Comics Round-up 01.02.2013

FootClan01

Shadowhawk and Bane of Kings bring to you the first comics round-up for February.

“A rather lukewarm experience this time.” ~Shadowhawk

Talon continues to impress with two strong issues whilst Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers kicks off to a flawed but interesting start.” ~Bane of Kings

Comics reviewed by Shadowhawk: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – The Secret History of the Foot Clan #1-2 by Mateus Santolouco (IDW Publishing), Darksiders II: Death’s Door by Andrew Kreisberg (Dark Horse Comics), and, Space 1999: Aftershock and Awe by Andrew E. C. Gaska (Archaia Entertainment).

*****

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – The Secret History of the Foot Clan #1-2 by Mateus Santolouco

FootClanComp01I remember watching the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons as a kid. They used to be among my top fvourites at the time, alongside Johnny Quest, Space Ghost and a few other choice cartoons. I also remember watching all the live-action movies (think there are three?), but those were rather terrible so it’s probably for the best that I barely remember those. The only memory of those movies that has stuck to date is the song in one of them: “Go ninja go, go ninja go!”. That was a great song if I recall correctly. Since those days, I’ve pretty much lost touch with the franchise, other than that snazzy new animated movie that came out a while ago, which I thought was rather well done. I read some TMNT comics from IDW last year, but they didn’t really do much for me, and seemed to be rather sub-standard fare, to be honest. Which is where this new series by Mateus Santolouco comes in.

Just the title of the series, The Secret History of the Foot Clan, was enough to entice me. When I started reading the comic, my only thought was that this was too awesome. Unlike the other TMNT comics I’ve read, these actually made me excited to read them, to turn the pages (digitally that is) and be amazed as panel after panel delivered a story of intrigue, revenge, betrayal and justice. The story takes place along two different timelines. The first of these is the modern day story with the Turtles, April, Casey, Splinter and Shredder. The second part is with the Foot Clan in the olden days of the samurai, at a time when the Foot was ascendant and was led by the mysterious Takeshi Tatsuo. The interplay of these two different timelines, as a history professor in the modern days seeks to uncover the “secret” history of the Foot, while we also learn how the Foot rose and fell in power, made for some great late night reading. My cautious excitement with the series was rewarded far beyond my expectations. Now I’m really interested to read what more Santolouco has done!

When dealing with such a big franchise, it’s always important that the writer stay faithful to the characters and setting while also doing something new. Santolouco has done exactly that with these two issues so far. Each character is recognisable instantly, given the dialogue, above all else. I cannot stress how good it is to see Casey again in a good bash-your-head-in type of role. He was always one of the more interesting characters in the franchise and the way the first two issues have gone, I’m expecting him to get a larger role in the events. Which is most definitely a good thing. Same goes for April, my favourite reporter ever. Sure, Lois Lane gets to chum with the Man of Steel, but it’s April who hangs out with a quartet of mutated, sentient turtles who also happen to be ninjas. Both April and Casey have only featured in a limited amount of panels, but I’m expecting this to change with the next issue, which should be along soon.

And Shredder, ah Shredder. It’s a great thing that Santolouco has gone for an overall rough-and-tough feel for the comic, lacking almost all childishness and silliness. I’m more than fine with humour, but Santolouco’s gritty approach also works for me. The Turtles and Shredder are all a lot more serious than I’ve ever seen them, and I love that. It makes for a nice change of pace from most of the other material I’ve seen, and it helps to make Shredder into a truly terrifying villain in his own right. I honestly had goosebumps whenever Shredder featured in any of the panels.

The mix of old and new characters is also great, and while I loved the modern day Indiana Jones-style telling of how Shredder and the Foot are reclaiming their lost history, it is Tatsuo’s tale that I found much more interesting. Oroku Maji is a member of the Foot and it is he who drives much of Tatsuo’s story once the flashbacks from the first half of the first issue are done. It is all, in a word, fascinating. The two sides of the Foot that we are treated to is definitely something unique and different.

As it so happens, Santolouco has done the art for the series as well, alongside Joao “Azeitona” Vieira as colourist and Shawn Lee as letterer. In keeping with the script entire, the artwork is also striking, and quite fabulous. The grim moodiness that pervades the entire script is enhanced with the same where the art is concerned. The colours are dark and vivid, the pencils themselves are clear and sharp. The overall atmosphere created serves to really immerse the reader into the story and given the important nature of the comic as a visual medium, this is even more important.

So my recommendation is to go ahead and start on the series. The trade paperback isn’t going to be out for another 5-6 months, and that’s too long a wait in my opinion. Besides, aren’t those covers just plain mind-mendingly awesome?

Rating: 9.5/10

*****

Darksiders II: Death’s Door by Andrew Kreisberg

darksiders2deathsdoorMy only experience with the Darksiders is with the Ari Marmell-penned Abomination Vault, which was released last year to coincide with the releases of Darksiders II and is a prequel story set in the far, far earlier times of the setting. Kreisberg’s graphic novel is a much more immediate prequel to the game however, and it ties in heavily to it is my understanding.

One of the first things I noticed was that each of the five issues is almost half the size of a regular comic, if we count the story-only pages and not the extra ad space and what not. This means the story is told in short bursts of script rather than something much more… developed and nuanced. I certainly did not get the feeling much that this was an engaging story. I read the book because I wanted to read more about Death and the Horsemen, and not because the story generated any particular interest and excitement in me.

Abaddon, one of the high Angels, sends Death on a secret mission to find and destroy a demon who has killed some of Abaddon’s best. Death’s hunt for this missing demon, whom he is supposed to kill on sight, takes him through various places and various times. And that’s where my biggest issue with the comic comes up: Kreisberg has treated each single issue as if it was a “roughly speaking” standalone episode. The pacing was all over the place and it showed in spades.

What the comic got right though, or awesome for that matter, was to show how Death met Despair, and some great scenes (albeit limited) with all the Four Horsemen in a single frame. Ari Marmell’s fantastic novel got the characters, especially Death, down pat and this comic is no exception, because here too Death emerges as the chosen one to go on a hunt.

There is a bit of a disconnect in the book towards the end of the fifth issue, as the motivations for the demon turn out to be a rather confusion bunch and they really confused me. It was as if a lot of information was simply cut from the script.

Not the best of experiences by far. As such, I can’t really recommend this graphic novel at all.

Rating: 6.5/10

*****

Space 1999: Aftershock and Awe by Andrew E. C. Gaska

aftershockandaweThis graphic novel is my first taste of this particular franchise, a highly successful space opera television series in the days gone by, when I was just a kid, and was too busy watching cartoons rather than stuff like this, which I barely understood if at all. I went in expecting a fairly decent story, and that’s all I got, which was both disappointing and a bonus. A bonus because for once there’s a comic that matches expectations (being a rather rare occurrence, to be honest). And disappointing because while the whole idea was rather smart and innovative, it didn’t actually come across as being all that ambitious in its execution.

There are two separate stories here. The first, Awe, tells of how things went belly-up on the moon and how the entire moon was ripped away from the Earth in a near-catastrophic explosion. The second, Aftershock, is a bunch of really short vignettes that tell the other side of the story, that is, what was happening on Earth when the calamity struck. Thus, I liked Awe much more since it was all together much more relevant, and far, far more exciting to read.

The pacing in the first book is great, and the story of how the moon breaks away from it’s stable orbit, and the entire lead up to that point is a highlight of the book. Reading those pages, I could very well imagine all of this as a television show, albeit minus the ads. The second book, because of it’s constant jump in POV and location and what not, is nowhere near as good. It informs quite a bit of the parallel narrative from the first book and gives those events a certain context.

Not to mention that a tight, focused, and continuous script as in Awe is much more engaging and immersive than what we see in Aftershock.

The characters, the setting, the script itself, they were all good reading material, that’s a given. And in that context, the art by Gray Morrow was often on a level of its own. The colours and pencils really got across the general setting and atmosphere of Space 1999. As I’ve never seen the TV series myself, I can’t exactly comment on how accurate or relevant it is, but if you look at it from the perspective of having seen stuff like Star Trek: The Original Series, then that’s when the artwork becomes really good. Each panel is almost perfect and very evocative of everything that is happening in the script.

I’d recommend the graphic novel for sure, but I’d also say that you should be cautious with it. It is a great read, but the first half is definitely the main event.

Rating: 8/10

___________________________________________________________

Comics Reviewed by Bane of Kings: Talon #3-4 by James Tynion IV & Scott Snyder (DC Comics), and, New Avengers #1 by Jonathan Hickman (Marvel).

*****

Talon #3-4 by James Tynion IV & Scott Snyder

Art: Guillem March | Colours: Tomeu Morey | Letters: Dezi Sienty | Cover: Guillem March, Tomeu Morey

#3 Talon’s secret history in Manhattan is explored while Calvin Rose searches for an important figure from his past. Plus, what is the mysterious organization that has ties to Talon?

#4 – Things are getting tense for Calvin Rose as he tries to escape Metropolis without losing the reason he left the Court of Owls in the first place. But standing in his way is one of the Court’s most lethal weapons!

TalonComp02Talon is quickly shaping up to be a really strong series over the course of its first five issues, and establishing James Tynion IV as a writer to watch out for, his story really enhanced with the dark atmosphere provided by Guillem March. Both issues are really enjoyable and I love the way that Tynion has presented Calvin Rose’s character, and now that his origin story is over and done with – these issues give us a look into the heart of Talon’s war against the Court of Owls, and the Gotham Ripper – a seriously badass Talon who becomes hopefully the first in a long line of Talon’s enemies.

I seriously hope this series continues to sell well, for this is shaping up to be one of my favourites of the New 52 relaunch. After Talon #2 seemingly took us through a straightforward ‘in and out’ mission, I was beginning to wonder if the storyline would get repetitive when #3 showed a similar plot as Talon finds himself bank robbing. But when the Gotham Ripper is introduced at the end of #3 for the first time, things really start to shape up and we get the sense that we are in for a great ride.

Guillem March’s art is as strong as Tynion’s writing, and I love the dark, gritty atmosphere to this series and I can’t recommend this highly enough. Maybe it might not be the most new reader friendly, but after you’ve checked out The Court/Night/City of Owls graphic novels in that order, then you should be set for Talon.

Although the storyline is not the most complex DC has ever produced, if you’re in need of a fun comic series you should certainly check out Talon. Calvin Rose is a strong, memorable character and is certainly making his name here with the help of James Tynion IV.

Superb stuff.

Rating: 4/5

*****

New Avengers #1 by Jonathan Hickman

Art: Steve Epting, Rick Magyar | Colours: Frank D’Armata | Letters: Joe Carmagna | Cover: Jock

#1 – To prevent a collision of universes, the Illuminati must assemble NOW! Led by the Black Panther, the most powerful and brilliant team in the Marvel Universe is up against an infinite legion of parallel realities!

new avengers #1I’ve never read a comic with the Black Panther before and without my return to comics in 2011, I wouldn’t have heard of him, thinking that you’d have the name confused with the Black Panther Civil Rights Organization in America that I studied as part of my first year of History at College. (I covered American Civil Rights 1945-68, American Presidents, Politics & Society 1968-2001 & Women’s Rights in the UK from the late 1800s (can’t remember the exact date), to 1930). I was hoping, despite this new hero (for me) taking up the bulk of the cover, the issue wouldn’t focus too much on him but more on the Avengers that I was familiar with.

But as it turns out, I was wrong. This issue was Black Panther heavy, showing his decision to split from the Illuminati (Iron Man, Professor X, Reed Richards etc), and exploring his character and creating an interesting storyline in such a way that I didn’t need to actually know that much about the character in the first place. Jonathan Hickman is shaping up to be an awesome Marvel writer based on the work of his strong Avengers series and I’m really enjoying what he’s doing here, even if this wasn’t quite what I expected to be.

The art is relatively strong, not all perfect and Epting is not going to win the award for my favourite artist any time soon. But it’s certainly far from the worst Marvel art that I’ve seen.

The threat needs to be serious in order for Black Panther, Iron Man, Professor X, Doctor Strange, Reed Richards and others to assemble and I’m not really sure who the main bad guy is. We get some awesome action scenes that make me seriously want to check out Black Panther’s other books, but as a team issue, New Avengers doesn’t really do what it should set out to do. The first issue is meant to lay the groundwork for future stories, establish the team first and the bad guy last. I’m struggling to remember the full rooster of the Illuminati in this issue and I seriously hope that this is a problem that Hickman rectifies later on. I’m aware that the second issue is out already, but this is a book I think I’m going to wait for the trades to buy.

Rating: 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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