Comics Round-up 15.01.2013

StarWars01

Shadowhawk and Bane of Kings bring you the second comics round-up for January.

“Minus the disappointment of Wonder Woman these comics have all exceeded expectations. ~Shadowhawk

Iron Man: Armour Wars is a fun, action-packed and brilliantly entertaining graphic novel that should not be missed for fans of Tony Stark.” ” ~Bane of Kings

Comics reviewed by Shadowhawk: Justice League #13-15 by Geoff Johns (DC Comics), Aquaman #13-15 by Geoff Johns (DC Comics), Wonder Woman #13-15 by Brian Azzarello (DC Comics), Thor: God of Thunder #2-4 by Jason Aaron (Marvel), Star Wars #1 by Brian Wood (Dark Horse Comics).

*****

Justice League #13-15 by Geoff Johns

I’ve been following Geoff Johns’ run on this title with keen interest in the last seven-eight months that I’ve started reading comics again. The first volume was quite a decent one, but the second one nowhere near that. In fact, I even thought about dropping the title from my weekly lists. The special Zero issue however changed that link of thinking, primarily because it focused on Billy Batson/Shazam and told a great story, setting up future events. And then came Issue #13 and my faith in Geoff as far as Justice League is concerned, was restored. Now I’m really glad I stuck with it because this series is shaping up to be really, really good.

Issues #13-14 are a two-part story focusing on Barbara Minerva, a former archaeologist who is now a super-villainess possessed by an African goddess of the hunt, Cheetah. The two issues focus on her estranged relationship with Wonder Woman and the scripts are partly an origin story as well. The shift in focus, after the invasion from Apokolips in volume 1 and the threat of Robert Graves in volume 2 makes for a nice change of pace. The 2-part nature of the story also means that the threat from Cheetah is that much more immediate, especially as she is able to go toe-to-toe against both Superman and Wonder Woman, Johns focuses quite a bit on revealing Cheetah’s character, as well as giving Diana some closure of her guilt about letting Cheetah turn an innocent Barbara into a super-villain, someone dangerous enough to be considered Diana’s archenemy, much as in the same way that Lex Luthor is for Superman or the Joker is for Batman.

Issue #15 shifts focus again to begin the first chapter of the Throne of Atlantis crossover event that sees the Justice League series tied to Aquaman, also penned by Johns. A freak accident in the mid-Atlantic leads to a US navy battleship to fire missiles at hidden Atlantis, and Aquaman’s half-brother Orm/Ocean Master launches a devastating attack on the coastal cities of Earth, according to plans first drawn up by Aquaman himself several years ago. The majority of this issue is the Justice League superheroes dealing with the aftermath of this first wave of attacks, with Batman, Aquaman and Mera in Gotham, Superman and Wonder Woman in Metropolis while on a date, and Cyborg on the Watchtower. The entire setup is breathtaking because of how it unfolds, and how Geoff links Aquaman: Volume 1 Trench to Justice League. The final panel in the end is an excellent cliffhanger and a promise of things to come, things that are looking really good.

With Justice League, Geoff Johns is firmly establishing himself further as a writer with a great ability to draw on several cinematic scenes for his scripts, scenes that provide a huge punch and leave the reader hanging on to every written word. He is definitely one of my favourite comics writers at the moment.

Tony S. Daniel and Richard Fried are the pencillers for the two Cheetah issues with Ardian Syaf taking over duties for Throne of Atlantis. All three artists have done a great job on the title, giving it a fresh art direction with scenes that are as breathtaking and full of amazing action as Johns’ own script. The standout work is definitely in #15 where Syaf, fresh from duties on the first nine issues of Batgirl, steps up the game and makes the book one of the visually best single issues of 2012. The army of inkers and colourists and letterers on the three issues are also to be commended for doing a fine job of rejuvenating the series after the dreariness of the entire Robert Graves’ arc, which was depressing and muted at the best of times.

If you are looking for a Justice League story that is head and shoulders above most of the New 52 stuff ongoing and that can match what Scott Snyder is doing on Batman, then this is definitely what you need to be reading. No ifs and buts.

Rating: 9.5/10

More Justice League: #1-6, #7-12

*****

Aquaman #13-15 by Geoff Johns

Another Geoff Johns title, Aquaman is in my top 6 of the best New 52 titles at the moment, right alongside Snyder’s Batman, Gail Simone’s Batgirl, Duane Swierczynski’s Birds of Prey, James Robinson’s Earth 2 and of course, as I said above, Johns’ Justice League. This is a title that has been consistent from the get go and one that has really solidified Aquaman as a major player in the DC Universe as a character away from the crude fish jokes and other nonsense. In #13 Johns wraps up the The Others arc and begins Throne of Atlantis with the prologue story in #14, and the second chapter in #15 which follows straight on from Justice League #15.

The ending to the second major arc of the series is very bittersweet. It is packed with a ton of action and some really tough choices to be made by Aquaman, and the challenge is whether or not he is going to come out of the whole affair a better human. Or perhaps, the question should be, is a better Atlantean after these events? Amazing issue. What put it over the top was also the fact that Aquaman’s former team members, the Others, continue to be developed and expanded on, particularly Vostok and Dominick who I thought were great characters and got really good endings to their arcs. Finally, the links to Atlantean involvement continued in this issue as we finally saw confirmation that Black Manta had been hired by Atlanteans to steal the treasures of the old and dead ancient king of Atlantis. That develops into its own thread for the series. Which is where #14 comes in.

In #14, we see the aftermath of Black Manta’s mission for the Atlantean relics, and the terrible use the ancient king’s scepter is put to, which links all the way back to the ending of the Trench arc for the series. The book is also notable for the fact that it gives us some back story on the Atlantean… hatred for the surface world. Several years ago, the crew of a ship murdered Aquaman and Ocean Master’s great-grandparents, and the people of the sunken city took their vengeance upon all of them. Ocean Master uses this tale to give Aquaman some perspective on what the Atlantean relationship is with the rest of the world. The entire sequence, taking place within the ruins of the sunken ship, is extremely moving. Johns writes Ocean Master as a very eloquent, thoughtful, and ultimately, peaceful man. Of course, as I mentioned in Justice League #15, things don’t work out in a way to let Ocean Master and his people remain at peace. This was another brilliant book by Johns and I absolutely loved it.

In #15, we see the aftermath of events from Justice League #15, and it’s something entirely unexpected. Johns continue to cement Ocean Master/Orm’s reputation as a peacemaker while also having him stand up for the defense of his people. We see dissension within the League over how to handle the invasion. We see Vulko, an Atlantean friend and mentor to Aquaman, return from investigating what is going on with Atlantis. There is so much here packed within so few pages. Johns has a lot of things to work together and I would say that he pretty much succeeds at it. The dialogue between Aquaman and Batman, and later, Aquaman and Ocean Master, is most definitely the highlight of the entire book!

In terms of the artwork, these three issues are all very exceptional. #13 is penciled by Ivan Reis, #14 by Pete Woods, and #15 by Ardian Syaf. The exceptional bit comes from the fact that despite there being a different artist on each issue, they are all still extremely consistent in setting the tone and mood of all three books. There are variations on how certain characters are drawn of course, mostly Aquaman, and Ocean Master, but looking at it overall, it’s not easy to tell the differences really. Some people would call that a weakness, that Pete Woods and Ardian Syaf haven’t managed to leave their mark on Reis’ work. I see it differently though. It’s a shame that Woods wasn’t able to stick around for the series, as I thought his scenes of ocean life, Vulko, and others were very well done. And the same for Ardian, his superheroes have a very inherent menacing look to them, which I loved. It looks like he won’t be a permanent feature on the series either, as Paul Bellatier is taking over duties for the next four issues at the least. Once again, big round of applause for the rest of the art team on all three books. Visually speaking, Aquaman is the best series in the New 52, even beating out Greg Capullo & Co.’s Batman since these books are very colourful and appealing, unlike the dark, gothic and moody splendour of Batman.

Can’t wait for the next two chapters of Throne of Atlantis!

Rating: 9.5/10

More Aquaman: #0-12

*****

Wonder Woman #13-15 by Brian Azzarello

I’ve remarked in my review of the first ten issues that this series started out very strong but seems to be have somehow lost its way starting with #10. There was a bit of an upsurge with #11 and #12, but once again, it looks like the series is going to start wallowing in its own misery now. I don’t even know why I keep reading this title since I’m not enjoying the books any more.

To put it simply, my main complaint with this book is that nothing is really happening to the plot. Wonder Woman keeps going places, she keeps meeting new characters, and all the time, the main narrative about the prophecy mentioned all the way back in the first couple of issues remains a complete mystery. There is also frustratingly little development of Wonder Woman as a character, and I intensely dislike that. Geoff Johns did more in two issues of Justice League (look above) than Brian Azzarello has done in the last six, and that’s pretty damning since Azzarello is writing about Wonder Woman in her own book, rather than as part of a team of other major superheroes.

Not to mention, we keep meeting more and more of Zeus’ bastard children. There is no stop to this whole cliche. I’m coming to realise that I just don’t enjoy Azzarello’s work at all, given that I gave up on his two Before Watchmen mini-series as well, Comedian after the second issue and Rorschach after the first.

The books are drawn wonderfully, and kudos to the art teams for that, but the writing really is plodding along now. All these side plots are dragging the story and the characters down because nothing new is happening with them. Additionally, the whole Hera-is-now-a-mortal-and-still-a-huge pain is getting really boring now. She is no longer coming across as a queen, but as a petulant teenager. Her little heart to heart with Zola hardly did anything to change that. It was too little too late.

The addition of Orion, one of the New Gods and the son of Darkseid, is also confusing. I don’t get Highfather’s interest in matters on Earth and Azzarello is being rather disingenuous about it in a way that is very frustrating.

Not sure if I’m gonna pick up the next couple issues. I probably will because I really want to see for myself where the story goes and not read spoilers on the web. Will see. In the meantime, I really don’t recommend the series any more.

Rating: 3/10

More Wonder Woman: #1-10, #11-12

*****

Thor: God of Thunder #2-4 by Jason Aaron

As I mentioned in my review of the first issue for this relaunched title (see below for link), the first issue was a weird experience in that it took some thinking to really get what Jason Aaron is doing here. Told from the perspective of three different Thors, one in Viking-era Earth, a second in the present day, and a third in the far future when Thor is the last living Asgardian, this series has, with some perspective, been improving with each issue. Every book, Jason Aaron brings something new to the table, and he keeps adding some fantastic layers of meaning to the whole experience.

The story of Gor the God Butcher unfolds rather slowly, but it is by no means something that lacks action. Issue #4 is jam-packed with some amazing action and exposition that truly show Gor’s true nature. I found one of his bits of dialogue to be really worth the price of the entire book: “I once tortured a god of torture”. I’m wondering if it can really get any better than that!

Throughout these books, my favourite scenes have been the ones set in Omnipotence City, and whenever Thor fights against Gor. Of the former, the attraction is that we find Thor in a library, trying to do research into who or what is killing the gods so he can track it down and avenge the fallen over the centuries and the millennia that have passed. To find a warrior such as him in a place like that, the juxtaposition and the irony is very sweet. Of the latter, the attraction is deceptively simple. Gor is a winged god of… somewhere and something. To see him fighting Thor, while the Norse God is on the back of a winged horse, now that’s just utterly delicious to see. It makes a rather substantial change of pace from most other superhero books.

And the way that Aaron has been merging science fiction with fantasy here is also just brilliant. That probably is one of the underlying reasons for why this title is so good. It gives the reader a little bit of everything.

To add to all of that, Esad Ribic’s pencils and Ive Svorcina’s colours have really made this a special series so far. I love how there are consistently different colour themes for each of the three different ages we see Thor in. I love how, for each age, Thor has a distinctive and unique appearance, with this future self harking back to how Odin is generally portrayed visually. Initially it is a bit confusing, in terms of telling the difference, but the look quickly takes on a life of it’s own and that doubt vanishes. For the great internal art, and Esad Ribic’s covers alone, this title has so far been worthy every penny.

I really can’t recommend the title enough! The first arc, God Butcher, ends with issue #5 so I’m looking forward to the conclusion next month. My expectations of it at the moment are rather high.

Rating: 9.5/10

More Thor, God of Thunder: #1

*****

Star Wars #1 by Brian Wood

I’m a huge fan of the Star Wars franchise, be it the movies or the video games or the comics or the novels or whatever. The original trilogy is among my favourite film trilogies ever, and I was really thrilled when Dark Horse announced they were launching a new title set between Episodes IV and V, wherein the series would be beholden in terms of continuity to only the movies, and nothing else. The anticipating for this built up over the last several weeks until I was finally able to grab the first issue and breeze through it in short order.

The positives? Seeing Leia in an X-Wing alongside Luke and Wedge. Darth Vader getting severely reprimanded by the Emperor. Luke admitting to his fears with regards to his understanding of the Force and his own capabilities. Darth Vader’s Super Star Destroyer. Chewebacca (aah Vector Point). Leia in some great action sequences. The whole script in general. The awesome artwork by Carlos D’Anda.

Star Wars #1 is a book that truly feels to be Star Wars. Yes, a lot of that is due to the timeline that the book is set in, and the characters that populate the book, but it is so much more than that. Wood and D’Anda have got the whole experience down right and if this is their entree, then I really want to see what they are going to serve for the first course.

I’ll also say that I love the whole “updated” look of the comic, in that the colours and inks are very… striking and modern, very much in the same way as say Ivan Reis’ various current works for DC, or Ardian Syaf, or Nicola Scott, or Amanda Conner. Brings the whole franchise, the first two movies to be more precise into the modern age. It’s a big point in D’Anda’s favour here. Not to mention, that cover by Alex Ross is frankly one of the most amazing covers I’ve seen in all the months that I’ve been reading comics of late. Just… amazing. Classic style with iconic characters, and yet a very distinctive and unique feel to it.

The negatives? Can’t really think of any other than a couple minor art issues, mainly to do with Leia’s pose. I say minor because it’s not like she is striking a weird spine-defying pose while wearing a leotard or something. Minor because the pose is just slightly unrealistic. A bit too twisty, but nothing extreme enough to make me question the artist’s knowledge of anatomy (not that I’m an expert, more like going on how this is a bit of a trend in today’s comics, along that line).

To put it simply, if you are not reading this comic, you are going to be missing out on a ton of fun.

Rating: 9.5/10

___________________________________________________________

Comics reviewed by Bane of Kings: Ultimate Comics Iron Man: Armour Wars by Warren Ellis (Marvel).

*****

Iron Man: Armour Wars by Warren Ellis

Writer: Warren Ellis | Artists: Brandon Peterson, Steve Kurth

Exploding from the ruins of ULTIMATUM, Tony Stark races against time to save his crippled corporation and stop the theft of his armoured arsenal! Superstar writer WARREN ELLIS (ULTIMATE HUMAN) teams up with rising talent STEVE KURTH (IRON MAN) to bring you a globe-spanning, high-octane thriller with a blast from Tony’s past that you’ve gotta see to believe! Collecting ULTIMATE COMICS ARMOR WARS #1-4.

Ultimate Comics Iron Man: Armour Wars was a collection that I picked up from my local comic book store as it was on a special offer (only £5 for a hardcover graphic novel – it shouldn’t really be passed up), and I actually really enjoyed my second Marvel print graphic novel purchase, especially after finding similar connections to this and Iron Man 3.

Let’s start with the positives. It’s Iron Man. Iron Man 1 was my favourite Marvel film before The Avengers and Tony Stark himself plays a key role in that film. Iron Man is in fact one of my favourite Marvel characters, although he has been lowered a bit in the rankings following the side that he picked in Civil War. However, Armour Wars has certainly redeemed Tony as a character in my eyes, and if this graphic novel is anything to go by, then Iron Man 3 is going to be absolutely superb.

The main plot focuses around Tony Stark, down to his last hundred million dollars, heading into his lab in the recently flooded New York in order to secure any important items. Whilst Ellis doesn’t dwell much on why New York is flooded, I assume that’s covered in Ultimatum, a comic series that I now wish to read – especially if it’s anything like the brilliance displayed in Armour Wars.

Two new characters are introduced in Armour Wars and it’s interesting to see how they impact Tony’s life. Part of me was wondering what happened to Pepper Potts and why she wasn’t in Armour Wars, but I guess either she wasn’t as close to Tony as she was in the films, or something happened to her in previous comics. Instead we get to see Justine Hammer, Justin Hammer (Stark’s rival from Iron Man 2)’s daughter, and the mysterious Ghost. Both characters play a key role in this series and I really liked Justine’s character – it’s almost a shame that she won’t be sticking around for any future Iron Man comics.

What I loved about Armour Wars is that it works very well as a standalone. Whilst most of DC’s Graphic Novels that I’ve read end on a cliffhanger of some sorts, Armour Wars is a graphic novel that tells a strong, standalone narrative reinforced with the superb, sometimes manga-esque, artwork from Steve Kurth. Warren Ellis is a really strong writer and it is because of him that I changed my list of Graphic Novels To Read in 2013, in order to incorporate Iron Man: Extremis, by the same author.

Tony Stark himself is a great character and I think Ellis has nailed him spot on. Like the Iron Man films and arguably Avengers Assemble, it is Stark that steals the spotlight here despite contest from Justine, the main female lead.

This is a great comic that newcomers should be able to enjoy as much as older fans, and well worth reading when you can. A stellar artwork, stellar storyline – what more could you want?

Rating: 4/5

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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