Monday, April 14, 2014

4/02/14

BEST OF WEEK: TRILLIUM #8 — What a stunning finale. I was certainly expecting these boys to land the trick, have been since the first issue, but they really really knocked it out of the park. Even though both of our leads have finally at long last overcome their obstacles and made it to 3797, there is no way that they’re going to get a happy ending, but Jeff Lemire handles this a way that’s seemingly calculated to break our hearts just as hard as possible. In just eight issues, Lemire has crafted a serious and damaging love story for the ages. Every issue has been very entertaining on its own, but this final installment is executed to perfection with a level of craft that takes my breath away and really just ripped me apart. Of course he wasn’t done with the flip-booking, there’s one last trick left to perform before we’re done. The final double-page painting is incredibly moving, dialogue-free art resolving the narrative on a primal level. Which of course takes us back to cave paintings. As much as I love THE ESSEX TRILOGY and SWEET TOOTH and THE UNDERWATER WELDER, this is very probably Lemire’s finest work. Magnificent on every level. Wonderful to have his frequent Jose Villarrubia along for the ride as well. I cannot recommend this highly enough and look forward to owning the collected edition.

ACTION COMICS #30 — All right, this one didn’t knock me out the way those first half a dozen hits of Pak/Kuder did, and I think I can attribute it to both the plot being a bit of a dip from the densely packed previous arc featuring both Lana and Baka along for the ride along with editorial’s refusal to just give Aaron Kuder a fill-in for an entire month and let him get some lead time rather than continuing to alternate his pages with Jed Dougherty’s, because the contrast is starting to be a bit more marked. The foreshortening on the bottom of Page Four might be technically correct but is a terrible stylistic mesh with Kuder’s style which, when it kicks back in on Page Eight, is a terrific relief. But we shouldn’t have this jarring clash. What’s Gene Ha doing? Not drawing that second season of TOP 10, is he? Or Cameron Stewart? Or maybe try to woo Marco Rudy back into the fold? There are plenty of top-drawer guys who can come in and blow it up for twenty pages and let Kuder get ahead with more of his greatness. It’s the greatness this city deserves, dammit.

DETECTIVE COMICS #30 — Well, we all knew that the art was going to be glorious, didn’t we? Unfortunately, I don’t know if the pressure of outdoing their work on the FLASH title pages was too much or the greatness of those pages was becoming too much of a thing all on its own, but Manapul & Buccellato elect to drop the Eisner title pages for this, which is disappointing enough, but combined with the painfully on-the-nose caption on that first two-page spread, we’re off to much more of a limping start, narratively speaking, than I had imagined possible. I am a fan of that beat they hit a few pages later when Elena Aguila mentions Damian reaching those awkward teen years. It’s just a vertical sliver of a panel with no dialogue only taking up an eighth of the page but the look on Bruce’s face carries all the emotional weight just fine. Unfortunately, overall this issue is a jagged collection of scenes that definitely throw some ideas out there and provide plenty of set-up but that don’t cohere into a whole that feels like anything we haven’t seen before. It’s certainly pretty to look at, but these boys did not blow it up here in their first installment to the extent that I was hoping they would.

MOON KNIGHT #002 — What an exceptionally cool opening scene. The first eight pages consist of eight panels per page, each one picking up the action on a separate protagonist with the final one taking a bullet in the head to kick things off. Each character is picked off one page at a time until all are dead. It’s a nifty trick, one of those things that can only work in this medium, and Ellis & Bellaire pull it off with plenty of flair. However, that only leaves twelve pages for our hero to quickly find the sniper and have a brief round with him before the issue comes to an abrupt end. Very well done, but a bit skinny on the narrative side for my three dollars American and ninety-nine cents.

PRETTY DEADLY #5 — Just when the recap can’t ball any harder, we get that ellipsis and “to save the world” to crank it on up into the stratosphere. So good. I didn’t think that DeConnick & Rios had any room to take this any higher, but they find a way here in the final issue of the first arc. This is once again nothing less than a rhapsodic and poetic elevation of the medium itself with both creators digging deep and summoning forth words and art that are as much a fever dream celebration of the ability to create as any kind of linear narrative. I find it difficult to critically analyze this series because I simply don’t want to. In the same way that I never ever want to learn how to play the intro to Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage.” Because I don’t want to understand the magic too well. I strongly suspect that that would spoil it, ruin it. It’s a precious thing that must be cradled and protected. Reading the back half of this issue made me picture David Lynch running down a long long string of an entire evening’s worth of fireworks, thousands and thousands of dollars worth, and he’s laughing kind of quietly to himself and has that mad glee sparkling in his eyes and he has a torch and is lighting them each and every one and then they all go off at once and it is beautiful and spectacular and unforgettable, only when it’s over, all you can remember is the quiet breathless happiness it gave you to see something like that, just to know that it could even be made anywhere by people and but all you can really see when you try to picture it in your memory is just the lingering flashes of all of those great explosions burned into your retinas.

SECRET #7 — Ryan Bodenheim continues to turn in very tight pencils, sharp details and a high quality of rendering. However, Hickman has done pretty much nothing to get me to invest in these people whatsoever. They sit around talking and punctuating badass clauses with italics or emboldening, and every now and again, someone gets all shot to pieces. I guess I’m going to keep picking this up just for the art? For another couple issues, at least?

BLACK SCIENCE #5—They are just cranking these out, aren’t they? We get an interesting perspective from Kadir’s point of view in the opening as to why our protagonist Grant McKay, in fact, sucks. When you read this issue’s title, were you hearing it in Gordon Gano’s voice? I sure was. I suspected our mysterious new antagonist was Mrs. McKay but probably should have seen the actual identity coming. I love that there are onion frequencies. Every time I hear the name Pia, I think about the nice lady who drew sixty issues of Yorick Brown running around with his capuchin and a bunch of ladies. That is one stellar double-page spread at the end, there. Which I thought was the high note we were going to go out on, but then Remender drops the bit in the letters column about Waylon narrating the adventures of them Duke boys being contained in a chip in this comic as part of some devastating twenty-first century immersive multi-media experience. Utterly crushing.


STARLIGHT #2—Millar & Parlov return to prove that the first issue was not a fluke in the masterful economy of its premise presentation. I’ve got to say that HAWKEYE has pretty much ruined me on being that scared of a predatory alien race called the Broteans, though. This issue does exactly what it’s supposed to with nearly ruthless precision, namely move our protagonist out of retirement and into play in our science fiction setting, all while tricking him out with a twelve-year-old spaceboy sidekick and providing all kinds of validation for forty years of everyone telling him that he’s crazy and totally was not a pulp adventure space hero way back when. Parlov continues to burn it down here and Ive Svorcina’s color choices deserve special recognition. Really stellar material here.

Monday, April 7, 2014

3/26/14

BEST OF WEEK: THE SANDMAN: OVERTURE #2 — Daniel has shown up at least a couple of times since SANDMAN #75 took its final bow twenty years ago. I recall him popping up toward the end of Morrison’s JLA run when everything was going insane enough that it was just like, Oh of course there’s the new Sandman, and then we were off to the next hyperdimensional assault with barely a beat to process what was happening. And then seems like he popped up in ENDLESS NIGHTS, I want to say? Somewhere under Gaiman’s pen, and I don’t believe there are any other contenders. At any rate, starting the first page of this issue off with the simple caption “NOW” and having Daniel apologize to Lucien and telling him that it is definitely today sent a serious charge rippling right through me. I only signed up for a prequel and tuning the narrative window in to whatever the latest incarnation is up to in this very moment is a glorious decision. Of course, we’ve got to have Mad Hettie along for the ride. I wonder if Alan Moore can be arsed to read even and only this one DC series to check in on his one-time protégé’s latest (when I saw Gaiman at Comic-Con in ’07, he told a terrific Alan Moore story involving Mad Hettie, and I have never since been able to see the character and not think of him). At any rate, we get eight pages of Daniel and Hettie walking around while she delivers her backstory after all this time, because OF COURSE, and then they unearth some pivotal macguffin that’s surely going to be all kinds of crucial to the main narrative at hand, namely the multiple incarnations of our protagonist that gave J.H. Williams III the chance last issue to prove how many different artistic styles he could cram into a single spread. Gaiman’s dialogue between the various Morpheuses is perfect, of course he would find himself an insufferably arrogant ass. The original Dream has an appropriately terrifying character design. This is the issue in which our premise is delivered. Nothing less than a star has gone mad and all of existence threatens to fold into the imminent void. Naturally, our Dream and the cat Dream pair off to go and save all of Creation, apparently by having what promises to be an emotionally detached conversation with his/their father. The Endless have parents?!? I love how Gaiman just tosses that off in the last panel, there. Kudos to DC for presenting these 24 pages ad-free and then making the ad-space in the back nothing but Buckingham interior pages of DEAD BOY DETECTIVES. That is worth your four dollar bills every single time right there, no problem. Williams continues to prove that absolutely no one could have done a better job at this than him, unflappably knocking out cross-sections of Mad Hettie’s old loony bin, the scene with the aforementioned Dreams, and cross-dimensional encounters involving lunatic stars with aplomb and apparent ease, though it has to be anything but. I hope we don’t have to wait five more months for #3, but as long as it takes, man, as long as it takes.

THE WAKE #7 — We open with a four-page prologue that looks to be the secret origin of Leeward, in all likelihood the last time she laid eyes on her father and first encounters General Marlow, a seemingly even-tempered fellow who uses the pledge of allegiance to terrorize. Sean Murphy once again proves himself a master of character acting through facial expressions (Leeward’s glee at speaking into the CB-radio on Panel Five of the first page is infectious) giving way to sweeping cinematic vistas, in this case Leeward’s father’s airship making ready to depart with his neighbors’ vehicles hovering tethered in the background and the sky inviting escape. Tellingly, the ship is oriented to fly in a right-to-left direction, the opposite of how we read Western comics, which at first glance might be a dicey storytelling decision, but Murphy is such a beast, I figured right away that it was probably because this ship probably wasn’t going anywhere. The back half of this issue is straight oceanic action, an adventurous contrast to the claustrophobic horror that dominated the first half of this series. Scott Snyder, Murphy, and Matt Hollingsworth are once again firing on all cylinders as they bring this one around the bend and gearing up to hit the homestretch.

FABLES #139 — Well, this is an innocuous enough little romp featuring Boy Blue’s Farm band, most of whom we’ve barely spent any time with, but there is of course a pretty serious and ominous undercurrent brought upon by the opening prologue, revealing that this a “small adventure that leads to the final and inevitable destruction of Fabletown.” Harsh, Willingham! I suppose that’s one way to kick off your final year. Steve Leialoha returns to full art duties for this two-part arc with illustrations that are just as resplendent as ever.

WRAITH #4 — Well, if “Scissors for the Drifter” doesn’t sound like just the most horrifying game ever, wait until you see a round of it. Goodness day! One character comes to a predictable but nonetheless gory end while our convict and cop log in some character time up at the top of the Ferris wheel, or “simp-hoister” (and didn’t that lingo make me oh so terribly miss our dearly departed CARNIVALE). The last page does not paint a rosy future for our protagonist but I am confident that Christmasland will not settle for her caretaker to meet such an ignominious end!

FATALE #21 — Ha! I like how there’s no more time for lingering mysteries. Our hero asks a question and we get the answer in a flashback on the very next page. Brubaker/Phillips/Breitweiser are certainly circling the wagons, here. Quality abounds, as ever. Can’t believe there are only four more issues of this left. I wish Brubaker (or Nevins!) had time to crank out a big old essay about TRUE DETECTIVE before all here is said and done. Yes, an annotated Jess Nevins blast through TRUE DETECTIVE’s formative influences would be just fine, thank you.

SATELLITE SAM #7 — I dig the melody we get on the treble staff. Everybody getting skunked at lunch is priceless and all, but I feel like that could have been played up for another couple of pages. Don’t just scratch the surface of the funny drunk people, Fraction! Chaykin continues to excel without any color. And a hell of a revelation here on the last page that escalates our narrative quite nicely.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #19 — We come full-circle with a requiem for the major character who got shot in the head at the end of last issue. Ryan Browne returns to deliver another stellar performance. Hickman’s captions are as insane and alien as ever, careening us through the no-time of the mind of the recently departed and spending the entire issue adding serious weight and import to last issue’s cliffhanger before advancing the narrative forward nothing more than a single page but leaving us all breathless for more. Glorious barking madness here, people!

AVENGERS #027 — And the Hickman insanity continues in parallel as our main crew continues to battle parallel versions of themselves before getting absolutely creamed by the boys from Advanced Idea Mechanics. I’m not crazy about the style that Sal Larocca’s settled into here, and it isn’t well served by Frank Martin’s coloring, a bland palette that does nothing to increase the illusion of depth on the page. I’m certainly still invested in the story but am probably ready for the next batter up on art, here.

NEW AVENGERS #016.NOW — This is a really cool move from editorial. In order to tell the story of yet another group of Illuminati operating on one of the infinite permutations of good old Earth-616, the crew at Marvel imports a talent from across the street. Rags Morales, renowned for providing interiors for the Brad Meltzer’s (in)famous tonally foundational mini-series IDENTITY CRISIS and, more recently, Morrison’s run on ACTION COMICS makes his Marvel comics debut in this issue. The reason that he’s such a perfect choice is that the team from the parallel universe that’s the focus of this issue is basically a Justice League analogue. So, they just went and got one of DC’s best guys and had him do his thing. “Archetypes of J.U.S.T.I.C.E.,” indeed! Hickman’s doing an interesting thing with T’Challa and Namor here, seeming to inject a bit of grudging respect into their relationship that’s until now been about as acrimonious as possible and just shy of a blood-feud, at least on Namor’s part. And you would never expect that from him. But it feels right. The nods to continuity and archetypes from both companies (“The Anti-Heroic Age” is a funny one) work together to not only highlight the differences in house styles between the two publishers but tell a story that’s engaging all on its own. This is still a very slow build and I understand the criticism that we’ve been too bogged down lately in our heroes basically doing research and watching a bunch of awful stuff happen to alternate versions of themselves who don’t necessarily matter, but permutations like this are helping the concept remain compelling to me.

UNCANNY AVENGERS #019 — Well, after killing every single Marvel character except Thor and Odin and blowing up the Earth last issue, Rick Remender definitely earned my $3.99 to see what he would do for an encore. And it’s the ALL-NEW UNCANNY AVENGERS OF APOCALYPSE! Not that Apocalypse is in this issue at all, but we basically have an Age-of-Apocalypse-type alternate Earth with Bearded Magneto as the tyrannical dictator and Havok & Wasp as the pretty sweet mutant power couple as our protagonists. Remender was definitely having Jan lob some none-too-subtle hints in Alex’s direction as all the shit was breaking down here these last few months, but it’s still a bit jarring to see them in full effect here in this alternate reality. The writing sells it almost immediately, though, they have terrific chemistry. Daniel Acuña returns with more world-spanning art on an even greater scale than the massive business he was turning in last time he was in the building. I’m still impressed that this book should be nothing but a punchline and it continues to be thunderous tremendous stuff.

SILVER SURFER #001 — Norrin Radd might be the quintessential example of the situation in which a comic book character is without a doubt rocking a killer character design and has been beloved by many fans for years and years as a supporting character but then just cannot hold down a series as the lead for any amount of time (Dr. Strange, Dr. Fate, and J’onn J’onnz are other examples of this that immediately spring to mind). One could make a case that Starlin/Lim’s run on the character in the early nineties is the exception that proves the rule, but it would probably help if one happened to be thirteen years old and discovering the character for the first time just then (and if one had a poster of Perez’s cover of THE INFINITY GAUNTLET #1 hung up in his bedroom, so much the better). All of which to say, the sheer number of volumes and mini-series featuring the Surfer are testament to the fact that he’s a tough nut to crack for any sustainable length of time. But courage, this latest iteration from Dan Slott and Mike & Laura Allred comes out swinging and looks like it might have what it takes to go the distance. And the solution is pretty ingenious. When it was first announced, we all knew that it was going to look amazing. The Allreds on this title are a no-brainer to knock it out of the park. The Kirby dynamism is there in full force and the colors pop in a way that seems timeless, not just the best that Photoshop CS6 can provide. This is never in greater evidence than the two-page splash of The Impericon at the center of the book. I mean, my God. But the great joy and real surprise is to be found in Slott’s approach. And of course, this is merely extrapolation from only the first issue but it looks like the antidote to the protagonist’s emotional distance (or vacuum, even), which has always made him hard for both readers and creators to dial into, is to ground him with a fully realized human companion, a character with whom the readers can empathize, someone whose wonder we can share while being confronted with all of these impossible unfathomable cosmic sights. In short, Slott straight up plugs in the DOCTOR WHO formula to this book and it’s already working like a charm. We’ve got twin sisters, one of whom has absolute wanderlust and roams the globe while the other is convinced that their home is the greatest place ever and she never wants to leave. So, of course, the thing to do is strand the latter in a distant corner of deep space as motivation for our lead character to save. I strongly suspect that before all is said and done, Miss Dawn will have gained a healthy respect and love of sights and sounds not immediately within range of the home that she has known for her entire life thus far. This book has been the source of great anticipation since its announcement and it delivers on every level, a terrific addition to the canon of Marvel books that are creator-based single-title events-unto-themselves including DAREDEVIL and HAWKEYE. Come soar the spaceways with Norrin and Dawn, but hang on!

And speaking of . . .


HAWKEYE #018 — Annie Wu returns to chronicle the latest in the L.A. adventures of Kate Bishop, which turns out to be the secret origin of Cat Food Guy. I love these stories just as much as the Aja-drawn installments with Clint. It has been such a cool thing the way that this book split into two essentially two different series while maintaining such a high level of quality. It seems like our two leads are going to converge sooner than later, but we need #019 to hurry up and come out in order to learn how well one of them can talk since he’s been shot in the head.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

3/19/14

BATMAN AND AQUAMAN #29 — After last month’s conclusion of the gripping five-part Two-Face arc, it looks like this title is going to slide back into a THE BRAVE & THE BOLD-style format with our first seemingly random team-up completely covered by internal story logic and giving way to the best single issue of this series since the forever crushing #18. This issue features our titular heroes storming the beach of Ra’s Al-Ghul’s secret island headquarters only to discover a pod of mutilated sperm whales whose wombs have been used to grow a gang of super-deformed Damian Wayne clones. The no-dialogue Page Sixteen of Batman rushing into the hangar and fighting a bunch of ninjas is yet another iconic sequence that Gleason/Gray/Kalisz toss off with apparent ease that belies the serious sequential storytelling mechanics that are this book’s stock in trade. These men make excelling at their craft look effortless when, of course, it’s anything but. And it’s funny, when Millar had his Joker/Batman pastiche character Nemesis do this exact same thing a couple of years back, I was the first to call bullshit, but Batman screaming at his son’s grandfather from outside the front windshield of an airborne jet, I have absolutely no problem with that. He’s Batman. This remains the strongest offering from DC’s New 52 and shows no sign of slowing down. I know it’s going to happen sooner or hopefully much much later, but I will be heartbroken when the day comes that these men have told every story on this book that they want to tell.

BEST SINGLE OF THE WEEK: ANIMAL MAN #29 — The end of an era. Jeff Lemire put his stamp on this book to such a definitive degree that now that he’s decided to move on, DC has just cancelled the series. That is some Morrison/Gaiman-level business right there, Wednesday night faithful! This final issue serves as a heartfelt epilogue to the entire run and is a slam-dunk from start to finish, knocking it out of the park by invoking the simple and heartfelt sweetness of Maxine Baker, who has been the heart and soul of this series for the majority of the run. There are no tricks here, this entire issue is very straightforward. We open by welcoming original series artist Travel Foreman back to the fold for a few pages. Foreman’s distinctive art style went a long way toward initially defining the mood and overall tone of the book, and it is a beautiful bit of recursion to have him back to bookend the series. As in all great serial fiction, the end here is not a hard THE END, but merely a springboard for more adventures in the characters’ lives that will take place off-panel outside the observation of us three-dimensional readers but still accessible through our imaginations. I was pleased to see these particular members of the supporting cast assume an elevated role. What follows is a short no-nonsense conversation between Buddy & Ellen that it looks like should yield an end to the marital strife that has been such a prominent part of their relationship in this volume. But the real centerpiece of this issue is of course the bedtime story that Maxine tells her father that is all the sweeter for its innocent skew on recent events, because it shows that Maxine has not let all of these horrors taint or corrupt her. Despite everything that has happened, she has held onto her childhood, her purity. Lemire enlists the other half of his SWEET TOOTH/TRILLIUM heartbeat, Jose Villarrubia, to color his own art, resulting in a stylistic shift that perfectly matches the content and hammers the reader with a level of emotion more often seen in creator-owned books. But Lemire’s level of engagement with this material is so strong, he loves the Bakers so much, that they might as well have sprung from his own heart. It is this deep and abiding connection that has made this such a strong offering every single month since September 2011, and all of us who have been tuned in all along the way are going to dearly miss this title while wishing the Bakers love and all the best in the world.

WONDER WOMAN #29 — Serious business from Azzarello/Chiang/Wilson right here, as what initially seems like the big showdown takes a left turn when one of the more well-rounded members of our supporting cast reclaims her mantle. Amidst the seething might of Kirby Krackle, naturally! The whole gang is reunited and it turns out that this was all merely prologue for the major battle looming on the horizon. To say anything more would be to spoil the fun of letting this book punch you in the face repeatedly. Highly recommended!

SUPERMAN UNCHAINED #6 — The business really starts to kick in here as our heroes do nothing less than prevent a total nuclear strike of every tactical nuclear warhead in the world with the aid of some reverse-engineered Kryptonian crystal technology. That is a pretty serious little hunk of Earthstone! This issue cranks things up on the creative side a little bit more than we’ve seen from the past couple of singles, of course Lee/Williams/Sinclair continue to absolutely murder every single panel, but the first-person Clark narration that we all took as a given when it was announced that Snyder would be writing this character hits me with a bit more resonance and seems like more of a bull’s-eye this time out than it has here in the last little bit. This is really going to make one blistering single-sitting read when the whole thing is collected.

AMERICAN VAMPIRE: SECOND CYCLE #1 — Pearl & Skinner return as Snyder/Albuquerque come roaring back from their hiatus stronger than ever. Both men have really elevated their game here. The idea to have Pearl running her own underground railroad for vampire children in the sixties is almost as cool as Skinner operating out of a buried train car. And the art has possibly never looked better. It didn’t seem as though there was much room for improvement, but these guys are firing on all cylinders and turning in first-rate work. It should be a hell of a second half.

THE UNWRITTEN: APOCALYPSE #3 — We’re one issue closer to the end of the world and have orcs from Tolkien and tripods from Wells to help us along the way. And just when things can’t get any direr, here comes the spirit of Pullman channeled via some fresh ox-blood on a bunch of branches. Matters escalate quickly. It is hard to believe that they’ll be anything left for nine more issues’ worth of narrative, but if Carey/Gross have proven anything, it’s their ability to conjure up story long past the point that weaker souls would have typed “The End” and shuddered off into the remainder of their dreary mortal existences.

ZERO #6 — Of course I couldn’t run across this Francavilla cover and leave this soldier behind on the rack after getting slaughtered by that first trade, and I am glad that I did not, as this is an indispensable episode that deserves weeks of consideration and rereading before the next installment is available to us. I’ve never heard of Vanesa del Rey but of course she brings the justice like every one of her predecessors on this book. The setting this time out is none other than the Large Hadron Collider, where our hero comes face to face with his ostensible nemesis who bookends the adventure with a parable about spooked Soviet artillery horses triggering a phase shift from frozen lake into supercooled watery death that is clearly a metaphor for some kind of transformation or supercollider particle death that he willingly undergoes at issue’s end. Del Rey’s final pages depicting the inside of the chamber are exceptional, bringing to mind Kirby and Byrne machinery but in a scratchier, looser style that is very much her own while also being reminiscent of Murphy’s work on JOE THE BARBARIAN. Really glad to have this issue while also feeling the diametric opposite to have run into the wall and caught up with everybody else, waiting another month or however long it takes until #7. This issue suggests that Kot has plenty of mind-bending Ellis/Hickman bleeding-edge science waiting in the wings and that espionage spy-thriller and a story of post-apocalyptic survival are only the first two genres on a long list that this series will be mining.

SEX CRIMINALS #5 — The haunting specter of Kegelface! This final issue of the first volume is a very dense read. I couldn’t believe it when I went back and counted only twenty pages. We’re finally all caught up, various backstories fully exposited, Suze & Jon captured and finally escaped and running off into the next volume. Fraction continues to lay down solid character beats throughout; two people walking around having a conversation is still terribly compelling. And the Chipper Zdarsky maintains the very high bar he has set for himself on art. The lines, so clean! The colors, so much with the popping! It’s no great wonder that this book is a breakout success and everybody’s freaking out over it. Such an entertaining unflinching blast of unique. And the best letters column going, hands down. Which, of course, “hands down” sounds all sexy now. “Nailed it!”

PROPHET #43 — It’s not quite all-hands-on-deck, but we’ve got six guys on art to chronicle the montage backstory of Hiyonhoiagn, which pulls off the neat trick of coming off both as alien and outside the realm of terrestrial experience as it ought to but also completely relatable to us earthbound folk. I love the horizontal panel that’s a straight Image nineties flashback of Badrock in his Rib Bib looking across the table at Troll. It really brings home how far this crew has pushed these characters, a stunning thing to have gotten to observe these past couple of years. I was also a fan of the shell-walled arena of death. And anyone who complains that the main feature is not worth the $3.99 alone, not even counting how wrong they are, should look no further than “Pieces,” the five-page backup by Daniel Warren Johnson and Doug Garbark. These have always been solid but really cranked up lately, I’ve moved up to almost looking forward to them as much as the headliner. They’re consistently these really tight, moving short pieces by people I’ve never heard of. Quite the package, this. I think I heard we’re calling it a day with #45. Can it be? That would be a shame, but they’ve certainly succeeded on a creative level with this title past even the most optimistic projections.

ROCKET GIRL #4 — Drunk Commissioner Gomez probably needs his own book. Or just a recurring strip in the back of this one. We need to make that happen. Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclair continue to deliver on the greatness implicit in the relatively simple premise of teen-jetpack-cop-travels-back-in-time-to-save-future. I mean, I guess there are plenty of ways to mess that up, but they certainly haven’t so far. This is still roaring good fun. I love the shot of Dayoung crashing up through the floor of Penn Station. And that last panel with Gomez at the gates is quite gripping in its own right. Now that her lead-time has expired, I hope that Ms. Reeder takes as long as she needs to put as much care into these pages as she likes. We will wait for the quality.

UNCANNY X-MEN #019.NOW — I love the stupidity of throwing a great big #1 up in the corner even though we all see that this is really issue number “nineteen-now.” The meetings where this shit gets decided must be channeling straight Monty Python. I certainly like to pretend that John Cleese is the driving force behind all of the ridiculous decisions that The Big Two like to regularly crank out. At any rate! Bendis continues to hit his mark and Chris Bachalo’s incredible and idiosyncratic layouts and panel-work elevate this into one of the best books on the stands. There’s also a pretty solid artistic uniformity at work throughout these pages given the fact that there are five inkers. And of course if your Bachalo doesn’t have time to color every page, Jose Villarrubia should always be your first call. Yet another beautiful issue.

NEW AVENGERS #015 — Man, I wonder how much lead-time Simone Bianchi had to crank out this many interior pages in a row, was definitely only looking for him on one or a maximum of two of these issues. Hickman is really laying some serious groundwork here, biding his time and building a threat on a scale that we haven’t really seen before from this publisher, an infinite number of worlds and dead heroes. It feels like this cycle is about to come to an end, though. After all, there’s only so many times we can watch other Reed Richardses get shot into the heart of the sun. I really can’t wait to see what kind of a monster climax this is building to, though I’d say we’re still at least quite a few months off from hitting it.

DAREDEVIL #001 — New #1! Perfect jumping-on point! Waid/Samnee/Rodriguez show up and give us nothing more than more of the same, quality storytelling featuring the character distilled down to his essence with pitch-perfect narration and plot escalation throughout. This very much feels like a season-premiere, we’re thrown into the action in medias res with no lingering subplots whatsoever until a question-mark on the last page that will of course keep us coming back for more. Here’s hoping the new #1 boosts sales, because this superhero book certainly deserves a massive audience. They should all be this tremendous.

BEST OF WEEK: NEMO: THE ROSES OF BERLIN—Nothing but tightly focused sequential destruction here from start to finish. The folks who skipped the backmatter on HEART OF ICE last year because there weren’t enough pretty pictures definitely missed an important installment as we barrel right on in to the next adventure building upon the joining of the houses of Dakkar & Robur. Reading this volume through the first time, I was so fully immersed that I wasn’t able to pick up on exactly how lean this thing is. You’ve got that first page of German (that I’ve really got to get a translation of because you know Moore’s got them just straight up giving away the salient plot details right there at the top), the next two pages are a single gore-drenched splash depicting just another day at the office for our heroine and hero with a mere two panels more than enough to set up their status quo and establish the ease of their relationship with one another, that third panel of dialogue that throws everything out of whack, and by the end of Page Four, we’ve got the entire premise for this adventure pretty well established. Janni & Jack’s little girl and her husband have been shot down and taken prisoner by Chaplin’s Hitler analogue Herr Hynkel in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and now they must go in and kill everybody in order to save her. Terribly straightforward, as far as these things go. Kevin O’Neill’s designs for the city are staggering. There’s no telling how many words actually went into describing some of these splash pages, but there are a few occasions this time out when, for the final pages, Moore gives Todd Klein the day off and lets O’Neill just rip it apart without any dialogue whatsoever. The architecture is evocative of not only Lang but also what might have happened if the oppressive worlds of Orwell and Huxley crashed into Lang’s jagged edges, all with a healthy dose of the kind of nightmarish concrete Hell that Anton Furst’s Gotham City brought to life in Burton’s first Batman movie. And Ben Dimagmaliw hangs with every nook and cranny, supplying a subtle palette that brings the lines to life without ever really calling attention to itself. Moore manages to work in plenty of characterization along the way but the emphasis in this installment, as was the case last time out, is forward momentum. Adventure! The casualty that occurs shortly past the halfway mark is the most efficient piece of character-dispatching since Wash was a leaf on the wind, in one swift stroke, the stakes are raised to their greatest possible level. Everyone can die at any time, and I even found myself questioning if I even correctly read way back when that this would be a trilogy because everybody was surely about to be dead with the next turn of the page. There’s an immediacy and urgency there that is simply not possible to convey to the reader in monthly corporate comics. There are those who think that LEAGUE has declined since dive-bombing out of its original premise/cast after the second volume, that it has mutated into something too self-referential and Ouroborosian to be entertaining to anyone but the most snobbish literary intellectual. I can see how some folks felt a little bit left in the dust when we trap-doored from H.G. Wells to the multi-media/genre insanity of THE BLACK DOSSIER but feel as though each and every volume has been an improvement on what has gone before. These NEMO one-shots initially sounded like they would be nothing more than a diverting tangent away from our sole remaining original protagonist but they have not only fleshed out our amalgamated mythos in the first half of the twentieth century to a great deal but given us a new lead character as compelling as any who have come before, all the more fascinating due to the fact that she is practically an original character, the template of Jenny Diver from Brecht’s Threepenny Opera grafted onto the Nemo legacy.

For all the glory of the fifty-six page sequential adventure, I almost found the backmatter more compelling. Moore clearly adores writing these, you can feel it in the care that he lavishes upon every sentence. The third paragraph opens with: “In the silver drench of a full moon, our craft began a roaring drop towards the curdled masses of the Riallaro Archipelago's famed fogbanks, billows parting like ethereal spun sugar to reveal a startlingly space-age and electrically illuminated view of Princess Janni Dakkar's brigand nation from above.” That is some gorgeous prose, right there.


Fifteen years after publishing their first issue, Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill are still roaring ahead great guns and offering one of the most consistently entertaining while intellectually stimulating stories in any medium. Let the long wait until the next volume begin.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

3/12/14

This is the SXSW edition, meaning I did not start reading these until three in the morning on Thursday, but I did the best that I could!

BATMAN #29 — Um. That has got to be the grimmest GCPD recruitment poster imaginable. Snyder’s retcon reason for the Waynes to go see the movie works for me with the pertinent conversation passing the test of seeming not like a writer trying to shoehorn in his own pet ideas and “what shoulda happened” but instead the result of organic character-driven plot advancement. I wasn’t really a fan of referencing Miller’s “Goddamn Batman” over that gorgeous splash of the Bat-dirigible, but it certainly is a nice touch for Capullo to then reference the shot of Bruce in the Bat-tank from THE DARK KNIGHT TRIUMPHANT in the very next panel. Very cute. That shot of the silhouette and lightning a few pages later should not have come as a surprise to anybody. Just a hell of an image. Capullo/Miki/Plascencia continue to blow it up every single chance they get. I was, in particular, digging on the softened color tones for that opening flashback. Snyder’s doing a great job overall here as usual, though I did experience a breaking point when the monstrous Doctor Death, whose mutated limbs were wrapped around the railing on the deck of the airship, went into the looooong anecdote about the song “Tokyo Moon” and his family’s history with the serious storm crashing down all around them. I could no longer suspend my disbelief. Had no problem with Batman making the impossible seventy-foot leap between ships, did not even blink at that. But that particular monologue seemed a bit overwrought and silly. Regardless, at only $4.99, we get a full double-sized forty pages of absolutely gorgeous story, the best value you’re going to find this week.

BEST OF WEEK: BATMAN: LI’L GOTHAM #12 — Man. A fairly crushing bit of business, right here. The plight of animal-loving still-deceased-in-regular-continuity Damian Wayne searching high and low for his missing pet turkey Jerry during the final weeks of November is a rough one. Sandwich Day, indeed. A gaggle of silly food-related puns ensue during the slugfest with Condiment King and his Food Fighters, and it isn’t really until the very final installment, “Our Family Album,” that Nguyen and Fridolfs start yanking out all of our heartstrings by the page. Damian tries to go all Mission: Impossible but is no match for Alfred and his scissors. We are then treated to a speculative montage as to what exactly Batman might be getting up to on this particular evening that runs quite the spectrum, a fraction of which is attached to the left. But it turns out our hero is just out doing good deeds. The shot of he and Gordon enjoying their coffees on the roof of Police Headquarters does a nice job encapsulating what I love about the style that Nguyen went with for this series. This entire run coming down to Alfred and Damian looking through an album of family photographs is just perfect, I cannot think of a more heartfelt and beautiful way to bring the curtain down on this wonderful series. Because Bruce Wayne could not do what he does without his family. First, he only had Alfred, but then one by one, he has brought so many lost souls under his wing who have saved him as much as he has saved them. The final panel of Bruce tucking in an exhausted Alfred who is still clutching the family album, the living document that all of the memories that these good people have made with one another, giving the smallest measure of comfort to the man who has raised him since he was eight years old, that is one of the most heartfelt and powerful images that I have been lucky enough to get knocked out by in some time. I am really really going to miss this one, loved to read it five times to my little girl every month, am so grateful for these twelve issues and will treasure them for all time.



* * * *


EAST OF WEST #10 — Is it just me or did a hell of a lot happen in this issue? I guess it’s just because so much went down and we finally made it back to the main narrative, but this one was crammed so full, it felt double-sized on the first read. Serious advancement/plot development and I’m doing my best to just roll with all of that emboldened italicized lettering as just part of the staccato rhythm of the book. Dragotta/Martin elevate their game here, which should not have been possible, really incredible work page after page after page. I still wish Hickman would spend a little bit more time lavishing characterization on more of his ensemble. Wolf gets just a little bit here, which highlighted to me the overall dearth of it throughout the cast thus far. Checking back in with Xiaolian would mitigate that to a great degree. Best issue since #5, no problem. And a nice touch to pay off #6 on the last page.

STAR WARS #15 — Kind of a set-up issue as we check back in with the Rebel Alliance and Leia’s impending marriage. I assumed we’d get Carlos D’Anda back in the fold but Stéphane Créty does a terrific job holding it down in a stylistically appropriate manner. Luke somehow got a bit more petulant and whiny during the break, but I guess that’s what happens when your serious crush/unknown twin-sister is about to marry herself off for the good of the galaxy.

ASTRO CITY #10 — Winged Victory’s arc finally comes to a close not amidst a flurry of fisticuffs but through well considered inner monologues that put character front and center. Solid work from one of the most consistently rewarding superhero titles on the rack.

FANTASTIC FOUR #002 — All right, I’m on board with this story, but I hope we’re not going to get hammered with “The sad, bitter end of the Fantastic Four” over and over and over. It’s already seeming a bit belabored here on the first page of the second issue. And, oh whoa, Franklin, don’t let’s bring up HEROES REBORN, hey? Some of us are still trying to forget. I don’t know, man. Kirk’s art is terrific, but I’m still not sold on Robinson. This is so far feeling way too doom-and-gloomy, more in line tonally with The New 52 or the shenanigans Nolan and lately Snyder have been getting up to with the DC guys than the Silver Age bleeding-edge science glory sweetness where this book lives. Johnny shedding a tear on the last page kind of says it all. I think I’m giving this one more month and if everybody’s still clutching themselves and weeping as it’s all crashing down around them, will probably just head on back to the immortal Kirby run.

WOLVERINE #003 — Feh, Stegman is still a beast on art (especially that last page, damn), but I’m really not a fan of the pity party that Cornell is throwing for Logan. With no end in sight. Now, they’re hyping that they’re going to kill our protagonist. Time, I think, to pull the ripcord on this particular parachute. I did enjoy Cornell working an “Eh?” into Logan’s dialogue.

ALL-NEW X-MEN #024 — Now, we’re really getting to it here. When this crossover was announced, it seemed like a blatant move to have a hardcover collection ready for when the Guardians movie bows, and surely it is, but Bendis has of course done a terrific job mining the considerable overlap between these two books’ shared ideaspace. It’s insane how much Claremont was able to pack in there back in the day. This book continues to feature some of the best ensemble characterization and bedazzling art on the rack. Bendis deftly juggles the voices and interaction between all members of both teams and even manages to work in a Season Four ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT quote from Kitty, who naturally binge-watched the entire thing the weekend it uploaded on Netflix. And Immonen/von Grawbadger/Gracia, I’m really running out of things to say about them. Stunning work every single time. We’re left with a logical reversal for our cliffhanger that is earned and has me on pins and needles for the final installment.


HAWKEYE #017 — Futz! When this crew needs an inventory issue, they go for it. Two revolving teams have not been able to keep this book on schedule between them and so Steve “Hawkguy No More” Wacker digs deep and enlists letter-par-excellence Chris Eliopoulos to draw an entire issue based on the cartoon show that Clint sat down to doze of in front of at the end of #006. Which sounds ridiculous but is, in fact, glorious. Eliopoulos is no stranger to sequentials, of course. His FRANKLIN RICHARDS, SON OF A GENIUS is a staple at our house and COW BOY was also a pretty well received release, I believe. And the ubiquitous Jordie Bellaire makes her series debut to lend colors that are pleasing to the eye while staying flat enough to blend with what we’ve come to expect from Hollingsworth. I love the “MY NIGHTMARES ARE TURNING REAL!!” line. Fraction does a great job grafting the main aspects of this book onto a children’s adventure starring animals with the dingoes of course being the most hilarious example. Dog. At the end of the day, this book is nothing more or less than a romp, entertaining in its own right while serving as a very creative way to beat them ol’ deadline blues.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

3/05/14

ACTION COMICS #29 — And so the first arc comes to a close. Tremendous work. I’m a huge fan of Pak’s Page One insane run-on-sentence-first-person summaries that function as a PREVIOUSLY…, I hope they stay around. Kuder continues to knock it out of the park, though I could tell that some pages were fill-ins, some fella named Jed Dougherty doing the best he could. Am still really digging Wil Quintana’s palette for this. I like how, not once but twice, when the big guy can’t handle it anymore, he just goes into straight Cavill-heat-vision-rage mode. Burn it all, Kal! And the poignant Baka-hugging end totally snuck up on me despite being very organically developed throughout the course of this arc. Tremendous work. Still so grateful that ACTION COMICS is this great again. Because it always should be.

DETECTIVE COMICS #29 — Aw man, I just assumed that Jason Fabok would drop back in for Layman’s finale, but I guess he’s already hustling on ETERNAL pages just as hard as he can. It’s a shame not to have him here, but Aaron Lopresti once again does his share of heavy lifting. This finale makes perfect sense, of course our hero was undercover all along and outsmarted Scarecrow by palming an antidote. Classic Bruce! A really nice touch on the last page, not only does the battle never end but it cycles right back to the first of the Layman/Fabok run. At eighteen issues, it might be odd to say that it wasn’t enough, but it certainly seemed like this train could have kept rolling for another couple of years at least. Quality work throughout. Looking forward to seeing what trouble Manapul/Buccellato will get into next month. We certainly know that it will look gorgeous and have the best Eisner title pages going today.

FOREVER EVIL #6 — Ah haha, Johns certainly gets points for the set-up and punchline of the first two captions. But then “You need to see what they’ve done to Nightwing” is just a bit too meta- for my tastes. And I don’t get why the sight of the Murder Machine is such an Oh-my-God moment. I mean, the name is much more ominous than the sight of it. It looks like a doodad. I was definitely expecting something one hundred times more gruesome on the page-turn. Not that I was hoping for it. And shouldn’t the Shazam of the alternate New 52-Earth not be like an evil dick? Isn’t that what Johns and Frank rebooted our latest iteration into? I don’t know, man. The art is terrific. I guess I just want everything to be as good as FINAL CRISIS and nothing else maybe ever will be.

TRILLIUM #7 — Already so near to the end! This is a mini that I have definitely enjoyed serialized and am glad I picked up in singles. Though I’m sure I’ll eventually snag the trade, as well. I was wondering what further flipping tricks Jeff Lemire had up his sleeve and he executes what’s probably the last one here as Nika goes double-splash-sideways to fall back to the future. It is a very cool contrast having Lemire color one of the time-zones with Jose Villarrubia providing counterpoint on the other, anchoring the more bleed-heavy washed-out thing that the writer/artist has going on with something a little less impressionistic. Quite a collaboration. And we get the Atabithian-glyph language translation, a very cool move. I still need to go back through and do some translating. A suitably ominous cliffhanger as we finally put an end to our time-hopping and deal with nothing less than the eradication of the human race setting the stage for the last love story ever told. If only Mama Lemire had taught her little boy how to dream big!

CATALYST COMIX #9 — And so we come to the end. Joe Casey & Friends bring all the stories in to a series of senses-shattering climaxes! “Agents of Change” goes out as nutjob as ever with my favorite bit maybe being the glorious absurdity of misattributing “I Am The Walrus” to T.S. Eliot. Though the opening caption giving way to a TED talk is pretty funny all by itself. The resolution here makes total sense. But is that a reference to the Ewan McGregor motorcycle doc there in the first caption on the last page? Of the three, I was least into “Agents of Change” and it was still pretty solid. And in the final installment of “The Ballad of Frank Wells,” Frank lays it down to the president and Ghost Abraham Lincoln in the Oval Office itself. I had no idea where this story was going to wind up after the cataclysmic madness of the first chapter, but it wound up being a unique and, dare I say, relatively realistic take on a Superman’s impact upon the global superpowers. The last panel is, of course, perfect. “Amazing Grace” ends with as much seething cosmic thunder as we’ve come to expect. I particularly enjoyed Paul Maybury’s choice to go with the eight tiny panels across the top third of Page Three, solid cartooning that really highlights Grace’s inner battle. The real business emerges from Casey’s Kirbyesque captioneering on Page Five, though: “IT TAKES GREAT STRENGHT TO FINALLY LET GO, TO CONFOUND YOUR ADVERSARY WITH A CHANGE IN TACTICS TO DRAW UPON THAT WHICH HAS ALWAYS BEEN WITHIN YOU, TO TAKE THE BELIEF OTHERS HAVE IN YOU AND TURN IT INTO PURE POWER AND DISCOVER THE ULTIMATE TRUTH ABOUT ONESELF!” A particularly interesting shift on the last word there, which should be “yourself” to maintain person, but it is the shift to “oneself” that shatters grammatical agreement. “DELIBERATE LINGUISTIC REACTUALIZATION!” I also like how Page Six has “sun god” as the sixth and seventh words on the page and then seven words from the end, Casey goes ahead and drops “metropolis.” That business is not an accident, people! Grace & her golden city 4evah!

This anthology was consistently an intelligent, thought-provoking look at what the superhero genre is capable of, jam-packed full of 28 pages of greatness every single month for the low low cover price of $2.99. Many thanks to Joe Casey, Dan McDaid, Paul Maybury, Ulises Farinas, Brad Simpson, Rus Wooton, and the editors at Dark Horse for making the impossible a two-dimensional certainty!

BEST OF WEEK: STARLIGHT #1 — I thought I was just about done with Millar. I can’t believe how terrific this is. It’s a perfect first issue. Every element, the dialogue, the characterization, the pacing. And the art. It could not be a better fit. Millar obviously could have sweet-talked Hitch or Gibbons or maybe even pulled old Cassaday back out of sequential retirement again (I had to get his cover) if Millar wanted the sort of highly rendered photorealistic thing that is those gentlemen’s specialty. However, Goran Parlov’s style is ideal for this, cinematic and expressive while never over-rendered, always just the right amount of detail with a master’s eye for composition and layout. This is reflected in the two very disparate sections of the story, which almost look like they’re shot by two different directors, testament to Parlov’s consummate skill. And Ive Svorcina’s colors light up the page, conveying fantastic vistas on the alien world while highlighting the drab and dreary modern-day reality that Duke has chosen for himself. This book is drum-tight, everything is presented to the reader in shorthand. We get all that we need to know about the past adventures on the alien world in six-and-a-half pages. The two sons between them only rate three scenes in less than three pages and we don’t need to see them again; they’re pieces of shit, we’ve got it. The wife is only on-panel for a page and another panel, and that’s still enough to justify the gaping void that exists in our protagonist’s life for the duration of the present-day sequences. And then, of course, inevitably, the final call to adventure. I don’t know how Millar managed to imbue this with so much heart. On the surface, it really looks like nothing more than his latest cavalier attempt to sell his fourth or fifth mini-series to Hollywood for more Big Option $, and this one just happens to be “FLASH GORDON meets UNFORGIVEN,” but hey, that and Parlov were enough to get me to give it a shot and I am so glad that I did. This is so thrilling and pitch-perfect, I almost don’t want #2 to come out and ruin it. But then, this is only the beginning, and there is such a multitude of fantastic possibility just over the horizon.

JUPITER’S LEGACY #4 — I loooooooove Frank Quitely. Just look at that cover. He did that with a pencil. Once upon a time, there was a blank piece of paper and then he started drawing on it and now those people are there. It’s almost too much to believe. It turns out that the first three issues of this were really just set-up as we jump nine years forward and meet the character who it’s looking is our actual protagonist. Of course, the world is total horror in light of the events of last issue but it only takes half of this next single for our boys to whip up a sequence that will just about get John Williams’s Superman overture roaring through your head, which is about the highest compliment I can pay something like this. There’s a lot of heart in this, as well. Absolutely did not think Millar had it in him, guy really knocked it out of the park this week.

VELVET #4 — More espionage greatness from Brubaker/Epting/Breitweiser. We head on down to Monaco and the glamorous Carnival of Fools for gambling with masked royalty. Mrs. Breitweiser’s colors on the Page Eight spread are particularly glorious. It’s just occurring to me that this has got to be a finite thing, it’s not like Epting is just going to sign on for an open-ended couple-of-dozen-issues-at-least type of situation. That would be years and years of his life. This is maybe the first act break? If Codename: Mockingbird turns out to be a major character, perhaps. If he’s even still breathing.

SECRET #6 — These two titles together are a solid idea for an espionage double-feature in concept, but I’m afraid that this book suffers from the comparison with VELVET. At least from a characterization standpoint. Ryan Bodenheim obviously and absolutely just wrecks everything on that spread across Pages Four and Five, digging deep into that Darrow/Burnham vein of a bit of the ol’ hyper-rendered ultra-violence. God, though, man, the italics. If I’m just barely easing into it on EAST OF WEST, it’s making the dialogue in this book a self-parody. “I’m pretty sure work’s not done for the day.” How’s this going?” “I gotta tell you.” These are not phrases that need to be emphasized and calling attention to them makes them silly in a way that they would not otherwise be. I want to like this quite a bit more than I actually do. Come on, Hickman!

UNCANNY X-MEN #018 — Marco Rudy shows up and once again destroys everything. Easily some of the most inventive page layouts being produced today, beautiful characters who can really act, occasional shifts into David-Mack-level KABUKI painted greatness, the man is on fire. There’s been so much going on, I didn’t even realize that we haven’t had time to properly deal with the integration of the original team into the ranks of Cyclops’s Weapon X crew. Which is of course some necessary interaction to depict. Rudy’s been posting this cover for weeks to encourage speculation about who’s holding the gun. I love that it’s metaphorical and what the answer actually turns out to be. I’m a little unclear on exactly what goes down at the end there, does Cyclops see an enemy and just open up wide? Or take a page out of the Cavill-Superman-heat-vision-rage playbook? Whatever the case, this is a fill-in issue of the highest caliber.


MOON KNIGHT #001 — What a furious monstrosity for Wacker to leave in the wake of his exodus from the East Coast. We welcome Uncle Warren from the zones of dystopic pulp fiction and neon futurist conferences back to the land of monthly sequentials. This sounded like it would be mental when I first read of it but it exceeded even my most fearful projections. Our man Detective Flint radiates a serious FELL vibration that is perfectly at home within these pages. Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire’s art is a good match, setting the atmosphere for this muted and bleak corner of the Marvel Universe, one we really haven’t had a chance to visit since those six issues of the Secret Avengers trying to poke their heads back in the door first opened by Ellis’s monstrous THUNDERBOLTS run. I suspect that we have only begun to descend into the vileness, filth, and horror.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

2/26/14

There are more plot-specific spoilers than usual this week. Be advised!

UNCANNY AVENGERS #017 — Um. Wow. Should someone tell Remender that they’re about to release the new Captain America movie? Seems like last time that happened, it nuked Brubaker’s quality years-long plot involving Bucky coming back from the dead to wield the shield and so forth, and then but before we knew it, the book was back to pretty much the same status quo it’s enjoyed for decades. Now that it’s time for that Winter Soldier business to start playing out at the Mighty Marvel Multiplex, here we are, one month out and, Bro, Remender just really killed Steve Rogers. Not just that, he had The Grim Reaper eviscerate the shit out of the poor guy. Blood eeeeeeeverywhere. Then, for an encore, Thor fails and a Exitar the Celestial Executioner just straight up destroys the planet Earth and then Thor is back on Asgard with his dad and All-Father’s all like, “Yeah, it’s really too bad those humans couldn’t get it together and stop fighting amongst themselves, I had great expectations that they eventually would.” And Thor just can’t like swing his hammer around a lot and make that one better, right? This isn’t Chris Reeve in 1978. The only way I can see to dial this whole thing back is that old infuriating trick about having Wanda say some magic words that completely change the world in the blink of an eye only the thing is she was one of the first people Remender took out, probably for that very reason. Very interested to see how they’re all going to get out of this one. Stunning McNiven art, as usual.

BEST OF WEEK: HAWKEYE #015 — It is a rough day for calamitous cliffhangers! Everything’s going along it seems like pretty okay in the embattled Bed-Stuy world of Clint Barton when that terrifying clown fellow in the white suit shows up at the end and then straight up shoots our hero in the head and then his brother in the gut. Can Wanda not be dead in this one, perhaps? What the hell gives? And the maddening thing is that because of the scattershot crazy way this book is coming out, we’ve already got #016, Eliopoulos’s splendid animated issue is #017, Annie Wu will be back with Kate Bishop for #018, and then that’s going to give Aja enough lead time to actually follow up on this cliffhanger in, cross our fingers, three months? That old Wacker certainly did leave a wibbly-wobbly editorial jumble on his way out the door. Of course, Aja/Hollingsworth’s work on this is as impeccable as ever and Eliopoulos distinguishes himself on letters. Still my favorite Marvel book, no problem, Bro.

FANTASTIC FOUR #001— I have made no secret of my annoyance at being jerked around by Fraction going all Millar/Hitch on the immediately preceding run. I said to myself that I’d just go back to my Lee/Kirby issues or even reread the Hickman run and bail out on The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine. But what kind of True Believer would that make me, Oneiric One? I had to at least check in and see how Robinson/Kirk begin their run. And am I glad that I did! We start out with ominous tidings as Susan Richards lets us all know via an epistolary montage that the FF has fallen on hard times, Reed is no longer with the science and she kind of hates him (!), Ben is rotting in jail, and Johnny is a drunken lout, which, that last one doesn’t seem like too much of a modification. And all of that is via a brief three-page run opening up onto a double-page splash of the team in all their glory versus Fin Fang Foom, everything we’ve grown to know and love about the comic. Which happens a couple more times before the battle is over. It’s a glorious celebration of what makes this team fantastic while returning the series to first principles, four members of a family fighting a giant monster in Manhattan. The sole false note was when the post-battle dialogue between Reed and Sue struck me as a bit forced, but I’m hoping Robinson will ease into his characters’ voices over time. The art is nothing short of wonderful, Karl Kesel staying over on inks, producing dynamic panelwork with Leonard Kirk on pencils and Jesus Aburtov on colors. I am cautiously optimistic about this new chapter in the lives of Marvel’s First Family.

WOLVERINE #002 — I love how Otto/Spidey’s dialogue is CLEARLY him speaking Supervillain the entire time, he’s not even trying to be Parker. Stegman continues to blow it up on art here, channeling the kind of hyper-stylized greatness that we’ve come to expect from JoeMad. I’m not loving Cornell’s take on Logan in this second volume, however. As much as I dug on everything that was happening just a few months ago, it feels like Cornell is spinning his wheels here. And not sure I see the point of having a cliffhanger in flashback. I mean, Otto throws him off the roof before #1 even starts, right?

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #012 — Oh dear, that was a tragic opening scene with the Summers plane going down. This is pretty mandatory reading for folks who have been taking the All-New ride with Bendis’s X-Teens as we get some powerful beats with Scott reuniting with his father and receiving comfort from Laura. And are those sparks flying between Kitty and the Star-Lord? Sara Pichelli proves once again that she can produce pages that can go toe-to-toe with the greatness spilling forth from Immonen/von Grawbadger on a regular basis, very impressive material.

THE WAKE #6 — Yeeeeeeeellow. We flash-forward two hundred years to a world completely overrun by the oceans and the creatures that dwell in her depths. I dig Matt Hollingsworth’s stark shifting of palette but really think that Jared K. Fletcher should have provided some black outlines for those captions, they’re just about unreadable over that yellow sky. Sean Murphy continues to absolutely terrify with the depth of detail in his world-building, that first wide short of the outpost of Wallton is staggering. Or that shot of our new heroine’s home, just gorgeous. I dig the concept of a heroine named Leeward. And you knew we weren’t done with Dr. Archer and going to hear a message from the past. This is pretty riveting stuff, right here.

BATMAN/SUPERMAN #8 — Greg Pak still feels like he has more stories to tell starring multiple heroes from parallel universes as he welcomes back original co-conspirator to a new arc that brings The Huntress and Power Girl into the fold. It’s a pretty cool dynamic, Batman suddenly being confronted with his seventeen-year-old daughter and resisting the genetic imperative to trust her. And I like how they’re both sneaking around not being forthright with the Superman/Power Girl collective. That makes perfect sense. All told, an interesting opening to the arc.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #18 — Hmmmmmm! Pitarra brings the true and holy justice on what are probably his best interiors of the series to date, turning in highly detailed and immaculate work that takes no shortcuts every single page. This issue, we bid adieu to not only the The-Dude-sounding blue alien but apparently another member of the cast that made for quite the HolyShit! last page, even if you could kind of sense that some serious business was just about to go down. You totally get the sense that this is Hickman completely flying without a net or outline and that absolutely anything can erupt at any time. Tremendous madness and hyperviolent fun for all!

BLACK SCIENCE #4 — I hope that this title can always be released on the same day as THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS, they make for such a solid double-feature. Things keep going really badly for our beleaguered cast of characters as it looks like we lose a member of our cast to a flying gang of high-tech Native Americans. Matteo Scalera continues to absolutely tear it up and Dean White experiments with an exotic palette, the effect of which is an interesting juxtaposition with what Murphy/Hollingsworth have going on over in THE WAKE. Another indie success story continues!

SATELLITE SAM #6 — There’s not too much to distinguish this issue from what has come before. Chaykin is still tearing it up. Mike is still screwing and drinking everything in sight. Good times abound.

CHEW #40 — Layman & Guillory return with another installment as they hit the two-thirds point of completion on this landmark series. And Tony Chu spends the issue suuuuper space-stoned, dragging his old partner John Colby into the trip. I am a huge fan of the anthropomorphic versions of those characters, I would love to see a strip of nothing but stoned Tony-Bunny and Colby-Fox completely laying waste to whatever psychedelic landscape in which they find themselves. And it’s wonderful to again get another montage from the twisted mind of Layman, those are always a highlight of this series.


WRAITH #4 — “Mother Mary in the manger,” indeed. The Christmasland kids are terrifying as our cast of irregulars attempts to survive through even a few minutes and find some way back home. I do not like their chances terribly much.

Friday, February 28, 2014

2/19/14

BEST OF WEEK: BATMAN AND ROBIN #28 —Well, good Lord. I suppose that we will forgive the creators for making this arc three installments longer than what might have previously seen like the perfect conceit. At this point, these guys are dispensing absolutely catastrophic destruction about every two or three pages. That opening huge shot of just our hero in all his fiery glory across Pages Four and Five is only the first example. Panel Three of Page Eight (entire page just over to the right, there) is a crippling piece of storytelling, the depth of the facial expression we get even from behind the cowl, the choice to frame the shot just so, in order to work in the unscarred half of Harvey’s face. What an incredible beat following that previous line of dialogue. And then I’m a huge fan of Batman’s argument for the third side of the coin. Once again, Tomasi digs in like no other. It’s also a wonderful choice to continue to dial the flashback back even further to Bruce of course introducing Harvey and Gilda in the first place before a horrifying-in-hindsight aside re: the McKillen twins. What a stellar three panels of courtship. It’s all we need. These creators move even faster than Harvey. The blue/red shift during the Harvey/Gordon scene is another masterstroke. I wonder if that was in the script or Kalisz. And that last scene with Harvey. So good it renews the faith of even this somewhat jaded reader that it Will Always Count & Really Matter, it won’t be undone by editorial edict a few years down the line. I certainly hope so. And a very nice touch at the end with the signal functioning as the face of the single-sided coin that Batman and Gordon share. This issue does so so much in twenty pages. Some folks feel it necessary to qualify something like this as “the best in mainstream superhero comics,” the kind of faint praise that says, yes, this is the business but it can’t hold up to more literary four-hundred-pages-of-autobiography-by-a-single-gifted-writer/artist type fare, but for my money, this is nothing less than the best the medium is capable of, immaculately framed sequential narrative depicting character-driven plot that continually stuns, surprises, and thrills. These men have been firing at the top of their game since the beginning of their run and are only reaching loftier heights through their continued association with one another.

ANIMAL MAN #28 — In many ways, we hit the climax of this volume here before what’s sure to be a devastating epilogue/coda next month. Lemire & Albuquerque bring the story of Maxine’s quest into the Red to resurrect her brother to a close, all the major conflicts are resolved and the reduced nuclear family is as healed as they seem likely to be, all under the watchful gaze of some sort of extra-dimensional being who I feel like I should maybe recognize? It’s not one of the dude’s from Morrison’s run, have we seen this design here with Lemire? I haven’t actually busted out the entire run and thumbed through, if anybody knows exactly who this guy is supposed to be, if we’ve even already seen him before, certainly please let me know. Next month is going to be incredible, I have no doubt.

WONDER WOMAN #28 — Well, it appears as though Cassandra is going to wind up being just a bit late to the party. That is . . . quite a last page. Azzarello/Chiang/Wilson serve up yet another installment of one of the most entertaining and far-reaching runs starring our favorite Amazon that it has ever been my pleasure to encounter. Tremendous work, all around.

FABLES #138 — I would like to renew my assertion that Russ Braun is an absolute hoss. A stunning level of draftsmanship. Of course, I was thrilled to read the subtitle of this issue, I love it when Willingham drops time-flash recap montages and with the news that this title will be winding down I guess one year from right now, I’ve been wondering what part Geppetto would play in the endgame. Coming in right in character, it appears. Man, I simultaneously don’t want it to be over and can’t wait to read the words THE END.

RETCON BEST OF FOUR WEEKS AGO: THE UNWRITTEN: APOCALYPSE #1 and #2 — Well, somehow my shop didn’t pull the first issue for me, which, I need to go back and see when it actually came out, because it very well might have been Best of Week. After burning everything down at the end of the first volume with a FABLES crossover (oddly enough, I now cannot find my copies of those singles. Just those five, #50-54, gone like they were never there, to the point that I almost started wondering if I’d made up that the whole thing even happened, a radical notion that you can almost get behind, given the content: I wanted it so badly that I wished those comics into being and when I made it to the last page of #54 and put them away, they simply vanished), Carey & Gross do nothing less than walk us up the evolutionary ladder itself, from the void of space to the primordial ooze, single-celled amoebas to double-helixes. And that’s just the first page. The remainder of the issue is a whirlwind narrative tour de force of our hero basically reconstructing himself with, what else, stories serving as the fuel and/or engine. He opens with Aesop’s “The Ant and the Grasshopper” then transitions into Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Ugly Duckling” before heading on over to being one of the young in Rudyard Kipling’s “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi,” followed by a turn as The Dormouse at Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter’s tea party, concluding with actually harnessing C.S. Lewis’s Aslan’s resurrection to achieve enough power to catalyze his own rebirth. Mike Carey runs through all of this with a dizzying facility of shifting tone that always honors the source material while remaining internally consistent to the mythos that have been building within these own pages. Peter Gross is just as impressive, turning in a virtuoso performance across a full spectrum of styles, opening the Aesop section with sparse inks and actually leaving in his blue-line pencils in several places before moving on to charcoal for Andersen, adding a few tones for Kipling, doing a fair impression of John Tenniel in the Wonderland section, and then bringing in fully rendered figures for the Narnia scene. I should remark upon Page Fourteen, a splash that features a palindromic verse whose meaning is completely changed from beginning to end through the application of altered punctuation and is really a stunning thing to behold. Okay, I just went back and checked and, yeah, this one would have taken it over HAWKEYE #16. Just ridiculous. It seems like Carey & Gross routinely set out to accomplish narrative feats that should be impossible and then knock it out of the park every time. This first issue is pretty much as good as comics get, the creators pushing the form as hard as they can just to see if it will break. But of course, it never does, shifting instead into beautiful new shapes we’ve never seen before but that are immediately familiar and even beloved nonetheless.

(Oh, and #2 is pretty good, too.)


MORNING GLORIES #38 — Ms. Clarkson, naturally. We’re pretty much looking for her around most bends by now. But this time, we go straight dream-logic for our Akiko-centric due to the fact that she’s in a coma. Which certainly gives Spencer/Eisma less narrative transition hoops to jump through, just on to the next thing again and again. When the word “lost” shows up on the next-to-next-to-last page, did anyone else experience a PEE-WEE’S PLAYHOUSE Secret Word type moment? I am really a fan of that pages-of-horizontal-panels heavy-shit montage that has really become a thing this book, every time we hit that layout, you know you’re in for The Business. And that they’re totally going to be much heavier in years to come through the lense of events that haven’t already unfolded. Because Ian hasn’t made it to The Cylinder yet. I think? This book huuuuurts my brain.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #25 — The first thing I thought when I saw the cover was, “Who the hell is Leandro Fernández?” followed immediately by, “I guess he’s a total fucking badass like everyone else they’ve ever gotten to draw this book. One could always argue that it’s the benefit of Dave Stewart’s colors but I haven’t been feeling this way the entire run, but what I’m trying to say is that this art looks like Mignola in all of the best ways, terrific use of shadow and sparse linework while conveying maximum dynamic action. I really love that Page Six with the double-shot of Bêlit, you certainly don’t need any words to get knocked down by all of that. Wood does once again break period with Conan’s anachronistic single-beat “Hey,” on Page Nine. I don’t feel like the guy has ever ever talked that way and trying to impose an updated vernacular on him is pretty blasphemous. I want to letter up a parody run of these where he’s all like, “Hey, gurl,” and “Bro, you know I’ll cut you, Bro?” And of course we wouldn’t be good to go without another goddamn abuse of “literally” from Thessy. I swear. It’s not enough to wreck the magnificence of the final sequence, though. Conan burning the Tigress down to the bottom of the ocean off an unnamed beach, burying his queen and the vast treasure that they have accumulated is a grand, romantic gesture that underscores the tragedy of the entire doomed affair. It has been a journey in which I have been glad to take part. I do hope that there will be continued publication somewhere of Jim & Ruth Keegan’s excellent THE ADVENTURES OF TWO-GUN BOB: TRUE STORIES FROM THE LIFE OF ROBERT E. HOWARD. What a man.

ZERO, VOLUME ONE — My good friend Matt Doman has been singing the praises of this book for the last little bit now, and it was such an alarming departure from his perpetual stumping for SAVAGE DRAGON that when I saw this first trade for the low low price of nine dollars and ninety-nine cents, I had to check it out. And I’m glad that I did. Created by Ales Kot of WILD CHILDREN fame, ZERO starts out in near-future espionage mode with a dash of superpowers and science fiction thrown in. To spice things up, every issue has a different artist, more often than not folks I haven’t heard of, though Tradd Moore does show up for the second issue. This revolving artist conceit could easily backfire every month but it’s almost the book’s strongest feature due to the talented crop of folks Kot brings in. The bittersweet part is when you’re almost done with an issue and realize you’re about to say goodbye to a style that you’ve really grown to love. I’m certainly going to seek out that Morgan Jeske from #4, he or she has a serious Paul Pope thing going on. As much as anyone else can, at any rate. Kot makes some interesting decisions pacing this thing out. The first issue isn’t nearly as devastating as VELVET’s, for example, we simply jump right in the middle of a mission with a couple of scene-breaks to check out our eponymous lead’s handlers handling each other. Michael Walsh’s art is terrific, but I’m honestly not sure if the whole deal would have been enough to hook me into picking up #2. Well, I actually probably would have anyway just because of Moore’s involvement, but my point is that there are narrative elements that are introduced after #1 that I find much more compelling, namely Zero’s upbringing/indoctrination and his relationship with fellow agent Mina Thorpe. Which, #3 messed me up pretty good, I have to tell you. I’m still holding out hope that the rest of her will show up alive here in a little while. And I will say that the pacing levels out to perfection by the end of this first volume, that is exactly where you want to end your trade because I will be happy to pay fifteen American dollars for the next five issues now that I’m hooked. This is really compelling excellent brand-new creator-owned material. Image is killing me.

SAVAGE DRAGON #193 — Well, it’s official, as Malcolm Dragon takes over his daddy’s book, opening with an action-packed five-page flashback showing that he had the guts even way back when. But that’s nothing compared to what it’s going to take to make it through college! They need me to write trade dress. Larsen of course has the dynamic Kirby energy thing down pat, but what is sometimes underrated in discussing this book is the terrific natural dialogue uttered by even bit-players, everything feels very organic with total verisimilitude. Which is no mean feat, considering the physical appearance of the lead. And just when the present-day portion of the issue is starting to feel perhaps too grounded in the relative mundanity of real college life, the horror of Tantrum appears to forever scar the reader. If not his character design alone, then the final fate of the chest-baby. Disturbing in all of the best ways. It was very cool of Larsen to drop such a paradigm shift here in this issue that isn’t a round number or anniversary, a statement to remember that every single issue should be as spectacular as possible. Hold nothing in reserve every single issue, every single page.

UNCANNY X-MEN #017 — This could basically be a new volume of THE NEW MUTANTS, and there is nothing in the world wrong with that. Bendis wisely lets the gang of students take center-stage for the entire issue as they are dropped off and forced to fend for themselves in the middle of some future-relic from either Morrison’s run or Remender’s X-FORCE, I forget. This allows for Bendis to flex his considerable ensemble chops and provide a gang of characterization in just twenty pages. And Chris Bachalo. I mean, the guy has arguably never been better, and that’s really saying something. That circling camera-angle thing he does across Pages Two and Three alone is a serious master-class in staging team dynamics. I mean, it’s the classic Bendis trope/complaint of a scene where a group of people is standing around talking but then Bachalo elevates it through expert usage of layout and evoking emotion/acting from his characters through body language. Terrifying. However many years Bendis’s run winds up lasting, it won’t be long enough. This is still nothing short of spectacular. Bring on Marco Rudy!


DAREDEVIL #036 — And so ends this critically acclaimed and all-around-beloved third volume of Daredevil. It’s as straight-ahead and high-quality as we have grown to expect with all the usual suspects knocking it out. I particularly enjoyed the Easter eggs on the cover, the “other Murdock papers,” in particular. I do wish that the Mighty Marvel Hype Machine would have kept the particulars on the next volume under wraps before this one hit because it would have been really nice to read this issue and actually be the least bit surprised when making it to the last page instead of having it plastered all over the Internet two months ago. So, that let the air out of this ending a little bit but I’m certainly interested to see where Waid & co take things from here. And will probably even pay the All-New All-NOW! cover price of $3.99 a pop for the opportunity to find out.