Wednesday, October 17, 2012



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 11, 2012

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Comic reviews for Wednesday, October the 10th


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Rotworld: Red Kingdom #1, Green Kingdom #1


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Comic reviews for Wednesday, October the 3rd


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BOYS #71

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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