Sunday, December 11, 2011

Comics Round-Up (Dec.7): DC Comics

DCNew52-20111207-New52&Shade

Another big week for DC Comics

This week I reviewed a number of the New 52 titles, but they are spread over a couple of posts. In this one, I take a look at the fourth issues of Action Comics, Detective Comics and Batwing. The fourth issue of Stormwatch and Swamp Thing will be reviewed in a much later post that will look at all issues in those two series. (I wanted to get them reviewed before I left New York, but that didn’t happen unfortunately, so they’ll have to wait until late January.) I did manage to get the first two issues of The Shade read, though, so I’ve included a review of them.

This week also features a couple of catch-up titles from the New 52 (Green Arrow and Men of War) and also the first two issues of The Shade. Finally, I decided to pick up Hellblazer Annual #1, as I’ve been enjoying Constantine’s involvement in Justice League Dark, and thought it would be nice to read something that focused a little more on him as the main character.

DCNew52-20111207-MenOfWarGreenArrow

In all, a good selection of comics.

Reviewed herein: Action Comics #4, Batman: Detective Comics #4, Batwing #4, Green Arrow #3-4, Hellblazer Annual #1, Men at War #3-4, The Shade #1-2 & The Savage Hawkman #1-3

Action Comics #4

DCNew52-ActionComics-04Writer: Grant Morrison & Sholly Fisch | Artist: Rags Morales, Brad Walker

Is your mind prepared for an encounter with the deadly Terminauts? What awful master do they serve? What horrible fate awaits Superman and the city of Metropolis? The true scope of Grant Morrison and Rags Morales’ ACTION COMICS run begins to come into view, so get those sunglasses ready, ‘cause it is gonna be blinding!

And in a backup story that spins out of ACTION COMICS #2, John Henry Irons takes his first steps toward becoming the hero known as Steel!

After turning against him in the previous issue, the people of Metropolis call on Superman to help them again when faced with a marauding army of robots. Typical, fickle humans...

There is, of course, tons of action in the main story, as well as the back-up story, which deals with a specific fight from the main plot. It’s an interesting idea, and fun to get a little bit extra. It was also a good idea to split them, because otherwise it would have upset the momentum of the issue.

There are weird goings-on as the possessed occupant of the experimental war-suit hunts Superman, and the Terminauts start their ‘collecting’... According to the final page of the issue, the story will pick up again in issue seven – this is a strange decision, considering what happens in this one. Why pause for so long? Guess we’ll just have to see what happens. This title is getting better, and certainly more interesting.

Batman: Detective Comics #4

DCNew52-DetectiveComics-04Writer: Tony S. Daniel | Artist: Tony S. Daniel & Sandu Florea

As Batman uncovers a deranged plot with far-reaching tentacles that touch some of the city’s most elite citizens, he finds himself facing off against his newest and most fearsome foes: Dollmaker and his twisted family of killers!

I must say that I really like the Dollmaker as a bad guy – he’s really sick and sinister, with an interesting background and motivation. His entourage of altered and twisted minions is creepy as hell. This issue brings, I think, some closure to this story arc.

Batman has been captured by the Dollmaker (see issue three), and he is up for auction before being turned into one of the Dollmaker’s gruesome “art pieces”.

This issue didn’t feel quite as satisfying as I would have hoped, but it was still pretty great. The premise is interesting and focuses as much on Commissioner Gordon as it does on Batman. The story alternates between action and creepy atmospherics, with some ‘backroom’ concern about Batman from other members of the Gotham PD. Most importantly, we get the first murmurings of who is going to be the next villain in the series (hint: he waddles, and likes fish…). If I had one complaint, it would be that not enough was made of the Dollmaker. He’s a really cool, new villain, and I would have liked to see a bit more about him and his back-story.

Great atmospheric and gothic artwork, which really lends itself to the story. Detective Comics easily remains one of the best titles in DC’s New 52 reboot. It’s grim, gritty, brutal, and superbly put together on all fronts (art and writing). Can’t wait for the next issue.

Batwing #4

DCNew52-Batwing-04Writer: Judd Winick | Artist: ChrisCross

As Massacre’s bloody reign of murder continues and more heroes fall, Batwing closes in on this mad villain. But with his memories stirring, Batwing’s dark past begins to emerge… At last, the truth of his past will come to light.

Massacre’s killed another member of the Kingdom (offscreen, as it were – we arrive long after the confrontation), frustrating again Batwing’s attempts to stop his killing spree. This issue offers lots more background on our hero and his dark past. The bulk of the story is made up of a flashback to ten years prior, when David (Batwing) and his brother, Isaac, were child soldiers in a murderous African warlord’s army. The two of them excelled at killing, so were favourites of their master. Finally, however, they were faced with a situation that went beyond even their loose moral boundaries, and have to decide whether or not they are going fight back. The consequences are deadly, but it gives us a bit of David’s history and understanding of what motivated his decision to enter the police force and, later, take on the role of Batwing.

It’s great that the title draws readers’ attention to some of the horrors taking place in Africa, and that it does it in an accessible and engaging manner is doubly impressive. It’s a great title. Well worth checking out – it offers an interesting and unique spin on the Batman story. ChrisCross’s art is also excellent. This just keeps getting better.

Green Arrow #3-4

DCNew52-GreenArrow-03Writer: J.T. Krul | Artist: Dan Jurgen & George Perez

#3 – The Jersey Shore of super villains crashes Seattle to stream Green Arrow’s death over the Internet! It’s the final fight between Green Arrow and Rush: media maven vs. media star! The whole world’s watching on their QPhones and QPads. Why aren’t you? Plus: Queen Industries launches their new initiative – and issues a challenge to the world.

#4 – It’s a Tokyo showdown! At an international tech expo that caters to the likes of WayneTech and Queen Industries, party crasher Green Arrow finds himself in the sights of a mystery woman bent on taking down “evil” corporations – like the one Green Arrow owns.

If you’ve been reading my comics reviews since October, you’ll know that I didn’t particularly like the first two issues of Green Arrow. The message just seemed too blunt and lacked enough nuance or subtlety for my taste. However, seeing as there appeared to be a new story arc starting in the fourth issue, I decided to check it out and see if things had improved. Now that I’ve got myself up to speed, I would say that it’s slowly improving.

As with the first two issues, the story contains a fair amount of commentary on the celebrity-obsessed, voyeuristic tendencies of today’s society and especially its youth. Sadly, the message remains unsubtle. It’s an important and valid observation, and using the vigilante setting as a way to get the point across is good, but it’s not exactly original. There’s nothing wrong with the sentiment, but given that plenty of DC’s titles manage to portray whatever themes they may be discussing (sometimes similar as those in Green Arrow), with more nuance and subtlety, this makes this title feel a little too blunt. I sometimes feel like I’m being needlessly harsh on this point, but it’s jumped out at me reading all four issues.

In issue three, we start with Ollie, as Green Arrow, cornered by the rich, young, artificially-powered Rush and his entourage of reality celebrity thugs, who we met in issues one and two, and he needs to come up with a way to get himself out of the stick situation without killing anyone or causing too much collateral damage. I still wish there was more on how these spoiled thugs got their powers, but it’s glossed over or not mentioned at all. While Ollie is off saving people, his partners at Queen Industries are starting (well, continuing, really) to question his focus and priorities, which, in the corporate world means forces are manoeuvring to push him out.

DCNew52-GreenArrow-04The final page of issue three sets things up for the story arc that starts in issue four. It’s quite a surprising and brutal final frame, which suggested to me that this could be going into darker territory moving forward. The fourth issue kicks off with more detail on Oliver’s precarious corporate, “official” life. We also start to learn of Blood Rose’s “fixation” on the Green Arrow, but not so much that we won’t be kept guessing for a while longer. The two have a long, drawn-out fight at Queen Industries, but we still don’t really know much about her or why she’s gunning for Ollie – except that she really doesn’t need to rely on the guns she seems to favour. This felt like an opening chapter to something potentially much bigger, so I think I’ll probably pick up at least one more issue. We’ll see.

Both of these issues are very vividly drawn and coloured – very strong colours are used throughout, which makes it quite striking. It’s a very nicely put together title.

Hellblazer Annual #1 (Vertigo)

DCVertigo-HellblazerAnnual-01Writer: Peter Milligan | Artist: Simon Bisley

A dying woman’s desperate need to see her long lost son sends John Constantine on a mission in “Suicide Bridge”, a haunting tale of evil and melancholy that finds John using his occult connections to learn why so many young people are going missing. It’s a story full of strange places and desperate lives that leads Constantine to unearth his own connection to the mysterious disappearance of a boyhood friend.

Constantine has gone home to investigate the long-ago disappearance of a childhood friend, and along the way discovers that something far larger and more sinister is going on, and is related to a spate of more recent child disappearances in the area.

Constantine takes the case hard, wallowing in grief, and reminiscing about his childhood. It’s a pretty bleak story, but put together wonderfully. Poignant, dark and quite riveting, this is a great discussion of childhood tragedy and how we deal with family trauma in both the short- and long-term. It’s a longer ‘annual’, as opposed to issue, and some people might think it could do with being a little shorter, but I thought the steady pace never felt like it was treading water, and rather enhanced the bleak atmosphere. I really enjoyed this. A must for Constantine fans.

Very dark, atmospheric and gothic artwork throughout. I would love the title page (with the bridge) framed and mounted on the wall – this has some really awesome artwork inside. Very highly recommended.

Men of War #3-4

DCNew52-MenOfWar-03Writer: Ivan Brandon & Jonathan Vankin | Artist: Tom Derenick & Phil Winslade

#3 – Sometimes even the best intel isn’t good enough. Rock and his men find themselves surrounded by dozens of guerrilla fighters when their last clip runs out – but bullets might not be their only weapon. Also: Ice and Tracker come face-to-face with a family of human shields. Can they clear the area in time for an incoming evac without harming innocents?

#4 – Easy Company wrestles with the betrayal of one of their own, as each man processes Kobra’s secret in his own way. But the company must forge ahead, marching into unknown enemy territory – while an ancient evil lies waiting in a salty haze. Will this be the end for Rock and his men?

Plus: A team of mecha fans turned engineers have built the hardware of their dreams, but will it work out the way it always does in the movies?

As with Green Arrow, above, I picked these two issues up on a whim, to see how the series was faring two more months into its run. The first two issues of Men of War had been good, but the episodic feel made me think a collected edition would be a better, more rewarding reading experience. Despite this, I decided to get these anyway. (I’m not very good at taking my own advice…)

It takes well over half of the third issue for something weird to happen – until then, it’s basically your average mission-gone-bad story. This is not a bad thing in and of itself, but after the events of the previous issue it seemed a bit of a let-down. I also couldn’t see how it tied in to the previous issue at all. And then things suddenly stop... WTF? The bonus ‘Navy Seals’ story (part 3 of 3) has an interesting and original plot point and ended well. I’m not as keen on the bonuses as I am the main story, but that’s not to say it’s terrible. It is, after all, a “bonus”.

DCNew52-MenOfWar-04In the fourth issue (which has an awesome cover, in my opinion), the squad are still trying to make their way home, Sergeant Rock trying to keep all his guys alive, living and breathing “no man left behind”, despite Korba’s strange manifestation in the previous issue. It doesn’t really go anywhere, despite the action at the end. It’s not bad, it’s just... Well, not a whole hell of a lot happens.

The new bonus story/series that’s included in issue four, “Skull Bots”, is more interesting than Navy Seals.

The series has very good art, even if it is nothing to write home about specifically. It does the job well. The Navy Seals art has an older feel to it – not properly comic-vintage, but it feels older, like that of the Boys’ Own titles or something.

It’s entirely possible that this the least enthusiastic review I’ve ever written. Which is sad, because the series had moments that suggested something cool was going to happen. Instead, it seems to have deflated the longer we’re paying attention. That or I have unnecessarily high expectations.

The Shade #1-2 (of 12)

DC-TheShade-01Writer: James Robinson | Artist: Cully Hamner

#1 – An attack at the Starman museum kicks off a globe-hopping, centuries spanning quest that will irrevocably change The Shade's life, and ultimately shed light on his true origin!

#2 – After surviving a brutal attack in Opal City, the Shade must leave his beloved home in search of answers. His first stop is Hamburg, Germany, where the violent, invulnerable private investigator Von Hammer has the first piece of the puzzle. But to reach the detective, the Shade must duel with darkness against French shadow villain Bete Noir. The menace and mystery are just beginning…

James Robinson returns to the world of his acclaimed Starman series with a new 12-issue spin-off starring the antihero, The Shade. Sadly, I’ve never read Starman, so I was a little bit less excited about this new series than I might have been. Nevertheless, Tony Harris’s cover for the first issue really caught my eye, and after reading up a bit about the series, I decided to give it a go when the second issue was available.

First we join The Shade and Opal, as they have a rather dour conversation about what kind of lives and relationships metahumans DC-TheShade-02can have. Then we switch to William von Hammer, as he’s chased by a team of augmented assassins. We only get a couple of hints as to why he’s being chased and who he actually is, but he offers a stark contrast to the immortal Shade – in appearance and temperament.

The Shade has, according to his girlfriend, become boring and needs an adventure to revitalise himself. Coincidentally, someone’s out to get him, and he gets far more than adventure by the end of the first issue, as he is visited by one of the least subtle members (to use “hero” wouldn’t be accurate) of the DCU... We only get a small hint of what The Shade can do, in terms of magic, but after the first issue I was definitely interested to find out more about him.

In the second issue, we get to know him much better. He is still quite an old-fashioned gentleman (particularly in his speech-patterns and general social mores), which gives the issue an interesting tone, as well as some refined dialogue. We also get to see his magic in a much more impressive manner, as he begins the journey and quest that will no doubt make up the rest of this series (which should end up being 12 issues in all). It’s interesting stuff, with some good action, the first hints of the greater conspiracy, and also some more tidbits about Shade’s own history and story.

Despite being totally unfamiliar with the characters at the heart of the story, this was a fun read, and I think it has a great deal of promise. I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes.

*     *     *

As I’ve mentioned in a couple of other posts, I was going to do a bumper catch-up post for a handful of New 52 titles. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to get them all read, except for The Savage Hawkman. So, instead of saving it for February, I’ve decided to include the review here.

Savage Hawkman #1-3

DCNew52-TheSavageHawkman-01_thumbWriter: Tony S. Daniel | Artist: Philip Tan

#1 – Carter Hall’s skill at deciphering lost languages has led him to a job with an archaeologist who specializes in alien ruins – but will the doctor’s latest discovery spread an alien plague through New York City? No matter the personal cost, Carter Hall must don his wings and become the new, savage Hawkman to survive!

#2 – When the alien creature known as Morphicius starts draining the life force from Carter Hall, a.k.a. Hawkman, he learns that there’s more to his new victim than meets the eye. The mysterious properties of the Nth Metal protect Hawkman – but in the process, they are also making Morphicius powerful! With innocent lives in the balance, can Hawkman turn the table on his enemy, or are Morphicius newfound powers too powerful to stop?

#3 – Using his unique gift for deciphering alien symbols, Carter Hall learns the secets knowledge of his new foe, Morphicius, even as his deadly power continues to grow! Unraveling this mystery is Hawkman’s only chance to defeat Morphicius before he becomes unstoppable.

DCNew52-TheSavageHawkman-02_thumbThese three issues offer a good introduction to Carter Hall, as he tries to first rid himself of the Hawkman suit, and then re-learn how to use it in its new state. It doesn’t want to be discarded, and after Hall’s aborted attempt to divest himself of the burden, it forms a more permanent and intrusive bond with him. Hall’s an interesting protagonist, clearly dealing with some personal issues.

An archaeological expedition has found something alien offshore, and Hall is called in to decipher some text and symbols that cover what appears to be a cocoon or vessel of some kind. But then something goes terribly wrong, and Morphicius is unleashed on an unsuspecting world.

By the third issue, Hawkman and Morphicius have clashed a couple of times. Carter learns more about the Hawkman aspect and its new qualities and the powers it bestows upon him. We also see some of his relationships with the others from the archaeological group. He’s not really a people-person, and seems to have perfected the art of The Brood. We are introduced to the mysterious Dr Hogarth Kane, but not really much about why he’s so interested in Morphicius (let alone how he knows about the alien creature). In this penultimate issue in the Morphicius story arc, Hawkman closes in on the alien and also Kane, who has been experimenting on Morphicius’s tissue.

DCNew52-TheSavageHawkman-03_thumbI’m not entirely sure what I think of this title. It’s interesting, for sure, but the story seems to move both slowly and fast at the same time. It doesn’t flow quite as well as many of the other titles I’ve been reading. Some things appear a little too easy or convenient, and there are a few jumps in time (only minor), but it seems that in order to keep this to four issues, they’ve really upped the tempo. I’ll read the next issue for the sake of completeness, and because I would like to know what happens to Morphicius.

I really like the art for the series (especially the covers – I seen all of them up to #6, and they’re all pretty striking). The dialogue is good, but I’m not sure there’s enough to the story so far that has hooked me, and will keep me coming back every issue/month. We’ll see after the fourth issue.

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