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Friday, July 19, 2013

The Splash Page Volume 7

For Comics Released July 17, 2013

Hello, everyone, and welcome to yet another volume of The Splash Page!  We are in the midst of July, and if you're a comic nerd, you know what that means: San Diego Comic Con!  As if the amount of announcements on comics, television, and movies would not be enough to keep one nerd excited, this was also easily the largest pull I have had in some time.  This week's Splash Page is going to be absolutely massive, and Kyle didn't even contribute any reviews this time around.  It is a week that features a ton of Marvel, a few DC, and even two indie titles (one of them new).  It is a week of new story lines beginning, others continuing, and the much anticipated crossover Trinity War offering its latest chapter.  Since this is the week of SDCC, I figured I would be remiss if I did not do something to discuss some of those more awesome comic announcements.  With that in mind, keep a look out for a Comic Con Edition of The Splash Page coming early next week (once all of the festivities have died down).  I think that's all I've got to say right now, so let's dive into some comics!


Fantastic Four #10
Written by Matt Fraction, Art by Mark Bagley

Thus far, under the direction of Matt Fraction, Fantastic Four has not been a series which takes itself too seriously.  In fact, Fraction has in many ways taken the comic back to its origins as a fun, harmless little comic which did not do more than tell big, dumb superhero stories about an intriguing family.  If you doubted this book's lack of seriousness, take just one look at this month's cover.  Your eyes are not deceiving you, that is The Thing giving Benjamin Franklin a sock to the jaw.  In Ben's defense, though, this Ben Franklin is a Skrull.  Since this rebooted Fantastic Four began, the team has been adventuring through the space time continuum while Reed searches for a cure to a disease which threatens to undo the group's amazing abilities.  This issue is an example of where that concept has been at its silliest, but Fraction is surprisingly able to do a lot of good things here.  Where this issue is really at its strongest is when Reed, Ben, and Sue decide to level with the rest of the group and admit that they are all very sick.  Within this moment, Fraction gives us some great personal drama between this family.  They might be the first family in comics, but that does not mean they are without a little bit of dysfunction.  Valeria's reactions to the news seem apt for a young girl, but it does seem a bit odd that Fraction has Johnny react just as childishly (although Johnny definitely makes some interesting points).  Although the journey to 1776 allows for some fun commentary on how our history is not black and white by any means, this story ultimately feels like a distraction to the vastly more intriguing character moments.  At least the art is good.  Rating: B

Iron Man #13
Written by Kieron Gillen, Art by Greg Land

The Secret Origin of Tony Stark finally has an issue which takes place completely in the present, all of the flashbacks and history which needed to be told are over for now.  Last issue we learned that even Tony's penchant for building exo-skeletons was ingrained into his being by 451.  Now we see 451 and Tony approaching the massive robot known as the Godkiller, which 451 plans to use to make Earth the center of a brand new empire in the universe.  As 451 has been such a crafty villain in the past, it does not seem too far of a stretch to imagine he is at least partly lying to Tony here.  Although this is an issue which is completely lacking in revelations which will make fanboys angry, that does not necessarily mean it is a better issue overall.  Kieron Gillen's run on Iron Man has thus far been just a series of mediocre issues which cause large messes.  Many of Gillen's basic ideas which are present in these Iron Man stories are not outright terrible, but there is just something of interest lost when Gillen actually puts his pen to the paper (so to speak).  Easily the funniest and most interesting aspect of this issue is anything involving Death's Head, whose return is much welcomed and should add an interesting element to the Tony vs 451 equation.  If this were an arc that was close to being finished, there are some aspects of this looming showdown between 451 and Tony which would be considered exciting.  As solicitations have made it obvious this story arc will be lasting until at least October, Gillen will be lucky to have any readers left by the time everything is said and done.  Rating: C+

Thor: God of Thunder #10
Written by Jason Aaron, Art by Esad Ribic

If you, for some reason, have not been reading Thor: God of Thunder, you are missing out on one of Marvel Now's absolute best titles.  Jason Aaron has been doing fantastic work with this character, making first time Thor readers out of many comic fans.  With this issue, we have the penultimate chapter of The God Bomb, a story that has truly been building since this series began.  In many ways, this issue feels like the latter half of the third act of a film.  Our heroes, in this case three Thors, have done their best to stop this on-going evil, but even their best was not enough to stop this monster.  Then, when doubt and fear seemed to be the only emotions left, our heroes are suddenly rescued and come to end this struggle for good.  It is not a narrative structure most of us are unfamiliar with, but that does not mean it is an issue which feels boring or repetitive.  In fact, Aaron's use of this narrative struggle only helps to bring about the reactions writers want from their readers.  We know Thor will find a way out of this scenario, but it is hard to not get excited when we see all three Thors re-gaining their strength and once again entering the fray.  Aaron also does a great job of developing Gorr even further, which is surprising as it seemed as if everything about this character had already been said.  While the previous issue of this series was more fun and amazing to read, this is still an incredibly strong comic, with beautiful art from Esad Ribic that launches us into what will surely be a fantastic conclusion to this perhaps overly long story.  Rating: A

Thunderbolts #13
Written by Charles Soule, Art by Phil Noto

It could be argued that Charles Soule's run on Thunderbolts begins in earnest with this issue as the previous one was a (albeit excellent) solo Punisher story.  Even then, however, it is hard to say this is a full Thunderbolts issue as it only focuses on three of the team members.  Much like the previous issue left him with the job of trying up loose ends with the Orestez Natchios story, Soule is once again on mop up duties here as he gives as an explanation about the Thunderbolts' most mysterious member: Mercy.  Since this rebooted series began, Mercy has been a character we have barely seen, but know that she possesses some sort of power that giver her an edge over her teammates, although it would be difficult to say she is truly a part of this team.  Whether Daniel Way intended for the character to remain a mystery for a longer period of time is unclear, but it is much appreciated that Charles Soule is taking the time to give us some answers before moving forward.  Mercy is a character who somewhat lives up to her namesake, but does so in a way which feels like quite the perversion of the term.  The Red Hulk makes it very clear that Mercy is quite uncontrollable, and that it will be up to the Thunderbolts to make sure that their missions more than satisfy her unquenchable thirst for death.  Where this issue really has its drawbacks is that it is a largely expository issue, with much of it being the Red Hulk telling Venom about his first meeting with Mercy.  This is perhaps a necessary evil, however, as Mercy was a character in desperate need of some explaining.  Hopefully we will see Soule actually write the team as a whole next month as that will be the true test of this run.  Rating: A-


Batman and Catwoman #22
Written by Peter J. Tomasi, Art by Patrick Gleason

While all of the other Bat family books have seemingly moved on from the death of Damian Wayne, it is only fitting that Batman and Robin is the one title to make sure Bruce deals with the loss properly.  In the fourth chapter of this arc on the five stages of grief, this issue sees Batman pairing up with Catwoman.  Although the fourth stage of grief is depression (or, as this issue calls it, despair), we do not ever see Bruce or Batman actually deal with this emotion.  In fact, Bruce seems to be very close to making his peace with Damian's death.  What is most appreciated about this issue more than any of the others in this arc is that it actually features Batman and Catwoman working together.  This is not the first time these two have joined up to do some heroics, but this issue proves that a Batman and Catwoman team-up always makes for an interesting story.  Here, in a surprising turn of events, we see Catwoman divulging the secret to Batman that she is a member of the JLA, asking for Batman's assistance with a mission she has been given by Steve Trevor.  It is, frankly, quite surprising to see Tomasi use this bit of continuity, especially when one considers that Batman and Catwoman are on opposite sides of warring factions in Trinity War.  Nevertheless, Tomasi's writing of both characters is spot on here, and it seems some time with Selina is just what Bruce needed.  Carrie Kelly plays a slightly larger role in this issue, and it becomes quite obvious that she is probably the next Robin.  As always, Patrick Gleason's art is great.  Rating: A

Justice League of America #6
Written by Geoff Johns and Jeff Lemire, Art by Doug Mahnke

The crossover Trinity War continues here in its second chapter.  With Justice League #22 (you can find my thoughts in my review), there was a clear sense that this was an event which was a culmination of many stories which had been building for various amounts of time.  In short: it was an explosive opening and I loved every single page.  JLA takes a step back from all of the madness seen last week to allow everyone to breathe for a minute.  In some respects, this is a smart move on Johns' part as it keeps Trinity War from being this explosive week-to-week comic where heroes are constantly punching one another, something which would definitely get old very quickly.  It seems almost fitting that it is in the pages of Justice League of America that this narrative move takes place as it has tried to be a comic which puts more focus on building characters, although Superman is really the only character featuring heavy development here.  One of the major positives from the first chapter of Trinity War remains true here: the fact that Geoff Johns writes both Justice League and JLA allows for this story to feel incredibly seamless.  If you did not know this was an issue of JLA, you would assume it was a mini-series titled Trinity War it flows so well.  Jeff Lemire undoubtedly wrote the section of this issue with the Justice League Dark, so hopefully the transition to that series is just as fluid.  This is a solid entry into the story of Trinity War, but the sheer amount of exposition and scene changes makes this to feel like a somewhat unevenly paced issue.  Doug Mahnke's art is much better than what Brett Booth was doing on this book, but Ivan Reis did a better job last week.  Rating: A-

Wonder Woman #22
Written by Brian Azzarello, Art by Cliff Chiang

If there is any must-read comic in The New 52 that is not being read by most, that comic is definitely Wonder Woman.  From the very beginning, Brian Azzarello has been crafting a story which re-writes Wonder Woman's history against the backdrop of a continuous bout of encounters with figures from Greek mythology.  In this issue, Azzarello takes a bit of a break from the story of the First Born, which is a blessing in disguise as it allows for a break from a story which has more or less been going on since issue one.  This five minute break of sorts is spent examining Azzarello's re-imagining of the New Gods as well as their home New Genesis.  For those who are more steeped in pre-Nrew 52 DC history, unlike this reviewer, this is a concept which is undoubtedly exciting.  Azzarello has done an excellent job of putting a new spin on classic Greek mythology characters, but I must confess that any reconfiguration of these New Gods was lost on me.  Nevertheless, knowledge of these characters is not necessary by any means to enjoy this issue as Wonder Woman is meeting them for the first time here.  This is a nice little semi-one shot issue, but it is difficult to really understand how important any of the information regarding the New Gods is here as they are a plot abandoned as quickly as it arrived.  It is more in the second half of this issue where the story really comes alive, and we are met with an onslaught of surprises that give the reader very little time to cope.  Rating: A

Oni Press

The Mysterious Strangers #2
Written by Chris Roberson, Art by Scott Kowalchuk

If you are asking yourself, "What the heck is The Mysterious Strangers?  Why is he reviewing #2 and not #1?" do not worry, I assure you this will all make sense.  Due to a very odd schedule, the first two issues of Masks writer Chris Roberson's new series The Mysterious Strangers were released this week.  The first issue initially came out on Free Comic Book Day in order to create buzz, but now those of us who missed out on that opportunity have to pay for both issues.  This is not something which is too unfortunate, however, as the comic is well worth the money.  Look for more detailed thoughts on the first issue below.  So what is The Mysterious Strangers?  It is a bit hard to answer that question, but, simply, the comic is a mix of science fiction, spy thriller, and 1960's television, with a little bit of super powered action thrown in.  To assume that Roberson writes this comic as if each issue is a half hour episode of a television series would probably not be too far off.  The comic comes complete with "last time on" and "next time on" pages, and the writing just oozes an era of television where camp was key.  Fortunately Roberson uses this touch of camp very well as we see the Strangers having to deal with their arch-rivals O.C.C.U.L.T. and a mysterious object from another dimension.  This comic will probably not be everyone's cup of tea, but, if you find yourself intrigued by its premise, The Mysterious Strangers is fun, silly, and, most importantly, engaging.  Cannot wait to see more from this great team-up of writer and artist.  Rating: A


Fables #131
Written by Bill Willingham, Art by Mark Buckingham

Although Fables is my favorite comic, this reviewer has had a bit of a tough go at reading this series lately.  You do not just kill off someone's favorite character and expect readers to come back joyously.  Fortunately, Bill Willingham does a few things in this issue which may begin the road back to redemption (but only just maybe).  Although this is an issue billed as the first part of the new story arc Camelot, everything more feels like a settling of loose ends as well as taking a moment to inform the reader of where everything stands at this moment.  As well-written as the previous stand alone issue about June Bug was, perhaps it would have been a better use of Bill Willingham's time if much of the story here had taken place in #130 so that #131 could truly kick off Rose Red's search for the new Knights of the Round Table.  Nevertheless, we must trust that Willingham knows what he is doing (even if he did just kill off Bigby Wolf).  Easily the most intriguing aspect of this issue is the autopsy of Prince Brandish.  Doctor Swineheart and Nurse Spratt/Douglas are in charge of performing this autopsy, and it really gives us a nice look at what their professional (and, in some parts of this issue, personal) lives were like back when Fabletown was running like normal.  The discoveries made during this autopsy and the one major surprise that occurs at its end are almost enough to make a disenchanted reader run back into the arms of Mr. Willingham.  It will be interesting to see where things go after the revelations made here, but it will also be nice to see Camelot live up to its name sake.  Rating: B+

Spotlight Issues

Once again we have reached the end of yet another volume of The Splash Page.  This was another very long volume, but I kind of like it when things turn out that way.  Not only does it mean more opportunities to review comics you might read, but it also allows for The Splash Page to be more diverse.  Although this is still a heavily superhero-centric article, I think good strides are being made to be ever more inclusive of indie comics.  For this week, I decided it was high time we had two Spotlight Issues.  As hinted at above, the first issue of The Mysterious Strangers is our first Spotlight Issue, and I encourage you to check out my review if you liked what you read above.  Our second Spotlight Issue is Ultimate Spider-man.  Can the appearance of Ultimate Cloak and Dagger bring Miles back into his role as Spider-man?  Only one way to find out!

  • The Mysterious Strangers #1: Review
  • Ultimate Comics: Spider-man #25: Review

Thank you yet again for taking the time to read The Splash Page!  As always, if there are any comics you feel were reviewed unfairly or any you would like to see covered, please do not hesitate to leave a comment!  See you next week!
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