Astro City: Dark Age/Book Three #1 (DC Comics/Wildstorm Productions)
by Kurt Busiek & Brent E. Anderson
Kurt Busiek turns his attention back to the Williams brothers and their new quest to avenge the death of their parents at the hand of a criminal henchman. There’s a lot of history to the Astro City: Dark Age storyline, and Busiek’s script ensures this latest in a series of series is accessible to the new or casual reader (whether or not Astro City is attracting new readers at this point is another matter). The cover and the opening scene are something of a distracting from the main plot, but they are important to the success of the storytelling experience overall. The harshness of the massacre and the emergence of a more brutal incarnation of an established heroine help to establish the cultural, political and emotional mood that’s integral to the story. That Busiek has set this story in 1982 is no coincidence. It mirrors darker times in America and a time in super-hero comics when more mature and darker ideas were being explored. What I most enjoyed about this plot, though, has to be Royal’s redemption. Though revenge is his ultimate goal, he’s definitely changed his ways; he’s acting more selflessly, having become something larger than his own greed.
Anderson’s loose, sketchy style doesn’t prevent him from doing an incredible job of world-building. He makes the Silver Age goofiness of a private army of Pyramid soldiers seem plausible, and he makes the horrors of a demonic, murderous villain seem chillingly plausible. There’s a grittiness in his style here that reinforces the darker atmosphere as well. 8/10
Destroyer #2 (Marvel Comics/MAX imprint)
by Robert Kirkman & Cory Walker
In my review of the first issue, I noted I was a bit torn by Destroyer. While I loved this vision of an aging, dying super-hero, the over-the-top violence, combined with the title character’s seeming love for spilling all that blood, was more than a little off-putting. In this second issue, the violence, while still very much a part of the story, isn’t nearly as pronounced and exaggerated. There’s also a clearer indication of what’s driving Keene, and his impending death is only part of the equation. It’s not that he wants to leave the world a safer place, it’s that he feels obligated to eliminate the biggest threat he’s ever faced. That adds more to the already urgent tone. Mind you, it’s the aged, weathered hero’s time with his family that stands out as the most interesting element in the book. There’s just so much… normality in those moments, it makes for an important contrast and balance to the madness in the rest of the book.
Cory Walker obviously brings the violence to life here, but more importantly, he manages to maintain a certain sense of fun at the same time. The character designs achieve a nice balance among cool, campy and dark elements, and that double-page spread feature a giant monster on the rampage was a visual feast. Walker does an amazing job of bolstering Kirkman’s character-driven elements by instilling so much vulnerability and humanity in Keene’s appearance. 8/10
Free Comic Book Day 2009 Avengers #1 (Marvel Comics)
by Brian Michael Bendis, Jim Cheung & Mark Morales
I’m quite looking forward to DC’s Blackest Night event this summer, while I’m generally disinterested in Marvel’s current event branding, “Dark Reign.” Still, I have to give writer Brian Michael Bendis credit, as this freebie Avengers comic, which deals with the “Dark Reign” plot, is a far more entertaining and satisfying read than DC’s main Free Comic Book Day title, Blackest Night #0, which serves as a primer for that crossover series. Whereas DC’s comic only recapped what we’ve seen before and teased the event, this Avengers comic tells a complete story set in current Marvel continuity while maintaining an accessible tone for newer readers. Bendis offers a story that’s quite traditional in tone. Fans of classic Avengers stories and Walt Simonson’s classic run on Thor will enjoy this story, as will younger readers who’ll get to meet a variety of colorful characters. Presenting the narration in the voice of Spider-Man — Marvel’s best-known and probably best-loved character — is a smart move as well for the newer readers who were given this free comic. He serves as an accessible gateway into the wider array of heroes and villains of the Marvel Universe.
Jim Cheung’s artwork has been far too rare an occurrence since his six-issue run on Young Avengers a few years ago, and it’s a treat to see him back in action. I can only assume he can’t keep up with a monthly schedule, which would explain why he’s not illustrating a regular title for Marvel these days. I love the slick, clean lines he employs, and the action and scope of the story really shine through and hold the reader’s attention. He handles the large cast of characters adeptly. 8/10
Popgun Vol. 3 trade paperback (Image Comics)
The latest incarnation of this anthology title, edited by Mark Andrew Smith and D.J. Kirkbride, is yet another opportunity for enthusiasts of the medium to discover and new and rising talents in the world of comics. Juan Doe, who’s illustrated Tom Beland Puerto Rico comics for Marvel, demonstrates that his bright style is able to bring more surreal, challenging fare to life. Another great find is artist Ulises Farinas, whose detailed style gives the reader a lot to take in and to enjoy (though it’s disturbingly weird at times as well). Jason Ibarra’s art, a wonderful cross between the styles of John Bolton and Bryan Lee O’Malley, makes the magic and wonder of “One in Every Box” wonderfully real. These are just a few examples of the impressive efforts from up-and-coming storytellers whose work can be found in these pages. Of course, for every impressive talent, there’s one whose style is off-putting, whose message is unclear or whose work just didn’t appeal to me. That’s fairly typical of anthologies for the most part, and Popgun Vol. 3 doesn’t buck that trend.
The overall theme of this volume — I think — of the anthology seems to be death, the afterlife or existence on a plane beyond the earthly one. Still, the creators seem to interpret that theme in a multitude of diverse ways, so diverse, in fact, that the theme isn’t immediately apparent nor am I completely confident I’m seeing it correctly. It seems to me this volume of Popgun lacks the number of experienced and recognizable names that previous ones boasted. That made the Jamie S. Rich/Joelle Jones and Paul Grist segments all the more welcome. I question the wisdom of opening with Guillaume Singelin’s “Carjacking.” This silent story that juxtaposes cartoony character designs that brutal violence is intriguing, but it’s certainly not inviting. It’s a bit too experimental in tone for the very first story to meet the reader as s/he makes his way through the book. Still, there’s so much material in this book, the buyer can’t claim s/he didn’t get his or her money’s worth. 6/10
Power Girl #1 (DC Comics)
by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner
It’s seems like the word balloon on that Adam Hughes cover should read, “It’s okay! Power Girl’s tits are here!” doesn’t it? Fortunately, interior artist Amanda Conner doesn’t offer any visuals that are as blatantly gratuitous as the Hughes cover. Her take on the title character is quite good; the way Power Girl/Karen Starr carries herself exudes confidence and strength, and that’s a good cue in a title starring a female protagonist. The robotic threats introduced early in the issue (as seen in the preview pages included in a number of DC titles last month) are far too generic in appearance and concept for my taste, but I loved Conner’s take on the established villain who turns up later in the issue. It reminded me of some of Arthur Adams’s detailed but playful super-hero artwork.
The plot seems fairly generic in nature as well, and while I was a bit disinterested at first, I can appreciate that the writers are trying to offer as accessible a story as possible for the initial issue. Power Girl has had a convoluted history since 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, so introducing her to new readers or those who’ve only seen in her team-book settings isn’t the easiest of tasks. The script is accessible if a little wordy, though. Most importantly, Gray and Palmiotti firmly establish a personality for the title character that goes beyond what we’ve seen before, which has often been the buxom powerhouse with the short fuse. Her ridiculous wealth is a bit of a hard pill to swallow, but I like the concept of the character as a businesswoman who sees philanthropy as a model for making money. The action is far too harsh in tone at times, especially given the Silver Age leanings in the plotting. Overall, the writing on this first issue is a bit of a mixed bag for me, but there’s definitely promise. And the art is enough to get me to come back to see if that promise will be fulfilled. 6/10