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Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Splash Page, Vol. 26

 Welcome to the first round of quick comic reviews for 2014!

Archie Comics

Afterlife with Archie #3
Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Art by Francesco Francavilla

[Harper]: I’ve been a huge fan of this series since it started just before Halloween, and it still hasn’t disappointed my rather high expectations.  This issue focuses primarily on Hiram Lodge (Veronica’s dad) who is trying his best to keep the Riverdale teens hiding out in his mansion safe.  Afterlife continues to be surprisingly mature while staying true to the key elements of Archie Comics.  The dramatic moments are wonderful and work well: Hiram’s flashback to his coming to Riverdale and the fact that he wanted a boy while his wife secretly wanted a girl; Moose and Midge cuddling up and saying they love each other just before inevitable zombification; Nancy and Ginger burning Pop Tate’s to the ground and debating whether they should look for their parents before stealing a motorcycle and riding for the coast.  Meanwhile, Archie looks for a way to escape and has an awkward moment with Betty, who sees his mastery of breaking into Veronica’s house.  Of course, the art continues to be utterly gorgeous, moody, and surprisingly scary.  Too many great moments to mention here, but suffice to say anyone who isn’t reading this is really missing out on one of the best series out there! Rating: A+

DC Comics

Green Arrow #27
Written by Jeff Lemire, Art by Andrea Sorrentino & Marcelo Maiolo
[Cal]: How are Andrea Sorrentino and Marcelo Maiolo not superstars?  I only started reading Green Arrow with last month's Green Arrow #26, which started a new arc ("The Outsiders War"), but I've been interested in the series ever since Sorrentino and Maiolo left the excellent, underrated I, Vampire for... greener pastures. (I'm sorry)  While Lemire's script isn't half as inventive as Fraction's over on Marvel's superior Hawkeye, Sorrentino is one of the few mainstream artists today who can very nearly step up to David Aja when it comes to sheer style.  Sorrentino and colorist Marcelo Maiolo have a tendency to rely on heavy shadows just a little too much, but it makes for such striking page design when it's done right that I tend to forgive that particular excess.  Lemire's story is a bit of pulpy fluff, but that's largely okay - pulpy fluff forms the backbone of some of the best comics I've ever read.  The issue's biggest problem is it's relative blandness - for all the book's striking layouts and gorgeous action sequences, it only sporadically rises above the absolutely typical 'secret origin' type story it's really telling.  Rating: B

Swamp Thing #27
Written by Charles Soule, Art by Jesus Saiz
[Harper]: Swamp Thing: Avatar no more! That’s where we were left last issue, and this one finishes up the storyline with the Seeder in good fashion.  Swamp Thing is stuck in the green, forcibly retired.  He is offered all the pleasures of heaven, but can’t accept that he cannot return to Earth to stop Seeder’s irresponsible run as the avatar of the Green.  Of course, he figures out a way out, but only by betraying both his teacher, Lady Weeds, and the Parliament of Trees themselves.  Soule continues to build something here out of the ruins of the overlong Rotworld: the Green and it’s inhabitants are far more interesting than they’ve ever been (at least partial credit has to go to Saiz for his excellent character designs), and has a lot more subtext than any of this boring Rot vs. Red vs. Green nonsense that still occasionally drags Animal Man down.  We get to see Swamp Thing struggle with his human side conflicting with his Green urges, but when he seemingly finds a clever way out of their win-or-die struggle, it seems that he may have gone too far.  Still one of the most entertaining superhero reads every month, and definitely in the top 3 books being published at DC Comics.  Rating: A

IDW Comics

The X-Files: Season 10 #8
Written by Joe Harris, Art by Michael Walsh

[Harper]: While the first arc of this series was disappointingly reminiscent of the more muddled episodes of the famed 90’s sci-fi series, the more recent issues have been much more interesting.  The last couple dealt with the return of a fan-favorite monster (the Flukeman) and it seems the creators are taking a bit more of a monster-of-the-week approach with shorter, less overly continuity reliant tales.  This one gives us a little background on one of Mulder’s mysterious informants who was thought long dead.  We see that his job was to cover up government experiments gone wrong, and we see the horrible one that makes him question himself.  In the present, Mulder receives some strange messages through various wonderful conspiracy-laden secretive methods that lead him on a search for the man he thought died for him.  The story felt very true to the characters and feel of the original show, and Harris, Walsh, and Bellaire have started to really nail the tone too: it’s creepy and dramatic, but with a touch of Duchovny’s dry humor and the great chemistry between him and Scully.  If you weren’t a fan of the TV show, there may not be a lot to grasp onto here, to be honest, but those of us who flipped to Fox every Sunday night with the lights off will find this book a great return to a classic show.  Rating: A

Image Comics

Sex Criminals #4
Written by Matt Fraction, Art by Chip Zdarsky

[Cal]: There's something irrepressibly, undeniably fun about Sex Criminals, and you know I mean it, because now "There's something fun about sex criminals" is a phrase that is forever going to be Googleable with my name.  It's worth it.  Fraction and Zdarsky have taken a goofy comic premise and grafted it onto one of the most lived-in characters of the last decade of comics.  While I like Jon fine, Suzie is the heart of the series, a smart, complicated character who, just four short episodes into the series, I'll follow pretty much anywhere.  In this issue, we finally catch up to the series' framing device as Jon and Suzie face down the Sex Police, but while the world-building Fraction and Zdarsky casually toss off here is more interesting than most books' major mythbuilding epics, it's the characters that make the book as relentlessly readable as it is.  I can't wait for more. Rating: A-

Marvel Comics

Black Widow #1
Written by Nathan Edmondson, Art by Phil Noto

[Cal]: There's a lot to like in Black Widow #1.  Penciled, inked, and colored by Phil Noto, the book looks pretty fantastic, though the figures (particularly during the action) are stiffer and more inhuman than I'd like.  Still, the colors - a warm palette, but so washed out it feels cold - are lovely, and lend the book a distinctive, powerfully atmospheric look. Edmondson's script, on the other hand, is a tad more flawed.  The dialogue is staggeringly on the nose - "If you know my name, then you should know I don't play by anyone's rules" or "How many more jobs... how long will it take...".  It's too blunt, and it doesn't quite fit with the woman-of-mystery persona Edmondson is going with here.  Edmondson did solid work on the underappreciated Grifter reboot in the New 52, but the confidence that I saw there seems to be missing in his portrayal of Natasha.  Most of the book's problems are an easy fix - it typically takes most writers an issue or two to find their voice with a long-running character, for example - but it's still a mildly disappointing debut.  Rating: B-

Young Avengers #15
Written by Kieron Gillen, Art by Becky Cloonan, Jordie Bellaire, Ming Doyle Maris Wicks, Joe Quinones, Jamie McKelvie, Matthew Wilson

[Cal]: Well, that was... unexpected.  Kieron Gillen's Young Avengers has been a lot of things, but its two part finale, "Resolution," (which I think used to have the much more fitting title "Afterparty") has introduced a strong hint of sweetness to the mix.  While detractors of Gillen's ultra-modern, anything-goes teen series likely won't be won over by the issue, which features many of the recurring tropes that have so frustrated some readers, "Resolution" has nevertheless provided fans of the series with two very good closing issues.  Young Avengers #15 is probably the weaker of the two issues, trading the big character moments of the previous issue for a little bit more plot resolution, but there's still plenty of fun to be had.  There's nothing else on the shelves quite like Gillen and McKelvie's take on Young Avengers, and I suspect it'll be a long time before we see many imitators.  So it's a good thing these 15 issues are so thoroughly, wonderfully fun.  Rating: B+

Valiant Comics

Quantum and Woody #7
Written by James Asmus, Art by Ming Doyle & Jordie Bellaire

[Cal]: There's plenty of preposterism to be found in Quantum and Woody, the delightfully loopy action action-comedy from Valiant, but you can't deny that writer James Asmus has a firm handle on his sense of the absurd.  Quantum and Woody's opening arc might have had stronger art - Tom Fowler's replacement, Ming Doyle, is fine but thus far largely uninspired - but I've been very much enjoying how quickly the second arc got out of hand.  One brother is trapped with a group of separatist white supremacist gun nuts.  The other is held captive by a privately-owned Christian military war profiteers.  Quantum and Woody is the rare book where everyone pretty much constantly makes the worst decision possible every single time, and it's an absolute joy to see just how tangled Asmus can make it.  Like Valiant's similarly excellent Archer and Armstrong, Quantum and Woody started with a strong central relationship and built quickly (and weirdly) outwards, combining the peculiar madness of modern America with a healthy dose of character-driven adventure fiction.  It works, and it works well.  Quantum and Woody #7 isn't quite as rough-and-tumble as the best issues of the series have been, but there's still plenty of demented fun to be had.  Rating: B

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