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Friday, February 14, 2014

The Splash Page, Vol. 30

     Reviews of Comics released the week of 2/12/14

DC Comics

Batman #28
Written by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Art by Dustin Nguyen
[Harper]: Behind this incredibly dull cover was a pretty nice story, as Snyder takes a short break from Zero Year to give us a glimpse of the upcoming Batman Eternal weekly book.  The issue primarily follows Harper Row, the character that has been popping up in Snyder's Batman for quite a while now, as we see what she is becoming: Bluebird, a new sidekick.  She and Batman make a dramatic entrance into Gotham's last remaining night club to confront Selina Kyle, who is now some sort of crime boss.  After some expository discussion, we get the moneyshot: Stephanie Brown.  Although I knew she was coming back, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised to see her pop up at the end here--I was a big fan of Bryan Q. Miller's Batgirl book, so I'm interested to see how she fits into the New 52 Batman mythos.  However, the best thing about the book is Harper Row; each time she reappears I remember how much I love the character.  Snyder (and Tynion) give her a personality that is both fun and different than other young members of the Bat-family.  Nguyen always does a great job rendering dynamic action, so no complaints on the art side either.  My only irritation lay in the American Vampire: Second Cycle preview that takes up a chunk of the end of the book; $3.99 for 22 pages is kinda lame.  But otherwise, this was an interesting break from the excellent Zero Year arc.  Rating: A

Superman/Wonder Woman #5
Written by Charles Soule, Art by Tony Daniel, Batt and Sandu Florea
[Kyle]: Charles Soule continues to try to make lemonade out of a pretty uninteresting concept, the pairing of Superman and Wonder Woman. It's obvious that he's much more interested in fleshing out this part of the drama, as the strongest part of the issue is when Wonder Woman self-reflects on Paradise Island with what remains of her people (turned to Snakes, and her mother a statue). Soule does a wonderful job combining the voices of Brian Azzarello's fiercer Wonder Woman and the more super-hero approach that Geoff Johns aims for. The writer is able to cut right into the core of this version of Wonder Woman in the New 52 and certainly allows you to almost buy into this corporately forced relationship. The problem being, there's still this Zod/Faora plotline that he's got to deal with and it totally derails the proceedings. Faora is introduced here, and she's basically the movie character from Man of Steel; a level of synergy that's somewhat nice to see, an area DC has often failed to capitalize on in the past. After Wonder Woman leaves the island to join Superman in his battle with the two renegade Kryptonians, we get washed over with action scenes and little else. This sort of stuff works well with Tony Daniel's consistently getting stronger art, but it makes for the half of the issue that is noticeably weaker, much like last month's entry. The story ends on a stalemate and a fairly unsatisfying hook for the next issue, all told. Rating: C+

Image Comics

The Fuse #1
Written by Antony Johnston, Art by Justin Greenwood
[Harper]: Another new series from Image, another great new original concept.  The Fuse centers around a quiet but decorated homicide detective who transfers from Munich to The Fuse, an enormous orbital living platform.  He is partnered with Klem, a much older detective who wishes she was still with her old partner.  It's a brilliant concept that brings a lot of great ideas together: you get the best parts of a detective/cop story while rolling in sci-fi and the ultimate in locked room mysteries.  But what's special here is that Johnston and Greenwood actually pull it off, very nicely.  The dirty, international world they've created is fascinating, crammed with details that we as readers figure out as we go along.  It has an air of mystery beyond the murder plot, and not just in its futuristic cop lingo: the main characters are brimming with possibility, but they give you just enough to get an idea of what kind person they are.  Greenwood's art is a nice alternative to traditional sci-fi art; while it isn't too flashy, he's got a good cartooning sense that brings what could be blank slate new characters to life.  I'm excited to see where this one goes!  Rating: A+

The Mercenary Sea #1
Written by Kel Symons, Art by Mathew Reynolds
[Harper]: One more intriguing new book from Image came out this week, from another creative team I'm not familiar with.  The Mercenary Sea follows Jack Harper, a treasure hunter and outlaw and his band of international misfits as they traverse the seas in 1938 in a stolen German u-boat, living from one job to the next.  It's a pretty fun concept, particularly if you're into period piece adventure tales.  The art is interesting, but I'm not in love with it; Reynolds has a great sense of depth and background and a cool color palette that matches the style of the story well, but his characters are a bit over-simplified in their shading.  The characters have a cheap webcomic look that doesn't serve the story very well, unfortunately.  However, the way he puts the elements together with the backgrounds is satisfying.  The characters are fun if not on the cliche side: an American boxer who's on the run from the mob after refusing to throw a fight, a lead character on the run from the treasury, etc.  The first issue was not terrific, but has enough going for it that convinces me it has the potential to become something better.  If you're into historical adventure, give it a shot; if not, it may not be for you.  Rating: B

She-Hulk #1
Written by Charles Soule, Art by Javier Pulido with Muntsa Vicente
[Cal]: I'll get this out of the way up-front: She-Hulk #1 probably isn't the book you were expecting, but it's a damn good one nevertheless.  While most She-Hulk titles in recent memory have had her legal career play a fairly major role, it's typically been balanced (if not overwhelmed) by her superheroics - a balance Soule heartily upsets in this issue, which is a straight-up legal comedy.  Don't get me wrong.  This is a legal comedy in which the lawyer has to punch her way through some angry robots to make a settlement, and the art team (Pulido and Vicente) give the book a manic energy and Allred-influenced pop style that keep things lively, but I was still mightily intrigued by Soule's focus on She-Hulk as a person, rather than as a buff bad-ass.  The book's standout moment is a five-page sequence in the middle of the book that combined the lightning-fast office courtroom antics of The Good Wife with Brazil's surreal bureaucratic dystopia, a sequence that finds the entire team working at peak efficiency and delivering a book you never knew you needed.  Soule is a practicing lawyer, which makes him a solid fit for the material, but his real strength is his tendency to be able to capture and build complex characters with quiet skill, and it's that talent that lends She-Hulk its immense charm.  She-Hulk #1 is a winner, and I desperately hope the team can keep it up.  Rating: A

X-Force #1
Written by Simon Spurrier, Art by Rok-He Kim
[Cal]: X-Force #1 is a mess, and it's a mess in the least interesting way possible.  Simon Spurrier first came to my attention in a big way with the Marvel NOW! relaunch of X-Men Legacy, which has pretty consistently been one of the best superhero books on the shelves.  Where Legacy is inventive, unpredictable, and characterized by a strong central relationship, X-Force is trite, sloppy, and its sole strong character is crazy.  Like most versions of X-Force in the modern age, Spurrier's take essentially boils down to 'mutant black ops team', and like most versions of X-Force in the modern age, that basically means 'grittier superhero stuff.'  Which is unfortunate, because Rok-He Kim's art is stiff, lifeless, and often hard to follow - an opening brawl between Cable and a large monster was particularly poorly staged.  Spurrier gets off no easier, though, with repetitive dialogue and bad pacing marring a conceptually flawed book from the start.  There's a good idea buried somewhere in these recurring X-Force titles, but thus far, only Remender's Uncanny X-Force has come close to finding it.  X-Force #1 is a mess through-and-through.   Rating: D

Thor: God of Thunder #19.NOW
Written by Jason Aaron, Art by Esad Ribic, Ive Svorcina
[Kyle]: After an interesting, though admittedly less narratively successful, "DnD style" interlude, Jason Aaron's revamp of Thor picks back up with the time-line jumping, and a storyline that was hinted at in the stunning Issue 12. Esad Ribic is also thankfully back on pencils, restoring the epic "Metal album cover" look that made the first major storyline feel so unique amongst Marvel's offerings. Here, Thor is concerned about the possible death of the Earth and his inability to understand what he can do about it. The villain he finds himself facing is Dario Agger, the CEO of Roxxon Energy also known as "The Minotaur", a nick-name that may mean more beneath the surface. Between them is Agent Roz Solomon, an environmental SHIELD agent (also introduced in Issue 12), who has become a bit of a paramour for our Norse God. There's a great relationship budding here that feels a good deal like the classic Superman-Lois Lane chemistry. Roz is plenty capable in her own right, and makes for a more refreshing pairing with Thor than his constant pining for Jane Foster or Sif. The issue is a bit wordy, particularly in sections where Agger is explaining his environmentalist angle, but once we get to the final scene, flashing-forward to King Thor on the Dead Earth, it all starts to come together in a pretty fascinating start for this new arc. Environmental stories like this can run the risk of being too preachy, but Aaron's deft hand has definitely avoided any pitfalls as of yet.  Rating: A-

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