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Friday, January 31, 2014

The Splash Page, Vol. 29

Comic Reviews for the Week of 1/29/13, including the Earth 2 Annual, the latest Miracleman, and the first chapter of the end of Superior Spider-Man

DC Comics

Batman and Robin Annual #2
Written by Peter Tomasi, Art by Doug Mahnke
[Harper]: I'm not a regular reader of Batman and Robin, but from the issues I've picked up, it's strongly rooted in nostalgia.  There must have been no one sadder to see Damian go than Tomasi, because he just can't let that Robin go.  This issue has a framing story about Bruce finding a hidden box left by Damian, which leads into a story of Bruce and Dick's first week together as Batman and Robin.  It's a pretty fun tale of Robin (of course) disobeying Batman and getting involved when he's only supposed to observe, and Bruce gradually warming to him and realizing that he needs a Robin.  Mahnke does a fine job on art duties, and Tomasi admittedly has a great handle on writing the joking, acrobatic young Grayson.  However, I just don't see much of a point here, and it seems like Tomasi is still struggling to find a reason to continue the book without Damian.  While it's an entertaining enough story, it's kind of a-dime-a-dozen and I feel like I've read it before.  I think this creative team is a very good one, but they need to find a way to move forward instead of simply treading water.  Rating: B-

Earth 2 Annual #2
Written by Tom Taylor, Art by Robson Rocha
[Kyle]: With Tom Taylor taking over writing duties on Earth 2 from James Robinson, the story focus has shifted a bit from the ever expanding world that Robinson was building (with center protagonists Green Lantern/Alan Scott, Flash/Jay Garrick, and Hawkgirl) giving way to the new Earth 2 Batman that Robinson initially introduced but kept as more of a side player. The reasoning for Taylor (and likely DC's) decision to point the series' attention to their version of Batman makes sense from a financial perspective: Batman sells more than any other comic book character from either of the big two companies. The real question being, does it serve the story at all? I'd say generally "yes", the mystery of who this new Batman is was an on-going curiosity for me. While he was introduced in the first Earth 2 Annual last year by Robinson, Taylor forgoes extending the mystery any further by giving us the origin of this character. Taylor actually gives us two origins for the price of one, as we get a very 70's look at Earth 2 Bruce Wayne's childhood tragedy and just how things led to that fateful moment, along with flashes to 1994 with the establishment of just who the Earth 2 Batman is and why he's seemingly so darn invulnerable. Thomas Wayne is a very different, more carefree character to say the least, and his eventual fate is far less senseless than that of his main Earth counterpart and his casual usage of substances is a clever way to underline the inner struggle that is affecting this new Batman. Taylor does a nice job setting up the friendship turned conflict between Francesco Falcone and Thomas Wayne as well, which leads to the incident in crime alley, though there are few points of dialogue that feel forced to get them there. Taylor also plants a nice red herring to keep readers guessing till the end on our hero's identity, but once all is revealed it just seems all to obvious, but nonetheless fairly satisfying upon reflection, though there are some logic questions related to how this character was able to accomplish this facade. I also have to give serious credit to Taylor for making one of the lead characters in the story a gay man but being very casual about it, and not making it a major plot point; that's all too rare in the world of corporate "Big Two" comics. The only big negative around the issue is Rocha's art, which is serviceable, but feels very "DC-house style", where the better titles they currently produce (Chiang on Wonder Woman, Capullo on Batman, Kuder on Action Comics) have more personable and dynamic art-stylings. Nicola Scott's work, the regular artist on Earth 2, would have been welcome here. But, on the whole, Taylor keeps rolling along and continues the trend of Earth 2 being one of DC's strongest and most fascinating titles. Grade: B+

IDW Publishing

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #30
Written by Tom Waltz, Art by Ross Campbell

[Shane]: Although TMNT has never been a comic which has reached the same level as the ones we regularly praise here at GeekRex, that does not mean it is a bad comic by any means.  In fact, lately, the series has been riding a high of about 10 issues without a single one disappointing.  The art on this comic is FINALLY at a place where it feels as fresh and new and exciting as the stories Tom Waltz and Kevin Eastman are plotting.  This issue continues what I've dubbed the start of the comic's "second season."  The turtles are in hiding after the big fight with Shredder and the Foot, and Leonardo is on the path to redemption after being brainwashed by the aforementioned villains.  This issue is written mostly from the perspective of Michelangelo, which makes perfect sense when one considers that he is the heart and soul of the team.  Without Mike, the TMNT would fall apart.  This is a turtle family that is grieving and unsure of how to move forward, and Waltz walks that tightrope very well.  Though this is the TMNT we are talking about and danger is not too far behind, this is a great breather issue that helps the comic collect itself before moving on.  Not many comic series from the big two take the time to do this, but such stories are often important as they allow for the bond between readers and characters to deepen without just constantly plunging both into a series of mindless action scenes.  As much as I praised Mateus Santouloco's art, I was quite impressed with the work Ross Campbell brings to this issue.  The art was the biggest thing keeping me from calling this an excellent comic.  Now that that issue seems to be out of the way, TMNT may just be on the way to must-read territory.  Rating: A

Image Comics

East of West #9
Written by Jonathan Hickman, Art by Nick Dragotta

[Shane]: With some indie comics, they are so great that you just cannot imagine waiting for the next trade to read them.  Some, however, are so high in concept, so huge in scope, that it is difficult to read them from month to month without feeling at least a little bit lost.  Unfortunately, that seemed to have been the case for East of West.  Though Hickman was definitely writing a fantastic sci-fi/western comic, it was beginning to feel like some of the pieces of this giant puzzle were being lost in the shuffle of only reading so much of the story each month.  Leave it to Hickman, however, to prove this reviewer wrong.  Just when I was beginning to feel a bit complacent about picking this title up each month as opposed to in trades, Hickman gives us a more than solid issue.  One of the things which caused many readers, myself included, to gravitate towards East of West was its concept of an alternate history for the United States and the rest of the world.  Hickman is by no means a writer to leave all of his cards on the table, and many secrets are still being kept from us about just how much this world has changed from what we know.  The idea of the Chinese taking over San Francisco made sense, and Hickman does the same thing in this issue with a new region: the South.  Using the name common to freed slaves during and after the Civil War, the royal family ruling this kingdom goes by the surname of Freeman.  The king and his fourteen sons rule in seeming happiness due to their excessive amount of oil refineries.  When the time comes for the Freeman family to give help to the rest of their fellow nations, however, we see how morally ambiguous these royals can be.  Nick Dragotta's art continues to work marvelously with the work Hickman is doing, and both are firing on all cylinders here.  Just as I was beginning to lose faith, I am drawn back in.  Rating: A+

Saga #18
Written by Brian K. Vaughan, Art by Fiona Staples

[Shane]: It is always a good week when one gets a chance to read the latest issue of Saga.  Not only is it exciting since the comic has easily become one of my favorites over the past year and a half, but this issue also marks the end of the latest story arc in the series...so of course it also brought the worry of who would no longer be with us by issue's end.  This issue sees several different stories finally colliding, and it makes for an issue which feels like a turning point in the series.  Marko and Alana have experienced quite a bit since their relationship began.  The Romeo and Juliet-esque love affair caused the more expected reactions from the rest of the universe, but, if this story line has proved anything, it would seem the lines between what is a correct relationship and what is not are beginning to be blurred.  This can especially be seen in Marko's ex-girlfriend, Gwendolyn, who realizes that she is upset with Mark for engaging in the type of relationship she has found herself in.  With so many stories coming to a head here, it feels like quite a few of them slow down here, making one question, for just a moment, what the future of this comic could possibly be.  Brian K. Vaughan does a fantastic job of scripting this game changing issue, and Fiona Staple's art is gorgeous as always.  In fact, by issue's end, a huge shift in just the time period of the story is made...one that involves a certain baby now taking her first steps.  With what seems to be a new direction for Saga looming on the horizon, one cannot help but wonder..in a world where people have wings, horns, T.V.s for heads, and walruses can talk...just what kind of allies and villains will Vaughan and Staples throw at us next?  Too bad we won't find out for a while.  Stupid hiatuses.  Rating: A+

Marvel Comics

Cataclysm #4
Written by Brian Michael Bendis, Art by Mark Bagley

[Shane]: Well...the way the world of comics work comes to bite us fans in the butt once again.  Cataclysm, the event which many thought would be the end of the Ultimate Marvel Universe, has been undermined by the solicitations for April's comics, which reveal that an all new batch of Ultimate titles will be starting soon.  Nevertheless, this does not completely stop the thunder of this issue.  Instead of thinking of Cataclysm as the story that will bring the Ultimate Universe to its end, it now needs to be seen as the event which will be the start of a new direction for a universe which, except for one title, had been struggling to hold the interest of many.  In this issue, we get to see Reed Richards' plan to fight Galactus come to light...and it involves injecting Kitty Pryde with a Giant Man syrum and having her use her powers to disrupt his machine.  The idea sounds utterly ridiculous on paper, and perhaps it does in the comic as well, but, given that this only a five issue storyline, perhaps it is really the best way for Bendis to write himself out of the corner he has found himself in.  This issue does not let loose with the stakes, but, now that the Ultimates have also recruited the X-men, it seems like all of the pieces are set for one huge final battle with Galactus.  Fortunately, Bagley's artwork does a good job of capturing those stakes.  Now that we know the Universe will survive, it's time to see if what we are left with is worth sticking around for.  Rating: B+

Guardians of the Galaxy #11.NOW
Written by Brian Michael Bendis, Art by Sara Pichelli

[Shane]: Just one short week after the beginning of the latest X-men related crossover at Marvel, we have the next chapter in the latest issue of Guardians of the Galaxy.  Well...sort of.  Anyone like this reviewer, who may have been hoping this would issue would contain the next bit of the story, will be sorely disappointed in how things go about here.  This issue actually ends at the exact same place as the previous one, except this time everything is from the Guardians' perspective.  Admittedly, it is an intriguing concept, and one that could only be pulled off so well with the same writer on both books, but it is all a bit maddening when a strictly Guardians reader such as myself gets to the end of this issue and realizes that they shelled out $4 for All New X-men last week for nothing.  Nevertheless, it seems from the checklist at the end of the issue for the rest of the crossover that this is the last time we will have this occur, so hopefully this crossover can make the purchase of both books worth it next month.  As far as what occurs in this issue, it is not a bad comic by any means...just not a stellar one either.  Peter Quill fights off bounty hunters working for his father (perhaps the most interesting part of the issue), Rocket makes fun of Tony Stark, Angela and Gamora bond again, and the Shi-Ar freaks out about Jean Grey being alive.  When you write a crossover, the general idea is that there is some large story to tell that is just too big for one comic to handle, but, thus far, everything Bendis has given us in this crossover feels like all too familiar territory.  Sure, the Guardians being thrown in means Rocket will be telling jokes instead of Spider-man, but what is really making this a unique story worth the time and effort?  Thus far, Bendis has nothing to show on that front.  At least Pichelli's art continues to be gorgeous.  Rating: B+

 Miracleman #2
Written by 'The Original Writer' (Alan Moore), Art by Garry Leach

[Harper]: So we continue on with this lost classic.  Issue two contains a few stories: the first few short stories are about Mick Moran discovering that Kid Miracleman (Johnny Bates) is still alive and running a huge tech corporation.  When Mick and Liz go to visit, he is charming, but something dark is just beneath the surface--he never stopped being Kid Miracleman, and without the father-figure of Miracleman to stop him, he's become completely evil.  The second story takes place in the future...and the present, and the past.  Miracleman is traveling to different periods in his own life, fighting himself to create enough energy to fight his arch-nemesis Kid Miracleman.  The story is dark and imaginative as we can see Moore's ideas about superhuman power left unchecked in a real world coming together for the first time.  The art is classic and typical of the best stuff of it's time: dense with detail and storytelling, and heavy on the action.  I'd love to hear from those of you that have read this before to see how it compares, but to a new reader I am totally enthralled with the twisted, poetic version of the hopeful hero.  Rating: A

Superior Spider-man #26
Written by Dan Slott, Art by Humberto Ramos, Marcos Martin, and Javier Rodriguez

[Shane]: Finally, after months upon months upon months of hype, we finally get the beginnings of Dan Slott's big Green Goblin story.  The seeds for this story were planted quite some time ago in Superior Spider-man, and so much time was spent on other things with just the lightest of teases for this story that it was beginning to become frustrating.  Now that it has become clear this will be the final Superior Spider-man story, all we can really do at this point is hope Goblin Nation lives up to all the teasing.  But, for this issue, we once again have some more teasing and set-up for this story.  The main plot of this issue deals with the Green Goblin fighting Roderick Kingsley, aka the Hobgoblin, for control of the other's army.  The Green Goblin has been building his forces for months, but the Hobgoblin is really the last thing standing in his way.  The parts of the issue that deal with this story are interesting, but they feel very cluttered.  Humberto Ramos' art, which can be quite nice at times, feels a bit sloppy in this issue.  The artwork as a whole in this issue is very uneven, with THREE artists tackling this issue: one for the goblin story, one for a story about Otto arguing with the Avengers, and one about Peter Parker's spirit trying to break free.  The latter of this is probably the most understandable in terms of switching artists, but the different artist for the Avengers sub-plot simply makes no sense.  Humberto Ramos seemed to be on top of the release schedule of this book, so why can he suddenly not draw 6-8 extra pages?  Peter's part in the plot of all of this is definitely the most intriguing as it is what is leading us to the relaunch of Amazing Spider-man and it also has the best artwork of the entire issue.  Dan Slott seems to let the cat out of the bag with this issue in terms of who is wearing the Green Goblin's mask, but I'm not so sure the goblin should be trusted simply based on his word.  Perhaps Slott has one last major twist for us before Peter returns.  Rating: A-

Thor: God of Thunder #18
Written by Jason Aaron, Art by Das Pastoras

[Shane]: And now we reach what may be my most anticipated superhero title each time it comes out, Thor: God of Thunder!  Having just wrapped up a story arc last issue, and a new one getting ready to begin next month, you know what that means: filler issue!  Although, to be honest, the last time we had a filler issue for this comic, it just may have been one of the series' overall best.  Would the same thing happen with this issue?  Well...not really.  The basic idea behind this issue is one that sounds exciting and completely in line with everything Jason Aaron has done on this book thus far: Young Thor and a dragon get drunk together and party until things get serious.  Sounds awesome and hilarious, right?  Well...the issue kind of is.  There are definitely the moments of expected humor from Young Thor and his perpetually drunken state, but it all honestly feels like a retread of things we have seen before.  The addition of a dragon makes for a nice laugh at first, but it does not necessarily make for a refreshing of the concept of a young, drunk god of thunder.  Then, out of left field, Jason Aaron makes this issue super serious, with what may be the most heart-breaking ending the man has ever given an issue of this comic.  Does it save the issue?  Not completely, but it is enough to make it feel worth the read.  What is perhaps the saving grace of this issue is Das Pastoras' art, which is just beautiful.  How is this comic so fortunate to get such amazing art talent all the time?  With Esad Ribic back on the next story, the great art will only continue.  A decent enough issue with art that far exceeds the writing.  Rating: B


Fables #137
Written by Bill Willingham, Art by Mark Buckingham

[Shane]: It is hard to shake the feeling when reading Fables now that it is truly the beginning of the end.  That feeling can be felt even more earnestly in this issue as we wrap up the Camelot storyline with more than a few surprises.  Told from the perspective of Bigby and Snow's daughter Winter, the new North Wind, this issue feels like more of an examination of everything going on in Fables right now than a real Camelot chapter, which is perhaps fitting as the arc as a whole has felt a bit disjointed.  Where things get quite interesting is in the number of errands Winter finds herself running, and the surprise reason behind it all.  It would seem that the foretelling from the previous issue that New Camelot would have the same undoing as the original was not too far off.  All of this seems to be building towards what just may be the final Fables story, and Winter has gotten some big names on her side including the Snow Queen and the most powerful fable of them all: Santa Claus.  One cannot describe the bitter sweet feeling of reading this issues, knowing that the big fight that this is all building to is going to more than likely be the end of this comic, and it is truly terrifying wondering which characters will make it out.  But then Bill Willingham drops two last bombshells in this issue...one is immensely intriguing and involves none other than Bigby Wolf...the other is a hilarious final page involving Lancelot and Rose Red.  Fables only has 13 issues remaining...here's hoping the final stories are less disjointed than Camelot.  Rating: A
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