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Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Splash Page Volume 24

Welcome to the newest edition of The Splash Page!  This week our newest writer Cal Cleary joins in the fun, adding a new voice and some new series to our reviews.  Enjoy, and as always, let us know what you think!

 Locke & Key: Alpha #2
Written by Joe Hill
Art by Gabriel Rodriguez
Review by Harper
Before I say anything: MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!  This is the final issue of the series!
Locke & Key has been my favorite series since I started picking up the trades a couple years back.  It’s full of wonder and terror, the awe of childhood imagination and the heartbreaks that come with growing up.  Hill and Rodriguez found a story and a style that hit every wonderful note, and with each issue I was equally excited and terrified to see what would happen next.  The final arc is made up of two mini-series, Omega and Alpha.  Omega was full of absolute dread, the kind of suspense that makes your stomach churn.  Alpha #1 saw what was essentially the end: while Tyler Locke saved the day to some degree by keeping Dodge from unleashing the other dimensional evil into the world, he did so only at the cost of many of his friends’ and his brother Bode’s lives.  This issue is essentially an epilogue, seeing how the family is dealing with this.  It hits many great emotional beats: Tyler speaking with his dead father, Kinsey speaking at the funeral of several of her friends, and their mother just utterly broken at her son’s funeral.  It does do one last very beautiful and clever thing with the keys that brings the story to an optimistic end, but I will say I was just a hair disappointed.  There isn’t a whole lot of closure on other characters besides Tyler and Dodge--I’d love to know more about Kinsey especially.  The series has focused mostly on Tyler growing into manhood, but Kinsey has shared the spotlight on many occasions and doesn’t get quite as much attention here as she deserves.  Maybe we’ll see more of these characters, but because I doubt it, I’m a little let down that the last 16 pages are just more pictures of Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez hanging out in Massachusetts instead of giving a bit more closure on the other characters.  All in all this is a fairly minor complaint, especially when taken as a whole series.  This issue hearkened back to issue #1 in smart, subtle ways and brought the same level of emotion that will make me miss these characters for years to come.  It may not be the greatest ending a comic’s ever had, but I would say that it stuck the landing, bringing to a close perhaps the greatest independent comic series in decades.  Rating: A-

Samurai Jack #3
Written by Jim Zub
Art by Andy Suriano
Review by Harper

As someone who loved the cartoon series as a kid and then again from a different perspective as an adult, I’m wholly impressed by this newest comic adaptation.  It manages to capture the mythological and episodic nature of the show while bringing what feels like an important new story to the original.  Jack is searching for a way to go back home to feudal Japan (what’s new) and is collecting threads of time to do so.  Each month he finds a new thread, but has to overcome challenges to make it his own.  In this issue, he finds himself in a strange Roman city, where only it’s warrior protector seems to see him.  They talk and spar, only to be interrupted by an invasion by Aku’s forces of massive proportions.  Only Jack is mysteriously safe: the city and its inhabitants, in fact, were just a sort of projection, brought back to life by the thread of time owned by the city’s protector.  Through it he can see what he failed to protect.  Jack sets him free, gaining another thread in the process.  It’s this kind of classic story, reminiscent of ancient fables, that really draws me to Samurai Jack.  It is fun and fairly unpredictable, and this issue had some great art as well, bringing to life the imaginative animation of the show in comic form.  This series, and this issue in particular, are highly recommended to fans of the show!  Rating: A+

Uncanny Avengers #15
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Steve McNiven
Review by Harper

Some prefer the epic hijinks of Hickman’s ever expanding line of books, but give Remender the reins and I’d be a whole lot more interested.  After the devastating events of last issue, we see the rest of the non-mutant Uncanny Avengers fighting (and failing) to stop the Apocalypse Twins from taking every mutant on Earth onto their arc and away from the planet, where a celestial executioner has been summoned to destroy the entire human race.  To me, Hickman’s faceless, new enemies never really brought any kind of emotional response--to be fair, neither did his good guys--but Remender continues to do a fantastic job of bringing great parts of Marvel’s rich history back to use for a much greater gut wrenching punch.  Along with McNiven in this issue, they bring the sort of gravitas, both epic and personal, that most Marvel events seem to utterly lack these days.  I’m wholly engaged in this story, and love that it brings in new ideas fused with wonderful old ones--pleading The Watcher for help!--to make what I think will be a modern Marvel classic.  Anyone who is bored with the larger Marvel U should think about trying this book out: it manages all by its own, month after month to provide more thought-provoking, action-packed epicness than all this Infinity nonsense did in half a dozen series and several months.  The top of my Marvel pull list!  Rating: A+

Harley Quinn #1
Written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner
Art by Chad Hardin
Review by Harper

Palmiotti and Conner are two of my favorite creators in the comic world, and the zero issue knocked it out of the park.  However, with that issue they had the help of a dozen incredible artists and a kind of crazy metatextual structure that couldn’t possibly hold up on a monthly basis.  So while that was just a sort of preview, this was the real introduction to the series, and it’s fairly bizarre.  The story follows Harley Quinn as she essentially escapes the New 52 to live in a building on Coney Island left to her by a former Arkham patient.  She’s now the landlady of this building right on top of a freaks attraction and now has to earn enough money to keep it.  She gets a job as a therapist as Dr. Quinzel and some extra income in her costumed persona as a roller derby girl.  I’m really not quite sure what to make of this issue.  It was not as funny as the zero issue, and had a very MAD Magazine style of storytelling that wasn’t really doing it for me.  While it’s not my style, I will at least applaud their attempt for trying something different, unlike most of the very uniform New 52.  There were a few good moments, but the story that isn’t really funny and isn’t clever enough to make up for it and the fairly blah art made it a bit of a disappointment.  I’ll give it another issue or two because Palmiotti and Conner are the best couple in comics, but suffice to say that wonderful zero issue may have been just a one-off rather than the start to something really interesting.  Rating: B-

Daredevil #34
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Javier Rodriguez
Review by Harper

The last couple issues, while I really enjoyed the classic monster aspect during Halloween, were a bit heavy handed, so I was glad to see Daredevil return to New York--even if it’s not long before he departs for San Francisco.  Unlike anything on the cover, this issue focuses on Daredevil recruiting his ex-girlfriend Kirsten McDuffie to help him stop the Sons of the Serpents, the bigoted cult that has infiltrated the city’s infrastructure as police officers, judges, and firefighters.  There’s a bit of dark magic that rolled over from the last issues as Doctor Strange visits Murdock to analyze the evil document Daredevil has stolen and is holding ransom from the Sons of the Serpents.  In a rare break for Chris Samnee, Javier Rodriguez does a wonderful job as fill in artist, really capturing the color and fluidity of the character and city.  There’s a particularly wonderful page where Daredevil lists out all the bad things happening, but then says, “But then I got over it” in classic Waid-Daredevil fashion.  Both script and art really have a sense of romance in this issue, both between Murdock/Daredevil and McDuffie and with New York City that really works.  This is totally awesome, as usual, and I’m excited to see where the ‘end’ of this series will take us! Rating: A+

Black Science #2
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Matteo Scalera
Review by Cal Cleary

I have to say, when I started reading Black Science, I really didn't expect it to be a gritty remake of 1990s sci-fi TV show Sliders.  Don't get me wrong - I like Sliders.  And as gritty reboots go, this one has been really solid so far.  Rick Remender has always been a solid world-builder, going all the way back to something like Strange Girl, so seeing him cut loose and give us a series that lets him really stretch that muscle in a way Marvel hasn't is, to be honest, a blast.  Black Science #2 finds our heroes trapped on a world where Native Americans, never colonized and murdered by Europeans, have become a hyper-advanced civilization at war with the world.  Matteo Scalera does a fantastic work at visualizing a sci-fi society based loosely on Native American dress and art, which continues to give the series incredibly distinctive visuals.  After his work here and on the even-weirder world of the first issue, I'm genuinely impressed with Scalera - he's the perfect partner for Remender's sensibilities.  That said, there are some small issues.  The biggest, for me, is that Kadir is such a relentless, blatant villain that he's boring to spend time with after roughly two panels, and the way Scalera draws him (always with that fucking smirk) makes him look like he's going for the "Most Likely To Stab You In Your Sleep, Skin You, Wear You Like A Suit, And Try To Take Over Your Life" award.  But part of that may be that we just haven't spent much time with Kadir (or with any of them, really; only Grant and Ward have been PoV characters thus far), and it's a relatively easy fix.  Until then, Black Science gives readers a vast expanse of sci-fi worlds in which they can play around, creatively conceived and excellently illustrated.  It may be a gritty remake of Sliders, but dammit, it's a good one.  Rating A-

The Double Life of Miranda Turner #2
Written by Jamie S. Rich
Art by George Kambadais
Review by Cal Cleary

Monkeybrain has specialized in cartoonish adventure stories with well-rounded female leads, and The Double Life of Miranda Turner fits that description to a T.  The series' second issue does everything a good second issue should - reminds us of the ongoing conflict, reintroduces the core characters and their dynamic, ... is fun - while maintaining the breezy, goofy atmosphere that made the debut so charming.  Miranda Turner was an actress, but when her sister Lily was murdered, her secret life - as a superheroine named the Cat - was revealed.  Miranda picks up the mantle, aided by her sister's ghost, and seeks to solve the murder of the Cat (and maybe fight some weird-ass crimes along the way).  This issue finds Miranda's superhero life intruding on her acting career as weird things keep happening to members of the cast in her new stage play.  The story is simple, but George Kambadais' lively, energetic art really helps sell the book's casual cool, a confident tone Jamie S. Rich is balancing between classic, kid-friendly superheroics and wry, fast-paced action.  The Double Life of Miranda Turner knows exactly what it wants to do, and it does it very well.  Rating B+

Red Sonja #6
Written by Gail Simone
Art by Walter Geovani
Review by Cal Cleary

I'll try to keep it light on spoilers, but this is the final issue of Gail Simone's first Red Sonja arc, so there are bound to be a few.  Simone just hasn't really found a way to pull this series together just yet, and while it isn't as much of a mess as The Movement, it isn't as interesting either.  There are a lot of very good ideas here, but everything is just a little too... much.  The villain is too sneering, the twists are too obvious, the story beats are too expected, the inevitable moment of redemption is just too much.  Simone can still inject some wit and verve into the dialogue, and Walter Geovani's work is solid (though unspectacular), but this is a staggeringly literal story, told in the most straightforward way possible.  Simone used to be one of the most surprising writers in mainstream comics, but there's nothing in Red Sonja #6 you won't see coming a mile away - and there's no subtlety, no character shading, to make up for that.  It's a solid book, but I continue to hope for more.  Rating: B

Young Avengers #14
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Jamie McKelvie, Matthew Wilson, Emma Vieceli, Lee Loughridge, Christian Ward, Annie Wu, Jordie Bellaire
Review by Cal Cleary

Kieron Gillen's Young Avengers developed a strong cult following almost immediately, thanks in large part to his dedication to his characters and their relationships, the book's powerful-but-obvious thematic content, and Jamie McKelvie's often-innovative, always-enjoyable art.  After spending more than a year on a single, epic story, Gillen and McKelvie are dedicating the final issues of Young Avengers to saying goodbye to one of the best casts on the shelves today.  This issue features a rotating panel of artists, each dealing with a single short scene following one of the Young Avengers at a huge, super-powered afterparty celebrating their recent victory.  The artistic talent here is fantastic - my personal favorite is Christian Ward's haunting Miss America short, which finds the team's prickliest character remembering a similar party from her childhood - and Gillen uses them well.  Obviously, this isn't the ideal place to jump on to the series, but for those of you who drank the Kool-Aid and fell in love with Marvel's most aggressively affected title, it's a fitting send-off for the team.  Rating: A-

What'd you think? Agree? Disagree? Let us know what you thought were the best (and worst) books of the week!
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