Monday, October 20, 2014

She-Hulk v1: Law & Disorder TPB

On my first read, I don’t think I liked Charles Soule’s She-Hulk enough. It was a decent enough issue, pitting She-Hulk against Iron Man in a legal conflict. I’d been hoping for a bit more fisticuffs, so while I liked it, I didn’t love the title at first.

Now I feel differently. Soule’s ear for dialogue is his greatest skill, with She-Hulk, Photon, Hellcat, and guests like Kristoff Vernard (Dr. Doom’s “son”) all having unique and interesting voices. Soule is in full-on “establish” mode here, making sure to include a fair amount of guest-stars to the proceedings. Matt Murdock, Hellcat, Tigra, Shocker, and more all show up when the focus switches to the “Blue File.”

Most impressively, minor footnotes from Marvel history show up too. I don’t remember anything else about Nightwatch other than that he looked like Spawn, but Soule does a good job making seem like an elder statesman. Nightwatch, people! Seriously, how many people even know who that is? Soule knows his comic book history!

This is She-Hulk’s book; as she’s probably my favorite Marvel heroine, I was worried the focus on her legal career would leave me cold. Instead, I love the workplace drama feel of Jennifer Walters and her employees. Shulkie has a great, scrappy partner (Hellcat) and a new, mysterious paralegal with a monkey pet that is clearly more than meets the eye. One of my favorite aspects of the title is that She-Hulk’s career as a super-hero is clearly the most successful part of her life. Her legal and professional struggles do wear her down, but man, she can still kick butt when she needs to (and that fact is brought to life by Kevin Walda’s excellent covers).

Javier Pulido’s cartoony art wouldn’t have been my first choice. He makes Jennifer look a bit plump, and his tendency to draw everyone with staring eyes might have been distracting. Instead, now I appreciate the unique look and the fact that the art makes the book different than the “super-hero” books next to this title on the stands. This is another book I now read with my daughters, and man, do they love it. I think this might be their #1 book these days. Pulido’s art gets a lot of that credit. They love his facial expressions on the lead and her best friends (although they are a tad weirded out by Hellcat’s eye-slits on her mask).

Ron Wimberly does pop in for an issue of guest-art, and man… I know a lot of folks really liked it, but that is too far out there for me. The fish-eye lens, the rubbery limbs, I fear this isn’t a great fit for the book. I understand it is courting Hawkeye readers and other folks looking for something different, but Wimberly’s art is just too out there.

This is an EXCELLENT comic featuring one of my favorite characters in solid action every month. Even with the focus on super-hero law, there is always some sort of action so we don’t forget She-Hulk is a superhero.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Black Canary and Zatanna: Bloodspell HC

Let’s start off with the one negative for this book; it is too expensive for such little content. I got this from the library, but man, if I had paid $23 bucks for this, I’d have been TICKED. This can’t be much longer than a normal comic issue, with the page count padded by including the script and a ton of sketches. I love seeing sketches, but man, that’s a lot to pay for the privilege.

I get the feeling that Paul Dini really put this thing together to give Joe Quinones a chance to show off. The story is very slight. Canary and Zatanna team up to take down an evil thug who had some sorcerous powers. There are some twists and turns, but that’s not where the book shines. The main plot is strictly by-the-numbers as an excuse to put the ladies in some daring situations and show off a sensible amount of skin.

Quinones isn’t exactly a good-girl artist, it seems. He’s certainly good at drawing all the ladies involved in this story. The constant references to Power Girl made me wish for a chance to see his take on the character. Rather, Quinones seems to boast a cartoon-y version of the characters that makes them seem like everyone is having a good time. Green Arrow, the JLA, the Female Furies, they all show up and have a few pages to show off before Dini’s script whips the leads off to another interesting locale and costume change.

So this is slight, no doubt. But I still loved it because this comic featured the versions of the characters I know and love. This was the real JLA. This was the real Green Arrow. Best of all, this was the real Black Canary; the confident stalwart of the JLA. Zatanna hasn’t suffered quite as much in the new 52, but at least she’s in her correct costume here!

I can’t be the only person who relished this chance to see the REAL versions of these heroes in a GOOD, lightweight, enjoyable story! 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Wytches #1

So after reading Wytches #1 (along with other Image horror books like Revival and Outcast) I have to ask myself; do I only like super-hero comics? I don’t think that is the case, but none of these horror books have really captured my attention in a way that I must know more. Fatale has certainly been good, but in general, I seem to like my horror with a dash of super-heroics (like The Goon and Hellboy). Anyway, on to this particular issue.

Scott Snyder needs no introduction after turning the Batman title into a sales juggernaut. His work on Batman has been quite strong, but I didn’t find myself as drawn into the story in this issue. Our protagonist is Sailor Rook, a teenage girl whose family just moved after a bullying incident went very, very wrong. It certainly seems like Sailor is either a “wytch” herself, or at least strongly connected to them. Most of the set-up in this issue plays it as a family drama, with the Rooks struggling to find peace in their new setting. I absolutely love that the family seems to be fairly well-adjusted and supportive, and who wouldn’t love the playful father-daughter banter established early in the book?

There are absolutely some scary, horrifying moments in the book. From the cold open to the looming sense of impending danger that closes the book. But… what exactly is a wytch? Are they tree zombies? They have general magical powers? I’m not quite clear. Oh, the book is scary, but I like my monsters with rules, dangit! No Ring-ghosts just running around doing whatever they want! Gimme Draculas, Frankensteins, and Wolfmans any day of the week, at least they have rules!

JOCK nails the scene with moody, atmospheric art. This shouldn’t surprise anyone, as he’s put out fantastic, unique work for years. From the “homey” character design of the rooks to the terrifying scenes in the woods, this is a nice-looking book.

So in the end, this is an AVERAGE comic for me, one that I’m willing to bet will read a lot better in trade format when we can see a bit more of the plot moving along. I’ll add it to the library list! 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Batgirl #35

I might not love the content of this comic, but by the New Gods, I will fight for DC’s right to create it.

After months and months of the dire, dour Batgirl title that I couldn’t put anywhere near my daughters, I have been anxiously awaiting the “soft reboot” promised in this issue. Batgirl is one of the most popular characters for young, female comic fans, so is this finally an era of the comic my nine and six-year-olds can enjoy?

Turns out, probably not. 

The book is clearly aiming a bit older for their audience. Online dating services, stolen personal photos, random hookups, and drinking are all core themes of this debut issue from Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher. There are literally so many new words for me in this issue I don’t know how many of the concepts laid out are new words for fake apps like “Hooq” and how many are just things I’ve never heard of! I always thought of myself as fairly tech-savvy, but half of the stuff the characters in this book talk about sounds like nonsense words to me. And there are hashtags in the dialogue! I’ve never felt so old!

The writers are playing a good mix here, with Barbara Gordon struggling with a quite a few things in her personal and professional life. That contrasts nicely with how effective and confident Babs is when she throws on the Batgirl costume. Once she’s in vigilante mode, she seems to have a pretty good handle on everything! I love that the new hipster Batgirl has a villain whose crimes are problems we’d see blowing up on Twitter and liberal news/media sites. This book is quite clear on who the target audience is; a very under-served market should feel quite pleased about this comic. 

One odd thing; with the sudden “de-aging” of Babs to a young college student (and one that could be mistaken for a much younger kid), it is very weird seeing Black Canary show up and crash on Batgirl’s couch. I mean, this is an adult coming to a kid for help! The soft reboot does a lot to open up options for the younger Barbara Gordon, but man, that relationship with Black Canary sure changes, doesn’t it?

Babs Tarr has gotten a lot of press for her more modern, emotive art style, and she deserves it. While her style isn’t my preferred for comics, I am certain my daughters would love it. That new costume is tremendous! I have read some reviews from other folks who really took pleasure noticing the clothes, the accessories, the makeup and other facets of the life of an almost-20 year old. This almost 40-year old missed all of that!

Much of the issue was way too “Scott Pilgrim” for me, but again, I’m thinking I’m not the target audience for this book anymore. I think Grant Morrison’s text-speak for The Gentry is as modern as I can handle at the moment. Hash tags in word bubbles? That’s a bit out of my element.

So for me, this was only FAIR, but I would assume that if you are between 12 and 20, this would probably be a pretty great comic. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Avengers & X-Men: Axis #1

I’m sort of conflicted on this one. There are a lot of good things about Rick Remender’s massive crossover, but there are some fairly glaring problems too.

First of all, this really feels like an epic Marvel crossover. This story clearly picks up after months of Uncanny Avengers issues, but I’d hope that the context is enough to catch everyone up on what is happening. (I read this with my 9-year old and she picked it up OK.) There are numerous great moments scattered through the book; from the use of Plantman (looking way more plant-y than I remember) all the way the surprise ending. Along the way, Remender has a great moment between the Summers brothers and a wonderful, timely arrival from the X-Men. Actually, that X-Men moment really struck me at how perfect that Uncanny line-up has always been. With Colossus, Storm, and especially Nightcrawler, man, that team just looks like it belongs front and center in the Marvel U.

I appreciate the use of Scarlet Witch and Rogue as such central characters, but man, having both them fail to fight off Red Onslaught’s power does make them seem a bit weak. Scarlet Witch in particular came off as too big of a threat to be walking around. After House of M and “No More Mutants,” maybe she shouldn’t just be walking around with her powers any more after all. Rogue comes off a tad better, especially after the talking up she gets from Professor X. I understand why Remender held off from explaining her current Wonder Man situation too; there were enough status quo changes in the book already!

Now for main problem. The smart-ass quipping. Remender does a great job with Iron Man. Iron Man is supposed to be clever, overconfident, and somewhat jokey. The character sounds like he could have Robert Downey Jr. inside that armor. And Hawkeye has always had that sarcastic tone too. But Vision? Odinson/Thor? The new Captain America? Every single one of them sounds the same, smarting off and being smart asses. It is hard to hear different voices for the Avengers when they are all this…sit-comy.

That said, I LOVED Red Onslaught’s dialogue. He used “scum” and “trash” enough to really have me hankering for a beat down. I can’t wait for him to get what he deserves! Remender also does a wonderful job with Magneto. Magneto calls someone a “cur,” instantly proving Mags’ superiority on the battlefield. Ahab gets some great smack talk in too. Remender is pretty great at getting the reader anxious to see the villains get served.

Adam Kubert has a big order here. There are a TON of heroes involved, and they all look pretty great. I mentioned how dynamic the X-Men looked, but the Avengers are just as nicely done. I’m a bit confused on a few things (doesn’t Thor have one arm?) but they are minor. I LOVE the look and feel of Red Onslaught. He dominates every page he appears on, as an event-central villain should. The design on the surprise foes at the close of the issue seem to have a nice, sleek look too. It’s too bad Kubert can’t do a book regularly any more.

This is a GOOD event that feels like the high-octane battles I remember from my youth. Remender has always channeled the 80’s in a good way, and he’s still doing so here. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Arrow Season 2

Minor Spoilers ahead!

I made it! It was dang close, but I actually finished Season 2 before Season 3 started! Yes!

A lot of folks I know love Arrow, and every single one of them said the same thing when I finished watching Season 1: “Just wait. Season 2 is better.” I must have smart friends, because they were absolutely right.

I really enjoyed Season 1 of Arrow, but there were still a few things that bothered me. The casual way the vigilante took lives. The lack of a mask on most of the characters made the show seem afraid of its comic-book roots. The deliberate “Dark Knighting” of most powers to make them fit in to the real world rather than a fantastic one. And a big one: I can’t stand that they call him “the vigilante” or the “the hood.” I can happily tell you that each and every one of these concerns is directly addressed in Season 2.

One absolutely huge factor in my increased enjoyment in S2 is the introduction of (Black) Canary. Katie Cassidy improves a LOT in Season 2, I found myself much more invested in the Laurel Lance’s journey as a character as she dealt with the adversity in her life. But the introduction of Sara Lance, Laurel’s sister, really gives the show some momentum. Caity Lotz is small, but still sells all of her stunts and fighting extremely well. I guess she’s a former stuntwoman, which would explain why they actually show her doing the salmon ladder that so dominates most viewers’ thoughts while they watch this show. Canary’s costume looks almost exactly like the one from the comics, with only the fishnet lacking. My biggest concern for Season 3 is that I get more of Lotz as the Canary; I find her chemistry with most of the other principal characters to be very moving and her action scenes are thrilling.  

I can’t overstate how well Stephen Amell has improved between seasons. He is actually acting now, not reciting lines. Amell is so comfortable in the role; he is eminently believable as both Oliver Queen and as a costumed hero. He switches voices constantly, even using one voice while dressed like another. I love that he refers to himself in the third person. Amell doesn’t get most of the funny lines, but his tough guy talk and the physicality he brings to the role is tremendous. He moves his arms when he talks, even! I think Amell’s greatest acting is actually during the flashbacks on the island, where he has to be even more gradual and nuanced as he shows the maturation and toughening up of Ollie Queen into the hard man we met in the pilot.

Team Arrow? What can I say, but I love them. I’ve stated how much I love Canary, and believe it or not, I actually found Roy Harper tolerable by the end of the season. Harper has a bit of a “skill” jump towards the finale, but I’ll just assume he leveled up and put all his points in archery. Emily Bett Rickards’ Felicity is still the nerd boy’s dream, and her awkward attraction to Oliver gets some great development. Her jealously over Canary’s scars is certainly a character trait I didn’t expect. And that scene in the finale? An emotional killer, man. I think I actually voiced an “oh man” as I watched the scene play out! (Although I think it is essential to keep the will they/won’t they alive for as long as possible.)

I’m not going to spoil the fantastic developments with David Ramsey’s Diggle and his ex-wife Lyla (played by one of my favorites from The Unit; Audrey Marie Anderson). I’ll just say that people who enjoy teams with questionable morals and short life expectancies? You might want to check this out. Ramsey continues to share the best lines with Paul Blackthorne’s Officer Lance, and they trade off having the best lines in each episode.

Now for my favorite thing in the season. The villains. Deathstroke the Terminator/Slade Wilson is wonderful when brought to life by a scenery-chewing Manu Bennett. This guy LOVES being a villain, and it shows. He is awful, cruel, and dangerous. His meticulous plan is actually worse than the undertaking in Season 1. I hate to say that the reason for his revenge quest is a bit weak, but Bennett actually makes it not matter; that’s how super-charged his performance is. Bennett actually wears his Deathstroke gear, too!

I’m avoiding some huge spoilers involving other characters, but suffice to say I found myself genuinely moved by some of the plot choices and developments for Ollie Queen. This is a show that is reveling in its comic book roots. The guest-stars are allowed to stretch their wings and swing for the fences as both heroes and villains. The rapidly expanding DCU-TV is a delight for comic fans and I recommend it highly for anyone who likes action, buddy shows, or teen dramas. This GOOD show scratches all three boxes.

SPOILERS for those who still need to be sold on watching:

Some of the DCU developments: The Count, Bronze Tiger, Ra’s Al Ghul, Nissa Al Ghul, ARGUS, Amanda Waller, Shrapnel, Harley Quinn, Professor Ivo, Amazo, KGBeast, Clock King, the Flash, and the hinted-above SUICIDE SQUAD! And more! 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Uncanny Avengers #25

No sooner are we done with Jason Aaron’s Original Sin than we find ourselves on the March to Axis with Rick Remender. The focus has been pretty tight in these last few issues as Axis approaches. Havok (complete with scarred face), Rogue (complete with Wonder Man power-set) and Scarlet Witch team up with Magneto to take on the Red Skull and his S-Men in a mutant concentration camp. Ahab, a holdover from the big Kang arc sticks around too; relishing the chance to enslave mutants all over again (Ahab hails from a future where he has tortured and enslaved mutantkind.)

Man, the Red Skull is such an awful person; it is so easy to hate him. This issue is mostly from Scarlet Witch’s point of view, as she tries to work through her complicated feelings towards her father, Magneto. I get that Remender is putting us in her head, but some of the tension of the action sequences gets bogged down by all the narration boxes. I would have liked a tad more of Wonder Man in these issues too. If he’s going to live on only in Rogue’s head, maybe he could get a bit more dialogue? Rogue is truly best with this power set; the super strength and durability just work so well for her. Watching her slap around the S-Men then recover after the Skull’s final attack is just plain exciting.

I’m sorry, Remender, but I’m just not feeling Havok these days. The guy is just too generic of a hero for me to buy into this hero’s journey too much. The scarred face, the forced romance with Wasp, it just isn’t making enough of a difference. Havok works best as part of a big team, and setting him on this mission with such a small team is not gonna do it for me. I think Alex Summers works best when dealing with overbearing alpha males, so without Cyclops or Captain America to rage against, Havok seems sort of lost.

Magneto plays a tremendously important part here. I loved the scene where he turns things around on the Skull, and he has some fantastic monologues and quotes while taking down the S-Men. It also seems like Magneto might be responsible for creating the new Red Onslaught (the Red Skull/Onslaught hybrid starring in Axis). I’m not sure I understand how that transformation happened; hopefully Axis 1 will explain it.

Daniel Acuna is one of my top 5 artists, perhaps top 3. I love seeing him draw Rogue busting heads and Magneto tossing around metallic projectiles. When Magneto delivers his fists-only beating to the Skull, Acuna does a great job showing the destruction of the skull mask. I do wonder if the art or coloring was changed on that big splash in the Skull’s camp. I think mutants were hooked up to something, but I’m not sure what. Maybe some art changes were necessary to keep this appropriate for teens?

So Axis is coming next week. This “March” has me interested, but not tremendously excited. Red Onslaught doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, and the Skull is going to need to explain his sudden boost in power if he’s anchoring a mega-crossover on his own. The lead-in is GOOD, but I’m worried about 8 more issues Red Skull-based conflict.