Friday, April 06, 2012

Comics Round-Up (Apr.4) the 2nd

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This was going to be a short-and-sweet second round-up, but it turned out I had a fair bit to write about a couple of these issues. It’s a pleasantly varied selection in this post: the world’s greatest super-hero accepts his destiny; things finally kick off between the Avengers and the X-Men; young super-hero sidekicks find themselves as Earth’s last line of defence; fear runs through Gotham; and the zany super-science-heroes finally come to the end of their story!

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Reviewed: Action Comics #8, Avengers vs. X-Men #1, Danger Club #1, Detective Comics #8, Fairest #2, Hell Yeah #2, X-Club #5

Action Comics #8 (DC)

New52-ActionComics-08Writer: Grant Morrison | Artists: Rags Morales, Brad Walker, Rick Bryant & Bob McLeod | Colours: Brad Anderson & David Curiel

The epic 30-page conclusion of Grant Morrison and Rags Morales’ majestic opening storyline! Front row seats to the ascension of the DC Universe’s first Super Hero as The Man of Steel goes toe-to-tentacle with the all-new Brainiac for the final fate of Metropolis!

This is the final issue dealing with Superman’s battle against the world-collecting Brainiac (a strange, caterpillar-like construct in this interpretation). Superman will save the currently-miniaturised-and-in-a-bottle Metropolis. Clark Kent will evolve into the hero he is meant to become, the hero we see in the Superman title. The issue has a lot of one-on-one combat, which like all ‘great battles’, got a little tedious. The outcome was always pre-ordained, so there were no surprises whatsoever.

Then, at the end, we get some more interesting stuff, as Clark takes the job at the Daily Planet (after finding out Perry White’s connection to his parents – which was an interesting addition); and he talks with his landlady (who knows who/what he is) – another interesting addition, as it provides Clark with an ally who knows his secret, perhaps providing him with a confidante.

In the final act of the issue, Clark is feted as a hero by the Metropolis leadership – this is when he receives the title of “Superman”. At this point, the artwork changes quite distinctly, and it was a strange mix of styles – reminiscent of Lee Bermejo’s art (only not as good), Clark looks like an interesting mix of Christopher Reeve, Harry Potter and Tom Welling (who plays Clark Kent in Smallville). Overall, then, the pages that came after the main event were far more interesting for me – the stuff up in the ship, fighting to save Metropolis and beat Brainiac was just dull. It’s becoming clear to me that I prefer the more thoughtful interpretations of the Clark Kent/Superman story – for example, Superman: Earth One, which I thought was superb (mind the pun). I imagine I would find the same with Superman: Birth Right by Mark Waid (which I bought this week).

In the next issue of Action Comics, we break away (again) from this New 52 timeline, and Morrison will take us to an alternate reality, one in which Superman is black and also the President. I must say, this intrigues me mightily, so I will definitely buy and read it. At the same time, I’m not going to get my hopes up – it’s another interesting premise from Morrison, so it could either be good or utter bollocks. Check back in a month, I suppose.

*

Avengers vs. X-Men #1 (Marvel)

AvengersVsXMen-01AWriter: Brian Michael Bendis | Artist: John Romita Jr. & Scott Hanna | Colours: Laura Martin

Does The Return Of The Phoenix To Earth Signal The Rebirth Of The Mutant Species? That’s What The X-Men Believe!

Unfortunately, The Avengers Are Convinced That Its Coming Will Mean The End Of All Life On Earth!

The Stage Is Set For The Ultimate Marvel Showdown!

The issue starts with a bang, as the Avengers save New York from a 747 that was just struck by a mysterious flaming force – is it the Phoenix Force? Well, I’m not really sure. What is clear, however, is that there’s a fellow called Nova at the centre of the crash, who was apparently dead (alarm bells started going off in my head at that...). Captain America and Iron Man then head to the White House to brief the President and his National Security Staff, in a scene that was offered as a preview at the end of a number of Marvel titles over the past month or so. They discuss the Phoenix Force, and because of a sudden spike in an energy pattern with similarities to it, they head off to Utopia – the island home of the remaining Cyclops-led mutants. Cyclops and Captain America posture before each other, and things start getting close to the edge. To be honest, I found the stand-off and escalation a bit contrived – as far as I could see, there was no reason for the two of them to react the way they did. Why couldn’t they have worked together? Two members of the X-Men are also members of an Avengers team (Beast and Wolverine, who seems to be quite the slut for appearing in almost every Marvel title…): why couldn’t they have worked as go-between or negotiators? Maybe that’s not Wolverine’s style, but surely Beast could have performed that function perfectly?

It’s all about Hope, Cable’s daughter, who is the likely vessel for the Phoenix Force on Earth (she already exhibits similar powers and volatility), which scares Cyclops – he’s Hope's grandfather, and Jean Gray died because of the Phoenix Force. Rather exhausting to explain all that. And I’ve read none of the background story for this! I’ll remedy that in the future. I’ve done some digging, and I think I’ve figured out which collections to read in order to get (mostly) caught up: Endangered Species, Messiah Complex, Nation X, Second Coming, Birth of Generation Hope, and Second Coming: Revelations.

AvengersVsXMen-01CThe Avengers and X-Men are not equally matched. One look at the Dramatis Personae of the two sides (included at the front of the issue), and one gets the impression that the X-Men are very much screwed. That being said, though, the X-Men have some wicked mutant powers to call on, which may give them a little bit of an edge in one-on-one bouts.

Maybe I’m a cynic, but I can’t help but prepare myself to be underwhelmed by this “game changing” event. I wonder what can really change. Major character deaths? Probably not – the core characters of the Avengers and X-Men are safe because of the movies and/or their own series (for the X-teams, that basically means all of them, because there aren’t many left). So some peripheral, minor or obscure characters may be bumped off, but other than that... Not expecting anything really game-changing. That’s not to say the 12-part series and parallel AvX:VS issue won’t be a blast, though, as I assume they probably will be quite fun issues.

The artwork’s pretty good, and it certainly felt like a nice, long issue. I found it rather amusing that each character is in their costume or uniform, even if we meet them ‘at rest’ – for example, when Captain America approaches Wolverine, he’s in his nicely-appointed office, wearing the yellow-and-black outfit, complete with the silly headgear.

This issue contains a lot of story, and some nice action (particularly at the beginning). I’ll probably read a couple more issues in the series, but seeing as it’s spread over a (large) handful of other Marvel titles, I don’t see how I’m going to be able to enjoy the full picture without bankrupting myself (each issue is $4+tax, don’t forget).

*

Danger Club #1 (Image)

DangerClub-01Writer: Landry Walker | Artist: Eric Jones

Faced with the deadliest peril the universe had ever known, the world’s greatest heroes left the Earth to battle a nightmarish evil… and they never came back. Now only their teenage sidekicks remain. Will the Danger Club unite against this unknown cosmic menace, or will their struggle for dominance destroy them?

This is an intriguing, bloody introductory issue. With the super-heroes all gone, their side-kicks and younger companions have stepped up, but it’s a dog-eat-dog world, characterised by paranoia, fear, and also a struggle for power. One powerful group has instituted a competition to expand the ranks of the “elite” Olympians, led by the young god Apollo. Another group, the heroes of the series, have no truck with this contest, and decide to put a stop to them. (Which is sensible as, with whatever force that killed all the super-heroes still on its way to Earth, the contest will just thin the numbers of the powered population. And that just doesn’t make any tactical sense.) It builds to a big, bloody showdown between Apollo and Kid Vigilante, and a rumble at an abandoned stadium between Apollo’s forces and Kid Vigilante’s much smaller, though apparently infinitely more capable companions.

The art’s pretty cool – it’s very sharp, and has a nice, clean feel to it (see the sample, below). I’m not sure where this series is going to go in the future, but the characters seem interesting, and the premise has some potential. I’ll give this the Two Issue Test, then decide on what to do.

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*

Detective Comics #8 (DC)

New52-BatmanDetectiveComics-08Writer: Tony S. Daniel | Artist: Tony S. Daniel, Sandu Florea & Szymon Kudranski

Bruce Wayne’s girlfriend, investigative journalist Charlotte Rivers, tries to protect a long-hidden secret even when her own life hangs in the balance. The Scarecrow is after knowledge only she possesses, and he’ll stop at nothing to get it from her. Can Batman uncover Charlotte’s secret past in time to save her future? With the clock ticking and a dose of newly designed fear gas in the air, Batman must first fight his own nightmare as all of Gotham City turns against him.

Plus, don’t miss the start of a new backup story.

That synopsis is not very accurate. I don’t remember Charlotte Rivers featuring in the story much. Gotham City turns against him? When? The synopsis actually makes it sound like this is a bigger story than it is. Which is disappointing.

Batman has one hour to jump through a series of hoops laid out by the Scarecrow, who’s threatening to kill a hostage if Batman doesn’t dance to his tune. The two enemies are in contact via cell phone, which reminded me of Arkham City (only in the game, it’s the Joker who’s giving Batman orders and conversation via cell phone). Batman confronts Catwoman, who’s been dosed by Fear Agent and tricked into stealing the antidote to the Scarecrow’s enhanced toxin. He follows her recollection to Digger Jones, a small-/mid-level hood. Batman is anything but gentle in his interrogation... (Malnourished dogs and prime steak are involved.) The Scarecrow makes a mistake, and Batman is able to swoop in and save the day – there’s a connection to an earlier back-up story, which featured Catwoman and introduced a character who appears at the end of this story.

Ultimately, this was a solid, self-contained story. It’s a detective story, too, which was great – it’s nice, for once, to get the whole story in one issue. It’s fast-paced, well-written and constructed. I enjoyed it a lot. Next up? The Night of the Owls begins (a cross-Bat-Family event) – and I’m very much looking forward to this big story event.

The back-up story was also quite good. Much darker artwork, and the story focuses on Two-Face and his obvious mania.

*

Fairest #2 (Vertigo)

Fairest-02Writer: Bill Willingham | Artist: Phil Jimenez & Andy Lanning | Colours: Andrew Dalhouse

Okay, so Sleeping Beauty has been awakened again by true love’s kiss.

But hold on!

The thief Ali Baba doesn’t seem a likely candidate for knowing true love from a day-old cruller. So how did this kiss work?

We proudly present thrills and chills – and since the Snow Queen is involved, we do mean chills – along with mathematical proof of what does and does not constitute true love.

I’m really enjoying this series. The story is interesting and very imaginative. Ali Baba, Briar Rose and Jonah the knowledge imp are fleeing from the goblin camp (the scene of the first issue’s action), which has now been decimated by the re-awoken Ice Queen. While fleeing, and sometimes hiding out in caves, Jonah regales his two companions with The Story So Far, after Briar asks how she came to be there. It’s a handy catch-up for readers, adding a great deal of depth to the story and setting. Events lead our heroes into a bit of jam, however, leaving me extremely impatient for the next issue!

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First thing you notice upon opening this or the previous issue, is the simply stunning artwork. Everything about this comic is visually incredible – the art, inks and colouring make this easily one of the best-looking comics currently available, and the panels and pages have a sharp, cinematic feel. I still think it’s a little strange that it’s printed on matt-finish paper, rather than glossy, but the more I read the more I don’t care about this fact and think it doesn’t really diminish the art’s impact at all.

This could quickly become one of my favourite comics. Reading Fables has just become a priority (how lucky that Alyssa gave the first Deluxe Edition for my birthday!). Absolutely recommended to everyone with an interest in comics, fantasy, fairy tales, and great storytelling.

Fairest-02-InternalArt-4,5

*

Hell Yeah #2 (Image)

HellYeah-02Writer: Joe Keatinge | Artist: Andre Szymonowicz

“Last Day on Earths” Part 2: Every single other version of Benjamin Day in the multiverse has been murdered by an unknown assassin. Our Benjamin’s only hope of survival appears to be a girlfriend from another dimension, but she has an entirely different agenda. Things don’t end well.

This series and story is getting weirder, but it is also getting slightly more intriguing. We’re learning more about what’s actually going on (parallel universes), who’s who, and what’s what. There are still plenty of questions left over at the end of the issue, including one surprising, totally unexpected reveal on the final page.

Very bright colouring and artwork, not too sharp or stylised, but still quite conventional. There are a few weird touches (pink smoke after an explosion?), but otherwise I suppose it’s ok.

I enjoyed the first issue and thought it was interesting and pretty original, but I didn’t love it. So, I’ve decided to wait for the collected edition. I think this has a lot of potential, I’m just not willing to wait a month in between getting a tiny amount of the story.

*

X-Club #5 (Marvel)

XClub-05Writer: Simon Spurrier | Artist: Paul Davidson | Colours: Rachelle Rosenberg

The senses-shattering conclusion of the world’s only science-themed X-Men periodical! The X-Club struggles to grasp victory from the jaws of defeat – specifically, the jaws of sea monsters, Nazis and quantum physics!

This is a really weird issue! But in an awesome way, rather than a bizarre, stupid way. (Sometimes “zany” can run perilously close to “idiotic” and “shit”. X-Club is a perfect amount of strange to be considered “great”.) As the last issue, I don’t want to spoil the ending, but suffice it to say, this is an action-packed finale.

The artwork is pretty psychedelic for a couple of pages – this comes from the story having inter-dimensional combat, and electronic-system pre-natal care (just read it, then all will become clear). The issue wasn’t quite as funny as the first four, but I still chuckled a number of times.

A strange, compelling and wonderful mini-series. Very highly recommended. I really can’t wait to read Spurrier’s upcoming series for Boom Studios!

XClub-05-InternalArt3

***

Changes to Pull-List:

Amazing Spider-Man #682 & #683 were dropped – the collected edition of the “Ends of the Earth” story-arc is published in August 2012, and I’m willing to wait until then (the online prices just make the eight-issue collection much cheaper).

Brilliant #3 is another very good series (#1 & #2 review), but I think I’d just prefer to read the whole story in one go – or, at the very least, a decent-sized chunk of the story in one go. So I’ll wait.

Night Force #2 – this is a seven-part, limited series. I enjoyed the first issue a lot, but as is now becoming a common feeling, I just don’t want to wait for a short bite every month. I couldn’t find the publication date for the collection, but I can’t imagine it’ll be too far in the future.

I’ve also decided to cut the Three Issue Test down to just a Two Issue Test, which will help me decide quicker if I want to stick with a series, and also be cheaper for me. As always, though, I do accept review copies of comics, so if publishers would like their series to be featured on a weekly/monthly basis, please get in touch!

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