Thursday, August 30, 2012

Reviews for Wednesday, August the 29th


This penultimate issue of "the Others" turns out to be largely a fight scene. Geoff Johns uses Mera as a reader identification figure, before he catches up to Aquaman and Black Manta, and the strategy largely works. The writer keeps Arthur's wife resourceful and resilient, even while maintaining that her husband is the more savage of the two. Seeing Arthur casually murder a Black Manta man brings realism to the conflict, and further underscores the creative team's efforts to legitimize the superhero that's been long an afterthought in DC's stable.

Furthermore, Arthur seems to be characterized as brash and reckless, wallowing in his tragic past and commanding a final showdown with Black Manta. The two's troubled relationship is underscored by one of the Others falling prey to the villain, going some way to try to validate Aquaman's decision.

In an interesting way, the break provided by the #0 issue will serve to lessen the tension and make the following confrontation that much more dramatic. Throughout, Reis' work is consistent and dynamic, despite the presence of multiple inkers. The visceral fight scenes featuring the muscled heroes carry over the script's cues in realizing this spotlessly paced issue.

A brief scene, flashing back to Arthur and Dr. Shin's mutual past enjoys a slightly different presentation, that not only manages to distinguish it from the surrounding pages, but moreover helps cast the beleaguered doctor in a more complex light. In all respects this is a solid issue, and while it doesn't complete the storyline before the beginning of the title's second year and the obligatory #0 issue, it more than maintains the momentum of a title that has largely succeeded in restructuring into a dynamic superhero book keeping up with the trends.


The regular "Flash" creative team of Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato extend the last issue's Rogues story into this Annual. Manapul provides the breakdowns, while each of the five artists handles a chapter of the story. Marcus To, who filled in for Manapul on Flash #10 and #11 provides a flashback pertaining to Barry remembering his father, which hints at providing context for an upcoming subplot. To's work here is clean and energetic, but the sparse setting and doesn't give the artist much space to showcase his strengths.

The longtime "Flash" artist Scott Kolins follows with a Captain Cold spotlight, showing a more traditional version on the Rogues. The chapter ends on a note tying in one of the book's subplots, but mainly serves to remind the reader of the strength of the title's onetime penciller/inker. Kolins' fluid, but detailed approach never worked as well as when paired with Geoff Johns on "the Flash", the book that served to launch both creators to the forefront of American superhero industry. Since then, the editorial has frequently made use of his talents in regards to "Flash" related projects, and the results remain impeccable. Even while working with the Jim Lee Flash redesign and the Manapul/Buccellato costume makeovers, Kolins makes manages to show off a lot of style, always employed in a way that mashes with the script to provide seamless storytelling.

Diogenese Neves, proceeds to illustrate the inciting incident that made the Rogues internalize their powers, which is undoubtedly the most crucial of the issue's three flashback stories. The co-writers provide a detailed origin for the Glider, a character they have spent the considerable time making a formidable female Rogues member. The opening narration feels overwrought, but the plot events and Neves' art quickly manage to regain the reader's attention. The artist's work is highly exaggerated and kinetic, with elongated figures and more then a tinge of the manga influence. By the time the segment is over, the creators have finally communicated Glider's exact predicament as well as the nature of her powers.

In contrast, the brief Marcio Takara illustrated chapter featuring Turbine and Patty Spivot works much more like a subplot segment that could have made its way into a regular issue of "the Flash". The three pages focus on the artist's ability to animate these characters in a tense conversation scene. The degree of success is overshadowed by the script hinting at the upcoming events involving Patty and Barry's relationship. As created by Manapul and Buccellato, Turbine has been an unbalanced character that is still a long way from establishing a believable personality. And while it's commendable that his creators are still working on making the character fit in their work on the title, they are still a long way from making the audience sympathize with him.

Finally, the last and most substantial chapter gets illustrated by Wes Craig, who is basically given the bulk of the pages involving the current confrontation between Flash and the Rogues. Given that the said fight is depicted over multiple double pages, this is also the chapter that would have most benefited from having been finished by Manapul. Craig works in a much more traditional style, with thick inks and only slightly exaggerated characters, which is hard to compare to the Filipino-Canadian's career defining work.

The script pairs up Flash with Captain Cold, whose temporary alliance forms as the result of some of the recent issues. The two quickly divide, with Snart proceeding to confront his sister, while the Flash tackles the rest of the Rogues in the Mirror World. The co-writers continue to focus solely on the Flash, saving the outcome of the fight between Cold and Glider until Flash returns to Central City. The last couple of pages serve to introduce the next arc's Gorilla City threat, after the book releases the next month's obligatory zero issue.

Looking at the Annual as the whole, it seems like there was no real reason to separate it from the regular series, aside from the fact that the title is a strong middle list seller for the company. At least a couple of the early chapters could have been relocated to another issue, or even dropped out of the series together. It remains to be seen how Manapul and Buccellato handle the rigorous schedule in the title's second year, as most of its appeal stems from their vibrant, water-colored art.

GOON #41

With this issue, after several irreverent one offs, "the Goon" returns to the strange tone that has characterized many of it's peaks as a longer narrative. In retrospect, Eric Powell is merely preparing the reader for the long-awaited showdown between the Goon and the Nameless Priest's magical superiors, but the story itself maintains the distance between two characters.

In fact, Powell spends most of it showing the one time primary antagonist at this particular point in his life, where he is downcast but still enjoying the fruits of his machinations. What starts out as a pauper's tale quickly becomes a sort of modern day fable, told in a sarcastic yet elegiac way that shows off the creator's diversity. There still remains a healthy dose of Powell's mischievousness, but its directed in service of a story that repeatedly shows the current balance of power between the Priest and the Goon.

The difference is that the Priest is finally content at the fact that he has won in the long run. In deconstructing the character, his creator prevents in making him powerless, but clearly telegraphs his intentions. The Goon is just about to face his much more powerful replacement and all his former antagonist hopes is that he will not be too involved in the conflict.

This dark, beautifully illustrated fairy tale ends final splashpage announcing the coming of the Indian, the sorcerer with every bit of the power that the Nameless Priest has lost (including a key part he loses in this very issue). It is commendable in giving the Priest back a small amount of respect, Powell is clearly recognizing his importance to the story. Despite everything that happened to him, the Nameless Priest remains a central part of the title, for as long as the creator decides that "the Goon" benefits from having him around.

As a back-up, Powell includes the first part of a Marc ("the Fables") Buckingham pencilled story, detailing the origin of Bog Lurk and its initial confrontation with the Goon. As usual with the Goon back-ups, the story is left in black and white, with Buckingham himself providing the gray tones. It nicely contrasts with the Powell-illustrated main story, in that it's much lighter and grounded in the whimsy that the title is more famous for. At face value, it seems to be a typical Frankie and the Goon, albeit well-paced and beautifully illustrated.

Buckingham utilizes the Powell's designs seamlessly and quickly integrates them in his style, that is not too dissimilar from that of the Goon's creator. It is fortunate that the collaboration will continue for at least another issue, as both the story and art feature "the Goon" at its lighthearted best.


After the prologue in "The Mighty Thor", the Everything burns mini-event begins in earnest in the pages of its sister title. "Journey Into Mystery" proclaims to be co-written by both Matt Fraction and Kieron Gillen, with Carmine di Giandomenico listed as primary artist.

After the prologue that managed to convey a lot of information in fast paced and exciting sequences, the first part of the story begins with in a fairly leaden fashion. It's not that there's a slight plot progression at hand, but more that the co-writers decide to spend even more time in properly setting up the stakes of the story-line.

Having the Second Asgard-Vanir war serve as the culmination of Fraction's "Thor" run and Gillen's "Journey Into Mystery" work becomes much more burdening this time around. Basically, the cast is forced to deal with the implications of everything that lead to the Surtur-powered invasion, and they are understandably hurting.

The problem is that all this information is conveyed in a somewhat convoluted way, no doubt in order to confuse the protagonists, but it still feels more than a little forced. The scene in which Loki shares with Thor the full scope of his plan feels much more honest. There is a certain logic in having the character feel full brunt of his machinations later on, but it comes a little too soon and forces several characters to assume non-traditional roles in order to shake up the status quo.

The scenes involving Vanir remain the book's strong point, as Asgardia's opposition seems credible and their grudge believable. Unfortunately, Giandomenico is forced to work side by side with Alan Davis, which goes a long way to mitigating any strong feelings toward the book. Simply put, the two artists boast completely different style, albeit in a weird way complementary to the issues they have been assigned. "Journey Into Mystery" boasts the same over-rendered and near confusing visualization that is at the heart of the script, challenging the reader to compare it infavorably with the prologue issue.

Giandomenico's moody, crowded panels are the antithesis of Davis' clean, functional work, and moreover fail to achieve the boldness presented in the "Mighty Thor" issue. Herein, and at this size, they put a strain on the eyes and prevent the reader for enjoying the undisputed quality of the draftsmanship beyond the chaotic details. The artist's strong inks overpower a lot of his layouts and bring a look that is not dissimilar to Walt Simmonson's celebrated tenure with the character, but without the greatest strengths of his European-inspired approach.

At this point, despite the interesting story, the dualism in the approach to Everything Burns seems to be working at cross purposes. It feels like a crossover and the tie-in at the same time, and largely limits the story's potential to the existing fans of both of the participating titles. Someone who is not already used to the dichotomy of Marvel's Thor universe, and the specific history of the two titles in their current configuration is likely to be penalized for expressing interest in what Fraction and Gillen seem to have decided to be no more than the mutual wrap-up of their respective runs, concentrated in order to cover the greater plot in a more epic fashion.


Geoff Johns and Jim Lee finish the first year of their run on "Justice League" with an over-sized issue with several co-artists and nine inkers. The presentation varies from page to page, with clean and polished superhero artwork published side by side with much looser series of panels, preventing the reader from settling into the rhythm and enjoying the story on its own. For the moment, DC eschews the Shazam back-up, and devotes most of their organizational skills in making the final part of "the Villain's journey" ship in the last week of August, before the anniversary of the "New 52".

In keeping with the previous issues, the story is full of splash pages and over-sized panels, dramatizing a conflict that never stopped feeling misguided and ill-suited to the title. In the finale, Johns turns it into a lesson for the League, who are forced to recognize the true cost of their mission and the realities they face as the team. The message is muddled by the time scale adopted by DC's relaunch, as it feels like the "Villain's journey" should have followed directly from the introductory arc. Johns tries to implement the five year jump to provide a deeper motivation for the villain, but he remains nebulous both in character design and the very concept.

In crafting a personal foe for the League, the creative team has managed to produce a villain that is lacks both a clear name and a distinctive power-set. His undefined mystical abilities will hardly be ones that endear him to genre fans, existing as they do merely to visualize the League members' inner problems.

And while the shades of gray approach ultimately fails to cohere, the media angle that it enforces fares slightly better. That a team member ultimately deciding to leave the team in order to appease the media seems like an innovative technique to bring about a change in membership, signaling the creative team's second year of stories. The change in leadership feels much more sudden and arbitrary, but it pales in comparison to a plot point passed from DC to national media.

The much advertised relationship between Superman and Wonder Woman begins in the closing pages, and despite the inevitable sensationalism of the pairing, it actually feels right for the title. Wonder Woman's rejection of Steve Trevor has been a subplot from the beginning of the arc, and her eventual decision feels in keeping with her actions.

Typically, a superhero team book saves the character development for members that are not featured in solo books. In the introductory arc, Cyborg was the reader identification figure, but in "Villain's Journey" the spotlight has been firmly on Wonder Woman. Despite Johns' insistence on having the rest of the cast interact in a meaningful way, it was Diana that has received the majority of attention, and with a good reason.

So far, the character's solo book has yet to feature much of the character's superhero milieu. With Azzarello and Chiang centering on the character's origin and crafting their own stories inspired by ancient myth, Johns has taken upon himself to restore the rest of Diana's more familiar superhero background. Thus, it is only the "Justice League" that address her relationship with Steve Trevor, as well as her role in the superhuman community. Judging by the ending of the issue, it will be Johns as well who reintroduces her most famous villain to DCU. In a way, the writer is treating the Jim Lee illustrated book as the only vehicle for the more traditional version of the character, and he appears to be set on making the most of it.

The issue ends with the familiar page teasing the next year of stories for the title, as well as a two page advertisement for the second Justice League book. The Geoff Johns written "Justice League of America" is ostensibly taking the place of "Justice League International" in DC's lineup, and is set to be illustrated by another fan favorite artist. It remains to be seen how DC will work around Dave Finch's inability to keep a monthly schedule, as well as how the two titles relate to each other.

As a flagship, "Justice League" has so far managed to avoid the larger delays in keeping with having Jim Lee on the art. Yet, the compromises made were only a part of the title's problems, which, while not having a great effect on sales, have certainly meant that the readership wasn't treated with all of the possible benefits of the pairing of Johns and Lee. Whatever the reasons, the pairing has so far produced merely a couple of above average superhero stories, and it remains to be seen whether they manage to make good on the initial promise in the second year of their run, whatever form it may end up taking.


The latest issue of "Prophet" continues the revamp of Extreme Universe's property, as written by Brandon Graham. It is the third Giannis Milogiannis issue since the revamp, with the artist assigned on issues following the original incarnation of the character. Now referred to as the Old Man, John is reimagined as the Earth Empire warrior who rebelled against his masters.

Long after the demise of the Earth Empire, one of his clones reactivates the civilization, forcing the original Prophet out of retirement. The character has since reunited with Hiyonhoiagn, a tree-like creature. As the issue starts, they have been seeking the parts of Diehard, another Liefield creation, planning to have the android join them in the fight against the reawakened Earth Empire.

The latest issue is once-again self-contained, this time segmented into three parts. The issue starts with an interesting scene that serves both as a recap and a glimpse into John's inner workings. Following this, Milogiannis continues with the established imagery of run down science fiction interiors and bio-organic technology, with both script and the art maintaining a clarity that was not always apparent with the heavily atmospheric previous issues.

Despite the outlandishness of the concept, Hiyonhoiagn and his friendship with John feels authentic, and brings some much needed humanity into the series that has so far been very aloof. The fact that the characters finally enter our solar system further accentuates the feeling of increased intimacy. The civilization of the Jupiter's moon is in keeping with some of Graham's previous world building, but for once it works in a familiar role.

The aliens are merely a foil for John and Hiyonhoiagn, an obstacle to be passed on the road to complete Diehard's android body. Graham and Milogiannis spend only ten pages on the moon, with the understanding the alien culture necessitating a close reading. Joseph Bergin III's colors underline a strong sense of the book's identity, with the palette seemingly limited to blues, reds and yellows.

Graham tries to place Diehard in a role that doesn't hurt the book, but his very inclusion takes the reader out of the science fiction the creators are trying so hard to set up, and brings him to question its status in regard to the rest of Extreme universe. And while there is next to no chance that Youngblood and Supreme will be appearing any time soon, "Prophet" would have perhaps been better off without any kind of link to the wider body of work Rob Liefield created while at Image.

The following issue is supposed to continue the Farel Dalrymple story from #24, which appears to have been delayed. The Brandom Graham illustrated issue #26 has been collected before the first Milogiannis issue (the original #25), making it appear that the serial publication has definitely had sizable problems since the initial Simon Roy three parter. In any event, the self contained nature of Graham's scripts (with both Milogiannis listed as providing story input in this issue), as well as the fact that the story arcs run parallel to each other, provide a unique situation where this kind of scheduling doesn't actively hurt the book. It ends up being just another part of the appeal of this strange book, that rewards a particular type of reader, both patient and discerning.


The "Broken Arrow" arc concludes, ending the current tenure of artist Michael Lark on the title. Along with his two inker, Brian Thies and Stefano Gaudiano, the penciller concludes the arc in the same heavily stylized representational style he started it. It's hard to find fault with comics this well-realized, except to make note of Ed Brubaker's announcement that he will be leaving the title with #15. When the only slight that can be directed towards a book is the fact that it wouldn't continue in this configuration, the reader is sure that he has a very solid title in his hands.

It comes as no surprise then that this issue works both as a story in its own right, as a concluding chapter of the wider arc and provides a natural transition to the next storyline. Bucky's impatient and violent temper dominates the issue and ultimately proves his undoing at this stage of the battle of wits between him and Leo. Despite the continued presence of Jasper Sitwell, Winter Soldier's SHIELD handler, the book remains centered around James and Natasha, who is benefiting from the increased focus.

In the "Captain America" run that preceded this title, she was more of a supporting character, but the writer finally gets to fleshing her out. The venerable Marvel character benefits from the increased spotlight, and its her unpredictable nature, despite the plot contrivances, that sets her apart from the role of a typical superhero girlfriend. The issue revolves around the opera house set-piece, a familiar location for showdowns in genre fiction, but one that manages to bring a lot of character in the proceedings. With the presence of Jasper and Leo, the creators manage to add some suspense to the shootout, but it is the cliffhanger that manages to achieve the most in shocking the reader with implied violence.

During Brubaker's eight year long tenure at the company, the readers had grown accustomed to his high quality spy/detective extrapolations of the superhero genre. It's doubtful that Marvel will find a match for his methodical and well developed writing style anytime soon. As for Lark, he will presumably continue with the publisher, who will hopefully find a way to employ his powerful, evocative style and clean figures on a title worthy of his talents.

For the time being, Brubaker has at least one storyline to complete until the ends of his tenure on "Winter Soldier", with Jackson "Butch" Guice set to rejoin him with the next issue. Hopefully, the departing writer will find a way to complete his work on the title with the level of skill matching his scripts for "Broken Arrow".

Monday, August 27, 2012

Reviews for Wednesday, August 23rd


The fourth major "All Star Western" storyline concludes, wrapping up the "War of Lords and Owls". At this point, it's clear that the creative team's initial plan for the title stretched to the end of the first year. There is a distinct feeling of closure as the characters get back to the Crime Bible cultists that they initially banded together to confront. Therefore, the inclusion of Court of Owls gets revealed for what it was - a late addition to the already plotted storyline, providing a tie-in to the well-selling "Batman" story arc.

Tallulah Black continues to feature extensively, and basically takes the lead on most of the action sequences. This is fitting considering Palmiotti and Gray's decision to incorporate her as the permanent addition to the cast, which proves very justified. The character based storytelling has continually benefited the company's only period piece title, and Hex's lover brings a unique dynamic to the proceedings.

The use of chapter breaks continues to provide for an abortive pacing, but the stylishness of Moritat's pencils and inks and the unique subject matter more than make up for the shortcomings. The artist boldly realizes these bulky characters whose wrinkled period clothing fills up the pages. In this issue, the artist finds space (and time) for little else but the figures in his panels, leaving it mostly for the colorist to provide mood and atmosphere. The female character's manga-like features have yet to fully integrate with the style he strives for on this book, but otherwise, the art continues to imbue the book with a lot of energy and identity.

The Terrence 13 backup wraps up the Scott Kollins illustrated story in a way that focuses on debunking the story behind the Haunted Highwayman. The issue sets him up as a tragic villain, whose makes Dr Terrence's intervention personal, bringing out the doctor's cold, scientific mind to its rational extreme. It's a decent story, finishing up on a point that links the character to his original Silver Age  incarnation.


Francis Manapul returns on art, as the title begins a two-part story, building on the string of oneshots that preceded it. Aided by Brian Buccellato, the artist is quick to restore the title back to its position as a lush, gorgeously realized book. The creative team uses several double page spreads and inventive layouts that maximizes the reader's goodwill, and makes them more tolerable when it comes to the story.

On the other hand, the creative team feels much more comfortable presenting the Glider's debut as the new leader of the Rogues. By returning to a broader canvass of episodic storytelling and interweaving subplots, Manapul and Buccellato go a long way to regaining the narrative footing lost since "Mob rule".

Such an open, plot-heavy approach seems to merge well with what DC wants the book to be. Having an art-centered traditional superhero title go through the motions of updating the Silver Age Flash stories for an audience grown up on "Heroes" and "Lost" certainly seems as a valid approach. As such, the wholesale Rogues revamp still feels chaotic and underdeveloped, despite the buildup in the previous issues.

Having all these characters running around Keystone at the same time, in the same issue, leads to most of them having little more than a cameo role. Just focusing on the Heatwave/Glider/Cold dynamic would go a long way to covering pretty much the same ground, despite limiting the somewhat epic scope of the arc.

On the other hand, having the threat escalate so fast makes it very hard for the creative team to properly wrap up the arc in the upcoming Flash Annual #1. In any event, the creators will likely use the double-size issue merely to establish the size of the threat. So far in their run, the Rogues have proven largely ineffective, which goes a long way to justifying the decision.

It remains to be seen whether Manapul and Buccellato ultimately succeed in making the Rogues into an interesting team of villains they have proven to be in Geoff Johns' run. There is certainly a lot of potential inherent in the both these characters and the title. The creators have for a time stepped away from grounding the title in the police procedural, and it will be interesting to see where they ultimately choose to go with "the Flash". For the moment, a still largely generic Barry is forced to contend with Dr. Elias, another character that begs for some fleshing out.


The Fialkov/Sorrentino title reaches the end of the arc starring the Van Helsing cult. Surprisingly, the editorial choose this point to foster a crossover with "Stormwatch", with the characters of the former Wildstorm title providing a fresh, superhero perspective on the complicated events of "I, Vampire".

A lot of the issue is thus spent on recapping previous events, while the vampire/zombie situation keeps spinning out of control. By the middle of the issue, it's an absolute mess, that the characters recognized as being unmanageable. Fialkov provides a version of Stormwatch that basically represents a rebooted Authority, with a single reference to the secret society aspect of the team.

Besides the generally well depicted members of Stormwatch, the writer manages to have the main "I, Vampire" remain in the spotlight, and many of the issue's best moments involve Tig, Mary and Andrew. Sorrentino remains solid throughout, with layouts kept clear and characters largely distinctive. The sepia-toned colors maintain the specific atmosphere of the title, but the issue derives most of its impact from the ending, that features yet another status quo change.

And while the creators keep their sense of humor in the tense last moments of their first year of stories, there is no doubt that many DCU crossovers have burdened the title to the point of preventing the creative team from introducing new characters, and fully exploiting the premise. Hopefully, following the #0 issue, the editorial will see fit to enable the title to tell its own stories without the crossovers and tie-ins - providing Fialkov and Sorrentino with a platform for their creative best for as long as they are able to preserve retailer attention.


Picking up from the cliffhanger of the previous issue, "Justice League Dark" #12 opens with a one page origin for the character that betrayed the team, before setting the course that will take the book to the end of the storyline. Both heroes and villains regroup as the mastermind behind Faust's plan announces his intentions and declares his revenge against Constantine.

At this point, the mystery villain's working mainly as John's opposite number, and it's not entirely out of the realm of possibility that he is DCU's version of Golden Boy, John's unborn twin from his venerable "Vertigo" title. At the same time, Lemire hints that the character is known to other DCU magic users so that it could might as well be a new rendition of an occult villain that has yet to show up in the title.

For the moment, the Lady Xanadu/Tim Hunter part of the plot appears to have been a red herring. The aforementioned opening page hints at a personal value the Books of Magic may have for the turncoat superhero, with the writer trying hard to make them mean more then a typical McGuffin. Yet, for all intents and purposes that's exactly what they are, as Justice League Dark splits to follow the leads on Faust.

Breaking up a superhero team into two plot strands to make the scenes both more manageable and the characters more distinctive is a tried and true superhero convention, which coupled with the mystery villain kept in the dark really amounts to reminding the reader of the title's modus operandi. This really is a Justice League title focusing on DC's seldom seen shadier characters. It's issues like this one that serve to strengthen the reader's resolve considering the Lemire/Janin collaboration, as the experience seems to be worth it.

The penciler/inker continues to adapt to the challenges of the title, as his characters start displaying a broader range of emotions that jibes much closer with their dialogue. Ulises Arreola's greens and purples continue to accentuate the stiffness in the art though, as the computer coloring never truly cohers into a satisfying whole. Taking a cue from the constant barrage of colorful spells the team members cast, DC seemingly aims at a video game esthetic, but despite the redesign, these characters and the story they are starring in seem decidedly informed by a decades old esthetic.

Still, the creative team's choice of the immediate villain's for the #13 seem as reasonable and fitting, as most of the creative decisions made by Lemire and the editorial since Peter Milligan left the title. Despite a gratuitous death of a woefully underused character that closes the issue, "Justice League Dark" seems finally to be fulfilling its mandate by being an enjoyable superhero-informed romp that abandons the Vertigo imperative for a refreshingly irreverent take on these characters.


On "Punisher", Mico Suayan continues as a fill-in artist, in an issue that spotlights Greg Rucka's unique contribution to the genre. In itself, the story is a complete chapter in the wider Rucka/Chechetto run, but more importantly, it showcases a tactical operation of the Punisher, a vigilante existing in the Marvel universe. The storytelling is patient and economic, hitting all the necessary beats to make it an action thriller.

The wholesomeness of Ruck's craft shows as he illustrates both sides of the conflict, reminds the reader of the particularities of the conflict, which finally culminates in the confrontation that makes up the bulk of the issue. Throughout, both the tone and the pacing never falter, as the creators work in synch to deliver their genre best.

Suayan's photo referenced work feels much more suited to the action at hand than in the previous issue, that introduced the McGuffin. The faces retain an unnatural stiffness, but the tension and the dialogue help distract the reader away from all the close mouths and strange facial expressions. The Bulgarian artist tries, and largely succeeds, to echo a cinematic experience that is the dominant visual of these stories, justifying the use of photo reference in service of the representational art style.

The only other major problem with the story is that, for all of his effort, Rucka never manages to contort the rules of the Marvel Universe, and have his story seamlessly fit into New York that also has Spider-Man in it. Despite his debut in the publisher's flagship, the Punisher has never felt at ease in the superhero surroundings, and contorting the script to provide for the logistics of the fantasy universe only serves to call attention to the problem.

Despite this, for all intents and purposes, "the Punisher" remains the sole title that provides a crime fiction outlet in the publisher's output, and illustrates a high level of competency in delivering what would be a purely generic story in the hands of lesser talents.


The beginning of Cullen Bunn's solo run as the writer of Marvel's "Venom" starts off very unevenly. Picking up the thread from the "Circle of Four"crossover, the writer presents the first part of the occult storyline, featuring Thony ("Spider-Man: Ends of the Earth") Silas on art. "Monsters of Evil" begins with the recap of the issues so far, and presents Venom with both a new mission and a possible new love interest.

Supposedly acting on Secret Avengers mandate, Flash goes on to oppose the Department of Occult Armaments, an secret society featured in his "Fear Itself: Fearless" work. For story purposes, they are just another evil cult that Venom cuts loose on, before fully comprehending their new scheme, and who is standing behind it. Considering how uninformed Flash is at this point, his continual narration consist mostly of conveying his emotions and letting the reader sympathize with him.

This becomes crucial as the issue climaxes and the villain exploits his weakness to bring out the monster in him. Compared to the issues preceding it, at this point the story feels arbitrary and off-kilter.  Silas' works here in the expressionistic, caricatural style that evokes artists such as Phil Hester, while exhibiting the typical strengths and weaknesses of the approach. His work here has a lot of energy, but a lack of definition without strong, original stylization, maintains the long struggle the title has endured since Tony Moore's early departure.

At this point, there is little to recommend the title, and unless Bunn finds a way to make the title his own following the"Minimum Carnage"crossover, this incarnation of Venom will likely be remembered for the Rick Remender issues preceding "Monsters of Evil".

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Reviews for Wednesday, August the 15th


Mark Waid's run on "Daredevil" has so far hinged on a retro esthetic, a modern reworking of the character, as originally presented by Stan Lee and Bill Everett. The current issue featuring an extended flashback framed by a couple of pages placing it in the context of the run so far, basically proves an extended tribute to the character's Silver Age adventures.

Mike ("Madman", "X-Statix") Allred, an artist self-consciously fixated on appropriating the traditional style for modern and subversive storytelling proves a natural fit. The story follows up on the split between Matt and Foggy, and provides a context to their relationship. Waid has previously detailed the two's college days, but this time he places the focus on the early days in the series, shortly after the character assumed the now-classic Wally Wood designed red costume.

Two thirds of the story are taken up by the taken up by the protagonist's fight against Stilt-Man, which Allred lays out in vertical panels, focusing on the visual potential of the overblown character design. Yet, despite the inventive way the hero finally dispatches the villain, the Matt and Foggy dynamic that gives context to the fight largely saps it off its energy.

By Stilt-Man being merely be a distraction from the much more everyday hit on the Foggy, the creators are largely dispensing with the Silver Age story logic. The character's inclusion comes off as being simply the case of Waid trying to see if how far he could stretch the retro approach. After the inclusion of the obligatory fight, the writer finally gets to the heart of the story, featuring a very humane scene that shows the best of Foggy and Matt.

Again, the reader is forced to accept the writer's skillful application of science fiction tropes to "Daredevil" and the effect it has on the reading experience. The counter-intuitive approach, which dispenses with the 1980s Frank Miller additions has genuinely made for a very interesting reading, making the new series such a critical success. Despite the increased schedule and the artistic changes, the series remains a love letter to classic Marvel, a particularly well realized book that has thankfully managed to gain a firm foothold in the Direct Market.


The penultimate part of the "Something to Fear" arc largely deals with the ramifications of the last issue, whose catastrophic events take their toll on these bruised characters. A single page featuring a zombie attack, but it only serves to accentuate that the series has entered a period of extended fighting between the survivors.

Kirkman explores the violence that has become the ultimate form of communication, and how this informs the characters of children sticking with Rick's group. "Walking Dead" reinforces that life is possible in the zombie apocalypse, but that the living must confirm to the brutality of the power struggle.

Charlie Adlard keeps the pace fast and energetic, but the thick inks don't never manage to hide the fact that he's working in a rush. Despite Cliff Rathburn's presence on gray tones, it's way past time that the book has had a consistent inker. Perhaps Adlard's way of working makes this problematic, but it's certain that a book could benefit from more definition.

An establishing shot of Gregory in his study survives the transition to page, and then largely on the strength of the layout. In a strange way, Rick's mid-story recap to Gregory inserts a strange feeling of ambiguity to the proceedings. By reminding the reader of the losses the enemy has suffered in their brief skirmishes, the writer puts the two major character deaths in perspective.

The passing of the two characters was felt by the reader simply because of the way the story is focused. In the broader picture, they are merely two casualties indiscriminately chosen by Negan as a way to retaliate. Once Rick and Michonne return to Alexandria, they are reminded that the hostilities are anything but one sided, hinting a quick resolution to the present predicament.

Still, no matter how much longer the creators keep the Saviors a threat, "Walking Dead" continues to be an engaging read, well suited to the twist and turns needed to keep a serial story going.


Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang finish out the first year of their celebrated run with a chapter that climaxes the immediate plot regarding Apollo's ascendency. It is a largely action issue, taking place on Olympus, as various Gods side in relation to the situation and their own agendas. The plot is made even more interesting as Zola's delivery is about to start, leading into a new set of questions.

The reader is invited to sympathize with Wonder Woman because she is the only one that rises above the intrigues to selflessly care for another. Azzarello repeatedly defines Diana by her unconditional love, justifying her role as the hero. Yet, she still feels like a one-dimensional superhero protagonist whose purity borders on obnoxiousness.

Diana, as designed by Jim Lee for the Geoff Johns-written "Justice League" continually undermines the Azzarello/Chiang dynamic. The final page of the issue tries for some sort of a compromise, in order to strengthen the title's connection with the wider DCU

For the moment, the Greek Gods provide more than enough entertainment value on their own. In the creators' hands, these thousands of years old myths are continually pliable and changing. This is why Apollo, Hera and ultimately even Hermes change their roles, and the implications seem to provide a much more natural story progression. More immediately, Diana's rivalry with Artemis seems like it could provide for a credible format for physical confrontations.

The character's over the top design and aggressive nature make her a more typical foil for what is notionally still a superhero book. Right now, the only character that sorely needs more fleshing out is Lennox, who reunites with Diana in the closing pages. In Hermes' absence, his indeterminate status as Wonder Woman's opposite number and possible romantic interest is likely to be more developed.

For all their attempts to stay relevant and powerful, the Gods that Diana keeps crossing paths with seem still beholden to ancient signs and portents, destined never to step too far away from their original limitations. Yet, the creators maintain the pettiness and sheer humanity inherent in their conflict.

It goes without saying that Cliff Chiang remains crucial to the book's success. Despite the many angry words exchanged atop Olympus, the setting remains distinctive. The mountain is sparse enough not to clutter the background of character focused panels, but the penciller/inker's ingenuity is glimpsed in a scene where a character is thrown off the cliff and depicted as starting to fall "for all eternity". The simple addition of the temple-like formations in the mountain rock reinforces the sense of place the creative team is trying to communicate.

This is especially important as the change of leadership starts effecting Olympus's look and feel, and the creators go on to feature a three page fight sequence that dispenses with the backgrounds for the sake of impact.

Taking all this into account, and with the promise of Diana confronting Ares (with their previous relationship to be spotlighted in the next month's #0), there is every indication that creators will keep up with this strength of the storytelling, delivering the best and most consistent of "New 52" titles.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

XIII 20 - Day of the Mayflower

Following the conclusion of the Vance/Van Hamme's original "XIII" cycle, Dargaud sought to continue the series with new authors. With the help of the original creative team, the venerable French publisher contracted writer Yves Sante (who already succeeded Jean Van Hamme on "Thorgal") and Russian-born Youri Jigounov, the artist of "Alpha" to come up with a new series of "XIII" stories.

The result is the long-awaited "Day of the Mayflower", published in 2011, as the first chapter of a new conspiracy that the titular number 13 gets dragged in. The story is in continuity with the previous albums, but the connections it makes are a bit flimsy and artificial. XIII is dragged out of retirement by a new cadre of enemies with a highly political agenda, on the flimsy basis of his supposed connection to a figure from America's history.

The volume itself features the book's longtime supporting cast, but mostly centers on Jason himself. This works to set up his friends' expanded roles in the sequel, but also to remind the readers that the new creative team wouldn't be taking the series in too much of a new direction. The villains are active throughout the country, working tirelessly to frame Maclane, and bully their way to their objective.

The book feels the strongest and freshest when it depicts Jason's life in Bar Harbor, the place where he washed up in "the Day of the Black Sun", but the creators' ambitious plan simply won't let him be. Meanwhile, XIII is trying a new treatment in order to help with his amnesia, and this is where Sente and Jigounov appear at their boldest. Namely, by giving Maclane flashbacks, they dispense with the ambiguity that has fueled the series. The creative justification is to be found in the closing pages, that tease the link to the real life political activist, which would be deprived of much of their potency if there was still some doubt considering the lead's identity.

Much more contrived is the idea that one of these memories connects him to a character that has compiled information on the very agency that is targeting Maclane in "the Day of the Mayflower". It was a shortcut that makes sense in the narrative, even if it strains the realism the creative team try so hard to maintain. Speaking of the latter, it is much more important to consider the album in context of the series that preceded it, and the many choices Van Hamme and Vance have made.

First and foremost, visually, the book is entirely consistent with Vance's celebrated work. There is no doubt that, once the reader opens the pages of "the Day of the Mayflower", that he is reading a "XIII" story. Jigounov has very consciously oriented his already detailed style to resemble Vance, with the results being very peculiar.

Jigounov's line is open and more free flowing, his figures much more kinetic, resulting in the look that is much more modern and current. Yet, there is no mistaking Vance's influence in the way the faces are inked, the way the vehicles and buildings are drawn, and the way the action flows. And while the new artist manages to overcome repeating the same stiff character positions,  the very fact that he has to provide the continuity to a half dozen of Vance designed characters solidifies the feeling that Dargaud wasn't interested in making too many risky decisions regarding the future of the title.

Getting back to the story, it feels a bit too violent even compared to a typical "XIII" volume. The connection to the original XX conspiracy likewise feels strained, as if the creators felt that including Maclane in a completely new story would alienate the existing readers. Otherwise, Sente feels compelled to confront the titular XIII with every possible contrivance, until the protagonist is forced to leave the country, and reunite with a couple of friends in Europe.

The chief hurdle for the reader to get over is that all this is served as the continuation of "XIII". The idea that a single man would survive a series of unlikely events and finally and publicly defeats the conspiracy that has spanned two administrations, and still continue to live in a small fishing village, requires the reader to assume a very strange stance. The creators are clearly telling a new story, their own, but they are doing it as a notional continuation of a very continuity heavy series, and the results are at best a compromise.

Visually and stylistically, it's still a "XIII" story, but in many ways it feels like a restart of the franchise, or even a prequel. On the other hand, if Jigounov was allowed to personalize his style and the scenario was developed independently of the "XIII" brand, it would still have come across as a generic, and pandering to the same demographic.

In other words, "the Day of the Mayflower" is exactly what its marketed to be - a not too ambitious continuation for a popular series that has already had more than its share of contrived plot twists. Where the spin-off "XIII Mystery' tries to make sense of many of the characters and setting alluded to in Van Hamme and Vance's work, the continuation of the main series is reserved precisely for the reader who has allowed the original creators their excesses and missteps, and genuinely wants to continue reading Jason's adventures, no matter how strained and unnecessary they may be, compared to the already bloated series.

As long as the Sente/Jigounov run works as its own story and avoids orientating itself to the full breadth of the scope of the original creative team, it seems that the reader will be getting a solid, if unexceptional modern thriller, professionally realized under the care of the publisher that continues to capitalize on the brand that has stayed strong for three decades.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Reviews for Wednesday, 8th August


The latest issue in Snyder's sprawling Batman run is the definition of a fill-in. A supporting character from one of the previous issues gets fleshed out in a story without any real tension or a reason for its existence. In many ways, the Becky Cloonan illustrated pages bring to mind an indie aesthetic that's sympathetic to modern Gothamites spotlighted in the issue, but there is a real feeling of artificiality throughout the story.

The book tries for a controversial angle with the lead character's gay brother, but it all comes off as forced. In a lot of ways, Batman #12 recalls the vastly superior "Batman Year 100", but with a key difference. Paul Pope focused on the vigilante's helpers precisely because he wanted to keep the lead character as an enigma. Scott Snyder has continually let in the reader on Bruce's innermost thoughts, and in a story as personal as "Court of Owls", there is really little point to flesh out a minor character's inner life.

Had Greg Capullo been able to keep up with the grinding monthly schedule, it's doubtful that the writer would ever have come up with the story. As such, he tries to get the reader to sympathize with Harper, the electrician, and come up with the way how her little contribution impacts Batman's mission, but the results are ponderous.

Previously, the Greg Rucka/Ed Brubaker side characters were so strong and so well defined, that they managed to carry a whole book, that was for some time a standout in the Batman line of titles. There is no evidence that reading about Harper and her brother would be a pleasant experience, and something that the reader would cherish month in and month out.

The issue dispenses with the back-up, to provide additional pages that explain the tease Harper gives in the opening, but the presence of a different creative team jibes strongly with the intended purpose. If the idea was to have strong indie talent present a honest tale of real life young adults, then the presence of Snyder protegee James Tynion IV as a co-writer, and much more importantly, Andy Clarke, really dispenses with the intended effect.

Cloonan has repeatedly shown that she is adept at depicting action (in this issue even), thus having Clarke provide seven closing pages comes off very abrupt, considering the difference in style. The featured villain had previously shown up in the pages of Snyder and Jock's "Detective Comics" run, and comes off as cartoonish, but not much more exotic than the typical Batman rogues.

The next month's #0 supposedly sets up the forthcoming developments in the Snyder/Cappulo run. With the Joker mega arc opening the second year of the "Batman" stories, the Harper story will no doubt soon be a distant memory, a not to successful tangent reminiscent of the Vertigo side stories bridging the gap between two bigger stories realized by the title's regular penciller.


The second part of "The New World Orders" maintains the same solid, if underwhelming tone of the opening issue, with Cullen Bunn trying his best to channel the Brubaker's plot into a semblance of a typical issue of the run. The results, coupled by Scott Eaton's continued competent, but unrefined work (this time inked by three inkers) seem a bit more accomplished than last time, but never approach the clarity and the definition of Steve Epting's cover.

Eaton's work is nevertheless more caricatural and works with more energy, reminiscent of Mark ("Ultimate Spider-Man") Bagley's work. His rendition of Agent 13 is particularly nimble and spunky, even if it sticks to the traditional rules of the genre when it comes to objectifying women.

As for the story, most of it deals with the TV pundit Reed Braxton, who comments on the Discordian invasion and riles the common man against Cap. It's a well paced issue, if ultimately slight on plot development, but it's unlikely to change a reader's mind on the last stretch of Brubaker's run. With most of #16 told from the perspective of Carter and Dugan, the next issue should return the focus on Steve, and bring him closer to the masterminds behind the invasion scenario.

By adding a third party to the Bravo-Captain America conflict, Brubaker was consciously prolonging the clash, making it more meaningful when Steve finally overcomes the enemy's barrage, but stylistically, the book offers the reader very little. By this point in his 8 year run on the title, the writer has told similar stories with much more energy, and its hard not to look at "New World Orders" and see much more than echoes of more accomplished stories from back when the Brubaker/Epting "Captain America" was routinely hailed as one of the best superhero monthlies.


On "Frankenstein", Matt Kindt brings his first arc to a close with a well-paced issue, framed as a conversation between the S.H.A.D.E. director and his chief scientist. By now, it's apparent that Kindt aims at making the book into more of a spy epic, and has used "Satan's Ring" as a test to see how well DC's Creature Commandos fit into the mold.

He manages to preserve Frank's relentlessness and personality, even adding to the mythos with the addition of flashbacks, setting up the arc where he squares off against his creator. The romantic subplot between him and Nina has likewise continued in a subtle and believable way, far surpassing the cues from the original "Flashpoint" mini-series.

The problem is that in the process of narrating some of the creator's wildly inventive ideas, the whole thing starts appearing beyond silly and childish. Seeing Frank dispatch the Leviathan goes a long way to cancelling the suspension of disbelief. A more nuanced portrayal, perhaps including the two agents who have yet to reappear in the book since the first part of the arc, would have brought some level of credibility to storytelling.

That the mole in the organization turns out to be an easily dealt with threat comes as a no surprise. Likewise, the eventual reveal of what is the significance of the Ring itself reveals it for a easily forgettable McGuffin. These two plot points would have proven anti-climatic in a better story, but in "Satan's Ring", they appear as just another underdeveloped bits of a strange, sprawling plot.

Alberto Ponticelli remains crucial to the book's consistency, as his visuals maintain the continuity and connect the disparate bits of the creator's imaginings. With the book's sales in the continual decline, its doubtful the connection to DC's better received Edge titles will convince the retailers to stick with the title in a firmer way. Hopefully, Kindt will find a way to make the strange mixture of Grant Morrison and Jeff Lemire ideas his own by then, and give the wannabe cult title a proper sendoff.


The start of "The Mighty Thor"/"Journey Into Mystery" crossover. Kieron Gillen and Matt Fraction write a very confidant beginning to the nine part saga, without drawing too much on the established continuity. Aided by the exceptionally solid artwork of Alan Davis (himself making a strong showing at Marvel, with the concurrent release of the Clandestine tie-in Annuals), the pair begin their story in a manner that recalls both Hitchcock's "Birds" and "the Lord of the Rings".

The Aesir/Vaenir war that preceded the events of the crossover gets spotlighted in an easily understandable and appeal way, ala the beginning of "Fellowship of the Ring", and the writers take pains to start their story properly. Both the lyrical quality of "The Journey Into Mystery", and the straightforward pseudo-mythological superheroics of "The Mighty Thor" find a way to these beautiful pages, showing the beginning of the renewed hostilities between two mythological races.

The plot tries hard to incorporate all of the segments of the Asgardian Realm, both to show how far reaching the Faustian gamble of their opponents are, as well as to set up the players in the game of the rising stakes. All in all, a surprisingly enjoyable beginning of the event that promises to unite the two titles for some memorable storytelling.


This issue marks Rick Remender's final entry in "the Venom" series. After plotting the last arc that wound up written by Cullen Bunn, Remender writes the final issue of his run solo, illustrated more than adequately by Declan ("Hero Killers", "Thudnerbolts") Shalvey. The heavily narrated story brings thematic resolution to Thompson's father issues, while wrapping up the Jack-O'-Lantern subplot.

Obviously, both of these things are left for Bunn, and possible future writers to pick upon, but for now they are adequately dealt with. Once again, Remender appears very sincere when tackling Flash's inner life, and commits to tackling the dark subject matter in an adult way.

The flashbacks never feel like perfunctory origin sketches, but an actual attempt to get to the bottom of Flash's problems with aggression and substance abuse. Bringing in the father comparison does more than provide the back story, and ultimately ties back into his rivalry with Jack-O'-Lantern. The eventual clash feels a bit slighted, and even gratuitous, but is saved by Flash's eventual decision regarding the villain.

And while the parallels do eventually become heavy handed, Shalvey's artwork proves to be a very adequate conduit for Remender's final word on the character. The penciller/inker feels very sure when depicting superhero action, which has a great flow and clear line, while he adopts a softer tone for the flashback sequences. Lee Loughridge further separates the two by a limited palette of colors that further accentuate the quality presentation and reward the reading experience.

The writer's frank farewell on the letters page further reinforces the feel that he respects both the experience and the readers of the title, which he leaves in Bunn's capable hands. Hopefully, the editorial will pair the new writer with a regular artist, as the lack of visual consistency has proven the surprisingly strong title's chief problem.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Bruce J. Hawker 2 - Orgy of the Damned

In 1979, William Vance completed the second major "Bruce J. Hawker" story, again serialized in "Tintin". It would take six years, and the success of "XIII" for the story to be published as an album, reigniting the writer/artist's efforts to produce new material with the character.

The follow up to "Destination: Gibraltar" proved a very uneven experience, especially when compared to its more famous successor. And while the subject matter of "Bruce J. Hawker" was always too specific to enjoy the trans-media success of "XIII", the naval history series' second outing's almost distances itself from the designated genre. Vance offers a typical adventure story, featuring our heroes trapped in the enemy's dungeon, and concocting a very far fetched plan to escape.

Infuriatingly, the writer/artist never sets up the prison ship's daily routine - he begins the story with the English soldiers already putting their plan in action. A very overwritten page introduces the rest of Hawker's surviving officers, but Vance doesn't really do the same for their Spanish tormentors.

Unfortunately, this robs the heavily detailed backgrounds and strong figures of the dynamic they would have if coupled with a better paced story. As a Spanish soldier stumbles into their part of the ship to be caught in Hawker's plan for escape, so does the reader jumps in the album's strange flow. The twists and turns then appear haphazardly, with a convenience of a writer running off the check list of adventure tropes.

The gypsies come to appease the Spanish soldiers, distracting them from the English soldiers, who still exhibit very little in the way of an actual character. A single foolhardy youth makes for some change in the dynamic, but otherwise, it's hard to care when the Spaniards bullets find their way to their backs.

That bit of realism aside, the titular orgy also appears ill-balanced, with the frequent shifts to the dancing Gypsies and Spanish revelers bringing little to the story except for some color. When Hawker and his men light the fuse and resurface in the main hall, the sudden twist of Gypsies turning against the Spaniards seems like just another in a string of ill-considered plot twists.

Following an adequate action sequence, Hawker and a couple of his surviving men finally manage to put their nightmarish captivity behind them. Vance thankfully saves some of the Gypsies, including the beautiful Gypsy the protagonist saw in a dream in "Destination: Gibraltar".

The album closes on a high note, as the officers finally encounter another British ship, with a commanding officer that has a very firm stance on Hawker's actions. The final panels mirror the first album's cliffhanger, promising another tense entry in the series, that would not come until 1985.

It's very hard to understand the reader coming back for more for any other reason except for the creator's uncanny draftsmanship. Despite the promise in the last pages, which set up the next album, it's easy to understand why the series vanished from the pages of "Tintin" until the writer/artist made his name in the Franco-Belgian industry.

A single page, showing the English fighting off the Spanish while rescuing Hawker and his men goes to show everything that is wrong with the series. Coming as it does so late in the volume, after a series of storytelling shortcomings, it's unlikely to seriously impact on the reader's enjoyment of the troubled volume. Yet, the decision to show such an important moment as just another page in the 45 page story, feels woefully misguided.

On the one hand, a case could be made that it's a deus ex machina moment, and doesn't really feature a turning point based on the protagonist's actions, but to have it dashed off after dozens of generic action adventure pages in the series billing itself as a naval historic fiction, really feels misconceived.

By all accounts, this early in the series "Bruce J. Hawker" is still an early work of a creator that would mature into much a stronger storyteller. As such, it's unlikely that it will be of interest to any but the fans of "XIII", the specific period setting, and readers looking for a not too distinctive piece of pulp entertainment. It's hard to imagine a series picking up from the creative nadir that is "Orgy of the Damned" without the success of the Van Hamme collaboration.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Rotworld - Prologue

"The Rotworld Prologue" starts in "Animal Man", and focuses on providing the exposition from the more grounded point of view of the Baker family. The issue credits both Lemire and Snyder, the writers of the two titles crossing over, for providing the script. The art is by the series' regular Steve Pugh, who brings a detailed, visceral work focusing on the larger than life superhero aspects of the series.

In many ways, the issue lives up to its prologue status, with the bulk of the plot taking place next to the portal to the Rot, with the Baker family clearing up any misunderstandings between themselves and the Swamp Thing, before letting the title characters take a plunge. Meanwhile, the writer advances the Cliff subplot by switching over to Buddy's son to provide for some diversion, but by and large, the plot is a familiar one at this point.

The superhero icons have gone to the center of the Rot, while their loved ones stay behind to guard the portal and prevent the agents of Rot from spreading unchecked. Steve Pugh's artwork is solid throughout, with bold lines and clear layouts, but there is a slight disconnect when it comes to conveying the emotions. The artist is comfortable depicting the typical calm and agitated extremes, but the artwork fails to provide much in between.

Given the somewhat on the nose scripting of these sequences, it stands to reason that Pugh wasn't particularly inspired, but a more instinctive artwork would have definitely helped the reader through some of the panels packed with information that is either already familiar or bordering on cliche. Perhaps the most accomplished page is the one where Ellen and Maxine say goodbye to Buddy, while Abby does the say to Alec. Otherwise, the issue is little more than a slow-paced beginning of the multiple part narrative that counts on the reader to continue following each title month after month.

The other part of the prologue, published in "Swamp Thing", is a much more interesting affair. Lacking the focus on character dynamics, the issue advances the plot to its logical end, and brings forth the Rotworld. Again, the credits box lists Snyder and Lemire as co-writers, but Marco Rudy's artwork, and the continued use of unusual panel layouts remind the reader that he's reading the "Swamp Thing" part of the crossover.

Rudy's artwork is otherwise uneven and realized with the help of two inkers besides the penciller, leading to rushed lines that don't benefit from the heavy blacks. Val Staples' strong colors try to provide a unifying element, with the resulting nightmarish presentation at least feeling coherent. Where the issue stumbles is in the frequent cutaways to the Ellen, Maxine, Socks and Abby. Some of the transitions are better than the others, but the sequence works in moving them away from guarding the portal, and hinting at their role in the upcoming issues.

This lines up with the most final twist, imparted to the characters by Anton Arcane, regarding the world that Swamp Thing and Buddy Baker are returning to. The issue definitely picks up once Swamp Thing's nemesis shows up, with an explanation for his return that uses the crossover in a logical way.

From the visual perspective, the repeated motif of Buddy and Alec falling through the Rot feels somewhat perfunctory, and doesn't really work beyond communicated the basic idea that these characters are getting swallowed up in the netherworld way out of their debt. Swamp Thing's initial confidence is the relative weakness of their adversaries is thereby shattered, but from a purely graphic point, the two subsequent pages featuring Abby feel much more accomplished.

In the end, the publisher teases the real beginning of "Rotworld" in October, following each title's ill timed #0 issues. At this point, it seems like the "Swamp Thing"/"Animal Man" crossover was planned before the editorial decided on featuring a line wide prologue issue to mark the first anniversary of the "New 52" relaunch. Still, the cut away will work as an opportunity to give the "Swamp Thing" creative team time to catch up on the deadlines, which will go a long way to provide a more unified aesthetic when it comes to the crossover.

As advertised in the Prologue cliffhanger, both title will launch their own Rotworld storyarcs, with "The Green Kingdom" running alongside "The Red Kingdom", presumably before reuniting again to have the protagonists deal away with the threat together. On the strength of these two issues, "Rotworld" looks to be every bit as a natural extension of both series, and not the dreaded artificial crossover that has derailed so many of otherwise fully functioning titles.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Reviews for August the 1st


The last chapter of the second Grant Morrison "Action Comics" storyline ends with an oversized issue. Excluding the back-up and devoting the space to wrapping up the story provides for an easier read, at least from the point of the script. With three pencillers and four inkers there is much less visual consistency, which has been a problem since the book launched. Both Cafu, Brad Walker and Rags Morales are accomplished superhero stylists, but their styles don't mash together too well. Yet, at this point the reader is already trained to avoid at looking too close to the art when it comes to the rushed jobs that the editorial has seen fit to publish in this title.

The main conflict of the issue, between Superman and Captain Comet, the Forgotten Superman, reminds the reader of plots of "All-Star Superman". The iconic character is faced with another one of the faulty versions of himself, and it is through the battle that he is reminded just what makes him the first and best superhero.

Unfortunately, Commet is written as a sterile, inhuman figure, serving highly evolved space intelligence, and as such makes for a rather bland villain. What he lacks in personality, the Forgotten Superman makes up for in the powers department, with Lois being a clear victim of his rampage on Metropolis. A flashback outlines the villain's tragic past, closely mirroring Superman's own, except for the crucial part the Kents played in his upbringing.

Superman pays no heed to the veiled references Commet makes about the eventual fate of Metropolis and his role in it, which will hopefully be elaborated upon in one of the remaining Morrison issues, before the writer departs after #16. Throughout the issue, Superman is helped by Lois' super-powered niece, but in retrospect her role becomes superfluous, with the writer chiefly using her a commentator on the clash between two super-powered characters.

The final ten pages prove crucial for getting over the issue, though, as they serve as a much more humane reminder of both the extant of the "New 52" Superman's powers, as well as his inherent goodness. Seeing Superman's efforts to save Lois, no matter how idealized, feels like another reminder of the thought that went behind the relaunch. The subsequent two page sequence featuring Batman helps round out the Johnny Clark/Clark Kent subplot, that reminds the character of the specific perks of his secret identity.

All of these are familiar superhero tropes, and they never really elevate  the uneven bulk of the issue, but they certainly serve as the reminder that of the promise that accompanied the much maligned relaunch. Morrison finishes with a three page sequence hinting the developments of the forthcoming #0 issue, with another barrage of names that tease the players in the upcoming story. Hopefully, he'll have told most of his stories by the time he exits the title, wrapping up a run that was always interesting, even if it never truly lived up to the promise of the follow-up to his and Quitely's work with the character.


The penultimate issue of "The Boys" continues "The Bloody Doors Off" story-arc, determined to wrap up the remaining plot lines. The plot again focuses on the details of the Butcher's operations, with the ending bringing the conflict back to the beginning. #70 will be Butcher vs Hughie, and there's every indication that it will be a desperate fight.

The former leader of the Boys has hatched a genocidal plan that will enable him to destroy everything that has to do with superpowers, and Hughie is continually behind when it comes to piecing together the information. Most of #69 is spent conveying this information over the phone, before the Butcher makes his move.

Aside from a single page subplot concerning the Seven's financial backers, Ennis shies away from regular dialogue scenes until the very end of the issue. Thus, Braun is given the unenviable task of drawing the characters holding cellphones, and conveying information, which frequently deals with the specific logistics of a planned airplane operation. The talk about hangars and hired pilots is punctuated by a real feeling that these characters are dealing with the fallout of the recent events, but Ennis still feels like the details are pertinent and must be straightened out on panel.

The latter telephone conversation between Hughie and the Butcher is much more accomplished, using the medium to tease a much more foreboding terror, but it still serves largely the same purpose. The newest member of the Boys is frightened about the rapidly decreasing chances of him actually stopping the Butcher's monstrous plan, which finally climaxes in an extended sequence reminding the reader of the threat Billy poses to his own people.

The purpose of the chilling, yet bitter-sweet sequence is to drive home how outmatched the protagonist is, before returning to him in the last issue to save the world of the Butcher's plan. Once again, #69 works splendidly as a chapter in the story of "the Boys", but in concentrating on the information conveyed, Ennis purposefully slows down the plot to achieve the desired pacing. There is every indication that the pay off in the next month's final issue will be worth the meticulous scripting and the hard work of both him and Russ Braun that set the whole story up.


Two weeks after the last issue, Marvel provides the epilogue to the Latveria storyline, featuring the Avengers helping Matt out of the after effects of his predicament. It comes as no surprise that Mark Waid would choose to depict the particular grouping of characters featuring some of the oldest Marvel heroes. In fact, drawing a parallel between Matt and Ant-Man in this particularly retro rendition of the title feels surprisingly apt.

Even for the reader unfamiliar with the character, the writer provides enough of the context to appreciate the comparison, as well as feature Hank in a unique action hero role. Seeing Ant-Man battling nanite bugs in Matt's nervous system actually feels both amusing and reasonably tense, even if the parallel never amounts to something more than an amusing juxtaposition between two characters that shared very little previous history. Despite some of Samnee's rushed layouts, there is a very homely feeling once Matt resurfaces in the Avengers lab.

Reading Waid's narration of how Matt feels around Tony Stark and Stephen Strange feels as adequate as the previously established visual descriptions of Matt's senses. The creative team knows when to cut away from the Avengers, and in returning Matt to the law offices of Nelson & Murdock, features a tense confrontation that has been several issues in preparation.

With a grisly twist added to the supporting character's critique of the secret identity dynamic, Waid and Samnee present the recent development as just as sudden and unfair as it seems to Matt. Despite the skill involved in the conversation sequence, the quirky artist's work feels the strongest in the superhero portions of the issue. Several issues into the run, the penciller/inker really feels like he's getting used to the title, and hopefully he'll use the time granted by the Mike ("Madman", "X-Statix") Allred's fill-in to return with even stronger work the next time around.