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Friday, May 30, 2014

The Splash Page, Vol. 44

Comic Reviews for the Week of May 28, 2014

DC Comics

The New 52: Future's End #4
Written by Brian Azzarello, Jeff Lemire, Dan Jurgens, and Kieth Giffen, Art by Aaron Lopresti

[Shane]: With DC's two new weekly books, comics buying and reading has become a lot more expensive.  After Batman Eternal failed to deliver an amazing debut issue, pressure fell on Futures End to consistently deliver top notch storytelling to make the weekly purchase worthwhile.  This...hasn't really happened here either.  Fortunately, Futures End does keep interest enough at the moment that the intrigue alone makes it worth the purchase.  How long the comic will be able to hold on to that intrigue remains to be seen.  This week's issue splits time between Frankenstein, Tim Drake, and Grifter...the latter of those being the only one so far to have some sort of story development each week.  Frankenstein's story is perhaps the most interesting to follow as it sees him reunited with S.H.A.D.E. to search for the newly missing Stormwatch.  Tim Drake continues to hide his identity while being upset at the sight of a new Batman.  Grifter does something boring that we are supposed to care about.  While the Frankenstein stuff is easily the best of the issue, this is also an issue which points out Futures End's most glaring flaws.  The first of these is that the book is almost entirely exposition.  It is understandable that, five years in the future, we would need some explanation of what happened, but every single character in this comic seems to only have the purpose of explaining SOMETHING.  Another less serious (right now) flaw is that the comic spends far too much time focusing on characters that, frankly, readers who are new to DC through the New 52 will have a hard time caring about.  It's time to see some heavy hitters, although, admittedly, those may be being held back until after everyone jumps forward in September.  Futures End isn't a terrible comic.  Some hints are given about a future conflict with Earth 2 and the growing intrigue around Mr. Terrific is exciting, but the constant use of C, D, and F level DC characters has got to stop.  Rating: B-

Dynamite Entertainment
Doctor Spektor: Master of the Occult #1
Written by Mark Waid, Art by Neil Edwards with Jordan Boyd

[Cal]: Proving Roger Ebert's old adage (to paraphrase: It's not what a movie is about, it's how it is about it) once again, Mark Waid takes a mess of cliches with Doctor Spektor and spins it into - well, if not gold, then some other fine metal, at least.  Doctor Spektor is a reality star (ugh) and a self-styled 'master of the occult' whose prowess is half-purchased artifacts and half TV-fakery (double-ugh), fighting vampire lords on live TV and exposing fraudulent psychics with snarky putdowns.  And yet, Waid goes to great pains to find a beating human heart beneath the character, borrowing liberally from other excellent comics to give Spektor a soul that belies the snark.  The action is brief and poorly staged by Neil Edwards, but that may just be because of how rushed the issue is, which covers a considerable amount of ground; I was similarly unimpressed with Cory Smith's work on Magnus: Robot Fighter #1, but I thought he did great work when given room to stretch his muscles in the latest issue.  But while Doctor Spektor: Master of the Occult #1 lacks some of the thematic ambition of Van Lente's Magnus, it does a much better job at getting us to care about our lead and his journey.  There are elements I'm not quite sold on yet, but I'm in thus far on the strength of Waid's character work, if nothing else.  Another solid entry from Dynamite in its increasingly interesting Gold Key line of comics.  Rating: B

Image Comics
Chew Revival #1
Written by John Layman & Tim Seeley, Art by Rob Guillory and Mike Norton w/ Mark Englert

[Cal]: This... is a tough one to review.  Chew Revival #1 is a crossover between Layman and Guillory's darkly violent comedy Chew and Seeley and Norton's rural noir Revival, two books with vastly different tones in vastly different worlds.  What's more, there are two stories in Chew Revival, one written and illustrated by the Revival team, the other by the Chew team.  Neither story appears to be in continuity, even with one another.  It's a profoundly odd idea for a crossover, but, in execution, one that works exceedingly well.  Each story plays to the strengths of the creative teams, so Layman and Guillory turn in a bizarre, offbeat dark comedy about limb theft to and from Revivers, while Seeley and Norton focus more on a horror story about a number of missing corpses.  Both stories are solid, and fans of either book should obviously be picking this one up, if only to see how the two series' interact.  It's probably not the best entry point if you haven't read either book, however; while you're filled in on all the relevant character beats and world-building you need to be quickly and efficiently (Layman and Seeley clearly know their worlds well), I suspect the stories will work better if you have a degree of fondness for the characters.  Still, if you're even remotely curious, it's worth a shot.  The worlds of Chew and Revival work together only fitfully, but that barely matters: Chew Revival #1 is fun.  You don't need much justification beyond that. Rating: B+

Southern Bastards #2
Written by Jason Aaron, Art by Jason Latour

[Shane]: Last month, Southern Bastards stormed on to the scene, giving us perhaps the best damn debut issue of an Image comic since Saga #1.  Now Jason Aaron and Jason Latour's southern noir is back, and it is still a damn good comic.  Earl Tubb keeps trying to leave Craw County, Alabama, but some unknown force keeps urging him to stay and figure out what shady business is going on in his hometown.  So what does Earl do on a Friday night in Fall in Alabama?  If you don't know the answer to that question....you haven't spent very much time in the South.  This issue continues to capitalize on everything that made the start of Southern Bastards work so well.  It is difficult to determine what people from Alabama/the South find to love about this book, but perhaps it's the same things we do.  It's pretty simple: reading this comic is like coming home.  Jason Aaron writes a story that effortlessly combines everything there is to love and everything there is to despise about the South.  Southern readers especially can relate to Earl's inability to leave Craw County.  Alabama is a state that most people spend their entire lives in, sometimes without ever leaving their hometown.  Call it supernatural, call it just the culture, but SOMETHING keeps us here.  It is that mysterious force of the South, the characters that already feel so fleshed out, as well as the mystery around Craw County itself that makes Southern Bastards stunning.  The artwork captures this struggle as effortlessly as the writing.  Latour's art is so good that this football fan found it just as exciting reading a football game as it is watching one.  If you are not reading this comic, you are doing something horribly wrong.  Rating: A+

Trees #1
Written by Warren Ellis, Art by Jason Howard

[Harper]: Warren Ellis is often known for his big science ideas, and here we get what could be his biggest non-superhero science fiction story yet. The first issue of Trees is essentially split into three parts, but first is a violent action sequence that sets the world up in a very foggy sort of way: ten years ago, giant vertical structures that have come to be called Trees landed on Earth in a strange, silent invasion. No aliens emerged, no weapons were launched, but their gigantic looming presence and complete lack of awareness of human life beneath them caused a major shift in this world. In the first part we see a rich man running for mayor in NYC with a desire to take the city back; the second focuses on a young Chinese boy with artistic intentions who enters the bizarre city of Shu that has been essentially sealed off from outside world; the third takes place on some sort of research base in the Arctic, where it seems there are some very strong flowers sprouting that are somehow related to the Trees. While it is an interesting set up, it's hard to see where it's going, and I feel that it might have benefited from being a little longer or cutting one of the three segments. Ellis may be playing the long game here, and while there was enough to get me interested, it's not a first issue that blew me out of the water. Howard's art, however, is quite good; he gives each of the three segments a very different feel without totally changing up the style, and much is owed to the color choices which he made himself. I also really like the way he presents each location with it's own map panel. All in all, it's a fairly compelling set up, if a bit too vague for me. But with this team and this publisher, I'm certainly willing to stick around for a while.  Rating: A-

Marvel Comics

Thunderbolts #26
Written by Charles Soule, Art by Paco Diaz

[Shane]: "This is the end."  These words, spoken by Deadpool, begin what is the final issue of Charles Soule's run on Thunderbolts.  Regrettably, Soule's run is ending just as quickly as it began.  While it is understandable why the seemingly overworked Soule is moving on, it does mean the future of this fantastic comic is on a bit of shaky ground, especially without an equally exciting creative team jumping on next month.  Nevertheless, Soule makes sure to end his run with a bang, bringing to end the current story of General Ross' trip to South America to find a strange temple...bringing about the death of every member of his team (again).  There are A LOT of things that happen in this issue which earn a reaction of FINALLY from the reader.  Deadpool, not one of this reviewer's favorites, stands out as the best character of the issue.  Not only does Deadpool have some of the best lines of this issue, but he also does something that has been a long time coming in Thunderbolts...and it involves Red Leader.  But this arc has been all about Ross, and the Red Hulk is actually developed quite well.  Many are going to be upset about the way this story/run ends...with everything seemingly being erased.  Yes, it is frustrating that Soule has extended this Red Leader stuff to the next creative team (possibly a mistake), but he also does something else.  General Ross has led a lot of teams in his day, but this is the first time he seemingly learns something about what it means to be a leader.  With the new way Ross now sees the Thunderbolts (call it new found appreciation), Soule leaves the title with an interesting direction for the next creative team to take this story.  Paco Diaz provides some great visuals as the art for this series only continues to improve.  Charles Soule may do a few frustrating things before leaving Thunderbolts, but it can at least be said the title is different thanks to his having written it.  Rating: A-

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