Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Comics Round-Up (Mar.21)

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Another mixed bag, though this time rather Marvel- and IDW-heavy. (The week’s second round-up will be a lot more diverse.) I enjoyed most of these comics, but for some reason a couple didn’t really ignite my usual level of interest. I’m not sure if this is a result of lingering Man Flu symptoms, or if a couple of these issues just didn’t stack up to past experience. Regardless, let us get on with the reviews in this first (slightly late) Comics Round-Up…

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Reviewed Herein: Avengers Assemble #1, Defenders #4, Infestation: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #2, Memorial #4, Monocyte #3, Road Rage #2, Smoke & Mirrors #1, Snake Eyes #11, Amazing Spider-Man #680-1

Avengers Assemble #1 (Marvel)

Marvel-AvengersAssemble-01Writer: Brian Michael Bendis | Artist: Arthur Adams & Marc Silvestri

The Avengers Versus The Brand-New Zodiac! One Of The Greatest Avengers Villains Of All Time Gets Reinvented For The Modern Age.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this series – I know a lot of the characters (mainly, if not exclusively, from the more-recent movies), but have never read any Avengers comics. So I came at this hopeful, but still with a relatively open-mind. And I’m quite glad I did, as it’s great fun and very well-written. That Bendis knows his way around these characters is unsurprising, given the fact that he’s been writing Avengers and New Avengers for Marvel for a while, now. (Both of those title have, of course, now been put on my list of Want to Read comic series…)

I had to raise an eyebrow at one of the first lines in the comic, though. Captain America is addressing a crowd of press and adoring fans, and he says this:

“We are a planet of the free, a people of freedom... And if you choose to stand in the way of that freedom, you will hear these words: AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!”

So, over the course of this series, we can expect the Avengers to invade North Korea, some African nations and, in a moment of particularly strong pessimism and cynicism, China? The use of today’s patriotic-political language was interesting.

This issue was a lot of fun – it’s nice to see a mix of super-heroes, all nominal alpha personalities, and there’s a good level of banter and the interactions between them all is quite endearing and amusing. Thor’s “verily” vocabulary was quite fun.

The bit I liked the most, however, is the idea of the ZODIAC as antagonists, and how they work – each member is imbued with the power of their sign (we see two out of twelve in action in this issue). I thought this was a really interesting idea and, while the synopsis suggests a reimagining of an old villain, for me it was an original-seeming premise for an enemy. I’ll be paying attention to this series in the future, and probably getting the next issue.

The artwork’s pretty good, too, and of the typical Marvel style – lots of bold colours, dynamic, clean, and a nice overall level of detail.

A good starting point for new readers.

*

Defenders #4 (Marvel)

Marvel-TheDefenders-04Writer: Matt Fraction | Artist: Terry Dobson | Colours:

Who Is The Great Lost Love Of Dr. Strange’s Life? Why Does A Young-Gun Magician Have Strange In His Sights? What Is The Concordance Engine?

Despite my protestations and explications of frustration and indignation over the poor quality of issue three (and a decision not to read any more of this), I must say I rather enjoyed this fourth issue.

The Defenders are back in New York City, trying to figure out what the Concordance Engine does, and why the Omega guardian won’t move. The grad-student who provided a rather amusing opening scene in issue #1 is back, and wants a little more help from Dr Strange and a certain magic book. Strange goes into a trance and “Martha” appears before him. I have no idea who Martha is, but we learn she is supposed to have died of ovarian cancer 15 years ago. And is important to Dr Strange. A street magician with more talent than he lets on (and an ego that he doesn’t keep so-well hidden), follows Martha, and uses a gift for remote projection to learn more and eventually blackmail Strange into teaching him. Little does he know, that nobody should ever try putting Strange in a corner…

The artwork for this issue was very nice. Despite the frequent brighter-coloured pages, it feels more noir-ish, and perhaps a tad grittier. The artwork was just all-round so much better, and distinctly less “comic”, if that makes sense. Reminiscent of many of the comics aimed at mature readers, which take a style that is more art than graphic – subtler tones, less polished lines, more realistic proportions for characters and locations.

Overall, this issue felt very different to the last one. It’s less silly. It also has a very nice ending. I hope this more atmospheric tone sticks in the future. I’m not sure if I’ll be back for #5, but given that this was so much better, and the ending was rather enticing… We’ll see.

*

Infestation: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #2 (IDW)

IDW-Infestation2-TMNT-02Writer: Tristan Jones | Artist: Mark Torres | Colours: Jay Fotos

One of the Turtles have been taken by the things in the dark depths of the sewers, and it’s up to the other brothers to save him. To do so, they will have to navigate the labyrinthine passage ways of the lost sewers and do battle with mind-bending monstrosities. If they fail, not only will their brother be lost, but the entire world as well!

Leonardo has been captured by the weird, gribbly beasties, and his three turtle bros (Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo, in case anyone’s been living under a rock) are trying to find him and free him. Time is running out, though, as apparently tonight is the night “Shub Niggurath” will rise…

This is quite a fun title. I’ve not read any of the TMNT series-proper, but I enjoy the light-hearted tone of this comic. The darker elements of the tale are nicely incorporated, too. And the finale is quite explosive.

*

Memorial #4 (IDW)

IDW-Memorial-04AWriter: Chris Roberson | Artist: Rich Ellis | Colours: Grace Allison

Em finds herself stranded in the Everlands with no way home, with no one but a lost little girl to guide her. Together, the two make their way across the ‘Stolen Moments’, encountering people and places that have been forgotten by history, or remembered only as stories. But with the Shadows and an army of living statues dogging her heels, and even greater dangers ahead, can Em survive long enough to find a way back to the only life she knows?

Another interesting issue, and we’re starting to see events coming together. I’m not sure how long this series is meant to go on for, but it’s certainly one of the most intriguing and imaginative – drawing on a number of fairy tale and fantasy myths and tropes, but spinning them into something new and fresh. It’s a very imaginative series.

If I had one complaint, it would be that it’s a little too safe and twee. For example, it’s bloodless: an army of hired mercenaries and henchmen have chased down Em. She’s rescued by an eclectic band of heroes. One of them swipes at the lead merc’s head with a sword and… knocks him out. Bit disappointing.

I know it’s a simple gag, but calling the cat Schr√∂dinger is a fantastic idea. Overall, an enjoyable series. Recommended if you want something light. A modern-day Alice in Wonderland.

*

Monocyte #3 (IDW)

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Writer: Kasra Ghanbari | Artist: Menton3

The Olignostics are dying, and their fate now rests with the excommunicated Grod. Monocyte turns his attention to the Antedeluvian metropolis and their leader, the Green Man, but is confronted by the Antedeluvian elite guard, who test Monocyte against his greatest foes, light and life. Meanwhile, the liberated Olignostic slaves strike back at their former masters.

This is a really intriguing, visually stunning series. It’s a little weird, and sometimes a little unclear as to what’s going on, but I think that’s partly the point. The writing isn’t as tight or clear as most other comics I’ve read (the dialogue is as stylised as the artwork), but it has some interesting religious-war tones and themes, not to mention dystopian.

This is, in many ways, an art-comic – there’s really no way the story can outshine the way it’s been designed and put together. It’s gothic, dark, stylistic, and horrifically beautiful. The style reminds me of ??’s album covers (which have been used by bands like In Flames and Dark Tranquillity, among many others), a style I’ve always enjoyed. Take these two sample pages (click to en-biggen), which are indicative of the whole series:

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Really quite stunning. If you’re looking for something weird and wonderful, and quite twisted, then I recommend you give this series a try. I believe there will be one more issue.

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*

Road Rage #2 (IDW)

IDW-RoadRage-02Writer: Joe Hill & Stephen King | Artist: Nelson Daniel

The Tribe have done some baaaad things in their time as a motorcycle club, but surely nothing deserving the full-on assault by an insane trucker in an oil rig! Throttle, the story by acclaimed novelist/Eisner-winning graphic novelist Joe Hill and his father, Stephen King, ensure that the road will run red before it’s all over.

I’m not sure what I think of Road Rage, if I’m honest. I like the premise and art, and I’m a fan of anything involving bikers (renegade or otherwise). It’s a well-put-together comic, but there’s something about it that just doesn’t quite grab me – I just can’t put my finger on what it is. Maybe the pacing? But that wouldn’t make sense, as I know comics often seem slower to unroll the story for you. This issue actually brings the first story arc to a close, and it’s handled in a good way. Family ties can keep things together only so far and for so long, before events just make you snap. This seems to be what is at the heart of this series.

Not bad. But not as interesting as I had hoped. We’ll see, maybe the third issue will give me an idea of where it’s headed.

For fans of No Angel and Sons of Anarchy.

*

Smoke & Mirrors #1 (IDW)

IDW-Smoke&Mirrors-01AWriter: Mike Costa & Jon Armstrong | Artist: Ryan Browne

Mike Costa (COBRA, Blackhawks) teams with sleight-of-hand artist Jon Armstrong (also a consulting Imagineer for Disney) and acclaimed artist Ryan Browne (God Hates Astronauts)!

A stage magician is thrust into a world where magic-not technology-rules, and forced to use trickery and illusions to survive!

Now this is very interesting. The premise is that magic runs the world – it’s sort-of a cross between the Force and electricity (“anima mundi”, as it’s called). A kid goes wandering around a magic corporation building, causes a little fracas, and is sent home. He sneaks out, and heads to a less-than-reputable part of town and sees a street-magician doing some tricks, but they don’t seem to have anything to do with the magic that the kid, and everyone else in this world, are familiar with. What is going on?

Well, we don’t actually find out, as this is only issue one. But, as a taste of the series and setting, it certainly left me wanting more. This is really interesting, and I can’t wait for the next issue. The artwork’s nice and clean, too, and reminiscent of Memorial.

Certainly one of the best new series I’ve read this year.

*

Snake Eyes #11 (IDW)

IDW-GIJOE-SnakeEyes-11AWriter: Chuck Dixon | Artist: Alex Cal

The Commander demands satisfaction! COBRA’s war on a helpless sovereign nation roars toward its conclusion. Snake Eyes is alone against the Red Ninjas led by Storm Shadow in the Temple of the Bells as weapons of mass destruction fall over Nanzhao. The Joes are in jeopardy at a border crossing against a squadron of B.A.T.s. Storm Shadow offers Snake Eyes a devil’s deal; the key to the heart of COBRA. Will the most dangerous Joe accept?

The Snake Eyes scenes are pretty interesting: there’s a lot of action, but not much dialogue, except for Storm Shadow’s narrative (he’s quite a talker). It’s here that Cal’s artwork really comes into its own – it’s pretty amazing art, actually; very atmospheric and adds a lot of nuance to the story. The story builds to an interesting (but not unforeseen) proposal from Storm Shadow, much to Snake Eyes’s apprentice’s shock (she’s sneaking about as well). This could get very interesting…

While Snake is going through his own side-mission, the greater battle for Nanzhao continues, and things are really not going well at all for the “good” guys. Cobra deployed nuclear weapons, and unleashed their B.A.T.s on the surviving population and G.I.Joe forces. This, in turn, requires a seemingly-overkill response in order to stop this nigh-unstoppable android troopers. It’s a pyrrhic victory, in that every one of the Joes gets out alive, but the devastation caused to Nanzhao is horrific.

This (and the other two Joe-related titles) continue to entertain and also forge an original path in comics. I don’t know of any other series dealing with some of these issues in a contemporary, non-sci-fi setting. It’s international relations, terrorism, and military thriller all rolled into one. With ninjas.

Still highly recommended.

*

Amazing Spider-Man #680-1 (Marvel)

Marvel-AmazingSpiderMan-680&681

Writer: | Artist: | Colours:

Trapped 22,300 miles above the Earth, Spidey has to rescue John Jameson from the on-going machinations of Doctor Octopus!

Spider-Man and the Human Torch are trapped on a space station ful of Octo-Zombies plummeting toward the Earth! The best buds super team-up is running out of air and running out of time!

Something goes wrong at the Apogee 1 Space Station, where the Mayor’s son is working. Spider-man asks for some help from the Fantastic Four, finding only the Human Torch in residence (doing something very embarrassing). Torch agrees to help out by flying him up in a rocket. As you do. When they arrive on board the Station, things quickly become dangerous as they discover what’s really going on: octobots! (Yes, that’s what they’re called…)

In the second of the two issues, Torch, Spidey and John (the mayor’s son) continue to fight their way through Apogee 1, battling a swarm of octobots and also the crew who are now being controlled by Dr Octopus’s creepy little scuttling robots. Shuttles explode (two of them). The station crashes to Earth. Dr Octopus announces that he’s going for one, final master-plan (he’s dying and apparently doesn’t have very long to live, the poor, evil fellow).

This story is a set-up for the six-issue arc that’s about to kick off this week with #682 – and this, dear readers, is why I read these two issues.

I like the design of Dr Octopus – he’s more robotic, less cartoon-y, and just a little bit like Dr Robotnik from Sonic the Hedgehog. Only sinister. Speaking of sinister: the “Sinister Six” is a shit name for a group of super-villains. It makes me think they work out of a club house built up a tree.

There’s lots of quipping throughout these two issues, which I suppose is fine. I’ve read a lot worse, and actually ?? did a good job of eliciting quite a few chuckles from me. Although, it still doesn’t change my opinion that Marvel comics are aimed at younger audiences.

The artwork’s good: clean, not too stylised, bold colouring. Sort of standard Marvel artwork, really. Nothing special, but nothing wrong with it, either.

Quite fun, and I’m looking forward to the next story-arc.

***

Still to Come this Week: Amazing Spider-Man #682, Avengers X-Sanction #4, Batman #7, Catwoman #7, Dominique Laveau: Voodoo Child #1, Justice League #7, No Place Like Home #2, Supercrooks #1

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