Monday, March 31, 2014

Monthly Dose: March 2014

Monthly Dose is a semi-regular column where I reread one issue each month of long-completed series.

100 Bullets #17: It says a lot about this story arc that in only three issues, Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso were able to introduce Curtis and Loop to the reader, then to each other, then build their relationship to the point where I really cared about them, and then kill Curtis off in a brutal and heart-wrenching fashion with Loop there to see it. That's a lot to do in a short time, but it doesn't feel like so much the way Azzarello and Risso do it. They cut through the crap and get to the good stuff on every page. For example, we don't see the beating Curtis gets here; not one punch punch is thrown in-panel. It cuts straight from him being cornered to him lying in a bloody, ugly mess on the floor, because there's no need to show the violence once you've made it clear that it's inevitable. Every scene is smartly paced and structured in that way, each of them starting with the first essential line and ending with the last one, with no real filler thrown in. It all matters, starting with every word (and a whole bunch of unspoken words expressed through Risso's brilliant body language and facial expression) exchanged between Curtis and Graves in the first scene. Though their exact history isn't spelled out in detail, the gist of their existing dynamic is covered quickly so that they can get right to complicating it further by talking about and involving Loop. It's a strong opening, and it propels the rest of the issue steadily forward, a slow-burn of constant tension ending in a literal and emotional explosion. I don't really know what else to say about this issue, because there aren't necessarily a lot of specific standout moments. The whole thing stands out as a remarkably tight, moody, effective piece of comicbook fiction, a deliberate and intelligent progression of what was already a great arc. Loop has gone from not knowing his dad to being best friends with him to losing him in violence and fire. That's an awful lot for an already angry, confused, somewhat immature character to go through, and I have no doubt that his reaction next month will be intense and intriguing. 100 Bullets has just gotten deadly serious and immensely tragic, so I'm excited to see just how destructively it all ends.

Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. #5: The oversized nature of these issues has never been more obvious than when reading this one. At one point I thought I was nearing the end, just based on narrative flow, but it turned out I still had 14 pages to go. The main reason for this is that, even as he progresses the story, Bob Harras just can't stop himself from explaining and re-explaining and over-explaining every single thing that happens or has happened. The number of times that the bad guys talked about how close Fury was to being in their hands was straight up ridiculous. I understand that it was the last step in their villainous plan, but even keeping that in mind, they talked about it way too often. It's already been said so many times in the previous four issues, that one or maybe two reminders could've easily been enough here. Instead it gets brought up every few pages from start to finish. Ick. The rapid aging and constant regeneration of the members of Project Delta, and their internal torment over that whole deal, was another long-established theme that got over-explored in this issue. There was just a lot of that all over, old ideas or plot points being rehashed in the dialogue without adding any new information. In between, things did steadily roll forward, but at a snail's pace because room had to be made for all the old hat. That being said, I'm still enjoying this narrative, despite the repetitiveness of the script and its poor pace. Things were sort of kicked up a notch this issue when Fury finally, fully uncovered who he was fighting and what they wanted. He's being brought face-to-face with the big bad now, which I suppose was pretty much a necessary place to leave him at the end of the penultimate chapter. Now the head villain's real plans can be revealed, and Fury can figure out some ballsy way to thwart them. I'm excited to get to that, so it that sense, at least, this issue did its job. It left me wanting more in the end, even though along the way I could've done with a little less. There were, luckily, a whole bunch of really nice visual moments from Paul Neary and Kim DeMulder to carry me through. The cream of the crop was Fury and his crew climbing snow-covered cliffs while wearing enormous, flowy capes. It reminded me of something out of a D&D session, which I'm always for. The Deltites beings tractor-beamed into the orbs also looked great, especially the last time it happened, where one half of the page was people resisting, while the other was a group fully committed to the Delta cause, serenely allowing themselves to be transported. That was a cool contrast. And I dug colorist Bernie Jaye's decision to do the Val-Kate scenes with all-red lighting. It added a surreality and somberness to their already rather dreary conversation. Because it had a decent amount of boring, pointless dialogue, this issue definitely didn't astound me, but I'm deep enough into the story of the series now that I'm invested and eager to get to the end, so I appreciated the good bits and got over the bad ones pretty quickly.

X-Force (vol. 1) #17: After skipping another three chapters, I got to dive into part 8 of "X-Cutioner's Song," which starts with a full-page splash of Stryfe and Apocalypse facing each other down "Inside the temple of Bani Maza, behind the walls of yesterday..." according to the caption box, whatever that even means. It is a badass opening image, though I have no idea how we got there or what the exact significance of the moment really is. Two huge, scary-looking, heavily-armored supervillains squaring off against one another in a chaotic close-quarters setting is cool enough to do it for me even without context. And the brawl these two engage in for the next few pages, which is less of a proper fight than it is Stryfe beating on a fleeing Apocalypse, looks fantastic. Greg Capullo is in his element drawing these two powerhouses, one pounding on the other. They are just the kind of bulky, menacing figures that make his work shine. Sadly, once Apocalypse gets away, things cool off and slow down considerably, and the rest of this issue is more of a status update on all the heroes of this story than it is an actual step forward in the larger narrative. There's a good cliffhanger ending, and it ties into the awesome beginning quite nicely, but in between there's an awful lot of recap talk and info-dumping and standing around. On the one hand, because I'm only reading the X-Force issues of this crossover, getting to see where everyone is and what they're up to was kind of nice. On the other, because I didn't read the chapter that preceded this one and won't be reading the on that follows it, either, getting this kind of breath-catching beat was sort of a bummer. I'd much rather be buried in confusing action like I was last month that have everything clearly explained but nothing interesting going on. I don't blame Fabian Nicieza for this, of course, because he had to write the part of the story he was given. And it's not necessarily his job to give people like me, who refuse to read the rest of the crossover, something exciting or action-packed in every issue of X-Force. It's actually a very good script, able to move between locations and characters efficiently so that all the exposition bases are covered and there's still room for Stryke to whomp on Apocalypse up front and for a wounded, beaten Apocalypse to arrive at the X-Mansion in the end. So all-in-all a very well-done issue, but sort of a snoozer as far as story goes, due to where this specific chapter lies in the structure of the overarching event story.

Sunday, March 30, 2014


This week, I wrote about Zero by Ales Kot and a whole slew of incredible artists over at PopMatters. That's been a gratifying book to follow so far, always doing new things and old things with equal skill and care. I also had my last ever Chemical Box"1987 and All That" column go up, on the final issue of Dakota North. The Chemical Box guys have decided to stop with written content on the site, but fear not, because I'm not going to stop writing the "1987" pieces, since they are maybe my favorite thing to work on. They'll have a new home next month, but more on that when it happens.

Something I Failed to Mention
I know that, at some point in preparing the Dakota North post, I made myself a note to talk about the cover. I have a vivid memory of typing that note. But apparently I didn't save it or didn't see it or something, because I made no mention of the cover at all when I actually wrote the thing, and it warrants mentioning. Real quick, check it out below:
What the fuck is happening with her arm? Is it just that the oversized sleeve makes it look misshapen, or is her elbow actually twisting backwards like that? I've stared at this a lot and I go back and forth on that one. There's also the fact that this whole pose is a bit on the brokeback side, inasmuch as Dakota's body is essentially in an S-shape so that her butt can be part of the foreground. But it's that arm that really bugs and distract and confounds me. Especially when I ask myself why, if she was whipping around with a gun out, presumably believing there's danger behind her, she would even have her other hand on her hip to begin with. Or her thigh or wherever it actually is. Like it should be out to the side, right? Helping carry her body through the spin? A very awkward bit of positioning, which is actually a fitting lead-in to the issue that follows.

Monday, March 24, 2014

A Late-to-the-Table Review of Moon Knight #1

I know Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey's new Moon Knight series debuted almost three weeks ago, but I just read the first issue yesterday and it stuck with me and so now I'm going to talk about it briefly. The rest of the Internet has certainly already said a lot about this issue, and I have no clue what the consensus is because I've been avoiding reading those reviews until I could read the actual comic. So what follows may be old hat, but it's my hat, and that's all I've got.

Moon Knight #1 was not the best new comic I read last night, nor was it the best-looking or most surprising or strangest or, really, the most anything. But it managed to strike some unique chords in me, some of my favorites and the ones least often struck by my superhero entertainment. Right off the bat, Moon Knight shows up at a crime scene and starts profiling the murderer, shooting out a bunch of hyper-confident conclusions based on his quick yet thorough observations of the evidence. In other words, he was Sherlock Holmes, a character who's having a bit of a renaissance lately, of which I am a fan. Both Sherlock and Elementary are top-notch shows, and Holmes has always been a character whose gimmick I enjoyed. The same is true of Moon Knight, the superhero who's insane, and Warren Ellis' script leans into that, too, but I don't want to go there yet, because I have one more Sherlock Holmes-related point to make. Something I often hear or read about Moon Knight, and it is pretty hard to deny, is that he's basically just Marvel's Batman. Rich guy, throws little boomerang things in special shapes, wears a cape, operates at night, no real superpowers. Dark Knight, Moon can see the parallels. That being said, there's an almost-just-as-obvious case to be made that Batman is DC's Sherlock Holmes. Super detective, obsessive to the point of putting himself at risk often, a strange but ultimately beneficial relationship with the local cops. There are echoes of Watson in Alfred and Robin. What I'm saying is, I like the idea of taking a character like Moon Knight who often gets accused of ripping off Batman and, instead, having him steal a page from one of Batman's own influences.

Ellis also plays up Moon Knight's craziness, as I mentioned, and in ways that I like because they are such opposites in tone. From the very start of the issue—which is pretty much just a blogger giving expository background info on Moon Knight to a disembodied voice on the other end of her phone—the topic of Moon Knight's mental state is more of a joke than a legitimate concern. Moon Knight himself is very vocal about the fact the he's nuts, but since he gets results everyone seems to live with it. Some disapprove, and some even question it aloud, but nobody gets in his way because he's brazen enough to get away with ignoring the skepticism. That's a fun way to handle the long-established insanity of the character, by just announcing up top that everybody knows about it and they're letting him do his thing anyway. But Ellis then twists that idea two times before the issue's end. First, in a scene where Marc Spector, the man who is Moon Knight behind the mask, goes to his therapist. She very politely and matter-of-factly (almost callously) explains to him that he does not, as he always believed, have Dissociative Identity Disorder. What he has, his doctor tells him, are the four aspects of the Egyptian god Khonshu living inside of him, forcing him to fight against "those who would would harm travellers by night." His brain tries to give these aspects their own identities because it cannot comprehend their true nature, but he's not truly crazy as the world believes and he claims publicly. He's just a vessel for a god's vengeance, plain and simple. This news does not seem to sit well with Marc, and after he hears it the issue concludes in the second twist, with two near-silent pages of him returning home, sullen and alone. His house is empty, large, and dusty, covered in cobwebs. Marc sits in a chair and sees sitting across from him a figure dressed in a suit with a giant bird skull for a head and it says to him "You are my son" in crazy white-on-black letters. I assume this is Khonshu himself showing up to bring things to a terrifying and incredibly dismal close, an unexpectedly heavy door slamming shut at the end of what had been a pretty fun and equally surprising superhero Sherlock story.

The impact of that conclusion, because it is almost wordless and the only four words spoken are in a very stylized font, is credited entirely to artist Declan Shalvey, colorist Jordie Bellaire, and letterer Chris Eliopoulos. The ease with which they transition at the end into black-and-gray horror after all the bright-white-and-red action of the previous pages deserves much praise, as does everything else they do on this book. Shalvey and Bellaire come together to make Moon Knight's all-white outfit not just pop but dazzle against the grim nighttime city backgrounds. He is so shockingly, abrasively noticeable that you believe it as a tactic against his enemies, a first-round stun affect based solely on style and confidence. Shalvey also makes the bad guy of this debut appropriately memorable but laughable, so we know he's not sticking around but he earned his place in the #1 issue. The best pages were definitely those devoted to the therapist scene, though, starting the gorgeous mountain setting, sliding quickly into the therapist's cruel enjoyment in delivering the bad news, and culminating in a gorgeously unsettling splash page that I would diminish if I tried to describe but, trust me, it's a highlight of the year so far. Bellaire is right there with Shalvey all along the way. She lights the villain is deeps reds, a nice contrast to Moon Knight's stark whites, and then mutes the colors for the therapy scene and beyond, bringing the mood down to something more somber and unnerving. Beyond Khonshu's dialogue, Eliopoulos doesn't have a lot of chances to show off, though he certainly letters every panel as expertly as is usual for him. And he does stellar work on the third-page title sequence, a very tidy and fun way to introduce the book's semi-humorous-with-a-lurking-dread tone.

I said this wasn't the best thing I read last night and that's true, but a lot of that is just because it's too new a book to bring out the same kind of emotions in me as the series in which I'm already heavily invested. Moon Knight was definitely my favorite debut in a couple of months, and is probably the title from the current wave of new Marvel stuff that has me most excited. I was always champing at the bit to see Shalvey and Bellaire on this particular character, and they did not disappoint for a second. They did, however, surprise me quite a bit in their handling of him, from his design to his supporting cast to his fighting style, so that's all great. I also didn't really know how to feel about the prospect of Ellis writing Moon Knight, and I damn sure didn't expect him to write a violent Sherlock Holmes with a death wish whose every move was dictated by the will of a god. That's a concept I'm attracted to for a number of reasons, and now that it has been so delightfully introduced, I'm eager to see the next step, the evolution of all these themes and threads.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

My Other Car is a Base Land Speed of 30 Feet

I've been pretty absent from Comics Matter over the past couple of weeks, which is totally counter to my goals, but what can I say? Comicbooks, while still my #1 pastime, are not my only hobby. I'm a well-rounded motherfucker! Maybe not, but I do have at least two nerdy, obsessive, time-consuming interests, the other one being Dungeons & Dragons. I've mentioned this before in passing, but D&D is seriously the best thing ever, and I've been playing it off-and-on for more than half my life. People move, things change, games end, and sometimes there's no D&D in my world at all. But when I get back into it, I often get seriously into it, to the point where I put off real-life responsibilities. It's not good, but that's the relationship I have with the game, and right now I am deep in a D&D pit that has kept me from catching up on my comicbook reading or writing for about a week. It's been an abnormally busy week anyway, and the short bursts of free time I've had were almost all usurped by D&D planning, research, etc. As a game limited only by my own imagination, the potential it has to entertain me once I settle in is truly infinite, and losing track of time is easy when I'm in that state.

All of this is to say that I realize I've been an irresponsible blogger. I'm not making any promises to climb out of the D&D hole I've fallen into anytime soon, because I can never tell how long any round of me getting super enthusiastic about the game all over again will last. This is meant as more of an open acknowledgement that I want to re-balance my free time schedule and bring comics back to the forefront of my mind. Admitting there's a problem is the first step, yes? So, step one down, I guess. Hopefully I'll stop unhealthily focusing on D&D and get back to unhealthily focusing on comicbooks ASAP.

Sunday, March 9, 2014


This week, my usual Iconographies column was published over at PopMatters, this time talking about FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics and how nothing ever quite stabilizes or settles down in it. That's been a fun and peculiar series, and Robbi Rodriguez's art is phenomenal. My latest "1987 And All That" post always went up at The Chemical Box, discussing Mephisto Vs., a four-issue mini-series about Mephisto fighting, one after the other, the Fantastic Four, X-Factor, the X-Men, and the Avengers. It's a hyper-formulaic gimmick comic, but John Buscema drew it and Mephisto had an entertaining personality, basically a spoiled child but with near-endless magical power, so overall I had a good time reading it. I'll probably never repeat the experience, but I don't regret it, which is more than I can say than some things I've read.

Something I Failed to Mention
My focus during the FBP piece was the book's unpredictability, so I didn't get around to talking about the other thing I love about it (aside from Rodriguez's work, as I mentioned above). In a very understated, subtly-played way, FBP is a crime procedural, and crime procedurals are my bread and butter. Because the problems the FBP handles are all cases of freak physics, the series looks on the surface like more of a string of sci-fi disaster stories. But all of the incidents so far have also involved some amount of criminal human interference or manipulation, making them crimes to be solved as well as scientific mysteries. Of course, the methods that the FBP uses to deal with these human problems, which are technically outside of their jurisdiction, are unusual and ethically/morally questionable. That's part of why it takes a while to see FBP as a crime procedural at all, and it's also what sets it apart from the many, many other such series that already exist in comics, books, TV, and probably other places of which I'm not even aware. Nevertheless, I count it among them, a unique example, and a story that has a lot to offer outside the crime-fighting elements, but that appeals to me through those elements as well.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Catching Up With February (2 of 2)

Continued from yesterday, my thoughts on every new comic I bought in February, which I got all at once at the end of the month after neglecting to visit my local shop before then.

Batman Black and White #6: First of all, I did not know this was a mini-series. It makes perfect sense, of course, that they wouldn't put this out indefinitely, but it's still a bummer to learn only now that this is the last issue. There were a few truly godawful stories here and there, but mostly this was an excellent book, and one of my last connections to DC outside of their Vertigo stuff. Ah, well, at least it went out with a strong issue. Cliff Chiang's opening story was particularly good, about Dick Grayson trying to earn the respect of Batman and the Gotham police as Robin. Chiang writes Dick as confident and smart but still young, new to the game and not 100% sure of himself, until the end when it really matters. Chiang's artwork also may have been my favorite in the issue, though Dave Johnson's was a close second, as was his script. Chiang's work was a little inkier/heavier, which I ultimately preferred to Johnson's grayer style, but they were both excellent, especially in their interpretations of Batman. Slim but strong, realistically fit and scary without seeming larger than life. All the artists in this issue had a good-looking Batman, actually. The Olly Moss/Becky Cloonan story that came second was excellent, because I'm always a fan of stories that examine how horrible and fake Bruce Wayne is as Batman's public persona. Also, Becky Cloonan rules always. And the second-to-last story by Adam Hughes impressed me by first bothering me with its Batman-comes-to-the-rescue-of-a-helpless-Catwoman plot but then turning things around by revealing that Catwoman was the one running the show all along. Her reasons for manipulating Batman didn't wow me, but at least she was played as smart and strong rather than a damsel in distress. Dave Taylor's middle story was my least favorite, though his artwork was great, able to capture the chaos of a mad scientist's lab in a very confined space without cluttering things up too much. But I cringed at his interpretation of Alfred as an outspoken, sarcastic skeptic, totally unsupportive of Batman at every turn. Also, having the villain explain his plan in a long self-congratulatory speech was uninspired and unnecessary, since Batman had pretty much figured things out already anyway. I'm grateful that the weakest narrative came right in the middle, though, because it made this issue open and close with things I liked, as good a way to finish Batman Black and White as I could ask for.

Harbinger #21: This issue is exemplary of what I love most about Harbinger—Joshua Dysart's spot on characterization of teenagers. Here, the Renegades have been hiding underground, literally, for too long, and the close quarters are starting to take their toll. Charlene and Torque are drinking a lot, Monica Jim keeps sneaking out when she thinks no one is looking, and tons of pressure have just been piled on thanks to hacktivist @X leaking all of Project Rising Spirit's information last issue. Now @X is hiding with the Renegades, meaning Harada is searching for them harder than ever, so they decide it's time to act. After all this time planning their next move, Peter and Kris figure if they want to carry out their plans, it's now or never, so things are coming to a head. Meanwhile, Faith and Torque lose their virginities to one another, in a very sweet, touching, funny, awkward, utterly teenaged scene. I've been rooting for Faith and Peter to become a couple all this time, but now that she and Torque have connected, I must say, they make much more sense to me. She's the most put-together member of the team, the most emotionally mature, but also the least self-confident. He's basically the opposite, emotionally still a little boy but with all the bluster and swagger that comes with it. If Faith could calm Torque down and Torque could amp Faith up, they'd be even better versions of themselves, so I'm eager to see how their relationship develops from here. Along the same lines, Monica Jim is revealing herself to be something of a malcontent, so I'm curious about her future role in the series as well. She may end up a villain or, at the very least, a major liability, and that's exciting and a little frightening to consider. Harbinger is really in its groove these days. Dysart has assembled this wonderfully dysfunctional team of young rebels, and as their struggles get crazier and more dangerous, the book becomes more and more arresting. And @X is a perfect addition to the cast, another teen with an ax to grind (get it?) but also an outsider and non-psiot, yet with enough hacker skills to make him an interesting and useful expansion to their collective skill set. With Clayton Henry's smooth, clear, expressive artwork also on board, Harbinger #21 was one of the most rock solid issues of one of the most reliably strong series coming out today. An origin for @X, a new romance, and major steps forward in the series' larger plot. That's a lot to get done, but it doesn't feel wedged in. It moves calmly but with determined purpose, a well-oiled machine firing on all cylinders.

Catalyst Comix #8: In its second-to-last issue, Catalyst Comix naturally brings all three of its stories to a head. The Agents of Change finally learn the truth about how Bert has been manipulating and lying to them, and they get appropriately pissed off about it. Bert tries to shut them up by separating them in the simulated environment in which their psyches are currently housed, but the pushback is stronger than anticipated, and it looks like next time they may be busting out and rejoining the real world as a unified group of furious super-people. Frank Wells discovers that it was Grace, not himself, who truly saved the world in December 2012, and coming to grips with his own unimportance in that event is a difficult but necessary step in his path to enlightenment. Now fully in touch with himself, Frank is ready for the final phase of his process of becoming the best superhero he can be. Finally, in her own story, Grace reaches the Reaver Swarm, her true enemy, the real threat to life on Earth. And she finds herself unprepared for its size and power. It destroys her ship and captures her, starting to consume her, so she sends out some kind of psychic distress call to the folks back home. Her survival seems unlikely, but maybe the citizens of her city will save her or, at the very least, succeed where she failed. Hers has always been my favorite narrative, and here in the penultimate chapter, it ends with the most compelling cliffhanger. Joe Casey has done a great job building to these climactic points in all three tales, and hopefully he'll nail the final chapters as well. All of his artistic collaborators continue to produce incredible work, giving the book a single voice while also keeping the different storylines distinct from one another. Catalyst Comix has been a weird, fantastic look at what superheroes can be, and it'll be missed.

Unity #4: The finale to Unity's first arc, and possibly its least interesting issue to date, primarily because all of its major developments were easy to see coming. Aric wasn't going to be separate from his armor for long, because X-O Manowar is still a series. And Harada had to be officially kicked off the team before they could do anything else together, since we'd already seen the rest of them agree he was an enemy. So that's what happens: Ninjak, Gilad, and Livewire steal back Aric's armor, stomp Harada with it, and return it to its original owner while freeing him and his followers from a secret prison. It's inevitable, and though Matt Kindt writes it logically and efficiently, there aren't any real surprises in there. All the characters are used well, the story does what it should, and the ending is tidy but still leaves the road open for the book's future. Also, Doug Braithwaite is still on art duties, and still crushing it. The one new character in this issue, Anchor, was one of my favorites in the whole series so far. He was very simple, like a big ugly thumb with a body, but there's a tenderness to him the undercuts his size and sturdiness nicely. In only a few pages on a single issue, Anchor is given a sad little background, a likable if pathetic personality, and an important but ultimately failed role to play in a key fight. That fight is where Braithwaite really brings in the noise, most of all when Ninjak and Harada face each other. Some intense, expertly-executed violence in those panels. Even the most predictable issue of this series is good comics, but it's too bad Braithwaite is leaving (at least for now) on a somewhat dull note. CAFU's a fine enough artist, but with a less rich style than Braithwaite's, and also, I find, less interesting.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #6: This was a very consumable issue, and I'm starting to think that's the main appeal of this book. It's such simple, almost retro superheroics. All the heroes are devoted, hard-working, good. They're not all nice, but they are honest and earnest, they try to do the right thing, they look out for one another, they believe in the cause. The villains, on the other hand, are all mad scientists and cultists and others hellbent on mad levels of power. There have been giant ancient monsters, dinosaur robots, and, this issue, a twelve-year-old evil genius. Even the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents' abilities—speed, strength, invisibility—tend to lean toward the classic, the easy-to-understand. And all of that is refreshing. This is a book that exists outside any continuity or shared universe, where secret agents and superheroes are one-and-the-same, and everything is straightforward and black-and-white. EXCEPT...there's some kind of crazy-old, crazy-secret thing with glyphs on it that holds the secret to deep, mystic power and/or knowledge and/or who the hell knows what else. This one cosmic puzzle that sits at the heart of the series helps it stand out, and is the throughline that keeps the narrative wheels turning. But Phil Hester slow-plays that mystery and uses most of his time to tell awesome, to-the-point superhero adventure tales. That's what this issue is, and what they've all been, and, with any luck, what they'll continue to be in perpetuity. The artist is Roger Robinson, not a name I think I've seen before, but more than earning his keep here. The huge, multi-eyed flying octopus robot emerging from the water was incredible, as was all of the action surrounding its appearance. I also loved the crazy mind-control helmet that got made on the fly out of spare parts assembled by a magnetized robot spider. Rogers managed to show what was happening clearly and quickly, giving the awesome final image of the helmet tuning on enough space for it to come with a great light show. That panel is also a highlight of colorist Rom Fajardo's work on the issue. It's good all over, from both Rogers and Fajardo, smoother in the foregrounds and on the characters, but with subtler details and textures in the backgrounds to give things a bit of depth. This is a blast of a book, always, and this issue is no exception.

Thor: God of Thunder #19.NOW: What is .NOW? There does not seem to be a separate issue #19 of this series coming out, which is what they used to to with .1 issues, right? It'd go 19, 19.1, 20, or at least that's my memory of it. Not sure what the last .1 issue I read was. Probably an X-Factor. Anyway, I guess all the .NOW is supposed to indicate is that this is the start of something fresh for this series, a new arc for the All-New Marvel NOW currently being rolled out across the line. If so...dumb. There's already the biggest, most obnoxious white "#1" imaginable in the right corner of the cover to say exactly the same thing, so the tiny "NOW" sitting underneath the "19." at the bottom is hardly going to draw anyone in. Ok, that's all I had to say about that idiotic thing. As for this actual comic, it was pretty lame as far as Thor stories go. The real star was an environmentally-focused S.H.I.E.L.D. agent named Rosalind Solomon, who is funny and brash and cool, but the main reason she's here is because Thor has a crush on her and is trying to impress her by kinda-sorta helping to save the environment. The result is that there's a lot of Solomon arguing with her boss and then with one of the bigwigs at the evil Roxxon Corporation, while Thor operates more in the background, showing up to save Solomon and ask her out awkwardly. It makes both characters look weaker—Solomon because Thor keeps fighting her battles for her, and Thor because he's diverting all of his energy to getting the attention of a woman, which is not a look Jason Aaron manages to make look good on Thor. There's not enough humor, charm, or self-confidence in Thor's approach. I get that he's trying to be respectful, but it comes across as just acting out-of-character, oddly timid. As evidence of how much less exciting this story is than usual, and how stifled Thor is as a hero within it, I submit the incredibly gorgeous splash page of Thor smashing a frost giant in the face. This moment, while visually beautiful, is forced into the middle of the comic as a full-page punchline to a very weak joke Thor makes in the preceding panel about how he got his hands on a large amount of ice. It is also the only classically Thor-like moment in the comic, and one of only two times Esad Ribic truly gets to shine as an artist, the other being the final splash of Galactus showing up on a desolate, far-future Earth. The rest of the issue is too confined, trapped in environmental debate, Roxxon posturing, and Old Man Thor moping in the future. There are no thrills, no big action, nothing worthy of the might of this character, and nothing fit to display how amazingly majestic Ribic's work can be. This series has been all about doing Thor as an epic warrior, so seeing him brought back down to earth feels like deflation. It's not that human, grounded Thor stories can't work, but they are not what Aaron does well in this title, and I was less than enthused by this first chapter. Hopefully things will become a little more intense now that Galactus is involved, and the Roxxon guy is, I think, secretly a minotaur, based on his nickname and the cover image. So things may be amping up soon as far as power levels, but this issue was underwhelming in that regard.

Kings Watch #4: First things first: Marc Laming is dominating with this book. His invading hordes of monsters and beastmen are especially delicious, but even just the establishing shot of Skull Cave or Lothar firing Zarkov's giant sonic weapon are enough to give me chills. There's a lot of fantastical and/or sci-fi stuff going down, and Laming makes it all look real and, when appropriate, terrifying. And there's a lot of personality in every character, even the expendable grunts in Ming's forces. Laming makes them all detailed, unique, fully-realized animal-people. Shout out to colorist Jordan Boyd, too, who makes all the explosions and magic look lifelike in their lighting, matching Laming's realism. As far as hard-hitting action-adventure comics go, I can't imagine there's much coming out right now that looks any better than this. And because this issue had the most chaotic, widespread combat, it was perhaps the best-looking yet. Jeff Parker's script is excellent, too, smartly paced to keep things lively. The shit officially hits the fan, and the heroes step up immediately to deal with it. Kings Watch is not dissimilar to T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, in that much of its appeal is how simple things are from a morality standpoint for all the main characters. Ming calls himself merciless, he calmly and plainly explains to the people of Earth that he's there to invade them and turn their way of life upside down. He's so comfortable as a villain, and so unconcerned with being perceived as such, that he lays his cards out on the table right away. The heroes, meanwhile, are free from any of the bickering or strategic debate of many teams, trusting one another already and respecting all the voices of the group equally. It makes them extremely efficient, able to believably assess the threat Ming represents and cook up a response in only 24 hours. They haven't won the war, of course, and I'd argue they lost the first round last issue, but round two goes to the good guys for sure.

Rachel Rising #23: I've praised this series a lot, and so have many others, and it's all well-deserved. This issue didn't stand out to me as especially great, but a lot of important things happened, as they pretty much always do. Rachel and Jet met up with Zoe again and, finally, figured out that she's not the little girl she appears to be. All of the masks are falling off, and this was an important one to finally do away with. Rachel also got ahold of her box of witch stuff at last, and the process to return Aunt Johnny's soul to her body came a few steps closer to being complete. All gripping, significant stuff, but also all relatively mundane. The creepiest part of the issue is when Dr. Siemen considers having sex with Johnny's soulless body, which lasts for a few tiny panels before the power goes out and he has to deal with that instead. Other than that, the events of this issue run fairly smoothly, until the final, haunting panel that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I'm not going to waste time trying to describe it because I could never do it justice, but it's probably the most beautiful, unsettling, horrific thing Terry Moore has done in this series up to now. I don't even really know what it means yet, but it has already left its mark. One unforgettable panel is more than most comics have to offer, so this is still a great comic, but it wasn't as bonkers as Rachel Rising can be. Then again, there's been a pattern of calms before storms, so chances are a major storm is a-comin'. My impression of Moore's plan is that the storyline that's been running through this series from the start is about to wrap up, and certainly it feels that way in-story, with Rachel, Jet, and Zoe all headed for Lilith together for what they hope will be the final confrontation. So this was a quick pause before all the scores get settled, which is a structurally sound way to go, and fits with the general pace of this title.

Daredevil #36: The "last" issue of this series before the same creators relaunch it next month as a new volume with a new, higher price (ugh). Mark Waid, true to form, comes up with a very clever way for Matt Murdock to defeat the Sons of the Serpent, by revealing that he's Daredevil and confessing to all the lies he told and laws he broke over the years to keep that a secret. It gives the Sons no moves, nothing they can use to threaten him, so they make a desperate final attack, and Daredevil beats them gleefully. He gets disbarred, and so does Foggy, but that was always part of the plan, a necessary evil to defeat a far greater evil. In the end, at Kirsten's suggestion (because she, too, is now out of a job) the plan is to relocate to San Francisco, since the only chance they have of practicing law again is in a state where they've done so before. A new setting is a good enough reason to reboot a book's numbering, I guess, but really this is just the end of an arc. Still, Waid does a pretty good job of making it feel like a bigger, more final ending than this book has had in the past. Murdock burning his career to the ground, exposing his true identity, and deciding to move across the country are a lot of big, life-changing things to do in one issue, so there is a special flavor to this, a feeling of added importance. It may be manufactured, but it's effective. I'm glad Waid is sticking around, and extra glad Chris Samnee will still be the artist, because he does the best Daredevil ever at this point. Fun-loving, fit and trim enough for me to buy all of his superhuman acrobatics, and solid as a rock. That's a Daredevil I'll never tire of, and everything and everyone else looks just as good when Samnee's drawing them. The Waid-Samnee-Daredevil mix seems to be evergreen, so do whatever the hell you want with the numbering, I guess, Marvel. As long as the quality keeps up, I'll be reading. I'm more than invested now.

Drumhellar #4: I had actually already read a digital version of this in preparation for my recent PopMatters piece on this title. But I always like a hard copy, and I prefer to read things in that format, so I went ahead and gave this another read. It was still great. This series isn't for everyone, but I love the hell out of Riley Rossmo, and his previous series with Alex Link, Rebel Blood, is an all-time favorite of mine. Drumhellar's not quite as amazing, but it's completely its own thing, bold and bananas in ways I respect a lot. It's also very funny and it always looks so goddamn good, because Rossmo is really cutting loose on this title, playing around with every style he's ever used before and mixing them freely and perfectly. This issue has an ideal example of what I mean in the side-by-side full-page splash panels of Drum's vision of using Doc's dead body to house DJ's spirit so DJ will stop aging backwards. Rossmo brings totally different coloring, linework, and inking styles to the two pages, but then uses repeated imagery in them to show how they connect and to make their message clear. It's trippy and a little hard to decipher, but everything you need is there, which is, actually, a good description of this whole series. It moves weirdly, jumps in time and location happening without warning or transition. Rossmo and writer Alex Link trust their audience to keep up, or, as I usually do, go back and figure everything out once we know more. The opening page of this issue, for instance, actually takes place in the middle of it, chronologically speaking, but there's no way to know that until later on. So at first, you just have to soak up the washed-in-blue panels of a rat sneaking in the dark and chewing on wires. Who he is, where he is, and what he's up to will be explained eventually, as all things always are in Drumhellar if you pay attention and let yourself get swept up in the ride. A lot got resolved this time, but then at the end Drum became a werewolf, so...we'll see where this all ends up. Supposedly the first arc ends next issue, but what does that even mean in a series that moves like this? The plot about DJ only came up in issue #2 or maybe even #3, and it's already been taken care of, so I'm not sure what an "arc" really is for Drumhellar. I also don't really care, because Rossmo is my hero and this is a fabulous and impossible-to-predict comicbook I love to read.

Phew...all caught up. G'night!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Catching Up With February (1 of 2)

Because of the horrendous Massachusetts weather and an equally horrendous week-long cold, I didn't get out very much in February. I worked from home all month, and the comic shop I go to is right by my office but almost an hour from my house, so I didn't make any of my usual weekly stops to pick up my new comics. As aggravating as that was at the time, it did allow me to buy an entire month's worth of comics at once last Thursday, which is excellent, although admittedly it's not as big a stack as I expected. I must have successfully cut back on how much I was reading without even noticing it. Good for me! Anyhow, what follows are brief reactions to every comic in the pile, in the order I read them.

All-New X-Factor #3: I think I may be done with this book. I mostly really like Carmine Di Giandomenico's art. It has some rough parts, but they're worth it for the crackling energy that fills his pages. His Danger was especially great, and the one thing that might make me stick around for another issue. But with the head of Serval (I forget his name) already obviously untrustworthy and narcissistic, Gambit not feeling or acting like Gambit at all, Polaris and Quicksilver's weird half-sibling tension being so forced a plot point that Quicksilver openly talks about how he doesn't know what to make of it...I'm just not feeling this series conceptually. Peter David's usual humor could save it, but it's nowhere to be found, so I'll just have to wait for Di Giandomenico to get a gig on a title I actually enjoy, and then read that. This isn't holding my interest.

Sex #11: Another problematic series for me (I tend to read the stuff I don't expect to like as much first, so hopefully things get gradually better as I go, though it doesn't usually work out quite right). I wrote a post all about my problems with Sex several months back, and they haven't really changed much. Simon Cooke is an awful main character, most of what happens is boring, there's a bunch of explicit sex stuff that serves little-to-no narrative purpose, and the only character worth following is Keenan Wade because he has a real personality and he gets shit done. Everybody else stagnates. Even The Old Man, supposedly working on becoming a big-time villain again, just slowly tortures different people in uninspired ways (meaning he directly rips off the Gimp from Pulp Fiction) without getting anywhere or making any visible progress. So yeah, this comic drives me mad, and issue #10 was easily the worst ever, but then at the end when Keenan and Simon finally confronted one another, that interested me enough to come back for one more issue. And this issue may have been the best yet: Simon actually emoted, Keenan got more page space than he maybe ever has, and there was no pointless graphic sex. And as always, Piotr Kowalski and colorist Brad Simpson both did stunning work. I'm still not wild about this title but I liked this issue so I guess I'll read one more.

Archer & Armstrong: Archer #0: First of all, I should say that I completely expected to like this, but I read it third anyway just because it was a #0 issue so it seemed like a natural palette cleanser before reading two #1's (see below). And it was just as good as I'd hoped. Archer & Armstrong rarely blows me away, but it just-as-rarely disappoints. The origin story given to Archer here is no surprise, but it's still well-told and entertaining. Plus I think Pere Pérez is the best artist this book has had, or at any rate he's the best for this series. His lines are solid and often heavy, but the art still has a playfulness to it that matches the moments of humor. This issue was darker than most, though, because Archer's past is a pretty brutal series of abductions and tortures and trainings. Fred Van Lente really piles it on but, again, it's not out of step with what we already know about Archer and the world he lives in. The details have been filled in now to a history that had already been fairly well-outlined in previous issues. That's a nice use of this kind of #0 issue, and then in the final few pages, Van Lente brings it back to the present and teases the next storyline. All good stuff.

Loki: Agent of Asgard #1: I should probably read Kieron Gillen's Journey Into Mystery run, huh? Not that it's necessary to understand this, but Loki: Agent of Asgard is rooted in the events of JIM, so reading Gillen's work would probably deepen my understanding of Al Ewing's new story. That being said, Ewing's script works perfectly well on its own, recreating Loki as the All-Mother's personal secret agent, a role that fits him extra-snugly. Ewing writes Loki as the intelligent, somewhat conflicted anti-hero he needs to be to carry this title. Then just to go the extra Mile, he writes the Avengers as hilarious sitcom characters without needing to make them say or do anything out-of-character. All of that comedy and personality was boosted by Lee Garbett's artwork, which was crisp and cartoony and handled every character with ease. Nolan Woodard's pop coloring helped, too, infusing everything with a brightness that made it that much more fun to read. He did a good job of giving the flashback panels their own tints, too, setting them apart but not letting them clash with the rest of the art. This was a fast-paced, thoroughly enjoyable debut from cover-to-cover, a done-in-one story that also served as the first chapter of a longer narrative, a complex multi-Loki story about the nature of good and evil that's only starting to take shape. I look forward to following it.

She-Hulk #1: Probably the two most well-regarded superhero comicbooks Marvel has right now are Daredevil and Hawkeye, both single-star titles that have a good sense of humor and a nice humanity to them, dividing their time between the superhero and normal human parts of their protagonists' lives. It seems like She-Hulk is following that tradition, and the fact that she has the same day job as Daredevil, plus this series being drawn by Hawkeye's most regular fill-in artist, only adds to the sense that this new series is taking its cues from those two critical darlings. I'm not attacking that approach, quite the opposite, since Daredevil and Hawkeye are both series I follow and enjoy. She-Hulk feels like it's going to be another good read every month, fun and personal but still able to do the high-powered superhero stuff with style. Charles Soule uses the Marvel Universe to enhance his story, but it's a Jennifer-Walters-as-lawyer narrative, rather than Jennifer-Walters-as-Avenger. I liked focusing on that part of her life for the first issue, because it's maybe less expected and potentially less exciting. Soule makes it compelling, not so much because the legal case is particularly original, but because Jen is such a strong character right away, and has a very funny, singular view of the world. I'm eager to spend more time with her. It did bother me when, for no real reason, a few panels were devoted to painting Jen's client as a horrible mother. No idea where that came from or why Soule thought he needed to include it, but that was pretty much all that bothered me about his script. I'm not the biggest Javier Pulido fan, though I only really know him from his Hawkeye issues which have been alright but never amazing. Here, Pulido seems more sure of himself somehow, and he fills Jen with the confidence and charisma she deserves. He also avoids objectifying her, even when her clothes get tattered in a robot fight, which should always be applauded when it happens in comics, particularly mainstream superhero books. Neither of these creators are especially familiar to me, and She-Hulk's not a character I've read a lot about, but I was impressed by this and I'm excited for more.

Lazarus #6: Lazarus bores me and I can't quite tell why. It's not badly written or drawn, it's clear and it moves forward steadily, it definitely has a long-term plan in place, and there's nothing offensive about it in content or quality. Yet here I am six issues in and I feel no connection to or investment in this series or any of its characters, least of all Eve, the supposed star. She's so one-note, even though it seems like Greg Rucka wants us to think she's got a deep, tumultuous inner life. I just don't buy it, or haven't seen enough of it to understand her or care about her, or maybe it's a combination of those things. Whatever the case, she feels bland to me, ever the stoic security guard, not someone worth rooting for or against yet. Meanwhile, a weird post-apocalyptic political thriller takes place around her at a snail's pace, the Carlyles fighting with each other and other families over a desolate country full of downtrodden people. I see no reason to care who ultimately wins that struggle, because they're all despicable and the world they live in doesn't excite me. It's awful to look at and uninteresting to think about, too common and simple a vision of the future to get my wheels turning. Whatever...I could go on taking shots at this book but why bother? It's not for me, I've given it a fair chance but it has not won me over, and the best thing for everyone would probably be if I moved on. I'm glad there's an audience out there to whom this speaks, but I am not a member of it.

Hawkeye #15: This confused me a bit. There was the minor confusion of what exactly happened on the last few pages. I know Kazu shoots both of the Barton brothers, that much is clear, but I'm not entirely sure where it happens or how. Kazu clearly gets the drop on them, but where was he positioned so that he could do so? Where does he run to? Why doesn't he shoot Spider-Woman, who is like two steps behind Barney on the stairs? Where was Clint going, anyway, and what did he hope to find there? None of that is made obvious by either Matt Fraction's script or David Aja's art, which is a shame because, though this series has its ups and downs, being able to make sense of it has never really been a problem before. That confusion was accidental, a case of Aja's layouts and Fraction's dramatic silence at the issue's close not registering with me the way they were meant to. Far worse was the needless plot development Fraction tosses out earlier in the issue, explaining that, while Clint has deemed himself the protector of his apartment building, legally speaking he has no ownership of it and, in fact, it is already in possession of the bad guys against whom Clint is trying to defend it. Ok, so the villains already have the building...why keep fighting? Could they not just call some lawyers and cops and get Clint kicked the hell out of the apartment he's technically squatting in? I understand these guys are thugs who love violence, but that doesn't mean they have to be complete idiots all the time. You want the building? It's yours! Just take it and stop trying to murder people. It also makes Clint into a less noble figure, and more of a buffoon than he already always was. So I'm not sure it was the best move, from a storytelling standpoint. It changed very little as far as anyone's behavior, and introduced a complication the narrative didn't need or want. There was, as there always is, some solid humor, and Aja's art was only less-than-amazing for a few unclear panels at the very end, so I didn't dislike this issue. It was mostly fine, but with a few questionable choices/moments of befuddlement that were not so fine.

Hinterkind #5: This issue managed to express the urgency of its story while also splitting its focus between several groups of characters and never needing to rush through anything. Prosper and her father have some good, intelligent debate about the morality of letting people die in an emergency situation, all while trying to survive one. The soldiers who kidnapped them do the same, though there is less debate and more order barking in their case. Meanwhile, in California, the queen of the Hinterkind (I think...she's a queen of some of them, if not all, but I believe it's all) learns of her daughter's insubordination during her recent absence, and sets to work to make things right. Oh, and there's a guy whose name I can't recall who escapes the soldier compound on his own in a couple very efficient pages, while the gang of evil Hinterkind who've always been around try to find their own way out. It's a tight bit of writing by Ian Edginton, who seems to have finally found his stride with this series. No longer needing to establish the cast or reality, he can now just let crazy shit happen, and watching everyone's reactions makes for a meaty issue. Artist Francesco Trifolgi is also getting better all the time, and his handling of the widespread fire and chaos here was expert. Hinterkind is still defining itself, but every new issue it gets closer to being something truly remarkable. Given the proper time, I think this could be a phenomenal series, and I hope it keeps up the current momentum and realizes its full potential soon.

Mighty Avengers #6-7: I'm glad I got to read these issues back-to-back, because they really are a one-two punch of story. Each of them has their own threads, and the end of #7 is left open in several ways, so it's not like I'd call this a two-issue "arc," necessarily. But there's a throughline in #6 that leads to its final page directly, and that final page is just setting up the A-plot of #7, so this pair of issues has a clear connection that made them a fitting combo read. I also liked how both the new Power Man and, in even more detail, the current White Tiger had their powers explored a bit, because I'm less familiar with them than anyone else in the cast. Along the same lines, having Luke Cage and Adam Brashear butt heads over their respective histories was a nice, character-appropriate way to provide a bit of background exposition on them and advance their relationship. Al Ewing does the team book well, always giving everyone at least a little something to do, and never making any one character the obvious star of the series. It is Cage's team, but he's no bigger a presence than anyone else in these issues. Everybody has an important part to play, a part that only they could, something suited to each of their specific skill sets. But it's not repetitive or predictable, it's just that Ewing knows his cast well enough to use them all as effectively as possible in whatever story he tells. Valerio Schiti is a more than welcome replacement for Greg Land. I get the sense that Schiti may also do some photo-reference work, but if so, it's less obvious. Basically he either does convincingly comic-looking photo-based art, or impressively realistic free-drawing. My eye isn't well-trained enough to know for sure, but either way it's great for this title. This is a team all about being in touch with the regular people of their city, so having grounded artwork, characters who remind us of our own world while still being distinctly superheroic, is exactly right. And it makes the pigeons chasing that arsonist around super creepy. When they finally lead him to Falcon, it's so dark and awesome it feels more like a Batman moment than an Avengers one. That's a mood I think works for Mighty Avengers, a little more gristle, a lot more street-level action, and a vague gloom hanging over everything. This team has got some hard times ahead, and Schiti is stepping in just in time to take them there and make them look good along the way. Spider-Ock is officially gone, the rest of the team is clicking and buzzing, and the art has taken several big steps up. Mighty Avengers may well be one to watch.

Ms. Marvel #1: Lots of Marvel stuff on this list, huh? I guess i didn't really notice how much of my list had been devoted to them. I'm still not reading any of the New 52, which has opened up some space in my wallet and schedule to try out more of the All-New Marvel NOW! books coming out these days. And just like with Loki and She-Hulk above, Ms. Marvel #1 was a good opening issue. In that it's introducing a brand new character, it certainly has a different feel than the other debuts, less thrilling but no less intimate in its focus. This is mostly a teen drama comic, about a young girl with oppressive parents who just wants to go to the party and hang with the cool kids. In other words, it's something of a cliché, but with the not-insignificant detail of main character Kamala Khan being Muslim. That's the reason for most of the attention this book has got prior to its release and—based from the little I have read (trying to avoid spoiling it for myself)—since then as well. But it's really not that important to the plot here. is, but it could be any religion, or no religion at all, so long as Kamala still had overbearing and overprotective parents. It is her father's refusal to let her do the "normal" things she wants to do that spurs her to sneak out and, ultimately, leads to her being exposed to the (Terrigen?) mist that gives her her superpowers. Some of the details, like Kamala wanting to eat bacon and refusing to try alcohol, are Muslim-specific, but it would not have been difficult to swap those out for other things. My point is that G. Willow Wilson writes Kamala not as a Muslim who happens to be a teenager but as a teenager who happens to be Muslim, which is a good way to go. It makes her relatable to anyone who's been a teenager upset with their parents, even as she simultaneously represents a community historically neglected by mainstream comics. And she's also a superhero geek, writing Avengers fanfic and fantasizing about life as a superhero, giving her something in common with any number of potential readers of this series, myself included. At then end when she gets her wish, it's easy to feel the same mix of excitement and fear Kamala must be feeling, because it's the same emotional blend I'd feel if it happened to me. The gloriously dumbstruck look on her face in the final splash panel goes a long way, too. Adrian Alphona draws great teenagers, too expressive for their own good, always betraying the feelings they think they're keeping in check. Wilson writes them the same way, making this a strong example of a realistic, human, accessible story about modern high schoolers trying to live normal lives. I hope Wilson and Alphona continue to take that route, keeping Kamala in an age-appropriate world and with a supporting cast of her peers, rather than too quickly shifting her into the role of a full-fledged superhero. Give her some time to be a bumbling, inexperienced young crime fighter until she earns her seat at the table. We'll see where this goes, but for now Kamala is a likable lead and a decent-hearted young woman who, in theory, could be an amazing hero someday.

Well...that's 11 out of 21 comics and more than 3,000 words, so I think I'll call it for now. Come back tomorrow for the second half.