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Friday, May 16, 2014

The Splash Page, Vol. 42

DC Comics

The New 52: Future's End #2
Writers: Brian Azzarello, Jeff Lemire, Dan Jurgens, Keith Giffen
Art by Jesús Merino

[Harper]: If you've heard the newest episode of the GeekRex Podcast, you'll know that I actually fell closer to FuturesEndDave's opinion than Kyle's for the first issue in that I actually enjoyed it. I loved the zero issue, liked the first issue just a bit less, and as for the third…This issue focuses on Green Arrow's funeral. Firestorm is arguing with himself because he may feel guilty that he didn't save Green Arrow, and gets into a fight with Roy Harper despite the half of himself in the matrix begging him to stop and let him out. Meanwhile, Michael Holt (Mister Terrific) has suddenly turned into a complete and utter asshole, using the funeral to make sure he's 'trending'. Unlike the previous issues, this one absolutely reeks of Jurgens' outdated 90's style, particularly in the characterization of Holt. Mister Terrific has been a character I usually enjoy, but his personality and dialogue here is about as far away from the character as possible, to the point where I wondered if he had been replaced by an alternate version and I had missed something. It's interesting that they've brought in King Faraday as some kind of secret agent, but his design is absolutely ridiculous, looks like something straight out of 1992. Unlike Batman Eternal which seems to have more of one authorial voice, it looks like Future's End could be very inconsistent if each issue is more or less written by one of the four extremely different writers. I'm disappointed in this dull and cringe-worthy issue, but for now I'm not turned off enough to drop it altogether. Ask me again at the end of the month!
Rating: C

Justice League United #1
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Mike McKone

[Shane]: It would seem DC has a growing habit of making zero issues must reads.  First Future's End and now JLU.  It almost makes one feel sorry for those who come into a comic shop, see a #1, normally a starting point, and open up to a story that begins in media res due to a #0 that reader may not be aware of.  Probably a petty complaint, but at least Marvel tends to make their zero issues less required reading.  Anyway, this issue continues the story of the Justice League (Canada?) joining together as a rag tag group of heroes to stop a giant monster; meanwhile, Hawkman fights Lobo in space while his fellow prisoners escape.  Lemire said the reason this book changed its title was due to his story being less focused on Canada, and more a split between Canada and outer space.  Perhaps DC sees Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy gaining some traction and has decided it needs a group of somewhat recognizable heroes in space as well (not just the Green Lanterns).  Whatever the reasons may be, Lemire is definitely crafting an intriguing story.  But Lemire is not a writer known for his stories, he is known for his characters, and in that department he absolutely excels with JLU.  One would think, though, that someone who wrote such an exceptional run on Animal Man would make the character more than just a joke.  The bond between Stargirl and Martian Manhunter in the New 52 has been one of the more interesting relationships to see develop over the past year, and Lemire really hones in on that here.  It is a bit frustrating to read the issue, however, and see reference to the yet unfinished Forever Evil as an event which has already taken place (fortunately that will be resolved next Wednesday).  Mike McKone's artwork continues to be great, helping to make this book a standout from the more traditional, sometimes average artwork the likes of Jim Lee and Doug Mahnke give the main Justice League book.  There are some clunky dialogue issues here ("Justice Leaguer" being one example), but even that doesn't take away from yet another solid issue for this new series.  Rating: A-

Superman: Doomed #1
Action Comics # 31
Superman/Wonder Woman #8
Collectively written by: Scott Lobdell, Greg Pak, and Charles Soule
Art by: Ken Lashley, Aaron Kuder, Tony Daniel and others

[Kyle]: And thus we come to the next big Superman crossover, a sort of re-imagining of the "Death of Superman" storyline from the early 90's. I often bemoan these types of cross-overs and they end up derailing the titles within a line I may enjoy, and this particular effort is no different. I've made no secret that I've been loving Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder's work on Action Comics as one of the more promising books of the moribund New 52 line, and to an extent I've also enjoyed Superman/Wonder Woman in places. But what I've enjoyed is their being able to tell their own stories and not get drug down into an editorially mandated sales device. Basically, the gist of the story is this: Doomsday has awoken in the sea, and rather than the brute that Superman faced at some undetermined amount of time ago in New 52 continuity, he's now evolved into a walking death machine radiating toxins of a sort that burn everything around him, and killing all life that comes near. Taken one at a time, Superman: Doomed, basically written by Scott Lobdell with story assists by Pak and Soule, is pretty awful. Superman is tremendously out of character, literally at one point asking if he can kill Doomsday, and the heavy emphasis on characters and plot points that are specific to Lobdell's horrid run on Superman (Dr. Veritas, ClarkCatTropolis, whatever is going on with Lois) just serve to remind me what a life-line Geoff Johns and John Romita Jr. are going to be on that title next month and going forward. The end result of the Superman and Doomsday conflict isn't bad, though Lashley's very 90's art is so muddled it's actually hard to make out what happens, but it's so clearly lifted from All Star Superman that its hard not to wish you were just reading that story instead. Action Comics (the second chapter, even though it says Chapter 1 on the cover) is the best of the bunch, as Pak and Kuder (along with Cameron Stewart and Rafa Sandaval doing necessary fill-in work due Kuder getting married, congrats Aaron!) make the best of what they're forced to work with. Pak still nails the internal monologues for Clark and Lana, the former of which having the hook of Clark struggling with his transformation into Doomsday. It's not exactly Robert Louis Stevenson, but it gets the job done in a readable, compelling fashion. There's also a couple of welcome call-backs to the Morrison Action run as Sam Lane and John Henry Irons take up some page time that aren't just battle-scenes. The only real misstep, beyond just this crossover in general, is a scene where Krypto offers Clark a deer leg to eat. It's a bit gorier than I like to see in a Superman book, and the visual simply doesn't fit the tone of the brighter, more optimistic work that this run has produced. Superman/Wonder Woman is not too hot either, with a fractured narrative, that's probably the most interesting part of the book in how its structured. The story is framed with Diana confronting Clark in his apartment, with the transformation just about completely overcoming him, in between we see Diana deal with Lois, Batman, and Cat Grant (ugh). The only portion of the book that perked me up a bit was seeing how Diana gets Lois out of trouble with some military officers, making explicit reference to her new role as the God of War. Everything else is so very dull, especially the interaction between Wonder Woman and the other ladies in Clark's life. This is surprising given how well Soule writes female characters in She-Hulk, but both Cat and Lois feel utterly interchangeable. Sadly, this issue of Superman/Wonder Woman is just biding time more than anything else which is probably the worst thing a cross-over comic could do. 
Superman: Doomed: D
Action Comics #31: B
Superman/Wonder Woman #8: C-

The United States of Murder Inc. #1
Written by Brian Michael Bendis, Art by Michael Avon Oeming with Taki Soma

[Cal]: Even years after they lost the vast bulk of their power, we as a culture are still fascinated by the mafia.  There's something, to many people, a little bit romantic about that particular combination of family, loyalty, traditionalism, and rampant consequence-free violence that speaks to Americans.  Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming return to the creator-owned Marvel prestige imprint they helped launch with a series about the world's biggest crime families forging an empire... that forces them to live with the world's biggest crime families.  The premise is intriguing: What if the mafia became so powerful that the United States government essentially ceded the East Coast to organized crime families in an attempt to stem the violence?  This is the world that Valentine Gallo, a scion of one of those families, is born into.  As an adult, Valentine becomes a 'made man' with the organization, getting increased responsibilities, but also increased dangers.  Bendis lays his ideas out clearly and builds naturally to the issue's closing moments, which set up the core conflict of the series nicely.  Oeming mostly does excellent work, nailing the shadowy corporate atmosphere of the megacrime families, but he falters a bit when it comes to action - the impact of a late-issue plot twist was blunted when I couldn't tell what had happened until the next page.  Still, it's a relatively small flaw in an otherwise gorgeously designed book.  The United States of Murder Inc. #1 a premise-heavy issue with a ton of world-building to do before it could even get to the series' core ideas, but at $3.99 for 41 very good pages of comics, it can certainly afford to be.  Rating: A-

Image Comics

The Walking Dead #127
Written by Robert Kirkman, Art by Charlie Adlard

[Harper]: So here we've got what the cover calls, "A New Beginning": in addition to the slightly updated design of the cover style, the story has taken a big turn since the end of All Out War last month. The double sized issue starts with a new group who are suddenly overrun by a giant herd of walkers, only to see that the herd is being steered by a samurai-looking Jesus and others from the main group. We soon learn that we've jumped ahead two years, and the handful of communities that Rick and the others have created are really flourishing, and civilization is slowly returning as they actively have begun shepherding the herds away and tracking their trajectory. After the 12 issue double-shipping All Out War arc, this is an extremely welcome change, and is a direction the book has hinted at for years. Kirkman's characterizations of how these people have changed since the last time we saw them are really spot on, and Adlard's art has actually improved a bit despite the increased page count. The impetus for this book has always been to explore what happens after a zombie movie ends, when the story doesn't have an end. This is where the book has always been heading, ever slowly, and it looks to be a pretty fascinating prospect, at least for now. I've always enjoyed the attempts to rebuild civilization more than the battles with psychopaths, so I'm onboard!
Rating: A


The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #1
Written by Mike Benson, Art by Tan Eng Huat with Craig Yeung and Jesus Aburtov

[Cal]:  The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #1 is 100% pure pulp nonsense.  That's not necessarily a bad thing.  The Fraction/Brubaker/Aja Immortal Iron Fist was as well, and that's one of my favorite runs of the 2000s.  But The Immortal Iron Fist was also endlessly inventive, fusing pulp styles from different genres and eras and working with one of the best artists in the industry.  The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu is a bizarre mash-up of cliches that were hoary by the late 70s.  Tan Eng Huat, who did a lot of great work on the better, more bizarre X-Men Legacy, is left flailing here by a script that just has Shang-Chi fighting random street-people, all of whom are 1) Asian, and 2) mysteriously ninja.  All of them.  Huat has many talents, but martial arts comics - like martial arts films - depends on crisp visual storytelling, and Huat excels at controlled chaos.  Mike Benson's script is the real issue here, though.  The plot is basically any 90s Seagal/Van Damme film - Sexy Lady Secret Agent Ma'am (Asian Ninja Edition) is murdered by a bunch of other, cooler ninja, so Avengers ninja Shang Chi goes on a vengeance quest through Chinatown to find out who murdered her and why.  Weirdly, the entire time he's going on this quest, he's talking about how he totally isn't intending to go on this quest, and I'm not entirely sure if the writer is trying to run through a rote, dull 'Hero refusing the Call' story, he actually thinks Shang Chi murdering a bunch of random ninja in Chinatown (literally, he just walks around and immediately gets assaulted by random guys), or he's trying to convey how conflicted Shang Chi is here.  Any of those readings are equally valid.  None of them make the issue particularly interesting.  The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #1 just doesn't work on almost any level.  Rating: D-
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