Monthly Archives: March 2012

Quick Critiques – March 31, 2012

Jurassic StrikeForce 5 #3 (Zenescope Entertainment/Silver Dragon Books)
by Joe Brusha, Neo Edmund & J.L. Giles-Rivera

I’ll give this comic credit — its title tells you exactly what to expect from it. That’s right, this series is about five humanoids dinosaur super-soldiers, tasked with fighting an alien overlord and his loyal saurian troops. It’s ridiculous, over-the-top and actually quite a bit of fun, to be honest. Neo Edmund’s script, working from Joe Brusha’s story, is perfectly accessible; this issue picks up the story in the middle, with the heroes captured, but I had no problem following the plot and figuring out who the players are. Mind you, this isn’t exactly the most complex concept either. Despite the bestial look of the heroes and villains, this seems like appropriate fare for kids. In fact, it’s definitely more appropriate for kids than adults; the writing and concepts are a bit too rudimentary and obvious to appeal to an older crowd. The way the premise is constructed reminded me a great deal of kids’ cartoons of the 1980s, and the way the comic reads, it feels more like a springboard for an animated TV series than something meant for this medium.

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Claw the Unconquered

Queen Crab original hardcover graphic novel
Writer: Jimmy Palmiotti
Artist: Artiz Eiguren
Cover artist: Sas Christian
Editor: Amanda Conner
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $12.99 US

I’m a lucky guy because the manager of my local comic shop is forever directing my attention to unusual and lesser-known comics and graphic novels he think I might find interesting, and this Kickstarter project of Jimmy Palmiotti’s definitely flew under my radar. I like it when Palmiotti takes on these personal, unconventional projects, so I was quick to grab a copy. It turns out the small chain of comic shops where I get my books was also a strong supporter and sponsor of Queen Crab, so my book was signed and included a couple of prints (one by Palmiotti and another by Amanda Conner). It was a nice bonus, but I was far more interested in this book with the unusual cover. Despite the premise of a woman who wakes up one day to find she has crustacean claws instead of hands, it’s really more of a slice-of-life book that examines the life of a woman who’s settled for a lesser life. Most of the book is a bit of a bummer, but in a resonant way. It’s an interesting character study that’s marred somewhat but some awkward pacing, but it merits a look just because it’s such a change of pace.

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Hexes and Hope

Avengers Vs. X-Men #0
Writers: Brian Michael Bendis & Jason Aaron
Artist: Frank Cho
Colors: Jason Keith
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Cover artists: Cho (regular)/Stephanie Hans & Jim Cheung (variants)
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US

I’ve given Marvel a hard time about the apparent premise (given the title) of this latest crossover event, and I don’t plan to on following the entire run of the central crossover title (or any of the spinoff titles and tie-ins). But I have to admit, I enjoy Frank Cho’s art on occasion, and I wanted to sound off on the book for a review. Now, I don’t usually go for the zero-issue gimmick that so many comics publishers have embraced in the past couple of decades, but given the subject matter in this prologue, I can see why Marvel opted for it this time around. This isn’t the first chapter in Avengers Vs. X-Men. Instead, it serves to introduce two key players that will, I assume, serve as catalysts for the “story.” The art is, as I expected, quite sharp and attractive, and I enjoyed the incorporation of some classic, cheesy (and ultimately inconsequential) villains into this leadup. But overall, the two stories didn’t really seem all that interesting, nor did they provide the strong inductions to the two heroines as was clearly intended.

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Bring On the Bad Guys

Supercrooks #1
Writers: Mark Millar & Nacho Vigalondo
Pencils: Leinil Yu
Inks: Gerry Alanguilan
Colors: Sunny Gho
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Cover artists: Leinil Yu (regular)/Dave Gibbons (variant)
Editor: Nicole Boose
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment/Icon imprint/Millarworld
Price: $2.99 US

The quickest way to describe this latest creator-owned, super-hero genre effort from writer Mark Millar is as Ocean’s 11 meets Wanted. The pace and tone of the writing make something abundantly clear: Millar is crafting comics designed for adaptation into other media, and specifically into movies. Supercrooks has a fairly simple premise at its core: why would the Penguin and Toyman continue to commit crimes in Gotham City and Metropolis and the like when they’re bound to attract the attention of the men who keep tossing them in jail? It’s a solid foundation for a story about super-villains, but then again, it’s a little obvious. Then again, subtlety hasn’t exactly been something in which Millar has been interested in recent years, opting instead for bombastic, in-your-face genre storytelling that boasts a broader appeal. The first issue of Supercrooks is a good comic book, but it’s also a little bit… ordinary despite its effort to do something a little different within a world of super-heroes and super-villains.

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The Magic Is Gone

Justice League #7
“The Villain’s Journey, Prologue”
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Gene Ha
Colors: Art Lyon
Letters: Patrick Brosseau

Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Gary Frank
Colors: Brad Anderson
Letters: Nick J. Napolitano

Cover artists: Jim Lee & Scott Williams (regular)/Gary Frank (variant)
Editor: Brian Cunningham
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US (regular)/$4.99 (digital combo pack)

The good news is this is the first issue of this series to deliver enough content to merit the $3.99 US cover price. With the main story and the backup, it finally feels as though we’re getting value for that extra dollar. Furthermore, writer Geoff Johns offers an unexpected story in the main piece, distinguishing this incarnation of the title team from past iterations of the super-hero group. But for every strength to be found in this issue, there seems to be an element that’s irksome and detracts from the reader’s enjoyment. And most of those elements are to be found in the thoroughly wrong-headed reinvention of the Shazam! property in the backup feature.

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Curious Case

Short Hand one-shot
“The Toothless Fairy”
Writer: Jason McNamara
Artist: Rahsan Ekedal
Price: $5 US

Jason McNamara loves him some comics. I’m familiar with him from his work on the entertaining Martian Confederacy graphic novels, and he’s billed as the “writer-in-residence” for lauded comic shop Isotope. McNamara passed along his latest project, Short Hand, for review, and it’s a much different project than his two Martian Confederacy books. The premise — a 12-year-old boy detective with progeria, making him look like he’s at the end of his life rather than the beginning — is a solid one. And while this appears to be a one-shot, there’s definitely life in the concept beyond this one story. In fact, McNamara’s plot leaves the door open for more. Unfortunately, Short Hand suffers from a couple of flaws: up-front spoilers that ruin the reveal to which the story builds, and artwork that seems to take what’s meant as a lighter story a bit too seriously. Nevertheless, it’s a promising effort and worth checking out if you run into McNamara during the 2012 comics-convention circuit.

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Quick Critiques – March 16, 2012

DC Comics Presents: Blink #1 (DC Comics)
by Dwayne McDuffie, Val Semeiks, Dan Green & Renato Guedes

This is one of DC’s 100-page reprints I picked up recently because my local comic shop had it on sale dirt cheap, but had I known the story within was so strong, I definitely would’ve shelled out full price for it. In the main, three-part story, the late Dwayne McDuffie offered up a great premise about a blind con artist who witnesses a murder thanks to a special ability he uses to bilk people of thousands. The premise of the murder — that it’s one of several committed to supply the depraved elite of Gotham with snuff films — is secondary to the blind man’s shtick, which gains more credibility from the fact the story’s set in the DC Universe. It’s a fun story that mixes traditional Batman storytelling of yesteryear with a more clever, modern approach to plotting. While the main story is reprinted from a short arc in Legends of the Dark Knight from a decade ago, the reprint book is rounded out by a more recent Superman story from a 2007 issue of Action Comics v.1. There’s no thematic link to “Blink;” McDuffie’s the only link. It’s a perfectly serviceable standalone story, but it’s also predictable. The characterization of Ma and Pa Kent is well done, though.

Val Semeiks was an odd choice to illustrate McDuffie’s “Blink” story, as he boasts a more cartoony style that really doesn’t reflect the darker elements in the story. It is in keeping with the traditional tone for which the writer strives, though. Semeiks’ designs are a bit disappointing. The blind con artist dresses like a caricature from the 1950s, making it a little more difficult to find him believable, and the wealthy man who serves as one of the key villains of the story looks far too much like Commissioner Gordon, making for a moment of confusion when he’s introduced. Renato Guedes’ photorealistic approach for the Superman story is attractive but stiff, and his interpretation of the Kents is unlike others I’ve seen, though perhaps more convincing and believable. The detail and realism conflict with the sci-fi elements, robbing the story of some of its sense of wonder. 7/10

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Some Assembly Inquired

Avengers Assemble #1
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Mark Bagley
Inks: Danny Miki
Colors: Paul Mounts
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Cover artists: Bagley & Miki (regular)/Arthur Adams, Marc Silvestri, Khoi Pham & Mirco Pierfederici (variants)
Editors: Lauren Sankovitch & Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US

One can’t say Marvel isn’t up front about its publishing decisions (or at least this particular one). The reason for this new Avengers title’s existence is emblazoned right across the top in a banner promoting the May 4 release of the Avengers movie. That Marvel would want a title that reflects the roster of the big-screen incarnation of the team makes perfect sense, though there’s no denying the arrangement of this lineup of the comic-book equivalents of the same characters feels more than a little forced (especially when it comes to the Hulk). Avengers Assemble definitely stands apart from writer Brian Michael Bendis’ other work on the franchise, as it’s far simpler in tone than most of his other Avengers stories. This is pretty basic super-hero genre stuff, feeling a bit like a throwback to a simpler time. Unfortunately, that means the plot comes off as rather generic. The story lacks any of kind of hook needed to make it feel special, to make it feel worthy of a newly launched title, newly assembled roster and its connection to what’s expected to be a blockbuster flick.

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D.B. and the Bear

The Secret History of D.B. Cooper #1
Writer/Artist/Colors: Brian Churilla
Letters: Ed Brisson
Cover artists: Churilla (regular)/J.H. Williams III (variant)
Editor: James Lucas Jones
Publisher: Oni Press
Price: $3.99 US

It’s an interesting week in comics, with some high-profile debuts. Marvel’s capitalizing on the buzz leading up to its Avengers with the launch of yet another Avengers title, with an A-list creative team, and tongues are wagging over the stellar work writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples have to offer in the first issue of Saga from Image Comics. I’m a bit concerned, though, this opening salvo in a new Oni Press project might fly under people’s radar, and if so, it’s a shame, because it’s a spectacular new comic stemming from a creator’s singular vision and effort. The Secret History of D.B. Cooper is wildly entertaining read. It’s goofy and grotesque, mysterious and manic. Writer/artist Brian Churilla uses a fascinating footnote in history as a launching pad for a surreal adventure full of international espionage and monster hunting, complete with a teddy-bear sidekick. The creator’s vision for this incarnation of D.B. Cooper strikes me as a cross between Parker (the hero of Richard Stark’s novels and Darwyn Cooke’s graphic novels) and Hellboy. Fans of such comics as The Goon, Chew and Butcher Baker will kick themselves if they miss out on this strong new entry in serial comics storytelling.

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Quick Critiques – March 11, 2012

Grace Randolph’s Supurbia #1 (Boom! Studios)
by Grace Randolph & Russell Dauterman

This new comic has a pretty strong buzz going, enough to pique my curiosity, and after reading it, I can understand why it appeals to a number of readers. While some have described it as Desperate Housewives mixed with the super-hero genre, I think the origins of the storytelling stem from something much more grounded. This story is about the spouses of powerful men (and a woman), and how they deal with lives of stress, publicity and privilege. The most telling bit of writing in the book is a description of a key character, Ruth Smith: “Army wife, superhero First Lady, a closed book.” It’s the “First Lady” part that resonates. In this book, we meet the wives of men whose power is matched only by their appetites and egos. Great men make great mistakes, and Randolph explores the personalities of the people who have to put up with and fix the problems that come along with lives of responsibility and opulence. I found the nerdy, meek but pleasant husband of the Wonder Woman archetype character to be the most likable figure in the book, and the most grounded. More importantly, it’s fun and interesting to see Randolph approach gender bias and inequity in a family from the opposite tack that one would usually expect.

There are a couple of problems with the story, though.

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Holy Moley!

DC Comics and Geoff Johns have been criticized recently after it began to spread the word about plans for its Shazam! property in its New 52 lineup. A backup feature (penned by Johns and illustrated by Gary Frank) introducing the new take on the World’s Mightiest Mortal is set to begin in Justice League later this month. The backup will be titled “The Curse of Shazam!” and as Johns has revealed in interviews, he and DC are renaming the super-hero character. Instead of Captain Marvel, the hero will be called Shazam. Johns argued many people outside of the niche market of super-hero comics know DC’s Captain Marvel by his magic word anyway. It can be presumed DC isn’t comfortable with “Marvel” being in the name of one of its iconic heroes anyway. Purists will no doubt be disappointed, but I see the logic behind the decision (even if I think Johns is selling readers short).

Fans of the character also expressed their trepidation when DC released a preview of the new Shazam (seen at right). Now sporting a hood, the teaser image would seem to make it clear this is a darker, more intense take on the Big Red Cheese (who will no doubt no longer be referred to as such in the New 52 — if “Captain Marvel” throws people off, the cheesy slur hurled by his enemies must be perceived as befuddling as well). Of course, it’s been known for some time Frank would be the handling the art chores for this reinterpretation and revival. Given his involvement, it was a safe bet we’d be looking at a grittier Shazam.

Of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve encountered a Darker Mightiest Mortal.

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Forget Who — Where Are the Fairest of Them All?

Fairest #1
“Prince of Thieves, Chapter One: Wide Awake”
Writer: Bill Willingham
Pencils: Phil Jimenez
Inks: Andy Lanning
Colors: Andrew Dalhouse
Letters: Todd Klein
Cover artists: Adam Hughes (regular)/Jimenez & Lanning (variant)
Editor: Shelly Bond
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo imprint
Price: $2.99 US

While I loved the first few years of the series, I dropped Fables a while back, not long after the war with the Adversary/Emperor/Gepetto came to a close. It was a major turning point in the series, and I just wasn’t as taken with the new direction of the book then, though I still appreciated the overall premise. I had also lost interest in the spinoff Jack of Fables series, so I left Willingham’s characters (or his take on these characters) behind. When I saw this new spinoff title on my comic shop’s shelves this week, I felt prompted to venture back into the enchanted forests and valleys I’d visited with Willingham before, mainly because the notion of an all-female cast of protagonists appealed to me. I was also curious to see what Willingham had been up to with these characters. After reading the first issue, I can safely say I enjoyed what I found, but I must also admit I found it puzzling. For a comic book that purports to be about a number of fairy-tale women, the first issue is almost completely devoid of female characters. It seems like an odd choice and a misstep.

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Dark Shadows

The Shade #5
“Memoria Roja”
Writer: James Robinson
Artist: Javier Pulido
Colors: Hilary Sycamore
Letters: Todd Klein
Cover artists: Tony Harris (regular)/Javier Pulido (variant)
Editor: Wil Moss
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US

As a fan of writer James Robinson’s Starman series of the 1990s, I, of course, have been enjoying this revisitation of some of the supporting characters from that landmark series. However, this issue stands out as particularly well crafted, and the reason has nothing to do with the Shade or any Starman elements. I had thought this comic marked the debut of a new super-hero, but a quick Google search reveals Robinson introduced La Sangre in the pages of Superman v.1 a couple of years ago. I missed that introduction, but I’m thrilled I got to discover the character here. La Sangre is a wonderful concept for a super-hero — a benevolent, centuries-old vampire frozen in the form of a teenager — but what really makes the character pop is the elegance Robinson instills in her with his dialogue. Adding to the appeal of this issue is the artwork by Javier Pulido, who conveys a number of exotic elements with seeming ease, all while toying with page layouts and figure movement.

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Let’s Hear It for the Boys

Friends with Boys original graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Faith Erin Hicks
Publisher: First Second
Price: $15.99 US

Faith Erin Hicks is a member of a small but vibrant comics-creating community in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the city in which I was born and visit when the opportunity presents itself (which is rarer these days than it once was). That tenuous connection alone was enough to get me to look at Hicks’ earlier works, but it was the talent I found in Zombies Calling and The War at Ellsmere that got me coming back for more. With Friends With Boys, Hicks establishes herself as a skilled and grounded storyteller, who manages to instill fun and whimsy along with the melancholy and introspection of her coming-of-age stories. With this book, she proves herself to be a cartoonist of the caliber of Bryan Lee O’Malley, Hope Larson (both of whom were once a part of that Halifax-area collective of talent), Sarah Oleksyk, Colleen Coover and the like.

Friends With Boys isn’t really meant for me. I’m a 41-year-old dude with a career, a kid and a wife. While I was never one of the cool kids growing up, I was never really an outsider either. Hicks’ story of a young teen trying to transition from home schooling to high school, from a traditional family to a single-parent situation, from the familiar and comfortable to the untested and alien — it resonated for me. And if it clicked so well for me — someone who couldn’t be further removed from what I assume if Hicks’ real audience — then I can’t imagine what a rewarding experience Friends With Boys will for be someone who can identify more closely with the story’s central character. I know it’s only February, but I feel like I’ve already read one of the best graphic novels of the year. You want to know just how good this book is? Hicks made it available (gradually) to read online for free, and I read a digital galley — and I’m still going to buy a physical copy.

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Quick Critiques – March 3, 2012

Glory #23 (Image Comics)
by Joe Keatinge & Ross Campbell

“Everything is different now.” I’ll say. I’ve developed a newfound respect for Rob Liefeld for his decisions to place his genre comic properties in the hands of indie/alt-comics talent. I snapped up the resurrected Prophet series thanks to the involvement of Brandon (King City) Graham and Simon (Jan’s Atomic Heart) Roy, and I couldn’t resist the Ross (Wet Moon) Campbell in Glory. Joe Keatinge’s a well-known and respected figure in comics but is best known for his work as an editor on the lauded Popgun books. I was pleased to find he delivers a strong script for this (essentially) first issue that achieves a nice balance between the extreme fantasy of super-hero comics and more relatable, character-driven elements. Keatinge brings the title character down to earth by frequently focusing on her through the eyes of a journalism student who feels drive to seek out the missing heroine. Furthermore, the script builds up Glory as mythic and unstoppable throughout the issue, which makes the impact of the revelation at the end of the issue all the more potent.

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