Wednesday, October 17, 2012



"Everything Burns" comes to a conclusion with Loki and Thor outwitting Surtur and halting his nihilistic plan. After meticulously weaving their summer crossover, the co-writers try to ambitiously wrap it up, settling for an ending akin to a typical coda for a "Journey to Mystery" story. The crossover certainly needed a wider and grander exit, but there is still a chance that the upcoming last issues of both Thor and Loki's titles will be able to smoothen the anti-climax.

The co-writers are certainly to be lauded for having Wilson and his Engels play a role in the Muspelheim gambit. Since coming to the fore, Surtur has largely overshadowed the other parts of the conflict, thus it makes sense that one of his allies would end up being key in his downfall. Unfortunately, the underrepresented Vanir receive no such coda, being relegating to the thematic resolution between Odin and "Frigga".

The focus on Surtur comes as no surprise given the threat he represents. Since Walt Simonson reintroduced the character as a major foe for the first third of his run, the publisher has been in a unique situation. The writer/artist had produced a  villain on the scale of Galactus, at the same time forcing Marvel into the same situation regarding the cosmic level threat. His rare appearances in the following decades attest to the fact that it's hard to find a story that justifies the scope involving the ultimate nihilist, with each defeat doing away with a bit of credibility when it comes to the threat he poses for the Nine Worlds.

Having the character use the phrase "I am your doom" twice in the space of two pages (no matter the emphasis) almost relegates him to a cartoon villain. Confining him to Muspelheim's caves and attacking the Asgardian armies with Twilight sword does little but establish him as a fire giant. His defeat is a foregone conclusion, and the heroes seem more concerned with where they will store the energy released in his fall.

Without the only visible losses once again relegated to a rare panel depicting the battles in the other realms, the co-writers have effectively put all their strengths into the trickery involved with bringing victory to Asgardia. Alan Davis certainly tries his best to make the scenes suitably epic, but the lack of proper dramatization relegates all his efforts to a reading of the script visualized in his style. The bizarre visual of Twilight's shadow grafted onto Mjolnir is a poor substitute for a heroic conclusion.

The trickery that the protagonists resort to amounts to a couple of overly verbose scenes tackling the mechanisms of Surtur's plot that have barely been mentioned since the story began. A crucial conversation between Loki and Wilson draws on the previous "Journey to Mystery" and quickly dissolves into endless exposition regarding the internal logic that seems primarily of interest to Gillen and Fraction. It doesn't help that Davis has trouble adjusting to Richard Elson's design of Wilson, with the scene saved primarily by the veteran artist's command of body language.

The co-writers make an effort to have Thor devise the final part of the plan, resulting in a scene that determines Odin's role following the crossover. The stylized dialogue is to blame for robbing the sequence of its proper impact, but even this is overshadowed by the increasingly experimental conclusion. Three whole pages are devoted to nothing more than a gag setting up the epilogue with a few irreverent lines and no art.

What follows basically sets up Loki's last adventure in the next issue of "Journey to Mystery", and feels largely extraneous to the wider crossover. Having Hellstorm, an unlikely supporting character in Gillen's run on the title announce that Thor's half-brother still has a one final crisis to, while hinting at the character's true nature has little bearing on the immediate aftermath of the mini-event. A true reunion with Volstagg and the rest of Asgardians would have provided for a more natural ending to the crossover.

As it stands, Marvel will likely be collecting the final issues of both "the Mighty Thor" and this iteration of "Journey to Mystery" along with the bulk of the mini-event, explaining the somewhat truncated ending of the crossover proper. Hopefully, Gillen will find space for more scenes involving Leah, as her interactions with Loki have been a highlight of this issue, possessing a human quality lacking in the interactions between the rest of the cast.


What started out as a tedious mini-event has, after the largely entertaining sophomore issue, turned once more in the direction of randomness and irrelevance. At this point, the story seems scattered, with the primary players scattered around Microverse, a fantasy locale wholly unprepared for the symbiotic horrors.

The story tries to reassert Carnage as the chaotic murderer who does away with his Microverse hosts, with Bunn content to dismiss with the characters before the reader is has gotten accustomed to their strange character designs. Shalvey, the regular artist of "Venom" proves particularly adept at illustrating Kasady, whose elongated body is constantly boiling with madness. The writer/artist seems somewhat less convincing when called to illustrate fight scenes featuring Micronauts (calling themselves "Enigma Force", as per the recent Hulk mini-series), leading to dense pages with unclear layouts.

Both Venom and Scarlet Spider narrate their own scenes, with Venom's creative team being a chief factor in individualizing this chapter of "Minimum Carnage". The writer instills more of a challenge in Flash's scenes, given that symbiotes seem to be harmful to Microverse, but even than the conflict seems obligatory. Having Bunn make the protagonists comment on the arbitrary nature of their predicament has the opposite of the intended effect, and brings to the fore the main problems with the crossover.

Why are these characters interacting with Microverse? The story tries to link the alien nature of their symbiotes to the science fiction world they found themselves in, but the remits of the crossover preclude the creator's ability to do the requisite world building. In theory, placing Carnage in Microverse means that the character can do much more damage when compared to the confines of Marvel's New York centric universe, but so far the mini-event hasn't really been able to exploit this.

The chief source of intrigue in the story so far stems from the role of the ambiguous Redeemer, who instills a dose of mystery regarding his identity and the role in the wider story. To arrive to the middle point of the crossover and still be largely kept in the dark regarding the stakes and importance of the story beyond the need to get the Spider-Man supporting characters together and have them exit the dimension is very curious. On one hand, Marvel seems willing to slowly reintroduce the Micronauts characters to their broader audience, but "Minimum Carnage" is surely the wrong place for it (not to mention that a ongoing "Enigma Force" title could hardly be expected to succeed in the current market).

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Frankenstein, agent of the SHADE #13 - Rotworld "Secrets of the dead"


Unexpectedly, DC has decided to tie "Frankenstein" into the "Animal Man" and "Swamp Thing" crossover. Having the Frankenstein story appear with the Rotworld banner may be one of the last promotions regarding the book that's steadily approaching cancellation levels. The creative justification for the tie-in lies with Jeff Lemire's last issue on the title.

Building up on Frank's previous meeting with Animal Man makes the crossover slightly less abrupt, with Matt Kindt never forgetting to include a threat specific to the protagonist. Remaking Victor Frankenstein as an agent of the Rot is a compromise that the writer slows down the story to explain, but it stands to present a puzzle to future readers who encounter the material divorced of the context of the Animal Man/Swamp Thing crossover. Unfortunately, in order to line up with the crossover, Kindt puts the book in a nebulous place when it comes to the chronology, making it unclear when in takes place in regards to the other two titles.

The book continues with the larger than life pulp moments regarding the title character, who is both carried by condors to his destination, and eventually gets to ride around the devastated Metropolis on a horse. There is little spontaneity involved, as all of the animal emissaries of the Red talk, guiding Frank towards the threat. At the same time, the writer posits that the character's undead nature makes him invulnerable to the Rot, which gives him an interesting role in the crossover.

In a way, Frankenstein fills in for Animal Man, who is away due to the events of "Rotworld - Prologue". Ultimately, Frank's special nature largely makes the fight scenes redundant, and it is only when Velcoro shows up that the book regains a degree of suspense. In a lengthy dialogue, the character describes the exact role Frank is to play in the crossover, hinting that the book will take on a quest-like structure for the duration of the tie-in.

Ultimately, the writer adds another wrinkle in the character's ever evolving relationship with S.H.A.D.E. - the organization that never quite gelled into a functional version of Marvel's S.H.I.E.L.D. At this point, it's quite clear that Frank's association with the agency is not liable to continue for much longer, as the company has already announced the departure of artist Alberto Ponticelli. His inker since the aforementioned Animal Man tie-in issue, Wayne Faucher, has been credited with some of this issue's interior art.

Ultimately, the book has never really managed to recreate the over the top madness of Grant Morrison/Doug Mahke's initial "Seven Soldiers" mini-series. It remains to be seen whether DC's latest effort in trying to attract the "Animal Man" and "Swamp Thing" readers will pay off, and at least prolong the title's shelf life.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Comic reviews for Wednesday, October the 10th


Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo debut the opening chapter of "the Death of the Family" crossover. The main story is set to run in "Batman", while spin-off titles tie-in, and for the moment, the creators deliver what they've promised. There is an ominous feeling to the episode from the start, building to the start of Joker's depraved revenge. With the character single-handedly executing his plan, the story maintains an atmosphere of the slasher horror movie, albeit one drenched in Batman mythos.

Snyder never forgets that he's writing a Batman story, structured as the traditional chase the villain ends the dark knight detective on. It's also just as much a Joker story, calling back to the character's numerous previous misdeeds, albeit with a ring of finality to it. Batman's nemesis launches his campaign of terror so aggressively, so relentlessly, that "the Death of the Family" seems poised to leave lasting ramifications to the title.

Capullo is likewise in full form here, making sure the reader sees every important detail of the grim proceedings, while drenching the story in unbearable paranoia. The artist keeps the Joker's character design a secret until the cliffhanger (which goes to explain his frustration when the posting of an upcoming cover spoiled the reveal on the Internet), but the character is still present throughout the issue. In contrast, the artist continually shows Batman under heavy light, caped and broad-shouldered, but woefully ineffective. Bruce is continually two steps behind his enemy, and it seems like he can barely follow the trail.

The story climaxes with Joker crossing the line and attacking a key Batman figure, revealing the extent of his knowledge of Bruce's operation. The rationale behind his enemy's current plan of attack works to establish the tie-in for the rest of the Batman line, but it remains to be seen how much it factors into the Snyder and Capullo's main story.

This is not to say that the start of the creator's second year of Batman stories is flawless, as the police station sequence and the later television broadcast announcing the villain's plan to the Gothamites exhibit some confusion in layouts leading to the lack of effectiveness. The fight in the factory that closes the issue is likewise so dense with details that it lacks a seamless storytelling flow (including an unfortunate prop that will momentarily take the reader out of the story), but in general the issue portrays both creators in a very strong light.

Snyder utilizes a lot of dialogue in these plot-oriented 24 pages, working in concert with Capullo's quirky, caricatural visuals to create a rare story that lives up to the hype surrounding it. The back-up reunites Snyder with Jock, the illustrator of his previous run on "Detective Comics". The painted pages are likewise disturbing, with the co-writer James Tynion IV elaborating on the plot point previous to Batman's arrival to the factory.

The story is no more than a vignette featuring Harley and the Joker, elaborating on their sick relationship in regards to a particular plot point. Tynion IV quickly achieves an atmosphere of abject dread, but his is a thankless task giving that the reader is already aware how the scene ends. In a way, the co-writer is being asked to shock the reader into a few moments forgetfulness, before the story returns to the relatively comforting reality of what the reader just saw in the final Snyder/Capullo pages.

Jock's work is traditionally angular and moody, but realized in the limited palette of reds and blues, except for the shock of Joker's hair.The close-ups on Joker's mouth are likewise effective, keeping the reader unaware of the character's position in regards to Harley. It goes without saying that the two character's share a very one sided abusive relationship, which excuses some of the violence on the part of creators, who thankfully restrain from depicting the full extent of implied depravity.


The finale of "New World Orders" follows the pattern when it comes to this arc, being the end of the plot-based exercise that had little to show for it. The Bunn-scripted issue covers the three fronts of Captain America and SHIELD's battle against Codename Bravo and the Hydra, with a real sense that the heroes are over-matched. Yet, once the protagonists make their way to the enemy commanders, they prove relatively easy to beat.

It's doubtful that Brubaker would have realized his plot in much the same way had he written the arc on his own, but as it stands, the villains who have tormented Cap since this iteration of the title launched prove little more than braggarts, who have managed to brainwash the American public to their side. The issue continues last issue's Baron Zemo/Agent 13 fight in a decent way, but the co-writer's addition of Dum Dum Dugan's work behind the scenes ultimately ends the satellite in a way that is a little too easy and convenient.

In turn, this makes Falcon and Diamondback's efforts superfluous, but the co-writers choose to utilize their short scenes to show the effect of enemy manipulation on the common man and set up a new dynamic between the characters. The heavy handed real world relevance issue ultimately proves like little more than an afterthought, and gets little more than a mention in Cap's fight against Bravo and Queen Hydra. The duel is remarkably short and efficient, but is notable largely because of its finality and the way Marvel chooses to present it.

Throughout the issue, Eaton underplays the more brutal elements of the script and sticks to a superhero aesthetic that de-emphasizes the violence. The reader is not made privy to the body-count behind the fake Discordian invasion, with the dialogue carefully explaining that despite the appearance, the fights against Zemo and Bravo carried no fatalities. Scott Eaton's work is therefore allowed to maintain a darker edge, while still working in the artist's exaggerated superhero style.

Unfortunately, the careful framing only accentuates the feeling that "New World Orders" shows the creators at their most restrained, presenting a story that tries to provide an epic sendoff to the plots and themes of this volume of "Captain America", but only succeeding in the former. The co-writers try to use the character's out of costume appearance to provide for some measure of closure, but the lessons learned feel broad and obvious. The writers are ultimately use the sequence to spell out their intentions and clue the reader in on the eventual fate of the principal players.

The story concludes on a genre standard vignette aiming to provide some ambiguity to the heroes' victory, but a long-time reader will likely be more interested in the one page teaser for the next month's story. With #19, Ed Brubaker concludes his run on the title, with the relaunch already solicited as a part of the Marvel NOW! initiative. Reunited with Steve Epting, the primary artist of his original "Captain America" stories, Brubaker will no doubt leave provide a poignant coda for the title that never really gained a foothold in this latest iteration.


Interestingly, the second part of the arbitrary "Minimum Carnage" crossover provides for a pleasant diversion. Chris Yost, the regular writer of "Scarlet Spider" scripts the issue himself (with special thanks to "Venom" writer Cullen Bunn), and the mini-event feels slightly more organic.

This is not to say that the "Minimum Carnage" is now free of the exposition that weighted heavily on its first part, but that it builds up some rhythm when its two leads finally start interacting. The repentant, yet still aggressive Kaine has little time for Agent Venom, following Carnage's disappearance, but at least for a short while it feels that the writer will forgo the cliche of having the two protagonists fight as soon as they meet.

Yet, utilizing Venom's symbiotic nature, Yost still gets to include the fight a mere few pages later, providing for the issue's major fight sequence. Flash losing control of the symbiote seems to be unconnected to Bunn's plot of demonic possession and seemingly operates in disregard to the set-up as presented in the character's own book. Pham and Brown illustrate the sequence in a clear and energetic way, providing a lot of the flair missing from the story's initial "Alpha" issue.

The Microverse sequences substitute the slaughter from the beginning of the story with the fantasy sequences, teasing the role of an evil mastermind that is profiting from Carange's actions. The hooded figure could well turn out to be an analogue for the "Micronauts" arch-villain Baron Karza, but so far he appears only in hologram.

Meanwhile, the story's two discuss crossing over into the microscopic world, with Yost doing his best to discern between two anti-heroes. Scarlet Spider reluctantly follows Agent Venom's lead, with both ultimately defining themselves after Spider-Man. Following the requisite comic book super science, the two are once again separated. Pham and Brown don't invest a lot in the backgrounds of these Microverse sequences, but the colors help make the setting distinctive.

The microscopic world has a truly alien feeling, especially when compared to the drabness of the ruined space center where the most of the issue takes place. When Micronauts finally show up, they feel entirely of the place in what has become Venom and Scarlet Spider's space opera adventure. The reader is not expected to be aware of the company's struggle to keep the characters created while they held the licence to the property, with the freedom fighters instantly recalling the better known "Masters of the Universe", or even "Star Wars" characters.

The issue ends with Yost going so far to explicitly mention the "Star Wars" connection, right before Scarlet Spider is subjected to the monster that would not feel out of place in George Lucas' movies. Keeping Carnage out of the spotlight has definitely helped the story settle in a pulpy, adventure story direction, but there is still no indication that the crossover will ultimately cohere into a satisfying whole. For the moment, "Minimum Carnage" appears to be a little more than an unlikely, but inoffensive outing for its well defined leads, playing out in a completely different fashion than the 1990s crossover that inspired it.


To tie-in with this Sunday's premiere of Season Three of "the Walking Dead" TV-series, Image and Skybound present a Special issue of the comic book that inspired it. The "Walking Dead Special: Michonne" is meant to reintroduce the character whom the TV audience briefly saw in the final episode of the last season, a katana wielding lawyer who has long since become a permanent fixture of the comic book.

Two days before the Season Two finale, the March issue of "Playboy" published a short presenting the character's origin story. The six page Kirkman/Adlard collaboration wasn't reprinted in "Walking Dead" #100, and it's only now that Image has decided to present it, along with the character's original appearance. "Walking Dead Special: Michonne" thus combines the "Playboy" short along with "Walking Dead" #19, and offers no new material except for the Charlie Adlard cover.

The 6-page "Michonne's story" basically presents the first days of zombie apocalypse from the titular character's point of view, without offering any new information. There is very little dialogue in the story itself, as Kirkman prefers to narrate the events using caption boxes. Reading Michonne's recollections largely dispenses with the excitement reserved for the series, as the character obviously survives to join the book's cast at a later date.

The main series has long abandoned the initial shock of the zombie invasion, thus seeing the creators revisit the "Days gone bye" setting has some novelty. In the end, the short, no matter how well put together proves no more than a promotional item. As for the longer story that follows it, it takes place relatively early in the series run, and mostly presents an extended fight scene. There is some initial confusion regarding the setting, and the characters opposing Rick, but it ultimately boils down to a decent episode of a longer serial.

Rick and his group are vying for control of the prison with the group that previously held it, with the new player using the ensuing confusion involving a zombie attack to join in with the cast. And while #19 is ultimately Rick's story, showing one of the first steps in the character's gradual loss of humanity, Michonne is given enough space to showcase her use to the group. Basically, she is a genre character initially divorced from the every day problems of the group.

Kirkman and Adlard choose to portray her value primarily in terms of her fighting prowess and the appeal a beautiful woman wholly capable of fending for herself has to the audience. The character has since enjoyed a couple of relationships, but is still largely defined by her ferocity, which is somewhat softened with the "Playboy" short. Michonne is still a long way from a rounded character (that role has gone to Andrea, who also appears in #19), but the Special does enough to make her stand out.

Beyond the return to earlier storytelling modes, "Michonne" also offers a look into the evolution of Charlie Adlard's artwork. Reading the two stories back to back, it's apparent how the artist has changed the way he approaches the series. For a start, Adlard now chooses much thicker inking lines and seems to rely more on Rathburn's gray tones. The artist was stylistically mature when he inherited the book from Tony Moore, but he seems much more assure in these newer pages.

There is a more natural flow to the pages of material that premiered in "Playboy", as well as a tighter grasp on the figures. It remains to see how the artist's style will further evolve, but for the moment both him and Kirkman are overshadowed by their popular character. Even if this tie-in Special doesn't work to increase the readership of the series, it works to increase the awareness of the connection between the TV-series and the comic book that inspired it, which is more than enough, given the latter's success.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Rotworld: Red Kingdom #1, Green Kingdom #1


"Animal Man" enters the Rotworld arc with an expository issue, hoping to benefit from the outside interest. Therefore, it's DCU characters that get to serve as guides to the missing Buddy, and the theoretical new reader unaccustomed to the title. The time jump helps provide a starting point for the uninitiated, but the book thankfully retains enough of its identity to provide for a satisfying reading experience.

Jeff Lemire picks an unusual assortment of heroes to serve as Buddy's guides, with a double page spread serving to indicate the fates of the rest of DC's superhuman community. At this point in the history of the genre, the superhero/horror crossover is no real novelty, but the creators still try their best to genuinely repulse the reader.

The grisly visuals come courtesy of Steve Pugh and Timothy Green II, with the latter devoted to present day segments involving Buddy's family. When the book cuts away to these scenes, it genuinely becomes more interesting, as there is no guarantee that the supporting cast will survive the crossover intact. Green II's Moebius-inspired artwork presents Ellen and the children as lean, heavily stylized figures, making the subplot even more distinctive compared to Pugh's raw and bulky characters.

Steve Pugh's loose line helps realize the broken landscape of the Rot's rule, retaining a hostile, agressive style that accentuates the weird superhero style of the overall direction. There is definitely a wider arc that the writer is working towards, quickly establishing the resistance in the post apocalyptic world, but the formulaic elements would have been much easier to overcome if the final result was a bit more refined.

Seeing Hawkman attack Buddy as soon as he materializes in the Rotworld, with the superheroes immediately coming to his defense, speaks of a distinctive lack of subtlety and a desire to guide the book towards a very linear plot. Having the hero meet the resistance who promptly lead him towards their base is a very cliched plot, that the creators try to mask with the bits and pieces of their new mythology.

Ultimately, the cliffhanger revolves around the fate of the Baker family, as the final page offers some truly disturbing visuals, that are posed to affect the reader in a way that the decay of extraneous superheroes simply doesn't. So far, the crossover does provide for an interesting change of page, which not only maximizes on the promise of the previous issues, but offers a distinctive tone of its own. Its clearly leading to a team-up with Swamp Thing that has the characters beating the Rot back in their own time, but at least it's realized in a way that is feel fresh and entertaining.


The "Swamp Thing" part of the Rotworld crossover makes a much better impression so far. Reunited with Yannick Paquette, who has taken time to really leave his impression on "the Green Kingdom", Scott Snyder delivers a story that is much more organic, despite the presence of superheroes. Deadman and Poison Ivy provide a very fitting guides to Holland, given their historical connection to the title, as re-imagined by Alan Moore.

The story follows the same progression as "Animal Man", with the superheroes blaming the avatar for abandoning the world before deciding to take him into their trust and have him join them against the Rot. The key difference is that Swamp Thing exhibits his connection with the Green before the fight with the corrupted superheroes, which goes on to reaffirm the title's mythology as much more organic, and ironically better integrated with the DCU than that of the Animal Man.

Being a plant-related elemental defines Holland in a very narrow way when it comes to a superhero universe that is teeming with animal themed superheroes. When presented with Paquette's lush and gorgeous work, the reader is simply overwhelmed by the promise. The inventive layouts, characters that are strong sense of anatomy and a thoughtful palette avoids the cluttering of visuals and makes for a very confident look.

Where the art falters is when it comes to depicting the aforementioned battle against the villains, whose redesigns seem too busy and ill-defined. Ironically, the parts of the story showing Abigail in the past (relative to the Rot takeover) present a scenario that is much more likely to be quickly resolved than the fate of the Baker family.

Taking everything into consideration, the two titles would have been better off had they been left to explore Rotworld on their own terms, disregarding the need for the tie ins and superheroes. At this point, the tie-ins are mostly on the structural level, with each book left to its own, parallel plot. It's hard to judge the crossover's effectiveness for the readers who have not previously followed the titles, but it certainly provides a way to have the two titles stay relevant past the initial praise.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Comic reviews for Wednesday, October the 3rd


After last month's Zero issue, Grant Morrison opts for another themed issue with #13. This time opting for a Halloween connection, he presents a complete story updating the Phantom Zone to a more modern aesthetic. Once again, the story centers around Clarke finding more about his Kryptionian origins, but the writer is determined to make the issue accessible.

In order to do this, Morrison even introduces story book narration, which largely proves superfluous expect for a brief scene near the end, where it sheds light on a sequence involving invisibility. The story is illustrated by Travel ("Animal Man") Foreman, who adopts a rich, computer enhanced style that complements the Kryptonian imagery of the flashbacks and imbues a futuristic haunted house look to the Fortress of Solitude. Where the artist falters is with the character design for the villain, doctor Xa-Du.

The character sports an overly busy look, suffering from the lack of clarity, and at times looks alternately like a mummy or a cloaked figure. The reader is not given a good look at the Ecto-suit he wears, which proves central to freeing Superman from the Phantom Zone trap. Otherwise, the pages look eerie and effective, washed in blues, blacks and browns, with splashes of red reserved for Superman's cape.

In many ways, Foreman's artwork recalls Gene Ha's contributions to the series, but he ends up lacking the veteran artist's definition when it comes to the character physiques. Interestingly, DC feels the need to imbue an outsider character in the Phantom Zone, giving the Phantom Stranger a role that consists of two pages of exposition.

The character is otherwise dubiously out of place, and presumably only shows up to prepare the readers for his place in an upcoming crossover. For the purposes of the story, General Zod could have taken his place, as the character was always closely associated with the Phantom Zone. Perhaps the writer has deemed the character too important to play only a small role in his first appearance following the flashbacks in the early issues of "Action Comics".

Otherwise, the issue is largely notable for reintroducing Krypto, last seen fighting Zod in the aforementioned flashback. The Clark-Krypto dynamic works on a level that the otherwise scattered "Action Comics" run constantly aspires to, but rarely succeeds. The Superdog's loyalty completely justifies Clark's desperate efforts to save the dog, and seeing the two reunited provides a pleasant respite before the final page teasing Morrison's last Superman storyline.

Sholly Fisch picks up this sentimentality in the back-up, providing a piece that unapologetically invites the reader to wallow in emotion. Showing the ghostly Krypto's loyalty and love for Clark quickly turns into a universal story about a boy and his dog, with the creators going so far to underline the notion both in dialogue and the title. There is little that is subtle about this back-up, but in its heavy handedness it does turn into a moving science fiction story.

Brad Walker's art is similarly bold, but lacking the polish that would make it noteworthy on its own. The layouts are clear, but suffer from occasional problems with proportions and clunky details. The pages showing Clark's adventures and the destruction of Krypton are needlessly cluttered and unappealing, but in general the artist does manage to visualize the script in a way that brings out the best in Fisch's narration.

BOYS #71

The penultimate issue of "the Boys" finishes up the last storyline, leaving only the next month's epilogue to complete the series. Ennis writes a slightly anti-climatic conversational story about the relationship between Hughie and Butcher, as the two men cope with the consequences of last issue's cliffhanger.

Butcher no longer a direct threat, Ennis comes clean about his methods, but the writer mostly concentrates on the differences between the pair and the dynamic they have established over years of working together. It goes without saying that the veteran character-oriented comics writer manifests a deep understanding of the human nature, supplemented by Braun's expressive artwork.

Faced with the script that features two immobile characters talking on the rooftop, the artist does his best to provide a variety of perspectives, moving us in and out of the the pair's faces and rotating the point of view to maintain the tension. Despite all this, the layout remains clear and functional at all times, the characters tense, desperate and melancholic.

In the middle, the script breaks from the blue-toned melancholy by using a four page sequence showing the eventual fate of Jessica Bradley. The break is short and logical, even as it leaves the character in a frenzy. Refusing to settle for shock tactics, Ennis goes on to cite the relevant bits of dialogue between Bradley and Sitwell, which put the events in their proper context.

Getting back to Hughie and Billy, the writer has them go through all of the questions that longtime friends would ask each other when facing certain death, in turn providing the characters with final definition. Butcher remains charismatic and manipulative to the very end, but it comes with a genuine sense of honesty and affection. Ultimately, "the Boys" is Hughie's story, and it ultimately falls to him who has to overcome one last challenge, revealing his true nature.

It's hard to say whether this is the best way the story could have ended, but there is no question that the creators commit to it and present it in a very accomplished way. It's refreshing to see a genre effort finishing up with such a downbeat character driven resolution, that both stays true to the characterization, and still remembers to offer an explosive ending, on par with the most exciting moments of the series.


The Venom/Scarlet Spider crossover begins with the "Alpha" issue, co-written by Cullen Bunn and Chris Yost, and pencilled by Lan Medina. The regular writers of both titles assume the reader is unfamiliar with the current premise and offer a very dense script. The story alludes to the events in the couple of recent "Carnage" mini-series, but otherwise functions as a thriller, in which the pair of vigilantes have to contain the escaping psychopath.

The absence of Zeb Wells, the writer of the aforementioned "Carnage" and "Carnage U.S.A." leads to a distinct lack of humor, or anything approaching a style of its own. Both Venom and Scarlet Spider are larger than life personalities, but they end up little more than civil servants, working closely with the local authorities to deal away with the threat. The story introduces some of the supporting characters from both books, but Flash's newspaper reporter ally, as well as Kaine's friends the policeman and doctor only serve to fill in the otherwise generic roles in the very plot-oriented script.

Lan Medina, his art inked by three inkers, likewise feels stifled by editorial mandate, turning in competent but uninspired work. The layouts are clear, the characters on model, but there is no illusion that anyone in the creative team is giving anything more than their professional best. Medina's Scarlet Spider thus becomes too bulky and generic, Carnage, while Venom stays on model, thanks to the artist's recent stint working on the solo title. The artist also takes time to warm up to Carnage, as his version of the symbiote initially appears as if Kasady is wearing a costume.

It's hard to judge the artist's take on the Micronauts characters, as they seem analogues to some of the Mantlo/Golden characters, but at the same time distinctively new. The publisher hasn't renewed the licence in years, but still retains the rights to the characters created during the long run the title enjoyed in 1980s. It's unlikely that much of the today's audience is familiar with the series, but "Minimum Carnage" is another chance to try and integrate bits and pieces of the continuity into the modern day Marvel universe.

Seeing Carnage associating with the derivative Micronauts characters and eventually escaping into what is essentially Microverse should add a layer of interest to the crossover, but comes off as random. The relatively grounded "Spider-Man" spin-offs seem like a last place to revisit the Micronauts following Marvel's cosmic crossovers, and it's highly doubtful that "Minimum Carnage", as seen in this prologue issue, will amount to more than a generic story meant to provide a short sales boost to "Venom" and "Scarlet Spider".

All-Star Western #0, Aquaman #0, Flash #0, I, Vampire #0


The Zero Month issue of "All-Star Western" dismisses with the back-up to present a 30 page story, with artist Pia ("Y the Last Man") Guerra helping out with the epilogue. The Moritat-drawn pages depict Jonah Hex's origin, telling a decades spanning story involving the complex set of circumstances that birthed the violent bounty hunter.

The back-up reveals the story as a drunken ramble related by Hex, but this doesn't really account for many of its problems. Namely, the writing duo of Gray and Palmiotti choose to depict the numerous events by briefly setting up the context and following it up with an action scene. What should have been a graphic novel is thus relegated to a vulgar string of fight sequences that cover the character's contradictory back story of growing up an Indian and serving in the confederate army.

The reader invests in each of these scenes thinking it will show the signature scarring of the character. Instead, this is how the flashback ends, supposedly climaxing the theme of Jonah being "a man of two minds, a man who is both good and evil". Yet, as depicted in this issue, Hex seems more selfless and naive, trying to make the most out of a thankless life.

In retrospect, given the limited page count, the story would have benefited from being confined to Jonah's time with the Indians. That way, the co-writers would be able to properly set up the dynamic between Hex and his Indian foster father, as well as the rivalry between Jonah and his Indian "brother". Alternately, the additional focus on his childhood could have made for a more involving story as well.

Moritat's artwork likewise starts off loosely, but finishes up in very broad strokes. Perhaps DC would have been better off to pair him with an inker, as the artist clearly has troubles with the Zero Month increasing the page count by half. The abstraction that serves as the establishing shot of Fort Donelson clearly has no place in a DC comic, especially when compared to Guerra's clean and controlled look that finishes the issue.

To be fair, the climatic fight between Hex and Noh-Tante likely fails because of the density of the script, serving as yet another reminder that the series could have done without this prequel issue. It's doubtful that the story would have been much improved with the changes in the creative team, as the Zero Month format inherently limits the potential of a sprawling western epic. This is presumably why the co-writers concentrate on using the Pia Guerra illustrated pages to set up the next month's story, involving Dr. Jekyll's potion.


The #0 issue of Aquaman is almost equally split in the way it serves as a showcase for Aquaman's powers and the set-up required for the second year of stories regarding the character. All of this is conveyed via the flashback tale of Aquaman searching for his mother.

Geoff Johns and the artistic team of Ivan Reis and Joe Prado hardly achieve an uneasy balance, with an immature Aquaman substituting a father for a mentor figure in Vulco. More importantly, this prequel issue sets up Arthur's half-brother, Orm the Ocean-Master as the credible new threat for the character.

Unfortunately, due to scheduling, this inclusion comes on the heels of the last issue's unresolved cliffhanger. The creative team makes no effort in presenting this prequel story as something that in any way follows up on the previous issue, and will likely be eventually collected separately.

As a story in its own right, the issue is still lacking, as it discards the characters Aquaman spends the most dynamic part of the story saving. They wind up merely as innocent bystanders justifying the use of an action sequence in what is otherwise a static issue, setting up the upcoming stories. There is a some closure regarding the issue of Arthur's search, but the story nominally tries to entice the reader with the additions to the mythology.

Yet, the audience is likely to be continue with the title based on the strength of the creators. The consistently competent work, dressed in the lush colors of Rod Reis, helps complete this version of Aquaman, that is in keeping with the current trends. Working from a similar model to the Johns and Reis' work on "Green Lantern", "Aquaman" is set to crossover with "the Justice League", no doubt in another attempt to keep the relaunch to the forefront of the company's output. Despite the teases of Atlantean mysteries, the real question will be how the title fares once the penciller officially leaves to work on "JL".


For their part in contributing to DC's "Zero Month" Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato undertake to updating the Flash's Silver Age origin with the Geoff Johns' invented retcon. The resulting story feels a bit more poignant than their recent efforts, but still succeeds primarily in delighting the reader on a visual level.

The creative team uses watercolors to highlight the moody origin of the Flash, recasting the archetypal superhero as the victim of family tragedy. In their hands, Barry Allen is a smart and talented child, who dedicates himself to police work following the death of his mother in what appears to be a domestic quarrel. Manapul and Buccellato concentrate on the love triangle that lead to the tragedy, with the mystery of Flash's powers treated almost as an afterthought.

The limited space relegates the character's eventual appearance in costume to a two page sequence, just one of the many flashbacks that make up this zero issue. The constant back and forth is eased by the use of captions, which try to make the reader sympathetic to the events shown. The character of lieutenant Frye adds some much needed nuance to the continuity implants, but the origin of the Flash still feels somewhat extraneous to the creators' own vision.

It seems to be devoted to a version of the character directly preceding the "New 52" reboot, which was in turn inspired by Marvel's own flawed heroes. Manapul and Buccellato's take on "the Flash" has so far been decidedly lighter and plot-based, with Barry himself mostly defined by his powers and the role of the superhero. Having the character of Miguel (whose friendship with Barry was the backbone of their first "Mob rule" story arc) completely missing from this prequel is very telling.

Finding themselves hard pressed to boil down a graphic novel sized plot into a mere twenty pages, the creators have decided to proceed with an origin that will be relevant beyond their immediate take on the character. It remains to be seen whether the duo will still be involved with the character in a year's time, while Chief Creative Officer Johns's reinterpretation of the Flash is set to remain as definite status quo.

Where Manapul and Buccellato are allowed to leave a much stronger mark is once again consigned to the visuals. It cannot be overstated that their delicate, well realized artwork stands up as the most gorgeous rendering of the property since the days of Scott Kolins and Mike Wieringo. The sepia toned, kinetic pages seem equally lively when they are laid out as a double page spread or as a single image filled with dozens of tiny panels. The characters still exhibit a limited set of expressions when speaking to one another, forcing the dialogue to assume an additional layer of directness that seems unnatural, but otherwise it's hard to find fault in the visual presentation of the material.


The "I, Vampire" title offers a Zero Month flashback to 1591, when Andrew was originally turned into a vampire. Fialkov adjust the dialogue to correspond to mimic Shakespeare, but despite the tragic events the tone never becomes too serious. The issue basically consists of a single scene, framed by the letters Bennet writes to his mother and Mary, with Sorrentino having to draw merely a handful of characters.

As per usual, the artist resorts to double page spreads and large pages featuring these costumed characters, helping the pacing and imparting a singular mood to the proceedings. The artist assumes a very graphical Gustave Dore -inspired art style in one of the double pagers, depicting the villain's Biblical-inspired past.

Returning to Cain, the issue gets back to a plot point that set in motion the "Rise of Vampires" crossover, explaining what at the time seemed like a particularly unlikely twist. The confrontation between Andrew and Cain hinges upon a very on the nose premise, but it helps that the writer doesn't belabor upon it. The execution, particularly Sorrentino's inventive layouts help the story along, even if the point of view sequence following Bennet's turning lasts at least a page too long to enable the eventual reveal to work to its full effect.

Eventually, the story doesn't end so much as stops, without elaborating on the character's relationship with Mary, and her eventual transformation. Thus #0 of "I, Vampire" feels more like a prologue to the longer story, featuring the two's original Renaissance pairing. Faced with the title's financial realities, i's doubtful that DC will decide to flesh out that story with a follow-up mini-series. Taking this in consideration, Fialkov and Sorrentino by and large present an interesting pseudo-historical vignette, that sheds light on the protagonists' past, while never forgetting to entertain the reader already aware of the outcome.


It's impossible to discuss "the Justice League Dark" #0, spotlighting John Constantine and Zatanna's shared past, without comparing it to their past incarnations. "Hellblazer" is a Vertigo title still published by DC, but with this issue, the editorial takes great pains to separate the two continuities.

John that appears on the opening page wears a Mucous membrane T-shirt and makes a reference to Newcastle, but otherwise shares only the most superficial characteristics to his appearances in his own title. Lemire replaces his years of hospitalization in Ravenscar asylum (which is admittedly a point that most of the writers had to find a way around when talking about his past) with the character's literal migration to America.

Lee ("the Highwaymen") Garbett's style, previously associated with various Wildstorm titles, likewise presents a standard modern occult superhero aesthetic, akin to that found in "Witchblade" and "Darkness". There is no understatement when it comes to Zatanna, "a backwards-talking gothic princess", who spends most of the story in corsets, and serving as little more than a point of contention between two of the rivaling mages. There is an effort on the part of Lemire to tie her to the cult that keeps interfering with their activities, but it hardly elevates her beyond the level of love interest.

The story serves to shed light on the mastermind behind the still yet to conclude "Justice League Dark" storyline, and is defined by his relationship to Constatine. Nick Necro turns out to be a little more than a more experienced version of John himself, tainted by greed and corruption. He is chiefly distinguished by his hair color, with the whole of the prequel serving to explain the two character's shared past, and their split, which feeds into Lemire's ongoing story regarding the Books of Magic.

This prequel sacrifices everything to depict a simple mentor/understudy dynamic, and the reasons it went awry, but it primarily disappoints on the technical level. As if he was following Garbett's superficial renderings, the writer incorporates lines like "He was the greatest mage I knew. He was the best... the king", which have no places in a professional script, especially when associated with the character that had a rare privilege to be consistently well-written by the group of the genre's most talented scribes.

As a statement of intent regarding a younger, more superhero-friendly John Constantine, this #0 issue of "Justice League Dark" could not be more clear. It also does much to flesh out the character of the group's current villain, even if the character proves beyond derivative. The writer could be excused for extending what is by all merits a flashback sequence when faced with the editorial dictate, but the presence of four inkers indicates that even the artist was assigned to work against a very tight deadline.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Comic reviews for Wednesday, August 25th

GOON #42

Eric Powell's commitment to produce another year of monthly stories on "the Goon" has quickly returned to the devices the writer/artist used the last time he produced an extended monthly epic. Namely, this issue offers 17 pages of the main plot, while the back-up helps raise the page count to the traditional number.

Powell tries to offer a complete story as well as the one that sets up the larger conflict. The common ground the two plots share is the supernatural, particularly witches' magic, which works very well with the title's usual modus operandi. The issue opens and ends with the relatively serious story of a boxer going up against the Goon's pick for the fight.

The story's too brief to register as anything but a diversion meant to provide the issue with a story of its own, with the eponymous boxer simply not having enough space to develop into a more nuanced character. Powell finds much more inspiration in the events directly involving the Goon, as the protagonist is continually confronted with bizarre harbingers of his upcoming doom.

Seeing a skeleton loaded with dynamite serves to both amuse the audience and provide some measure of physical threat in an otherwise static issue. The series creator doesn't waste any space, making each of the altercations last no more than a page or two, and still manages to provide some color besides the bizarre fights. For example, the page contrasting Franky and the Goon's clothing choices has two solid gags on it, that momentarily slow down the pacing, and help give context to the brawls.

Despite the focus on the plot, such as it is, Powell remains a cartoonist and heart, and understands that the little details have enliven the relentless pacing. Seeing the one panel depiction of the toilet at Norton's bar is in many ways the highlight of the issue. Still, this doesn't prevent the writer/artist from granting the issue a more traditional ending, with the box match fight wrapping up and the Goon and Nameless priest exchanging a crucial and poignant dialogue.

Despite the last page being packed with panels so as to have the story wrap up as soon as possible, the focus on the character's faces manages to save the sequence. Powell's artwork is typically layered and well-realized, and just looking at the beautiful ink washes makes the reader appreciate the time-consuming process. Despite still retaining the zany edge to his drawings, the writer/artist has improved his craft to such a high level that both the stylized cartoons absorb the cozy, melancholy atmosphere they're set against.

At this point, the book occupies a niche all its own, and the creator's insistence on working on his own terms in regards the scheduling and the presentations certainly makes up for one of the nicest looking books on the stands. The back-up section, realized with the artistic talent of Marc Buckingham presents a portion of a fight scene, that can be read on its own, but it hardly presents anything more than a snippet of a larger story. The "Fables" artist continues to prove a surprisingly strong match for the material, which remains somewhat hindered by the lack of coloring. The characters are continually on model, and the gray tones help make the action clearer, but there is still no indication how long the story is supposed to run.


The penultimate chapter of"Everything burns" starts slowly, covering several of the locations and major player, before choosing to concentrate on Loki's point of view. The co-writers try to give Thor's predicament a modicum of tragedy, but the focus is once again clearly on his half-brother.

Starting off with a scene spotlighting the role of Loki's demon dog Thori, the creators proceed to endear themselves to the reader. The follow-up sequence is ridiculously over the top but highly amusing, with Fraction and Gillen stopping just short of derailing into absurdity.

The co-writers use Desir, the "Journey into Mystery" to sober Loki, and get him back to solving the predicament he started in the first place. The follow-up scene directly picks up on the plot point in the title's "Fear Itself" tie-in arc, once again clearing up that the current mini-event is meant largely as the conclusion to Kieron Gillen's short run on the title.

Taken on these merits, "Everything burns" acts as a very successful final act in the run that started off strongly, before hitting a rough patch with the artistic changes and tangential stories. It's hard to consider that anyone but the title's biggest fans would have imagined that it would close on such a strong note, in essence providing a capstone for a whole era of "Thor" comics.

Fraction's run is largely represented by Volstagg's turn as the replacement king of Asgardia, which also builds up on his role in "Journey into Mystery". Carmine di Giandomenico's art remains heavily involved with the use of computer coloring and angular crosshatching, doing everything to overpower the reader. The effect remains muddled and distracting, sacrificing everything for the immediate effect.

The unclear layouts, excessive details, characters that fail to emote, all belie an artist not really interested in traditional storytelling possibilities of the medium, who is miscast drawing the character-focused epic. Giandomenico succeeds in some measure in instilling a broader range of expressions when it comes to Loki, but otherwise the artist is preoccupied with instilling the mood and the look that make "Everything Burns" much more chaotic than the script calls for.


The latest installment in the relaunched and renumbered "Prophet" series was originally supposed to be published as #25. Following up on the first Faryl Dalrymple illustrated episode, Image even published the cover to what was the direct follow-up, but instead went on with a different story on the inside. It's only now, months after the initial publication, that Image presents the second Dalrymple issue, under the cover that has no immediate bearing on the story contents.

Reading the story, the reader is immediately aware for the reasons behind the delays. Dalrymple is called to illustrate the story which excels in detailed depictions of interstellar warfare and repeated scenes of an alien society that seems inspired by the work of Hieronymus Bosch. The artist's style is loose and expressionistic, but fairly graphical, and he's called up to depict numerous of the (presumably Brandom Graham designed) aliens. Despite all of the minute details, Dalrymple's layouts are at all times clear and in service to the story, revealing an artist that has spent considerable time thinking about way the readers experiences the page when they first encounter it.

 The crowd scenes are simply packed with detail to be discovered on the rereading, but they carry over the most pertinent information even for the reader who reads the captions and gives the double pages spreads the briefest of the glimpses, before turning over the page. The artist's Prophet clone is much more heroically proportioned than in his debut in #24, and with a physical frame and long hair that directly betrays "Conan" as an influence on the Graham-written approach.

The story assumes that the reader has a basic familiarity with the series, but otherwise reads like a separate adventure, in keeping with each issue's stand alone quality. On the surface, it seems like a divergent adventure of a clone, that winds up in a repressive society and connects with the local rebel movement to fight back, but Graham uses the cliche to have it work on several different levels.

Satirically, Graham presents a war-oriented economy that numbs the slaves and noncombatants into a constant state of providing for a senseless war raging for 300 years. In the process, the Prophet clone is forced to confront his own loyalty to the Earth Empire, which suffers in the direct comparison, giving the series' first glimpse at the potential corruption behind the protagonist's masters.

In Graham's original plan, this issue was meant to precede the stories that have subsequently been published. When he first resurfaces, the reader had no reason to immediately sympathize with the Old Man Prophet's mission against the Earth Empire. Had this issue been published in spite of the story that was published in #25, the reader would have already seen the a more ambiguous portrayal of the Earth Mothers, whose manipulations are equated here with a society that brainwashes its members into servitude.

Beyond the justification of the original Prophet's mission, the story transcends the familiar set up by the way of the title's now standard odd character designs and the generous world building that goes far beyond the needs of the narrative needs to provide a unique atmosphere that makes each issue of the series a pleasant experience, no matter its relationship to the wider plot.

As of now, the series has wondered in and out different stories, and will remain fairly credible even if all of the plot threads never cohere into a traditional whole. Seeing the organic technology and the lived-in inventiveness of Graham's take on the Rob Liefield property is always an interesting experience that draws deep from a well of science fiction entirely out of touch with the pervading modern genre depictions.

Andy Risaino's back-up presents a much more subdued science fiction vision. The artist's simple style depicts the opening as an ironic approach to thoughtless space opera pulp, before pulling back and revealing the tragedy of a space mission gone horribly awry. The melancholic protagonist's story is still told in a minimalistic style, but with much more nuance. The somber colors work to prepare the reader for the final twist, which reveals the protagonist's predicament through Risaino's clear layouts. Despite its brevity, the writer/artist covers all of the necessary ground and establishes an atmosphere conductive to the philosophical query which finishes the story. The ending completes the story by answering the readers' questions and boiling down the predicament to a philosophical choice.

It's commendable that Image has decided to complement Graham's work by adding these vignettes after their highly acclaimed relaunch. It's highly doubtful that this kind of experimental work would have gained this level of market penetration if it was in a anthology or as a webcomic.


Despite Rucka and Chechetto's careful work and attention to detail, this final issue of their "Punisher" relaunch, coupled with last issue's cliffhanger, do account for a rather quick wrap up. A sorrowful mood permeates the whole issue, as the tragedy that claimed a cast member's life last time stretches to endanger Frank's understudy.

Rachel Cole-Alves has been the reader identification figure from the start, and in this issue the creators finish her story, without even attempting a broader character arc for the title character. The whole affair with the Exchange seems to represent merely a phase in the Punisher's life, where he tried to train another in a stern but accepting way.

Frank deals with the fallout in his own way, accepting full responsibility, and acting upon it. His hand remains present until the end, but the police action taken against the pair ultimately resolves very quickly. Rucka wisely uses the two remaining supporting characters to play key roles in the final scenes, but it doesn't change the familiar feeling of a run being wrapped up before its natural end point.

Thankfully, Rucka eschews the familiar route of the police falling for the villain's ruse, and gives the officers a modicum of intelligence and respectability. The ending is tense and emotive, but once again slightly undercut on the artistic side. It's hard to determine whether the fault lies with Marco Chechetto or colorist Matt Hollingsworth, but the intense rendering of hail and rain that provides the cover for the title character in the final sequence quickly becomes distracting.

The clarity problems were somewhat present in the final pages of the last issue too, but this time it's clear that Rucka was writing for a technically more accomplished artist. Chechetto's figure-work remains appealing and dynamic, but the continual reliance on repeated panels and erratic panel flow have proven time and time again a hindrance to his work on the title. Chechetto is by no means a bad artist, but his tendency to concentrate on the pleasing visuals betrays an artist who has yet to develop the skills Rucka continually calls upon.

The writer's scripts are very precise and detailed, making them much more suited for an artist that cares much more about the sense of place and finds it natural to focus on the research as well as presenting characters whose conversations are as nuanced as the action he places them in. His association with the character is set to end with the upcoming "Punisher War Zone" mini-series, illustrated by Carmine di Giandomenico. The "Journey into Mystery" artist comes as a replacement for Marco Chechetto who withdraws due to a personal issue.

Rucka has since expressed his disapproval for the company's treatment of talent, stating that he will concentrate on creator owned projects for the time being. One of the reasons given is the Punisher's inclusion in the upcoming "Thunderbolts" title, adding to the bittersweet feeling of this final issue. Greg Rucka and Marco Chechetto have given Marvel their professional best on the character that the audience is so accustomed to that it remained largely unaware of this particular iteration.


This issue of the "Winter Soldier" is perhaps the weakest in quite a while, in that it overly concerns with the plot mechanics, while not rewarding the reader with particularly impressive craftsmanship. After Michael Lark's short and stellar run on the title, the comic is for the duration back to where it was before.

Butch Guice is still trying his best at inventive layouts, without a firm handle on the experiment - basically, reinventing as the artist in front of the reader's eyes. Ed Brubaker is going through the motions of a complicated plot that doesn't inspire the reader to keep up with the details, and there's very little of personality besides the now familiar spy/superhero genre hybrid.

Both of the book's nominal protagonists are largely kept at the sidelines, even though it keeps a strong focus on Bucky. The gruff protagonist is neither very effective nor very interesting this time around, nor does it feel that his actions have any wider consequences beyond the cat and mouse game with Leo. Hawkeye doubles as a solid co-lead, but he mostly serves as the sound board to animate the weary Winter Soldier. Leo continues to formidably play the role of the dangerous psychopath, but with every passing issue his plan grow to be more and more convoluted.

Still, the character serves as a credible mirror version of Bucky, forcing him to continually confront his past and the methods shared on both of the Soviet sleeper agents. Despite having the issue start with an action sequence, the near continual voice-over and the relentlessly overdone artwork work to tire the reader, so that the action that takes over the latter third of the book feels ponderous. The creators try to give Bucky an interesting moment at the beginning of the attack, but it feels as wrongheaded as the character's casual slaughter of AIM agents that follow it.

After setting the central conflict between Leo and Bucky so well, the book seems to have entered the territory where the creators have simply misjudged the length of the story, and forced a dragged out, uninspired issue on the part of the audience. By this point, should Brubaker had decided to stay with the book beyond this story, he would have had to tinker with the series, and come up with new ground to cover. Seeing that his tenure ends before the end of the year, at least he'll be leaving a tonally coherent run behind him, that will hopefully wrap up the book's central conflict.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

G.I. Joe - Cobra v1 #1-4

As a part of the 2008 IDW "GI Joe" relaunch, the company published a mini-series focusing on the updated take on the terrorist Cobra organization. The series follows the undercover mission of Chuckles, an existing character whose mission is depicted in a manner similar to Wildstorm's "Sleeper". Thus, writers Gage and Costa underplay the more outrageous elements of the property, settling for a take that is much closer to modern spy fiction.

Antonio Fuso's depiction of the protagonist likewise dispenses with the bulkier physique and keeps only the blonde hair and the occasional Hawaiian shirt of the original. Fuso's Chuckles is slim and tense, in keeping with the gravity of his mission. He is also a very smart character, aware of the risks that accompany his status as a double agent.

IDW does not shy away from depicting his assignments as the dirtiest black ops missions, but most of the gory details are hidden from the reader. These original four issues cover a lot of ground, from his initiation to an unknown terrorist organization, to his advancement in the Cobra hierarchy, to the eventual final confrontation with his leaders, but the pacing is intentionally detached and murky. Gage and Costa use the captions to provide a closer look into the psyche of a man enduring such a soul shredding assignment, which is why the book works as well as it does.

If not for a sympathetic main character, that is equal parts manipulating and self-destructive, these four issues could easily have become an exercise in a drab and pointless misreading of the material. Updating a franchise that is so over the top as G.I. Joe is an undertaking that is best taken with a somewhat lighter focus, but the creators manage to achieve a significant degree of nuance.

"G.I. Joe - Cobra" is still by and large an action spectacle, but there is a feeling that the creators are pushing the envelope. Chuckles' relationship with women from both sides of the divide likewise refuses to comply with the familiar genre cliches. The deep cover agent's feelings for Jinx are more or less the compass that he holds on to when faced with repeated requests that challenge his humanity, but the affair he strikes with a woman in the Cobra organization feels more than a simple manipulation on his part.

There is a real feeling that the physicality of it is helping him deal with the day to day stress, instead of a chance to spice up the story with hints of erotica. Fuso is certainly not the artist to objectify the female form, as his artwork aims for a much seedier, detached effect. The artist is trying for a modern, more sedate style of artists such as Michael ("Alias") Gaydos and even Andrea ("I, Vampire") Sorrentino, but his style is clearly still developing. The paired down pages offer a nice grasp on layouts and pacing, but there is a definite lack of definition throughout.

The colorist is thus employed to provide more than the atmosphere with his work. Despite the shortcomings, Fuso exhibits an affinity for the material, that succeeds in so small part thanks to his strengths as a storyteller. The chapters provided glimpses into crucial events in Chuckles' mission, but are otherwise separated by a few months, enabling the writers to cover a lot of ground in only four installments.

Thus, the reader is left to sympathize with the protagonist and his plight, without losing focus on unrelated missions and the divergent plots needed to maintain the formula indefinitely. The final chapter has Chuckles bringing his mission to an end, only to come into a specific set of storytelling limitations. It's telling that only the last chapter prominently names Cobra as the threat, and identifies several of his bosses by name. The protagonist may have been running away from the franchise that he was created for, but in the end the wider concerns of line-wide continuity, and ironically, the success of the three issues preceding it, paint a very inconclusive end.

Having spent three and a half issues setting up the terrorist organization with an agenda that has some real world relevance, Chuckles' plan to sabotage the operation includes intelligent robots and is ultimately threatened by twin masterminds and comic book villain logic. In reasserting the dominance of the recurring Cobra characters, Gage and Costa simply go too far, weakening the conclusion. As the closing editorial suggests, the company was already making plans for the series' continuation, and further integration into the "G. I. Joe" line.

"Sleeper", the series' obvious inspiration, was thankfully allowed a greater degree of independence from the Wildstorm continuity, but it also had to fight an uphill battle to avoid cancellation. It certainly speaks to IDW's ingenuity that the company has found a way to keep the "G. I. Joe - Cobra" book alive in a market that is nothing if not hostile to tertiary licensed titles.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Comic reviews for Wednesday, 19th September


The latest issue of "Daredevil" follows up on the Matt/Foggy split in a way that both introduces a new plot point, and teases a twist regarding our protagonist's mental state. Once again, Mark Waid focuses on Daredevil's legal career as a way of bringing in new characters and situations, while grounding the series in a semblance of reality.

Everything about this new story feels natural, and it works on a basic level that all superhero stories should follow. The creators offer an easily accessible issue that stands on its own, while being a part of the larger whole, that is informed by their previous work on the character. Samnee is equally adept in long conversation scenes, featuring Foggy and his new client, as he is in making the Daredevil sequences flow in a way that is organic and interesting.

His characters and expressive, and slightly exaggerated, which fits with the quirky script, The one page sequence the creative team devotes to Matt's burgeoning relationship with Kirsten likewise perfectly illustrates the pair's playful dynamic and the romantic tension that has been simmering between them. The subsequent inclusion of a character associated with previous runs on the title becomes both sudden and intriguing, with Waid giving the uninitiated the necessary information to follow the sequence.

The protagonist is as surprised by the sudden arrival, and the complicated continuity alluded to is anything but essential to understanding their current predicament. The imparted information was pertinent to justify Matt's reaction, which serves to reconnect him with Foggy, and in turn bring him in contact with the case. The writer uses Foggy's brashness to acknowledge that is too early for the two to start mending their relationship, but there is still a feeling that Waid could have found another way to get Daredevil in contact with the situation.

The following action sequence is as well executed as it is unlikely, but it serves to underscore the supernatural element of the situation, which is further cemented in the cliffhanger, that offers definite proof of a third party interfering with everyone's perceptions. This kind of stories, where the villain plants evidence and makes everyone assume the worst out of the protagonist can be as familiar as they are unrealistic, but thankfully, the creative team offers enough style and competence that it makes the reader enjoy the experience.

By focusing on the interplay of the characters, Waid and Samnee may be encroaching on the soap opera territory that was severely mishandled at Marvel during 1990s. Using a intuitive, detailed approach, the creative team (including the colorist, who notably changes the color scenes to avoid the captioned interrogation sequences slow down the book) successfully update the original Stan Lee/Bill Everett/Wally Wood "Daredevil". The continued audience support and the recognition when it comes to comics awards are the best example of how well the industry rewards such solid, wholesome entertainment.


So far, DC's Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns has allowed himself a great deal of fr`eedom in crafting the #0 issues of his books. Given that the entirety of the initial "Justice League" arc served to introduce the characters in their first adventure, the writer makes an unorthodox choice here, and uses the space as the continuation of the Shazam back-up.

The Gary Frank illustrated story largely serves as the character's superhero origin, and therefore fulfills the remit of a #0 issue, with additional emphasis on the subjective importance to the wider DC universe. On a structural level, there are a lot of problems with the issue, starting with the first page. A confusing layout choice makes it uncertain if the antagonist is present in the room, with the next page following up on Billy Batson.

Frank's representational artwork and a deep seated cynicism continue to sit uneasily with the traditional fairy tale elements, but the feature once again manages to provide a satisfying experience due to sheer experience of the creative team. Seeing the Seven Deadly sins of man in different colors, with their names floating under the designs in a graffiti-like font certainly seems like another in the line of heavy handed decisions made in revitalizing Captain Marvel.

The Golden Age property has proven so resistant to any kind of revitalization, and at this point the Johns/Frank effort seems like a credible attempt at keeping the characters around. Yet, seeing the Wizard, a confused old man who instantly rejects Billy as the champion seems as reactionary as the rest of the revamp. The creators stubbornly work in opposition to the naivety of the original premise, yet they don't go so far as to subvert it. The lesson seems to be that underneath the negativity, all of these are hopeful, optimistic characters, that just need a real chance to show their goodness.

This is the lesson Billy teaches the Wizard, who in trading with absolutes forgets the need for the Earth's magical champion, and ends up accepting the orphan so that he can combat the threat of Black Adam. After several hurried lines, Billy's mentor dissipates, leaving the problem child to find his own way with the powers and the maturity needed to wield them.

The creative team accomplishes this by bringing Shazam back to the streets of America, where he continues reacting to the situation in the way a pre-teen boy would. In Johns and Frank's hands this means leads to a series of quick confrontations, notable for their artificiality and the disturbing way Frank renders Shazam's face. The penciller/inker tries to recreate the C.C. Beck's design, which translates to the page in a very unnatural way. The popular artist, whose expressive characters owe a great deal to Steve ("the Preacher") Dillon's techniques felt much more natural when rendering the Christopher Reeve inspired Superman during his tenure on "Action comics".

At this point, he has yet to find a way to make the original Captain Marvel design his own. The feature remains ill-balanced and somewhat dishonest, translating the children's power fantasy into a forced retelling that will hopefully be discontinued following the protagonist's confrontation with Black Adam and Sivana.

Without a major rethinking, a misreading of the material on this scale seems like a waste of the time for both of the creators, whose talents could be better used in bringing another character to the forefront of the modern DCU (or even creating their own properties, however unlikely given the writer's status at the publisher).

The remaining four pages feature Johns once more collaborating with another of the company's most prized artist, Ethan Van Sciver. The "Green Lantern: Rebirth" creative team feature another of the ominous "Justice League" back-ups hinting at an upcoming major event. The feature follows up on the Wizard's eventual fate following his departure from Shazam, before setting up the Question for a seemingly important role in the shared universe's near future. The artist's detailed style meshes well with Frank's work on "Shazam" and the teaser is unoffensive enough, if overtly dramatic.


The fourth chapter of the "Everything Burns" crossover presents a largely transitory entry. Despite being told in an issue of "the Mighty Thor", this plot heavy issue continues the spotlight on Loki. Repeatedly the episode calls specifically to the events in the relaunched "Journey into mystery"'s initial arc, to the extent that Thor is perpetually sidelined. Beyond the "Fear Itself" call back, Matt Fraction's own work with the mythos is at the moment relegated to the obligatory renaming of Asgard.

Yet, despite having a firm basis in Kieron Gillen's work, the storyline works as if features the same group of characters, especially when rendered by Alan Davis. The penciller's clean figures, richly colored by Javier Rodriguez do provide some variations when it comes to the pages featuring Thor's struggle. The character is inked differently, and feels slightly out of place next to the rest of the cast, who are more traditionally realized.

Usually, there is a slightly caricatural bent to Davis' figures, which disappears in the ethereal scenes featuring Thor in Musspelheim. The character's features look exaggerated to the point that he almost appears as if he was rendered by Mike ("New Avengers") Deodato jr. Aside from this, the issue covers several different battlefronts and generally succeeds to establish the escalating threat of Surtur unleashed against the Nine Realms. At this point, Vanir are largely forgotten about as anything but his proxies.

Having established that Heimdal shares their ancestry, it would have been interesting to his changing role in the story brought up by a deeper conflict than mere mechanic possession. Still, this makes sense given that the story prefers to flesh out the roles of the two book's mutual cast instead of focusing on a number of new characters.

Thus, "Everything burns" continues to slowly build to a crescendo that will pit brother against brother and everyone against Surtur, while no doubt finding the space to satisfactory resolve Freya's role. Despite the presence of two pencillers, its a model example of two titles wrapping up in a satisfactory way, in a storyline that has the appropriate gravity and requisite storytelling quality.


Cullen Bunn concludes his introductory storyline on "Venom" just before the title enters into the crossover. The three-part "Monster of Evil" nevertheless promises to carve out a new direction for the title, rooted in the occult and end of the world scenarios. Picking up from the loose end of the Ghost Rider-centered "Circle of Four" crossover, the new writer is adamant to continue pursuing the unlikely direction, with Thony Silas in tow as the regular penciller.

Three inkers are tasked with finishing the artwork, but the discrepancy only shows in the last several pages, serving as the epilogue to the monster fighting. The writer finds space to provide some background for the four demon possessed entities, but it still seems like there's too many of them. Even if the creators have found a way to introduce the titular Monsters of Evil earlier in the story, there is no guarantee that they would have left a better impression.

Silas seems particularly on form on the splash pages featuring the entities though, who remain colorful enough to capture the reader's attention. Beyond the fight scenes and Venom's scheming against Hellstorm, there is a nod to the traditional Spider-Man characters that made up the book's previous supporting cast. Yet, the writer seems very firm in taking the book in the new direction, one full of ominous portents.

Seeing that the creative team is apparently looking to expand the Son of Satan's role in the title, perhaps it's better that the readers approach him as a totally new character. The book plays fast and loose with the spiritual framework of Marvel universe in a similar way to Roberto Aguirre Sacasa in his work on "Nightcrawler", but for once the publisher's inter-continuity largely limits the implications.

As the story nears conclusion, Flash's actions become increasingly arbitrary. It's clear that the creators are committed to making the title their own, but it's hard to accept the change when it involves Venom keeping the demon who tried to possess him under control as he enlists his new supernatural aide to read up on the end of the world. By the time Katy Kiernan, the book's new Lois Lane analogue improbably declares that the Marvel mainstay Doctor Strange has repeatedly asked for her help, the readers will have to decide for themselves how much they trust the new creative team with the unlikely direction.

Flash's last page attempt to get back to Betty, a major link to the title's status as a Spider-Man spin-off, get cut off for the purposes of transitioning into the "Minimum Carnage" crossover. It remains to be seen how the book manages to continue once it stops functioning as a tie-in for the overarching Venom/Scarlet-Spider event.


Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard wind down the latest arc of "Walking Dead", with an issue that serves to underscore the character's predicament. The issue is not in the least subtle, and basically features Rick coming to a decision regarding Negan's captured leutenant, and surveying the rest of the cast to see if they agree with his plan.

Charlie Adlard is called time and again to illustrate the close-ups of characters talking, with layouts frequently featuring seven or eight panels. Michonne's reaction is most interesting, and the three page conversation scene seems in many ways the highlight of the issue. Adlard is particularly inspired when it comes to illustrating her features, that are for once tender and defensive.

Still, the conflict between Rick and Andrea makes up the crux of the issue. The characters are separated in the emotional way too, as their intimate scene lacks the empathy the protagonist shares with Michonne. From the artistic point, the issue is obviously hurried, as the artist takes more than the usual amount of shortcuts, with several repeated panels, and a persistent lack of backgrounds.

The artist does get to achieve a strong effect with a panel featuring Rick behind the fence, illustrating the character's forced retreat. The issue sets up Eugene's new role in the story, which comes organically from some of the last developments regarding the long troubled character. Otherwise, it is the last page cliffhanger that suggest a more proactive future for characters.

With "Something to fear", Kirkman has achieved a semblance of a story that stands on its own after several of the last arcs that had much looser structure. The last time the sprawling series tried a similar feat was with "the Hunters", and it's nice to see the creators returning to the more conventional format. Having said that, the effects of the last few issues (particularly #100) have come to more or less define the new status quo, and there is every indication that the series will return to exploring it in its own meandering way, a slow burn strategy that is not without its obvious strengths.


Both Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang are confident creators, and it comes as no surprise that they try something new with #0. The perfunctory prequel issue is used to set-up the title's next story arc featuring Ares, but it stands out more for the way in which the story is told. Namely, the creators use the prequel issue to tell the story in a way reminiscent of a Silver Age Marvel comic.

Thus, the laconic Azzarello persists in using outdated techniques such as excessive captions and thought balloons, spelling out what is readily apparent on panel. Just like the superheroes of 1960s, the characters speak in banalities and frequently reference Greek heroes, leaving no trace of the writer's usual highly stylized dialogue. Chiang likewise tightens up his inks and provides a much more defined look for his pages, filled with familiar panel layouts. The colorist shies away from an over-reliance on the primary colors, saving the book from devolving into outright pastiche. Yet, the tribute is apparent in little details like teenage Diana's huge expressive eyes, and the Minotaur wearing purple shorts.

By deliberately slowing down the pacing, the writer forces the reader to appreciate this accessible entry point into the creative team's controversial rebuilding of the Wonder Woman story. Surprisingly, Stan Lee's trademark self-doubt does prove to be a viable technique to understanding Diana's views on the Golden Age fairy tale society.

At first glance, Ares' dialogue sounds like deities from Marvel's "Thor", but there is some genuine emotion between his actions. At first, it may be hard to respect the character clearly modeled on the writer's current look, but the Wonder Woman/Ares dynamic eventually does make up for an interesting conflict. Eventually, the addition of Daedalus' labyrinth and Theseus-like battle with the Minotaur end up being so derivative that they make a full immersion next to impossible.

The artificiality of both the trappings and storytelling comes as an in-joke between the creative team and the readers, whose attachment to Diana's conflict with her mentor will likely determine their enjoyment of the issue. In any event, one must respect Azzarello and Chiang's audacity to satirize DC's Zero month, who have certainly found a way to follow the company's edict, set up the upcoming storyline and enjoy themselves in the process.