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Friday, May 23, 2014

The Splash Page, Vol. 43

Comics Reviews for the Week of May 21, 2014


The Last Broadcast #1
Written by Andre Sirangelo, Art by Gabriel Iumazark

[Cal]: Deep beneath the streets of San Francisco, a pair of ambitious urban explorers discover a room locked away for decades.  Above them, a failed stage magician models his act off an early 20th century master who died tragically on stage.  How these stories are linked is a part of the mystery of The Last Broadcast, but it's a mystery that, in this opening issue, hardly matters, only beginning to take form on the closing pages.  What really sells The Last Broadcast is Gabriel Iumazark's moody, atmospheric art.  Well, for the most part, at least - the segments with the magician, which already feel disappointingly disconnected from the more interesting urban exploration story despite having the most thorough character-work of the series' small cast, are illustrated with a manga-influenced style that feels perilously bland compared to the vibrant malevolence with which he imbues the city of San Francisco and its lost tunnels.  And yet, I'm still hooked.  While there are shades of Morning Glories to the story's quiet mysteriousness, I think the mini-series status of The Last Broadcast will help it stay focused and avoid the sprawl that occasionally plagued Image's long running mystery.  If you're looking for a gorgeous, evocative title with a bit of mystery and don't mind some structural flaws that make it hard to connect with the title on an emotional level, take a chance on The Last Broadcast. It's not all there yet, but the pieces are intriguing enough all by themselves.  Rating: B 
DC Comics

Forever Evil #7
Written by Geoff Johns, Art by David Finch

[Shane]: I'll let Harper have the obvious joke about this comic below, but, finally, after the better part of a year, Forever Evil has finally reached its conclusion.  The DC Comics event which spun out of the events of Trinity War began with quite a bit of promise, but faltered along the way.  Perhaps it was the continuous delays or the fact that 7 issues was just a bit too much for a story with not a ton of depth, but Forever Evil became a bit of a chore.  Writer Geoff Johns tries to make this finale a bit less of a bore by giving you lots of fights as well as adding more pages, giving us yet another major title from the Big Two with a $5 price tag.  Lex Luthor is the complete focus of this issue as we seem him take on the Crime Syndicate and help Batman rescue the Justice League from Firestorm.  Luthor is actually one of the only characters Johns writes very well in this issue.  Johns seems to really get what makes Luthor tick, choosing to not go the route of Superman-obsessed genius and make him the genius more concerned with the fate of man than the fate of Superman, which feels more accurate to the character.  Forever Evil is really Lex Luthor's journey as much as it is a celebration of all things villain.  Many of the twists and turns of this story are either ones you saw coming a mile away, or ones which were spoiled for you in solicitations for future issues (namely, what happens with Nightwing).  Even with the longer page count, this conclusion still feels rushed.  Lex's encounter with the Earth-3 version of himself does not have the impact one would expect.  The series hardly needed another issue to properly map out this conflict; it is one which should not have been capitalized on at the last minute.  Even Bizarro, one of the most exciting things to come out of this book is shoe-horned into a future role in Future's End.  Some questions still remain about the Crime Syndicate, but Johns definitely answers a big question: who was attacking Earth-3?  The answer is one that makes for a legitimately surprising last page reveal.  David Finch knocks it out of the park for this finale, but sometimes squeezing his art into tiny panels on a few pages feels like a disservice.  Forever Evil is finally over, but, as always, things are really just beginning.  Rating: A-

Justice League #30
Written by Geoff Johns, Art by Ivan Reis and Doug Mahnke

[Harper]: With Forever Evil becoming the butt of all comic event jokes (this is taking forever), my interest in Justice League has been at an all-time low. However, I heard that with the end of the event came some interesting (if not completely unsurprising) change ups to this book. You had to be living under a rock to not know that Luthor saved the day, but the way it's played out here is fairly interesting. The story starts with the team searching desperately for Luthor, who is getting so much positive press that its even getting under the man of steel's skin. Finding him on a new Watchtower he has constructed, he suggests that they use Wonder Woman's lasso to make sure he isn't trying to pull a fast one. This results in probably the most interesting scene, as we see that a sense of egotism paired with a fear of what might be coming (Darkseid), along with maybe the slightest hint at respect for what the heroes have done for the world time and time again, is what has genuinely motivated Lex to want to go the straight and narrow. It's believable, and whoever drew those couple pages did a nice job with the reactions, Shazam's in particular as he just sort of grins, having been invited by Lex to join the team. For a book that had become unbearably dull as a supporting title for the slowest event of all time, this issue was a pretty welcome turn in a better direction. The bits that tied to FE felt natural and Johns still has a pretty good grasp on the characters (the Flash/Wonder Woman scenes are nice, in particular). It's not a perfect issue, and it certainly isn't doing anything revolutionary, but as standard DC superhero fare it's above average.  Rating: B+

Justice League of America #14
Written by Matt Kindt, Art by Eddy Barrows, Tom Derenick, and Diogenes Neves

[Shane]: With the conclusion of Forever Evil, we also have the conclusion of Justice League of America.  If you have been reading Jeff Lemire's (awesome) Justice League United, then you already have an idea of what happened.  Blame Geoff Johns or DC's seeming lack of ability to handle a crossover, but we are only just now getting a reason as to why Stargirl and Martian Manhunter ended up in Canada last month.  The issue is framed with Stargirl talking to Steve Trevor about what has happened to the JLA now that the team is broken up while Martian Manhunter desperately looks for his new friend.  Truly, the bond between Stargirl and Martian Manhunter is easily the best thing to come out of Justice League of America.  It is something that is fresh, unexpected, and has a lot of great potential as the characters really balance one another.   Those aspects of this issue are when Matt Kindt's writing is at its strongest, making one wish this was just one last Martian Manhunter/Stargirl story before moving on to JLU.  Nevertheless some answers were probably deserved as to where the rest of the team ended up.  Poor Simon Baz will seemingly never have anything to do unless someone decides to give him his own book.  These details about the JLA's whereabouts are somewhat interesting, but makes this issue feel really by the books.  Translation: JLA ends with more of a whimper than a bang (particularly considering the bang it began with).  Our three artists for this issue don't do much aside from give us mediocre superhero art that DC specializes in.  Not a horrible issue, but nowhere near a great one either.  Rating: B

Batman/Superman #11
Written by Greg Pak, Art by Tom Derenick, Karl Kerschl, and Daniel Sampere

[Kyle]: Batman/Superman #11 was originally solicited as a completely different story, but seemingly Pak needed another installment for the on-going "Doomed" crossover, so instead this is Chapter 3 of the event. And as far as needless crossovers go, things could be worse. Given the filler that appeared in the two preceding chapters, Batman/Superman's contribution feels downright eventful. Batman and Wonder Woman, seeking a cure for Superman's Doomsday-like condition, head to the Fortress of Solitude and eventually the Phantom Zone where they meet with Non (of Zod and Faora's trio) and Mongul, who was recently imprisoned in the Zone in an earlier arc in the series. Ghost Soldier from Pak's Action run appears to somewhat aid the heros, and it's not a moment too soon as they come into contact with The Phantom King and learn the truth about Doomsday escape and how the Ghost Soldier has his abilities. There's quite a bit revealed here, and the issue dovetails with a number of bits of pieces from Pak and Charles Soule's work so far, including the recent Zod and Faora battle, and even stretching as far back as Grant Morrison's fabulous Phantom King/Krypto issue from well over a year ago. The dialogue still feels a little chunky, and Pak just doesn't have as great a grasp on Batman's voice as he does Superman's, but if the next (non-Lobdell) chapters of "Doomed" carry this same sense of pace and immediacy, I might be able to avoid actively loathing this whole enterprise. Rating: B

Image Comics

East of West #12
Written by Jonathan Hickman, Art by Nick Dragotta

[Shane]: Though the past few issues of East of West have not been bad by any stretch of the imagination, the continuous changing of focus and subject made reading the book each month a bit more difficult.  This is truly one of the cases where a trade paperback of this series will be beneficial.  Nevertheless, all the seemingly unrelated stories come to a head here as we see the leaders of the great nations which used to be the United States come together for, what else, a war council.  Reading through this issue, it was easy to have flashbacks to Fellowship of the Ring, although given the very dark and brutal tone writer Jonathan Hickman has taken with this title, those feelings of familiarity are soon hacked to pieces....in the best way possible.  Xiaolin comes before this council of nations to propose going to war, but, surprisingly, almost everyone at the table is against the matter.  Hickman's disparate threads really come together to form a nice web in this issue, giving each person sitting at the council a lot more depth than if this story had taken place earlier.  As one can expect, things turn bloody rather quickly, but none of the four Horsemen are present in this issue.  East of West presents itself as a chessboard with more than just two sides waging battle, and what could easily become a disorganized mess is orchestrated perfectly by Hickman as long as readers keep their faith.  Nick Dragotta's art continues to amaze, rivaling even that of Fiona Staples' work on Saga at times.  As East of West reaches the conclusion of its first "year" of stories, Jonathan Hickman delivers the series' best issue yet, giving readers a lot to look forward to.  Rating: A+

MPH #1
Written by Mark Millar, Art by Duncan Fegredo with Peter Doherty

[Cal]: Mark Millar is a creator I often have trouble enjoying.  When he is reveling in shock tactic storytelling and pandering to pubescent male id, I find his work insufferable, but I can't dismiss him completely, because there's a side to him that's genuinely capable of creating compelling characters and treating them like human beings - and while MPH isn't quite as openly emotional as his other recent Image book, Starlight, it stills seems more like Good Millar than Bad Millar.  Roscoe, the book's lead, is a pretty fantastic new character, a Detroit-born drug dealer looking for his ticket out of the dead-end life into which he was born.  He's smart, articulate, driven, and he has no interest whatsoever in selling drugs, but there's not much else work for a young, uneducated kid in Detroit.  But when a job goes wrong and he ends up in jail he... continues working hard on a life plan that will get him where he wants to go?  What MPH does so well is get us on Roscoe's side before shit really starts to go wrong with him, and that's key to making this issue work.  Artist and co-creator Duncan Fegredo does a good job at giving Roscoe a genuine physical personality, though he doesn't have many opportunities to really show off, either with action set pieces (there are none) or images of Detroit, despite the city seeming like a major part of the story.  Still, there are a lot of interesting ideas here, and Roscoe is a character that I would happily follow for the next few months even without the superpowered hook.  As long as Millar and Fegredo hold on to their strong characterization, I suspect this will grow into a very enjoyable book.. Rating: B+

Saga #19
Written by Brian K. Vaughan, Art by Fiona Staples

[Harper]: As the popular Saga started it's fourth arc after a four month hiatus, it seemed like a good time to check in and let the fine folks that read our reviews know whether it's worth picking up. I've been a pretty big fan of the book from the very beginning, and while my interest had waned ever so slightly during the last arc, I was excited to see it back on my pull list. Fortunately, I was not disappointed! After the sudden jump forward in time at the end of #18, we get a glimpse at how Marco, Alana, Hazel, and co. are surviving in anonymity–but not until after we get the glorious gross-out first page that ties nicely to the first page of the series. We finally start to learn a sliver about the origin of the Robots, and get some great narration from Hazel, my favorite bit being when she is filling us in on the gap: "We'd been safely ensconced here for several months, and…you know what, forget it. You'll catch up." I love that even in the relative safety of this new status quo, there's still the looming racism that reminds us that the war is still active, and the strange tech that allows TV viewers to essentially watch a live play instead of pre-recorded shows is a fun touch. Perhaps best of all is Vaughan's endless ability to make readers' collective stomachs drop with the last page turn. Although this one isn't quite so life and death, it's one that's a bit of a shock and clues us in to the direction of the series. I'm thrilled that Saga is back, thrilled that it's got a good chunk of story behind it that gives it a weight and a sense of history that it hasn't had up to this point, and I'm thrilled that Vaughan is still the master of the single issue and that the team has not resorted to fill ins, since Staples' art is as uniquely gorgeous as ever. I still can't recommend this book highly enough!  Rating: A+

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