Chase Variant One Shot (Is All I Need) one-shot (Image Comics)
by Rich Johnston, Saverio Tenuta & Bagwell
I decided to pick up this comic book because I like Rich Johnston’s online musings about the comic-book industry and some of his past efforts have been amusing. I expected a comic that embraced satire, that spoofed the Kewl comics of the 1990s (many of which were published by the same company that published this comic, oddly enough). To my surprise, I didn’t find what I expected, but I did find an intelligently constructed story about hobbies and escapist fiction. This comic is made up of three shorter stories featuring the title heroine — a genetically engineered assassin — in battle with various threats, but connecting all three is a parallel story running under (literally) all of them, featuring two guys playing a collectible-card game. Now, incorporating a CCG into a comic-book story seems a little behind the times — such games peaked a decade or so ago — but I really enjoy the dual approach to the storytelling. Ultimately, I think Johnston’s point about such Kewl comics characters and stories is that they’re random and a bit pointless, but they can also serve as a fun diversion.
Two artists contribute line art to this book. Saverio Tenuta’s style is a more conventional pencil/ink approach, reminiscent of Todd (Spawn) McFarlane’s work. He captures the over-the-top intensity that serves to define characters such as Chase Variant. Bagwell’s painted (or at least it looks painted) art brings an even darker, slightly more realistic tone to bear, but the shift actually works in the context of the story. From start to finish, having jumped from one story to another, the title character becomes more and more aware of the illogical nature of what’s happening. Both artists bring consistency to the book by following Johnston’s structure closely. The white space along the bottom panel of each page (no doubt at Johnston’s direction) strings everything together nicely. 7/10
Daredevil #505 (Marvel Comics)
by Andy Diggle, Antony Johnston & Marco Checchetto
I’ve been looking to cut back on the number of comics on my pull list, and a few months ago, as Ed Brubaker’s tenure on Daredevil was coming to a close, I figured it was an opportunity to trim that number by another one. Out of curiosity, though, I figured I’d stick around for one issue of Andy Diggle’s stint, just to see how a new writer might transform the book. But just as Brubaker continued the strong work that writer Brian Michael Bendis did with the Man Without Fear before him, so did Diggle build logically on what his predecessor wrote. The result is that DD continues to be a dark, engrossing drama about one man’s ability to torture himself as penance for crimes no one thinks he’s guilty of. Antony Johnston joins Diggle as co-writer here, and this new story arc explores the structure and politics of the Hand. I was surprised at how riveted I was by the writers’ efforts. In the past, the Hand has been an undefined threat, a generic group of ninjas that served more as props in Daredevil and Wolverine stories. Now, their members are being explored as actual characters. I really found this move to instill history, tradition and ambition into the workings of the assassins’ guild to be oddly convincing. Diggle and Johnston actually make the notion of an ancient order of corrupt ninjas something that I can believe.
Checchetto does an excellent job of portraying Matt Murdock as a thoroughly intense figure. The way he stands as he faces a group of killers makes him seem like the mythic figure he needs to be in order to lead the Hand. The Japanese cultural elements in the backgrounds seem genuine and convincing as well. I also appreciated how Murdock and the arrogant Bakuto are visually contrasted against the other Hand leaders. Their youth and vigor set them apart from the older Hand lieutenants, not to mention their attire (modern garb contrasts with ancient robes and masks). 8/10
Legendary Talespinners #1 (Dynamite Entertainment)
by James Kuhoric & Grant Bond
The overall tone of this fantasy/adventure title seems to be geared toward younger readers. The plot’s predictable — some might even see it as derivative — but it’s really just carrying on the tradition of stories with connections between reality and wonderlands full of magic and imagination. The Chronicles of Narnia, The Wizard of Oz, even Abadazad… Legendary Talespinners joins their ranks, at least in terms of subject matter and premise. The writer dumbs down the real-world elements a bit, such as coming up with a stilted, obvious named for the university hospital that serves as the setting and glossing over what medical interns would be doing there. Despite the simpler tone of the script, the energy and personality that writer James Kuhoric instills in the characters are entertaining.
Grant Bond’s artwork is clearly influenced by American animation, and his exaggerated style suits the broad-strokes approach of the plotting and the imagination inherent in the premise. The color scheme is exceedingly dark, but it makes sense in the context of the story. We’re still in the “real world” so far in the story, and there’s a hint that brighter tones will emerge once the characters and the audience cross over to the other side of the looking glass. 6/10
Ultimate Armor Wars #4 (Marvel Comics)
by Warren Ellis, Steve Kurt, Jeff Huet & Scott Hanna
Warren Ellis’s penchant for convincing sci-fi speak and for crafting arrogant and captivating protagonists made him the perfect choice for this series featuring the Ultimate Universe incarnation of Iron Man, and I’ve enjoyed the series from the start. Unfortunately, the final issue proved to be surprisingly disappointing, as the plot takes a sharp and implausible turn that really has little to do with the storytelling in the previous three issues. Despite the title, the story was never about the theft of Stark’s technology and his effort to shut down all other armored suits around the globe. Instead, a villain that had never even been hinted at before turns up at the 11th hour. I knew early on into this issue that I wasn’t going to enjoy, as the big conflict and cliffhanger from the previous issue fizzles out; Tony is saved because the bad guys, well, they change they mind about killing him. The one element in this script that Ellis handles adeptly is capturing a couple of rare moments of emotional vulnerability in Tony Stark; those moments humanize the otherwise impossibly perfect and conceited hero.
Kurt’s style makes me see him as something of a low-rent Bryan Hitch, but I can understand why the book’s editors sought such an artist for the book. Hitch, after all, was the artist on the series that introduced this incarnation of Iron Man (The Ultimates). He certainly captures the scope of the story and action. The choreography of the airplane assault in the second act of this issue looks great, for example. At times, the visuals struck me as being a bit too ordinary, but the storytelling is always clear. I guess I’m saying the art is serviceable but not something that really excited me either. 5/10
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