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Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Splash Page Volume 16

For Comics Released September 18, 2013

Note: Ignore the slightly different logo this week.  The last bit of this week's article was put together on a different computer.

Welcome, everyone, to a brand new volume of The Splash Page!  Sorry this one is coming to you a bit later than usual, but I have been absolutely swamped this week at work.  Fortunately, when I got home on Wednesday, I had some (mostly) excellent comics to read.  Harper Harris joins me again for a few guest reviews, making our DC section quite the read this week.  Not a lot of action on the Indy side of things, but I assure you that will change next week.  But, first things first, let's start off with Marvel and what is quite possibly the best event they have done in a long time...


Marvel


Infinity #3
Written by Jonathan Hickman, Art by Jerome Opena

Thus far, Infinity has been an event which sees our heroes facing defeat at every single corner.  Much of the opening pages of this issue are dealing with just how formidable a force the Builders and Thanos have become, but, as always tends to happen in big superhero stories, the time for simply taking an attack is over.  In the latest chapter of Infinity, Captain America leads the charge in space to make an offensive against the Builders which may buy them more time to figure out how to defeat this group once and for all.  Meanwhile, Black Bolt deals with Thanos in a manner which comes at a great cost.  Any complaints that Infinity was a very slow burn event can be completely thrown out the window with this issue.  Although writer Jonathan Hickman certainly gives us quite a bit of exposition and (somewhat) character development here, this is an issue which has quite a bit of action on a very large scale.  Unlike most superhero event books, however, this is an issue where the action feels completely deserved and well worth the wait.  With the Avengers being on the run so much in this event so far, it is nice to see them take on their namesake a bit more here with a surprise attack on the Builders.  As things begin going so well, however, one cannot help but wonder that things will not work well for long.  In the final moments of this issue we see this hinted at as Black Bolt gives his own last-ditch effort, and it is a move which is quite troubling.  Overall, this is a great chapter in what has thus far easily been Marvel's best crossover event in quite some time.  Rating: A+


New Avengers #10
Written by Jonathan Hickman, Art by Mike Deodato

Spinning out of the events of  Infinity #2, Jonathan Hickman continues to gives us more juicy details regarding Thanos' invasion of Earth.  After being recruited by Black Bolt to help him in locating Thanos' son, the Illuminati join together for the first time in a while to take on another task which may very well determine the fate of the world.  As this series has developed, Hickman has done a more than splendid job of showing how the interpersonal relationships of this group can cause a very serious divide no matter how much the Illuminati likes to pretend they are above such matters.  For the first time in the history of this series we get to see the Illuminati actually sit down and discuss what their responsibilities as a team should be, and it makes for one of the best scenes of the issue.  But this is also an issue which begins to show the cracks developing among this team, and not just the ones from the continuing conflict between Black Panther and Namor.  Questionable morals have been a persistent theme in this comic, but those morals are not helped at all by the fact that the Earth is being slowly taken over by Thanos.  It is in this intricate interweaving of the story of Infinity as well as the on-going story of New Avengers where one can really appreciate just how on point Jonathan Hickman's writing can be.  Mike Deodato also gives this issue the needed gravity and depth in art that couples perfectly with Hickman's words.  Not only is this a great chapter of Infinity, but this is an utterly phenomenal development in New Avengers that sets up a number of future storylines.  Rating: A+


Superior Spider-man #18
Written by Dan Slott, Art by Ryan Stegman

Taking the time to break once again from the more pressing issues of its story, Superior Spider-man continues its most recent arc, which details the arrival of Spider-man 2099 to our time period.  In this issue, we get a much clearer picture of why Miguel has had to travel to 2013, with several events in 2013 (which, frankly, came out of no where) caused a desperate future for Miguel and his father.  Everything is hinged on the fact that the Superior Spider-man is a much more dangerous individual than the hero most know.  While this little linchpin may seem like enough of a connection to make this story feel worthwhile, it all simply feels like a big waste of time so that Dan Slott could tell a story with Spider-man 2099.  Much of this story hinges on the impending takeover of Horizon Labs, which sets up the future Miguel comes from.  Though Horizon Labs has played a role in this series, it has ultimately never felt like anything other than another tether to Otto's double life as Spider-man and Peter Parker.  In other words, it never seemed like too big of a deal.  Even with its sudden focus in this story, this entire issue feels like nothing but Miguel's story.  The only aspect which really seems to be related to anything happening with Otto in this comic is the very brief appearance of the Green Goblin, a story which would have been immensely more interesting than Slott resurrecting an over-hyped character from the 90's.  Fortunately, Slott has a habit of making his arcs three issues, so perhaps this waste of time is almost finished.  Rating: C


Thor: God of Thunder #13
Written by Jason Aaron, Art by Ron Garney

After finally completing its opening story arc, Thor: God of Thunder  moves on to bigger and, hopefully, better things.  You may be aware that, in the upcoming film, Thor: The Dark World, Thor will be facing the dark elf Malekith.  This is the main reason the basic premise behind writer Jason Aaron's newest arc on this comic felt a bit disappointing: Malekith would be the villain here too.  It was an announcement which was immediately met with wonder if this was an editorial decision on Marvel's part to make sure non-comic fans (who probably aren't going to read comics anyway) will have a recent Malekith story to read after going to see Thor: The Dark World.  As Aaron's work on Thor has, thus far, been quite excellent, however, it was a bit easy to hope that, even if this was written at Marvel's bidding, Aaron would be able to put something engaging together.  With this issue, these fears can be put to ease.  After years of being in an icy prison, Malekith is rescued by a few of his followers, just in time to wreak havoc onto those dark elves Malekith feels are not living up to the potential of their race.  This destruction, of course, puts Thor on a path that leads straight to a conflict with the former king of the dark elves.  Much of this opening chapter comes with the epic storytelling and sharp writing which have come to be synonymous with Jason Aaron.  Ron Garney's art also lends this book a nice storybook-like feel that makes such a mythological story feel even more indicative of that genre.  Rating: A

Thunderbolts #15
Written by Charles Soule, Art by Jefte Palo

With the recent changing of the guard on writing duties from Daniel Way to Charles Soule on Thunderbolts, it has been astounding to see the night and day improvements which have been made in a variety of areas in this comic.  For starters, the humor is now even more on point than when Way was writing.  Soule has a very nice eye for Deadpool's humor, giving him a series of scenarios that make for nice departures from the more expected storyline with the other members of the team.  The humor is also present with Frank, Elektra, and Venom, but what the scenes with these characters really show is that Soule also has a good vision of how these characters interact with one another.  As the Thunderbolts make their way into New York, the Punisher and Venom begin to disagree on just how to handle the Punisher's mission.  Meanwhile, General Ross must stay back with an increasingly deceitful Red Leader.  It is in this latter of story threads this month where Soule makes some fascinating developments.  Thus far, the Red Leader was more or less a soccer ball of a character for the others to just kick around as they please.  As we see here, however, a confrontation with Sterns seems to be on the horizon, and it is definitely another crack added to this pretty chipped rock of a team.  Everything comes to a halt, however, when the forces of Thanos arrive on Earth, leaving one to wonder just how Soule will integrate Infinity's massive story into this otherwise independent book.  Palo's art continues to be great.  Rating: A


DC


Batman '66 #3
Written by Jeff Parker, Art by Joe Quinones

[Guest Review]: This is another of DC’s Digital First line which is collected into a single print issue monthly, and again the alternate version of the characters allow for some really fun storytelling.  I originally started buying this series because I was intrigued by the concept and the gorgeous Mike Allred covers, and the first two issues were fun, but I wasn’t sure that they were worth the $3.99 cover price once a month.  This issue has the Dynamic Due facing off against that clown prince of crime, the Joker, and the results are undeniably fun and wacky.  Parker does a great job of subtly incorporating some popular elements of modern Batman such as Dr. Quinn of Arkham Asylum and the Red Hood while continuing to stay true to the original show with bizarre villains like Egghead who stars in the backup story.  The art, too, is just fun to look at: it is both comical and clever, and the colors pop off the page with all the glory of 60’s TV.  While Batman and Robin’s constant cavalcade of conversational alliteration is always fun, it’s the Joker that steals this issue.  Parker channels Caesar Romero so well that I almost wish we could have this silly but totally charming version of the Joker instead of the uber-dark psychopathic serial killer we’ve almost exclusively seen in the past couple of years.  It may seem like a very strange book for DC to be publishing right now--and it is--but having these digital books that have much more freedom seems to be one of their few strengths right now.  I would highly recommend this book if you need a break from the endless Villains Month books!  Rating: A


Batman Beyond Universe #2
Written by Christos Gage and Kyle Higgins, Art by Iban Coello

[Guest Review]: Here’s a shining example of how being set outside of the main continuity can create great, unique stories with characters that are...lets just say typically less well written in the main books.  This is one of DC’s Digital First books which comes out in shorter form as Batman Beyond 2.0 digitally and then once a month in print.  So far, this retitled book has focused primarily on Superman and the JLB (Justice League Beyond) and is about Superman dealing with a change in his powers.  In #1, his powers suddenly started growing stronger, so much so that he was injuring those around him on accident.  That issue ended with Kal Kent (as he goes by in his new, Lois-less secret identity as a fire fighter) going through with a procedure to rid him of his powers permanently.  So what does Superman do now?  Why, date of course!  The first part of the issue is quite fun as it deals with Kal asking other Justice Leaguers for advice, of which very little is useful to him.  Probably most entertaining is when he calls the extremely grumpy, ancient Bruce Wayne, who basically hangs up on him.  Regardless, the date is going well until (of course) the ferris wheel he’s in is attacked by a giant robot.  The mystery thickens when Superman realizes that the change in his powers has a sentient source--and it’s coming from inside the Phantom Zone.  The story is fun and so very different from the bland New 52 stories in the Superman family of books.  The backup story of Batman (Terry McGuinness) going up against what seems like the original Bat-Family was pretty interesting as well.  For great DC superhero stories that aren’t bogged down by New 52 editorial mandates, the Beyond line never ceases to satisfy!  Rating: A


Black Hand #1 (Green Lantern #23.3)
Written by Charles Soule, Art by Alberto Ponticelli

Villains Month launches into its third week with the next wave of one shots featuring the sordid evil doers of the DC Universe.  With Black Hand, we get a Villains Month issue which, in concept, is more in line with the issues this month which have consistently been more interesting.  In other words, this issue is not an origin, but a present day story which tells us what the character in question is doing in response to the Crime Syndicate taking over. With Black Hand, the answer is one that is probably very expected: he is going around and raising people from the dead.  After being resurrected yet again, Black Hand goes in search of meaning in what he is doing, but the main problem here is that Black Hand appears to be suffering from a bit of amnesia.  When you have a Lantern who can control death, the last thing you want is one which has no idea what is he doing or where he is going.  As the cover would suggest, this issue has more than a few visual cues from classic zombie films from the 60's/70's.  The Crime Syndicate is leaving quite a bit of death and destruction in their wake, making for a lot of minions to help out the aimless Black Hand.  In some ways, this issue feels a bit aimless as well, just as lost in its pursuit of what it wants as its main character.  While Soule struggles a bit to put together a fascinating story, Ponticelli's art is able to excel, making for a visually remarkable issue.  Though Black Hand eventually finds his purpose again, it is unclear if Soule ever did.  This will not be a memorable Villains Month issue, but at least it is not one of the more terrible ones.  Rating: B+


Cheetah #1 (Wonder Woman #23.1)
Written by John Ostrander, Art by Victor Ibanez

[Guest Review]: I wasn’t quite sure what to expect here.  I’m a big fan of Azzarello/Chiang’s book, but I’m not crazy about the way Wonder Woman is portrayed in other books, and I didn’t particularly like the Cheetah issues of Justice League either.  To find that I actually really enjoyed this issue was a pleasant surprise.  First positive note: it actually seems to tie into Forever Evil, in at least the sense that it’s taking place while the world is falling apart and Cheetah is being called to the meeting of the Secret Society.  It follows both her and a U.S. Marshal Mark Shaw (the original Manhunter) who is assigned to bring her back to Belle Reve.  We learn about Barbara Minerva’s past through her own flashbacks as well as Shaw’s detective work in a way that flows pretty well.  Her origin is a fairly interesting one that kept me reading, but did have one scene that bothered me: Barbara is talking to Wonder Woman (who is new to the States) about mythical artifacts and cultures, and when she mentions the Amazons worshipping the goddess of the hunt, Wonder Woman comically laughs out loud and informs her of how wrong she is.  This insult plays a part in Barbara going insane, and seems way out of character for any version of Wonder Woman, but I let it go because it seems that Ostrander is playing up a certain vagueness of Cheetah’s origins, since it conflicts a bit with other parts in this issue.  Overall though, the issue was very engaging, and played out almost like an episode of the X-Files, with a government agent tracking down a mythical creature.  A surprisingly serious story that made me want to read more of a character I previously had zero interest in, so I would recommend it pretty highly!  Rating: A-


Deathstroke #1 (Teen Titans #23.2)
Written by Corey Mays, Art by Justin Norman, Robson Rocha, and Angel Unzueta


[Guest Review]: For whatever reason, I’m always drawn to the character of Deathstroke--I think it’s due to the awesome fight with him in the middle of Identity Crisis, still one of my favorite comic book battles of all time--but I am nearly always disappointed when I actually sit down and read one of his stories, and this time was no different.  The concept of the story is semi-interesting, although it has nothing to do with Forever Evil (like many of these poorly conceived villains books): Deathstroke is assassinating some nonspecific political figure, and in the time between the bullet being fired and hitting its target, he reminisces about his past (read: origin).  The problems are numerous, but for starters the story is incredibly generic.  He was a military man, quit because he was ordered to kill children, became a mercenary (because that’s the logical moral choice), had a son that was his partner, blah blah blah.  And for good measure, Deathblow is thrown in.  Why?  Oh yeah, I forgot the Wildstorm Universe is supposed to be somehow present in the DCU, better throw one of those characters in.  But the crowning achievement for this issue has to be the art, which is covered by not one, not two, but three artists, all of whom seem to be channeling Rob Liefeld’s terrible perspective.  The book randomly changes from artist to artist, going from very amateur looking stuff to very boring art akin to a much smaller publisher.  I’ve read several Villains Month books that were bad, but this one was downright worthy of a refund.  Oh, but it does end on a high note: Deathstroke does it all for the money--to keep his daughter safe.  What a fresh take on a villain...  Rating: F


Lex Luthor #1 (Action Comics #23.3)
Written by Charles Soule, Art by Raymund Bermudez

Except for perhaps the Joker, Lex Luthor is easily DC's most recognizable villain to the general public.  Even people who have never touched a comic book in their lives know that the bald, billionaire Lex Luthor spends his days fighting Superman.  With that in mind, then, it seemed like it would be a sin to not give Lex his own Villains Month issue.  Much like he does in his issue dedicated to Black Hand, writer Charles Soule tells us what Lex Luthor is up to in the present, only this time setting up Luthor's appearance in Forever Evil #1, which may answer a few burning questions for some readers.  Although the answers provided here make for a Forever Evil which feels more narratively sound, it is more in the character work which Soule sets out to accomplish that really works here.  Much like the Riddler, Luthor must be quite a difficult character to write simply due to the fact that the character is so much smarter than the writer ever could be.  Most writers use this little set back as an excuse to write a Luthor who continuously shows off his numerous resources, which is a storytelling pool Soule dips his feet into at times here, but it is a move which is done as more of an exercise in Luthor's daily routine than a show of power.  Soule's Luthor is a man with the audacity to believe that Superman has nothing better to do each day than think about what he is doing, making Superman's sudden disappearance all the more disconcerting.  From his murderous plan to get the Man of Steel to show himself to Luthor's relentlessly cocky attitude, this is an issue which revels in its character.  A solid read, but not an issue which will leave people talking.  Rating: A-


The Rogues #1 (The Flash #23.3)
Written by Brian Buccellato, Art by Patrick Zircher

Before launching off into their own Forever Evil tie-in series, the small group of some of the Flash's enemies known as the Rogues get the spotlight in their own Villains Month issue.  Since the New 52 began,writers Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul have used the Rogues quite a bit, but usually as nothing more than a group of bumbling criminals who every now and then get something right.  Their approach to being criminals is one which occasional blurs the line between good and evil, meaning that this group has mostly been used as comedic relief.  It comes as a huge surprise, then, when one begins to delve into this one shot and realize that Buccellato has done something here which is completely different than anything he has done with this group before: The Rogues #1 is a pretty serious comic with quite a bit of drama and action, but very few laughs.  Buccellato decides to give us a more mature take on the Rogues, and it is a narrative decision that feels a bit jarring, and perhaps does not work as much as Buccellato would like.  Upset with Mirror Master being stuck in the Mirror World, Glider makes a decision to risk her well being to bring her boyfriend back into the real world; a decision which upsets her brother, Captain Cold.  This is a book which tries to deliver an emotional punch on the importance of family and teamwork, but ultimately feels like nothing more than a pat.  This is not a terrible comic, but it is a change of pace with these characters that does not entirely work.  Zircher's art is not Manapul's, but it would be a nice change of pace later on.  Rating: B+


Vertigo


Fables #133
Written by Bill Willingham, Art by Mark Buckingham

As the story of Camelot continues in Fables, it seems that this story is going to remain mostly ignored in favor of picking up the pieces of everything involved with Prince Brandish and the death of Bigby.  A bit is done here with the formation of the Knights of the Round Table, but not enough for this arc to merit the name Camelot just yet.  Here we see Snow White and Rose Red once again come to a disagreement, this time over just what should be done over the immortal Prince Brandish.  Rose Red is devout in her belief that she can reform the villain, even if it means once again sacrificing her relationship with her sister.  It seems a bit disappointing that this relationship which writer Bill Willingham has taken so long to nurture and develop is cast away so easily, but perhaps it seems very in line with Rose Red's recent change in character to remain determined when she believes her destiny is involved.  There is an excitement at the fringes of this issue of just who will be given a seat at this new Round Table, and it is an excitement so palatable that it makes one just a tad bit frustrated that Willingham has barely capitalized on it.  Nevertheless, the developments with Snow White and Brandish made here seem definitely necessary.  In many ways, it is easy to see how this issue could turn out to be a very subtle turning point in Fables.  Lines which, once crossed, cannot  be undone are crossed in this issue with little fanfare, and it is perhaps in that subtlety where Willingham wins a lot of story points here.  As always with Fables, though, only time will tell if and when these changes will have big ramifications.  Rating: A


Thanks again for joining us for another volume of The Splash Page.  Be sure to come back next week as we give Villains Month one final look before the gimmick comes to an end (Also, Saga!).  

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