Singles Going Steady 3/25/2014: A Heroine SoarsA comic review article by: Justin Giampaoli, Shawn Hill, Corey Janzen, Travis Moody, Kevin Reilly, Jamil Scalese, Keith Silva
Also this week in new releases:
- 'The Witcher' #1: If Jedi were mercenaries mainly tasked with killing monsters
- 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season 10' #1 New Rules: Part One
Ms. Marvel #2
(G. Willow Wilson / Adrian Alphona; Marvel Comics)
I bounced around the internet singing Ms. Marvel's praises last month, and I'm glad to report that G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona have not let up. Opening issues are designed to impress you, to get you to pick up the rest of the issues as they come out. Usually, in sales charts and in quality, the book dips from there. Gladly, I'm here to report that the breakout book of 2014 continues to impress.
We pick up with Kalama Kahn right where we left her last month: having emerged from the Terragen Egg as an Inhuman who bears a striking resemblance to the familiar Ms. Marvel. I'm still not completely sold on the Inhuman thing, but if it's what gets the book out the door, then I'm all for it. Without spoiling anything, this is the 'Why Should I Do This' issue, in which Kamala learns that wearing a costume isn't all it takes to be a hero. It's genius. The script is still astonishingly funny and real, from the drunken teenage banter to the quotations from the Quaran. It also looks as sharp as it did last month.
A book like this, an origin story with a kid hero, makes me think of a similar book that launched around this time last year: Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuiness' Nova. Nova was fun enough, but its problems lied in relation. Sam Alexander fulfilled the wishes of his long lost father by going to space as a member of the Nova Corps, but I found it really difficult to connect with this. Granted, the situation's a little different-- Carol, after all, soars in the stars every month in Captain Marvel, while Richard Rider, everyone's favorite Nova, is still dead-- but immediately, within three pages of last month's issue, I understood and loved Kamala, problems and all. It took six months and six vaguely entertaining books to even tolerate Sam. It's an interesting contrast.
If you liked the first one, you already picked it up last Wednesday. If you haven't, what're you waiting for? Ms. Marvel is the book of the year, barring a surprise Spoiler launch from DC in which the pages give you butterfly kisses at every turn, and the cover is made of pure gold. Whether we're a group of fans that deserve Ms. Marvel is debatable. Let's just enjoy it while we can.
- Kevin Reilly
(Mark Waid / Chris Samnee / Javier Rodriguez; Marvel Comics)
Another character with fan recognition returns with a new number one issue and Daredevil, as always, takes aim at a particular kind of reader. Looking through the story I was reminded that Daredevil is a character that not only works in life and death scenarios that do not threaten the Earth but actually thrives without the epic scale common to the likes of the Avengers. This relaunch has our hero no longer in the city we've always known him in and starting off fresh in San Francisco. Mark Waid and Chris Samnee have the task of reacquainting us to the Man Without Fear, and their work pleased me in a number of ways.
The first thing that allowed me to sink into the tale was that stye was used without grasping at explosive spectacles that may have distracted from, rather than focused on, Daredevil's new life. First, we are introduced to Matt Murdock's investigative role and consultative relationship with the police. It is no small feat to remove a long loved and styled character like Daredevil from the streets of New York City. For the dark detective vibe credit goes to the use of shadow. A reliance on details about Murdock and how he is viewed by the detectives is doled out step by step as he recognizes unnoticed pieces of evidence about a kidnapped girl who is running out of time.
Having dropped us firmly into the setting and peaked our interest in the plot everything quickly switches gears. As Murdock charges out and becomes Daredevil the dim blue hues give way to a brighter array of colors. Again this seems to work well for the new venue of San Francisco but dynamically contrasts the change of role for our hero. It reveals his work out in the open in broad daylight as a recognized hero and highlights his abilities as he adapts to his new environment. Throughout his combat with the unidentified enemies Daredevil continues to deliver his much loved clue detection and puzzle solving.
I have to say that I was disappointed in the overall quality of the detail and finish of the visual outlines. It's one thing to harken back to classic comic styles of the past but in this decade I found the lack of development disappointing. It is adequate, however, and the overall presentation of both the story and its presentation do make me want to keep looking in to see where this story will lead. Final verdict: this first issue is fun and makes me want more.
- Corey Janzen
American Vampire Second Cycle #1
(Scott Snyder / Rafael Albuquerque / Dave McCaig; Vertigo)
While the nasty vampires are really nasty in Snyder's America, everything's on a relative scale from the barely more pleasant humans. It's not that morals are confused. It's that everything is usually so bad that even small acts of kindness, as unlikely as they are, turn the tide from unrelenting grimness, whenever they arrive.
This issue begins with an angry mob chasing a little girl through the fields. She seeks shelter at a farmhouse, but it looks pretty dicey. That is, until a beautiful woman with a rifle steps out, and warns the mob away. She's a homesteader protecting a family of children. How weird they all have to hide in the basement, but at least they seem to get along. It's only slowly that we realize that she, and all the children, like the newcomer, are vampires.
In a normal story, the angry mob would be in the right. The monster would be caught. And the vampire's horror would be revealed. But this vampire and her wards are all beautiful and possessed of social skills, and the townspeople seem like the rabid monsters.
The spear side of the story (since Pearl's world is so very distaff, with a home and children to protect) belongs to easy rider Skinner, and his hidey hole in an abandoned, buried train car is far less sweet. Rather than nurturing, he's hunting, and thus stumbles on a mystery more dangerous and maybe more evil than him. One that connects back to a Native American haunting from two centuries before. He destroys two truckers and their rig, but can't prevent a school bus of kids being carried aloft.
This is a whole lot to have going on in a first issue, even with a helpful "previously" section in the final pages. Albuquerque's expressive art is more about drama and smoke and teeth and claws than it is about narrative clarity (in a kind of Gene Colan way, speaking of vampire precedents). So you have to submit to the ride without knowing the destination at all. If you liked the seductive southwestern thrills of American Vampire before … they're back.
The cover is a nice, updated riff on the original #1, btw.
- Shawn Hill
(Chris Roberson / Paul Maybury; Image Comics)
With the wildly popular HBO series Game of Thrones set to make its chilling return on April 6, how could I NOT review this comic? Sovereign comes from the brain trust of Chris Roberson (iZombie) and Paul Maybury (Catalyst Comix), a story that meshes the medieval world of GOT with horror of The Walking Dead. So instead, you know, of taking out the undead with bows, swords and sticks… Well… isn’t that funny. Like many of the other #1′s GHG has been reviewing — Stuart Moore’s EGOs comes to mind in particular — Sovereign #1 is just a small piece of a much bigger world. There isn’t much reasoning for any of the comics’ situations initially (unless you want to read the lengthy backstory in the back of the comic); Maybury’s panels reflect a tricky mixture of blood-spilling reality and cartoon fantasy; and readers are thrown into the gut of the three disparate storylines. Excluding exposition doesn’t necessarily make this an excellent comic, but surely something full of intrigue. And I’m truly sorry, congregation; I know these reviews are starting to sound like a broken record. There’s been a handful of debut comics that have kicked ass right off the gate, and this just isn’t one of them. But, if magic, monarchy and monsters is your cup of tea, there’s no reason to stop sipping on Sovereign. You can bet I’ll be at the counter looking for my monthly fix.
- Travis Moody
(Charles Soule / Kim Jacinto / Israel Silva; Marvel)
In the span of one symbiote hunt all the energy Thunderbolts accumulated during the "No Mercy" arc stalled in disappointing fashion. Charles Soule's twelfth issue on the title suffers from problems that have plagued the series since his first installment.
Red Hulk's non-team stocked with premier B-listers stays together out of self-interest, which plays into their anti-hero personalities, but only goes so far as to explain why so many curmudgeons would choose to spend all this time with Deadpool. Soule has made attempts to nail down an identifiable tone and mission statement for this series but it's failed to stick.
There is too little at stake, as shown by the events of this issue. Flash Thompson, current Venom host, asks his teammates to battle him just to prove that they can corral the symbiote if need be. In a series where most of the participants are oft-used guest stars, we can be almost sure that the book's talent have little way in telling a grave story. That's why I enjoyed last issue so much, the exaggeration, the flippancy, the absurdity. Thunderbolts works better in the Wade Wilson mindset as opposed to Frank Castle's.
The one upside to this particular issue resides in the art effort which is likely the best the book has received to date. I praised Carlo Barberi for taking over the main duties and immediately giving the story legitimacy in the last trio of issues and Kim Jacinto follows up tremendously. Their styles are amazingly alike, but Jacinto excels in regard to the chilling and extreme. His depiction of Venom on the loose, and a neat little sequence with Ghost Rider (the Johnny Blaze version), are top-notch in every regard. In a setting where action is crucial for momentum he presents probably the best choreographed story yet. It's shame Marvel forgot to credit him on the cover. Tsk tsk.
With a new writing team on the horizon it's apparent that someone somewhere is trying to make this work. The pieces are there for a great story, but can anyone figure it out?
- Jamil Scalese
(Ales Kot / Vanessa Del Rey / Jordie Bellaire / Clayton Cowles / Tom Muller; Image)
Zero is like bringing a Kalashnikov to a fist fight. A serial mix of Tom Clancy doorstopper, PKD stone soup futurism and Malapartian shenanigans; a trans-genre espionage trip where writer Ales Kot showcases cartoonists -- rawboned Iggy Pop types in sweaty leathers, slathered in Crisco and ready to thrash, fight and fuck -- it's today's Global Frequency for tomorrow's iconoclasts, Prometheuses all. The artist in residence for Zero #6, Vanessa Del Rey, who's no stranger to high caliber firearms, the poetics of violence and horseflesh, sits in for a story of silent interludes and cosmological supercool-ness.
Kot brings a kind of febrile delirium of ideas and cuts Zero with historical surrealism and big bites of metaphysical navel-gazing: is consciousness personal or programming? Nature or nurture? And who makes who? These questions distinguish Zero in the super-spy genre and take it beyond the brooding Bond archetype. Edward Zero is, as his nemesis (the oddly named) Ginsberg Nova calls him ''an angel of death.'' Zero is a null, a void, nothing and everything; character as pure projection, a slippery fiction, Kot turns into a reality, the hero fit out for the narrative, whatever it may be -- elegant design.
If Kot serves as Zero's frontman (his real handler) it falls to colorist Jordie Bellaire to keep the beat. Yes, her work on the title provides consistency for whoever sits in on pencils and inks, but Bellaire ain't no coffetable, she serves no man (or woman), she's a storyteller plain and simple. Like some kind of color docent, Bellaire guides the reader through Zero #6. Cobalt blues equal exteriors and cool detachment from the main narrative. Pale and somewhat sickly greens stand in for kinky covetousness which leads to the bright whites that open at the close and whatever comes next. The intellectualism inherent in Zero comes from equal parts Kot's ideas and Bellaire's smart design.
Del Rey doesn't sling ink as much as she bathes the page in the stuff. Her impressionist's eye gives this story about an assassin and assassinations an unreal and ethereal veritas. She kills quick with sawtooth panels and shadowy compositions before Zero and Nova face off and the story becomes all sourness and light. Del Rey distills her talent into a single image, the horses. An image so enigmatic it haunts the narrative and on its own makes Zero #6 a leader for best single of 2014.
- Keith Silva
(Antony Johnston / Christopher Mitten; Oni Press)
One of my favorite single issues of all time is called “Eternity In An Hour,” and appeared in The Spectre #13, by JM DeMatteis & Ryan Sook. Wasteland #52 is similar in the way it marries Antony Johnston’s free-floating text with the stark lustrous imagery of Christopher Mitten. Wasteland #52 is many things. It’s the final interlude issue, which are cleverly designed one-shots that appear in between story arcs, typically flashbacks into different periods in The Big Wet Universe. This one flashes forward. There are many moments to latch onto as the team visits several characters and locales. My favorites include the information about Sultan Ameer (which calls back to Wasteland #25, another glorious interlude), or Ruby Stone Claw from the terrific Dog Tribes arc. Sharp readers will also pick up clues about things like the relationship between Newbegin and Wosh-Tun. It’s also the final journal entry from Ankya Ofsteen in the Walking The Dust backmatter. It’s alternately moving, satisfying, and heart-breaking. As this clears the deck for Chris Mitten’s return to the title he helped launch, it’s important to note that Johnston was delivering this type of canonical story-driven backmatter years before it came back en vogue. That said, we’re on the final stretch now, with just eight issues left in the run. It’ll be a little sad to see this series go, one which has been a constant presence in my life for the last eight years, but I’m also very much a fan of creators hitting a planned ending and completing the story they’re telling. The best works tend to have a finite beginning, middle, and end. It’s a little bittersweet, but thank Mother Sun and Father Moon that we now have The Fuse and Umbral in the rotation as some sort of goat-fucking consolation.
- Justin Giampaoli
Harley Quinn #4
(Amanda Conner / Jimmy Palmiotti / Stéphane Roux; DC Comics)
One of the most controversial books of last year—lest we forget that bathtub suicide thing—returned with its fifth issue last week. However, even five months in, it doesn't seem like Palmiotti, Grey and Conner have shucked the problems I've had with this book since day one.
Mainly, my issues come from the people who think that this book is funny. Writing for his site, Comic Vine, Tony Guerrero said that "Sometimes you just want a comic you can read and enjoy. Too many comics these days can be grim or so immersed in a quagmire of continuity issues, it's refreshing to be able to read a comic and simply be entertained." I love Tony and Comic Vine, but I find that claim difficult to believe. The way Tony speaks of Harley Quinn is not dissimilar to the way people talk about books like Hawkeye. But the difference, I think, is in tone. Harley Quinn #4 is a mean book. Its humor is derived from the misfortune of others.
But let's look at it specifically—it wouldn't be fair not to. First, the cover features Harley in, more or less, a Hooter's uniform, fighting off the son of a tied-up family. To the right, the caption: "Dis-FUNK-tional family!" speaks for itself. Inside, we're treated to several exploitative close-ups as Harley puts on her 'human' makeup and faces the real world. Then, Harleen Quinzel screws with this family who doesn't deserve what's coming to them, and before you can say 'I've made a mistake', the book's over.
I don't read the book every month, but picking up an issue like this makes me feel like the last sane man on Earth, like I'm in a Twilight Zone episode or something. Granted, a Harley Quinn comic book isn't going to be the most groundbreaking thing in the world. Nor do I expect it to be. Hell, Palimotti and Conner are the same people who had Power Girl urge a guest to 'stop messing with her (snow)globes', so I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting.
I've been careful not to mention the art because it's the single redeeming quality of the book. The embarrassingly poor opening page is laid out expertly, with Harley's face under seven well-placed panels telling the scene. Stéphane Roux will be a star. I guarantee it. With a pile of shit, he has created the David. Bravo.
Maybe I'm just bitter because DC will never look at my Plastic Man pitch. Who knows? Either way, this character does not deserve this book.
, just for the art. Seriously.
- Kevin Reilly
Animal Man #29
Jeff Lemire / Travel Foreman; DC Comics)
This is the end. One of the most consistently great comics coming out of the New 52 is now finished. And, much like the great run of Grant Morrison, there’s simply not going be a creative change or new storyline with Animal Man. No, what Jeff Lemire has done and accomplished deserves a tear, a smile, and a wink and that’s just what we get. If you’ve been missing on this near 2-and-a-half year storyline, well, shame on you. Second, don’t you realize that Buddy Baker is going to be the coolest superhero to grace the silver screen once that happens? Oh, right. This isn’t Marvel. At this pace, it may never happen (unless he’s forced into Man of Steel III, but that’s a podcast for another day). Back to my beloved series at hand, the final issue of A.M. may be a lil’ predictable in its format, and, slightly more unfortunate — but undeniably and terrifyingly cool — the most shocking instance will have to wait for explanation in Lemire’s next project, Justice League Unlimited. Still, Lemire and trusted artist Travel Foreman stay within the lanes of the series with infectious beauty, using Lil’ Wing as a vehicle to tell her daddy a bedtime story with Lemire’s dreamlike scribbles to boot. Although Animal Man – as a series TITLE — is finished for now, I’m just thankful this team made Buddy the Hollywood/household hero he always deserved to be.
- Travis Moody