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Friday, April 4, 2014

The Splash Page, Vol. 37

Comic Reviews for the Week of April 2, 2014!

DC Comics

Action Comics #30
Written by Greg Pak, Art by Aaron Kuder, Jed Dougherty, Karl Kerschl

[Harper]: It's no secret that we here at GeekRex have pretty unanimously been enjoying Pak/Kuder's Action Comics, but this month is interesting in that it is the prelude to "Doomed" an event that I think I can safely say resulted in a unanimous groan on our part. Luckily (or unluckily, for those buying just for the start of the event) it only covers the first and last few pages, and essentially establishes nothing besides the fact that Doomsday has escaped from the Phantom Zone. The issue primarily continues to the story we've been following, as things come to a head with Superman confronting the ghost soldiers and the mysterious woman that is leading them. They provide an interesting counterpoint to Superman: all the terrible things he thinks they have done, when seen from their perspective, seem as if they are saving Earth from an alien force that causes war and destruction wherever he goes. This nicely ties in with the events in Superman/Wonder Woman, where they recently purposely set off a nuclear bomb. The battle here doesn't last long, but forces Superman into a no-win situation—and no, not one where he has to snap a neck. The fantastic Kuder art is interrupted by a handful of fairly generic pages by other artists, but fortunately the effect is not completely jolting. This is not the best issue of the run so far (needs more Lana Lang!), but still makes some interesting points and great new character designs. There's no way to tell at this point where this Doomsday thing will go, but I can only hope it stays in the far fringes of this book.  Rating: B+

Aquaman and the Others #1
Written by Dan Jurgens, Art by Lan Medina
[Cal]: So, that was a book, kind of.  Aquaman and the Others is, on a technical level, a complete comic book.  But unless you believe that technically correct is the best kind of correct, that probably won't be enough for you.  It does the Standard Issue Team Book thing these days of giving us a series of vignettes showing each character attacked by the same villain, showing off their abilities, and winning handily.  There's minimal actual storytelling, minimal characterization, just... brief action sequence after brief action sequence building to an advertisement for an upcoming event comic without ever giving us a point of view or even a genuine, human character beat.  Even the villains, who get the most page-time overall, are just unnamed masked goons who want evil things for reasons.  Literally all we know about them is that they're hilariously incompetent, so... great job at setting up the first arc's baddies, I guess.  Really, the book's sole redeeming factor is Lan Medina, who functions competently within DC's bland house style, strong physical characterization making up for the rushed, lackluster action sequences.  That, sadly, is as complimentary as I can get about Aquaman and the Others #1. Rating: D
Detective Comics #30
Written by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato, Art by Francis Manapul

[Shane]: A new start.  These are the words which begin the run of the latest creative team to take over Detective Comics, and, in a way, those words ring somewhat true.  One of the concerns going into this run is whether the team could easily transition to a more dark and foreboding tone from what was normally a more light-hearted run with Barry Allen.  Manapul and Buccellato make this transition very slowly as this issue goes on, taking the time to dip their toes in the Dark Knight's pool, getting themselves acquainted with what makes Batman a character.  This means a seeming reference to Scott Snyder's Batman #1 as well as the now apparently obligatory nod to Damian's death (guess what? Bruce still isn't over it!).  But, as they say on the second page, this is a new start.  Manapul and Buccellato provide a great jumping on point for new readers, despite the rather high number on the cover, so that is at least a plus.  The main story follows a new business partner, Elena Aguila, and her daughter Annie as they begin a new life in Gotham City and a new partnership with Bruce Wayne.  As Alfred points out, Elena's mission with Bruce is very in line with the same sort of morals his own mother held.  In the background of this opening chapter is a new(?) drug called Icarus and a new villain called the Squid, who seem to have some sort of connection to Elena's plans for Gotham's East Side.  While the story in this issue isn't anything spectacular, what should come as no surprise to Flash readers is that Manapul's art is fantastic.  A splash page of Batman early on is one of the most gorgeous renderings of the character ever.  Manapul seems to find it hard to let go of Barry's high speed sequences with some stunning artwork of a motorcycle chase and Annie's own motocross stunts.  If the story can catch up to the art, this creative team just may be able to pull off the Bat.  Rating: A-

Earth 2 #22
Written by Tom Taylor, Art by Nicola Scott

[Shane]: Since taking over Earth 2 for James Robinson, Tom Taylor has done a more than adequate job of filling his shoes.  Sure, it took a bit of adjusting to Taylor's (and probably DC Editorial's) focus on Earth-2's new Batman as well as a few characters Taylor added, but the man definitely gets points for picking up from a very convoluted mess of storylines and characters and reshaping them into an narrative which moves quickly.  In fact, pacing seems to be the largest problem with this issue.  From the cover and the first three pages, one would assume we were about to behold the long awaited return of Alan Scott/Green Lantern.  Unfortunately, Alan's role in the issue is nothing more than a glorified cameo, with the remainder of the comic focusing on Superman's hunt for Batman and the new Kryptonian, Val-Zod.  Taylor is definitely playing with a lot of stakes here, but, as this Superman/Darkseid story goes on, the entire thing begins to feel a little deflated.  Superman is powerful, sure, and evil Superman is a huge threat...but it just feels like something has been lost as this story continues to drag on.  As Superman begins to ambush Red Tornado, Val, and Hawkgirl, one gets the hope that perhaps the tension and heightened stakes will return, but that hope is quite fleeting as the issue suddenly ends in favor of a 5 page preview of Detective Comics #30.  Tom Taylor definitely knows how to write an entertaining comic that moves quickly, but things move perhaps a bit too quickly here.  I know this seems like an odd complaint after just complaining this story is going on for too long, but this perhaps goes to show more how poorly paced this story has become.  Nicola Scott continues to provide some great visuals, but this comic is inching closer and closer to being dropped from my pull list.  It's a shame when one considers that, a year ago, this was one of DC's most underrated reads.  Rating: C

Dynamite Comics

Red Sonja #8

Written by Gail Simone, Art by Walter Geovani
[Cal]: This is what a book that is figuring itself out looks like.  I was rather chilly on the book's first arc, which was too blunt and not exciting enough, but after a brief hiatus, Simone returned to the character with renewed confidence.  The book's second arc follows Sonja as she hunts down the worlds premiere artists and entertainers for an emperor on his death bed whose offer was too good to be true.  Simone still isn't writing to artist Walter Geovani's strengths - and Geovani's strengths still aren't ideally suited to a book like Red Sonja, so I don't hold that against Simone - but she has at least found her own voice again.  More importantly, this arc is humanizing Sonja in a way that the last one never did.  Simone's Sonja is a fundamentally good person, but a simple one to a fault - unable to appreciate good food, prickly when she wants to be seductive, and straightforward when subtlety is called for.  In other words, after a first arc that tried for epic and often fell flat, Red Sonja has shifted to smaller stories that give its lead room to breathe, and in doing so found a lead worth following.  I hope Simone can keep it up, because for the first time, I'm genuinely enjoying Red Sonja.  And few comics have such consistently excellent covers, as this one from Jenny Frison demonstrates.  After a lackluster first arc, Red Sonja is back on track. Anyone looking for some pulpy, sword-and-sorcery goodness is advised to dive in with this current arc.  Rating: B+

Marvel Comics

Inhuman #1
Written by Charles Soule, Art by Joe Madureira with Marte Gracia

[Cal]: Marvel badly wants this to become the new X-Men, largely - I suspect - because they no longer have the film rights to the X-Men.  The basic set-up here isn't quite as elegant in its simplicity as 'mutation', though, having to introduce a middleman to differentiate.  Essentially, a cloud of Terrigen Mist is floating across the planet, and anyone it touches who have the seeds of mutation Inhumanity present in them is transformed upon contact.  Charles Soule moves swiftly through the intro to these ideas, giving us a large, relatively well fleshed-out cast and throwing them in the midst of a long-running conflict between two cities almost immediately.  Strong, distinctive characterization has always been Soule's greatest strength, and to the degree that Inhuman #1 works at all, it is because of that skill.  He falters a bit at also trying to work in an epic struggle between two Inhuman cities and the search for the missing Inhuman royal family and introducing us to at least three seemingly major new characters.  But while the book is packed with incident, it could have used a stronger emotional connection, a stronger point of view for us into this world.  The art from Joe Medureira is solid - lively and energetic as it always is, though I might wish for some restraint during the mostly-incomprehensible action sequence - and Marte Gracia's colors are just as exuberant, and, at times, just as overdone.  Still, the excess matches how much Soule is trying to jam in here, and I'm actually fairly interested to see what threads get developed and what gets dropped.  This isn't a perfect debut, but there is some potential, at least.  Rating: B-

Magneto #2
Written by Cullen Bunn, Art by Gabriel Hernandez Walta

[Shane]: The first issue of Cullen Bunn's Magneto was a huge surprise.  Who would have known that mixing Magneto with a few elements of the Punisher and Hawkeye would lead to such a fascinating comic?  Things pick up where they left off in this issue as we see Magneto tracing the human turned Sentinel he met to a tent city of homeless who are desperate for a way out of their current situation.  The entire scenario leads us into an albeit expected flashback to Nazi occupied Poland.  There is nothing wrong with Bunn wanting to expand upon Magneto's past; the man definitely makes it clear in this issue that his past has shaped him for a reason.  What makes the flashback in this issue a little silly is that it feels so...expected.  A young Magneto is shown extraordinary kindness from a peer who is murdered by Nazis because they are Nazis and you expect Nazis to do that sort of thing.  Hopefully future flashbacks will be less cliche.  In the present, however, this comic takes an interesting turn as Magneto searches for who is behind the creation of these new Omega Sentinels, leading to an attack scene that is absolutely brutal.  None of this violence would be nearly as effective, however, without the gorgeous artwork from Walta, who continues to be both subtle and maniacal.  What makes this issue a little less effective than the previous, though, is its ending.  When placed in a very similar situation to his 1940's flashback, one would expect Magneto might behave differently after having spent most of the issue telling us about how that event shaped his view on life.  When the super villain turned anti-hero does not act differently, it really begs the question of whether this is going to be a story worth telling.  Too early to say, but Bunn and Walta are definitely keeping their readers interested.  Rating: A-

She-Hulk #3
Written by Charles Soule, Art by Javier Pulido

[Shane]: Going into this third issue, after two spectacular issues before it, one almost could expect She-Hulk to do no wrong.  Unfortunately, the comic takes a slight misstep at the very beginning of this issue.  While this is more of a question of individual reader's taste, it was a bit annoying to see this issue start off with the far too over-used comic book trope of having an issue start in media res, only to flashback for 70% of the issue.  It can sometimes be an effective storytelling technique, but the humor present in the opening page of this issue would have been a much better punchline in its correct chronological place.  Anyway, moving on.  This issue deals with Jennifer taking on her first high profile client: Kristoff Vernard, the son of Doctor Doom.  Charles Soule is definitely not pulling any punches and starts off Jennifer's law practice with what will surely be an exciting adventure...and court case.  The mix of superheroics and lawyering still works exceedingly well in this comic.  With All New Marvel Now, the secret to finding which comics are great is to look for the ones which are offering us something we have never seen before.  She-Hulk definitely is in line with that idea as, in this issue alone, we see her bartering for her client's asylum in the U.S. from Latveria, beating up Doombots, and flying an old Fantasticar.  Soule is brilliantly writing this comic with great characters, humor, and dialogue, even taking the time to drop a few hints as to some potential stories later on (watch Angie...something isn't right with that lady or that monkey).  As great as Soule's writing is, however, this comic would not be nearly as effective without Javier Pulido's magnificent art.  Pulido and Mike Allred are truly some of Marvel's most unique artists, both instantly making a comic go from good to great with their work.  While this issue does take a slight misstep in its plot structure, She-Hulk is still an incredibly strong read.  Rating: A
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