Archive for the “reviews” Category
Posted by Dorian in reviews
2000 AD–2000 AD
A sampler of current and classic material from the long-lived British weekly. A nice variety of art styles, though all of the stories tend towards the sci-fi and the gory, so not as great a selection of the variety of material available from the publisher.
I’ve liked most of the Christos Gage comics I’ve read in the past, but I really don’t need any more “realistic” super-heroes that kill people, thanks.
Aphrodite IX #1—Image
Pretty art, and the T&A quotient is actually fairly toned down compared to past incarnations of the title. It’s still almost impossible to actually follow the story, though.
Atomic Robo—Red 5 Comics
Each year, Atomic Robo is one of the FCBD highlights, and it’s true this year as well. Fantastic action and humor and art all around. The back-up feature is an introduction to a new title called “Bodie Troll” and I’m in love with the troll cursed with excessive cuteness instantly.
MUST GET IT
Avatar: The Last Airbender/Star Wars—Dark Horse
The usual standards of Dark Horse licensed material apply here. If you’re fans of the properties, you’ll probably enjoy this. If not, you’ll probably be a little lost as to what is supposed to be going on.
Bongo Comics Free-For-All—Bongo Comics
Pretty much the same material Bongo presents every year: a sampling of Simpsons comics that feel slightly past their sell-by date and even more neutered than what the show has become. Nice Sergio Aragones art, though.
Buck Rogers—Hermes Press
Most of this book is a reprint of a Buck Rogers Sunday strip storyline. For fans of classic comics material, this may hold some interest, but it’s probably going to read as too hokey and dated for most readers.
Chakra the Invincible—Graphic India
While I’m all for seeing greater diversity in comics, superhero comics in particular, kids comics especially, this is pretty much just a collection of fight pages, with not much in the way of story.
Not so much a “dark reimaging” of a fairy tale as a rather rote sequel.
DC Nation Super Sampler—DC Comics
This new Beware the Batman cartoon has a very harsh and angular art style I’m not sure I care for, and an Alfred who looks like a 60s Disney movie thug. Otherwise, this is pretty typical DC kids fare, probably of most interest to adults for the Amethyst cast bio pages included.
Cute stories about Tinkerbell and other fairies. Attractive art, but never really rises above your average licensed comic level.
Endangered Weapon B—AAM/Markosia
The lead story is a steampunk absurdist adventure tale by David Tallerman and Bob Molesworth which shows promise and has attractive art. The rest of the stories are presented too briefly to fairly judge, but none initially interest me. But the lead story does have me intrigued. Maybe I just like the ideas of dodderingly racist British explorers and bears in mech suits.
War comics from various eras of history, only with zombies. *sigh*
I’m about a season and a half behind on the show, so this had spoilers galore. The art is workmanlike and the story isn’t much more remarkable. It’s disappointing, because I had been considering picking this up as a series, but if this is what the book is going to look like, I’m probably not going to bother.
Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.—Marvel Comics
These are really incredibly ugly photo comics adapting episodes of the cartoons. The cartoons may be good (though what we see here isn’t promising) but the presentation here is so unattractive I’m not inclined to find out.
A joyless prequel to the next Marvel cross-over, capitalizing on presumed new reader interest in Thanos. Who, outside of a back-up reprint, barely appears. Normally the problem with this sort of thing is that it’s impossible to follow without already reading a bunch of books, but it’s not an issue here, because almost nothing happens whatsoever, and no familiar characters really appear. There is also a few page preview for “Endless Wartime” which Marvel is advertising as their first original graphic novel, which is a nice way to toss the 39 they published between 1982 and 1989, not to mention all those “Season One” books they’ve been putting out, down the memory hole.
Judge Dredd Classics—IDW
Attractive reprint of the first Judge Death story, with Brian Bolland art, as well as some other Dredd related Bolland material. Good quality stuff that should be appealing now that Dredd seems popular with US readers again.
Kaboom Summer Blast—Boom Entertainment
An assortment of Kaboom kids comics, mostly licensed properties that I have no real interest in, and in at least two cases do not understand the appeal of in even a very slight way.
I didn’t know a Thomas Yeates illustrated adaptation of a Louis L’Amour novel was something I would want, but here we are. The Michael Gaydos illustrated adaptation of Kellerman’s “The Web” seems intriguing as well, but given my tastes I’m probably more inclined to track down the novel.
Marble Season—Drawn and Quarterly
Gilbert Hernandez’s semi-autobiographical childhood memoir expertly captures the realities and nuance of that age. It’s brilliant work from a mature creator. And this package includes an “aftwards” that “contextualizes” the material for those Team Comix wankers still around, unable to just enjoy a good comic on its own merits.
Get it, but rip out the back matter
Mass Effect/RIPD/Killjoys—Dark Horse Comics
Setting aside the video-game tie-in, these are fairly good, but typical of the Dark Horse style at the moment: high concept, vaguely horror-ish, not bad but not remarkable. The Mass Effect tie-in is…a Mass Effect tie-in.
Molly Danger—Action Lab
Really nicely illustrated and engaging girl-friendly super-hero comics in the lead, and an even more impressive “Princeless” back-up story. This is the kind of impressive, best-foot-forward material I like to see the comics industry promoting for FCBD
Archaia’s selection of material usually turns out to be the highlight of any FCBD, and that looks to be the case here as well. A flip-book with a collection of beautifully illustrated and engaging shorts from a variety of titles.
This is just absolutely peculiar, and the coloring hurt my eyes, which mostly just means I am too old to be the target audience for this.
NFL Rush Zone—Action Lab
The lead here is nicely drawn, and the idea of football super-heroes lends itself to cynical blogger jokes, but it’s probably good material for kids into sports who are reluctant readers. The fantasy back-up, “Skyward,” is more to my taste, and also well done.
Overstreet Comic Book Marketplace—Gemstone Publishing
Every year they put this out, and every year it misses the point of FCBD in every possible way, pushing comics as collectibles and investments rather than something you read and enjoy.
Pippi/Anna and Froga—Drawn and Quarterly
I can’t make up my mind if I like the primitivist nature of these European kids comics or not. They’re aggressively weird, and it continually feels that these things are being pitched at hipster adults and not kids. But they’re cute and funny.
Good quality reprints of a Hal Foster “Prince Valiant” story, in line with the exceptional work Fantagraphics has been doing on their reprint projects. Probably of more interest to folks interested in comics history than a casual reader, though.
Ramayan 3392 AD—Graphic India
Beautifully illustrated shorts based on Hindu gods, with a slight sci-fi edge to them. Interesting material and worth a look.
Rated Free for Everyone—Oni Press
Oni generally does a good job with their all ages books, and this is no exception. Mermin the Merman is a cute kids story and the Crogan Adventures short is up to the standards of that series as well.
The Red Ten—Comix Tribe
*sigh* “Gritty”, “mature” comic with JLA stand-ins, as set up for a series about a Joker stand-in killing people.
RuRouni Kenshin: Restoration/Dragonball—Viz
Mostly stand alone chapters from a samurai drama and a martial arts comedy, both fairly known properties at this point. Probably cool for kids into manga for whom Dragonball hasn’t been horribly tainted by being something their dad was into.
Scratch 9—Hermes Press
Cute comic about a cat who becomes involved with a mad scientist, and then strange stuff happens. It’s actually pretty charming, with appealing art, and just enough of a weird edge to appeal to kids and adults.
Sesame Street/Strawberry Shortcake—Ape Entertainment
Pretty and charming kids books aimed at very young kids. For licensed books, very nicely done.
The usual nice selection of Peyo Smurf stories and other kids comics from Papercutz. Annoying Orange has nice art from Mike Kazaleh, but Ariol was slightly off-putting due to the attempt at comic self-involvement from the characters.
Sonic and Mega Man: Worlds Collide Prelude—Archie Comics
I have absolutely no idea what any of this is.
Spongebob Freestyle Funnies—Bongo Comics
I don’t get Spongebob’s appeal. I really don’t. These are…weird kids comics that feel in line with me just really not understanding what’s great about Spongebob.
The Steam Engines of Oz—Arcana
Nicely illustrated, and while I’m generally sick of all things Oz and Steampunk at the moment, this was surprisingly good.
The Strangers—Oni Press
A loving tribute to 60s TV sci-fi. Half Avengers, half Doctor Who, all weird and go-go boots. Pretty fantastic first issue.
The Suff of Legend/Finding Gossamyr—Th3rd World Studios
Beautiful fantasy comics, each story acting as a good, general introduction to the series featured.
Superman: Last Son of Krypton—DC Comics
So, with a new Superman movie with fairly positive buzz coming up, a new status quo in the regular titles, DC decides to lead with…a reprint of a several year old story, an incomplete one at that, that ties in more with the generally not well thought of at the moment “Superman Returns” than “Man of Steel.”
I really don’t understand DC sometimes.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles New Animated Adventures—IDW
I was never a Turtle fan, so I have no horse in this being faithful either to the original comic or the cartoon. This is pretty typical kids TV tie-in comic fare, but the art style has a blocky look that’s pretty arresting.
Amusing and strange story, about what you’d expect from a Tick comic, really.
Top Shelf Kids Club—Top Shelf Comics
Nice assortment of short, all ages stories from Top Shelf, all pretty familiar if you’ve picked up one of their FCBD books in the past.
A collection of UglyDoll, Hello Kitty, Pokemon and something called Mameshiba comics. The art is colorful and lively and kid appealing, even if the stories feel slightly more like something an adult thinks a kid would like.
The relaunch of the Valiant line has proven to be fairly controversial, especially as regards ownership of some of the properties. This is the first opportunity I’ve had to look at any of the current material, and frankly, it’s pretty generic indie super-hero fare. The lead story is a prequel to a cross-over, has some off-putting violence, and not much else to say.
Oh, hey, reprints of 90s comics.
The Walking Dead—Image
Yeah. I like Adlard’s art, but I’m still not even remotely interested in anything to do with zombies.
World of Archie Digest—Archie
A full (almost) 100 page digest sampler of mostly classic Archie strips from a variety of artists. A good selection of material presented in an attractive and appealing format.
Worlds of Aspen 2013—Aspen
A short prequel to a new Fathom storyline and lots and lots of ads for other Aspen books.
Posted by Dorian in reviews
As has become my habit, here are brief reviews of (most) of this year’s selection of Free Comic Book Day books. Scheduling issues mean a few titles didn’t make it to me in time for review, so you’re on your own if you need to find out if you should pick up Voltron Force or Hypernauts.
Since many stores limit the number of titles an individual may take, I’ve made the review scale as simple as possible; stuff you should get if you can, stuff you may as well pick up if it’s offered, and stuff that should be left behind.
Anna & Froga/Moomin Valley Turns Jungle (Drawn & Quarterly)
Utterly bizarre and demented children’s comics. The art in Anna and Froga may be too primitive for most people, but the “a kid could draw this” aspect is part of the charm.
Anti/The Ride (12-Gauge)
Well, this is just utterly charmless and dire.
Atomic Robo/NeoZoic/Bonnie Lass (Red 5 Comics)
Good, fun, well illustrated comics. You’d be a sucker to pass this up, because this sort of stuff is what comics should be about.
Avengers: Age of Ultron 0.1 (Marvel Comics)
So, rather than put out a one-off comic featuring the characters in the movie that just released, Brian Bendis wrote a story starring Spider-Woman, about Ultron, featuring a metric ton of heroes and villains, most of which are never identified by name, that sets up another storyline. Maybe, if we’re really lucky, a cross-over! As “best foot forwards” for the industry go, this is not it.
Bad Medicine (Oni Press)
Another Oni book that reads somewhat like a pitch for a movie or television show. In this case, disgraced doctor who talks to ghost/hallucination teams up with sexy female detective to solve weird science crimes. While competently done, it feels very familiar somehow.
Barnaby and Mr. O’Malley (Fantagraphics Books)
Nicely illustrated classic comic strips, charming in their own way, but more than a little on the dry side and pretty undynamic.
Bongo Comics Free-For-All/Spongebob Squarepants Freestyle Funnies (Bongo Comics)
While it’s always nice to see new Sergio Aragones work, the rest of this is pretty dull. Neither the Simpsons nor Spongebob stories are particularly funny or interesting.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer/The Guild (Dark Horse Comics)
A nerd pandering Buffy short and a Guild comic that only furthers my questions about whether the series is meant to be a mockery of these people or not. Okay if you like that sort of thing.
Burt Ward: Boy Wonder/Wrath of the Titans (Bluewater Comics)
Nice animation style art in both of these, and while Wrath has an appealing, storybook style, the Burt Ward half of this flip-book is as incomprehensible as last year’s Adam West offering.
The Censored Howard Cruse (Boom!)
I honestly cannot imagine how this is going to go over. It’s fantastic work, brilliant stuff, and I’ll save my rant about how any swearing or sexual images have to be censored but violent, gorey ones are apparently a-ok for another time. It’s not a great fit for Free Comic Book Day though, which is why I wonder how distribution of this will play out on the day. Still, well worth picking up.
DC Nation Super Sampler/Superman Family Adventures (DC Comics)
Too brief samples of DC’s comics adaptations of their (generally good) current animated shows, and a Bronze Age/New 52 amalgam Superman comic by the Tiny Titans creators. Fun stuff, but there’s not enough of any of it to really give a satisfying read.
Donald Duck Family (Fantagraphics Books)
Great little selection of short Carl Barks humor strips focusing on Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge. Excellent reproduction similar to their hardcover reprint line.
Finding Gossamyr/The Stuff of Legends (Th3rd World Studios)
Beautifully illustrated all-ages fantasy comics with strong, intriguing premises.
The Infernal Devices: Clockwork Angels (Yen Press)
A manga adaptation of a supernatural romance young adult novel series. It’s actually quite pretty and seems like an interesting series, but suffers from the sort of lack of exposition that suggests only those familiar with the original novels should attempt to read this.
The Intrisic (Arcana Studio)
Supernatural super-hero indie comics that tread annoyingly familiar ground, with lackluster art and a story that’s somewhat hard to follow. Somehow manages to even lack the charm of a Top Cow book.
Jurassic Strike Force 5 (Silver Dragon Books)
Sci-fi dinosaur superhero comics, with a toy line ready to go for a hoped for media blitz. Nicely illustrated, if you can avoid asking yourself why the female dinosaur has mammalian sex characteristics.
Lady Death: The Beginning (Boundless Comics)
Big, loud and dumb are the keywords here. It’s utterly uncomplicated and direct about being those three things, and it’s got a kind of manic tone. I sort of see why this has an appeal, but it’s still not particularly any good.
Mega Man (Archie Comics)
Sort of fun, but mostly acts as an introduction to the character. Who has been around twenty-five years. Something with more robot fighting action would have been appreciated.
Mouse Guard, Labyrinth and Other Stories (Archaia Entertainment)
Everything in here is perfect and wonderful. Putting all this goodness in a nice little hard-cover does a good job of telling everyone how special and worthwhile this material is, matching form with content. You need this.
My Favorite Martian (Hermes Press)
Sort of amusing, in that way old Dell/Western comics have. It certainly wins the award for “most random” title to be released as part of Free Comic Book Day.
The New 52 (DC Comics)
Previews for upcoming comics shuffled into a semi-narrative that previews the first big “event” comic of the DC relaunch: the startlingly original idea of a bunch of super-heroes fighting each other over what is sure to be a preventable misunderstanding or difference of opinion. Of minor interest to continuity fans, but otherwise pretty forgettable.
Overstreet’s Comic Book Marketplace (Gemstone)
Overstreet does a better job than they have in past years, putting a lot of material in here about the history of horror comics (a random but ultimately inoffensive topic), but there’s still a big push on the value of comics as collectables. Missing the point of a day where you give comics away to people to get them to read the damn things entirely.
The Rockhead and Zinc Alloy 2-For-None (Capstone)
Kid-friendly super-hero books. Not particularly compelling, but not badly done either.
The Smurfs and Disney Fairies (Papercutz)
Nice mix of all-ages material, all well drawn. The Tinkerbell stories are, perhaps, a bit simplistic, but the rest of the material is excellent.
Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics)
Sonic has his fans, mostly amongst kids and the darker corners of the internet. This is a solid adventure comic, but it doesn’t have much to recommend it apart from “well done.”
Spider-Man: Season One (Marvel Comics)
It’s yet another updating of Spider-Man’s origin. Wasn’t this the whole point of the “Ultimate” line before that went off the rails? If you need another Spider-Man origin, this is at least pleasingly drawn and not insultingly stupid.
Star Wars/Serenity (Dark Horse Comics)
Fabio Moon’s art in the Serenity story is nice. Otherwise, both stories here are pretty charmless and feel rote, like the properties are just being trotted out to push fan buttons.
Top Shelf Kids Club (Top Shelf Productions)
Good mix of all ages material in a variety of styles. Most of it should be familiar if you’ve ever picked up one of Top Shelf’s samplers before.
Transformers: Regeneration One #80.5 (IDW)
I liked Transformers as a kid, but this stuff is just utterly incomprehensible unless you’ve been steeping in it for years.
Witchblade: Unbalanced Pieces (Image/Top Cow)
Top Cow’s universe has been around long enough now that I find their existence vaguely comforting in the same way I used to find Chaos! Comics’ existence comforting: it’s so unpretentious in its blatant exploitation and so earnest in its wrestling by way of heavy metal album covers plots that the appeal is evident.
Doesn’t mean I think it’s any good, though.
Worlds of Aspen 2012 (Aspen Comics)
A sample of story intros and pin-ups that, well…is representative of the sort of material we expect to see out of a pin-up art company that’s still stuck in 90s storytelling styles.
Worlds Most Dangerous Animals (Silver Dragon Books)
This may be of interest to children with morbid interests in animal attacks on humans. They’ll eat it up, everyone else will probably be bored.
Yo Gabba Gabba! (Oni Press)
An entertaining mix of alt-comic and indie creators doing comics based on a tv show for preschoolers. I can’t quite tell if this is for kids, or for those adults who watch a show for preschoolers. Fun stuff, in any case.
Valiant 2012 (Valiant Entertainment)
A company that largely existed to feed off comics speculators is back, trying to pitch itself as the interconnected, story-driven super-hero universe that isn’t Marvel and DC, because historically those have done well…
Zombie Kid (Antarctic Press)
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Posted by Dorian in reviews
As careful readers of Monday’s post might have guessed, I’ve been delving into a lot of Grant Morrison’s work again.
It started with New X-Men, the smaller sized editions that Marvel has been releasing lately. Even though I have all these comics, three moves later those are all in storage, and my desire to reread and have them in a loanable format won out over my usual desire to avoid unnecessary double-dipping. This is still amongst my favorites of Morrison’s super-hero work, though the collected format really drives home how inconsistent art can hurt a long-form story, and Marvel’s insistence on pricing each volume the same, regardless of how many actual issues are collected, is almost admirable in its mercenariness.
I moved on to buying the trades for The Invisibles, as I had noticed that several volumes had gone out of print, and given how dated much of the material is I thought the odds of new printings were low. More fool me, apparently. This is still one of Morrison’s better long-form stories and still holds up remarkably well, even though the scenes that take place in “the future” are now mostly in the past and look faintly ridiculous. It happens. The other sore point is that the final storyline (excepting the Frank Quitely illustrated coda), the one which features a different artist on almost every page, feels so rushed and compressed that very little of the story actually gets resolved. I can easily imagine that an additional issue or two would have given Morrison more room to bring the story to a close the way he intended.
Also noteworthy is the expanded edition of WE3. The new pages fit in seamlessly, and I had to check against the older edition to make sure that certain segments were actually new. Still, bar none, Morrison’s finest work.
The collected edition of Joe the Barbarian was also recently released, and I’m very glad, as it gave me a chance to give it another look. The series was largely overshadowed by Morrison’s Batman run, and an erratic shipping schedule hurt its momentum, but it’s an excellent book that deserves more attention. It’s a straight-forward heroic fantasy series, almost but not quite appropriate for all ages and extremely accessible. Sean Murphy creates a detailed, expressive world, and script-wise, this is very much in the “funny/emotive” vein of Morrison work. I’m tempted to suggest that releasing this through Vertigo may have done the book a disservice, as the line suggests “mature reader” works and the audience for this is much broader. This feels like an ideal book for a teen getting interested in comics, and just the Vertigo label alone is going to cause many comic stores to stick this into a restricted section.
I’ve also belatedly jumped onto the bandwagons for The Unwritten and Locke & Key, both books I’d initially dismissed as “not for me” only to encounter friends consistently telling me that they were excellent. Mostly my friends were right and I was wrong. Unwritten‘s riffing on the Harry Potter books becomes quickly tiresome, and it has the same problem most Vertigo books do these days-writing for the trade means you pretty much have to read the entire first storyline to get an idea of whether the title is going anywhere interesting, rather than the first issue. But Mike Carey is writing a very smart book that manages to be about fiction and fictionality in a smart way while still having enough of an adventure story edge to be compelling.
Locke and Key by contrast, completely failed to impress me with the Free Comic Book Day sample issue from earlier in the year. It felt like an all ages comic aping a horror series. To be honest…even three volumes in, it still fills like Joe Hill sort of wants to write a Young Adult series with fantasy-horror overtones, with the occasional bouts of horrific violence on hand to make sure that the book stays firmly Adult Adult. But despite that, this is a very good fantasy-horror series, tightly plotted and with a strong sense of having a definite destination in mind and a plan for getting there (a rarity in the current long-form story model that I’m thankful to see here). Story developments feel natural and logically progress from previous events and revelations about what is really going on build on what has already been stated and implied.
Lastly, I’ve been reading the IDW collections of DC’s old Dungeons & Dragons and Forgotten Realms comics. These were fun fantasy comics at the time, and having them back in print is welcome. Jan Duursema is criminally under-rated, and her work on D&D is impressive, and Vajra Valmeyjar is my favorite “fantasy warrior” character for a number of reasons.
All Star Western #1: Gray and Palmiotti’s Jonah Hex series was one of the under-appreciated highlights of the preboot DC line, so it only makes sense that the same writing team on the same character is one of the outstanding titles of the reboot. Moritat’s art is moody and effective, portraying both the grime and the elegance of the period well. Moving the setting from the frontier to Gotham is an intriguing difference. Seeing Hex as a man out of place has potential, and tying the book more closely to the rest of the DC universe has the potential to get more people paying attention to the book. I’m generally not one to care much for stories delving into the “rotten heart” and history of Gotham; where Gotham is NOW is more interesting than where it came from, generally. But having Hex in an investigative role, and giving him a partner/unreliable narrator in Amadeus Arkham, is a unique enough perspective on the city and setting to have strong potential.
Aquaman #1: The question of why Aquaman is supposedly so lame is one I’ve asked before, and it’s maybe only natural that any attempt to bring the character back to prominence is going to have to deal head-on with the damage lame comedian’s jokes about Super Friends have done. It’s an approach that could fall flat on its face, but Geoff Johns actually manages to pull it off, portraying Aquaman as a character who is both dignified and quietly a badass, albeit one who has to live in the shadow of brighter, more impressive characters. Setting him up as the man responsible for “the shore” is an interesting approach as well; less king of the sea or traditional super-hero, but occupying the space in between. Of course, it wouldn’t quite be a Geoff Johns book without a gory death or villain, and here it’s in the form of carnivorous amphibious shark-people. Of course it is.
Batman: The Dark Knight #1: Another Batman comic, another breakout from Arkham Asylum, another stupid change to an existing villain, another new villain given a silly modus operandi in order to convince us that they’re a serious, credible threat. David Finch’s art is much improved since the last time I saw it, while still not being entirely to my taste, and not even Paul Jenkins as co-writer can elevate this beyond the samey nature. For a line that DC apparently went to great lengths to leave relatively untouched in this reboot, very few of the new creative teams are hitting on all cylinders.
Blackhawks #1: This is straight-up G.I. Joe set in the DC universe. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, G.I. Joe owes a fair amount to silver age DC and Marvel war comics in and of itself, so this is more like coming full circle with the concept of a sci-fi international military special-ops team with silly code names and ludicrous villains. But the approach taken here is all action and character names, very little in the way of backstory or actual characterization. So we have a bunch of people with silly names fighting a secret war against an unknown villain with sci-fi weapons, only without the nostalgic appeal that an actual G.I. Joe comic would have for people.
The Flash #1: For being the book that was used to justify all these reboots, you’d almost think Flash would have had a splashier opening. But no, very very pretty art from Francis Manapul aside, this is pretty much a generic Flash comic. Setting aside the various generations of Flash family characters may reduce the amount of “grandpa Barry” drama that the title was groaning under, but replacing it with the same relationship drama/romantic triangles as every other super-hero book isn’t much of an improvement. Neither is a story that, yet again, ties into some secret, probably terrible, from Barry Allen’s past. It’s not really a bad comic, but it doesn’t break any new or interesting ground for the character either.
The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Man #1: Oh, hey, another teen hero book with violent murders and torture.
What potential there is in a complete reboot of Firestorm, bringing back both Jason Rusch and Ronnie Raymond and attempting to create a somewhat unified backstory and concept for the title is pretty much tossed out in the window in favor of something squalid and icky. This feels like an attempt to pander to the same crowd that eats up the ultra-violence by making a “lame” hero more “hardcore”. It just ends up kind of gross.
Green Lantern: New Guardians #1: As I seem to be one of the few people who will publicly admit to liking the “Rainbow Corps” storylines from the Green Lantern family, this should be an ideal book for me. I like the grand, space-opera tone that the multi-colored ring storylines bring to the titles. I just despair of the apparent necessity for extreme violence and melodramatic angst. We’ve got a small amount of that violence here, but luckily not too much of the angst. I’ve got hopes for this title, but in this first issue we’re not getting much story, so it’s hard to see what direction the book is going to go in. Especially when the promised content for the second issue looks to be basically just a big fight scene. It makes for a very frustrating first issue.
I, Vampire #1: I actually have a soft spot for the old I, Vampire back-up stories, so I was hopeful that this would be a good reintroduction of Andrew Bennett. This is pretty much just a restart of the title, only moved from the early 80s to the modern day, with the same main character and antagonist and central conflict. Only without the establishment of who these characters are and what they mean to each other. Unless you were already familiar with the concept, this would appear to be just a lover’s spat expressed through the medium of a vampiric war on humanity, with a curiously laconic and passive hero. The art is unfortunately generic, looking much like every other indie comic horror title out there. That virtually everyone looks the same doesn’t help it much either, and the only way to distinguish the lead in many cases is his white hair stripe. All in all, a disappointing package.
Justice League Dark #1: Peter Milligan definitely brings something of a Vertigo flavor with this title, which makes sense given that many of the characters were only fairly recently liberated from that imprint. The book assumes a fair amount of familiarity with the characters on the part of the reader. This is yet another situation where maybe some time devoted to exposition would have been nice, as it’s not clear what exactly is or isn’t different in this new timeline (though Deadman at least appears to be in line with his appearance is Hawk and Dove and DC Comics Presents). Mikel Janin’s art is an interesting choice for a book like this; his figures are fairly solid and almost plain, which is an odd contrast with the more unreal, magical aspects of the story. The story itself is fairly straight-forward, but that lack of exposition and shifting viewpoints results in a book where things appear to simply happen, with indirect transitions, demanding that the reader actually put some work into figuring out what is going on.
The Savage Hawkman #1: Philip Tan’s art is remarkably pretty here, so it’s a shame that it’s in service to a story that didn’t really do much for me. Hawkman tends to work best when he’s a big guy with wings bashing bad guys with a mace. The trend to writing him lately has been to make him a tragic, angsty figure, and that’s pretty solidly continued here. Making the wings and harness a part of Carter Hall, instead of equipment he wears, is a fairly arbitrary change that doesn’t do much to improve the character, and actually makes him more like a Wolverine with wings instead of his own concept.
Superman #1: Despite being set in the present day, this still hews fairly closely to the Superman in Action Comics. He’s cocky and a bit brash and his relationship to Metropolis is fairly complicated; loved by the common people but viewed with suspicion by those in power. The changes to the supporting cast and the status quo make sense in light of current events, and the apparent prominence of Morgan Edge and his companies has the promise of some Bronze Age appeal. It’s a perfectly good, if a little unambitious, Superman comic with nice art and engaging action and subplots that aren’t infuriating. The only major strikes then would be the “One More Day”ing of the Lois and Clark marriage and the presence of “horn blowing giant fish” from Stormwatch, which suggests a fairly heavy-handed editorial hand on the title, if cross-title threads are being introduced in the first issue without directly impacting the story.
Teen Titans #1: I have this sinking suspicion that I’m in the minority on this one, but I found this to be a fun comic. That it ties pretty strongly into Superboy, which has been a highlight title, helps, as does the art by Brett Booth which I’ve always liked, even if it is usually of the “everyone screaming” school of comics art. But the angst levels are tolerable, the characters and the writing is clever, and the central conflict has a fair amount of promise. And hey, it’s a teen super-hero book that keeps it’s violence and action within the reasonable super-hero realms, not delving into horrific torture and gore. That’s, sadly, a plus these days.
Voodoo #1: I can see this catching on in the same way that books like Witchblade do; half soft-core T&A, half well intentioned but not quite pulling it off “strong female character” tropes. That we don’t really learn anything about the lead in the first issue other than that she’s apparently an alien spy and is more than willing to kill characters of equally ambiguous morality.
It’s pretty, but for a number of reasons, this really is just Not For Me.
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Batman #1: Scott Snyder’s recent run on Detective Comics was one of the highlights of the past few years of DC comics, so to see him move on to a higher profile book while still playing in the Batman family of titles is exciting and gratifying. This is a much more super-heroish take on the character then he had previously presented, and it works, especially with the big, crowd-pleasing fight in Arkham Asylum, and the cliffhanger the issue ends on is particularly well-timed, even if it’s obvious “fake out” nature is clear. Greg Capullo is an interesting choice for artist; when he’s drawing villains and action scenes it’s really quite nice, but his “civilian” scenes don’t mesh as well. The only obvious differences between Bruce Wayne and the various Robins are heights, for example. Still, this is a very minor complaint, and of the Batman titles released so far, this is far and away the best and most satisfying.
Birds of Prey #1: A new status quo is surprisingly welcome for this title. Towards the end of its previous run, the title often felt more concerned with pandering to fans by providing “fuck yeah” style moments for Tumblr fan communities. Duane Swierczynski takes the basic premise, a female black-ops super-hero team, and tweaks it slightly by having them perceived by the world at large as criminals and killers. Even though most of this issue is a long fight-scene, it provides a nice grounding for this new situation and sets up an intriguing initial adversary. Where it could have improved is in providing a little more background on (potentially) new character Starling and the changes to Black Canary’s history. Jesus Saiz is an excellent artistic choice for a book like this; his action scenes are well-choreographed and his characters are distinct-an important trait in female majority books when too many comics artists still draw all women as essentially interchangeable.
Blue Beetle #1: It’s a little surprising to see a relatively recent character like the Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle get a total reboot, especially when his new origin is so close to his previous one; slightly nerdy Mexican-American teenager stumbles upon an ancient artifact/space invader and becomes reluctant hero, even with the same supporting cast with essentially the same personalities and conflicts. The previous series was charming and fun; this book feels like an attempt to be more serious and closer in tone to the slightly darker DCU we have nowadays. Setting up a lot of the gradual revelations from the prior series, such as the malevolent nature of the scarab, could be a good way to shortcut a lot of repetitive backstory, especially when this new series drops Jaime right into the midst of a bigger universe at the start. Ig Guara’s art is slightly cartoony, but feels well-suited, and he draws believable teenagers well.
Captain Atom #1: This is an extraordinarily pretty book, artist Freddie Williams II has gone out of his way to give it an appealing, unique look. Story-wise, J.T. Krul throws us right into the middle; this appears to be the same Captain Atom who has been running around for awhile, just deaged and slightly reset, but without an origin or any kind of detailed backstory in this issue it’s hard to estimate. This feels like the middle of a story in many ways, and while it’s not a bad approach to starting a super-hero comic, we’ve been seeing a lot of this sort of thing from DC lately. In fact, this “middle of the story” feel isn’t entirely dissimilar to Krul’s other title, Green Arrow. And like that title, as pretty as this book is, it doesn’t really have a strong “grab” but isn’t really bad enough to complain about either. It’s just sort of there.
Catwoman #1: Somewhat silly sex scene aside, this was a book that was better than I expected it to be. Guillem March’s art is stunning and lush and the book looks incredible. Winick is a writer that tends to be hit or miss (though I may be biased, as I think the comics internet’s hate-on for him is silly and unjustified), and this is mostly a hit. Catwoman works best in that anti-hero space, and that’s the area that Winick is playing with here. It even manages, amazingly, to be somewhat fun, though there is still a lot more of the angst and “darkity dark” storytelling tropes that I find tiresome. The book has potential and could be cheeky fun. If we cut down on the silly sex scenes.
DC Universe Presents #1: You can tell DC is serious about this “try everything and see what works” approach because they’re even willing to give an anthology title a shot again. Paul Jenkins strikes a good balance between a total reboot and continuing with the previous continuity, with a slight revision to Deadman’s origin that gives his existence as a ghost slightly more direction. It’s a very good story laid out here, very character driven, though an argument could be made that very little happens in this first issue . In context it works; Deadman is, after all, dead. And the question asked here, “is Deadman actually helping the people he haunts or not?” makes for a good set-up for new stories with the character. This is something, frankly, the character could use. His popularity (such as it is) seems to be based mostly on his visual design and somewhat nonsensical name and situation, rather than any definitive or compelling past history.
Green Lantern Corps #1: When Peter Tomasi titled this issue “Triumph of the Will” I suspected he was deliberately poking at the internet. When font choice makes it initially appear that the entire population of the planet “Nerrd” is wiped out, I was sure of it.
Most of the book focuses on Guy Gardner and John Stewart trying to live normal lives outside their roles as Green Lanterns. At these moments the book is excellent, fun and a compelling read. The rest of the book is, sadly, the same sort of casual ultra-violence that seems to typify the Green Lantern family these days. At least with a title like Red Lanterns that level of ultra-violence is expected and can be read as knowing. With this book, it just feels like pandering to an increasingly jaded audience. The characterization is so strong and has such potential it feels like giving in to that audience is wasting the opportunity.
Legion of Super-Heroes #1: Yes, this is a Legion comic. If you’ve been reading Legion for the last few years, it’s the same stuff you’ve been reading, picking up right where everything left off last month. This means that the question of whether it’s good or not depends entirely on if you were enjoying the stories we were getting before.
Francis Portela’s art is attractive, but this is yet another of the books that is neither good enough to be noteworthy, nor bad enough to really criticize.
Nightwing #1: Chalk this up as another pleasant surprise, at least for me, who is on record as not being a great fan of Dick Grayson as Nightwing. Kyle Higgins, for the most part, keeps this within the realm of fun, super-hero adventure comics, playing off of the recent Batman family titles but making a clear statement that this is a new direction and a new start for the character. He does this primarily by focusing on Dick Grayson’s past, reintroducing Haley’s Circus and that element of Dick Grayson’s history, and setting up a new adversary motivated by secrets from Dick’s past that even he seems to be unaware of. If there’s a notable weakness in the book, it’s the presence, again, of slightly more violence than is maybe necessary, but even then the level is consistent with what could be expected for a title in the Batman line.
Red Hood and the Outlaws #1: This comic has been pretty thoroughly excoriated by the internet at large, and I’m not particularly interested in piling on. Yes, it’s awful. It’s stupid, it’s ugly, and pretty much every complaint you’ve heard about it is dead on.
It’s still not as bad as Detective Comcics #1, though.
Supergirl #1: In keeping with the rest of the Superman line, the new/old Supergirl gets started over from scratch, despite only being around (relatively speaking) for a short time. Most of the changes aren’t clear, as the entirety of the issue is a fight between an amnesiac Supergirl and several people in giant robot suits. It’s just a fight comic, in other words, though it does drop a few hints about the new status quo for the Superman titles. Mahmud Asrar’s art is nice, but the costume design is just odd enough to be slightly distracting. Whether or not the book has potential isn’t very clear from this first issue, as there really isn’t much in the way of story or character here; just something that looks a lot like the prior Supergirl title, rewound a bit. It was a fun fight book, though.
Wonder Woman #1: This is a very, very good Wonder Woman comic. I’m not entirely convinced it’s the best direction DC could have chosen for Wonder Woman with this reboot, but it’s still a very good comic. Cliff Chiang’s art is spectacular, as is to be expected, and although Brian Azzarello isn’t a writer whose work I’ve ever really warmed to, I can recognize his skill, and this is a very strong opening issue. It’s got some action, the establishment of central conflicts, and good, subtle characterization. The new vision of the gods has promise, and I have a strong feeling that we’re going to get the origin for Wonder Woman fleshed out along with this opening story.
My only hesitation is that this is, again, the “warrior” version of Wonder Woman, which means this is a fairly gory book, though it at least feels like a genuinely mature approach to violence, and not the pandering that some of the other books seem to use. And I wouldn’t even mind the Xena-fied approach to Wonder Woman so much if there was a more general audience friendly book starring Wonder Woman on the stands as well. Seriously, Wonder Woman is a superhero princess, and DC constantly ignoring that feels like willingly leaving money on the table.
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Batman and Robin #1: Peter Tomasi sets the tone for the relaunch of the title right away, going from a “Batman Inc” reference to a Bruce Wayne who is making a conscious effort to move out of the darkness and a Damian Wayne full of youthful arrogance and a “cripple villains, ask questions later” aggressive streak. As much as I generally like the “little shithead” version of Robin, Tomasi lays it on a little thick, though his Batman who is giving up on wallowing in despair and grief is a welcome change and in line with the work Grant Morrison did on Batman over the last few years. I like a Batman who has at least something of a lighter side, and after the awfulness of last weeks Detective Comics it’s extremely welcome. What’s not quite so welcome is the horrific murder cliffhanger that sets up the villain for this first story arc. As tolerant as I am of darker storylines in a Batman book, it feels like a plot beat in conflict with the rest of the book’s tone.
Batwoman #1: Picking up almost exactly from where the Batwoman feature in Detective Comics left off, with very little in the way of recap provided, Batwoman runs a real risk of being too hard for new readers to pick up. Which is a shame, because it’s easily the prettiest of all the new titles released by DC so far. Another point in its favor is that the “Crime Bible” storyline which had so dominated previous stories about Kate Kane is, outside of that recap, pretty much absent here. It was an interesting storyline, but it had started to feel somewhat interminable, and so a new direction is welcome. A new villain is introduced, with an extremely disturbing modus operandi which, amazingly, is presented in a tasteful manner (something that really shouldn’t be noteworthy for a super-hero book, but somehow is in our brave new world). The return of Cameron Chase and the D.E.O. is welcome for longtime DC fans, but in general it’s another of those little details that may turn off new readers.
Deathstroke #1: It takes a lot to get me interested in a comic starring Deathstroke. This…isn’t quite it, but it’s an admirable attempt. My main gripe with Deathstroke is that he’s just a bit too much of a “pet” character for too many writers, which makes his skills far too inconsistent. It’s hard for me to take Deathstroke seriously as a credible threat, for example, when his original history has him getting his ass handed to him by the Teen Titans of all people, or at best fighting them to a draw. Add in the sheer tackiness of his implied sexual relationship with an underage girl, and he’s just not a character I really want to see around much. What Kyle Higgins does here that I like is present Deathstroke as a past-his-prime mercenary who has to re-establish his reputation. It’s a slight variation of the previous template, and has more potential for interesting stories, and Joe Bennett does some nice, clean action-style art here…but it’s a book starring Deathstroke and I really just can’t muster any enthusiasm for that.
Demon Knights: Sometimes what I want out of my comics is simple. I like my super-hero books, sure, but I like interesting blends of genre too. And here we have a book that gives us the Demon, Madame Xanadu, the Shining Knight, Vandal Savage, Mordru (of all people) along with several new characters who bear some resemblance to certain other super-heroes in a story that has Camelot, dinosaurs and exploding babies.
It’s pretty much exactly what I want. Paul Cornell introduces all the major characters briefly yet memorably, gives us a story with just the right amount of action and a healthy amount of black humor, and sets a major story in motion. Diogenes Neves gives us beautiful fantasy art filled with charming details. I particularly like a scene in the tavern all the heroes meet in (because where else would the heroes meet in a fantasy comic) where Neves captures perfectly an exasperated Madame Xanadu and a smirking Sir Ystin. They’re little details, easily lost in the huge fight scene, but they add charm and personality to the book and characters.
Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1: Jeff Lemire’s take on Frankenstein and the Creature Commandos hews fairly closely to the template established in the Seven Soldiers mini-series; weird science and monsters that wouldn’t be out of place in the Silver Age filtered instead through modern sensibilities. It straddles a line between a serious tone and a tongue-in-cheek one that works well, in a very self-consciously “comic-booky” sort of way. Overall the book is much lighter than the other horror influenced books, such as Lemire’s Animal Man, and the contrast is pretty welcome. The broader, more bombastic nature of a book like Frankenstein fills a gap between those darker books and the more traditional super-hero titles.
Green Lantern #1: The ultra-violent soap operatics of the Green Lantern family of titles continues, picking up right where the “War of the Green Lanterns” storyline left off and, for all appearances, the only title completely untouched by the line-wide reboot. In other words, this is exactly the same comic you were getting before the reboot, for good or ill. The only significant change is the return of arch-villain Sinestro to the Green Lantern Corps. That has the potential to be at least an interesting storyline, but just as much time is spent on an increasingly self-destructive Hal Jordan feeling sorry for himself on Earth. That sort of thing I’m pretty much tired of.
Grifter #1: Grifter is another one of those concepts that feels like a hard fit for the DC universe. About the last thing that’s needed is yet another alien conspiracy, it strains suspension of disbelief to think that multiple secret invasions don’t continually step on each others toes. Broadly the book fills the same niche as Deathstroke, an action title with an amoral protagonist. Grifter benefits here in that it’s a “from the ground up” restart, so any baggage the character had before is gone. The specific set-up of Grifter fighting a real menace but appearing to be just a terrorist because no one else is aware of the threat is not greatly original territory (the premise of Rom comes to mind immediately, not to mention They Live), but it works well enough, and in the end this is actually a fairly promising start for what could be a pretty good title.
Legion Lost #1: At the best of times I’m fairly indifferent to the Legion of Super-Heroes. Since their most recent re-introduction the books have been fairly good, but, much as I cannot for the life of me fathom the point of the X-Men going off into space and hanging out with aliens, I just cannot see the point of having the Legion have adventures set in the modern day. The entire point of the book is that they are super-heroes…in the future! We’ve got dozens upon dozens of super-hero titles set in the modern day. The sci-fi setting is the only thing that sets the Legion apart from all of those. Why would you take that away.
Apart from those issues, this is yet another book that’s just adequate. Neither the writing nor the art is particularly spectacular, and the casual killing of two of the character’s is either a trite set-up for a fake out or just one more example of using a body count as a substitute for real drama.
Mister Terrific #1: This book opens well, with an action sequence that does a good job of establishing the character of Mister Terrific and what he is all about, leading into a quickly sketched origin sequence, but it all goes rapidly downhill from there. Transitions are awkward and sudden, characters are simply…present, without being presented to the reader in any meaningful capacity, and the book’s relationship to the previous continuity is unclear. The second point could be forgiven since there’s no reason why the presence of the Justice Society would have any particular impact on a rebooted status quo for Mister Terrific…but the character’s name is fairly nonsensical without the Golden Age connection. Add to this the presence of Karen Starr, aka Power Girl, and the book’s setting just feels jumbled. The lack of clear character introductions is confusing as well; why does a random woman begin making catty comments to Karen at a party? Is she meant to be significant, or does Michael Holt just randomly invite incredibly rude women to his parties?
Red Lanterns #1: Despite my growing skepticism regarding whether or not it’s worthwhile to read the Green Lantern line, this book, surprisingly, feels like it has potential. It’s still rough, by all means, but Peter Milligan’s script has some nice touches of melodrama mixed with grand guignol violence that is actually almost…fun? Ultra-violent space vigilantes is just an enough of an oddball concept that it could actually work, in the same way that books like Lobo actually managed to mostly work. The primary difference, of course, is that Lobo was, at least to some degree, meant to be funny, but a serious tone works as well. If Milligan runs with the direction that this first issue seems to suggest, that the Red Lanterns are essentially going to be dozens of Punishers in outer space, this could work despite the roughness.
Resurrection Man #1: This is easily the most unexpected title revamp, but it’s surprisingly pleasant to see a well regarded book that never quite hit sales success get another shot. Abnett and Lanning appear to pick up right where the previous series left off in 1999. It’s a nice nod to the original series, but it does mean that new readers are getting essentially tossed into the middle of an ongoing story. A little bit more in the way of exposition than “I die and come back with powers” might have been helpful. It has been twelve years, after all, since the previous issue was released. It does help, though, that the book is firmly moving within the hybrid super-hero-horror genre that DC is building here, with the start of a new storyline setting up Mitch as a prize in a war between, presumably, heaven and hell, and tying him in a little more closely with the rest of the “dark” heroes, if the appearance of Madame Xanadu for the second time this week is anything to go by.
Suicide Squad #1: This is a really awful comic. No, not because Harley Quinn is a sexed up Juggalette now. I sometimes feel like I’m the only person who remembers scenes like this on the cartoon that introduced her. “Inappropriately Sexualized Harley Quinn” is not a bug, it’s a feature, and has been since day one. And while I’m sympathetic to the complaints about making Amanda Waller a generic sexy gal, I’ve never been a fan of the character and, anyway, it’s a reboot. These things happen.
No, this is simply an ugly, awful comic. Grossly inconsistent art, and a casual disregard for human dignity that’s excused in the name of “well, these are bad guys.” This panders to the same “extreme” crowd that Detective Comics did, and the only difference is that there are one or two well drawn pages in this book.
Superboy #1: Well, this was a pleasant surprise. I’ll admit, I wasn’t expecting much when I realized that Superboy was getting a complete restart as well, especially when it was going back to the “clone created by evil scientists” well. And while the introduction of yet another clandestine organization with a silly acronym name is, well, silly, the book itself is really quite good. Scott Lobdell makes restrained use of references to the wider DC universe and integrates a key Wildstorm character in a pleasant way, while playing up the amoral nature of a freshly cloned Superboy. He has no morals or ethics because he has no experiences yet, and his hyper-awareness gives him a refreshingly nuanced take on the events unfolding around him. R.B. Silva’s art is nicely expressive as well, and he captures a convincing impression of adolescent confusion in his Superboy.
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Action Comics #1: Superman gets a “from the ground up” reboot from Grant Morrison and Rags Morales. I’m still not convinced of the necessity of tossing out all of Superman’s previous history, though setting the book in the past, prior to the widespread appearance of super-heroes in the DC universe softens the blow somewhat. Morrison is a writer who has earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his treatment of Superman, and it’s easy to see how his vision of a cocky, proletariat Superman who is more concerned with harassing criminal bankers and saving abused wives and squatters than giant alien robots from the future leads into the Superman from the superlative All-Star Superman. Lex Luthor is once again a semi-respectable figure, and his anti-Superman xenophobia is couched in plausible enough scientific terms to make more sense than it usually does. Lois Lane is Lois Lane, Morrison nails her voice perfectly. Morales is an artist whose work I’ve always liked, but never really followed, and his characters are expressive and attractive, even if some of the action sequences appear to be a little rushed and hard to follow (a very common problem with the relaunch titles across the board).
Animal Man #1: Writer Jeff Lemire gives Animal Man a much softer reset than many other characters, picking up seemingly shortly after Grant Morrison’s run on the title, while acknowledging in an info-dumpish text piece that, yes, all the 52 era stories still happened to him, which means that, mostly, Animal Man is continuing on from where he was pre-reboot, sans his Vertigo era stories. This works very well, as the best draw for Animal Man as a character has been the idea of a man who treats super-heroics more as a hobby, and is more concerned with being a husband and father than saving the world. And, of course, getting caught up in horrible, world-threatening plots from Lovecraftian horrors. As a super-hero horror title, Animal Man is genuinely unsettling, not so much for the idea of horrible eldritch horrors, but for the understated nature of artist Travel Foreman’s matter-of-fact depictions of creepily unnatural things.
Batgirl #1: Surprisingly, I think this rates as the most disappointing of the reboots so far. The idea of making Barbara Gordon Batgirl again makes sense on paper; she’s Batgirl on TV, in movies, cartoons, merchandise, toys…as far as the general, non-comics reading public is concerned, she is Batgirl. To fans, of course, she’s Oracle, and Batgirl is either Cassandra Cain or Stephanie Brown, depending on whether you’re a Tumblr Batfamily fan or a LiveJournal Batfamily fan. While the arguments against taking away the highest profile physically disabled super-hero weren’t without some merit, putting fan-favorite writer Gail Simone on the book felt like a calculated attempt to keep everyone happy while making sure the face on the Batgirl t-shirts on shelves at Target matches the face in the comic books. Unfortunately, what we got was a book that tried to keep the comics history going, when a fresh start would have been better. Instead of daring young adventuress Barbara Gordon, we get “paralyzed by fear” Barbara Gordon (no pun intended) along with her sitcom not-really-quirky-but-we’re-meant-to-think-so roommate, the dumbest cop in Gotham, and a villain whose method feels ripped off from the Final Destination movies. I’m not prepared to write off this title yet, as Simone has shown she can do good work, and in general I like both the concept of Batgirl and the character of Barbara, but this was a weak start.
Batwing #1: The fun thing about titles that you have low expectations going into is that you can be surprised by them. I don’t think anyone heard that Judd Winick was going to be writing a Batman, Inc. spin-off set in Africa and became excited at the prospect, but Batwing is surprisingly good. Winick is usually a competent, but unremarkable writer, when it comes to super-hero adventure, and while the concept of “Batman of Africa” is treated a little too on the nose here (right down to the faithful man-servant) and the opening plot, about the investigation into the murder of a super-hero is the sort of adolescent “reality” that has just become tiresome in recent years, there’s enough wit and intelligence here to propel the story, while Ben Oliver’s painterly art is absolutely lush.
Detective Comics #1: It’s hard to say just how bad this comic is. Tony Daniel’s art is the best I’ve ever seen it, which sounds very much like damning with faint praise, but I mean it sincerely. The frustrating thing about the art is that it’s in service to a story that is utterly execrable and demonstrative of everything that is wrong with super-hero comics these days. Stupidly violent and exploitative, Detective reads like a watered down version of something you’d expect to see from Avatar, and has the casually violent and bombastic tone that feels more appropriate to Lady Death or Evil Ernie than to DC’s flagship title. What little promise a high-action Joker vs. Batman story could have is brutally undermined by the introduction of a “newer and more badasser” villain who then proceeds to perform an act of violence on the Joker that is calculated to shock and only becomes dumber the more I think about it. It’s an act that simply must be undone, thus robbing the moment of any dramatic impact, and it is so crass and gross in itself that it can only exist in order to pander to the lowest of common denominators, those who want their Batman comics “darkity dark dark grim” and “hardcore.”
That the word “fangasmic” is actually used ironically on that very page is almost the final insult.
Green Arrow #1: Green Arrow gets an extensive reboot as well, deaging and returning to his “billionaire industrialist” days. In many ways this is a very old-school sort of super-hero story, with Dan Jurgens and George Perez on art giving the book a clean traditional comic look, and J.T. Krul sticking with a very direct secret-identity, man of action, beat-up-the-villains adventure book. It’s good fun, and probably a much-needed basic approach for the Green Arrow character, but that same lack of complication and straightforward nature also results in a final work that’s a bit bland. It’s neither good enough to elicit much enthusiasm nor bad enough to be worthy of much commentary.
Hawk & Dove #1: Rob Liefeld’s art is like that one friend from high school that you used to be really good friends with. You hung out with him all the time, you did everything together, and you thought you would be friends for ever. And then you went off to college and he stayed in your home town, and you had life changing experiences and grew and matured, and he stayed in your home town. And now when you see him you remember how you used to be good friends, and you try to rekindle that, but you’ve changed too much and he’s still that exact same guy.
Continuing almost exactly from where Brightest Day left off, this is another book that provides perfectly adequate, but somewhat unremarkable, super-hero adventure. There’s more attention played to the soap opera aspects of super-heroes here than in many of the other launch titles so far, with implications of love triangles past and present and a “dark counterpart” to the title characters hinted at on the final page. Most people are probably going to focus on the Rob Liefeld art, however, but for all the snark about it you’ll see online his name still sells comics. Personally I think the book would have benefited from a less idiosyncratic, or less notorious, artist.
Justice League #1: The theme of “adequate but unremarkable” continues here, which is a shame, as the first book of the relaunch could have been used, and arguably should have been used, as an excuse for DC to put their best foot forward and set the tone and quality for the relaunch. Jim Lee’s art is perfectly fine, if somehow providing an impression of being both over-rendered and somewhat rushed. What little story there is has some nice bits of characterization, with an arrogant Green Lantern, a Batman who actually manages to crack a smile, and a cocky Superman in line with his more-or-less contemporaneous portrayal in Action Comics. The major problem here is that for a comic called Justice League only three super-heroes actually show up, and they spend almost as much time bickering amongst themselves as they do fighting a shape-shifting minion of Darkseid. A “done in one” story is probably too much to expect, but a little more forward momentum would have been nice.
Justice League International #1: Another throw-back book, with clean, traditional super-hero art by Aaron Lopresti, and an extremely talky script by Dan Jurgens filled with declarative statements. It’s well characterized and appears to tie in slightly to the larger post-Flashpoint storyline that seems to be building, but good Lord, did I mention that this was a talky book? Much like Green Arrow this is a book that suffers from not being quite remarkable but lacking any significant flaws either. It simply is, and while I still have a soft spot for this kind of traditional, uncomplicated team book, it’s hard to see anyone becoming too excited about it.
Men of War #1: Ivan Brandon and Tom Derenick manage to pull off the best trick of all with the revamp titles; they create a realistic war comic that manages to take place in a world with super-heroes that doesn’t feel forced, gratuitous or just plain dumb. Derenick’s art is simply fantastic, with distinctive characters and large-scale action that is easy to follow. Brandon quickly sketches the new Sergeant Rock, grandson of the original, as a believable character, and it will be interesting to see where the title goes from here. Given the “ground level” approach of the series, explicitly setting the title in the regular DC universe ran the risk of undermining the realistic approach, but by keeping the super-heroes at arms length in the title itself, more forces of nature, random and inscrutable to the average person, and their actions and effect on the world more like a natural disaster, an appropriate tone is maintained and a different perspective on the setting is achieved.
O.M.A.C. #1: Another example of how a book with low expectations can prove surprising. Even at the best of times OMAC is a bit of a hard-sell as a property. Even by Bronze Age Kirby standards, it was a fundamentally weird book. Dan Didio and Ketih Giffen run with that aspect here, ditching the more recent attempts to make the concept work as a serious super-hero book, and just giving us an extremely peculiar book that mimics the look and feel of Kirby’s DC period, tossing in explicit references to the Fourth World and the Jimmy Olsen Cadmus Project characters as well as elements of the OMAC setting. There’s a certain amount of self-awareness to the book’s humor as well; we know this is silly but we just run with it, because why not? It’s a comic book after all. Giffen crowds out the pages with large, insanely detailed mechanical constructs, creating a visual overload of information that further sets the book’s tone of unrestrained, aggressive oddness. It’s a stand out book all around, and my only question is if the momentum can be maintained.
Static Shock #1: Scott McDaniel and John Rozum give us a fun, fairly light in tone, teen super-hero book with some entertaining action and interesting characterization. Like a lot of “teen hero in the city” books, the obvious parallel to draw is to early Spider-Man stories, the main difference here is that Static lacks the narcissistic self-pity of that character. As an introductory issue, though, a fair amount of knowledge about the character is assumed, and there is very little in the way of exposition to catch new readers up to speed. Again, this is a situation where a fresh start and a clean reboot for the character might have been of benefit, instead of an attempt to continue from the previous status quo with only minor alterations, such as a change in locale and a mentor/adviser in fellow Milestone character Hardware. It’s not bad by any means, and the new villains are intriguing and the book is fun, but it falls a little short of being easy to recommend.
Stormwatch #1: There’s been a fair amount of skepticism at the idea of integrating the Wildstorm characters into the DC universe. Unlike the Vertigo characters, who had their roots in the DCU to begin with, most of the Wildstorm characters are wildly divergent in setting and tone from the general DC crop. That Stormwatch not only brings Wildstorm characters into DC, but mixes them with traditionally DC characters, means that writer Paul Cornell has a somewhat harder row to hoe than some of the other reboot writers. The results here are fairly mixed. Miguel Sepulveda’s art is highly inconsistent throughout the issue, and while Cornell continues the high-stakes, high-weirdness tone that characterizedStormwatch and Authority during their heights, the book still feels like an odd fit for the DCU as a whole, especially when it references events in both Superman and Demon Knights that, from a publishing standpoint, have yet to happen. I feel like the book has a fairly strong potential, based both on Cornell’s previous work, and on the strengths of the characterizations for Martian Manhunter, Apollo and Midnighter, the main draws for the book, despite any protestations that may be made to the contrary. But this is another weak start, and a notably weak one at that.
Swamp Thing #1: Another of the stand-out books of the relaunch. Scott Snyder continues on from the Search for Swamp Thing mini, with Alec Holland and Swamp Thing two separate entities now, but the best beats of the book are the moments where, as in Jeff Lemire’s Animal Man, a genuinely unsettling horror approach is mixed with the super-hero universe. Yanick Paquette’s art is, unsurprisingly for those familiar with it, absolutely beautiful, even when drawing fairly horrific things, and it fits quite well with the tone and subject matter of the book, while still being accessible enough that the sudden appearance of Superman isn’t jarring.
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The Power Within is an emotionally affecting anti-bullying comic published by Northwest Press and created by Charles “Zan” Christensen and Mark Brill. I had read Christensen and Brill’s previous collaboration, The Mark of Aeacus, and enjoyed it, but Power Within is a very different and far more resonant book.
It’s a didactic story, about a gay teenager dealing with bullying peers and adults indifferent to his situation, who retreats into superheroic fantasies to cope with his problems. The story exists strongly within the shadow of the recent media attention given to the high suicide rate in gay teens and the “It Gets Better” project, but successfully avoids any hints of maudlin emotion or preachiness. Instead the story feels very honest and is genuinely affecting. Christensen’s script deserves credit here, but so does Brill’s art, which has an approachable, cartoony feel that still allows for very expressive characters. There are also a number of short stories by guest creators rounding out the package and expanding upon the central theme, and while none are as successful as the central story they are all worthwhile pieces in and of themselves.
The Power Within is available from Diamond, with order code: #JUL111189 and Northwest Press has a website devoted to the book with material aimed at comics retailers and information on how youth groups and educators can receive copies.
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Posted by Dorian in reviews
As I’ve done every year there has been a Free Comic Book Day, I take a look at each offering to give you an idea of what’s worth picking up and what’s worth leaving behind. So many books come out, it can be a bit overwhelming, and while some companies look at Free Comic Book Day as a way to put the industry’s best foot forward and try to bring in new readers, others…don’t. And since many retailers institute limits on how many free books a person can pick up, I think it’s important to make sure that you only pick up the best of the best.
2000 AD (Rebellion)
Mostly too-brief previews of a number of serials running in the magazine, the centerpiece here is a short Judge Dredd tale that emphasizes the satirical nature of the series. There’s also a reprint of a much older Tharg story about a Marvel Comics fan learning that violent British sci-fi comics are better than super-heroes. The only other character I’m familiar with that appears is Slaine, and the other stories seem intended to appeal to American audiences.
Amazing Spider-Man (Marvel Comics)
What could have been a fun story about Spider-Man and Spider-Woman having one of those oh-so-typical super-heroic misadventures where they fight and then team up to fight the real villain instead becomes an extended teaser for the next big Spider-Man storyline “Spider Island.” So the fun is diminished somewhat by the hard sell. Not to mention the “Fear Itself” preview, which feels particularly unnecessary, and has scenes of Nazis killing Nazis which feel out of place in a Spider-Man book.
Atomic Robo (Red 5 Comics)
There are some intriguing back-up stories here (Foster Broussaud more than Moon Girl I must say), but the stand-out here is the lead story, featuring Atomic Robo saving a science fair from a deranged dinosaur with guns. It’s the sort of inspired lunacy that makes comics worthwhile.
Avatar/Star Wars (Dark Horse Comics)
As someone who has never watched the Avatar cartoon, I found these two short stories fairly easy to follow, but I had really no idea what any of the back-story on these characters was, or why I should be interested in them. The art was attractive, though, and the jokes were all right for this kind of material. The Star Wars comic featured characters I don’t remember seeing in any of the films and deaths by axe. I feel like I should find that shocking, but random brutality and characters I don’t recognize seems to be normal for Star Wars these days.
Baltimore/Criminal Macabre (Dark Horse Comics)
Two horror comics, one focusing on dread and terror, the other more on humor and banter. Both are quite good and provide intriguing introductions to the characters featured.
Bongo Comics Free-For-All 2011 (Bongo)
A variety of short comics featuring Simpsons characters. If you have ever read a previous Bongo FCBD book, you know exactly what to expect.
Captain America/Thor: The Mighty Fighting Avengers (Marvel Comics)
I have to admit, it takes a lot of nerve for Marvel to put out a book tying into the cancelled Langridge/Samnee Thor series.
That being said, this is a good, old-fashioned super-hero adventure comic, with some nice character bits and a little bit of action, and extremely good art by Chris Samnee. It should do a good job of getting kids interested in Thor, though Captain America gets somewhat less attention.
Civil War Adventures (History Graphics Press)
Not so much “history” here as a convenient era to set some horror and crime comics in. Generally good art, though, even if the Civil War connections appear to be mostly there as a sop to pass this off as educational.
Dark Crystal/Mouse Guard (Archaia)
A teaser for the forthcoming series based on the Jim Henson film and a short story set in the Mouse Guard universe. The teaser should please fans of the film, as it promises important back-story for the film, but the short fable from the Mouse Guard series is more satisfying.
The Darkness: Confession (Top Cow/Image)
A promo comic for the Mature-rated Darkness 2 video-game that appears to recap the events of the previous game. This is a remarkably ugly book, and its primary purpose seems to be to give the artists an excuse to draw people being killed in ugly ways.
Darkwing Duck/Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers (Boom! Studios)
The art on these is pretty good, and there are some funny jokes in the Darkwing Duck book, but I find myself perplexed at who these are meant to be aimed at. They don’t feel like kids books; they feel like books for adults about childrens’ cartoons. I’m at the upper age limit of people who watched these shows when they first aired, and I haven’t kept up with the characters, but a certain amount of knowledge is assumed.
Elric: The Balance Lost (Boom! Studios)
Nice art by Frencesco Biagini that captures the look and feel of Elric nicely, and a suitably portentious set-up for this new series by Chris Roberson. Somewhat excessively gorey for a Free Comic Book Day book, maybe, but a promising introduction to this new series.
Geronimo Stilton and the Smurfs (Papercutz)
More Smurfs material is always a good thing, but I have to admit, with the attention that Papercutz has received for their Smurfs reprints, and with the movie coming out this year, it’s a little surprising that they’re serving as a back-up here to part of a Geronimo Stilton story. The Stilton story isn’t bad, it has nice art and is fairly engaging for a kid’s book. It just doesn’t quite feel like the A material here.
Green Lantern Special Edition (DC Comics)
As a teaser for the Green Lantern film, this isn’t bad, as it hits all the salient origin plot points, but that big “Book 2” on the first page is probably going to throw some people, and the cross-over checklist attached to the “Flashpoint” teaser is long enough that I’m sure it’s going to cause some people to reconsider their interest in the series.
Ice/Loose Ends (12 Gauge Comics)
Two crime comics, one about a violence prone immigration enforcement unit, and one about a drug runner. Art on both is passable, but the ICE preview pretty much turned me off the series, and Loose Ends didn’t give me enough information to tell if I was interested or not.
Inspector Gadget (Viper Comics)
The Gadget story is pretty true to the source material…right down to the heavy use of anti-Muslim caricatures that should have been too embarrassing to publish. There is a second feature, something called “Johnny Test” but the reproduction is so bad I didn’t even bother to read it.
The Intrepid Escapegoat (Th3rd World Studios)
An absolutely fantastic all ages adventurecomic with magic (of the stage and Egyptian varieties), monsters, and flying trains. The art by Brian Smith fits the story well, and is remarkably expressive for it’s simple line work.
Jake the Dreaming (Radical)
Not a comic at all, but excerpts from an upcoming Young Adult novel and a few illustrations from same. Rather misses the point of Free COMIC BOOK day, despite the format.
John Stanley’s Summer Fun! (Drawn & Quarterly)
I’ve made no secret in the past that I intensely dislike the trade dress that D&Q is doing on their line of children’s comics reprints, and that I think the reproductions are subpar. This is the ugliest book I’ve seen from them yet. The comics appear to have been photocopied from the originals. It looks amateurish for something that is supposed to be a high end collection.
The only thing this has in its favor is that the John Stanley strips are really good.
Locke & Key (IDW)
Nice art, but for a book that I’ve heard mostly mixed reviews on, this doesn’t seem to be a very clear indication of what the book is about. It looks like an ambitious children’s fantasy comic, but then we have a text piece insisting that no, really, this is a mature reader’s book and this all-ages issue is the exception to the rule. Which makes me wonder why an issue from the middle of the storyline that isn’t indicative of the normal tone was chosen.
Mis-Adventures of Adam West/Walter Koening’s Things To Come (Bluewater Comics)
If I was Adam West, I’d want a comic about me to portray me as a bitter, angry old man who can’t get work and starts to hallucinate. The less said about the other comic, the better.
The Overstreet Guide to Collecting Comics (Gemstone Publishing)
A text heavy pamphlet with a couple of crudely drawn comics focusing on the importance of properly grading comics and how valuable they could be.
It’s a distressingly mercenary approach to introducing kids to comics that I can’t help but find offensive.
AVOID at all costs. Seriously, if someone hands a copy to you, throw it away
Path of the Planewalker 2 (Wizards of the Coast)
Very inconsistent art for a fantasy story about a wizard searching for an evil witch and remembering his childhood. It’s entirely possible that illustrations on game-cards don’t actually require this much back-story.
Pep Comics (Archie Comics)
An Archie comic focusing on Betty and Veronica, or more specifically, Veronica being, well, Veronica. The jokes aren’t the freshest or most original, and everyone learns a lesson in the end. In other words, an Archie comic, and while it’s a pretty good Archie comic, it all comes down to whether or not you have the patience for Archie comics.
I do note that Archie has taken the opportunity to push their Kevin Keller comic here. I’m curious to see if there’s any blowback from that.
Rated Free For Everyone (Oni Press)
Two upcoming kids comics from Oni are featured here, both well-drawn and with unusual premises, the sorts of things that Oni does well in its kids line. Sketch Monsters, about a little girl whose notebook drawings come to life, is the better of the two, largely do to its inventive monster designs. Power Lunch, about food-based super-powers, is relatively tame in comparison.
Richie Rich/Kung Fu Panda 2 (Ape Entertainment)
The Kung Fu Panda stories here are alright, if slight, kids adventure comics with some gags, but the Richie Rich story strikes an odd chord. The art feels ill-suited to the characters, and the updates to Irona and Cadbury feel like an effort to make the characters more “extreme” in an unsuccessful way. The cover features Cadbury, Richie’s butler, wielding a gun. That just doesn’t seem a good fit for a kids comic.
Silver Scorpion (Liquid Comics)
Slick art for an old-school superhero origin story with slightly heavy-handed political resonances and tragedies laid on a bit thick.
Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics)
Setting aside the usual shudder that too much contact with the internet causes whenever Sonic the Hedgehog comics come to mind, we have a typical fight comic here, with a blue hedgehog fighting some sort of robot-wizard monster in the snow, while references to past and future continuity in the Sonic comics get dropped left and right.
I have no idea how this will make sense to someone who has never read a Sonic comic before.
Spontaneous (Oni Press)
Oni’s contributions to FCBD are usually worth checking out, and while this doesn’t really seem like it’s “for me” it’s still worth checking out. It’s a mystery series, maybe, or a horror series. It’s a bit hard to tell. It’s certainly a teen investigators cracking wise series. Focused on spontaneous human combustion. So it’s a little too purposefully quirky for me to really embrace, but it’s well done quirk.
Super Dinosaur (Image)
A kids superhero comic about a dinosaur in a mecha suit. It should be pretty high-concept, but almost all of this issue is people sitting around talking about the things Super Dinosaur has done, making it more of an illustrated bit of exposition than an actual comic story.
The Tick (NEC Press)
A short, fun, self-referential Tick comic, followed by several Marvel Universe/Who’s Who style pages featuring members of the Tick’s supporting cast. The goal here is largely to advertise other Tick comics you can buy, but the Les McClane art is good, and, if you’re into this sort of humor, it’s pretty funny.
Top 10 Deadliest Sharks/Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Predators (Silver Dragon Book)
The dinosaur portion of the book features beautiful illustrations and should excite any kid who loves dinosaurs. The focus on the shark book is more on the thrill of reading an illustrated shark attack, but as promos for a line of educational kids comics these offer a good taste of what to expect: a mix of sensationalism and facts.
Top Shelf Kids Club (Top Shelf Productions)
Top Shelf usually has a good mix of material for kids. A lot of this stuff is barely comprehensible, but that’s sort of it’s charm. It’s high energy, non-ironic, deliberately weird stuff.
Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse (Fantagraphics Books)
Fantagraphics previewers their upcoming Mickey Mouse newspaper strip reprints with a short Floyd Gottfredson story about Mickey outsmarting crooks at a dog track. The art is crisply reproduced and the story is fun, and should be of interest to both kids and anyone curious about the Gottfredson books.
Witch and Wizard (Yen Press)
I’m not familiar with the James Patterson novels this is based on, but it appears to be an American response to Harry Potter with more explicitly fascist villains. As such, it hits the usual plot points that Young Adult fiction tends to. The manga style art by Svetlana Chmakova is better than I expect for this sort of thing.
Worlds of Aspen 2011 (Aspen Comics)
I think this is, if anything, even less comprehensible than the FCBD contributions Aspen has put out in the past. The closest thing to something with a narrative here is six pages of a “Soulfire” comic, which probably makes sense if you know what Soulfire is, but otherwise appears to be about women with insect wings yelling at each other.
Young Justice/Batman Super Sampler (DC Comics)
Two decent, but unremarkable, stories featuring the stars of DC’s current animated shows fighting bad guys. The Young Justice story has an interesting recap of the regular characters, while the Batman story is a more straight-forward team-up with the Flash. Good enough kids books.
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Posted by Dorian in reviews
The most satisfying recent book I’ve read was Triumff: Her Majesty’s Hero by Dan Abnett. I’m so incredibly bored of conventional fantasy novels, but I’m not particularly interested in most “urban fantasy” either. I can pretty much begin and end my interest in the genre with Jim Butcher’s Dresden novels, in fact. So I was glad to stumble across the Angry Robot Books dump recently, because an entire publishing line of idiosyncratic fantasy and sci-fi novels is extremely welcome at the moment. Abnett’s book is essentially an alternate history fantasy, taking as its departure point the unification of the British and Spanish Empires during the Elizabethan age, which coincidentally led to the adoption of magic as the fundamental technology of the empire. This combination of factors has led to a social stagnation, so that even though the book takes place in 2010, politically, culturally and scientifically the world is still rooted in the Renaissance. Except for Australia, which developed a scientifically advanced society thanks to remaining undiscovered until just recently. The discoverer of Australia is Rupert Triumff, rogue and adventurer, who has returned to England determined to keep Australia undisturbed from the unified forces of the English army and church and finds himself caught up in a plot to assassinate the Queen and restore Spain to independence.
Abnett’s writing is fast-paced and engaging, and funny when it needs to be. The lead is entertaining and likable, but still has enough flaws to be believable as a somewhat disreputable figure. There are points where the plot meanders a bit, focusing on secondary characters that don’t contribute much to the story, and this may be explained by the strong suggestion late in the book that this is the first of an intended series. Despite that, though, it’s fun, and a welcome change from the overwhelming sameness dominating the shelves in the fantasy sections.
I also read the latest Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett, I Shall Wear Midnight, the fourth book in the cycle of stories focusing on apprentice witch Tiffany Aching. It’s a more or less satisfying conclusion to Tiffany’s story, with all the major plot threads from previous books tied up, but there’s something slightly frustrating about it. A recurring theme of Pratchett’s witch books is that people are, fundamentally, stupid, and this is a root cause of most evil. The villain here is that human stupidity both writ large and personified in a disembodied spirit known as the Cunning Man, a sort of antithesis to Pratchett’s witches. It’s a largely passive villain, and as a consequence the anti-witch feelings he stirs up feel too artificial a threat to be any real danger to Tiffany or the other witches. Tiffany’s triumph over him should be more thrilling than it is. But in the end, everyone gets what they need, if not what they deserve, and for long-time Discworld readers at least one long-standing, unresolved thread, the “whatever happened to Esk anyway” question, gets answered, in what feels like the obligatory suggestion of a coming novel’s plot.
I also read the first two novels in Christopher Fowler’s “Peculiar Crimes Unit” series, which were recommended to me on the strength of being locked-room, fair-play mysteries with, well, downright peculiar plots. Full Dark House is an entertaining riff on The Phantom of the Opera that bounces back and forth between murders in a theater during the height of the Blitz and an investigation into what appears to be a terrorist bombing in modern London that might be related. The characters are unique while still filling recognizable types for detective fiction, and the mystery unfolds in a precise way. The Water Room focuses on a street in modern London undergoing gentrification and the ritualistic murders of the yuppies who live on it. The characters from the first book are mostly side-lined, and the characters introduced here, well…you don’t particularly mind them getting killed off. Full Dark House I enjoyed a lot. The Water Room…I was disappointed by. Fowler is a very good writer, and his mysteries are inventive and original, so I suspect I’ll continue on with at least the next book in the series after I clear my back-log a bit.
Currently I’m mostly back on fantasy, and am in the midst of Richard K. Morgan’s The Steel Remains, which, I won’t lie, I only picked up because I found it listed as a fantasy book with a gay lead character. It’s firmly in the tradition of modern low fantasy, such as the “Song of Fire and Ice”, with far more time spent on world-building and the political state of the world than in heroic figures going off to fight monsters. The characters are deeply, deeply flawed, and even the supposed heroes are more dark and brutish than some of the alleged villains. The lead, Ringil, is a strongly compelling protagonist, a one-time war hero slowly going to seed from lack of challenge, called back to the city he once saved by his noble family to rescue a cousin sold into slavery. That he’s gay is as much of his character as his cynicism and deeply felt guilt, but it’s not the defining aspect of his character the way it sometimes feels in books specifically aimed at gay readers. It’s a realistic portrayal, and the social complications it causes in his repressive and somewhat fascist society are handled believably. As I say, I’m in the midst of it, with frequent breaks because Morgan’s style is somewhat more dry than I prefer in my casual reading and I can already see the warning signs of “first in a series” with the secondary characters. But I’m enjoying it all the same.
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