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.
Javier Pina’s art is appealing, and there’s an unusual softness to it that’s reinforced by Rachelle Rosenberg’s colors. He nevertheless manages to convey the dynamic qualities of the heroes and action and the ferocity of the Ani-Men. But when the book shifts from Pina’s art to that of Paco Diaz, the difference in styles is jarring. Diaz’s work is serviceable, but the figures are much stiffer. Overall, while I continue to enjoy what I find in Champions every month and plan to finish reading this crossover between the two titles, I’m not inspired to begin reading Avengers regularly again. 5/10
Batman: White Knight #2 (DC Comics)
by Sean Murphy
There’s a lot of cool things happening with Batman right now at DC Comics, so much so that I wonder if this alternate-continuity comic by Sean Murphy might be flying under the radar. (Speaking of alternate continuities, why didn’t DC bring back its Elseworlds brand here? I would have loved it.) In any case, Murphy is known primarily in the industry as a brilliant and dynamic artist, but his writing here is incredibly impressive and meticulous. And dense. His script is a thoroughly verbose one, because the socio-political and psychological territory he explores in this world is quite complex, and consequently, convincing. The focus in this issue is the relationship between the former Joker and Harley Quinn, and Murphy offers up the notion that there have been two Harleys all along and the Joker just didn’t notice. It should be a ridiculous premise that’s too hard to swallow, but Murphy makes it work.
It’s also abundantly clear in this issue that Murphy is using the world of the 1990s Batman: The Animated Series as the foundation for his vision of Gotham, making it even more of a delight. Mind you, this is a much more mature take on that world — a little too mature at times, to be honest. The inclusion of the occasional swear word and one Harley’s push for “sex” were really unnecessary. That Harley’s intentions were clear without the overt demand, and the curse words seemed quite out of place. The darkness and maturity of the story were apparent without the reliance on those elements.
What can I saw about Murphy’s artwork? Even if the script is atrocious (which it isn’t), I’d be buying this book, as it’s gorgeous. Murphy’s angular, hyper-detailed and gritty style is amazing. The first read of the comic is for absorbing the story and dialogue, but it merits subsequent examinations for the incredible detail in each and every panel. And despite Murphy’s highly stylized and somewhat exaggerated approach, he still achieves a convincing level of realism in his visuals. 8/10
Justice League #32 (DC Comics)
by Robert Vendetti & Liam Sharp
Despite some deep flaws in the premise and execution, I have to admit I’ve been enjoying DC’s Metal event, mainly because it’s hitting so many nostalgic notes for me. I think the publisher is trying to demonstrate, rather clumsily, that it wants to embrace a brighter, more traditional tone to its super-hero line of comics by portraying a truly dark DC Universe as an insidious, corrupt and ugly thing. I don’t think it’s been terribly successful, but it has given rise to some interesting ideas. With that context in mind, I’ve been seeking out some of the tie-in comics, and since I’m a regular reading of The Flash, I followed the storyline begun there last week to this second part of “Bats Out of Hell.” Vendetti’s plot for this chapter, such as it is, could have easily been summed up in a page or two, and he hasn’t advanced the story at all in these pages. This felt like a pointless exercise in storytelling, and a somewhat successful exercise in sales — only somewhat, because sure, I paid my money to read it, but I’m certainly not going to be as willing to do so for other tie-ins. This story left me feeling burned, though honestly, one can’t fault the writer, since the event-drive nature of this issue means it would have been dictated from on high. I should note that the premise of the narration — Cyborg’s description of his fellow Justice Leagues in the context of his history as a team-sport athlete — worked well, but it’s a shame it wasn’t reserved for a more deserving story.
Fortunately, Liam Sharp’s artwork mitigated my annoyance with this comic. I thoroughly enjoyed his stint on Wonder Woman recently, and it was a pleasure to see his work again. I was particularly impressed with his art on the scenes featuring Wonder Woman, not surprisingly, but notably the Aquaman segments. Given the darker story elements and the almost alien, organic qualities of visuals in the underwater action, his style was ideally suited for those moments. 4/10
Kill or Be Killed #1 (Image Comics)
by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips
The manager of my local comic shop knows that anytime there’s a new project from Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, he’s to pull a copy for me. Kill or Be Killed may very well be the best ongoing comic book being published today. It’s not due to the mystery of whether the protagonist is being pushed by a demonic force to kill or if he’s mentally unwell. It’s not meticulous nature of the crime drama, as we wait for an underdog detective to catch up with our “hero.” No, it’s because all of those exciting elements actually dress up what’s a fascinating character study. Dylan, despite the more extreme aspects of his life, is probably one of the most relatable, grounded characters we’ve seen from this creative team in years, and it’s not as if Brubaker’s been a slouch in the characterization department in that time. This issue features a pivotal moment when Dylan’s mother casually mentions a major element from his family’s past that he had no idea existed. I’ve experienced similar moments with my (now deceased) parents. A nonchalant mention an uncle I’d never heard of before who used to be a priest, or the discovery about another member of the extended family who’d done stint in prison for fraud. These were mind-blowing moments for me alluded to by some of the people closest to me as though they’d just mentioned the news was calling for rain the next day. Dylan’s unusual relationship with Kira is just as interesting. Despite its unconventional status, it humanizes him and connects him to the regular world.
Key elements of this story — such as the visions of the demon and Dylan’s dad’s pop artwork — really allow Phillips to show his versatility as an artist. Usually, the book calls for traditional linework with a noir bent, but then there are moments that call for a portrayal of painted art, or representations of photographs. Phillips is aided adeptly by colorist Elizabeth Breitwesier, who employs a dark palette to reinforce the weird and depressing mood that’s so integral to the success of this story. 10/10
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