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Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Splash Page Volume 22

For Comics Released November 27, 2013

I'm baaaaack!  After a far too long leave of absence, I have finally returned to my little comics review article known as The Splash Page!  I hope that this return means you can once again expect The Splash Page weekly.  I would like to send a special thanks to Harper for covering for me with Volume 21, but, now that the two of us are back on this article, we have even more comic reviews to bring to you this week!  Not much DC on the table for this week, but we have more than enough Marvel and indie books for you.  Check out all the reviews below.


Marvel


All New X-men #19
Written by Brian Michael Bendis, Art by Brandon Peterson

[Harper]: This might be the first time I’ve seriously considered dropping a book because of a costume change.  Seriously!  These new costumes for the classic X-Men are absolutely ridiculous.  Half of what was cool about having them here in the present was the level of classic nostalgia their design brought, and now they look like cheap Voltron ripoffs.  But enough about that.  This issue focuses on the All-New X-Men fighting off some new mutant-haters, religious ones this time.  I know one of the tenets of the X-Men mythos is that they are feared and hated by the general public, but this time it just felt forced and utterly dull.  These ‘Squires” are about as generic villains as they come, and what’s worse, Bendis half-heartedly tries to turn them (or at least the idea of them) into some new worst-threat-mutants-have-ever-faced in a whopping one line by young Jean Grey.  All of this very bland, generic story is apparently just a lead up for an (apparently) shocking final page: X23 is the mutant these Squires were attacking.  I know very little about this character aside from the fact that she’s both literally and figuratively a clone of Wolverine, which in itself is not something to get excited about.  Having a former assassin join the team of naive young X-Men is a somewhat interesting development, but it doesn’t outweigh all the problems these last two issues have had.  It all stems back to the non-existent reasoning for Kitty and these time-displaced X-Men to have joined Cyclops’s team, but the dull storytelling coupled with utterly awful new costumes seals the deal: All-New X-Men is no longer one my Marvel’s best books.  Rating: C-


Infinity #6
Written by Jonathan Hickman, Art by Jim Cheung and Dustin Weaver

After months of build-up, the final issue of Marvel's latest crossover event, Infinity, is finally here.  You may recall from previous reviews here on GeekRex that, largely, Infinity has been a very enjoyable series.  Though this cannot be said for every single tie-in (particularly those bearing the title Avengers), the biggest question going into this final issue would be whether or not Jonathan Hickman could tie up this interweaving web of a story in a nice little bow.  The answer to that is: more or less.  With everything involved with the Builders seemingly at an end, the Avengers can finally turn their attention to the much more interesting threat: Thanos and his followers.  At first, it seemed this issue would be plagued by the things which made the Avengers Infinity tie-ins so boring: Hickman's continued use of C and D-level Avengers members who would only be known to those who have been reading the current run of the title.  Fortunately, Hickman eventually moves things towards the characters and conflicts we have all been clamoring for.  With an event that has focused so much on exposition and rising action, each carefully placed to set up this finale, it leaves way for this story's climactic issue to be a barrage of one action scene after another.  Each scene comes with its own set of stakes, but it is a bit of a jarring experience when Hickman has seemingly been plotting this story so carefully.  This does not mean the payoff is not worth it, however.  What is more disappointing is that, by issue's end, it becomes obvious that this was all just a set-up not just for next month's Inhumanity, but future Marvel events as well.  Rating: A


New Avengers #12
Written by Jonathan Hickman, Art by Mike Deodato

Leave it to New Avengers to give Infinity the more neatly tied bow as well as more well-written epilogue it deserved.  While the final issue of Infinity dealt more with setting up the next few events at Marvel, Hickman takes things to a much more personal level in New Avengers, showing how both the events of Infinity and those which immediately preceded it will have a huge effect on the future.  Though this is an issue which is definitely setting up future conflicts, it does not feel as much of a cop-out as the final pages of Infinity.  Perhaps it is because one knows going in that this series continues beyond this specific story, while Infinity is over that makes the peppering of hints as to what may be coming next more exciting in this comic.  Whatever the reason may be, the fact remains that New Avengers continues to be one of the most exciting, underrated comics currently being written at Marvel.  With having a team like the Illuminati, the initial struggle began as just what conflicts a team like this will face that will be so different from what the main Avengers team normally goes up against.  Hickman has made the answer to this problem very clear.  This team is going to continue to face threats that have universal implications, but must be kept secret from the rest of the world for a number of reasons (and this conflict is increased manifold with this issue).  In this issue, however, we also get a new question to ask as this series continues: can this team stay together long enough to save the day?  Great issue, with fantastic art from Deodato.  Rating: A+


Superior Spider-man #22
Written by Dan Slott and Christos Gage, Art by Humberto Ramos

You may recall back during the summer when I posted a special Comic Con edition of The Splash Page.  In that article, I counted down my top 10 most anticipated new comics (or comic storylines) from the con.  If you remember that article, you may recall that Darkest Hours, the latest arc of Superior Spider-man was on that list.  Admittedly, when that list was made, I was still a pretty rampant fan of Superior Spider-man, believing that there was very little that comic could do wrong.  As time has progressed since that article, however, this is a comic which has plunged a bit in my interest.  Though I still find myself reading the book each month, I have to admit my excitement has diminished quite a bit.  Luckily, the comic seems to be on a slight upswing lately.  It certainly still has its old problems of focusing on far too much and continuously teasing upcoming stories for far too long, but it is hard to deny that the quality of the writing has begun a seeming improvement.  This trend continues somewhat in this issue, which sees Otto (as Peter Parker) coming into conflict with Flash Thompson's Venom for the first time.  In the writing of the issue, Slott seems to ignore that Flash is also a member of the anti-hero team the Thunderbolts, making the new Venom out to be a strict hero.  Nevertheless, a classic battle between Spider-man and Venom, even when neither of them are the same people anymore, is still a pretty exciting story concept.  As usual, Slott wastes much of this issue with build up and further teases, but the clash of Spider-man and Venom makes for intriguing story.  I'm not completely back on the Superior Spider-man bandwagon, but this issue is another good step back to it.  Rating: B+


Uncanny Avengers #14
Written by Rick Remender, Art by Steve McNiven

[Harper]: I’ve long touted the merits of this book, the book that was born out of Avengers vs. X-Men but has since kept a wide berth from just about all Avengers and X-Men events.  The huge story that scales time with Kang and ties together a number of Avengers and X-Men threads is one that has held my interest from issue one.  The most interesting thing in this issue are the villains (or are they?) Uriel and Eimin.  They are the twin Apocalypse, children of Archangel raised by Kang.  This complex origin creates some mysterious motives, made all the more twisted by the fact that we don’t quite know Kang’s plan as of yet.  They are using Scarlet Witch to move all the mutants to a different planet where they can live in peace away from their human oppressors--or was it all a ploy to make someone kill her as a last ditch effort?  The issue builds upon the ramifications of Wolverine’s violent past, both in literal form with his resurrected son and in another with Rogue’s savage hatred of Wanda Maximoff.  There are several gut-wrenching moments that would seem to have huge consequences for the Marvel universe, which makes me wish (as I often do) that this book was paving the way towards Marvel’s future rather than Hickman’s endless Infinity storyline.  Whether these events are undone or ignored in some way only time will tell, but in the meantime this gets my highest recommendation for what a superhero comic can do: build on its complex past while making complex moral changes that elevate it to more than just super-powered fist fights.  Rating: A


Wolverine and the X-men Annual #1
Written by Jason Aaron, Art by Nick Bradshaw

[Harper]: While the main book has been floundering a bit as of late, I was hesitant to pick up this $4.99 annual, especially with the big “Infinity” tag across the top--though I’m mildly disappointed with this book that had such a fantastic start, it’s nothing compared to the sheer dread I feel when I see anything I read being branded with that seemingly never ending event.  This issue really hearkened back to the series’ roots, however.  The story focuses on Kid Gladiator, who has been absent from the book for quite a while.  We see what he’s been up to in superguardian school, where he gives a teenager’s report on Earth that is oddly a bit touching.  He longs for the crazed atmosphere of the Jean Grey School, and soon his wish comes true: he gets to fight the builders alongside the Avengers and the many alien forces allied with them.  Nick Bradshaw’s cartooning is in high form here, rendering the battles in glorious cartoon color that immediately blew all the dullness away from the tired war.  Many funny moments can be found here, with Kid Gladiator wondering what it would be like to punch the Hulk and arm wrestling a mead-guzzling Thor.  This issue had all the elements of one of the great early issues that made WatXM such a uniquely fun book in the X-Universe: it followed one fairly one-dimensional character and fleshed out his perspective with a lot of heart and above all a light-hearted look at the usually gloom-and-doom world of the X-Men.  The issue is bookended by Kid Gladiator giving reports on his other school, and as we see the smirk on his face as he tries to impress upon his mutant classmates that his time on Earth is a punishment, I remembered why I used to be so entertained by this book.  Rating: A


DC

Adventures of Superman #7
Written and Drawn by David Lapham

[Harper]: Often in comics-land, we hear that Superman is a boring character, that you can’t tell a good story with someone who is so overpowered.  In many cases, I would agree; there certainly aren’t as many revered Superman stories as there are Batman ones.  Here we have two stories in this anthology, the first of which is a bit more interesting.  Written and drawn by David Lapham (who created the indie crime series Stray Bullets, one my favorite comics of all time), “Saved” focuses on a cult of sorts that proposes that Superman is their savior.  To prove to him that he is better than even he thinks, they all plan to jump from Metropolis’s highest buildings simultaneously, forcing him to save them all.  There are some interesting moral implications, obviously, and a clever solution to the problem, but for me the highlight is Lapham’s art.  Rarely do we get to see a more independent artist who normally draws every day people drawing Superman, but it’s more than that: Lapham’s strong, thick linework along with the bright, contrasty primary colors by Lee Loughridge really make this story pop in a way you’ll never see in, oh, a Jim Lee Superman book for instance.  Really wonderful stuff.  The second story by Tim Seeley and Mike Norton is fine, but nothing particularly special, but the main story is worth the price of admission.  Who says you can’t tell a great Superman story?  Maybe he just needs more out-of-continuity, one-off stories like this.  Or maybe it’s all in the red shorts...  Rating: A-

The Flash #25
Written by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato, Art by Francis Manapul and Chris Sprouse

The latest issue of The Flash is a bit of a bitter sweet read.  The main reason for this is that, unfortunately, issue 25 marks the last issue of The Flash written by both Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato and drawn by Francis Manapul.  With that in mind, it almost seems fitting that the two creators' final issue together takes them back to a time before Barry Allen became the Flash, giving them the chance to add one last piece to the puzzle of the Flash's continuity in the New 52.  Serving as a tie-in to the recent events of Zero Year in Batman where the Riddler has knocked out the power in Gotham city, this is a tale that very much so feels like The Flash's story and not simply a character shoe-horned into a Batman story in an effort to boost sales.  That being said, it is quite a bit of fun to see Barry interact with longtime Batman staples like Harvey Bullock.  The story of this issue is a simple one: fresh out of the police academy, Barry goes to Gotham to help out the GCPD as much as he can, meeting a young reporter named Iris West along the way.  Although the latter of these details is certainly an interesting twist, it is perhaps also the issue's only glaring error.  A love story buds here between Barry and Iris that is about as sudden as that of the movie Thor.  It is not a very wise story-telling move, and it is a bite that stings a little more knowing these two creators will never expand on it.  Though Buccellato will be back on scripting duties with issue 27, Manapul's art is an important aspect of this comic that may be a linchpin in any decisions to continue reading.  Rating: A-


IDW


The Powerpuff Girls #3
Written and Drawn by Troy Little

Three issues in and it is still very hard to shake the feeling of reading a new Powerpuff Girls story.  Troy Little draws this comic so expertly, so identical to the show that one finds themselves consistently reading each of the characters' dialogue in their voice.  In terms of the story, Little continues to prove that the comic may be the best medium for this particular story.  Continuing a yet to be revealed devious plot from Him, several of Townsville's most notable villains have made a turn towards the good side, working with the Powerpuff Girls to clean up the town and, as the cover suggests save the city from any giant monsters that show up along the way.  With each issue of this series, it feels like Little not only has a good handle on these characters and their mannerisms, but also the general narrative beats the cartoon used to follow.  This is a fun comic that brings loads of nostalgia with it.  If there is maybe one thing the comic does not do so well, it is, oddly enough, in perhaps its greatest strength.  Little is certainly telling a story here which feels large enough to warrant the format of comic (it certainly would be pushing it to fit within even a half hour episode), but, at the same time, each of these issues feels very much so like individual sections that end far too soon.  Just as the reader gets into what is happening,  the ending suddenly shows up.  With so much that works in this comic it's easy to have faith the story will turn out fine, but it is becoming just slightly annoying that each issue comes with a sudden ending instead of a more well-rounded narrative.  Perhaps this is a comic which will be best suited for the trade paperback.  Rating: A


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #28
Written by Tom Waltz, Art by Mateus Santolouco

After a long SEVEN months, the epic TMNT story City Fall finally comes to an end with this climactic issue, and it is very much so a climax in every sense of the word.  Not only do two important TMNT characters, Bebop and Rocksteady, make their official debut here, but we also get a number of fights which have been building up for quite some time (some since issue one).  Though this reviewer notably complained many a time that City Fall was lasting way too long, it has to be handed to Tom Waltz that he leads this story to a much more satisfying conclusion than any other story arc thus far in the comic's history.  The only thing that feels a bit too easy is Leonardo's transition back to normal, though that struggle seems to be one which will bleed over.  Such careful plotting, rising action, and fan-servicing over the past 28 issues come off in (almost) completely perfect fashion.  Often today, the trend in writing ongoing comics series has been adapted to be more like the writing that goes on for seasons of a TV show.  Instead of planning story arc to story arc, many comic book writers plan a block of story arcs that serve as that comic's "season".  .  In many ways, it could be argued that this issue of TMNT is the finale of the first season.  The idea actually works perfectly if one thinks of it: all of the conflicts which are settled in this issue have been building since the beginning.  Though there are certainly more than a few story threads which will be carried over, everything which begins at the end of this issue feels like the beginning of a brand new chapter.  Here's hoping the turtles' second season continues the high of City Fall.  Rating: A+


Image


Black Science #1
Written by Rick Remender, Art by Matteo Scalera

[Harper]: I’m a fan of these three guys, so I’m admittedly a bit biased, but this is one of the coolest first issues I’ve read in quite a while.  This issue starts in medias res, with Grant and Jen running for their lives from alien natives a la Raiders of the Lost Ark--if Indiana Jones wore a spacesuit and explored jungles atop giant turtles in a never ending sea of purple mist.  The action is intense as we get Grant’s thoughtful inner dialogue that gradually reveals the gist of the situation: they must get a sample of water and escape within a few minutes or their entire crew (and family) will die horribly.  Among the heart-pumping action we learn about our main character.  Like many of Remender’s protagonists, he is a bit of an obsessive jerk, but with strong undertones of a moral code best exemplified by his use of a Carl Sagan quote that convinces him to save an alien woman from certain death.  He’s a conflicted, flawed man who’s only clear goal aside from “exploring the eververse” is to keep his family alive.  The script is tight and thoughtful, and the art...Scalera and White have crafted something truly special here.  A wonderful blend of Scalera’s scratchy, dynamic style and White’s unique color palette painted over and under it, this book looks about as alien as any comic ever has.  If you’re into dark, epic science fiction, Black Science is one to look out for!  Rating: A+


The Walking Dead #117
Written by Robert Kirkman, Art by Charlie Adlard

[Harper]: Just three issues into this 12 issue event that is happening on a biweekly basis and things have already ramped up pretty heavily (although without a major character dying I guess that description might be hard to defend in The Walking Dead): Rick and his community’s allies have made the first move by drawing in a heard to threaten Negan’s group.  This is sort of an in-between issue where both sides are preparing for their next move.  I was fairly interested in the concept of All Out War as a big event for TWD, but now I’m starting to see why it’s such a perfect event for this book; Kirkman’s style has always had a sense of practicality, of cause and effect, and of planning.  What could possibly put those strengths to use than a war as we watch both sides strategize a way to defeat the other?  While there’s been much ballyhoo about Negan’s comically excessive swearing and Ezekial’s pet tiger, the book has maintained a level of feasibility that makes those exceptions that prove the rule.  Negan continues to be an interesting villain here, much more so than the governer ever was (certainly in the TV series).  While he’s a violent dictator of sorts, he makes it absolutely clear that this war is only a means towards peace, when the communities can work together to rebuild society.  The last scene of the issue in which he kills one of his own to keep him from raping their prisoner is particularly poignant: “We’re not monsters.”  TWD has it’s ups and downs, but this event is looking like it might have the makings of one of the most memorable arcs in the series’ 10 year history.  Rating: A


Saga #16
Written by Brian K. Vaughan, Art by Fiona Staples

There are a lot of indie comics which have taken the nerd world by storm over the past few years, but none have really blazed a trail quite like Saga.  The funny thing about it is, most comic fans can name just as many people they know who dislike the book as absolutely adore it.  This reviewer, as you probably know, falls in the latter of those two camps.  Perhaps more time could be devoted to figuring out just what it is that makes this comic so appealing, but, ultimately it would just be a waste of time as any words praising what makes this story work pale in comparison to the story (and art) itself.  In terms of story, this issue finally brings us back to the point of that infamous cliffhanger we were left with before Saga's most recent hiatus.  You know, the one with our main characters huddled in an attic with Prince Robot IV downstairs waiting for them.  Though the backtracking Vaughan has done for the past few issues could easily cause more than a few frustrated readers, it has allowed for a very wonderful thing to take place.  During this comic's very brief history, Vaughan has had Marko and Alana thrust into one stressful and intense situation after another.  Throughout the past few issues, Vaughan has finally been able to have a bit of fun with these characters, developing them emotionally in the process.  It has been a fun ride, but, as this comic tends to go, that fun is almost always fleeting.  As this issue comes to an end, we are thrust into yet another beautifully drawn impending conflict, but it's hard to not be excited for what this book has up its sleeves.  Rating: A+


That's all for this week's volume of The Splash Page.  Join us next week for a slew of new comics including the second issue of an X-men book I find myself VERY excited about as well as the beginning of yet another crossover event for Marvel...

As always, if there are any comics you would like to see reviewed here, or any you feel were reviewed unfairly, feel free to leave us a comment below!  See you next week!
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