Wednesday, April 24, 2013


CHEW #33 — Layman & Guillory deliver yet another slice of the greatness that we have come to expect. John Colby is playing a very dangerous game. Or, really, just in an awful awful situation. It is wonderful how Savoy merely shows up on the bottom of Page Five for a single panel to utter the name of the island as his sole appearance this issue. Make us thirst for it, gentlemen! Of course, we all know that Tony’s overconfidence re: his secret package reinforcement is going to turn out poorly but these guys still do a masterful job blowing our socks off with the subsequent double-page splash, which has to be both the most stunning and hilarious thing of the week. The thing is, after the special, we know that Poyo can back it up, it’s not just a mega-silly concept for a pin-up, the charming little fellow really can carry his own book. And but what a damn ending. It’s already been like ten issues for me since I jumped off trades and into singles but the wait here is excruciating.

AGE OF ULTRON #6 — All right, this is exactly what I needed, we finally hit the gas right here. The two art styles herein are an appropriate stylistic departure from what we’ve seen before and both good matches for the new time periods (one slight quibble: seems like in the credits, the Petersen art should get credited to FUTURE, not PRESENT. I mean, they’re in the future, aren’t they? There’s no present-day action in this entire issue). I particularly enjoyed the more pastel-heavy palette that Jose Villarrubia elected to employ on the past sequences, it conjured up a very immersive retro vibe and did a fine job distinguishing itself from his work on the other section. Bendis’s ear for Pym’s monologue is as spot-on as ever, though it did take me out of it when he dropped the more modern-day vernacular “game changer” that is so so overused these days (just finally hit Brubaker/Epting’s THE MARVELS PROJECT and was horrified to find Erskine saying the same thing back in 1941). Terms like that and “wheelhouse” really have no place whatsoever in flashback sequences, if a writer is too slammed with titles to catch that sort of thing, that is exactly what you pay the assistant editor for, hey. After Hickman’s economical work with Dragon Man in FF a little while back, it is more than a little disturbing to see him unconscious/deactivated here on the table. Logan’s reaction to witnessing Pym’s epiphany is perfect. Tony totally jinxed the future squad with the “We’re not doing too bad” comment. Terribly stark endings there. Completely onboard with this and hope they don’t mind rushing out the next issue to me just any time now. Which doesn’t seem like it’s going to be much of a problem.

DAREDEVIL #25 — In keeping with the general mindset since this volume’s first issue, there is no attempt made to capitalize upon the fact that the numbering makes this arguably a milestone issue. It is still only $2.99. It does not have a bloated page count or extra pages of story. All that happens is Mark Waid, Chris Samnee, and in particular Javier Rodriguez show up and deliver yet another chapter of one of the best superhero books on the market with compelling narration, edge-of-your-seat plot beats, dynamic kinetic art, and a unique palette that pops right off the page. This one’s still going strong. Seriously running out of good things to say about it.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #15 — There’s no doubt during those first four pages whose secret origin we’re finally privy to, though, it’s still a nice twist to see how that plays into the status quo at hand. The wrap-up on this one didn’t knock me out the way some others on this series have, I think mainly because it’s pretty directly reminiscent of a couple of them. But hey, I’m sure incoming artist Davide Gianfelice is going to blow it up, if what’s gone before is anything to go by.

FABLES #128 — Bringing Bigby & Snow back to the forefront has gone a long way toward making this title more engaging on a monthly basis. Mr. Buckingham and his worthy contemporaries Misters Leialoha and Pepoy deliver truly rousing double-page spreads of vertical combat between arrogant prince and enraged wolf.

WONDER WOMAN #19 — Well, there’s enough Kirby Krackle for me on the hidden part of that gatefold cover! The way things played out on the interior, I don’t know, I guess it was supposed to be empowering but it came across as a bit lightweight. She should have just kicked Orion’s ass without kissing him and grabbing his balls, that wasn’t exactly the way to combat over-sexualization. I did get a bit tickled with that business with the frog prince inside the belly of Poseidon, though, started thinking about old Lemmiwinks on SOUTHPARK and once you go there, you just can’t find your back. The Gerbil King!

BATWOMAN #19 — Another fill-in, blast it! But once again, Trevor McCarthy and especially Guy Major step up and deliver art that, if not hitting the insanely high bar set by the regular team, at least comes across as the very best effort of which mere mortals are capable. Of course, bizarrely, that said, the issue’s main misfire comes to us from series regular, God of Letters, Todd Klein. The cursive script with a white outline meant to highlight Kate’s mid-fight opponent assessment should be legible in a micro-glance, simulating its split-second nature but it’s distracting and I had to slow down the pace of my reading to understand it, which works to the opposite of what I should think is the intended effect. So, Todd Klein did something this one time that didn’t work. I feel like hell just typing the words. Huge ending, though, definitely on the edge for next issue already, while holding the majority opinion that I hope Brother J.H. is back on-deck to blow us away with his interiors.

BEST OF WEEK: DAREDEVIL: END OF DAYS #7 — Reread this while listening to the TO THE WONDER soundtrack, which I must recommend to one and all (really taking your time so that the seventh track “Toil” is what’s playing at the very end). What a terribly poignant opening scene, I love that Urich never even says a word to Sister Maggie. We only see her for two panels, even. Still, such a calming influence before all the madness finally breaks loose. But wait! In the apartment at 616 Errand Street, #237, in that hard drive, we’ve got folders labeled “Hand,” “Heart,” “Soul,” “Head,” and “Hole,” as well as two labeled “Map” and “One.” That’s got to be it, right? Those two files in that sequence are the beginning of the answer, surely. We just don’t understand the significance. Though it looks like Urich clicked through enough before the ninja attack, at least. Janson/Sienkiewicz/Hollingsworth give us a terrific action sequence at the end just in case this has been too much noir investigation and not enough massive ninja free-for-all for anybody. And the reveal at the end, man, so so damn forehead-slappingly obvious in hindsight, just thrilled and delighted that I never saw it coming. Can’t believe that this is already almost over. They’re going to do it. After all of this time. So grateful to have gotten to read it at all, nothing but top drawer work all around.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


BEST OF WEEK: BATMAN AND ROBIN #19 — And the grieving process continues! This looks to be the first of a five-part arc, if the Kübler-Ross-implying title is anything to go by. Carrie Kelly gets a solid opening page in the New 52, quoting “Cymbeline” and dumping pizza on a lecherous passing driver, establishing her as a young lady of above-average intelligence who isn’t going to take shit off of anybody. I do wish we didn’t have the footnote telling us what Shakespeare play it is. The quotes are enough that we’re not going to mistakenly attribute the dialogue to Tomasi and it would be more fun to have to look it up and find out than have them just give it to us there in the first panel (that particular play is certainly a bit too esoteric for me to spot). The relative rarity of the selection makes it an interesting choice meriting further investigation. Shakespeare listed it as a Tragedie in the First Folio, actually the last one in sequence. 36 OF A 36-ISSUE LIMITED SERIES, as it were. Modern-day critics lump it in with the romances. It deals with issues of innocence and jealousy. Potential subtext to consider, going forward.

Tomasi hits another pitch-perfect exchange between Alfred & Bruce there about referring to Damian in the present tense. Stop ripping out our hearts every month, there’s nothing left! Especially the way that dovetails right into the splash of Carrie in the costume, which evokes a complicated little succession of emotions that it was really something to wade through and try to parse on the first pass, just at the moment that we’re still reeling from the loss of Damian, suddenly, here in present continuity, we’ve got the reverse-nostalgic thrill of seeing one of the very best Robins ever to don the costume, who has been a part of our lives for nearly thirty years now, suddenly somehow face to face with our hero at his lowest point.

And then so great to see Frankenstein! Good on this crew (as well as Lemire/Fawkes over in JLD) for not letting his book’s cancellation keep him out of circulation. I love how elastic both Batman the character and DC the universe have managed to remain over the years that this unholy notion is, in this day and age, a perfectly logical reaction to the death of a Robin. Of course the guy’s going to abduct Frankenstein to the Arctic Circle and reverse-engineer the reanimation process. It’s the only course of action that makes any sense! Alfred calls in Tim, whose presence leads this plot to play out in believable and organic fashion with a two-page epilogue back at the apartment Carrie shares with an unnamed roommate (no sign of MiCHELLE or a Billy of either gender as of yet). All praise to the creative team for crafting an issue that is this week’s highlight while managing to feature it’s Shocking Reveal! Character on-panel for less than a third of the issue. It remains to be seen what effect her presence will have upon the modern-day mythos. She was apparently surreptitiously giving Damian acting lessons. Those Playhouse 90 Kinescope copies that she dropped off on Page Two are from a live-action anthology that ran on CBS from 1956-60 and was apparently just The Business, by all accounts. Rod Serling scripted the first two episodes, among others, and won the first Peabody ever awarded to television writing based on his work on the series. One big deal was that the series increased the running time for hour-long anthologies to ninety minutes, as referenced in the title. And this explains the list from last issue that I mistakenly attributed to Conner Kent, this was instead her recommended viewing to further develop his acting chops. To what end, I can't decide. It's certainly an interesting posthumous twist. Damian was taking Secret Acting Lessons from Carrie Kelly! What can it all mean? This is one of the very best monthlies on the rack and I can’t wait to see where they’re taking it next. Though I’m pretty sure it’s going to have something to do with Anger.

BATMAN #19 — This is a very solid issue but it’s the first one of this volume that reads like just another monthly issue as opposed to a juggernaut pressing ever onward. Which is not inherently a bad thing, just worthy of note. Of course, after my complaining last week, we get a quite excellent in medias res cold open followed by the flashback that doesn’t even catch us up, though 99% of readers are going to be able to connect the dots for themselves. The single page of Damian was quite an effective gut-punch, kudos to editorial for preserving the surprise by placing that on an even-numbered page. The lead feature is as well done as we’ve come to expect from these guys and Tynion/Maleev manage to entertain with the back-up, though I might prefer having at least Tomasi script this particular conversation between these icons, or really just have it take place in the book up above so we can get Gleason/Gray/Kalisz up on it. No disrespect to Maleev.

SAGA #12 — This was already one of the most talked about issues of the year before it even hit the rack due to writer/creator Brian K. Vaughan issuing a press statement the day before it came out announcing that Apple had decided not to make the issue digitally available due to “two postage-stamp sized images of gay sex.” He further went on to state that “Fiona and I could always edit the images in question, but everything we put into the book is there to advance our story, not (just) to shock or titillate, so we’re not changing shit.” All right, three cheers for artistic integrity and not letting corporations have their way, etc, etc. Of course, this did nothing but drive up sales on hard copies, they were long gone off the rack when I made it in just after five on Wednesday. It turns out that it was the folks at Comixology’s interpretation of Apple guidelines that temporarily halted the book’s digital release, not the evil censorship of Apple overlords. But when it finally came time to consume this landmark example of artistic impression, I was less than impressed. Not with the issue itself, it focuses on Prince Robot IV finally meeting D. Oswald Heist and, like other issues that don’t feature the main cast, I found it a pretty engaging tangent. It’s the images itself, these character-based examples of gay sex that supposedly drive the story forward and aren’t there to shock or titillate. They’re both on Prince Robot IV’s screen, on the first page of the issue and the first panel of the second page. Which, you know, traditionally Vaughan is always trying to shock us on that first page, more often than not using the dialogue to wink at us on some meta-textual level. But the images are of a dude performing fellatio on a penis and then on the second page, that penis along with two other new arrivals are ejaculating all over his face with the dude’s tongue sticking out, clearly digging it. In what way does this advance the story? Is the robot prince really gay and this is the way we find out? Without the controversy, I wouldn’t have really thought much of it, just written the images off as gratuitous explicit titillation but with the writer going out of his way to state that it’s in no way gratuitous but totally in service of the story, it leaves a pretty bad taste in my mouth. I realize that I don’t have access to the master plan, this might look like mid-eighties Alan Moore foreshadowing in a year or two, but I kind of doubt it. Disappointing and kind of left a bad taste in my mouth. (thank yew very much)

STAR WARS #4 — More of the pitch-perfect post-Episode IV greatness we’ve come to expect. Nice to finally get the disembodied voice of Alec Guinness on-panel and yet another cool twist with Prithi hearing it. The splash of -3PO and R2 might be as perfectly as this series has thus far managed to caption the tone of the 1977 film, you can not only hear Anthony Daniels berating his poor beleaguered companion but the best part is that they don’t even bother to include the sound effects of the little astro-droid responding to every insult. I love how anyone with a deep affection for the saga can read this page and hear their very own series of bloops and blorps rising and falling. Wood drops his signature trick of pulling another new character out of nowhere and immediately establishing her with a memorable voice, Birra Seah. This one’s too much fun, the pages go by too fast.

HAWKEYE #009 — Once again, this is nothing less than one of the very best books Marvel is putting out, Fraction/Aja/Holligsworth/Eliopoulos lock up with glorious symphonic precision. With the exception of Valentine’s Day this year falling on a Thursday not a Friday, but there’s no telling how it really goes there in the 616. I love that Kate’s wife-title is also “Kate” almost as much as her “Heeeeeeey,” but nothing this week beats turning the page to encounter her “Bitch”-bumping Clint’s cheek. And that cover. So much greatness. Almost all of which is mitigated by Brennan’s return, what a terrible shame.

FANTASTIC FOUR #006 — Voyage to the Dawn of Time! An interesting ethical debate about finding an unknown lifeform stranded there in the aftershock of The Big Bang. Everything we’ve learned from science fiction teaches us not to get involved. But Benjamin J. Grimm’s just got too much heart. I dig how Johnny calls him “my buddy” when he’s out of earshot. The Attack H.E.R.B.I.E.’s mangling the Dalek catchphrase are wonderful. This is a pretty drastic issue, high drama all around. And is that a misprint or is the next issue really coming out alongside FF in two weeks? Could Bagley really be that unstoppable?

UNCANNY X-MEN #004—Cool way to do the crossover with the other book, give us the psychic conversation between Emma and her former collective protégés during the external one between the two administrations that we’ve already witnessed, then follow up on the cliffhanger here on the last page. Chris Bachalo continues to completely knock it out of the park on pencils and colors and kudos to his four (!) inkers on keeping the art style pretty much uniform, I was shocked to notice that there were that many of them after reading the issue. I’m also digging the inching along of character development we’re getting on these four new mutants, it’s cool to have some new blood injected into the mythos so soon after Gillen’s book with Hope’s team. And of course Cyclops runs his Danger Room off an iPhone, that makes perfect sense. But all anybody really cares about: we’ve got Bachalo on an X-book, what do we have to do or undo to get Jonothan Starsmore & Paige Guthrie back in the fold?

WOLVERINE #002 — Just like last issue, the creative team delivers a compelling solo adventure starring the ubiquitous Canadian berserker samurai. This book does everything it’s supposed to do: Paul Cornell’s plot beats fall into place right where you want them to, the characterization is spot-on, Alan Davis continues to display why he is one of the very best storytellers in the industry with dynamic shots that draw the eye along the page, expertly embellished by Mark Farmer, and tastefully colored by Matt Hollingsworth. Top drawer work, all around.

UNCANNY AVENGERS #006 — Wow, Apocalypse beating the shit out of Thor in 1013 Scandinavia, what’s not to love? Remender really has a handle on Apocalypse’s voice. Is his role as caretaker of the Celestials a new thing? It doesn’t sound familiar but makes all kinds of sense. They are all descendants of Kirby, whether directly or a couple generations on down. And of course, back this far, Thor is much more of an idiot, kind of like Hemsworth in the top of the Branagh movie, there. Man, he will always trust Loki. Even if it isn’t really Loki, as it turns out. Daniel Acuña tears it up providing full art for this entirely flashback issue that sets up how truly staggering Thor’s battle-ax Jarnbjorn is, which is pretty bad news because now Kang’s got it. I hope Alex Summers doesn’t mind that I refer to it as a battle-ax, I understand that it’s really so much more than that.

AGE OF ULTRON #5 — Tony’s near-breakdown over the perfection of Vision as Trojan Horse is spot-on characterization. Robert Downey, Jr. delivers another incandescent performance. The narrative split here is well done and suited to Peterson and Pacheco coming in to help out on art. I assume one guy will draw Fury’s team in the future and the other will chronicle Wolverine’s attempted Pymicide in the past. This series could use some action. I know I shouldn’t really be surprised but it’s unfortunate to consider that in five issues with twenty dollars cover price down the hatch, not that much has really happened. Of course, the high concept has gone down, Ultron wins. And the art has been gorgeous throughout, Hitch/Neary/Mounts at the top of their game. We’ve witnessed a couple of major character deaths and been told about several more. But in one hundred pages of comic book, this has been a pretty slow burn thus far, strong characterization from Bendis but very little in the way of on-panel plot. I’m hoping this has all been set-up and we’re going to just blow it up here in the back half. We’ll see. Sorry to see this art team bow out, though, hope they’ll have more to draw besides metropolitan wreckage when they come back. And but what’s with the Ultrons blowing The Drag all to hell? Bendis first started wrecking U.T. campus just a little while back over in ALL-NEW X-MEN and now he straight up destroys both sides of Guadalupe in a gorgeous two-page spread. What gives, Bendis? Real Dick Move! Hitch’s photo reference is completely spot-on with the exception of I can’t find the smoking ruin of The Castilian, seems like that should on the left side of the spread about two-thirds of the way up. Maybe it finally launched into space like I always suspected it would. Man, I really used to spend too much time altered in that building.

AVENGERS #009 — Huh. That’s it? I’m sure more will happen with these two characters, but it seems a little soon to put them away after relatively little in the way of action. I mean, they whupped up on the team, went to Mars, came back to Earth, and now have gotten captured. Granted, Hickman has it that they’ve broken the world with that last stunt the Star Brand kid pulled so I guess that’s going to have some kind of consequences amidst all the other shit that’s going down in the 616, but it feels like kind of a limp ending just tucking them away on Stark’s satellite on the far side of the sun, particularly in the first issue of this title that has all eighteen members on the roster. Not a bad issue by any means, I’ve just come to expect a bit more thunder and this feels like nowhere near enough payoff for everything the series has been building up to thus far.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


BEST OF WEEK: LOCKE & KEY: OMEGA #4 — It is nothing less than soul-crushing to make it through a single issue of this series at this point. After laying it on thick with the pitch-perfect masterfully crafted characterization for the first three issues, Joe Hill and the boys pull the trigger and set everything crashing toward the inevitable conclusion. The first page alone is so unfortunate. Hill does a terrific job of scripting drunk-slur and even employing it to comedic effect in a couple of instances, though it still really hurts to see Nina having involuntarily lost her battle to stay sober. Gabriel Rodriguez, as ever, makes exactly the right decisions with composition, following the two-panel bird’s-eye view above the car on Page Three with a six-panel static shot taking us all the way through most of the next page and doing a wonderful job of emphasizing how trapped and cramped Ty and Duncan are there in the trunk. I’m just glad they’re both still with us. Also, I love how even in the midst of this horror, they’re still joking about Duncan’s sexual orientation and doing a figurative fist-bump over Ty scoring with Jordan last issue. Rodriguez once again proves himself master of the facial expression. His characters emote and act better than anyone else on the stands. The man is a force. I mean, you could burn a thousand words per issue on how perfect Rodriguez arranges his page layouts to frame the narrative, angles chosen for maximum impact. So, that’s always going on and I guess I should quit pointing it out every other page. Dodge/Bode’s three-panel zoom-in response to “And why didn’t you use the Crown of Shadows to bring Duncan up here, Ace?” is one of my favorite beats of the entire series, hilarious and dark and perfectly in character with this malevolent thing from another place that we’ve still come to know as well as any of these other fully rounded and completely realized characters. Made all the greater by the following double-page splash. And of course we’ve got to check in with Rufus and May-Hemi, I can see them maybe sitting out next issue for the walk in only to show up one minute before it’s all too late in #6. I love the way Duncan sets the further tragedy in motion by asking the very natural “What do they want?” question. Scot’s final dialogue of the issue makes me think there’s no way he’s gone for good, despite appearances. Of course we leave every single character in an even worse place than we did last issue, which I didn’t think was possible. And yeah, that last page. It’s not looking good. Love this series so much. So badly don’t want it to end and simultaneously can’t wait.

GLORY #34 — So, it turns out that this was just a twelve-issue sprint to THE END, which I had no idea about but certainly enjoyed. Joe Keatinge and Ross Campbell have put together a stellar run, surely one of the all-time great character rehabilitations. And it’s all the more satisfying to see the story brought to a natural conclusion and resolution as opposed to just getting handed off to another team. The jump-cut flashbacks give us Gloriana hanging out with the Fitzgeralds in 1925 Paris, two glorious pages that are a little bittersweet here at the end, knowing that we’ll never get an entire issue of this cast and setting. I also enjoyed how personable and un-creepy Charon was written. It really took me by surprise, the extent to which this last issue made an emotional appeal to the reader. Over the course of this run, I never would have guessed that the final chapter would get me all choked up. The Emilie montage was grand, Graham and the boys over at PROPHET have got me charged to be all cracked up any time Diehard shows up. The whole thing is great, though, the way it calls back and updates the montage from the first issue these guys did, #23. This ending succeeds by providing closure and resolution to everything that’s gone before but also keeping us engaged even past the last page wondering what happened next. Tremendous work from all parties.

FASHION BEAST #8 — A stroll through the night bringing our two leads a bit closer together leads to a fairly substantial cliffhanger. Still interested to see where this one is heading, what kind of statement it’s going to make at the end of the day.

ALL-NEW X-MEN #010 — Bendis and the gang continue to completely knock it out of the park as both books converge when Cyclops’s squad shows up at the gates of the Jean Grey Institute for Higher Learning on a recruitment drive, a purpose so obvious in hindsight I feel quite foolish for not figuring it out right away a month ago or I guess it was really just only the past couple of weeks. Man, they sure do jam these things out. I’m running out of hyperbolic things to say about this series. The art continues to look better than just about every book on the stands. Marte Gracia, in particular, is a revelation. Bendis displays deft mastery of the ensemble’s many voices and is still mining the funny from the premise (best exemplified here in Teen Iceman’s innocent and hiliarous “What’s S.H.I.E.L.D.?”) and the last panel is such an over-the-top cliffhanger, it made me laugh out loud. Could not be loving this book more.

INDESTRUCTIBLE HULK #6 — Simonson is the strongest there is! I didn’t want to add another $4 Marvel book, but when you’ve got Mark Waid writing and Walt Simonson drawing the Hulk and Thor, free will doesn’t really enter into the equation. This messed me up before on his AVENGERS arc with Bendis last year, but as a child of the eighties, it’s a bit odd for me to see Simonson’s lines digitally colored and printed on glossy pages. It would have been kind of a swell throwback to knock the price down a buck and print on old school newsprint pages. Still, it’s a real treat to see his work in any context, the man has been a living legend for decades. I love the layout on Page Five, the way that the dimensional portal breaks the panel borders and dominates the entire page, drawing the reader’s eye to the bottom right corner, just the way it’s supposed to. Curious to see where they’re heading with Thor’s retro look, a direct crossover into Simonson’s run, perhaps? Or maybe he just felt like drawing his old school version and Waid tossed it into the script with no problem. Regardless, this is quite a time, just great big fun crackling up off the pages.

AGE OF ULTRON #4 — And this thing just keeps happening! The steady stream of new Hitch interiors without abatement is starting to freak me out. And we even open with “Sweet Christmas,” Bendis has been waiting for that his whole life, I bet. Very cool to see the big shout-out to Kirby there on Page Seven, Panel Two, a heavily foreshortened Luke Cage running directly toward the reader. Too great. Not just a whole lot happens in this one but now the pieces are all where they need to be and we’ll hopefully have a fairly substantial throwdown next issue that will flip the status quo around for the back half of the series.

ANIMAL MAN #19 — As the running order will reflect, this is a substantially different first week for me than it has been the past eighteen months. Was already skeptical but the Diggle pre-release exodus left a bad taste in my mouth and I didn’t even try the new teams on this week’s ACTION COMICS or SWAMP THING. Still plenty happening on the DC front, though. But suddenly, instead of this being my second book of the night, it’s here in the back half. Where Snyder & Paquette dropped the mic with their tragic Rotworld epilogue, Lemire & Pugh dig in deeper, ripping into poor Buddy even more. I just ran through those old Ennis/Dillon HELLBLAZERs where Constantine is miserable and homeless and I’m afraid we’re heading in that direction here, the status quo of this title as “superhero with viable family unit” seems in serious jeopardy, which, I could take or leave Ellen and her mom, but the relationship between Maxine and her dad has been at the heart of this book since the relaunch, so I hope at least she stays in circulation. I do appreciate that both she and Buddy are not ready to let go of Cliff, right away start floating the idea of resurrection. These kinds of things do happen all the time. Pretty tense about where they’re going to take this book, seems like we’re on the edge of a precipice, dark times. And just hell of a painted cover by Howard Porter, he’s come quite a ways since bringing the JLA back to glory with Morrison sixteen years ago.

GREEN LANTERN #19 — Oh dear, we get “literally” in the first panel. Grammatical pet peeve aside, Johns does a pretty excellent job setting up his last issue, sure to be a double-sized all-star art-jam spectacular. It’s been interesting to see how Johns has consistently shifted the focus away from Hal throughout this volume (which is funny, considering this is one of the only continuities that didn’t get a fairly definitive reboot), and this final arc is certainly no exception. At the end of last issue, Hal was wondering whether or not to jump. At the end of this one (SPOILERS), he jumps. But, like the rest of what’s come before, Sinestro is the star of this show. I still hear Mark Strong’s voice in my head when I read his dialogue. Johns has done a fairly competent job making the character compelling, though he’s never managed to hit the heights that he did on his JSA run. Even though there are no less than seven guys holding it down on art duties, the issue still maintains a consistent look, aided by in-story reasons for two different styles. Pencillers Adrian Syaf and Szymon Kudranski turn in work that at least approaches the greatness that we’ve come to expect over the years from Doug Mahnke. Glad I came back to this one and curious to see how Johns is going to put this to bed next month.

GREEN ARROW #19 — I’m getting pretty sick of that old device, start all in medias res in the middle of some insane situation, then cliffhang it and give us the old TWO DAYS EARLIER . . . It can be an effective trick when done really well, but BATTLESTAR GALACTICA really watered it down for me from overusage, to the point that when I see it, it’s got to be like the most insane opening ever to justify it for me when that flashback tag pops up. This was not that. That quibble aside, I’m still loving the creative team on this book. Andrea Sorrentino continues to deliver career-best pages, doing a really wonderful job of copping that deal J.H. Williams III used to such tremendous effect over with Batwoman, highlighting a particularly kinetic piece of action by adding a panel within the panel, further offset by the colorist making some drastic shift.  There’s maybe a little bit too much narration going on for my taste. To be honest, Lemire has put enough work into establishing Komodo that, with the addition of his daddy/daughter dynamic, as of their last panel, I’m pretty much rooting for them at this point. We’ll see how it goes.

DETECTIVE COMICS #19 — No problem one of the most rewarding over-sized issues I’ve ever encountered. All kudos to Layman, ably abetted by his all-star artistic assemblage. Fabok, in particular, continues to produce absolutely slamming work throughout. That opening double-page splash of our protagonist looks like it took about a week to draw and the follow-up spread of the Bat-Cave a few pages later ranks up there with any of the greats, even Lee’s sprawling multi-Batmobile ridiculousness from a few years back over on ALL-STAR. Killer colors from Jeromy Cox, as well. All of the stories look great, but the lead feature in particular is gorgeous. Rough deal about the family, you know we are in a bad place when Dick Grayson responds to a request from Batman to assist Batgirl by driving out of town. I did get a little confused by the ending with Langstrom until realizing that Man-Bat got rebooted out of continuity and this is now suddenly his first appearance/origin. I think? I’m impressed by the fact that Layman takes whatever Editorial throws at him (a requiem for Damian, the idea to incorporate the number 900 into this issue to commemorate the fact that this should by all rights be DETECTIVE COMICS #900, though there’s a small chance that that was his idea) and just tosses into the mix of this Emperor Penguin mega-arc he’s got going that keeps accruing momentum all the time. And then that last story with Strode & Melendez hearkens back to the halcyon days of Brubaker/Rucka greatness back on GOTHAM CENTRAL. Looks like Layman is laying a bit of groundwork for that angle, good news. This is how you do an over-sized anniversary issue, all kinds of value to be found here. Really well done, cheers and appreciation to all involved parties.

Thursday, April 4, 2013


SUPERMAN FAMILY ADVENTURES #11 — Ten months later, this book finally shows up in my Pull, so it was a real treat to read it with the little girl on Wednesday night rather than have to track it down later on in the week. This one is packed much tighter than the pace of what we’ve come to expect from this title. Baltazar & Franco clearly got the word that #12 is going to be it and absolutely hit the gas, probably even last issue, now that I think about it. There’s so much going on in the first two pages with Doomsday attached to this month’s Meanwhile . . . meteor and then the Kents’ field trip to Metropolis that we actually forgot that we’re still hanging from the first ever cliffhanger last month in the middle of some pretty insane developments. Superman and Zod versus Brainiac in a Kandor that has just been regrown to full-size right in the middle of the Fortress of Solitude, followed by a Ma Kent/Lois Lane conversation that might be the best exchange I read all week long, followed by a new twist that is simply unheard of in 75 years of mythos and makes the fact that this is the penultimate issue all the more heartbreaking. Or at least that’s what I was thinking until the last page, so wonderful and bittersweet to make it back to good old Sidekick Elementary. Not ready for this to be over. Really ever, but certainly not so soon.

BATMAN INCORPORATED #9 — And switching gears about as drastically as is possible. After all the other requiems, I was pretty sure that this was going to be the roughest one to get through and of course the first page is a pretty rough start. Dick’s reaction in flashback plunges us down to new depths of mourning even a month later, the involuntary string of negations before hunkering down next to that lifeless little body. Him just lying there really is the worst part. And so but of course we’ve got the Prime Minister bringing up Lazarus Pits four pages later. The Damian clone molting into yet another Batman is really bringing the dominant theme of Morrison’s run into devastating relief as we round the bend into the home stretch, here. Further emphasized by the head-shots of El Gaucho, Man-of-Bats & Little Raven, and the Japanese and French guys (I forget at the moment if they have their own identities besides just being the Batmen of their respective countries). And Talia quoting “Hotel California” to Jason Todd makes you feel like you’ve about seen everything. Those last three pages are note-perfect, do everything they need to do to bring us out of the period of mourning and right on into vengeance. The kid’s not dead until the computer in the Bat-Cave says so. One last moment of tenderness with Bat-Cow. I still cannot fucking believe the emotional depth and overwhelming grief that Morrison has been able to wring from one of the most humorous aspects of Baltazar/Franco’s TINY TITANS. And finally, the scream of rage that sends the bats flying. Now begins the endgame. These first two titles, LOCKE & KEY, the DC NATION animation block as we have known it, everything I love is ending.

YOUNG AVENGERS #3 — And I guess I was feeling down enough from all of that that I broke my usual company-bordered reading sequence and just barreled right in to this one because I needed a dose of the wide-eyed teen hyperadventure madness. But is there any Kate Bishop/Noh-Varr goodness to be had? Once again, no! Gillen!!! Texting does not count. We do get to log in some quality pages with Miss America, who it looks like is some sort of Superman analogue from a parallel dimension with two moms? Have I got all that right? Of course, Gillen continuing to write Loki turns out to be the major non-PHONOGRAM-reunion selling point of this book, as every utterance is pure gold. And he even manages to out-pop-culture the great BKV with the Tyrion line, pure brilliance. There’s no way I’d ever trade-wait this, but I’m already almost sure that it will make a better breathless read in full volumes, exactly the way you want to listen to a quality album all the way through, not one shiny three-minute single at a time every four weeks. And that way, you won’t have to wait at least three months for something to (hopefully) top the glory of the opening scene.

UNCANNY AVENGERS #5 — I was concerned about who would pick up the banner when Cassaday made the inevitable bail after the opening arc (very much hoping it’s a revolving door and we’ll see him back for 9-12 or some such), but of course we’re in very good hands with Olivier Coipel. We open with a fairly monumental prehistoric scene that sets the stage for an arc that inconceivably manages to ratchet up the stakes from the ridiculousness of the first four issues, but that’s it for this issue, as the rest of the pages are devoted to bouncing these characters off one another and throwing in Wasp, Wonder Man, and Sunfire for good measure, solid additions, all. Coipel always delivers strong costuming but the way he’s got Rogue in casuals really jumped out at me, shot me right back to late-eighties greatness when I first came on board, a sweet little dash of nostalgia. Of course, the only element of this issue that anyone wants to talk about (and talk about and talk about) is The Speech, Alex Summers declaring the term “mutant” a pejorative and then straight up calling it “the m-word.” Upon first reading, I certainly didn’t find it insulting or controversial at all. It’s always bothered me, the language of Xavier’s dream of a world in which “human and mutant” can live as equals, right there in the mission statement separating mutants from their humanity by implication. And Remender nails it in that first panel at the top of the page, tags “dream” so we can see what he’s doing and then changes “human and mutant” to “all people” before having Alex ask to be defined by his actions, not his genetic code. So, it completely works for me on that level. On the other hand, the casual “Call me Alex” bit at the end is a smarmy dismissal that substantially reduces the impact of the preceding sentiment. And I do understand the argument of how substituting the politically correct term for another minority in for “mutant” makes the whole thing much more inflammatory than it hit me on first reading. It’s a complicated thing to unpack. What I haven’t heard anyone talk about, though, is the reality that this is a speech delivered by a character and not a writer, the villagers are so ready to lynch Remender that there’s no consideration whatsoever that Havok is not his mouthpiece but instead a character with his own opinions and faults, some of which will hopefully get him into trouble and increase the conflict in his life, at least we’d better hope so because that’s what makes for compelling fiction. The writer isn’t advocating minority assimilation, his character is. All the writer is doing is try to make his characters say and do compelling things and, in doing so, engage his audience. At which he has wildly succeeded.

AGE OF ULTRON #3 — A little shocking to have the first scene of this book be people actually doing something but so of course we get the six-page flashback to bring us back to what we already know. Which sounds more disparaging than I mean it to, Bendis can make this group of people talking at each other in an underground bunker pretty compelling. The sole miss on all of those voices for me was Storm, even after all these years surrounded by Americans, I’m not buying her using contractions. Clint, though, Bendis nails it. Big reveal at the end, I certainly did not see that coming. The art remains stunning. How many combined man-hours did these guys spend on just the wreckage of buildings?

FANTASTIC FOUR #5AU — On the one hand, this is a pretty good-looking comic on its own terms, never mind that it’s a company-mandated fill-in to the Big Event of the year, etc, etc. I’m real glad to see André Araújo return to these pages, his work on the penultimate issue of the old FF with Hickman was stand-out greatness and of course Jose Villarrubia is one of the very best in the business, so right there, you know you’re in for a visual treat. And Fraction certainly doesn’t coast or phone-in the script, choosing to drop a single-page bombshell about Ben Grimm and Victor Von Doom that is all the more stunning for its inclusion in an issue that presumably some percentage of the core readership will not be picking up. So, there’s that. But then on the other hand, on a purely narrative level, there’s all the messiness of what this does to the carefully interwoven plot that’s been playing out in the first five issues of these two series, hinging upon the main team leaving Earthspace/time and then failing to return at the proper chronal coordinates. The fact that T’Challa has a way to communicate with them pretty much pops the bubble thus far separating the two books if you think about it for even a second. There’s a way to get in touch with them across time and space? But Reed left it with The Black Panther? Not Scott, the guy who is actually designated leader of the replacement squad? And even accepting that Reed’s just being a dick and not wanting to give Scott a help hotline, wouldn’t T’Challa get on the old horn and see what was up when the team didn’t come back on schedule? Maybe not right away, but certainly before another four issues went by? So, we’ll see. This obviously isn’t the last one of these and maybe all will be explained, but going by just this issue alone, that ability to communicate with the team creates more continuity headaches than sequential delight. Just barely.

FF #5 — As if it’s not crowded enough, we get not one but two new kids here in the mix with cousins Ahura and Luna. You’ve got to love Ahura’s Lil’ Black Bolt ensemble. Shout-out to the Allreds for that stunning metropolitan splash of the maybe-Old-Human-Torch losing his shit. And that Bugle headline is totally a shot at DC, I’m thinking, funny stuff. This one’s not so full of great character beats as inching things along but I’m still interested to see where everything’s heading.

BEST OF WEEK: EAST OF WEST #1 — Good Lord. These guys show up dropping absolute justice right out of the gate. Hickman has hand-picked a gang of previous collaborators to help bring this masterpiece to life, Nick Dragotta from near the end of his FF run on art, Frank Martin, who I think is coloring his AVENGERS when Dean White isn’t, and then Rus Wooton, the letterer for THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS. What these guys have produced . . . it’s still hard to even talk about it without just gushing. Simply put, it’s a science fiction western apocalypse. Which sounds like a generic and fairly broadly applicable term, but it has never been more apt than in this case. We open with a scene of rebirth in a primal setting. The colors are bold and striking, conjuring almost a Martian landscape (or, really, Benedict Dimagmaliw’s color work on that first issue of THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN’s second volume, “Phases of Deimos,” is that even a real name? I always felt like Moore and O’Neill were messing with us about that guy, as many shenanigans as they get up to in that book, but I digress), but something’s wrong, there are only three where there should be four. They roll some bones and discover that their missing member has in some way absconded and must now be killed. Cut to the three-page white/almost-white Hickman opening credits that I want to say first showed up in THE RED WING (unless he was doing it as far back as THE NIGHTLY NEWS? That seems possible), but I love how whether it’s this new batch of madness or THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS or blitzkrieg almost-weekly corporate insanity over on THE AVENGERS, he’s got that graphic branding going on, intelligent business. Then, we get three exposition infodump pages that tell of an alternate history involving a soldier-turned-preacher, a chief of chiefs and the prophecy that they channeled after someone set off a nuke in 1908, resulting in America splitting into seven great nations. It’s unclear what exactly was the tipping point into this new history, though the new borders have got Texas laying claim to every single state it borders, so seems like Hickman got it right. THEN, we cut to “Now” and meet a pale pale gunslinger and his two confederates, all of whom are channeling a none-too-subtle demonic vibe. My initial thought was to assume that these are the little kids grown up, the genders matching up and all. After moseying on into a saloon and insulting all the Union boys and the massacre that ensues, come to find out that they’re really here for the bartender, who used to be a hunter and did some grave injustice to the gunslinger back when. Who, I hate to just straight up compare this to another character/book, but the guy has a strong physical resemblance to Skinner Sweet of Snyder/Albuquerque’s AMERICAN VAMPIRE, and while I dig that book, I have never thought that they have done a very good job establishing that character as the Ultimate Badass that it seems like they’re trying to. He’s always there in the cliffhangers, licking the candy cane and grinning and looking all eeeeeevil, but it never feels like we should fear him. Not so, here. From the first panel, through every single line of dialogue, every bit of body language and facial expression, this guy exudes menace and is at once scary in a way that very few characters manage in any medium. Very economical and effective work from all parties. The bartender gives the gunslinger a name and he leaves his two compatriots, then we get a time-stamp stating that this is in fact 2064: APOCALYPSE YEAR ONE and we’re back with the three kids from the start, quickly to learn that they are new incarnations of three-quarters of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, then we cut back to The White Tower, which is now where the President lives, all of this has been taking place in the same time, the trio in the bar weren’t these kids grown up at all, the gunslinger is instead their missing compatriot with a couple of confederates, which makes him Death, and then he takes the leader of probably the first nation, The Union. A single-panel flashback image from Death’s point-of-view makes it apparent that this president and the bartender and I guess the leaders of the other nations somehow got the better of Death in the Badlands and took something of great import from him. So, it looks like he’s trying to get it back and stay ahead of his brothers and sisters, who regenerated when he did not. There are still many questions, but I think that’s the most that I can work out just by myself with the text. This is a terribly strong piece of storytelling. As wide-ranging and insane as THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS and the glorious AVENGERS runs already are—and I’ve made no secret of my affection for both—the scope on this monstrosity is off the charts and I can’t imagine what an #5 of this is going to encompass. Just the first issue has about got me at comprehension threshold.

MORNING GLORIES #25 — I was a little disappointed that this one wasn’t all sideways widescreen like those really radical issues of SPIDER-MAN and X-FORCE that McFarlane & Liefeld crossed over Back In The Day, I think almost immediately pre-exodus (that, now that I think about it for the first time in probably, yeah, twenty years, didn’t all the fun start when Juggernaut wrecked one of the Twin Towers?), but the cover tricked me, let’s not hold my preconceptions against the interior. I’ve been meaning to do a reread on this monster from #1 for a few months now and made a serious error not doing so before this issue, I highly recommend it to yield maximum enjoyment of the masterful way that Spencer ties all the knots and brings what up until now has seemed like possibly a whole lot of random firing up into the sky into a pupil-dilating cohesive whole incorporating multiple ensembles and timeframes. And the electromagnetic L O S T vibrations have never been felt stronger, you can straight up hear Giacchino’s drums from the catch-up montage at the end of “The Other 48 Days” (2.07, island faithful!) there on all those no-dialogue four-horizontal-panel pages that make up a significant portion of the first half of the issue. Kudos, as ever, to Brother Eisma for the way he stages all these scenes we’ve already seen. It used to always drive me crazy on That Island Show (and even more so on something like HEROES, when the device was employed to much more amateurish effect) when they trotted out this old trick, revisiting material that we’ve already seen once but now process with an increased understanding and, hopefully, appreciation. But, next to the aforementioned drums montage, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the trick done as well. The juxtaposition of images in the composition of opposite pages goes a long way to selling it, and Eisma lays everything out in a very aesthetically pleasing way. And there is certainly no shortage of major payoff big moments in the final few pages here, the thing is, we’ve already had so many people shot and stabbed and finger-skulled to death only to see either a time-displaced version of themselves or a doppelganger turn up to deliver yet more cryptic mission advice that by the end of it, all I could do was throw up my hands, “Yes! Of course!” with only a fraction of understanding of even the clues that have been revealed. This is a product of the non-linearity with which the story has been presented and the fact that I’ve only hit it once or twice a month in singles. It will be much less demanding and confusing in trade, of that I have doubt. Though this certainly isn’t meant to condemn the series for being demanding or confusing, I prefer to work for it. Just should have cranked it up harder to get ready for this. Going to have to hit the reread before next month. All respect to Nick Spencer, Joe Eisma, Alex Sollazzo, Johnny Lowe, and Rodin Esquejo on those gorgeous covers. Without fill-ins, these guys have turned in the first quarter of a quality sequential narrative that’s not afraid to make its reader work very hard to understand everything that’s happening, showing up month in and month out, many times with an added page count at no additional cost, and delivering this 48-page behemoth finale for a mere #3.99, or, what Marvel charges for 20 pages of anything they think they can get away with. I admire everything that these guys are doing, both narratively and business-wise. If more creators follow their lead, the future for this medium will be a very bright one, indeed.

THE MASSIVE #10 — Sorry to see the backmatter remain gone but it looks like we yielded about the same material in those three pages of infodump montage on South America. A treat to get Gary Erskine filling in here. I was a fan of that DAN DARE mini he did with Ennis a few years back. And of course the horror of THE FILTH. Also, cool to see Jordie Bellaire picking up where Dave Stewart left off, she’s really been tearing it up all over the place of late, a rising star. Which is more than we can say for Callum Israel and his crew, the way things have been going pretty much since the beginning of the series, man, looks like the very end is always just around the corner. The premise of this series does have us starting from a pretty grim place, I suppose. Consistently rewarding in singles, and I still don’t think we’ve seen more than the very tip of what Wood’s got in store for us. And a hell of a John Paul Leon cover.

FATALE #13 — Like the previous issue, this one skews a bit closer to straight EC Comics fare than the tone of Lovecraft noir perfected over the first two arcs of the series, as well as being another done-in-one and one of the better singles thus far. No mean feat for a synergistic duo so prolific and inventive that they can’t manage to commit to a single series! We meet another new femme fatale, this one an outlaw in the old West and as alluring as ever, though she’s pushing at least seventy. Even in a relatively sparse twenty-four pages, Brubaker gives us enough character beats to rope us in and make us care about these people, feeling a little tug on the last page when the expository montage blasts us through their story all the way to The End, leaving behind more questions than answers. Breitweiser continues to provide perfect complementary tones to Phillips’s immaculately crafted linework. This is A-list material all the way, a single you can’t afford not to be devouring the moment it’s on the rack.

THE UNWRITTEN #47 — The new Lord of the Dead is hilarious, the combination of the voice that Carey gives him with Gross’s cartoonish visage combines to craft a memorable character who steals at least the first half of this issue. The back half coasts along until the last page, which is as heavy a moment as we’ve seen in this series since at least Pullman went down. Next issue should be seismic. And I’m really looking forward to that FABLES crossover, what a wonderful world.

JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK #18 — So, it all turned out fine. The art is beautiful, but I’m having trouble dialing in to these characters. I enjoy seeing them run around but can’t manage anything more than a surface engagement with the narrative. There’s nothing meaty enough to draw me in. Of course Constantine fires off a typical badass line of dialogue to close out the arc. I’m going to hang out for at least next issue and see if this one wants to get its teeth in me.

FLASH #18 — Francis Manapul, wherefore art thou? It’s never good news when this book’s co-writer/artist needs to take a month to get back on deadline but regular collaborator Brian Buccellato more than holds down the fort here with Marcio Takara on pencils and inks, even delivering a title page that can stand with what’s gone before, a horribly intimidating prospect while staring at a blank piece of paper, I should think. It is refreshing to have Barry in a relationship without secrets or hero vs boyfriend drama malarkey. This one’s solid enough throughout, but I feel a bit bait-and-switched having to pick up DIAL H to find out what’s going on with that cliffhanger. I do dig on the Ponticelli.

TIMEWARP #1 — What a gorgeous beast of an anthology. I love these things. At this point, Marvel seems to have the edge in delivering across-the-board high-quality runs by A-list talent on every single one of their main characters/franchises. However, even amidst creative team shifts and walk-outs on high-profile books over in the mainstream DC universe, we’ve still got Vertigo delivering wonderful gems like this, a standalone eighty-page anthology of nine stories by a myriad of creators, a few of whom are high-profile but with a majority who aren’t household names. Fame is no indicator of greatness, however, every single one of these delivers the goods, an inventive blend of science fiction and 2000 A.D.esque twist-ending stories that really made me think about the craft of writing short short stories, seems like you could put almost as much work into eight pages of perfection as three issues of an arc. We open with Damon Lindelof having roped his previous Batman collaborator Jeff Lemire into another eight-page slice of clever starring Rip Hunter in a riff on time travel and acceptance of the inevitability of mortality. Set on what appears to be an island in the South Pacific, naturally.  An enjoyable read though it doesn’t manage to tap in to the core of the character with as much surgical precision as their digital-first “The Butler Did It” from a few months back. Fine way to begin the anthology, though. Tom King & Tom Fowler’s (and there she is again, we get Jordie Bellaire for these next two) “It’s Full of Demons” has a very clever twist-ending that I absolutely did not seem coming. Actually, without ruining either this or the final story, it seems like this should have been sequenced first in order to thematically bookend the anthology. Gail Simone makes her Vertigo debut with “I Have What You Need,” with Gael Bertrand turning in some highly stylized cartoonish art that belies some pretty dark subject matter. Another serious twist. Si Spurrier & Michael Dowling deliver “The Grudge,” the tale of a fairly ultimate rivalry, while Toby Lit and some usual suspects from the Vertigo stable bring us the second part of the “The Dead Boy Detectives” story that I think started up in last October’s GHOSTS? This installment isn’t quite as engaging as the previous one. And speaking of GHOSTS, Milligan and M.K. Perker, late of CAIRO and AIR, have a story “She’s Not There” that would be just at home in that anthology as this one, dedicated to Joe Kubert, natch. Ray Fawkes & Andy McDonald’s “00:00:03:00” is a tender tale of time-dilated final protocols. Matt Kindt’s “Warning Danger” channels the bio-punk trappings of Brandon Graham and friends’ PROPHET reboot to reasonably successful effect. I’ve been digging on his stuff more and more, thought he subbed in for Lemire real well on FRANKENSTEIN there for as long as that lasted and REVOLVER was strong. Looking forward to the MIND MGMT trade whenever it finally shows up, already paid for it, even. Okay, but wait, the last thing by Dan Abnett & Inj Culbard is a very tight little shot starring agents of causality that’s not too far removed from the idea that served as the germ of my first novel. These guys just do it in eight pages instead of six hundred.

I really enjoyed this entire thing and hope that DC keeps publishing anthologies. It must be a dicey move financially but there’s a tremendous amount of value and quality to be had, just tons of high concept to be found packed into a single spine that costs as much as half as many pages from Marvel. Kudos and appreciation to the editors who greenlit the book and the creators who rose to the challenge.