Saturday, July 28, 2012

Reviews for July 27th, 2012


Despite providing the helpful recap of the previous issue, Amadeus Arkham has very little to do with the latest entry in DC's "All-Star Western" title. The scholar is present during most of what transpires in the growing conflict for the control of Gotham's underground, but the real star is Tallulah Black. It is in her and Jonah Hex's dysfunctional dynamic that the story manages to achieve a semblance of identity and survive the increasing continuity references.

Otherwise, the story could have easily vanished in the writers' efforts to integrate the last several years of DC continuity. As seen in the opening arc, the followers of the Crime Bible make for formidable masonic antagonists, and the Court of Owls could have easily been used in the similar role this time around. Yet, the decision to have two groups, developed independently to fulfill a similar role, come to blows was certainly made without seriously considering the merits of the story.

It's easy to be confused when one of Lord Bennet's costumed guardians gets wounded in the fight, only for the Court of Owls' Talon to appear and disappear with the nobleman in tow. Tallulah's plan for revenge is therefore postponed indefinitely, but the latter half of the issue, focused on the followers of the Crime Bible definitely feels like a step up.

Despite the elaborate names and a out of place Catwoman ancestor, the villains are given a solid introduction and a plan that only fails due to Tallulah's resourcefulness. Seeing the scarred beauty taking matters in her own hands definitely feels like a welcome change from the usual role of females in adventure narratives. As a carryover from Palmiotti and Grey's "Jonah Hex" title, it could be said that she manages to upstage the protagonists, but for the purposes of the arc, it feels welcome and natural.

Compared to Moritat's strikingly loose and expressive inks, Scott Kolins' art on the back-up provides much more definition. Featuring a Dr. Thirteen ancestor, this first part of the story works to establish the scientist as the professional debunker of the supernatural, and present him with the new case. The Haunted Highwayman is certainly not going to leave a lasting impression on the readers, but works to fulfill the remits of the story.

At times, Kolins' art, with heavy blacks and a steampunk bent brings to mind Mike Mignola, which is certainly a departure for the relatively traditional superhero artist. The next issue is likely to climax both the leading story and the back-up, and judging on the strength of the work presented in this issue, it should prove both capable and satisfying.


As a penultimate chapter of "the Others", Aquaman #11 reads decidedly choppy and slow paced. Just like his work on "the Justice League", Geoff Johns substitues the pulp twists and turns for a belated elaboration of the villain's motives and heavy exposition.

The initial three page prologue both shows us a relevant part of the Others' origin, introduces the final team member, and teases the ultimate goal of Black Manta. All of these prove integral for the issue, but they serve largely to slow down the pace and beg the question of why they haven't been elaborated upon in the previous four issues. Likewise, despite the mystery, it's still hard to look past the costumes of these international heroes, but to his credit, the writer does manage to establish them as a team. Seeing them argue with Aquaman over his abandonment of the Others to concentrate on the Justice League manages to make the reader forget that he's reading Aquaman's solo title for a moment, which is perhaps the greatest compliment that can be made to the world building involved.

The story picks up the pace once Aquaman gets close to Manta, who has finally gotten around to the object of his search, resulting in a cliffhanger that has the reader genuinely interested in the fate of Dr. Shin, as well as the status quo of Aquaman and Mera following the #0. Despite the presence of three inkers, Ivan Reis manages to give a lot of energy and definition to the proceedings, with his adherence to DC's house style resulting in a dynamic look for one of the most consistent titles of DC's "New 52".

It would be interesting if the creators followed up on the hinted clash between the Others and the JLA, but judging by their work so far, there is every indication that Johns' reinvention of Aquaman will stay strong in its second year.


The last Brubaker "Captain America" arc begins with a patchy issue, that at least hints at wrapping up the plot threads accumulated since the last year's relaunch. Co-written by Cullen Bunn, the issue offers a typical opener of a veiled threat to America that physically stretches Captain America to the limit, while filling him with doubt regarding his mission. This time, it's nothing less than the alien invasion, with the Discordians quickly revealed to the reader as pawns of the Codename: Bravo, Queen Hydra and Baron Zemo.

Scot Eaton's rushed, cartoony artwork denies the reader the pleasure of watching widescreen action. His inexpressive characters likewise stay on model but fail to do much of acting. The reader will hardly be excited to see all the closed mouths and stilted posing, but the work is still done in the house style and doesn't call too much of attention to itself.

It's just that coupled with a very familiar story, it completes the impression that the creators are just going through the motions of wrapping a run that was, for all intents and purposes over at the end of the previous volume. By all accounts, a decent wrap up will provide a sense of closure to the readers, who are advised to check Brubaker's "Winter Soldier" for the true continuation of the themes, and accomplished with much more energy and enthusiasm.


Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul continue their run on "Flash" with another deeply flawed issue. Once again, Marcus To fills in on the art, and the results are sobering. The issue nominally deals with presenting a "New 52" version of Heatwave, but the focus is squarely on Barry Allen confronting the Rogues proactively by becoming a barman in the underground bar.

Thus, the reader learns very little about Heatwave and his operation, and instead the focus shifts to the ongoing plot of Flash and his relationship with Captain Cold, with a couple of subplots inserted into the middle, to remind the reader that the co-writers aren't abandoning any of their work so far.

This is a hard issue to recommend, and even harder to read with any enthusiasm. It ends with Heatwave and Captain Cold in place for the next part of the story, but the reader is kept unaware as to the specifics of their rivalry and motivations. We are left as much in the dark as the Flash, with To's capable rendition of the DC house style to tie us over. With the next issue's return of Manapul to the art, the series will regain its distinctive artwork, but at this point its clear that both him and his colorist/co-writer, lack the ability to even come close to the Geoff Johns and Mark Waid's writing on the title.


At this point in the Joshua Hale Fialkov and Andrea Sorrentino's "I, Vampire" series, it's not clear how serious the reader should treat the title. Following the "Justice League Dark" crossover, Andrew's new power levels have largely upended the status quo, with the vampires becoming much less of a threat to humanity.

Moreover, with the inclusion of the Van Helsing cult, the fate of the vampire clan seems to be an internal matter. Most of this issue's dedicated to mix and matching the horror movie cliches, with the results aimed primarily to amuse. The whole arc so far has been much lighter in tone than the issues that preceded it, and the result is some madcap, but easily disposable storytelling.

The new dynamic between Andrew and Mary seems too soon, and the Jae Lee-inspired artwork too stylized to deal with the high concept leanings of the plot. To his credit, Filakov doesn't forget about the cast, who stay in character and definitely bring their own flair to the title, but the book seriously needs to either return to the opening dynamic, or find a new workable direction.


The third part of "Black Room", by Lemire and Janin largely works better than the previous couple of chapters. Returning the Vertigo characters back to the DCU is still too bright and colorful, but the underlying superhero elements for once seemingly carry out the title's remit.

Most of the issue is taken up with a superhero fight against Felix Faust and the Demons Three, including the cliffhanger showing a member of the Justice League Dark betraying the team. Beat by beat, the book lives and dies on the premise that there is a whole world of interesting storytelling in the fantasy side of the DC Universe.

Most of the pages include a sparkling lightning bolt effect, with the magic of these characters ultimately amounting to shooting lightning bolt effects that cancel each other out. The Ulises  Arreola's computer colors give Janin's already stiff figures a new layer of artificiality, at least managing to liven up some of the rigidness in the pencils.

Ultimately, the subplot involving Madam Xanadu trying to win over Tim Hunter to help the team find the Books of Magic proves the most interesting. The remaining sixteen pages are capably executed, but at this point Felix Faust has already worn out his welcome, leaving the reader to be entertained by the actions of a continually of John Constantine. It would appear that no matter how well the creators apply superhero storytelling to these characters, the book's success with the individual readers largely hinges on how they react to the scenes such as "Hellblazer" sneaking into the titular Black Room to combat the villain with the mystical weapons from the magical history of the publisher's superhero universe.


The underwhelming "Marelock" storyline finally comes to an end in the pages of "the Mighty Thor". Ultimately, the plots involving Amora and the dream monsters finally intersect, but by this point they have little to offer to the readers. The Enchantress and her ever evolving Executioner replacement, they provide the physical threat for Thor, while bizzarrely, the protagonist of a "Mountain Goats" song fights off the Marelock invasion in the dream realm. The scene aims for poignancy but comes of as surreal as the final excerpt from Jeff' diary, written to his friend from "The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton".

Thankfully, the ultimate connection between two plot strands finally provides some measure of finality to Doctor Donald Blake, the real victim of Marvel's turning back to JMS' relaunch of the series. Unfortunately, Fraction's post "Fear Itself" Asgardia set-up has proven even more unmanagable, as we see here in Fraction's last issue preceding the crossover with "Journey into mystery" that will likely end both titles in their current incarnations.

By bringing in a teenager from Broxton, Oklahoma, the writer is adamant to stay true to Straczyinski's original idea of Norse Gods making a seat next to a middle American city. The problem is that the status quo he's up elaborated upon hasn't even been made feasable in the JMS issues, due to the creator's abrupt leaving after the disagreements with the editorial, and the resulting changes make for an unappealing mish mash of story concepts that are only broadly true in spirit to the Lee/Kirby originals. In Pepe Larraz's hands, the fantasy visuals break away from the Walt Simmonson's mythology-inspired approach, and present Fraction's "Thor" as a campy cartoon, divorced both from the trends of the industry and the rest of the Marvel's output.

Of course, the penciller is merely following Oliver Coipel and Pasqual Ferry's lead, but despite his clear layouts and powerful figures, there is never a chance that the artist is allowed to work in his own style. Just like Matt Fraction, the artist is trapped in the company's mandate on following up on the work of other creators, and at this point, "the Mighty Thor" is truly in a place where only the already announced "Marvel NOW" revamp can help to lay a foundation for a better integrated reinvation of the Silver Age superhero.


The finale of "Savage Six" arc manages to be both action packed and poignant, as Rick Remender wraps up most of the story threads of his run so far. Cullen Bunn scripts the story that has Flash Thompson face off against Megatak and Toxin, with the fights being brutal but no more memorable than video game violence.

Megatak was introduced as a joke villain in Doug Moench's last issue of "Thor", but the high concept garishness of the character was apparently enough to grant him the role of token oddball. Still, despite Medina's efforts to present him as a credible threat, the character amounts to nothing more than a henchmen, justifying the necessary number of villains to parallel Spider-Man's nefarious grouping of enemies.

Eddie Brock is a much more integral presence, as Remender has for some time kept up with the actions of the previous Venom host. Unlike Human Fly, dispatched by Flash last issue, there is no real sense of finality to Toxin's fate, but the scene still acts to write out the character out of the series.

Finally, after delaying the showdown with Jack O Lantern for the next issue, Venom confronts Crime Master. The master villain's conversation with Betty frames the issue, and it is their relationship that ultimately resolves the threat that has come to dominate Flash's life. The fight is dynamic and clearly told, with the antagonist's weapon being particularly interesting in a clearly told sequence that leads to the climax.

Following the most engaging part of the issue, Medina somewhat stumbles when it comes to depicting the emotional fallout of the storyline. As a whole, the issue is as solid as the rest of the arc, whose wholesomeness almost comes as a surprise given it serves as the farewell for the original creative team.


Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark's the second part of the three part "Broken Arrow" story slows down the action to focus on the procedural aspect of the Barnes/Sitwell operation. Both men continue searching for Natasha in their own ways, with the creative team naturally concentrating on the protagonist as he tries to beat the answers out of the hired help.

The fights are largely unmotivated and overly brutal, making it for once harder to sympathize with the impulsive anti-hero. On the other hand, his psychopathic opposite number Leo is starting to develop something of a personality, which helps the story considering that the book keeps shifting from the two points of view.

And while it's still unclear what the villain's ultimate scheme is, by showing his methods, the creative team has helped solidify his agenda. The book is so finely crafted, that even when it produces a largely transitory issue, it feels like Brubaker and Lark are showing us the events in the order that they happened.

Lark's time on the book is proving particularly exemplary. The one-time "Daredevil" artist is producing perfectly readable, well realized layouts, given weight and detail by inkers Thies and Guadiano. At this point, it's clear that the final issue of the arc will be at least as well realized as the two that preceded it, and there is every indication that Brubaker and Guice will try to match this level of professionalism with the already announced follow-up.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Comic reviews for Wednesday, 18th July


With this issue, Mark Waid and Chris Samnee conclude their two part story concerning Latveria's revenge on Matt Murdock. The story starts with a nine panel grid of all black panels, punctuated at the bottom by a splinter of light, indicating that Daredevil's hopelessly lost with the negation of his powers. The first half of the issue is a heavily narrated atmospheric sequence, attempting to carry over DD's plight, albeit in over-familiar terms. The story of a hero whose powers don't work but he conquers his problems by believing in himself is a common trope that plays out in a fairly typical fashion.

Thankfully, the story picks up once Daredevil dons the costume, starting the chase. It isn't that the following sequence is exemplary in itself, but it at least posits an interesting way of Matt trying to escape Castle Doom. For all the human touch exhibited concerning Matt's hospital nurse, the creative team persist in making the men chasing him nothing more than cardboard cut outs from the jingoistic comics of fifty years ago. The creative team use the remaining pages to set up the next story, at the same time presenting a tonally uneven ending featuring the Avengers.

To be fair, there is a degree of sincerity and subtlety to the Matt's characterization that's been missing in Bendis' highly lauded work on the title, and in the best moments, Waid uses the little details to make for a more believable story. Yet, for all the human touch exhibited concerning Matt's hospital nurse, the creative team can't find a better angle then to play the antagonists as cardboard cut outs. Seeing a modern, inspired take on the title's science fiction premise was a welcome change, but to see the same jingoistic comics cliches of fifty years ago certainly adds a dose of camp that the title could have done without.

All the while, Samnee's artwork is clear and tells the story in an interesting way. By now, the artist's take on the project can be neatly summed up in a sequence in which Matt dangles from the Castle's window.

The panel is well laid out, and instinctively colored, but the building itself is drawn in a way that conveys its age and architecture, but isn't meant to be studied on its own. The drawing is stylish and serviceable, but it's no more than a single panel in service of the story. Samnee is an adequate penciller, but his work on the title can hardly be said to call attention to itself. By now, more than a year since its launch, "Daredevil" is a title for readers sticking to Waid's story, illustrated adequately by a professional in a way that feels consistent to the formally more accomplished work that preceded it.


 The concluding chapter of "Manchester Gods" by Kieron Gillen and Richard Elson is a surprisingly strong entry in the relaunched "Journey to Mystery". The series has arguably been at it's peak with the opening "Fear Itself" tie-in, but has slowly regained some of its charms. The central conflict between the industrial Britain and its rural past is with Loki's help resolved fairly quickly, by a series of well placed strikes.

Having Loki and Leah don "V for Vendetta" masks as they bomb the British countryside has an appropriate mix of tongue in cheek affection both for mythology and the irreverence that has managed to breathe life into this "Thor" spin-off. What started out as a story fairly divorced from the parent title's Norse mythology has, in the hands of these creators finally turned into a genuine "Journey to Mystery" arc, because of the requisite care paid to style and character. The resolution of Leah's status as a "handmaiden" is tongue in cheek and sweet, even melancholic.

Likewise, the seemingly random arc has proven to serve as a direct tie-in to the next month's "Everything burns" event. With the previous issues, the story seemed a bit insular and targeted at the British readers of similar bent to the writer, but ultimately it proved much more manageable than "the Terrorism Myth" that preceded it. Gillen's continued use of Daimon Hellstrom as a supporting character reminds the reader that the laborous "Dr Strange" inspired arc isn't completely dismissibile.

Yet, the continuing use of Richard Elson as the artist does present a problem, particularly when compared to the gorgeous, painterly look of Doug Braithwaite that introduced this incarnation of the title. The comparison might not be fair, but its apt, as Elson works in a much more exaggerated fashion. His clear layouts and playfulness were likewise nowhere to be seen in Braithwaite's somber work, but for all of Elson's strengths, it would have been better if Marvel saw fit to pair up Gillen with an artist more in tune with the previously established stylings.


 Geoff Johns and Jim Lee's second "Justice League" arc reaches a penultimate issue, as the heroes continue to get a better understanding of the villain, but also face dissent in their own ranks. For a story that has spent issue after issue elaborating on Graves' motivation, it's frustrating that his abilities are still vaguely defined, and generally overshadowed by his psychosis. As a villain, he is still most interesting in the effect he causes in the team.
The idea about the Justice League being faced with an ordinary family being a casualty to the side-effects of their own adventures is arguably the most interesting part of the premise. The creators understandably play with the realism just enough to give some pathos to the arc, but ultimately shy away from the implications. Realistically, there is no chance that Geoff Johns and Jim Lee are going to deconstruct DC's flagship title, thus their efforts lean toward establishing the general context of this second arc.

If the first arc was about how the League is formed, this second has been about the place it has in the world, and the implications that come from having a high powered superhuman team in today's media-obsessed climate. The creators' intentions are clear in a scene in this issue where the villain broadcasts their infighting to the whole world - "Justice League" is not Wildstorm's transgressive "Authority", but merely a better thought out version of the familiar superhero ideal.

Said infighting is a genre cliche, the way to visually present the characters debating how to approach the villain, but framed in such a way to spotlight Wonder Woman's physical superiority to her peers. It's not the most original or the most interesting way to showcase Diana's worth to the team, but Johns frames it around the Amazon Princess' concern for her former boyfriend Trevor Scott, whose fate hovers above the whole issue.

And while the cliffhanger provides adequate payoff for this particular subplot, the creators don't manage to sidestep the typical problems with superhero team books. With twenty pages a month, it's a given that the creators won't be able to give each of the team members adequate time in every issue, but when dealing with characters with such long histories like Superman and Cyborg, it could be expected that the writer is able to carry over at least a shorthand characterization. The Flash, who features prominently on this issue's regular cover is particularly slighted in this issue, as he contributes nothing to do the plot, either in terms of events or the personality.

Interestingly, the timescale for the story continues to work at odds with the story. The characters making brief mentions about some of the threats they have been dealing with between the two arcs, and the villain's background clearly indicates that at least a couple of years have passed between Darkseid's invasion and his own revenge on the heroes, yet the team dynamic doesn't really support the notion of the five year gap between the stories. Thankfully, DC's mandate regarding their own continuity doesn't prevent the reader from enjoying the creative team's work on its own.

Jim Lee's clear, well realized art continues to be the major draw for the title, despite the inkers' tendency to maintain the focus on crosshatching. The penciller strong, iconic versions of the characters really leap out of the page, and for the most part communicate the best aspects of DC's house style. The work tends to suffer when it comes to smaller panels and close-ups, as the characters exhibit the familiar thin range of expressions, but by and large the book remains the publisher's best looking traditional title. As is the case for all of his work on the title since the first couple of issues, there is a noticeable difference between some of the completely finished pages and the random rushed panel, with the latter calling too much attention to themselves simply for not being up to the artist's usual standards.

Presumably, Johns and Lee will be finishing their weirdly mystical, and highly unusual Justice League story with the next issue. Where the creators take the story following the #0 issue remains to be seen, but it seems to veer towards the event-stories and possible crossovers.

As for the Shazam back-up, it's remarkably fast paced this time around. The creative team behind "Batman: Earth One", Johns and Gary Frank present the hyper violent introduction to the New 52 version of Black Adam, who dispatches Sivana's henchman in a show of power. Johns does manage to provide some diversion in the scene's dialogue, but by and large it serves to remind the reader of the writer's previous work with the character. After several years of his writing Shazam's evil doppelganger in "JSA", the character developed into a truly tragic and complex individual, thus making it regrettable that the continuity perished in the revision.

Yet, unlike the creative team's own run on "Action Comics", Johns has a chance of genuinely reworking the mythos from the ground up, and set reintegrate his addition to "Shazam" in a much more organic way. Meanwhile, the Billy Batson subplot rapidly progress from his first steps in befriending his new family to the start of the character's own initiation in the legend of Shazam. There are definite shades of "Harry Potter" in the creative team's approach, but the protagonist's own cynicism and world-weariness are likely to manifest in his dealing with the world of magic in a very different way.

Gary Frank again pencils and inks his own work on the story, alternating between expressive reaction shots and the more traditional superhero images, which fits nicely with the less then idealized story perspective. The duo are rapidly accelerating the action in the story, making the inevitable clash between Shazam and Black Adam both imminent and most likely crucial in demonstrating the tone of their "Captain Marvel" relaunch.


Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang start another arc on the "Wonder Woman", with Hera returning to plague the Amazon princess with the help of Zeus' other stepchildren. The episode is the strongest in the opening scenes, as it builds on the conversations between well designed deities of the Greek pantheon, but the creators wind up using them merely as the framing for the action set piece that dominates the issue.

The small-town streets serve as the setting for the long teased Wonder Woman/Apollo showdown, with the supporting cast caught in the conflict. Compared to the measured, stylized dialogue at the beginning, the characters don't sound nearly with convincing when Azzarello applies the same approach to their battle quips. Despite the brutality of the action, well choreographed by Chiang, just seeing Hermes throwing a kung fu kick breaks from the classical tradition these concepts are originally hailing from.

Once again, the writer less than convincing when depicting Diana as the superhero protector, and at this point the reader can do little but accept that it was only through this particular title that he could have realized his reinterpretation of the Greek mythology for the publisher. The reader is lead to expect that they will finally see Zeus in the cliffhanger, but once they get to another image of battle-ready Diana, coming mere pages from the fighting sequence, it really seems like the title is at the cross purposes of the creative team's sensibilities.

Chiang's expressive pencils and inks create a very intimate effect under the somber twilight tones of Matthew Wilson, and even if the artist feels like his much more attuned to the dynamics of a superhero title, the title simply continues to be at its strongest when dealing with the intrigues of the Greek Gods. The pantheon's machinations were at the seed of numerous heroic campaigns of ancient myth, whose execution was still miles away from DC's superheroics that it supposedly predates.

Nevertheless, the Azzarello/Chiang "Wonder Woman" remains the line's highlight, and continues strongly into the second year with the creative team that has finally found a way to invite a wider audience to the title.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Reviews for Wednesday, July 11


The latest issue of DC's "Batman" finally concludes the 'Court of Owls' storyline, with an epic fight between the supervillain designed to be the final nail in the Court's plan to destroy Batman. In many ways, the confrontation mirrors Bruce's initial fight against the Talon, but it definitely suffers due to the last issue's cliffhanger. Tying the villain's identity to Batman's past is in keeping with the arc's general approach, but the creators' awareness of the shocking implications works to undermines the immediacy of the story.

Considering that DC has already allowed for an in-continuity son of Batman, adding retroactively another personal relation doesn't necessitate a never ending monologue where the bulk of dramatization falls on the hands of the artist. Seeing a capeless Batman propelled through the air, silently listening to the villain's ironically laying out his plan while supposedly trying to find a way to counter him does not really provide for memorable storytelling.

The company should have used the opportunity the "New 52" relaunch provided them to simply remake the Batman continuity any way they saw fit. By softly remaking the franchise, and politely adding the wrinkles of new Court of Owls mythology makes sense from the standpoint of not wanting to irritate the fans of the more traditional incarnations of the character. Yet, outside the willingness to provide some changes for the decades old arbitrary status quo of Batman, there is nothing really controversial about the storyline. Batman the character that has been changing constantly in the years since he debuted, and mostly for the better, to the point where every opportunity to genuinely tell new stories should be welcome and tried out, if only to try and realize the potential in the idea.

More problematically, the villain's outfit seems very generic and despite the effort, Snyder and Capullo have yet to present him as the worthy addition to the rogues' gallery. Somewhat similarly to Hush, the mastermind ultimately lacks both in the character design and character, which will hopefully be changed the next time he shows up in the more consolidated form. The back-up likewise continues to derive most of it's tension from the implications involving the Wayne family history, but reads even more overwrought. James Tynion IV continues to co-writes the seven page Rafael Albuquerque illustrated addendum, that finishes the three-part "Fall of the House of Wayne" story.

Jarvis Pennyworth' story is yet another piece of world building working to provide a stronger foundation for the pulp-inspired character, re-calibrated by Scott Snyder. It ultimately boils down to a second epilogue, enabling the "American Vampire" artist Albuquerque to provide a scene where Bruce confides with Alfred regarding the Court, much like he did with Dick in the Capullo drawn sequence several pages before.

Judging by this issue, despite the interviews promoting the upcoming Joker starring arc, Snyder and Capullo are firmly dedicated to continuing the story of Wayne's clash with Court of Owls. It remains to be seen how the creative team handle such an ambitious piece of raising of the stakes superhero storytelling, and whether their more cerebral efforts will ultimately rival the 1990s "Knightfall" experiment.


Ed Brubaker concludes his second to last arc on his Captain America run, which he has been working on since 2005. Patrick Zircher has illustrated the entirety of the "Shock to the system", with this issue serving as an long fight sequence that culminates the immediate plot. Ever since the latest relaunch, and arguably even before, back to "Captain America: Reborn", a certain lack of enthusiasm has slowly started to dominate the title, with this proving as the ultimate example of competently put together comics, that lack the energy of his earlier work with the character.

The fourth part of the arc reintroducing Scourge to the Marvel Universe plays out in a fairly predictable way, with the bulk of the conflict lying in Cap's previous relationship with the man under the mask. To Brubaker's credit, the story works if the reader is unfamiliar with the character, but that doesn't make it into anything more than a cliched four issues, that justify their existence mainly by having the whole scheme concocted by the villains who have plagued Steve since the relaunch.

Said villains make no appearance in the story, which deals with the deaths of supervillains in the witness protection program. In execution it has felt too short to properly elaborate on the idea, with the political content seeming particularly bland and neutered. The brainwashed villain serves as the mouthpiece for Codename Bravo's philosophy, that at this point in the series feels about as argumented as Commander Cobra's agenda in "GI Joe".

Patrick ("Mystery Men") Zircher's work is solid, yet his capable renditions in the house style will hardly make the reader seek out the work on his name alone. The final two pages are pencilled by Mike Deodato, Brubaker's collaborator on the "Secret Avengers", and use the political potential to sets up the next arc. Co-written by Cullen Bunn, "New World Orders" aims to bring Brubaker's run to the close, and will hopefully provide a more engaging reading experience.


The second issue of Matt ("Super Spy") Kindt's run on "Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E." continues to pick up on the hints of a conspiracy in the ranks of S.H.A.D.E. Despite his work on "Animal Man", Alberto Ponticelli once again finds time to illustrate the title on the monthly schedule, as the writer takes Frankenstein to a new, impossible underwater location. Following the last issue's sojourn to the cloud city of Untropolis, DC's answer to "B.P.R.D." features Frank and Nina heading out to the city of ex-spies located inside the Leviathan. This is in keeping with the depiction of Monster Planet's continent sized monsters from the book's opening storyline, and helps carry over the feeling of consistency, despite the change of writers.

Since his first issue last month, Matt Kindt has introduced the theme of Frankenstein having flashbacks to the lives of people from whose limbs he was created, and #11 features a succession of silent panels telling a tragedy relating to high seas. Ever since Grant Morrison's remake of the character, Frank has been depicted as a highly fatalistic immortal with a strong sense of justice, but what Kindt seems to want to bring to the title is a deeper and more personal understanding of the character.

Seeing Frankenstein bond with Nina is likewise an interesting development, despite the heavy handedness of the scene. The issue ends with a high energy cliffhanger trying to marry the unrestrained indie comics scene with DC's more conservative approach to publishing, which brings to focus the many problems with the title. Despite their tries to produce a book that feels like a Mike Mignola creation, the editorial has managed to set up the title that is more akin to Jack Kirby's "O.M.A.C."

Thus, "Frankenstein agent of S.H.A.D.E." once again reads unfocused, never really managing the transition from a high concept "Flashpoint" tie-in mini-series to an ongoing title. In monthly installments, Kindt's story feels very random and haphazard, but to the writer's credit, he definitely approaches the project with a vision that is sympatico with its history. Hopefully, he will have enough time to escape from Jeff Lemire's shadow and present his own version of the concept.

In the penultimate chapter of the "Savage Six" storyline, Cullen Bunn and the departing writer Rick Remender give Lan Medina a fairly straightforward script to illustrate. With Robert Atkins' help, the original "Fables" artist serves another moody chapter in the escalating war between Venom and Crime Master. The representational artwork continues to present something of a tonal clash with the over the top writing, but Medina and Atkins certainly do their best to accommodate the grim and gritty tone of the Anti-"Spider-Man" title.

Opening with the twelve page fight sequence, the story quickly justifies the "Savage Six" subtitle, as Remender has Venom confront Death Adder. The Silver Age villain has previously figured in his "Punisher" run, and proves to be a fairly generic opponent. Flash narrates the entire fight, which does provide for some sense of urgency given that the antagonist is silent throughout. The creators largely resist from having Death Adder show anything in the way of powers, and quickly render him the weakest of Crime-Master's Savage Six. Seeing the neighbors organize to confront the threat on their own is a nice touch, but Medina and Atkins' work again lacks the proper touch to adequately present the middle aged balding man who spends most of his panel time in his underwear.

The whole time, Flash is focused on the implications of his loved one's kidnapping, which makes the follow up sequence when he finally catches up on Human Fly brutally effective. The excessive violence for once fits the story given the previous relationship between the two characters, and the situation involved, with the added bonus of the Flash arriving to the Fly's den in a logical way. The story concludes with the scene spotlighting Betty Brant, as set up in the two page subplot that breaks up the issue's two Venom sequences.

Eventually, the story peaks with the unexpected reveal of Crime-Master's identity, which makes his attack on Flash and Betty all the more personal. Unfortunately, bringing back a character who appeared once in "Spider-Man" 50 years ago supposes that the reader's intimately familiar with the original Stan Lee/Steve Ditko run on the character. The surprise reveal certainly dulls the impact if the reader only has a cursory understanding of Betty Brant, the former Daily Bugle secretary and Peter Parker's love interest that ended up being Flash's girlfriend. More importantly, it remains to be seen how the co-writers manage to fit a satisfying conclusion for a story with this many players in a single twenty page issue. The solicitation for #22 implies that Remender will be tying up some of the dangling plot lines in his last issue on the title, ensuring that Venom's final showdown with his own version of Sinister Six ends up as the book's strongest arc to date.


After all the hype about the record breaking sales, and multiple covers, Image has finally gotten around to releasing the milestone #100 of it's currently most successful title, "the Walking Dead". The slightly oversized issue starts off with a montage, establishing the location of each of the primary characters, before it puts the focus squarely on Rick, Michonne, Glenn, Maggy, Sophia and Carl. At that point, the reader is aware that the antagonists plan to attack at dawn, and that people in Rick's group will be taking turns in watching over the van as they camp for the night.

The simplified, RPG tactics employed by Kirkman are quickly forgotten as a mood of genuine horror takes over, threatening to take a series further in a dark direction. With the long-teased appearance of Negan, the issue quickly turns in a long monologue, with the villain stating his intent and making a show of power. Adlard's character design, as teased on the fourth consecutive thematic cover, depicts the man as an ego-obsessed bruiser, it's Kirkman's dialogue that completes the tone for the Governor's successor. Negan is depicted as immature and psychopathic, which works to irritate the reader just as much as it does the characters.

Yet, at the end of the speech, in which he keeps belaboring on the point of being surrounded by fifty of his own men, the leader of Saviors kills off a long-standing character. Adlard's blunt way of depicting first the injury and then death, serves to remind the reader that no one is ever safe in "Walking Dead", and works to give new blood to the series. The characters are forced in the new status quo, with every intention of getting their revenge, and using the first possible chance to try and restore their positions.

Kirkman is to be commanded for addressing some of the larger questions, particularly involving Rick, head on, but both the character death and the first inklings of the status quo come with their own misgivings. There were much more shocking deaths and shake ups in the series' past, particularly considering the massacre in #48, but where the new issue succeeds is in laying out the rules for the interactions between the human settlements in the immediate vicinity. For a long time, Rick and his band of men were allowed to force themselves into more or less functional communities, changing the series' focus into almost a zombie apocalypse diplomacy soap opera. #100 establishes a clear threat that brings some the immediacy back into the series, which makes the reader more tolerant to the sensationalistic way it has been presented in this issue.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Bruce J. Hawker 1 - Destination: Gibraltar

William Vance is today best known as Van Hamme's artistic collaborator on Dargaud's "XIII", but in 1976 he was the writer/artist of "Bruce J. Hawker". Introduced in the "Femmes d'aujourd'hui" magazine, the character was to have his first adventure reworked and published in 1979, in the pages of the weekly "Tintin" magazine. In 1985, after the success of the "XIII" debut, Lombard published the collected "Destination: Gibraltar" concurrent with the second album of the Dargaud series.

"Bruce J. Hawker" starts out as a period piece, centered on the exploits of the 20 year old British ship commander, promoted by Nelson to take HMS Lark on a mission to Gibraltar. His crew exhibits some initial hesitation, but ultimately proves loyal to the captain. Their trust in him is justified by Hawker' serious disposition and dedication to the British Navy, as he seems to have left his private life and outside concerns on land, along with his fiancĂ©e.

For the majority of the album's 48 pages, the focus is not on characterization, with Vance's detailed illustrations providing a unique look in the history of naval warfare. In 1976, much like today, a large scale costumed drama was just as unlikely a subject for a movie presentation as it is today, thus Vance's work serves to visualize the nautical novels of Patrick O'Brian. "The Master and Commander" film adaptation is a good approximation of Vance's work on the series, but the story has just as much to do with classic newspaper adventure strips. The narration the writer/artist uses is much more suited to the form, but otherwise, the work draws from the same well as the majority of the Hal Foster and Alex Raymond devotees.

Despite his sound storytelling instincts, it cannot be overstated that "Destination: Gibraltar" is the strongest when it comes to the detailed depiction of uniforms and every aspect of the HMS Lark. Only the readers prejudiced against historical fiction will be able to overlook Vance's clean, well researched pages, providing a rare view into the underused period setting. The writer/artist provides for some mystery involving Hawker's secret orders, while nicely sets up the imminent clash against the Spanish fleet.

The use of fog to obscure the location of the Lark and the following chase make nice use of the creator's talents, with the following battle likewise competently depicting the chaos and desperation in a close quarters encounter between the British vessel and it's superior rival. What little Vance sets up story wise, such as Hawker's complete dedication to his men, he follows through. The British cannons overheat, the Spanish are relentless in defending their coastline, and in the several pages detailing the naval battle, the writer/artist only makes a misstep when he decides to superimpose the image of Bruce's enrage face over the depiction of his subordinates.

Yet, the story doesn't end with the failure of the Lark's mission, as the final pages pick up on the captain's fate. Thrown into a Spanish dungeon along with lieutenant Lark and a few of the other surviving officers, Hawker is subjected to the torture at the hands of El Medico, the doctor turned dungeon keeper. Having the Spanish inquire as to the nature of their enemy's mission is a perfectly logical plot point, but to do so by employing the services of a crazed psychopath not only breaks from the established tone, but completely re-frames the preceding 40 pages.

With the ultimate fate of captain Bruce J. Hawker uncertain, Vance is deliberately steering the story into the direction of the more traditional adventure story, with the hero undergoing a long and perilous journey, filled with sidetracks, as he notionally tries to get back to his previous life. Thus, the majority of "Destination: Gibraltar" ultimately posits itself as little more than an origin for a character that seems to be heading in the broader direction of an all purpose adventurer. As long as the stories are tangentially related to historic naval fiction, there is every reason for an open minded reader to give the series a chance.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Animal Man #11/Swamp Thing #11


Heading into the next six months of the crossover with "Swamp Thing", Jeff Lemire wraps up his current arc, the three parter "Extinction is Forever". The series' new regular artist, Steve Pugh is temporarily replaced by Alberto Ponticelli, Lemire's former collaborator on "Frankenstein". Inker Wayne Faucher and colorist Lovern Kindzierski do a commendable job in maintaining the violent, organic style, with Ponticelli's scratchier, more kinetic lines largely subdued.

As conceived by the title's "New 52" original artist Travel Foreman, Lemire's "Animal Man" is a visceral urban fantasy, alternating between body horror and the mythological touches linking the title to "Swamp Thing". The two titles have teased the crossover centered around their mutual enemies for most of the year, with Lemire setting up John Constantine as the new supporting character. Ultimately, the writer shied away from the idea of having Constantine help Buddy out with learning to control his new powers, mirroring his original role in "the Swamp Thing".

The venerable Vertigo character's presence ultimately boiled down to a guest appearance of the "Justice League Dark", which did little more than drag out the middle part of "Extinction is Forever". Following the conclusion of the introductory arc, "Animal Man" has in many ways felt like it has been searching for a clear direction. The Baker family were continually on the move, still threatened by the Rot and it's agents, with the title clearly caught in the transitory period between the unveiling of the Lemire/Foreman revamp, and the imminent crossover with "Swamp Thing".

The writer has used the current three-parter to put a firmer focus on Buddy and his role in the world where he's assigned to be the father of the messianic child. Yet, despite her role as the Avatar of the Red, Maxine is still a 4-year old girl, Buddy is still her protector, which the Totems finally acknowledge by further defining his appearance and abilities. Despite the innovation, Lemire is at all times aware that he is working on Grant Morrison's concepts, with #11 designed specifically as another attempt to further define his take on what was once little more than a gimmicky Silver Age superhero.

He acknowledges the debt by referring to the yellow aliens that originally gave Buddy his abilities as "the tailors", a direct nod to Morrison's metafictional ideas from "Seven Soldiers". Both Lemire and Ponticelli's previous collaboration was the writer's final issue of "Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E.", featuring the version of the character Morrison introduced in the latter. More importantly, the creative team's story tied in to "Animal Man", which again made Ponticelli a logical choice to fill in for Pugh.

Having dealt out with one of the Hunter's Three, Animal Man has once again protected his family, but at a cost that will be further elaborated on in the next issue's "Rotworld: Prologue". Ponticelli's he seems like a good choice for future fill-ins, if he can handle the workload concurrent with his regular "Frankenstein" assignment. The artist's own style seems most apparent in the way he draws Ellen and Cliff, but it's hard to find fault with the editorial for suggesting that the title be inked and colored in a way that preserves the consistency with the preceding issues.


Scott Snyder concludes the mini-arc featuring the return of Swamp Thing's arch-foe Anton Arcane with the issue featuring the art of Marco Rudy, one of the title's regular artists. The Brazilian artist features some atmospheric, thickly inked panels, with some inspired layouts, but the result still pales compared to the last issue. Having only the first part of the story gorgeously illustrated by the fan favorite Francesco Francavilla impacts was always going to impact badly on the title.

#11 likewise lacks any kind of framing device, and presents merely little more than a fight scene, that wouldn't feel out of place in the 1990s "Spawn". With Snyder collaborating with the longtime Image penciller on "Batman", it comes as no surprise that his returning the Swamp Thing from the Vertigo milieu would try to capitalize on some of the lessons from the longtime premiere superhero horror title. A more traditional take enables the creative team to try to escape from the long shadow Alan Moore left on the title. Scott Snyder, Yanique Paquette and Marco Rudy aren't trying to spark the interest in DC's non-traditional characters.

The return of the Arcane seems almost like a return to basics, while still honoring the mark the industry's most celebrated writer first left on the title. And where Moore, and later Veitch, used the Swamp Thing as a platform for looking at the wider DC universe from a post modern perspective, so far Snyder shies away from shining the light on such neglected DC properties like the space heroes and its western characters. As this issue shows, they are more than content in giving equal space to the original Len Wein/Bernie Wrightson creations. The idea seems to be recreating the property from the most iconic of the previous versions, and judging by the audience response, it has been very successful.

Every issue is nicely paced and reasonably entertaining, while covering the same apocalyptic territory as "the Animal Man". Yet, some of the complexity and charm of the characters seems to have been lost in the shuffle, as despite the prophecies regarding both Alec and Abby, their "New 52" incarnations seem two-dimensional and less than appealing. On the face of it, by positing Abby as a short-haired motorcycle riding girl with a  shotgun, the creative team discards all of the work Moore did in transforming the damsel in distress into a three dimensional, strong yet feminine character. Similarly, seeing the antler sprouting Swamp Thing without the use of his advanced powers again seems to simplify the character to bring him back closer in line with the original version.

What little chemistry remains behind between these characters still largely relies on the reader's previously established affection. Seeing Abby blasting at Arcane's Un-Men with the murky, haphazard character designs, while Alec returns to charge at the villain spouting one-liners like "The swamp is my place." followed by "But I'll be happy to put you back in the dirt.", largely necessitates the reader more interested in the plot points than the character development of these characters that have gradually turned into another couple of superheroes with decades of continuity and false starts behind them.

With the "New 52", DC has successfully grouped the book with "Animal Man" and at this point, expects the readers to care for the wider story first and foremost. The war against Rot is a sufficiently interesting story to justify the next six months of joint exploration, but the real test will be how both of these titles survive telling their own stories afterwards. Time will tell if market that welcome them a year ago will be so considerate six months from now, particularly given that both titles have already experienced severe problems with on the artistic side, with even the original penciller's replacements unable to stick to the monthly schedule.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Wayne Shelton 6 - The Hostage

"The Hostage" is the second Thierry Cailleteau Wayne Shelton story, designed as a self-contained album drawn by the regular series artist Christian Denayer. Gradually, Dargaud has allowed for slimmer volumes in the series, and at 48 pages, the creators are allowed roughly one fifth of the space alloted to the series' debut. Still, both Denayer and Cailleteau use the available pages to make most of the story, which is decidedly lighter than the preceding two-parter.

"Hostage" opens with Shelton and another of his veteran soldier friends flying an airplane over a fictional approximation of Uganda. Just like in "Vengeance", the story starts with a conversation framing the flashback, this time depicting the two men's reintroduction. We are shown how Wayne helped get the bad tempered Jef out of a bar brawl started over petty name calling. The pilot is presented as likable slob motivated by greed, which contrasts nicely with Wayne's stoic demeanor and makes for a dynamic not unlike that of Blueberry and Jimmy McClure.

The reason Wayne has gone to Africa has to deal with Honesty, who is depicted as living together with him. A TV broadcast from a country in the middle of the military coup brings a familiar face as the titular hostage - that of miss Goodness' first love, whom she hasn't seen in years. The news reporter has been captured by the departing ruler, who has since gone into hiding. Naturally, Honesty asks Wayne to travel to the political hot spot and rescue Legret, a proposition he fights on the grounds of irrationality. Unfortunately, the argument is rendered moot considering that the reader already knows that Shelton winds up accepting the mission.

Shelton is to travel alone, with the creators once again deciding to keep Honesty out of danger. The plot device used to achieve this is particularly leaden, as Wayne's girlfriend is confined to the chair due to her leg being broken. Yet, in order to finally finish with the flashback setting up the plot, Denayer and Cailleteau present perhaps the most tone deaf-scene in the whole album.

Seeing Wayne confront a particularly loathsome mercenary for a piece of information would have been a standard genre sequence, if not for the fact that his acquaintance has been turned into a permanent invalid due to his wartime experiences. Where Cailleteau chooses to go with the former torturer is both surprising and over the top, as the former war criminal asks Wayne to help him with a contraption designed to end his misery.

With the flashback ended, the creators use Jef's contempt for the man to justify Shelton's acceptance of euthanasia, but the preceding four pages still feel forced and out of touch with the rest of the album.Thankfully, once the local militia starts shooting at the plane Wayne's friend is piloting, the plot picks up and never lets up until the ending.

Due to their forced landing, the characters are reminded of the complicated situation following the coup. The French aviation has agreed to prevent unauthorized flight and, Wayne and Jef find a way to get on their side in order to gain access to close in on general Kalomba. In order to get the former dictator's location, Shelton has to confront the superstitious man's witch doctor, himself a former soldier of fortune.

Following an amusing episode with the charlatan, Wayne and Jef leave for Kalomba's sanctuary, where the final act begins. Most interestingly, the creators keep the pair's African adventure a decidedly restrained affair, with most of the problems overcome using their guile and cunning. With the hostage finally spotted, the album picks up and continues with the consistently lighter tone, despite the situation. For instance, when the creators first put the focus on Legret, he is presented writing a prison diary with an intentional disconnect between Denayer's detailed drawings and Cailleteau's captions.

The irony is followed upon when Honesty's friend finally meets Wayne, as Shelton's trademark antipathy for once proves justified at the outset. "The Hostage" posits a shades of grey world of mercenaries, with the audience being invited to side with Wayne solely because he has the most altruistic motive. General Kalomba's plan is particularly cynical, and it's hard to argue with the poetic justice that the creators ultimately mete out in the closing pages. Wayne's partnership with Jef is likewise not bound to last beyond Wayne's friend trying to get his monetary compensation, and his eventual fate suits the character.

Thus, both the pilot's dignity and the series are spared his continued role of a comic relief, which would quickly wear out its welcome. Thus, Wayne is reunited with Honesty, a much more rounded character, to whom he relates the most appropriate version of events.  Thus the bitter sweet epilogue ends the album on the high note, while the creators went on to finish their collaboration in the following two-parter.

Reviews for 4th of July, 2012


Grant Morrison continues his second larger arc on "Action Comics" with an issue that is emblematic of the series to date. The story starts with a strong sequence featuring Superman saving and bonding with citizens of an impoverished Metropolis neighborhood, presented in Rags ("Identity Crisis") Morales' detailed artwork. The focus on Superman as an approachable, spunky young man in touch with the interests of his neighbors feels far outshines the strange alien-related threat he has just dealt with.

Yet, the story is not content to continue in this manner - with the turn of the page comes the artistic change, as Brad ("Heroes for Hire") Walker steps in to illustrate a sequence featuring Clark in his new guise of a fireman. The change is obviously temporary, and in keeping with the Silver Age stories which were liable for any contrivance that would be neatly undone by the end of the story. Realistically, the comic stories are paced differently in 2012, which justifies the change as the young Superman spending the arc experimenting with a different alter ago.

This is further cemented in a two page scene featuring Batman, that picks up on the mention in the last month's issue of the "Justice League". Still, for the story's sake, the reader only has to know that the two are friends, and that Clark feels free to speak openly with the Gotham superhero. Unfortunately, at this point, the frequent scene changes, with Rags Morales' two pages stuck between two blocks of four page Brad Walker sequences, contribute to the choppiness in the presentation which has quickly came to define both this issue and most of the ones that preceded it.

It's not that the two artists sport completely different styles, which is certainly not going to endear this issue to any of the readers, but that the cumulative effect of all the fragments and tangents doesn't add up to the greater whole. As the issue goes on, Superman's new secret identity get supplemented by the main plot line, once again involving the aliens with the plans for taking over the Earth.

This goes back to the core of Morrison's re-imagination of DC's premiere superhero. While initially playing up the fact that the story echoes the character's Great Depression beginnings, the writer has since come to balance the social justice elements with a healthy dose of science fiction, centered around the character's alien heritage. And while it's completely possible that once he finishes this story, Morrison will use the September's #0 issue to come back to the character's Smallville beginnings, the status quo remains decidedly un-Superman like for the time being.

Seeing Superman living in Braniac's ship hovering in Earth's orbit and having to deal with the threat wiping out the galactic civilizations feels strangely out of character, following John Byrne's more grounded take on the mythos. The focus on Clark's alien heritage can be taken as part of his coming of age, with the superhero side of the character gradually replacing the science fiction leanings. Nevertheless, Superman is the first and in many way archetypal superhero, making the change of focus seem largely out of place, particularly when utilized in such a stop and start fashion.

It remains to be seen how the arc works as a whole, but in this particular case, it can be said that the writer did little to make #13 anything more than a collection of scenes that directly follow the ones in the preceding issue. The story comes with the standard Sholly Fish back-up justifying the inflated price. Illustrated by the "T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents"' Cafu, eight pager would feel right at home in an anthology of Superman stories, or even as a subplot in this very issue. As presented by Fish, it stipulates an interesting, if underdeveloped idea of a store specializing in selling Superman T-shirts.

The story could only be done with Morrison's newest iteration of the character, as the T-shirt is a part of one of his Superman costumes, but despite Cafu's expressive facial work, only picks up at the end, being somewhat elevated by a welcome twist. Otherwise, as always, the back-up inoffensively picks up on the Morrison inspirations to provide a more grounded piece of world-building that is unlikely to be referenced again, despite the plot referencing some of the events taking place in the main story. Most interestingly, the dialogue firmly grounds the Morrison/Morales plot as taking place roughly a year after Superman debuted, making for another problem in the publisher's timeline.

Both the Justice League and Morrison's Action Comics (despite the two-part "Legion of Superheroes" story preceding the current arc) firmly take place in the early days of the character's career. Johns tries to present the events as taking place five years later, to make them concurrent with the rest of the publisher's titles, but in story terms, it's clear that a much shorter time has passed between the two arcs. Morrison on the other hand, has his story changing focus sometimes issue by issue, but the bulk of the narrative that he seems adamant on continuing does feature a slowly evolving cast and the character of the young Superman. As of now, it's been relatively easy to piece together the chronology of the events, but seeing several different versions of the character so far does contribute to the aforementioned lack of focus.


With the series' ending announced at #70, the last story has slowly turned into the deconstruction of the group. The titular Boys, their mission fulfilled in the previous arc, finally get to question their leader's decisions, leading to a devastating confrontation. Billy Butcher's genocidal side was previously largely kept in check by the manipulations he performed to get his revenge on Homelander, the title's Superman analogue. With the last vestiges of the organized superhero front torn down, Ennis has started wrapping up the loose ends, which in a story this violent, means a barrage of deaths, much more painful than the ones that preceded them.

Issue 68, the third part of "Bloody doors off", features Hughie gathering up the rest of the boys and sharing his intel with them, in what is essentially a twelve page monologue summing up the truth behind the recent events, while clarifying some of the conclusions the character has drawn from his own investigative work. Despite the amount of the world building, and the seriousness with which he approaches the story seven years in the making, Ennis manages to preserve the voices of the cast in these info-heavy pages, and finishes on a nice twist involving the Female.

The rest of the story considers the much more direct confrontation between Mother's Milk and the Butcher. The writer uses a two page break in the middle of the sequence to concentrate on a subplot, before returning to the two, now past the point of reasoning out with each other. Employing the technique enables the shift to seem more natural while still shocking. The horrible violence these two friends unleash on one another demonstrates the culmination of their differences, and ends with the death of one of the characters.

It goes without saying that Ennis' character work carries out what would in other hands be a sensationalistic ill motivated fight, but there are still some glitches in the presentation. Russ Braun, the artist that replaced the series co-creator Darick Robertson is on a technical level a better draftsman, but he tends to repeat some of the poses the character makes, which is usually reserved for his rendition of Butcher but in this issue leads to some monotony when it comes to Hughie's expression. More importantly, his take on Mother's Milk somewhat squares with Robertson's more realistic depiction, leading to a large swathe of panels where the character doesn't really look like himself, as presented before.

This is typically excusable in a monthly comic with alternating artists, but feels slightly out of place considering Dynamite's commitment to the title, and the artist's otherwise superior work. Braun's MM simply looks too broad, too cartoony, and with the beard shown here brings to mind Popeye's Bruto instead of the more realistic character design, as seen on Robertson's cover. It doesn't really detract from the impact of the final pages, but seeing the character's huge cartoony hands lashing out at the square jawed Butcher, certainly brings to mind a different sensibility than that of the series' co-creator.


The accelerated schedule Marvel has forced on its titles regularly calls for fill-in artists, and in the case of Punisher #13, the editorial saw fit to employ Mico ("Moon Knight") Suayan. With the news of a "War Zone" crossover imminent, it's difficult to gauge where the Greg Rucka run is headed. On the face of it, the writer is bringing his creation, Rachel Cole-Alves back head on with the men who staged a massacre on her wedding day. Thus, by returning to the story he was telling before the "Omega drive" crossover, Rucka feels like he's starting to wrap up the plot threads. With the news of a line-wide relaunch starting October, it would be a surprise if this particular iteration of Marvel's vigilante survived to be on the stands in a year's time.

Until then, the writer presents another solid, if under-performing issue of "the Punisher". In order to get an upper hand against the Exchange, Frank and Rachel are forced to go undercover and infiltrate a superhero technology auction, which is a plot recently seen in Scott Snyder and Jock's "Black mirror" arc on "Detective comics". The Punisher has a better plan, though, and the issue reads inoffensively enough, but there is a certain conflict at its core. Having Punisher in a disguise is a traditionally silly element, but one that Rucka fully commits to, in order for his story to work. Throughout the Rucka/Chechetto run, Frank is well aware that he is working in the Marvel universe, and he tries to turn the situation in his favor.

This time, it includes a plan to get a piece of superhero hardware, while posing as the 1980s villain, the Power Broker. There is something off about the last latter, which coupled with lines like "Get out of my way! Criminals masterminds and henchmen first -- " supposes a lightness of tone that isn't really to be found in the otherwise grim tone. The writer usually finds place for some whimsy and black comedy, but his is a down to Earth style, which is why he has carved a niche for himself writing urban vigilantes like "Batman".

Perhaps Marco Chechetto's more animated style would have carried the tone a little better. Mico Suayan's works in a slightly more detailed photo referenced style here, making for a movie-like atmosphere, but the static images eventually take the life out of some sequences. A Dean Martin lookalike approaches Rachel at one point, but the likeness is so belabored that it takes the reader out of the story to think about the reference. It's certain that being a fill-in artist is a thankless job, but to his credit Suayan does manage to be very clear when it comes to layouts. Likewise, he has a consistent take on Chechetto's characters, which avoids the confusion in the final pages.

Despite the minimal backgrounds, the reader is at all times present that Frank and Rachel are on a boat, with Matt Hollingsworth's colors making captions replacing the need for captions when it comes to the scene shifts. All in all, #13 is a decent comic, and an acceptable chapter in the ongoing Rucka "Punisher" narrative. It does little to elevate the story so far, which has seen much more accomplished moments than the ones provided here. Hopefully, by the time they are finished with the character, Rucka and Chechetto will leave behind a complete story, that is none the worse for inclusion of outside superhero elements.