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Friday, June 20, 2014

The Splash Page, Vol 47

Reviews for Comics Released the Week of 6/18/14

DC Comics

Batwoman #32
Written by Marc Andreyko, Art by Jeremy Haun

[Harper]: If you've caught my reviews of Batwoman before, you know that I've been fairly lukewarm on the new(ish) creative team, but I've got to admit that they're growing on me. This issue has two threads that come together near the end. The first involves Sophie, her lover from the military who chose her career over Kate and left her discharged from duty, coming back into her life. It's unclear so far what Sophie's motives are, but seeing what Kate's life could have been (Sophie is now a colonel) provides an interesting dynamic. On the other side is a couple new characters: a vampiric gold digger, her stepson/lover/masked partner, her most recent victim's daughter, and the assassin hired by said daughter to take her out ("Killshot"). While at first I thought adding vampires to the book seemed absurd, the idea actually works quite well; throughout Andreyko/Haun's story, they've turned it into something unique, kind of an upper class superhero book, with rich debutantes, high profile art theft, and more than a little soap opera. It's certainly different than previous runs on the character, but the tone is in such stark contrast to the usual DC fare that it stands out and reads very nicely. And now it's got a sexy vampire lady, which goes along perfectly with that aesthetic. While Andreyko's writing still has one too many witty jokes for me, he's really starting to create a nice set of characters to play with, and Haun's work here is really well done–nicely paced, with some great acting moments. These guys are really coming around, and for the first time I'm excited to see where it goes!
Rating: A

Image Comics

Sex Criminals #6
Written by Matt Fraction, Art by Chip Zdarsky with Becka Kinzie
[Cal]: Sex Criminals has been many things in its short run to date.  Irreverently funny, first and foremost, a tone that dominates the series from pretty early on.  It still is, even after the three-month hiatus between Sex Criminals #5 and #6, opening as it does with a 'Previously On' page that just gives you made up Price Guide values for the book's opening issues, touting things like how Sex Criminals #3 gets you $122 in near mint because it was the "Q---n tribute issue, 1st Appearance Willem Dafoe Sex Mask".  With the fast-paced comic energy that dominates so much of the book's outward appearance, it'd be easy to its creators to lose track of just how character-driven it is... or how, in its opening issue, thoroughly melancholy the series started off.  The series first arc felt like the rush of a new relationship, powerfully felt but shallowly understood.  Fittingly, with Sex Criminals #6, the series feels more like a relationship that has hit its inevitable first slump. Smartly, Fraction & Zdarsky shift the source of that angst from Suzie (whose melancholia dominated the series' first issue, but who seems overall to be a much happier person) to Jon, who recently revealed a history of mental illness.  As they enter a new phase in their relationship, so to do they enter a new relationship with the Sex Police - a paranoid shadow-war that dominates Jon's thoughts (and may be mostly imagined by him), and that is seemingly ignored by Suzie, who has more important things to do.  Sex Criminals #6 is a surprisingly emotional issue of comics, though I don't know why it's a surprise; Fraction  & Zdarsky know how to make the goofy thoughtful and the ridiculous sublime.  Rating: A

 The Wicked + The Divine #1
Written by Keiron Gillen, Art by Jamie McKelvie

[Harper]: I haven't read Phonogram. Figured I should get that out there. The only thing I've really read by Gillen is his run on Uncanny X-Men, which I (alone, apparently) quite enjoyed, and despite my love of his covers and interior art, I'm not sure I've ever actually read a McKelvie comic. But the covers, concept, and (believe it or not) logo got me really interested in this one. This book exists in a universe where there are gods who, every several decades or so, reincarnate in the bodies of teenagers, only to live for two years in glorious fame. It's a fantastic idea, but they do an even better job of introducing it than I could've thought: after a mysterious intro that shows the deaths of the last time the gods walked the earth in the 1920s, we see things primarily through the eyes of Laura, a superfan of the pop idol Amaterasu who is one of these gods. Through some entertaining circumstances, her life gets entwined with the gods, and things go violently wrong. I love the world they have built here: the skeptical reporter, the borderline silly gods and the deathly serious gods, and how they've affected the world. My only problem with the issue is that we don't get quite enough of that. While I really enjoy the slow build, I feel like the climax in the last pages feels like the end of a first arc, not the first issue. I would rather delve into this world a little bit more, at least learn who all four of the gods are, before adding a complex frame-up murder mystery. As much as I like that idea, it just doesn't have as much impact because I'm not sure who these people are yet. On the other hand: McKelvie's art is breathtakingly gorgeous. He's the only person that could sell this for me, these young beautiful gods. There's some fantastic cartooning here with facial expressions, and his hard but detailed line and minimal shading, combined with Wilson's smooth and vibrant colors, really pop off the page. The good way outweighs the bad here, and I'm excited to see the 19th century gods next month, as Gillen mentions in the back of the issue. Definitely worth a read as one of the most unique and pretty books on the shelf!
Rating: A

Marvel Comics

Captain Marvel #4
Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Art by David Lopez

[Kyle]: I wasn’t a big fan of the first run of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Captain Marvel. I know it was a big hit with a passionate fanbase online, but a mixture of terrible art (looking right at you Dexter Soy) and a statement (though very worthwhile) in search of a compelling plot, I never could quite glom onto it. With the title’s relaunch, and a much better artist on board in David Lopez, I wanted to give it another go. After a massive mis-step of a first issue that basically repeated a lot of the storytelling mistakes of the previous volume, while also clumsily setting up Carol’s new “Space Avenger” status quo, DeConnick is finally hitting a groove here. Issue 4 continues the storyline in which Carol visits a planet poisoned by its atmosphere and the political ramifications that surround it. The minor details are fairly inconsequential (I can barely remember anything about the planet name or any of its inhabitants) which is a little bit of a mark against the book, but what the conflict represents led to a certain level of appreciation during my read. The on-going plot deals with the aftermath of the Infinity crossover, specifically the attacks of The Builders on various worlds. So often these massive comic events skirt by and the status quo more or less resets itself until the next one comes along. Inhumanity is still a waste, but its nice to see that Infinity had some real ramifications even if we had to go to an entirely different galaxy to see them. Lopez’s art continues to be the big highlight here, a descendent of the Alan Davis School of penciling, he invests so much acting and energy into each panel that even the blander moments are well worth a look. Captain Marvel is a title that still isn’t quite a home-run, but it’s become a much more solid read. While I infinitely prefer DeConnick’s work with Emma Rios on Pretty Deadly, I can at least recommend Captain Marvel for those looking for a good female led superhero book to latch onto. 
Rating: B

Figment #1
Written by Jim Zub, Art by Filipe Andrade

[Shane]: Apologies for this review coming a week late.  There is one thing you should know about me and my interests: I am a HUGE fan of Disney Parks.  Anything having to do with Disney World or Disneyland automatically attracts my interests.  Thus, I could not possibly ignore a comic like Figment making its debut.  Based on the EPCOT attraction Journey into Imagination, Figment is the second in a line of Marvel comics based on Disney rides (the first being Seekers of the Weird).  Taking place in early 20th century England, Figment tells the story of Blarion Mercurial, the man who will become the Dream Finder, as he seeks to build an invention that will harness new sources of energy.  Those familiar with the attraction as well as the song which accompanies it, "One Little Spark," will find a lot of Easter Eggs to eat up here.  Fortunately, this series does not just stand on any nostalgia readers may have for the ride, but tells a pretty engaging story as well.  Writer Jim Zub does a good job of tapping into the early days of the Dream Finder, making Blair a relatively sympathetic character.  Blair's story is not one that feels entirely fresh, and that is where the feelings of familiarity with the attraction come into play, making the cliches a bit more tolerable.  But this comic isn't called Dream Finder.  Figment, the titular dragon, does not spend a ton of time in this issue, but we can definitely see the early seeds of his friendship with Blair being planted.  Filipe Andrade does an excellent job on the art side of things, but it will be much more exciting to see him draw more imaginative landscapes than the dreary Victorian facades we see here.  Figment is a fun debut issue for fans of the Disney attraction, but that can only last for so long.  Hopefully the next issue gives the story some legs as well as something a bit more fresh.  Rating: A-

Original Sin #4
Written by Jason Aaron, Art by Mike Deodato

[Shane]: It does not feel like it has been too long since Marvel's latest summer crossover event began, but we are already halfway through Original Sin.  Last issue left us on a pretty shocking cliffhanger, leaving many to wonder just where writer Jason Aaron was taking this event.  After the first three issues spent a lot of time focused on the Avengers, this chapter takes a closer look at the three disparate teams lead by a force known as the Unseen, who have found themselves in a random assortment of places investigating other murders.  Also going on?  Winter Soldier runs around the moon with Nick Fury's head.  Original Sin was an event that brought a ton of excitement going in, much like last year's Infinity.  While Infinity was not terrible, it did lose a lot of its momentum as it reached its halfway point.  With that in mind, it's worth noting that Jason Aaron has not allowed Original Sin to slow down by any means.  Each issue thus far has been exceptionally well-paced, with just enough of the mystery and twists being unveiled to keep readers on their toes.  Speaking of twists, though, it is worth mentioning that it feels like this issue undoes a lot of the shock value of the previous one.  What Winter Soldier did was so out of left field, and, while we do get a somewhat better explanation as to why, the details of the deed are changed somewhat disappointingly.  Aaron has a great hold on all of these characters, with this issue adding more fuel to the fire that Dr. Strange and The Punisher deserve a team-up book.  Mike Deodato does a fantastic job on art, really helping to expand upon the dark, mysterious tone this story has taken.  Original Sin is a bit too bogged down in mystery to be halfway through, but at least it's a mystery that is still engaging.  Rating: A-

Silver Surfer #3
Created by Dan Slott & Michael Allred, Colored by Laura Allred

[Cal]: Silver Surfer, alongside comics like Ms. Marvel, Young Avengers, and She-Hulk, is a book emblematic of the best parts of the Marvel NOW! Renaissance - passionately inventive, unpredictable, and absolutely gorgeous to look at.  As Slott & Allred wrap up their first arc with the former Herald of Galactus, I'm struck my just how much fun I've had in every issue of the series.  Mike Allred is doing some of the best work he's done since his career-defining run on X-Statix, building an expansive, Kirby-influenced universe for the Surfer to explore, with gorgeous designs for the Never Queen and the Impericon.  Slott, meanwhile, is in full She-Hulk mode here, wearing his influences on his sleeve but not letting them dictate his fast-paced story.  Silver Surfer is vibrant and alive in the best way possible, a book brimming with imagination and a lust for life that's almost palpable.  This issue finds the Surfer tearing down the Impericon while Dawn Greenwood races to save the Never-Queen from dying alone in space, and while the Surfer drives the action, it's Dawn who gets the emotional brunt of the story.  The Silver Surfer is a man who is used to going anywhere and doing anything, someone who has a casual relationship with impossibility, as most cosmic characters must.  But Dawn is a normal girl, one who longed all her life for stability rather than adventure, someone who let the comfortable patterns of the world hold her in place while her sister took all the risks.  Fittingly, it's Dawn who must decide what the potential futures of the universe will look like, a decision that will play heavily off the girl we've come to know and admire in three short issues. I don't know that the book has yet reached the strength of its spectacular debut issue, as Slott and Allred's adventure has moved so quickly its abandoned the hints of melancholy that so seasoned Silver Surfer #1, but I do know that I'm now officially on board as long as this creative team is. Rating: A-


Fables #141
Written by Bill Willingham, Art by Mark Buckingham

[Shane]: These are sad times over at Vertigo.  The latest issue of Fables marks the beginning of the end; the final 10 issue story arc starts here.  The finale of the long running series by Bill Willingham is coming all too quickly.  In this issue, we do not get a ton to set us on our way to the finale, but the pieces are definitely set for an explosive story.  The Thirteenth Floor witches meet to discuss the state of Fabletown while the pieces of Rose Red's Round Table come into play, meaning that everyone is set to fulfill their roles as members of this new Camelot.  These roles will pit Rose Red against her sister Snow White, and the latter of the two does not seem to be prepared for what is to come.  While we still have another nine issues after this one, there are more than a few elements to make this issue feel like the end is nigh.  Remembrance Day, something not brought up since the first story arc of the comic, is mentioned again as well as the number of conflicts we have seen Snow White lead Fabletown through.  This is not the first time readers have had to prepare themselves for war in Fables, but Willingham does a great job of making it feel like this time is going to be different.  With the various Fables slowly taking their sides in the Snow versus Red conflict, it is becoming very difficult to imagine a lot of favorite characters surviving this story as they have so much in the past.  This issue also features a surprise return of a character thought dead as well as a one page back up story with the coyness we have come to expect from Willingham's writing.  Mark Buckingham continues to leave his definitive mark on Fables.  Having drawn most of the issues of this series, one cannot picture anyone but Buckingham drawing this final story.  Fables begins its march to the end and it seems the next ten months are going to be very difficult to get through with our emotions intact.  Rating: A

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