Singles Going Steady 1/13/2014: Now Means WOWA comic review article by: Daniel Elkin, Shawn Hill, Jamil Scalese, Keith Silva, Robert Tacopina, Chris Wunderlich, John Yohe
Singles Going Steady is Comics Bulletin's weekly single issue review roundup.
Avengers World #1
Hickman, in keeping with his initial premise of his take on the Avengers, has indeed made Earth's Mightiest Heroes bigger in all aspects. The cast is enormous and Avengers World features the majority of the cast of the main Avengers title. The difference here, however, is that the inclusion of Nick Spencer adds some much-needed lightheartedness to a series that is oftentimes overwhelmingly serious. Spencer's contributions pay off immediately as his dialogue and humor go such a long way in adding some levity to such dire circumstances.
Avengers World #1 demonstrates why the need for such a big project is necessary as the Avengers--working in conjunction with S.H.I.E.L.D.--have fanned out across the globe to deal with threats that have emerged on various areas of the planet. The decision to split the Avengers into smaller squads allows the writers to focus on each member individually and results in some very well thought-out dialogue and humor. Cannonball and Sunspot in particular share a great conversation as to who was the better Khan in the Star Trek movies.
The art by Stefano Caselli was absolutely gorgeous. I loved Secret Warriors and Avengers Initiative when he was handling artistic duties. While he did pencil the "Infinity Prelude" arc of Avengers it just hasn't been enough and he has been missed tremendously. His stylizations are perfect for this title and his use of facial emotions is second to none as they perfectly convey the weight of the words on the page. The issue just pops from a visual standpoint and hums all the way from start to finish. Caselli needs to be given the reins on this title for as long as he wants it.
Avengers World #1 was a perfect debut issue. It introduced many plot points, both grandiose and innovative, that should have no difficulty playing out into some intriguing storylines in the near future. It also treated us to familiar faces with more promising threats to encumber the team with. It's an Avengers World baby, we're all just along for the ride!
- Robert Tacopina
(Joshua Dysart / Clayton Henry / Brian Reber / Dave Sharpe; Valiant)
Just exactly how does a gang of misfit kids take down the most powerful man in the world? This is not the tag-line to the latest Scooby-Doo adventure. Rather, it is a question posed by writer Joshua Dysart, and the new arc of his book Harbinger will, I guess, seek to answer it.
It's a big question, but then again, Harbinger is a big book.
But before any sort of answer can be reached, the full extent of the question must be posed. Issue 20 is all about making everything pretty damn clear. This is a book that begins in the future – SOON (echoes of Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf's opening “So”) -- because it has to, because the drama demands it, because it couldn't begin anywhere else.
Toyo Harada and his Harbinger Foundation have basically been in charge all along. It takes issue 20 to let everyone else in this world know it. Once the secret is out, the hand that has been gently cradling the power structures must now clench into a fist. When the mask is taken off, the face underneath is tight in a sneer.
Time runs in interesting directions in this issue, the present is climactic as it brings the future into relief, but it is the past that puts everything into motion. Time is a tricky thing in Dysart's writing. It is as much of a player in the drama as any of the personalities involved. Harada's pronouncement, “The Time is thrust upon us all. The world is mine” is the center of the question Dysart is asking, that one about misfit kids and a powerful man.
As the flow of information increases exponentially, we have begun to realize that time itself is altered. Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning went worldwide, instantaneously wiki-ed, by making one decision and tapping into one stream. What was then became now and the future bent to its weight simultaneously. The linear flow we conceive to be time became a snake eating its own tail. Harbinger #20 is about this as much as it is about superhuman heroics. Keeping secrets in the information age is a shaky endeavor because there is always someone smarter and/or more savvy than you out there – and they've got a connection and a keyboard. The hacker scenes in this book are some of the best.
Harbinger #20 blows everything wide open. Just about all the shadows have light shone upon them and everything shifts because of this. Dysart and Henry are laying pages of the possible in this book, letting everything jump to this new tune. This is the beginning of something; all the pieces of the question have fit together.
How does a gang of misfit kids take down the most powerful man in the world? I can't wait to find out.
- Daniel Elkin
Dept. of Monsterology #4 of 4
(Gordon Rennie / PJ Holden / Steven Denton / Jim Campbell; Renegade Arts Entertainment)
Dept. of Monsterology does its job and delivers what it promises. There are 'Great Old Ones,' arcane arts and paranormal anomalies aplenty to whet the insatiability of Wells-ians, Lovecraft-ians and Mignola-ians alike. When the header reads ''somewhere in the Pacific'' and the ship asea has been christened 'The Derleth,' the reader is in good tentacled hands … errr tentacles. The world being built by writer Gordon Rennie and artists PJ Holden and Steven Denton stands on the 'greenish stone blocks' of well-established continuities, but without the baggage of having to ask for a good place to start.
For those not (yet) enrolled or for the brave souls who choose to (at least) audit, Dept. of Monsterology follows two teams of researcher/supernatural detective-types, Team Challenger and Team Carnacki. There is also an English Don (he favors tweeds, natch) who carries a calabash and oversees the more pedestrian efforts at Dunsany College for those obsessed with googling the names of obscure and eldritch English and Irish scribblers of the weird. In addition to the unholy horrors these heroes have tasked themselves to tamp down, the real monsters are a creepy brother and sister duo who would feel quite at home in the stunted family tree of the family Usher. The collection of both goodies and baddies is SOP with clever tweaks by Rennie and (thankfully) a strong streak of self-awareness that keeps Dept. of Monsterology far from slavish devotion or (worse) fanboy service.
PJ Holden was put on this planet to draw monsters. His cartooning feels familiar and sturdy, but not in a workman-like way. Again, the choice of the word 'sturdy' is not a playful jab with an ice pick to the eye, it is well-deserved praise for Holden's talents as a visual storyteller. Like the series itself, Holden's pencils and inks serve the narrative and provide a clear understanding of the nastiness afoot -- words and images riff off one another like Ronnie James Dio and Richie Blackmoore in '75 -- and the big moments pay off in precise, but unexpected and unusual ways (hint: outsized incisors and glowing brains embedded in tech). Denton's colors are sulky where needed and in other spots slick with the bright colors of viscera freshly ripped from the innards chthonic creepers.
Don't slumber like an old God in a 'sea-soaked perversion' on Dept. of Monsterology. Rennie and Holden envision a world and craft a reality where familiarity breeds respect and reminds readers there is always another niche or hidey-hole in the crypt for a good horror comic.
Dept. of Monsterology #4 streets on Jan. 15 at more discerning and hip comic shops; the more immoral may buy direct from the charnel keepers at Renegade Arts Entertainment where the entire series is available in one fever-sweat-soaked bundle or in exchange for a bas relief from R'lyeh.
Suicide Risk #9
(Mike Carey / Elena Casagrande / Andrew Elder / Ed Dukeshire; BOOM! Studios)
In the conclusion of the second arc of this new series the main character absorbs a nuke, kills his teammates, then transforms into something called Requiem.
Alright, I spoiled it for you, but I'm guessing you have no context so it really doesn't constitute as a spoiler, right? Don't worry, you're not alone, no one is reading Suicide Risk, and that's a tragedy because it's one of the most bold new series among the festival of great stuff flying off shelves any given Wednesday.
Since reading the first four issues of this comic by Mike Carey and Elena Casagrande I've been eagerly keeping tabs on new developments. In that first arc regular-dude cop Leo Winters acquires superpowers and successfully hunts down a gang of villains responsible for a vicious attack on his partner. The intensity increases when he discovers that not only are his new gravity based powers vast and remarkable, but they also come with implanted memories of a second life. Things get bad when he begins having visions of a sinister alternate identity things, and get worse when an even more intense group of supervillains named Nightmare Scenario force him to work for them under threatening pretenses.
Suicide Risk is a complex story but not complicated. Carey eases the reader into the story through a relatable protagonist, and keeps us engaged by presenting us with huge reveals and a narrative that pushes forward, and sometimes obliterates, expectations. Every page of this comic is an unknown; there is really no handbook on how this story will play out for Leo, his family, and the weird world of superheroes they live in.
A big part of this book's accessibility is the art of Casagrande and her sharp, clean-cut pencils. Much like Carey's use of the main character Casagrande carries a neutrality to her work that really makes it easy to jump into some of the bigger concepts and twists offered by the script. Issue #9 returns the book to is revenge story roots, and brings with it a lot of big action, but also excels in its calmer moments, like Leo's call to his worried wife, or Sockpuppet's tragic fall. Her art works extremely well within the genre it operates in, and she could easily draw any mainstream book and no one would question a thing.
This title exists in a realm between boilerplate superhero comics and some of the more avant-garde stuff that you have to special order at your LCS. It's a joy to read as I have no flippin' clue what to expect issue to issue, a rarity in the age of advanced solicits. While much of the allure ties into the huge overarching mystery about Leo and his spare identify of Requiem there is still plenty of legwork done in the mean to make this a fun, fresh and dramatic series.
- Jamil Scalese
Black Widow #1
(Nathan Edmondson / Phil Noto; Marvel)
The Widow is in a way a tragic character. She often gets paired with both Captain America and Wolverine, because of certain qualities they all share I think: longevity, resilience, precision and (when called for) ruthlessness. Cap's comes because he's a soldier, long used to hard choices. Wolverine's comes from living with his heightened senses and animal nature. The Widow's comes because she's a spy.
But as Wolverine is a relic of the 19th century, and Cap is a relic of WW II. The Widow is a relic, too, of the Cold War. She was a great character from when she began picking on Iron Man; but she really became indelible when John Romita updated her look to one of timeless black leather. Even the Frank Miller version from her second liaison with Daredevil was just a variation, and she soon returned to the iconic Emma Peel look.
Thanks to the Super Soldier Serum (or variations thereof) she's very hard to kill. And she's been deployed as a killer many times, so much so that now, in her heroic phase, "she uses her unique skill set to atone for her past." This is the tack DeConnick was taking in Avengers Assemble, and it's the way Edmonson begins as well. So this debut isn't really about her enemies (who are for the most part well beneath that skill set); it's about that struggle for atonement, the moral cost of being who she was, and who she remains. How do you make up for being a government murderer?
It's lead to a pretty lonely life. She can't even promise bonding with a cat by the end of the story. This makes for a pretty good showcase for her skills, and is different than previous mini-series goals of clearing her name, fighting misogyny or avoiding assassins. She's too distinct a character to suffer the fate of Black Widow II, Yelena Belova, who has become quite literally a monster and shape-changer.
Natasha would never let that happen to her. But what happens when she meets a foe who can match her skill, or gets caught in a trap she can't escape? This issue doesn't tell us. I'm looking for higher stakes on this title, and also more dramatic art. Noto's painted work is well-drafted and composed, but the red of her hair and even the black of her suit are muted. His pastel world has a sense of realism, but it doesn't really capture the excitement the character lives by, or make for excessively clear fight scenes. Natasha shouldn't live in a gray or brown world; she should be going to extremes.
- Shawn Hill
Revolutionary War: Alpha #1
(Andy Lanning / Alan Cowsill / Rich Elson / Antonio Fabela / VC's Clayton Cowles; Marvel Comics)
Comics and me had a falling out of sorts in the '90s. I abandoned the artform in the pursuit of the Holy Grail of every young man around the age of 16; partying and girls. Now, back in my day there were really no comic movies outside of the Tim Burton Batman franchise, comics weren't particularly cool and being a geek wasn't as hip as it is now. As a result I decided I was too awesome for comics and unfortunately missed out on many cool things that I still haven't gotten around to even to this day. Luckily for me Marvel has tapped into that great source material that was Marvel UK and has brought Britain's greatest heroes into the fold of the current Marvel Universe.
Captain Britain and Pete Wisdom are charged with recruiting and rejuvenating some of Britain's greatest heroes in order to deal with the return on the sinister Mys-Tech corporation who have devious machinations in the works as any great mustache twirling villain learns in Super Villain 101. S.H.I.E.L.D. has brought Brian Braddock into the fold as the threat of Mys-Tech has now become a global threat as opposed to just a Brit issue. However, our heroes find that things aren't always what they seem and Captain Britain ends the issue on the ropes at the hands of familiar face.
Outside of Captain Britain and Pete Wisdom I had no idea who these characters were and what they represented. Sure I've heard of Death's Head and even Saturnyne but I couldn't spot them out of a police line-up. Yet despite that very important fact I found myself greatly enjoying the premise of the Revolutionary War event regardless. Writers Andy Lanning and Alan Cowsill piqued my interest with the story that they drafted.
There were some very promising and humorous character moments in this premiere issue. Pete Wisdom can always be counted on for smugness and sarcastic bouts of humor and the writers had a very firm grasp on that aspect. They also did a wonderful portrayal of Captain Britain, the twin brother of the X-Men's Psylocke. But, it was the character of Colonel Liger that they had me wanting to learn more about--thank you Wikipedia! Rich Elson's artwork conveyed the dramatics on the page quite nicely. His linework was strong and detailed and the coloring by Antonio Fabela accentuated that exquisitely. There were some truly beautiful scenes within this book where artist and colorist really shined artistically.
Revolutionary War has all the foundations in place for an engaging and compelling storyline. My biggest concern is that the series will be handed off from one creative team to the next and anything promising with its debut will be lost when the next creative team takes a whack at it. Hopefully that won't be the case.
Archer and Armstrong #17
(Fred Van Lente / Khari Evans; Valiant)
Last week Valiant blew me away. Their homerun buddy-comedy Quantum and Woody hit all the right notes. This week I figured I’d push my luck and try out their other bro-centric book, the unfortunately titled Archer and Armstrong. Why don’t I like the title? It gives an over simplified impression. One look at the cover, with that big simple title and one automatically thinks they know what this book is about. “Look, there’s a skinny guy with a bow, he must be Archer. He’s nimble and fast and shoots arrows. The big guy must be Armstrong. He’s strong”. It seems too easy, too played out. It’s been done, right? That odd-couple dynamic barely scratches the surface of what this book is about. Leave assumptions at the door.
I jumped into this book at issue 17. Risky? Maybe, but Valiant has, hands down, the best recap pages in the business. By page 1 I was on top of things. I entered this story having missed 16 important, world building, plot intensive, character heavy issues and yet felt right at home. Bravo Valiant, you just gave “new reader friendly” a whole new meaning. I encourage—nay, implore you—if you’re interesting in trying out a Valiant book, you should. They accommodate.
Fred Van Lente has always been in my good books (and I always try to read his books, because they’re good) so the fact that he injects a killer storyline with great dialogue is no surprise. The premise here is best described in Valiant’s aforementioned recap page, but I’ll do my best. Archer was a special kid raised by an evil organized called The Sect. The Sect is out to kill Armstrong, who’s immortal and stole some special thing from them way back in the day. Archer decided to break from his programming and help Armstrong instead, so now he’s a good guy. Yay! The Sect has since splintered into various hilarious factions (Gnomes of Zurich? Ha!) so A&A are out to collect an artifact that could bring them all together under the banner of good. Said artifact is hidden in an underwater pyramid, with each of The Sect’s factions and Archer’s strange sister/lover all eyeing the same prize. From there we get a story filled to the brim with lots of action, surprises, comedy and unexpected shots of well-placed drama. As a first issue, it left a heck of an impression.
Khari Evans’ art was fantastic to match. Without being overly flashing, Evans’ certainly knows how to keep your eyes on the story. The figures are consistent and expressive, the layouts smart, the detail just right and the action never dull. Never too cartoony, never distractingly realistic, Evans’ work is perfectly suited to A&A—reliable, consistent and fun.
Well, I’m hooked…again. Thanks Valiant, but I’m not rich, you know. I can only buy so many monthlies, and you’re steadily eating into my lunch budget. You know those “for the price of a cup of coffee a day” life insurance commercials? Screw insurance and coffee—buy this book.
(For only $3.99 a month how can you say no?)
- Chris Wunderlich
Black Dynamite #1
(Brian Ash / Ron Wimberly / Sal Buscema /JM Ringuet; IDW)
I don’t know what to think about Black Dynamite #1, though I know what I feel: uncomfortable. I know, I know, with cover art featuring the main character Black Dynamite punching a great white shark, I shouldn’t probably be taking anything too seriously. And yet, well, here’s the premise: Black Dynamite is an homage/nod/parody/satire of blaxploitation movies of the '70s. Or else, it exploits and mocks blacks and black culture just like those original '70s movies did? Or both? Does it matter that some of the creative team is black?
The comic is based on the blaxploitation movie parody of the same name that came out in 2011 (presumably in the wake of the success of the last decade of Quentin Tarantino and Richard Rodriguez grindcore movies) which spawned one short-run comic series (Black Dynamite: Slave Island)(!), which in turn led to an animated series (!) on the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim timeslot.
In keeping with the look of the movie, which was filmed on old-school 16mm film (and in like, two weeks) the comic artwork looks exactly like the old ubiquitous '70s style, with a touch of yellow added to give an aged look, as you were reading a actual comic from that era.
The character Black Dynamite is a kung fu master, which was my original interest in him. He’s also Vietnam vet, and ex-CIA. And, he’s black, (therefore?) strong, virile (of course), confident, a ladies man (of course), non-monogamous (of course) and talks rhythmic, rhyming, 70s ‘jive’ (or what we (white readers?) think is jive) which is ridiculous, and therefore (?) funny. I think. I laughed out loud at points, but am I laughing with the character/story? Or at it? Does writer/producer of the franchise Brian Ash care?
So why do I feel uncomfortable? Because I can’t help feeling the main audience for Black Dynamite, in all his incarnations, is white people, and that black people, if and when they see him, are rolling their eyes, going, "Oh no, not again." Is this spoof glorifying what is spoofs? Am I thinking about this too much? , though fans of the movie and TV show (i.e. ironic white stoner hipster college kids?) might love it.
- John Yohe
Conan the Barbarian: Queen of the Black Coast #24
(Brian Wood / Riccardo Burchielli / Dave Stewart / Richard Starkings; Dark Horse Comics)
This is the penultimate issue of Brian Wood’s disappointing run on Conan the Barbarian: Queen of the Black Coast. With a nod to a few stellar issues here and there, I’ve never been a fan of this series. Wood’s experiment of breaking the story down into a series of 3-issues story arcs, each with a new artist, has left the storyline disjointed and inconstant. His grasp of the characters have been tenuous at best, and the series has suffered a drastic decline in interest and sales since the promising first issue.
With this last story arc, Wood finally gets back on track with Robert’s E. Howard’s original story. He surprised a lot of readers (myself included) by showing Bêlit's death last issue, leaving us to wonder what he was going to do with the final two issues. Previous adaptations of Queen of the Black Coast¸ like Roy Thomas’s excellent run at Marvel, ended with Bêlit's death and Conan’s revenge as the grand finale. I was interested to see what Wood would do with the remaining two issues.
No surprise here with issue #24—this is Conan’s revenge time. But even then, Wood doesn’t deliver what is expected, which is not a good thing. I don’t want to give away any spoilers here, but Bêlit's big moment is the most disappointing version of this particular scene that I have ever seen. It was pulled off better in the Schwarzenegger flick, and that wasn’t even Bêlit. This just feels … obligatory. Like Wood didn’t really want to put the scene in, but knew that he had to.
One of my big issues with Wood’s run is that he has never made me feel the love between Conan and Bêlit. He is the master of “Tell Don’t Show.” Wood’s little grey boxes are constantly stating that this grand love affair is happening, but you would never know it by actually reading the story. There is an emotional disconnect. And it is very apparent in this issue. Just look at the expression on Bêlit's face. That is about as blasé as you can get, and sums up the entire series.
She looks like how I feel about Queen of the Black Coast: “Can we just get this over with?”
Oh, and more spoilers here on a decades old story, but … when Conan gets his final revenge on the beast that slew his love, he pins him down to the ground and—steps on him. Yep. 24 issues of build up to the climax of Conan stomping the evil demon like some punk beating someone up outside of a 7-11. Which is all the more odd because the caption clearly says “…at the hand of the a swordsman from the north … “ but the picture is of a foot. Like I said, disjointed and inconstant.
The high point of this issue is Riccardo Burchielli’s art. His work is nice and visceral. In fact, he is one of my favorites for the entire run of Queen of the Black Coast. Burchielli plays with a dynamic, 3D perspective that has Conan’s arrows leaping off the page. His take on the hyenas is gruesome and horrific—what could easily have been the silliest monsters of the series comes off as a true threat. Their open mouths and slathering jaws remind me of Japanese Noh theater masks of the Hannya demon. I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but that particular shape of mouth and fang is unmistakable.
The King of Colors Dave Stewart proves again that he can do no wrong. Nice orange, Dave. Nice orange. That was pretty sweet.
I was actually surprised to see “To Be Concluded in the Next Issue” at the end of this comic. There is nowhere for the story to go. Belit is dead. The bat ape demon is dead. Belit’s body is on her boat, surrounded by her treasure, waiting for her Viking funeral. Roll credits. The only thing there is left to do in issue #25 is fire the boat and send it out to sea. I hope Wood doesn’t do some ridiculous Hollywood ending of the ape demon being “not really dead” and coming back for some final attack. Or some sappy album issue recapping the previous 24 issues. We’ll see next issue.
- Zack Davisson
AVENGERS A.I. #8.NOW
(Sam Humphries / Andre Lima Araujo; Marvel Comics)
Batman Superman #7
(Greg Pak / Brett Booth; DC Comics)
Green Lantern #27
(Robert Venditti / Dale Eaglesham / Billy Tan; DC Comics)