It's an era of Rebirth at DC Comics! How do the new books stack up?
The Pull List is a new semi-regular feature where I post capsule reviews of the comics from my personal reading stack. I buy from Capstone Comics, where I have my subscription box, and Austin Books & Comics. Please support your local comic book store!
- Batman #32 (w. Scott Snyder, p. Greg Capullo) - What I really want to know is what Scott Snyder will think about "Zero Year" five, maybe ten, years from now. He's a sensitive personality, deeply invested in his own work, and interviews reveal him to be a bit of a worrier when it comes to the execution of his own ideas. "Zero Year" does a lot right, and it certainly doesn't feel like anyone is aping "Year One." But "Zero Year" is also unwieldy, twice as long as the story necessitates and even then interrupted with one-shots (Villains Month) and tangents (presumably to allow Capullo to catch up) that have corrupted the momentum of the story. It's Snyder's most ambitious story and a play at making a definitive Riddler tale, but I can't see it becoming a perennial Batman best-seller in the way I can see that future for Snyder's "Court of Owls" or "Death of the Family." Specifically, the book doesn't lack for action beats, but the dialogue is often dedicated to the action that immediately follows (imagine two pages of Batman saying "I'm going to go down there and punch him" followed by three pages of Batman going down there and punching him. It takes the air out of the tension.) and there are no B-plots to break up the characters' constant, meticulous planning (either Batman's planning or Riddler's). FCO Plascencia should win all the awards for coloring Batman in a way that a Batman book has never been colored before and Capullo is doing the best job he's ever done as an artist. That's a lot of blood, sweat, and tears poured out to create a Batman story that's far too bloated for it's own good.
- Red Lanterns #32 (w. Charles Soule, a. Jim Calafiore) - Soule has done a good job finding purpose and appeal for these characters. In this issue, things come to a head with Atrocitus while Supergirl is ousted from the group (so that she can appear in Lemire's Justice League United). This has become one of my favorite New 52 books.
- Secret Origins #3 (w./a. Various) - I was looking forward to Batwoman's appearance in this anthology comic. I've never had a handle on the character's motivations, but her segment here didn't do me much good. She moves to Gotham and fights crime and becomes Batwoman just because? Am I to believe that her one face-to-face encounter with Batman was enough to make her want to dress like him? I don't really get it. If you're a continuity junkie the Red Robin origin here will make you twitch, as Scott Lobdell tries to make it fit in with what we know about Tim Drake and what the New 52 has already established. It's a thankless job. That leaves the standout as the Green Lantern/Hal Jordan tale, and while it's all too familiar, Robert Vendetti adds meaning to Jordan's first meeting with Abin Sur by directly tying it to the death of Jordan's father (both men are crashed pilots). Thought that was clever.
- Superman #32 (w. Geoff Johns, p. John Romita Jr.) - Arguably, the most hyped DC book of 2014 has arrived and it is...good. Was there ever any doubt? We've seen Johns on this character before, so we know he's capable (the only question was if this book would skew "new reader" awful in the same way Johns' New 52 Justice League did; I'm glad to report it does not). Romita's Superman is appropriately iconic and larger-than-life even saddled with Jim Lee's busy New 52 costume.
- Flash Gordon #3 (w. Jeff Parker, a. Evan Shaner) - I've barely sampled Dynamite's line, but of the ones I have tried, this is the one I've liked the most. Shaner is just absolutely crushing it on pencils here, month after month. It's a gorgeous book and one that fully revives a dead brand name into something that's a must-read adventure. I love it. (Book needs a new logo, desperately. The current cover dressing is snoozeville, guys.)
- Amazing Spider-Man #3 (w. Dan Slott, a. Humberto Ramos) - Ramos feels rejuvenated here (his Black Cat is especially beautiful), and I'm not sure why, since there's nothing on the surface of this new relaunch that would markedly inspire the pencil of a Spider-Man veteran like Ramos. That is to say, it's another consistently strong superhero tale from Dan Slott. Felicia Hardy is a Spidey villain again, and Slott has such a handle on the cast's characterizations that the shift in her attitudes never feels forced. This continues to be Marvel's most steadfastly "old fashioned" book in all the best ways possible.
- Avengers Undercover #6 (w. Dennis Hopeless, a. Timothy Green III) - Other than Green drawing Death Locket somewhat off model (as a long and lean woman and less an average teen), I appreciate the issues when Hopeless lets a single character take the spotlight (and I happen to really like Death Locket). However, coming off such a fantastic fifth issue that focused on all the players, this solo story felt like a sidestep.
- Fantastic Four #6 (w. James Robinson, a. Leonard Kirk/Chris Samnee) - Thought I dropped this last month with #5, but this ended up in my sub box somehow. Sort of glad it did, as I feel like this is the first issue where I was invested in some small way -- likely due to heavily dramatic moments for both Sue and Ben, each dealing with their own problems as the team crumbles. Best issue so far, but it's a downer. The new direction appears to be "watch the Fantastic Four get dumped on by the Marvel Universe and each other." I'm not sure how that can sustain much longer.
- Ms. Marvel #5 (w. G. Willow Wilson, a. Adrian Alphona) - Kamala Khan is the best. I can not wait for her to get through this origin story and into full-fledged superherodom. I love how Wilson uses the original Spider-Man formula (good-hearted teen already in a world of problems before their superpowers arrived) to lay the groundwork for a character I hope is around for years to come. Alphona's art is beautiful and colorful and fluid, and unlike anything else the Big Two are putting out.
- Original Sin: Hulk Vs. Iron Man #3.1 (w. Mark Waid, p. Mark Bagley) - You can guess from solicitations -- or the cover -- what "original sin" this story contains. Some of it feels like post-Avengers film "Science Brothers" fan service, and my general feeling about retconning Tony Stark to be responsible for the creation of the Hulk kind of makes my eyes roll. The only thing that keeps them from rolling right out of my skull is that in the hands of Waid and Bagley, the comic itself is perfectly fine; it's the central idea that grates.
- Original Sins #1 & #2 (Various) - I liked the Deathlok story in #1 and can see how it would provide a springboard for a new monthly. Can't say the same for the Black Knight lead in #2. The Young Avengers five-parter running through this whole mini-series feels designed for fans of those characters only. Unforgivable sins in Original Sins? Allowing brown-eyed Howard the Duck to have blue eyes.
- Savage Hulk #1 (w./a. Alan Davis) - It's a modern sequel to Uncanny X-Men #66, but you don't have to be familiar with that issue to get what's going on here. The X-Men are trying to help Hulk; the Leader is not. Davis as a writer always seems to bring out the best of Davis as an artist, and I can't imagine anyone not being impressed with his near-definitive visual representation of Hulk (even showing a full range of emotions for the character beyond simply angry). Also, I'm a big Hulk fan, and have longed for his rogues to be dusted off for a while now. Because this adventure takes place in the past, I can get the Leader and Abomination in their purest forms and I really appreciate that. This really is a very classic, no-BS Hulk superhero tale and I'm interested in seeing where it goes in this first arc.
- Uncanny X-Men Special #1 (w. Sean Ryan, a. Ron Ackins) - This book is a clunker, recommended only to Death's Head completists (Cyclops is kidnapped by that bounty hunter and the Uncanny X-Men kids join S.W.O.R.D. to find out what's going on). Characters on the cover don't appear inside (Nova?), Cyclops' costume has an editorially unforgivable color change from maroon to black, and the writer and artist aren't working in tandem. Ackins provides plenty of wide open spaces for Ryan's words, but Ryan doesn't use the space. Either Ackins was overcompensating or Ryan invested too much trust in the visuals. Neither was the right decision.
- The Fuse #5 (w. Antony Johnston, a. Justin Greenwood) - Here's the issue that finally reveals the killer behind the murder mystery that drives the debut arc "The Russian Shift." I'm going to totally armchair quarterback this comic and wish it was something that it isn't (not my favorite way to review, but here goes...) -- I really wish The Fuse was slightly less of a cop comic and slightly more of a sci-fi one. There have been issues where, if you missed #1, there's a good chance you might not even know the book takes place on a space station. #5 has more of the "life on the Fuse" elements that I personally find fascinating, certainly more fascinating than a whodunit plot concerning characters I'm not enamored of (speaking only of the victim and suspects -- I like the lead cops just fine). This is a very well-done book, but I can't force it to be something that it's not.
- Minimum Wage #6 (w./a. Bob Fingerman) - Can't believe I have to wait till 2015 for a new issue of Minimum Wage. This was my second favorite monthly, but what now? I find Fingerman's art here just so absorbing, only better as he's gotten older, to the point where I find myself staring at panels and how characters are rendered and how lines connect. It floors me. Not a stroke looks unplanned. I can get how the semi-autobiographical sexcapades of a struggling cartoonist wouldn't have the wide appeal of, say, Justice League America, but if I had to choose which comic was going on an eight-month hiatus? Well...
- Outcast #1 (w. Robert Kirkman, a. Paul Azaceta) - It would be so much easier to dismiss Kirkman as bazillionaire hitmaker and Outcast as "Walking Dead with demons," but this is some sobering, risky stuff. It does read a bit like a TV show pilot, but really good TV show you'd get together with friends to watch and discuss. Kirkman has been lucky picking dance partners who've stuck around for almost the entire life cycle of his creator-owned books, and he's found a good one in Paul Azaceta. Azaceta wears the same David Mazzucchelli influences on his sleeve as Chris Samnee does, and the whole dark affair looks like a million bucks under the "cinematography" work of colorist Elizabeth Breitwesier. Demons are a tougher sell than zombies, but it's obvious that the subject fascinates Kirkman. Should make for an interesting ride.
- Saga #20 (w. Brian K. Vaughn, a. Fiona Staples) - I haven't been wholly enamored of the last couple of issues (though good), but I'm back on board (read: total adoration) with this one. The sequence where Alana gets high made me laugh out loud and explain the whole thing to my girlfriend. And toddler Hazel? Awwwww.
- Sex Criminals #6 (w. Matt Fraction, a. Chip Zdarksy) - Go grab issue 1 and then look at this issue and marvel at the polish that's taking place in Zdarsky's cartooning. He's becoming one of the best at drawing "acting" from his characters and his line is more confident than ever. You're watching someone become a superstar. This is a Jon-centric issue, which somehow makes it feel oddly Fraction-specific. I don't know Fraction, but I wonder how much of Jon is in him and how much of that is spilling over into the comic. Anyway, everyone likes this book, and for good reason. It's able to balance boner comedy with tense sci-fi, making it unlike anything anyone has ever read.
- Stray Bullets: Killers #4 (w./a. David Lapham) - This is my favorite monthly right now. It consistently puts me through the emotional wringer, to the point where the covers themselves are starting to fill me with dread. I love this book with all of my heart.
- Trees #2 (w. Warren Ellis, a. Jason Howard) - I almost wish this globe-trotting hard sci-fi story, concerning mile-high "trees" that are alien in origin planting themselves in the Earth from above and disrupting our environment, was a novel and not a monthly comic book. It's a detail-oriented story, alive with an otherworldly pulse but the ideas within seem limited by its format. I'll explore in the future when the book is collected in one volume.
- Ordinary #2 (w. Rob Williams, a. D'Israeli) - I wish this comic were hotter. Not putting the blame on Titan for not being Image, but maybe putting the blame on comic fans for not keeping their eyes open for creator-owned material outside of the most high profile sources. ANYWAY...yes, this is a good un. It's about how a world suddenly filled with superheroes would go to Hell pretty damned quick. It's about the one normal guy in this crazy new world trying to get back to his son before something horrible happens. It also happens to be very funny in a way that doesn't deflate tension or muck with emotional stakes. D'Israeli is a hugely inventive cartoonist, perfect for this book, and to let you know just how much I enjoyed it, I'm recommending it even though it has a couple of pages devoted to a musical number. Musical numbers in comic books are just about my least favorite device ever. They're something that should pretty much never be used because they completely rely on the one thing comics do not have -- music. I hate them. And yet...here I am telling you to try this book anyway.
- Rai #1 (w. Matt Kindt, a. Clayton Crain) - Aside from Crain's painterly visuals, Rai #1 is one of the more difficult Valiant re-launches to get into. It sort of Valiant-izes the concepts of Blade Runner, with lots and lots of captions, trying to find out how much world-building exposition is too much in some places and not enough in others. Feels like a lot of words wasted when we're left knowing next to nothing about the title character himself, including who or what he is, what motivates him, and whether or not he has any personality at all. He's got a cool look though. Maybe that's enough for some.
It's nice to see a character change with the times without betraying those things that made the character interesting in the first place. The comic industry has shifted a lot in the past ten years, and that includes comic fandom, and while it may have been more acceptable for Hack/Slash to skirt the line of appealing to the T-and-A "bad girl" comic crowd back in 2004, it's not a good way to grow an audience who might be put off by the cheesecake covers or occasional bare breasts within the pages of a comic. And as someone who's read the first two Hack/Slash omnibus collections, I've always kind of felt that it looked like a trashier comic than was ever intended. The truth is slasher hunter Cassie Hack is an interesting character, and creator Tim Seeley has used her to explore a number of horror tropes in a comic that's typically much more fun than it is salacious.
Son of Samhain, a new #1 from writers Michael Moreci and Steve Seeley with Emilio Laiso on art, is not only a solid horror-action comic, it's an open armed "all are welcome" greeting to come aboard and see what Cassie Hack's world is all about. Supernatural fans will be familiar with the flavor here, which finds Cassie trying to move on with her life but getting pulled back into another monster hunting job by a burly stranger named Delroy. He's no Vlad, Cassie's former partner (missing from this book without any continuity explanation for those of us who aren't caught up), but the stakes are high and Lasio's exceptionally good at the creepy crawly monster bits.
The lack of fishnets and boobs does not in any way diminish the charm of Hack/Slash. This has always been a book about Cassie and what she's dealing with, and even if Tim Seeley is too busy with Batman books right now, her caretakers understand this. There's a meat-and-potatoes comfort in the simplicity of a monster hunting hero bashing monsters in the head with a baseball bat that I can really get into if done in a way that doesn't insult my intelligence. Thankfully, Hack/Slash always treated horror geeks like they have brains in their heads. Son of Samhain is a simple pleasure -- an unpretentious action comic with a strong lead and a Lovecraftian monster god. If that sounds like your thing, now's as good a time as any to come aboard.
Hack/Slash: Son of Samhain #1 will be available in stores and online from Image Comics on Wednesday, July 2.
The Pull List is a new semi-regular feature where I post capsule reviews of the comics from my personal reading stack. I buy from Capstone Comics, where I have my subscription box, and Austin Books & Comics. Please support your local comic book store!
- Big Trouble in Little China #1 (w. Eric Powell, a. Brian Churilla) - There's a two-page spread that flashes back to a crazy story that might've been called "Big Trouble in Little Mexico" if it were fleshed out beyond two pages, and it ends up being the tale you really want to see -- not this direct sequel to the original film. The book suffers from incurable sequelitis, setting up Jack Burton with a lovable demon sidekick carried over from the first movie, while another Chinese sorcerer shows up to avenge the first film's Chinese sorcerer Lo Pan. I believe there's potential to tell new comic book stories about the Porkchop Express, but this first issue feels restrained by its own license.
- The Empty Man #1 (w. Cullen Bunn, a. Vanesa Del Ray) - I was very intrigued to see what Bunn would do with a modern horror tale, considering he's effectively making me squirm on Marvel's Magneto (which isn't even a horror book!). This one's about a series of seemingly random violent events centered around the idea that something/someone called "The Empty Man" is telling people to commit the violence. Investigators wonder if it's a virus that affects the brain, but we, the readers, know it's something more than that. First issue was more of a slow burn than I expected, intriguing with inky, scratchy art supporting its X-Files-esque mood.
- The Woods #2 (w. James Tynion IV, a. Michael Dialynas) - Looking like Boom has one of the sleeper hits of 2014 here in this comic about 400+ high schoolers and faculty being teleported against their will to a savage alien world. In this second issue, the adults try to enforce the same social structure and rules of public high school to the discomfort of the students who are smart enough to know that things like detention shouldn't matter anymore. The shocking, horrific cover art doesn't really have much to do with the interior story (not directly anyway).
- Action Comics #32 (w. Greg Pak, a. Scott Kolins) - I gotta say, I'm digging "Doomed." This installment finds the Doomsday-infected Superman trying to work out a plan with Steel so that Supes will quit destroying everything in his path. Then, along comes Metallo, and everything goes to Hell. Pak has turned Action into an efficient, effective Superman book and Scott Kolins is as reliable as ever.
- Detective Comics #30 ("Storytellers" Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato) - Thanks to appealing cover art, I decided to give Manapul and Buccellato's first issue of Detective a spin. It's kind of a basic, no-frills Batman story (with Bruce pissing off gangsters over a real estate deal), but the interior art is really pretty and painterly.
- Infinity Man and the Forever People #1 (w. Dan Didio, p. Keith Giffen) - I'm a sucker for Keith Giffen going "full Kirby." The book reinvents some of the Fourth World concepts but not in a way I found offensive to the legacy of those books. The Forever People are New God "grad students" who get sent to study the Earth from a shithole apartment on Venice Beach. No Infinity Man just yet (though I'm happy to see the New 52 salvage him from Jim Starlin's Death of the New Gods). I found this enjoyable enough to come back for more, even if it was just a touch messy.
- Justice League United #2 (w. Jeff Lemire, a. Mike McKone) - Three issues in (including the #0) and this will be my last one for a bit. While accessible (and the rare superhero team book that you could hand off to a 9-year old without any worry), I'm not digging the pages of endless, chatty exposition (8-pages of it!), or the 3-issue fight between Hawkman and Lobo, or the juvenile bickering between Animal Man and Green Arrow, or the lack of editorial acknowledgment of the non-Red Lantern Supergirl. I dunno. It's fine. But it's not for me.
- Superman/Wonder Woman #9 (w. Charles Soule, p. Tony Daniel) - This is an all-fighting issue of "Doomed," with Doomsday-infected Superman getting beat up by Hessia, then the Red Lanterns, while Wonder Woman stands on the sidelines asking them to stop. the action suits Tony Daniel well. It's the kind of issue that creeps into long arcs like this, a bit of stalling till the next major plot development.
- Swamp Thing #32 (w. Charles Soule, a. Jesus Saiz) - Jesus Saiz is an insanely good artist and this might be his most beautiful issue of Swamp Thing to date (assisted with sumptuous, vivid underwater colors from Matthew Wilson). In this issue, Aquaman feeds Swamp Thing to a herd of hungry manatee, so how could you not love it? One thing I'm starting to wonder is if Soule was asked by editorial to go more superheroic with Swampy. "Whiskey Tree" and Soule's "Arcane" one-shot for Villains Month were pure horror stories, but the title has become something closer to weird action.
- The Wake #9 (w. Scott Snyder, a. Sean Murphy) - This is the penultimate issue of The Wake, drawing the series' second half, a post-apocalyptic pirate adventure, to a close by bringing it back around to the first half (which felt like "What if James Cameron remade Creature from the Black Lagoon.") Second half of this mini has been a little harder for me to follow and I'm hoping that reading it collected will give it a clarity that I've been missing issue to issue. The series allowed me to see Snyder in a different light than "Batman guy" and it introduced me to the impeccable, drool-inducing linework of Sean Murphy, so even if I don't find the ending satisfying, I'm happy.
- Vampirella #1 (w. Nancy A. Collins, p. Patrick Berkenkotter) - Vampirella has a really cool look, but I've been mostly unimpressed by her various revivals over the years. Nabbed this out of curiosity over what was being described as a return to the character's roots and because of former Swamp Thing writer Nancy A. Collins. Here, Vampirella is a private investigator (?) employed by the Vatican to find a child kidnapped by a cult that worships chaos. Turns out, I'm still not a fan of Vampirella.
- Haunted Horror #11 (w./a. Various) - A typical lovably garish issue of Haunted Horror. The highlight might be vampire Western "Day of Panic" thanks to artist Howard Nostrand, who really elevates an uninspired story with cartooning that evokes Al Capp.
- Popeye Classic Comics #23 (w./a. Bud Sagendorf) - I think this comic is getting thinner maybe? Three stories this month, including one that isn't even a Popeye character (that I know of), the amateurishly drawn Sherm in "Snowfather." Best one in here is "Ship Shape" in which Popeye is issued a warning by the police for having a filthy boat and has to clean it up with Pappy's help. This month, none of it is as funky as it usually is.
- Madame Frankenstein #2 (w. Jamie S. Rich, a. Megan Levens) - I'm pleased by this black and white period piece. This issue takes bits of My Fair Lady and transplants them into a "Frankenstein" story, giving us some socio-political bits to chew on and some crystal clear cartooning to look at. Watching a male scientist impose the do's and don'ts of proper ladylike behavior on his dead love interest/experiment is uncomfortable and the sense here is that these actions will reinforce larger themes within the story that will pay off later. That's just a guess, as we're only two issues in.
- Savage Dragon #195 (w./a. Erik Larsen) - We're barely in to the new direction, with teenager Malcolm Dragon as the titular character, and while I don't miss (Papa) Dragon, I do miss the "can't miss one issue" subplots that Larsen is skilled at threading through his big action stuff. There are no apparent if/then threats for Malcolm, where the stakes of the subplots are accompanied by looming consequences. That said, Malcolm's ex Maxine still gets all the best lines.
- Shutter #3 (w. Joe Keatinge, a. Leila Del Duca) - The only comic on the stands to open with two pages of Richard Scarry homage-gone-wrong and end with a skeleton butler bidding you welcome. There's also a living Felix the Cat clock in here. And a samurai fox riding a triceratops is introduced. Look, I think Keatinge/Ross's Glory is brilliant, so I'm in. Shutter is shooting all around that target, but not hitting it. Not yet, at least. Tether all of that fantastic imagination on display to narrative vitality. Impress me.
- That's Because You're a Robot One-Shot (w. David Quantick, a. Shaky Kane) - I appreciate the audacity of three double-page spreads in a row that all convey the same visual information (a deliberate joke that pretty much only works on comic readers with some kind of grasp on sequential storytelling). It's a ludicrous way to break up a "one joke" book that feels like it could've been a late-80's SNL spoof of sci-fi action films. Buddy cops are told that one of them is a robot and they spend most of their time blowing their cases while arguing about which one of them is the actual robot. Candy-colored weirdness.
- The Wicked + The Divine #1 (w. Kieron Gillen, a. Jamie McKelvie) - Now, Gillen writes a touch too decompressed for my taste in general, but damn if this book wasn't packed with potential. As readers, we're thrown into the deep end here without a lot of backstory, but basically this comic is about gods (and devils) living on Earth as pop star celebrities. It's darkly humorous, but much more of a horror book than you might expect. The cold opening's occult overtones set the stage for the unease that follows. It also hints at something bigger and more meticulously plotted than what's in the pages here. The Wicked + The Divine has "Next Big Thing" written all over it.
- All-New X-Men #28 (w. Brian Michael Bendis, a. Stuart Immonen) Odd that after all the hype of "Battle of the Atom," that this follow-up is treated like just another issue of All-New. Immonen, supported with the colors of Marte Gracia, is astoundingly good, to the point where I'm consistently shocked he's been doing this on a near-monthly level for over two years. How much longer can that continue to surprise me? At any rate, this is another good issue, where not really that much happens, but the illusion that a lot happens is created by providing some insight into what makes the Brotherhood tick. Sometimes, that's enough, though I wish Bendis didn't always walk that line.
- Amazing Spider-Man: Learning to Crawl #1.2 (w. Dan Slott, a. Ramon Perez) - I'm impressed with Slott and Perez's ability to modernize the Lee/Ditko era in way that feels 100% authentic and not gimmicky. Interesting timing on this story too, as it echoes some of the things Marc Webb was trying to do with Electro in Amazing Spider-Man 2, but far more successfully.
- Avengers Undercover #5 (w. Dennis Hopeless, p. Kev Walker) - A lot of times if a new book has an elevator pitch hook, it's introduced in the first issue. In the press Avengers Undercover was sold as "the kids from Avengers Arena infiltrate Baron Zemo's organization from the inside." It took five issues for this to happen, and this isn't a criticism on how long it took to get there, but the book has been canceled in the interim. On the one hand, I'm glad Hopeless and Walker got to unbox the story at their own pace. On the other hand, I hope they're also able to resolve it at their own pace as they sprint towards a final issue now. This is the best issue of the series so far -- a cinematic, character-rich walk through the Marvel Universe version of Pinnochio's Pleasure Island, where the kids are shown the upside to being super-villains by Hellstrom, Madame Masque, and Constrictor.
- Daredevil #4 (w. Mark Waid, a. Chris Samnee) - Hey, this is a really excellent comic; don't know if you'd heard. Kind of glad this stuff with The Shroud has resolved for now though, as it was one of the rare times I didn't really like this particular C-list hero. Solo Avengers, ftw.
- Magneto #5 (w. Cullen Bunn, a. Gabriel Hernandez Walta) - This kicks off a new storyline for Magneto with new character Briar Raleigh giving Magneto an offer he can't refuse against X-Men villains I did not expect to see. Walta's Romita Jr.-inspired visuals maintain a deadly serious tone that works for this book, giving it a bitter flavor unlike anything Marvel currently offers.
- Mighty Avengers #11 (w. Al Ewing, p. Michael Lark) - In this "Original Sin" tie-in, Luke Cage's daddy relates a story of his own personal run-ins with Blade back in the day. When I first tried this title (with #1), I thought Lark was at odds with Ewing's lighter tone, but last month's issue drew me in and I might be here to stay. Maybe. I miss the Avengers and this hits a sweet spot in what I want from a superhero team book -- a lighter touch, clear stakes, interesting plots, and appealing characters.
- Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man #2 (w. Brian Michael Bendis, a. David Marquez) - And here's an example of a Bendis comic where not much happens, and, boy, does it ever show. I have a theory that Bendis takes on too many monthlies and that there's always a couple of books that he writes that suffer much more than others (it's the reason I dropped the unusually plotless Guardians of the Galaxy). Miles Morales is a great character; this is not a great comic. Two things happen here: Norman Osborn returns to his secret lab and Miles discovers a clone. The Osborn stuff gets a couple of pages. Miles asking himself if he discovered a clone takes up most of the other twenty. I dropped this title a while back and added it with the relaunch, but I can't keep up with it if this is all I'm getting for my four bucks.
- Original Sin #4 (w. Jason Aaron, p. Mike Deodato) - It should come as no surprise that a bunch of characters yelling at each other about not understanding what's going on does not make a very satisfying comic (Paul Jenkins' Deathmatch being an exception). I'll continue to love Aaron on Southern Bastards and Thor while I back slowly away from this event mini-series.
- Secret Avengers #4 (w. Ales Kot, a. Michael Walsh) - Hmm...my least favorite issue so far in my most favorite incarnation of this frequently relaunched book. Really liked the interplay between Maria Hill and unlikely teammate M.O.D.O.K. and if you're missing Hawkeye the way Matt Fraction writes him, this is where you can find him right now. If you haven't tried this title yet, it's recommended, but start earlier than this issue.
- She-Hulk #5 (w. Charles Soule, a. Ron Wimberly) - I've been supportive of this book because I like the character and I like the creatives, but I've also felt like it hasn't found its true purpose. This issue finally emerges from tall shadow of Dan Slott's run, which also focused on Jen as a superhero lawyer. Slott's was more L.A. Law and Soule starts to move the character into more "John Grisham" territory with a central law-related mystery that has Jen acting as an investigator of sorts. It works!
- Silver Surfer #3 (w. Dan Slott, a. Mike Allred) - I like that the introductory arc of this book was a lean three issues and a love story at that (Never Queen and Eternity, awwwww). I'm still not in LOVE love with this title, but I should say it's also a character I've never LOVE loved (though I liked a lot of the 90's Ron Lim stuff). Some of the silliness I expected in issue #1, which was mostly absent then, is present here. We'll see where this goes. It's cute.
- Superior Foes of Spider-Man #12 (w. Nick Spencer, a. Steve Lieber) - Everyone assumes this book will be canceled any issue now, because it's too good to possibly live. Also because a book that stars D-list villain Boomerang sounds like a losing proposition. Also because the "Superior" branding is over now that Spider-Man is "Amazing" again. No matter. This is still one of Marvel's very best books.
- Thor: God of Thunder #23 (w. Jason Aaron, a. Esad Ribic) - Still the best book from the initial Marvel NOW batch? The hype seems to have died down, but the comic itself is still remarkable. The "Old Thor" versus Galactus B-plot pays off on things that happened in AaronRibic's first arc while Modern-day Thor faces off against Ulik and Man-Bull. Hugely dramatic and often much funnier than expected, this is about as good as Thor comics get.
- Uncanny X-Men #22 (w. Brian Michael Bendis, a. Chris Bachalo) - This ends the long-running S.H.I.E.L.D. vs. X-Men plot with an appropriately big resolution. The comic is like the final third of a blockbuster film, with huge action moments and little twists, which will work nicely collected against all of the issues leading up to this one.
- Armor Hunters #1 (w. Robert Vendetti, a. Doug Braithwaite) - I've been reading X-O Manowar since its relaunch so I'm not sure how much of this book has been enhanced by my overall enjoyment of X-O as a character and concept, but Armor Hunters just plain worked for me. This is a mini supporting a multi-chapter cross-over within the Valiant U, about a super-powered team of aliens trying to retrieve the X-O armor for what seems like surprisingly altruistic reasons. The Valiant books feature more adult superhero stories with a sci-fi bent that dog ears them as a different offering from Marvel or DC. They just have their own flavor. I actually found Armor Hunters #1 to be a more satisfying kick-off to a crossover than many of the recent ones from the Big Two. Its story is crystal clear, the players are unpredictable and interesting, and the events inside carry weight. Braithwaite, fresh from the introductory arc of Unity, feels born to draw Vailant's world. I've never liked him better than on these books.
- Unity #8 (w. Matt Kindt, a. Stephen Segovia) - Kindt writes all of the action stuff in Unity, a team comic that's been almost hilariously flippant about its heroes being killers, with a barely perceptible wink that makes every adventure feel like a guilty pleasure. Segovia must've drawn each page in the order they appear because he seems to run out of steam as the issue progresses. #8 is all right, bogged down a bit by being a direct tie-in to the Armor Hunters mini-series.
I only really know Chuck Dixon as one of the leanest, most efficient Batman writers of the 1990s, a man who did exceptionally good work establishing Robin as an interesting superhero separated from Batman, and as a guy who could write a pretty mean Punisher tale. I don't know Chuck Dixon as the guy who (as he says) watched his conservative personal politics close doors on his own career; the right-wing guy with opinions on how liberalism has eroded the modern superhero. I also did not know, until after reading Winterworld #1, that the job that helped put him Dixon the map was a creator-owned post-apocalyptic survival story set on a frozen Earth.
This new Winterworld series from IDW (drawn by Jackson "Butch" Guice) didn't require a lot of backstory, but it ended up being good enough to make me want to seek out the previous stuff (published by Eclipse in 1987 and collected by IDW in 2011). Winterworld predates Cormac McCarthy's The Road by a couple of decades, but shares the central conceit of an adult and a pre-teen scavenging for no greater reason than to stay alive, in the face of unspeakably harsh conditions and humans-turned-savage. In this new #1, Dixon shows a lot of affection for his leads, pragmatist Scully and upbeat teenager Wynn, and though very little backstory is given, they emerge fully-formed from Dixon's own head as relatable, appealing characters thrown against impossible odds (always a winning formula).
The harsh arctic landscape is a welcome change from the typical barren deserts we're used to in post-apoc tales, which was probably what inspired Dixon to create the series in the first place (especially in the wake of the worldwide post-Mad Max mania of the 1980's and its fixation with nuclear "scorched Earth" aesthetics). Butch Guice is an inspired choice as Dixon's dance partner on the book. He's one of those artists that can make pretty much any situation feel like a hand-drawn document of reality and less like a comic book fantasy. For Winterworld, this means that you buy all of it -- from the setting to the characters who inhabit that setting -- as plausible.
Dixon must realize that he comes to the work with a certain amount of political baggage and he tries to shed it during the first issue's letter column, "I don't write my personal politics into my stories for the simple reason that I want to keep the work universal. The object is to entertain readers, not try and change their minds." A knee jerk response would automatically think Dixon is using Winterworld to dispute global warming, but the contents of the story seem to say otherwise. Dixon addresses global warming without any apparent agenda other than using it as fodder for an interesting, not-quite-sci-fi story.
The timing of Winterworld #1 is unfortunate, since Dixon was somewhat vilified last week for his Wall Street Journal piece on what he perceives to be a decline in conservative values within mainstream superhero books, but don't let that column get in the way of a book you might enjoy. Winterworld #1 is attractive, muscular pulp that makes a strong first impression, even amidst a sea of comics about the end of the world as we know it.
Winterworld #1 hits stands Wednesday, June 18. The Amazon link below is for the original 1987 Winterworld collection, containing #1-3 of the original Eclipse series as well as two issues of its unpublished sequel, Wintersea.
I like "The City on the Edge of Forever" a lot. It's one of the best episodes of classic Star Trek, and I've found that because of its human drama, mostly free of the cliches one might associate with Trek, it makes a great introductory episode for people who think they might not like the original series. Because I like it a lot, I've never had much interest in the complaints of its author, Harlan Ellison, who's been railing against the changes made to his teleplay since the episode first aired in 1967. Not to take anything away from Mr. Ellison, but no matter what his intent was, the episode works very well as is.
IDW's comic book adaptation of Ellison's original version of the story (from writers Scott and David Tipton and painter J.K. Woodward) arrives as a five-issue mini-series, which is about as close as we'll ever get to seeing what his unaltered episode would've looked like had it aired. Many interested readers will be approaching this comic already armed with the knowledge of the differences in Ellison's original plotting. Others, like myself, will read it as a comparison piece to the television episode, unable to turn off our memories of the events that were re-written for TV by Trek's staff of writers. Very few will pick up this first issue with a fresh pair of eyes.
For those virgin readers, I wonder if there's enough substance in the first issue to get them to come back for more (and part of me wonders why this ended up chopped into a comic book mini-series instead of released a single impressive graphic novel). Beckwith, a drug-dealing Enterprise crew member, is barely a character as Ellison presents him, so when Beckwith jumps through a time portal to escape punishment from his superior officers, there's no investment from the reader. On paper, the reason to care is that he might alter time through his desperate act, but considering we barely know him and the core crew (Kirk, Spock, and Rand) barely know anything about the portal he jumped through, the whole event lacks drama as a first-issue cliffhanger. Things that feel like they need more time to cook (Beckwith's relationships, motivations, and actions) get a minimal number of panels in exchange for very deliberate hand-holding about how time travel works, across several pages.
For familiar readers, this comic only feels like a curio piece. The biggest divergence in this first issue is Beckwith as the catalyst for events instead of the temporarily insane Dr. McCoy as seen on TV. I always found that McCoy plot point a little odd (but no more odd than a lot of odd Trek plot points), and in concept, I like Ellison's idea of a guy on the lam leading Kirk and Spock to jump into the time steam. It's not very "Roddenberry" of Ellison to kick off the story with a drug-dealing murderous red shirt, and I have to think that was at least part of the reason the teleplay was altered to have McCoy accidentally drug himself and go nuts. In execution, Beckwith is a non-character in this first issue, defined only by the criminal actions needed to get the plot from point A to point B.
More impressive is the City on the Edge of Forever itself, unrestrained by CBS television budgets, and showcased here as a cavernous, otherworldly, crystalline monument watched over by ethereal 30-feet tall guardians. If this was Ellison's original vision for this scene, it would've been near-impossible to execute with the effects of the time, and it lets Woodward stretch his legs with the art more than trying to replicate specific likenesses and sets.
I'll admit that it may be unfair to discuss this comic in a monthly, single-issue form, but this is the way the book is being delivered, so here we are. I suspect that only the most die hard Star Trek fans (funnily enough, the ones who already know exactly what's going to happen) are going to be willing to pick up this single story in chopped-up monthly bits. I'd hope the final, completed work would allow for a more thoughtful critique and examination because, as is, there's just not enough story in this little sliver, no matter how different it is from the original.