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Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Splash Page Volume 15

For Comics Released September 11, 2013

Welcome, all, to yet another volume of The Splash Page!  As this little comics review article reaches its 15th volume, I cannot help but feel like this is yet another (tiny) milestone for the article.  Some great changes have taken place since things began (some more recently than others), and I absolutely cannot wait to see where things are at the end of the next 15 volumes!  Once again, the newest member of the GeekRex team, Harper Harris, joins me to cover some of this week's new releases in comics.  Infinity, Villains Month, and a slew of indie books can be found below!


Avengers #19
Written by Jonathan Hickman, Art by Leinil Francis Yu

Marvel's latest crossover, Infinity, continues here as the story spins-off a bit into Hickman's Avengers.  As we saw last week, the events of this tie-in as well as New Avengers could potentially become fodder for a one page summary in the next issue of Infinity, but there is much about this issue which makes one feel like this may not be the case here.  As we saw with the previous Infinity tie-in issue, Avengers once again puts the focus on the struggle in space against the Builders.  After the events of Infinity #2, half of the Avengers made it to the designated rendezvous point while the other half, including Captain Marvel, have been captured by the Builders.  There are a few things about this issue which make Hickman seem like a very self-aware writer in terms of what some may have potential complaints about.  Although the Builders most certainly represent a clear threat to Earth, the Avengers all embarking out into space to take them on has seemed a bit over-zealous, especially when one considers that much of the cosmic Marvel U is also involved in this fight.  Hickman addresses these concerns as we see Star Lord's father J-Son question Captain America's presence in war meetings, causing the Spartax king to realize what the Builders' plan has become.  It is fascinating to see the way Hickman is writing this event with such intricacy, something that is not seen in many big comic book events.  Avengers #19 expands a side of Infinity's story, but it is an expansion which feels a bit overdrawn in terms of writing and pacing.  Rating: B+

Captain America #11
Written by Rick Remender, Art by Carlos Pacheco

[Guest Review]: I read the first couple issues of the Dimension Z story, and although I thought it was interesting, I just wasn’t into a story of Captain America off in another dimension.  This isn’t a bad jumping on point, though, and they catch new readers up pretty well.  This issue does a wonderful job of taking the end of a crazy sci-fi story and bringing it back to Earth.  I’ve always wanted to love Captain America, but I never realized why I hadn’t latched on until now.  I’m not crazy about the portrayal of Steve Rogers as just an ultra-patriot, and this issue takes a subtler, but more interesting approach.  Instead of a hero for America, he is America.  As his mother says, “Optimism is the American state of being.”  Steve is a brave, forward-looking man, and that’s what this issue ends up focusing on.  When he brings Jet to his home, she looks in confusion at all the historical decorations: past shields, newspapers from the end of WWII, etc.  Why does he hold onto the past?  This holds so much meaning for this book and character, who had a troubling past with his family, got frozen and unthawed decades later, and has just lost 12 years and some people close to him in this last story.    The issue ends with a beautiful sequence of Steve burning his material past on his roof in the rain, and this is a great place to notice the art.  While Pacheco’s art is a little uneven at times, overall it’s very good.  But the real star here art-wise is Dean White, the fantastic colorist with a unique almost watercolor look, and his signature use of bitter non-primary colors really goes well with this issue’s themes.  Rating: A+

Fantastic Four #12
Written by Matt Fraction and Christopher Sebela, Art by Mark Bagley

Were Fantastic Four a comic on the same level as just about anything else Matt Fraction is currently writing, this issue would be cause for a lot of sadness.  After some surprising news about a month ago, it was announced that, with this issue, Matt Fraction would be stepping away from Fantastic Four to focus on working on the next Marvel event, Inhumanity.  Unfortunately, instead of cause for sadness, this will hopefully be a cause for joy as there can finally be hope that this comic will get back on track, living up to its long-claimed title of "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine!"  On the bright side, Fraction does go out on a slightly better note than the previous issue.  Still dealing with some weird time travel dilemmas, the Fantastic Four find themselves abandoned in the past by time terrorists, all the while the Thing is dealing with problems of his own.  At first it seemed that perhaps what was making this comic such a weaker title was that Matt Fraction did not really care for these characters at all.  After further consideration, however, it seems more likely that Fraction just does not have any interesting ideas for this group.  This is a story which has been going on for one year now, and, even with Fraction leaving, it is still not over.  Some elements in this issue work better than others, particularly the worry of what will happen to Ben as his rocks continue to fall off and a cure has still not been found.  Other than that, this is a story lost in its utterly silly concept, with a resolution that feels entirely too easy.  Mark Bagley's art is the only saving grace of this title.  Rating: C+


Reverse-Flash #1 (The Flash #23.2)
Written by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato, Art by Scott Hepburn

Villains Month continues this week at DC!  For the past few months, Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato have been telling perhaps their strongest Flash story yet, with it all being focused on the New 52 incarnation of the Reverse-Flash.  Just before Villains Month began, Flash left us with a rather surprising twist: the identity of the Reverse-Flash is none other than Daniel West, the brother of long-time Flash character Iris West.  This revelation came as quite a bit of a shock, partly because many had wondered if former Flash Wally West would be the man behind the mask, but also in part because Daniel had beforehand seemed like a decent guy.  With this issue, Manapul and Buccellato unite for one villains issue to tell us just how Daniel became their menacing take on the Reverse-Flash.  Perhaps the biggest complaint that could be lodged against this one shot is that it is, once again, another Villains Month issue used as a way of giving us an origin story.  Unlike the other origin stories used thus far, however, (Relic aside) Reverse-Flash is an issue which comes jam-packed with immediate stakes that will have an effect on the coming issues of The Flash.  Much like the powers of its focal character, this issue slowly takes us back in time, revealing the broken home that Daniel and Iris grew up in.  While this past does not justify Daniel's actions, it is at least an interesting story that comes with a cliffhanger ending that is utterly fantastic.  Hepburn's art is quite nice, but, considering this issue's relationship to the rest of the series, Manapul's art is sorely missed.  Rating: A+

Riddler #1 (Batman #23.2)
Written by Ray Fawkes, Art by Jeremy Haun

Unlike Reverse Flash, Riddler takes an approach to the Villains Month idea that made for some of the more interesting comics from last week: ignoring the origin and simply telling us what the villain in question is doing in response to the Crime Syndicate taking over.  It is a move done in a much more subtle way than was seen last week, but it is one which is appreciated for a number of reasons.  For starters, as Batman's current story arc of Zero Year promises to give us the origins of the Riddler as well as his first encounter(s) with Batman, doing anything other than an issue in the present would seem like a disservice to what Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are attempting to accomplish on this title.  Although Snyder is given a story credit on this issue, the writing duties are given completely to Ray Fawkes here, something which may have been cause for a bit of concern (anyone not Snyder writing for Batman in the New 52 has not produced good results).  While reading this issue, it is hard to not get over the idea that it must be incredibly difficult to write the Riddler, a man who is so much smarter than most people.  Fawkes, however, pulls off the character quite well, allowing for us to see his genius at work without too much explanation from Edward Nygma himself (another writing move that is always smart).  Though this issue takes place in the present, it definitely feels like preparation for what is to come in Zero Year.  It's also nice to see a comic take the Riddler seriously for once as a character and a threat.  Rating: A+

Solomon Grundy #1 (Earth 2 #15.2)
Written by Matt Kindt, Art by Aaron Lopresti

As James Robinson's run on Earth 2 has been coming to a close, one almost forgets that Solomon Grundy was one of the first antagonists featured in the title (probably due to the overly large cast).  Unlike his main DCU counterpart, this Solomon Grundy represents everything about the gray/the Rot, pitting him against Green Lantern (Alan Scott), who represents the Green.  When he first arrived, Solomon Grundy almost succeeded in taking over Earth 2, but, in half of this one shot, we see the continuously resurrected villain return.  Unfortunately, the other half of this issue gives us an origin story for the monster, one which takes us back to the year 1898, and a hillbilly hokum story which borrows far too many cues from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  If one is to tell the origin of their villain, it helps if the story is interesting, but perhaps the most important factor is that it should be a story worth telling in order to understand the character.  In this respect, Matt Kindt fails on both fronts as this is an origin story which, by the end, actually explains very little about how Solomon Grundy became a zombie-like avatar of the Rot.  It is a boring, played out origin that does nothing to gain any empathy from the reader.  On the present day side of things, Kindt also flounders as he does little more than show that, yes, Solomon Grundy has returned, and, guess what, his power involves stealing life to make him stronger.  The aspects of this story in the present day feel as if they will have little bearing on the future of this title.  That, paired with the terrible origin story as well as mediocre art make for the absolute worst comic in Villains Month thus far.  Rating: D

Zod #1 (Action Comics #23.2)
Written by Greg Pak, Art by Ken Lashley

While Michael Shannon made a pretty big splash this summer portraying Kryptonian General Zod in Man of Steel, it was worth noting at the time that the character, a long time enemy of Superman, had not even shown up yet in the New 52.  With Villains Month approaching, DC decided to rectify this mistake, giving Zod his own one shot.  The writing duties were given to Greg Pak, which allows for this to be an issue which may preview what Action Comics  will be like once Pak begins writing the title.  As this is Zod's first appearance in the New 52, this unfortunately means yet another Villains Month issue which gives us nothing but an origin.  Much in the way Man of Steel changed aspects of the Krypton side of things, Zod's origin is entirely new in this issue, with Pak largely focusing on an explanation of how Zod came to be sent to the Phantom Zone.  In other words, this is an issue which takes place completely on Krypton, meaning that we of course have the obligatory cameos from Jor-El and his brother Zor.  At the beginning, Pak seems to be making quite a few changes, and they do not necessarily add up to being for the better.  After an attack from aliens leaves Zod abandoned in a Kryptonian jungle, the young boy is found a year later looking like a Tarzan-like person of sorts.  From there, the story launches into more familiar territory, showing the all too expected formula of Zod being a merciless general who puts order and obedience over compassion and understanding.  It is a mediocre origin, but it is worth noting that Pak does an excellent job with Zod's inner monologue.  Lashley's art is a bit messy.  Rating: C+


Kick-Ass 3 #3
Written by Mark Millar, Art by John Romita Jr.

After last month's release of Kick-Ass 2 was met with minimal box office results, coupled with the fact that the film was more than a little offensive, it was easy to be a bit trepidatious of returning to the world of Kick-Ass.  Fortunately, Mark Millar attempts to ease one back into this more outlandish universe he has created, but it is a transition which does not come quite easily.  For starters, everything begins with the return of Hit Girl to the story, a character who has not been seen since issue one of this series.  Still in prison, Hit Girl has completely taken over the prison on reputation alone, controlling all of the gang activity from her cell in solitary confinement.  This change is not one that feels like too far of a jump, and is one that is actually quite humorous when one reads Hit Girl's exchange with her new psychiatrist.  It is more in the other actions Hit Girl perpetrates in this issue, including putting a cigarette out on her hand, that feels like either a little girl trying too hard to be tough, or Millar seriously jumping the shark with how over the top this character can be.  Either way, it is an uneasy beginning to this issue.  From there, things go back to this more nerdy territory that has made Kick-Ass 3 more enjoyable than its predecessor, with Millar even able to get some laughs out of this reviewer.  As one can expect, Justice Forever's plan to re-enact a pivotal scene from Batman Year One does not end up too well, and it all leads into an action sequence that is choreographed quite well.  Romita's art is still pretty middle of the road, but this is definitely an issue which improves as it goes on.  Rating: A-


Ghosted #3
Written by Joshua Williamson, Art by Goran Sudzuka

Although, up to this point, Ghosted has certainly been an enjoyable comic, it has been just a tad bit frustrating that writer Joshua Williamson continued to tease the readers with the idea of this group of people being seriously haunted by ghosts.  With this issue, Williamson gives us some hints as to where this comic may be headed down the line, as well as finally lighting a fire to this story that burns with a lot of excitement from the reader.  As was hinted last month, this issue sees Jackson Winters and crew breaking into the house of the man who hired him, Markus Schrecken, to steal an artifact which will help them capture a ghost.  Williamson weaves in quite a bit of his sense of humor here, and it pays off very well.  Jackson is a man who clearly likes to be in control, so it is always interesting to see the ways Williamson turns that idea on its head when Jackson finds himself having to be more subservient.  Schrecken has a few tidbits of information to hold over Jackson's head, and it is a way for Williamson to definitely build in some future story potential into this now on-going series.  But where this issue really shines is when it finally begins to amp up the scares.  In some ways, Williamson is still playing with some common tropes of the haunted house genre, but perhaps it is because Goran Sudzuka's method of drawing the ghosts is so engaging that it was able to make this reviewer tense up as they prepared for the scare.  Now that Williamson has let his audience have its first scream, lets hope he does not let go of our throats as things start to get quite interesting in this little house of horrors.  Rating: A+

The Manhattan Projects #14
Written by Jonathan Hickman, Art by Nick Pitarra

[Guest Review]: To go into the story that’s been building and weaving for a little over a year now would take more space than I’ve got here (and more than a little head scratching), but suffice to say, this issue continued the unique, quality writing and art that this book has had since issue 1.  The bizarre story of a group of actual historical scientists working on ultra-advanced and not-so-morally-ok projects somehow naturally gives it an intriguing balance of dark exploration and silly humor.  Without giving too much away, here’s some of the highlights from this month: Feynman and Einstein getting hammered; Laika the space dog discovering an enormous alien spaceship; a Russian brain in a robot’s body getting smashed, sending the brain flying into the hands of an irradiated skeleton man; and Oppenheimer’s many personalities starting to gang up on him as he continues on his sinister, mysterious mission.  The ideas continue to be big, on a cosmic and historical scale, but we keep getting more and more about the characters themselves.  For a writer that is often accused of being cold and methodical--which works well with this book’s scientific moments--it seems clear that Hickman has a feel for these characters that doesn’t come through as believably in his current Avengers run.  This may not be a great place to jump on if you haven’t been reading up until now, but I can assure you that starting at the beginning and working your way up is well worth it--it only gets better!  Rating: A

Prophet #39
Written by Brandon Graham, Art by Giannis Milonogiannis

[Guest Review]: As usual, it’s a little difficult to know what to say about Prophet.  It is a comic that stands out even among it’s sci-fi peers (Saga, Manhattan Projects, etc.) in both its storytelling approach and its classic Heavy Metal style art.  This particular issue is sort of an anthology, though the vague story (typicial of this book) flows throughout.  There is an all-star cast of artists on this issue that truly take the spotlight here: the main writer and original artist Brandon Graham, Giannis Mlogiannis, Joseph Bergin III, Matt Sheean and Malachi Ward, James Stokoe, Aaron Conley, Lando, Ron Wimberly, and series regular Simon Roy.  While the differences between their styles are evident, the pages flow together very well within the conceit of the story: we are witnessing a number of events in Diehard’s 10,000 year life.  As we move through the different periods of his life, seeing his beginnings with Glory and Super Patriot (from the original Prophet and Youngbloods comics) all the through to the current time when his body has been completely replaced with robotic parts, the different artists showcase both their talents and the variety of history that the comic has weaved together.  Especially impressive are the James Stokoe pages: his ultra detailed style and brilliant other-worldly coloring always manage to ooze action and excitement in a way that few others can.  Also of interest in this issue is a short behind the scenes look on the last page that shows Graham’s breakdowns and notes on the script, which includes pictures of action figures, sketches, photos, and notes that show how much depth and thought goes into each issue.  While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this issue to a new reader, if you are a fan of classic science fiction comic art, it’s well worth picking up!  Rating: A-

Thanks again for checking out yet another volume of The Splash Page!  Also, special thanks to Harper Harris for once again contributing reviews (hopefully more expansive stuff from him soon!)

As always, if there are any comics you would like to see covered on here or any you feel were reviewed unfairly, do not hesitate to leave a comment!  See you next week!
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