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Friday, March 21, 2014

The Splash Page, Vol. 35

Comic Reviews for the Week of March 19, 2014!

DC Comics

Superman Unchained #6
Written by Scott Snyder, Art by Jim Lee, Dustin Nguyen

[Harper]: This has been a story that had been growing stronger with each issue, but with this one I'm not so sure. Over the past five, Wraith has become a fairly interesting character who is sort of the more patriotic version of Superman, an ally (and Superman analogue) with a different viewpoint. However, here he becomes the inevitable villain as this quickly becomes an uninteresting military-complex-as-evil story. The issue primarily covers Superman (and for half a page, the Justice League) trying to stop every nuclear weapon in the world from detonating, as a terrorist organization called Ascension has launched them all at once. The threat feels real, and as in previous issues, Snyder has a surprisingly good handle on big action. However, instead of Superman using a new variation of his powers–since this was something Wraith has been teaching him over the course of this series–instead he uses a magic crystal to magic the missiles away. Pretty unsatisfying, and made only more so by the obvious and somewhat unmotivated attack by Wraith afterwards. There have been some great ideas put forth here, and some fantastic action, but this issue was a big letdown for me. Then I turn the page at the end to see there's a backup story with art by Nguyen (a better artist than Lee in most cases for me). It starts interestingly enough, with Wraith confronting Batman…but that's it. The whole thing is only two pages! I guess Jim Lee's arm just hurt. All in all, this is probably my least favorite issues since #1. Many of the great moments building a relationship between Superman and Wraith seem to get thrown away here in favor of a very typical story that I'm far less interested in. Rating: B-

Wonder Woman #29
Written by Brian Azzarello, Art by Cliff Chiang

[Shane]: If the cover of this issue does not immediately get you excited for what is to come, you obviously have not been reading the fantastic comic that is Wonder Woman.  It would seem that the announcement that Azzarello and Chiang would be ending their run on the title very soon was well-timed as this issue perfectly sets up what should be a rather explosive finale.  After last issue's shocking death of Apollo, this issue sees our various protagonists and antagonists heading towards Olympus, only to come face to face with a rather disturbing incarnation of the First Born.  As mentioned in their announcement of leaving the title, this is a Wonder Woman story that has been almost three years in the making.  Sometimes it has been a bit of a burden to read as it seemed like we would never hear the end of why this baby was so damn special, but such minor gripes were easily wiped away when such stellar character development, storytelling, and artwork were gracing the pages of this comic every month.  This issue does little else than set up the coming war with the First Born for control of Olympus, but so much of this issue is filled with pay off that has been a long time coming that it is hard to fault its rather simple story.  Seeing Wonder Woman finally embrace her title of the God of War is enough to make a reader practically foam at the mouth for the next issue.  Cliff Chiang provides his usual stellar artwork in this issue, with his interpretation of a severely burned First Born being particularly striking.  This is definitely going to be a comic to watch, so go ahead and get on board now so that you don't become the loser who wasn't reading this when it debuted.  Rating: A+

Image Comics

 Lazarus #7
Written by Greg Rucka, Art by Michael Lark

[Harper]: One of the most unique books in Image's increasingly awesome line, Lazarus continues to scratch an itch I didn't know I had. This issue continues the 'Lift' storyline that juggles a couple threads: Forever's brutal childhood as she trains to become the assassin we know; the Barret family's struggles as they make their way across the country in the hopes that one of their children gets 'lifted' to serfdom; and Forever dealing with the terrorist organization that she uncovered last issue. The flashback in this issue, while not as fluidly connected to the rest of the issue as some of the previous flashbacks, is a fascinating look at Forever's harsh training and makes me hope we get to see more of this particular trainer who is compassionate but also says she would kill Forever if she was ordered to. The story of the Barret's is heartbreaking and feels like some of the best post-apocalyptic stories of late (think The Last of Us), made more so by the last page development that shows them how not-alone they are. My favorite part, however, is when Johanna (Forever's 'sister' and one of the powerful members of the Carlyle family) takes a crack at getting information from their terrorist prisoner after Forever's threats are unsuccessful. Johanna takes a more positive approach, offering casually and with a friendly tone to lift the girl and her family up, make her a singer or a movie star. There is something fundamentally sleazy about it, but the way Rucka's dialogue and Lark's facial acting come across it's very believable that the girl might give in. The only bad thing about this book is that there isn't more of it! Rating: A

Sex Criminals #5
Written by Matt Fraction, Art by Chip Zdarsky and Becka Kinzie

[Cal]: As the first arc of Image's newest cult classic winds down, Fraction and Zdarsky have begun to build the world out beyond the bedroom of Suze and Jon.  In this issue, we see a lot more of Kegelface, top operator in the Sex Police and the woman in pursuit of out heroes.  It builds on what they were doing in Sex Criminals #4 smartly, but it also doesn't skimp on the jokes -- or on the character building that has really defined the series to date.  One of the principal joys of the series is that it can work in, in the same issue, a "Bondage. James Bondage" sex toy kit joke and a look at some of the mental issues that have plagued one of our principal heroes and inspired him to really cut loose the way he has in the book.  There are funnier comics out there than Sex Criminals - unless you count the 'letters' column, which is solid gold and one of the best reasons to be reading this as a monthly - but there aren't many that can spend an entire fairly serious issue setting up a silly vibrator joke.  Smart, funny, and fantastically readable, Sex Criminals #5 continues one of the hottest streaks in comics today.   Rating: A-

Marvel Comics

Daredevil #1
Written by Mark Waid, Art by Chris Samnee and Javier Rodriguez
[Cal]: The biggest problem with Mark Waid's now-groundbreaking run on Daredevil sometimes seems to be that it is too consistently good.  Even at its lowest points, it's still a book worth gushing over - gorgeous art, great characterization, excellent pacing, all still present in this relaunched version - and that can make it a difficult book to write about.  But it's worthwhile, particularly since Waid has proven startlingly adept at tearing Matt Murdock down and beating him to high holy hell.  The All-New Marvel NOW! relaunch sets us up in the aftermath of yet another long, hard fall, but Matt is still managing to keep an even-keel.  Together with his new partner, former A.D.A. Kirsten McDuffie, he has moved to a new city, set up a new law practice, and... begun living openly as Daredevil.  It's a bold new world for Matthew Murdock.  Thankfully, Daredevil #1 is mostly accessible to new readers - I would know, because I have been reading the Waid run in trades and thus have not caught up to the current status quo.  Waid races to get readers caught up, but the bulk of the issue is taken up by a done-in-one(-ish) story that finds Daredevil racing to save the Deputy Mayor of San Francisco's daughter after a kidnapping that takes a weird, dark twist.  With Chris Samnee providing gorgeous layouts and fluid action - a necessity in what amounts to an issue-long chase sequence - and Javier Rodriguez keeping the colors light and finding a new modification to Paolo Rivera's innovative look for Matt's radar sense from way back when Waid first took the book over, this is Daredevil firing, characteristically, on all cylinders.  If you haven't been sure when you wanted to jump on board, now seems to be the time.  Rating: A-

Iron Man #23.NOW
Written by Kieron Gillen, Art by Luke Ross

[Shane]: If you have been following comic reviews here on GeekRex for a while, you may be all too familiar with my disdain for this particular run of Iron Man.  What began as a decent enough run by a writer I usually enjoy quickly became a mess of utter mediocrity when the decision was made to send Tony Stark into space.  Since his return to Earth, however, things have been looking up...and that trend thankfully continues here.  This issue begins the story arc "The Rings of the Mandarin" which sees the Mandarin's newly active rings being seized by none other than resident Thor villain Malekith.  Ignoring for a second that: 1. Kieron Gillen is now using TWO villains recently featured in a Marvel Studios film and 2. Thor: God of Thunder JUST finished a story involving Malekith, this story actually starts on a very interesting note.  One of the things Gillen has attempted to do during his run on this title is blend genres.  This arc seeks to blend science fiction and fantasy, something that is not done too often.  Gillen surprisingly does this very well, blending the humor and technology of Tony Stark with the menace and magic of Malekith.  This may have been a story idea which was met with a lot of initial suspicion, but Gillen proves right out of the gate that this just may be worth our time.  Luke Ross also provides some great artwork, which feels like a first for this series.  Iron Man may have gotten off to a VERY rocky start, but Kieron Gillen just may be turning this comic into one which you should be paying more attention to.  Rating: A

Thor: God of Thunder #20
Written by Jason Aaron, Art by Esad Ribic

[Shane]: Before reading any further, just take a minute to look at that gorgeous cover.  That may possibly be one of the best covers Marvel has done in the past ten years; a perfect encapsulation of how epic in scale this comic has been.  Most readers should be familiar with how important Midgard (Earth) is to Thor, making this a story which should be easily approachable for new readers...and those new readers should definitely jump on this book now.  This issue continues its two wave story, with one wave seeing Thor taking on the Roxxon corporation to save Earth and the other showing King Thor fighting an equally aged Galactus for the safety of Earth.  Jason Aaron brilliantly bookends this story with his tale of King Thor to show that Thor will always protect Midgard, even if no human life remains on her surface.  Meanwhile, with the main story, some serious twists and turns are thrown our way this issue in terms of what Roxxon is up to.  The antagonist of this story, known as the Minotaur, shows his true self when he finds out Thor has been destroying his property.  While it may not be a twist which was completely unexpected, it is definitely one that leaves a lot of questions and excitement up in the air.  Where this issue truly shines, however, is in its artwork.  Esad Ribic has always brought some beautiful work to this comic, but this issue is an absolute standout example of how powerful his work can be.  The sections with King Thor and Galactus in particular are absolutely jaw-dropping masterpieces to behold.  Ribic and Aaron are putting together what is easily Marvel's best (current) comic.  "Last Days of Midgard" is a perfect jumping on point for new readers, and there is absolutely NO excuse for you to not be reading this phenomenal comic.  Rating: A+

Ms. Marvel #2
Written by G Willow Wilson, Art by Adrian Alphona

[Kyle]: Last month, Kamala Khan's initial entry was one of the more pleasant comic discoveries I had dug into in quite some time. In the first issue we're given a very relateable, minority protagonist in the beginning of a well set-up "coming of age" story. It didn't hurt that the tale was peppered with some of the best art I've seen in the big two. The second issue delves a bit deeper into the power-set that Kamala has been grafted with from the Inhuman Terrigen mists that spread throughout New York (and she may end up being the only thing worthwhile to come from that plot development, given the creative turmoil Inhuman went under). What's really fascinating though is the look inside Kamala's self image that these powers enable us to see. When she first starts utilizing her new abilities, she manifests herself as a blonde, caucasian girl in the vein of Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel, her superhero inspiration. But, by the story's end, and after saving a fellow classmate that has put her through some turmoil personally, Kamala realizes that she can be just as much a hero looking like herself and not hiding her heritage. It's a great moment in a comic full of them, and a nice piece of social commentary that doesn't necessarily batter the reader over the head. In many ways Kamala's familial and personal struggles reminds me of early days Peter Parker, but in a sense that's very relevant to today. Wilson's writing style is very breezy and fun, and Alphona's art is gorgeous to behold, looking almost Disney-like in certain moments. When critics talk about comics growing appeal to audiences that expand beyond "white men, 30-50", this has got to be the book that's right on top of the list. Honestly, this is the title that fulfills that promise far better than Captain Marvel, whose first issue last week generally underwhelmed. Rating: A

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