Singles Going Steady is Comics Bulletin's weekly single issue review roundup.
Curious for our take on Week Three of DC's Villains Month? Read Kyle's take on it!
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #2
(Phil Hester / Andrea Di Vito; IDW)
Do you like unwieldy acronyms, henchmen with numbers for names and corny old-school super-tech? More importantly, can you laugh at your enjoyment of these things? Because if you can, writer Phil Hester wants to laugh with you, and laugh hard.
There is a plot here, in that the deadly Iron Maiden (beware her armour breastplate, it's “designed to distract”!) has taken control of a secret T.H.U.N.D.E.R. station, and the two agents trapped inside have to be rescued. There's even a subplot, as the discovery of this secret station in Kashmir (ooh, topical) has riled T.H.U.N.D.E.R.'s UN superiors. But all of this is window dressing. Hester and artist Andrea Di Vito are kicking this one 60's TV style, so it's all about the banter, the brawling, and the deadly babe at the top of the evil pile.
Len Brown is the new kid on the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. block, a big lug plucked from small-time thumb-breaking to wear the Thunderbelt. Thrown straight from training into the field ("they made me jump out of a plane") the first two people he meets put him on his back, and they're his teammates! From there the action only escalates, one-liners ricocheting through quick-fire comic reversals, every page setting up a face-off or a put-down, while poor Len is the hard-headed freshman trying to find his feet.
Di Vito and colourist Rom Fajardo don't over-invest in this comic. They know a gag book in retro tights when they see it, so they keep the jaws square, the angles tilted, and let letterer Shawn Lee bring the "FWOOM!". T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents delights with this absence of photorealistic grit or fart-sniffing gravitas, the antithesis of "world-building". And when Len calls the villainess "Miss" before she pummels him, or Guy Gilbert, Agent of T.H.U.N.D.E.R., wills an unwitting family picnic away from the team's point of egress for their own safety, it reveals its true self.
This is a thick slice of good clean comics fun, aiming at entertainment without ever trying for epic.
– Taylor Lilley
Criminal Macabre: The Eyes of Frankenstein #1
(Steve Niles/ Christopher Mitten / Michelle Madsen / Nate Piekos; Dark Horse)
I might just shout a little "w00t!" when a new issue of Criminal Macabre shows up. I'm a fairly recent convert to the series—I've only been reading the series for the past year or so, and filling in my back list with the trades when I can—but I have come to love the adventures of Cal McDonald on his monster craziness. It's a nice little fix of schlock horror and fun that I love in my comic book pile.
Criminal Macabre: The Eyes of Frankenstein comes right off the heels of Niles' franchise-busting mini-series 30 Days of Night/Criminal Macabre – Final Night that saw the end of his 30 Days of Night vampire series. Niles has skillfully woven that battle into the mythology of an upcoming Monster War that has been a part of Criminal Macabre for a long time.
In the opening of The Eyes of Frankenstein¸ we learn that the vampire/ghoul battle of Final Night was not the much-anticipated Monster War, but just a minor opening salvo in the fight that is still to come. McDonald isn't getting any downtime. He's not going back to business as usual (not that he could anyways seeing as how he has been turned into an undead ghoul himself) and Mo'Lock is still haunting in the shadows getting McDonald ready for whatever role he is destined to play in the Big Finale.
This first issue is doing the necessary stage setting. It ties up some loose ends from Final Night (Nope, that wasn't the Big Finale) and continues with the mysterious sickness that is killing the ghouls. In Criminal Macabre lore, ghouls are all but indestructible but for some reason they are wasting away and dying. Oh, and a cultish demon baby has been born, which is always a good sign. Especially when the mother explodes on birth and the baby goes missing. Boom!
Then the Monster appears, and all that heavy stuff and future holocaust goes flying out the window as Niles gets to p
lay with one of his all-time favorite monsters (just see his Twitter feed to see how much he loves Frankie). I loved this part of the comic. Niles has a real sense of the Frankenstein Monster, and shows the melancholy inherent in the character, a perpetual, immortal outsider. Niles gets to put his Monster knowledge on display. The bantering about its lack of a name. The fact that he is stitched together using both human and animal parts. McDonald's ineffectual punch across the Monster's face. It's all brilliant.
I loved the source of the Monster's rage—with his immortality and inability to join any gathering, all he has left is books and reading. But his eyes—The Eyes of Frankenstein—are growing weak. The Frankenstein Monster is going blind. Misery added upon misery.
Artwise, The Eyes of Frankenstein is … OK. I've never made a secret that the art of Christopher Mitten is not my cup of tea. His art is good. All the pieces are in place and he is a talented illustrator, but I just don't love the style. His art is just a little too angular, a little too rough for me. Colorist Michelle Madsen does a nice job here smoothing out some of those angles and edges. I have seen her color Mitten before where she matches him angle-for-angle, and the art comes out looking like a playing card, all square boxes and shapes. This is a much nicer approach. The scenes with the lights of police cars are particularly well done. The soft glow of red and blue was perfect.
Another thing I think Criminal Macabre could benefit from is some guideposts for new readers. I know those little explanation boxes have gone out of fashion, but I personally would love something telling me "Cal first met the Frankenstein Monster in Criminal Macabre: Blah Blah Blah" or something along those lines. Diving into a series can be intimidating and confusing, and I always appreciate it when a writer makes some concessions for new readers. I have a good background in monster mythology so I am able to pick up the clues, but there are still a few things specific to Niles' monsters and Criminal Macabre that I would love to find out about—or at least know where to find them. Maybe even character profiles at the back of the book. I could really go for something like that.
– Zack Davisson
Captain Marvel #16
The cosmic scale is fine for Captain Marvel. Since she stopped being Mar-Vell's plus one (and maybe even then) she's tended to play with the big boys and to take on Avengers-level threats with ease. Trouble is, she's been through a lot in the first year of her new title, and the end result was a sweeping sacrifice that wiped much of memory.
This is something that happens a lot to super-heroines. Heck, it's even happened to Carol before, a few times. Usually it's at the influence of evil men playing mind-games, and it was no different this time. She had to defeat Yon-Rogg, who had invaded her mind and was impeding her ability to fly. That being her major motivation in DeConnick's run, he had to go.
And, really, the ultimate result is still pretty much Carol all the way. She may not know from her personal connections, but she's still every inch a soldier and a military commander, which is what the forces need as they face the alien Builders. She rallies her troops. She protects lives. And she discovers, in the proximity of a black hole, that her old Binary powers are still available. So she powers up to take on her foes and aid her allies (meaning she can soar on the solar winds and have flame hair, amongst other benefits …. gravity powers, maybe?), and the only drawback is that she's still stuck with her dull uniform rather than the sex thigh-boots of the original Cockrum design (which was really a riff on Phoenix, anyway).
Also, pretty cool, she gets to team up with her dark shadow, Spider-Woman. Both are like two remnants of the 1970s House of Ideas, with Carol the tin soldier to Jessica's cursed spy, but as DeConnick writes them they both know themselves well and make a fun duo prone to bitchy repartee.
Carol's a little too gung-ho to sacrifice herself and there's an extended reference to the birth of Phoenix herself in the face of outer-space mishaps in there somewhere, but you know what? Forget about Infinity, and just enjoy the fireworks. With Pat Olliffe drawing them, they're pretty awesome.
– Shawn Hill
X-O Manowar #17
(Robert Venditti / Lee Garbett / Moose Baumann; Valiant)
As a person who has never read a Valiant comic (other than the Deathmate crossover from 1993), I was really anticipating my first baptism into what I was hoping would be an excellent rebirth of a series. To put it lightly, I was extremely happy with X-O Manowar #17.
I was pleased to see that even though I was jumping in 16 issues into this series, there was a brief but really useful "story so far…" page that assisted with my acclimation into the series so far. It let me know the backstory of Aric of Dacia without digging to
o deeply into the previous tales.
This issue has a wonderful flashback to 380 A.D. where readers get to see that Aric wasn’t always the badass person he would become in the future. This sequence shows him as a small boy that could cry over a scraped knee. This scene drew me into the story deeper. The flashback is beautiful, giving details about Aric's childhood, his parents and the warrior culture that he came from. I was very pleased to see the fleshing out of the relationship Aric has with his father, a softer side that is missing in many of today’s books. There is even a small amount of backstory that shows Aric’s father going to war, but never showing the actual battle. I look forward to reading further tales of his father’s exploits.
The transition between the flashback and modern times is effortlessly and beautifully done. Scenes show Aric in the present attempting to lead his people but also demonstrating that things are not as happy as one might hope. Venditti and Garbett do a wonderful job of showing the way that modern easy living can corrupt Aric’s followers. They do this with the idea of a pair of Aric's followers enter a modern city and find a grocery store full of fruit and produce — the key fruit being the proverbial apple from the Garden of Eden.
This issue barely has any action in it, but the action it does have is only there to further the storyline, with very brief but intelligent confrontation between Aric and an American Agent. The conversation demonstrates even further that there are serpents lurking within the garden that Aric is attempting to grow.
Visually X-O Manowar is excellent; it is beautiful without being overwhelming. Valiant has obviously made the effort to hire people that understand how to tell a story.
I was so happy with this issue that I plan on going to my local dealer and to find the back issues so that I can catch up on this very intriguing series.
– Kristopher Reavely
(Donny Cates & Mark Reznicek / Geoff Shaw; Dark Horse)
Just as every man in prison is innocent, nobody ever needs to be in AA. Everyone is their own exception, different to the loser addicts around them. Buzzkill acknowledges and then overloads this cliché in the first two pages. You see, "Ruben" (not his real name) actually is different. He's a superhero, one who just happens to get his powers from drinking alcohol and doing drugs. Unfortunately his black-outs often leave others bleeding or comatose, which marks him as an addict, and a dangerous one, too.
As scrawny and scruffy as his superhero self is Samson-esque, "Ruben" has nobody to call who'll pick up the phone, is stalked by super-insensitive ex-teammates from a life he can't return to, and after striding out of AA he realises that hot chocolate with a group of strangers is about the sweetest offer he's got. He's a ragged little dude living in his wasted alter-ego's shadow, working through guilt and anger alone. If he isn't yet much more than that, he doesn't need to be. Artist Geoff Shaw throws enough crosshatched scowl into the AA group pages, and enough martyred pain into the flashbacks to make "Ruben" intriguing, while a couple of well-scripted asides show he's smarter than he acts.
If by the end of issue one we quite literally don't know who he is, that's okay too. He doesn't know either, but what matters is that in finding out he may also find redemption. Or at the very least, sobriety.
This is the strongest high-concept premise this year, almost too rich with open avenues of exploration (addiction and comics, power fantasies and fanboys, intoxication and comics consumerism… you get the picture), and it is to Cates, Reznicek, and Shaw's credit that they don't get lost. Buzzkill stays tightly focused on its relatable, hard-time hero, and in an age when the marquee Everyman characters of comics are M.I.A. (Peter Parker, anybody?) or event-embroiled (Luke Cage, anyone?) a return to superhero-ing as heightened metaphor feels surprisingly fresh. That they offset this focus by seeding multiple mysterious details (the recurring logo, the sharp-toothed villain and his disc-drive androids) creates a sense of security that this crew know where they're headed.
Provided it avoids glamourizing or decrying substance abuse and stays lockstep with this cursed character's quest for control, Buzzkill could be the mini of the year and still leave enough meat on the bone for a return series. Fingers crossed!
– Taylor Lilley
Batman Beyond Universe #2
(Christos Gage / Iban Coello / Randy Mayor / Kyle Higgins / Thony Silas/ Andrew Elder; DC)
So, you're a DC fanatic and you're looking for something that isn't villain-centric. You're pretty much SOL in the month of September, right? Wrong.
Batman Beyond Universe contains two digital-first titles following future interactions of Batman and the Justice League, respectively. I've run hot and cold on the Beyond comics over the last few years, I'll pick up a string of 5-6 issues but for whatever reason my interest dwindles and I'll cut that series from my regular reads. Predictably, a few months later I'll catch wind of a cool plot point or character development and I'll regret not sticking with the book. Luckily, the current state of comics calls for a relaunch every dozen issues, so I jumped onboard last month.
On the Justice League side of things the "Power Struggle" arc continues, a storyline focusing heavily on Superman. Future Kal-El is a very intriguing character, a man who has outlived his friends and family, searching for a place in a world where he lacks enemies. These ideas are of main focus in the Christos Gage script.
Taking on the new identity of mild-mannered firefighter Kal Kent, Superman's most pressing concern is returning to one his favorite hobbies: intra-office romance. Kal has a crush on co-worker Rita and vice-versa and the first half of the story centers on sussing out modern dating habits. Kal's other problem is that he's effectively had to shut off his powers due to unpredictable fluctuations caused by some type of inference with the Sun. He soon discovers someone i
s using Kyptonian tech to try and attack him, prompting the big guy to enter the Phantom Zone to interrogate some of his kind.
The art of Iban Coello fits in very nicely with the established look of the DCAU. His tight but fierce lines bring a normalcy to the book that doesn't' blend into blandness. The approach is very neutral, and fits the diverse cast, even if they aren't utilized much.
I'm not ecstatic the book focuses primarily on Supes, even if he's a character worthy of attention. It's just that the Justice League Beyond roster boasts a lot of those types.
On the Batman side of things Neo-Gotham is dealing with the sudden loss of its mayor, mysteriously assassinated by his cell phone. There is a new player in town and this shrouded baddie also activates a jailbreak at the Arkham Institute causing the always vigilant Terry McGinnis to spend his evenings chasing down psychos and his days explaining why the hell he's so exhausted.
It might sound as if not too much has changed from the cartoon days for the Batman of the future but there is one major difference: his mentor is no longer Burce Wyane. Rather, a one-eyed Dick Grayson guides the young hero and treats the proven Terry more like a peer than a soldier. It's an interesting dynamic that will be fun to watch mature, particularly because Kyle Higgins has experience as Dick's writer in the New 52.
Thony Silas really brings a lot to the collaboration. The jaggedly sleek style fits right into the fast-paced world of Batman Beyond. Colorist Andrew Elder absolutely gets the look and appeal of the Beyond aesthetic. Bright lasers and explosions lay perfectly on top of dark blue hues and gunmetal black.
The ending of the second (print) installment of "ReWired" is one of those last page cliffhangers that demand a purchase of the next issue. Also, it really breathes some sense into the cover of issue #1.
DC has had some odd things happen over the course of the last two years but it appears the beloved Beyond universe is in capable hands.
– Jamil Scalese