Filed under: Exquisite Reviews, Uncategorized | Tags: Age of Ultron, Brandon Peterson, Brian Michael Bendis, Carlos Pacheco, Hank Pym, Jose Villarubia, Marvel, Paul Mounts, Roger Bonet, Sue Richards, Ultron, VC's Cory Petit, Wolverine
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils (Present) by Brandon Peterson
Art (Present) by Brandon Peterson
Colour Art (Past) by Paul Mounts
Pencils by Carlos Pacheco
Inks by Roger Bonet
Colour art by Jose Villarubia
Lettering by VC’s Cory Petit
Cover by Carlos Pacheco & Jose Villarubia
£2.85 (£1.99 with SuperCard Go!)
The first six pages of this issue gave me the fear. They’re near-silent, splash heavy and deal with the aftermath of the Morgana Le Fey/Lokibot assault from the last couple of issues. What terrified me was they gave every impression of yet more of the glacial, decompressed pacing that’s frustrated me since the book began. Even worse, this is the penultimate issue of the series. With two parts to go, grandstanding, especially in a present we met two issues ago, feels suspiciously like filler.
Then, two things happen and the first is so subtle I missed it on the first read through. Wolverine, of course, survives the devastation but has all the flesh from his left knee down burnt off. He screams in pain and…then its five days later and, it’s implied, he’s only just healed. There have been rumours for a while now that his travels through time will have a serious effect on him and this may be the first indication of that. It’s a tiny, arguably too subtle, beat but it’s an interesting one nonetheless.
What follows is better, with what’s left of Tony Stark dropping two bombshells in quick succession. The first is that he’s figured out that it’s not just the murder of Hank Pym that’s caused this hideous present but damage to time itself, caused every time people travel through it. The second is that Tony, who let’s face it has had nothing to do for five days but slowly bleed to death, has figured out that time is an organism, one connected to every living thing. Too much travel through it, too many wounds inflicted and time will die. He begs Wolverine not to go back and correct his mistake, again, but of course it has no effect. This feels like a vitally important scene not just for the rest of the series but the Marvel universe as a whole. Something fundamental may be about to change and the only person that’s worked it out is the dying remains of Tony Stark in a dystopian, walled off timeline. It’s a really gutsy plot, throwing this in right at the end of the story and only time will tell whether this really is as important as it seems to be.
Then, of course, we’re back in the past, at the Wolverine/Pym fight. The sight of James Logan debating temporal theory with himself is entertaining all by itself (And who is Charlene Baumgartner? And where was Logan in 1928?) but what makes this scene is the contrasting rhythms of the three characters in it. The two Logans are dutiful, solemn, stolid figures who realize they’ve screwed up so badly they may not be able to fix it. In contrast, Pym is, as ever, obsessed with the idea of Ultron. One of the most brilliant minds of the Marvel universe, he’s completely unfettered by moral concerns whilst still remaining tremendously idealistic. He’s Robert Oppenheimer, a man entranced by his own idea without any of Reed Richards’ morality or Tony Stark’s exuberance.
It’s the burden that he’s put under here, and the effect it has on established continuity that’s fascinating. The idea of Pym knowing about these events for years is horrifying and provides context for his decades of erratic behaviour. Bendis provides context but not justification, a vital choice given Pym’s history of domestic abuse. Instead he shows us a brilliant, brittle, amoral man who craves recognition being given the most important job in history to do, knowing full well that he’ll never be recognized for it. That’s a heroic weight to bear for anybody. It also changes the tone of the final issue completely, with the big question no longer ‘Can the future be saved?’ but ‘Will Pym hold it together enough to save it?’
With that cloud hanging over them, Logan & Logan (Surely the name of the most violent solicitor’s firm in history) and Sue Richards return to the Savage Land where, one last time, Wolverine does what needs to be done. For all its weird pacing and empty spectacle, Age of Ultron has excelled at quiet little moments between two characters and this is one of the best. The Wolverine who saw the Starkguard future’s simple reason for wanting to be the one who dies (‘We don’t wanna live with it.’) is only topped by the surviving Wolverine’s pragmatic, flat ‘This is going to haunt me.’ Again, Bendis takes a character where every single wrinkle looked to have been exploited years ago and finds something new. Wolverine’s mistake is so vast it may not be correctable and even if it is, the memory of murdering his other self will be with him for the rest of his life. Nothing’s easy, nothing’s certain but it has to be done anyway.
The book closes with a return to the left-handed splash pages of earlier issues. It’s a neat, pulpy image but it’s not an emotional climax. That comes in the final scene between the two Wolverines and the quiet admission of just how bad things have got and it’s that that will stay with you all the way to the final issue.
Age of Ultron has shifted gear and focus so many times in nine issues it’s difficult not to feel dizzy. The pace has never been consistent, the book’s profound love of dialogue-free splash pages got old back in act one and at times the gears have audibly creaked. That being said, the final issue looks set to be much more interesting than it initially appeared to be. The Age of Ultron is drawing to a close, and, thankfully, it looks like it might finish as strongly as it began.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Alex Sinclair, Clark Kent, Dustin Nguyen, Jim Lee, Jimmy Olsen, John Kalisz, Krypto, Lois Lane, Man of Steel, Perry White, Sal Cipriano, scott snyder, Scott Williams, superman
Written by Scott Snyder
Pencils by Jim Lee
Inks by Scott Williams
Colours by Alex Sinclair
Letters by Sal Cipriano
Cover by Jim Lee, Scott Williams & Alex Sinclair
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Dustin Nguyen
Inks by Scott Williams
Colours by John Kalisz
Letters by Sal Cipriano
Superman’s an impossible character to get right for everyone. He’s been around so long, is so powerful and has so much history that what pleases one person will irritate someone else. After all, for some people Superman is the social justice superhero of his origins and the early section of Grant Morrison’s run on the title. For others he’s the mullet-haired, perennially torn-caped hero of the Doomsday era. For others still he’s the self-aware, wry figure of Alan Moore’s Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow? Which is both the cruellest parody and most affectionate portrayal of the character ever written, depending on your perspective. Regardless, the truth is both simple and familiar; with great power comes great responsibility, for the creative team far more than the character. Get it wrong and you have no tension and a big blue lump as your main character. Get it right and you do so in the sure knowledge you’ll still make some people unhappy. Take a look at the early Man of Steel reviews to see just that.
Superman Unchained knocks it out of the park and does so effortlessly. I’ve not read a first issue featuring an iconic character this fun since the Batman relaunch at the start of the New 52. Unsurprisingly, they share a writer. Scott Snyder brings the same elemental, instinctive understanding of character to Superman and the result is instantly accessible. Opening with him frantically trying to stop a self-aware, nuclear powered space station that’s been thrown at the Earth, Snyder shows us the superhero, the scientist’s son, the farm boy and the journalist all in the space of a few pages. It would be so easy to have Superman save the day the way he has done so many times in the movies, by throwing, lifting or punching things. Instead, Snyder shows us him trying to reassure the space station’s terrified crew, constantly revising his plan as it plummets to Earth and using a combination of his powers and his knowledge to save the day. Superman’s clever, and so many writers forget that. Snyder puts it front and centre and never takes his eye off it.
His journalistic career is similarly well served, and there’s an especially nice moment when he gets a tip, as Clark, about something he’s just done as Superman. Snyder builds on Clark’s departure from The Daily Planet and uses it to give both Jimmy and Lois some of their best scenes in years. Lois is, of course, effortlessly shifting the Planet’s layout around without Perry’s consent and, of course, rings Clark to bust his chops about something he missed. There’s a spark and snap to their relationship that hasn’t been there since JLA: New Maps of Hell that’s just a joy to read. The friendly rivalry between the two is at its best when they realize they make each other better reporters and that’s exactly what you get here. Likewise Jimmy manages to be both the comic relief and have agency and Snyder does great work setting him up as the barely unofficial back channel between the two. Plus the corn bagel joke, as a bagel devotee and baker, is both great and frankly inspiring…
Lex Luthor isn’t forgotten either, and Snyder sets up a plot with Luthor which is simultaneously subversive and comfortingly familiar. Moved to Supermax security, he’s also consulting on how to rebuild Metropolis and has one idea in particular involving a vast solar tower shaped like a tree. Not only is this a poke in the eye for a superhero defined by his relationship with the Sun, it’s a neat callback to one of Smallville’s most ambitious season plots. It’s a nice touch, and clearly trailing the next big story without doing so overtly.
All of this is old ground, the sort of thing you need to cover and make your own when you’re writing Superman and Snyder does just that. You hit those marks and you have a book that’s all but certain to be good. To be great, you need to bring something else to the table and that’s where Snyder excels. The bookend scenes, one in 1945 and one in the present day not only give you an idea of where the book’s going they leave you with a raft of question about what it’s going to find there. It’s dark without being needlessly so, complex without being impenetrable. It’s a new idea, introduced with tremendous success to a decades-old franchise. And it’s all but certain to bring you back for issue 2.
The art team on the book are every best as impressive as Snyder. Jim Lee is one of the all-time greats and his work here is far cleaner and grounded than when I first saw his art at the height of ‘90s excess. Like Snyder he focuses on character and like Snyder he knocks it out of the park. Even the ridiculous four-page fold out splash works very well, showing us the scale of Superman’s problem on one side and him struggling to deal with it on the other. Scott Williams’ inks and Alex Sinclair’s colours are also cleverly handled and give the book a sense of place many lack. The sunbeams dance across the window of Clark’s apartment, Lois and Perry discuss editorial policy bathed in the blue light of the virtual layout room and the closing scene is soaked in deep sea blues and greens. The book’s other art team are just as impressive, Dustin Nguyen on art and John Kalisz on colour joining Sinclair on inks once again. This book end ties in strongly to the opening scene but also gives you a welcome insight into Perry, and, in turn, the old school journalism he’s teaching Jimmy, Lois and the others. It’s a subtle, human moment that closes a book full of both them and action and ensures it closes on a definite high note.
Superman Unchained is exactly the book DC needed to put out this week. It’s fast paced, massive scaled, human and exciting. Superman may be an impossible character to get right for everyone, but Snyder, Lee and co are going to make a lot of people very happy with this book. I’m one of them.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Comiccraft, Conan, Dark Horse, Gerald Parel, House of the Dragon, Jose Villarubia, Richard Starkings, Timothy Truman, Tomas Giorello, Zenobia
“The Hour of the Dragon”
Written by Timothy Truman
Art by Tomas Giorello
Colour Art by Jose Villarubia
Letters by Richard Starkings & Comiccraft
Cover by Gerald Parel
Published by Dark Horse
The worst thing to happen to Conan in his long, storied life is victory. The Cimmerian barbarian (And there’s a ring name if ever I heard one. In fact, why is there not a middle European wrestler called the Berbarian Barbarian? Anyway) becomes a king, gets old and that’s when his troubles really start. The man who ran headlong at death, lives, and finds himself in the one battle he can’t win; politics, a literal game of thrones. Alone, embittered and beset by a thousand tiny cuts of implication and cruelty, Conan does the one thing he can still do; tell his stories.
Timothy Truman is as much a veteran as Conan and it shows from the first panel. The old king, still vital and dangerous, is grieving over his dead wife, Zenobia when the scribe is sent to hear the story about Conan’s first meeting with her. Of course it’s another cruel jab at the old barbarian and of course he sees it but the only thing Conan knows how to do is stand and fight and that’s exactly what he does. He tells the story, faces the grief and pain at losing Zenobia square in the eye and dares it to make a move.
What you get as a result is a vintage piece of Conan that takes in a mystical stone, a mummy, an outcast sorcerer obsessed with the dark arts and Conan being completely outmanouvered, which is just where he likes to be. Truman’s script combines maniacal pace with monarchical politics to tremendous effect and sets up not only the troubles of old Conan but the men ranged against his younger self very well. There’s an interesting class dynamic at work here too, with Conan an outcast king amongst many of his neighbours as much for his status as a barbarian as his actions. In their view he shouldn’t be king and they come at him not through subtlety and deception rather than straight up combat. This was never going to be a fair fight, so they make sure it’s unfair in their direction. It’s a nice move and uses tactics to illuminate character in a way that never seems like exposition.
It also opens the door to a couple of moments of barbarian badassery (What is it with me and alliteration today?) that will make long-term fans very happy. We get a variation on the El Cid manouvere and a cliffhanger, an honest to God cliffhanger that comes complete with near certain death and growled Cimmerian dialogue. It’s pulpy and over the top and magnificent and I want to stuff the next part into my brain right now, thank you.
Giorello’s art is every bit as brawny as Truman’s script and runs headlong at the countless wonderful design opportunities Conan’s world offers. A full page splash of the brooding old king, carrying a magnificently ornate torch, standing over Zenobia’s grave is an early highlight as is the closing battle but its Giorello’s atmosphere that’s the real star. Aided by the lush, vibrant colours of Jose Villarubia, it creates a world rich with both life and dreadful, bloody death. Kings are the single point of colour at the head of their armies, corpses litter the pages in a way that Bernie Wrightson would be proud of and Conan himself is a massive, scarred figure, often half in shadow but never less than imposing. This is as perfect a combination of artists and writer as you’re likely to get and it’s a pleasure to read. Starkings & Comicraft’s lettering rounds it off perfectly, not only conveying the different speech pattern of the characters but making it serve the dramatic beats of the story.
Dark Horse’s Conan series has been consistently excellent and this is no exception. An excellent jumping on point and a fantastic, full-blooded piece of fantasy, it’s a great book. The worst thing to happen to Conan in his long, storied life may be victory but this is one of the best.
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews, Uncategorized | Tags: Aaron Lopresti, Alvarez, Andrew Dalhouse, Ann Nocenti, Catwoman, Christian Duce, Emanuela Lupacchino, Harvey Bullock, John Livesaw, Keyes, Matt Yackey, Oswald Cobblepot, Penguin, Taylor Esposito
Written by Ann Nocenti
Art by Christian Duce with Aaron Lopresti & John Livesaw
Colours by Andrew Dalhouse and Matt Yackey
Letters by Taylor Esposito
Cover by Emanuela Lupacchino
Published by DC
Catwoman isn’t having an easy time of it at the moment. As well as the…things happening in Justice League of America she’s having to deal with the fallout from stealing the Cobblepot heirlooms, the betrayal of a friend, the rise of something very unpleasant on the streets of Gotham and being the favoured suspect in a murder investigation.
Ann Nocenti is one of the most respected comic writers on the planet and with good reason. Her Daredevil run is definitive and her comics work is reliably compassionate, dark, character driven and morally complex. This annual is no exception, but it’s also, unfortunately, pretty hard to like in places.
The first of these is Keyes and Alvarez, the two police officers working the case. They’re a standard ‘good cop/bad cop’ pairing with the twist that Keyes, the hard charger, is female. This in itself is fine, Nocenti’s female characters are top notch but there’s a problem; Keyes is an idiot. She’s handed evidence that could just barely point to Catwoman and points at Catwoman as the only possible suspect . She has her life saved by Catwoman and tries to arrest her. She finds a hole in the case and blames Catwoman. She is so persistently blinkered and hostile to the idea of any other suspect that you end up convinced she’s either got an agenda or has fallen through a hole in time from that period where a superhero could save the President from an exploding American flag, put that flag out, wrap it around a kitten to keep it warm and still be branded a menace. It’s irritating and distracting and throws you out of the story.
And that may be the point. There’s a subtle visual cue early on, which is followed up on later that suggests that Keyes may not be in her right mind for much of this issue. I really hope I’m right on this because if so, it turns a clunky piece of characterisation into something very clever.
The other GCPD characters here fare both better and worse. Alvarez is a non-entity, which seems to be the required sacrifice to make Keyes so belligerent whilst old hand Harvey Bullock is fun as ever, Bullock’s been around the block and seeing him being brought in to shepherd the two new hires through the case is a nice touch. It’s also something which will hopefully run through this plotline, grounding it and providing a contrast to the main plot.
Still smarting over Gwen’s betrayal of her to the Penguin, Catwoman is drawn into a case by being told the address of where a murder is about to take place. She doesn’t get there in time, but is seen and makes the suspect list. Meanwhile, the Penguin is building drones designed to hunt and kill her and, Catwoman being Catwoman, she decides to give them exactly what they want; her silhouette. This is a really nice combiantion of plot and character, Selina’s physical confidence becoming her primary weapon once again. It also leads to a couple of neat touches, including her drone-proof cloak, as designed by the mysterious Alice. Catwoman on the offensive here, she enjoys it and that, as Nocenti shows, may be the one situation where she can’t help getting back into trouble. Her war with the penguin, as well as as the obvious motif of cat vs bird, is as much thief vs fixer as anything. Catwoman gets her knuckles bloody to get the job done, the Penguin doesn’t and both find the other’s methods repulsive. It may not be a long war, but, based on the decisions Catwoman makes here, it should be a bloody one.
Whilst this is pacy, nasty fun there are a couple of places where it falls down and does so badly. The middle action sequence feels incoherent the first time you read it, with a body literally dropping out of nowhere. On second read you get a better idea of it and, whilst it’s unclear, it’s a failure of communication rather than design. Similarly, a moment where Catwoman seems to have access to some tech she really shouldn’t does actually play well, it just requires more of the reader than it should.
Duce, Lopresti & Liveshaw’s art is coherent and strong throughout, and Dalhouse & Yackey’s colours should be applauded for how they make Catwoman’s suit look in particular. There are real echoes of the almost shapeless piece of night Batman so often is and that makes Catwoman a genuinely intimidating presence. The one issue is the gun battle in the middle of the book, where, at one point, a horde of bullets hover in the air without a firing point being visible. It’s a cramped moment in what should be a fluid sequence and it doesn’t help the narrative confusion already present. That being said, the entire artistic team, like Nocenti, turn in extremely good work overall.
This is a difficult annual, and on first read through, apparently a pretty flawed one. Do stick with it though because there’s a lot to enjoy here, including a more harder-edged take on the main character than has been seen in quite some time. These are some of Gotham’s nastiest streets but, mild wobbles aside, this annual knows where to avoid. Stick with it, and get a good seat for the war.
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews, Uncategorized | Tags: alan moore, Ales Kot, Allen Gladfelter, Art Spiegelman, Ayhan Hayrula, ben templesmith, black mask, charlie adlard, David Lloyd, Dean Haspiel, Douglas Rushkoff, Guy Denning, Jeremy Cox, JM Dematteis, Joseph Infurnari, Joshua Hale Fialkov, Joshy Dysart, Kelly Bruce, Matt Bors, Matt Pizzolo, Mike Cavallaro, Molly Crabapple, Occupy Comics, Ronald Wimberly, Tyler Crook
Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov (“Homestead”), JM Dematteis (“That Which is Most Needed”), Douglas Rushkoff (“Exploitation: Our Noble Tradition”), Ales Kot (“Citizen Journalist”), Ben Templesmith (“Clever”), Ronald Wimberly (“Occupy Shadows”), Joshua Dysart & Kelly Bruce (“Casino Nation Part 1”), Alan Moore (“Buster Brown at the Barricades” Parts 1 and 2), Matt Pizzolo (“Channel 1&”)
Art by Joseph Infurnari (“Homestead”), Mike Cavallaro (“That Which Is Most Needed”), Dean Haspiel (“Exploitation: Our Most Noble Tradition”), Tyler Crook (“Citizen Journalist”), Ben Templesmith (“Clever”), Ronald Wimbely (“Occupy Shadows”), Allen Gladfelter (“Casino Nation Part 1”), Ayhan Hayrula (“Channel 1%”)
Colours by Jeremy Cox (“Citizen Journalist”)
Illustrations by Charlie Adlard, Molly Crabapple, Guy Denning, David Lloyd, Matt Bors, Art Spiegelman
Cover by Mike Allred
Published by Black Masic Comics
Important. There’s a word a lot of right thinking people, often myself included, run headlong from. Important tends to mean worthy, worthy tends to mean well intentioned and dull and dull means, well, dull. You are NOT entertained, to misquote Maximus and that surely defeats the purpose of entertainment, especially when it’s entertainment in comic form.
Occupy Comics issue 1 is very important. It’s also entertaining and here’s why; this is a hefty sample of the best writers and artists on the planet using one of its most accessible art forms to talk to you. Not teach, not educate, just talk. This is a comic about the Occupy movement, about the reasons behind it and most of all about how the world is now. It should be dull but it sparks with the sort of imagination and visual wit these people can’t help but bring to their work.
Take “Homestead”, the first story, written by Joshua Hale Fialkov and illustrated by Joseph Infurnari. Set in Pennsylvania in 1892 it’s a story about worker’s rights and the horrific end to a particular riot. Infurnari’s pencils are Eisner-esque, crammed with character and battered, careworn faces and the first page, with the outline of a man going through his punishing daily routine is blisteringly smart. The story itself is short, brutal and makes a point; people have always been exploited, things have always got better, keep going.
It’s a hopeful note that’s carried through into ‘That Which Is Most Needed.’ Mike Cavallaro’s relaxed, friendly black and white style is a perfect medium for what’s essentially a short lecture in comic form that explains the basis of the movement, the people they’re protesting against and comes at both from a very different perspective. It’s a relaxed, compassionate take on the movement and one that should be the first thing most people read on it.
Visual wit is also on display in “Exploitation: Our Noble Tradition” by Douglas Rushkoff with art by Dean Haspiel. A single page comic that cleverly uses the same design to reflect how time periods have changed but exploitation is timeless it’s coldly angry where the previous piece was kind. It makes its point forcefully in four panels, and again, summarises yet also expands on the issues at hand.
Then we get to ‘Citizen Journalist’ and this is the story you should buy the book for. Ales Kot is blazing a trail across the industry at the moment, his blisteringly smart Wild Children still available from Image and his mini-series Change about to be collected. He’s also the new writer on Suicide Squad and is in the process of turning that book into something extraordinary. Here though, with help from the subtle, expressive art of Tyler Crook and Jeromy Cox’s stunning, shop window and sodium light-styled colouring, he provides you with a look at the Citizen Journalist. These are the people on the frontlines, not protesting, but reporting, keeping both sides honest and looking at the individuals in the story rather than just the issues. The story is a character study, another completely different perspective on the Occupy movement and a how-to for Citizen Journalism. It’s extraordinary, honestly the best comic work I’ve seen this year. Buy the book just for this.
Ben Templesmith’s “Clever” is up next and marries his always impressive, always mildly grotesque art with a blisteringly angry narrative about the 1% and the control they have. It mirrors They Live, is fast, angry, smart and drives it’s points homes with typical eloquence. It’s followed by a one page strip, “Occupy Shadows” by Ronald Wimbley which uses a loose, Jim Mahfood-esque style to reseat the protest as a group of ninja helping their local communities out. It’s a small, fun piece that’s one failing is it feels like it should be the start of something much larger.
“Casino Nation” by Joshua Dysart and Kelly Bruce with wonderful black and white art by Allen Gladfelter is the first part of a series and it’s easy to see why. This is the first prose piece in the book, listing the people they view as responsible for the Recession and placing them in a deck of cards. It’s a smart idea and in many ways embodies the desire to educate and entertain that lies at the heart of the book. It’s also one of the first pieces almost certain to make you angry.
“Buster Brown at the Barricades” is, of course, written by Alan Moore and is one of the book’s real highpoints. It’s a detailed, insightful and bone-dry funny look at the use of comics in political protest. Superficially the driest part of the book, it’s infused with Moore’s typical enthusiasm and wit. It also, yet again, provides a new perspective; dissent is healthy, protest is healthy, they’re both things we’ve been doing for a long, long time.
Finally, “Channel 1%” written by Matt Pizzolo and illustrated by Ayhan Hayrula changes perspective one last time to the one we all share; the people watching the news, reading the papers and trying to make sense of an issue which is vitally important to some and crushingly dull to others. Pizzolo’s script is wry, funny, completely grounded and adds another side to the dispute, the agenda-driven work of the media. It does this completely open-eyed with no tub thumping or propaganda and closes the book exactly how it starts, on a high.
Scattered through the book are illustrations that cover similar ground and, again, they approach it with real wit and inventiveness. Not all of them land, but the ones that do include Art Spiegelman’s closing image of a 1% couple looking worriedly at the cracking floor of their penthouse, Molly Crabapple’s vibrant shot of a woman hoLding the American flag emerging from a cloud of tear gas and David Lloyd’s superb centrepiece, which sees V playing matador to the Wall Street bull. Again they offer different perspective on the Occupy movement and the imagery it evokes.
This is an important book, not just because of what it’s about but what it is. This is a comic about contemporary political issues crammed with the best creators on the planet and funded by KickStarter. It’s the culmination of creative talent and audience to create something new which is immensely entertaining and informs you even as it’s entertaining you. Like I say, it’s an important book, and one you absolutely need to read.
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews, Uncategorized | Tags: Elizabeth Huntington-Moss, Half Past Danger, IDW, John Noble, Michael Thomas Flynn, Stephen Mooney
“Bite the Bullet”
Created, written and drawn by Stephen Mooney
Published by IDW
In the South Pacific in 1943, a team of American soldiers discover a Nazi base. They’re led by Staff Sergeant Michael Thomas Flynn, an Irishman with an uncanny sense of direction and a deep connection to his men. Things go south, quickly, and when they do, Flynn finds himself back in New York and with a very unusual job offer.
Stephen Mooney is a hell of a one man band. From the opening pages to the gorgeous character sketches that close this first chapter there isn’t a single line on a single page that wasn’t put there with absolute love. Mooney’s art and writing are in absolute lockstep, and he’s as comfortable with both, judging by some of the visual flourishes in this opening issue. The closing fight in particular is great, the panels wrapping around the motion of each blow to create a kinetic, fun piece of action. Likewise, the opening fight with the dinosaurs (And OH what dinosaurs, picture The Land That Time Forgot but actually scary) is fast and brutal, the soldiers hopelessly out of their depth. In each case, Mooney uses the action to talk about the characters, showing us who these people are through everything from how they react to a punch to what they drink. Its high end, joined up storytelling and it makes this issue a real pleasure.
The fact that it’s a classic, Indiana Jones-style story involving dinosaurs and a Nazi flying wing doesn’t hurt either. Mooney’s love of pulp is written all over every page but the toys he chooses to play with here are a refreshingly new combination. John Noble, the mountainous US officer sent to bring Flynn back to the line is a good example, appearing to be a Captain America analogue but playing slightly colder and more alien. Meanwhile Agent Huntington-Moss, the British intelligence officer working with him is every inch the restrained, refined brains of the outfit and gets the best joke in the book. Oh and the Lone Gunmen appear. Sort of. The jokes and references come thick and fast and all revolve around Flynn, who’s down at heel charm and genuine grief for his lost friends makes him an instantly likable hero. It’ll be interesting to see how this unusual group (Including the ninja, because there should always be a ninja) relate to the island where Flynn lost his men. It’ll be even more interesting to see what else is there…
Half Past Dead is immense fun and an immense achievement for Mooney. If you like Hellboy, Indiana Jones or anything where Nazis and dinosaurs share living space, this is for you.
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews, Uncategorized | Tags: Brian Wood, John Sublime, Jubilee, Kitty Pryde, Laura Martin, Mark Morales, Olivier Coipel, Psylocke, Rachel Summers, Rogue, Storm, VCs Joe Caramagna
Written by Brian Wood
Penciled by Oliver Coipel
Inks by Mark Morales and Olivier Coipel
Colours by Laura Martin
Letters by VC’S Joe Caramagna
Cover by Olivier Coipel and Laura Martin
It’s official, the X-Men are fun again. They’ve been heading that way for a while (Kieron Gillen’s excellent run on Uncanny X-Men and Wood’s own run on Wolverine and the X-Men spring to mind) but this is definitely a new level in sheer, exuberant mutant joy. It’s also a very big deal.
Here’s the thing; the entire cast of this book are female X-characters. Beast has a brief, silent cameo, and it’s clear the other characters are around but the entire central cast of the book is female and it works so beautifully, I’m both amazed and disappointed it’s never been done up to now. Opening with a meterorite impact in Bulgaria and a terrified Jubilee running for home, baby in tow, it hits the ground running and never stops. Jubilee’s being followed and her arrival spurs Storm (Now back with the Mohican) to come out and get her. Meanwhile, John Sublime, one of the most inventive and nastiest X-villains in years arrives at the mansion and asks for help. This gives Wood the chance to play with the characters in two very different settings and both he and they clearly have fun, with Rogue especially revelling in a chance to cut loose. When the train inevitably crashes, the action is beautifully handled and speaks to the idea of the X-Men as a rescue unit as much as a superhero team that Warren Ellis played with back in his run on Astonishing X-Men. Character and theme both expressed through action and an action scene where no one dies at that. That’s impressive. Meanwhile, back at the mansion, Rachel and Psylocke lead the Sublime plot line towards a conclusion which, whilst signposted, is still a fantastic cliffhanger.
Every single one of these women gets a chance to shine, every single one is a character in their own right and every single one remains remarkably clothed (Storm’s wearing a distinctly tactical corset but that’s the only real concession). They’re all characters in their own right, not defined by male equivalents but not pushing them away either. These women are fiercely competent, completely different from one another and absolutely united under an ideal and it’s been a long time since an X-cast has felt this coherent, even if they aren’t an ‘official’ team quite yet.
Wood’s immensely strong script is helped by Coipel’s excellent art. The action sequences are grounded and kinetic, the costume designs feel, aside from Storm’s outfitand to a lesser extent, Kitty’s onesie, practical and the characters are all distinctive. The action is solid and plausible and the comedy moments are natural and, crucially, funny.
In fact that’s the defining characteristic of the entire book; fun. These women love what they do and the story that folds around them all is classic, big idea X-Men science fiction. With a new cast, a new writer, a new artist and a fresh approach the X-Men are officially fun again. This issue, Jubilee comes home and she isn’t the only one.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Agent Cohen, Augustus, Celia, Image, James Asmus, Redmond, Robert Kirkman, Rus Wooton, Shawn Martinborough, Thief of Thieves
Story by Robert Kirkman
Written by James Asmus
Art by Shawn Martinborough
Colours by Felix Serrano
Letters by Rus Wooton
Published by Image
The good news is Redmond got away with it. The bad news is everyone knows Redmond got away with it, they just can’t prove it. The even worse news is that Augustus, Redmond’s catastrophically bad small time criminal of a son is in trouble. Again. Even worse, his girlfriend has been kidnapped by a group of very unpleasant drug dealers who want the money he owes them back. Now, Redmond must work out how to help a son who doesn’t want helping, Augustus must work out how to save his girlfriend and all the while, Special Agent Cohen is just waiting…
This is one of my two favourite Image series right now, tying with The Manhattan Projects. The structure is incredibly simple; each arc is an ‘episode’ in a TV season written by someone different, all working from Kirkman’s story but it means the book feels fresh every single time a new arc begins. The first run (Collected in I Quit which I’d also recommend highly) is a mostly light hearted, Ocean’s Eleven sort of affair but this one goes into much darker territory. There’s a hint of Elmore Leonard to the constantly surprising characters and turns, and Asmus is unafraid to show us Redmond the epic screw up as well as Redmond the suave Clooney-a-like. His relationship with Augustus in particular is poisonous from an early age, if for very good reasons, and Asmus and Kirkman are both too clever to let that dilute as the story continues. Instead, you have a brilliant professional criminal locked into an impossible situation with a hopefully professional criminal who idolises him so much he can barely think, and hates him so much he can barely see straight.
On the plus side, Redmond’s protégé Celia seems to be having fun.
This high pressure situation is used not only to drive the action but also to set up the action for future arcs. Redmond has a disastrous meeting with Arno, the sponsor of a job he’s refusing to do and Agent Cohen is always just around the corner. He may be a master thief but he’s dancing in a very small circle and the odds are good that he’ll get tired long before Cohen or Arno do. As this volume finishes that’s not even the worst of his problems, Asmus rolling out a genuinely chilling finish that sets up volume three. Redmond may not use guns and likes minimal violence but the people around him have no such compunctions and volume 3 looks set to get very messy indeed.
Redmond may be in trouble but its fantastically entertaining to read, Asmus showing a real snap and bounce to his dialogue and doing a lot to show us different sides to Augustus especially. Redmond’s son is a disaster, a man whose ego and family name keep writing cheques he can’t see, let alone cash, but he’s scrappy with it. There’s a decent man buried under the attitude and rage and whilst we see it, Redmond doesn’t. Asmus revels in having his characters make bad choices based on the information they have and their final scenes in this volume are intense psychologically as well as physically. Whilst the rest of the regular cast, Celia and Cohen aside, take a bit of a back seat, Asmus also gives us a surprisingly nuanced set of Cartel troops. He clearly delights in upending the stereotype surrounding them and their scenes are surprisingly civilised and calm right up until the point where they’re not. It’s here too that Martinborough excels, the sun drenched hotel room Emma is held hostage in both luxurious and sparse and, as she finds out, previously occupied. His character work, effectively dealing with two versions of the Redmond boys as well as the assorted supporting cast, is exemplary and always driven by expression and physical presence and this is a book that feels weighty and real thanks largely to Martinborough’s skill with character.
Rounded out by Serrano’s rich, deep colours (There’s a panel towards the end in a hotel corridor I almost want to blow up and frame the light is so perfect) and Wooton’s precision lettering this is a second strong entry in one of the best series on the market. Buy it, and be ready to buy the single issues that follow it. Trust me you won’t want to wait.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Akaneiro, Akaneiro Demon Hunters, Dark Horse, Justin Aclin, Michael Atiyeh, Michael Heisler, Vasilis Lolos
Written by Justin Aclin
Art by Vasilis Lolos
Colours by Michael Atiyeh
Letters by Michael Heisler
Published by Dark Horse
Dark Horse made their bones, at least in the ‘90s when I was just starting to read comics, on licensed titles. Their Aliens, Predator and Terminator series did extraordinary things with the established characters and ideas and that success would expand out into the Star Wars titles (Are you reading the Brian Wood-scripted Star Wars title by the way? Because if not you really, really should) and the constellation of Buffyverse comics that I really need to get around to. I like licensed comics for three reasons; firstly they’re a perfect gateway into comics for people who’ve never read them before, secondly because they give creators an opportunity to play with someone else’s sandbox and thirdly because a lot of the time they’re really fun.
Which brings us to Akaneiro, a tie in title to the Akaneiro Demon Hunters MMO. I’ve never played it but, based on this issue it has something I’ve seen a lot of MMOs struggle to achieve; characters and plot that everyone, even people who haven’t played the game 17 hours a day since launch, can get behind.
Yomi Island is home to three complex groups. The first, the Ainu, are a peaceful, structured people who worship the second group, the Yokai. To the Ainu, the Yokai are spirit gods and that comfortable belief is enabled by the Order of Akane, the Crimson Hunters, who kill the dangerous Yokai before they can reach the Ainu. The class structure, and conflict, is neatly introduced in the first few pages as Aclin introduces us to Kani, the daughter of a man born outside the Ainu village. Already an outcast once, she’s further ostracised by the killing of her mother by a Yokai and her refusal to take part in the increasingly structured, tedious rituals of the village. But when a Yokai breaks the line and gets into the village, Kani seizes the opportunity and is instrumental in killing it. Not only does she save the village but she finds a way to express her outsider status, work through the anger at her mother’s death and align herself with the Order of Akane, all in one moment of untidy, bloody violence.
Oh and start a war.The Yokai attack comes in the middle of the ceremony that the Ainu believe will protect the village for the year and they blame the Crimson Hunters for the disaster. It’s a smart conflict, driven by character and it’s also when Aclin pulls the first of the book’s tricks out of the bag. Kani works out a solution that is simultaneously incredibly dangerous to her and cauterizes the wound she’s inadvertently opened, as well as changing the social order on the island forever. It’s the bravest thing she does and shows an understanding of politics and psychology that instantly raises the book far above its peers.
The second twist is where the book really takes off. On her journey to begin her training, Kani is told to accept help from no one but, in the end, has no choice. The subtle curdling of Kani’s mission and journey is the point where Aclin’s script and Lolos’ elegant, rangy artwork mesh perfectly and it’s a joy to read. There are two panels in particular that tell you exactly how much trouble she’s in using just one word and a change in focus and, coupled with Lolos’ design work let you know what’s going on even as Kani stays in the dark. Lolos balances moments that subtle with exactly the sort of kinetic design work the Yokai demand, making them equal parts absurd and horrifying. He’s backed up by some of the best colour work I’ve seen Michael Atiyeh do, using a change green to a dark blue to show Kani’s journey across the island and giving the Yokai a bruised, distorted colour scheme that makes them even more grotesque. Finally, Michael Heisler’s lettering communicates pacing and emphasis without getting in the way of the art or letting it overshadow the lettering.
The end result is a book that, like Kani, punches way above the weight you’d expect it to. The world is rich and well realized, Kani’s a smartly written, interesting heroine and the Yokai are an interesting, ambiguous set of villains. It’s a perfect example not only of what licensed comics can do, but what good comics can do and if you’re a fan of the samurai genre, let alone an MMO fan, this is for you.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Avengers, Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers, Chewie, Christopher Sebela, Deathbird, Dexter Soy, Felipe Andrade, Frank Gianelli, hawkeye, Jamie Mckelvie, Joe Caramagna, Joe Quinones, Jordie Bellaire, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Marvel, Monica Rambeau, Spider-Woman, Veronica Gandini
Volume 2: ‘Down’
Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick (Issues 7-12) and Christopher Sebela (Issues 7-8, 10-12)
Art by Dexter Soy (Issue 7 and 8) and Feilipe Andrade (Issues 9-12)
Colours by Dexter Soy (Issue 7), Veronica Gandini (Issue 8) & Jordie Bellaire (Issues 9-12)
Lettering by VC’s Joe Caramagna
Covers by Jamie Mckelvie & Jordie Bellaire (Issues 7 and 9), Dexter Soy (Issue 8) and Joe Quinones (Issues 10-12)
Published by Marvel
One of the things it’s been a real pleasure to see Marvel do over the last few years is elevate the status of a couple of their long-standing characters. Hawkeye springs to mind but Carol Danvers is arguably a better example. Marvel have slowly but surely been putting Carol further and further into the spotlight for years and, with Kelly Sue DeConnick as her wing woman, Captain Marvel has finally made it all the way to the big leagues and her own solo title. I’d argue, using PowerPoint if necessary, that this and Hawkeye are the two best books Marvel put out right now and this second collection, co-written by Christopher Sebela, writer of the excellent High Crimes, demonstrates why.
The first story deals with Carol being called out to New Orleans by Monica Rambeau, who has also used the title Captain Marvel. Monica, best known to some readers from her appearance in NextWAVE: Agents of Hate, is investigating a rash of disappearances in the fishing boat community and, when she finds a submerged graveyard of aircraft, calls Carol to help out. This, in itself, is a perfectly smart, fun superheroine story that deals with the fallout (literally) from the sort of battles that take place on a daily basis in the Marvel universe. There’s a nice amount of science, and science fiction, mixed in too and in plot terms it’s practically a textbook study of how to do a two issue story very well.
What makes it sing are the characters. DeConnick has repositioned Carol very smartly as an aviator first and a superhuman second. She’s not a jock, but she is a woman whose life was changed by her military training and who defaults back to that a lot of the time. It gives Carol a cheerful, two-fisted pragmatism that means she approaches the fantastic events of her life in a completely different way to everyone else in the Marvel universe. The X-Men would have taken twice as long and had heated debates over what to do about the situation. Carol and Monica, who shares her mindset as well as her name, work out where to punch the problem and then, go one better and that’s where this story gets exceptional. The last few pages close a circuit that almost no superhero comic ever bothers to, not only picking up on the aftermath of events but showing the two lead characters working out how they can help and then doing it. People are still dead, damage has still been done but the Captains Marvel still leave the situation in a better position than they found it. There’s no ‘thank you, citizens!’ as they fly away from a smoking crater, just two women rolling their sleeves up and helping out where they can. It’s one of the most honestly heroic things in the last ten years of mainstream comics and the fact the book hasn’t garnered more praise for it is criminal.
It’s also really, really fun to read. Carol and Monica banter in a relaxed, completely natural way that’s equal parts affectionate and mildly snarly and DeConnick gets a lot of great material over Monica’s mild professional offense that Carol’s using the name now. They make a hugely fun double act and I hope Monica stops by again soon.
The second story takes a different, very personal tack. Starting with a call from Tony Stark it follows Carol through a day that takes in an interview, a dinosaur-based team up with Spider-Woman and the sudden, crushing news that she may have a tumour in her brain and flying makes it worse. Suddenly, a woman whose whole identity is defined and shaped by the idea of flight is told she can’t and the effects are both massive and completely believable. Carol takes the hit square, sits down hard, dusts herself off and gets back to it firstly because she’s trained to and secondly because denial is a river that takes about four issues to cross. Besides there’s still constant near-love interest Frank Gianelli, everyday superhero stuff like saving subway trains, helping out the people in her apartment building and dealing with increasingly brutal attacks from a new Deathbird to deal with. So Carol tries to muscle through and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but she always gets back up, because that’s what she knows how to do.
There’s a lot going on in this story, which leads directly into the Avengers/Captain Marvel crossover title The Enemy Within, but anyone thinking it doesn’t stand on its own would be mistaken. The entire story is built around Carol bulling her way through the problem and welcoming Deathbird’s attacks because nothing clears the brain like a good, meaty fight. Underneath the action, and the wonderful dialogue though is a very real fear. She’s had her wings clipped, she’s superhuman but still mortal. This may be a problem she can’t punch. Having had family members deal with cancer I’m overly sensitive to how I’s dealt with in fiction and I’ve rarely seen it done better than it is here. As the story closes we don’t quite know what the thing in Carol’s brain is. We do know she’s worried. We are too. That’s a level of subtlety and engagement that so few books manage but here, DeConnick and Sebela manage it again and again.
If there’s a sticking point for the book, it will be the art. Dexter Soy’s work in the first arc is excellent, combining fluid motion and scale with a nicely muscular take on character and real subtlety of expression. Felipe Andrade’s work on the back four issues is incredibly kinetic and fluid to the point where some of the fights put me in mind of Aeon Flux. It’s great work, but some people may have trouble marrying it to the pragmatic way that DeConnick and Sebela write Carol. Regardless, stick with it because the artistic side of the book, from Soy and Andrade’s artwork to Soy, Gandini and Bellaire’s colouring and Joe Caramgana’s lettering is great.
Carol Danvers has taken a while to get into the spotlight but she absolutely deserves to be there. Not just because of her superheroic lineage or her training, but because she’s one of the most complete characters in the Marvel universe. Carol’s, weirdly given her love of flying, a grounded, pragmatic figure who comes at her life with equal parts compassion, humour and bravery and it’s a pleasure to see her written so well. Great job, Princess Sparklefists. Keep doing what you’re doing.