Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #5 (DC Comics)
by Grant Morrison, Ryan Sook, Pere Perez & Mick Gray
I have a brother who sometimes tells some stories and jokes that prove to be thoroughly frustrating experiences. His problem is that occasionally, he skips over parts of the story. he’s always amused because he has full access to all of the pertinent details in his head, but he doesn’t realize he hasn’t conveyed it all verbally. His audience is left puzzled because pieces are missing. That’s what reading this particular comic book felt like. One can tell there’s an ambitious, weird and wonderful story unfolding here, but writer Grant Morrison seems to lunge ahead, skipping key elements (or at least expecting his audience to remember details from past issues of this series and other Batman scripts he’s written in the past few years).
Ryan Sook’s art is effective at capturing the noir, Sam Spade-esque atmosphere that the writer endeavors to use as the backdrop for this issue. It would seem Sook didn’t have the time to render all 32 pages of art, as Pere Perez fills in for pages 22-31. The shift in styles isn’t too jarring, as Perez clearly tries to maintain a consistent tone. Still, there are panels in which the divide between the two artists’ storytelling abilities is apparent. Once again, Andy Kubert offers up an image for the regular cover that isn’t reflected in the interior art, which is a bit disappointing. I love that three-piece suit with the bat-vest. 5/10
Chaos War #1 (Marvel Comics)
by Greg Pak, Fred van Lente, Khoi Pham & Tom Palmer/by Pak, van Lente, Reilly Brown & Terry Pallot
I’m a big fan of the work of Greg Pak and Fred van Lente have done in recent years with the characters of Hercules and Amadeus Cho. They’ve transformed a C-list Marvel hero from a blowhard into an interesting figure and have managed the difficult feat of establishing and popularizing a new character that lacks a strong visual shtick… not easy in the context of the super-hero genre of comics today. Nevertheless, I approached this new event book with some trepidation despite the prominent roles for Hercules and Amadeus. The reason: neither the conflict nor the villain interest me. The threat of the destruction of all reality doesn’t really hold water in this genre, and it’s hard to feel as though the heroes are in any danger when the book opens with a resurrection of one of those heroes. There’s also little indication that the plot will allow room for character development, which is usually what makes for good Herc/Cho stories. Khoi Pham is no stranger to these main characters or to big conglomerations of Marvel heroes. I’ve found his unique style appealing in the past, but he’s definitely stepped things up here. While his trademark loose linework is still present, there’s a greater depth and texture to the art. Maybe he’s challenged himself and grown as an artist or maybe it’s the result of collaborating with inker Tom Palmer. Sunny Gho’s colors enhance the more refined look of the art, making it appear almost as though it was painted at times.
The backup story, set during Hercules’s exile in an empty dimension prior to the main crossover event plot, is capable and diverting, and it helps to sum up Herc’s character fairly well. Nevertheless, I don’t think its inclusion was a smart move. The plot is inconsequential; I’d rather have paid a buck less for this comic book than read the “bonus” piece. Furthermore, it’s not necessary to appreciate the main story. In fact, for those unfamiliar with Herc’s recent past, it could end up being rather confusing. 6/10
Skullkickers #1 (Image Comics)
by Jim Zubkavich, Chris Stevens & Edwin Huang
Image Comics has had quite a nice run as of late of high-quality, well-received, creator-owned books such as King City, Chew and Orc Stain, and a couple of comics websites predicted that Skullkickers would be the latest in the series of these sought-after and fun comics from the publisher. That was enough to get the first issue on my radar and in a stack of recent purchases at my local comic shop. Unfortunately, the second issue won’t find its way into another one of those piles. Skullkickers is basically an action-oriented book, the kind of broad, bawdy and loud storytelling that’s flashy but lacking in any real substance. And that’s fine. It succeeds at what it sets out to do, offering bombastic characters and action sequences to its audience. If comics were a neighborhood, Skullkickers would be the frat house that hosts the really great parties — a fun place to visit for a short time but not really as comfortable and adult in tone to spend any longer.
Writer Jim Zubkavich crafts modern personalities for these characters despite the fact the mercenary action is set in medieval times. That helps to pep things up a bit, but the novelty wears off after a little while. It certainly makes the almost alien setting and circumstances more accessible for the reader, though. I’m surprised at how little we learn about the two main heroes; I found I wasn’t given any real reason to care about or follow these characters. Overall, the designs and violence-driven storytelling put me in mind of early Image Comics, especially Rob Liefeld books. Skullkickers is a purely superficial book and at best, it can serve as someone’s guilty pleasure. 5/10
Superior #1 (Marvel Comics/Icon imprint)
by Mark Millar, Leinil Yu & Gerry Alanguilan
First there was Kick-Ass. Then there was writer Mark Millar’s over-the-top twist on the Batman archetype with Nemesis. Now we have Superior, which has been billed by some as his creator-owned spin on the Superman archetype. A more accurate description, though, would equate the title character of Superior with Captain Marvel (the Shazam! version). Of all of Millar’s creator-owned Icon titles, this is the one that shows the most restraint (at least so far) and therefore strikes me as the strongest. The real focus in this first issue is on a teenage boy whose struggling with the loss of his freedom, the loss of his adolescence and eventually, the loss of his life. Millar’s description of Simon’s life dealing with Multiple Sclerosis is compelling and comes across as genuine. Life with a disability is often about being excluded, and Millar conveys that unfortunate reality convincingly. Honestly, I found Simon’s story (as Simon) to be so much more interesting and compelling than that of “Superior” that I hope Millar finds the time over the course of the rest of this six-part limited series to get back to those more grounded elements.
Yu’s most important contribution to the story is his ability to convey Simon’s youth. The fact that the main characters (and several other key players) are kids is vital to the story. The title for this story, as noted on the cover, is “One Magic Wish,” referring to the wish-fulfillment riff that so many super-hero characters — from Superman to Captain Marvel to Green Lantern and more — represent. There’s a surprisingly dark and moody look throughout this issue given the relative innocence of the protagonist, but it definitely draws one in. The plain design of the title character — red suit, blue cape and a wrestling championship belt — reinforces that the creators are dealing with an archetype here (just as the design for Nemesis is literally a blank slate). Overall, the art is solid. The only real disappointment is the cover, which looks empty and a bit uninspired. 8/10
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