Comics Round-up 15.12.2012
Bellarius joins Shadowhawk and Bane of Kings for the second comics round-up for December.
“Some good, some bad, just like any other month really.” ~Shadowhawk
“A mixed bag for Marvel Now and a fresh take on the Man of Steel.” ~Bane of Kings
“Some very disappointing reading this time around.” ~Bellarius
Comics reviewed by Shadowhawk: Captain America #1 by Rick Remender (Marvel), Batman #13-15 by Scott Snyder (DC Comics), Earth 2 #5-7 by James Robinson (DC Comics), Star Wars: Agent of the Empire Volume 1 – Iron Eclipse by John Ostrander (Dynamite Entertainment).
Captain America #1 by Rick Remender
Marvel’s staggered relaunch for its entire line-up provides new readers with a good jumping on point for some of its hottest properties such as Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Spider-Man etc. I’ve only tasted a small sample of the new offerings and my reaction has been mixed. Some like Thor, God of Thunder have been quiet entertaining, but those like Iron Man have been plain disappointing. Unfortunately, Captain America seems to be falling into the latter camp.
Written by Kieron Gillen, this issue sets out how Cap’s mother formed an important part of his childhood with respect to his moral upbringing, his fight against his “typical” villains. For me, as someone relatively new to the character in the comics format (have only read a handful of stuff about Avengers and Civil War), this was an issue that was all over the place. It’s trying to do too much in too little time. The flashback to his childhood isn’t exactly anything new per se; I’ve already seen something very, very similar in J. Michael Straczynski’s Before Watchmen: Nite Owl #1. The scene feels very by the numbers instead of being… different. The fight against Green Skull, who is some cheap imitator of the Red Skull (one of the most prominent of Cap’s rogue gallery), is over before it begins as Cap makes a typical entry and exit. More panels here to flesh out the sub-plot would have worked wonders. In fact, I’d say that the whole issue should have just been about this fight. I liked how Green Skull is presented, overall. I can see him as a great recurring villain for the series. When we move to the scenes with Sharon Carter, Cap’s girlfriend and a SHIELD agent, that feeling of disorientation was even bigger. For one, Sharon’s position within SHIELD wasn’t exactly clear, and two, we never actually get her last name (which I found out through a quick google search). Plus, Cap makes a really campy sexual innuendo that had me shaking my head in disbelief at how campy it really was. That whole panel is just weird. (Arnim) Zola made for a very boring villain with his whole sub-plot. Grossly incompetent and a fool. I found the Green Skull to be far more likable and that guy talks in old-style cliches for crying out loud.
The artwork is by John Romita Jr, Klaus Johnson, Dean White and Joe Caramagna. The pencils were very uneven for me. Character facial designs seemed to change every few panels, making for a very uncomfortable read. The faces are also very minimal at times, with very little detail. The colors were far better and Dean White has done a decent enough job on that front. The panels with Cap and Green Skull are definitely the highlight of the book.The cover, with Cap’s face in shadow, is decent, but I’m left wondering why his face is in shadow, and thus indiscernible. Made no sense to me.
As a new reader, the book is almost alienating to me. Definitely not impressed. Unless I read strongly positive reviews of the rest of the series from folks whose opinions I trust where comics are concerned, I’m not coming back to the Marvel Now version of Captain America.
Batman #13-15 by Scott Snyder
Anyone who’s been following the comics reviews on here knows that I’m a very big fan of Scott’s work on Batman. He has an excellent handle on the character and the setting alike; he’s made Batman, his allies and his villains his own, while also enriching the entire Batman mythos through the addition of a brand new enemy in the form of the Court of Owls. With these three latest issues, he goes back into what is familiar territory for all Batman fans: the Joker. That’s right, the big bad Clown of Gotham is back, and he’s back with a vengeance.
Comics rarely, if ever, scare the hell out of me. To the best of my knowledge, the only other time I’ve been seriously creeped out by a comic is when I read David Hine’s The Darkness: Rebirth Volume 1. With these three issues, Scott does three better than David did. The new arc is called “The Death of the Family” and it shows how Joker goes about exacting vengeance on every member of the Bat-family. Joker’s return to Gotham is explosive and brutal, as shown by his break-in at the GCPD headquarters and the massacre in the mayor’s office. Batman’s investigations eventually bring him to a face-off against the Joker, but by this point, the lunatic appears to be holding all the cards, especially since he claims to know the identities of all the heroes of Gotham: Batman, Nightwing, Red Robin, Robin, Batgirl and Red Hood. Plus the fact that Joker kidnapped Alfred too, from the Wayne Mansion itself! Snyder’s Joker is totally off his rocker, and his controlled madness really makes me shiver. I swear I’m going to start taking the Joker seriously from now on. I can totally do without the images of Joker’s stapled-on facial skin and his maniac laughter from Snyder’s pages and Capullo’s art.
Which brings me to the visual aspects of the three issues. In a word: fanfrikkintastic. Capullo is hands down one of the best artists currently working for DC. Ivan Reis, Nicola Scott and Amanda Conner are all pretty much on the same level as him. Capullo’s Joker is hell of a lot creepy. His Nightwing is very much in the same vein as Eddy Barrows’ from Nightwing. His Batman is consistent with the rest of the series. His panels are just so incredibly well-detailed and a treat to look at. And there’s so much dynamism in them. His work just brings Scott’s words to cinematic life and gives you the feel that you are watching a big-budget movie rather than reading a comic book.
There are back-ups in all three issues, co-written by James Tynion IV and Scott. In #13 we have Joker recruiting Harley Quinn to his cause. In #14 it is Joker making a deal with Cobblepot (Penguin). In #15, Joker partners up with the Riddler. The Clown seems to be gathering quite the villainous army! James has just as good a handle on Joker as Scott does, which is not surprising since they both cooperate on all Batman stuff, and since James is also doing his own series, Talon, which is a spin-off from the “Court of the Owls” crossover and features a good-guy Talon of the Court, out for himself and wanting to be left alone. James’ Joker is just as scary as Scott’s, if not more so, and I love his take on Penguin and Riddler. And Jonathan Glapion’s artwork is almost on par with that of Capullo’s. There is consistency between them as relates to character designs, so that’s a huge plus from me!
Overall, an excellent continuation from “Court of the Owls” and “The Death of the Family” is definitely off to a great start! The cliffhanger from #15 almost had me shaking with the utter deviousness of Joker. If you haven’t read anything from the previous arc, then don’t worry. #13 provides a great jumping-on point! Very promising for the next set of issues too! My only negative comment about these three issues is that #15 is not as spectacular as #14 was, though it has a stronger back-story, so it all balances out anyway!
Earth 2 #5-7 by James Robinson
James Robinson’s Earth 2 is one of the gems of the New 52 line-wide relaunch. James has done a great job with this title and Earth 2 is definitely right up there as the absolute best of all the New 52 launches. This series has delivered above and beyond what I expected from it, and James Robinson is definitely one of my favourite comics writers working for DC right now.
James continues the great work he’s done with the early issues with these three, in which gives a damn good conclusion to the Solomon Grundy arc which brings together all the new “wonders” aka superheroes. The big fight at the end of #6 is a definite must-read, due in no small part to the fact that the World Army now has a new officer, Terry Sloan, one of the original wornders of Earth 2. His face-off against Kharn, who is the operational leader of all World Army forces is written well. We get an in-depth look at both Khan and Sloan, setting up an even bigger confrontation between the two men for the next couple issues.
Nicola Scott and Trevor Scott’s artwork for #5-6 is great. I love the redesign of Green Lantern, Hawkgirl and The Flash. The new looks are spectacular in their effect and do a great job of setting these characters apart from their counterparts from Earth One. The pencils are just as impressive as they were the first time round with issues #1-4. My only concern would be that the Grey, that which powers Grundy, isn’t so well-portrayed in terms of the art. Visually, it’s very disorienting. In#7, Yildiray Cinar takes over pencil duties from Nicola. Yildiray’s style is consistent with that of his predecessor (not sure if Nicola has been replaced or Yildiray is just filling in as a guest artist). Yildiray’s Hawkgirl and Khan are definitely striking!
Among my criticisms with the series so far is that we have dwelt very little on Alan Scott’s relationship with his dead boyfriend. Given that his death spurred on Scott’s transformation into Green Lantern, it was always weird for me that Scott didn’t think much of him when fighting against Grundy. Which is why the snippets we get in #6 and #7 were so exciting, since we were revisiting this neglected subject. And it looks like this will be a major sub-plot, if #7 is anything to go by. Another criticism is how we haven’t spent much time on The Flash. I mean, we barely know anything about him, when compared to Hawkgirl, Atom and Green Lantern! I’m hoping that James spends some page-time on him too. And finally, an art comment. The cover for #7 is rather misleading, since the scene that is shown doesn’t actually happen in the comic! I was rather disappointed by the fact.
Star Wars: Agent of the Empire Volume 1 – Iron Eclipse by John Ostrander
I’ve read several Star Wars comics over the years. They’ve ranged from the super-serious to the serious to the not-so-serious to the funny to the disappointing. John Ostrander’s Iron Eclipse falls somewhere between the not-so-serious and funny, with a touch of disappointment. It has a great premise in that Jahan Cross is an agent of the Imperial Intelligence network under the great Armand Isaard himself (the name might be familiar to long-time fans of SWEU; he is the father of Ysane Isaard from Mike Stackpole’s X-wing novels). Where Iron Eclipse fails to impress is that the entire novel reads like a James Bond pastiche knock-off.
Jahan Cross could be James Bond in Star Wars, literally, and I wouldn’t bat an eye. Don’t get me wrong, I love James Bond and I mostly like Ostander’s script for this 5-issue limited series, but the characterisation is just atrocious. Jahan says dialogues that wouldn’t be out of place in a Bond movie. Armand Isaard is pretty much M here, and we even have a character who parallels Q! There are also “Cross Girls” aplenty (in imitation of Bond Girls), and their characterisation is also cliched and uninspiring. The narrative is the driving force here, and I loved reading this detective-style take on the Star Wars mythos, but it failed to work for me.
Stephane Roux, Julien Hugonnard-Bert, Wes Dzioba and Michael Heisler are the artists for the series, with Dave Wilkins providing some of the alternate covers. In the main, I like the artwork, which is just as vibrant as anything else I’ve seen from Dark Horse’s various Star Wars titles. All the characters have great expressions, the panels are pretty much always detailed, and this is one good looking graphic novel.
There’s a lot of promise here and Ostrander sadly fails to deliver.
Comics Reviewed by Bane of Kings: A + X #1 by Jeph Loeb (Marvel), Fantastic Four #1 by Matt Fraction (Marvel), Iron Man #1 by Kieron Gillan (Marvel), and, Action Comics #2-3 by Grant Morrison (DC Comics).
A + X #1 by Dan Slott and Jeph Leob
Art: Ron Garney, Dale Keown, Danny Miki, Mark Morales, Cam Smith | Colours: Will Quintana, Frank D’Armata | Letters: Clayton Cowles, Albert Deschense | Cover: Dale Keown
#1 – Spinning directly out of AVX! This issue: Wolverine teams up with the Hulk, and Captain America meets up with Cable!
A + X is essentially two mini stories told in a similar way that apparently A vs. X was during the Avengers vs. X-Men. But instead of Avengers fighting X-Men, we’ve got a team up between the group, with different characters getting the spotlight each issue. As Jeph Leob is a favourite of mine after the Batman classic The Long Halloween, I thought I’d give this a try even though his Avengers: X-Sanction wasn’t anywhere near that level. Whilst his contribution to A + X was a fun read in the form of a Hulk and Wolverine team up that was likely used in the first issue to draw fans into this title by including some of Marvel’s most popular characters.
But first off, because it appears first in the issue, we’ll look at Dan Slott’s story, focusing on Captain America (and Bucky) teaming up with a time-travelling Cable in WW2 to stop a time-traveller bent on killing mutants. This was an interesting short with Captain America getting much more of the page time than Cable. There were some interesting moments concerning the revelation about Cable being from the future, something along the lines of (not an exact quote) “You shouldn’t have told us that we won the war…” “…You’re speaking English,” and this was probably my favourite of the two stories mainly because Jeph Leob’s offering didn’t have a very clear-cut ending and once Hulk and Wolverine’s future selves showed up (looking for a Hulk that isn’t Bruce Banner, which was interesting), and was rather confusing, despite being a fun read that started with Hulk and Wolverine arguing over the last piece of cake in a fridge. (I’m not kidding).
The price issue is going to be the biggest problem with this and most of Marvel Now!. It’s just simply too expensive for a single comic standing at £3.25 if I want to get it from my local store or £2.49 if I want to get it on Comixology. I just don’t think it’s worth the asking price, which is unfortunate, although I may pick up the next issue as it’s got an interesting Black Widow/Rogue team up.
Fantastic Four #1 by Matt Fraction
Art: Mark Bagley, Mark Farmer | Colours: Paul Mounts | Letters: Clayton Cowles | Cover: Mark Bagley
#1 – Marvel Now! begins for Marvel’s First Family! Four adults. Two kids. One “car.” The Fantastic Four take a journey through all of infinite time and space!
I’m going to start this review by saying that I’m not a big fan of the Fantastic Four. I haven’t read any comics by Marvel’s first family and I didn’t really enjoy what I saw of the first film, and haven’t seen Rise of the Silver Surfer either. So my knowledge of Fantastic Four is very limited, and just to prove how limited it is, I didn’t even know that Reed and Sue had kids. So I thought that with Marvel Now! It’d be the perfect chance to brush up on some Fantastic Four, and I rather enjoyed what I saw. This is much better than A + X and one of my favourite Marvel Now! titles so far.
Whilst this isn’t as action-packed as any of the other Marvel Now! series that I’ve read, Fantastic Four #1 is a brilliant read. Character focused, Matt Fraction’s story is interesting and is certainly a set-up for greater things to come. Whilst this is not a reboot, merely a jumping on point, the first issue of Fantastic Four is very intriguing and has great potential for the rest of the series. The artwork is clean and light, lighter in tone than A + X. It also seems to be showing similarities to Doctor Who, as the Fantastic Four look set to journey into a road trip through space and time, but without the TARDIS.
Matt Fraction’s first offering makes me not only want to stick around for more but also check out his Hawkeye series, which I’ve heard is a very good read from some people, although I know that fellow reviewer Shadowhawk didn’t enjoy it as much as others seemed to.
Iron Man #1 by Kieron Gillan
Art: Greg Land, Jay Leisten | Colours: Guru eFX | Letters: Joe Carmagna | Cover: Greg Land
#1 – Tony Stark — Iron Man: visionary, playboy, engineer, Avenger. But when Extremis, his greatest invention, is let loose and up for grabs to the highest bidder, it’s up to Iron Man to contain it. That means creating a new suit of armor…NOW!
Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, was the first mainstream Marvel character to get his own Marvel Now title, so there was a lot riding upon this book, especially as it should have been the perfect jumping on point for new readers who thought Iron Man was the star of the Avengers film and want to see Tony Stark in action in the comics.
I however, didn’t like it. The script was alright, it wasn’t anything too amazing, but it was the art provided by Greg Land that really ruined it for me. I didn’t like Iron Man’s new Armour, and I couldn’t help but notice that every woman that he drew looked pretty much the same. The other characters don’t really look that great either, and his version of Tony Stark is just… weird.
This was a pretty boring issue and on the whole, it generally wasn’t really appealing and I don’t think I’ll be following this title.
Action Comics #2-3 by Grant Morrison
Art: Rags Morales, Brent Anderson, Rick Bryant, Gene Ha (#3) | Colours: Brad Anderson | Letters: Patrick Brosseau | Cover: Rags Morales, Ethan Van Sciver (#2), Brad Anderson (#3), Art Lyon (#3)
#2 – After last issue’s shocking conclusion, the Man of Steel has been captured! And if the world wasn’t ready for a man with super powers, they’re utterly unprepared for the rage of a Superman cornered! The cornerstone character of the new DCU continues his debut adventure.
#3 – As Grant Morrison’s re-envisioning of the Man of Steel continues, the people of Metropolis turn on their new champion! But why? Plus, shocking secrets from Krypton revealed!
I’ve never read anything by Grant Morrison before and I found that the second and third issues of his Action Comics series were actually really enjoyable, although they weren’t without their flaws. In #3, when the public turns against Superman, it just feels a bit too rushed for my liking, and should have really been spent more time on developing. It’s also interesting to see that Morrison’s Superman is actually having fun with his powers in this series, something which I know the pre-New 52 incarnation wouldn’t.
The second issue kicks off with Superman in chains, a captive of Lex Luthor. This was an interesting continuation from the conclusion of #1 and it’s nice to see that this isn’t a ‘villain of the week/month’ series like the other Superman title seems to be. There’s actually plot, and it seems to be developing.
Rags Morales is great with his artwork here and whilst not up to either the ranks of Greg Capullo (Batman) or Nicola Scott (Earth 2), my two favourite artists out of the New 52, his art is pretty damn fine and this just adds to the enjoyment of the series overall.
I’ve recently experimented with print volumes of the New 52 with the first Teen Titans Volume entitled It’s Our Right to Fight, and I’m starting to lean towards the print side of things here. Whether I continue to pick up individual issues on comixology or wait for the trades will depend on how the next few volumes turn out. I’m thinking of going with either Justice League Dark, Batwing, Batgirl or Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE mainly because these titles were all in stock at the local comics store but they all look pretty appealing along with the other hardbacks including Action Comics’ first volume. So the next few months will probably be less individual reviews and more collected volume reviews with focus on the New 52 especially as I’ve got the Teen Titans collection reviewed soon. But we’ll see how it goes, and Action Comics is a series that I will be following for sure.
Comics Reviewed by Bellarius: Men of War #1-8 by Ivan Brandon (DC Comics), Avengers Arena #1 by Dennis Hopeless (Marvel).
Men of War #1-8 by Ivan Brandon
“A series that shows that a good idea alone doesn’t make for a good story.” ~ Bellarius
The single biggest problem when it comes to a new comic is keeping a consistent tone for readers to get used to. If it is changing the style and approach to things every six issues, whatever following it has built up will likely collapse around it, especially if new writers refuse to follow up on old ones. This is a problem which seems to be striking a lot of comics in the New 52 and Men of War is just one case example.
You could effectively divide is short run into two halves, the first arc titled Uneasy Company and then the various one shot ideas which followed afterwards. Whatever fandom might have started to exist with the first arc was likely swept away with the following second with constant shifts in tone, subject matter and guest starring characters who needed to stick to their own comic. None of this is to say that Men of War was without other problems or that the first arc was near perfection, simply that there’s a few obvious reasons why it failed.
The idea behind the comic was to show how the face of modern warfare might be changed with the inclusion of metahuman combatants, specifically from the eye level of a few elite grunts. While certainly an interesting idea, this idea failed for at least one good reason. It didn’t pace itself. Rather than taking the time to establish any realistic themes or ideas then introduce superhuman elements, Brandon opted to throw them in when he was barely out of the starting gate. One issue into this a red blur comes out of nowhere, crashes through the buildings, throws everything into devastation and leaves again. It doesn’t even stick with this scenario for very long and rapidly turns its attention to other points of interest, jumping back and forth between real world action and supervillains. Seriously, it goes from fighting an airborne Wonder Woman foe in the second issue to a family of bystanders being used as human shields in the third. And this is from the arc which had direct continuity between releases.
Unfortunately the very loosely linked plot is far from the end of the problems because as much as the plot tries to make them stand out, none of the characters become memorable. Besides one or two mildly amusing nicknames and Sergeant Rock’s, the protagonist, background detailing his losses at home they end up feeling largely interchangeable. Many recent comics might have problems when it comes to this but Men of War’s focus heroes fail to be interesting or even remarkable in any sense of the word. The only character who managed to have any memorable impact was Frankenstein when his comic mysteriously hijacked the eighth and final issue.
If there is one thing to really compliment about Men of War it’s that when its head is screwed on straight there are good tales to be found here. One shot story focusing upon a honourably discharged soldier being unable to adapt to life at home made for great self-contained tale. It’s just a shame it had nothing to do with what the series was supposed to be about. What’s more is that the art in every issue was consistently good. Muted when it needed to be, expressive when emotion was required and balancing out the fantastical with the realistic. If the series ever does get going again Tom Derenick is definitely the artist it would need.
To put it simply, the series needed fewer writers involved, a more consistent pace, greater continuity and a writer who has proven they can deliver with this concept. Peter David, Micah Wright or Garth Ennis certainly would have done it justice. For this shortlived run though, ignore it and wait for something better to come along.
Avengers Arena #1 by Dennis Hopeless
“The only reason this isn’t scored lower is to save room for the inevitable Power Pack Arena.”
After the dark age brought about by Civil War you announce your Heroic Age, where the good guys are allowed to act like heroes once more, only to see them fighting and murdering one another for contrived reasons yet again. Avengers vs. X-Men was bad enough, with both sides acting like morons and punching one another over something extremely simple, but now you drop all pretences and start throwing them by the truckload into Battle Royale gladiatorial games. Yeah, that’s really it, not much else.
Kidnapped by Arcade, we’ll get to him don’t worry, a multitude of lesser known teenage heroes including the Avengers Academy cast, X-23, the Runaways and Darkhawk are taken to the villain’s funhouse of death Murderworld. There they’re pitted into a kill or be killed scenario with no option to refuse fights and have to murder one another for the amusement of others.
Let’s just set aside that the afterlife seems to have a revolving door in comics and try to deal with everything else related to this.
Avengers Arena is taking a distinct group of young heroes, many of who have shown real character growth in a remarkably short amount of time who, just to focus upon Avengers Academy, have developed to trust one another. To protect one another, fall in love, and build themselves up to be an effective force for good and overcome traumatic past experiences to push past their flaws. It then uses those heroes as fodder by hurling them into a meat-grinder and has them openly murder one another because Marvel thinks no one will miss them. Not even giving them a chance for a heroic last stand or, in one infamous case thus far, their execution any focus or even meaning. Not to mention that particular one involves two horrible slasher movie clichés.
This is the sort of story idea I expect to find pitched with the first sentence consisting of “Yo dawg, I heard you liked character deaths” and uses the term “x-tremely edgy” to describe how dark it is. This is really the biggest problem here. The bloated parasite of a concept latches onto the story and drains it dry of any fun or reason to be committed to events, something most obviously visible within the characters.
Arcade, a C-list villain who is barely more of a threat than Stilt-Man, has undergone a huge overhaul by writer Dennis Hopeless. In an effort to make him a credible threat any colourfully fun aspects which made him popular back in the 80s have been completely removed. The only emotion he gave off throughout the whole thing was smug apathy, even as he kills someone with mind bullets. You can practically hear the comic screaming “SEE! SEE! HE CARES NOTHING FOR LIFE AND DEATH! SO GRIMDARK!!!”
It’s the same with some of the heroes. One particularly memorable preview has Hazmat, AKA the girl who lobs radiation at people, claiming that she has “always been a hater” and that she has just hated everything. Nope, no mention of the fact that her hatred was a long established as a coping mechanism for her powers and trauma, she just hates everything. This is the sort of badly researched tripe I’d expect of Karen Traviss, not the guy who wrote X-Men: Season One. Even when the comic initially takes time to expand upon the characters personalities you know it’s only being done so those who’ve don’t care about the characters and have just turned up to watch them die understand who they are.
The same goes for the artwork. I could praise the level of detail done by Kev Walker but then I’d have to go into things like the burnt flesh sloughing off the bones of X-23 and horrified expressions of those about to die. I could talk about the colouring, but that’d leave me going into the sheer level of gore, blood splatters and maiming rife within fights. Anything good which can possibly be found in this wretched mess is ultimately tainted by the basic concept driving its plot forwards.
Readers, if any of you looking at this care in the slightest about the characters involved I implore you: Don’t waste your money on this. I barely managed to scratch the surface on everything wrong with this issue alone. Don’t even pirate it or post hate on forums. Ignore it. We’ve seen enough of heroes senselessly beating the living crap out of one another in recent years, milked to be edgy, controversial and not even trying to embrace any of the fun behind the concept. This should be the last straw, not something to make a profit and end up with some executive thinking they should have more heroes violently murdering one another to boost sales.