Comics Round-up 02.08.2013

Before Watchmen Minutemen Silk Spectre

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

“The rebooted Aphrodite IX proves to be great while the first two issues of musician Max Bemis’ Polarity from Boom Studios manage to astound spectacularly. And back in superhero-land, Greg Pak’s first two issues of Batman/Superman disappoint like none other, even though Ray Fawkes’ Trinity War tie-in second issue of Pandora proves to be a spectacular issue.” ~Shadowhawk, The Founding Fields

“Before Watchmen manages to both excel and disappoint, whilst Scott Snyder excels in the Pre-New 52 era, and Green Hornet Year One is a much better origin story for the character than the recent film.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields

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Comics reviewed by Shadowhawk: Aphrodite IX v2 #2-3 by Matt Hawkins (Top Cow), Polarity #1-2 by Max Bemis (Boom Studios), and, New 52: Batman/Superman by Greg Pak (DC Comics).

*****

AphroditeIXComp01Aphrodite IX v2 #2-3 by Matt Hawkins

Matt’s first issue for this rebooted series was quite a spectacular issue. It introduced the protagonist, Aphrodite IX, in a post-apocalyptic setting where Humanity has consolidated into two technologically-opposed groups, one favouring genetic engineering and the other cybernetics, and it delivered some kick-ass action so very typical of the character from what I remember of Ron Marz’s Artifacts maxi-series. It was a very, very promising start to one of Top Cow’s signature heroes, so very different from what the Big 2 offer, and I was really looking forward to the next few issues, hoping for more of the same. And Matt does deliver.

Issues 2 and 3 continue the theme of Aphrodite gaining acceptance with the geneticists of the city of Genesis, but being manipulated in secret by a man named Burch who used to be her handler in the old days. On behalf of Burch, Aphrodite continues to wreak havoc in Genesis, but when she is in control of her faculties, she manages to cause enough trouble for the people of Speros, Burch’s allies and the enemies of the people of Genesis.

Where these two issue absolutely succeed is in showing off the scary levels of pure skill and badassery of Aphrodite. Conceived as an infiltrator, spy and assassin, Matt plays up to every single one of her abilities, giving her ample space to show off just who and what she is. It is quite refreshing to see a no-holds barred approach to a character like this and I’m certainly enjoying the series.

The development of other characters like Marcus and Lina (the upcoming generation of Genesis’ leaders), and Chronos and Helen (the military leaders of Speros) is also quite good. Through Burch and Aphrodite, we get to see a great deal of what makes these characters and how deep the ideological divide between the people of Genesis and Speros is. Burch himself is quite an reprehensible character, but his calm self-confidence is just so interesting. I’m certainly rooting for Marcus and Lina to win at the moment, and I hope it doesn’t change, especially in the wake of the cliffhanger ending of the third issue.

Stjepan Sejic is once again the artist on both issues and he has done a great job once again. I don’t know how he does it, but Stjepan delivers some of the most amazing artwork I’ve ever seen. So many complimentary colour-palettes, incredible details, genuine variety of expressions on all the characters, and so on. Above everything, I love how realistic his artwork looks. Sometimes its as if I’m watching a high-budget action film, and other times its as if I’m watching a top-quality animated film instead of reading a comic. He is an artist in a class of his own.

This is not really a criticism of the issues as such, but I think I’m ready for Marcus and his people to be cut a break now. Issue 3 has a really bleak ending, preceded by some of the best action choreography in the series so far, but its all still going downhill for the Gens. Time for some good things to happen to them and I’m hoping that issue 4 this month can do that.

Rating: 9.5/10

More Aphrodite IX v2: #1.

*****

PolarityComp01Polarity #1-2 by Max Bemis

I originally found out about this title back in April during the 2nd Middle East Film and Comic Con. I met Lance Kreiter, the VP of licensing and merchandising at Boom Studios booth there, and chatted with him quite a bit about some of the publisher’s upcoming titles. Polarity was one such project that Lance told me about and I’d been looking forward to it since then. When I started reading the first issue the other day, I was initially quite surprised with it, since it seemed to be just another urban comic about a… well, loser, but then things took a dramatic turn for the better around page 15 and the ending of the issue was just mind-blowing.

It was a validation of sorts for the protagonist, Tim.

If there is one thing that defines this series, based on the two issues I’ve read so far, its that it is completely unpredictable and has tons of humour. The ending of the first issue proved both, but things continued apace in the second issue and with each page, I was impressed more and more with the direction that Bemis, lead singer for the band Say Anything, was taking. Frankly, Polarity has turned out to be so much more fun than I had thought it would be.

If I had to pick a main reason for why I’m enjoying this book so much, its that its a great take on mental illness and it doesn’t ever get preachy or judgemental. Max Bemis has suffered from mental illness himself, even been hospitalised for it, and it is clear that he is drawing on some of his own experiences dealing with his illness to give Polarity a sense of realism. Tim’s descent into mental illness, bipolar disorder the same as Max, is one that really pulls you along and the entire experience is very unsettling but also full of heart. I couldn’t help but sympathise with him.

And of course, there is so much more going on in the two issues than just Tim’s descent into madness. Bemis also shows how Tim tackles his personal demons, his wins matched by his defeats, so to speak. With Tim’s delusions turning out to be more than just that, coupled with some hilarious (and creepy to a degree) sessions between Tim and his psychologist, Polarity is certainly a surprise hit for me.

When it comes to the art, Jorge Coelho’s work is just perfect for the story. He draws Tim and conveys his spiral-down really well. He captures the… psychedelic and disturbing nature of the situation so well. Tim’s psychologist particularly is drawn really well, just looking at him is enough to convey everything the reader needs to know about his character. A certain shirtless heart-to-heart between Tim and his psychologist is definitely the highlight of the second issue, more so since it captures the off-the-rails nature of the entire book. And all of Coelho’s characters manage to stand-out, with none getting the short shrift in any way.

This book is definitely one that you should be picking up.

Rating: 9.5/10

*****

BatmanSupermanComp01Batman/Superman #1-2 by Greg Pak

The only Greg Pak comic I’ve read prior to this one is Silver Surfer: Devolution, and that was a decent enough title, although not something I particularly enjoyed as a fan of the old short-lived cartoon series. Still, I had high hopes for this World’s Finest-ish series, until I found out that this was going to be a prequel series to the rest of the New 52. That bothered me a great deal since we had already seen Batman and Superman’s first meeting in Geoff Johns’ Justice League #1 and #2 and this entire series seems to be predicated on rebooting that meeting, which is just plain odd.

As it turns out, the series features the (current) Actions Comics-era Superman, from when he went around fighting in a t-shirt and jeans, against a Batman who is… whatever. I’m not sure where in the New 52 timeline this particular Batman is from. Suffice to say that I’ve not enjoyed either of these first two issues at all. The first meeting between the two heroes is a rather despiriting and odd affair when we come to it in the first issue, when they meet as Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent. Its all supremely clunky and seems to be all about the plot with little in the way of character. Bruce Wayne sitting somewhere in the run-down streets of Gotham, all drunk, watching a bunch of kids bully another kid when Clark Kent just comes in and interrupts the fight and makes out Bruce straight away? Yeah.. I don’t know. The entire first issue did little for me.

The second issue didn’t help either. There seems to some crazy alternate dimension craziness going on and frankly, I don’t get any of it at all. Its all too confusing with the addition of the Earth 2 versions of the same heroes, and they all fight against each other. Sure, its great to see Batman take on Earth 2 Batman and Superman take on Earth 2 Superman, or even vice versa, but the handful of cool moments are nowhere enough to make this series work for me. The strange villain who is being used is another big mystery, one we have seen VERY little of and seems to be another plot decision.

By which I mean that things are happening for plot reasons and there is little, if anything, that is character driven here. The prequel setting certainly doesn’t help matters any, especially since the Earth 2 versions of Batman and Superman are practically dead, as we saw in James Robinson’s Earth 2 #1, where the two of them and Wonder Woman disappeared in the final fight against the Earth 2 universe version of Darkseid, who had invaded the planet, never to be seen again. For all intents and purposes, they are dead.

And the art, well, the art is terrible. I am not a fan of Jae Lee’s art style at all. It turned me off big time on Len Wein’s Before Watchmen: Ozymandias and time has certainly not made me like his work any better. The main problem I have with his pencils is that his characters often look like they are squinting, or looking through lidded eyes. Its just… disconcerting. Chung’s colours are good, but they don’t do much against the Lee’s pencilwork, which is just disappointing over and over again.

Certainly not a title I’d recommend. So I don’t know what direction that Greg Pak is going for here. I might check out the third issue but I’m not holding out much hope for it.

Rating: 3/10

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Comics reviewed by Bane of Kings: Batman: The Black Mirror by Scott Snyder (DC Comics), Before Watchmen: Minutemen/Silk Spectre by Darwyn Cooke & Amanda Conner (DC Comics), Before Watchmen: Ozymandias/Crimson Corsair by Len Wein and John Higgins (DC Comics), and, Green Hornet: Year One Omnibus by Matt Wagner (Dynamite).

*****

Batman: The Black Mirror by Scott Snyder

Art: Jock, Francesco Francavilla | Cover: Jock | Letters: Jared K. Fletcher | Collects: Detective Comics #871-877

Don’t miss this epic Batman mystery from Scott Snyder, creator of AMERICAN VAMPIRE, originally published in DETECTIVE COMICS #871-877! First, in “The Black Mirror,” a series of brutal murders pushes Batman’s detective skills to the limit and forces him to confront one of Gotham City’s oldest evils. Helpless and trapped in the deadly Mirror House, Batman must fight for his life against one of Gotham City’s oldest and most powerful evils! Then, in a second story called “Hungry City,” the corpse of a killer whale shows up on the floor of one of Gotham City’s foremost banks. The event begins a strange and deadly mystery that will bring Batman face-to-face with the new, terrifying faces of organized crime in Gotham.

Batman the Black MirrorThe Black Mirror has been on my To-Read list for a while now and when I eventually got around to reading it, it didn’t disappoint. Scott Snyder, current writer of Batman for the New 52, knocks the ball out of the park with some stunning writing – producing one of the best Batman storylines that I’ve ever read, with some stunning narrative – and some equally jaw-dropping art from the great creative minds of Jock and Francesco Francavilla.

And you know what makes this graphic novel even more interesting? Bruce Wayne is not Batman. Yeah, that’s right – the Caped Crusader is played by Dick Grayson, the current Nightwing in the New 52 – and this allows for some very different comparisons between Bruce and Dick during their times as Batman – something that I found interesting was that Dick hasn’t quite mastered the art of the disappearing act during his meetings with Commissioner Gordon yet, which was one of the many things that I felt that made sure that Snyder helped make Dick feel not like a clone of Bruce Wayne, but actually his own character – who is really fleshed out over the course of the series.

What I also found quite surprising is that the whole graphic novel doesn’t focus on The Black Mirror arc alone, in fact – that is quickly wrapped up before we move onto more adventures for the Dark Knight. We have an interesting collection of stories here that stand equally well on their own as told in a group – and with some stunning moments throughout all of them. This was also the first time I witnessed Barbara Gordon don her guise as Oracle outside of the video games Arkham Origins/City – and her interactions with Dick were handled pretty strong, especially when you take into account that one of the main villains for the latter part of the graphic novel is in fact James Gordon Jr, the son of Commissioner Gordon. James is explored in great depth here – and he’s really brought to life in a creepy manner, and handled just as well as pretty much every character here. The Joker gets a strong role to play – yet doesn’t overshadow everyone else’s, and Snyder manages to handle both new (The Dealer of the Mirror House, Roadrunner and Tiger Shark) and old (the aforementioned Joker, Man-Bat and Killer Croc) villains alike – giving them both strong outings.

Having read this after Snyder’s current Batman run I can see why they wanted to keep the writer around – he’s a strong lead for the book and delivers a stunning journey for Dick Grayson as Batman – and with the artists, both Jock and Francavilla – I wish they could have kind of stayed on with Batman for the New 52 – but then again, we wouldn’t get an equally awesome Greg Capullo. It seems – no matter what Snyder does, he always ends up with some good artistic talents with him, therefore I’ve never been disappointed by his storyline (Aside from Batman #0) and his fellow artists work yet.

This book therefore, gets my highest recommendation. Read this, whether you’re sick of Bat-books or not. It’s a classic, easily on par with the likes of The Long Halloween, Year One and The Killing Joke.

Rating: 5/5

*****

Before Watchmen: Minutemen/Silk Spectre by Darwyn Cooke & Amanda Conner

Art: Darwyn Cooke, Amanda Conner | Cover: Darwyn Cooke, Amanda Conner

Darwyn Cooke tells the tragic tale of the Minutemen, assembled to fight against evil in a world spinning out of control. Can these heroes from completely different backgrounds and with completely different attitudes on crime come together? Or will they fall apart before they begin?

Then, Cooke and Amanda Conner take an look at the Silk Spectre’s early years with her overbearing, Super Hero mother, chronicling her journey down the winding path toward becoming her own kind of hero.

Before Watchmen Minutemen Silk SpectreWell, Before Watchmen so far has been kind of a mixed bag for me. Having read all of the Deluxe Edition Graphic Novels now (Ozymandias/Crimson Corsair review coming later), I can safely say however, rather than being a hit or miss like the previous ones have been – Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner’s take on the Minutemen and Silk Spectre have produced a really solid hit, knocking it out of the park with some superb issues for both – and it reaches the point where I can’t actually decide which mini-series is better, the Minutemen tale or the Silk Spectre one.

Minutemen, the opening tale in this graphic novel, starts strongly – taking up 60% of the Deluxe Edition and really paying off. Both of these series I read the first issues of when they were first released as digital copies, and I really enjoyed them – so I was looking to see if both Cooke and Conner could deliver with the premise that they’d established. For those of you who can’t quite remember who the Minutemen were – then, simply – they’re the superhero group that existed before the Watchmen, and as a result – this deals with their rise and fall to grace. It’s not a spoiler to tell you that there is a rise and fall of course – it’s like a prequel, if you’ve read (or seen the film) Watchmen then you’ll know the fate of these masked vigilantes, and it’s quite a tragic one, something that is dealt with within the title credits of the movie alone, so it was refreshing to see it expanded upon here.

Cooke, who takes over the main writing duties for Minutemen, deals with a Post-WW2 era of America followed by the USA in its Golden Age, as seen mainly through the eyes of the original Nite Owl, Hollis Mason – through his book entitled Under the Hood. Purists who have looked down on Before Watchmen since before the first issue even hit the shelves will be pleased to know that there is nothing here that doesn’t contradict the already established material – as Cooke finds a great way to adapt the source material that he’s been given in the first place. It’s as a solid opener to the book as you could wish, and Cooke really knocks it out of the park with the first instalment here, that is quickly preceded by Silk Spectre.

The second half of this deluxe edition is a coming of age story that sees heavy involvement with drugs – exploring the character growth of Laurie Jupiter, daughter of the first Silk Spectre – and how she comes to terms with her mother’s attempts to recapture past glories. Amanda Conner’s art is really well suited to Silk Spectre here, and she delivers a powerful display that really brings to life the strong narrative on show.

Whilst of course, purists may never accept Before Watchmen as canon, but I really do think that you should give Minutemen and Silk Spectre a shot. It’s superb – and if you have to buy one Deluxe Edition, I strongly suggest that you make it this one.

Rating: 4.5/5

*****

Before Watchmen: Ozymandias/Crimson Corsair by Len Wein and John Higgins

Art: Jae Lee, John Higgins, Steve Rude | Cover: Jae Lee, John Higgins | Collects: Before Watchmen: Ozymandias #1-6, Curse of the Crimson Corsair backup issues, Before Watchmen: Dollar Bill #1

Writer Len Wein and artist Jae Lee delve into the mind of the smartest man in the world: Ozymandias. How does one grow up to become the world’s smartest man? Adrian Veidt begins his journey, both spiritual and physical, that will one day make him one of the most pivotal players in the world changing events of WATCHMEN.

Before Watchmen Ozymandias Crimson CorsairIt seems that Before Watchmen is a tale of two halves, really. For every Nite Owl/Dr. Manhattan you get a Comedian/Rorschach, and for every Minutemen/Silk Spectre, you get an Ozymandias/Crimson Corsair. What I’m trying to say is that if there’s one thing that Before Watchmen needed to be, it was consistent – and that’s sadly not the case with this Deluxe Edition Graphic Novel, and the final one that I’m reviewing.

I myself here really didn’t find this collection that appealing. Whilst I’ve seen some rave reviews for Jae Lee’s art, I really don’t get why people think he’s that good – it doesn’t really engage me and hold my interest that much. If it weren’t for Lee, put it this way – I would have picked up Greg Pak’s Batman/Superman #1 for certain – especially as the two superheroes are among my favourite DC characters. However, I’m just glad that he’s not joining Pak with Action Comics #25 – because that would be a downer for someone like myself. This of course, harmed my overall enjoyment of Wein’s Ozymandias graphic novel, which didn’t really feel as epic as it should have been, and the Curse of the Crimson Corsair mini-series never really added any understanding to the Watchmen universe either.

The most frustrating thing is that Wein’s Ozymandias has moments when it really feels like it should be a title that’s going somewhere – even if it might just be because these threads are carried over from other books, most notably the disappointing Comedian mini-series. The book itself, for instance – explores the deaths of Marilyn Monroe and JFK, however – like when Veidt investigates the death of the Hooded Justice before being stopped by Comedian – doesn’t really delve into these problems as well as it perhaps should have done, with nothing really added to what we already know about Ozymandias himself.

However, despite what I’ve mentioned, Ozymandias does have some merits – as the writer certainly does understand the character’s place in the overall scheme of Watchmen, as a master manipulator – the man who was tugging all the strings in the main graphic novel. It also deals with the events that lead to the Comedian’s death at  the beginning of Watchmen – fleshing out how the character stumbled across Ozymandias’ conspiracy in an interesting way that means that whilst this book was largely a letdown, it still did have some strong moments.

However, the same cannot be said for The Curse of the Crimson Corsair. I never really enjoyed this part of the series – and wasn’t really sure what its connection was to the overall Watchmen. It’s like the writers needed something to add as backups, and thought it would be best to introduce a new character altogether, which really didn’t work in my point of view.

Unlike some other issues in Before Watchmen event, The Curse of the Crimson Corsair doesn’t spend all its time moving forward. Two issues of the series are spent without advancing the plot at all, and at times it almost comes close to a third. The book itself also suffers from several confusing elements – the storyline is quite hard to follow (especially if you’ve read it as it was originally published), and overall, this mini-series is another disappointment from my point of view, and wasn’t really needed.

On the other hand, whilst I enjoyed Dollar Bill slightly more than The Curse of the Crimson Corsair, it wasn’t by much – and this felt like another waste of time that added far too little to the Watchmen Universe in this one shot – despite Steve Rude’s injection of some of the more bizarre elements of Golden-Age comics. This issue however, was nonetheless fairly solid – and arguably the best thing to come out of this collection, which was a shame, as a graphic novel set around one of the most important characters in the Watchmen Universe had the potential to be a whole lot more powerful and exciting.

Rating: 2.5/5

*****

Green Hornet: Year One Omnibus by Matt Wagner

Art: Aaron Campbell | Cover: Aaron Campbell | Collects: Green Hornet: Year One #1-6

At last, the thrilling origin tale of the Green Hornet and Kato, the classic crime-fighting duo, can be told!

After his father’s death, Britt Reed takes control of his father’s newspaper, the Daily Sentinel… but discovers that his true inheritance is his father’s thirst for justice. 

Donning the iconic emerald outfit, developing an arsenal of non-lethal weaponry, and building his rapport with martial artist and driver Kato, Reed launches a crusade against mob boss Vincent “Skid” Caruso, making the bullet-ridden Chicago streets safe again during the Prohibition Era.

But will the Green Hornet and Kato survive when their efforts attract the attention of the sadistic enforcer called The Scourge?

Green Hornet Year One OmnibusMy experience with Green Hornet as a character is somewhat limited, pretty much to only the rather weak movie that came across as more as an attempt to be funny than a serious crime drama – and failed in that respect. The casting of Seth Rogen as the lead didn’t help matters much as well – but I hoped that Wagner, with Campbell on the art, could turn the character around with a “Year One” tale that introduces the character to a new audience, in a similar way to what titles like Frank Miller’s Batman did before it.

The book itself hits shelves on August 7 – I managed to receive this copy through NetGalley, like the Before Watchmen titles also reviewed here, and is actually quite a fun read. It’s a gritty, crime drama that can be more compared with The Dark Knight than the movie – and delivers a fun, action packed tale brought to life by some striking artwork – Green Hornet Year One comes across as a really solid book and delivers on most levels.

Dynamite are really impressing me with their recent offerings (I’m still yet to read Red Sonja, which is something I really should remedy) and The Spider is a fairly solid comic as well. Green Hornet: Year One is no different – with a superb storyline with a dark, pulpy feeling that avoids the use of clichéd narrative, providing us with something that is fresh and entertaining.

With the focus on the characters, the main ones being of course Green Hornet and Kato, Wagner has really made the titular characters his own, impressing with strong and gripping characterisation as well as making them rootable –you’re able to get behind their stories and it’s really a refreshing look into the early years of the Green Hornet.

This collection itself – therefore – is a fun one, able to appeal to both old hands and newcomers looking to explore the character. When either a jumping on point comes in the main Green Hornet series or a new series hits shelves, I’m certainly going to get on board this. Whilst it may not quite be as good as some of the other comics reviewed here – I’m thinking of Black Mirror and Before Watchmen: Minutemen/Silk Spectre, it’s much better than Ozymandias/Crimson Corsair and is one of the best origin stories in comics that I’ve had the pleasure of reading. If you like pulpy comics in the vein of The Spider – another Dynamite series already mentioned, then you should love The Green Hornet – Year One. Highly Recommended.

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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