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Friday, January 17, 2014

The Splash Page, Vol. 27

Your weekly roundup of comic reviews!  This volume covers comics released January 15, 2014.


Rover Red Charlie #2
Written by Garth Ennis, Art by Michael Dipascale

[Shane]: If you listened to our recent podcast about the best comics of 2013, you may recall that I said Rover Red Charlie was the most promising series of last year.  Heavy praise considering, at the time, only one issue had been released.  Call it my soft spot for dogs, or call it a sense of knowing a good comic when I see one, but the second issue of Rover Red Charlie does not disappoint.  Continuing the story of three dogs trying to find their way in the world in the face of an as-of-yet-unnamed apocalypse, this issue sees the guys run into a group of cats that give them a way out of the increasingly dangerous city, but may not have the best of intentions.  It is difficult, really, to pinpoint what exactly makes this comic work so well.  Perhaps it is that seemingly obvious insight Garth Ennis seems to provide into the psyche of a dog and how they would approach such an unfathomable situation.  Everything these characters do and the reactions they have to the increasingly unpredictable world around them feels incredibly natural for a dog, including an explanation of why some dogs find thunderstorms unnerving.  Not to mention, Ennis builds the characters of Rover, Red, and Charlie in a way that makes them both incredibly likable and sympathetic.  That being said, there are a lot of things in this comic that are funny, seemingly cruel, and overtly depressing, but all of those elements work to create a story that you cannot help but love.  It is also worth mentioning that this comic would have nowhere near the same effect if it were not for the absolutely incredible art provided by Dipascale.  This comic is an absolute must read.  Rating: A+

DC Comics

Justice League 3000 #2
Created by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, and Howard Porter
[Cal]: I still honestly haven't decided if Giffen and DeMatteis are making fun of the gritty New 52 reboots of the Justice League characters or if they're gearing up for a defense of them... but it feels increasingly like the former.  Unfortunately, as entertaining as I find that particular idea, Giffen and DeMatteis are still playing their cards too close to their vests, and still torn between two tones - the over-the-top goofy bickering that came out of their definitive run on Justice League International, which remains reasonably strong, and large-scale world-building science fiction, which isn't.  And I'm already missing Kevin Maguire's humanistic influence on the writers.  Porter is fine, but he doesn't particularly excel at character design, action, or emotion - a fight this issue between the 'League' and a godlike madwoman (quite probably the most boring godlike madwoman ever committed to paper) doesn't really pick up steam until she ends the fight with a moment of shocking violence.  There's nothing particularly bad about Justice League 3000... but there's no real reason to read it yet, either. Rating: C

Justice League of America #11
Written by Matt Kindt, Art by Tom Derenick and Eddy Barrows

[Shane]: Perhaps it is the weird release schedule the Justice League books seem to have been having for the past few months or perhaps it is that I pick up three titles which tie into it, but it feels like Forever Evil is definitely living up to the former word of its title.  Nevertheless, at least these comics are still worthwhile reads.  Continuing the saga of Stargirl and Martian Manhunter attempting to save the rest of the Justice League, this issue sees the duo go from Gotham City and the grip of Clayface to an attacking giant robot in Denver to a more surprising threat.  Although Geoff Johns is no longer writing this title, Matt Kindt has done a good job of almost feeling like it is still Johns writing.  Perhaps this is a negative as it could mean Kindt does not have his own voice, but Justice League of America, despite how much I have enjoyed it, is definitely beginning to feel like a title that only exists for the sake of crossovers and not for the stories it can tell on its own.  This is a decent enough issue, but the art changes about halfway through, and it is an abrupt enough change to make one be a little turned off.  Kindt definitely seems to have an understand of Martian Manhunter and Stargirl, and it is a lot of fun to see such polar opposites interact, but the team dynamic of this title is most certainly missed.  A solid issue, but one that feels a bit weightless.  Rating: B+

Superman/Wonder Woman #4
Written by Charles Soule, Art by Tony S. Daniel and Paulo Siqueira

[Harper]: Despite the dull and reused cover, this issue turned out to be perhaps the best yet in this series.  The main story (art by Daniel) focuses largely on Superman and Zod, with Wonder Woman's narration.  While she ponders why Superman keeps up his Clark Kent persona that gradually and elegantly comes to apply to Zod.  At first I was a bit disappointed that Zod was clearly "going bad"; in his first appearances here he was a much more interesting version of the character that was less pure evil and almost seemed more like Jor El.  However, Zod's hostile takeover of the Fortress of Solitude and the Phantom Zone projector proved more subtle and less supervillainy, to the point where it is still not clear whether he is out for revenge or just wanted to save Faora.  The backup story (art by Siqueira) might be even more interesting, with Clark dealing with the fact that his own blog broke the story about himself and Wonder Woman.  Soule plays with some great ideas here as Clark meets a man trying to speed up human evolution to keep up with Superheroes, and for once this idea does not involve any sense of villainy.  Maybe the best scene involves Batman grimacing at TMZ in Gotham Square as they gossip about his fellow JLA'ers.  Soule is doing a great job of building a larger world while maintaining a surprisingly interesting relationship between these legacy characters, and both artists involved in this issue did standout jobs as well.  This is turning out to be a great book! Rating: A

IDW Publishing

Black Dynamite #1
Written by Brian Ash, Art by Ron Wimberly

[Shane]: Just in time for Martin Luther King Day this Monday, Black Dynamite returns in (technically) his second comic!  Although this is really just a mini-series, it is definitely an improvement from the one shot we got a few years ago.  If you are unfamiliar with Black Dynamite, you are missing out on one of the best comedies of the past ten years, a film which deserves to become a cult classic.  Perhaps it is that cult status that is the reason this comic may not get as many readers as possible.  Not to say this is an issue which is not new reader friendly, but more so that it seems highly unlikely this comic will appeal to anyone who has never seen the movie, cartoon, or read the previous comic.  Nevertheless, the blaxploitation spoof character is back in all of his glory, but things are not looking good for our hero.  Taking into mind the continuity of the film, cartoon, and previous comic (a move which is much appreciated), the members of the Black Community have decided that Black Dynamite is the root of all of their problems and decide to kick him out, leaving him to be hunted down by a much worse threat.  It is a story as hilarious and outrageous as the variant cover for this issue, which features Black Dynamite punching a great white shark.  Brian Ash definitely has a sense of these characters and this world, and Ron Wimberly brings art with a wonderfully nostalgic, but also modern tone which works wonderfully.  If we are never going to get a sequel to the movie, at least this character gets to live on in some way.  Rating: A

Image Comics

Velvet #3
Written by Ed Brubaker, Art by Steve Epting with Elizabeth Breitweiser

[Cal]: There's a degree to which it's difficult to write about Velvet, a series that Brubaker and Epting were pretty much born to create.  Thus far, each issue has dabbled in spy and crime fiction from a variety of eras, from the second issue's 'stealth suit' that recalled classic James Bond to the grittier tale of international intrigue and infiltration in Velvet #3, and these are genres that Brubaker knows like the back of his hand.  Indeed, this third issue is probably (very slightly) my favorite to date, which is saying a lot on a series I enjoy as much as this.  In it, retired spy-on-the-run Velvet must infiltrate Belgrade, and find out what happened to her former colleague, but she runs into problems when she finds her colleague's contact in prison for treason.  Velvet #3 is the darkest issue thus far, but it takes us deeper inside Velvet's head and gets us more involved with various types of spycraft.  It also has the most immediate - and most tragic - stakes as we see the repercussions of a mission gone sour, and how Velvet and her fellow spies are unafraid of using and throwing assets away without thought.  This is a book everyone should be reading.  Rating: A-

Marvel Comics

Amazing X-men #3
Written by Jason Aaron, Art by Ed McGuinness

[Shane]: As previously mentioned in other reviews for this series, Amazing X-men was a series I turned to not completely out of desperation, but more a very strong desire to read an X-book after the end of a fantastic run of Astonishing X-men.  As a huge fan of the characters, the one thing that has always turned me off from picking up more than the occasional X-book each month was the overuse of crossovers which has become the norm for this line of books over the past few years.  That being said, if Amazing X-men continues to deliver the high quality storytelling it has for the past three issues, it just may make slogging through a stupid crossover worth it.  Now, the X-men have been on quite a few odd adventures in their 50 year history, but the story Jason Aaron continues in this issue just may be one of their most odd.  Heaven, Hell, pirates, bamfs, demons, and, in this issue, Purgatory all collide in a story that could only make sense in an X-book.  It is difficult to even explain the premise of this comic without making it sound like complete lunacy, but Aaron does something absolutely right.  Perhaps it is in his understanding of his characters.  This issue focuses on only four characters (Azazel, Beast, Storm, and Nightcrawler), but it still has the same sense of size and scope as the previous two issues.  A writer can make it very obvious when they care about a character, and it is clear that Jason Aaron loves the X-men.  Pair that with some surprisingly good Ed McGuiness art, and you have an X-book that better be around for quite some time.  
Rating: A+

Daredevil #35
Written by Mark Waid, Art by Chris Samnee
[Harper]: One of the rarest things in comics is when a single issue can be as satisfying as reading a full arc.  What I mean is that there are few creators that can put together a consistent series that reads wonderfully in short, episodic bursts and as long form stories.  Daredevil has succeeded masterfully in such a way, and continues to have a sort of fluidity that transcends the monthly grind.  This issue has Matt Murdock caught off guard when he is blackmailed by the Serpent Society.  But the price he must pay to keep them quiet is not a financial one: he must defend a racist terrorist who happens to be innocent of the case against him.  Waid has done a great job throwing some interesting moral curveballs at Daredevil, but continues to somehow keep the narrative light and fun.  Much of this is owed to Samnee's exceptional storytelling skills and the palette of colorist Javier Rodriguez.  It's fun, lovely, dramatic, and has a fantastic classic comic book style last panel that has me (as usual) desperate for more.  Rating: A+

Fantastic Four #16
Written by Karl Kesel, Art by Raffaele Ienco

[Shane]: The past sixteen issues of Fantastic Four have been a bit of a lesson for me as a comic reader.  Sooner or later all comic fans seem to come to this realization: it is far better to follow creative teams you enjoy than to follow characters you enjoy.  For whatever reason, the Fantastic Four will always hold a soft spot in my heart, but I cannot ignore how absolutely abysmal this run of the title has been.  Initially, it seemed something to be very excited for.  Taking over this title and FF, Matt Fraction brought some more than interesting ideas.  Although I cannot speak for FF, I can say with confidence that those ideas quickly unraveled into lazy storytelling and bad dialogue....both of which only got worse when Fraction jumped ship.  This issue sees the end of that run, and the only major problem is that it should have come sooner.  Karl Kesel is charged with tying up Matt Fraction's mess of a plot in a nice little bow, but this is still an issue rife with stupid concepts and terrible dialogue.  Alternate Fantastic Four?  Nothing new.  Doom the Annihilating Conqueror as the villain?  Not exciting, but not outright terrible.  Everyone saying they are "doomed" all the time when Dr. Doom is the villain?  Outrageously awful writing to the point where the Fantastic Four movies had better scripts by comparison.  Ienco does a decent enough job on art, but, at this point, it was more about watching the last of this ship sink than having any hope she would pull into harbor.  Oh...and there's also a back-up story.  Apparently Uatu has a pregnant wife who is about to give birth...yeah, I guess that BS will come up in this summer's crossover.  Who knows?  More importantly, who cares?  Please do better, James Robinson.  Rating: C-

Miracleman #1
Written by "The Original Writer" (Alan Moore), Art by Garry Leach
[Harper]: I have to preface by saying that I've never read this before.  I know a good bit about its storied past, and dreamed of collecting the old issues, but I'm not one for downloading comics and so have never been able to read this legendary story--until now!  The first issue is jam-packed with extras: it starts with Miracleman #1 from 1956 which is was reprinted as a prologue for Moore's story in 1985.  It's a blast to read such a wild Silver Age story, chock full of time travel, exon rays, and of course, the Science Gestapo.  Despite its it's young audience, it's got some surprisingly interesting themes that spotlight the fear and wonder of the coming atomic age.  Then begins Moore and Leach's story from Warrior #1, in which Michael Moran has forgotten that as a child, he was the invincible Miracleman.  It reads much like a classic Alan Moore story: loads of poetic caption boxes that, with any other writer, would drag the story down, but instead elevate it to more literary standards; taking a step back and viewing the superhero mythos from outside the comic book world, where Moran's wife can't stop laughing at her husband's secret past of silly names and ridiculous concepts; and surprising violence that springs from putting fictionally powerful characters in a more nonfiction style setting.  I haven't seen the original art by Leach, so I can't really compare it to the restoration, but I found it quite fantastic.  His style is one that took the best of the 80's and made it much more timeless, and manages to capture both the god-like nature of Miracleman and the silliness of his past.  The last half of the book contains some background on the character, a short interview with Mick Anglo (the original creator of Marvelman), and a few original Marvelman stories, which are interesting, but pretty bland.  All in all, the issue did a great job at presenting this character to a new audience.  How often do we get to enjoy a legendary lost classic in singles like this?  While some would have preferred Marvel simply put out new trades of this story, reading in issues in this way seems much more thrilling for the eager reader and collector that I am.  I would be interesting to talk to those who read the original version of this issue, but from my perspective this was a highlight of the week.  Rating: A

Superior Spider-man #25
Written by Dan Slott and Christos Gage, Art by Humberto Ramos

[Shane]: It was bad enough that this week was a rather large pull for me (we're talking back during Villains Month size), but I had two rather expensive issues this week: one being Miracleman #1, the other being Superior Spider-man, which comes in this week at a slightly more expensive $5.  But, with the quality of the title wavering significantly over the past dozen issues, would it be worth the extra buck?  Fortunately, the answer mostly seems to be yes.  You have probably seen all of the spoilers to be released this week about the return of Amazing Spider-man, and that all starts to take shape here.  As Superior Venom gets into an enormous brawl with the Avengers, we get a sense from everywhere else in this comic that the world of the Superior Spider-man, the one Otto Octavius has taken so long to craft, is beginning to fall apart.  What this more means is that we are FINALLY getting to the highly anticipated Green Goblin story...something which feels like it has been teased for at least 20 issues (don't quote me on that).  Some definite strides here are done to show that the days of Otto as Peter/Spider-man are waning, but that does not mean Otto is going to go willingly...or without trying to pull off one last scheme or two.  This may be the best issue of Superior Spider-man in quite some time.  It feels like it has been a while since I've enjoyed Humberto Ramos art this much, but it is magnificent here.  Though this issue is nothing on the level of the first 10 or so, it is definitely an improvement.  As we prepare to say goodbye to Superior Spider-man, Dan Slott just may have gotten his groove back.  Rating: A-

Thor: God of Thunder #17
Written by Jason Aaron, Art by Emanuela Lupacchino and Ron Garney

[Shane]: As you know, we around here at GeekRex love us some Thor: God of Thunder.  There is a reason it was the only title to show up on all three of our best comics of 2013 lists.  For me, it is almost entirely because a writer as gifted as Jason Aaron was able to make me care about a character I had only been mildly interested in and never saw myself reading a solo series about him.  This issue sees the conclusion of Aaron's second arc on this title: The Accursed.  It has been a story arc which has sought to prove wrong anyone who felt that this once was again just Marvel forcing a title to use a villain who had JUST been seen in a movie.  While the God Butcher may stand as one of the best Thor stories ever told and while The Accursed will probably never be as memorable, the conclusion which is presented here helps to make this a worthy addition to this title's story.  Jason Aaron pulls out all of the stops here, but not in the way one might expect for a Thor comic...this ending comes with much less punching and striking of thunder (though both are certainly used plentifully).  With a surprise twist that this reviewer never saw coming to an Epilogue which shows the huge plans Jason Aaron has in story for this title, Thor: God of Thunder marches on into its next story arc on the same high with which it entered this one.  Rating: A+

Thunderbolts #20.NOW
Written by Charles Soule, Art by Carlo Barberi

[Shane]: Do not let the cover for this issue fool you, Thunderbolts did not start over with a new #1, this is very much so a continuation of several events which have been building in this comic for a while now.  Nevertheless, this is actually an issue which should be very accessible for new readers, something which cannot be said for all of the Marvel NOW titles receiving "#1" markers.  Marvel seems to be hoping that new reviewers will be jumping on to Thunderbolts with this issue, and I cannot help but join them in that hope.  Thunderbolts has been a great comic for the past twenty issues, and it's about damn time everyone else took notice as well.  Daniel Way did a good job of getting the ball rolling, but Charles Soule has taken this comic and made it his own in a way which is VERY exciting.  This issue sees the Thunderbolts regrouping at a new base of operations and making the tough decision to do something about the more deranged member of their team...Mercy.  The way they decide to deal with her brings in the newest member of the team: Ghost Rider, and it is done in a way which is too clever to spoil.  Charles Soule writes this book with excellent characterization, and he cannot resist the inclusion of Ghost Rider as an excuse to make TWO jokes about the terrible films the character has received.  Humor aside, Ghost Rider is a more than welcome addition to the team, and this new story arc builds with a lot of promise.  Only thing that makes this issue even better?  Carlo Barberi's art is great.  Rating: A+


Unity #3
Written by Matt Kindt, Art by Doug Braitwaite with Brian Reber

[Cal]: Valiant continues to impress as the newest issue of their first team-up book twists in an unexpected direction.  Kindt really pulled the rug out from under me with Unity, which took a simple premise - the most powerful heroes and villains from a number of other Valiant books team up to take on Aric of Dacia, whose actions could bring about World War III - and just burned through plot like he was writing The Vampire Diaries (1: I mean that as a compliment, 2: DON'T HATE).  By the end of this issue, everything you knew about the series will have changed, and for the better.  Add in Doug Braithwaite and Brian Reber on art making Unity the best-looking book Valiant has right now, and you know you've got a winner.  Matt Kindt makes Unity a surprising book, but it needs more than surprises to be relevant.  Thankfully, the book's biggest twists are grounded firmly in strong characters Kindt understands well.  Unity is another strong book from a publisher known for them. Rating: A-

Coffin Hill #4
Written by Caitlin Kittredge, Art by Inaki Miranda with Eva de la Cruz
[Cal]: There's something surprisingly slack about the pacing of Coffin Hill.   I like the main character, though I could use a bit more life out of her, and I like the setting.  I like the premise.  But Kittredge is struggling to hold my interest here with a story that is really taking its time getting off the ground.  While Coffin Hill #4 is probably the creepiest issue of the series' issues, it falters a bit as it gives Eve her first real enemy. But while the issue finds Eve coming face-to-face with an insidious evil from her past, their confrontation is supremely underwhelming, and the art is a big part of that.  Inaki Miranda and colorist Eva de la Cruz are fantastic with the title's more atmospheric side, but there's no energy to Eve's brief fight with the Harvest's harbinger.  It's a moment that needed to be eerie and dangerous, but is instead stiff and lifeless.  There's still a lot of intriguing stuff, but this might be one for the trades.  Rating: C+
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