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Friday, April 11, 2014

The Splash Page, Vol. 38

Comics Reviews for the Week of 4/9/14

DC Comics

Batman Eternal #1
Written by Scott Snyder, James Tynion, Art by Jason Fabok

[Harper]: This being the first of DC's new weekly books, there is a lot of pressure to make it good enough to get readers to shell out $12 a month on it. The story begins with an apocalyptic framing scene, then a classic Batman setup: a new, honest cop comes to Gotham with high hopes and a high recommendation from Jim Gordon. Gordon and Batman take down Professor Pyg, but towards the end of the chase, there is some sort of freak accident that causes to subway trains to collide, killing hundreds. Gordon is blamed, as he shot at a unarmed henchman (who appeared to have a weapon) and accidentally hit an electrical box that supposedly caused the accident, though Batman says that it doesn't make sense. And that's the problem: it doesn't make a lot of sense. While having a new rookie cop arrest Gordon makes for a dramatic close to the first issue, the situation that leads to it is paper thin: why were two subway cars heading in the same direction in the first place? It seems obvious that some chemical of Pyg caused the hallucination in Gordon, but the implication that it's all part of a bigger plan is pretty unbelievable. Added to this we've got a couple spots of really terrible dialogue, with Batman joking around like it's Dick Grayson under the cowl. Although Fabok's art is still quite good and goes with the more ground level story, it doesn't save what should've been a knockout from being a poor start to DC's weekly books. Rating: C+

Dynamite Comics
Magnus: Robot Fighter #2
Written by Fred Van Lente, Art by Cory Smith

[Cal]: Magnus: Robot Fighter #1 was interesting, but it never really came together for me in a meaningful way.  While I still have some issues with the series - Van Lente already uses the history and imagery of American slavery waaaaay too heavily given how lily-white his cast is right now, and there's a new jive-talkin' sidekick robot I'm... not sold on just yet, to say the least - on a narrative level, it is coming together a little better.  Second issues are difficult to do, but Van Lente builds on his momentum, pushes the story forward, and does a much better job explaining both Magnus' backstory and the new world in which he is trapped.  Artist Cory Smith also steps his game up considerably.  Any worries I had about his ability to craft smooth, exciting fight sequences are gone after this issue.  Given space to let his art flow, he provides some wonderfully thrilling martial arts goodness, and I'm looking forward to more.  Magnus: Robot Fighter #2 is exciting and lively, with competent world-building and an excellent sense of both design and action.  While I have my issues with some of Van Lente's storytelling decisions, this was otherwise a step up in almost every way.  Rating: B+

Image Comics
Shutter #1
Written by Joe Keatinge, Art by Leila Del Duca

[Cal]: Shutter #1 is 75% of an amazing issue of comics and 25% of a pretty bad one.  There's a lot of really great stuff here, particularly from new artist Leila Del Duca.  Her gift here isn't just for design - though she excels there - but for giving the art a strong point of view and pacing, two gifts that are exceedingly rare in comics and absolutely essential in books with a strong lead character like this.  From the knockout opening 8 pages, flawlessly paced and wonderfully cinematic, into the meat of the book that chronicles protagonist Kate Kristopher's lasting listlessness, Del Duca and writer Joe Keatinge expertly craft a world and an immediately recognizable, relatable heroine to lead us into it.  A shame, then, that it ends on such a bum note, clumsily introducing a story that doesn't even remotely fit with what came before.  More of a shame?  It is that scene, clumsy melodrama and goofy action, that looks to dictate the book's opening arc, rather than its masterful opening.  Rating: B+

Marvel Comics
Iron Fist: The Living Weapon #1
Written & Illustrated by Kaare Andrews

[Cal]:  I'm kind of a hard sell on a new Iron Fist book, because Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, and David Aja so thoroughly redefined the character in The Immortal Iron Fist.  But if there's anything that Marvel Now! has excelled at, especially after the twin successes of Fraction's Hawkeye and Mark Waid's Daredevil, it is reinventing their characters to conform to the strengths of their creators - and while I don't quite love Kaare Andrews' take on Iron Fist: The Living Weapon just yet, its grim style and brutal action certainly make it stand out - and in a good way.  Because if there's one thing this book has in spades, it's sheer fucking style.  Andrews finds retells the origin of Danny Rand, something I'm typically not very fond of in modern comics, but his visual storytelling during the sequence is so flat-out gorgeous that I really can't hold it against him.  Indeed, there's very little I hold against Iron Fist: The Living Weapon at all.  Some of Andrews' action is too exaggerated to fully follow, but when he's clear, it feels like a crisp blend of Aja and Frzer Irving, where color and movement dominate form.  It also leans just a little too hard on 'grim bad-ass' characterization that doesn't particularly feel like any version of Danny I've read before - not necessarily a bad thing, but it's definitely off-putting to see Iron Fist more brutal and mono-syllabic than the Punisher.  Still, Kaare Andrews is definitely putting it all out there, and I'm excited to see more.  Rating: B+

 All-New Doop #1
Written by Peter Milligan, Art by David Lafuente

[Harper]: Doop's an odd character, kind of Marvel's equivalent of DC's Ambush Bug, especially when used like this: this is a story about Doop traveling in Doopspace, which gives him the meta ability to travel between the "margins" of the main story. This issue takes place over the course of much of Battle of the Atom, where Doop drops in here and there to have a small (but important) parts in memorable scenes from the last big X-Men event. We realize that this is all happening because Doop is in love with Kitty Pryde, and has a pretty important transformation at the end to try and convince her to marry him. The problem for me is that as much as I love Doop, I think he's better suited to one-off stories than a solo ongoing series. The initial setup is interesting, but would be far more entertaining if it took place over an event that isn't as muddled as BotA and if Doop's actions had clearer impacts on the story. This was handled excellently in the Doop issue of Wolverine & the X-Men, but seems fairly inconsequential here. The idea of a love story has comedic potential, but the change that happens to Doop at the end not only undermines that potential, but goes against one of the principle elements that makes Doop a funny, bizarre character. Lafuente's art, however, is very fun, and the facial cartooning he does here is pretty priceless, making us even feel some sympathy for the floating booger. Unfortunately, this could have been a really enjoyable one-shot or even the start to a short miniseries, but I don't see this as having real promise as a new series. Rating: B

Daredevil #1.50
Written by Mark Waid, Brian Michael Bendis, and Karl Kesel, Art by Javier Rodriguez, Alex Maleev, and Karl Kesel

[Kyle]: Ridiculous "point something" numbering scheme aside, I was incredibly excited to read this 50th anniversary celebration of Daredevil. Much like the 75th Anniversary issue of Detective Comics that came out earlier this year, this installment highlights a few of the recent creators that have had an impact on "Ol Hornhead" in recent years. The issue is broken up into three tales: Current Daredevil scribe (and the writer of which the title has received its more recent critical acclaim) Mark Waid, tackles the idea of what happens to Matt Murdock when he hits 50, not unlike the far future Batman yarn told by Scott Snyder in that aforementioned Detective Comics issue. Though counter to the Snyder story, Matt Murdock's future is a far happier place to be, with a son and a very much alive and well Foggy Nelson. Matt is even married and a former Mayor of San Francisco. Waid's script just crackles with the same energy that he brings to the monthly title, and the little hints that he sprinkles throughout of what may be coming in the run are hard to resist (including the daughter of a villain who has a pretty sick fixation on our hero). It's a poignant possible end-point for Waid's take on the character and a must-read for anyone that's a fan of his current tenure with the title, which comes with some gorgeous Javier Rodriguez art, being right in step with Paolo Rivera and Chris Samnee's work. The second story is the reunion of Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev, the Daredevil critical darlings that preceded Waid. Rather than a sequential art tale, we get a prose story from Bendis with vertical art by Maleev that lay alongside the long form writing. At first, I can see how this would be a disappointment for those seeking out a confessional crime tale from the team that eventually got Matt thrown in jail, but it's actually a stirring work with the central focus once again being a (somewhat continuity untethered) look at Matt's love-life, but this time, not from his perspective. The bottom line is, it's a tough job being Daredevil's significant other and the final image is terrifying, with the same boogeyman that's haunted Matt for years on end making his appearance. Bendis is in his best playground here, utilizing the voice of the "common man/woman" and it was a thrill to see him work on the character again, especially given my misgivings over End of Days. The third and final story is Karl Kesel's return to the character for the first time in over 15 years, maybe the most underappreciated run in the character's history, that paved the way for Waid's more swashbuckling take today. Kesel writes and illustrates this one himself, and it harkens back to the brighter Stan Lee- Gene Colan era, before Frank Miller redefined the character forever more. This is a Daredevil who smiles and is optimistic about life and where its taking him. It's an impressive show of range and I'm so very glad that Kesel was included in the celebration, though the story is a bit slight. In all though, Daredevil 1.50 a fitting tribute, though maybe some Frank Miller art would have been welcome. But, for 4.99, it's a great value, particularly for the hardcore DD fan. Rating: A-

All New Ultimates #1
Written by Michael Fiffe, Art by Amilcar Pinna

[Kyle]: My relationship with the Marvel Ultimate Universe is more or less non-existent these days. I read Bendis' Ultimate Spider-Man for a while, tried it again when Miles Morales came onto the scene. While I enjoyed both eras of that book, I never really got engaged enough, much of that boiling down to the decompressed style that Bendis has begun to embrace, particularly in the latter part of his career. The Ultimates is the book I have even less fonder memories of, Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch's take on The Avengers in the Ultimate Universe was exciting at the time, but has dated horribly and Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic's rather exciting run was cut all too short and taken over by underwhelming writer after underwhelming writer. After at least 2 relaunches in the title's history, here comes another one, but this time Marvel has recruited indie superstar Michael Fiffe (of COPRA fame, though don't try to find those comics, you're in for empty-handed disappointment). Fiffe's take on the team is based around the Ultimate line's remaining young heroes (Spider-Man, Cloak and Dagger, Bombshell, and Spider-Woman) after Galactus came and basically destroyed everything (I assume). The story reads quite well and I'm intrigued by the new status quo, with roving gangs, all inspired by Steve Englehart's classic Captain America tenure, running New York City's crime rackets. The new Ultimates is a ramshackle team that has no SHIELD support (it's gone) and no real powerhouse heroes (they're mostly all dead or exiled), but continues the good fight. There are character interactions here that remind me of Young Avengers, but feel far more natural and it's a pleasure to see a writer be able to nail Miles' voice particularly and not sound like a middle-aged man's version of what he thinks teens sound like. I also really like this version of Jessica Drew, who gets way more spotlighting here than in the main-line Avengers title. Pinna's art is also a welcome surprise, with a candy coated coloring scheme that plays against the tendency of the Ultimate line to go "grim-dark" in its tone. It's a nice debut for Fiffe with Marvel, though not completely accessible, as I felt like I was playing catch-up the entire time. Hopefully, in future issues, I'll be able to find the rhythm easier. Rating: B+

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