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Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Splash Page Vol. 25

For Comics Released December 31, 2013

Welcome, all, to the final Splash Page of 2013...well, sort of.  Though this is being posted in 2014, it is the last Splash Page for comics which were released in 2013.  Perhaps this is no better volume to end the year on than 25, only one more and we will be at the half year mark for this little comics review article!  2013 was an interesting, but overall fun year for comics.  Hopefully 2014 will be even better, but, for now, check out reviews for some of this week's comics!

Marvel Comics

Guardians of the Galaxy #10
Written by Brian Michael Bendis, Art by Kevin Maguire

[Shane]: Guardians of the Galaxy has been a very odd comic.  Although, for all intents and purposes, it has been a well-written comic from Bendis, it is one that never seems to have a consistent storyline.  With various stand alone issues and two Infinity tie-ins, it feels like this comic has not had a regular story arc in at least five issues.  Unfortunately that trend does not end here, as once again we have what could best be labelled as a filler issue before next month's crossover with All-New X-men.  This issue shows us a girls day out with Gamora and recent addition Angela, attacking remnants of the Badoon fleet in search of Thanos.  Perhaps really the only thing this issue is noteworthy for is providing comic readers with some great demonstrations of how strong the female characters in this book can be.  It is a story where these two women definitely carry the entire thing, but it ultimately feels like too much of a stand alone story aside from some small bits here and there that Bendis may capitalize on later.  Unfortunately, most of these bits involve Angela, a character who is still not very interesting despite Bendis' best efforts.  The art is maybe the most disappointing aspect of this issue, which is definittely a first for this comic.  Kevin Maguire does some decent work, but it pales in comparison when you consider Steve McNiven, Sarah Pichelli, and Francesco Francavilla have also provided pencils for Guardians.  Rating: B+

New Avengers #13
Written by Jonathan Hickman, Art by Simone Bianchi

[Shane]: Do not let the cover for this issue fool you.  This issue is not a tie-in to Inhumanity by any means.  Sure, the forced terragenesis of the rest of the Earth is mentioned, but that is about the only manner in which this story ties in to the crossover.  Fortunately, Hickman instead continues with the ever-growing problem of the continued incursions which the Illuminati must face.  In an attempt to try and get a jump on the other Earths which they might come into conflict with, Black Swan convinces Reed Richards to build a device which will allow the Illuminati to witness incursions on other Earths.  What does that mean?  It means a pretty awesome action sequence where the Illuminati of Earth-23099 does battle with a group known as the Black Priests.  The Illuminati of this Earth is similar, except with the addition of Charles Xavier, Magneto, Captain Marvel, and an additional Black Panther.  Oftentimes in a comic, there are aspects of a story which you find yourself more apathetic towards.  That is never the case with New Avengers.  A subplot continues to be developed in this issue where Doctor Strange is seeking to unleash his full potential, even if it spells his own damnation.  That development, coupled with this ever-thickening incursion plot continues to make this comic one of the best Marvel is currently producing (and one of my top comics of 2013!).  Even the art continues to be stellar with SImone Bianchi giving this book a nice indie flair.  Rating: A+

DC Comics

Batwoman #26
Written by Marc Andreyko, Art by Jeremy Haun

[Harper]: I was a huge fan of Rucka/Williams III’s original run on Batwoman, and besides a few hiccups, I was really enjoying the New 52 Batwoman with Blackman and Williams III.  Although #25 was the first with the new team of Andreyko and Haun, this issue is where I really felt their absence kick in.  We get a very simple story here: we are introduced to Evan, an old friend of Kate’s, and a new art stealing villain called the Wolf Spider.  Kate and Bette find Wolf Spider looting the newest piece of Evan’s art collection and attempt to stop him, leading to a climactic can-she-save-herself final page.  Admittedly, I’ve got a bias because I’m so disappointed that Blackman and Williams III will not be able to finish the grand story they were building, but I was hoping for much more than this.  I’m not very familiar with Andreyko, but I just don’t feel like he’s got much of a feel for these characters, at least not yet.  Kate does not seem like the romantic but militant hero we’ve come to love, but a smiling socialite with a penchant for crime-fighting.  Moreover, this was a book that you could judge by its dull cover; the story read like any generic superhero book on the market.  The Wolf Spider feels very much like many of the new villains that were pushed at the beginning of the New 52 in books like Batgirl and Batman and Robin, and is just totally uninteresting.  Instead of the epic, romantic, and mythic scale of the previous run, this issue featured a very standard story that struggled to fill its 20 pages.  I very rarely follow characters rather than creators, and unfortunately there was little here for me to latch onto.  I will not write this team off completely for two reasons: 1) they likely had to throw this and #25 together very quickly due to the nature of the exodus of the previous team and 2) there’s a Pee Wee’s Big Adventure reference.  As a fan of Batwoman’s previous stories, though, I an’t really recommend this one.  Rating: C+

The Flash #26
Written by Christos Gage, Art by Neil Googe

[Shane]: Going into this issue, I was a bit apprehensive as to what it would bring.  I almost considered not even picking this issue up.  Although it was not a run that was the most amazing story-telling the Flash has ever seen, what Francis Manapul and Brian Buccelato brought to their first 26 Flash issues together was still something not to (completely) ignore.  This was mostly due to Manapul's gorgeous art, so, with Manapul AND Buccelato being gone, not much had me coming back aside from the character.  Christos Gage pens this one shot issue, so it gave me another reason to make the purchase: if it's bad, at least this guy won't be writing any more issues of this series.  And, boy, was it bad.  Gage writes a story that seeks to answer the question of what happens when The Flash has to take out a villain who is flying.  It is an interesting enough quandary, but one that is not answered in a satisfying way by any means.  Guess what?  The Flash can, apparently, run on certain types of clouds for very short periods of time!  What a lazy way of writing yourself out of a corner, Gage!  The villain of this issue is named Spitfire, and she has a design and a plan that would be much more comfortable in a comic from the 1940's than today.  When it comes to art, Neil Googe does not help matters much at all.  The art here is borderline terrible.  This has to be the first comic I have read in a while where I almost could not finish it due to the art being so bad.  Mediocre to dull story.  Terrible art.  At least it was just a one shot.  Rating: D+

Superman Unchained #5
Written by Scott Snyder, Art by Jim Lee, Dustin Nguyen

[Harper]: I’ve been a little unsure about this series from its inauspicious giant-pointless-foldout first issue.  However, there are highlights, and this issue is one of them.  Jim Lee illustrates the present day part of the story, with Superman and Wraith waxing philosophic in the fortress of solitude while Dustin Nguyen draws the Smallville flashback, with Clark (hopefully) discovering bits of his powers in a fight to save his mother’s life.  I’m not sure what relevance the flashback portion has quite yet (other than to spare Lee a few pages to draw), but Nguyen does an admirable job on it.  I’m not a big Lee fan, but his section was pretty good as well, particularly in Clark’s imagining the Daily Planet 10, 40, and 80 years in the future.  The part of this issue that really shines, though, is in Snyder’s capable hands.  He has done a fantastic job of expanding the use of Superman’s powers in very creative ways that make this story appropriate for celebrating the 75th anniversary of the character when he could have easily just done another origin story.  This story is fairly bold, and interestingly takes a look at the key tropes of Superman by applying them to some new characters and concepts (Wraith and the Ascension organization).  Wraith is in a similar situation as Superman, but chose to ally himself with the U.S. government, and rather than be a mindless tool of the military, he is a thoughtful character that is believable in his patriotism.  Ascension, on the other hand, stands in for Lex Luthor in a way--they seek to undo all the technological advancement that has come secretly through the government’s use of Wraith’s alien technology, wanting humanity to ‘ascend’ by their own means.  This issue was low on the giant action that this series started with, but brought it to a much more fascinating level.  Rating: A


The Twilight Zone #1
Written by J. Michael Straczynski, Art by Guiu Vilanova

[Shane]: Once again we have another comic starting which could be found on my Most Anticipated list from Comic Con.  I have probably said this before, but I will definitely say it again as this series continues: I am a HUGE fan of The Twilight Zone.  Now, I do not care for any of the attempts to revive the series, but my love for the original run of the television series with Rod Serling grows stronger every year.  The on-point societal critique, great writing, amazing acting, and fantastic stories make it a series which could easily last another 50 years.  Comics is a pretty perfect medium for the way Twilight Zone typically tells its story, and this is definitely not the first time the series has ever been adapted to the form.  J. Michael Straczynski is not my favorite comics writer ever, but I am definitely someone who appreciates Superman: Earth One.  JMS promises that his run with this comic will deal with three interlocking stories, the first of which we get here.  A Wall Street investor, Trevor Richmond, realizes he is very close to an embezzlement trial.  Looking to avoid his eventual prison sentence, Trevor visits a man who promises him a way out...although it only involves Trevor changing his appearance and losing all of the money he has worked so hard to steal.  Since this is the Twilight Zone, one can easily predict what Trevor eventually decides to do.  With this setting, JMS definitely understands that, at its heart, this needs to be a series which takes a look at the issues facing our society today, and the economy is definitely a heated topic.  Trevor is not a likable character by any means, but he goes on a fascinating journey into the Twilight Zone with a twist at the end of this issue that is utterly jaw-dropping.  A fantastic start to this comic.  Rating: A+

Image Comics

The Manhattan Projects #17
Written by Jonathan Hickman, Art by Nick Pitarra

[Harper]: Sometimes the conflicts of this story seem to run together, but this is one of Hickman’s clearest stories: Oppenheimer has taken over the complex and imprisoned the rest of his colleagues.  In the past, however, Einstein and Feynman, in their quest to carve up interdimensional aliens for parts to make humans more evolved, created a creature that is virtually unstoppable.  These things all come to a head as Oppenheimer is interrogating Groves for access codes and the creature comes crashing in.  This is Hickman at his best: incredibly out-there concepts, great dark humor, and some great lines (“This conquest is like a biological, uh, imperative”).  I particularly love the alien, who instead of eating Einstein and Feynman who are stuck in his trap, responds with valley-girl style english.  The best scene in the issue involves a close up of this alien’s face while he says some strange repeated lines.  Gradually we learn that Einstein is poking around in his four brains to see which parts are what, which prompts the alien to have some strange reactions.  This was a fun one that wasn’t so heavy on the confusion as some of the other issues have been.  If seeing Einstein rip and alien’s head off while not-so-subtly referring to himself as the devil sounds like fun to you, then this one’s right up your alley.  Rating: A


Dead Boy Detectives #1
Written by Toby Litt, Art by Mark Buckingham

[Harper]: It’s been many years since I read through Sandman, so I didn’t have any particularly strong memories about the Dead Boy Detectives, but the concept and the cover were enough to get me to try this first issue out.  This issue, the first in a four part story, lumps together a lot of interesting ideas and some wonderfully clever narrative style to come up with something that is definitely worth reading.  The Dead Boy Detectives, Edwin and Charles, are scoping out some performance art about to go very wrong.  They get entangled with the life of Crystal Palace, the embarrassed daughter of two over-the-top performance artists who are about to “steal” Van Gogh’s Sunflowers from the National Gallery.  When it all goes awry, Charles saves Crystal’s life.  She has seen the ghosts, and is desperate to find more, so she enrolls in St. Hilarion’s the school in which both boys were murdered.  The narration of the two boys was a blast; it took the tired Superman/Batman dual narration trick and applied it to two totally different characters and it works terrifically and got a few chuckles out of me.  The book is full of clever little bits of style like that throughout, which made it a very entertaining read that didn’t really have a dull moment.  The characters and the multitude of simple-but-intriguing storylines have got me very interested in the next issue.  Buckingham’s art here is not breathtaking, but does a great job at giving the storytelling a bit of a childlike edge that is very appropriate for the book.  I’m definitely in for the next couple issues.  Lets hope that along with Trillium, Dead Boy Detectives is the first in a revitalizing line from Vertigo!  Rating: A

Fables #136
Written by Bill Willingham, Art by Mark Buckingham

[Shane]: We are now five issues into one of the last Fables arcs, titled Camelot, and this is the first issue of said story to actually feel worthy of the title.  Thus far through Camelot we have seen a few scenes of Rose Red recruiting her new Knights of the Round Table, but it has mostly taken a backseat to more important matters, such as the restoration of Bigby Wolf. Nevertheless, Bill Willingham finally rights those wrongs, and this feels like a stronger issue for it.  Apparently, if one seeks to recreate Camelot, the result is that things will go pretty much the same way as they did the first time.  This begins with the Lady of the Lake informing Rose Red that this makes her King Arthur, meaning she will need to look out for whichever Fables fill the roles of Lancelot, Mordred, and, most importantly, Morgan La Fey.  The rest of the issue sees Lake seeking out who could potentially fulfill the latter of these roles, the role of Rose Red's arch-villain in the new Camelot.  Although the person Lake points out would be VERY interesting to see take shape, a sudden twist occurs in Lake's predictions that makes for an interesting plot point.  Overall this is a much stronger issue, making it all the more bittersweet that this comic only has 14 issues remaining.  It seems very likely that Fables' final story will be how the events of this new Camelot recreate themselves.  If that is the case, it would make for a very fitting end to the series.  Rating: A+

Thanks for taking the time to read this week's volume of The Splash Page!  Be sure to come back next week for what should be a week with A LOT more comics than we have seen the past two weeks!

Are there any comics you would like to see reviewed here, or any you feel were reviewed unfairly?  Let us know in the comments below!
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