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Monday, December 9, 2013

The Splash Page Volume 23

For Comics Released December 4, 2013

Hello, all, and welcome to the latest edition of The Splash Page.  Apologies for this one coming at you so late.  As you can see below, this was a week with a rather large pull for Harper and I, but I was also spending a lot of my time this week teaching and buying Christmas gifts.  Nevertheless, below you'll find quite a few reviews from Marvel and DC as well as two indie series that are quickly growing as some of my favorites.  Enjoy!


Marvel

Amazing X-men #2
Written by Jason Aaron, Art by Ed McGuiness

With the unfortunate cancellation of Astonishing X-men a few weeks back, I was in a bit of a rut in terms of where to go from there.  Being a huge fan of the X-men for over a decade, the issue with finding a new X-book to read was not continuity at all, but the ever-impending loom of crossovers (something Astonishing X-men had largely been free of).  Nevertheless, I found myself drawn to Jason Aaron and Amazing X-men.  Fortunately for me, so was about half the cast of Astonishing X-men.  In his writing of Thor: God of Thunder, Jason Aaron has dealt quite a bit with the divinity of the beings who populate Asgard, and done so quite well to boot.  In this comic, Aaron is taking a more strictly Christian route, with a focus on the locations of Heaven and Hell; both the setting of a battle and search for Nightcrawler.  Perhaps where Aaron most succeeds in his writing of this book is in his use of humor.  When Iceman finds himself in Hell, something a man made of frozen water should fear, he immediately cracks a joke about regretting illegally downloading music.  It is that kind of quick-witted banter which helps to make this comic a lot of fun despite a story that sounds utterly ridiculous on paper (Heaven, Hell, Bamf pirates...you know, normal X-men stuff).  All of this is gorgeously rendered by Ed McGuiness, who gives this touch the needed balance of serious and funny that is present in the writing.  While it may be too early to call on this comic, Amazing X-men is quickly becoming a favorite.  Rating: A+

Cataclysm #2
Written by Brian Michael Bendis, Art by Mark Bagley

The event which could very likely spell the end of the Ultimate Universe continues in this issue.  With the previous issue of this series, there was most definitely a sense of scope to the story itself, but, frankly, not very much had presented itself in terms of Galactus or stakes until the very end.  That all changes here as Galactus goes on an all out rampage through New Jersey, destroying everything in sight.  With the world falling apart around them, the Ultimates, joined by the Fantastic Four and Spider-man, must figure out what to do to save the day yet again.  Bendis amps up the stakes big time in this issue, and it makes things all the more exciting.  The blending of so many elements and dangling plot threads of this universe really help to add to the sense of finality to it all.  For starters, we finally get our first acknowledgement that last year's mini-series Spider-men actually happened.  Tony Stark quickly realizes that this entity attacking the world is not of this universe, explaining that it registers similar energy signals to the 616 version of Peter Parker who spent some time in the Ultimate U.  So what does this mean?  It means someone has to go to THAT universe, find Reed Richards, and get some answers as to how to stop Galactus.  It all makes for an incredibly exciting issue which is brisquely paced, giving the creators the ability to place Miles Morales in the 616 Universe (as previously rumored) in a way which as completely unexpected.  Mark Bagley does an acceptable job here on art, but it is perhaps the weakest element of the entire thing as Bendis' writing completely overshadows it all.  Rating: A

Guardians of the Galaxy #9
Written by Brian Michael Bendis, Art by Francesco Francavilla

Hey, remember how, last week, that big crossover event at Marvel called Infinity came to an end, ushering in the next event (Inhumanity) this week?  Yeah, that bit of information did not stop this issue of Guardians of the Galaxy being an Infinity tie-in complete with a tag on the final page telling readers that the story concludes in an issue that came out last week.  Shipping errors aside, this is yet another strong issue for this series.  The main reason for that?  Once again, Guardians of the Galaxy has been able to attract yet another fantastic artist.  Previous artists Steve McNiven and Sara Pichelli did amazing work, but the art which Francesco Francavilla puts on display in this issue is on a completely different plan  The use of the colors orange, purple, and yellow make for an issue which stands in stark contrast to the pop and flair which usually fills the pages of this book while also adding an indie taste to a comic attempting to be as mainstream as possible right now.  When it comes to story, Bendis weaves an interesting enough tale, but it ultimately feels like a job Bendis was told to do rather than one he was genuinely excited for.  If Thanos were not playing such a large role in Infinity, perhaps Bendis could have used that character to his advantage, but, unfortunately, the lack of Thanos reduces this issue to Starlord and Rocket running around a spaceship and shooting aliens.  Entertaining, but the art is the only flawless thing here.  Rating: A-

Iron Man #19
Written by Kieron Gillen, Art by Joe Bennett

If you have been reading The Splash Page for some time, you may be familiar with the fact that I have not been the biggest fan of Kieron Gillen's run on Iron Man.  Though I am, in general, a fan of Gillen's writing, there is just something about his writing of this particular character which has thus far not worked for me.  Everything involved with Tony being in space was interesting enough in concept, but utterly disastrous in execution.  You can well imagine my shock, then, when I open up this issue of Iron Man and find myself pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoy it.  Continuing from a few of the threads left over from previous issues, Tony and recently revealed brother Arno are feverishly at work together to build a city of the future which will change the way mankind lives and, naturally, bear the name of Stark on it all.  The location chosen for this metropolis?  Why only the former stronghold of Tony's most notable villain: The Mandarin (a character who seems poised to make his return soon...just after being featured in a movie!  What a coinkidink!).  Nevertheless, despite the future struggles which are most definitely set up here, Gillen seems hard at work building up these characters for the coming struggle, and it is a change which is definitely for the good.  Maybe it is because Tony is back on Earth where he belongs, but this feels like a much more improved Iron Man than before.  The one major blemish on this issue has to be Joe Bennett's art, which is mediocre at best.  If this comic could find a capable artist and Gillen continue to write like he does here, then this book may be able to turn around.  Rating: B


Superior Spider-man #23
Written by Dan Slott and Christos Gage, Art by Humberto Ramos

If the last issue of Superior Spider-man had you worried that there was not enough Venom, Dan Slott and Christos Gage seek to squelch any of those fears with this issue.  Not realizing that the man currently wearing the symbiote is a friend of Peter's, Otto decides that Flash Thompson/Venom needs to be taken out no matter what the cost.  As this is Superior Spider-man, such a mission cannot be carried out without a little back stabbing/danger of Otto's identity being revealed.  This is the plot which concerns the main story in this issue, and it is one which is certainly intriguing, but not one that is incredibly remarkable either.  Venom's popularity was a Spider-man villain is undeniable, so it makes sense as to the reasons Slott would want to write an arch like this.  What the problem seems to be here, then, is that this seems like just another diversionary story which seeks to pull in random elements which, while being certainly eye-catching, seem primarily designed to get readers to believe this comic is "awesome" or "the best ever."  Something happens at the very end of this issue which is certain to garner such reactions, but it all just feels like this big distraction for the story Slott has yet to tell: the Green Goblin.  Though this issue is definitely an engaging read, it is hard to get too excited for anything that happens when what is sitting on the bench for later on is so much more fascinating.  Rating: B+


DC


Action Comics #26
Written by Greg Pak, Art by Aaron Kuder

[Harper]: A few weeks ago we got the almost universally loved issue of this series that tied in with Zero Year, but I was concerned that this team might not be able to keep that energy up outside of a one-shot story.  I’m very pleased to say that this is not the case; this issue not only continues the big action fun of the previous one, but keeps adding a depth and desperately needed personality to it’s Kryptonian star.  The story is pretty simple: Lana Lang is in trouble (again) and although she tries her best to be a hero, is about to be eaten by a monster.  Superman shows up to save the day, embarrasses himself, and then sees a bit of himself in this monster: Clark, too, was once a bull in a china shop that didn’t understand what was happening to him as his powers developed.  It’s one part touching childhood story and one part monster fighting action, and Pak’s partner Aaron Kuder could not be a better choice.  His colorful, comic-booky (can I say that?) style is bombastic and fun like nothing else at DC.  He’s a rising star to say the least.  I’m also loving Lana Lang as a welcome change from the tired Lois Lane; she provides a unique perspective on Superman because not only does she know his secret identity, but knows too his childhood.  This gives us a look at a Superman who is still growing into the role.  Now if we could just get some more t-shirt wearing Superman, I wouldn’t be able to say enough good things about this team.  For the first time in a pretty long time, I’m very excited for the next issue of Action Comics, so bravo!  Rating: A+


Batman/Superman #6
Written by Greg Pak, Art by Brett Booth

[Harper]: Here we continue the bizarre story of Superman and Batman being controlled (sort of) by video game players while Mongul attacks.  Sound cool?  Uh, no.  I actually like the fact that they are sticking with the widescreen aspect of it as an interesting change of visual pace that wasn’t just a one-issue gimmick, but Brett Booth is dull as dishwater and doesn’t really take advantage of the unusual format.  But more importantly, and a bit shockingly, the writing is god awful.  I thought the first arc, though visually beautiful, was unnecessarily confusing, but I guess it was just the warmup for this mess.  Batman is killed, and resurrected as a robot?  Mongul is using video game players to misguidedly help him invade earth?  What the hell is going on here?  What’s worse is that the characterizations of Batman and Superman are way off base--Batman’s (robotic) body is being controlled by gamers who make him shoot energy beams from his eyes, and he begrudgingly admits that he likes it.  Seriously?  I’m not sure whether I’m more offended by the poor writing or the not-so-subtle jab that video gamers are literally the most violent force on the planet.  I really like Pak most of the time (as my review of his other book this week makes plain), but this is a major misstep and one I don’t plan on continuing to put up with.  Consider it dropped.  Rating: D


Earth 2 #18
Written by Tom Taylor, Art by Nicola Scott

Two issues into Tom Taylor's run of Earth 2 and this reviewer is quite surprised by how much this title has improved while still, more or less, telling more of the exact same story James Robinson left on.  As with the previous issue, this one sees the continued rampage of a Darkseid-possessed Superman, who finds himself intrigued by the abilities of one Jay Garrick.  Meanwhile, the new Batman releases a few surprising guests from the vaults of one of the World Army's headquarters to help in their fight against Superman.  In his final issues of writing this comic, Robinson did a hell of a job of taking a relatively tight-knit cast and absolutely imploding it to the point that there was absolutely no way these characters could be properly developed.  In Taylor's run, that cast has been reduced back to its core, and it makes the comic so much more of an engaging read.  The scope of Robinson's run is certainly present, but the return of a sense of intimacy makes this feel like more of a readable title than a hodge podge of random alternate versions of A, B, and C list DCU characters.  This does not mean, however, that Taylor does not have a few new characters showing up, but the two he introduces in this issue are immensely more fascinating than most that showed up in Robinson's final issues.  With Nicola Scott continuing to provide his fantastic artwork, it seems that Earth 2 may be on the path to once again being the best New 52 comic no one is reading.  Rating: A


Green Lantern #26
Written by Robert Venditti, Art by Billy Tan

In the wake of Lights Out, it has been a bit of an adjustment to get back into Robert Venditti's run on Green Lantern.  Thus far, Venditti has not really done much that is too terribly interesting aside from forcing his readers to buy three additional Green Lantern family books in October.  Lights Out brought up some interesting ideas about how the universe of Green Lantern functions, but the constant deluge of crossovers for this group of books has caused any sense of stakes to be completely wiped away.  Fortunately, things begin to look up just a bit with this issue.  This is saying quite a lot when one considers that this reviewer's number one pet peeve in a Green Lantern book is present throughout this issue: silly constructs.  Certainly, the idea of having Hal Jordan create a giant serving dish to hide Kilowog is sort of his shtick, but such things rarely feel anything other than campy.  Nevertheless, what makes this an enjoyable read is the approach with which Venditti writes this issue.  Kilowog and Hal find themselves trapped by Nol-Anj, the rogue Star Sapphire, and her gang of followers.  Not an unusual situation for a Green Lantern comic, but Venditti writes this issue in a way which Geoff Johns seemed to forget about: this issue is written like a police drama.  With all of the aliens and galactic battles, it can sometimes be easy for writers to forget that the Green Lantern Corps are space cops.  Having a writer like Venditti write Green Lantern like it should be written (finally) and Billy Tan providing great visuals, this is yet another comic for this week which may be on the upswing.  Rating: B+


Swamp Thing #26
Written by Charles Soule, Art by Jesus Saiz

[Harper]: Although Soule’s run on this book began with several two-issue stories (a much appreciated change from Snyder’s 18-issue story), it seems he’s really gotten to the meat of the story he wants to tell.  While Snyder’s story expanded on the mythos of the green, it only did so externally, insofar as the green’s rivalry with the red and the rot.  Soule has gone much farther, giving us a history of the green avatar and a depth to the Parliament of Trees that we’ve never gotten before.  Last issue ended with Swamp Thing (Alec Holland) losing the title of avatar to the Seeder (Jason Woodrue), which leaves us with a bodiless main character.  As boring as that might sound, the way this story has been built makes it pretty interesting.  We learn a little of Jason’s past and how his good intentions were twisted into an obsession with being the greatest avatar of the green.  This world is fun and fascinating, with Jason getting beat up by Animal Man and attacking a lumberyard in attempts to impress the parliament of trees.  We’re left with no idea how Alec will eventually regain his powers and body, but in the meantime we get a very interesting look at how different the green avatar could be with a different kind of person at the helm.  Swamp Thing continues to be one of my top DC books!  Rating: A


Vertigo


Fairest #21
Written by Mark Andreyko, Art by Shawn McManus

This has been quite the exciting month if you are a fan of all things Fables, and especially of Fabletown's number one super spy, Cinderella.  Not only was Cinderella featured in her very own OGN (for the third time) in the fantastic Fairest in All the Land, but she is now the star of her very own Fairest arch!  It also seems that this story just may answer one or two burning questions about the giant mice living in Fabletown as seen in a recent issue of Fables.  Such speculation will be confirmed or denied in the future; let's focus on what can be said about the issue itself.  This issue marks the first time someone other than Bill Willingham or Chris Roberson has written Cinderella, but Fables newbie Mark Andreyko seems to have a great sense of who Cindy is as a character, and just the way she reacts to certain situations she finds herself in.  It's also nice to see Snow White show up and kick some butt in this issue, as the previous arch of this comic seemed to forget that the focus should have been on the female characters.  Though there is one scene in this issue which seems far too similar to something we saw Black Widow do in The Avengers, Andreyko begins what should be a very exciting story here.  Not to mention, this may be one of the more new reader-friendly issues of a Fables family book I have ever read.  With Fables veteran artist Shawn McManus providing art, this is sure to be a storyline you do not want to miss.  Rating: A


Image


Velvet #2
Written by Ed Brubaker, Art by Steve Epting

You may recall that, about a month ago, this reviewer had a ton of praise for the debut issue of Ed Brubaker's latest series, Velvet.  Being such a huge fan of James Bond on the page and on the screen, the first issue of Velvet introduced the comics world to a comic book which played like both of those great things meshed together with a female hero that is more exciting than most male heroes in comics today.  The great news to deliver here is that the second issue of Velvet may be just as good if not better than the first.  The bad news is that this issue is far too short.  Though the latter of these comments is nothing that is too much to fault Brubaker/Epting with (the $2.99 price tag IS quite appreciated, after all).  The reason the brevity of this issue can be seen as a negative is that what is going on in this issue is so exciting, so refreshing as a comics read, that one does not want this thrilling ride to ever end.  This issue does not see too much happen in terms of story, but we get enough detail about Velvet Templeton's background to confirm that, yes, she was perhaps the greatest spy of her generation.  The nods to James Bond pour from the page when this scene comes up, making the gender reversals in this comic play an even more intriguing role.  When it comes to the main story, Brubaker has not revealed too much, but shows us so much of who Velvet is and what she's capable of that one can take a few more issues like this one before getting too bogged down with exposition.  Although the writing is, of course, half of the equation that makes this a great comic.  Steve Epting gives this book the look that it needs, and it is a stunning work of art to behold.  Rating: A+


Thank you for taking the time to check out this volume of The Splash Page!  Be sure to check back here at Geek Rex later this week for reviews of some of this Wednesday's comics, including a new comic dedicated to a very special Christmas demon....

If there are any comics you would like to see covered on here, or any you feel were reviewed unfairly, feel free to leave us a comment!  See you next week!
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