Singles Going Steady 3/25/2013: HeckblazerA comic review article by: Daniel Elkin, Rafael Gaitan, Danny Djeljosevic, Shawn Hill
Singles Going Steady is Comics Bulletin's weekly single issue review roundup.
Not everything gets covered in Singles, so here are the comics that got reviewed separately:
- Jamil just turned in a review of Thunderbolts #1-6, which are completely acceptable action comics.
Five Ghost: The Haunting of Fabian Gray #1
(Frank J. Barbiere, Chris Mooneyham; Image Comics)
So, how about this for a solicitation:
After a tragic encounter with an artifact known as "The Dreamstone," infamous treasure hunter Fabian Gray was possessed by five literary ghosts and has been granted access to their unique abilities.
Five Literary Ghosts? Ooooh boy -- that's enough to get the English teacher in me all a'flutter -- I'm thinking Hamlet's father, Jacob Marley, Beloved, Madeline Usher, and some Turn of the Screw shit.
But no.... that's not what we are talking about.
Rather, in Five Ghosts, Fabian Gray is possessed by The Wizard, The Archer, The Detective, The Samurai and The Vampire. As it turns out, he's not really possessed by Literary Ghosts, as much as by Literary Tropes. But hey, that's all well and good because, really, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter because, as Image wants us to know, "A BOLD NEW ERA OF PULP ADVENTURE COMICS BEGINS HERE" and in Pulp Adventure stories, it's best to work with what you know.
All this aside, let me be straight with you: Five Ghosts is pretty great.
It is pulp adventure revved high. The book opens with Master Thief Damian Gray in Austria, channeling the power of each "ghost" as he steals jewels and kills Nazis (always a crowd-pleaser), and subsequently follows his exploits through Barelona, England, and finally Africa. The larger plot seems to revolve around Damian wanting to save his sister's soul, which apparently has been dragged into some-hell like place by a sort of tentacled demon thing. You know how that is.
To complicate things further, the literary ghosts that possess Mr. Gray don't seem to be overly happy about being inside of him, for, as they say, "This vessel grows weary". Their discontent is taking its toll on our titular hero.
Then, as an added bonus, there's some sort of floating head cabal that wants Gray's power to be theirs. They send their first emissary who gets to say one of my favorite lines ever quoted in a comic, "Answer Me, Filthy Flesh Ape!" (a command that I shall begin shouting at my students after Spring Break, I assure you). Finally, as if all this adventure were not enough, there's the additional "Something about a strange stone, spider gods and the like" for Gray to contend with.
Whew. Just remember, this is all going on in the confines of the first issue of a five-issue mini. Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom -- that's what I call grabbing your reader, baby.
All these pieces fit together beautifully in Five Ghosts. Certainly there are echoes of Lieberman and Rossmo's Cowboy Ninja Viking (Mooneyham's art is even Rossmo-esque -- which is a good thing) rampant here, but Barbiere and Mooneyham own what is going on in their book outright. They've served up a flawed but likable hero, high octane action/adventure, and evil things afoot -- and it's all there to entertain.
While this book isn't groundbreaking in storytelling or presentation, it is what it is, and what it is … is fun, a throwback to adventure tales of old with just enough off-kilter funk to keep it dancing new steps.
- Daniel Elkin
Captain America #5
(Rick Remender, John Romita Jr.; Marvel)
I love all comics, y'all, so I don't like to take sides between the Big Two, but Marvel and its NOW! line are consistently delivering some of the most exciting and visionary work in modern comics. Remender and Romita's Captain America is the most out-there comic you're not reading, brimming and bubbling with brilliant energy. Not a page is wasted, not a panel static and we feel the gruel and the exhaustion on Steve Rogers' face. Taking a page from his own Fear Agent, Remender finds a stoic sense of acceptance in Steve Rogers, as he has raised the boy Ian as his own. Cap's nobility is never in question, but through the addition of this character we see a Steve Rogers we've never seen before -- a parent.
Cap's desire to protect Ian at all costs as had him pulped out, page in and out, for the last four issues, and this is no exception, but Remender manages to flip the script again and make even Arnim Zola sympathetic, if only for a brief moment. Remender was clear that he wanted to write Cap in the manner of Kirby's '70s run, where he was a man fighting a world he didn't understand with unparalleled strength and resolve, and Romita's romance influenced style serves a dual purpose in the loving testament to Kirby as well as keeping a sense of ground while we see All of the Shit Going Down.
While Cap is trying to escape Dimension Z to cure himself of the Zola virus, he also has to deal with a vengeful Jet, Zola's daughter who is convinced that upon his escape he killed her brother- how Remender handles this reveal diagetically is par for the course he's set with this title: audience-confided subtlety blended generously with out-and-out insanity -- it's fascinating to think that while a great war wages between the Phlox and Zola's creatures, the most gripping part of this issue is watching Cap keep chugging along when by all means he should be a melted Rocket Pop. Remender's hand at balancing characters in chaotic situations is a gift -- like in Uncanny X-Force, he manages to fold in all their stories without ever devoting or under-representing any portion. Ian in particular is a remarkable occasion -- a child character with a maturity and intrigue that is unmatched- he could be in the running to the Marvel version of Damien Wayne. (R.I.P. Hug Angel.)
It can be difficult to write about the single issues of comics due to their overarching nature (as well as not wanting to give away the shenanigans!) and this book is no exception- out of context it contains beautiful art and heart-grabbing writing and plotting, but as a larger piece of the puzzle it is much more salient. There's more than enough action and intelligence to sustain the cover price, but where Captain America excels as the most unique vision in the Marvel NOW launch is its glorious unpredictability. Remender's putting the hurt on that heart and you just can't wait to see what he'll do to Cap and to you next.
- Rafael Gaitan
(Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples, Fonografiks; Image)
Real quick -- Saga is a wholly entertaining series, and issue #11 is no exception. But every issue Saga leaves me in complete awe.
At this point Brian K. Vaughan is a guy who comics needs more than he needs comics, and even though he's known as a guy who comes up with killer, easily pitched high-concept premises -- a virus (?) kills every male on Earth except one guy, a superhero becomes mayor of New York, kids find out their parents are supervillains and go on the run -- now he comes at us with little else other than "it's about a Star War" and knocks that out of the park and makes it a Top 50 book.
Name recognition is definitely a factor, but it's also that he's a really fucking good writer who works real hard for his audience by imbuing Saga with tons of personality and showing us something new every issue, from the striking, often funny splash pages to stuff like this:
It's really a funny exchange and it's sure to offend some, but there's also a fearlessness to it that we don't see enough of in these "left of the dial" books. Which isn't to say that every indie-mainstream book needs sex jokes, but in a world where you have to fight for your audience you need to be as brazen as this -- because there are tons of easier options in the world (television) and you have to offer readers stuff they won't see on Breaking Bad. And ifyou're going to come out with single issues first, each chapter should have something to justify not-tradewaiting.
- Danny Djeljosevic
Captain Marvel #11
(Kelly Sue DeConnick, Christopher Sebela, Filipe Andrade, Jordie Bellaire; Marvel)
The buzz around this comic right now is the art, and how Carol can't really catch a break with a penciller who lives up to the clean lines of her cover art (the likes of Quinones, McGuinness, McKelvie and the Dodsons, counting the variants); Andrade is certainly an odd choice, as his cartoonish exaggeration doesn't seem an ideal match to the frequent fisticuffs Carol is prone to. However, his flair for humor seems in sync with DeConnick's, and this is really the funniest and most banter-prone Carol we've ever seen.
I think part of the issue is that Andrade is more about large gestures and less about facial expressions. His Deathbird is a flurry of purple feathers, as she should be. But when he has a joke to tell, he nails it. For example, when Carol's support staff tricks out the air-bike Captain America dropped off for her to match her colors (she's under non-flying orders, surely a slap in the face in this series that dreams of skies full of female pilots), or when a neighbor's child makes an ominous silhouette in the hall, but turns out to just be playing dress-up.
It's become the story that's the attraction more than the art for the hardcore fans, and that story keeps juxtaposing Carol's strength, chutzpah and bravery with her foolishness, and surrounding her with friends (Jessica Drew, Tracy) who are equally reckless. DeConnick and Sebela know their Marvel lore, and when Dakota North shows up to give Carol a lead, you know those two will make a natural team.
This is proven in another humorous but badass scene, when the two women are confronted by a gang of gun-laden goons in a freight elevator. Both break out in knowing smiles, and you know the goons aren't going to see it coming.
Almost as interesting as the book is the letters page, which has quickly become one of those classic ones were fans and creators are sharing with great openness and sincerity. All you have to see is the young woman from North Carolina who made her own costume, and poses in front of the pilot school she attends, to know that DeConnick is really onto something, and whichever artist partner she gets is going to have to face equally high expectations.
- Shawn Hill
Memorial: Imaginary Fiends #1
(Chris Roberson, Rich Ellis, Grace Allison; IDW)
Originally released in nine eight-page installments on ComiXology, IDW has put out a print edition of Chris Roberson and Rich Ellis' Memorial side-story Imaginary Fiends, collecting three parts each issue. So, basically, if you want to read the print singles of this series, it's an extra three bucks. Not bad, and I say this as someone who forgot that he bought the first two digital installments doesn't regret the 2/3 of a double dip.
I reviewed the first issue of Memorial a long-ass time ago, and my opinion still stands -- it's a fun, enjoyable cross between Doctor Who and The Unwritten, and Imaginary Fiends definitely leans on the Doctor Who thing, as Em and her companions come across a situation with a missing little girl and an imaginary dragon that's entered reality but doesn't seem completely related to the main plot. It's a fun detour that offers a lot of the charm of the first volume.
Despite being originally released in eight-page installments, the chapter breaks are so not noticeable that, when I went back and checked the digital versions, I was surprised where each part ended. That's pretty good scripting on writer Roberson's part, being able to satisfy both formats. And Ellis' art is just as strong as ever -- I didn't say this when I first wrote about Memorial, but he's adept at both mundane locations and fantasy realms, which is essential for a story that straddles those lines.
I love the idea of doing these kinds of side adventures to further explore the world, and hopefully Roberson and Ellis do more of these digital-first stories between main volumes of Memorial.
- Danny Djeljosevic
Indestructible Hulk #5
(Mark Waid, Leinil Yu, Sunny Gho; Marvel)
Out of errrbody in the comics game, Mark Waid still writes the best pure superhero comics -- they're full of jokes, clever ideas and punching and don't take 12 issues to tell one story. There are so many tangible bits in this book I can throw out as examples -- the gag that the hot Atlantean lady wants to jump Hulk's bones but not Banner's which is also a valuable plot point, Attuma's plot to kill all surface folk with legendary acid, all the times The Hulk has to punch people.
While people are (rightfully) fawning over his Daredevil, Waid is coming out with one of the most underrated superhero books Marvel is putting out. How are we still calling Mark Waid books underrated? Why haven't comics readers learned yet?
- Danny Djeljosevic
G.I. Joe #2
(Fred Van Lente, Steve Kurth; IDW)
Yo, Joe, why you gotta be so good? Writer Fred Van Lente has been a breath of hilariously fresh air into what is usually considered a one-note series. While I'm a fan of big guns and cool code names (and you are too), Van Lente is one of the few writers to actually go into WHY G.I. Joe does what it does, and how these things could possibly exist in any semblance of a world. His meta-dipped take finds a G.I. Joe that is a marketing opportunity, with sly references to toys and cartoons. But it isn't a big wink-and-nod: Van Lente understands that the heart of G.I. Joe is defending the nation from Cobra... and in the current story arc, "Homefront," he poses the ugly question: what if the nation fights back?
Issue 2 retains the immediacy from the first and expounds on it- a captured Duke is about to be interrogated, Hashtag (yep, she's real, and she's spectacular!), Cover Girl and Doc are trapped remotely and Roadblock, Quick Kick and Tunnel Rat are being pinned down by heavy resistance and a mortally wounded Shipwreck. Their suppressors? Cobra along with the citizens of this small Ohio town, who have willingly taken up the cause.
Van Lente has found a fascinating lens to view the series through, injecting the real-world economic strife and desperation of small towns along with a palpable sense of danger. The opening sequence of this issue where Baroness describes to Duke how easy taking over the town was is as haunting and brutal, and penciller Steve Kurth does fabulous work matching the sequencing across multiple pages.
This mission was chosen by the top brass for maximum exposure and success rate and the tension in those boardrooms and command centers is perfectly paralleled by Van Lente and Kurth with the struggling Joes on the ground, bleeding out and beaten down, but guys with names like Roadblock aren't going to just lay down and take that. He also manages to make Cobra look legit organized and a threat to the world, instead of their usual representation as a bunch of goons with poor aim and poorer imaginations for world-conquest.
Van Lente's G.I. Joe has all the makings of a great action flick -- it's heavy on humor but also finds a heart to the material which avoids it skirting into mindlessness- it's mildly reminiscent of The Dirty Dozen and naturally Red Dawn in how human these characters feel and think. Even a scene of Hashtag killing her first tango could have been puke-inducingly regretful were it not for Van Lente's quick wit and understanding of the dynamics of these characters- the social media specialist is named Hashtag, for profanity's sake! G.I. Joe #2 is a solid read and Van Lente's bringing out the dimensions in these squares like no other writer in recent memory. Enlist into this one.
- Rafael Gaitan
(Ray Fawkes, Jeff Lemire, Renato Guedes Marcelo Maiolo; DC)
Out the ashes of the recently cancelled Vertigo series Hellblazer comes Contantine, a mainstream DC title with brand recognition thanks to the movie.
The result is decidedly a watered-down Hellblazer, but one that still works pretty effectively because Ray Fawkes and Jeff Lemire have experience writing the guy in Justice League Dark and John Constantine is generally fun to read. Not only that, but Fawkes and Lemire write the first installment of a story arc that feels like a complete episode with a beginning, middle and end. On the art side, Renato Guedes draws the thing pretty damn well, which helps the book's case -- that is, until somebody else fills in.
It wasn't a book I was looking forward to, but I'm mostly won over.
- Danny Djeljosevic
Justice League #18
(Geoff Johns, Jesus Saiz, Jeromy Cox, Gary Frank, Brad Anderson; DC)
Geoff Johns has been slowly moving away from the "Fuck you." "No, fuck you." characterization of the early issues of Justice League towards something that seems to show an understanding that characters can have personality without having "'tude." What he and Jesus Saiz offer in issue #18 is maybe the most sound thing Johns has written in a long-ass time, as far as superhero comics are concerned.
It's a done-in-one issue where the Justice League have a membership drive, one of the Metal Men goes haywire and the team find out that there's be a new threat at work against them in the end. Which, even though it's pretty much a less affecting cover version of JLA #5 where a membership drive also results in a robot going nuts, is a lot of fun for a book that most of us read just to see how bad it gets.
Geoff Johns loves the DC Universe, and DC's strength is that the world is basically overpopulated with superheroes and the resultant goofy shit. The DC Universe should always be the most superheroiest of the cape comics worlds, and this issue shows that by gathering a bunch of diverse superhero characters -- robots, devils, kung fu ladies, magicians, street heroes, people with fire for hair, ex-sidekicks -- around a meeting table in a satellite. Most importantly, Johns and Saiz introduce a new-new Atom, who is a lady with goggles, which I'm so all about that it ain't even funny.
I still refuse to read the Shazam! back-up.
- Danny Djeljosevic
Justice League of America #2
(Geoff Johns, David Finch, Sonia Oback, Matt Kindt, Scott Clark, David Beaty, Jeff Chang; DC)
Still digging this book, even moreso now that it's no longer about two people talking about who's going to be in this comic. David Finch's art is whatever -- some parts I enjoy and others not so much and I really really really really really wish Catwoman would zip up -- but Johns writes some decent bits of humor and covers a surprising amount of ground before the intriguing cliffhanger. It's all good dumb fun.
The backup story gives some nice background info for people who care about that stuff, and it's pretty funny that they got Mind MGMT's Matt Kindt to write a story about psychics. Too bad it looks like sub-Greg Land art.
- Danny Djeljosevic
Justice League of America's Vibe #2
(Geoff Johns, Andrew Kreisberg, Pete Woods, Andres Guinaldo, Sean Parsons, Bit, Hi-Fi; DC)
Looks like I was wrong and writer Sterling Gates is taking over Vibe in issue #4, leaving the first three issues to Justice League of America shepherd Geoff Johns and Arrow's Andrew Kreisberg.
The result is perfectly respectable superhero comics, for whatever that's worth. It certainly deserves more of a look if you're a DC Comics fan who just wants some superhero action but dislikes the '90s Image aesthetic of the New 52. It's competently written in a television episode style, where a single issue tells a complete story while also advancing the meta-plot, which I think is a really good idea for superhero comics -- the self-contained plot gives a new reader something to hold onto while someone who's been keeping up gets more big plot developments. Hopefully Gates continues the trend, because the last thing we need is five-issue story arcs of Vibe.
Also, the other day I realized why DC titled this comic book "Justice League of America's Vibe" instead of just Vibe.
- Danny Djeljosevic
SUPERMAN #17 WAS ON SOME PROPHET SHIT, FOR REAL
Dark Avengers #188
DC Universe Presents #18
All-New X-Men #9
New Avengers #4