Last week saw the release of a number of impressive and strong samples of comics storytelling, and two of the titles I picked up, both debut issues for new series, had a lot in common: witches. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Wytches were both engaging reads delving into witchcraft, supernatural lore and the overwhelming challenges of adolescence, but they were also far from carbon copies of one another.
Avengers #34.1 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Al Ewing, Dale Keown & Norman Lee
This Hyperion-focused standalone story, as my online reading indicates, wasn’t intended as an Avengers comic, but it was ultimately decided more units would move as a part of that series, which is a fair bet. Fortunately, writer Al Ewing builds on the seeds already planted by regular series writer Jonathan Hickman, so there’s a certain logic to its inclusion under this banner. Ewing’s take on Marvel’s Superman stand-in is an interesting spin on the near-omnipotent Man of Steel, and I rather enjoyed the reflective tone of the script. I also appreciated the fact that the seemingly infallible Hyperion is shown to be somewhat human, given the moments of rage that lurk at the periphery of his stoic yet imposing demeanor. I also enjoyed Ewing’s use of a rather obscure and quickly forgotten villain from the Matt Fraction-penned Invincible Iron Man run from a few years ago. Ultimately, while the ending promises a new direction for solo adventures of the central protagonist, it seems unlikely that’s going to come to pass. Furthermore, it seems almost certain Hickman’s plotlines on the various Avengers titles will come to an end at some point, so I’m doubtful this new status quo and mission for Hyperion will last.
Cloaks #1 (Boom! Studios)
by Caleb Monroe & Mariano Navarro
I need to make a point of paying attention when Boom! releases other four-part limited series such as this one. The publisher has scored with them in the past (Talent and The Foundation come to mind immediately), and now Cloaks is another such entertaining story. Cloaks fires on all cylinders. Writer Caleb Monroe has crafted a thoroughly (almost incredibly) likeable protagonist in the form of teenage street magician Adam D’Aquino. His sense of justice, his self-reliance, his love of people and his dazzling skills all combine to make a shining hero. In many ways, he’s a formulaic comics protagonist, but the conventional, arguably overused elements are quickly forgotten thanks to the character’s infectious appeal. The crime and intrigue elements are a lot of fun as well, and Monroe has done a good job of incorporating modern digital culture into the mix.
Avengers World #11 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Nick Spencer & Raffaele Ienco
A few days ago, I praised the writing in another Avengers title, noting Jonathan Hickman’s of an impossible but intriguing ethical question really served as a nice payoff of his run on that title. Avengers World features another one of Hickman’s larger-than-life Avengers concepts, but this one is at the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of strength. Written by Nick Spencer (with whom Hickman co-wrote this title for a time), it features the young future heroes from the Avengers Next direct-to-video animated movie coming back to the past to save the day in one facet of the multiple-hotspot crisis the title team has been facing over the course of this title. This aspect of the conflict with A.I.M. is resolved thanks to a miraculous plot device that I would imagine any hero, not only those travelling through time, could have employed. Why these future heroes had to come back to deal with the crisis is never made clear. Furthermore, while we’re meant to believe it, they’re never portrayed as particularly more powerful or adept than their present-day predecessors in the Avengers dynasties.
Justice League #32 (DC Comics)
by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke & Keith Champagne
I lost interest in Geoff Johns’s take on DC’s premier super-hero team in the buildup to the “Trinity War” storyline and paid it little heed during the Forever Evil event. However, the ideas that emerged in Justice League in the wake of the crossover definitely piqued my interest. Though it’s been a surprisingly slow build (given it’s a fair accompli in promotional material on other DC titles), the incorporation of Lex Luthor and Captain Cold as members of the League is definitely an unconventional development for mainstream super-hero team comics. We’re not talking about reformed villains joining a team, a la Cap’s Kooky Quarter in Avengers in the Silver Age. Instead, we have two men are still clearly in villain mode making the shift. I’m also enjoying Johns’s introduction of the Doom Patrol in the New 52. the characters are all likeable and generically heroic, but it’s the take on the Chief as having an agenda driven by personal interest rather than altruism that stands out. Slight tweaks to the characters of Elasti-Girl and Negative Man make the characters even more tragic and even just a little bit creepy.
Afterlife with Archie #6 (Archie Comics)
by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa & Francesco Francavilla
In a way, this is the most interesting issue of the series thus far since the first, mainly because writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa shifts horror sub-genres here with his focus on Sabrina the Teenage Witch. After its hiatus, the title moves from zombie apocalypse to a thoroughly Lovecraftian conflict. I’m a bit surprised the writer didn’t opt for slightly veiled references to the Cthulhu literary legend, but here, he’s opted not just to lift the veil but to shred it and burn it. It lets the reader know exactly where s/he stands, which puts the audience well ahead of our heroine. I like the psychological horror here, and the mystery of exactly what’s befallen Sabrina. Aguirre-Sacasa even manages to inject some of the more mature, darker character exploration of these Archie Comics icons. Unfortunately, I don’t know enough about Sabrina for it really to resonate. Other than her aunts and Salem, I don’t have a clue about her supporting cast.
Dark Engine #1 (Image Comics)
by Ryan Burton & John Bivens
Image Comics has garnered a strong reputation for superb, cutting-edge comics, but the titles that get the most attention, understandably, are those by established talents in the comics industry. So it’s easy to sometimes overlook other titles being offered by newer names, relative unknowns. Dark Engine is one such comic book, and it shows a lot of promise, both from writer Ryan Burton and artist John Bivens. Dark Engine kind of strikes me like a cross between East of West and Prophet. It’s got an interesting contrast going between a cerebral tone and a sense of brutality and savagery that grabs the reader’s attention. The purple prose that characterizes the narration and the dialogue for the dragon figure at the beginning of the book is, I have to admit, a bit off-putting. I was immediately taken back to a number of Thor stories set in Asgard that I didn’t like — too many flourishes and lofty phrases in the script. The human characters who appear later in the issue temper that a bit, as they speak more normally, offering just a hint of something familiar with which the audience can connect. The use of lower-case lettering for the narrative captions is an unfortunate choice, as the font doesn’t work well with the harshness of the premise and book’s overall look.
Daredevil #5 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Mark Waid & Chris Samnee
Daredevil, as guided by Mark Waid and his creative partners on these various series, continues to stand out as one of Marvel’s best titles, mixing Silver Age fun and traditions with more modern, sophisticated sensibilities. That being said, this was one of the more lackluster issues in Waid’s tenure. This episode answers the question as to how and why Foggy Nelson’s death was faked in between the previous series and this relaunched one, but it wasn’t such a deep mystery that it required a full flashback issue. Still, there are some strong characterization bits to be found here. I am starting to get a bit tired of Waid’s repeated use of the original Ant-Man as a cure-all for any sci-fi/super-hero-genre plotting challenge that arises. If Waid took the time to foster a stronger link between the title character and Hank Pym, a developing friendship, his repeated appearances mightn’t seem so jarring. Mind you, I can’t deny that Waid’s use of a wider and more colorful array of characters and concepts from across the Marvel Universe in Daredevil’s previously small little corner of it continues to entertain.
Samnee’s art is a wonderful match to that more wondrous feel. Most striking visually in this issue was his depiction of Foggy, thin and frail but not seemingly deathly ill. He seems so much like a regular guy, and the way his body moves under Samnee’s hand looks quite natural.
Forever Evil #1 (DC Comics)
by Geoff Johns, David Finch & Richard Friend
I’m a sucker for big super-hero events that bring disparate and normally unconnected colorful characters together — or at least, I used to be. I’ve been cooling to the event book for years now, but I have to admit, Forever Evil had its moments. The four-page spread featuring the Crime Syndicate’s address to the world’s super-villains was fun and reminded me a great deal of Crisis on Infinite Earths #9, the villain-driven issue. I also appreciated the opening scene featuring Luthor as a ruthless businessman and the closing scene in which we see him both cast in the role of the hero and longing for his longtime enemy to arrive to save the day. That being said, Forever Evil is an inherently flawed concept that just doesn’t work. the villains tell the masses the Justice League is dead; the reader knows this to be untrue. There’s never a moment of real tension for the audience, but it knows How These Things Work. How the heroes will return or the day will be saved, we don’t know, but we do know those things will happen. Maybe writer Geoff Johns will take us on an interesting journey at arrive at that destination, but I fear it’s shaping up to be a long road trip during which many will keep asking, “Are we there yet?”
Collider #1 (DC Comics/Vertigo imprint)
by Simon Oliver & Robbi Rodriguez
When Vertigo founder and editor Karen Berger left DC Comics, many feared what it would mean for the publisher’s mature-readers imprint. Recent evidence would seem to indicate Vertigo is in good hands with longtime editor Shelly Bond, as recent releases have offered entertaining, intelligent and exciting creator-owned stories. Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy’s The Wake as proven to be a bonafide hit for the imprint, and people who enjoy that title ought to give Collider a look. Similar in tone to The Wake, Collider reads a lot like a Warren Ellis comic. It should also appeal to readers who are into Image’s Nowhere Men and The Manhattan Projects, with its realistic take on super-sciences and the smart people who create/deal with it. Oliver’s hero, Adam, is almost too perfect; he’s living an idyllic life full of action (both on the job and socially), but the writer humanizes him by rooting him in his connection to his late/missing father. Oliver’s move to blend manipulative politics into a world of physics gone haywire makes the impossible notions in the plot easier to connect with socially and intellectually.
Avengers A.I. #1 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Sam Humphries & André Lima Araújo
The good news about André Lima Araújo’s artwork in this debut issue is the fact it’s rather unconventional in tone. He’s clearly influence by manga/anime, but his various aspects of his efforts here reminded me of the styles of such other Marvel artists as Nick Bradshaw, Khoi Pham and Ed McGuinness. The effort to redesign the Vision seems like a misstep; this update pales in comparison to the classic look (which will undoubtedly return at some point in the future). Araújo’s approach to settings is distinct. While he has an eye for detail, every one of the backdrops looks rather expansive in scope, but that’s not always fitting. For deep space or a plaza in front of a hospital, it works, but for an arcade or interrogation room, it’s not the best choice. I also found the manner in which he illustrates characters’ faces (especially Hank Pym’s) to be inconsistent and distracting. This isn’t a bad introduction, though, and I’ll be interested to see how he develops as an artist in the years to come.
Batman #21 (DC Comics)
by Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo & Rafael Albuquerque
Because apparently, I’ve created the impression I pan Marvel and DC super-hero comics so I can impress “hipsters”, I thought I’d share some thoughts about this new story arc in DC’s main Batman title. I was quite disappointed in Superman Unchained, not only due to the art, but surprisingly due to being let down by Snyder’s plot. Fortunately, it appears that was an aberration, because his new take on Bruce Wayne’s journey to becoming the Batman here is fantastic. As he did with the Court of Owls, Snyder is building a new mythology and history for Gotham City, and he’s doing so by incorporating and reinventing some familiar characters and concepts. In Batman: Earth One, writer Geoff Johns explored the maternal branches of Bruce Wayne’s family tree by transforming Martha Wayne into a member of the Arkham clan. Here, Snyder does something similar, making her maiden name Kane and giving some of those tree limbs a bit of rot. The opening scene, set six months ahead of the main action, just after Bruce took on the Batman persona, hints at an ambitious story arc, one that promises to be much more over-the-top and tumultuous than what we’ve seen before. I look forward to it. The backup story is solidly executed. It should appeal to the Fast and the Furious fans out there, but peppered in the high-octane, high-speed action is a clever and peppy script that barrels ahead as quickly as the car the protagonist is driving throughout the sequence.
The Bounce #1 (Image Comics)
by Joe Casey & David Messina
I haven’t read any promotional material about or reaction to The Bounce, so I have no idea if it’s a reworked pitch for Marvel’s Speedball character, but it certainly reads like one. To be fair, though, that’s mainly due to the specific power set of the main character here, so I feel a bit bad about dismissing the origin of this story as something originally designed for another character. I mean, if the lead hero had invisibility powers, I wouldn’t have blown it off as a failed and retooled Invisible Woman proposal. Either way, the storytelling here stands up fine on its own; nothing feels lacking as a result of it being set outside an established shared super-hero continuity. But there is a problem: the hero isn’t terribly likable. The broad concept of a pothead super-hero might have worked as a purely comedic satire, but Casey plays it straight here. As a result, I found it hard to get behind Jasper. There are a couple of intriguing concepts, but by the end of the story, I wasn’t all that interested in what happens next. And when it comes to episodic fiction, getting the reader care about that is key.
David Messina’s artwork tells the story clearly — except when it doesn’t, but that’s OK, because there’s a psychedelic component that comes into play at the end of the issue. Overall, though, he boasts a fairly generic super-hero style. Beyond the apparent influences in his work (I see touches reminiscent of such artists as Terry Dodson and Bryan Hitch here), there’s nothing all that distinct to be found here. The designs for the superhuman characters are rather ho-hum as well. The Bounce is OK, but it’s also quite forgettable. 6/10
Avengers #4 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Jonathan Hickman & Adam Kubert
I like Jonathan Hickman’s writing. I like how it challenges the reader and approaches familiar genre subject matter in new ways. That being said, this issue — a welcome, standalone story — doesn’t quite click the way in which it was meant. I appreciate the narrower focus on Hyperion. While the character has been floating around the Marvel Universe for decades, his status today and how he came to be a member of this broader team of Avengers aren’t clear. Unfortunately, after reading this issue, I’m really not much clearer on the situation. The removed tone of the narration is meant to reflect the disconnected feel of the central character, who’s lost his own world and friends, but rather than a connection to and understanding of Hyperion, the disjointed, vague qualities of the script cause him to seem even more alien and enigmatic. I enjoyed Hickman’s portrayal of A.I.M. as a bunch of evil scientists intent on mad experimentation rather than terrorism and profit. I applaud Hickman for taking time out to focus on individual members of this new incarnation of the Avengers, but I feel he might have explored the wrong one here. At the end of the previous issue, our attention was focused on the new Captain Universe, and the plot and script in #3 certainly piqued my interest about this new character. It seems like it would’ve been a more natural progression to delve into her story now rather than Hyperion’s (it appears she may get the spotlight in #6, but it still strikes me as a couple of issues too late).
Before Watchmen: Moloch #2 (DC Comics)
by J. Michael Straczynski & Eduardo Risso
I thoroughly enjoyed the first issue of this two-part series thanks to writer J. Michael Straczynski’s successful humanization of a seemingly inhuman criminal, but the conclusion of the series disappointed. The reason is clear: Straczynski tries to add to and arguably even alter the narrative of Watchmen here, as his plot catches up to the events of the mid-1980s series. It’s a significant misstep on his part. Before Watchmen generally works when it’s used to explore new stories featuring the classic characters from the source material, but mucking about with Alan Moore’s story is definitely the wrong way to go. In Watchmen, while Ozymandias was the villain, he was always portrayed as being distanced from humanity. Other people were inferior in his eyes, but not the enemy. Here, Ozymandias glares at Moloch with contempt. Furthermore, Straczynski’s additions don’t jibe with elements from the original plot. In Watchmen, Moloch is portrayed as living in squalor in a slum, but in the time leading up to his death, this story has him earning big bucks from his employer. This script supports the argument many made when Before Watchmen was originally announced that DC ought not tinker with Watchmen at all.