Blackest Night #2 (DC Comics)
by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Oclair Albert & Julio Ferreira
One of my favorite super-hero stories is Crisis on Infinite Earths, and when I read a genre event book, that’s generally the one by which I judge all others. While I enjoyed Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis and the challenging nature of the plotting, it tended to focus on a core group of characters. Blackest Night, while simpler in plot and scope than Final Crisis, is hitting similar chords as CoIE in that writer Geoff Johns is digging up (literally in most cases) an interesting array of obscure characters to play roles in his cosmic drama. Johns has incorporated a lot of continuity references into his script (events from CoIE being among them), but overall, he provides enough background (or suggests it) to maintain a fairly accessible tone. While he doesn’t advance his plot all that much in this issue, he does offer some deliciously creepy moments featuring undead heroes, not only when they explode into a scene but as they lurk in the shadows, waiting to spring a trap on former friends and loved ones. Johns begins to hint as some rules for the Black Lanterns, and I’m intrigued and eager to learn more about the premise.
Ivan Reis’s art is achieving a nice balance between a traditional super-hero story that’s immense in scope and the chilling, horror elements that are such an important part of the book’s atmosphere. Most of the Black Lantern designs are striking, and few disappoint. Overall, while this is far from the most cerebral super-hero story, it’s definitely an effective and entertaining one. 7/10
Blackest Night: Batman #1 (DC Comics)
by Peter J. Tomasi, Ardian Syaf, John Dell & Vicente Cifuentes
DC’s and Marvel’s practices of launching separate limited series that tie into their big event books is a nice way to keep from derailing the storytelling in the ongoing titles featuring their major characters (though it appears DC won’t be staying true to this policy come the fall, as a number of Blackest Night tie-ins into ongoing series have been announced). Peter Tomasi’s plotting here does a good job of introducing the premise of the event as well as the notion of the new Batman and Robin for readers who haven’t been following the regular Batman family titles, making for a fairly accessible read. Furthermore, Tomasi also conveys the creepy tone of the event as well as the inherent fun of bringing back so many deceased genre characters. I was surprised to find that Deadman plays such an integral role in this side plot rather than in the main event book itself, but his past connection to Batman makes allows his role here to make sense. This doesn’t feel as though it’s vital reading for the overall event, but I’m pleased that Tomasi seems to be crafting an interesting tangential plot all the same.
Ardian Syaf’s storytelling here is capable and clear, though it’s clear he’s still developing as an artist. His style is a fluid thing, demonstrating slight inconsistencies from page to page. Of course, he’s working with two different inkers here as well, so that’s no doubt a factor. The style of the breakdowns is consistent with the style we’ve seen in Blackest Night, which is a smart move. Nei Ruffino’s colors go a long way to maintain the same foreboding, eerie atmosphere that’s essentially to the event brand. 7/10
Existence 2.0 #2 (Image Comics)
by Nick Spencer & Ron Salas
While I enjoyed the premise that unfolded in the first issue of this series, I ultimately was disappointed because I found the all of the characters to be so reprehensible. The corruption persists in this second issue, but to my surprise, I discovered the players were much more palatable. That’s because writer Nick Spencer throws a surprising twist into the works later in the issue that really turns the story on its ear. He has the reader and the main character questioning the very premise that was introduced in the first issue, and that unravelling of the core plot turns out to be a powerful and compelling way to propel the story forward. Furthermore, I found it easier to buy into the main character’s concern for his daughter this time around. The only aspect of the plot that was hard to swallow was how Sylvester’s encounter with his “widow” played out.
Ron Salas’s art remains strong, and this month, the Sean (Incognito) Phillips influence in his work is more apparent that ever. Given the violent events and underworld elements in the plot, it certainly feels as though Salas drew a lot of inspiration from Phillips’s work on Criminal in recent years. His cover design is also an effective and striking one, making effective use of white space and a tiered approach to grab the reader’s eye. 7/10
The Marvels Project #1 (Marvel Comics)
by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting
Writer Ed Brubaker does for Marvel’s Golden Age heroes what Roy Thomas did for DC’s a quarter century ago in All-Star Squadron. He takes the disparate origins of the various heroes and supporting characters, elements of history and new ideas together to craft a new history of a shared super-hero universe that’s in keeping with classic stories of yesteryear while bringing a sense of logic and order to an amalgam originally made up of a mish-mash of pop culture. The most challenging aspect of mixing the super-hero genre with such historical fiction is how one runs the risk of belittling important and dark events of the past by merging them with the fantasy of the super-hero. Fortunately, Brubaker’s characters clearly react to the horrors of the building-up to the Second World War. The tension of those times really comes through in the script.
Furthering that goal is the artwork by Brubaker Captain America collaborator, Steve Epting. He maintains a dark, foreboding tone throughout the book, along with a realistic look that brings credibility to the super-heroes. Dave Stewart’s colors add to that atmosphere nicely as well. Epting’s handling of such a diverse array of backdrops and unimaginable events — from tidal attacks to an urban inferno — makes for a compelling read from start to finish.
I was also quite taken with his depiction of the Human Torch. There’s an interesting dichotomy to the visual. In a way, he boasts something of an angelic, wondrous look, but his tortured, panicked side is abundantly clear through the flames as well. 7/10
Red Herring #1 (DC Comics/Wildstorm Productions)
by David Tischman, Philip Bond & David Hahn
This new title flew under my radar (as a lot of Wildstorm titles seem to these days) until a day or two before its release this week. I don’t usually follow writer David Tischman’s work, but artist Philip Bond, that’s another story. I truly enjoy his style, and his reputation was enough to get me to break down and add another comic book to my too-large stack of reading material for the week. I’m pleased I did. Surprisingly, Bond doesn’t ink his own pencils here, and David Hahn brings a looser yet still attractive look to bear. Bond’s style still shows clearly, but the less-detailed look actually reminds me of Gabriel (The Umbrella Academy) Ba’s artwork at times. Bond’s odd balance of cartoony and detailed elements makes for some odd-looking characters, but ones that draw the eye, certainly.
Bond’s penchant for tapping into characters’ sexuality certainly factors in here, as Tischman’s focal character, Maggie (as opposed to the title character), is certainly a sexual being. At first, it feels a bit gratuitous, as the dominant image in the opening scene is the character nonchalantly walking around in her bra. But it turns out that her sexuality is a part of who she is (or at least who she’s chosen to be), and I don’t think we’re really meant to like her all that much. She’s just the poor schlub who’s gotten caught up in international intrigue. Maggie certain represents an interesting character study, and only time will tell if I’ll find her compelling enough to follow. What really kept me reading here were the little mysteries at which Tischman hints. There’s no way to tell what’s going on with Red Herring, his allies and enemies, and I found I genuinely wanted to find out. Ultimately, that made this a worthy comics-reading experience and served as sufficient incentive to get me to check out the second issue. 7/10
Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1 (Marvel Comics)
by Brian Michael Bendis & David Lafuente
Not surprisingly, writer Brian Michael Bendis does as fine a job with this Spider-Man script has he’s done with the almost 150 individual issues of the “Ultimate” Spider-Man that preceded it. The trademark humor, teen angst and fun, rhythmic dialogue are all back. The opening scene featuring Peter’s frustrating experience with minimum-wage work and customer-service challenges is funny and sadly believable even though it’s over the top. David Lafuente, as he proved with his work on the most recent Ultimate Spider-Man Annual, is a perfect choice as the newest artist for this cast of characters and Bendis’s storytelling style for this title. He captures the youth, agility and personality of the title character with seeming ease, and his designs for the “new” villain and the new vigilante hero introduced in this issue are striking and effectively creepy.
I thoroughly enjoyed this issue, as I have so many that came before it. Nevertheless, I found this issue to be a source of frustration. While Bendis does shake up some elements of the status quo that is this incarnation of Peter Parker’s life, there’s no sense that this is really a new beginning for the book. As such, the new title and relaunch makes little sense beyond a pure marketing standpoint. What’s puzzling is how Marvel seems perfectly willing to undo this relaunch/renumbering approach when a title is meant to approach some sort of milestone. I can’t help but wonder if this series will revert back to Ultimate Spider-Man once Bendis reaches what would have been the 200th issue. On top of that, the new branding for Marvel’s Ultimate books is flat, boring and unattractive. The only thing drawing the eye to this comic book is Lafuente’s art. The masthead is as generic as it could be. 8/10
Follow Eye on Comics on Twitter.