Singles Going Steady is Comics Bulletin's weekly single issue review roundup.
Not everything gets covered in Singles, so here are the comics that got reviewed separately:
- Kelvin reviewed The Absence #4.
- Our monthly Two for #1 tackled the inaugural issues of Adventure Time: Fionna & Cake, The Black Beetle and Young Avengers.
- Jason and Shawn covered Invincible #100 in a recent Real Talk.
- And, if you're into X-Men, Steve Morris has a brand new installment of X-Wing that goes over the month's releases.
(Joshua Dysart, Mico Suayan, Pere Perez; Valiant)
I don't know anything about the Valiant Comics Universe except for that issue of Rai and the Future Force I stumbled upon for my Cheap Thrills column back in July of 2011. Needless to say, it was with some trepidation that I volunteered to review Harbinger #0 for this column. I'd heard some good things about the relaunch, though, so I figured I owed it to myself to give it a go.
And I'm damn glad that I did. This book is chock full of awesome, from soup to nuts.
Team Dysart/Suayan/Perez have put together quite the Zero Issue here. Ostensibly it gives the background of Toyo Harada, the "most powerful psionic mind on the planet" and founder of the Harbinger Foundation, an organization which appears to be like the Xavier School run by bloodless venture capitalists. This is, for all extents and purposes, another one of those origin stories born out of tragedy — in Harada's case he discovers his powers in the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing — but in the hands of Team Dysart/Suayan/Perez this well-worn groove plays an entirely different melody.
To begin with, the art in this book is fantastic. Suayan and Perez have created images of devastation and human suffering in this book which are nearly palpable. Their panels are enough to allow a reader to understand why a character like Toyo Harada becomes the man he is — cruel to be kind, compassion with a veiled threat of violence, a man to be wary of even in the midst of his warmth. Their pages of Harada as a boy trying to find his father intensely capture both his innocence and his power; Dysart's words become almost an afterthought because of this.
"Almost" being the key word.
Because Dysart is doing some pretty amazing things in this book as well, exploring questions such as "Why did the war come" and "Why is the world so broken." The answers he provides are not the ones you want to tell your children as they snuggle into their beds at night. These are brutal times and brutal men and Dysart tells it in such a matter-of-fact way that you just have to nod your head in agreement.
Dysart juxtaposes Harada's origin story with a young Harbinger under his tutelage, Darpan. Harada tells Darpan his story in order to comfort him. Meanwhile, Darpan is using his power to "induce violent trauma-related memories" in others. The juxtaposition of Harada telling his story of horror to comfort this child who is engaged in creating his own horror is the kind of trick that really build this book into something great. And Harbinger #0 is full of these sorts of tricks.
Do yourself a favor. Hop on board this book. There's some powerful things going on here.
– Daniel Elkin
Adventure Time with Fionna & Cake #2
(Natasha Allegri, Lucy Knisley, Britt Wilson; BOOM!)
Whether it's because Allegri has actually worked on the cartoon, or because she originally designed Fionna & Cake, this comic series seems to replicate Adventure Time unique feel best.
Beginning right where the last issue left off, Fionna and Cake duke it out with the Ice Queen over an unconscious mystery boy. Allegri's art illustrates the battle in a unique style that complements every facet of Fionna's characterization. The rough texture of the lines lends itself to Fionna's grit while the soft coloring adds a bit of grace. Even Wilson's lettering displays a softer side to the books, while helping to define the book's entire aesthetic.
Before reading Fionna & Cake, I was hesitant to submerge myself into, what I was sure would be, a pool of fan service. I was relieved to discover that Allegri manages to introduce characters and plot points at a natural pace. By the end of the issue, I was excited to move on to the next not only to see more renditions of my favorite characters, but to actually find out what happens next!
In many ways, the popularity of these Adventure Time comics has to do with the unique talent that BOOM! Is pulling for the books. I have no doubt that these books would languish if they had played it safe and relied on the show's following to sell. Instead, fans of the show, as well as fans of good comics, get to experience lovingly crafted pages with an attention to detail that could only be attributed to the creator of these characters.
This series is quickly becoming my favorite from the list of Adventure Time related comics for a multitude of reasons — the great art, the simple yet engaging story, and the promise of greater things. In a few issues, I might even argue that it's my favorite comic book on the stands.
– Sean Gonzalez
Multiple Warheads: Alphabet to Infinity #4
(Brandon Graham; Image)
If you haven't noticed, we kind of really like Brandon Graham here at Comics Bulletin. Multiple Warheads: Alphabet to Infinity gives us a very different Graham than Prophet, and I'm glad for it. That's not to say I dislike Prophet, but this is the Brandon Graham I fell in comics love with. It's nice to see him, even if we'll only get a few issues of Warheads a year. There's not much to say that couldn't have been said about the whole volume. It's crazy, action-packed, colored like ice cream and full of puns. There is nothing else like it on the stands, which is both a marvelous and sad thing. This last issue, actually, amps everything up, completing what is very clearly the first chapter in a longer saga.
My only real complaint is that I really enjoy Sexica and Nikolai, and they were absent from the issue. Nura's story is exciting and fast-paced, letting us get a bigger glimpse at the world of Warheads and ending with me craving more, but it still felt like it was lacking a little something. Of course, the hole made by the duo's departure was filled with puns, as I think this issue was practically exploding with them, which is saying something for a Graham book.
Really, though, go read this. Read it a few times. It really is one of the best comics being made in a world where we have some pretty awesome shit coming out every month.
– David Fairbanks
Secret Avengers #37
(Rick Remender, Matteo Scalera, Matthew Wilson; Marvel)
A mostly focused 17-issue run comes to a close with an intense climax with violence and tough-but-heroic decisions being made, followed by enough finality to satisfy somebody like me who reads these things every month and doesn't expect a lick of conclusion. Rick Remender's the kind of guy who rarely doesn't go big in his work even when handling corporate IP. He can't murder half the cast or wipe out the entire population of Earth, so he works within these boundaries to present superheroes with incredibly difficult scenarios where saving the world isn't the easiest decision to make for various reasons — moral gray areas, self-interest running counter or, in this case, a sense of betraying your own people to do the right thing. I'm excited to read this whole thing in one go and see how well it holds together.
The underrated bit of this run for me has been the use of the original Human Torch, who inspires an odd little affinity/curiosity in me. As Sean Howe will tell you, Marvel used to intermittently trot him out only to have him get destroyed at the end of whatever issue he was appearing in, just to replenish their rights to the character and (it seems) rub it in the face of Torch creator Carl Burgos. It's hard not to think of that during this run, but the Torch is also just this oddball artifact of pre-success Marvel, one of those Timely Comics chunks of raw material Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and the rest refined and recycled into more successful characters. Same deal with Captain America, The Vision, Namor, Angel and a few other dormant properties. So I guess what I'm saying is that I'm glad that Remender didn't junk Human Torch in this run.
Secret Avengers relaunches the following week with a new #1 and a set of characters that better reflects the S.H.I.E.L.D. characters from the Avengers movie. Good idea.
– Danny Djeljosevic
(Paul Grist, Bill Crabtree; Image)
Paul Grist is an amazing comic book artist. Grist's Toth-like artistic take on figures and pages is a wonder to see. His drawing style is freaking gorgeous in its overwhelming simplicity, its wonderful page composition and its spectacular storytelling chops. Grist's Kane was a detective series influenced by ensemble TV drama, saturated in deep, dark mood due to Grist's embrace of the two-dimensional page and passion for spreading generous dollops of ink on the comics page. There are six volumes of Kane available for your absolute reading pleasure, and I really strongly recommend you pick one up. You can find copies cheap — and you should right away, because each of them is a gem.
After he wrapped up Kane, Grist took on another character of his own making — a very eccentric super-hero series called Jack Staff. Trades are also available for Jack Staff, and they show a major shift in Grist's art — he moved from black and white to color for the second volume of the hero book. When he moved to color, Grist's art moved to a very different level.
Like Alex Toth, Grist chose to draw slightly differently when he started working in color. Grist's color work is more open, less saturated in shadows, somehow more cartoony and definitely lighter and more whimsical. As my fellow reviewers have so adroitly noticed about Mudman, Grist's style these days feels like old-school Saturday morning cartoons — in a good way, of course, because the great Toth did some of his finest work while working at the famed Hanna-Barbera animation studio.
But Grist's art isn't all pastiche. His art is most definitely his own thing, and Mudman #6 shows Grist's charmingly whimsical and very clever work at its most welcoming.
Young Mudman is actually a high school student Owen Craig, who's fallen under the influence of a John Constantine type named Captain Gull who works to help our hero control his powers. This issue shows Owen as he really begins learning how to use his powers while his best friend Newt, a graffiti artist, witnesses a mysterious turn of events involving a special suitcase.
Mudman #6 is a quick and entertaining read. Grist's writing has a light, whimsical edge to it while his art is just as gorgeous as ever. The linework in this book is minimalistic, but every line has its appropriate place on the page and is used to build up the depiction of all the events in this book. The simplicity is a strength. The work feels iconic. And the comic is tremendous fun.
– Jason Sacks
(Jonathan Hickman, Adam Kubert, Frank Martin; Marvel)
The first three-issue story arc of Avengers set up cosmic themes and introduced the hook of this particular iteration of the team ("It's big") and now this current trio of self-contained issues fleshes out some of the more spacey characters on the team. Last issue we got Hyperion and this issue we get Smasher, who I had to double-check to make sure she wasn't named "Lady Smasher" or "Smashette" or something like that.
That one guy from iFanboy probably threw a fit when he read this issue, considering Avengers #5 carries on a plot point from an 11-year-old issue of Grant Morrison's New X-Men. Technically you don't need to know anything about the Shi'Ar empire or what happened in New X-Men #122 — a space spartan fell to Earth and some farm girl picked up his shades and thus replaced him — but the reference is explicit enough to get me stoked that someone even thought to carry on from it — basically, if you liked New X-Men enough to pick up leftover characters and ideas from that run, I'll probably be interested in your comic.
I liked this issue a lot better than Avengers #4, which suffered from some murky storytelling choices from Hickman/Kubert and the color work of Frank D'Armata. Kubert seems to have gotten into the groove of the book, widening his scope a little to make a book that feels at least somewhat as big as it should. On the colors side, replacing D'Armata in this issue is Frank Martin, whose sun-kissed palette is a lot easier on the eyes.
– Danny Djeljosevic
Green Arrow #17
(Jeff Lemire, Andrea Sorrentino; DC)
Less than 18 months into the New 52, we get our first full-fledged reboot of a title. DC apparently has had enough of their shambolic Green Arrow series that cycled through creative teams and character directions the way that most of us go through changes of clothes. Though this has been one of the least artistically successful of the New 52 titles, Arrow is a hit for the CW. He's becoming a fairly well-known hero among non-comic readers. So DC's gotta have a Green Arrow comic in the main comics line, right? Enter Jeff Lemire, who obviously doesn't think much of the previous 16 issues, because he blows everything in this series up in a major way.
SPOILERS for stuff you've probably already read in the solicitations for this issue, but in this issue rich pretty boy Oliver Queen loses all his millions, his friends are killed, and the advisor who knows about Ollie's real destiny is killed by a random arrow fired through a skyscraper window — in short, everything blows up in Oliver Queen's life, and maybe — just maybe — he could find it within himself to be a new kind of hero than he had been before.
This is a fun comic: thoughtful and entertaining like all Lemire comics are. Andrea Sorrentino also really delivers with this comic. His art has a fantastic ground-level grittiness that you might remember from the failed New 52 series I, Vampire. Sorrentino is great at drawing real people looking like real people and not exaggerated comic-booky versions of people. That realism provides real kinetic energy and a sense that Ollie's story could be happening right outside our windows. This book feels grounded in reality, and Sorrentino's art goes a long way towards making this comic have a very grounded feel. I love how Sorrentino occasionally punctuates the gaudy colors in the story
with an inset panel of plain black-and-white. That has the effect of making the panel seem more dramatic, more like a moment stuck in time that remains in your subconscious.
Everybody's going to say the same thing about this comic, but it's true: if this had been Green Arrow #1, 17 long months ago, this would have been one of the most intriguing first issues of the New 52 project. Oh well, it's not too late to start fresh all over again.
– Jason Sacks
Animal Man #17 & Swamp Thing #17
(Jeff Lemire, Scott Snyder, Steve Pugh, Timothy Green II, Joseph Silver, Andrew Belanger, Lovern Kindzierski, Tony Avina; DC)
Here's a quick anecdote: I don't regularly read Swamp Thing. Y'see, there's thing thing called money and people don't have a lot of it…? Anyway, I read Animal Man and Issue #17 had the words "Rotworld: Finale, Part One" on the cover and I thought that was a silly thing to put on the cover because, well, "Finale Part One?" Don't get all Breaking Dawn on me, guys, because that's not the best company to be in, artistically speaking. So, I searched around the shop and I was a little annoyed to find out I needed to buy another issue of Swamp Thing to find out what happens to Buddy Baker, Orchid, Steel, That One Guy From Ravagers and their army of Frankensteins.
On the flip side, it's cool to get double the story pages in the same week, I guess, especially as these two issues of Swamp Thing and Animal Man is full of fighting and corpses and… I guess in Swamp Thing there's a bat-lady and a giant Batman robot? It's always fun (at least, for me) to get a bunch of foreign ideas thrown at you in situations like this, and couple that with some intensely violent battle scenes and Lemire/Snyder and Pugh/Green II/Belanger certainly deliver in the huge necrotic Lord of the Rings battle happening here as characters get killed and daffy things happen like Frankenstein getting a Green Lantern ring.
Despite the aforementioned title, this was NOT a finale — it seems like the #18s of both titles (which seem to be called "Rotworld: Epilogue") have Animal Man and Swamp Thing finally putting an end to the crisis for their respective teams. So, this was technically "Rotworld: Prelude to Rotworld: Finale." I've been mostly enjoying this whole story, but I really want to see what direction Lemire takes with Animal Man after "Rotworld" is done.
– Danny Djeljosevic
(Andy Diggle, Jock; Image)
Yeah, yeah, first few chapters of a novel, first 20 minutes of a movie, blah blah blah. This is the first issue of a four-issue mini-series. As such, we get a plot laid out for us but at this point we only have some hints and clues about how everything holds together. It appears that a murder has happened (though we're not totally sure about any of the details of the murder). A couple of dudes who love comics end up being the naïve guys who stumble over that alleged murder when one finds an iPhone at Golden Gate Park. We can guess that the comic-loving guys are probably going to find themselves sucked deep into the murder investigation as this series proceeds– in fact, a shocking twist happens to one of the friends in this first issue– but we're not quite sure how everything will hang together and how the whole story will play out.
Which really implies to me that you might want to trade-wait for Snapshot.
I mean, the art by Jock in this book is pretty damn gorgeous. The comic is published in black and white, which gives Jock the chance to combine his love for extremely dramatic camera angles with a sometimes really noir intensity that fits the story well. There's real drama on page 15 of this issue, for instance, when we see one of the lead characters juxtaposed against silhouetted, almost impressionistic buildings and fire escapes. That wonderfully rendered page is resonant with energy and danger, a sense of paranoid threat and justified fear. And that page is pretty typical of the book.
There's a lot of energy in Snapshot. And there's a strong feeling that the co-creators of the late, lamented Losers are having a great time doing a straight crime story with this series. It will be fun to read this whole story together in one TPB. But for me, there's just not enough in this one single issue to get me to come back for the next three issues as floppies.
– Jason Sacks
The Fearless Defenders #1
(Cullen Bunn, Will Sliney, Veronica Gandini)
A handful of months after canceling one of my favorite superhero comics of 2012, The Defenders by Fraction/Dodson/McKelvie/Pierfeder
ici, Marvel brings the property back with an all-female team of Fearless Defenders featuring Misty Knight and Valkyrie (so far). I can live with that — if I can't have my Weird Avengers, I'll gladly live with another superheroine book.
Cullen Bunn and Will Sliney present a pretty good first issue that introduces its characters (including bespectacled, freckled archaeologist Anabelle Riggs), offers a couple requisite superhero fight scenes while offering enough reason to continue on with these characters. Sliney's art reminds me a bit of an unpolished Terry Dodson and features a couple too many Misty Knight ass-shots, but Bunn's script has enough personality to make up for any artistic pitfalls.
Also of note: another same-sex kiss in the first issue of a mainstream superhero comic! The last one I can think of was in Young Avengers #1 last month. Bunn and Sliney treat it like more of a surprise than Gillen and McKelvie did with theirs, but, still, it's not treated like some lascivious thing. Basically, I vote Marvel have a same-sex kiss in every comic always and forever until there's world peace.
– Danny Djeljosevic
All-New X-Men #7
(Brian Michael Bendis, David Marquez, Marte Gracia; Marvel)
When the excitement over Beast's new aesthetic passed, and the confrontation between Cyclops and his younger self occurred, it's slightly disappointing to see All-New X-Men fall into a routine. Not to say that I'm not surprised. The X-Men have had more than their fair share of time-displaced visitors; especially of the extended stay variety and following this trend, it's apparently no problem for the the younger version of the original team to join the school and train under Kitty Pryde. I gotta say my favorite part of this issue was watching two iterations of "youngest X-Man" go toe-to-toe, but a solid part of this issue was intent on angsting around with Cyclops.
Of course, you can't exactly blame Cyclops for being generally down. The guy spends his off-time soliloquizing about his woes enough as it is. Bring him to the future and call him a murdering jerk, and you're likely to exacerbate his condition.
Aside from bringing Mystique into the mix, I can't say that this issue did more than repeat what we've already gone over. Young Cyclops has to figure out his next move, Beast did a pretty dumb thing in bringing the kids to the present, and Wolverine is mad at everything. It seems that Bendis is desperate for an instigator, explaining the inclusion of Mystique, and yet, it still seems like everyone's waiting on Cyclops. Including the readers.
– Sean Gonzalez
New Avengers #3
(Jonathan Hickman, Steve Epting, Rick Magyar, Frank D'Armata; Marvel)
This is a pretty major issue — of New Avengers certainly, but also in terms of major Marvel Universe machinations if you're into what's going on with the Infinity Gauntlet. Shame it happens as late as the third issue of a $4 comic, because if you opened with the big, conflict-creating events of New Avengers #3 rather than the Black Panther-centric first issue we got, there'd probably be some serious buzz around this title.
Originally, I thought this was just a book that was titled New Avengers because fans wouldn't read a comic titled The Illuminati, but it's finally clear that this is a book about a team of smart people who have taken it upon themselves to pull off huge world-saving moves behind the scenes, often acting in questionable morality as they do so. I think that's a dynamite premise (that still should have been called Secret Avengers), but, again, it's a shame that it three issues for that to become clear. If this was the first issue, I'd probably be raving about it.
Also, I'm tickled that The Beast has been consistently portrayed as kind of a dick in every Marvel comic book I've read since he quit the X-Men in a hissy fit a couple years ago. I don't know if that's the writers' intentions but I've come to intensely dislike him in pretty much everything he appears in these days. Oh Christ, why do I even have opinions about fictional children's characters?
– Danny Djeljosevic
Tribute: James Dean
(Jim Beard, Eric Johns; Bluewater)
For any of you who are longtime readers of this site, you know that we often have a bit of a problem with the comics that Bluewater publishes. It's not that we dislike the company or judge them based on some of the rumors that float around the internet about them. It's more that their books often seem a bit sloppy and self-sabotaging and sometimes trigger existential doubt among our
reviewers because of their implications about our society. Yeah, Bluewater triggers angst.
Last week, friend of the site Jim Beard sent me a copy of his new Tribute: James Dean comic, a kind of slightly sarcastic, slightly loving biography of the screen legend. The writing on this comic is mostly really fun, but the copy editing of the material is often weak. And the artwork — oh my god, it's a trainwreck.
Just look at that page above. Can you tell me what in the world is going on there, especially in panel two? Are James Dean and Alec Guinness driving on a road or over desert dunes like they're in a dune buggy or something? Is their car going over a ravine or doing a summersault or what? And why doesn't either of those people look like James Dean or Alec Guiness in the slighted little bit? Is this a dream or is it supposed to be real? Just what the fuck is going on here? Is that even Guiness on that page or someone else? I have absolutely no clue.
That page completely stopped me cold as I read the story as I paused for a long time, trying desperately to make sense of the item in front of me. The whole story is full of pages like that one. At times the art seems tantalizingly close to complete but it still ends up missing key, important aspects that make it feel real — as an example, there's a scene in New York that has a nice image of the skyscrapers and theatres but most cars are missing and the streets seem impossibly wide. It desperately needs just a little bit more attention to make sense — or a level of experience that artist Eric Johns just doesn't have.
But Beard's writing in this book is bright and interesting. It's a bit conversational, a bit in your face, and very intriguing.
This tension between writing and art goes through the whole book. Again and again Beard intrigues the reader, and again and again Eric Johns's art is just not up to the material he's presenting. Johns's art commits the worst sin possible in a book like this: James Dean never actually looks like James Dean. There has to be a ton of reference material available online with pictures of the actor, but I suspect that Johns is just too inexperienced to be able to draw realistic and consistent faces yet.
That's a shame, because I enjoyed Beard's story and became a bit intrigued by the story of James Dean. Hmm, I wonder if any of his movies are on Netflix…
– Jason Sacks
WE HAVE A MODERN EQUIVALENT OF MORRISON/CASE DOOM PATROL AND WE SHOULD THANK OUR LUCKY STARS DC HAS THUS FAR FORGOTTEN TO CANCEL IT OR REPLACE THE CREATIVE TEAM WITH DISGRACED '90s MARVEL FREELANCERS
Dial H #9
Iron Man #5