Comics Round-up 15.04.2013

G.I.Joe Vol.1 IDW

Shadowhawk and Bane of Kings welcome you to the second comics round-up for April.

“Taking a step back in time from JMS’ Odyssey Vol.1 to read the first post-Infinite Crisis Wonder Woman title proved to be a wise choice, as did going back to IDW’s first reboot of the G.I.Joe franchise. The new version of Spider-man arch-villain Venom proved to be a major disappointment and Zenescope’s first collected volume of their fairy tale reimaginings ended up being more promising than I’d expected.” ~Shadowhawk

A mixed bag from DC with Jeff Lemire’s Green Arrow being spectacular but the first volume of All Star Western falling well short. On the other hand, Marvel hits it out of the park with a superb opening start to the adventures of Miles Morales, the new Ultimate Comics Spider-man.” ~Bane of Kings

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Comics reviewed by Shadowhawk: Wonder Woman Vol.1 by Allan Heinberg (DC Comics), G.I.Joe Vol.1 by Chuck Dixon (IDW Publishing), Venom Vol.1 by Rick Remender (Marvel), and, Grimm Fairy Tales: Myths and Legends Vol.1 by Ralph Tedesco (Zenescope).

*****

Wonder Woman Vol.1 by Allan Heinberg

35 Wonder Woman Vol.1My feelings about the state of Brian Azzarello’s ongoing Wonder Woman series are no secret. As far as I’m concerned, that title is currently one of DC’s worst ongoings, and a major disappointment as well. This is extremely frustrating since Wonder Woman is one of the biggest superhero icons out there, and the most recognisable female superhero the world over. Whether it is Azzarello’s ongoing or the digital-first Injustice: The Gods Demand tie-in comic, Wonder Woman’s portrayal is deplorable to say the least. This is why I loved J. Michael Straczynski’s Wonder Woman: Odyssey Vol.1 so much and also why I decided to pick up Allan Heinberg’s Wonder Woman Vol.1, set after the universe-shattering events of the DCU-wide Infinite Crisis crossover. You could say that in a way, I was rather hungry for GOOD Wonder Woman comics, and that need was superbly met with Heinberg’s work.

At this point, I’m not a stranger to Wonder Woman as a character, so for me it was great to jump in right in the middle of the action, which is where the first issue in this book starts. Diana is missing since the events of Infinite Crisis and Wonder Girl Donna Troy has stepped in to fill her shoes, to keep the Wonder Woman name alive and kicking. The book charts Diana’s return, as both her Wonder Woman persona, and as Agent Diana Prince of the Department of MetaHuman Affairs. This sets up an interesting dynamic for her portrayal since now she joins Superman and Batman (to use a couple obvious examples) in the league of superheroes who have a secret identity. One thing is for sure: this is not a Wonder Woman that I’m used to, and the resulting differences between Heinberg and JMS’ portrayal of Wonder Woman mean that while the core of the character is the same, the writers are able to tread completely different grounds. I definitely enjoyed the former as much as I did the latter.

Thing is, this is the kind of Wonder Woman I want to see in the ongoing comic. I don’t want her to be continually put down by the men around her, to be made an objective of flirtation and lust. I want Wonder Woman to be aggressive, fearless, and an inspiration to everybody. I want her to smack Orion upside down when he slaps her butt. I want her to go toe to toe against the men in her world and hold her own without being “crippled” by her relationships. That is what I see in Heinberg and JMS’ books, and not in Azzarello’s. Heinberg’s Wonder Woman is flawed in a way that is appealing, rather than one that makes you cringe. She is the Wonder Woman I remember from the various Justice League cartoons and from DC’s direct-to-video animated films.

The book is notable for the fact that we get to look at the trinity of the Wonder-family: Diana Prince, Donna Troy, and Cassandra Sandsmark. In a way, the relationships between the three women are very akin to that between Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, and Tim Drake. Its a really nice bit of allusion and adds to the overall Wonder Woman mythos. Seeing Donna Troy in action in this book was so great, and I grew to like her character so much that I wish she was the one mainlining in Scott Lobdell’s ongoing Teen Titans rather than Cassie Sandsmark (a version of Cassandra for the New 52 and frankly, a rather tiresome portrayal as well).

In addition to having Diana/Wonder Woman come to terms with what she has done (like killing Maxwell Lord in full view of the global public), the people she has inspired, the people she has helped, and just what it means to be mortal, Heinberg also puts her up against a number of foes such as Circe, Dr. Minerva aka Cheetah, Dr. Zeul aka Giganta and a freakishly-powerful telepath by the name of Dr. Psycho. There is a lot of depth to Heinberg’s portrayal of Circe, and she was my favourite villain in the book, aside from Cheetah, a character I’m fond of ever since I saw her featured in the Justice League animated series, and a 2-part arc in Geoff Johns’ ongoing Justice League. Over the course of the book, Wonder Woman comes to have a measure of understanding of what drives her enemies, and this is pure comics gold for a superhero title. The book explores the villains on the pages in a way that Azzarello never does. The villains are definitely Heinberg’s strength here.

I will also commend the art team for this book: penciller Terry Dodson, inker Rachel Dodson, colourist Alex Sinclair, and letterer Rob Leigh [penciller Gary Frank, inker Jon Sibal, colourist Dave McCaig step in for the Annual issue]. The work, overall is fantastic. There are a few odd moments here and there, as they inevitably are in a female superhero book, such as spine-breaking poses, but nothing really major. The Annual issue has some really odd facial expressions for Wonder Woman and Wonder Girl, but they are ,thankfully, a minority. Overall, the visual tone and direction of the book is fairly consistent, and I’m pretty satisfied with what is on display from the artists. As a special mention, I really, really love Donna Troy’s Wonder Woman outfit, which includes a skirt and is definitely inspired by the “original” outfit but overall has more of an armour look which I think adds nicely to the Wonder Woman mythos.

So yes, a fantastic look at the character, with lots of guest heroes and villains alike, not to mention those who skirt that particular boundary. If you are looking for something much more, enjoyable and full of direction than the current ongoing title, then this is definitely what you should be reading. Even otherwise, and should you be a new reader, I would still recommend the book. There is enough backhistory presented within the pages that you don’t get lost in it all.

Rating: 9.5/10

More Wonder Woman: #1-10, #11-12, #13-15, Odyssey Vol.1.

*****

G.I.Joe Vol.1 by Chuck Dixon

G.I.Joe Vol.1 IDWIt is not easy by any means to reboot a franchise like G.I.Joe, especially after the epic 155-issue run from Marvel, and all the other spinoffs and retellings that have followed since. There are hundreds of characters involved by now, with lots of alternate backstories and character arcs and monumentally defining events thrown in for good measure. But, Chuck Dixon somehow makes it all look really easy. Reading the book, I may as well have been back in the G.I.Joe: A Real American Hero-era, reading about all my favourite characters like Duke and Scarlett and Snake Eyes and others. I’ve read Chuck Dixon/Mike Costa’s three Cobra Command volumes, and I’ve been really impressed with those, which is why I decided to start reading the books from the beginning so that I have a better context for the stuff I’ve already read, and can see how the writers have developed everything in this brave new world.

A reboot means that we go all the way back to the beginning of things: when the G.I.Joe are an elite special ops team but have never heard of COBRA before. The #0 issue, an anthology of 3 short stories from various writers, represents G.I.Joe’s first encounter with the organisation, shows how Duke joined the team, and then gives a short intro to one of my favourite characters ever: Chuckles, the Joe’s master of undercover work. It was a really strong issue that gave a flavour of what to expect from IDW’s reboot. The first six issues of the series show off a lot of the dynamics of the “new” team. I particularly loved the spin on Scarlett and Snake Eyes’ relationship, as well as all the hints that there may be some history between Scarlett and Duke. The way that chuck Dixon has handled that particular element of the comic is miles better than what Paramount did with their live-action movie G.I.Joe: The Rise of Cobra (for the record, that film is terrible). These first few issues also show how Destro is brought into COBRA by the Baroness, making for some thrilling scenes, more so since in Larry Hama’s original run, the two were a power couple within COBRA. Destro is also more of a scientist in Dixon’s reimagining, rather than just a big-time arms supplier at a global level.

There is a lot here that Chuck Dixon has pulled off really well: all the new relationships, writing COBRA as it is actually a very competent and dangerous entity rather than the (often) silly but fun portrayals in the original comics. There is a vibe throughout the issues that COBRA is not an organisation that anybody should take lightly, and this applies equally to its allies and its enemies, such as the G.I.Joe team. What Dixon has going for him is also the fact that he has covered the G.I.Joe team in detail as far as its roster goes. We get to see Scarlett, Shipwreck, Deep Six, Hawk, Duke, Rock’n’Roll, Dial Tone, Brainstorm, Snake Eyes, and a whole bunch of others.

With some fantastic art by Robert C. Atkins and Clayton Brown, who manage to nail all the characters down perfectly with their classic A Real American Hero looks, G.I.Joe Vol.1 is definitely a great G.I.Joe comic book. One, that I’d recommend to anyone and everyone. I could not have asked for a better reboot, because frankly, this is pretty much unbeatable.

The only thing I didn’t like in the comic was the Scottish accented dialogue for Destro and two of his assistants. It made following their dialogue a bit of a chore. Fairly minor in the overall scheme of things, but still significant.

Rating: 9.5/10

More G.I.Joe: Cobra Command Vol.1, Cobra Command Vol.2, and, Cobra Command Vol.3.

*****

Venom Vol.1 by Rick Remender

32 Venom Vol 1Admittedly, my only familiarity with the Venom super-villain is him as the crazy alien symbiote who is one of Spider-Man’s greatest enemies. Reading of Venom as someone actually normal was like a power-punch to the gut. Flash Thompson, one-time school bully and also one of Peter Parker’s best friends is now a former handicapped military veteran who is given a second chance at serving his country by being bonded with the Venom symbiote. This turns him into an elite one-man commando unit as long as she is able to keep the symbiote under control through sheer force of will.

My problem with the title was something that is not as much a fault with the premise, but with the execution and the writer behind it. My only previous experience with Rick Rememender’s work is Marvel NOW! Captain America #1, a book that I disliked intensely. This made me really hesitant in picking up this title, but given that I had heard a lot of praise for it, and because this was one of the comics from my “march reading list poll“, I gave it a shot. Sadly, the book did not improve my view on Rick Remender’s writing. Throughout this book, I was disappointed because Remender’s execution kept fouling things up for me. And this is all mostly to do with how he writes his dialogue, which is too stiff and cliched. Also, it is too fast-paced for me. Remender would start on a particular (and promising and exciting) idea, but then he would rush things through to a conclusion, with little in the way of any exploration of that idea.

The whole dual-personality/split-personality/split-consciousness element is mostly pulled off well, but then there is still something lacking. The entire premise is top-notch, but its as if Rick Remender never fully commits himself to the book, to the character, and the story. His characters often lack any proper depth, and they really do not move out of any of the cliches that he’s put in the book.

When Peter Parker/Spider-Man steps in, the book gets better, but by then its too late to save the title as far as I’m concerned. Also, Peter’s inclusion seems too heavy-handed in the way that Remender executes it, as if there is some kind of in-built necessity in the script that he has to show up. If the book had been entirely about the conflict between Flash and Venom, it would have rocked. But Remender adds in too many things, and now it all just seems to be a mess of things.

Tony Moore and Tom Fowler have done the majority of the art in the book, but I have to say that it was all as mediocre as the script. Nothing really stood out for me. The art was just… typical.

Rating: 5/10

*****

Grimm Fairy Tales: Myths and Legends Vol.1 by Ralph Tedesco

18 GFT M&LZenescope is an interesting publisher. The main strength of their books is that they have taken countless fairy-tales and classics, and given them all a makeover. And it just so happens that most of their covers depict sexualised female characters from their stories, such as Cinderella or Alice (a separate discussion). I read Raven Gregory’s Alice in Wonderland last year and I was fairly impressed with the whole twist on this particular classic (one of my childhood favourites), and I always wanted to read more from Zenescope after that, which is where Jungle Book by Mark L. Miller and Neverland by Joe Brusha came in. I will say that I’ve definitely enjoyed the twists on the old classics, even if sometimes I didn’t enjoy the script itself, as was the case with Jungle Book. Looking to read yet more within Zenescope’s wide variety of fairy-tale titles, Myths & Legends caught my eye with its premise, focusing on the old The Grimm Brothers collections of fairy tales and other regional stories.

Overall, its been a rather meh experience sadly. None of the stories, whether with Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Hansel & Gretel, or Rumpelstiltskin, made any kind of strong impression on me. Each issue focuses on a particular tale, ans is told as a parable of sorts by a modern character (present in all five books) to a young man or woman who is on the verge of some pretty big changes in his/her life. They are cautionary tales that are quite adult themed in terms of their raw impact.

There is, undeniably, certainly a fair bit of originality here since these aren’t straight retellings but are darker (if possible) reimaginings. But the thing is also that a lot of it is just straight cut and dry. The dialogue is often stiff and there’s little to no emotional impact anywhere.

I’m going to stick with the series since there are quite a few different creators involved later on, particularly Raven Gregory who is a current favourite, but I have to say that this was still a disappointing read.

Rating: 5/10

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Comics reviewed by Bane of Kings: New 52: Green Arrow #17-19 by Jeff Lemire (DC Comics), New 52: All Star Western Vol. 1: Guns and Gotham by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray (DC Comics), and, Ultimate Comics: Spider-man Vol. 1: Who Is Miles Morales? (Marvel).

*****

Green Arrow #17-19 by Jeff Lemire

#17 – Welcome the new team of writer JEFF LEMIRE and artist ANDREA SORRENTINO! As Ollie struggles to come to terms with the loss of his fortune, his company and his heritage, he discovers a shocking truth about his father that ties to his time stranded on an island before he became Green Arrow. Plus: Green Arrow battles the deadly archer known as Komodo!

#18 – Oliver Queen has lost everything: His company, his money, his friends and most of his arrows. It’s all because of one man: Komodo, who has come to tear Ollie’s life to shreds! From the ashes, Ollie must uncover the secrets of his father’s past — secrets of the island and Ollie’s own uncanny ability with the bow.

#19 – What startling secret is revealed on the island that gave Green Arrow birth?

GreenArrowComp01Green Arrow is a character who I’ve been a fan of ever since the recent TV show Arrow began, and I really wanted to get on board the monthly series before now – however, negative feedback has left me not wanting to pick up anything beyond #1, which I enjoyed a bit – but not nearly as much as some of the more established monthly comics out there.

When I found out that Jeff Lemire was getting on board the title with #17, given the high praise for his work, and after hearing that #17 and #18 were awesome – I’d thought I’d jump on the Green Arrow bandwagon and read those two issues, shortly before #19 came out. And wow, this thing is superb. Absolutely brilliant and if I had to pick only five ongoing series to be following in the comics world right now, the adventures of Oliver Queen would be joint top of that list along with Scott Snyder’s Batman, followed by All New X-Men, Hawkeye and Uncanny Avengers.

It’s interesting to note that Ollie doesn’t suddenly exchange his current friends for characters named Felicity and Diggle. Lemire has written Green Arrow so it presumably follows on from #16, and no characters are introduced that we’ve seen in the show so far. The attention is however, focused almost entirely on Ollie as a character and as a result the story benefits. Andrea Sorrentino adds to the visual aspect of what is turning out to be a thrilling series and whilst I’m not a big fan of the covers, the interior artwork is pretty damn awesome, similar in places to Greg Capullo’s work for Batman.

People who come into this series expecting a DC take on Fraction’s fantastic Hawkeye are going to be disappointed, in fact – there is easily going to be more comparisons to Batman than there is to any Marvel character, for this is a dark tale that sees Ollie in a very dangerous situation, allowing for an unpredictable, awesome and entertaining storyline that will keep you entertained for sure.

In short, I suggest you get on board Jeff Lemire’s run whilst we’re only three issues in. It’s superb, and if you’ve been watching Arrow or have a firm understanding of Green Arrow of a character (all you need to know is that he’s basically a modern-day Robin Hood meets Tony Stark meets Steve Jobs type character), and get set for what may be one of the best Comic Runs of 2013.

Rating: 5/5

****

All Star Western Volume 1: Guns and Gotham by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray

Even when Gotham City was just a one-horse town, crime was rampant – and things only get worse when bounty hunter Jonah Hex comes around in this collection of the DC COMICS – THE NEW 52 series. Amadeus Arkham, a pioneer in criminal psychology, enlists Hex’s special brand of justice to help the Gotham Police Department track down a vicious serial killer! Plus: Don’t miss bonus tales of El Diablo and the Barbary Ghost!

All Star Western Vol. 1

All Star Western is a series that I picked up mainly because I enjoyed the first issue, and I wanted to try the first volume out when it came out in print because it wasn’t really a title that was essential enough to be added to the list of titles that I pick up on a weekly basis, and it’s mostly four titles a week now, two DC and two Marvel with a few exceptions.

The story itself is an interesting premise, bringing the Wild West to Gotham City. There are some very interesting nods to continuity here, with Court of Owls references, as well as appearances from the Wayne family and Penguin’s ancestors allowing for some fan-service. However, what undermines its strength as a story is the fact that it seems in places a bit too similar to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and the artwork from Moritat isn’t really notable as well – it doesn’t stand out, which is a real shame, particularly when a Western tale featuring Jonah Hex had the potential to be brilliant.

However, it does have a few strong things going for it, the interactions between Hex and Arkham are very awesome to read about and are the highlights of the book for me, the duo reminding me of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson in cases, only Hex is very, very badass – and Arkham is a little more eccentric than Watson.

This is my first time reading a Jonah Hex story and I didn’t really feel lost, so this could kind of serve as an introduction to the character for newcomers, as there wasn’t any plot threads from non-New 52 books that were picked up here, but then again – it doesn’t serve as an origin story. It also helps if the reader is at least familiar with the New 52 Batman verse, for there are several references to The Court of Owls and I believe that this series crosses over with the Night of Owls storyline in places.

There is also a lack of supporting characters, save Arkham that are actually memorable – I’m struggling to recall a single one, which is a shame. It’s also important to note that there are two backup stories in this book, focused around characters who I’ve never heard of before, Barbary Ghost, and El Diablo, so I assume that they must either be newcomers or minor DC Characters. However, their brief outing hasn’t compelled me to read more of them if there is anything more featuring them, and whilst they weren’t bad – they weren’t as strong as the main storyline featuring Hex and Arkham. That itself was also a fairly average tale, and the overall reaction at the end was “I’ve seen better,” so I think you can afford to skip this one unless you’re a diehard fan of Jonah Hex or a collector.

Rating: 2.5/5

*****

Ultimate Comics – Spiderman Volume 1: Who Is Miles Morales? By Brian Michael Bendis

Miles Morales is the new Spider-Man. What’s the secret behind his powers and how will he master them? What new and familiar enemies will rise to challenge this all-new Spider-Man? And will Miles live up to Peter Parker’s legacy?

Ultimate Comics Spiderman Vol. 1 This is my second Spiderman graphic novel and my attempt to add more Marvel trade paperbacks to my shelf, which is currently heavily featuring DC New 52 titles as well as the few odd Batman book. Although I had not read the event featuring the death of Peter Parker in the Ultimate Comics Universe, I decided to give the first volume of Ultimate Comics – Spiderman a try – which I was particularly hyped to read because I’ve read many comics by Brian Michael Bendis and so far the only one that’s let me down is the first five issues of Age of Ultron, a title which I have subsequently dropped from my pull list.

This is also the third Ultimate Comics title that I’ve read, and I actually have come to really enjoy this setting after reading the Iron Man: Armour Wars graphic novel as well as the Thor trade, and I think after being impressed by this title – it’s a series that I’ll return to. The basic setting of the book is Peter Parker is dead, and Miles Morales is essentially the new Spiderman. We are first introduced to the new Spiderman as he a street brawl shortly after the death of Peter Parker, and whilst he gets the job done, people start to complain that it’s in bad taste. The book then takes us back to Miles’ origin story before he becomes Spiderman, as he’s in a lottery for place at a Charter School in New York, which given his background – is important for him.

The book itself quickly establishes that Miles is a different character to Peter: he’s younger, more experienced and updated, more modern. We watch him take some time to get used to his newfound powers and he deals with a large amount of powerful, anti-mutant scenes which really show just how the average Marvel citizen has become distrustful of the mutants – even Miles’ dad doesn’t like them, which does not bode well for a future conflict.

The writing and the artwork so far in this series, which collects the first seven issues, are fantastic. Sara Pichelli is a strong artist and Bendis is a strong and established writer. This series as a whole can also be recommended to newcomers to the Spiderman-verse, particularly if they’re confused as to where to begin and don’t want to follow the entire run of the 700 issue The Amazing Spiderman.

That said, this is a very strong graphic novel and I would certainly recommend it. Miles Morales is a good, likeable and rootable character and if I read any more of this series then I may start preferring him to Peter Parker, who I haven’t read many stories featuring him yet (only Avenging Spiderman: My Friends Can Beat Up Your Friends). Hint: If anyone wants to get me to root for Peter, feel free to suggest some good Spiderman stories for relative newcomers to the Web-slinger like myself.

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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