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Friday, February 21, 2014

The Splash Page, Vol. 31

Reviews for Comics released the week of 2/19/14

DC Comics

 Batwoman #28
Written by Marc Andreyko, Art by Jeremy Haun
[Harper]: Those who have read my reviews on Batwoman before know that I 1) was a huge fan of the character from Rucka all the way through Williams/Blackman's dramatic exodus and 2) I have been very critical of this new team.  This issue continues the story of the new villain the Wolf Spider, a mysterious art thief as well as Kate's relationship issues.  There were some improvements here, I thought: Haun's art is definitely the highlight here, as he draws very natural but expressive characters, and there are a handful of decent action sequences.  My issue still lies with the story and the writing in general however.  Whereas previous runs of Batwoman were mythic, romantic, and sometimes international or apocalyptic in scope, this one seems very small and, honestly, insignificant.  There's very little for me to grasp onto in terms of my interests here.  In addition, I still think Andreyko is trying way too hard with writing Kate Kane, and instead of the quiet but powerful romantic she reads more like a watered down Kate Bishop, if she were written by a very uninspired Matt Fraction.  It's still difficult to judge, though, since they came onto the book so suddenly.  I'm truly hoping that the talented team that's tackling this complex book finds their footing and finds a much more interesting story soon, and while this issue was a definite upgrade, I'm still pretty skeptical.  Rating: B
Justice League #28
Written by Geoff Johns, Art by Ivan Reis
[Kyle]: I've always liked the Metal Men. It's dopey, and maybe the most Silver Age of all Silver Age concepts this side of Metamorpho; but there's just something about their Periodic table theme and their different personalities that attracts the kid in me. Geoff Johns, the seeming master of reviving these 50's-60's esque ideas, takes a crack this issue at reviving the team for the New 52. The story itself takes place within the Forever Evil event, as an on-going subplot for Cyborg. As the rest of the League remain trapped within the Firestorm Matrix, Cyborg has to put together a team that can help him take down Grid and the rest of the Crime Syndicate. Overall, it's a fun little read, and I've generally held that thus far during Forever Evil, Johns Justice League title has far outshone his own writing on the meandering Forever Evil event book and Matt Kindt's surprisingly disappointing work on Justice League of America. This issue is no exception really, as it works to lay the ground-work for "Phase 2" of the New 52, while continuing to give Vic Stone the spotlight he needs, as the lone core Justice Leaguer that doesn't have his own solo title. Throughout, we get a nice clean origin for the Metal Men, as relayed to Vic by Dr. Will Magnus. The only real issue I have is a continuing problem I always have with Johns writing: his plotting is fine, his dialogue is often very clumsy. We get alot of that here, particularly in the somewhat trite interactions between Magnus and his superior in the US Military, as well as some of the dialogue of the various Metal Men. There's probably a way to convey Iron is a "meat-head" without him basically saying "Hey brah, let's watch some WCW". But beyond that one hurdle, the story here, which also includes the genesis of long-time Metal Men foe Chemo, is an enjoyable diversion and the art, with layouts by Reis, continues to be an aspect of Justice League that works well. It isn't a perfect issue, but I continue to find myself excited by this book all the same, which is remarkable given the tedium of this event. Rating: B

Dynamite Comics
Red Sonja #7
Written by Gail Simone, Art by Walter Geovani with Adriano Lucas
[Cal]: I've run pretty hot-and-cold on Gail Simone's current run on Red Sonja - and on Simone's work in the last couple years in general.  But let me say this: Red Sonja #7 is flat-out good, possibly Simone's best issue of comics since the cancellation of Secret Six.  Sonja has been hired by a fantastically wealthy noble to track down six master artisans in service of throwing the greatest party in history - in this instance, the world's greatest chef, who has been captured by cannibals and forced to prepare erstwhile travelers for their feasts.  It's darkly comic and grimly violent, right in Simone's wheelhouse, so it's no surprise she largely knocks it out of the park.  While Geovani's art is still too smooth and simple to really work - a group of filthy swamp-dwelling cannibals look like they're fresh from the gym locker room - Red Sonja #7 largely plays to his strengths, keeping things focused on creatures and atmosphere rather than character design or action.  Simone finally has Sonja's voice down pat, so I'm excited to see if she can keep pushing the title forward.  Rating: A-

Marvel Comics

Amazing X-Men #4
Written by Jason Aaron, Art by Ed McGuinness

[Harper]: This story has been a romp, and it continues to be so here.  This issue serves as a bit of a gathering-the-team/reunion issue in a book that's all about old friends as the X-Men have been brought to the afterlife by long-dead Nightcrawler to help him fight off Azazel's invasion.  Wolverine and Northstar are stuck in a freezing purgatory with nowhere to go, Firestar and Iceman are besieged on all sides by demons in Hell, and Nightcrawler himself is being attacked by a feral Beast.  Each of the perilous situations are turned around narratively through memories with Kurt, and as someone who hasn't really read any of the original stories with Nightcrawler, even I feel a nostalgic sense of satisfaction from Aaron's portrayal of the past.  I also love that he's continued to give Firestar, who is (sort of) our stand-in as the new X-Man, thought bubbles very reminiscent of the Claremont era.  Perhaps most satisfying here, though, is the explanation of the Bamfs, something that's been a long time coming.  Whether Aaron has been planning it from the start or he's just a great retconner, their origin is both weird and fun, but retains a level of mystery.  Speaking of mystery, the way Nightcrawler keeps bringing attention to the fact that he is not really alive is interesting, and I'm dying to know where this story is going.  A fun issue that's got me waiting for the next one, the end of this first arc and the showdown with Azazel!  Rating: A

 Daredevil #36
Written by Mark Waid, Art by Chris Samnee

[Harper]: Here is one of those instances where the way the comic world works, with its previews and can't-keep-a-secret attitude took a bit away from what should have been a great ending.  We've all known for months that this would be the last issue before the series resets as an All-New Marvel Now book and Daredevil moves to San Francisco, we just didn't know exactly why.  Unfortunately, the reasoning is a little bit thin.  At the end of #35, Matt Murdock admitted that he was Daredevil while under oath.  Now that aspect paid off in a big way, and made for a satisfying reason to leave NYC: having uncovered his secret identity, he had to explain that he sued the Daily Globe for selfish reasons, and was lying in the eyes of the law, which gets him and Foggy disbarred.  Why he had to go to such dramatic extremes was fairly cooked up: because he was being blackmailed by the Sons of Serpents.  This last arc has been just a little weak, and this was the culmination of that.  On the bright side, though, the art was still stunningly fantastic and expressive, with acrobatic layouts and satisfying action, and Waid's take on the character still feels fresh and fun.  I almost felt like Waid wrote himself into a corner and used that as an excuse to editorially change directions, but it's not all that bad--this is really the first time I've had any complaint at all about this phenomenal series, and it's a pretty small one.  Overall a good if not wholly satisfying conclusion to this arc, but I'm very excited to see where Mark, Chris, and Matt's tale goes on the east coast!  Rating: B+

New Warriors #1
Written by Christopher Yost, Art by Marcus To with David Curiel
[Cal]: Once upon a time, Hank Pym hit his wife, and ever since then, almost every Hank Pym story has been, on some level, about that moment.  It was such a monumental, charged event that it has changed something fundamental about the core of the character.  In 2006, the New Warriors played a part in the destruction of Stamford, Connecticut, an event that has defined the team and their various books in the 8 years since.  Even now, after nearly every other event related to Civil War has been forgotten, that moment stuck; the New Warriors will never be the same.  Even this book, which largely moves its characters (and team) back to square one, has to acknowledge the tragedy and the world's shaken faith in the team.  If there was a team, that is - Yost goes the Justice League (2011) route, showing us a world in peril and a group of disparate-and-divided heroes who will have to come together (at some point in the relatively near future) to save it.  Yost, To, and Curiel do a decent job introducing our cast, though I desperately hope that someone will one day write a version of Robbie Baldwin who is not blisteringly obnoxious, but that's the bulk of what this issue is.  Something is killing some other thing, and a team of heroes are presumably going to stop Group A from doing bad things to Group B.  Eventually, presumably, we'll care.  Rating: C-

The Punisher #2
Written by Nathan Edmondson, Art by Mitch Gerads
[Cal]: I suspect that Edmondson is trying to redefine Frank Castle the way Waid redefined Daredevil and Brubaker redefined Captain America.  Two issues in - and now, one wounded pet sidekick later - and I'm still not feeling it... or Edmondson's take on The Punisher in general.  The story thus far is relatively minor: A cartel is making a major move into the US, starting with Los Angeles, and they've acquired a weapon that makes them more dangerous than ever before - a... C-list supervillain.  But while the plot is shallow and the character-work is largely nonexistent (so far), Mitch Gerads continues to impress.  Indeed, I'm fairly certain Gerads is responsible for the vast bulk of what makes The Punisher work.  While he doesn't fit quite as naturally into the superhero-vs-supervillain world Edmondson begins to move the book towards, his Vertigo-influenced art is the only thing that sells me on Frank's changed character, and his design-work and characters are typically top-notch.  Unfortunately, he doesn't get to show off nearly as much here as he did in the first issue... but still, Gerads is doing really excellent work here.  If only Edmondson could catch up. It's not that it's impossible to make the Punisher an empathetic character.  It's not even that it's a bad idea.  It's just that it's not working yet, and everything Edmondson is going for depends on that idea.    Rating: C
Captain America #17
Written by Rick Remender, Art by Nic Klein
[Kyle]: I wasn't in love with Remender's initial few issues of the relaunched Captain America title when it began during the initial Marvel NOW! push. I was open to the idea of a different take on the character, particularly one with a more sci-fi slant, despite my love of Ed Brubaker's action-espionage run preceding it. Yet, due to some combination of John Romita Jr's art appearing stiffer than usual and Remender giving some fairly uninspired scripts, I jumped off with Issue 3. With All-New Marvel Now, I figured I might give it another shot, and two issues in, I can definitely see the signs of improvement. This installment gives readers the opening chapter to "The Iron Nail", the current secret organization that's giving Cap fits. In addition, we're given an introduction to the newest member of the Captain's Rogues Gallery: Dr. Mindbubble. Looking like a cross between Willy Wonka and the old Superman villain The Toyman, Dr. Mindbubble is a fascinating little creation who shoots out mind-altering bubbles from a spout attached to his head. I have to give credit to Remender for really going for the weird in his storytelling, despite how much it juxtaposes with the generally grounded tales of Steve Rogers that we're used to. The explanation for Dr. Mindbubble's origin ties in well with the origins of a few characters, but is subtle without being too ret-conning. The final sequence is also particularly well done, with the potential to go somewhere fairly dark. Remender is assisted by Nic Klein's gritty, yet also cartoony art, which really nails down the new dichotomy put together by the writer. Fingers crossed that Remender is hitting his stride on the title, I'd love to be picking up all of Marvel's Big Three again regularly (and thus my eyes turn to Kieron Gillen's Iron Man). Rating: A-
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