Dark Avengers #2 (Marvel Comics)
by Brian Michael Bendis & Mike Deodato
While I thought Bendis spent too much time in the first issue assembling a team that had already been assembled for the most part, I was intrigued enough by the Dark Avengers concept to see what he planned to do with these characters in uncharacteristically heroic roles. To my surprise, Bendis decides the best way to sell this bunch of villains as a team of good guys is to send them to the rescue of one of the Marvel Universe’s most infamous figures. Not only is a mission to rescue Dr. Doom a bad idea, I couldn’t be less interested in Morgaine Le Fay’s demonic assault on Latveria. Bendis does nothing to present these characters as anything more than corrupt monsters, even when it comes to the Sentry and Ares. The reader is left with a comic full of characters about which he or she won’t and can’t care, and the larger “Dark Reign” storyline doesn’t seem to advance either.
Deodato’s art is appropriately dark, given the nature of the characters, but as compared to his performance on the first issue, the art here looks rushed. A potentially cool moment featuring the Iron Patriot’s automatically disassembling armor is relegated to the background and doesn’t even look all that impressive or detailed. Le Fay’s demonic hordes are terribly generic and uninteresting in appearance as well. 3/10
Hotwire: Requiem for the Dead #1 (Radical Comics)
by Steve Pugh
Warren Ellis is listed as the co-creator of this property, and it’s easy to see his fingerprints all over it. Nevertheless, it’s Steve Pugh who really sells the concept, which is a blend of the cop drama, science fiction and those supernatural-investigation shows such as Ghost Hunters or Most Haunted that are so popular right now. Alice Hotwire is a strong heroine. She’s supremely principled. She’s not only the police department’s most successful detective exorcist (protesting the citizenry fro rogue ghosts), but she’s also completely dedicated to the rule of law. She holds all cops to an incredibly high standard and doesn’t abide any kind of shortcoming, from simple laziness to outright corruption.
Pugh offers up a painted look for the artwork that serves the supernatural and the futuristic elements of the book incredibly well. He also brings an incredibly level of detail to the art, more than we’re used to seeing from him. This is a standout project for Pugh, who’s not been all that active in the last couple of years. Hotwire is a tremendous comeback project for him, as he demonstrates not only the depth and power of his artwork but the brainy dialogue and strong characterization he can offer as a writer as well. This stands out as Radical’s strongest project to date as well. 8/10
Masquerade #1 (Dynamite Entertainment)
by Phil Hester, Alex Ross & Carlos Paul
Dynamite Entertainment has been working hard to establish its own super-hero line, and one can’t fault their approach. They’ve Alex Ross guiding the Project Superpowers line, and they’re using established Golden Age characters that are now in the public domain, giving them a sense of history and permanence. Still, a number of Dynamite’s previous efforts in the line have been rather middling in nature. With Masquerade, Ross and his creative collaborators offer up a solid, accessible vision of the Project: Superpowers characters and a good story that achieves a nice balance between action and characterization. Ross and co-plotter/scripter Phil Hester really allow the readers to get to know the title heroine. Furthermore, this story is apparently set during the Second World War, so it’s unfettered by the contrived plotting and continuity of the main Project: Superpowers series.
Carlos Paul’s art is quite dark, which comes as a surprise at first. The reason for the atmosphere he works to establish becomes clear when the narration and plot take on a more introspective tone. Perhaps what I appreciate the most about Paul’s work here is that he doesn’t sexualize Masquerade. The temptation to vamp up the character is a logical one, as sex sells after all. But as the story is about Masquerade’s powers of observation and curiosity, Paul wisely avoids the trap of focusing on her physical attributes. 7/10
Salt Water Taffy Vol. 2 original softcover graphic novel (Oni Press)
by Matthew Loux
Matthew Loux’s second of “The Seaside Adventures of Jack and Benny” is just as entertaining as the first, though one needn’t read the previous volume to appreciate and enjoy this one. Loux captures the curiosity, sense of adventure and precociousness of youth incredibly well, combining them with fable elements to craft a modern fairy tale. Having read both volumes of Salt Water Taffy, though, I’m struck by the impression that the two plots seem to follow the same formula, though this time around, the weathered, wise and powerful Angus isn’t involved in the adventure. Formulaic or not, one can’t deny the sense of fun and fantasy in both stories, and there’s just enough danger in the mix to add a thrill or two for younger readers. Loux balances the fantastic elements nicely with some cute sibling rivalry between Jack and Benny and some entertaining family dynamics as well.
Loux’s sweeping linework and sharp angles combine to really grab the eye. Those angles really come in handy when it comes to bringing threats like Dan the Wolf and Barnabas the Giant Eagle to life; they add just a little bit of edge and intensity to those designs. Meanwhile, Loux wisely employs some smoother, softer curves when it comes to his designs for the two heroes, emphasizing their youth and innocence. 7/10