Singles Going Steady is Comics Bulletin's weekly single issue review roundup.
Superior Spider-Man Team-Up #9
George Romero's Empire of the Dead: Act One #1
– Guy Copes III
(Bryan J. L. Glass / Victor Santos; Dark Horse)
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 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 re
ad. 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…?
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.
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)
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.
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.
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 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
(Brian Wood / Terry Dodson / Rachel Dodson; Marvel)
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.
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)
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)
(Ed Brubaker / Sean Phillips / Elizabeth Breitweiser; Image Comics)
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.
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.
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.
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