Comics Round-up 01.11.2012

batwoman1

Shadowhawk and Bane of Kings welcome you to another edition of the comics round-up as it now becomes a bi-monthly feature with a bit of a new look.

“Mutants to vampires to sword & planet adventures, its been a hell of a ride.” ~Shadowhawk

“Some very surprising new series, and with a very strong continuation of Nightwing, it’s been a fantastic experience.” ~Bane of Kings

Comics reviewed by Shadowhawk: Spider-Men by Brian Michael Bendis (Marvel), First X-Men #1-3 by Neal Adams and Christos Gage (Marvel), Dejah Thoris: White Apes of Mars #3-4 by Mark Rahner (Dynamite Entertainment), and I, Vampire #1-6 by Joshua Hale Fialkov (DC Comics).

*****

Spider-Men by Brian Michael Bendis

Contrary to what I alluded to in the last comics roundup, Bendis’ second run on Ultimate Spider-Man is not my first taste of Spider-Man comics, rather it is his limited 5-issue series Spider-Men which brings together the “regular” Peter Parker and Mike Morales, who is the new Spider-Man in the Ultimate Marvel Universe, following the death of that world’s Peter Parker. Released earlier this year, the series deals with the Spider-Man of Earth-616 (from what I’m led to believe) following the villain Mysterio through a portal that the latter has created and emerging out into the world of the Ultimate comics, where he gets shock after shock that only an alternate reality can deliver on. Stefan from the Civilian Reader blog put this series on my radar so props to him for pointing me in the right direction.

Right off, I have to say that this is a pretty brilliant concept that works out just as brilliantly. Spidey’s attitude, as I remember from various animated shows, shines all bright and proper through the script, which when combined with Mike’s more subdued and reverent personality delivers a great contrast. As with his Ultimate Spider-Man comics, Bendis proves here why he is so good. After all, you don’t get to stick to the Spider-Man titles, in all their various forms, for going on well over a decade without being damn good at the job, yeah? The script for the series has everything you could want: wisecracks, Mysterio getting utterly flabbergasted (which I just love for some reason), the meeting of the two Spideys, great action sequences, Samuel Jackson’s Nick Fury, a Robert Downey Jr. type Tony Stark, some great moments of Peter and Mike doing things together, the emotional moments between Peter-616 and the Ultimate universe versions of Aunt May, Mary-Jane, and Gwen Stacy. The latter of those scenes, when Peter first meets Aunt May and Gwen, is perhaps the most heart-breaking scene I’ve read in a comic to date, other than the scene from one of the G.I.Joe comics post Marvel’s 155-issue run in which one of my favourite Joes died (hint: green outfit, black cap, tough macho attitude, married). Bendis’ script and Sara Pichelli’s art is just way too memorable for that end scene-sequence of #3.

Which brings me to Sara’s art. She is one of the very few women artists in comics that I know of, the others being my favourite Amanda Conner, who is currently working on Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre, and Becky Cloonan, who did Scott Snyder’s Batman #12 and is working on his Swamp Thing title as well I believe. If I had to compare Sara, I’d say that she is very much like Amanda in her style, although she manages to be quite different all the same since her style contrasts the bright and cheerful panels such as the scene above with the dark and gritty panels such as the ones where Peter and Mike fight off Mysterio and his phantasm constructs.

If there is any downside to the series, its that the final issue doesn’t quite deliver on the same level of script-awesomeness as the first 4. It was too downbeat and straightforward for me and the end left me very unsatisfied. The series was only 5 issues long and I think that’s the problem with it. If Bendis could have had two more issues to develop the story further and really get into Peter-616 dealing with all the strange stuff in the Ultimate universe, that would have been for the better. The Ultimates (Tony more like) realising what Mysterio is up to and their attack on his secret base is just too abrupt and things are resolved way too quickly for my tastes.

But the strength of the series is definitely in its script, from an overall perspective, because seeing the character interactions most of all was a real pleasure. And Sara Pichelli’s art is just great. I look forward to reading more from these two!

Rating: 9/10

*****

First X-Men #1-3 by Neal Adams and Christos Gage

X-Men. I’ve seen all the movies, seen a whole slew of the shows, but never read any comics really. The only ones I can recall are some origins limited stuff for Wolverine, where the story works sort of like it does in the Wolverine: Origins movie but the character is much younger and he is outdone by townsfolk rather than his “brother” Sabretooth/Victor. There’s also the first ten issues of Victor Gischler’s run that I’ve read and have had a mixed response to. You can find my review of the first six issues here. The reason that this particular series enticed me was two-fold: it works really well as a reset of the X-Men comics lines (and is somewhat akin to how Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr go about assembling a team in X-Men: First Class but features Logan/Wolverine and Victor in those roles instead); and it is co-written by Christos Gage who is currently working on the Angel & Faith Season 9 comics, of which I’m a fan. The biggest draw is of course the former since I’m not all that well-versed into the various Marvel IPs and its a little daunting when you want to pick up a series and find that it is 700 issues big! (Amazing Spider-Man, I’m looking at you!)

So yeah, that’s my background with the X-Men IP going into Neal Adams and Christos Gage’s ongoing series. So far, I have to say that the series isn’t as good as I thought it’d be, and the primary culprit is Adams’ art, which is definitely not my style and serves to do nothing other than irritate me. The script itself though, while having a few eyebrow-raising moments, is decent enough. We get to see Logan and Victor start putting together a team, their motivation being that they want to combat the rising governmental interest in their activities, a recent development that is proving to be quite detrimental to mutants as a whole, irrespective of whether they cooperate with the government or not. Also, they want to be there for mutants who don’t have anyone to look out for them, which is what these two went through. From there, the script mostly hits all the right notes as they break into a special mutant prison facility and steal the information they need to find other mutants, especially the ones who are under surveillance already. All the hijinks that ensue are fun to read, even though they engender a strong dose of disbelief at times.

So far, although its only been 3 issues, I think the script is trying to do too much. We have romance between Victor and one of the female mutants, Magneto’s flat-out rejection and his self-righteous decision to stop them from drawing more attention to mutants, the team-building itself, schism in the government’s own ranks, weird mutant villains more suited to a cheesy horror story, and some weird governmental stuff in general. Among other things. The script isn’t as focused as it could be and that works against it.

Neal Adams’ art is definitely a turn off. Looking at it, this could well be a book from the mid-90s, early 2000s, and not a 2012 title for one of the most enduring of Marvel’s various IPs. Characters are often stiff and improperly proportioned and the inking makes the whole series feel really dated. It just never clicks together with the rest of the things.

Compounding everything is that after Wolverine: Origins muddled up the whole X-Men movie franchise timeline, which X-Men: First Class didn’t actually help all that much either, this comic series takes it all further. I realise that the movie franchise and the comics series are separate entities and all, but I just have that disconnect and I can’t shake it off. I didn’t have a problem with Gischler’s run, which is set after a major event in that respective Marvel universe, but this series goes back to the roots and tells the story all over again. The writers really need to work better at improving the series.

For the moment I’m in for another 2-3 issues but if there isn’t any major changes to how things are progressing, I may as well stop with the series, and that would suck.

Rating: 6/10

*****

Dejah Thoris: White Apes of Mars #3-4 by Mark Rahner

When I was last with this series, I’d had a fairly dreadful time of it. This is a series that had a lot of potential but it was all wasted in the first two issues. And it definitely hasn’t changed much with the last two issues of the limited run, which is very disappointing indeed. In my experience across the board with all the different titles from Dynamite Entertainment, Dejah Thoris: White Apes of Mars is definitely their worst series to date. There’s just no excitement to any of it at all, with the series being little more than just an excuse to get a few semi-naked Barsoomian noblewomen on the pages. In that, I agree with my friend Ed’s frank appraisal of the series.

Why is it that the series doesn’t excite me any? Because there is no characterisation in it at all. Dejah is just a cardboard cutout, someone on whom the writer, Mark Rahner, foists some macho guy scenes and calls it a day. Unlike her portrayal in the comics by Arvid Nelson and Robert Place Napton, Rahner’s Dejah Thoris is entirely too bland and uninspiring. We also never see any meaningful interaction between her and Carthoris, her son with John Carter. That was an element of the first 2 issues that I’d been really looking forward to seeing in the series, but that never happened, another reason why this series just failed for me.

Rahner isn’t the worst comics writer I’ve read so far, but he does come quite close. He had a chance to do something really different with this series but since he squandered it by giving us a caricature of Dejah Thoris, one that really rankles after he excellent portrayal in Arvid Nelson’s own Dejah Thoris title from the Warlord of Mars series, its all for naught. Other than the characterisation, the big culprit is the fact that issue #3 is 70% composed of panels without any narration or dialogue, just a series of pictures one after another. That doesn’t get me invested in a series!

Lui Antonio’s art is the only saving grace of the series, and even then, the art leaves quite a bit to be desired. His perspective is too up close and personal, as if he’s working off a third person camera POV, but one that sits at the POV character’s neck, which makes everything seem overproportioned.

Definitely not a series I’d recommend at all.

Rating: 2/10

*****

I, Vampire #1-6 by Joshua Hale Fialkov

And finally, I get to one of the best comics I’ve read so far this year, with no superheroes or mutants or such in sight, just plain old ass-kicking vampires of the Bram Stoker variety with a healthy dose of True Blood and Buffy/Angel thrown in. I first heard about Fialkov when he was announced as the new writer on the He-Man and the Masters of The Universe reboot, doing a one-shot (is it a one-shot?) with Skeletor and telling a story that harks back to the Keldor days of the character, which is one of the best representations of Skeletor that I’ve read to date. One thing led to the next, I found out Fialkov was also writing I, Vampire for DC’s New 52 relaunch and so I had to check it out, get a taste of his style and what not. And to be completely honest, the experience has been amazing.

With I, Vampire writes a series that takes influence from a lot of Vampires lore from various sources and works it into something new and different. Andrew Bennett reminds me of Angel while the antagonist Mary, his progeny, reminds me off the Vampire Bill’s sire from True Blood. Or even the Vampire-King of Mississippi, who was the best villain on the show for the first three seasons. The script is slightly confusing in issue #1 and takes a bit to get going, but when it does, it moves at a fast-pace that can leave you breathless. And it really is a very deep script that pulls the reader in and keeps them immersed in the world that Fialkov is creating, even though the setting is Gotham, Batman’s hunting grounds.

Bennett’s attempts to bring Mary to reason and stop her ill-advised purge of humans, the scenes with the vampires fighting in different forms, Bennett’s casual badassery, and the special appearance of John Constantine (who I’ve seen only in the Keanu Reeves movie, which I loved), dare all great secondary selling points of the script. The primary selling points are of course, Fialkov’s characterisation of both Bennett and Mary. Their clash of… ideologies is at the heart of this first arc, collected together as I, Vampire Volume 1: Tainted Love.

Although Fialkov writes a tightly-focused script, there were a few things I had an issue with. The first is that while we do get a superhero in the comics, and its Batman of course, his inclusion just seemed really unnecessary. This shows through more in #6 than in #5 since he is a pretty major factor in the last issue. He appears and gives us some of his good-guy spiel where he doesn’t want to kill anyone and so on, but it just didn’t work for me. Plus #6 is an issue that appears to have been rushed, which is another downside.

And finally, the art. Andrea Sorrentino illustrations are really eye-catching, but there is too much frailty to her characters. This is really common for both Andrew and Mary. They look like the wind could blow them over! Which is at odds with how action-y these two are in the script. I like her art overall, but feel that it could be quite a bit better. Also, Mary’s design really confuses me and I can’t make out whether she is naked and has painted tattoos on her body, or if it is all just some kind of an outfit. Very perplexing.

Still, I’m really liking this comic and the ending of the first arc promises a great many good things for the second arc, which I’m rather anxious to read. Plus, given all the twists and turns to the script in the first arc, it means that the series is very unpredictable and I just love that!

Rating: 9/10

___________________________________________________________

Comics reviewed by Bane of Kings: Aquaman #1-3 by Geoff Johns (DC Comics), Batwoman #1-3 by J. H. Williams III (DC Comics), Nightwing #3-6 by Kyle Higgins (DC Comics) and Battle Beasts Vol. 1 by Bobby Curnow (IDW Publishing).

*****

Aquaman #1-3 by Geoff Johns

Bane of Kings shares his thoughts on the first three issues of the Justice League’s most underappreciated hero, Aquaman, written by Geoff Johns. With artwork by Ivan Reis, this was published by DC Comics as part of their New 52 range.

“Geoff Johns has seemingly done the impossible, making Aquaman a cool hero. With an interesting storyline, this series is one of the highlights of DC’s New 52 Reboot.”

#1 – Aquaman has renounced the throne of Atlantis–but the sea will not release Arthur Curry so easily. Now, from a forgotten corner of the ocean emerges the Trench! A broken race of creatures that should not exist, an unspeakable need driving them, the Trench will be the most talked-about new characters in the DC Universe!

 #2 – An entire town…devoured! As Aquaman and Mera discover the grisly truth behind a town’s disappearance, the Trench infestation spreads inland! Plus: another gruesome Trench power revealed–and it’s not for the squeamish!

 #3 – The secret of the Trench revealed! Where did these cannibalistic sea creatures come from? What fuels their monstrous hunger? Why have they chosen now to invade the surface world? To unravel the mystery of the Trench, Aquaman must seek help from the last person on Earth he ever wanted to see again.

Aquaman was one of the series that I picked up after hearing positive feedback about, and I don’t think I would have picked it up without any recommendations. As it turns out, Aquaman is one of the better comics of the New 52 relaunch and I was surprised by just how good Geoff Johns has portrayed the character.

In the first issue, Johns clearly establishes how Aquaman fits into the DC Universe.  He’s something of a joke, and even the police complain that they got “upstaged by Aquaman”. Whilst the writer may be known for continuing previous, non-New 52 stories into the New 52 with his Green Lantern series, Johns has avoided this here and has chosen to start afresh with Aquaman, which is great for newcomers to the character and the Universe like myself.

The action is great, and anybody who scoffs at Aquaman will be rethinking their view on him by the end of reading this story. I haven’t seen any criticism of it so far, which is always good news. The characters are strong and Arthur Curry is an interesting main lead to follow, along with Mera, who provides the outlook of the main female character in these issues and I will be looking forward to see how their characters develop over the upcoming issues. Johns has chosen to portray Aquaman as a likeable and sympathetic hero and I’m looking forward to seeing how he interacts with the Justice League in the series, as he’s introduced to the team in #3, which is also written by Johns.

The mystery is engaging and as I’ve never read an Aquaman comic before I was interested to see how a story featuring him as the main and solo superhero could be told. As it turns out, Johns has got it across fantastically and has managed to create several cliffhangers at the end of each issue in order to keep the reader hooked. Although there may not be that much of a plot in #1, it’s worth sticking with as #2 and #3 really move the story forward.

Aquaman is a title that even though you think that you should pass by, you shouldn’t underestimate it. It’s brilliant, and an example of showing just how good the character and the New 52 Universe can be.

Verdict: 5/5

*****

Batwoman #1-3 by J. H. Williams III

Bane of Kings reviews the first three issues of J.H. Williams’ Batwoman series, another strong DC New 52 Reboot with impressive artwork from the same author.

“Wow. This comic was so much better than I expected it to be. Another highlight of the New 52 Reboot.”

#1 – Batwoman faces deadly new challenges in her war against Gotham City’s underworld–and new trials in her life as Kate Kane. Will Kate train her cousin, Bette Kane, as her new sidekick? How will she handle unsettling revelations about her father, Colonel Jacob Kane? And why is a certain government agency suddenly taking an interest in her?

#2 – A terrifying new villain stalks the innocent children of Gotham City. A threatening government agency is hot on Batwoman’s trail. Kate Kane’s new relationship is heating up. Can Batwoman stop the new evil rising from the damp back alleys of Gotham’s barrios and overcome the many challenges she faces as both Batwoman and Kate Kane?

#3 – Batwoman faces the terrifying villain stalking Gotham City’s children. Can she defeat the gruesome monster in time to save the city’s most innocent victims? Kate Kane unearths a ghost she has tried hard to bury, even as the D.E.O. closes in on Batwoman. Can Kate outrun her past and Cameron Chase?

Batwoman took me completely by surprise. I heard good things about it on the blog before buying the first three issues, but I certainly didn’t expect this to be as good as it was. J.H. Williams has adopted a similar approach to Tony S. Daniel’s Detective Comics, and managed to not only tell the narrative but also produce the artwork.

And as a result, the storyline is far more effective than Detective Comics. Having never encountered Batwoman in print before, Williams manages to set up the reader for a great starting point although doesn’t really explain her origins. (I’m guessing this will be explained in #0 which I haven’t yet brought). Having not seen Batwoman in any other Bat-related titles at all I was interested to see what role she would play in Gotham City. What is her connection to Batman? What are her relations with her and the police?

This was a very interesting read, and it answered a lot of questions for sure while still leaving elements separate for future ones. Williams creates the artwork so that the scenes featuring Kate Kane are different to the ones with Batwoman, and whilst I didn’t like the fact that it’s never mentioned why Kate Kane looks so different from everybody else in Gotham even when not in her costume, I hope that this will be explained either in #0 or later issues.

Batwoman is certainly one of the best series of New 52 so far though, even with the above issues. It succeeds at what it’s trying to do and like most of the titles in this reboot ends with cliffhangers, leaving the reader only wanting more. It’s certainly different from what I’m used to reading and an interesting element to this is how it explores Kate’s relationship with Detective Swayer, which creates a conflict with Swayer who doesn’t know that Kate is the Batwoman.  The third issue is where the action and the tension really starts to increase, and I hope that the pace continues in future issues. J.H. Williams has created a masterpiece here and shows just how varied the New 52 can be in Gotham City alone.

Verdict: 4.5/5

*****

Nightwing #3-6 by Kyle Higgins

Bane of Kings reviews issues #3-6 of Nightwing, DC’s New 52 series written by Kyle Higgins with artwork from Eddy Barrows.

“Higgins continues to create an enjoyable series that ramps up to what looks set to be a thrilling conclusion to Nightwing’s first storyline of the New 52.”

#3 – The circus heads to Chicago–and Dick Grayson is along for the ride! But as Nightwing puts pressure on ex-Haley connections in search for answers about his past, one lead may be far too explosive to handle. Be here as Nightwing takes his quest for the truth to the Second City!

#4 – As Haly’s continues to travel the East Coast, Dick’s search for answers takes him to Miami! When a case from Gotham City brings Barbara Gordon to Florida, Nightwing and Batgirl must work together to bring a thief to justice. Nightwing and Batgirl tackle South Beach!

#5 – With winter closing in, Haley’s Circus hits New Orleans! But as Dick Grayson gets closer in his search for answers about the mystery of the circus, it’s not just the temperature that heats up. And just how does a voodoo ritual gone bad factor in?

#6 – Dick Grayson takes Haly’s Circus back to Gotham City in preparation for a large memorial show. But as Dick gets closer to the truth about his past, just how much is he really deciding for himself? And what does the Book of Names really mean?

Well, these four issues were great. Nightwing is another one of the New 52 series that really hits the mark for me and so far the only one that isn’t Scott Snyder’s Batman that I’ve read more than three issues of. The storyline develops over these three issues with the action, the stake and the pace getting higher and faster, and the characters, in particular Dick Grayson, are really standing out.

Although #4 is probably the weakest of the bunch, it’s still readable. Having not read Batgirl from the New 52 and only generally knowing her character as Oracle from Batman Arkham City and the incident in The Killing Joke, I didn’t warm to her appearance and didn’t really feel like she was needed in this story, seemingly brought in to create conflict between her and Dick’s current love interest, Raya. However, #4 is, along with #5, seemingly a filler issue and we don’t really see much plot development here, although it was nice to see a member of the Bat-family working outside Gotham City for a change. Whilst this prevents Nightwing from ranking up at the top with Snyder’s Batman in the pile of New 52 Series, the series still remains enjoyable and after the improvement and the revelation in #6, (as well as the appearance from Alfred), I really can’t wait to see this series deliver it’s conclusion.

And then onwards, to the Night of Owls Crossover Event. It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out as Nightwing will probably be the first non-Batman title that I read that focuses on the Night of Owls, and as a result, it will be interesting to see how the Talons are portrayed by somebody who isn’t Scott Snyder, and whether Nightwing will be able to defeat one of them when he is arguably not as strong as Batman.

But back to #3, #4, #5 and #6. It’s interesting to see how that in #3, Dick interacts with Haly’s Circus and how this storyline affects the members and their relationship with Nightwing. Each character reacts in different ways and while it looks like we won’t see Haly’s Circus after #7, it will be interesting to see what Higgins can bring to the table when he wraps things up, and in the story arc after the Night of Owls.  It’s been a heck of a ride getting there though, and despite the somewhat let-downs of #4 and #5, I’m still going to be following this series.

Verdict: 4/5

*****

Battle Beasts Vol. 1

Bane of Kings writes a review on the first volume of the Battle Beasts series, written by Bobby Curnow with art from Valerio Schiti. It’s published by IDW and has a release date of December 2012, however the first four issues are already available to buy.

“Whilst in places it may be Weird and flawed, the first volume of Battle Beasts manages to remain highly enjoyable and will surprise readers to just how fun it is.”

I picked this up on NetGalley after hearing some positive feedback about the first two issues from Shadowhawk, fellow TFF reviewer, and was pleasantly surprised. I wasn’t expecting anything as fun, nor enjoyable as this turned out to be, especially as it’s something that I wouldn’t have brought otherwise.

It’s just another average day for Bliss, an ignored linguist at the Department of Defence. However, when Bliss unlocks the secret translation of an ancient scroll, terror rains from the sky… in the form of the BATTLE BEASTS! Unstoppable creatures armed to the teeth, the Battle Beasts are determined to make Earth their own personal war zone. Nothing can stop their merciless carnage. Nothing except perhaps a gentle word from the one woman who can understand them-Bliss!

What we actually get with Battle Beasts is only three issues, at least in the NetGalley version, but they’re sure as hell fun to read. Sure, Battle Beasts may not be the graphic novel equivalent of Shakespeare, but it was never going to be. We get beasts that look like people smashing each other up with Earth as their playground, made even more enjoyable with the clean, cartoon-style, artwork provided by Valerio Schiti that will make the graphic novel a delight to read. As this was my first experience with Battle Beasts, you can count me impressed.

The characters may well not be as developed as they could have been, and Curnow doesn’t waste time trying to make you sympathize with them or get to know them, he just plunges you headfirst into the action. Whilst to some this may be an issue, others will be able to sit back and enjoy the very fun ride that Curnow has provided us with. Younger readers will no doubt get the most out of it, but if you’re looking for some fun, enjoyable action, then you can’t really go wrong with Battle Beasts.

What could have been another clichéd, all-out invasion of Earth in the same style that movies such as Independence Day have given us, Battle Beasts manages to make the invasion fresh, well choreographed and a lot better designed than some of the alien-invasion movies out there on the market today. This is going to end up being one of my shorter, if not my shortest, standalone reviews, as there’s not much more that I can add to it – other than the whole fact that this is a very fun comic to read. Don’t go in taking it seriously, and you’ll enjoy it a lot.

Verdict: 3.5/5

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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