Archive for the “reviews” Category
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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