Friday, November 23, 2012

New Releases from Marvel (+Now!)

Every True Spidey-Fan in the country knows what's up with this image. Do you?

Writer: Dan Slott
Penciler: Richard Elson
Colourist: Antonia Fabela
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Editor: Stephen Wacker

There's a certain air of gravitas surrounding the only title left standing at the three digit mark at Marvel, and it couldn't be in better hands than the brilliant Dan Slott and the fluid Richard Elson.  

A little-known aspect of geekdom that some casual purveyors, high-minded critics, and snobbish dilettantes rarely find pleasure in is the purchase and reading of a new comic book, serialized and standardized for our consumption, and then immediately re-reading it. 

This is in fact the unstated goal of any comic book writer and indeed the artist as well, but along different lines.  A comic book writer wants you to come back to the story with a fresh pair of eyes after the big reveal several issues into an arc. Old dialogue (and even the character's internal monologue) works differently with the new parcels of information presented, a bit down the line, twisting or turning meaning, while huge chunks of storyline form in increments, serialized as they are, episodic as they can be. 

With this issue of Amazing Spider-Man, Dan Slott has achieved this effect in the cleverest way possible. After following the story with a wary eye since the refreshingly easy taste of Slott's cleverness with Spider Island, and the too-even assembly of Doc Ock's global frying master plan thwarted (or so it seemed), this reviewer found himself re-reading this and every issue since that latter arc in a frenzy of double-meanings and undertones and foreshadowing.  Nothing is forced. Nothing is actually conveyed as trite, even when going through well-worn territory (read: recent Hobgoblin story).  With this issue, and indeed, his entire arachnid-based oeuvre, Dan Slott has proven to be one of the absolute finest Spider-Man writers of all time.  Do readers agree? The issue's already in its second printing, if that's any indication.


That's right. Iron Man is showing up with a jet crate full of champagne, loose women, and nukes.

Artist: Greg Land
Writer: Kieron Gillen

Let's face it. Tony Stark is a prick.  

With the fifth reboot/relaunch/volume of the Iron Man comic, we find that primary concerns of Mr. Stark include a: his attempts at altruism and atonement for being a de facto weapon-supplier being cooked up by friendemies into hubris-flavored crow, b: he's very very cool looking when he's drawn by Kieron Gillen, and c: corporate piracy and take-overs are a threat to any good superhero CEO.

Certainly, the inner monologues are snappy, and the tech is high-grade. There's some cockiness to the manner of presentation, and stiffness in certain scenes, but we can chalk that up to first-day jitters. However, there is an underwhelming sense of drive here. Sure, Pepper Potts is pissed that she can't be ... I'm looking for a "p" word here... paid? Rescue? Matt Fraction drew out the last issues of Iron Man into an entirely-too-large spectacle, which while pretty and making all the right buzzes and clicks, didn't feel any more substantial by the end than this iteration of the series does at its outset.

Naturally, with the oncoming blowback towards corporate overlords of America, even now bickering to get the middle class to blame the poor for their own inept malfeasance, we can expect perhaps a message from Tony Stark at some point in the future (infuriating super-rich prick that he is) to all of his fans.  Something unbelievable clever and simultaneously hollow that amounts to "Hey, I'm not a bad guy, I'm just a white male power noble fantasy mixed with high-tech knight moral code. I'm the billionaire that sleeps with all the women you'll never get. Don't hate me because I'm better than you. I do good things." 

Sales for this title can be expected to pick up once the next movie comes out.  


Sometimes you have to wonder why robots would want murals depicting their annihilation of all mankind.

Cover Artist: Kalman Andrasofszky
Writer: Greg Pak
Penciler: Stephen Segovia
Inker: Stephen Segovia

Remember back when Marvel was the "House of Ideas"?  

Remember the classic and not-so-classic run of "What If?" and "What the...?" and then later "Exiles"?

X-Treme X-Men delivers the essence of all that in a "steampunk alternate reality heroes joining forces to stop evil Charles Xaviers throughout the multiverse" package.  It's fun. It's functionally one of the most fun comic books being released in stores today, and for some reason simultaneously the most "out of the loop" in the entire company's universe.  X-Treme X-Men is like that cool cousin you only see at family reunions that has a crazy mother (your aunt, Astonishing X-men), but they used to be really geeky and stupid (Claremont's original X-Treme X-Men).  Now they've got a special oomph to them, though. They'd be a black sheep if your family even cared enough to notice them. 

X-Treme X-Men isn't a guilty pleasure, that's insulting. It's an anomaly, a set-up for early cancellation (think Firefly), by virtue of how quirky and good it is. But each issue is packed with snappy and interesting story, the art always somehow perfectly fits the quirky appeal of the story, and it flows well.  Overall, a real treat. Greg Pak deserves some Offbeat Title of the Year award, truth be told, and in this issue Stephen Segovia's jagged style moves like an angel with dirty wings.


Admit it. You've always secretly wanted to set an elephant on fire with Ben Franklin's ghost.

Cover Artist: Geof Darrow
Writers: Brian Posehn, Gerry Duggan
Penciler: Tony Moore
Colourist: Val Staples
Letterer: Joe Sabino
Editor: Jordan D. White

There are two reasons you're buying this comic, really. One, you know who Brian Posehn is, or you were at the comic book shop and you noticed Geoff Darrow's talented muckety muck all over the cover. 

You're not buying this comic because you love Deadpool, so don't pretend otherwise.  Deadpool's readers, myself among them, have been jerked around by this schizophrenic suicidal burn victim merc with a mouth for well over a year in the series before the Marvel NOW! revamp/rerun.  It's time for change, to borrow a line from the President of the United whatsit. 

Brian Posehn loves comics, but the biggest worry one has about a comedian writing a comic book is (oddly) that sometimes that just doesn't work.  We saw Kevin Smith flounder and flub Green Arrow and Daredevil (they called those "a tad talky" back in the day), and we've seen Gilbert Godfrey screw up that time he wrote an issue of The Punisher (lie), but almost immediately in this arc of the series we are introduced to all the elements necessary to expect a good run out of this comic, plus a sassy fat black lady that works for SHIELD (who enlists Deadpool in a "hurry up and get to the hi jinks" heated moment to stop resurrected dead American history figures).

The real test and payoff for this series is still a few issues away, but for now, the quips are fresh, the plot moves along at a steady pace, and Tony Moore's art honestly exudes how much fun he's having with it. When everybody stops laughing for a moment to catch their breath, we'll see if the stitch in our side is from all the laughs or inoperable lung cancer. 


There are currently 9,876 dimensions overlapping with Marvel 616. Next stop? Jersey City. It always ends up like this.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #1: "Castaway in Dimension Z"
Artist: John Romita Jr.
Writer: Rick Remender

We start this issue out with a flashback to a young Steven Rogers witnessing his father beating his mother, who not only stands her ground but teaches the future Captain America a lesson he'll carry deep into the future.  This gives Rick Remender's skills as a master of efficiency in scene dynamics a chance to shine. It also gives John Romita Jr. a chance to draw a bruised-up puffy face, his wheelhouse. 

In all seriousness, this issue of Captain America proves Rick Remender has the stones to run with the big dogs, as if there was ever any real doubt.  He goes through the checklist of perfect set-ups to establish character while paying homage to the arcs immediately preceding this one. Sharon Jones and Captain America's relationship, taken out and hung up on the wall for everyone to mull over. Zola and Dimension Z, hearkening to the first shows of promise Remender provided in the old days of Fear Agent.  

All the elements are present and everything is accounted for. John Romita Jr. is practically a seal of approval for writers at Marvel, at this point. He's familiar enough with the histrionics of the medium to convey everything more efficiently than he once did, and perhaps Rick Remender pushes that a bit with the script.  

In all honesty, this reviewer has not bought a Captain America comic book since 1995, when Mark Waid and Ron Garney involved themselves in much the same tones as can be seen here, in the old star-spangled super soldier.  For Remender and Romita, there will be an exception made, for however long it takes.


Would you attend a Power Point presentation put on by Bruce Banner? If the projector breaks we're screwed.

Artist: Leinil Yu
Writer: Mark Waid

Speaking of Mark Waid, bless his soul for taking on this particular project, after the various Hulk fracases of previous years inevitably sizzled back into status quo territory (as they always do, no matter how many different colored Hulks are actually produced, how many edges to Banner's psyche are explored, whatever)...

The difficulty, of course, comes with the fact that besides being a force of nature in purple pants when he goes green, Banner is a scientist, and he is overshadowed by Tony Stark and Reed Richards, and heck, even Peter Parker's got a job at Horizon Labs these days.  Waid pulls this to the forefront almost immediately, and then moves in with that SHIELD edge, now involving the inevitable Maria Hill interview.

After years of working on the series Irredeemable (and seeing it all the way to its natural and satisfactory conclusion) it's good to see Waid returning to the mainstream and one-upping any misconceptions about his status as Silver Age Standard.  With Leinil Yu as ever giving us cinematic expression with each panel, the major thrust of the new Indestructible Hulk is rather straightforward, but opens up to great realms of potential.  

If everyone involved wasn't already vetted, this reviewer would be concerned about the status quo creeping back in, or worse, the botched attempt at revamping the status quo, then the mangled attempt at un-botching the revamp, then throwing the whole thing out the window and trying to multiply to solve the problem, then trying to divide it, subtract it, and add it again.  I have just summed up nearly a decade of the various Hulk series up to this point. If anyone is capable of taking down that mess and putting it back to work right, dividing by zero, practically squaring the circle, it's Mark Waid. Godspeed, I say.


Comic Book Reviews for Recent DC Releases

"Yeah, can we just try to drive home the point that Aquaman's a total bad-ass every chance we can? Great. Thanks."


Written by: 
Geoff Johns
Art by: 
Tony S. Daniel
Richard Friend
Backup Art by: 
Gary Frank
Cover by: 
Tony S. Daniel
Richard Friend

Have fans had enough shenanigans to last a lifetime with this hacked-together driftwood that DC is producing with recent issues of Justice League? You know you're in trouble when your main event story arc is so waif-like it feels like it's being bullied by the backup story with Shazam! (which for some reason makes one think there are sick times in store for the beleaguered Billy Batson). The art, as ever, is pretty in a refined sugar kind of way.

Honestly, there isn't much to say for the story of the Justice League up to this point. Stuff is happening, sure, but there's rarely any extension of tension in the content.  The whole thing feels forced like absolutely nothing else Geoff Johns has ever written, and much like the Star Wars prequels, these issues cannot be undone.  They're canon now, we can only move on.  It feels like Johns is removed even further from his comfort zone with the (temporary) removal of Hal Jordan from the team, and the focus on a (forced forced forced forced) relationship between Wonder Woman and Superman felt like it lacked the passion it might have had with, say, years of actual build-up, as it has been rumbling in the background of the main arc for a minute now.  But the final page/panel of this issue is the greatest and most frustrating tease of all, as it seems to imply that something has been going on under the surface of these hollow automaton pose-a-thon caricatures the entire time. 

But that's just a tease, maybe. Nothing to see here yet, kids, move along.


What is this goofy mess? Superman looks, like, twelve years old. Heck, Jason Todd has more crow's feet than him.


Written by: 
Scott Lobdell
Art by: 
Pascal Alixe
Cover by: 
Kenneth Rocafort 

A genuinely guilty pleasure of this reviewer is the smart and slick surprise sleeper, Red Hood and the Outlaws.  Whether taking on Obese Asian Mob Mistresses, fighting smoke ninjas, or taking on alien menaces, the jumping bean of the major arcs in this series seems to lead us into a nostalgic singalong.  With Starfire (amnesiac nymphomaniac alien princess) and Arsenal (that, um, goofy bro with the trick arrows and a big mouth) backing up Jason Todd (Robin II, aka Red Hood, aka dead man walking) in his misadventures, there's no way to successfully summarize the main thrust or moral to this comic book. And it wouldn't work any other way.  That... and Pascal Alixe's art could make anything look cool.

Red Hood and the Outlaws succeeds where many other titles along the same vein or corner of the DC New 52 essentially fail.  The failure of Teen Titans, or The Ravagers, or whatever other mess being spawned by Image-hacks of Christmas Past, is that the overarching plot crushes any real chance at characterization, which in turn kills investment in the overarching plot.  Instead of fleshed-out dialogue and events, flattened stick-puppets in flashy costumes react verbosely again and again to some (likely misunderstood) villain with nigh-infinite powers and an endless array of schemes within plots within schemes, amounting to bupkiss, since nobody involved is easy to access or relate to.  

In Red Hood and the Outlaws, we're put in third person limited omniscient perspective with essentially a cast of three characters, and each character's motivations are explored alongside the demons and angels of their personal backstories that inevitably pop up.

With this issue, Superman shows up and the standard superhero slugfest ensues. Except it doesn't feel forced or stupid. Scott Lobdell has grown increasingly comfortable with this comic, as evidenced by the spunky manner in which he chooses to approach it. It's not stale, it's not automatically painful, and where it lags, Pascal's art kicks in and distracts. Well played, overall, and consistent with what it promises.


You know you're in trouble when the slobbering alien starts firing yellow dwarfs at you.

Written by: 
Tony Bedard
Art by: 
Aaron Kuder
Cover by: 
Aaron Kuder
Variant Cover by: 
Aaron Kuder

Good old Kyle Rayner. More approachable than any other Green Lantern in the sector, and possibly the savior of the entire universe, soon enough. For some reason I have a soft spot for Green Lantern: New Guardians. It's quirky and moves at a brisk pace, exploring the potential for cosmic DCU done right. The art is consistent and quiet at times, then dazzles with the technological wonders of computer content playing with the chromatic content generated in the Green Lantern sector of the DCU New 52. It feels less forced than some titles and characters, you aren't forced to jettison decades of hard-won memories in the nostalgia fields just to enjoy the actions taking place. Characters are explored, up-sized, fleshed-out, and turned around each issue, and the cast of characters is such that the protagonist of any story might be explored tangentially to the overarching plot, namely the Guardians of the Universe are evil as hell and have raised a Third Army, rendered Hal Jordan and Sinestro moot, and are even now finding new ways to make readers hate them every issue. It's all building up to something big, and the spine of that mega-event is New Guardians. Expect its spotlight to brighten soon.


The classic "Fat Mobster type strikes a deal with a Demon", you know, the usual. No bigs.

DC COMICS PRESENTS #14: Blue Devil & Black Lightning 

Written by: 
Marc Andreyko
Art by: 
Robson Rocha
Cover by: 
Ryan Sook

It's nice that DC has seen fit to use DC Comics Presents as a testing ground for all the characters that don't get their own continuous series.  Black Lightning had an interesting investment in the Final Crisis storyline of universes gone past, and Blue Devil found himself in the breakroom of the Justice League Headquarters not a few times over the years.  Now the two of them team up to stop a demon and his soul-trafficking mobster with a skin condition and a glandular problem. Overall the art gets kitschy when everything slows down, but in certain pages the kinetics of it give the action an enhancement. Not a bad story, but by the numbers with just enough developments to keep a reader reading. Maybe.

Joker's back. And he's playing mind games with Catwoman to an absolutely ridiculous extent.

Written by:
Ann Nocenti
Art by:
Rafael Sandoval
Jordi Tarrogona
Cover by:
Trevor McCarthy

This issue of Catwoman is aggravating, due to its ties to the current crossover in Bat-titles "Death in the Family"... yet compelling in its own right. This particular issue goes with the new format of all Batman related titles, namely "Let's all have a heart-to-heart with the Joker", better known as "Death of the Family", wherein the Joker, having had his face surgically removed off-camera, somehow develops superhuman-like powers, not unlike Wolverine, where he can simultaneously be everywhere at once and at the same time develop elaborate death traps, break the neck of every policeman in a station save one, kidnap Alfred, recreate every single action he'd ever made up until this time and monologue until you want to claw his face back off. Here he continues with his amazing new Joker powers by conning Catwoman into paralyzing herself and get a bunch of bat-symbols all over her.  Nothing really feels like it's heading anywhere, and by the time we get to our stop on this ride, we may have already fallen asleep. Catwoman started fresh and still has a bit of that in it, but not for quirky cross-overs that feel like "talkies".


All the overlapping conversations of 100 Bullets are finally revealed in Wonder Woman, for some reason.


Written by:
Brian Azzarello
Art by:
Tony Akins
Dan Green
Cover by:
Cliff Chiang
Variant Cover by:
Cliff Chiang

Brian Azzarello is doing a good job with Wonder Woman and retooling the mythology of her new place in the DC Universe. The overall reverence for the gods and goddesses, fitting, one would suppose, is the circulatory system that makes this book function. Gone are all the mismatched peculiarities and baggage of the previous volumes, now at least her motives are clear and present. The interactions with all the offshoots of deity and godlings and established scions has been ongoing since this series began, and it seems to sit in its own remote location in the DCU New 52, far away from continuities that would muss it up. This is positive, for the time being, allowing Azzarello to enrich Diana in the manner in which she deserves. Where the Justice League's Wonder Woman feels more teeth-gritting and over-archetyped, the Wonder Woman in her own title is more regal in her bearing, fearless but not beligerrant, and overall inhabiting both her godly namesake and another thing entirely, a far cry from when she was a gimmicky drama queen or a murderous misandrist.