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Friday, March 28, 2014

The Splash Page, Vol. 36

Comics reviews for the week of 3/26/14

DC Comics

Sandman: Overture #1
Written by Neil Gaiman, Art by J.H. Williams III

[Harper]: As it is with some series, long delays between issues can really detract from the impact of each issue and the overall impact of the series as a whole. Such is the case with Sandman: Overture, with almost half a year between the first and second issue. Regardless, I'll try my best to ignore this obvious shortcoming and review it based on this issue alone. At the end of #1, Dream found himself in a mysterious place with hundreds of other versions of himself. Here, he discusses at length with these other selves about what is going on, and they gradually realize they are there because a part of himself has died. Through some more mystical communication, Dream learns that the universe is dying, and it is somehow his fault. I am usually a Gaiman comics fan, and enjoy his poetic narration, as it typically lends itself very well to a story about something so abstract and mythic as Dream himself. However, he's lost me here: the amount of time spent on elaborate wordplay that eventually amounts to a bunch of versions of Dream arguing about whether they should call themselves "I" or "Us" is literally purely semantic and offers nothing in terms of story or character. It doesn't help that the part of the story that takes place in the present with Daniel (the new Sandman) is not at all clear at this point, in terms of why it is included or what is happening. After waiting so long for this issue to come out, it's disappointing to only have the story moved forward by the smallest increment. Luckily for Gaiman, Williams is doing phenomenal work here, making a story that by itself would be incredibly boring at the very least extremely visually engaging; as always, his panel layouts are fluid and conceptually complex, but still very easy to follow. I would say this issue is worth it for the mega-Sandman fan or those interested in sequential storytelling that pushes the limits of the medium; if you're looking for a good story, look elsewhere (or perhaps wait for the trade). Rating: B-

Marvel Comics

Silver Surfer #1
Written by Dan Slott, Art by Mike Allred

[Harper]: My biases are almost polar opposite on this one, so they should even out and give you a pretty evenly keeled review: while Mike Allred is my favorite comic artist of all time, I have never read a single issue that Dan Slott has written. Being a such a big Allred fan, and after seeing how a somewhat similar artist (the wonderful Chris Samnee) handled the power cosmic in Daredevil #30 last year, I've been pretty psyched for this, and it did not disappoint. This issue is primarily setup: we first meet Dawn, one of a twin set of young girls, who, unlike her world-traveling sister, is content to stay in her childhood home in New England. Although we see hints that she might wish to see more, she doesn't understand her sister's desire to see the world. While she grows up, the Silver Surfer goes from being a Herald of destruction to one who travels the universe, righting wrongs to make up for all the ruination he's caused with Galactus. He is invited to a strange and fantastical world that has stayed hidden from him, only revealed now so he can be their newest champion in an ongoing battle against a mysterious foe. In order to ensure that he doesn't abandon them, they transport in someone who he should supposedly fight for, but when that turns out to be Dawn, they are both confused. The premise is very Doctor Who, and it plays out in a similarly grand-scale-but-somewhat-silly fashion. Slott does a fantastic job writing to his artist here, giving Allred a lot of room to play with layout and create wildly whimsical settings and creatures. There's great character work within all this story stuff, too, as we learn a lot about Dawn and the Silver Surfer without it being straight exposition. I absolutely love the setup, and can't wait to see where it goes from here! Rating: A+

All-New Ghost Rider #1
Written by Felipe Smith, Art by Tradd Moore

[Kyle]: If you narrowed down a list of which superheroes I care the least about, Ghost Rider might be right up there with The Punisher, Kitana, and various members of the X-Men. Despite being a piece of 70's stuntman nostalgia, the character has always felt like the worst excesses of 90's Marvel comics, particularly his Johnny Blaze incarnation (what a name, by the way!). The movies starring Nicolas Cage haven't helped either, being amongst the worst superhero offerings this side of Batman and Robin. So, why is it All-New Ghost Rider is so good? How about the fact that Felipe Smith (a manga writer/artist) and his editor, in close collaboration, basically tossed everything about Ghost Rider that existed previously? Instead of being the motor-cycle riding, "extreme" daredevil type, he's now a young mechanic named Robbie Reyes who raises his brother who lives with a disability that has him utilizing a power chair. When not taking care of him, Robbie has a penchant for street racing. This racing will end in events that create our new version of Ghost Rider, an iteration of the character for the "Drive/80's throwback" generation. There isn't a ton of plot here, but its simplicity makes the story a lovely read, and gives Moore (who is on the verge of becoming a super-star) a lot of room to create some incredibly emotive artwork. There's a very anime-like streak in his work, and nowhere is it more kinetic looking than here, where there's a sense of movement in every panel. The race scene in particular is just breath-taking, and you almost feel like you're watching a cartoon, with colorful motion lines of speed coming off Robbie's car. This title has become another triumph of atypical comic book art in Marvel's creative renaissance. I'm not sure what's coming next, but I'm already completely sold for the next issue, something I never thought I'd utter in my life. Rating: A

Iron Patriot #1
Written by Ales Kot, Art by Garry Brown

[Kyle]: Ales Kot has been quietly becoming one of the better writers in comics, with Zero and Secret Avengers getting tons of critical raves, even with just one issue of the latter being out. Given the sort of espionage slant that he's been attached to, you'd think the on-going tale of Jim Rhodes would be a perfect fit for Kot. Sadly, much like Ed Brubaker, Greg Pak, and others who have crashed due to the siren song that is Rhodey, Kot is unable to keep up the quality here. The story is rather uninspiring at best, and downright boring at worst. Kot writes Rhodes like a cipher, and in an issue that focuses on some fairly dull family dynamics, this is not a good thing. The central conflict feels perfunctory, and the moment the "spunky" niece is introduced, I knew I was in for a bad time. The worst bits though, come from how inauthentic the dialogue sounds. The voices sound like they come from a writer trying to convey information that he feels is necessary than anything that is actively naturalistic. The dialogue for Rhodey's father is especially off. Garry Brown does the best he can with what he has to work with, but there's just not alot here, especially since we only get about 4 pages of Rhodey in the Iron Patriot armor. Again, a series about our protagonist's private life is just fine (see Hawkeye, She-Hulk) but when there's so little to grab you within those quiet moments, it just becomes tedium. Iron Patriot is the rare mis-fire of All New Marvel Now, joining Fantastic Four and All-New Invaders Rating: D

New Avengers #16.NOW
Written by Jonathan Hickman, Art by Rags Morales

[Kyle]: New Avengers has been a mess for the past few months, having been bogged down in multi-versal goobledegook and really bad Simone Bianchi art. When I hear that the title was going to get a .Now "jumping on point", I was hopeful we'd finally get a return to the main cast and an accessible story-point to get readers re-engaged in the title. Unfortunately, this wasn't the case, though this issue is executed a good deal better than the previous three. The only member of the Illuminati that appears are Namor and Black Panther, continuing their antagonism from the beginning of the series. It's a nice touch, and it proves that New Avengers is a far lesser book when Namor (the character with the most distinct voice of the cast) does not appear. The rest of the issue is dedicated to another alternate earth, this time an alternate version of the Squadron Supreme, but even more Justice League like. It's probably the closest we'll ever see Hickman write the League's characters, at least for the near future. It's a fun little story actually, and were it a stand-alone in the midst of an on-going Illuminati plot in previous issues, I'd enjoy it alot more. Unfortunately, given the three issues that came before it that basically told the same story (over and over again), its hard to feel as though this book has any momentum at all, even if we finally get much better execution of a central idea here. Morales' art is gorgeous though, producing some of his best work since Identity Crisis. It's really not much of a jumping-on point though, and despite his claims, I think Hickman's .Now on his main Avengers title was actually a better read for newbies. Anything is an improvement over the last few months though. Rating: B
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