Comics Round-up 01.01.2013

Thor God of Thunder 2

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

“An experience of extremes.” ~Shadowhawk

The last batch of comics that I read in 2012 have been (mostly) fantastic, setting 2013 up to be a great year.~Bane of Kings

Comics reviewed by Shadowhawk: The Hypernaturals #3-5 by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning (Boom Studios), Dragon Age: Those Who Speak by David Gaider and Alexander Freed (Dark Horse Comics), Warriors of Mars #4-5 by Robert Place Napton (Dynamite Entertainment), Prophecy #1-4 by Ron Marz (Dynamite Entertainment).

*****

The Hypernaturals #3-5 by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning

The Hypernaturals is definitely one of the most refreshing series to get a start last year, and in the five issues I’ve read, it’s definitely one of the most consistent of them all. It’s not Saga or Batman, but it’s no Wonder Woman or Warriors of Mars either (more on the latter below). In this series, both Abnett and Lanning have created a really diverse and rich world of superhero fiction where the stakes are most definitely the fate of the universe, and they take you for a really great ride through this world.

At the end of issue 2, we had just started to see past the surface about the relationships between the various members of the team, and how their experiences have changed them, whether old or new (experiences and members alike). The high-point of the first two issues was definitely the whole idea of the Quantinuum as a benign super-AI entity, the soured romantic relationship between Clone 45 and Bewilder, as well as the whole concept of former team member Thinkwell, who is some sort of a super-genius who can solve some of the most complex mathematical stuff on the go and does that by writing in the air! Issues 3-5 continue in that same vein as DnA (the industry nickname for Abnett and Lanning when considered together) develop on all the concepts they’ve introduced so far.

My favourite characters are still Clone 45 and Thinkwell. We get a lot of backstory on both of them, showing how they got to the point where they are right now. The added depth to their characters makes them more fully-realised and makes their motivations and their behaviour less of a mystery than before. The whole thread about how Clone 45’s powers work was especially endearing. Bewilder, with newcomers Halfshell and Shoal, don’t get as much time in the sun to really shine. The young ones are definitely my least favourite from these three issues, with their whole plot thread being rather simplistic and unexciting. What does interest me however is where DnA is going with the mini-plot involving Sublime and his relationship to former Hypernatural Prismatica and what he did to her husband, another former team member.

That was definitely one of the highlights of the recent issues. It’s always surprising what heights and depths people will go through to seek vengeance, and with Prismatica DnA underscores that simple concept. Another highlight was actually getting to see what the Quantinuum is like, since we have several scenes set in the chamber were the Quantinuum is…. based. Given the space opera nature of the comic, that really was a wonderful moment. And I’m beginning to think that DnA might have dodged the oft-trodden path of portraying any self-aware AI in fiction as an evil. I wonder if the Quantinuum just might be a truly benign entity after all.

The only downside to these issues that I can think of (other than the Halfshell/Shoal sub-plot) is that there is a particular scene where Clone 45 gets his powers back. The sequence is over too soon, as if the whole thing was an after-thought. It was like the universe flipped a switch and Clone 45 could access the Sequence all over again and be of some actual value to the cobbled-together current Hypernaturals team.

The art team, headed by Tom Derenick and Andres Guinaldo, has definitely improved from the first couple issues. The pencils are much more consistent and the colours and inks help to convey an atmosphere much more readily engaging than before. The lack of any abrupt shifts in style also helps. Any panel that includes Sublime or Clone 45 or Thinkwell is an automatic win. The scenes involving the team of Clone 32’s era are also great, showing off the variety of superheroes, both in terms of costume design and character design, a huge plus for the series. I kinda also like the fact that there are so many varied female superheroes in this series. That’s another huge plus.

Rating: 9/10

*****

Dragon Age: Those Who Speak by David Gaider and Alexander Freed

I was introduced to the world of Dragon Age with the trade edition of The Silent Grove and that created in me an interest in the world, the setting, and the characters. David Gaider wrote a really good story (no wonder, since he has also worked on the video games), and he got me hooked onto all of it. So I going into the second volume, I had some expectations where things were going to go next, and I was ready for some dragon and witch and mystery fun. What I didn’t expect at all was a small interlude that was mostly Isabela’s origin story.

Those Who Speak is a 3-issue story, and thus a side-plot to the larger narrative about Alistair looking to find his missing father and the dragons returning to Ferelden. It’s a side-journey that I don’t mind reading about, but my problem is that it didn’t really do anything to advance the main story. It was like an unnecessary detour. We get to learn a lot about Isabela and her past, but we see precious little about what makes Alistair and the dwarf Varric tick.

The Qunari, the antagonists for this book, are portrayed well. There is quite a bit of nuance to them and lots of hints that their entire culture is deeper than what we see. The Qunari’s relationship with Isabela is definitely a high-point for the book, which is as it should have been, to be honest, given that is very much all about Isabela, rather than about Alistair and his quest. And it’s also nice to see Alistair gain a new friend and ally. It adds some nice dynamic to the team that Alistair is putting together and there are all sorts of possibilities of where this will go next.

The pacing in the book is mostly okay, although there are a few odd panels here and there that really slow down the story, which is a bigger issue than it would have been, since the collection is only three issues, and not more like The Silent Grove.

The art wasn’t as memorable as the first volume either. The character design styles seem to have shifted a bit and that change jarred at me when I was reading the book. But the scenes in the Qunari home-island are some of the best in the book. Given that Gaider and Freed have done quite a decent job of portraying their culture in this short book, the visuals are all the more enticing.

Rating: 7/10

*****

Warriors of Mars #4-5 by Robert Place Napton

To be frank, the first three issues of this mini-series were decent and promising. They weren’t the best out there (that belongs to the “main” Warlord of Mars double-titles featuring John Carter and Dejah Thoris), but they aren’t the worst either (White Apes of Mars). It was very interesting to see how the dynamic between Gullivar Jones and John Carter develops, and how this all affects all the different eras of Barsoom that we see, it’s past, present and future, but in these last two issues, all that promise seems to have been squandered. With these two issues, the mini-series became a generic time-travel fantasy, except that it’s very fragmentary and incoherent given the time jumps, and the whole deus ex machina nature of Jones’ magic carpet.

One of the things that put me off this series is that Gullivar Jones’ character didn’t go anywhere, there is essentially no growth to his character at all. He is little changed from the first issue, and all he does this time around is speak some fairly bland and typical dialogue. There’s no excitement to his scenes at all, and his entire arc is just a boring cliche. After finishing the final fifth issue of the series, I came to the realisation that it would have been a far better approach to have done three separate 4-issue mini-series, one that focused on Barsoom’s past, one on its present, and another on it’s future. It would certainly have given Napton more room to develop his characters and make them more compelling. In issues 4 and 5, he is definitely one of the most bland characters of the series.

And essentially, the story doesn’t progress much either. Jones shows up, helps destroy an enemy of Barsoom, and then leaves. There really is no tension at all in the story, no real danger to any of the characters.

The art is the same as it was before, with nothing to it that would make the series stand out. Warriors of Mars is definitely among the least favourite Dynamite comics I’ve read to date.

Rating: 3/10

*****

Prophecy #1-5 by Ron Marz

Event comics are a staple of the comics industry. Whether it’s Marvel’s Civil War or Avengers vs X-Men, or DC’s Infinite Crisis, or IDW’s Infestation, event comics are always big affairs with grand settings, and grand narratives. Dynamite’s Prophecy, written by Ron Marz and drawn by Walter Geovani, is definitely in that same mile-high club, and no less impressive either. This 7-issue is told against the backdrop of the supposed prophecy of the Mayan calendar that the world will end in 2012. As it turns out, the world did NOT end on December 21st, 2012, and quite appropriately, the series has not ended prematurely either. After all, there are two more issues in this self-contained mini-series, and if the first five issues are an indication, then the next two issues are going to be rather spectacular.

The series brings together characters such as Red Sonja, Vampirella, Dracula, Allan Quatermain, Dorian Gray, and Sherlock Holmes. Prophecy is part murder-mystery, part tale of the apocalypse, part action-adventure, part fantasy. I’ve read the first four volumes of Ron Marz’s Artifacts, another event series which he did for Top Cow Productions, and having been impressed with his work, I was very much ready to try out Prophecy too, part of the attraction being Vampirella and Red Sonja, characters I’ve enjoyed in what little of them I’ve read from various comics currently being published by Dynamite.

Vampirella, Red Sonja, and Dracula are the more frontline of any other characters in the series so far, and it’s been nice to see how they all interact with each other, especially when others such as Pantha, Herbert West, and Ash are thrown into the mix. The dynamics of the “team” that comes together are very fun and interesting to watch, especially since some of these characters are like abominations and monsters to Red Sonja (Red Sonja is definitely among my favourite characters that Dynamite is publishing). Ron Marz’s script so far has been very engaging, as it tells a no-holds barred story that is often snarky and cheeky while serious and gripping at the same time. The quips between Vampirella and Red Sonja, or the interactions between Sherlock and Quatermain are some of the highlights of the series.

Another thing that I like about the series is that the tension ratchets up issue by issue, as Marz keeps adding in characters and twists to tell his larger narrative. Kulan Gath is a madman and the hints that he has more planned than just releasing the Mayan Gods to wreak havoc are delivered rather well.

Geovani’s work on the series so far has been amazing. I really love how he draws all the characters, especially Sherlock, Watson, Vampirella, and Red Sonja. One look at Sherlock/Watson and I know it’s them. They could be in a panel all by themselves with absolutely zero text, and I can still tell who they are, given how much of a distinctive yet consistent (with other portrayals over the years) look they both have. Added to that is the fact that Geovani draws Vampirella in her trademark red-bikini costume rather than the more “modern and professional” look she has in her own series. Geovani’s depiction of the various Mayan gods is also stunning, as are any of his panels in general. He’s quite possibly one of my favourite comics artist, alongside Greg Capullo, Ivan Reis, Amanda Conner, and Fiona Staples, among others.

Overall, Prophecy is an excellent series and I’m really looking forward to issues 6 and 7.

Rating: 9/10

___________________________________________________________

Comics Reviewed by Bane of Kings: All New X-Men #1-3 by Brian Michael Bendis (Marvel), Avengers Vol.5 #1-2 by Jonathan Hickman (Marvel), Hawkeye #1-3 by Matt Fraction (Marvel), Thor: God of Thunder #2 by Jason Aaron (Marvel), and, Earth 2 #7 by James Robinson (DC Comics).

*****

All New X-Men #2-3 by Brian Michael Bendis

Art: Stuart Immonen, Wade von Grawbadger | Colours: Marte Garcia | Letters: Cory Petit | Cover: Stuart Immonen, Wade von Grawbadger, Marte Garcia

#2 – Professor X’s five original students have been flung from the past to present day. While they cope with an unimaginable future (especially considering the fallout of AVX), how will today’s X-Men justify their actions to their past selves?

#3 – The original five X-Men are back, but that’s not all that’s happening: What happened to the Phoenix Five?

All New X-Men was a series that I picked up mainly because of its premise. Even though I hadn’t read Avengers vs. X-Men, I wanted to read some new X-Men comics from Marvel Now, and I decided to pick up Bendis’ current ongoing series and I was glad I did. After the Beast-centric opener of #1, #2 and #3 manages to take the time to examine both sides of the conflict. Whilst #2 is “little X-Men” (as Wolverine calls them) focused, #3 is focused on the current Scott, Magneto and Emma Frost. I would like to know how Magneto ended up working with Scott and vice versa, but for now – I’m progressing with All New X-Men.

The storyline is great so far – we get a great introduction to the “little X-Men” and we get a great look into how they work as a team, with #2 #3 really building up to the conflict that looks set to be great in #4. The artwork is clear, and adopts the bright tone that I’ve come to get used to with Marvel comics, and I’m really starting to be a fan of Stuart Immonen’s take on the X-Men. If I remember correctly, Bendis and Immonen have teamed up before – I will have to go back and check on whatever they’ve worked on as I’m really starting to like this team up. Whilst this series may not quite be the best Marvel Now series that I’ve read so far, it’s certainly up there, with Avengers by Jonathan Hickman [reviewed in this roundup] being my favourite so far. There isn’t really any major flaws that I found with #2 and #3, as Bendis shows that not only can he write humour, he can also adapt to tragedy and confusion that are spread across both of the two reviewed issues, and indeed – the first three issues of the series (#4 is its latest issue, one that I haven’t currently read yet).

Rating: 4/5

*****

Avengers Vol.5 #1-2 by Jonathan Hickman

Art: Jerome Opena | Colours: Dean White, Justin Ponsor (#2), Morry Hollowell (#2) | Letters: Cory Petit | Cover: Dustin Weaver, Justin Ponsor, Esad Ribic (#2), John Romita Jr. (#2), Klaus Jansen (#2), Dean White (#2)

#1 – Marvel Now! adds new faces to Earth’s mightiest team of superheroes! The Avengers expand their roster and sphere of influence to a global — and even interplanetary — level!

#2 – The Avengers have been captured by a dangerous enemy on Mars. A battered Captain America has been sent back to Earth as a warning to any and all heroes who would dare take the fight back to the red planet. But Avengers aren’t big on running scared…

For anybody who has seen The Avengers (or Avengers Assemble) in the summer and wants to read more about the adventures of Hulk, Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Iron Man and Thor working as a team without working their way through loads of back issues, then Jonathan Hickman’s Marvel Now! run will be the best shot for you. #1 is a great opener by Hickman that sets the stage for the second issue, and with an interesting storyline that although may be unrealistic (superheroes heading to a terraformed Mars to fight aliens), is a great deal of fun to read.

Whilst I’m not a big fan of Opena’s art – I don’t like his take on the Hulk, for instance – the storyline is pretty engaging and Hickman is a confident author. #1 establishes the setting for the future issues to follow – with #2 being just as enjoyable to read, for at the end of #1, the original Avengers that we saw in the film are captured on the red planet, held hostage by the new bad guy introduced for this series. #2 follows on superbly from #1, as Captain America recruits as many superheroes that he can to rescue the original six. It’ll be interesting to see how Hickman will handle this many members of the team, especially with more set to join up soon.

I will be looking forward to where this series goes despite the pricetag, as like All New X-Men, I brought these series digitally, and I think that £2.49 is just a bit too much for a single issue comic. I would love to see them all at £1.49 or even £0.69, but that’s just me. I may be picking the future issues of this series up in print if I continue with it rather than wait for the rest of the issues, though.

Rating: 4/5

*****

Hawkeye #1-3 by Matt Fraction

Art: David Aja | Colours: Matt Hollingsworth | Letters: Chris Eliopoulos | Cover: David Aja, Matt Hollingsworth

#1 – The breakout star of this summer’s blockbuster AVENGERS film and self-made hero Hawkeye fights for justice! He’s out to prove himself as one of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes!

#2 – What you need to know: Hawkeye. Kate Bishop. Cars. Guns. Stealing from the rich never looked so good.

#3 – Clint Barton and Kate Bishop are double the Hawkeye — and double the trouble. But what is the Vagabond Code?

Hawkeye is one of the best comic series that I’ve read in a while. In fact, over the course of 2012, I’ve seen only one series that I think can match up to the awesomeness that is Hawkeye, and that’s Scott Snyder’s Batman. I just loved everything about the first three issues of this current six-issue long series, and the added bonus was the fact that I got all of these three issues in print despite having #1 and #2 on Comixology already. They were just, quite frankly – awesome.

For those expecting a Jeremy Renner-esque Hawkeye, then you’re going to be disappointed, for the Hawkeye of Matt Fraction is blonde, and wears a purple/black costume. But at the core, they’re still the same person. Whilst we haven’t got any Avengers cameos so far, with the series being firmly focused on Hawkeye and what he gets up to when he’s not one, I would love to see Fraction bring in maybe Black Widow or somebody else to team up with Hawkeye for an issue.

Whilst the art by David Aja is not normally what I’m used to from Marvel comics, it’s still really great. If I hadn’t known that Hawkeye was a Marvel character and the comic was produced by Marvel I would have said that this could never have been a Marvel comic. It’s dark, despite the small humorous elements shown throughout its pages, and doesn’t have the light town that I’ve come to expect from Marvel.

Kate Bishop is an interesting character, and I’ll be interested to see how she develops over the course of the series having never encountered her before. Clint is a strong lead; one that you want to root for over the bad guys and Fraction captures his character perfectly. Before the Avengers I could only imagine Hawkeye as Jeremy Renner – now, he’s Fraction’s. He makes an otherwise cliché first issue turn interesting because of the lead character.

What I also love about Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye is that so far, all of the issues have been standalone – you can jump in at #3 without having to read #1 and #2. I got them right from the start of course, but if you would rather leap in with #3, then I suggest that you do so.

This is probably one of my best series of 2012, and my first Marvel series outside of Civil War that I have in print. It’s a shame that my local store doesn’t have the rest of the issues in stock – but I’ll have to ask them when I go there in the future.

Rating: 5/5

*****

Earth 2 #7 by James Robinson

Art: Trevor Scott, Yildray Cinar | Colours: Alex Sinclair, David McGaig, Allen Pasalaqua, Lee Loughridge | Letters: Dezi Sienty | Cover: Ivan Reis, Gabe Eltaeb

#7 – In the aftermath of Grundy’s attack, the heroes of Earth 2 regroup and try to come to terms with the new direction their lives have taken. Plus, the identity of Hawkgirl is revealed and Mr. Terrific makes his first appearance on Earth 2 since he left our world!

This was not what I had come to expect from James Robinson. After a spectacular first six issues, things begin to tie up the first of Earth 2’s story arc, and things start to go downhill. Whilst the art is still strong, Earth 2 #7 didn’t impress me as much as its predecessors and the misleading cover displaying Hawkgirl and Green Lantern fighting didn’t help – they talked to each other, but they didn’t fight.

This is a character heavy issue, as Robinson gives us time to focus on Alan Scott, and we finally get to see Hawkgirl without her helmet. The art provided by Yildray Cinar makes up for the otherwise let-down of #7, for it is really strong and you can hardly tell it apart from the first six issues.

#7 has been the first disappointment for me of Earth 2 but it is a series that I will keep reading.

Rating: 2.5/5

*****

Thor: God of Thunder #2 by Jason Aaron

Art: Esad Ribic | Colours: Ive Svorcina | Letters: Joe Sabino | Cover: Esad Ribic

#2 – With his past, present, and future at stake, Thor must hurry to uncover the grisly secrets behind the unfathomable horrors of the God Butcher–before it’s too late!

Wow, what an issue this was. Thor: God of Thunder #2 delivers a stunning follow up to #1 and takes the action to all new levels. We encounter the God Butcher for the first time and Aaron manages to create a wonderful tale that is only reinforced by Ribic’s brilliant artwork. I think that this might just be the best of the Marvel Now series so far.

The main focus on this issue is in young Thor, even though we get glimpses of current Thor and future Thor. The action is epic and one of my favourite things about the book, as the scene where Thor confronts the God Butcher for the first time is really well written with some great artwork from Ribic.

The first issue was ambitious, and it worked, leaving with the second a lot to live up to. And Aaron has stepped out and smashed the ball out of the park with the second issue of Thor: God of Thunder, creating an enjoyable series that new readers who have only seen the Thor movie can understand without any knowledge of the rest of the Marvel Universe.

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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