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Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Splash Page Volume 12

For Comics Released August 21,2013

Welcome to the latest volume of The Splash Page!  This has been a pretty hectic week for me outside of the comics world, so it was nice to be able to take a break and enjoy my weekly time with some characters who only live in panels.  As this is such a busy time for me, I regret to inform you that, for the time being, there will be no Spotlight Issues with The Splash Page.  On the bright side, this means more comics on here each week!  Of course this week was yet another big pull for me as we are getting close to the end of August and the beginning of September (Villains Month!).  For the first time in a while, this is going to be a pretty DC heavy week, but Marvel has a few heavy hitters on plate too.  Let's take a look at how some of this week's comics turned out!


Marvel

Avengers #18
Written by Jonathan Hickman, Art by Leinil Francis Yu

Last week saw the start of Marvel's latest crossover event: Infinity.  Unlike previous Marvel events of the past five years or so, Infinity is one which comes with a lot of promise.  After last week's decently paced, exposition-laden debut, the story of Infinity breaks off a bit, spreading into both Avengers and New Avengers.  For someone reading this issue due to Infinity and having never picked up a single bit of this run, things start off slowly enough, back-tracking just a bit to remind us of how Infinity's first issue ended last week.  Answering a distress signal picked up by S.W.O.R.D., the Avengers have made the decision to go into space and help out where they can against the Builders.  In some ways this is a pretty easy issue to jump into for new readers, although there is quite a hefty learning curve if one has not read the first issue of Infinity, so you may not want to make this your first foray into Hickman's Avengers.  With the opening issue of Infinity being so watered-down with exposition, one would have assumed this issue would amp things up on the Avengers' side, but alas those assumptions are for naught.  Once again we have an issue which revels in telling us much, but showing us little.  If nothing else, this issue feels like 75% refresher lesson on the denizens of Marvel's cosmic universe, and 25% space action.  Yu's art is decent, but not spectacular.  While Infinity is, thus far, not a poorly written event, it is one which is cruising at a snail's pace...quite the antithesis of normal event comics.  Rating: B


Superior Spider-man #16
Written by Dan Slott, Art by Humberto Ramos

After such a cluttered narrative with the previous issue, Superior Spider-man makes at least one decent step forward by containing a more focused storyline this time around.  Unfortunately, the focus of this issue is on perhaps the least interesting plot from the one preceding it: the Hobgoblin.  After putting out a message across the entire city for everyone to be on the lookout for Phil Urich, the Superior Spider-man goes on the hunt for the alleged Hobgoblin.  It is an issue which seems to take a few narrative cues from the scene from The Dark Knight where the Joker tells Gotham to kill a man in one hour.  Unlike that film, however, this comic decides to pull from its usual bag of silly tricks, having Phil Urich essentially have a nervous breakdown into the Hobgoblin, using some of the more ridiculous abilities that character has now.  For a comic which has made it clear again and again just how aggressive Otto is as Spider-man, this issue is rather reserved on that point, with Otto taking a more passive role in bringing this criminal down.  It is an interesting change of pace from how this comic normally works, but it only makes one question why Otto would make such a big deal over finding Urich, only to act so nonchalant about his capture (and escape).  The subplots of the Wraith and, then, the Green Goblin are interesting enough, but this once again feels like Dan Slott dangling a carrot in front of the reader.  In the case of the Green Goblin, this is a carrot which has started to rot it has been on the string for so long.  With Spider-man 2099 coming in next issue, it seems unlikely we will ever see this story come into play.  Rating: B-


Thunderbolts #14
Written by Charles Soule, Art by Jefte Palo

Since Charles Soule took over writing duties on Thunderbolts there has been a noticeable improvement, but it has been ever so slight as Soule's first two issues were largely more solo endeavors with various members of this team.  What was really going to be the linchpin to Soule's success on this title was his ability to write this diverse team well enough where it was believable.  Fortunately, we finally get our answer with this issue, and it is one which is mostly satisfying.  In an effort to curb the growing distrust of his actions. the Red Hulk decides that one member of the Thunderbolts will get to decide the next mission, and every member will be required to help.  For the next mission, the name drawn out of Deadpool's random fancy hat is the Punisher, who, unsurprisingly, decides the team's next mission is to take out a mob target.  As Frank explains, however, this group is much different from anyone else he has ever dealt with.  Overall, it is an interesting change of focus/direction from Soule that perfectly sets up this comic to be easily handed over to any writer who follows him.  Where this issue really stands out, though, is in its near-perfect demonstration of how well Soule can write these characters, with Deadpool easily being the most difficult to pull off.  While this comic is a tie-in to Infinity, it is something which Soule handles in a seamless fashion.  This issue also features art by Jefte Palo which may be grating for some readers, but truly gives the comic a nice indie feel.  Rating: A


DC


Batman and Nightwing #23
Written by Peter J. Tomasi, Art by Patrick Gleason

The five stages of grief arc in the wake of Damian's death ends with this issue.  With the final stage of grief, acceptance, it seems fitting that the last person Tomasi has Bruce encounter is his first side kick, Dick Grayson.  Sadly, like many of the other issues in this arc, the "guest" is a presence which is kept to an abrupt minimum.  Nightwing is barely in this issue, with his major role being to discuss Bruce's state of mind with Alfred, then to briefly work with Bruce and tell him it's okay if he can never accept Damian's death.  The entire rest of this issue is dedicated to Bruce putting himself through various simulations of Damian's death, just to see if there was any way it could have been prevented.  Nightwing, at one point, joins Bruce on one of these attempts, presumably the first one that is successful, although Tomasi does not make it particularly clear what point this actually proves.  We also get to see Alfred go through this simulation, as he grapples with the fact that he could have kept Damian from leaving the Bat Cave entirely the night he died.  So, it would seem, that is the rather underwhelming bow Tomasi will tie this stages of grief arc with: everyone blames themselves for what happened to Damian.  It is an abrupt resolution that leaves one feeling rather like there was no true point to this arc.  Some of the ideas present in this issue are interesting, but the package it is sold under is one which is not entirely honest.  We can only hope Tomasi makes better use of his guest stars moving forward.  Rating: C+


Justice League Dark #23
Written by Jeff Lemire, Art by Mikel Janin

Trinity War continues to barrel onward in the DC Universe, with the much-hyped conclusion now only one issue away.  After two issues which seemed more concerned with globe-trotting and setting things up, this is an issue which finally lets off some steam, allowing for tensions to really explode.  Much of this is done with a game of hot potato of sorts, with more than just Wonder Woman laying claim to Pandora's Box.  Despite this being Jeff Lemire's book. one could almost swear that this was a Geoff Johns written issue of Justice League as the story takes a backseat to more traditional superhero action.  It is difficult to not feel nervous as the box travels from one powerful being to another, including Shazam and Frankenstein's monster.  Lemire is able to pepper in just a few details here and there which could easily be picked up into larger stories later on.  This particularly goes for a confrontation between Superman's group and Amanda Waller in the rubble of A.R.G.U.S.  The utter lack of development on this revelation of the JLA's true purpose has perhaps been the biggest disappointment of Trinity War thus far, so hopefully Johns will work with some of the seeds planted here.  A more intimate story as opposed to the over-populated jumble we get here would be better, but things could be much worse.  This does not reach the pinnacle of the first issue, but things are put in motion here that could make the finale an issue of that caliber.  Janin's art is good, but not great.  Rating: A-


Superman Unchained #3
Written by Scott Snyder, Art by Jim Lee

Thus far in its short run, Superman Unchained has been a comic which has been incredibly busy, setting up quite a few pieces on the chessboard before moving any of them forward.  Fortunately, the frenzied pace is toned down a bit with this issue, allowing for some much needed answers to take place.  This time around we finally get to meet Wraith, or the super powered being we had seen in flashbacks and hints.  While Snyder does not lay all of his cards on the table just yet with Wraith, it is a satisfying enough introduction that it works for the time being.  What Snyder really demonstrates masterfully here is his understanding and writing of not just Superman, but every single character that surrounds him.  It is not every day you see a woman taking a leading role in a comic, much less spending her time saving a group of men, but Snyder does that here with Lois Lane, and it is a subtle move with her character that is utterly brilliant.  This is the Lois Lane people should be seeing, so it is more than fantastic that Snyder is giving us such an incarnation of that character here.  Lex Luthor is given very little development this month, and he seems to be the most superfluous plot point currently.  Easily the one scene in this issue which everyone will be talking about is General Lane's accusations towards Superman about his willful abandon of what needs to be done in the face of morality.  It is a thought-provoking addition to a debate begun earlier this summer with Man of Steel, and raises the kinds of big questions about Superman as a character that make comics like this engaging.  Rating: A


Wonder Woman #23
Written by Brian Azzarello, Art by Cliff Chiang

While it has certainly continued to be one of the better comics of the New 52, Wonder Woman had begun to belabor its point quite a bit, focusing (on and off) on more or less the same story since it began.  Things finally come to a head with the First Born in this issue, and it makes for a nice change of pace from the constant fighting and running that has plagued Wonder Woman and company for quite some time.  This is a fight both Diana and War are anxious to put to an end, both knowing that the First Born must be stopped or Olympus could be in danger.  One of the many amazing things which Azzarello has been able to do with this comic is re-interpret the Greek gods, through the brilliant art of Cliff Chiang, in a way which is new and exciting.  War has been more or less a background player throughout this series, but we finally see him play a more than pivotal role in an issue, and it does not disappoint.  There are a lot of superhero comics which do action very well, but do not always succeed with the story.  Since this is a baby Azzarello has been raising for quite some time, it really makes for an action piece that has fully-realized stakes, as well as gut-wrenching consequences.  One is able to read this comic at a brisk pace, but, by issue's end, Azzarello has turned everything established in this book on its head.  The character work done with Wonder Woman here, as well as the big changes coming her way in the future are going to easily allow this series to continue being a must-read comic.  Rating: A+


Vertigo


Fables #132
Written by Bill Willingham, Art by Mark Buckingham

The second chapter of "Camelot" attempts to do a bit more than the previous issue.  Rose Red has decided to start a new group of Knights of the Round Table, sending out numerous bird Fables to go out in search of heroes worthy of the group.  While we do not get a ton of hints as to who will be a part of this new Round Table, it does allow Willingham to make a very nice reference to the Fables novel Peter and Max, bringing Bo Peep back as a potentially big character.  In some ways this is still an issue which is busy tidying a few stories up, as well as setting up potential threads for future ones (not even the cover has anything to do with the "Camelot" story this month).  Despite this, it is still an issue which feels like a lot is accomplished, which cannot be said for recent entries into this series.  Rose Red is really the main player of this issue, even making her way into the plot thread involving the swift return of Prince Brandish.  After such a long line of stories where Rose Red feels like such a weak, morose character, it is very nice to see her not only step up to sit at the head of the new Round Table, but also make sure her sister never has to worry about Brandish ever again.  It is a quick disposal of a villain that feels very unlike Fables, but then one must also remember that this is Fables, and the journey is very rarely one without a few curves.  Although great strides are made in developing this story, it is still one which feels a bit out of focus.  Hopefully the formation of the members of the Round Table will be something worthy of more focus and direction in the coming issues.  Rating: A-



So there you have it, the end of yet another volume of The Splash Page.  I hope the loss of the Spotlight Issue for a while does not upset too many of you, but I promise it is a sacrifice which would not be made if I did not have a very good reason.  There is still the matter of the Infinity review from last week, which I promise is on its way.  

If there are any comics you feel were reviewed unfairly, or any you would like to see reviewed on here, please do not hesitate to leave a comment!  Thank you for taking the time to read this little comics article, and I will see you next week for the conclusion of Trinity War and a whole lot more!
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