Singles Going Steady is Comics Bulletin's weekly single issue review roundup.
The Massive #16
(Word to your moms) in The Massive #15 writer Brian Wood came to drop bombs. Or not. In The Massive #16 Wood repeats the series conceit: what's the role of 'direct action' environmental-activists once the Earth has begun to collapse and survival and subsistence have become the rule of law? Who's left to fight and what's worth fighting for?
And then along came Mary.
When this series first shipped, magic realism was not on the manifest; The Massive #15 changed all that. Somewhere deep down in the code of The Massive, Wood wrote a hack, a Trojan. Mary. From here on out, (it seems) this series is heading in a different direction and towards a new destination. In a tense scene halfway through The Massive #16, Mag asks Cal the only (?) question that matters going forward: ''Where's Mary?'' Cal's initial response says it all: ''…''.
For what it's worth, the judges would have also accepted: 'what's Mary?' In a flashback — and perhaps as a self-fulfilling prophecy — Mary tells Cal, ''But in the end … not all of us will get what we want.''
In the meantime, a-whaling we go. Like the 'Subcontinental' story arc (#7 – #9), this arc, 'Longship,' looks to ply similar waters in regards to an emphasis on the group over individual interests.
Bors Bergsen is a broken man with good taste in single malt scotch. A former corporate bugbear and (pre-Crash) near the top of Cal's enemies list. Now, Bergsen stands bare-chested in the prow of a Viking longship, the Stúlka, and hunts Minke whales to keep a small community of northlanders alive. What's the harm? Do codes count? Do grudges stand? For Callum Israel, yes and yes. So he bangs the drum and points his ''970-ton military vessel'' at three wooden boats. The horror. The horror.
At this moment of madness, Bergsen radios Cal and asks to speak to Mary. Put another way, he begs Mary to intercede — make of that what you will — and put an end to Cal's Kurtz-ian craziness. Thanks to The Massive, artist Garry Brown has become a master at drawing world-weary desperation. The look he draws on Cal's face stands at the corner of impotence and idiot resolve. And so, Cal pushes on. As for Mary? Miss Mary—she gone.
Sixteen issues in The Massive remains a pillar in this golden-age of creator-owned comics.
– Keith Silva
Wolverine & The X-Men #37
– Robert Tacopina
(Geoff Johns / Paul Pelletier / Sean Parsons / Rod Reis; DC Comics)
The King of Atlantis hasn't been himself lately. Comatose after a horrible battle and now hiding out in Antarctica with one of his most trusted advisors, Arthur Curry has lost a bit of his grounding in life. He couldn't be more susceptible to the comment by his aide Vulko that "Being King of Atlantis is not your birthright" – and as we find out in this (mostly) flashback story, that fact is absolutely true. As we follow Aquaman's experiences with a magic flashback machine, we see what (or who) caused the Fall of Atlantis, as we experience the grandeur of the city and feel its titanic, Roman-style turmoil.
With Johns leaving Aquaman after the next issue, this seemed like a good place to check in on the King of the Seven Seas. In doing so, I ran into something I don't think I've ever seen in comics before. Readers, please check my logic, but has it ever happened that the current writer of a title reboots the series before he leaves it?
In my experience that's always been the job of the guy taking over a comic series – including people like Peter David, Will Pfeiffer, Rick Veitch and even Johns himself on Aquaman- to take a comic series in their own specific direction. (I still think Sub Diego was an underrated idea!) But all the talk in the postmortem interviews I've read indicate that Johns has his sights set higher than just having Aquaman's own title do well – Johns is using his role as DC Creative Director to use this supporting cast and villains to drive future DC events.
As such, then, it's hard to judge this single issue as opposed to its larger importance in the DCU. There's a very clear feeling that things are changing and revelations happening that will Change Aquaman's World Forever, but does that make a decent standalone story?
The answer is that, more or less, it does. Pelletier does a beautiful job of displaying the splendor of Atlantis and all the stuff of the classical city. The armor shines in ancient Atlantis, the city gleams, passions are bold and arousing; in short, the ancient city looks like it rose directly out of mythology and onto the comics page. Pelletier's storytelling has a state-of-the-art feel to it as he creates a two-page spread designed like shards of glass and has a clever, three-dimensional feel to it.
John's story is a bit plothammery, a bit too laden with facts and loose with emotions, but we're talking about the damn fall of Atlantis here. That's no time for emotions other than "holy crap, this is a thing that's happening!"
Soon Aquaman will be different once again, following a long tradition of reboots for the Scourge of the Seven Seas. How appropriate that Johns is honoring the character's past by delving into previously unknown corners of his past.
– Jason Sacks
Zombie War #1
Subtlety is not part of the Zombie War experience, which is brought to you from the year 1991, muddily re-coloured for the occasion by Ronda Pattison. Touch-up or no touch-up, with its rugged linework, cluttered layouts, scatter-gun transitions and cruddy lettering, Zombie War is ugly through and through. But it's fun ugly, kinetic '90s underground ugly, befitting a doomsday scenario where the resurrected dead are on a rampage, ripping off civilian heads and blasting chunks out of gung ho soldiers, spurred on by an undead generalissimo in a red-crested Roman helmet.
Beneath the ugliness lies a rich layer of 90's throwbacks; New York is once more full of sex shops and strip shows, characters relate in action-movie speak (all "Rip those slimeballs to shreds!" and "I want some fast answers… freak!"), TV screen talking heads relate the zombie horde's inexorable progress (detailed over a total of 9 splash pages), and there's even a Verhoeven-esque topless moment for our heroine fighter pilot (kick-ass female protagonist: check), empowerment and titillation working the same pole. Piled atop one another in a hail of carnage-packed panels, these tropes are faculty-softening, and perhaps that's why the mid-point reversal hit me so hard.
After some flawless inductive reasoning (UFO spotted, dead rose from their graves to slaughter, therefore UFO raised the dead to slaughter) our heroine shoots down said UFO, whereupon the alien pilot reveals that an Earth-sent space probe detonated in its home-world atmosphere, killing its entire species, and so it embarked on a mission of revenge to raise Earth's unstoppable dead. So far, so Ultimate Power (Marvel's 2006 crossover event). Eastman's switch-up, the reversal I mentioned, is empathy. In this case, an eye for an eye will leave two worlds barren, so our warriors move from "You started it!" to "We will stop them!", laying down their arms not out of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" cynicism, but shared loss. Despite the
horrors they've inflicted upon their respective worlds, these characters have not lost their humanity. Question is, will they lose their lives trying to save the only world left to them?
Rather than sleepwalk into nihilistic revenging, Zombie War seems to suggest that redemption is ours to seize, and in doing so shows less concern with craft, and more heart, than any other comic on the racks. Maybe we could learn a few things from the '90s.
– Taylor Lilley
Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #28
(Brian Michael Bendis / Dave Marquez / Justin Ponsor / Cory Petit; Marvel)
You may haven’t realized it – I certainly didn't, because I stopped paying attention to this line of comics a long time ago – but the Ultimate Comics universe is about to end. This issue was the final one featuring Miles Morales as Spider-Man – at least for the foreseeable future.
I know, right. I was interested in Miles as Spidey too, until I started paying attention to other comics and completely forgot about this other alternate universe version of Spider-Man. Apparently the book has continued to sell pretty well (The Beat listed it as the 60th most popular comic in August, with sales of 32,932) and it's easy to see why: this is a just plain good super-hero story, with action, revelations and characterization aplenty.
In this issue, Miles teams up with Ultimate Cloak and Dagger, Spider-Woman and Bombshell to take down Roxxon Corporation, which has been experimenting on people – though the head of Roxxon argues that he's innocent of the charges against him and has deep secrets about how this group of heroic teens gained their powers.
That leads to a beautifully choreographed scene where Miles hangs the head of Roxxon off the side of a building by the boss's feet, webbed up in a tight little basket. We get three pages of what essentially is a one-act play – something that has been tiresome from Bendis in other comics but which actually works here, and works cleverly, with its own share of twists just in the words the man says.
So much of the success of this comic comes from the smart panel arrangements and design of this book, wonderfully rendered by Dave Marquez. Marquez is really good at staging his scenes for maximum benefit and at drawing his characters with a wonderful mix of loose linework and very specific design. There's always a sense of characters in space, in the heft and mass of his characters actually walking the earth, which is, of course, a key goal of the Ultimate Universe in the first place.
If this was the last time we'll see Miles in a comic of this type, I'm really glad I checked it out. This was as solid a comic as Marvel produces, a really impressive full meal of a comic book from Bendis and Marquez.
– Jason Sacks
The Occultist #2
(Mike Richardson / Tim Seeley / Mike Norton; Dark Horse)
Magic is boundless, and that's why I kind of hate it.
Whenever something mystical shows up in a story I'm instantly skeptical. By its very definition magic is something without rules. Particularly, it seems that in comics magic is used mainly a means to an otherwise unachievable end. Like giving your hero the key or tool he or she needs to complete the task, or wholly erasing a decades-long marriage.
The Occultist is a miniseries continuing a comic first published in 2011. It centers on Rob Bailey, a college student with powerful abilities granted to him by a magic book called The Sword. The world around Rob has a vaguely superhero atmosphere, with the novice Bailey teaming up with a detective named Melendez to deal with supernatural disturbances around New England. The first issue of this mini focuses on Bailey's crush on his partner and whether or not it's reciprocated.
As is the path of a teen the Occultist finds minor heartbreak when he uses his powers to discover that the Detective only sees him as a "friend". Like most teenagers bounces back quickly when he's discovered by a group of magic-users who use their powers for fun instead of function.
They call themselves "Providences", a trio of private school kids who recruit Rob into their group as a conduit to achieve feats like journeying to Neptune or Purgatory. It's their inclusion that makes the second issue of The Occultist a good read. The Providences open Rob's mind to the range of magic and thus open the possibilities of the story. The creative team of Seeley and Norton, collaborators on the horror series Revival, use magic as a platform for the story instead of a tool to drag the reader through it. Things get semi-cosmic in The Occultist #2, but still we're reminded the main character is a just a youngin', and something like spirit-form sex might take credence over saving the world.
A young adult dealing with superpowers is nowhere near novel but it continues to excite and intrigue readers. Rob Bailey fits the mold: good-meaning guy hindered by hormones. This series is very easy to jump into, and I actually appreciate that I got to forgo the whole introductory phase. The weirder the story and art get, the more potential this has to be memorable, but for now it's just a good comic that doesn't have many flaws.
Sex Criminals #2
(Matt Fraction / Chip Zdarsky; Image Comics)
(Mark Waid / Chris Samnee / Javier Rodriguez)
The Fox #1
(Mark Waid / Dean Haspiel; Red Circle Comics)