This time around, I offer up capsule reviews of Atlas & Axis #1, Batman: Creature of the Night #2, Ghost Stories and Suicide Squad #33.
Curse Words Holiday Special #1 (Image Comics)
by Charles Soule & Mike Norton
After the fun I had reading Hellboy: Krampusnacht, I thought I’d delve into another holiday-themed comic for amusement, and the Curse Words Holiday Special popped up on my radar. Now, while I haven’t read any issues from the regular series, I figured this would be an accessible gateway into the property. It turns out it was and it wasn’t. While the premise here is clear enough — a dark, fantasy future is ruled over by a powerful magical entity and his wizard minions — this one-shot doesn’t give one a sense of what the regular title is all about. As such, this comic is low on plot and therefore has to focus on the oddball, villainous characters that populate this psychedelic future. Soule succeeds in conveying the characters’ corrupt and twisted nature — which means there’s really no figure in this book for which the reader can cheer. Everyone is so… off-putting. It’s like the book is is a DayGlo, candy-coated convention of ugliness. Soule’s distortions of holiday traditions for this weird world are creative and colorful, but several of them are rather… well, gross. And that’s the point, I know; it just wasn’t my thing.
Batman #36 (DC Comics)
by Tom King, Clay Mann & Seth Mann
I remember when I was a kid buying World’s Finest #271, one of DC’s many oversized dollar titles, and that issue promised a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Superman/Batman team. It explored the history of the characters’ connection (and I believed it opened to my eyes to DC’s multiple-earths concepts, which I loved). That purchase was made 36 years ago, so it’s safe to say I’ve read a lot of Superman/Batman team-up stories. With this newly released story, Tom King may have delivered the best Superman/Batman story to date. The villain in this opening chapter of the “Superfriends” story arc is deliciously deep cut, but what makes this such a memorable and touching piece of pop culture is King’s focus on who Bruce and Clark are and they view one another. The pacing and scripting are meticulous. I love how every moment, every word parallels another. I can’t begin to express how happy this comic book made me. My awe at the writing gave way to a real warmth inside. Thanks, Mr. King, for snatching a relatively simple notion out of the ether — the heroes’ unspoken awe and respect for one another — and shaping a wonderfully grounded tale that still builds on the ongoing engagement story.
Bug! The Adventures of Forager #5 (DC Comics/Young Animal imprint)
by Michael Allred & Lee Allred/by James Harvey
The only truly disappointing thing about this comic was the blurb at the end of the main story indicating the next issue will be the final one. This issue of Bug!, like those before it, was another loving tribute to the work of the late Jack Kirby, this time examining an even weirder incarnation of OMAC and Brother Eye. The plot is rather difficult to discern, as has been the case throughout this case. The Allred brothers have been offering up a seemingly stream-of-consciousness approach to fringe super-hero storytelling, and that continues here with almost random story concepts. But they’re wild, campy and entertaining concepts. I particular enjoyed how the writers linked the Mother Box of the Fourth World characters to Brother Eye. Mike Allred’s linework is perfect for the bizarre Kirby concepts on display here, but it would be for nought if Laura Allred’s brilliant, primary color palette didn’t enhance that energy.
Batman: Lost #1 (DC Comics)
by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Joshua Williamson, Doug Mahnke, Yanick Paquette, Jorge Jimenez & Jaime Mendoza
Even if I had no interest in the Metal crossover event giving rise to this one-shot, I would have been drawn to it just based on the artistic talent contributing to the visuals for this comic. Doug Mahnke and Jamie Mendoza’s meticulous linework has the perfect kind of intensity to it, bringing an edge even to the seemingly wholesome vision of an elderly Bruce Wayne reading to his potential granddaughter. Jorge Jimenez’s exaggerated and stylized art has been a great deal of fun on Super Sons, so it was interesting to see it take on a harsher tone for this story. But the art I enjoyed the most in this book came from Yanick Paquette, who’s had a strong association with Batman during the Grant Morrison runs on various titles. Paquette’s take on the character never fails to put me in mind of the style of Kevin Nowlan. I also appreciated how he tweaked his style slightly to convey different time periods in which the Batman finds himself in this ever-flowing hellscape.
Avengers #673 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Mark Waid, Javier Pina & Paco Diaz
I lost touch with Waid’s Avengers some time ago, but given my interest in his Champions title, I signed back on for this crossover between the two team titles. I love Waid’s writing in general, but I’m just not connecting with this story. Part of the problem is that I’ve always loathed the High Evolutionary as a villain. I find him painfully uninteresting and don’t really get how he’s tapped genetics to transform himself essentially into a near-omnipotent being. I’ve never fully understood what motivates him. Furthermore, the way things stand here, it appears many Marvel heroes are well aware the big bad guy has been perched on Counter-Earth and have done nothing to ensure he doesn’t do exactly what he’s doing in this storyline. The real heart of this story, though, is the conflict between one member of the Avengers and one of the Champions: Vision and Viv. The father/daughter dynamic should be the grounded, relatable aspect of this plot, but it’s handled so… loudly, it just doesn’t seem to serve their story or characters right. Given that Viv was introduced in Tom King’s brilliant and quietly intense 12-issue Vision series not long ago, finally addressing the tension between the father and daughter in this bombastic crossover event seems as though it does a disservice to that foundation that gave rise to the relationship in the first place.
The Clone Conspiracy #1 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Dan Slott, Jim Cheung, Ron Frenz & John Dell
I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the Amazing Spider-Man relaunch with Peter Parker as a global tycoon and philanthropist, so much so that I definitely feel I should have followed the Superior Spider-Man epic that preceded it. That being said, I’m quite surprised that Marvel has chosen to revisit the world of cloning (or whatever analogous scheme the Jackal is up to this time), given how the Spider-Clone saga of the 1990s continues to be mocked and viewed by many as a convoluted low point in the iconic hero’s long history. I’m also a little dismayed this wasn’t just published as the latest issue of Amazing instead of as a new first issue. This is a continuation of the storylines we’ve been following over the past year or so in that title, so a spinoff book seems like little more than a cash grab. That being said, I enjoyed this comic book for a number of reasons, not the least of which is how important Peter Parker’s status as an industrialist remains an important element in this new Jackal storyline. Slott wisely continues to build on the importance of Peter’s overdeveloped sense of responsibility for what happens to those around him.
Blue Beetle #1 (DC Comics)
by Keith Giffen & Scott Kolins
I enjoyed Blue Beetle: Rebirth #1, which introduced a new status quo for two of DC’s Blue Beetle characters. Honestly, it struck me that Giffen and Kolins simply adapted the Firestorm schtick (young hero with an elder big-brain advising him along the way) for the Beetle property. Since DC isn’t doing much with Firestorm in its new Rebirth line, that seemed fine. That approach continues in this first issue of the ongoing series, but any interest the creators generation with the BB: Rebirth one-shot is lost here with an overly dense, confusing mess of dialogue captions. It’s difficult to discern who’s talking at times. Furthermore, the plot isn’t exactly crystal clear either. We know the Beetles are looking for a missing teen, but how Ted Kord came to know of the issue, why he’s consulting with a teen metahuman gang or how those guys got powers in the first place are never explored or explained. Now, one can’t accuse Giffen and Kolins (co-plotters here) of decompressed storytelling, but their galloping plot ignores the need for some exposition. I am intrigued by the Dr. Fate subplot, but again, it seems to forge forward without laying the proper groundwork to build tension.
There were two main elements that drew me to this Blue Beetle relaunch: the return of Ted Kord to the DC Universe, and the artwork of Scott Kolins. Kolins has a great, insectoid take on the title character, and he conveys the youth and energy of Jaime Reyes quite well. The designs for the metahuman teens at the end of the issue are inventive, unusual and striking as well. He seems to have a strong sense of the community in which the action unfolds, and it’s always a pleasure to see the previous Beetle’s Bug ship again. The verbose nature of the script really adds a lot of clutter to the visuals, which are already dense and busy to begin with. I also didn’t get a strong sense of the villain’s actions in this issue. I get he has shadow powers, but it was hard to tell what was going on at times between him and the young hero. This issue marked a major misstep for this burgeoning relaunch, but I’m willing to give it another issue or two before deciding its fate (no pun intended), given my affection for the artist’s work and one of the main characters. 4/10
Lately, I haven’t nearly enough time writing about comics, and when I have, the focus has been, somewhat understandably, on larger publishers. But in the 21st century, we have an array of small-press concerns that appear to be making a solid going of things in the marketplace, carving out a small but hopefully viable niche for themselves.
One of those smaller publishers is Action Lab Entertainment, perhaps best known as the home of Jamal Igle’s Molly Danger property. There’s much more going on at Action Lab (and its Danger Zone imprint) than that, though, as the digital review copies it provided to me demonstrated. I thought I’d write up some capsule reviews of several of the publisher’s offerings, all due out this week.
It’s pretty clear why Marvel keeps relaunching its entire line — it works, at least in the short term, when it comes to shoring up sales. As a long-term collector and comics enthusiast, I find it a bit frustrating. But there’s another aspect to the relaunches that appeals to me: it seems to instill in the publisher a greater willingness to try new things with familiar characters. While Marvel’s “All-New, All-Different” is far from perfect (as I’ll elaborate on below), some of the titles certainly do live up to the label — as limiting as it is. When you call all of your comics “new” and “different,” it’s a pretty clear signal that another relaunch is forthcoming once those descriptions are no longer accurate.
Last week, I wrote a trio of quick reviews about some of Marvel’s new titles, launched as part of its “All-New, All-Different” line, the latest in its series of rebrandings, relaunches and renumberings. While I believe this never-ending effort to start over, do over and overflow store shelves with first issues focuses on short-term gains rather than the growth of a longterm audience, I do welcome the fact that the publisher seems more willing to try new approaches to its long-standing properties. Of course, by going with such a limiting term as “All-New, All-Different” sends a clear message that this direction will be as fleeting and short-lived as those that preceded as those that came before it.
While the blog has been silent in recent months, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading comics or had many thoughts on what I’ve been reading. Now that I’m trying to renew my efforts to write about comics (and related pop culture) more frequently, I’ve been jotting down some quick notes about various recent releases, and I realized a number of the things I wanted to say revolved around recently launched (or relaunched) Marvel titles as part of its new “All-New, All-Different” initiative/branding. With so many of Marvel’s titles being priced at $3.99 US or higher and including a digital download code, I’ve been more willing as of late to give some of the publisher’s new efforts a shot, since I can recoup some of my costs.
Convergence New Teen Titans #2 (DC Comics)
by Marv Wolfman, Nicola Scott & Marc Deering
After the fiasco that was Convergence #0, I decided I’d been skipping DC’s March and April event title, but several of the two-issue spinoff titles definitely caught my eye, some for the characters and some for the creators. This revisitation of the classic New Teen Titans characters and comics of the 1980s drew me in for both reasons. I was a huge fan of the title and Marv Wolfman’s writing, and I thought Aussie artist Nicola Scott was an excellent choice as a stand-in for such classic Titans artists as George Perez, Eduardo Barreto and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. Wolfman definitely crafted this comic with longtime Titans fans such as myself in mind — and only for them, as there’s little here that newer readers would fully appreciate. Wolfman picks up on the conflicts and connections that made New Teen Titans such a landmark book. In fact, he tries too hard to give the entire cast moments in the spotlight. The Kole/Jericho subplot is vague and uninteresting, and it’s not at all clear what the reader is meant to take away from it. The Nightwing/Starfire relationship is conveyed just perfectly, as is the brotherly bond between Cyborg and Changeling. Those subplots stand out as the book’s greatest strengths, as the main plot is forced and rather predictable.
All-New Hawkeye #1 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Jeff Lemire & Ramón Pérez
This comic book interests me for a couple of reasons. The first is the fact it’s written by Jeff Lemire, who’s been one of DC’s go-to guys for the last several years. That he’s branched out to include Marvel among his mainstream comics work strikes me as a significant development. Mind you, it’s not particularly relevant in terms of the creative quality of this comic, which, fortunately, is quite solid. The other reason this new title was of such interest to me was that I was quite curious how Marvel planned to follow up on its much-lauded but oft-delayed Hawkeye series by Matt Fraction, David Aja and others. My impression was that previous run simply ran out of steam, so I wondered if this relaunch would follow its cues or head off in a new direction. The answer proved to be a little of both. Through some telling flashbacks, Lemire dwells on the relationship between the original titular character and his brother, while mirroring it with an adventure between the hero and his kid-sister-in-spirit Kate Bishop. While the Barton boys’ tale of an abusive childhood comes off as a little too familiar (the notion is one that’s used quite often in fiction), it nevertheless rings fairly true. With the two Hawkeyes, Lemire seems to have left the everyday, street-level conflict behind and embraced an international-intrigue genre vibe, which helps to distinguish this from the previous run while he nevertheless maintains a certain synergy with Fraction’s stories.