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Friday, March 7, 2014

The Splash Page, Vol. 33

Comics reviews for the week of March 5, 2014!

Dark Horse Comics
Veil #1
Written by Greg Rucka, Art by Toni Fejzula

[Cal]: I have to be honest: I'm not entirely sure what to make of this one.  Rucka is clearly playing up the mystery of Veil in this issue, who wakes up nude in an abandoned subway tunnel, rats covering her, with a severely limited vocabulary and no real sense of what the world outside her is like.  It's an intriguing hook, particularly after the book's closing pages up the ante on her identity considerably... but right now, that's all it is.  Veil doesn't have a character, and the book's only other real character, Dante, is introduced too late to get much inner life.  Toni Fejzula's grimly cartoonish art helps sell the book, and, more difficultly, helps sell Veil.  It can't be easy to have a nude female protagonist for roughly 85% of the issue without sexualizing her too much, but Fejzula manages it with style.  Veil projects vulnerability, but Fejzula never loses sight of the steel will beneath the surface.  The biggest problem, though, is that I'm just not sure what I'm supposed to be holding onto.  Mystery is interesting and I suspect the book will read well in trade - lovely art combined with Rucka's considerable talents all but guarantees it - but the pacing is fairly slack and the characters aren't all there yet.  I suspect I'll be sitting this one out until the trade hits.  Rating: B

DC Comics

Forever Evil #6
Written by Geoff Johns, Art by David Finch

[Shane]: Like many DC events written by Geoff Johns, Forever Evil has thus far been one with an interesting concept, with each chapter offering something at least somewhat interesting, but no real clarity or true direction to it all.  That all changes with this issue as we get quite a few answers and more than a few shocking reveals....and deaths.  Infiltrating the fallen Watchtower, Lex Luthor, Batman, and their merry band of assorted villains go in search of Nightwing and the Crime Syndicate, a job that is much easier said than done.  Meanwhile, the in-fighting among the Crime Syndicate continues as the threat of an invasion of yet another cosmic force seems imminent.  Knowing that, in part, this event is meant to set-up a change in the Justice League line-up, with Lex Luthor being the most notable addition, it gives Forever Evil an interesting message: does the Justice League create more problems than it solves?  A fascinating question to consider, no doubt, but it is one that we have been asked time and again, making the motivations for Lex in this issue feel expected and tiresome.  As a member of the Justice League, perhaps Lex will have more interesting things to do, but, for now, everything that comes out of his mouth feels like all too familiar territory.  But this issue isn't really about Lex and his joy at annoying Batman...it's about the shocking reveals and the deaths or more than one character.  Most of the deaths (or seeming deaths) that occur in this issue were expected, but Johns and Finch work well together to make sure they unfold in unexpected and brutal ways.  (Captain Cold FTW!) The reveal of the prisoner the Crime Syndicate brought with them is not surprising in the least, but Johns admittedly adds an extra layer to the idea that makes the idea more intriguing.  Only one issue remains in this event, but it almost feels like more of an obligation than something to be excited for.  Johns packs in some interesting reveals and Finch provides some excellent visuals, but the excitement peaked somewhere around issue 3 of this event.  Rating: B+
Action Comics # 29
Written by Greg Pak, Art by Aaron Kuder

[Kyle]: Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder continue their revival of the moribund Superman line, finally providing readers with the perfect follow-up to Grant Morrison's conception of the character. Issue 29 is a "middle of the story" tale, so it's hard to judge it in a vacuum, but the easiest thing I can say about it is that it sustains the momentum that Pak and Kuder started four issues ago. We have some resolution to the "Baka" storyline, and it's a nice, albeit perhaps telegraphed, little twist that provides a heart-breaking conclusion. We then get a chance to see two sides of Superman, the human and the unstoppable near-god and Kuder's art just utterly nails every aspect of the sequence. Pak's work here makes me wonder what writer is working on Batman/Superman, or if Aaron Kuder just brings out the best in him, because it feels like the work of a completely different person. This is Superman at his most optimistic, relateable, and large scale sci-fi. All of this combines into probably the best Superman stories we've gotten since not only Geoff Johns' Superman and the Legion of Superheroes, but even Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's All-Star Superman, which in many ways, this feels like a spiritual successor to. Also, this is the best Lana Lang story I've ever read. Pak and Kuder just get it. Rating: A+

Image Comics

Jupiter's Legacy #4
Written by Mark Millar, Art by Frank Quitely

[Harper]: This might be one better left to trades…not because the story is overly complex, but because it comes out so infrequently. Took me a while to figure out exactly what was going on, but here's the gist: in the last issue, Brandon (with his semi-evil uncle) killed his father, the ultimate superhero in this world. Now, many years have passed, and the two are in the White House while Brandon's sister, Chloe, is in hiding. She has changed pretty drastically, going from the drugged out party girl in issue 1 to a mature mother here, as she and her husband hide their child from her brother's people. The center of the story lies with her child, a super intelligent, super-powered boy who must hide his powers lest his family be discovered and imprisoned. It was fun for the most part, but went on a bit too long and covered what was done in All-Star Superman much more elegantly–the pretending to be a dolt, messing up on purpose, etc. The opening of the issue was perhaps most interesting, giving us more of a glimpse into the way Brandon and Chloe's parents got their powers, which from the start has been the most interesting story, full of dreams, adventure, and mystery. I will say that the reveal as to how the world has changed since Brandon took over was very satisfying, although it wasn't until halfway through the book that I realized what was going on. Millar's still got some clever ideas, and Quitely's art is wonderful (isn't it always?), but this would benefit greatly from a more regular publishing schedule.  Rating: B+

Velvet #4
Written Ed Brubaker, Art by Steve Epting

[Shane]: As much as those of us here at GeekRex love our superheroes, we love our indie books even more.  And how can one not?  The past 2-3 years have been a glorious time for those of us who enjoy things beyond the traditional cape and mask fair...and Image has definitely been leading the way in outstanding, original  creator-owned comics.  One of the best examples of that trend is most definitely Velvet.  Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting are putting together are wonderful spy thriller that is doing a multitude of things right...which is saying a lot considering it is only four issues in.  This issue sees Velvet moving things to Monaco in her search for answers, and coming into contact with an Ex-KGB agent who just may have the information she needs.  While it could be easy to criticize this issue for, essentially, doing the exact same thing as the previous (Velvet goes to an exotic locale in search of info), Epting does some very nice, subtle character development for Velvet.  While fighting three Russian agents, we find out Velvet's feelings on fighting and how her age is definitely starting to show.  It is in this moment that the reader is reminded it's not some young, twenty-something leading this book, making the character all the more fascinating and the stakes just that much higher.  Brubaker definitely knows his tropes of the genre, and he upsets just as many as he uses.  The fact that, in a matter of pages, we see Velvet go from feeling old, being extremely deadly, and feeling incredibly vulnerable is a fantastic range of character that, most importantly, feels utterly believable.  But none of this would be possible without the absolutely stunning artwork which Epting puts out in this comic every month.  Velvet is a beauty to behold, and Epting's artwork deserves to be just as much a part of the conversation of why this book will last as Brubaker's excellent plotting and characterization.  Rating: A+

Marvel Comics

Captain America #18
Written by Rick Remender, Art by Nic Klein

[Harper]: How do you follow a celebrated, grounded-in-reality run of Captain America? With the weirdest adventures this character has ever been through, tales worthy of Batman's “Black Casebook.” Here we find Captain America and Falcon staking out S.H.I.E.L.D. as they try to figure out what they're hiding, something from the Weapon Minus program. During an action sequence with really nice drawn-in sound effects, they learn from Jet that the weapon S.H.I.E.L.D. is on full alert for is a man named Dr. Mindbubble, a scientist who merged the super-soldier serum and LSD and experimented on himself. He has the strange ability to produce mind-altering bubbles from a pipe in his forehead which encase his victim's head and change their perception. This all sounds utterly bizarre–and it is–but Remender does a great job keeping it within the character's range in interesting ways. For example, Cap finds his home (Earth) to be far more alien and dangerous than the strange Dimension Z he was stuck in for many years; at least there, the threats were apparent, not hidden behind secrets and betrayals. It's a fascinating twist on his usual fish-out-of-water theme due to his waking up in the present, and really highlights the duplicity and dangers of the spy life he lives. While my only complaint is that the issue doesn't advance the story very much, Remender's take on Cap and Dr. Mindbubble are more than enough to keep me reading.  Rating: B+

Magneto #1
Written by Cullen Bunn, Art by Gabriel Hernandez Walta

[Shane]: In the second wave of Marvel's Marvel NOW initiative, the focus seems to be more on taking characters away from teams and putting them out on their own.  She-Hulk, Punisher, Elektra, Black Widow, Silver Surfer....you name it, they probably have their own solo series out or soon to be out.  The latest in this line of characters is Marvel's ultra-popular villain turned hero turned (according to this comic) villain or at least some kind of anti-hero, Magneto.  The master of magnetism finds himself on the trail of killers of mutants, taking each one out one by one, while also trying to distinguish the true killers from the fake ones planted by S.H.I.E.L.D.  At its core, Magneto has a very interesting concept, but not one that may work if you happen to be reading whichever X-men team book the man finds himself in nowadays.  Cullen Bunn takes an interesting approach to the character with how a man who has been on the run in some fashion all his life continues to be on the run while also committing horrible acts of violence.  When it comes to violence, it is hard to say that this comic is too gratuitous, but it definitely leaves a lot to the imagination.  Magneto has a very specific power, but one with nearly limitless potential, and Bunn gives us just a taste of that here.  With this new wave of solo books from Marvel, it seems a lot of writers are taking the approach Matt Fraction brought to Hawkeye: what is this character doing when they aren't with their respective teams.  It is a decision that has worked incredibly well for some (She-Hulk) while others have tried a bit too much to capture Fraction's style (The Punisher).  Magneto does not feel like Fraction's work in its writing, but it definitely takes the idea of making superhero comics feel more like indie books, which is a nice touch.  On the art side, I was familiar with Walta's work from Astonishing X-men, and he does not disappoint here.  Walta takes a page from the Hawkeye mold that works very well, pointing out all the metal objects Magneto could potentially control in small boxes spread throughout a given panel, which really helps to give a sense of scope to the man's abilities.  Magneto may not be a comic which will make sense connected to a broader world, but it seems like it could be a solo journey worth taking.  Rating: A

The Punisher #3
Written by Nathan Edmondson, Art by Mitch Gerads

[Shane]: Los Angeles is a much different city than New York...or at least that is what the Punisher was hoping for.  Thus far in his short time out West, Frank Castle has run across more than a few familiar threats, with the most notable being the surprise appearance of Electro.  This issue starts off exactly where the previous ended, seeing the Punisher get his butt kicked by Electro in the middle of a busy freeway.  From there the Punisher decides to try a different approach, one which might land him in even more trouble.  Although previous issues of The Punisher were certainly entertaining, it was very hard to shake the feeling that writer Nathan Edmondson was borrowing just a bit too much from Fraction's Hawkeye.  Frank even got his own version of Pizza Dog in the form of Loot, a coyote.  Fortunately, Edmondson drops most of the Fraction-isms in this issue, making this a story which feels more like the Punisher than the Punisher trying to be someone else.  A new take on a character is not a bad thing by any means, but there is a fine line between reworking a character and completely changing who they are, and that is what Edmondson came very close to doing to Frank Castle.  This issue sees Frank become desperate, and, as we see play out, a desperate Punisher means costly mistakes are made.  He may have taken on pretty much every mob boss NYC had to offer, but L.A.'s Dos Soles gang is proving to be a very intimidating threat.  Mitch Gerads does a phenomenal job with the covers to this series, but his interior art is not as strong as it could be.  The coloring in this issue is particularly interesting as Electro's distinctly blue color stands out in contrast of all the black, white, orange, and grey...although, admittedly, that seems to be the point.  Electro doesn't belong in L.A., making his sudden appearance all the more suspicious.  Edmondson has not done a ton of work developing Frank as a character just yet, but he is admittedly taking this story in a more than interesting enough direction.  Rating: A-

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