Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: Clayton Cowles, Coyote, Death, Emma Rios, Fox, Ginny, Image, Jordie Bellaire, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Sissy
Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick
Art and cover by Emma Rios
Colours by Jordie Bellaire
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Published by Image
After the catastrophic flood last issue, Sissy is aided by the man she stole the binder from. Elsewhere, Fox and Ginny have a meaningful exchange of blows, Death has a conversation and someone decides to come home.
Emma Rios’ work is amazing, able to be fragile and burly all at once in a way that’s completely unique. It gives the book both an ethereal feel and a sort of grubby finger nailed reality that wraps around and complements that unreality. Her character work is especially great, and she has a total understanding of how people move and what those movements say about them.
She also draws the best fight scenes in comics right now. The fight between Ginny and Fox is utterly brutal, equal parts graceful sword play and savage, ugly brawling. You wince at some of the blows landed, all described In Rios’ sweeping, graceful lines and precisely delivered, thudding impacts. There isn’t a single comic on the market that looks like this, and not a single one that uses violence this well or this unflinchingly. All of it, by the way, punctuated by Clayton Cowles’ artfully placed lettering. Cowles, like everyone else here, is one of the best in the business, and he shows that on every page, his lettering leading your eye around the page without ever once tugging your eyes. It’s subtle, clever work for a subtle, clever comic.
And, of course, at the centre of that is Kelly Sue DeConnick. DeConnick is one of the best writers of her generation and the grumpy, cautious, desperate connections these characters have for one another is absolute proof of her skill. These are people trapped by either their actions or the actions of powers they have no hope of controlling, constantly fighting small battles to hold their lives on course. Where the script really soars is when DeConnick shows us the other side of the coin. The mission they’re going on is not what they think it is, and the relationship between Death and Ginny’s mother is far more complex than any of them know. There are no easy answers for anyone on that trail, just a rolling, fragile beachhead of normality and compassion in an increasingly dangerous world.
There is no book like this on the market. A western, a family tragedy, a character study and a horror story, it’s a comic where every team member is turning in career best work. Hallucinatory, beautiful, horrifying and humane, this is the best book on the market right now. Extraordinary work, and essential reading.
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: Bumblebee, Byers, Chris Mowry, Dheeraj verma, Frohike, IDW, Joan De La Fuente, Langly, Optimus Prime, Paul Crilley, Secret Ninja Buddies, Transformers, x-files
Written by Paul Crilley
Penciles by Dheeraj Verma
Colours by Joan De La Fuente
Letters by Chris Mowry
Published by IDW
Tracking the mysterious virus from the future, the Lone Gunmen find themselves face to face with Optimus Prime and Bumblebee. They take the discovery of the Autobots surprisingly well, and together the two groups work to stop the virus.
There’s a lot that works here, and some stuff that doesn’t. The big thing that works is Verma, De La Fuente and Mowry’s art. Verma in particular is stunning, especially in design terms. Prime and ‘Bee are definitely G1 style here, albeit with some tweaks. They never look unfaithful to the designs, never seem insubstantial and always have presence and bulk to them. De La Fuente’s colours help immensely too with the night time scenes, especially a ‘Bee/Frohike confrontation, real standouts. Mowry’s lettering also smartly differentiates between the two species talking, and gives ‘Bee in particular a really fun speech pattern.
Crilley’s script aims for three targets, hits two dead centre and wings the third. The two it absolutely nails are moving the plot along and connecting the Transformers to it. We get a lot of answers this issue, all of them logical and all of them tying Transformers lore and X-Files lore together in a very smart way. This, with the possible exception of The Crow, was always going to be the hardest crossover to pull off but Crilley does a really good job. It feels logical, and for a book where a transforming Volkswagen from another planet bonds with a human conspiracy theorist to the point where they become ‘ninja buddies’ that’s a real achievement.
That’s also the problem. Crilley sidesteps the huge cognitive dissonance between what the Lone Gunmen know and the presence of shapechanging metal-based aliens on Earth with humour. Langly and ‘Bee bonding is a cute beat but it never quite lands and feels a little too much like giving Langly something to do. Although by those lights, given The Crow is up next, Byers may be about to have a very bad day…Regardless, it feels cute, but rushed and that sensation carries over to the issue as a whole. There’s a lot to enjoy here, certainly, including some very smart combinations of G1 and Bayformer action beats but this is the most uneven issue of the series to date. That being said, it’s still really fun and its flaws are less than its successes by a good margin. A mild break in stride, but still fun.
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: Avengers, Avengers Assemble, Black Widow, Marvel, Natasha Romanoff, Nathan Edmondson, Phil Noto, VC's Clayton Cowles
Written by Nathan Edmondson
Art by Phil Noto
Letters by VC’s Clayton Cowles
Publised by Marvel and £1.99 with that SuperCard Go! You…retrieved…from the Russian agent. The one in Budapest. Don’t remember? Well, we remember Budapest very differently, don’t we?
Natasha Romanoff is knocking on the door, and she’s not going to wait much longer. Always one of Marvel’s most interesting characters, recent writing teams have explored her past and elevated her to a level of recognition she’s never had before. Widow as presented in Avengers Assemble (The movie) is a character absolutely rife for exploration and Marvel’s only mistake with her solo movie so far is not moving fast enough on it. It’s interesting as well that Black Widow in Avengers Assemble (The comic. The much missed, excellent comic), built on that approach. Kelly Sue DeConnick’s run focused not just on Widow’s past but made her proactive in trying to literally pay off her sins. It’s an interesting idea, redemption through force of will and violence where needed, and it’s one that lies at the heart of Nathan Edmondson’s script.
Edmondson takes his time here, laying out just what Natasha stands for and how she does what she does. The tag line ‘Agent. Avenger. Assassin.’ Says a lot and, could, arguably, be moved around so that last word is first. Natasha Romanoff kills people. She does it for what she believes are the right reasons and she’s extremely good at it. Sometimes she can even live with herself.
That idea, of someone whose life skills are both their greatest strength and their biggest weakness is played with here with some real subtlety. Natasha enjoys her work, sometimes a little too much and Edmondson gets one very flashy action beat out of that. He also uses it as narrative Aikido, turning the book around that particular moment. Natasha uses her past, her reputation, as a weapon but in doing so she keeps herself chained to it. The book’s strongest moment comes at the end and involves nothing more than her bonding, reluctantly, with a stray cat. It’s the flip side to the casual, brutally efficient assassin; someone so closed off they can’t quite trust themselves to let in a cat, let alone another person. It’s a sombre note to end a sombre book on, but it’s also shot through with hope and the self-awareness that will ultimately be what allows Natasha to forgive herself.
Plus I remain hopeful a ‘Liho’s Black Widow’s Cat! Pizza Dog’s Hawkeye’s dog! They fight crime!’ one shot will eventually occur.
This is a considered, calm, look at a considered, calm character. It’s effortlessly beautiful to look at, thanks to Phil Noto and Clayton Cowles’ work on the visual side of things and is a welcome first step into Natasha Romanoff’s world. She’s been knocking on the door for a while. Hopefully, with this creative team, that door will finally open. Because let’s face it otherwise she may just kick it in.
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: DC Comics, Diogenes Neves, Emanuela Lupacchino, Guillermo Ortego, Hi-Fi, Ig Guara, John J Hill, Lois Lane, Marc Deering, Marguerite Bennett, Meghan Hetrick, Ruy Jose
Written by Marguerite Bennett
Pencils by Emanuela Lupacchino, Meghan Hetrick, Ig Guara and Diogenes Neves
Inks by Guillermo Ortego, Meghan Hetrick, Ruy Jose and Marc Deering
Colours by Hi-Fi
Letters by John J. Hill
Published by DC
Lois Lane is the best reporter in Metropolis. Lois Lane is tireless, charming, intuitive and completely without mercy if you mess with those less well off. Lois Lane is alone, haunted by the events of her past. Until her past comes back to her, on the run from soldiers who want it dead. Now, with her sister Lucy desperate for her help, Lois finds herself drawn into a massive story. All she has to do is live long enough to tell it.
Marguerite Bennett is making a career out of rehabilitating overlooked female characters. Her Joker’s Daughter one shot was both excellent and profoundly disturbing and this is both a one shot and a pilot for a series that’s needed to happen for years. Bennett gets Lois in a way that very few other writers do and that’s clear from the first page. She writes Lois as a person, not a piece of Metropolis architecture, someone defined by their failures. The fact Lois doesn’t often lose only makes it worse, and Bennett does a great job showing both the guilt and the steely determination that comes from it. This is the Lois Margot Kidder, Erica Durance and Amy Adams all tapped into; a compassionate, relentless bad ass who will stop at absolutely nothing to help people who need it.
Bennett explores that here through both a nicely pulpy main plot and some painfully well observed flashbacks. Reconnecting with her sister gives Lucy a chance to atone for what she believes she did wrong but also to revisit the past, whether she wants to or not. Bennett gets the book’s best moments from this trade off; redemption on one hand, pain on the other and it gives Lois a depth she’s often lacked in the New 52. Bennett also gives her a fantastically goofy sense of humour and the scenes with Jimmy in this issue are a delight.
She also balances this well-drawn, compelling female lead with a nicely over the top main plot. Bennett’s Metropolis is a tidal wave of innovation, a place where science crashes over humanity again and again. The science fiction element here feels, initially, a little incongruous but by the book’s end it not only works but gives Metropolis at least one new location that deserves to be explored again. It’s a clever idea, very well executed by the entire creative team. A lot of artists worked on this book but the styles all fit, especially the seamless transitions from flashback to present day.
This isn’t just fun, it’s overdue. Lois Lane is one of the great forgotten heroines of the DC Universe and this book deserves to finally put her back in the spotlight. When that happens, I really hope Bennett gets to write her. She and Lois are a hell of a double act.
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: Ben Grimm, Fantastic Four, James D Robinson, Jesus Arburtov, Johnny Storm, Karl Kesel, Leonard Kirk, Mr Fantastic, Reed Richards, Sue Richards, Sue Storm, The Human Torch, The Invisible Woman, The Thing, VC's Clayton Cowles
‘The Fall of the Fantastic Four’
Written by James D Robinson
Pencils by Leonard Kirk
Inks by Karl Kesel
Colours by Jesus Arburtov
Lettering by VC’s Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel
Marvel are clearly trying new things with their first family right now. Fresh off the always fun, often very successful FF/Fantastic Four year-long Matt Fraction run we get James D Robinson starting at the end. As the book opens Reed’s intellect has deserted him, Ben’s in prison for murder, Johnny’s a vacuous party boy and Sue is writing a letter esplaining everything to their daughter. Things aren’t just bleak, they’re done and this is the story of how.
It’s fun too, but, you should know going in that that’s all this. Robinson is attempting a sort of intensely serialized work that comics has largely drifted away from in the last few years and at first this plays as pretty frustrating. He’s got a great grasp of the characters, a sound eye for what makes the Fantastic Four work and a refreshingly grounded approach to their adventures. However, all that happens this issue is a positioning of the pieces. We get the opening sequence, we get Johnny being feckless, we get Ben and Alicia getting back together and Sue and Reed dealing with the kids and…that’s it. Looked at in isolation some readers may feel short changed. Looked at along with the issues still to come, this’ll no doubt be essential. The minor, but clear, tension between Sue and Reed in particular looks set to pay off in a big way.
The art side of things is certainly impressive. Kirk has a fantastic, loose style that allows for kinetic action but character-driven subtlety and Kesel’s inks give it exactly the sort of science fiction precision it needs. Arburtov’s warm, rich colours work well too whilst Cowles’ lettering keeps the characters, and the fullbore sci fi lunacy, in focus throughout.
This is a great start to a new run for these characters but like I say, it’s a start. As long as you go in bearing that in mind, you won’t be disappointed. If you do, this will feel a little slight. Stay on for the long haul though, and Robinson and co are certain to deliver the goods.
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: Dark Horse, Frank Barbiere, The White Suits, Toby Cypress
Script and Lettering by Frank Barbiere
Art and Colouring by Toby Cypress
Published by Dark Horse
The White Suits were the bogeymen of the Cold War Soviet underworld, killing with impunity and panache. Now, they’ve resurfaced in the US and the only people standing in their way are a man who may be a broken former member and an FBI agent who wants to know who they are and what they know about her past. But the White Suits have other plans…
Cypress’ art looks a little like Saul Bass’s worst nightmares. Its shot through with wonderful jagged shadows, splashes of sudden blood and the sort of twisted, shattered imagery that lets you know just how damaged one of the two leads is. There are fragments of memories spread across pages here, Russian architecture covered in exit wound red, people’s competing impressions bracketing pages and moments of nourish, shadow soaked tension. Amongst all that, the suits are points of absence, who, somehow, deal out hideous violence without ever getting any red on them. They’re classic monsters, brutal, efficient and cold. A white shadow moving across the scratchy world the leads hide out in.
Barbiere’s script, and lettering, give the art plenty of room to breathe but also set up an interesting premise. There are at least three groups in play here, and the power struggle that the leads are caught in is something everyone from 100 Bullets to Jack Reacher fans will enjoy. There are the same hard decisions, the same constant struggle to survive and the same fervent hope that the monsters won’t see you.
The script’s weakness is its willingness to lean on one trope too many. The one scene we get from The White Suits’ point of view is the only moment that feels off the peg. One character in particular is, right now, his sexual preference, skill with a gun and accent and not much else. It’s a single bum note in a strong, well-paced opening issue but it’s there and, unfortunately, it registers.
That aside, there’s a lot to enjoy here. The book touches on the iconography of 100 Bullets and noir cinema to create something that’s a little more alien, a little colder and has the potential to be very good, dark fun indeed. Once the focus shifts from the Suits, to the people in them, and the people facing them, that potential looks set to be realized.
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: Al Ewing, Black Widow, Captain America, hawkeye, Iron Man, Lee Garbett, Loki, Nolan Woodard, The All Mother, The Hulk, Thor, VC's Clayton Cowles
Written by Al Ewing
Art by Lee Garbett
Colour art by Nolan Woodard
Lettering and production by VC’s Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel
Good LORD this is fun. Hitting the ground at a dead run, Al Ewing’s take on everyone’s favourite Hiddlestonian Mischief God is shot through with energy, verve, great jokes and pure, abject joy. Ewing’s been on an absolute tear for a while now, working on the best Dredd story in at least a decade, doing great things with the Mighty Avengers and just announced as the writer on one of the new Doctor Who titles. He’s an immensely gifted, hardworking writer who I had the honour of seeing start out. Seeing what he’s doing now, is, if anything, even better.
The premise here is lovely; Loki is now an agent of the All-Mother, tasked with deniable work for Asgard. He, it being Loki, has restrictions placed on him and, it being Loki, works around them with style and aplomb. Most importantly, he finds absolute joy in his work. This is the happiest Loki’s been in a long time and it comes across as a sort of just-barely-straight-faced exuberance. He’s on the right side, doing the right things he’s just…having a little fun along the way. It’s completely charming and Ewing, being as good as he is, uses it as a contrast to the very dark things going on under the plot. The two elements of Loki; exuberant sort of adventurer and black hearted sorcerer look set to be the core of the book and based on this issue, it’s going to be essential reading.
The art is absolutely top notch too, and Garbett’s Thor is especially good, a surly, hulking mass of Hemsworthian grump and presence. In fact, he and Ewing get to play with the entire Avengers roster here and it’s difficult to say what’s funnier; the effortless way Loki subdues them or the little touches like Hulk’s awful haircut.
Rounded out by great, atmospheric colour work by Woodard and the always reliable Cowles, this is a delight. It’s fast paced, clever, does about four things at once and is crammed with character, humour and sheer flat out fun. One of the best books Marvel have put out in ages and worth it for the single best Hawkeye joke since ‘Okay…I know this looks bad.’ Unmissably good.