Comics Round-up 01.06.2013
Shadowhawk and Bane of Kings welcome you to the first comics round-up for June.
“Demon Reborn is a below-par Witchblade title from Dynamite that just fails to ever get going. Bill Willingham’s Fairest, a Fables spin-off, has a bit of a rough start but gets better with each issue. Geoff Johns’ Justice League of America continues to impress but still has a fair few flaws that prevent it from becoming a top title. And Brian Wood’s ongoing Star Wars is just superb with excellent characterisation and dialogue.” ~Shadowhawk, The Founding Fields
“Batman: Earth 2 Annual #1 provides a misleading first outing for the new caped crusader while Nightwing impresses. Thanos Rising is comparable to Star Wars, and, Wolverine and the X-Men seems set to be one of the weirdest Marvel comics currently ongoing.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
Comics reviewed by Shadowhawk: Witchblade: Demon Reborn by Ande Parks (Dynamite Entertainment), Fairest Vol.1 by Bill Willingham (Vertigo), Justice League of America #2-4 by Geoff Johns/Matt Kindt (DC Comics), and Star Wars #3-5 by Brian Wood (Dark Horse).
Witchblade: Demon Reborn by Ande Parks
If there are two things that characterise this 4-issue mini-series, it is confusion and aimlessness. Ande Parks’ script never develops into anything that can even potentially be more than the material. It is a by-the-numbers story that is executed with flaws galore, one that lacks any sense of character jeopardy and just meanders along from plot point to plot point. This is something that I’ve seen a lot in some of the recent Dynamite titles that I’ve read (relatively speaking) such as Warriors of Mars, and Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris Volume 3. There appears to be a core quality of the characters that the writers are just never able to grasp, and the story suffers because of that.
The Sara Pezzini that Ande Parks has written is a character that I never managed to connect with. Witchblade lore, developed over almost two decades, is incredibly rich and varied, with lots of depth and nuance to it. I didn’t see any of that here. Apart from the typical lore nods to Sara’s daughter Hope and her boyfriend Gleason, this is not a mini-series that feels like a Witchblade title. It feels like a generic urban fantasy story involving demons and a mortal champion possessing an ages-old relic.
The Demon antagonist in the narrative is another character that I did not care about at all. There was almost no backstory for him beyond the cliched need for vengeance on the Witchblade/Sara Pezzini. He was written more of as a childish boogeyman, rather than a villain who can stand favourably against Sara and the Witchblade. But given that the characterisation of Sara and the Witchblade is extremely lackluster and unexciting in the first place, the Demon has no shot at impressing the reader.
The art, with pencils by Jose Luis, colours by Vinicius Andrade and letters by Troy Peteri, was serviceable at best, and that’s if I’m being generous. The biggest problem with the art was that Luis’ characters all look the same, and they rarely have any genuine expressions on their faces. Its as if he has gone for subtlety rather than the obvious, and it works against the script again and again. If the characters themselves aren’t going to display any emotion 80% of the time, then I don’t have much of a reason to invest myself emotionally either.
Compounding all the problems was the fact that the narrative slows down and speeds up at random. That did not make for an easy read at all. Apparently, Demon Reborn is the sequel to a one-shot, Demon, and the various flashbacks and dreams sequences are meant to hint at the events therein, but I found it all to be too confusing. There’s already a mostly confusing main narrative going on, and all these references to Demon make for a really awkward fit.
It could have been a lot better.
Fairest Vol.1 by Bill Willingham
Spawning off from Willingham’s hit series Fables, Fairest takes the central characters into some new and exciting directions, telling new stories that are just as engaging as what has come before. Personally I haven’t had read beyond the first two volumes of Fables and so I’m not current on the backstory for this volume (it takes place after Fables #107). This was indeed to the detriment of my enjoyment of this volume, and I lament the fact, but there’s no easy fix for the matter, not unless I read like 97 issues of Fables and then go back to read this volume. Suffice to say, for someone coming into Fairest with the barest knowledge of the setting, I didn’t have all that many problems with it actually.
Sure, Fairest is purported to be about the female characters in the setting, such as Briar Rose and the Snow Queen for this story arc (at least), but it also focuses equally on Willingham’s version of Ali Baba, a vagabond who is always rushing after gold. There’s also the genie of the bottle, or rather, “just a lowly little bottle imp” called Jonah Panghammer. Together, these four characters are the principal cast for this volume and as they all learn to work together, or even at cross-purposes, the entire narrative begins to unfold. What I really loved, apart from all the wonderful characters, was how Willingham retells the story of Princess Rose (Briar Rose), and how that ties into the Snow Queen’s ambitions/plans for the evil faerie known as Hadeon, the one who cursed Princess Rose in the first place, all those years ago.
As with Fables, where Willingham really excels here is the spin on the characters I thought I knew, but turned out that I don’t understand them all that well really. He takes each of the characters, and their backstories (particularly that of Ali Baba) into new and interesting directions that warrant a second look.
Willingham also takes the time to hit all the little beats in the story, such as when the characters are eating, or “waking up” or just generally having a chat between themselves. It serves to build up the characters and give them all genuine personalities, like how has happened with Ali Baba and Noah Panghammer. I swear, that little blue imp is quite possibly the best thing in the entire volume, hands down. His dialogues too are quite hilarious and worth a few chuckles.
The art is by Phil Jimenez (pencils), Andy Lanning (inks), Andrew Dalhouse (colours), and Todd Kleine (letters). Adam Huges providing the covers for the six issues contained in the volume. I have to say that I definitely loved the art here. The characters are expressive, and they are all visually different from each other, right down to the shape of their heads. Its a small but important detail and it increases the charm of these characters rather well. The Snow Queen is definitely my favourite character in the volume, visually speaking. She is kind of like Emma Frost (hah!) in that she is shown as someone who is comfortable in her sexuality. This is a big plus, considering all the recent discussions about oversexualised female characters in comics. That is definitely not the case here with the Snow Queen. The colours and the inks make Jimenez’s pencils really stand out and bring them into sharp focus.
All in all, a fairly strong opening story arc.
Justice League of America #2-4 by Geoff Johns/Matt Kindt
Geoff Johns’ latest series, Justice League of America has the potential to be one of the best titles in DC’s New 52 initiative. It has got everything going for it: a star cast of characters, some great artists, and the writer who is best known for taking relatively minor and obscure characters and making them so much more. It also happens that for me, Geoff Johns is currently one of DC’s best writers, given his work on Justice League, Aquaman and Green Lantern (the latter of which he stepped down after his 20th issue of the new series). With its first issue, the series definitely got off to a great start, introducing an entirely “new” team of superheroes and hinting at their team dynamics.
With his next 3 issues, Johns has maintained my interest in the characters and the narrative, keeping me invested in what is going on, but there are some troubling signs here nevertheless.
The best thing about the series is that there is so much we are getting to see of the Martian Manhunter, whether that is through his interactions with the rest of the team, or the backups written by Matt Kindt. The Martian Manhunter is one of my favourite DC characters, going back to the times of the Justice League cartoons, and it is great to see him being given so much prominence here. Especially since he is not a part of the “main” Justice League team.
The team dynamics that are at play with regards to Steve Trevor, Catwoman, Hawkman, Green Arrow and Vibe are also really interesting. The one point of concern in that respect remains that we are not getting to see all that much of either Katana, Simon Baz (new Green Lantern of Earth), or Stargirl, the latter of whom Amanda Waller is keeping “safe and sound” as the public face of the team, a PR stunt pure and simple given her mass popularity and her “clean” image when compared to the other heroes like Martian Manhunter, Hawkman, Catwoman and Simon Baz. Being a superhero team, there is ample work for them all to do, as happens in all three of these issues, and Johns certainly knows how to write a great action sequence. And the battles aren’t there just to feed the readers’ addiction for superhero action, but it all serves in many different ways, the chief of which is showing off those aforementioned team dynamics. These characters are all still in learning mode as far as working with each other is concerned, and so there are lots of growing pains, all of which I loved.
There’s also a fair bit of mystery going on, since there’s a secret society of villains out there who are up to no good at all and who happen to know plenty about Waller’s new team of superpowered individuals. From the first issue and all the way to #4, the series so far has been a setup for the events of the Trinity War, in which apparently all the various Justice League teams will go head-to-head in a large-scale conflict with some far-reaching consequences for the DC universe. So far, we haven’t exactly seen how the secret society of villains fits into everything, but the ending of #4 definitely hints at some big plans.
The issue ends with the death of a significant character, something that I’m on the fence about. It is quite clearly a plot device and is intended to shock and awe, but I’m withholding judgement since its a cliffhanger ending and I want to see how it is resolved in the next issue, and what direction the other Justice League titles will go in. The reaction of one particular Justice Leaguer should be really interesting to watch.
All in all, I think it is a good thing that Trinity War is starting soon since Justice League of America feels a bit like it is losing steam, given that it has all been setup till now. The mega superhero war should prove to be a good enough “diversion”.
The backups in these three issues deal with Martian Manhunter almost exclusively, showing much of his origins and his role in getting the Justice League of America formed in the first place. In these short stories, Matt Kindt has proven himself to be a deft hand, with his characterisation, his dialogue, his monologues and his overall script. The deep deep insight into J’onn J’onzz is really welcome, since it does a lot to flesh out his character.
The art team on this series is pretty big, considering that there are different people working on the main book and the backups. Collectively, they have all turned out three really good books. Finch and Oback’s Hawkman is as gory and edgy as they come. Their Stargirl is suitably cheerful and charismatic, fitting in with her role on the team as per Waller’s orders. Steve Trevor is a bit different from how he has been shown on Justice League but I like how he has been drawn so far. And so on. If there is any real downside to the characters themselves, it is that Finch insists on showing off Catwoman with her suit zipper all the way down to her navel, exposing her cleavage, making the suit look more like a robe than a, well, suit. It just seems so…. unnecessary. This is all the more important given how Catwoman is shown in her own series, and all the controversy surrounding her appearance on the cover to Catwoman #0 last year. Other than that, I really have no complaints. I found the panels to be drawn really well, with lots of details, as is the norm in comics these days. Finch has definitely not gone for a minimalist approach and I’m fine with that.
With respect to the backups, they are beautifully drawn with lots of eye-popping colours and some really great visuals depicting life on Mars back when it was still a verdant planet. The backups have done great at showing off Mars as it was, and the snippets of Martian society. The backup in #4 is a superb example of this and the art team of Scott Clark (pencils), David Beaty (inks), Jeff Chang (colours), and Rob Leigh (letters) deserves a lot of the praise for this.
I’m definitely in on this series for the long haul.
Star Wars #3-5 by Brian Wood
Brian Wood is fast becoming one of my favourite writers in comics. His work on Mara and Star Wars has been fairly impressive so far from everything I’ve read, and his brand-new title from Marvel, X-Men, featuring an all-female mutant hero team also pushed all the right buttons for me. A review of that seminal issue will be coming soon, next weekend in fact, so keep an eye out for that. In the the meantime, I’m here to talk about his work on Star Wars right? Right.
More and more, it appears to me that it is far better to read ongoing series like one reads graphic novels. Cliffhangers are really tough to deal with, month in and month out, often quite frustrating. That is the case here with Star Wars as well. Each issue ends on such a great cliffhanger that its a struggle to not sit down and immediately start drawing plans for a time travel machine so I can forward in time and pick up all the issues at once.
In these three issues, Brian Wood continues to explore the wider Star Wars setting even as he explores his characters. However, it should be said that the star of this series so far is Princess Leia, without a doubt. She gets the most panel-time, and she does the most work. Both Luke and Han, forming the “trinity” of the original trilogy with Leia, take the backseat. And I love it. She is often an underrated character and the way that Brian Wood has “redefined” her character, made her a much more appropriate protagonist for a space opera/science fantasy series of such epic scope as Star Wars. Any scene with her in it is a guaranteed top-notch scene and its clear that Brian Wood enjoys writing her.
Where Luke and Han are concerned, I’m concerned a bit that we are not seeing more of them but that is a fairly minor gripe to be honest. It is Leia’s time to shine and it would be… inappropriate for either of them take the centerstage at this point. However, Brian Wood does not keep them around as tools to be used to prop up Leia whenever they are needed in that capacity. With Han’s current mission for the Rebellion taking him all the way to Imperial Center, Coruscant itself, and with Luke caught up in both a romantic struggle and contention for his place as an ace-pilot for the Rebellion, there is ample enough for both of them to do. In the snippets we see of them across all three issues, its pretty clear that these are the characters we saw on the screen, proof enough for me that Brian Wood has a good handle on his characterisation and that he is able to provide a refreshing enough perspective on all of them despite the events being largely the same.
Now, Brian Wood’s stand-out work definitely has to be his Darth Vader. He has that character down to a pat, whether it is threatening Imperial officers with the Emperor’s wrath, or murdering incompetent fools. Even though Vader isn’t often very action-y or physically aggressive, his character still has that in-built dark charm and the oppressive air that hangs around him, the Dark Side of the Force. It is ever present and persistent. Wood’s Darth Vader exudes menace right off the pages.
By the end of #5, it is fairly clear that some really big moments are about to occur, particularly the reveal of who the traitor within the Rebellion ranks is, and so the next couple issues should prove to be really interesting.
The art team, consisting of Carlos D’Anda as penciller, Gabe Eltaeb as colourist and Michael Heisler as letterer has outdone itself once again. They’ve first and foremost maintained their good run from the first two issues of the series, and they’ve certainly stepped things up where the visual look of the book is concerned. I love how confidently all the characters are portrayed, no matter what the situation is. The eye-popping feel of the panels is also a great element. And of course, you can’t ignore Alex Ross’ covers for the series either. Of these three, I’d say that #4 is definitely my favourite!
Comics reviewed by Bane of Kings: Earth 2 Annual #1 by James Robinson (DC Comics), Nightwing #19-20 by Kyle Higgins (DC Comics), Thanos Rising #1-2 by Jason Aaron, (Marvel) and, Wolverine and the X-Men #29-30 by Jason Aaron (Marvel).
Earth 2 Annual #1 by James Robinson
Art: Cafu, Julius Gopez, Julius Gopez | Cover: Andy Kubert
Annual #1 – The new Batman of Earth 2 debuts as The Atom begins a mission to lead a new team of heroes—but are any of them prepared for the threat they’re about to face?
If there was such a thing of an award for misleading comic book cover of the week, Batman: Earth 2 Annual #1 would claim this title, just like Aquaman #20 did last week. I was prior warned about going into this issue not to expect a Batman of Earth 2 heavy issue, but I was still surprised that he was actually barely in this issue at all, and to add insult to injury, we don’t even find out who’s behind the cowl. Dick Grayson? Jean Paul-Valley? Bruce Wayne pulling a faking-death trick? Nope. We don’t know.
One thing for sure though, is that we know he’s different. This isn’t the same Batman in your Scott Snyder or Gregg Hurwitz ongoing comics. And whilst Robinson is at fault for this here though, he makes up for it given the extra room that he’s given in this annual, packed full of content. We get a main focus on Pratt, who gains a significant panel time and takes up the role centre stage from an Annual which doesn’t even feature Flash, Green Lantern or Doctor Fate, and Hawkgirl is limited to a single panel appearance. Whilst he’s not quite a sympathetic character, Robinson does explain what Pratt’s motivation is.
The art from Cafu and Julius Gopez doesn’t quite reach the high standards from Nicola Scott, but there’s still some pretty impressive scenes in here, most notably, everywhere where the Atom is full size, and one focus on Earth 2’s new Batman. The issue is also heavy on Worldbuilding here as well, and it’s clear that Robinson is setting the stage for future issues which is a real shame given his upcoming departure. The best news about Robinson leaving is that this isn’t Robinson’s last issue, as he is in my opinion – one of my favourite writers and has made Earth 2 a regular addition to my pullist, and it’s good to know that we got a few more good times coming our way yet, even if they are misleading as was the case here.
Nightwing #19-20 by Kyle Higgins
Art: Brett Booth, Norm Rapmund | Colours: Andrew Dalhouse | Carlos M. Mangual | Cover: Brett Booth, Norm Rapmund, Andrew Dalhouse
#19 – “Death of the Family” is over, but the laughs continue to plague Nightwing. But it can’t be him—can it?
#20 – After witnessing so much death in the past few months, how will Nightwing react when he learns a key figure in his life has returned from the grave?
I’ve only read the first six issues of Nightwing, all of which I really enjoyed – but have been unable to follow the title through its entire Court of Owls Tie-In Run and the Death of the Family storyline. It seems for the New 52 at least, Nightwing’s been heavily connected to Batman, which seems as though it’s close as we’re going to get without putting Dick back in the position of Robin, the Boy Wonder. As if in answer the complaints however that Nightwing has become too connected to Batman, Kyle Higgins takes Dick Grayson to Chicago – a city that hopefully will become as quickly associated with Nightwing as Blüdhaven was before the New 52.
#19 and #20 are very fun, and a distinctive change of pace from the earlier issues. Chicago is a city that’s clearly not Gotham, emphasised by all the house-sharing and the No Masks law going on. Almost immediately upon his arrival, Nightwing finds himself hurtling on the run from the law, in the hunt for Tony Zucco, the man who murdered his parents. #19 also introduces the Prankster to the New 52 Universe (I think this is his first appearance in the current continuity) and it’s certainly refreshing to read about a villain who you haven’t encountered pre-New 52, even if he may not have the most awesome name.
Brett Booth is a fantastic artist in #19 & #20 here, really making his mark on Nightwing. Whilst every character may be exaggerated, the designs are still pretty impressive, and the double-page spread early in #19 featuring Nightwing avoiding bullets fired by the police is a great way to kick of the new story arc, and a great way to draw the reader’s attention.
The charm that people associate with Grayson is back, and the new characters are introduced in quick succession. We get Dick’s roommate, Michael, and the former roommate, Joey who has the potential to become a love interest – and who we first meet in #20 as the terrified woman who attacks Dick once he returns to his apartment – adds some nice dynamic to Nightwing and hopefully, these characters become more established in the Nightwing continuity. Of course, it doesn’t help that Michael is anti-costumed vigilantes after Nightwing’s accidental destruction of the new train station, but that of course only adds to the tension.
I think the best word to really describe these two issues is fun. Kyle Higgins has made Nightwing a series that I’m looking forward to a lot more every week, and with a great cliffhanger on #20 and some superb cover art and solicits set in the months to come, I will certainly be on board this book, and everyone else should be too.
Thanos Rising #1-2 by Jason Aaron
Art: Simone Bianchi | Colours: Simone Peruzzi | Letters: Clayton Cowles | Cover: Simone Bianchi
#1 – What comes after “Marvel NOW!”? Whatever it is, it starts HERE. • The vile face left movie audiences in shock after last summer’s Marvel Studios’ “The Avengers” movie, but who is this eerily disturbing villain? • Thanos rises as the unrivalled rogue of wretchedness in this gripping tale of tragedy, deceit and destiny. Where did this demi-god of death and destruction come from and…more importantly what does he want? • The answers come from the incredible creative team of Jason Aaron (Wolverine, X-Men Origins) and Simone Bianchi (Wolverine, Astonishing X-Men) as they take you on journey that will not only change the course of one boy’s life… …but will soon change the very nature of the Marvel Universe.
#2 – Continuing the jaw-dropping origin of the mad Titan who will soon change the face of the Galaxy! Death follows young Thanos as his inner darkness grows.
Fellow Founding Fields reviewer Shadowhawk was kind enough to give me a digital copy for Thanos Rising #1 after I received a copy of #2 in a trade on Comic Book Resources Forum, and as it’s Jason Aaron (the mastermind behind Wolverine and the X-Men and Thor: God of Thunder) I really wasn’t going to pass this one up. Whilst his origin story is not a hidden mystery for veteran readers of the Marvel Universe, it’s not surprising to see a new series featuring Thanos especially given the post credits sequence that you should have seen in Avengers Assemble, and that he looks set to become the main villain for Avengers 2 – this is a great way of getting relative newcomers like myself (I started reading comics last year) up to speed on the villain.
Like any true origin story, #1 starts at Thanos’ very birth, focusing his childhood upbringing. Whilst Aaron stays away from the family angle of Thanos’ life, it seems that if you’ve ever wanted to learn about Thanos’ school days, then this is an issue for you. Like the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy before it, we’re supposed to believe that Thanos is a sympathetic figure in the same way that Anakin was, therefore slightly diminishing the villain’s impact on the reader. It also seems to be a similar case for Thanos Rising, although thankfully – Thanos Rising so far is nowhere as poor as the original SW trilogy.
The dialogue itself is varied in quality. Some scenes are superb, such as the Death/Thanos sequence in Thanos Rising #2, but the dialogue elsewhere is weak and the other characters rarely come across as nothing more than ordinary Earth-born citizens, something that you shouldn’t expect from a planet that is different to Earth.
Bianchi’s artwork improves with #2, much like Aaron’s writing, but they’re still not quite at that perfect issue benchmark yet that Aaron has come very close to achieving with his Thor: God of Thunder series. But I think the real problem is here, that with two issues out of the five, we still haven’t seen Thanos actually being bad yet – there’s nothing here that makes us want to fear him, and to use another Star Wars Prequel reference, become the next Darth Vader.
However, there are some points that shouldn’t be overlooked. Bianchi’s artwork is the strongest part of this book to date, which is a shame considering Aaron’s reputation, but the potential and the artwork is enough to keep me around for #3 – especially as this is only a five issue series, and it’d be nice to see how the story unfolds.
Wolverine and the X-Men #29-30 by Jason Aaron
Art: Ramon Perez | Colours: Laura Martin | Letters: Joe Carmagna | Cover: Ramon Perez, Molly Hollowell
#29 – See the Jean Grey School of the future! The students of JGS put a time-capsule together that you can follow into the future and see what happened to all your favourite X-Men.
#30 – PRELUDE TO THE HELLFIRE SAGA! Students are missing and Wolverine and Rachel Summers intensify their search for the Hellfire Club. Beast goes to the SWORD orbital HQ to ask an X-Villain for help with Broo’s sad state.
Wolverine and the X-Men is a series by Jason Aaron that is one of the few titles to have survived the Marvel Now reboot intact, and it’s actually one that I’ve already read the first volume to – but I was unable to catch up. However, #29 seemed like a nice jumping on point and as it turned out, not only was it a fantastic issue, but the more X-Men books, the better, as if you’ve seen my twitter profile then you’ll no doubt know that the X-Men are my favourite superhero group, with Batman taking the title of my favourite individual superhero.
Jason Aaron makes up for the slightly weaker Thanos Rising with the superb Wolverine and the X-Men, and I think this title is probably one of the weirdest books on at Marvel right now – allowing for a lot of fun to be had, especially with the upcoming Hellfire Club Saga. The story here is stronger than the art, which whilst was pretty impressive in #29, didn’t work for me in #30, with weak designs of Storm & Kitty, among others.
Wolverine and the X-Men #29 plays a nice role with a time-capsule story that makes a refreshing change from all the time-travel stuff going on in All New X-Men, in a way that it isn’t technically time travel, but whilst I’m not sure how/if this connects with ANXM given that we haven’t seen the Original students show up yet, it does allow us to get a look at the future JGS, as well as a Wolverine with grey hair – suggesting that something has gone wrong with his lack of aging process – presumably something that will be unravelled in Paul Cornell’s upcoming arc where he looks set to make Wolverine ‘killable’.
#29 also benefits from having some emotionally wrecking moments, with a fantastic scene focused on Logan and company, and one page in particular caught my eye – the shot of all the students, listening to Logan bar Quentin Quire, who continues to be irritating and as unlikeable as when I last met him in the first Volume.
#30 is the slightly weaker of the two, and shows the Hellfire Club continuing to recruit students of the Jean Grey School. One of the main questions raised here is Why would the Hellfire club use such extreme measures to bring young students to their school? The motives of the villains aren’t very clear in this issue, and it isn’t helped by the artwork, which contains several different artists, with all their styles differing allowing for an uneven flow, and certain portrayals of Beast didn’t really grab my attention as well.
I’m in the unusual position where I’m going to have to give different verdicts to different issues, as #29 and #30 both represent different quality. #29 is clearly the stronger, with #30 being the weaker.
Rating: #29 – 4/5 #30 – 3/5