Avengers #4 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Jonathan Hickman & Adam Kubert
I like Jonathan Hickman’s writing. I like how it challenges the reader and approaches familiar genre subject matter in new ways. That being said, this issue — a welcome, standalone story — doesn’t quite click the way in which it was meant. I appreciate the narrower focus on Hyperion. While the character has been floating around the Marvel Universe for decades, his status today and how he came to be a member of this broader team of Avengers aren’t clear. Unfortunately, after reading this issue, I’m really not much clearer on the situation. The removed tone of the narration is meant to reflect the disconnected feel of the central character, who’s lost his own world and friends, but rather than a connection to and understanding of Hyperion, the disjointed, vague qualities of the script cause him to seem even more alien and enigmatic. I enjoyed Hickman’s portrayal of A.I.M. as a bunch of evil scientists intent on mad experimentation rather than terrorism and profit. I applaud Hickman for taking time out to focus on individual members of this new incarnation of the Avengers, but I feel he might have explored the wrong one here. At the end of the previous issue, our attention was focused on the new Captain Universe, and the plot and script in #3 certainly piqued my interest about this new character. It seems like it would’ve been a more natural progression to delve into her story now rather than Hyperion’s (it appears she may get the spotlight in #6, but it still strikes me as a couple of issues too late).
Adam Kubert’s dynamic, angular style seemed tailor-made for the super-hero genre, especially when it comes to larger-than-life superhumans and creepy, sci-fi monsters. Unfortunately, it really doesn’t seem like a good fit for this story or Hickman’s writing in general. There’s always something of an intense, even frenetic quality to his visuals, and Hickman’s scripts often call for a more thoughtful tone, even in the midst of the action. Hickman’s stories usually seem to work better with a more detailed approach, and Kubert’s work here sometimes boasts a looser look (especially when the insectoid appendages of the A.I.M. guinea pig go after the heroes). His work isn’t poor or even below Adam Kubert’s usual standards. It just seems out of place in the context of a character-focused, brainier script. 5/10
Batman and Robin Annual #1 (DC Comics)
by Peter J. Tomasi, Ardian Syaf & Vicente Cifuentes
When I first picked up this comic book as I was about to sit down and read it, my initial reaction to the cover art was that artist Andy Kubert had goofed and rendered Damian Wayne as the future Batman as far too young, that he somehow misinterpreted editorial direction can failed to realize this is how the now-10-year-old character is meant to look like as an adult. But it turns out this is exactly how he was meant to appear, and the boyishness he instilled in the character on the cover reflects the mischievous but fun and touching qualities of the story within. Ardian Syaf has always boasted a fairly straightforward, super-hero-genre style, but it’s quite effective here, especially given the fact the real focus is on personal moments rather than action. Most importantly, he manages to convey Damian’s tender age and short stature, as his youthfulness is really quite important to the story, as it’s meant to reflect Bruce’s rediscovered innocence and wonder throughout the plot.
Tomasi has crafted a story that takes the more grounded, relatable and less intense Batman of the early 1980s and plants him in the 21st century continuity of the DC’s New 52. He’s less driven here, and he shares closer, more demonstrative relationships with the people around him (here, Damian and Alfred). If one only embraces the grim-and-gritty Dark Knight as one’s Batman, this story likely isn’t going to work for you, but if one’s willing to cast that perception of the first title character aside, one will experience this story as I did — with pleasure. It’s about a father and son connecting, about a man learning something new about his parents, about children viewing parents as something more than a large, imposing figure looming over their lives. Maybe it’s because I have a young son, but I quickly found myself enjoying Damien’s game and Bruce’s discovery of Thomas and Martha Wayne as more than a memory of parental love. Overall, this standalone story is rather inconsequential and hardly an integral piece of the Batman mythos, but it was an entertaining diversion that offers a nice alternative to the harshness and extreme ideas unfolding in the various Bat-family books at the moment. 7/10
Todd, the Ugliest Kid on Earth #1 (Image Comics)
by Ken Kristensen & M.K. Perker
This biting bit of satire could be titled Everything That’s Wrong with America, and a Kid Named Todd. I think fans of Chew will appreciate the over-the-top humor and commentary that serve as the foundation for this unusual comic book. The title character’s unseen ugliness serves as a sharp contrast to the innocence and kindness he actually represents. The true ugliness is to be found in just about every other character — from Todd’s parents to his schoolteacher to the small town’s police chief. Almost every character except Todd seems defined by racism, hypocrisy, selfishness and cruelty. Ken Kristensen’s script runs the risk of alienating readers by presenting such traits in such an over-the-top manner, but fortunately, it comes off as humorous. The suggestion is such beliefs and behaviours are self-parodying. It also makes Todd’s wholesomeness and earnestness, which are just as exaggerated, seem all the more endearing and welcome in contrast. Todd, the Ugliest Kid on Earth is not an exercise in subtlety, but then, the title doesn’t exactly suggest nuance in any way.
M.K. Perker’s cartooning matches the exaggerated tone of the plot and characterization. His style looks like a weird amalgam of the art of such comics professionals as Rob (Chew) Guillory, Eric (The Goon) Powell and Jill (Beasts of Burden) Thompson. As is the case with how the secondary characters in their behavior, their appearances are ironically ugly as well. Perker offers several distorted, misshapen character designs that reflect the nastiness of their personalities and dialogue. Overall, I found this to be entertaining, but I have some concerns the constant barrage of negativity might get tiresome in a hurry. Still, this has the makings of another sleeper hit from Image. 7/10
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