Comics Round-up 15.02.2013

fearless-defenders-1

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

“Excellence mixed in with a bit of disappointment.” ~Shadowhawk

“A thrilling set of comics that prove Marvel Now! is starting to kick off! ~Bane of Kings

Comics reviewed by Shadowhawk: Katana #1 by Ann Nocenti (DC Comics), The Amazing Spider-Man #648-651 by Dan Slott (Marvel), and Star Wars #2 by Brian Wood.

*****

Katana #1 by Ann Nocenti

katana1cvrlrgKatana is a character that I first read about in Duane Swierczynski’s Birds of Prey series, where she joins up with Black Canary, Batgirl and Starling as part of the new rebooted team for New 52. She is portrayed as somewhat deranged, in that she holds to the belief that her sword is home to the spirit of her dead husband, and she often monologues with the sword, talking to her husband’s spirit. It’s a great wacky idea for a character and, combined with her Japanese background, it made her one of my favourite female characters ever. With the announcement that she was getting her own ongoing comic series and that she will be joining the brand new Justice League of America team, I was pretty darn excited. The possibilities are endless as to how this will all play out

And then I read the comic today, and I was quite disappointed. For one, it is nothing like I expected, and two, the art completely failed to win me over.

The first issue follows Katana as she comes to San Francisco in order to continue her vengeance against the Sword Clan, and we see her spook out her enemies in Japantown. I haven’t read any of Ann Nocenti’s work before, so I don’t know if this is generally how her style is, because I really didn’t like how the script progressed. There are some good moments where Katana shines, but those invariably happen to be action scenes, and that robs the character of her strengths, implying that she’s only a good swordswoman, and nothing else. The main adversary for this issue is another Japanese swordsman, and what really ticked me off about his treatment of Katana was the typical misogynist crap: “Woman, go make me a sammich”. That line is exactly what most of his dialogue with her boiled down to. He calls her a weak, grovelling housewife, and it made me interested in Katana’s backstory, while also being repelled by such dialogue. I kept asking myself “really?” again and again.

Nocenti does a decent enough job of getting into Katana’s head though, which is great since this is exactly how a solo title should be, but it was almost a full switch from her characterisation in Birds of Prey and I’m not quite sure that I like it. It was a case of the character being overexposed from the get go. It made for an uncomfortable experience. And, despite getting into her head so much, we don’t actually know what Katana is doing in San Francisco. When she left the Birds of Prey team back in Birds of Prey #15, my expectation was that she would stay in Japan to handle and mop up the remaining Yakuza involved in the death of her husband, but that is not so. She returns to America on an unmentioned mission, and she goes around talking to people, and we never learn why she does what she does. I’m hoping that is made clear in the next issue, because at the moment, a lot depends on that decision.

There are some horror stories out there where creators rail against the heavy amount of DC editorial oversight and it makes me wonder, with respect to this issue, how much of that happened with Nocenti. To be honest, there are quite a few odd dialogue bits and monologues where the writing appeared to be the raw, rough draft-level script. In the writing department, the issue could really have used stronger editorial control.

I mentioned above that I didn’t like the art either. The problem here is that Alex Sanchez’ art doesn’t match with what’s happening in most of the other New 52 books, at least, the ones I’m reading. Often times the characters have really odd poses (appearing to lean back in a scene when the character should be straight), very indistinct faces/expressions, extremely crowded action scenes. There’s too much going on at the same time, and that breaks the rhythm of the comic. If I can’t follow the action properly, while the panel is packed with monologue boxes as well, then the experience is just ruined. However, Matt Yackey’s colours were great, and I think he has a good handle on that side of the art job.

Overall, this is hardly a decent issue, but I’m willing to stick around for a couple more issues, because Katana as a character genuinely interests me. She has no superpowers to speak of, but is an accomplished swordswoman, and is Japanese, which immediately sets her apart from all the superheroes that she has run into so far, and those that she will run into in the coming books. To keep me interested in the series beyond #3, if it comes to that, the writing and the art really need to step up.

Rating: 4/10

*****

The Amazing Spider-Man #648-651 by Dan Slott

ASMCompSlott01If I have to sum up these first four issues of Dan Slott’s run on the title in two words, then they would be “pure entertainment”. I’m entirely serious. It’s as if Slott hit just the right balance between serious and hilarious for these comics. This is the kind of wise-cracking, nerdly chill Peter Parker that I wanted, and that is exactly what I got. The reason I’m starting with #648 is that this is Slott’s first issue for the series, and because I want to eventually catch up to what he is doing with Superior Spider-Man, and I want to go into that series knowing most of what has come before, how everything goes down. Well, I already know what the premise of the new series is, and how The Amazing Spider-Man #700 ended, but still, it’s all about the journey or something.

Also, if I had to make a choice, I’d say that The Amazing Spider-Man under Slott is a better Spider-Man comic than Ultimate Spider-Man under Brian Michael Bendis. The characterisations are entirely different, as are the motivations of the characters, and the events and settings, but still, Slott has the edge because of the incredible humour value of his Spider-Man.

ASMCompSlott02Whether is is the dialogue between Spider-Man and Wolverine, or Peter worrying about stashing his Spidey-stuff while at his new workplace (which is ten kinds of cool by the way), or his smack talk with his villains, these issues are definitely some of the best stuff I’ve read in a while, especially where Marvel is concerned, as I’ve struggled with a lot of their titles that I’ve been reading recently. It’s been a rough time in terms of picking a series and sticking with it, because a lot of their stuff is just so uninteresting to me, or badly-written. So Slott’s The Amazing Spider-Man is almost a god-send in that regard.

One of the things that I really liked was Slott making full use of Spider-Man’s rogues gallery. We see Kingpin, various Goblins, Doc Ock, and others over the course of these four issues, with Hobgoblin being the big bad menace. That guy seriously gave me the creeps, and the way Slott wrote him was very much like how Heath Ledger’s Joker was in The Dark Knight. Scary, oozing villainy and madness in every scene.

I love the direction that Slott is taking the character in, and it’s fun to see him explore more of Peter’s genius-level brain, with his technical doo-dads and his technical solutions to problems. I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the series.

Humberto Ramos’ pencils, Carlos Cuevas/Joseph Damon’s inks, and Edgar Delgado colours all show a bit of their age, but it is nothing that puts me off the books at all. In fact, I love the entire artwork. They’ve all done a great job of making the panels come alive and have created a great visual atmosphere for Slott’s script. The best scenes in these four issues are definitely any that involve the Hobgoblin, and those with both Black Cat and Spider-Man together. Great stuff.

I can definitely recommend these four issues, which promise an even better experience with the next four.

Rating: 9/10

More Spider-Man: Spider-Men, Ultimate Spider-Man Vol.2 #1-6, Ultimate Spider-Man Vol.2 #7-14,

*****

Star Wars #2 by Brian Wood

Star Wars 02Reading Star Wars #1 last month was extremely satisfying. The script was excellent, the artwork more so, and the cover was just mind-blowing. I even ordered the print copy of the issue, because I just had to have that Alex Ross cover in my hands, rather than just admiring it digitally. I love the whole idea behind this new comics series, that Brian Wood is only going to stick to the movie continuity, with the pretense that all the other stuff in the Expanded Universe hasn’t really happened. It’s a bit distressing initially, but once you think about it, it’s an excellent choice in that Wood now has an incredible amount of freedom in what to do with the characters. #1 did not disappoint at all, and neither does #2.

Off the bat, the only downside to the issue was the fragmentary nature of all the plot threads, of which there are several. Following the events of the last issue, and the fact that Imperial ships keep interrupting the Rebels’ plans to find a new home base following the events of the Battle of Yavin, Leia Organa now has to work to find out any potential spies and informants within the Rebel Alliance, while fulfilling the core purpose: find that new base. So there are a lot of things that are happening in conjunction here: the set up of an invite-only brand new team of pilots and Rebels who are going to accomplish both the tasks set to Leia by Mon Mothma former Imperial senator and now a senior leader of the Rebel Alliance.

Also, kind of a small thing, but I also wanted to read more about Vader (he doesn’t feature here this time) and how he is currently on the Emperor’s bad side, following the disastrous events of the Battle of Yavin. We get to see some snippets of his replacement at Kuat, Colonel Bircher. That guy promises to be a stone-cold killer though, and a really interesting character overall, so I can’t really wait to see what Wood does with him.

Other than two things, this was another solid Star Wars offering, and I’m really enjoying seeing Leia be much, much more proactive than she was in A New Hope. It adds several layers to her character, and she becomes not just a Rebel leader, but a soldier as well, which is great for her long-term development in the series. The issue also builds upon the friendship and camaraderie between Luke and Wedge, the only two survivors of what is later referred to in the Expanded Universe as the First Death Star Trench Run. Wedge is a mentor here to Luke, and it’s great to see that side of their relationship. It’s the “needed explanation” for why they become such good friends later on, and their strong bonds of comradeship and trust.

What it boils down to is the fact that Brian Wood definitely knows who and what his characters, and this knowledge shows through in his dialogue, a part where Han really excels, as always.

The art-team of Carlos D’Anda (pencils), Gabe Elitaeb (colours), and Michael Heisler (letters) has also almost outdone itself. The entire artwork is stronger than before, and they continue to impress and amaze with each panel. Frankly, the artwork in this issue is at that level where I can’t say enough good things about it. Star Wars is definitely the best looking Star Wars comic being put out by Dark Horse, and it deserves all the praise it is getting. Alex Ross’ cover this time is not as mind-bendingly awesome, but it still iconic in its own way. It aptly conveys all the different plotlines that are wound through here by Brian Wood, a huge plus in Ross’ favour. I’m definitely ordering this book when I go to my bookstore next.

Rating: 9/10

More Star Wars: #1, Agent of the Empire Vol.1: Iron Eclipse.

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Comics Reviewed by Bane of Kings: Fearless Defenders #1 by Cullen Bunn (Marvel), Secret Avengers #1 by Nick Spencer , Uncanny X-Men #1 by Brian Michael Bendis (Marvel).

*****

Fearless Defenders #1 by Cullen Bunn

Art: Will Sliney | Cover: Mark Brooks

NEW TEAM! NEW VILLAINS! NEW CREATORS! Valkyrie and Misty Knight are the Fearless Defenders and not since Power Man and Iron Fist has an unlikely duo kicked this much—well, you know. Writer Cullen Bunn (Venom, Sixth Gun, The Fearless) and new-to-Marvel artist Will Sliney (MacGyver, Star Wars) bring you the book everyone is going to be talking about on Thursday morning.

fearless-defenders-1On Wednesday, I went to the comic store in town and brought several single comic issues (4 in total), for the first time in a while, as I’d started to limit myself to reading nothing but Talon and Batman series in print. Want to know the change? Well, I’d be lying if I said it was Fearless Defenders. The main reason was Secret Avengers & Uncanny X-Men, both titles that are reviewed later in this roundup. Fearless Defenders was a dark horse in the four comics that I picked up, Batman #17 being the last. Whilst I was interested in a comic with an all female cast, I didn’t really know what to expect particularly as I hadn’t encountered Valkyrie and Misty Knight before in the comics medium.

But I went into the book nonetheless, and it took me by surprise. It was good. Certainly enough to make me want to pick up #2, which if anyone can tell me the release date of then I shall be grateful (along with the #2 for Secret Avengers, as I know the release date for the #2 of Uncanny X-Men, that’d be great). The artwork provided by Will Sliney was crisp and clean, and had a distinctive Marvel feel to it. Sliney really brings the characters to life here and I will be interested to check out his work on other franchises (in particular Star Wars). Whilst his art was however good in most places, other times it felt cheesy and there are a few places where the it doesn’t feel right.

The plot itself is pretty much creating events for future issues and the main focus on this issue is touching on the main cast, Valkyrie and Misty Knight. Whilst I think Misty Knight’s name doesn’t really fit, these two characters work quite well as a team and provide a strong cast for the readers to root behind. A weak point in this story that I felt was two of the female characters sharing a kiss in the middle of a battlefield. This really didn’t work for me and I wouldn’t have minded it in another situation but here it just felt out of place and ill-suited to the issue, designed to create drama.

Fearless Defenders is however, a strong taster for what an all-female X-Men comic will be like when it hits stores in April (I think) and it certainly sounds promising. Whilst I don’t know if I should make this a series that I follow in individual issues, Fearless Defenders is a book that I’ll certainly try out the next two issues of.

An enjoyable, entertaining first issue with some great action and establishment of the lead characters, but despite the strong artwork, has a few weak elements and includes a poorly planned kiss.

Rating: 3/5

*****

Secret Avengers #1 by Nick Spencer

Writer: Nick Spencer | Art: Luke Ross, Matthew Wilson | Cover: Tomm Cooker

The Most Dangerous Secrets We Have… Are The Ones We Keep From Ourselves.” The new Nick Fury leads a covert Avengers strike team including but not limited to Hawkeye, Black Widow, The Hulk, The Winter Soldier, Maria Hill and Phil Coulson on missions so dangerous, even the team members themselves can’t know about them!

secret-avengers-1There seems to be an Avengers comic to suit every fan’s taste that’s being released in this Marvel Now! (not a reboot-reboot), and we’ve already seen the bulk of them. Avengers was an interesting starting point to fans of the film, New Avengers explored the Black Panther, and Uncanny Avengers saw the Avengers and the X-Men team up. Now, Secret Avengers is a title that focuses on the stealth/spy aspect of the team, and is so largely focused on members of S.H.I.E.L.D that it could almost be called The Adventures of S.H.I.E.L.D and nobody would notice anything. Because that’s what it seemed in the first issue anyway, as there’s no introduction of The Hulk and The Winter Soldier.

The main focus in Secret Avengers #1 is appropriately, secrets – and the cast, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Maria Hill, Phil Coulson and the Samuel L. Jackson-esque  Nick Fury have an interesting objective in a series that is certainly becoming a title of which the second issue I will certainly pick up. Luke Ross’ art adopts a darker tone than Fearless Defenders and Nick Spencer’s storyline really brings out the whole spy/mystery element in the issue. We’re given a great storyline that lays the ground running for future issues and really is a great jumping on point for readers who want to explore more about SHIELD and spywork in an age of superheroes and have seen The Avengers film. The comic itself is nicely done with some fabulous fight scenes and plenty to do for the stars mentioned above.

The book opens with a bang and sets the tone for the rest of the issue. It’s dark, gloomy – and what a better way to begin than with Hawkeye lying on the ground with three bullets in his stomach and a small army holding guns to his face? The issue is a great read and neatly ties everything together at the end. Luke Ross has a stunning artwork and when you couple this with Nick Spencer’s great storyline, it’s a great first issue and certain to entertain.

An excellent opener to a promising series with a stellar artwork and stellar storyline, perfect for fans of the Avengers (with even an appearance from Phil Coulson), but no appearance from the Hulk and The Winter Soldier (yet). You will have to give this book your full attention though, or else you’ll miss things.

Rating: 4/5

*****

Uncanny X-Men #1 by Brian Michael Bendis

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis | Art: Chris Bachalo | Cover: Chris Bachalo | Publisher: Marvel Comics

The true flagship book of the X-Men returns. In the wake of the Phoenix, the world has changed and is torn on exactly what Cyclops and his team of X-Men are – visionary revolutionaries or dangerous terrorists? Whatever the truth, Cyclops, Emma Frost, Magneto, and Magik are out in the world gathering up new mutants and redefining the name UNCANNY X-MEN.

uncanny-x-men-1Having tried out the first three issues of All New X-Men and liked what I saw but for some reason have never got around to picking up the rest, I figured that I’d try Brian Michael Bendis’ new Uncanny X-Men and see if I could be persuaded to support the side of Cyclops, following the aftermath of Avengers vs. X-Men, which I still haven’t read – but I know what happens, and I’m not quite sure yet. Bendis hasn’t won me over although I can acknowledge what Cyclops is trying to do and to a certain extent see why he is trying to do it.

Like the first issues of Fearless Defenders and Secret Avengers, Bendis has the tough job of introducing a new series for a new audience. Whilst several of the characters may be well-recognised by X-Men fans, with Cyclops and Magneto being pretty much A-Listers, Bendis still has to introduce the rest of the characters and the supporting cast, and with 10 major characters to handle in one issue, the task is quite daunting.

But Bendis is no stranger to ambitious projects – after all, he is responsible for All New X-Men, a series where the classic X-Men were brought to the future to stop Cyclops and his gang. I’m not sure whether All New X-Men will tie in with the events in Uncanny X-Men and Uncanny Avengers, but it’s certainly an interesting look into the X-Men Universe. Cyclops is becoming the public face of the X-Men and all across the world, people are starting to believe that the man who killed Professor Xavier “Was Right.” Little do they know however is that not only his powers are going awry, but Cyclops is also a monster.

Playing to the new reader crowd, Bendis does what Fearless Defenders failed to do and provide enough backstory for newcomers to be drawn in and support the characters. This book follows the events of mutants who want revolution over peace, and is a very ambitious opening title. It certainly succeeds in that development, and whilst little plot is established in this issue, it really does introduce the characters well.

The artwork provided by Bachalo is astounding. I really enjoy his artwork with this first issue and hope that he and Bendis can make a long-running comic out of this. I’m certainly interested in seeing what Bachalo has worked on in other titles – and will have to check them out at some point.

A good introduction issue with some strong artwork, new reader friendly – but has a lack of plot.

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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