Comics Round-up 15.11.2012

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Shadowhawk and Bane of Kings bring you more comics reviews, covering everything from DC to Marvel, Image to Zenescope, in the second bi-monthly installment for November.

“More mutants and more superhero team-ups with a dash of fantasy and space opera thrown in, the comics this time around have been stellar.” ~Shadowhawk

“Some fantastic issues provided by both DC and Marvel allow for a really enjoyable experience.” ~Bane of Kings

Comics reviewed by Shadowhawk: FF #1-2 by Jonathan Hickman (Marvel), Teen Titans #1-6 by Scott Lobdell (DC Comics), Alice in Wonderland #1-6 by Raven Gregory (Zenescope), and Planetoid #1-2 by Ken Garing (Image Comics).

*****

FF #1-2 by Jonathan Hickman

For me, the Fantastic Four are one of the most iconic and instantly recognisable superheroes out there. That mostly has to do with me watching the old cartoon series as a kid. The Thing and the Human Torch are just so damn cool as characters that I was completely taken in by them. While the attempts to bring them to the big screen have been somewhat of a disaster, given how silly they have been, I remember the cartoon series most of all. I recently picked up FF #1-2 by Jonathan Hickman to try out this family superhero team in comics format, mostly because it appeared to be a good starting point, and because I wanted to read more of (some of) my favourite Marvel characters (I happen to adore Silver Surfer). There was some disappointment to be had, but by and large it was not the kind of disappointment that negatively impacted on my reading.

The FF series is not a strictly Fantastic Four title, but more of an extended form of the team, with several new characters brought in to form what Reed Richards has dubbed “The Future Foundation”, a team that he hopes will be truly global in its approach and work actively to solve humanity’s many problems. There is a fair amount of history for the Future Foundation in previous Fantastic Four comics however, and there is one huge change to the main team line-up, which was cause for my disappointment as I mentioned. It is this: Johnny Storm aka the Human Torch is dead, and as per his wishes, Peter Parker is brought in as his replacement, with Spider-Man giving up his red-and-blue outfit for the black-and-white one favoured by the Future Foundation’s first family. It made me really sad to see that Johnny was dead. For me, he was always one of the most entertaining and affable and likeable superheroes ever, much like Spider-Man. In that respect, Spider-Man fulfills very much the same role as far as I am concerned, but since he is Spider-Man, the shock of Johnny no longer being around is softened enough that I could actually read the comics without getting all that emotional. The decision therefore worked out well enough for me. Now I’m even more interested to read what caused Johnny’s death and how the Future Foundation came about.

With these two issues, Hickman tells a story that really hits all the right tones in terms of its emotional impact on the reader. Wherever the Fantastic Four go, Dr. Doom is never far behind and these comics made me realise how much I despise him as a villain. Hickman has tried to cast him in a different light however and I’m waiting to see how far he goes with his portrayal. With the others, such as Sue, Ben and Reed, I think Hickman has got their personalities down, and they are very much the same characters I read about in Mark Millar’s Civil War books. Bam, instant connection. There are a couple twists in the narrative, mostly in #2 at the end, and it should be interesting how the betrayal that happens then plays out in future books.

Steve Epting, Rick Magyar and Paul Mounts have provided the primary art for the two issues and I have to say that I’m in love with their styles. Much of their palette is with the contrasting black and white colours with a fair bit of blues thrown in, which really work well with the pencils. A character’s expression, whether facial or body posture says a lot, and this is all the more important for characters like Spider-Man (masked) and The Thing/Ben, what with his face being a block of stone and all, to put it mildly. The art overall is stunning because it is not flashy. I can recognise the characters easily, and there is a soft touch to the inks and colours, which for me helped to soften the news of Johnny’s death.

All in all, a fantastic start to the FF series. I’ve already bought the next four issues and can’t wait to give them a spin.

Rating: 9/10

*****

Teen Titans #1-6 by Scott Lobdell

My only previous experience with Teen Titans is with the cartoon series from a few years back. I saw the whole show from its pilot to the last episode, but I never grew to like it. The anime approach to the animation is what did it in for me. The stories, episode to episode, were decent enough but the anime style always ruined the feel for me. These days I even wonder why I subjected myself to that show. Fortunately, Scott Lobdell’s New 52 reboot of the Teen Titans does not suffer from the same unfortunate design. I picked up Teen Titans because I wanted something to read that was not a “family” title, like the various Bat-family ones, or the Superman related ones, or the Justice League/Green Lantern variants. I wanted something different, and teenaged superheroes sounded like a good place to start.

The first arc of the series deals with Red Robin, Tim Drake, putting together a team of superheroes of a like age to him because many such have been going missing lately, either killed off by government agents or just going off to work with them. His primary interest is not in saving the world, as is the case with the Justice League, but more to protect those like him. After a lot of hassle he puts together a team of some really dysfunctional heroes like Wonder Girl, Solstice, Kid Flash, Bunker, Skitter, who provide a really varied roster for the team, in terms of both superpowers and character backgrounds. For instance, Bunker, who can create forcefields, is a Mexican kid named Miguel Barragan who is also gay. Skitter is an African-American girl and she has insectoid superpowers, although I don’t care much for her moniker Bugg which I thought was a bit childish and in somewhat bad taste. Solstice is, if I’m correct, an Indian girl. Lobdell has taken some bold chances with this series and I think that these decisions do bear out successfully in giving the team a more comprehensive global identity than what I’m usually used to seeing in comics. On that front alone, this is a great series.

Superboy, as an agent of N.O.W.H.E.R.E, the organisation that is going around to build a team of teenaged superheroes that it controls for its own benefits, makes a superpowered entrance that is very memorable. He goes up against each of the Teen Titans and he proves why his name is Superboy, one of the reasons for that of course. With him in the picture, and with Lobdell’s focus on bringing all these disparate identities together to form a cohesive team that works together, I think Teen Titans is off to a great start.

Brett Booth (pencils), Norm Rapund (inks) and Andrew Dalhouse (colours) provide the core art for the series. By and large, I like the artwork, although it isn’t all that memorable, but all the same, it is better than the art I’ve seen in some of the other New 52 releases, such as The Flash and The Savage Hawkman and Superman. Some of the panels are really weird, especially ones that feature Wonder Girl and the character faces sometimes change from issue to issue. The inconsistency is sometimes frustrating, but not much more than that. The script often is the main thing I look for and the script for this series has so far been very promising, with a fair amount of ups and downs.

Rating: 8/10

*****

Alice in Wonderland #1-6 by Raven Gregory

I remember reading Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as a kid, and being somewhat intrigued with it. The story however never really resonated with me beyond some key plot points that I still remember. I’ve seen some cartoons over the years and tried to see that Johnny Depp starrer with its own unique take on the story, but none of that has stuck with me either. Raven Gregory’s dramatically different take however, with its very adult focus, is something that I think I’ll remember for quite a while.

The story begins and ends as you would expect it to, but there are a hell of a lot of differences (from what I recall of the original version) that make this a much more engaging read. For instance, the characters such as the Hatter, the White Rabbit, the Queen of Hearts and the Chesire Cat, are portrayed very differently. The difference mostly deals with how dark a setting Gregory’s Wonderland really is. Its not the “simplistic” fantasy world of Carroll’s creation, but one that is full of monsters, wild magic, and the great and powerful monster known as the Jabberwocky who holds a young Alice in captivity for a number of years until she grows up and escapes with some help from the White Rabbit.

On a purely entertainment level, Alice in Wonderland is just fantastic. The story is engaging, the characters are wonderful, and the art is just great. Yeah, there is some risque stuff here and there, particularly with how the female characters are shown, but that didn’t strike me as anything different from what happens with the big studios. Could it be better? Of course, but one of the selling points of most Zenescope titles is their risque nature, and when that’s a consistent theme across the board for the studio, I find I can go along with it and not complain as I usually do with the big studios. These are specifically adult comics after all, much like Dynamite Entertainment’s various Vampirella and Dejah Thoris titles.

The only thing that I didn’t like about these comics was the fact that there were a lot of allusions to other titles that tie-in to these, like Tales From Wonderland andBeyond Wonderland. It prevented the comics from being a complete experience in full (if that makes sense). I still enjoyed the scripts, especially when everything goes really time-wonky, with Alice falling down the rabbit-hole for example. I absolutely want to read more of these comics!

The artwork, provided by the trio of Robert Gill, Jason Embury and Jim Cambell is fantastic, and the covers for the series were one of my attractions to to the title. Together, these three really capture the weird, other-worldly feel of Wonderland that Gregory has been going for. The colours in particular are really rich and vibrant, making for a really exciting visual experience. These are the kinds of art panels I would love to see more of in the titles put out by the big studios. From the other Zenescope titles I’ve read (or am reading) such as Neverland and Jungle Book, the studio definitely has the market niche on truly stunning internal comics art.

Rating: 9/10

*****

Planetoid #1-2 by Ken Garing

Planetoid is only the second Image title I’ve ever read, the other being Saga Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan, and much as with my experience IDW’s titles, I think Image Comics are one of the most promising comics studios out there. The creative teams that work on their various titles can go toe-to-toe with those of the big studios working on the big, globally-known IPs, at least in my experience. Saga is a landmark title in my opinion and Ken Garing’sPlanetoid only solidifies that opinion since it is easily as good as that, both in terms of the script and the art.

The story is about a former soldier of the Colonial Infantry who has turned to smuggling after going AWOL, alongwith other like-minded men, and how he crash lands on an out-of-the-way dirt rock while running from a warship of the Ono Mao empire. With only the AI program called Ricter for company, the first two issues of the series deal with Silas trying to find out where he is and finding a way out. He meets quite a few of the natives, who are all slaves overseen by a corps of robots who have been reprogrammed by Ono Mao to serve as the “ruling elite” of the planetoid. Right off the bat, the one thing that struck me about this series was how well Garing lets the art do the talking instead of words. Garing has done the internal art for the series, as well as the lettering, and I find it to be a rather curious mix. I’ve had a very good experience with such an approach before, with Darwyn Cooke’s Before Watchmen: Minutemen and Cooke/Amanda Conner’s Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre series, both of which are ongoing and which I absolutely love. With Garing’s work on Planetoid that experience is batting at 3/3.

As I was saying, the script and the art work well together. There are several panels in both issues where its just Silas alone on the planetoid, exploring the place as he goes, coming across dirt heaps and trash piles and trash-monsters, and there is not a single word on those panels. The art really does trump the script for those key moments. And that is one of the major reasons why I love this series.

Rating: 9/10

___________________________________________________________

Comics reviewed by Bane of Kings: Before Watchmen: Nite Owl #1 by J. Michael Straczynski, Before Watchmen: Minutemen #1 by Darwyn Cooke, Before Watchmen: Dr. Manhattan #1 by J. Michael Straczynski, Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre #1 by Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner (DC Comics), Earth 2 #2-3 by James Robinson, Talon #1 by James Tynion IV and Scott Snyder (DC Comics), Avengers: X-Sanction #1-4 by Jeph Loeb (Marvel).

*****

Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre #1 by Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner

Artist: Amanda Conner | Cover: Amanda Conner

“Oh sweetie, you’re too young to hate. Wait until you’re older and the world gives you a good reason. Trust me, it won’t let you down.”

So, Before Watchmen. I’m a huge fan of the Watchmen graphic novel by Alan Moore, and hold it as the best Graphic Novel that I’ve read to this day. If anybody’s wondering why, then you haven’t read it yet. Go out and read it. Now. The main reason why Silk Spectre was one of my first two purchases along with Minutemen was primarily because I thought that Laurie was one of the stronger characters in the book (and the film, for that matter – which is also very good), so I thought I’d give it a shot and see what it could do, going in with high expectations. And did the standards disappoint?

No, they did not. Although I’ve not read a Darwyn Cooke title before, I can tell that I’m going to like reading more of this series. It’s a great narrative that is the first part of showing us how Laurie inherited the role of Silk Spectre from her mother. There’s some very interesting scenes here, and coupled with the artwork from Amanda Conner, we really get a feel that this is firmly a Watchmen title, and not a cheap knock-off.

Although we don’t get to see Laurie don the mantle of Silk Spectre just yet in a tale that can be classed as a high-school drama, but what it’s great at is establishing Laurie as a character and her relationship with not only her mother, Sally Jupiter, but also her peers. Although the dialogue may at sometimes feel unnatural and unrealistic, Silk Spectre is otherwise a brilliant first experience in the Before Watchmen setting and this is a title that I will be following for sure.

Verdict: 4/5

*****

Before Watchmen: Minutemen #1 by Darwyn Cooke

Artist: Darwyn Cooke | Cover: Darwyn Cooke

“Little did we know that poor boy would lead to the end of us all.”

I picked up this title along with Silk Spectre, a few weeks before I ended up getting Nite Owl and Dr. Manhattan, and on the whole, found it a generally positive experience. It’s my favourite of the Before Watchmen titles so far, and is certainly one of the best individual comic issues that I’ve read in 2012.

Darwyn Cooke has done some brilliant artwork here as well as constructing a great narrative and storyline to boot, told as remembered by Hollis Mason, the former first Nite Owl. What made this different from Silk Spectre was that it was about a group of costumed vigilantes, rather than one individual one. We get a better look at the Minutemen than Watchmen ever could give us, and Cooke has proven to be the right person for the job with both of these titles.

This is a superb issue and is a series that I will certainly be following. The small bits of dialogue that frequent this issue is great and is a improvement than Silk Spectre, and the artwork is absolutely stunning. Cooke could be shaping up to be one of my favourite comic book writers if his form continues.

The back-up story, The Curse of the Crimson Corsair, is also introduced in this issue by Len Wein and John Higgins, but really – as its limited to a mere two pages, It is too early to talk about it just yet. I think I’ll wait until it’s either available as an individual series or give it a read through once I am up to date on all the Before Watchmen issues.

Verdict: 5/5

*****

Before Watchmen: Nite Owl #1 by J. Michael Straczynski

Artists: Andy Kubert, Joe Kubert | Cover: Andy Kubert, Joe Kubert

“The hero known to the public only as Nite Owl announced his retirement today.”

Nite Owl was a title that I picked up along with the first issue of Dr. Manhattan, and they’re both written by the same guy. As it turns out, Nite Owl was a really engaging title and although not quite on the same level as Minutemen, gave us a great look into the early life of Dan Dreiberg, the man who will eventually become Nite Owl 2 and play a key role in Alan Moore’s Watchmen.

This is another origin tale and Straczynski really shows us just how Dan became Nite Owl in a storyline that although does not quite match the brilliance of Minutemen, is certainly a damn good one. Although the time-jumps may have thrown me off a little as they were not executed as well as they could have been, with a lightning-fast pacing that does not allow more room for Straczynski to tell us more of certain elements of Dan’s life e.g. Dan being a Nite Owl fan and his troubled family life.

This issue also explores the first meeting of Rorsarch, my favourite Watchmen character, and Nite Owl which was what I felt the highlight of this issue, leaving me eagerly awaiting Rorsarch’s solo title despite the fact that I’ve heard somewhat negative things about it. The art here is strong and the issue, although not quite as strong as Silk Spectre and Minutemen, is certainly worth the read.

Verdict: 3.5/5

*****

Before Watchmen: Dr. Manhattan #1 by J. Michael Straczynski

Artist: Adam Hughes | Cover: Adam Hughes

“I watch as a box containing a mystery is lowered into the soil.”

Dr. Manhattan is another one of the key players in the Watchmen graphic novel by Alan Moore and is arguably the most important. He’s the only proper superhero to grace the pages of the Watchmen Universe, which made it intriguing to find out how his whole storyline would work, considering we were shown his origin in the graphic novel.

This was probably the most difficult character to write a mini-series about, particularly as Dr. Manhattan is a lot more intelligent than pretty much any human alive will probably ever be. Straczynski has chosen to make Jon the narrator, and we really get a deeper look into the character, and the way that it is presented by Straczynski really does make it a highlight for me. Hughes is strong here with the art, and it fits firmly in the Watchmen Universe.

The time-jumps I felt were handled smoother than Nite Owl and I really loved how this worked out. Overall, I believe that my experience with Before Watchmen has been a positive one – and I think my next BW purchases will be The Comedian, Moloch and Rorsarch. Hopefully my view of the series as being on the whole very enjoyable – won’t change, but we’ll see.

Verdict: 4/5

*****

Earth 2 #2-3 by James Robinson

Artist: Nicola Scott | Cover: Ivan Reis and Joe Prado

#2 – MR. TERRIFIC – Michael Holt – lands on EARTH TWO! • Don’t miss the origin of the Earth Two FLASH – and the first time he uses his powers! • What could be a bigger threat to Earth Two than APOKOLIPS? Jay Garrick is about to find out!

#3 - The all-new origin of ALAN SCOTT GREEN LANTERN – unlike any GL origin that’s come before! • The debut of the all-new HAWKGIRL! • And Jay Garrick, THE FLASH, meets his first Super Hero!

If you’ve been reading my roundups of the first issues of the New 52 series, then you’ll have noticed that one particular highlight stands out from the bunch – the only one first issue that got 5/5 stars, despite some close contending from All Star Western and Batman and Robin, was Earth 2. I loved Nicola Scott’s artwork and I loved how the story was told by James Robinson.

And their stellar form continues with superb second and third issues, making Earth 2 shoot up to one of my favourites from the New 52 Reboot, easily in the Top 5. Although I may have one dislike about the Flash and how he was introduced, as well as his costume – I greatly prefer the Flash’s costume in the mainstream New 52 Universe, and I was rather confused about who Mr. Terrific was and just how he got to Earth 2, but that didn’t stop me from loving most of this. We get a mostly world-building and team forming set of issues for Earth 2 and although there isn’t any real superhero vs. Bad guys yet, we get a great look as to what’s to come with a few teaser panels of presumably the main bad guy.

And it’s shaping up to be a hell of a fight. What a great series this is turning out to be.

Verdict: 5/5

*****

Talon #1 by James Tynion IV and Scott Snyder

Artist: Guillem March | Cover: Guillem March

#1 – A new series spinning out of “Night of the Owls”!

After many years on the run, Calvin Rose returns to Gotham City to investigate the fallout from “Night of the Owls”!

Can the Court of Owls finally be defeated? Could Calvin have the one thing he’s been seeking his entire life: his freedom?

We could be onto something special here. Spinning out of the Night of Owls Crossover Event, Talon #1 focuses on the only Talon ever to escape the clutches of the Court of Owls, Calvin Rose – and thrusts him into newfound territory. We’ve seen his origin story in #0. Now, #1 gives us the reasoning behind Calvin’s return to Gotham, and the start of a new alliance.

Although the storyline isn’t exactly original, we’ve seen it before and we’ll see it again, the whole assassin seeking revenge on his former masters thing, James Tynion is another writer that could have the potential to leap right up to my favourites if his form with Talon continues. The storyline’s dramatic and you can certainly tell that Snyder is a heavy influence here, and I’m thinking that Guillem March was a lot better suited to this art than Catwoman #1, which was rather disappointing.

This is one of the best issues of the New 52, and is certainly in my Top 5 of my first issues, along with Batman and Earth 2. The Court of Owls are still out there, and as Batman’s now facing the Joker (Batman #13), somebody needs to track them down. And Snyder has handed the duties to James Tynion IV and Calvin Rose. It’ll be interesting to see how Calvin’s character develops and whether we will witness an interaction between him and a member of the Bat family. Maybe he’ll even go to-to toe with the Joker at some point, or at least feature in the Death of the Family Arc? Who knows. But what we do know though, is that unless #2 is a complete flop, Talon is going to be a brilliant ride.

Verdict: 5/5

*****

Avengers: X-Sanction #1-4 by Jeph Loeb

Artist: Ed Mcguinness | Cover: Various Artists

#1 – How has Cable been reborn? Where has he been since SECOND COMING? And what dark event has driven him to destroy the Avengers?

#2 - Cable goes toe-to-toe with Iron Man as his mission of annihilation continues!

#3 – Cable rumbles with the Red Hulk as his fight to save the future carries on!

#4 – As the final hours tick down, Cable must take down a berserker Wolverine and a wise-crackin’ Web-Head to ensure a deadly future does not come to pass!

So Avengers: X-Sanction is meant to be the prelude to the big Avengers vs. X-Men event that just finished recently and I thought that this four issue mini-series, would be a good place to start my re-entry into Marvel Comics after being obsessed with DC’s New 52 range for too long. Whilst I didn’t know some characters as well as others with my experience being limited to the Avengers and X-Men live action films, Mark Millar’s Civil War and Ultimate X-Men Vol. 1: The Tomorrow People. Although I lacked knowledge of who certain characters were such as Hope and Cable, I ploughed on in anyway and rather enjoyed what I found once the initial confusion wore off.

What we get here is basically an excuse to pit Cable against the Avengers in a series that is as action packed as the blurb suggests. The first issue kicks off with an explosive start, pitting Cable against Captain America in an interesting issue that although didn’t really explain a lot of things, sets the stage to come. The series is overall very fast paced and there is little moments where there is no action.

Although this may not have been the best place to jump into, I nevertheless enjoyed Jeph Loeb’s run on the Marvel characters and although X-Sanction may not be anywhere near as brilliant as The Long Halloween, it’s certainly a fun read, if not much else.

Don’t go in expecting any sort of character development, but overall – this has been surprisingly dark, very entertaining and although I’ve been told isn’t necessary reading for the Avengers vs. X-Men event, shouldn’t be passed up on. I should also point out at the end of this review that I am trying to expand into print comics, the only drawback being that my local comic store has prices that are more expensive than the ones on comixology and they don’t always have the issues that I go in hoping they’ll have, which means I need to get in touch with them to order them in, I guess.

Verdict: 3/5

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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