The Anchor #1 (Boom! Studios)
by Phil Hester & Brian Churilla
I’m of two minds when it comes to this story. As I read the opening scene, which is set on a battlefield in Hell, I was completely put off, not by the barbarism of the demons or the violence, but by the stilted tone of the dialogue and narration. I always find such scripting puts too much distance between the subjects and the audience, and this was no exception. Once the story shifts its setting to the earthly plane, though, it gets to be a lot more fun. Seeing him fight giant monsters in a European city is far more entertaining than battles in Hell peppered with purple prose. Emergency volunteer Hofi Eriksdotter serves as a vital component in the story, as she provides a grounded link. Furthermore, the premise of a warrior who exists in two realms — the human world in his physical form, and in Hell spiritually — is a novel one, as is the masochistic source of his power on Earth.
Churilla’s artwork is rather light in tone, which makes for an interesting contrast with the more gruesome aspects of the story. It’s quite effective, though. He conveys the raw power that the title character possesses, and colorist Matthew Wilson does an excellent job of reinforcing the depth of the wounds that the Anchor sustains, as well as how that pain is channelled into power. Churilla’s designs for the demons in hell are rather simple and uninteresting. 6/10
Criminal: The Sinners #1 (Marvel Comics/Icon imprint)
by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips
As entertaining as Brubaker and Phillips’s Incognito was, it’s a pleasure to see them return to the world of Criminal, which is far superior to their other collaboration, with its super-hero genre elements. Brubaker revisits a previous protagonist, Tracy Lawless. For fans who’ve been following this property from start, it was a treat to see Tracy again. Fortunately, the writer maintains an accessible tone; one needn’t have read previous issues of Criminal in order to follow and enjoy this new one. Brubaker continues to maintain a nice balance between Lawless’s violent side and his ill-defined sense of morality, portraying him as a thoroughly flawed but riveting protagonist. Oddly enough, despite the extreme nature of the circumstances in which he finds himself and the horrific nature of his work, Lawless proves to be a character to which the reader can relate, as we’ve all felt trapped by our circumstances at various points in our lives.
Brubaker’s compelling characters and conflicts would be for naught if it weren’t for the gritty, noir artwork provided by his creative partner. He captures the strength and determination that define both Lawless and his pursuer and the thoroughly corrupt nature of other players in the drama as well. He also does a nice job of depicting the femme fatales in the story, not only their beauty but a certain emptiness in their eyes as well. Val Staples’s use of muted, almost unnatural colors adds to the atmosphere of tension. My only real issue with the visuals for this issue is the placement of the logos on the cover; they’re too dominant, detracting from Phillips’s artwork. 9/10
Secret Six #14 (DC Comics)
by Gail Simone, Nicola Scott, Carlos Rodriguez, Doug Hazlewood & Mark McKenna
“Depths” has proven to be an unusual story arc in that it’s the darkest premise and take on these characters that Simone has undertaken. It’s worked pretty well for the most part; somehow, the incorporation of an ancient demon didn’t seem as jarring in this concluding chapter as it was in previous chapters. What was jarring and unfortunate was the apparent need to rely on two separate art teams to bring in this issue. Nicola Scott’s work on this series has been sharp; her work has grown more and more reminiscent of the style of Rags (Identity Crisis) Morales, and she’s achieved a nice balance between the brightness of the super-hero genre and the seedy corners of the world in which these characters operate. But the shift to Rodriguez’s work for a few pages during a key climactic scene took me right out of the story. The action and characterization had me riveted until their overall look suddenly differed suddenly and radically.
Seeing these so-called villains once again doing the right thing and walking away empty-handed from a job could’ve been frustrating, until Simone acknowledged that trend in a powerful and effective denouement. I’m also amazed at how interested I am in Jeanette/Silver Banshee as a character. Her portrayal as the ultimate empowered victim is fascinating, and I hope Simone finds the time to delve further into her background soon. The strength of those elements helps to hide the weaknesses in the script. It seemed at times with this story arc that the writer bit off a bit more than she could chew. All of the ideas were mature and intriguing, but there just seemed to be too much going on at once. I think the Amazon storyline, the private-prison angle and the Grendel subplot all could have supported storylines on their own, and incorporating all of them into the same story might have been something of a misstep. Nevertheless, this arc did more things right than wrong, and I remain a fan of the series. 7/10
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