Comics Round-up 01.09.2013

Batgirl 23

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

“After two fairly good story arcs, Justice League Dark heads downhill with the addition of writer Ray Fawkes even as JMS’ second installment of Wonder Woman: Odyssey impresses as much as the first. Greg Rucka continues to impress as usual with the second and third issues of his creator-owned project with Image, and I dip back into the Marvel Now universe with Young Avengers with a somewhat tepid first arc.” ~Shadowhawk, The Founding Fields

An awesome new arc for Batgirl gets underway, Captain America reaches its penultimate issue in Dimension Z, and Chris Roberson’s Masks delivers an impressive but flawed union of Dynamite Comic’s strongest heroes.~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields

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Comics reviewed by Shadowhawk: New 52: Justice League Dark Volume 3 by Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes (DC Comics), Wonder Woman: Odyssey Volume 2 by J. Michael Straczynski, Marvel Now: Young Avengers Volume 1 by Keiron Gillen (Marvel), and, Lazarus #2-3 by Greg Rucka (Image Comics).

*****

JLDComp01Justice League Dark Volume 3 by Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes

Moving right on with my effort to catch-up on the “Trinity War” event issues of this book, I finished the third volume of Justice League Dark some time last month, and I have to say that I felt rather underwhelmed by it all. Where the first volume had been a great idea that was a little poorly executed and the second volume had been quite a stellar effort, with the addition of writer Ray Fawkes, the third arc on the series just felt flat for me unfortunately. And it wasn’t the art that was the problem here really, but the fact that the story was just bland and completely WTF, but perhaps that is in some way keeping with the spirit of the title. Not sure.

Titled “Death of Magic“, this arc transports the Justice League Dark to another dimension which is ruled by science and everything magical and supernatural has been pushed to the fringes of the world. It is a story that is very similar in spirit to Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian or even to the premise of the show Merlin. Interdimensional travel also necessitates that the JLD is broken up into separate teams and these teams are now concerned with restoring the balance of power in this world, and getting together. Quite a predictable plot really. Which is the biggest failing of the entire arc. It is just so predictable. Rarely were their any appreciable twists and turns in the story, things that shocked and made me want to continue to read. Not a very pleasant experience.

Thing is something that I’ve struggled with in Ray Fawkes’ writing before, on Batgirl with his 2 post-“Death of the Family” fill-in issues and even to an extent with his Trinity of Sin: Pandora issues. His stories just don’t have the same kind of excitement that Jeff Lemire’s does. And this entire arc feels like it was driven mostly by Ray Fawkes, with only broad direction coming from Lemire. Its just that in tone and quality, this entire arc is just so different from “Books of Magic“, the previous arc in the series which saw Lemire replacing Milligan and then going to town with straight up excellent issues, one after the other.

JLDComp02Unfortunately, all I can really say for the entire arc is that it feels very much like a filler arc. Issue #14 is written by Lemire and kind of leads into this arc. It was a really good issue that can be termed as “Road to Trinity War” and features two important members of the Trinity of Sin, three sinners from the ancient world with sins so vile that they’ve been cursed with immortality and a desire to somehow right the wrongs they’ve done. Brilliant stuff really, and the last issue that Lemire wrote by himself. The different between this issue and the ones that followed is quite apparent. Issue #19 starts a three-part arc called “Horror City which again feels like filler and while it does explain some of the driving motivations behind Madame Xanadu assembling the Justice League Dark and, as you can no doubt see from the cover, involves Flash as well. And if you’ve seen the extended cover, you’ll know that the Swamp Thing is involved as well. Frankly, I thought this issue was rather good, and that the character interactions were superb.

Still, for me, Ray Fawkes being on this creative team is not a decision I can… accept.

As for the art, well, the art was superb. Layout artist Graham Nolan handles the bulk of the artwork for #14 with Victor Drujiniu on finishes, and while I felt Mikel Janin’s absence keenly, I still enjoyed what these two put out. They had a really good handle on the characters, and it also helped that the issue focused on Frankenstein, Black Orchid and Princess Amethyst, allowing the newer additions to the team to grow into their own, both narratively and visually. Mikel Janin and colourist Jeremy Cox return in #15, and it really is great to see them back on the title after a rather brief absence. Their artwork is really good, barring a few niggles here and there. With #19, there is a brief shake-up in the team, with Jeremy leaving and Vicente Cifuentes being brought in for the finishes. I’ve really enjoyed Vicente’s work on other DC titles, such as Batgirl, and its great to see him on this title. Between the two of them (Vicente and Mikel), they deliver some some of the best artwork on the series to date. And their Flash and Swamp Thing are just great too!

In closing, there were quite a lot of things wrong with this volume in terms of the script, but visually, it was just as good as anything that’s come before, if not better. Ray Fawkes being a series regular with Jeff Lemire is certainly interesting, so we shall see if he improves with this title, or not!

Rating: 6.5/10

More Justice League Dark: Volume 1, Volume 2.

*****

Wonder Woman Odyssey Volume 2

Wonder Woman: Odyssey Volume 2 by J. Michael Straczynski

J. Michael Straczynski is awesome. There, I said it. It is true. His Superman: Earth One Volume 2 was a really great piece of storytelling about the Man of Steel and his two Before Watchmen titles, Dr. Manhattan and Nite Owl, were both excellent as well. Of course, Wonder Woman: Odyssey Volume 1, which saw Diana’s backstory rebooted and her costume redesigned, was just as great, if not better. Continuing on with the second volume of the series proved to be just as excellent an experience, all things considered. It was high on action, high on the drama, high on the emotional beats, and what it really was, was a thought-provoking and mature piece of comics fiction about the most iconic female superhero in comics.

This volume does justice to its name, Odyssey, much more strongly than the previous volume did. Of course, this one has the advantage in that it doesn’t need to set things up and that everything that was built up on in the previous book was resolved here, and rather spectacularly at that, whether we talk in terms of just the story or the art.

At the heart of this entire volume is a really big ttwist, the reason that the reboot happened, and personally, I really liked it. More so since I hadn’t read any of the preceding issues, minus the first arc written by Allan Heinberg post-Infinite Crisis. It is handled really neatly, and the visual representation of that particular scene was gold.

As part of his redefinition of the character, Odyssey Volume 2 is a suitably epic journey about identity and destiny and fate. This is, quite honestly, the way I wish the current ongoing series was being written. And this is a point I raised in my review of the first volume too. I can’t really say much about this volume without giving things away, but I will say that there are a lot of unpredictable events that occur during the story. They keep you on your toes and challenge your every perception of Diana’s character and the “new” setting.

Once again, there are a hell of a lot of artists on this volume, particularly since there were a lot of changes and shake-ups from issue to issue. But all the same, the meta-vision by Kramer and the others was fantastic. They all handled the art on these issues really well, and have made me into a fan, wanting to check out more of their work.

Rating: 9.5/10

More Wonder Woman: Odyssey Volume 1, v3 Volume 1, (New 52) #1-10, #11-12, #13-15.

*****

Young Avengers Vol.1Young Avengers Volume 1 by Kieron Gillen

My experience with various Marvel titles hasn’t been as positive as it has been with DC titles, whether we talk about the recent reboots or long-standing series. Marvel Now, particularly, has frustrated me a great deal, owing in no small part to the fact that I just don’t know these characters as well as I do DC characters. Still, thanks to a recommendation by a friend, I decided to pick up Gillen and McKelvie’s Young Avengers and give it a spin around the brain. Reading the first volume, collecting the first five issues of the reboot, I was left feeling that this entire book is just poking fun at the medium, while also being quite interesting in and of itself. But, there was still some silliness of predicament in the story, and that ruined the fun.

My biggest issue with this series is that I know none of these characters: Wiccan, Hulkling, Marvelboy, Kid Loki, Kate “Hawkeye” Bishop, and Miss America. Who are they and what makes them tick is something that Gillen just doesn’t dwell on, instead launching straight into the story. This disoriented me as a new reader, and went against my expectations of the title. There is a saying that comics writers should treat every issue as a reader’s first issue. Of course, going to the extremes is just not feasible, and there should be a balance here. But that’s the thing though, coming in as a new reader, and not knowing who these characters are, it just doesn’t create a great experience if the script doesn’t take the time to make the reader familiar with these characters in that introductory sort of way. I mean, if DC can do that for their entire line-up, then I’m sure Marvel could have as well.

The script itself, other than that niggle, was lukewarm was well. I just couldn’t get into it. All I thought of while reading these issues was that “this is weird, that’s silly; that’s weird, this is silly”.

Still, there were some interesting things here. The mature relationship between Kate and Marvelboy was one of those. The mature relationship between Wiccan and Hulkling was another. In a single book, we are treated to both heterosexual and homosexual relationships, which really pleased me as an advocate of diversity in comics. Gillen doesn’t play up the romance so much, but neither does he ignore it to give the impression that everything is all just superficial. Certainly a big step!

The art by McKelvie was mostly good. The most striking thing about the art is all the inventive layouts and how they play into the script itself. In that respect, this book is very much an experiment, something that runs through the second volume of the series as well, which I’ve already read minus issue #10 which comes out later this month). And its the layouts that are the biggest charms of the entire book, so good stuff over all.

Rating: 7.5/10

*****

LazarusComp01Lazarus #2-3 by Greg Rucka

Greg Rucka’s first foray into this title was an excellent comic that I highly enjoyed to the point that I wish I could go forward in time and read the next five issues back-to-back. That’s the kind of excitement I felt upon reading issue #1. The world that he’s created here, is a fully-fledged world with some unique rules of existence and traditions of behaviour, giving the series a very grand but still modest outlook.

All the drama that can be found in this book, whether political intrigue or family infighting, is portrayed really well, with Rucka hitting the story beats with just the right mix of awesome and “must read more”. And Michael Lark’s pencils, with Santiago Arcas’ colours, are just as great. There are so many subtle tones that can be found in the book, giving it a really rich feel in terms of context and the narrative itself.

All of it creates a situation where things are ready to boil over after a certain point is reached. There is a ton of repressed feelings from several characters, and the outpouring of those repressed feelings is something that is at the heart of this series.

Most of all, it is the protagonist Forever Carlyle  who impresses the most. Even though we are only three issues into this brand-new series, I can’t help but feel that Rucka’s characterisation is spot-on, and that he really, really gets how to write a self-empowered and strong female character without having to descend into objectification. Throughout the two issues, Forever is always prominent and a lot of the events in both issues surround her, whether or not she is in the scenes he questions.

There are also all the science-y effects of the book, and the standout thing there is that Rucka doesn’t do anything grand or spectacular with things. This is a book that treates its characters with respect and so it doesn’t have them discussion particle physics when just a discussion on the boiling nature of water can affect things. Its all pseudo-science of course, but its great to see flashes of it now and then.

And of course, the art. All I can say about that is that Lark and Arcas are putting out a terrificly good-looking book. I had no issues with the art at all, something that happens all too rarely.

What all this is leading up to is that you should go ahead and read this series. With only 3 issues out so far, its fairly easy to get into this title as well. So that’s another advantage.

Rating: 9.5/10

More Lazarus: #1.

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Comics reviewed by Bane of Kings: New 52: Batgirl #23 by Gail Simone (DC Comics), Marvel Now: Captain America #9 by Rick Remender (Marvel) & Masks Vol. 1 by Chris Roberson (Dynamite Entertainment)

*****

Batgirl #23 by Gail Simone

Art: Fernando Pasarin and Jonathan Glapion

The new “Batgirl: Wanted” epic begins here as Commissioner Gordon must track down his son’s murderer – who happens to be his daughter! But has Barbara already given up the Bat?

Batgirl 23Batgirl #23 is my first issue of the series since I read the first Volume (although I do have the NetGalley version of Volume 3 waiting to be read, and I intend to read Volume 2 from my local library the next time I visit so I can catch up as soon as possible), and it really impressed me, to the point where I don’t know why I haven’t been following this series for a longer time, especially given how much I enjoyed Vol. 1. I mainly picked this issue up as it was the start of a new arc, the Batgirl: Wanted storyline.

Whilst I’m not a big fan of the cover, the interior story and art inside this issue was pretty awesome. I just couldn’t put it down, as Gail Simone manages to make this title reach a must-read status for me, and you can tell that I will be picking up the next issue (even though it is not written by Simone) as soon as possible.

Barbara Gordon is in trouble. No longer carrying the bat-symbol after events regarding the death of her brother, James Jr., her costume is somewhat different as she finds herself isolated from the likes of Batman and Nightwing. As Batgirl, she finds herself being chased by her father, James Gordon – who doesn’t know her secret identity. You think that it’s only going to be a matter of time before Gordon uncovers Barbara’s identity, and if it does happen then it’s going to be a very interesting scene to watch. The book deals with the fallout from previous issues and I probably would feel quite lost if I hadn’t been already aware of what was going on in the previous books, as it’s one title that I had my eye on for quite some time as it’s been receiving a lot of praise from fellow Founding Fields reviewer, Shadowhawk.

With the artwork, Fernando Pasarin and Jonathan Glapion impress. They reinforce the dark storyline told by Simone, bringing it to life with some great portrayals of characters, both male and female – and the female characters in particular never come across as being over sexualised, whether it’s of the character or some of the supporting cast.

This issue probably isn’t the best jumping on point for newcomers, but my prior knowledge of the series helped me enjoy what was within its pages. Simone really has managed to impress over the course of this book and I can’t wait to see where she takes the reader going forward. A stunning entry in the Batgirl series and a contender for Pick of the Week when it was released – beaten to the punch only by Infinity #1, which was superb.

Rating: 5/5

*****

Captain America #9 by Rick Remender

Art: John Romita Jr.

With the only way back to Earth slowly closing forever, Captain America must make the hardest decision of his life. 
 
A New ally from the past arrives, and makes things worse.
 
Zola’s plan is hatched, humanity in the crosshairs.
 
The final days of Dimension Z are here, and if Steve Rogers escapes intact, he will never be the same again.

Captain America #9Wow. Captain America has been a whirlwind ride ever since its Marvel Now! debut with #1, with Rick Remender really impressing with writing duties over the course of this 10-issue storyarc (issue ten was released last Wednesday), and with the penultimate tale set in Dimension Z, Remender pulls out all the stops after #8’s jaw-dropping cliffhanger, leaving readers on a hook desperately wanting to find out what happens next.

And enter Sharon Carter, pre-Marvel Now! current love interest of Steve Rogers. The book has seen so little established Captain America titles since it began and it was almost a welcoming refreshing act to see Sharon show up, if she hadn’t turned up in the circumstances that she did. It was a bittersweet reunion for Steve, and Remender manages to handle this and the aftermath greatly, making up a plausible explanation for why Steve’s long-term absence from the Marvel Universe hasn’t really been felt in comics like Uncanny Avengers, and the execution is a clever, get out of jail free card.

On the artistic duties, John. Romita Jr. has really shined over the course of this run and #9 is no different. Bringing something fresh and exciting to the table each time, Romita Jr. really enhances the pulpy feeling of the book, and more pulp is always a good thing. Remender has made me care about a character that I never thought I would – I know I’ve said this before in my review of #10 on my blog, but the fact of the matter is, I was never a fan of Captain America beforehand. He always felt a bit like Superman to me, too dull and too boring to root for. However, like Scott Snyder and the recent Man of Steel movie is doing making me more interested in Superman over at DC, Remender is doing very much the same here with Captain America. This Dimension Z arc has been fantastic from start to finish, and I’m loving the way that this penultimate act is executed, really leaving readers on the edge of their seats and not letting up from start to finish.

A word of warning, this issue probably isn’t the best jumping on point for newcomers to Captain America. Start with #1 and catch-up from there. I won’t spoil anything that happens here, but if you like pulp, then you’ll find this series enjoyable. It’s one of the most fun Marvel comics at the moment right now, up there with the likes of Wolverine and the X-Men. However, Captain America is actually better than Jason Aaron’s bi-monthly X-book, at least from my point of view. #9 was another success from my point of view, and having read and reviewed #10 on my Writing Blog, I can safely say that it only gets better from here. Bring on #11!

Rating: 4/5

*****

Masks Vol. 1 by Chris Roberson

Art: Alex Ross

Before Superheroes, there were Masks! The Shadow. The Green Hornet and Kato. The Spider. In 1938, these masked vigilantes operated outside the law, working independently to strike fear into the hearts of evildoers. But when the corrupt politicians of the Justice Party transform New York into a fascist state run by mobsters, when an oppressive regime grants jack-booted stormtroopers free rein to imprison, extort, and execute the innocent, when the law itself becomes unjust – justice must be served by outlaws! Outnumbered and outgunned, the legendary vigilantes emerge from the shadows to fight, joined by Zorro, the Green Lama, Miss Fury, Black Terror, and the Black Bat! Nine renowned pulp heroes, brought together for the first time in an epic conflict of Law vs. Justice .

Masks Vol. 1The Dynamite Comics Universe is one that I really need to read more of. I love a good old, pulpy comic (hence why Remender’s Captain America is one of my favourite Marvel Now! titles at the moment), and even though I wasn’t too intrugied when I read #1 for free on Comixiology just before Christmas, I thought I’d give this volume a try anyway, because several of these characters look interesting and it’d be fun to see a superhero team story not from Marvel or DC for a while.

Out of the characters featured here, I’ve only read stuff from The Green Hornet & Kato, who I am most familiar with, followed by Zorro and The Spider in that order. The Shadow I cannot remember if I’ve read anything about that character or not, and I’m aware that the Black Bat has a recent Dynamite series out (I don’t know if it’s limited or ongoing). However, Green Lama, Miss Fury and Black Terror are characters that I haven’t encountered before, and I’m surprised at how well Chris Roberson manages to handle the introduction for them so that you never feel lost, wondering just who the hell these people are.

Alex Ross’ art was the main problem that I had with the first Volume of Masks. Chris Roberson’s comic storytelling was a massive step up from the only work that I’ve read by him before, Sons of Dorn – a Black Library novel, which ranks among the worst piece of tie-in fiction that I’ve read, I’m afraid. However, to my surprise – Masks was miles better, and the artwork was the only thing preventing me from really enjoying this comic. The art here is very cinematic, but it doesn’t really suit this. I think that an artist like Francesco Francavilla would have been more suited to this, given that his art suits Dynamite Comics’ pulp-style perfectly. Alex Ross’ art is probably going to take some time to get used to however, and I wasn’t completely sold on it by the end of this trade. However, I’ve been hearing a lot of praise for Ross’ art from other reviewers, so maybe it’s just me.

The story itself follows a criminal mastermind, who seems intent to use whatever resources he has at his disposal, usually money – to move his way onto the political stage in New York City (it seems like New York playing host to tons of superheroes is something not just limited to the Marvel Universe) and thus create a fascist state. However, he’s going to have to contend with the Masks, lead by The Shadow, who are working together for the first time.

It’s an origin story for a superhero team. Not exactly scoring points for originality there.  But what Masks does score points on is its narrative, pulpy and page-turning – to the point where you won’t mind the artwork, the book itself is very strong. I loved the interactions between the different heroes and the team dynamic as a whole manages to be different from the likes of the Justice League and the Avengers. Whilst the idea of them teaming up is not original, the execution certainly may be. The way the characters tie together doesn’t feel contrived, and it doesn’t spend too much time pitting the heroes against each other (like Marvel and DC seem to be doing a lot recently), and neither does it waste too much time with origin stories.

If you’re not a fan of pulp, then you probably won’t enjoy this. Alex Ross’ art will probably grow on me if I read it a second time through, and it will probably throw you off balance if this is your first time reading work drawn by him. However, I’m going to give this book a recommendation. The storyline by Roberson is enough to win over readers who aren’t won over by the art – and the pulp narrative is very fun.

Rating: 3/5

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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