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Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Splash Page, Vol. 28

Comics reviewed for the week of 1/24/14

Dark Horse

Mind MGMT #18
Written/Art by Matt Kindt

GeekRex has long been a proponent of this wonderful series, and this is one of the best issues yet.  The overarching storyline, complex and rich, can make for a pretty dense read, but here Kindt gives us a really nice one-and-done story of Ella, a young girl who can understand and speak to animals.  We learn of her past with Mind MGMT and of her escape to living a Tarzan-like existence in the forest with her animal friends.  It's a surprisingly beautiful story, and this is largely due to the absolutely gorgeous art.  Kindt has managed to make a totally unique book in that it is a massive story that spans the globe and has decades of history loaded into every crevice, but maintains a very impressionistic look that makes the process a big part of the story.  He uses unique artistic techniques to show us Ella's perspective that are a joy to behold, and the theme of language and learning that pervades the issue give it a depth that ties it to the "Second Floor" inside cover story about an agent that could change people's vocabulary.  Like all of Mind MGMT, it's a puzzle that begs to be pored over and enjoyed over and over again.  Rating: A+

DC Comics

Animal Man #27
Written by Jeff Lemire, Art by Rafael Albuquerque
The Red this, The Red that.  Am I the only one getting a little tired of all this colored mythology stuff?  Here we continue the story of a malevolent coup in The Red.  The invaders are trying to find and kill Baker's daughter (Little Wing) just as he returns from a trip to another planet where he was granted an extension to his powers, allowing him to take powers from interstellar creatures.  While this was one of the most exciting books of The New 52 years ago, it seems that Lemire is just coasting here.  Once again, Buddy has seemingly lost, only to find a way to make his powers stronger, and the book just sort of meanders around with very little actually happening in terms of plot.  With Swamp Thing, Soule has created an interesting cast of Green characters and has given Swamp Thing a lot of personality.  Buddy Baker is much more one note than a plant, and I've just grown really bored of this story that's extended out of the already far too long Rotworld storyline.  I like Animal Man, Lemire, and Albuquerque all just fine, but this issue just did very little for me and is dipping into the substandard.  Rating: B-

Deadly Class #1
Written by Rick Remender, Art by Wes Craig with Lee Loughridge
I went into Deadly Class, the new Image title from Remender, Craig, and Loughridge, with absolutely no idea what it was about.  I just knew that it was 1) a new Image title, 2) from Rick Remender and 3) it had a really eye-catching cover.  What I got was a brief introduction to the world and to our lead, a homeless teenager in 1987 San Francisco named Marcus.  But while the issue did feel primarily like set-up, Deadly Class #1 is absolutely bursting with life, with a concrete sense of who Marcus is and where Marcus lives.  While I wasn't wowed with the basics of the story here - Marcus, a homeless youth who got into trouble in the boys' home, is chased down by the police and falls in with an unexpected crowd - Remender did really impress me in the confidence of his storytelling and the strength of Marcus' point-of-view after only a handful of pages.  While Deadly Class #1 lacks the loopy power of the debuts for Pretty Deadly or Remender's own recent Black Science, it is nevertheless an engaging issue - and more importantly, its strengths (character, setting) are things that few comics today do particularly well.  Wes Craig and Lee Loughridge are stand-out talents with whom I wasn't terribly familiar before, and they do a lot to help the otherwise slightly plodding Deadly Class #1 stand out on the shelves with fantastic character design, evocative coloring that reminds me of Frazer Irving, and surprisingly electric action sequences.  Remender and his team have imbued the book with a great deal of personality - now to see if they can build anything meaningful on top of it when the book takes a turn for the pulpy.  Rating: A-

Pretty Deadly #4
Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Art by Emma Rios with Jordie Bellaire
Last month's Pretty Deadly #3 was a hugely important issue of comics for DeConnick's off-kilter Western, where the story and the world really snapped into focus in a way that the series' earlier, more meditative issues never did.  Pretty Deadly #4 continues on in that vein, clarifying the relationships between characters that have been building for a few months and mixing them up in interesting ways.  While Pretty Deadly #4 rushes through some plot issues a bit faster than I'd like, it also does something smart: It changes up the pairings and lets us view these characters from a different point of view.  Johnny Coyote and Sissy, Fox and Ginny, even Death gets a tragically human moment here.  Emma Rios and Jordie Bellaire give us one of the month's best action sequences as Ginny finally confronts Fox, letting Rios highlight Ginny's gawky power and high-strung agility in a wonderfully laid-out sequence. Pretty Deadly is fast becoming one of the must-read comics on the shelves today. Rating: A-

Sex #10
Written by Joe Casey, Art by Piotr Kowalski
This is a weird one, and it's a book that I feel like I'm just now really starting to get into the groove of.  We've been following Simon Cooke, an ex-crime fighter who is totally repressed sexually and morally because of his time as a do-gooder.  The series really started in medias res and left the reader to figure it all out, and only now are we learning how all the pieces are fitting together.  This is turning into the most interesting "real world superhero" story of recent times because of two things: it puts the superhero background way, way in the background, letting us really see its effects on a person; and, of course, the sex.  It's interesting because the sex and nudity itself always tends to be a backdrop, speckled here and there, and it's there to deepen our understanding of the characters rather than for shock value or just to draw pretty naked ladies.  This issue is all about the line between business and pleasure and manages to explore it in a pretty subtle way.  The real story here for me is Kowalski, who seemingly came out of nowhere and continues to knock it out of the park.  Combining the classic style and coloring of Dave Gibbons and the shading of someone like Eduardo Risso, Kowalski makes Sex a visual standout and creates a tone that you won't find elsewhere.  My only complaint would be that this issue was a bit wordy, which was not quite as exciting as the action of #9.  Rating: A

All-New Invaders #1
Written by James Robinson, Art by Steve Pugh with Guru-eFX

Brian Michael Bendis' All-New X-Men is a fantastic book, and it's helped respark interest in the X-Men franchise without the mess of a line-wide reboot.  The premise is simple: Bring back the 'classic' characters and force them (and the audience) to confront the soap opera theatrics that have changed the landscape of the X-books forever.  James Robinson's All-New Invaders, seems to almost invert that premise, having a modern character remember a past he doesn't recall living.  It's the issue's only real twist - the issue's only real event of note, I suppose, outside of an impossibly bland action sequence that eats up time but does little to get us invested in Hammond or his mysterious past.  Both Robinson and Pugh can be talented creators, but All-New Invaders #1 doesn't particularly highlight the strengths of either.  Pugh is fine but mostly uninspired, while Robinson isn't really playing up his strengths (using history, mythology, and location to ground a story in a palpable past) as much as he could or should, given the concept and the characters.  All-New Invaders is a book I could see growing to love once it found itself, but its debut issue did little to grab me. Rating: C

Black Widow #2
Written by Nathan Edmondson, Art by Phil Noto

Black Widow is doing something that I drastically wish more comics did: Telling discreet single-issue stories that help build a world and an intriguing supporting cast.  There are a lot of upsides to that style of storytelling, most of which are highlighted by this book's most obvious inspiration, Matt Fraction's much-loved Hawkeye run, but there are downsides too.  Thus far, while I do mostly enjoy the book, Black Widow spends a lot more time trying to fix the downsides than it does really finding the highlights.  That said, Black Widow #2 is a step in the right direction, deepening our understanding of Natasha's small (-but-now-more-interesting) supporting character, the lawyer with a dark side she may not know about, and giving us a case that ties more directly into Natasha's past.  Structuring the series around a number of mercenary missions and assassinations she's hired to perform is actually a fantastic idea, but Edmondson needs to do more to flesh out those cases and their stakes if he wants to build meaning and mythology on the backs of them.  Black Widow is growing on me, but it's not there just yet.  Rating: B

Empire of the Dead #1
Written by George A. Romero, Art by Alex Maleev
As a classic horror fan, I've got a lot of respect for Romero.  He was one of the first to transcend B-Horror and create some really fantastic, interesting films.  His new films, however, lack much of that classic charm and originality, but his newest "of the Dead" outing here has some shining moments, if it doesn't fall into some familiar pitfalls.  Penny Jones, a doctor, is on what is essentially a ride-along with a team of psuedo-soldiers in zombie occupied New York City.  They discuss the possibility of zombie intelligence: is it just remembered behavior, or is there any chance they could be tamed or even rehabilitated?  Standing over the tale is the shadow of Xavier, a soldier who was zombified and now lurks the NYC subway system.  She is exactly what they are looking for, we discover, as we see that some level of consciousness remains.  Most interestingly, though, is that we learn of Penny's connection to the classic that started it all, The Night of the Living Dead: Johnny and ("we're coming to get you") Barbara were her brother and sister.  There's one further twist, although the dual puncture marks in the neck of the cover zombie pretty much gives it away.  It's an surprisingly interesting story, and Maleev's art is very nice here, very reminiscent of Sean Murphy's work on The Wake.  Not sure I'm on board for bringing vampires into the equation though, as they occupy a totally different side of social commentary that doesn't seem to mesh with zombies.  Only time will tell, but I was pleasantly surprised with this issue and would recommend it to fans of classic zombie stories.  Rating: A-

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