Batman Annual #1 (DC Comics)
by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV & Jason Fabok
Writers Scott Snyder and James Tynion retcon the origin of Mr. Freeze in this annual, and some fans of the villain concept (perhaps best fleshed out in Batman: The Animated Series) haven’t reacted well to it. But by the end of the opening prologue scene, the writers had me; I was in. They’ve presented a vision of Victor Fries as a much more damaged and unstable figure, but I think he remains just as tragic. The anguish that drives him, rather than stemming from a personal loss, arises from mental illness. These revisions add to the character, in my view, and I also appreciated the more direct connection to Bruce Wayne. The script strives a little too hard to connect the story to the “Night of the Owls” storyline from the Batman line of books, and it’s really not necessary. Snyder and Tynion are clearly trying to suck in a few more readers with the tenuous connection and justify that “Night of the Owls” logo on the cover. Since no Talons or Owls or whatever turn up in this story, though, they’re more likely to annoy readers who picked the comic up specifically for the Owl connection.
Jason Fabok’s art is effective and sharp. It reminds me a great deal of the style of Gary (“Shazam!” feature in Justice League) Frank, and its level of detail and realism really brings out the drama — notably in the opening and closing flashback scenes. Those scenes are particularly striking due to the sparse background detail. The rural setting isolates Victor physically, reflecting the isolation he’ll experience socially and psychologically later in life. The almost blank background in those flashbacks also works as a symbol of young Victor as a blank slate who’s about to be defined by an extreme circumstance. The muted blues and greys in those scenes also convey the cold — both literally and thematically — quite effectively. 7/10
The Massive #1 (Dark Horse Comics)
by Brian Wood & Kristian Donaldson
The environment’s been a bit nuts in recent years, and writer Brian Wood has clearly taken some cues from worldwide disasters for his end-of-the-world premise. He paints a disturbingly convincing picture of a global climate/natural crisis that’s rattled humanity to its core and destroyed the comfort and wilful blindness of Western culture. The narration in the flashbacks that establishes the sadly imaginable changes the planet has gone through is smart and demonstrates a keen appreciation of socio-economic realities. But what makes this a compelling story isn’t the environmental cataclysm with which the characters contend, but rather their determination to find and rescue their colleagues on a sister ship from which the series derives its title. Speaking of which, I love that “The Massive” refers not only to the missing green-group ship but also the immense scope of the process that’s altering the planet and making it hostile to life as we’ve come to know it in the 20th and 21st centuries. Adding to the drama are the ethical challenges the three protagonists face and struggle with in different ways.
Wood has reteamed with Supermarket collaborator Kristian Donaldson for this series, and the artist does an exemplary job. His style has definitely evolved since his first project with Wood, as he brings much more detail and cleaner lines to bear here. Of course, the tone of The Massive is much different from the urban energy and edge of Supermarket. Donaldson brings an incredibly realistic and convincing look to all aspects of the story. The Kapital looks like a real ship, and he’s clearly taken the time to reference a real model. He performs just as well when it comes to depicting organic, natural elements in the story as well (such as a sea of dead orcas). He brings an engrossing intensity to the three main characters, though they’re all impossibly attractive. It would’ve been nice to see characters that looked more like real people than Calvin Klein models. Colorist Dave Stewart adds a lot to the storytelling, as he casts an appropriate pall over all scenes with his muted colors. The dull yellow-browns of the flashbacks convey the dire and disheartening circumstances of the natural disasters and socio-economic fallout that serve as the backdrop against which the story unfolds. 8/10
Planetoid #1 (Image Comics)
by Ken Garing
Clearly, the Image office’s review and approval process for new titles has been improved and refined in recent years because it seems as though the majority of new titles the publisher offers are, at the very least, solid, and often excellent. As such, I’m finding I’m checking out many more first issues from Image, even if they appear to be in a genre I normally don’t care for. Sci-fi survivalist fare isn’t usually something I seek out in my comics reading, but I decided to give Planetoid a shot. At first glance, this comic seems to bear a lot of similarities to Prophet, also from Image, so why bother getting two doses of the same thing from the same publisher? Well, the two books are quite different, but both offer strengths. Planetoid is far more grounded and accessible than the weird (but wildly imaginative and inventive) Prophet. Ken Garing’s hero is much more of a regular guy, and his tech doesn’t seem as far removed from what we see in the real world today. The plot is fairly basic fare, as is the characterization for Silas, who’s a rogue smuggler stranded on the title planet. He’s nevertheless a likeable, relatable figure, even in light of his fierce determination and survivalist skills.
The art is thoroughly impressive. The tangled mess of machinery that serves as the backdrop looks like something right out of a Sam (The Maxx) Kieth comic book, but the human figures put me in mind of Brian (The Sixth Gun) Hurtt’s style. The latter aspect really brings out Silas’s humanity. As tough as he is, he always moves and looks like a regular guy. I really like the clean look of Ricter, Silas’s digital-display sidekick. It makes for a nice contrast with the filth and chaos of the setting. 8/10
Spider-Men #1 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Brian Michael Bendis & Sara Pichelli
The original Spider-Man has been in publication for five decades and has been the focus of several TV shows and some of the most successful movies of all time. The second Ultimate Spider-Man, Miles Morales, has been around for about a year or so. Which one of these characters calls for a more detailed introduction to readers? If you guessed the latter, I’d agree with you, but writer Brian Michael Bendis wouldn’t, apparently. The focus in this first of five issues is two-fold. Bendis spends a puzzling amount of time in the script providing background on the original Spider-Man, all of which would be common pop-culture knowledge. The other element at the heart of the plot is Bendis’ effort to explain how these two Spider-Men come face to face. Spidey pokes and prods the deus ex machina for far too long. I don’t care how it works (not that we’re told). We know what’s coming, so why Bendis beats around the bush about it for so long eludes me, making for a frustrating, slow story. I thought Peter Parker’s reaction to people knowing his secret identity in the Ultimate world to be a convincing one, and I hope it continues to provide a psychological stumbling block for the character in future issues.
There’s a genuine effort in the artwork to distinguish between the two different Marvel Universes, and Pichelli and colorist Justin Ponsor are successful in doing so. However, I found Pichelli’s depiction of the more adult, original Spidey to be a little stiff and too realistic, not in keeping with the energy we’re used to seeing in her (and others’) take on Ultimate Spider-Man. I was also surprised the original Marvel Universe is depicted as a darker place than the Ultimate Universe. I’ve always viewed the Ultimate continuity as being more extreme and often mature in the storytelling set there. 5/10
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