CITY, NOW” caption. Of course, ha ha, Snyder’s still got to mention Zero Year in the very first narrative caption. We get it, Snyder, it was a whole thing, man! Zero Year, it really happened! You’ve sold us on it. It’s cool to see young Lola there in the opening section and even better to at least get a page of that future from #28 that they keep teasing. Snyder naturally writes a terrific dynamic between Bruce, Alfred, and Julia. And the rest is Capullo/Miki/Plascencia slugfest thunder. The JLA attacks. This is one of those cases where there’s no way that what we got should have been the cover. I really wish they would have saved the one they used until next issue and let it actually be a surprise because as soon as Diana shows up, your first question shouldn’t be, “All right, cool, but where’s Clark?” It should be riveting enough that she’s there all by herself. A fun set-up here, though, going forward. Capullo’s had a couple of months to get ahead, so here’s hoping he’s strapped in for another blessed year of regular deadline delivery goodness.

BATMAN ETERNAL #27 — I don’t know these guys, Javier Garron on art with Romulo Fajardo, Jr. on colors, but they continue this book’s tradition of importing guys with a strong European aesthetic that really makes this book feel different from what we’ve been getting lately in all the regular books. When Ibanescu starts talking to the Zebra and actually addressing it as Zebra, though, that’s probably the high point of this issue for me. Cool to see Flamingo pop up, it’s always nice when someone runs with one of the million things Morrison’s tossed off. And we’ve definitely got a couple of crazy cliffhangers to follow up on. Next week!

FUTURES END #23 — Everything keeps clipping along here. I remain a fan of the Frankenstein/Amethyst crew’s extraplanetary explorations. That was a nice line Atom got about swords for those of us who collected comics in the eighties. Still really not caring about Voodoo’s squad, and the Tim/Madison plot is taking quite a dip now if we’re just going to turn it into a triangle with Ronnie, of all people. That ending, though. Yeah, man. It must be October. Completely horrifying.

ARROW: SEASON 2.5 #1 — All right, I’m confused. I picked this up because I was feeling giddy about the Season Three premiere today, but I thought this was supposed to be a bridge between the seasons? Why do we care about a Brother Blood cliffhanger at this point, is this supposed to be him coming back? I doubt it? The whole deal is ill-advised. I’m sticking with Amell.

WYTCHES #1 — “The Black Mirror” is one of my favorite Dick Grayson stories of all time, so of course I was onboard when Scott Snyder & Jock announced this new creator-owned, very wisely soliciting the talents of one of the best colorists in the business and previous Snyder collaborator on THE WAKE, Matt Hollingsworth, and Clem Robins of 100 BULLETS lettering fame to round out the creative ensemble. This was even better than I was expecting, though. You can tell that everyone involved really put their heart and soul into the work even while hustling it up to get in print during the month of October. We open with a horrifying scene of a mother about to get apparently eaten by a tree and failing to receive assistance from her young son in a manner that is most disturbing and that yields the probable catch-phrase of the comic, “Pledged is pledged.” Cut to the present and we’ve got a dad trying to buoy the spirits of his daughter while waiting for the bus to take her to her first day at a new school. There are a couple of major plot escalations that I won’t spoil, but the bulk of this issue is spent laying groundwork, establishing who these people are. Snyder does really efficient characterization via a long-distance phone call between the dad, who’s a graphic novelist, and his editor. This is important work because we only get a few pages to ground these characters in a relatable situation before the serious shit really starts coming down, so serious that we’re going to have to wait another month to catch the whole thing on-panel. Razor-sharp narrative craft throughout from Snyder, but Jock and Hollingsworth do plenty of heavy lifting here, building suspense by sending the camera over to the woods just when we’re getting comfortable with some heartwarming characterization. Really, the dominant element that I’m coming away with sitting here typing without my copy within arm’s reach is Hollingsworth’s reds. He always varies up his palette depending on the project, but here he keeps things not quite as muted as HAWKEYE but pretty restrained nonetheless, reining it in with some quiet daytime yellows giving way to ominous blues and greens before exploding into these vibrant reds. This is a very promising start, and I fully expect all parties to deliver on the promise of this initial installment.

PUNKS: THE COMIC #1 — Very cool to see this return after such a long hiatus. I was lucky enough to pick up the first issue from Kody Chamberlain at a con a few years back and was struck by its completely unique usage of paste art in the name of depicting general skullfuck insanity. Fialkov & Chamberlain have only gotten more demented in the past few years. This issue’s sequence with Dog and Larry, then King Dog versus the all-out gnome attack is wonderful and horrifying. I had to take a little walk when it was over just to pull myself together. There’s really nothing else like this on the rack. Or anywhere else. Recommended to fans of the fundamentally disturbing absurd.

SEX CRIMINALS #8 — This book might actually be even better when it for the most part dodges its original premise and just lets the characters hang out and tell us shit through that broken fourth wall. As invested as everyone is in Jon & Suze’s relationship, the opening scene of the latter scoping out Robert Rainbow during an OB/GYN visit manages to play not as some kind of betrayal but actually does some solid work fleshing out her character out and making her seem even more endearing. Who wouldn’t want a bit of an escape to normalcy after all that crazy shit that went down in the first arc? And RR turning out to be the absent Cat Man from Jon’s past is wonderful. Once again, as good as the actual funny book pages are, they’re trumped by the heartfelt outpourings from the readers, many of whom have apparently just lost their virginity and/or are receiving powerful resonances with Jon battling ADHD/OCD, if this month is a representative sample. The absolute best thing about this whole issue, though, is Zdarsky telling the readers to drop Gillen/McKelvie a line at the THE WICKED + THE DIVINE e-mail address to tell them what their book helps readers masturbate onto. Incredible.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #24 — Goodness day! Our Mister Hickman is a bit zanier than he has previously let on. I mean, sure, you put Oswald on the first page, but I didn’t think that that meant that we were just going to do the whole thing here and now. Pitarra continues to hone the precision of his linework and Bellaire’s tones are as beautifully complementary as ever. A perfect example of the insanity of this book is that we can cut straight from 11/22/63 to four pages of Von Braun and Gagarin lost in space searching for Laika and then getting abducted by a giant alien mothership. This book is nothing but good fun.

ASTRO CITY #16 — I had no complaints with the previous two-parter, but Busiek and company all dig a little bit deeper here and reinforce why this has been one of the very best books on the rack whenever it’s shown up over the past twenty years. This is a really sweet tale that began life as an eight-page back-up feature detailing Superman’s college years (of course it did!). The Silver Age love is right there in the DNA. The main feature is timeless and universal. I had a bit of a hiccup toward the end jumping back to the present and then had to go back and reread the opening sequence to really fully process how it all went down. The transitioning overall could have been smoother, we saw the stitches a little bit, but I very much didn’t care. This is a beautiful piece of work, and I’m grateful that we live in a world where this book not only appears so regularly that we’re already on #16, but it’s still building and gaining momentum from the very first page of this volume toward something that has only barely been hinted at while we’ve been getting entertained as hell along the way. And nowhere else has the terrific cover-as-first-page gimmick Vertigo’s been doing this month yielded such glorious fruit as Alex Ross just about getting tricked into producing a page of sequential action. Good on ya, Shelly Bond!

BLACK SCIENCE #9 — Man, that is a pretty bleak way to open the issue here with the Becca’s Dead Twin flashback. Unfortunate. Matteo Scalera & Dean White have arguably never looked better. These pages are glorious. The two-page spread of the cars racing through the marketplace is out of control. And that whole second-person captions deal in the back half of this issue certainly does end on a crazy twist. Man, nine issues in, and these fellas are just barely ramping up the crazy. Strong work!

AVENGERS—X-MEN: AXIS #1 — Remender does a terrific job setting up the ensemble’s chemistry from the very first page, providing a tight rapid-fire shot of banter as the team flies up to the scene of the latest dastardly doing. The tone is Whedon meets Bendis, which I suppose is the bull’s-eye you want to be aiming for with the Avengers these days. Grounding the characters’ interactions in the rhythms of Whedonspeak goes a long way toward making these pages feel like a widescreen adventure at the multiplex, which helps distinguish it from the seemingly never-ending onslaught (I’m sorry) of these things that bleed one into another. This is a good choice to set the scene, checking in with these guys before cutting back to the cliffhanger from UNCANNY AVENGERS #025. Things get pretty drastic pretty quickly as the Red Onslaught fellow brings Wanda in his thrall the damn first page after the titles, which is really not a good thing. All the really horrible shit always starts with Wanda, seems like. But there is a nice moment of Summers brothers reconciliation before more horrible things are about to erupt. Adam Kubert & Laura Martin show up with their usual high level of craft, imbuing every scene with enough grandeur to make this feel like maybe possibly this one will be a big deal. Remender’s got a pretty strong track record, so I’m certainly willing to extend him some credit, but I’ve got to say that just in terms of premise, it seems like maybe he’s digging a little bit too deep into the old nineties well. I mean, I was all for going back to the Age of Apocalypse back in UNCANNY X-FORCE, but this whole Red Onslaught thing might be a little much. What’s next, “X-Cutioner’s Song 2?”


AVENGERS #036 — Well, this is one cover that certainly came true, isn’t it? The cool thing about Hickman’s time-jump is that he can actually make Thor and all the crew probably dying on the other side of the multiverse seem pretty plausible to the less jaded readership just because it will take years and years of present-day Marvel stories starring that unworthy fellow to catch up to this point. Really cool to see former SECRET WARRIORS collaborator Stefano Caselli back in the saddle on this one. The guy’s another seriously underrated professional. In other news, Bobby has pretty much just turned into Tony Stark? It’s not only his title and role within the ensemble, he even seems scripted like Downey’s delivery all of a sudden. Once again, Hickman does solid work filling an issue in which basically one thing happens (they leave) with enough strong character-based interaction that it makes for a satisfying read in singles. Thanks, man.

Friday, October 10, 2014

10/1/14

BEST OF WEEK: GOTHAM ACADEMY #1 — Ever since this was announced with the cover for this issue serving as the sole piece of promo art, I have been really pumped for this series, in large part because I couldn’t wait to read it with my little girl (we have a big old LI’L GOTHAM-sized hole in our month, these days), but also just because it looked like a slam-dunk from the beginning. I love everything from Cloonan and have been jonesing for some more sequentials from Kerschl since finding his offering from WEDNESDAY COMICS five years ago (!) to be arguably the greatest Flash story ever (except for probably that brilliant retcon Fleming/Infantino did in SECRET ORIGINS ANNUAL #2 that has Barry turning into the lightning bolt that hit him immediately after CRISIS #8, but whoa hey, we’re already way off-topic). Karl Kerschl is a seriously underrated A-list type of fella. I went into this with pretty high hopes that were completely surpassed. From the get-go, we’re thrown into the middle of it with a protagonist named Olive Silverlock whose grumpy disposition hints at a troubled summer and who, in the same dualistic fashion that is such a hallmark of these mythos, is saddled with a sidekick who is the embodiment of joy and excitement. That’s not all, as in due course, we are quickly introduced to the headmaster, the soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend, the nemesis, and the roommate before a dangerous climax erupts and we are treated to the inevitable cameo of our dear Master Bruce. Cloonan/Fletcher nail every beat of this, setting up these character interactions with an economical grace. These folks are all tropes of young adult fiction, but it’s the eponymous setting that’s the real star here, as well as its effect on these admittedly stock initial set-ups. The best thing about the characterization, though, is that Olive has total agency and requires no one to save her or even set her straight. Her motivation is totally internal. Which can be tricky to portray outside of moving pictures, and the team pulls it off well, here. But can we talk about Karl Kerschl? The building itself is a marvel, projecting the vibe of a haunted house that you wouldn’t mind getting lost in at least as long as the sun is up. Then, he’s got a quasi-manga thing going on with these faces, the bigger eyes and noses turned slightly upward, which is a good fit, here. And even the shape of his panel layouts is innovative, stacking them in ways that don’t immediately call attention to themselves but that are really quite impressive once you look a little closer, recalling bricks and other architectural structures. A master storyteller, to be sure. And on colors, Geyser (?) and Dave McCaig really make this feel like a living, breathing world that you could fall right into. This first issue does everything right and sets up what looks to be serious greatness to come.

GRAYSON #3 — Heartbreaking. I think this one might just barely have been a tighter script than last month’s, which crushed me, except now we have Brother Janin’s immaculate linework and layouts to accentuate the emotional devastation. The Dick-pun thing really annoyed me on the promos and the first page of #1, but they pushed it so far here, not only on that already timeless Page 3/4 one-two punch here but then throughout in the remainder of Agent 8’s dialogue, I don’t know, I guess I just have to salute them for commitment? (but not dick-salute, it feels like I have to explicitly state) What I’m getting distracted from saying is that this is already blasting up over the horizon of DC’s very best monthly offerings and these guys are obviously only just getting started. Dick has never been in better hands. I hate to say?

BATMAN ETERNAL #26 — I really love Tim doing the Wiley Wiggins bridge-of-the-nose grab while saying “We’re getting away from the point.” And the point is: More Guera sequentials! Such a coup for this book, man. It is a really terrific touch how Guera recreates the black and white flashbacks that Lee did in Hush, not only so smart but what execution. That splash recreation of Hush running up the bridge shooting at our boy is strong material. I love Julia “Penny-Two” Pennytworth finally saying “Master Bruce.” That shit is earned, people.

FUTURES END #22 — Everything is certainly spinning along now! I can’t believe there have been twenty-two of these things, the time has raced on by. But storylines are paying off. I don’t care really at all about Voodoo’s squad, but that guy talking horrible exposition to himself, and acknowledging that he was doing so in-dialogue, was a pretty unfortunate part of an otherwise entertaining issue. I totally didn’t realize that that was Ronnie Raymond being a dick in Tim’s bar earlier, whenever that was. Zircher shows up and kills it again, that final double-page spread is every bit the stunner it needs to be. The Blood Moon, indeed!

WONDER WOMAN #34 — All hands are on deck and the dialogue is sharp and the art is sharper, but for a penultimate run-up, this whole situation feels a little bit shallow. The craft appears immaculate but isn’t devastating me like experience tells me should be happening here at the end of a run this long that I’ve enjoyed throughout. I’m confused.

AMERICAN VAMPIRE: SECOND CYCLE #5 — Whaaaaaaat? No Albuquerque?!? This seemed like a pretty scandalous deal when I turned to the first page and noticed this fact for the first time, but Matias Bergara does plenty of good work, and it turns out this is an American Vampire story really only nominally, being the mainly epistolary tale of an 1850 claim called Royal Forkes that is much more horrible than it at first appears. Snyder’s word count is probably three times what it usually is, what with all of the diary pages, and this whole deal is very much a thematic descendant of old EC Comics. Except for a brief mention to our doomed present-day hero’s friend Agent Book, this story has pretty much nothing to do with the AV mythos, but I didn’t care one little bit, as it provided solid entertainment watching the fella willfully lower himself right down out of this mortal coil. Don’t go down there, bro! What are you hoping to find?

LAST BORN #1 — The first issue of a brand new series is a very tricky beast to wrangle. You’ve got to hook the reader from the beginning while establishing both the rules of your universe and the tone that you’re going to be rolling with going forward, balancing action beats and dialogue while doing the most important work: getting your reader to invest in your character(s), all of this while delivering an installment that is both satisfying on its own merits and also gives a glimpse of this magnificent story that you’re going to tell with a satisfying conclusion sitting there just on the far side of the horizon. That’s why when it’s done perfectly, the results are symphonic. But, it’s a rare beast. UMBRELLA ACADEMY and CASANOVA are the last two that hit me as perfect first issues. This issue opens with a scene that seems intentionally disorienting, something goes wrong with some guys in hazmat suits at a cave, and it ruins the mind of the dad of our narrator, who turns out to be a girl in 1961 who wants to graduate high school and live life as a free-spirited Wellesley girl. But her aunt and boring boyfriend have other ideas. He proposes to her, and she’s not having it, so she runs into the woods and gets white-flashed into this ruined future landscape. Here’s the coolest deal about the issue, she stumbles upon some sort of projector that has a pair of possibly reptilian (?) guys in armor saying that Cycle 7 is over and they tried their best to take care of Cycle 8 in utero, but they just don’t know, and Goddess save Cycle 9. Cut back to blasted future landscape, there’s a brief conflict, she falls in with a couple of other folks, and they walk off. Then, some new dude crashes in from parts unknown, says he shouldn’t have drunk so much, cut to 2341 and it turns out the world’s going to end, so this same dude (who it looks like is probably a past version of the drunk dude from the last page, you can tell because he’s hitting a flask) says, Let’s start the world over. And we cut to a shot of hologram heads of our heroine and those two she just met here at the end along with a counter that confirms that the world will end in 46 days just like those guys said. There are definitely some cool concepts being flung around here, and I’m curious to see where they go. Unfortunately, Patrick Meany, whose Morrison documentary I really enjoyed, doesn’t pack his characters with anywhere near enough depth to make me invest in them. I just barely care about the protagonist, and every single other character is flat and underdeveloped. If the old guy and little girl from blasted future landscape are in any way pivotal to the development of the overall narrative, as that final panel suggests, then they need a much stronger introduction. Having the girl talk in 3-point type isn’t going to do it. I want to check this out next time and see where it goes, because it’s clearly just getting started, but this thing was nowhere near LOST meets . . . I forget now, advance hype had it as wither STAR WARS or THE INVISIBLES, but not even close, so far.

THE FADE OUT #2 — It’s kind of a trip, sets my mind spinning, these same talented folks just opening the door into yet another sprawling story. And the surface similarities to SATELLITE SAM don’t make it any easier, I think I said last month, though of course nobody’s confusing this also-great art with Chaykin in black and white. You know, if these folks put it out, I will be happy to drown in it, everybody was so at the top of their game fifty issues ago that this whole deal is like one gorgeous long noir tapestry and when one movie runs out, the projectionist already has the next one ready to go on the other reel, so it never really ends. That was an interesting note from Brubaker in the backmatter because I TOTALLY too away that Charlie thought he done killed her last issue, so I guess I’m going to have to go back and investigate all of this subtlety to which Brubaker is referring.

MORNING GLORIES #41 — A Guillaume-centric! Towerball! Jun/Hisao! I think really Jun! A rotting Hisao corpse! Or a rotting Jun corpse that used to have Hisao in it! A Jade sacrifice! Isn’t she the one we see with Hunter in the future, though? Or from the future? Or am I making all of that up? Shouldn’t I always read these much earlier in the night before having so many Lone Stars? When will I pull the trigger on the Very Necessary Reread of all this crazy?

GOD HATES ASTRONAUTS #2 — I feel like I need to be maybe a little bit more on drugs to fully appreciate this. Or fully appreciating this makes me feel maybe a little bit more on drugs? I believe that, like last month, I will simply summarize the four-page opening scene as a microcosm of the insane experience of willfully opening yourself up to Ryan Browne’s diseased mind with no filter. Because any more contemplation or consideration of this will surely reduce my once-noble mind to vegetative status. 3-D Cowboy introduces us to a flashback of Dr. Professor’s first day on the job at NASA. Dr. Professor is greeted by Dr. Axligator, an alligator with a battle axe. Dr. Professor is a rhinoceros, remember. Dr. Axligator escorts Dr. Professor to Mission Control, where an astronaut owl on the moon reports via comlink that he (the owl) had sex with Mrs. Axligator. But no, it is only a joke. The owl, Owldrin, and Seal Armstrong, a seal, are hitting golf balls on the moon when a little crab walks up, clearly smitten with the golf ball, the tee, or both. Seal Armstrong hits the crab into outer space while Owldrin somehow consumes a bottle of booze through his helmet. Seal offers the booze to Owldrin. They look up and are surprised to find a “crab blitzkrieg,” hundreds and hundreds of outer space crabs descending on them from outer space. That’s the first four pages.

SILVER SURFER #006 — This is nothing more than terrific cosmic fun. I know I always keep bringing it up, but it’s because Slott so nails the The Doctor/Companion dynamic in this book, and this issue is a really great second-episode-of-the-season all on its own. We’ve got the status quo established finally, and it’s time to ride that board out as far as it will take us. Has Dawn already been calling the board “Toomie” before now? I just got it this time out, that’s pretty funny. The Allreds continue to ascend toward a peak in the distant horizon, these pages look as good as anything we’ve ever seen from them. I was so grateful for that last shot, right when I made it to the page-turn, involuntarily stopped and said to myself, “Oh, they’re not going to GIVE it to us, are they?” They did. This book is as much fun as it should be. As comics should be, in general.

FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #1 — This was hard to get through in the best of ways. Gutwrenching, really. Robinson has put the titular quartet through the wringer since his first page, and it’s really starting to take a toll on not just the characters but me as a reader. I just want to go have some fun exploring the Negative Zone once in a while! Nothing bad ever happens there. But here, we have a visibly shaken Sue on her last legs just trying to force her family back together and make everything okay, but it’s too late for that. I’m still just having so much trouble reconciling this in my head. Doom was totally in the right here. At no point was he acting in any way that was completely morally and ethically acceptable given the circumstances. It was Sue who dropped in, threw a fit, and trashed the entire damn castle. This story benefits from the added page count of an annual to give Tom Grummett enough room to really stretch out and show us what happens when the most powerful member of the FF is pushed to the edge. And it doesn’t hurt that Hickman’s run coinciding with my daughter’s infancy made Valeria probably my favorite character in this title for all time. Some annuals and most Point-One issues are skippable fill-ins. This is not one of those.

UNCANNY AVENGERS #025 — Man, I don’t know. I hate to say that the thrill is all the way gone, but I’m just still having a hard time re-enlisting for a second tour with this crew after that brilliant first ride. I wish I could figure out how to shield myself from the advance media cycle, because I’m sure that seeing The Red Skull in Onslaught armor out of nowhere in full context might possibly have been an actually shocking moment, but Marvel keeps ruining it by plastering that shit all over everywhere three-months-and-counting-down-from-then-on before it happens, so by the time it’s time, I’m just like, “No, Magneto, don’t kill him, you’re just going to make him the psychic amalgam of you and Charles from the nineties. Somehow. I guess because Remender is serious aces at recycling All A That Shit?” And then I just turn the page and am like, Yeah, bring on the AXIS, then. It’s certainly a neat trick how they copped the NEW X-MEN upside-downable palindrome trick on the logo.


ALSO BEST OF WEEK: BUCKY BARNES: THE WINTER SOLDIER #001 — It’s quite the week for crushing debuts, and these two are so far on the end of the thematic and tonal spectrum, trying to decide which one is better than the other is ridiculous. This series sounded like a really serious set-up from the moment that the title and creative team were announced, but when the premise became clear at the end of ORIGINAL SIN, I knew that we were going to be in for a hell of a ride. But, man, did these guys deliver. Marco Rudy on full art continues to absolutely crush every single panel of every page, lavishing gorgeous painted tones all over the place that recall early Vertigo greats like McKean and Fegredo, as well as Sienkiewicz and cited inspiration David Mack. Just like that Spidey mini that came out a little while back with Kindt, I found myself much more indignant than usual at the presence of ads in this book. How dare they be presented opposite such works of beauty? Why not put them at the back of the book like DC was good enough to do for JWIII on BATWOMAN before they pissed him off? Brother Rudy’s just going to have to start coming with the all double-page layout spreads so that we won’t be inundated with the requisite ten pages of ads amidst all this beauty. I do notice, going back through it now, that these are all in-house ads. Weird deal. At any rate, Ales Kot delivers a tight, very well balanced script that has Bucky and Hickman’s Daisy Johnson being basically pro-active assassins across the universe in the name of keeping Earth safe from invasion. I do wish Jason Aaron, or whomever made it up, didn’t go with “The Man on the Wall” as the title because every single time I read those words, I can’t help but picture Jon Snow and all those other boys on the Knight’s Watch. Maybe that’s just me. What’s so great about this script, though, the balance I was talking about. This is a deeply weird, pretty hard science fiction type situation that could totally get bogged down in the seriousness and stakes of what they’re doing, but Kot knows just when to buoy the situation and keep things light with the platonic camaraderie between the two leads or lines like the already-famous “Imperius Sex.” He also manages to pack this first time out full of ideas that seem like they’re setting up a whole lot of what’s to come. This is yet another Marvel book that is very much its own creature and would have been unimaginable without the creative freedom and risk-taking that Editorial has been actively fostering under Alonso’s regime these past few years. I doubt that it’s deliberate, but they’ve basically taken all the superspy espionage that was such a focal component of Brubaker’s run and mashed it up with that madcap deep space weirdness that worked out so well for Chris Pratt and his crew at the multiplexes this summer. And, more importantly, made it work. An amalgam I can definitely get behind, and these boys are just getting started. Highly recommended.