Comics Round-up 01.07.2013

Immortal Iron Fist Volume 1

Shadowhawk and Bane of Kings welcome you to the first comics round-up for July.

“My first experience with Greg Rucka proves to be a smash hit as he tells a really focused story about the most famous X-Men team member ever. Scott Beatty’s The Last Phantom is flawed but still tells quite a story. Geoff Johns concludes the Throne of Atlantis crossover and instantly launches into an even better series event with King of Atlantis which is full of startling revelations. Scott Snyder’s Batman progresses after the epic Death of the Family crossover with a small-focus 2-parter with a classic Batman villain and then launches into the series event Year Zero which is one of the best stories in the series to date. “~Shadowhawk, The Founding Fields

Astonishing X-Men is a series that all X-fans should read, and The Immortal Iron Fist is another classic.~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields

Note: My apologies on the round-up having been delayed by a day. I am traveling at the moment and have had some really frustrating electricity issues. Hopefully they will not continue anymore! ~Shadowhawk

___________________________________________________________

Comics reviewed by Shadowhawk: Wolverine Vol.1: The Brotherhood by Greg Rucka (Marvel), The Last Phantom Vol.1 by Scott Beatty (Dynamite), New 52: Aquaman #16-21 by Geoff Johns (DC Comics), and, New 52: Batman #19-21 by Scott Snyder (DC Comics).

*****

Wolverine Vol.1: The Brotherhood by Greg Rucka

Wolverine Vol. 1From everything I’ve seen of Wolverine to date, whether that’s the comics or the movies or the cartoons or what have you, he is very much a “loud” character: he is always right up there in the thick of action and there are rarely, if ever, any moments where the character can just relax and have a quiet moment to himself. Thing is, there’s always something that is going on with him. This is why I loved Rucka’s first arc on the rebooted Wolverine so much. Wolverine just does not come across as a character who can be “silent”.

Rucka proves otherwise.

I really like how the entire story arc is one of revenge, but it is a revenge by proxy because the story is Wolverine reacting to violence on extreme provocation, rather than him being involved personally. He was an “innocent bystander” in the events that kick off this revenge. The first issue reads very much like a letter, telling a very personal tale of a young runaway girl who wants to live life on her own terms. But things don’t work out the way that she expects them to. Come to think of it, things don’t work out the way that Wolverine wants them to either. The entire story arc is full of some really quiet, small moments in the life of Wolverine, whether it is at the beginning with the waitress girl who gets murdered, when he is taking her revenge on those who murdered her, or later when things quieten down.

One thing I really liked about Rucka’s writing was how well he manages to balance the two different sides of Wolverine: Wolverine the bad-ass mutant, and Wolverine the quiet-guy-who-wants-to-be-left-alone. There are so many small, personal moments in the book, whether they involve Wolverine sitting in a diner having coffee, or him driving off to get his revenge for the girl’s murder, or even much later on, sitting in a pub sharing a drink with an old friend, a certain priest who also happens to be a mutant. Said mutant is also one of my favourite characters from the comics, so it was a great little cameo at the end.

And the violence, when Wolverine gets right down to it, is unremitting. Wolverine doesn’t hold back, and it is as if he is a one-man army. Which might as well be true, given his recuperative/regenerative powers, and his martial skills, and his trademark claws. The girl who got killed, Lucy, gave him a nick name in the first issue, when he was an unknown quantity to her. She called him “Mean Man”. Well, where the Mean Man kept himself in control in the early sections of the story, he lets loose in the second half, and he more than earns up to that nick name.

In all the different portrayals of his that I’ve seen, Victor Gischler’s Wolverine comes to mind when put up against Rucka’s Wolverine. I would say that they are similar to each other with the same kind of depth to their characters, the same kind of complexities borne out by a lifetime of violence and the need to belong to something greater, something that Rucka highlights in the final issue and which was present all through Gischler’s first arc on X-Men with the “Curse of the Mutants” event.

I’ll admit, the art isn’t all that great, particularly the portrayal of Logan himself: he comes across as a character who wears a hair-suit, which is the artist playing up the “fur” aspect of the character perhaps. That, frankly, was annoying. But then again, that really is my biggest complaint with the entire six-issue series. Other than that, while the artwork as a whole hasn’t dated all that well today, especially when compared to stars like Olivier Coipel, Paul Pelletier, Ivan Reis, Greg Capullo, and others, I still like Darick Robertson’s work. His art here isn’t gothic or moody or anything like that. Rucka is telling an emotional story about a girl who just wants to be remembered, and Robertson manages to capture that. And his Wolverine “at war” is definitely as fearsome and scary as any other such portrayal of the character.

In the final tally of things, I really liked Wolverine Vol.1: The Brotherhood, and I would definitely recommend it. Cracking good story.

Rating: 9/10

*****

The Last Phantom Vol.1 by Scott Beatty

The  Last Phantom Vol.1I am a huge fan of Phantom, ever since I was a kid and used to read the Hindi-language comics featuring Phantom as an Indian hero. Those comics, at the time, were among the best that I’d ever read, and I recall them quite fondly. Of course, Beatty’s Phantom is very different to the character that I remember, but he isn’t all that different. The change in backstory and the change in his location, etc doesn’t invalidate anything that I read before.

Taken as a whole, this is a fairly interesting origin story for Phantom. but the thing is that it is at times too bland, and there are a few narrative skips at times which ruin the whole mood and sour the experience. I loved that Beatty focused so much on Phantom as both an individual character and a symbol, but he also at times does it by the numbers, with little to no excitement to the story. And the origin story in itself is something that is a bit of a cliche.

But perhaps that’s the point. The Phantom is a pulp character, and in that respect, Beatty has done a fairly good job here. The story is focused on the adventurous spirit and vibe that is central to the character, while being layered with a few modern touches so that the story appears to be a modern one. This in turn informs the character as well because it comes down as it always does to Phantom, his horse Hero, his pet wolf Devil, and his brace of twin pistols. And there’s the phrase that defines the entire comic: “Bengali Endures”. It is a reference to the fact that no matter what happens to the nation of Bengali, its people will always endure, the Ghost Who Walks will always endure, he will always be watching.

In that sense, The Last Phantom Vol.1 is a book that is definitely meant to be enjoyed to the fullest because the story and the characters do not shy away from their roots. And really, this is a book that is focused on Kit Walker, the Phantom. While I wish that we had gotten to see a lot more of all the other characters, especially Kit’s family, I didn’t mind the fact per se. I wanted a story about the Phantom, and that is exactly what Scott Beatty gave me.

Eduargo Ferigato and Vinicius Andrade’s art I found to be hauntingly perfect. And by that, I mean that they have captured the moods and vibes of a Phantom comic really well. There is all the darkness of the script, all the darkness of the character, and then there is the way that Ferigato and Andrade pull it all out and repackage it into a more modern boxset. Just seeing that costume once again was a great thrill, I won’t deny that. There are a few places where the inks and colours are a bit too heavy and overdone, but thankfully there weren’t too many instances of that.

So on the whole, it wasn’t that bad a book. It has its flaws, sure, but it is also, on a basic level, exactly what it says on the tin. No more, no less. Maybe that’s also an indictment of it in a way, since the book never rises beyond the promise inherent, but I would recommend it.

Rating: 7.5/10

*****

Aquaman #16-21 by Geoff Johns

AquamanComp04I keep saying it and I never tire of saying it: Aquaman is one of DC’s top titles right now, as far as I’m concerned, and a huge part of that is because Geoff Johns is the man behind the driving wheel. The series has been utterly fantastic right from the beginning and at no point has it, that I can recall, ever been a disappointment. When Geoff started the “Throne of Atlantis” crossover with his Justice League book, both series kicked into overdrive and Geoff was very much in his element, telling a story that had relevance to modern day events and also did a lot to update all the characters involved, especially Aquaman. This crossover has been about Aquaman coming to terms with his legacy and his ancestry and while events haven’t exactly lent him a helping hand, he has been persistent and determined in making sure that things turn out to be good for everybody. It is almost as if Geoff is channeling the boy-scout version of Superman, but someone with a much more nuanced view of two separate worlds, two separate civilisations backing him up.

Issues 16 and 17 wind down the crossover. As expected, the Justice League and Aquaman save the day, but there have been costs, and these two issues deal with these costs and the fallout from that results. Given the attack on Boston and Metropolis and Gotham, etc, Humans look upon the Atlanteans as savage conquerors and invaders hell bent on genocide. They label Aquaman with the same broad strokes, and these two issues are about him rising to the occasion and showing that even though recent hostilities have been traumatic and divisive, to say the least, the surface world and Atlantis can still come to coexist peacefully.

And with that angle, Geoff explores Aquaman’s character and his motivations even more. He is someone caught between two worlds, and he wants to satisfy both sides of his genetic legacy. He wants to be worthy of both worlds. And this ends up bringing him into conflict with some of his senior-most advisers, those who wish to see the surface world humbled once more. Aquaman is someone who is walking uphill against the wind, and Geoff’s character study is quite fascinating.

With the end of 17, the next arc in the saga of Aquaman begins as an old Atlantean threat comes back, threatening to tear part everything that Arthur and Mera have been working for in the last few years. And the threat that faces Atlantis right now is not limited to the Atlantean horror that has returned, but mercenaries from the surface world as well. Once again, like with Black Manta before, Aquaman has another enemy who wants to destroy him and everything he holds dear. This is what takes up roughly half the narrative space from issues 18 to 21. This arc is about Aquaman struggling to define himself through the expectations that have been placed upon him as the King of Atlantis, and the struggle is not over, and it doesn’t look like it will be over anytime soon either. The prejudices of the Atlanteans run deep, especially those who were loyal to Orm, Ocean Master.

AquamanComp05The other half of the narrative space is taken up by the political machinations that are in effect following the end of the “Throne of Atlantis” crossover. Like I said before, there is conflict among Aquaman’s senior advisers and this is what Geoff shows off to great effect here. Whether it is Mera, or his half-sister Tula, or Vulko, or any of the others, there is a lot that is going in Atlantis than Aquaman is aware of. Hidden loyalties, double-faced motivations, these are traits that define Atlanteans, of one origin or another. The revelations concerning Mera are the most startling ones, and they are not what I expected, given the events that happened previously, before the crossover happened.

Issue 21 definitely ends on a huge, huge bang, and that final page is just masterful. An ending that I did not see coming. Those are the best kind, especially when they are handled as well as Geoff handles it here.

Paul Pelletier and Sean Parsons replaced the older creative team of Ivan Reis and Joe Prado, two guys who defined this Aquaman for me, in issue 15, and they have gone on to deliver one beautiful issue after another, without fail (there was a mid-series shuffle around issue 15 and Parsons replaced Art Thibert after issue 16). Their Aquaman is not quite the Aquaman that Ivan Reis and Joe Prado had drawn and coloured so far, but visually, its not that big a departure. Largely, the art is fairly consistent and Geoff gives his art team ample opportunity to just go crazy with all of it, with lots of mega-panels and set piece pages that do a fantastic job of conveying the beauty of Atlantis and other locations. The underwater panels in the series have definitely been top-notch and the team of Pelletier/Parsons continues that fantastic trend.

Right now, all I can say is that I am super-pumped for the next issue, which really can’t get here soon enough. Geoff Johns and his art team look all set to replicate his success on Green Lantern, and the only way for Aquaman to go right now is up, up, and up.

Note about issue 20. It is set outside of the narrative continuity of the “Death of a King” event, and it follows the remaining The Others, Aquaman’s old team, as they retrieve an Atlantean artifact from a Native American Skinwalker. For some odd reason, while the cover credits the team of Johns, Pelletier and Parsons, the issue is written by John Ostrander, and has art by Manuel Garcia and an army of inkers/colourists. On the whole, this was a fairly decent issue, but at the same time, I also got the sense that this was a heavily-edited-down story. There were curious narrative skips in the book, and they hindered any true enjoyment of the issue. The art was mostly serviceable, decent but not great, so there’s that too. Kind of a let-down, all things considered.

Rating for #16-19, and #21: 9.5/10

Rating for #20: 7/10

*****

Batman #19-21 by Scott Snyder

BatmanComp05Batman, which holds the distinction of being one of my favourite books right now from DC. Scott Snyder has done some seriously great work with the Batman mythos in New 52. First through his year-long “Court of Owls” arc, then with “Death of the Family“, and now with “Year Zero“. Throughout his current run, he has continued to reinvent and reinterpret who Batman is and what he means to people around him. For someone who grew up with the Kevin Conroy Batman, Snyder has offered something entirely unique and trend-setting with his Batman, a character who is flawed, but continues to meet each challenge head-on and win through with victories that are as much psychological as physical.

Issues 19 and 20 are a two-part story featuring one of Batman’s most classic villains: Clayface. In these two issues, Snyder reinvents the character, redefining him for a new audience. In essence the story is fairly simple, of the kind that Bruce Timm would have shown on Batman: The Animated Series, but really, it is much more than that. These two issues are also about Batman learning to deal with the loss of his son, Damian. While we get to see Batman being Batman, we also see the inner Bruce Wayne, the actual man behind the playboy’s mask. Issue 19 begins on an emotional high involving Damian, and issue 20 ends the same way, across two spectacular pages that were enough to get me teary-eyed. I haven’t read Morrison’s current run on Batman, Inc. and therefore I am not familiar with the events surrounding Damian’s death, but the effects of it are still being felt in Batman.

Looking past all the typical Batman adventures involving Clayface, for me the two issues became a story about loss, the acceptance, the denial, all of it. And this one of the main reasons why Batman is one of my favourite comics right now: these comics have a heart. The Batman we see here isn’t the commonly invulnerable Batman that has been seen in the pat. Reading these two issues was like reading Chuck Dixon and Doug Moench’s Knightfall Vol.1: The Broken Bat all over again.

Clayface as a character is fairly interesting here, given his new origins and his motivations for his actions as seen in these two issues. Much less cartoony than I had thought that he would be, which is great.

Issue 21 is the first “Year Zero” and it details the opening chapter in Batman’s bid to become the kind of symbol that Gotham needs. There are some thematic hints and nods to Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins here, but for the most part, this is also a comic that stands on its own. Going back in time, so to speak, and seeing how the legend was created, is something that I found to be deeply moving. And a large part of the interaction is how Gotham in this era is a completely different Gotham than the one we are much more familiar with. The shift in tone is what really sells this issue.

There are two backups in these three issues. Issues 19 and 20 are a two-parter in which Superman arrives in Gotham, wanting to talk to Bruce about Damian but the two of them get involved in some supernatural shenanigans instead. The highlight of these two backups was the dynamic and the chemistry between DC’s two premier characters. James Tynion IV has written backups for Batman before, and he’s done quite admirably in all of them. This particular backup, Ghost Lights, is undoubtedly his best work yet. It is a small story, as a backup should be, and it lays out the relationship between Superman and Batman quite well, managing to do something that has unfortunately been disregarded in Geoff Johns’ Justice League. The story I definitely loved, as evidenced by my reaction.

The backup in #21 is another small-scale territory, but also very profound in that it shows off the kind of driver that Bruce Wayne becomes eventually and sets the tone for the persona, the symbolism that he will later adopt. It shows the lengths that Bruce Wayne will go to in order to bring criminals to justice. Tynion’s backups are always worth a read and that definitely shows here.

The primary artist on all three issues is Greg Capullo, the man who has been there with Batman from the start of New 52 and has turned out one stunning issue after another. Of these three issues, #21 definitely wins out in terms of pretty much everything, all the points that matter. I enjoyed the gothic splendour in the first 11 issues and with #21 Greg Capullo overturns the entire city on its death, showing off Gotham as a place of hope and brightness. It was a great gamble, and I dare say that it succeeded.

Alex Maleev handled the pencilwork on the Ghost Lights backup while Rafael Albequerque returned to partner with Tynion IV on the backup from #21. Both of them have a style that is quite the opposite to that of Greg Capullo, and that’s a great thing, because then there is a good amount of visual diversity. The pencils, along with the colours and inks by an entire battalion of workers, are just simply something else. The overall effect jives very well with the script that Tynion IV has written (co-written in fact with Scott Snyder).

In the end, all I can say is that you really should be getting this series and reading it.

Rating: 9.5/10

___________________________________________________________

Comics reviewed by Bane of Kings: Astonishing X-Men Volume 2: Dangerous by Joss Whedon (Marvel), and, The Immortal Iron Fist Vol.1: The Last Iron Fist Story by Ed Brubaker & Matt Fraction (Marvel).

*****

Astonishing X-Men Volume 2: Dangerous by Joss Whedon

Art: John Cassaday

A tragic death at the Xavier Institute reveals a powerful enemy living among the X-Men that they could never have suspected – and no, it’s not Magneto. Things heat up in a way none of the X-Men ever dreamed, but will teamwork save the day when they can’t even depend on themselves?

Astonishing X-Men Vol. 2 DangerousI have generally never been one to follow through with comics when I’m collecting them as individual volumes. There are too many series out there that I have yet to discover, so I normally end up having loads of Volume 1s, but hardly any Volume 2s in my collection. In fact, I think Astonishing X-Men Volume 2 might just be my first – despite owning just under 30 graphic novels. However, given how awesome Volume 1 was, I really couldn’t pass this up – and as a result, I enjoyed Astonishing X-Men Volume 2 as much as I did Volume 1.

The book itself answers a question that I’ve never encountered before in X-Books: what if the Danger Room, or called Danger here – of the Jean Grey School went Rogue? It’s an interesting, if simple plot, but Whedon manages to make the story be a lot more entertaining than its premise due to his strong sense of narrative. Its always great to see small advancements in the overall plot, with last-page reveals in the graphic novel starting to become a bit of a tradition in this series, with Emma Frost and the Hellfire Club.

Whedon’s writing continues to be strong, and I really wish he was still writing a Marvel comic. His issues are really unpredictable, enthralling – and John Cassaday’s artwork really adds another layer of awesomeness to the table, with the monsters brought to life by Danger all becoming creepy and realistic. The story continues to be fantastic with some great elements of traditional Whedon humour, but it is not quite as accessible to new X-Men readers as the first volume. Luckily enough, I came in prepared with enough background information about the adventures of my favourite Marvel team.

There’s something to love for everybody here, even Fantastic Four fans will get a welcome treat with an early, surprising cameo. It’s nice to see the Fantastic Four interacting with the X-Men, and reminds me that I really need to try out a Fantastic Four graphic novel as I’ve always wanted to check one out – I don’t suppose there’d be any recommendations to get me started?

If you’ve read Volume 1 then you probably don’t need much of an incentive to check out Volume 2, but this series is really one that you should be checking out. I’m going to try and pick up Volume 3 as soon as possible – because I just love everything about this series. Kitty Pryde has quickly become a favourite character for me and I’m looking forward to seeing where Whedon can take her character over future volumes, and all the rest of the X-Men are really handled well.

The emotional involvement of this series is great. Whedon’s knowledge of the characters shines through and allows him to deliver simple, abstract dialogue in order for the reader to get the character, without providing unnecessary long streams of text which fill up the page ala James Robinson’s Earth 2, which is the only problem I have for that otherwise fantastic series from DC Comics.

Avoiding spoilers, I’m going to have to say that I absolutely loved this. All X-fans should have picked up Astonishing X-Men and I’m really going to try and order Volumes 3 and 4 when I can, just to complete Whedon’s run on the series.

Rating: 4.75/5

*****

The Immortal Iron Fist Volume 1: The Last Iron Fist Story by Ed Brubaker & Matt Fraction

Art: David Aja

Many years ago, in the mystical city of Kun’ Lun, young Danny Rand stared at a suit behind glass – the garb of the “Immortal Iron Fist” – and knew that he was destined to wear it. But where did this costume come from? Why did it wait for Danny all those years like a shadow of his future? The answer to those questions will stun both him and his readers, as Danny Rand leaps from the pages of his breakout hit in Daredevil to his own history-spanning kung-fu epic that will shatter every perception of what it means to be the Immortal Iron Fist! Brought to you by top-ten writer Ed Brubaker and breakout talent Matt Fraction (Punisher War Journal), with action-packed art by David Aja (Daredevil, Giant-Size Wolverine).

Immortal Iron Fist Volume 1Iron Fist is a character that I’ve never encountered in the comics before aside from Avengers vs. X-Men. My knowledge of the character is next to nil as well. In fact, the only reason I picked it up was because of the creative team of Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction and David Aja. Brubaker is an incredible writer, and Fraction and Aja are currently excelling on Hawkeye right now, so I thought I’d give this a try.

And I am so very glad that I did, because The Last Iron Fist Story is amazing.

The character is very well created, captivating and someone to root for, and David Aja pretty much excels himself, as he manages to give the story a dark and realistic feeling even if the character himself may be your slightly more unrealistic Marvel superhero. He’s certainly one that is impressive, and it really upgrades a character that I’ve never heard of before into a volume that I’ll certainly check out more of from this series depending on whether my comics store or Amazon has them in stock, as having picked up the first print volume, I’d love to follow this series through in print like Astonishing X-Men.

Some stories make you feel like you want to learn more about the character, and this is no different – Danny Rand is a character that has leaped to the top of my to-watch out for list, and whilst I’m not quite sure where to start apart from more of this series, he’s certainly nonetheless an interesting option, and if Marvel released a new Iron Fist title for Marvel Now, then I would certainly be on board for it especially if it was written by the same creative team. Heck, I’d be any book written by this creative team, even if the whole series was Iron Fist chatting with another superhero (Luke Cage, for example) in a bar.

This graphic novel takes place around the same era as Civil War, and whilst it’s not necessary to understand what happens in Civil War to get what happens here, it helps for the backup extra that I got that featured Danny Rand taking over the Daredevil duties from Matt Murdock, who was imprisoned by Tony Stark during the story’s events. It allows the readers to get a brief glimpse at the friendship between Iron Fist and Daredevil, and it’ll be interesting to see how things progress in future volumes.

Rating: 5/5

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.

Facebook Twitter