Singles Going Steady 4/1/2014: A Wild Ride and Much More

A comic review article by: Guy Copes III, Justin Giampaoli, Lance Paul, Kevin Reilly

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

All-New Ghost Rider #1

(Felipe Smith / Tradd Moore; Marvel Comics)

3.5 stars

If you told me even a week ago that I would enjoy a Ghost Rider book, I would call you a lunatic. Over the years, the Spirit of Vengeance has been through plenty of changes and attempts to make him more appealing-- all of which have failed. The case certainly wasn't helped when Nicholas Cage took the helm for two hilarious comedies. But this time, things are a bit different.

At least his headlights work.

 

Since the first Marvel NOW last year, these relaunched books seem to have their own identities. Young Avengers has a Tumblr-style recap page, Hawkeye is glib in its brief “Clint Barton is Hawkeye, that’s all you need to know” title page. Ghost Rider is no exception to this rule: the title page is decked out like a NASCAR program. The Avengers-esque 2-page splash spread is a speedometer. Even before you start the story, the book drips character, something which, I think, is vital in superhero comics.
 
The plot of the book-- this particular issue, anyway-- is pretty intense. Robbie Reyes is the latest Spirit of Vengeance, a springy, clever kid in the American Southwest. Trying to care for his little brother, who is in some way emotionally disturbed, Robbie pays his way at night, racing on the streets of his town. After a particularly exhilarating race… nah, I won’t ruin it. There's not much plot to go around in this issue of Ghost Rider, so to speak any more would be ruining it. Felipe Smith has crafted a great story.
And just wait 'til you see Nic Cage WITHOUT the skull.

 

Props, too, to Tradd Moore. I hadn't known Moore’s work until I saw his covers for Secret Avengers; super-stylized, colorful takes on characters we already know too well. He brings some of that style here in the relative unknown: the book is really slick. Some pages recall last week’s sublime Daredevil #1, with Moore zipping around and exhibiting speed in a way which rivals the recent, excellent Flash series’ smooth, beautiful lines, all while telling a classic superhero origin story.

If I have only one complaint, it's that this looks to be another first storyline in the tradition of Bendis' Ultimate Spider-Man, the three-to-six issue slow burn. No spoilers, but even though the Rider does not technically appear it would have been nice to see either a quicker origin or-- forgive the irony-- a minute to breathe. Overall, though, this is yet another pleasant surprise from Marvel Comics. 

- Kevin Reilly


Hacktivist #3

(Jackson Lanzing / Collin Kelly / Marcus To; Archaia)

4 stars

When I worked at Cisco for 11 years, my CEO John Chambers used to say that the internet is “the great equalizer,” in that access -> information -> communication -> influence -> control, and I've always been fascinated by these logic chains. I sometimes use the "Education = Knowledge = Power = Respect" loop when I conduct training classes. Anyway, you can see that first concussive logic chain present in the textual theory of Hacktivist. If you've been paying attention to what's been going on in places like Turkey, then you know that Hacktivist is one of the most relevant books currently available.

Hacktivist #3

There's a bit of role reversal here from writers Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly, because Nate is now stepping up to provide leadership for the company, out of the shadow of Ed, who many saw as the brains of the operation. Meanwhile, with Ed in the field in Tunisia, it puts him in a much more hands-on tactical role instead of the strategic cloud-pushing he was probably used to. There's some nice dramatic tension created by placing these guys in unfamiliar roles. As much as I loved the Silicon Valley bits in the preceding issue, the action on the streets of Tunisia was phenomenal here as well, as Ed encounters Sirine and Beya. There's an undercurrent of an idea here I like, that things like transformative companies (be it Apple, Cisco, or YourLife) or the heart of a movement are not really these big nebulous concepts, they're just comprised of individual people. The tech is still slick as hell, centered on the notion of complex pattern recognition, or a system of offline decentralized networks that tickles our futurist fancy.

Marcus To is killing it on art, quickly improving with each successive issue. There's a dynamic realism to his art, which is grounded enough to be believable, yet kinetic enough to capture the daring raids of what feels like a cinematic thriller. Deron Bennett deserves a special shout for lettering, particularly the way he composes the novel progression from English to Arabic to French in one key conversation, using some fresh linguistic cues. I've been championing this series down at the LCS as one of the best books of the year, and encouraging people not to dismiss it as a Hollywood vanity project just because Alyssa Milano's name is attached. Hacktivist is the real deal. With only one issue left, I'll be sad to see it end. But, here's hoping that Archaia will collect it in a swanky hardcover with their lush production values, and it'll experience multiple lives, first in the book market, and then for the horde at SDCC this year.

- Justin Giampaoli


Real Heroes #1

(Bryan Hitch; Image Comics)

4 stars

Roll call. Cue the exclamation points. Olympian! Tiny Titan! The Patriot! Longbow! Velocity! Hardware! Avengers Assemble! What? Oh… Real Heroes is the latest creator-owned comic project of Bryan Hitch (Fantastic Four). Right there, you get an idea of what this book is in a nutshell. Imagine the Ultimates as a book about a bunch of actors playing the fictional Ultimates, who then really real for reals become the Ultimates. Part Galaxy Quest, minus the outright ridiculousness, but incorporating a bit of that film’s general theme into “What If the cast of the Avengers were granted their on-screen powers and really did have to save the world?”

Those comparisons are just surface elements though. The story itself is filled with some fun, realistic dialogue and entertaining characters that draw the reader into the world that Hitch is building. It begins with a recognizable, still painful tragedy as we see one of the main characters grow from that event into the man he is today: the actor who plays the beloved superhero icon Olympian in one of the biggest sequels of the year. I don’t want to spoil too much, as the issue really is a fun ride that should be enjoyed with every turn of the page.

Now, Solomon Grundy can fly!

Now, Solomon Grundy can fly!

For a new writer, Hitch handles things well, presenting us with a tight, focused story that is highlighted by witty interactions and some clever twists. I found the way he changed the tone and tenor of the dialogue — when we are supposedly watching scenes from a film to less cheesy real world (well as real as the speech of Hollyweird actors can get) talk — very well done. It really separated the “on-screen” happenings from the rest of the story.

The visuals, of course, are classic Hitch. Big, bold, summer blockbuster scenes. Even the interaction between characters have that right mix of Hollywood storyboard and Neal Adams bombast. All in all, this is a satisfying debut that throws out some pretty cool shocks and twists that will have you hooked.

Bring on the Academy.

Bring on issue #2.

- Guy Copes III


The Bunker #2

(Joshua Hale Fialkov / Joe Infurnari; Oni Press)

4 stars

The Bunker #2

Joshua Hale Fialkov and Joe Infurnari continue the deepening mystery of The Bunker. The central premise of discovering notes from your future self is such a pure and engaging idea. Do you trust your future self? Do you blindly follow what the notes indicate? What does this say about free will vs. fate? They’re meat-y thematic notions to chew on, and Infurnari’s sketchy raw art matches the high emotion and uncertainty of a story concerned with The Butterfly Effect. From singular events like a bomb in downtown San Francisco, to genetically manipulated foods and mass extinction, the world-build has the characters agonizing over every decision, and creating a taut drama for the audience.

Justin Giampaoli


Silver Surfer #1

(Dan Slott / Mike Allred / Laura Allred

3.5 stars

How long has it been since Silver Surfer had anything besides a mini series?

The first that comes to mind is his 90's run that was chock full of more emotional angst then a hipster's wet dream. "Oh my god I've killed numerous worlds full of people," cared no one ever. Now go cry onto Galactus's apron. Which is one reason writer Dan Slott (Superior Spider-Man) chucks out a ton of Surfer baggage into space with this All-New Silver Surfer.

And while Norrin Radd is both honored and feared throughout the cosmos, Slott does't let this weigh down our silvered Californian. This first issue is fun, taking place before the Point One issue that was released a couple of months ago, and spotlights the eventual meeting of Surf and his new traveling companion/likely love interest, Dawn Greenwood.

Hope he's not talking about that guy in "Pulp Fiction."

Hope he’s not talking about that guy in “Pulp Fiction.”

If you think about it, this series is a bizarre idea. Slott's wit has no doubt worked wonders with Webhead, but healming a known board-up his ass seemed like a stretch. But under this writer’s wing, this Surfer is looser and even has himself a few comical one-liners! Coupled with the acidic, Skittle explosion trips of artists Mike and Laura Allred (FF), Radd reflects the I-swear-I-don't-do-mushroom days of Roy Thomas' stint on Doctor Strange.

Overall, nothing about the All-New Silver Surfer is either too epic or daring, but that was certainly not the goal of this new take. Rather, it aims to be more of a zany build up to a cosmic explosion. By expanding and not being hampered down by the past, this new Silver Surfer run should make old fans and new fans very pleased. NOW, go catch the wave!

- Lance Paul


Umbral #5

(Antony Johnston / Christopher Mitten; Image Comics)

5 stars

Whoa, last week it was Wasteland and The Fuse, and this week it's Umbral. Anyway, I'll try not to bury the lede and say that this is the best issue to date.

There are many small moments you could probably call out to justify this, because Umbral has so much going on, the humor around the reappearance of Prince Arthir, the gorgeous way that panels sit on top of full bleed art pages, or the killer world-build from writer Antony Johnston, evidenced in the mutual distrust of the Azqari and the Yuilanguan, that's Shayim the "sand-swine" vs. Munty the "baby-eater." There's Chris Mitten's slick art flourishes, the guys always seem to be experimenting a bit with new ways to convey information (for example, I was blown away by the spellspeak symbolettering a couple issues back), such as the emotive "spikes" coming out of the heads of some characters, almost a manga affectation, to express surprise or recognition.

There's the colors of Jordan Boyd, which just seem to glow like candlelight at all the right times, to illuminate the pages with a sense of light cascading from one source across the page. It's really well done. But, all of that said, the piece de resistance that this issue showcases is the aesthetic nostalgia of the alt creation myth that fuels the world of Umbral.

It's almost like it's the "final" world-building issue and, from a structural standpoint, Johnston had to get it into the initial arc for inclusion in the first trade. Bathed in some desaturated colors, we finally meet Tenebros and Luxan, along with Umbrith, and of course, there must be jealousy, envy, and unnatural manipulation in a story that feels like equal parts Greek Tragedy, Norse Mythology, and Shakespearean Machinations. We see (get ready for it all, topical spoiler alert, I guess?) the rise of the Shadow Creatures, The Shadow War, an early sorcerer named Culin (looking like a Ruin Runner when we first meet him, yeah, about 7 of my readers will get that reference), The Peak sublimated into The Pit, the rise of a hero named Strakan, and the reason magic and religion were finally outlawed, one of the most intriguing premises of Umbral for me back when I heard Johnston speak of "the new book" in interviews long before it debuted.

Aside from the creative pedigree of Johnston and Mitten, that was the line that got me, magic happenings in a world that had outlawed magic and religion. There was something deliciously G.R.R. Martin about that, the return of a thing long thought relegated to history that signaled paradigm shift. We're just five issues in, and already the creative team has shown a fantastic willingness to offer something so rich and realized. Individual comics are sometimes treated as throwaway items by even the people who create them, but Johnston, Mitten, Boyd, and Mauer treat them as lost artifacts of some depth, as a tactile objet d'art which can be pored over, line, verse, and panel, inviting the audience to linger for the enveloping experience.

- Justin Giampaoli


Uncanny Avengers #18.NOW

(Rick Remender / Daniel Acuña; Marvel Comics)

4 stars

Brought to us by Rick Remender and Daniel Acuña, this ALL-NEW .NOW storyline weaves its way through a set-up familiar to X-Men and Avengers fans. The remnants of the team, the Wasp and husband Havok, find themselves in a world gone wrong thanks to time travel and the destruction of the Earth. It is a nonstop thrillride as they race to complete a mission they failed once already in the past. Acuña’s art leaps off the page, as his use of movement and color is simply breathtaking — as if a painting came to life. The story is also Remender at his best: Desperate heroes up against the worst of odds. Those shades of other stories might turn you off, but here a good goddamn fun story trumps those feelings of same-old-same-old. Oooh, and that final page… One note of caution: While it is the start of a new storyline, I’m hesitant to outright label it a great jumping-on point for new readers since it’s more akin to jumping into the second quarter of a really great game. (So, catch up on what happened in the first when the commercials hit; you may want to track down a few back issues to get a firmer grasp on what is going down despite the giant faux #1 slapped on the cover.) If you have been missing Remdawg’s Uncanny X-Force book and haven’t checked out this book yet, well, what the hell’s wrong witcha? Get on it congregation.

In this reality, the Marshmallow Man has been replaced by Mustard.

In this reality, the Marshmallow Man has been replaced by Mustard.

- Guy Copes III


 

The Wake #7

(Scott Snyder / Sean Murphy; DC Comics/Vertigo)

3.5 stars

Sean Murphy delivers an absolute visual feast in this issue, with converted cruise ships and rigged Sanford & Sons zeppelins. While it’s true that most of the issue is dedicated to an action sequence and feels like merely a slice of the larger whole, there’s a fairly important revelation that toward the end that could shake up the internal mythology something fierce. I still maintain that WB will be crazy for not exercising their built-in option on Vertigo properties and milking The Wake; Scott Snyder has delivered a cool world-build surrounding an alt future America, which has the right level of pop for an adaptation to film.

- Justin Giampaoli


Star Slammers: Remastered #1

(Walter Simonson; IDW)

4.5 stars

StarSlamBlackout

This is a classic remastering of Walt (Thor, Orion, Ragnarok) Simonson's creator owned series originally published by Marvel’s Epic imprint and later via another series from Malibu/Bravura. Available now, monthly for old and new readers alike, this issue is a sci-fi gem that serves as an appetizer of even greater things to come. It is written and drawn by the master, with new colors by Len O’Grady. Wonderfully detailed in that distinctive Simonson way, the artwork simply leaps off the page. Fantastic art? Check. Cool story from beginning to end? Check. Remastering done right (complementing the original art, not stepping all over it)? Chiggidy-Check. This is a must-have read for all comic fans who love a little rough edge sci-fi fantasy.

- Guy Copes III


New Avengers #16.NOW

Jonathan Hickman / Rags Morales; Marvel Comics)

2.5 stars

Described as an All-New Marvel NOW #1 issue for new fans to hop aboard Jonathan Hickman’s globes-trotting parallel universe Illuminati-ride, N.A. #16 had your favorite Marvel Apostle even more lost than usual. Like Hickman’s Avengers, this is an awful jumping-on point for new readers. It’s like jumping into Lost mid-season three, and expecting to fully grasp whats going on with the polar bears. Not possible. Hell, I’ve been lost for the past 6 months. Between Incursions, Mapmakers, Black Priests, and Ivory Kings — not to mention multi-dimensional travel and worlds… You catch my drift. All was not lost with the art however, as this ish also marks the entry of the very talented Rags Morales (Action Comics). For his first issue at the House of Stan, the former DCU stalwart gets to take a spin with a multi-dimensional version of the Squadron Supreme. That alone may be worth the price of admission.

Look who's coming to dinner.

Look who’s coming to dinner.

- Lance Paul


Iron Patriot #1

(Ales Kot / Garry Brown; Marvel Comics)

3 stars

Iron Patriot is a family affair starring the title character, James Rhodes, his Dad and niece. New name, new look, new mission. It all works relatively well, if a bit pedestrian. A nice framing sequence sets up one of the mysteries to come, which so also happens to be some of the most straightforward writing of Ales (Zero) Kot's career to date; there is more of a mainstream approach at work here compared to some of his more experimental indie work. The family interaction feels natural and works to help build up care currency in the characters. Kot lays out a great dynamic between Rhodey and his Dad that brings an understanding of just how he became the man he is today. Garry (The Massive) Brown's artwork is nicely detailed without being over-rendered. Panel to panel he tells a good story that never takes you out of the narrative being laid out via Kot’s script. Overall, while Iron Patriot #1 does have moments where the story almost seems too quiet, there is some solid character development here that leads into the final action scenes and another mystery.

- Guy Copes III

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