Friday, February 17, 2012

Comics Round-Up & Catch-Up (Feb.15)


As I’m back in NYC, I’ve been able to get hold of DC and Marvel titles again, so some will be reviewed in the round-ups again, but there are going to be some changes. I’ve decided to only review up to issue six of the New 52 (or, at least until the end of the first story-arc in each), as this is the end of their first volumes. There are just too many that I like, which means it’s becoming financially impossible (not to mention irresponsible) for me to keep on top of them all. I’ve already cut six titles since I got back to New York. Now, whether or not I am able to stick to this decision is another matter entirely, and if I become gainfully employed, this could change. (Please let me get gainfully employed! For more reasons than feeding my comics addiction, of course…)


So, what does this mean for the Comics Round-Ups and New 52 reviews? I’m going to wait for the collected editions. Some of the money that I save will instead go to other collected series, which offer a lot more bang for your buck. I will post three catch-up posts, dealing with New 52 Batman, Superman and the Dark/Edge titles. I will, of course, still be reviewing Boom!, Zenescope, IDW and a few Image titles, as well as some other DC, Marvel, Dynamite and Dark Horse series. (If I get review copies, on the other hand, I’ll definitely feature anything and everything.) I’ll also post a special Star Wars-related comics review this week.

So, back to the reviews – here we go with a big, bumper edition…

Reviewed Herein: Infestation 2: Dungeons & Dragons #1, Ninjettes #1, The Occultist #2-3, The Ray #1, Road Rage #1, The Shade #3, Thief of Thieves #1, Winter Soldier #1-2, Wolverine & the X-Men #3-4, X-Sanction #1-2

Infestation 2: Dungeons & Dragons #1 (IDW)

IDW-Infestation2-Dungeons&Dragons-01Writer: Paul Crilley | Artist: Valerio Schiti

Abraxis Wren is the most notorious inquisitive in Sharn... and when a routine (well, routine by his standards) case puts him on the trail of creatures beyond the ken of mortal, it's only a matter of time before he finds himself caught up in the middle of INFESTATION 2! Introducing the D&D campaign EBERRON to comics!

I’m not at all familiar with the Dungeons & Dragons game, books or comics, save for the 100-page special issue IDW released earlier this year. Therefore, everything in here, from characters to setting, was pretty much new. Right off the bat, though, there are a lot of things to like about this story – for example, the two main characters, Abraxis and Torin, have a great rapport, and the writing offers up a gentle wit (sometimes in the dialogue, sometimes in the background art).

The more I read of the D&D world(s), the more interested I become in finding out more. I particularly liked the magic-infused steampunk style of some of this world. Not something I’ve seen in any other comics. Does anyone have any recommendations of what else I should try out, in terms of either comics or fiction?


Ninjettes #1 (Dynamite)

Dynamite-Ninjettes-01Writer: Al Ewing | Artist: Eman Casallos

Who are they? How did they come to be dead and/or decapitated? And what kind of brutal insanity is their passing about to unleash? Find out the grim connection between college student Kelly Hara and the ice-cold engine of death known as Varla as the origin of the Ninjettes is revealed! Don’t miss this ultra-violent odyssey of sin, scandal, brutality and branding!

I must admit, I don’t understand how the first three sentences of the synopsis are related to the contents of this comic. The characters within have been spun-off from another series, Jennifer Blood, so without having ever read that series I just came at this as if it was something completely new. Which, actually, works fine.

Varla fulfils a contract, and the daughter of the target asks to be taken on as an apprentice. This is not an uncommon idea – a slight twist on the Leon/The Professional storyline, only Varla is a lot less delicate in how she introduces Kelly to the (even) darker and messier sides of the assassination business. The story’s tone is dark, as one would expect, with a rather grim sense of humour. The artwork is colourful, clean and clear, not to mention heavy on the blood and GBH. I really like Casallos’s style, and he does a great job of bringing the story to vivid life.

It’s not for the squeamish, and there is plenty of violence, bloodshed and inappropriate behaviour. It’s not the best comic I’ve ever read, but it’s probably too soon to tell how it’s going to develop in the future. I’d be willing to give it the Three Issue Test, so I expect I should be able to get a review of another couple of issues done.


The Occultist #2-3 (Dark Horse)


Writer: Tim Seeley | Artist: Victor Drujiniu & Andrew Dalhouse

With spell-crazed hit mages and the malevolent serpentine demon known as the Swordbreaker hot on his tail, it’s a steep learning curve for the Occultist, who must master the powerful magic of the Sword – or suffer at the hands of numerous sorcerous enemies. But is our hero wielding this enigmatic weapon, or is it the one in control?

Trapped in another dimension with a deadly assassin, the Occultist must get control over his seemingly unlimited magical powers in order to find a way back to reality, save his girlfriend, and take down the evil demon Swordbreaker.

This is a great mini-series, and I’ve been eager to read the rest ever since enjoying the first issue. Filled with lots of things that I love (magic, the occult, demons, action, gothic story), it’s made me really eager to try out Seeley’s other series, Hack/Slash. His writing is very good, and the dialogue feels natural and is free of cliché. Seeley’s characters are pretty cool, too. I really wish the series was longer, so we could get to know them all better, as well as learn more about the setting.

Rob is a stronger character, as he comes to terms with his new powers, learning more of their extent, and accepting that as long as he possesses the Sword, others will want to take it (and therefore his life) from him. Detective Melendez, accidentally wrapped up in Rob’s battle, isn’t so freaked out by events that she’s unable to stand up to Rob. She shows him what-for. Some of Rob’s past actions come back to haunt him, as the Shadowbreaker takes advantage of someone else’s feelings for Rob, and our hero is forced to face up to what he’s done and also commit a heart-breaking betrayal. Rob holds back on his use of the Sword, but events will ultimately force him to go all-in. Allies pop up in unexpected places, and it all leads to a climactic battle and the start of a new life.

These are nice, long issues, which means we feel like we’re getting a lot more for our money. It also makes up a bit for the short series length. I really like the premise, the magic… basically, everything about this series. The artwork is fantastic, also. The colouring and atmospherics are very nicely done. It’s a real pity the series isn’t longer.

For those who want more of The Occultist, he will return in Dark Horse Presents #11, out April 18th 2012.


The Ray #1 (DC)

DC-TheRay-01Writer: Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti | Artist: Jamal Igle & Rich Perrotta

Lucien Gates’s life is changed forever when he is struck by a mysterious beam of energy that turns him into a glowing gladiator – and being a human ray of light comes in handy when his city is suddenly under attack from giant, building-sized monsters. Unfortunately, light powers are less than handy in keeping his girlfriend happy.

A short sample of this series was included last November in a number of new DC Comics issues, and I thought it looked pretty cool. I’ve only just now been able to give it a try, however.

And I’m really glad I did, because it’s great – the artwork is bright and eye-catching (as one would hope for, from a comic about a kid who now has control over light), and the artistic team is superb.

The story, too, is fun, and Gray and Palmiotti have injected a decent, light humour (sorry, couldn’t resist!), and have done something interesting with the origin story as well – it’s interspersed with a challenge from the “present” day, and Lucien’s narration gives us just the bits that we need, and no more. The issue ends on quite a bloody cliffhanger, and it certainly whet my appetite for some more. I’ll be sure to pick up any other issues I can get my hands on. This was a very pleasant surprise.

This issue claims it’s the first of four issues, but the second issue says “#2 of 6”, so either it’s a typo, or they’ve extended the series based on the popularity of the first issue (or, they messed up from the start). Given how much I liked this first issue, however, I’m hoping for an extension being the reason behind the number changes.

[A special thanks has to go to Alyssa, who braved the crowds at Jim Hanley’s Universe to get this signed by the artists for me – I had already left NYC when this was published, but she was a dear, brave soul and went specially just for me.]


Road Rage #1 (IDW)

IDW-RoadRage-01AWriters: Joe Hill & Stephen King | Adapted by: Chris Ryall | Artist: Nelson Daniel

Acclaimed novelist/Eisner-winning graphic novelist Joe Hill collaborated with his father, Stephen King, for the first time on a tale that paid tribute to Richard Matheson’s classic tale, Duel.

Now, IDW is proud to present comic-book tellings of both stories in Road Rage. First up, is the Hill/King adventure tale, Throttle! Adapted by Chris Ryall alongside Hill & King and featuring art by Nelson Daniel (Joe Hill’s The Cape), Throttle tells the tale of a motorcycle gang pursued by an unseen assailant in a big rig!

The Tribe, the motorcycle club at the heart of this series, is experiencing something of an identity crisis, as members have different expectations of what life in an MC is all about. The role of meth production in their lives adds a further dangerous element to their enterprise, especially when their members are themselves tweaking.

With gritty art, finished off with grungy colouring, this is a visually distinctive title. The story is relatively gentle for this first issue, as we’re introduced to the members of the MC (not all of whom survive the issue). The MC are pursued by a mysterious big rig, and are forced to think on-the-fly how to escape becoming road kill. The issue finishes on a cliffhanger, and I’m interested to see how the story develops. (I’m not sure how many issues there are meant to be in the series, but I do wonder how long it can last.)

It’s an interesting title, one that should appeal to fans of TV show Sons of Anarchy, and also books like Jay Dobyns’s No Angel or Hunter S. Thompson’s Hells Angel. I liked it, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the story develops in the future.

The issue includes an essay by Chris Ryall about the project, and what inspired it.


The Shade #3 (DC)

DC-TheShade-03Writer: James Robinson | Artist: Cully Hamner

The Shade must take a trip “Down Under” to find the answers he seeks about his past. In Sydney, he encounters an old ally named Diablo Blacksmith. But deep in the heart of the Outback lies a monstrous foe, one that The Shade must face completely on his own, and one that knows all of The Shade’s weaknesses.

This is a great issue, although it did feel a little bit more like a transition to something bigger. Our titular hero’s quest to discover who put out the hit on him takes him to Australia, on the trail of a man named Caldecott. There’s a big battle with a giant lizard god, and The Shade’s evil past presents problems for his new mission – he means the person he seeks no harm, but the lizard god only senses his dark past. How he solves this problem is pretty cool, and the artwork for it and the fight are superb.

In fact, the artwork is wonderful throughout. I particularly like how The Shade’s shadow powers are portrayed, but the style is generally very fitting and quite distinctive. I really love this series, which just keeps getting better and better.

[I’m not sure if title is still being published, actually, because I’ve not seen a single copy of issue four in stores – it apparently came out January 11th, though… The first two issues are still available, of course. Anyone know if it’s still being released?]


Thief of Thieves #1 (Image)

Image-ThiefOfThieves-01Writer: Robert Kirkman & Nick Spencer | Artist: Shawn Martinbrough

Conrad Paulson lives a secret double life as master thief Redmond. There is nothing he can’t steal, nothing he can’t have... except for the life he left behind. Now, with a grown son he hardly knows, and an ex-wife he never stopped loving, Conrad must try to piece together what’s left of his life, before the FBI finally catch up to him... but it appears they are the least of his worries.

It’s interesting what the synopsis for this issue focuses on, as a lot of this is totally new information for someone who read the issue before reading a synopsis…

This is a great new series, and I liked it a hell of a lot more than I was expecting. I’m not someone who was swayed by the big names involved (I had to look up who they were – Kirkman is one of the driving forces behind The Walking Dead), but I can report that this is a very strong first issue indeed. We get a fantastic introduction to the main characters and the world of thieves in which they operate, as well as just a little information about their pasts. It’s light-hearted, but also slightly edgy, with quite a big surprise on the final page. The art’s not as crisp as I normally prefer, but it suits the tone and subject matter perfectly – it’s slightly rough-around-the-edges, grittier, but always clear.

This is absolutely a keeper. I can’t wait for issue two.


Winter Soldier #1-2 (Marvel)


Writer: Ed Brubaker | Artist: Butch Guice | Covers: Lee Bermejo

When ex-Russian Sleeper Agents awaken, Winter Solider and Black Widow head into action!

Bucky and Black Widow on the hunt for men trained by the Winter Soldier himself! Who is trying to kill Dr. Doom?

I have a confession to make: I bought the first issue of this series solely on the strength of Lee Bermejo’s cover artwork. Ever since I read Batman: Noel, I’ve been keeping my eye out for more of Bermejo’s work. He is, probably without a doubt, my favourite comic book artist.

Thankfully, despite my less-than-ideal reasons for trying out this series, what I found inside was absolutely fantastic. It takes the superhero genre and mashes it together with the (post-)Cold War espionage genre, to bring us a gripping and action-packed story. Bucky was formerly Captain America’s side-kick, before he was killed and resurrected by the Soviets, and turned into their super spy. [Yeah, that’s a lot of comic-book stereotypes, but just go with it: it’s great.] Captain America managed to return his memories, and ever since he has been working to atone for his actions, fighting as the Winter Soldier. He is now teamed up (and romantically involved) with Black Widow, and together they are chasing after Soviet sleeper super-agents still in America. The activation codes for these sleepers were sold on the black market, and they are being activated one-by-one, sent out on assassination missions.

The first two issues give us a good introduction to the characters, as well as some initial hints as to where the story may be going in the future.

The artwork is excellent, too – dark and atmospheric, it takes the “Winter” of the title as inspiration, offering up a colder style that favours blues and grey-tinged colouring. It’s striking in an atmospheric way.

Loved this. Highly recommended.


Wolverine & the X-Men #3-4 (Marvel)


Writer: Jason Aaron | Artists: Chris Bachalo, Nick Bradshaw & Justin Ponsor

With the Hellfire Club on the verge of overwhelming the X-Men, the team’s only hope is... Quenton Quire? The big question is, does he care enough to do anything?

Two new students join the school. Who could it be? The future comes back to haunt the school.

Issue three opens with Quentin Quire, aka Kid Omega, kicking back and watching the Hellfire Club-unleashed chaos unfold in Wolverine’s newly-re-opened school for the gifted. He’s a new character for me, but we learn in the first pages that Logan decided to take a chance on him, despite the chaos he’s caused in the past (he’s wanted by “three quarters of the governments on the globe”, apparently), and attempt to mold him into something more manageable and socially-acceptable. He is arrogant, obnoxious, extremely powerful, self-involved... And quite fun to read about, when he discovers that many of the new students have no clue who he is, and are utterly lacking in awe for him. Speaking of the students, Broo is delightful, utterly lost among humans and unfailingly polite, even when something’s trying to kill him. There’s a clear core of main characters forming among the students, and they’re an interesting and diverse bunch – each of them, of course, with their own insecurities and eccentricities. The faculty of the new school are great, too, not conforming to the straight-backed and uptight manner of Cyclops from the past.

Issue three sees the team solving the first mini-story-arc, with issue four dropping some great hints of potential futures (thanks to Deathlok’s unorthodox guest lecture...). I really hope the series does work towards this future, as the dynamic between the students we saw in the flash-forward was pretty cool, and gave me an idea of how their characters are going to develop over time.

There’s a real tongue-in-cheek sense of humour running throughout this series, which suited the mood I was in (over-caffeinated). I still don’t like the idea of a pre-teen Hellfire Club (sorry, it’s simply ridiculous), but I found the third issue much less irritating than the second issue, and the fourth issue better still, reminding me of the fun I had reading the debut issue.

Given Quire’s new centrality to the story, I’d certainly be interested to read the spin-off mini-series, “Alpha vs. Omega”.

Issue four, as well as a new storyline, has a new artistic team in Nick Bradshaw (artist) and Justin Ponsor (colourist), and I must say their style is closer to my preferred – it’s clearer, less cartoony, with crisper lines and images.

There’s quite a bit of spoiler for the X-Force event of last year involving Archangel, but I didn’t mind this much, having no experience of that series at all (although it looks rather interesting). The fourth issue finishes on quite a surprising cliffhanger, so I expect issue five is going to be rather weird and wonderful.

So, to sum up, I continue to go back-and-forth over this title. These two issues, however, were pretty good – the fourth more so than the third, too, so maybe we’re seeing a turning point in the story and therefore quality?


X-Sanction #1-2 (Marvel)


Writer: Jeph Loeb | Artist: Ed McGuinness

Cable is back, and he’s got just 24hrs to wipe the Avengers from the pages of history.

How has Cable been reborn? Where has he been since ‘Second Coming’? And what dark event has driven him to destroy the Avengers? The answers are just the tip of an iceberg that threatens to smash the Marvel Universe to smithereens.

These two issues are the first half of the pre-event mini-series from Marvel, Avengers vs. X-Men. This is a great new series, and surpassed my expectations. I’ve been rather underwhelmed by a lot of Marvel titles of late, despite a nostalgic fondness for X-Men and the movies. These two issues, offer a fantastic introduction to the characters involved, as well as a little mystery about Cable’s motivations (not to mention the fact he’s supposed to be dead). It has an edge that I think has been missing from Marvel titles for a while – I admit that my exposure to their various titles has been more limited of late, but they just haven’t lived up to what I’m reading in the New 52 and other DC titles.

Anyway, back to X-Sanction. The story moves along at a brisk pace, as Cable starts picking off key members of the Avengers team. The action is intimate and intense, as Cable – who’s only got 24 hours to live – single-mindedly pursues his goal of discovering how the Avengers are linked to the apparent future disappearance of Hope, Cable’s daughter.

The story jumps back and forth between the present day, the far future (which is experiencing some nuclear-winter-type catastrophe), and the near-future. The latter looks at Cable’s relationship with Hope, and how he struggled to be a good father. We get a glimpse inside Cable’s head, and see how his psyche has become increasingly fractured, the techno-virus running rampant through his body.

The second issue ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, so I think I may have to get issue three pretty soon (it’s already available). This is a very cool mini-series, and I’d love to know how it shapes things in the big Avengers-vs.-X-Men event, which starts in April.

Lots of action, and surprisingly dark, this was a very nice surprise.

[Another thank you to Alyssa is deserved here, for she braved yet another crowd to pick up the Jim Hanley’s Universe exclusive cover – below – for me, when I was abroad.]


1 comment:

  1. Many of these are new to me.
    Road Rage, Winter Soldier, and Thief of Thieves find the most interesting.
    Fun round-up yet again.