Comics Round-up 18.10.2012

artifacts vol 2

Another day, another comics roundup as Shadowhawk and Bane of Kings bring to you the fourth installment in this new review series.

“Can sum up these comics in one word: surprise. Of course, not all surprises are good, or bad!” ~Shadowhawk

“A series of wonderful reads continues my largely positive experience with DC’s New 52 Reboot.” ~Bane of Kings

Comics reviewed by Shadowhawk: Ultimate Spider-Man Vol.2 #1-6 by Brian Michael Bendis (Marvel), Hawkeye #1-2 by Matt Fraction (Marvel), Artifacts Volume 2 by Ron Marz (Top Cow), and Justice League #7-12 by Geoff Johns (DC Comics).

“My first ever experience with a teenaged Spider-Man, and I’m amazed at how good these comics are!”

As part of my comics reading renaissance, I asked on Twitter a while back what Spider-Man comics people would recommend, and the general consensus was that Brian Michael Bendis’ run with Ultimate Spider-Man was fairly good. I took that recommendation to heart and got the first trade paperback for the series. Made a small mistake though and got the the trade for the second of Bendis’ run, which follows on from the first. For those not familiar with this distinction, I ended up getting the six issues of The New World According To Peter Parker rather than the seven issues of Power and Responsibility. I toyed with the idea of correcting the mistake but then I thought: “why the hell not just go with it?” Its not like I haven’t started on some series in the middle without any idea of what’s going on! So I went ahead, prepared to encounter a young teenage Spider-Man/Peter Parker for the first time.

This is a surprisingly good series. There is a lot of implied back-story in the first couple issues, especially since this is actually preceded by something like 140 issues of varying length (annuals and stuff), and the last story arc for the first series was a huge game-changer. Peter is now working at a small-scale burger joint (and hating it), New York is being unfailingly nice and cuddly with Spider-Man even though there is a big anti-superhero wave of sentiment sweeping across the city and there is a new villain in town, one who starts off things by permanently taking out the Kingpin. Now that’s a start to a new series. BMB’s writing is just superb. He writes a very tight and compact script that is very nuanced and touches on an inherent psychological issue with mutants/superheroes: their acceptance into society and their reactions to being rejected. Spider-Man’s run-ins with Mysterio are the central focus of this first arc, but for me personally, BMB using Spider-Man, Kitty Pryde, Johnny Storm and a few other teenaged superheroes was much more important. It was exactly what I wanted out of the comic. It also continues my fantastic experience with BMB’s writing: his first six Dark Avengers comics are ace, as is the limited series Spider-Men. This guy knows how to capture the essence of his characters in his panels and to make them fun and enjoyable to read about. I thought that the Spider-Man from the Fox animated series was a wisecracker; BMB’s Spider-Man tops him easily.

I can’t say that I’m that much taken in by the cover art for the six issues so far. They are largely a miss for me, although I do quite like the ones for #1 and #3. As a series opener, the artwork for #1 totally defines how the first arc is going to progress and it did its job of immediately hooking me into the story that BMB is telling inside. Comparatively, the internal artwork by David Lafuente is great. Since this is a comic with mostly teenaged characters, his pencils give off that general feel to me as the artwork is on the animated side of things, or how I would expect the character designs to look like for a more YA-oriented audience than the adult-styles used in the Fox series. Combined with Justin Ponsor’s fantastic colours, that atmosphere is complete. Nice soft, bright colours, bam!

This is an excellent series so far, with the first arc setting the bar high. I’m looking forwards to moving to the next few issues, the two-parter Crossroads arc and then the six-issue Tainted Love arc. Expecting great things!

Rating: 9/10

“Very different to Joss Whedon interpretation with some nice parts to it, but not as good as I expected.”

Hawkeye is a character that I’ve seen only in the Thor and Avengers films, or the Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes animated series, so I’m largely new to him. None of these screen adaptations (at least from what I’ve seen of the cartoon), go into much depth about the character and he’s mostly just a side-character who appears to be Marvel’s answer to DC’s Green Arrow. Going through a few reviews of the comics, I came across a fair bit of praise for Matt Fraction but the reality hasn’t lived up to the hype I’m afraid. Its not that Hawkeye #1 and #2 are bad comics, its just that they don’t really go into Hawkeye, being more of character studies for Clint Barton. An apt comparison would be how Clark Kent was portrayed on the Smallville live-action series.

The series so far is about Hawkeye as a civilian, when he’s not caught up as Hawkeye with Avengers business that needs doing. I called it a character study because the series takes an extended look at the man behind the mask, figuratively and literally. I can see see what Matt Fraction intends to do with the series and I’m like what I’ve seen so far, but there are some issues with the script that I couldn’t ignore, issues which came close to ruining my reading. The major issue is that reading through the two issues I got the feeling that there were some panels just flat-out missing. Fraction moves backwards and forwards so much that at times I’m not even sure what the hell is going on; its as if the script is fractured (pun intended)! It happens in both issues in significant places and serves to do nothing more than disorient the reader. I re-read the panels to make sure that it wasn’t me who just wasn’t getting the who idea, but no, I didn’t understand the switches even on a third read. The script as a whole, minus this plot issue, is actually quite decent. Matt Fraction takes a very down-to-earth look at the character. The comparison to Smallville-Clark Kent is even more relevant than anything else.

The internal illustrations by David Aja and colours by Matt Hollingsworth fail to impress at all. The pencils are often indistinct and the character faces especially are often non-expressive, which takes away much of the feel of Fraction’s script. Hollingsworth’s colour palette of blue-black-purple doesn’t work for me either since while the series is titled Hawkeye, it is more to do with Clint Barton than his superhero identity. If they are meant to offer up any pleasing contrast, then they failed to do that for me. However, both covers are really good, and are what got me to pick up the two issues, so that’s something I suppose.

I’m going to be giving the series a couple more issues before deciding to cut my losses if I need to. The script is the main thing I’ll be getting the next couple issues for, with the hope that the art improves.

Rating: 7/10

“The end of the world nears and the heroes and villains are going all-out against each other as Ron Marz maintains top form from the first volume.”

When I reviewed Artifacts Volume 1 in my last roundup, I was all praise for him. The Top Cow universe has a very different feel and aesthetic than the major universes of DC and Marvel, both of which Ron captured extremely well in his standout Civil War-style series. Or Infinite Crisis, to a degree. In this second collection of the series (issues #5-8), Ron delves more into why things are happening as they are and we get a lot more backstory this time around as well. The mysterious player who is pulling Aphrodite’s strings and has had Sara Pezzini’s daughter kidnapped is revealed for the first time as he ups the ante by having his “champion” bring in another team of heroes into the mix, the Cyber Force. This changes the playing field a great deal as Aphrodite tells the members of Cyber Force that Sara and her allies are intent on bringing about the end of the world. The volume is therefore largely concerned with the Cyber Force going head-to-head against the Witchblade, The Darkness, Magdalena and other good guys. More than the previous issue, this volume is just no-holds-barred action, up close and personal. The only thing I didn’t like about the collection was that Aphrodite wasn’t that convincing for me in the final tally of things. What I saw as the promise from Volume 1 didn’t carry forward all that much in Volume 2.

The artwork is top-notch once again and Artifacts Volume 2 is just as beautiful a collection as Volume 1. The artwork lends Ron’s script the feel of an epic saga rather than being just a comic book(s). I’ve read several more comics series in various IPs since I read Volume 2 and compared against them, the art here still stands out easily. As with the script, its the action scenes that are lavished the most attention which is fitting, since they are the focus of the entire book! Plus the covers. Dynamic, thoughtful, secretive.

Rating: 9/10

“The biggest surprise reading from last month, this second arc was plain disappointing.”

The second arc for Geoff Johns’s Justice League series highlights one of the major issues with DC’s New 52 reboot: some of these titles are just plain boring and uninspiring and really, really bland. I had that with the first three issues of The Flash, the first four issues of The Savage Hawkman, and all of the Superman main-title run. Or even Wonder Woman for that matter, which is a more apt comparison with Justice League. As with Azzarello, Geoff Johns started out really, really well with his first arc, but in the second arc, he seems to have lost his vision for this series and the script does nothing more than just fumble along.

The problem with the second arc is that Johns is trying to do too much at the same time and he can’t give any of them proper attention to deliver a concise, unified script. We have Green Arrow who is infuriatingly desperate about becoming part of the Justice League, some shadowy government stuff going on which continues a trend in superhero universes where the government doesn’t trust them and goes behind their back, plus a new villain who is more suited to a saturday/sunday morning cartoon than a major comic title like Justice League. The whole execution here was flawed, surprising since on the whole I hold Johns to be a really talented writer who can usually deliver a cracking reading experience, the New 52 Aquaman series being a perfect example. The second volume of this series is a big letdown in terms of the script, plain and simple. Had the script focused on one or two key elements rather than what we get, most of it being really childish, it would have been much better. The only thing that Johns got right in my opinion is the scene sequence in #12 where Superman and Wonder Woman hook up for the first time. There is a nuance to those panels that is missing in the rest of the 6-issue arc.

While the internal artwork (pencils, colours etc) is still as good as it is for the first arc, the covers are another letdown. The word “mediocre” comes to mind and that’s all the praise I can give the covers really. As with the script, the only cover I like is #12 featuring Superman and Wonder Woman making out in the air. The cover for #7 has something to it too but is not the best that Jim Lee has done for the series so far, no where near the best.

The good thing about the second arc is that it ends on a very promising note. There is a backup story to all six issues, dealing with Billy Batson as he is adopted by a new family and has to work at fitting in with them. I liked the backups more than the main stories as it turns out. I know next to nothing about Billy/Shazam other than seeing him in Superman/Batman: Public Enemies and a minor role in an old comic which had Darkseid’s agents stirring up trouble on Earth and using Billy Batson and an engineered death of one of his opponents to turn public sentiment against all superheroes. So its nice to see his origins. Definitely want to see more of him in future issues.

Rating: 4/10

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Comics reviewed by Bane of Kings: Green Lantern #1-3 by Geoff Johns, Wonder Woman #1-3 by Brian Azzarello, and Talon #0 by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV (All DC Comics).

Geoff Johns heads the new Green Lantern series for the New 52 Reboot with artist Doug Mahnke. Published by DC Comics, this review collects the first three issues.

“Whilst it may be confusing at first for new Green Lantern readers like myself, Once you get used to what is going on then you’ll soon find yourself enjoying the ride.”

#1 - The red-hot GREEN LANTERN team of writer Geoff Johns and artist Doug Mahnke introduce a new Lantern.

#2Renegade Green Lantern Sinestro sets a course for Korugar with one purpose: To free his homeworld from the scourge of… The Sinestro Corps?!

#3 – With the entire Sinestro Corps out to kill its founder, the renegade Green Lantern Sinestro finds himself in a position he’s never been in before: on the run.

There was, I think – one key flaw that I had with Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern series as part of DC’s New 52 Relaunch, one major issue that I think is going to be, and has been –  a bit of a put off for new readers. It follows directly on from the events of the Green Lantern comic Blackest Night, which I haven’t read, but have been reliably informed that it does. Now, surely, with the whole New 52 series being a reboot, the best place to start would be from the beginning?

Needless to say, I was initially confused when I read the first issue. My only previous experience with the Green Lantern had been the trailer of the poorly-received 2011 film. I had no idea of the history, and the only thing that I was going on was that Sinestro was the bad guy, and well – Hal Jordan was the Green Lantern. So my first reaction was this – why is Sinestro joining the Green Lanterns? Why would the Green Lanterns allow Sinestro to join? What happened to Hal Jordan to make him no longer a Green Lantern?

So my initial reaction was confusion, but I ploughed on anyway, and once I’d read #2 and #3, the Green Lantern storyline seemed to be a little bit clearer. I’ve got a rough idea what’s happening, and whilst I may not be an expert in Green Lantern lore, I know a bit more than I used to. Another thing that was completely new to me was the Sinestro Corps. I had no idea that they existed in the Green Lantern universe before diving into this comic. There are a lot of things that I didn’t know.

Yet I still found myself enjoying the heck out of Johns’ Green Lantern series once I’d got round the initial what-the-hell-is-happening phrase. The artwork is wonderful, very colourful and Doug Mahnke is great at portraying the Green Lanterns. We get a different tone of art when we have panels with Hal Jordan, who’s no longer the Lantern, than we do Sinestro, who is the Lantern. It’s interesting to watch how Hal’s life tumbles dramatically downhill by the end of the first issue alone, as he’s yet to get used to normality again. The pacing is alright, and whilst there may not be a lot of action in the first issue, the constant bombardment of action in Issues #2 and #3 really ramps up the pace. It’s fast moving, and each Issue ends on a cliffhanger that will keep the reader reading. I’m particularly interested to find out what happens in Issue #4 now, and Green Lantern I believe has passed my three issue test and I will be continuing with it for sure.

Verdict: 4/5

Bane of Kings reviews Brian Azzarello’s Wonder Woman. The artwork has been provided by Cliff Chiang, and is again published by DC Comics and part of the New 52 Reboot.

“Although the first issue may be slow paced, the action increases after that. It’s looking promising. Wonder Woman is a series that I will continue, but is not my favourites.”

#1The Gods walk among us. To them, our lives are playthings. Only one woman could dare to protect humanity from the wrath of the strange and powerful forces. But is she one of us – or one of them?

#2 – Hera, Queen of the Gods, does not take her vengeance lightly – and if Wonder Woman is so foolish as to stand in the way of her whim, then Wonder Woman is her enemy.

But it’s Hera’s daughter Diana should truly fear – the goddess of discord is coming to Paradise Island, and murder always follows in her wake!

#3 – Hippolyta, the queen of the Amazons, has kept a secret from her daughter all her life – and when it’s revealed, Wonder Woman’s life will shatter like brittle clay.

The only one more shocked than Diana by this revelation? Bloodthirsty Hera herself – so why is her sinister daughter, Strife, so eager for the truth to be told?                                                                                                              

Unlike Green Lantern, where I was confused right from the start, I wasn’t that confused with Brian Azzarello’s take on Wonder Woman. The first issue focused more on the mystery than the character, and did a brilliant job of setting up the storyline which the other two issues expanded on and developed. We get to see a lot of Wonder Woman’s backstory, which is good especially as I’m new to most of the characters involved. It’s also my first encounter with Wonder Woman in comics outside of the third Issue of Geoff Johns’ Justice League series, and I think having read both, I can say that I prefer her portrayal in this series to her portrayal in the Justice League.

We get a dark take on the Greek Gods and the mystery presented to us that Azzarello is creating is proving to be an interesting one. Although we may not have cliffhangers that are as powerful as Johns’ Green Lantern, they are there, and it’s enough to keep the reader reading even if these three issues aren’t the strongest of the relaunch.

I don’t really think that Chiang’s artwork suits Brian Azzarello’s Wonder Woman, and although it’s not god-awful, the two combined don’t really work. The three issues aren’t as strong as they could have been, but the storyline is showing promise and as I’m starting to become more familiar with Wonder Woman lore, I can’t help thinking that this is a series that will continue to improve. I’ve been told it has taken an increase in quality up to about Issue #10, and then drops in quality after that. But we’ll have to wait and see. For now, I think – Azzarello’s Wonder Woman has passed my three issue test and I will be continuing with this series.

If only just.

Verdict: 3/5

Bane of Kings reviews the zero issue of Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV’s fantastic Talon, with artwork provided by Guillem March. Published by DC Comics, this is an issue that creates a new character inspired by Scott Snyder’s run on Batman.

“A superb debut for the Talon. James Tynion IV and Scott Snyder impress, with spectacular artwork from Guillem March. One of the best of DC’s New 52.” 

#0 - A new series featuring the Court of Owls’ unstoppable killing machine! • Meet Calvin Rose, the only Talon ever to escape the grasp of the Court of Owls. This former assassin just wants to live a normal life…but that’s impossible, since he’s being hunted by his former masters!

 Wow. That was my first thought upon finishing #0 of Talon. It was superb. I loved every second of it, the origin story, the artwork, the plot, the action – Snyder and Tynion IV have impressed me a lot. It helps that #1 has recently been released as well, which I will picking up as soon as possible.

 Tying into the Court of Owls storyline presented by Scott Snyder in his run on Batman, Talon introduces a new hero with a unique origin story that will be interesting to see how he will fit into the DC Universe as a whole. I hope the series is as good as its first issue, and I’d love to see a meeting between Talon and Batman at some point.

I literally loved everything about this issue, and I think it’s the best thing that I’ve reviewed in this week’s roundup. The only thing that’s stopping it from getting onto my favourite list of New 52 titles is that I’ve only read this issue so far.

Talon #0 is a very impressive debut for Talon, and it seems that the only let-down that Snyder has given me so far is Batman #0. I like how it explores Calvin Rose’s pre-Talon life as an escape artist, allowing for the Issue’s main set piece which really impressed me. Guillem March is a fantastic artist, and his art fits in well with Greg Capullo’s run on Batman. Tynion has created a Talon that isn’t invincible as well, and we learn that from the issue alone. As a Batman spin-off, Talon has a huge premise and has the potential to  emerge as one of the stronger series that the New 52 has had to offer us.

The art and the atmosphere is dark, and the pacing is fast all the way through. Talon #0 fits firmly in the New 52 Reboot and Calvin Rose is a character that I want to see more of. I’ll be following this series for sure.

Verdict: 5/5

Shadowhawk is a regular contributor to TFF. A resident of Dubai, Shadowhawk reads, reads and reads. His opinions are always clear and concise. His articles always worth reading.

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