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Singles Going Steady 1/28/2014: Cute Swords and Fabulous Fatales

A comic review article by: Guy Copes III, Zack Davisson, Daniel Elkin, Shawn Hill, Bill Janzen, John Yohe

Singles Going Steady

Singles Going Steady is Comics Bulletin's weekly single issue review roundup. 

Superior Spider-Man Team-Up #9

(Kevin Shinick / Marco Checchetto; Marvel Comics)
4.5 stars
 
For some time now I've found myself enjoying the companion Spider-Man comic more than the main title. Even before Superior Spider-Man Team-Up was excelling past Superior Spider-Man to me I had been finding Avenging Spider-Man better than Amazing Spider-Man. That trend continues with this issue, dramatically written by Kevin Shinick and excitingly drawn by Marco Checchetto. 
Superior Spider-Man Team-Up #9
This issue the Superior Spider-Man's plans continue to fall down around him and we get some twists as we also get to enjoy a couple of big name guest stars. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy Dan Slott's work and clearly many people are loving his writing on the main title but there's still something winning me over on this side title consistently. Maybe it has to do with there being more character building when there's no overall plot for the writer to focus on. Definitely it has to do with my dislike of Humberto Ramos' artwork. But this particular issue is a clear home run no matter how you look at it. 
 
First off is Checchetto's gorgeous artwork. I first saw his work on the Punisher and he leapt quickly to near the top of my list of favourite artists. He does a great job of giving both grace and fierceness to Spidey's movements. On one page he soars in a backflip avoiding gunshots and on the next he's leaping off the page with clawed fingers reaching for you as his prey. There's also a grittiness to the tone and even content. Checchetto draws the Punisher's violence straightforward but just slightly subdued so as not to make it off-putting to look at. 
 
The only art complaint I have about the whole comic is actually with the fact that they chose to use a different artist for the cover. Again, Paulo Rivera no doubt has a following of his own but I'm not one of them and with the consistently high caliber of Checchettos's art he doesn't need a pinch hitter. I leave it to you to judge between the cover image above and this promo image of Checchetto's own art regarding which one is better. 
 
Superior Spider-Man Team-Up #9
 
Shinick's writing is just as enjoyable as the art. The interactions between Spider-Man, Punisher and Daredevil have always been some of the best and despite this not being Peter Parker Spider-Man it's still just as good. While I'm happy to know that Peter is finally coming back soon even I have to admit that this Spider-Ock has been plenty entertaining in his own way. His reactions to Daredevil's suspicions and the Punisher's outright attacks are part of what makes the issue. 
 
And while by necessity the biggest plot points will take place in Superior Spider-Man I didn't feel like I was missing a thing here. Aside from the interactions amongst the heroes the twists that take place make the issue go by too quickly. 
 
- Bill Janzen

George Romero's Empire of the Dead: Act One #1

(George Romero / Alex Maleev / Matt Hollingsworth / Cory Petit; Marvel Comics)
2.5 stars
 
Beware of Ketchup-Head.
 
Vampires and Zombies. That’s what one of the best artists in comics today and the master of the Zombie movie genre deliver in this new book from Marvel. There is a nice tie-in to the original Night of the Living Dead film, and an intriguing twist with the still sentient living dead S.W.A.T. member, Xavier, and a red eyepatch-wearing vampire sporting a red cape with a thirst for the blood of pretty girls. And who doesn’t love a good zombie gladiatorial brawl? George A. Romero (Everything of the Dead) sprinkles some hokey cheese throughout Empire that is related to the underlying theme of taming zombie aggression. To accentuate the argument of auto remembered behavior vs. true intelligence in the zombies, we have scenes of a “stinker” (as they are sometimes called in the comic) hanging laundry, and two of the dead playing chess in a park.
 
While interesting, the presentation came across a bit forced and corny. That aside, Alex Maleev’s (Spider-Woman) art in this issue is flat out fantastic. The book is at times moody, dark and somber. Certain scenes, through the use of heavy blacks and muted tones, really highlight the terrifyingly claustrophobic feel of the dead city of New York. It is a beautiful book to look at in a similar fashion to Snyder and Murphy’s The Wake.
 
As for the overall story and Romero’s writing, the pacing is good and the dialogue comes off as natural. The Padre’s problem with the comic, then, is that this story feels like an offshoot of some of his recent of the Dead films, complete with cardboard characters and predictable plot. It isn’t a bad comic by any stretch; it’s just a mostly boring one until its undeadly last quarter.

- Guy Copes III


Furious #1

(Bryan J. L. Glass / Victor Santos; Dark Horse)

3.5 stars

 

I'm not sure how much Bryan J.L. Glass knows about Fame from the inside, but from the outside he's sure squinting at the toll it takes on those it cages – “You either feed the beast or it consumes you.

Furious #1

Furious #1 is a comic book about super-heroes stepping out of comic books into the real world and the chaos that step brings about. It's also about the price of fame, both for those who court it and for those who have it court them. It's also about the media, about expectations, and about violence. It seems to want to take on just about everything at once and, because of this, teeters on taking on too much. There is a freneticism to the pacing of this first issue that made me sprint as I read. When I get shoved along like this, I tend to miss a lot of what is going on. I also get tired.

And I've been in this race before. I couldn't help comparing Furious to the Luna Brothers' Ultra, as well as to Bendis' Powers, both of which did a great job with the whole price of fame for the super-hero thing. I'm not sure if Glass is going to add anything new to this trope, other than taking on this issue a bit more directly than these other series. And this is a good thing because...?

Furious #1

This is just a first issue, though – so I'll take the proverbial wait and see on this one.

Speaking of seeing, artist Victor Santos does his best to keep stride with the pace Glass is setting. Since he's given little time to build a mood in this issue, Santos goes large in places where going small might have been the better artistic choice. Still he holds the thing together without it veering off the track too much.

But it is kind of exhausting and I'm tired. I'm even tired of this whole "sprint" metaphor. Now I'm even hungry.

Furious #1

Like I said, Furious wants to take the big thematic bite. I'm just worried that it will start choking as it tries to digest it, having chewed far too quickly before swallowing. And yet a big theme can make the dinner party if served just right. Glass and Santos know how to craft comics, their work on Mice Templar proves that without a doubt. But even the best chefs sometimes over-salt a new recipe before they get it right.

Hopefully issue two of Furious will be more about relaxing and eating a good meal. I have no idea what I am even talking about anymore.

- Daniel Elkin


Li'l Sonja One-Shot

(Jim Zub / Joel Carrol / Andrew Elder; Dynamite)

5 stars

Li'l Sonja is part of Dynamite's Li'l Dynamites collection featuring five one-shot comics for all ages (meaning, really, for younger folks new to comics) based on five of their regular series, like Red Sonja.

Li'l Sonja

The character Li'l Sonja is cute, and fun, and feisty, and at the same time, like her older model, strong, independent, and smart. The setting is a fairy tale version of Sonja's world, though never called Hyboria, and Sonja still carries a (short) sword and wears armor, though not a scale mail bikini. The story involves her arriving at a small village that has just suffered some robberies and kidnappings of children, and the thing all the missing things and children have in common is the color red! Who better then to solve this mystery and rescue the missing children?

The artwork is great (can I use the word cute again?) and appropriate, looking of course a lot like a cartoon TV show, with Sonja actually a little bit more squat than even other children. The coloring is mostly soft-bright, even the night scenes, and decidedly unscary. And parents, fear not, there's only a minimal amount of fighting, which really only involves Li'l Sonja poking her sword at a dragon. The mystery-solving and rescue instead involve Sonja using her brain.

Li'l Sonja

This one-shot issue also includes a two-page “activity sheet”-slash-board game at the centerfold that can be played easily with a six-side dice and some markers. It's also just fun, and funny, to read.

The tie-in with the whole Li'l Dynamites project with NBC Universal Television Consumer Products makes me wonder if there might be a Li'l Sonja kids show in the works, though I haven't found any confirmation of this. One can always hope. And/or an ongoing children's comic?

Li'l Sonja

Li'l Sonja makes a great gift for kids of reading age and up, though it's a fun read for adults, especially if you're familiar with the adult Red Sonja. And you can always just say it's a gift when buying it at your local comics store.

- John Yohe


X-Men #9

(Brian Wood / Terry Dodson / Rachel Dodson; Marvel)

3.5 stars

Let's be honest, I'm here for one reason and one reason only: Amora, renegade Asgardian. Apparently she's been confined to Earth by Odin once again for her sins, and so she's picked up with a bad crowd: Lady Deathstrike (possessing some socialite), Typhoid Mary (here mostly for color commentary), and a sentient alien computer virus named Arkea.

X-Men #9

Everyone is so many deep levels of not who they appear to be you know you're immediately in a late era X-men book. Psylocke used to be English, Rachel used to be a Hound, Karima is apparently an Omega-level sentinel, Jubilee used not to be a mom, etc. Nearly everyone is psychic, including Monet, who adds strength, invulnerability and flight to her Kryptonian level power set. Which has never tempered her arrogance or overconfidence, as she throws herself at her foes and is unable to talk down Amora from subduing her with a stranglehold.

Yes, Asgardians are generally stronger than even Omega-mutant humans, and Wood knows his stuff (I don't know how he'd negotiate the ever interchangeable cast if he didn't), making sure she seems like a rather malevolent goddess among women. When Arkea starts possessing everyone in sight she does something that bypasses Odin's restrictions, leaving amoral Amora powered up and very pleased indeed. Thanks to the Dodsons' singular skill with statuesque blondes (and all other hair colors), she looks like she acts, a 1960s movie star who still trades on her expectation of worship.

John Sublime, who has apparently been sleeping with self-destructive Rachel, is connected to Arkea, but it's pretty weird when he's the sympathetic one (as he too is an anti-mutant virus masquerading as a man). This is just one chapter in the ongoing saga of the distaff X-team, and I can't say I'm on top of all the multi-layered plot threads or how Arkea manages to wake up a submerge cadre of Sentinels by issue's end. But it's the X-men: I don't have to understand it all. They just have to be badass, and look great as they're fighting the latest anti-mutant threat. Mission accomplished.

- Shawn Hill


Conan and the People of the Black Circle #4

(Fred Van Lente / Ariel Olivetti / Richard Starkings; Dark Horse Comics)

4 stars

This is the final issue of new Conan scribe Fred Van Lente's inaugural mini-series Conan and the People of the Black Circle. It's been an excellent—if short—introduction to what Van Lente has in store for us when he takes over the ongoing series.

Van Lente does everything right with Conan. He gets it. And his take on Conan is refreshing and unique. One of the things I have enjoyed so much about People of the Black Circle is the humor and fun injected into the series. This isn't the broody, melancholy Conan of Tim Truman's King Conan, of the winey brat of Brian Wood's Queen of the Black Coast. This is a return to "Days of High Adventure."

The final issue pits Conan against the Master of Yimsha, in a classic contest of sword vs sorcery, defining the genre that Howard created. People of the Black Circle is rare in that Conan gets a magical assist in the form of a golden girdle to balance the scales against the Master's magic. There are some great scenes here; Kerim Shah's heart getting ripped from his chest was brilliantly done. The battle up to the fortress of Yimsha was fantastic, and Van Lente ends the series on a classic high note.

Like every issue in this series, People #4 feels rushed. People of the Black Circle has far too much story to pack into four issues, and it is a shame to waste one of Howard's best. This could have easily been stretched out into a year of material for Van Lente, building on the intrigues and powers at play leading up to the final climatic battle with Master of Yimsha. As it is, the battle is wedged into a couple of pages to try and fit in everything else that happened this issue. I realize this was done in order to transition Van Lente to the ongoing series as soon as possible, but it is still disappointing. Howard doesn't have an infinite supply of Conan stories to adapt, so whenever one doesn't get the full treatment it is a little sad. Even while I am enjoying the story, I can't help but see the lost potential.

Ariel Olivetti's art is beautiful as always, if not a bit stiff and formal. There are some odd choices made, but I don't know if those come from Olivetti or Van Lente. I personally never pictured the Golden Vein as a sort of super fun slide that Conan and Kerim Shah would surf on like Disney's Tarzan. That was lame. But I love the complete world that Olivetti builds. The backgrounds are phenomenal, and his colors and tones go a long way to giving this series a light-hearted "adventure" feel. I like his deliberate color choices, like how purple = bad.

I'm looking forward to seeing Van Lente on the regular series, and seeing what he can do when he has the time to tell a fuller story. The rumor is we haven't seen the last of some of the characters here, and that the events of People of the Black Circle will have some repercussions in the ongoing. I hope that is true, as it would alleviate some of the feeling of this story getting less than its due by being crammed into a four-issue mini. But either way, People of the Black Circle has been a fun ride, and given me confidence in Van Lente as a Conan writer. 

- Zack Davisson


Dead Body Road #2

(Matteo Scalera / Justin Jordan; Image Comics)

4 stars

I’m guessing a lot of reviews will talk about how this is a great action movie in comic form. Let’s shoot that bag of bullshit down right now. This is a great action comic, period. The first page of Issue 2 picks up where we last left off, with main character Orson tidying up after the events that capped off that first chapter in this story of murder, theft, and revenge. From there we jump straight back into full-on action as we are introduced to Rachel, see her meet Orson, and witness two more bad guys who get introduced to a big old can of whupass. The violence is elegant here, with some of the best fight scenes this side of a Sam Peckinpah film.
 
Wait, I just did the movie thing.
 
Anyway, Matteo Scalera, the new hardest working man in comics, who is already killing it monthly on Black Science, turns in another stellar showing — going rougher, for the dirty desert setting.
 
Justin Jordan (The Legend of Luther Strode) continues to craft a fast paced story. His Dead Body Road is a page turner of a comic, a high adrenaline thrill-ride that starts slow, runs hot and ends high, wetting the appetite for more. Like a damn good comic book should, it leaves you breathlessly waiting for next month to hurry the hell up and get here already.
 
- Guy Copes III
 

Fatale #19

(Ed Brubaker / Sean Phillips / Elizabeth Breitweiser; Image Comics)

4 stars

Full disclosure: Ed Brubaker is one of my favorite comic book writers. Perhaps known more for his work with big characters for the Big Two, my favorites being Daredevil and Catwoman, his best work (although his run on Daredevil is pretty damn awesome) is his own creator-owned works, most of which he's done with artist Sean Phillips (who I'm starting to think is holed up in a cave, with Brubaker being his only contact with the outside world), my two favorites being Sleeper and Incognito.

Fatale #19

Brubaker tends to meld genres, specifically detective/noir with superhero, though with the Fatale series it's detective/noir with Lovecraftian horror. The femme fatale of the title is Josephine, a woman (cursed?) with a power over men that can be an inspiration, and/or an obsession. Her power comes from her involvement with some kind of demon cult, though Brubaker keeps the actual demons from appearing too much. The story's POV is from the men "Jo" meets through time, including mainly Nicolas Lash, though men's obsession with Jo, strangely, spans most of the twentieth century, and the series includes interweaving stories of these men. By issue #19 we're flashing back to the 90s grunge-rock Seattle, where she gets involved with a band that looks a lot like Nirvana.

Fatale #19

Phillips artwork and, importantly, Elizabeth Breitweiser's coloring, are great: dark, moody, gritty, with an old-school '50s comics style. But Brubaker's storytelling is epic, so if you're not in from issue one, or at least maybe from the beginning of this soon-to-be volume, issue #15, then it's hard to catch up, since he doesn't spend a lot of time on exposition. In fact, the series as a whole really shows the power of the graphic novel form, somewhere between reading a novel and watching a movie.

Fatale #19

Which is to say that Fatale #19 is not a good place to jump on board. It's the end of what will be Fatale Volume #4, though even then it leaves off with a huge cliffhanger. If you haven't already, I suggest going back and reading Fatale Volumes 1-3. You won't be disappointed. Four stars for the series as a whole, though.

- John Yohe

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