Singles Going Steady is Comics Bulletin's weekly single issue review roundup.
Swamp Thing #21
(Charles Soule, Jesus Saiz, Matthew Wilson; DC)
The previous two issues had Swampy out of his element with pretty decent guest stars like Scarecrow and Superman; now there's a new delving deep into Swamp Thing mythology, but without any sign of Arcane, at least so far. We do get a pale-haired heroine, but her name is Capucine and she's some sort of immortal mix of Joan of Arc and a Highlander. She needs help from the Green's champion, whom Alec has decided he is again.
Jock's cover gives a strangely classic take on the concept (of monster and pretty girl), but it's Jesus Saiz on the inside, and he learned all he needed to know about fierce women warriors on Manhunter. The time travel bit (to the Middle Ages for a healthy dose of witch burning) is effortless, and Soule captures perfectly the concept of how Swampy's power works.
Saiz also does a bang-up job with an earlier "Swamp Yeti" (as our hero is derisively called at one point) who dispatched his own army of anti-Inquisition plant people. Swampy's impressive, endlessly varied bodies grow and are discarded with mastery, and when he senses a new enemy of the Green, his struggle against it is minimally narrated but visually fully articulated. No need to worry about this title without Scott Snyder; it's clearly in good hands.
(Todd McFarlane, Szymon Kudranski; Image)
Ever see an old friend after a long time apart and discover that they've changed a lot? I don't mean that their hair went gray or that your old liberal buddy now listens to Glenn Beck and denies global warming. I'm talking more about your pal who used to be a flamboyant, often assholish trend-follower who has happily moved to a content middle age in which he's become an easygoing, independent-minded graceful guy. That transition happens rarely, but when someone makes that change with grace and intelligence, that old friend immediately becomes one of my favorite people.
I haven't read Spawn in something approximating forever. I know the comic was numbered in the teens or twenties when I last picked up this book, way the hell back when Bill Clinton was President. So when I saw that this comic was already up to issue #232 and that Todd McFarlane was writing it, I figured I'd give Spawn another try.
I was expecting to find a shallow story combined with odd character poses that had nothing to do with reality. That's really my mental picture of Spawn based on those old comics and that really cool old HBO cartoon (anybody remember that show?). The cover seemed to demonstrate that my fears were true — how's that for a classic Todd McFarlane image in all its flashy glory? Instead I found a comic book that was completely different from my expectations.
Spawn is like that real friend who changes profoundly and becomes far more interesting.
This is chapter four of a storyline called "Celebrity Savior" that involves an angel dropped down from heaven that's had Its wings pulled off by some sort of evil creature. When angel's wings are removed, It goes insane — that's God's will — so we see the angel spend a great deal of Spawn #232 in a gorgeously atmospheric insane asylum while the sadistic Dr. Kerr gives us and the angel some perspective on what's happening using captions — yes, McFarlane uses captions. That much, at least, feels a bit retro.
Szymon Kudranski's art is incredibly impressive. His style reminds me a bit of Alex Maleev, all urban squalor and existential doubt and pain showing on the characters' faces as they experience profound angst and agony. My cynical self was dragged deep into this story by the intensity of Kudranski's images; McFarlane supplies the artist with some wonderfully bleak images to draw.
Al Simmons is no longer the Spawn. The new Spawn, Jim Downing, is actually alive rather than a resurrected man. Because he's alive, he might have the power to destroy the Universe (I didn't understand why he has that power, but then again I'm fresh to this incarnation of Spawn and maybe Todd has explained this elsewhere). To make matters worse, the costume is controlling Jim rather than Jim controlling the costume.
Spawn #232 is all kinds of complicated and surprisingly interesting. My old friend has become cool by becoming a better version of his old self. The new Spawn is an unexpectedly awesome comic.
– Jason Sacks
The Darkness #113
(David Hine, Jeremy Haun; Image)
Man, color me surprised again. Geez, does Image have a deep bench now or what? David Hine and Jeremy Haun take Marc Silvestri's weird world of the Darkness literally down a rabbit hole in this issue. I was tremendously confused what happened in The Darkness #113 but I was also extremely intrigued.
Hine and Haun deliver a wonderful story that's at turns surreal, literary, and mythological while self-consciously playing Campbell's monomyth game. At times this writing feels a little obvious Charon is showing up pretty often in comics these days, even if he is a powerful metaphor — but mainly I just gloried in the fun of allowing this story to carry me from page to page, letting its unpredictable but logical events to wash over me.
Hine's script flies by quickly with a minimum of words that depends on Haun's smooth intensity to tell the tale well. I really enjoyed Haun's character designs in particular; the Ancient Ones are truly spooky figures.
I have no idea where this all will lead, but it’s all a very surprisingly fresh ideas for the Darkness mythos. Like with Spawn, this was unexpectedly great.
– Jason Sacks
Red She-Hulk #66
(Jeff Parker, Carlo Pagulayan, Patrick Olliffe, Joe Bennett, Ruy Jose, Val Staples; Marvel)
Decent comics come to those who wait.
We are now in the fourth stage of my experimentation with Red She-Hulk, a title nearly on its way out the door after (what will be) a nine-issue run. If you've been following SGS — and we know you have — you've seen that I've been pretty disappointed by the entire endeavor. Up until this point the series lacked that "ooph" that I expect from Jeff Parker comics, and although there were plenty of sexy ideas scattered across many pages it failed to produce a single one that held my interest hostage.
Really though, it's the damn art that turned me off. For unexplainable reasons Marvel makes Red She-Hulk a group effort, taking two or capable artists and having them play timeshare. As you can see from the credit line, #66 has this same thing going on, expect this time, under the unifying hand of inker Ruy Jose, the trio of Pagulayan, Olliffe and Bennett deliver a super sleek, action-heavy issue that plays off the strengths of the character and the script.
Between Matt Fraction's Defenders and this series I've fallen for Betty Ross. As woman gain more prominence in comics many creators are attempting to build these "warrior women" from the ashes, and I have to admit it just doesn't work for me much of the time. Perhaps it's the inherent delicacy of the gentler sex but a lot of these new creations, and retooled old characters, seem like Wonder Woman knockoffs. Yet, for some reason Red She-Hulk just works, and that probably because her savagery is her biggest flaw, she's hot headed, strong as shit and extremely eager to break bad guys in two. Her demeanor is "fuck it, let's fight", and it's a lovely play off the Hulk mythos as a whole.
Jeff Parker brings in one of his favorite toys, the suddenly talkative Man-Thing, to ratchet up the weirdness. During a trip the Nexus of Realities, Betty is transported to an alternate timeline where she takes Bruce Banner's place as the main Hulk, and we watch as their relationship unfolds against the backdrop of a new 616. The plot pace is crazy quick, but that actually makes it kind of fascinating. And now I'm a lot a bit sad that the title only has one issue left.
It's lame duck but that shouldn't matter. A tasty comic worth your time.
– Jamil Scalese
Herobear and the Kid Special #1
(Mike Kunkel, BOOM!)
Herobear and the Kid is the kind of comic that I think I would love if I were still a kid. Unlike something like Adventure Time that manages to appeal to all ages, I feel like Herobear is very clearly aimed at the young comics reader, and there's nothing wrong with that. It's cute, loaded with dialog that shouldn't be too difficult for a young reader, and it plays with the imagination in a way that it seems only a comic can.
Kunkel's style is worth appreciating here for many reasons, not the least of which being that he manages to keep things cartoony while still having detailed pages. His use of spot color for Herobear's cape makes it easy to find him on the page, while I'm afraid he might get lost in the sea of grays if it weren't there.
Definitely something to get for the kid in your life, but don't be too surprised if it doesn't hold the attention of older comics readers.
– David Fairbanks
Green Lantern #21
(Robert Venditti, Billy Tan, Richard Friend, Alex Sinclair, Tony Avina; DC)
While Geoff Johns' epic and heartfelt farewell to the franchise he pretty much resurrected may have seemed like a tough act to follow, it really wasn't as Robert Venditti and Billy Tan take the reigns for a new era of aliens pointing jewelry at one another.
During Johns' run it always seemed like any big Green Lantern story would end with a bunch of colors flying around and being murdered in the background until the good aliens pointed their jewelry in such a way that it took out the bad guys that double as some
metaphor for something or something else. Issue #20 was no exception to this trope, but #21 seems more interested in the details that make up this world, and thus feels more tangible than it has in years.
What works best about this book is Venditti's desire to show the infrastructure of the Green Lantern Corps, which always felt like fertile ground that not enough creators have taken advantage. It's a legion of space cops with their own jails, wardens and new Green Lanterns to induct, and Venditti actually shows all this at work while seemingly planting seeds for future stories and giving the lesser Green Lanterns enough distinction for us to care about them as he gives a juicy hook by giving a bunch of unsuitable new recruits the "trial by fire" treatment. Billy Tan's art is servicable.
I wasn't incredibly interested in following Green Lantern mainly because Johns' gonzo cosmology was the big draw for me, but this new direction seems to be solid enough to keep my interest for a few more issues.
– Danny Djeljosevic
Suicide Risk #2
Mike Carey, Elena Casagrande, Andrew Elder, Ed Dukeshire
Give me a Mike Carey book, and I'm usually in it for the long haul. Sold on the writer's talents since I first read Lucifer about six or seven years ago, he's gone on to impress me with his stint on X-Men, the direction he took Ultimate Fantastic Four after Bendis, Ellis and Millar were done with it, and most recently The Unwritten. His Hellblazer stories are routinely my favorite and I read and enjoyed his Felix Castor novel series.
This preface is here for you because I want you to know how much I wanted to like Suicide Risk, but it just didn't do it for me. While the premise feels at least a little interesting, it seems much more focused on the boring aspects of a cop going vigilante while also discovering new superpowers. Having our hero learn and apply science to help combat a villain is interesting, except we're not really given any indication that he actually understands the science he's supposedly applying.
I think there are some interesting ideas at play here, namely superpowers being sold on the black market, but I have little interest in the plot or the characters, and I don't really see myself coming back to this series unless it receives a fair bit of critical acclaim after the first story arc or two are done.
It doesn't help that Casagrande's art is some of the most adequate I have seen in some time. None of it is bad, but her faces are so often bored and/or expressionless, making it easy to confuse characters. The style almost feels like it's straight out of a late '90s Top Cow book, and I kind of wish it would go back to wherever it came from.
This second issue at least gave us a little something more, but it certainly wasn't enough to bring me back for the third one.
– David Fairbanks
Ten Grand #2
J. Michael Straczynski, Ben Templesmith, Troy Peteri
It's fitting that David Hine compared Ten Grand to Hellblazer, as my first thought, just a few pages into the first issue, was that this was Hellblazer being written with Constantine in his mid-to-late-twenties by someone who is decades removed from anyone who actually is in their mid-to-late-twenties. The second issue is no better, with stale dialogue and narration that doesn't help the painfully unoriginal story that JMS has cooked up.
The best thing that Ten Grand has going for it is Templesmith's art, which can be pretty hit or miss depending on how you feel about his style. For Ten Grand, it feels like Templesmith strayed away from some of his more photo referenced art, and it does well to give the reader something not unappealing to pay attention to, if they haven't just put the book down entirely.
If you're thinking about reading this, go read Hellblazer or Mike Carey's Felix Castor novels. They handle the hard-boiled supernatural detective feel that Ten Grand is going for far better than JMS ever will, and you know that their story arcs are finished. Who knows how long the hypothetical fans of Ten Grand will be waiting for it to finish up.
– David Fairbanks
MIKE DEODATO DRAWS SOME REALLY LUXURIOUS HAIR ON THOR IN AVENGERS #13
East of West #3
New Avengers #6