The Activity #1 (Image Comics)
by Nathan Edmondson & Mitch Gerads
Though his work on DC’s Grifter has lacked the strength of his work on Who Is Jake Ellis?, I had no hesitation when it came to checking out writer Nathan Edmondson’s latest project, The Activity, another creator-owned book from Image. Edmondson is clearly most comfortable in the espionage/international-intrigue genre, and he does some excellent work here. His timing is excellent, given the recent release of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Those who enjoy the flick will likely get a kick out of this comic book. The interplay among the members of the intel/secret-ops team is convincing, and it helps to make these people with unbelievable jobs more believable. This opening chapter pretty much just sets the stage. There’s no mission in which something goes awry. There’s no shocking revelation, just an introduction to the premise and players. But it’s done quite well. Edmondson has quickly joined the ranks of such writers as Jonathan Hickman and Nick Spencer, guys cut their teeth in the industry with Image Comics and who pen particular smart, compelling fiction in fantastic or extreme circumstances.
Artist Mitch Gerads’ style is a fairly photorealistic one, but not overly detailed or stiff so as to look like it’s lightboxed, photo-referenced material. His work here reminds me of the styles of such other comics artists as Jock and Jeremy Haun. The good news is he isn’t adapting a typical super-hero style for something outside of that genre. The characters here move and dress like normal people. Muscles don’t bulge; clothes drape believably in the artwork. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the visuals is the color. Cool tones are employed to maintain a slightly tense mood that’s in keeping with the genre and premise. 8/10
Avengers #20 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Brian Michael Bendis & Daniel Acuna
It’s time I stopped reading Avengers comics.
Both this series and New Avengers are embroiled in a large storyline about the return of Norman Osborn and his H.A.M.M.E.R. cult, but the continuity between the two titles is a mess. They seem to contradict one another, even as the script for this issue seems to acknowledge the link. What’s most frustrating is the fact both titles are written by the same man; you’d think the continuity would be tighter, or, you know, there. Also frustrating is the fact there are elements in the plot I truly enjoyed. The team splitting up to search for leads on Osborn’s whereabouts was reminiscent to the classic Justice Society of America stories of the Golden Age, and Justice League stories of the Silver Age. I also appreciated the tactics both the good guys and bad guys employ. On the other hand, Osborn’s forces are depicted as being impossibly powerful, and the media’s about-face concerning the Avengers as a result of Osborn’s manipulations happens far too quickly.
Daniel Acuna’s art is incredibly attractive. It looks like a cross between the work of Kieron Dwyer (a one-time Avengers artist himself) and the already legendary Darwyn Cooke. He maintains a dark, mature tone throughout the comic, but at the same time, there’s a sense of tradition and brightness inherent in the super-hero genre. But again, despite the aspects of the book I enjoyed, I think I’m reading this title (and Bendis’ other Avengers work) mainly out of habit these days. It’s time to break that habit. 5/10
Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes #1 (DC Comics)
by Grant Morrison, Cameron Stewart & Chris Burnham
This oversized, squarebound one-shot reads like it contains the final two or three issues of Grant Morrison’s Batman Inc. series, which was brought to an abrupt halt earlier in the year due to DC’s New 52 relaunch. The global, corporate Batman concept carried on over into the new continuity, but a few elements seemed to be cast aside. That makes for a few nagging continuity questions, but the best way to enjoy this comic is to disregard those glitches. The opening chapter, about Batgirl (the Stephanie Brown incarnation) infiltrating a finishing school for teen-girl assassins and super-villains, is a lot of fun. It’s essentially a self-contained story, as it really doesn’t advance the Leviathan story much. That task is left to the latter part of the book, which ties together all of the loose threads and reveals the clues that supposedly have been hiding in plain sight the whole time. I’ll be honest: I didn’t completely follow the mind-bending confrontation with the mad German scientist (or his corpse), but I was nevertheless fascinated by the over-the-top death trap that served as the climax for this lengthy Darknight Detective investigation. Without a doubt, I need to reread this one-shot after having reread the Batman Inc. series, as it’s clearly important to pick up on the references to earlier elements in this ambitious and complex story. As such, one has to acknowledge this one-shot has some problems when it comes to accessibility, but for those of us who’ve been reading Morrison’s take on Batman for a few years now, Leviathan Strikes is a welcome payoff.
Morrison’s plot and script, though enjoyable, could’ve been clearer, but one can’t take any issue with the artwork that brings them to life. It was a pleasure to see Morrison reunite with artist Cameron Stewart on the evil-girls’-school story. Stewart brings a certain sauciness to the visuals, but somehow, his depiction of so much naughty schoolgirls never feels overtly sexual. There’s an allure and an enticing sense of danger, but the female characters never feel like sexual objects, probably because they’re also portrayed as skilled, capable and dangerous. Morrison and Stewart lampoon the cliched school-girls fantasy. Chris Burnham’s meticulously detailed work looks like a cross between Stewart’s style and that of another frequent Morrison collaborator, Frank Quitely. He depicts the Batman as thoroughly mortal and vulnerable; the hero’s body language and expressions as he faces death brings real tension to the story, even though the reader knows he will survive. I also appreciated the malevolence he instills in the villain who’s revealed at the end of the book. It’s a take on the character we really haven’t seen before. 8/10
Dark Horse Presents #7 (Dark Horse Comics)
I didn’t quite care for the initial looks at Howard Chaykin’s “Marked Man” and Neal Adams’ “Blood” that I saw in the first issue of his revived anthology series, and I was completely lost when I revisited the properties in this seventh issue. Of course, that’s the nature of the beast when one has a short-form serial running through an anthology title; there’s not enough space to bring sporadic readers up to speed on the ongoing features. Of course, with features as strong as Mike Mignola’s “Hellboy Versus the Aztec Mummy” and Brandon Graham’s “The Speaker,” this issue of Dark Horse Presents stands out as superb. Graham’s contribution was what drew me back to the series; I think I may be transforming in a Brandon Graham completist. His work here is full of the same sort of punny, sci-fi concepts that made King City so much fun, along with the same poignant, down-to-earth commentary on the human experience that allows his semi-surreal storytelling to resonate. Mignola’s brief, opening vignette is low on plot and resonance, but the monster-fighting action and dark, gothic imagery more than make up for it.
I’ve enjoyed a number of writer/artist Andi Watson’s past projects, but I’d never read any of his Skeleton Key comics. I enjoyed my introduction to the characters and concepts here. He offers up a succinct and accessible story, and it’ll make me give any Skeleton Key collections I happen to spy on store shelves a second look. M.J. Butler and Mark Wheatley’s Conan spoof “Skultar” was a goofy hoot as well. I was also struck by how much Tony Puryear’s “Concrete Park” reminded me of the Hernandez brothers’ work on Love and Rockets, though I was confused as to exactly what was going on. Overall, while there are segments that will work only for those following the series, there’s more than enough strong, creator-owned material to keep any adult enthusiast of the medium happy. 8/10
Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes #3 (IDW Publishing)
by Chris Roberson, Jeffrey Moy & Philip Moy
This limited series is turning out to be a charming, goofy, fun flashback to the ’60s, which is appropriate, which was the heyday for these two casts of characters. While I enjoyed the first issue of this series, I wasn’t sure if the campy appeal of the premise would be sustained for the entire six-issue run, but this third issue stands out as the strongest chapter yet. While I’ve been a fan of the Legion characters for years, I’m far from a Trekkie, especially when it comes to the original series. Sure, I know who the regular players are, but occasional, peripheral characters are pretty much, ahem, alien to me. But the good news is one only has to be familiar with one set of characters to appreciate the references in Roberson’s story. Merging the Fatal Five, a group of Legion villains, with various Trek characters and alien races proved to be the highlight of this issue. I was taken back to the mid 1990s, as Roberson’s concepts reminded me of the fun Marvel and DC gave us with their Amalgam line of one-shots, featuring kitschy combinations of characters across publishing lines.
The Moys’ artwork is a perfect choice for this series, and not just because of their previous connection to the Legionnaires. It’s light and accessible in tone, maintaining the proper atmosphere throughout the issue. I also appreciate how the Moys keep the Legionnaires looking young, though Kirk’s crew could stand to look a little less wet behind the ears. 7/10
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