This time around, I’ve got some brief reviews of the Hulk’s return in Avengers, the first issue of Dry County, the final issue of Judas and my first issue of Red Hood and the Outlaws in almost seven years.
by Jim Zub, Mark Waid, Al Ewing, Paco Medina, Joe Bennett, Juan Vlasco & Ruy Jose
Since this issue promised the predictable return of the classic Hulk to the Marvel Universe, I decided to check it out, even though it was in the middle of the “No Surrender” crossover storyline. There’s an interesting thread in which Bruce Banner feels tormented because he can never seem to achieve peace, even through death, but it’s not explored in any depth. It ends up linking into a cosmic caper being perpetrated by the Grandmaster, his daughter Voyager and another Elder of the Universe called Challenger. It’s not entirely clear what they’re up to, and I really wasn’t all that drawn into the plot. Perhaps the most off-putting aspect of the book is that this is billed as a major Avengers storyline, but it lacks in iconic members of the team. No Cap, no Iron Man, and the Jane Foster incarnation of Thor is relegated to the background. Instead, we get unrecognizable characters as Enigma and a new Iron Patriot and D-lister Living Lightning (now just Lightning) at the forefront. While I appreciate the diverse array of characters here, this never felt like an Avengers story to me. Furthermore, the chaotic nature of the plot and subplots seems like it might be the result of storytelling by committee (as the credits suggest).
The line art boasts an old-school tone; it’s crisp and clear and colorful, and one can discern the vary characters clearly. However, that brighter approach works against the Banner-focused scenes, in which his life of torment is depicted. Despite two pencillers contributing to this oversized issue, there’s a fairly consistent look to the art overall, and some of the new character designs (notably Quicksilver’s) are striking. Just as I found it off-putting in recent issues of Spider-Man, I really don’t care for the Red Hulk’s pornstache look here. 4/10
by Rich Tommaso
A blurb on the cover proclaims Dry County to be “the everyman crime series,” but this first chapter is a little short on the crime elements. It appears the plot will transition into such aspects with subsequent issues, but this first chapter does an excellent job of establishing our protagonist, Lou Rossi. One might think he’s a private eye or something, based on the opening pages and overall look of the cover, but actually, he’s a cartoonist who’s dissatisfied with his life. The tone of the narration and the layouts put me in mind of the storytelling of such talents as Daniel (Wilson) Clowes and the Hernandez (Love and Rockets) Brothers. Lou’s an easily relatable character, lonely and isolated from the world around him. He’s disillusioned and going through the motions, so a chance encounter with a woman brings an unfamiliar sense of hope and direction. Lou’s not an admirable figure, but it’s easy to see oneself in his malaise and actions.
Tommaso’s linework evokes easy comparisons to the simpler styles of such cartoonists as Andi (Breakfast After Noon) Watson and Scott (Understanding Comics) McCloud. His basic character designs make it a lot easier for the reader to see oneself in the story (it’s billed as an “everyman” crime comic, after all). I found the borders and narrative captions — designed to emulate a yellow lined pad — effective in making Lou seem even more grounded. It’s like he’s documenting the story after the fact, either for himself or someone else. I also loved the juxtaposition of muted pastel tones with inky blacks and deep greys to capture an unconventional noir atmosphere on the cover. 8/10
by Jeff Loveness & Jakub Rebelka
This is a daring comic book, featuring the sort of story that could only be told in this medium, given that it would fly under the radar of the mainstream. Honestly, it’s probably a title many comics enthusiasts haven’t heard of; I know I hadn’t, and that’s a shame. The biblical figure of Judas has always struck me as a puzzling figure; the notion of following the Messiah around, witnessing his miracles and the power of his message of love, only to betray him, always seemed… difficult to accept. In this limited series, Judas is the protagonist, condemned to Hell but on a mission to save Christ. Despite the fact this is the concluding issue of the series, it’s surprisingly accessible. With a little extra exposition, this could have worked as a self-contained one-shot. Judas’s redemption and the concept of Christ in Hell would no doubt strike some as sacrilegious, but honestly, Loveness’s story is actually in keeping with the spirit of the New Testament. There’s an almost poetic tone to the philosophical script, and it’s quite engrossing and haunting.
Jakub Rebelka’s artwork boasts a painted look that at times almost looks like darkly themed stained-glass works. His style reminds me of the work of Danijel (Days of Hate Zezelj. He approached the hellscape in which the story unfolds as a shifting setting; there’s a vague quality to the infernal surroundings that works well. I was also pleased that he didn’t to bring too monstrous or gory a tone to the events in Hell. I think that would have detracted from the plot and message of the book. 9/10
by Scott Lobdell & Dexter Soy
I read the first issue of the New 52 incarnation of the title, and I was immediately put off, both by the unsavory nature of Red Hood and Arsenal and the blatant sexualization of Starfire. When the title was relaunched with a new lineup — with Bizarro and Artemis joining the title anti-hero — I admit I was somewhat intrigued by the notion of a trio made up of dark reflections of DC’s classic trinity of iconic super-heroes. This issue, with its promise on the cover that it would delve into “henchmen” culture in the DC Universe, finally got me to cave and check it out. I was pleasantly surprised with what I found. Bizarro with a genius intellect? I’m sold. I didn’t need much more than that. However, the odd alliance and familial relationship among the title characters, contrasted with their distrust of one another, struck me as interesting as well. The henchmen angle of the story is built up well at first, but it’s quickly abandoned later in the issue. It’s too bad, because I think a plotline focused solely on that fictional subculture, while examined in the past, is still rife with unexplored potential.
Given the anti-hero characters at the heart of this series, Dexter Soy’s 1990s-influenced style seems like a good fit. The Jim Lee riff in his work comes through clearly, but there are other inspirations visible in his art, such as Jae Lee and Leinil Yu. The linework is effective but occasionally uneven, and the depiction of Bizarro in a trenchcoat and fedora never quite looked right. 7/10