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Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Splash Page Volume 14

For Comics Released September 4, 2013

Well, it has finally begun...with Trinity War out of the way, DC has launched its latest event: Forever Evil.  With this, comes an absolute tidal wave of one shot issues featuring the various villains of the DC Universe, all with 3D covers to boot!  Of course you can expect that this was something I greatly looked forward to, but my wallet did not.  As you'll see below, however, this volume of The Splash Page is going to be absolutely MASSIVE (mostly due to the influx of DC titles).  Before we start our comics talk, I want to introduce you to new GeekRex writer Harper Harris.  Harper has guested on our podcast a few times and has decided he would like to contribute a bit to the comics section.  I'm not sure what Harper's eventual role will be, but, for now, I'm grateful to Harper for contributing three reviews this week!  You'll see Harper's reviews below as marked.  So, without any further delay, let's talk comics!


Marvel


All New X-men #16
Written by Brian Michael Bendis, Art by Stuart Immonen

[Guest Review]: This continues the story from Battle of the Atom, and does so very seamlessly thanks to sharing the writer.  We get to hear more about these X-Men from the future, and what self-respecting superhero fan doesn’t love alternate future versions of characters they love?  The new team is a really interesting mix that draws from different eras and kinds of X-Men, and their introduction to the present day team is, as always in Bendis’ run, fun and full of great character moments (both past and present versions of Beast’s response to their future version: ‘Fascinating.’).  But what really takes the forefront here is the play with time within this issue: we see an event take place, and then see it again from a different perspective, with Jean Grey getting telepathically suspicious of these future mutants and their warnings.  The mystery of whether or not to trust these newest time-travelers is further complicated by the big reveal of the last member of the future team, a mutant who by all rights should be dead.  This issue continues the event in a meaningful way, and left me intrigued as to where it might go and what the consequences will be.  Stuart Immonen continues to be pitch perfect for this book, crafting excellent action while maintaining spot-on character acting that marries well to Bendis’ writing of them.  So far I would highly recommend this event, although the next chapters come in books I’m not terribly fond of, so only time will tell if the event as a whole will be as rewarding when written by someone else.  Rating: A


Infinity #2
Written by Jonathan Hickman, Art by Jerome Opena

Marvel's latest crossover event continues here.  Out in space dealing with the Builders, the Avengers realize that this fight just may be a bit bigger than initially anticipated.  Meanwhile, back on Earth, Black Bolt makes a stunning revelation in regards to the Tribute Thanos is seeking that requires the assistance of the Illuminati.  Though impressive, one negative with the first issue of Infinity was that it was an incredibly slow burn, with much of the issue feeling only like set-up for things which would eventually come to pass.  Fortunately, the fire gets turned up quite a bit here as numerous revelations are made and Hickman shows us just how massive this event is truly going to be.  History buffs are probably very familiar with the idea of World War II being a war fought on two fronts.  This is very much so the idea which Hickman brings into his telling of Infinity, and it makes for an event book which feels so different from the more linear escapades and locales we normally see in such events.  What makes this so fascinating, then, is that our heroes do not appear to be winning with either front.  Both of Hickman's antagonists (the Builders and Thanos) make big moves here, and it is a show of force which gives one little to hope for moving forward in terms of how our heroes will fare.  The heat has not been turned up completely in this issue, but it is certainly a simmer that makes one excited for the boil.  Opena's art is fantastic, and if one major complaint could be made about the issue, it is that the Avengers and New Avengers tie-ins are made somewhat useless through summaries given during the story.  Rating: A



Iron Man #15
Written by Kieron Gillen, Art by Carlo Pagulayan

Iron Man is a comic book which has been floundering for quite some time, with writer Kieron Gillen not seeming to have a very good handle on what makes an engaging Iron Man story.  This issue seems to be the penultimate chapter of The Secret Origin of Tony Stark, with Tony racing to stop 451 from using the five mile high robot the Godkiller to destroy Earth.  It is an incredibly unoriginal plan, coming from a villain who had hitherto seemed like a pretty formidable opponent despite Gillen's terrible writing.  In many ways this is an issue which could be called "back to basics" as we see Tony resorting to, for him, inferior technology as a means to avoid 451's pesky habit of hacking into machines.  What this essentially means is a somewhat repeat of the third act of Iron Man 3, but with about 1/10 of the suits (if not less).  It is still a nice visual to see a number of Iron Man armors standing up to a villain, but it is sadly a concept that will be so fresh in the minds of many readers that it can hardly be seen as anything other than a direct copy.  Essentially all this issue boils down to is a large action set piece, with minuscule "stakes" as we see the Godkiller racing towards Earth in practically every other panel.  As NO OTHER Marvel book is dealing with a five mile high robot heading our way, it is safe to assume throughout this entire fight that things will turn out okay.  Gillen does a few things with 451's character in this issue which are somewhat interesting, but they are easily forgotten in lieu of all the idiotic moves that are made.  Iron Man continues to plunge in quality leaving one to wonder why they are still reading this tripe.  Rating: D+


Superior Spider-man #17
Written by Dan Slott, Art by Ryan Stegman

If you weren't a Marvel fan during the 90's, you may not recall the fad of futuristic Marvel books taking place in the not too distant future of 2099.  Although it was a Marvel Universe with a number of their characters given a futuristic makeover, easily the most popular then and since was Spider-man 2099, or Miguel O'Hara.  Back by (for some reason) popular demand, Spider-man 2099 has returned to the Marvel U, which of course gives an excuse to pit the character against Otto Octavius, the Superior Spider-man.  You may be wondering how a character from a different Universe was able to make it to the 616 Marvel U.  Fortunately for Dan Slott, the recent ripples in time as a result of Age of Ultron allow for such somewhat lazy writing moves to be made.  The first half of this issue deals with Spider-man 2099 himself, but it is an introduction which comes with a bit of a learning curve as Slott plays with continuity that is over 20 years old.  Confusion aside, it is nice that Slott attempts to give an explanation for this character's appearance, even if it means ignoring the character until the very end of the issue.  In the meantime, Slott shows us how Otto, as Peter Parker, reacts to the sudden arrest of Horizon Lab's owner and the company's takeover by another corporation.  It is decent writing that comes with its own references to characters new readers will likely not know, but it all seems so hypocritical of Otto as a character considering his recent abandonment of the Peter side of his life.  Oh well, apparently Slott thinks putting in a fan favorite character will solve some of this book's problems.  Time will tell.  Rating: C+


X-men: Battle of the Atom #1
Written by Brian Michael Bendis, Art by Frank Cho

[Guest Review]: The X-Men universe is one that’s become quite complicated in the last couple years (lets face it: the last couple decades), but it’s also a world rich with interesting character and story possibilities.  Just after the end of the fun-despite-it’s-dark-name Hellfire Saga in Wolverine & the X-Men last month begins a new event that encompasses all the X-Men books: Battle of the Atom...and it’s a really intriguing start.  There’s been all sorts of time-traveling craziness going on in All-New X-Men, and this book pushes that to a new level of continuity smashing excitement.  The story revolves around the clashing of the three mutant factions: Wolverine’s school, Cylops’ militant Uncanny X-Men, and the time-displaced original X-Men.  Opening with a ravaged version of the future (are there any pleasant versions of the future in the X-Men universe?), the story goes on to have all the teams fight for their lives against a group of Sentinels, which have been showing up unexplained for the past few months.  In the heat of the battle, young Cyclops is fatally wounded, which causes present-day Cyclops to disappear, only to come back when young Cyclops is brought back to the land of the living by a new mutant’s power.  The battle is intense, but maintain’s Bendis’ excellent grasp of the characters.  This all leads to some obvious conclusions, but in the end there is a cool surprise that results from (you guessed it) more time-traveling.  The writing and art were both very solid, and this looks to be the start of a great event for X-Men fans.  Rating: A


DC


Darkseid #1 (Justice League #23.1)
Written by Greg Pak, Art by Paulo Siqueira and Netho Diaz

Though we have not seen the menace known as Darkseid since the very first arc of Justice League, it seemed only fitting the the League's first foe received the first Villains Month issue.  Those hoping this issue would tie-in to the new event Forever Evil will perhaps finish this read a bit disappointed.  The only thing we truly get here is an origin story for Darkseid, but that does not mean this is a bad idea by any means.  For those steeped in the lore of the DC Universe, the origins of Darkseid may not be a new thing by any means, and they are not altered too heavily here, but this is a nice (re)introduction to the character for those who came in with the New 52.  It is perhaps worth noting that this is an issue written by Greg Pak, a man who currently writes Batman/Superman, and will soon be taking over scripting duties on Action Comics.  In other words, the man will probably be dealing with Darkseid at some point in the near future.  With Darkseid's origins, we see a man who has become tired of the behavior of the Old Gods, hating to see the way that these conceited, fornicating beings care little for the peons who worship them.  How the man known as Uxas responds to this is what leads him on the path to becoming one of the most feared villains in the DCU, and it is a story which revels in how evil it is, which is perhaps fitting considering the occasion.  Hints are given as to how soon we may see Darkseid again, and, as long as Greg Pak is writing him, it will be a story to look forward to with much anticipation.  Rating: A


Deadshot #1 (Justice League of America #7.1)
Written by Matt Kindt, Art by Sami Basri and Keith Champagne

Unlike some of the other choices made in Villains Month characters, Deadshot is a character not featured before in Justice League of America.  It seemed, then, a strange choice for him to adorn the title's first Villains Month cover, but his connection to the JLA is at least plausible enough for it to make sense.  At the very least, this is an issue which can be treated as a preview of the level of writing we can expect from Matt Kindt when he takes over the book next month.  What this issue ends up being, then, is an origin story of sorts for Deadshot, detailing to us why he chose the path to becoming among the world's deadliest assassins.  Kindt draws some interesting parallels with this origin story, making Deadshot stand in clear contrast to a very well known character in the DCU, showing what would have happened if one went down a darker path in light of their parents' murder.  It is an issue which attempts to place this villain in a more sympathetic light, and it is something Kindt does exceedingly well.  The narrative choice is most definitely an odd one, considering that most of the Villains Month titles seem to be a celebration of being bad.  With his more empathetic approach, Kindt allows us to consider Villains Month from a different angle, one that demonstrates that perhaps not everyone is willing to settle in to the Crime Syndicate's new world order.  Although, with Deadshot, it is more about who can give him the most money for his skills.  Rating: A-


Forever Evil #1
Written by Geoff Johns, Art by David Finch

After last week’s conclusion of Trinity War had been more or less spoiled by every major comic book news website, it almost felt a little weird to be reading the first chapter of an event without knowing exactly where it was headed.  Bleeding Cool got the scoop on one aspect of Forever Evil #1, but, for the most part, it is an experience that is quite enjoyable partly due to the lack of spoilers spreading online.  Taking place just before and right after the events of Trinity War, Forever Evil sees what happens when the Crime Syndicate takes over the DCU, recruiting all of the villains to join their Secret Society.  We have been promised for months now that Forever Evil, as an event, would be a celebration of all things villain, and this issue begins that in a very exciting way.  Practically every major villain in the DC Universe makes an appearance here, and Geoff Johns weaves in the respective continuities of many of these villains in a fantastic way.  While the heroes’ respective solo books will not be participating in this event, it is still nice to see this continuity is going un-ignored.  The Crime Syndicate has a lot to prove to these villains in order to become their leaders, and it is perhaps the most unsatisfying explanation made in the entire issue.  After Trinity War ended on so much of a cliff-hanger, it is a bit of a confusing moment that the Syndicate has such little proof of their deeds.  It leaves the reader asking the same question as the villains: Where’s the Justice League?  These answers will undoubtedly come in good time.  For now, it’s nice to see Geoff Johns deliver another outstanding opening chapter to an event, with gorgeous art by David Finch.  Rating: A+


Grodd #1 (The Flash #23.1)
Written by Brian Buccellato, Art by Chris Batista

It has been a few months since Gorilla Grodd took over Central City in the pages of The Flash, but the maniacal ape is back here in his own one shot story.  This is one of the more rare Villains Month issues thus far in more than one way.  For starters, The Flash is one of the few titles throughout September which will feature at least one of the book's usual writers for the entire event.  Secondly, this is one of the few Villains issues this week that does not end up being just an origin story re-hash of sorts.  Instead, Buccellato makes things just a bit more interesting.  Taking place just after the events of Forever Evil #1, Grodd returns to Central City, interrupting plans for peace between humans and gorillas in favor of all out takeover of the latter.  In some ways, this feels like a bit of an old dog doing an old trick.  We have seen Grodd attempt to take over Central City once in the New 52 already, but this time there is one key difference: the Flash is gone.  Although Grodd's motivations may not have changed too much, Buccellato does enough to make this a different take that it does not feel like too much of a repeat of the Gorilla Warfare storyline.  Grodd is a power-hungry villain who will do anything to make sure Central City becomes his and all bow down to him, but, as many villains find out, it is the chase that they end up loving more than anything else.  What Buccellato does here thematically is nothing new, but it is an interesting enough turn on Grodd's character to make one curious about what is to come.  Batista is decent on art, but Manapul is sorely missed whenever he is not on this book.  Rating: A

Joker #1 (Batman #23.1)
Written by Andy Kubert, Art by Andy Clarke

Once again we have another villain who was recently featured in their own storyline, but is back again for Villains Month.  There are no mentions of Death of the Family here, however, as writer Andy Kubert instead opts for a different kind of origin story.  One of the facets of the Joker that makes him such a popular character is that there is so much mystery surrounding his identity and past.  Kubert does not attempt to answer too many of those questions here, but he does give us a small idea of what kind of home life the Joker grew up in (hint: it's not pretty or very funny).  Taking place several years in the past, Joker #1 sees the Clown Prince of Crime adopting an ape from the zoo while there on one of his numerous escapades.  After taking in this orphaned ape, the Joker molds the creature in his image, giving him a similar past to what Joker grew up around, as well as encouraging the ape's negative behavior.  Given the name Jackanapes, the ape and the Joker become, as Joker puts it, an evil twist on Batman and Robin.  Much of this issue feels like an episode of Batman: The Animated Series.  This is mostly due to the issue's somewhat ridiculous concept, but also because Kubert writes the Joker in such a way that one can easily hear Mark Hamill's voice and signature laugh coming through.  Andy Clarke does a decent enough job on art, but nothing spectacular.  Overall, this is not a memorable Joker story, but it is a tragic one which adds some nice depth to the character.  Rating: A-


Relic #1 (Green Lantern #23.1)
Written by Robert Venditti, Art by Rags Morales

Unlike any of the other one shot issues debuting this month, Relic #1 is a unique comic in that it gives us the origin of a brand new villain to the DC Universe, one never seen before.  Not only is Relic a brand new villain, but his story is one which is deeply rooted in the events which are upcoming in Green Lantern, making this perhaps one of the few Villains Month issues which may be required reading moving on.  Relic's story is told in this issue, and, as his name suggests, he is a being from another time, another universe, who fears that the lighted power of the emotional spectrum may soon run out.  Though Relic's motivations throughout this issue are certainly understandable, perhaps even legitimate, it is in his decision to use these motivations as an excuse for stopping all of the Lanterns that makes him a villain, but it makes him a particularly fascinating villain.  On the one side of things, it is a bit disappointing that Venditti's first big Green Lantern story will involve yet another villain which has a connection to the entire emotional spectrum, but the story told here is most definitely one which builds quite a bit of intrigue.  With this issue we get to see a lot of neat things in the history of this side of the DC Universe, but it is ultimately an issue which has to take up much of its time with exposition.  Relic is definitely an interesting character, but perhaps the better choice would have been if Venditti had decided to SHOW Relic's origin instead of TELL it.  Nevertheless, this is an intriguing start to a new story arc with good art by Rags Morales, but the delivery of this issue is a bit bland.  Rating: B+


Two-Face #1 (Batman and Robin #23)
Written by Peter J. Tomasi, Art by Guillem March

It is quite possible that this reviewer is a little biased going into this issue, with Two Face being my all time favorite Bat-villain.  With Harvey Dent barely being seen since the New 52 began, it's great to see that, not only will he be getting his own arc in Batman and Robin, he also gets his own Villains Month issue!  To make things even better, Tomasi avoids simply recounting Two Face's origin (one that, after The Dark Knight, almost everyone is familiar with some incarnation of), but instead shows us what Two Face is doing in response to the Crime Syndicate's taking over the world.  As this issue stresses several times, what Two Face decides to do he leaves to the flip of a coin.  It is perhaps the most known part of Two Face's schtick as a villain, but not one Tomasi is unafraid to drive home over and over.  It is likely that, by the time one finishes this issue, they will be sick of seeing Harvey say what heads and tails will mean for various people.  Nevertheless, Tomasi is telling a story here with Two Face that is filled with quite the intrigue.  Instead of simply deciding if a person will live or die in the wake of the villains taking over, Two Face makes the decision if he will allow Gotham to live or die, and it is a coin flip which comes with a very surprising result.  Despite the over-bearing nature of Tomasi's writing of Two Face's coin flipping, he appears to have a very strong handle on the character of Harvey Dent, giving him a mixed set of motivations that reminds one why they enjoy this character.  Guillem March's art is also a stunning display, particularly the opening scene of Two Face standing atop the Bat signal.  Rating: A


Vertigo


Fairest #19
Written by Sean E. Williams, Art by Stephen Sadowski

As this most recent arc in Fairest has continued, one would assume that, with the reveal that Prince Charming is actually alive and well, writer Sean E. Williams would be out of big surprises...that is where you would be so very wrong.  Returning from their time in the Land of the Dead, Prince Charming and Nalayani re-unite with their companions just in time for an encounter with the villainous creatures known as the Dhole, but the Dhole have a surprise of their own.  Much of this issue seems content to wrap up a number of the loose threads which were somewhat plaguing this story, and it is a very odd move considering that there is still one more issue remaining in this arc.  Nevertheless, it is a narrative decision that works quite well, but this is still an arc which suffers from one fatal flaw: the focus is still entirely too much on Prince Charming.  Certainly, Williams deserves a lot of credit for writing this great story that re-introduces an important Fables character, but, ever since that introduction has been made, it still feels like Nalayani, the female protagonist this series is supposed to focus on, has been shoved aside in favor of Charming.  Williams writes Charming well, but, with Nalayani, there is a character here who is immensely fascinating due to her strength, determination, but also the sense of mystery which still surrounds her.  Nalayani gets some of the focus back with this issue, but it is still a comic which feels like a 50/50 split in terms of attention.  This is still a good story with great art by Stephen Sadowski, but it seems the point may have been lost a bit along the way.  Rating: A-


Trillium #2
Written and Drawn by Jeff Lemire

[Guest Review]: Because the first issue of Trillium, despite being utterly fantastic, depended so much on the flip book gimmick, I wondered if the second issue could keep up the bizarre story successfully without it.  I’m happy to report that it does, on all fronts.  With Jeff Lemiere both writing and drawing, we get a really unique sci-fi story with loads of possibility.  This issue centers on the meeting of Nika (from the year 3797) and William (from 1921) who somehow meet at a temple hidden in the jungle.  While they struggle to communicate (as the language in the future is apparently much different) they manage to  make a connection through what amounts to cave drawings, a really nice idea since it distills language down to its oldest, purest, and most timeless form.  There continues to be a lot of suspense in two worlds that are very fully realized after just two issues thanks to Lemiere’s clever storytelling.  I should mention too that the art in this book is absolutely gorgeous: a super-futuristic space drama and an early 20th century adventure tale are both imagined expressively and beautifully with watercolor that looks like nothing else coming out right now.  What’s really wonderful about the book overall is that I have no idea where it’s going.  Unlike the typical capes book where we know there will be minor consequences but everything will essentially continue with little change, this book is so unique and merges several different kinds of stories in such an interesting way that I can’t possibly predict what’s coming next--and that is so exciting! I can’t possibly recommend this book enough.  Rating: A+



That brings us to the end of yet another volume of The Splash Page!  Thanks again to Harper Harris for the reviews he contributed, and I hope you enjoyed what he worked on for you!  Hopefully the sheer length of this volume didn't keep you from getting to this little conclusion, because this is just the start...Villains Month continues through the rest of September!

As always, if there are any titles you feel were reviewed unfairly or any you would like to see reviewed here, please do no hesitate to leave a comment!  See you next week!
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