Monday, September 15, 2014

Secret Avengers v3: To Maim a Mockingbird TPB

So… this was basically nonsense, right? Nick Spencer comes back to try and put a bow on his volume of Secret Avengers, but I leave this title a very confused man.

I’m not sure if I’m supposed to believe that Mockingbird/Bobbi Morse was actually a sleeper agent for AIM or not. So she was, and she turned good? Or she was always a SHIELD agent and AIM tried to trick her? I’m just not getting it. What was Mockingbird hoping to accomplish when she ditched her teammates?

More questions. What exactly happened to Taskmaster? I guess Mockingbird shot him in the head in a way that he would be able to survive? Isn’t that a bit preposterous? Why did Mentallo turn into a pile of worms from Slither and then swim into the ocean? Who in the world thought that was a good idea?

Even more questions: What was the purpose of putting all those villains in charge of AIM’s high council? Most of them never did anything! Why were there so many pages spent setting up MODOK’s eventual betrayal of the team if we don’t see the outcome?

I believe the answer to a lot of these questions is: Buy the next incarnation of Secret Avengers. I can promise one thing, I will not be buying the next incarnation of Secret Avengers. This book was horribly confusing, out of sequence, and full of poor choices about the Marvel Universe in general. The use of the killer team of Avengers muddies the heroic waters for characters like Hawkeye and Spider-Woman, and I fear there may be lasting damage done to characters like Mockingbird, Taskmaster, and Mentallo.

Butch Guice and Luke Ross are both solid artists. I’ve enjoyed their work for years, so it isn’t a surprise that the art is one of the strongest parts of the title. I wish the artistic identity could have been a bit more clearly defined. Sometimes this felt like a spy book, sometimes a super-hero title, and it never really decided what it wanted to be. The artists do such great work in low-powered titles; I think that might have been the way to go (especially Guice in street-level titles).

This POOR book is a mess. This is the type of book where the best thing we can do is just pretend it never happened. Let’s move along, shall we?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Birds of Prey v3: A Clash of Daggers TPB

Gail Simone and Duane Swiercynski use the third storyline as a way to swap the BoP roster around a bit. The book launched with Black Canary, Poison Ivy, Starling, Katana, and Batgirl. I’m not sure what happened with all those folks in the previous stories, as I only made it 2 or 3 issues in before I couldn’t read any more of the first trade. (Swiercynski has things moving along a little better here; while I never loved any particular issue, the story was fine.)

Back to the line-up! The first new member of the team is the mysterious “good” Talon introduced in Gail Simone’s Batgirl series. She’s fine, but it is pretty hard to get too attached to a totally mute character in a full facemask. I know people loved Cassandra Cain back in the day too, but I never really found a way to get interested in her either. (And it isn’t that they are women, I’m not a huge Snake Eyes fan either!) Later in the trade, we meet Condor, who is an affable doofus who seems to be a pretty decent guy. With his bird theme, simplistic view on crime and total lack of self-awareness, Condor is a pretty amusing addition to the team.

The storyline centers on Katana’s attempts to regain her sword from a mysterious clan of ninjas who are fond of daggers. None of the villains make for a very compelling central antagonist, which does weaken the conflict. Plus, the dagger clan totally resembles the Hand from Marvel comics, so I had to remind myself which universe I was reading about.  

So average villains plus a non-compelling storyline doesn’t leave the book too stacked with potential. That said, Swiercynski’s use of a few characters does make the book enjoyable to read. I really like Starling (I think she’s new to the new 52?), Black Canary’s power fluctuations are interesting, and it is amusing seeing Talon constantly wanting to kill her own teammates.

Admira Wijayadi, Daniel Sampere, Juan Jose Ryp, Vicente Cifuentes, and Romano Molenaar provide the art for these issues, leading me to believe there were some mad scrambles to meet deadlines. Only Ryp’s art really jumped out at me, with the intricate level of detail and gore that I’ve seen in his Avatar work. I actually think Ryp could be a pretty solid artist on a mainstream super hero book; the battle scenes were choreographed differently than I’m used to seeing.

This is an AVERAGE comic. But the good news is, I was able to finish the entire collection this time! And, I’d even read the next one! That’s a big step up for this book; one that exemplifies my feelings about the new 52 in general. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Miracleman: A Dream of Flying HC

I feel like I’m finally graduating. After 30+ years reading comics, I hadn’t finished one of the foundation courses of being a comics fan. I had never read Miracleman. I acquired some digital copies at one time, but I wanted to experience the series as intended, with the remastered colors and retouched artwork that Marvel was putting together. I’m glad I waited.

I think this was probably more ground-breaking when it came out in 1982. There are lots of now-common concepts worked into these pages. The self-seriousness, the need to put aside the silliness of past comic books, these were fresh concepts at that time. Now, I’m pretty used to them. The ultra-violence of mid-80’s comics is on display too. The innocent bystanders caught up in the battle between Miracleman and Kid Miracleman is savage and destructive, but it pales next to the average new 52 title.

That said, Alan Moore’s genius is here too. I can’t describe this as over-serious, because while there is a great deal of sadness and betrayal in this story, there is joy too. Michael Moran takes pure joy in his Miracleman form. His wife fluctuates between intrigued and spooked, a perfectly natural reaction.

I think my favorite sequence was Miracleman’s exploration of the secret bunker. The overlaid narration of government officials provides a linear timeline, while the reader experiences things in the order Miracleman does; out of sequence and almost random. I also appreciated the wrap-up with the cleaners.
I really like that Warpsmith, Miracleman’s odd, alien companion can co-star in a dangerous battle against a returning foe. It is a great glimpse that Miracleman will have allies in his battle against evil. Of course, it seems something bad will be happening to his wife too. Bummer.
The other Warpsmith stuff is fantastically alien. The Warpsmiths are so weird, I can barely figure out what’s going on in their story. I love it. The art, the strange dialogue, the alien-ness, it just feels like a British comic! Like Captain Britain or 2000AD. I hope Marvel continues including these associated chapters in future collections.

Alan Davis might by my #1 favorite artist, so of course, I love seeing these glimpses at his early work. His lines are a lot smoother and the figures aren’t quite the paragons that he draws today, but the seeds of his future greatness are there. But look at those Davis covers! Absolutely gorgeous. I’m not overly familiar with Garry Leach, but his opening chapters are excellent. His use of shadows and silhouettes is reminiscent of Brian Bolland (and that’s high praise from me). (Forgive me if I’m missing obvious connections or anything between the artists.)

So basically, yeah. This is deserving of its place in the comics stratosphere. It is a compelling, well-told story that might have been repeated a few times over the years, but man, this is a GOOD comic. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Green Lantern: New Guardians v2: Beyond Hope TPB

For all my complaints about the new 52, there are books that are trucking along MOSTLY ignoring the reboot and just telling stories. Most importantly, the better DC comics are telling NEW stories, not retelling old continuity tales with an R-rating and pretending it is genius.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a fantastic story. But Tony Bedard and Tyler Kirkham do present a nice, compact story featuring a DC guest-star (Blue Beetle), a good, powerful villain (the Reach) and a likable protagonist (Kyle Rayner). I’m actually a bit surprised at how well the New Guardians works as a concept. 

I didn’t read everything in the first trade, but if one comes in to this collection with the understanding that the team sort of likes each other, this really works. It’s hardest to buy from Arkillo, the yellow lantern, but even his loyalty to the team makes him a more interesting character.

Fatality benefits from this too. She’s running all over trying to help out here team. Seeing her in this neutral-almost-good role is pretty entertaining. It also shows how short the memory of comic book characters have to be. She killed a lot of GL’s back in the day!

Of course, Bleez is there partially as eye candy. And of course, I’m already rooting for Kyle’s influence to maybe turn her a bit towards the light. I’m not sure it will happen, but it adds a nice interpersonal relationship to the team dynamics. Kirkham has fun with Blue Beetle’s encounter with Bleez, too. What teenage boy wouldn’t have that reaction to getting pinned? Bleez’s disgusted reaction is perfect too.

So this ties in to the formation of the Blue Lanterns, the corruption of Ganthet, and Sayd’s agreement with Larfleeze. I know at least some of those things happened in the old continuity. It is just so confusing trying to figure out what counts and what doesn’t! We saw Alex’s “fridging” in a flashback, so we know that stuck, but man, not everything else could have happened. The Weaponer of Qward shows up too, also pointing back to the older stories (he’s an amusing hanger-on for the New Guardians).

Kirkham does a decent job with the pencils. He has a tendency to have the female characters falling out of their tops, but that is pretty common. Kyle’s hair looks even sillier than normal, I have to say. The crab-mask isn’t quite right either; it’s a bit too short. But the Reach look good, the Blue Lanterns look fantastic, and Kirkham really gets “acting” out of even the most alien figures.

This is a FAIR comic. I’m a huge Kyle Rayner fan and I didn’t love it, but it is certainly an adequate storyline. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Original Sin #1-8

So I’m having a bit of a hard time determining exactly what the point of Original Sin was, exactly.


So the big reveal is that Nick Fury has kept on aging since WWII, and that we’ve seen dozens of his LMDs over the years, rather than the actual dude himself. That’s a pretty big reveal, I suppose. We also found out that he’s been “the man on the wall” shooting big monsters and aliens if they get too close to our precious blue marble. As is usually the case with these huge reveals, it brings up a lot of questions better left unanswered. I assume Nick Fury vs. SHIELD never happened. Nick Fury’s blood donation of the Infinity Formula that saved Mockingbird? I guess she actually got a bag of robot blood? Works for me.

If I understand correctly, he selected a crew of possible replacements (that’s the Black Panther, Ant Man, White Queen, Gamorra, Moon Knight, Dr. Strange, Punisher, Winter Soldier team). As anyone who has read the solicits for next month’s comics knows, Winter Soldier is the lucky winner, getting a new series with the high concept that he will be shooting mysterious aliens and monsters in the head before they see him. I’m not sure how that will fill 20 pages a month, but I’m sure Marvel has a plan. Some of the pairings worked better than others, honestly. White Queen, Black Panther, Ant Man, and Dr. Strange made a surprisingly likable team. Moon Knight and Winter Soldier fit in nicely too. Gamorra, Punisher, and Rocket Raccoon never quite fit in as well, though.

As is often the case with these types of books, it is hard to nail down the stars. Black Panther’s team is the closest thing we’ve got, but most of the conclusion in issue #8 features the Avengers. It is disappointing we didn’t see more of them, because Jason Aaron does a really nice job with their voices, especially Captain America. Nick Fury’s interaction with Cap has to carry a lot of history and emotion, and Aaron manages to deliver exactly what is necessary. Again, my guess is that the main reason the Avengers featured so prominently is so that Thor could drop his hammer once he proved himself unworthy.

Aaron’s pet characters make out pretty well. Dr. Midas is seemingly killed, but his hand lives on, complete with the alchemical gold power that gave him his name. His daughter Oubillete can either become the new Dr. Midas, or just take on his empire. It’s a good new status quo for a villainess with potential. The Orb makes out a bit better. He’s still got an eyeball head, but now he has one of the Watcher’s eyes embedded in his chest. Maybe that will give Orb a few new powers too.

The central mystery, “Who shot the Watcher?” has two answers. The Orb shot out one eye. Nick Fury killed Uatu and took the other. I don’t exactly understand why. I guess Uatu was tired of watching? He says “I’ve seen too much” and basically commits suicide by cop with Nick Fury, but… the why eludes me a bit. Then there is the ending. There is a weird, one-eyed dude wandering around in some purple crystal gear, and I assume it is supposed to be Nick Fury. Or is it some other weird guy who was chained up in the Watcher’s home? Does it matter? Honestly, I’m not sure!

Mike Deodato’s art is pretty solid. His character work is very strong throughout. His Moon Knight and Black Panther are particularly cool. I would have liked a bit less bling on Dr. Strange and a few other guys that don’t need all those weird little chin straps and shoulder pads. I also thought some of the action scenes looked odd. Heroes and villains looked oddly shrunken, like colorforms placed on a background. Is that just me?

So this was 8 issues with mostly at $3.99, some at $4.99. It makes for an expensive read that was decent, but not great. Frankly, I wish Jason Aaron would have stayed on Wolverine & the X-Men a few more issues rather than this FAIR comic. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Batwoman v3: World's Finest TPB

I’m going to give you the short version. TLDR.

I’m being silly. I actually did read this trade, and there is some good stuff in here. But oh my gosh, there are SO MANY WORDS ON THE PAGES. Reading this book became work. I simply couldn’t read the overlapping internal monologues of Batwoman, Wonder Woman, Firehawk, Abbott, Medusa, Agent Chase, Director Bones… and my god, the list goes on and on. Seriously, do we really need deep motivations and thoughts from all these people? I couldn’t take it. By about two thirds of the way through I had to start skimming the caption boxes. I’m not sure if J.H. Williams or W. Haden Blackman is responsible for all this introspective prose, but somebody wants to write a book! The caption boxes often tell a different story than the art!

And I get it. J.H. Williams is an artistic genius. But sometimes his odd panel layouts don’t help. With no panel descriptions and double splash pages filled with different colored caption boxes, I had no idea what to read next. I think I’m a pretty experienced comic reader, yet I found myself totally lost more than once.

The core concept is a strong one. A mythological baddie has kidnapped children, so Batwoman seeks out Wonder Woman for some help. Since the villain fits into her wheelhouse, Diana agrees to lend a hand. Great idea. And the parts of the story with Batwoman trying to fit into Wondy’s world are really exciting. (Especially the tremendous sequence in the Amazonian prison.) In fact, the prison sequence is Williams’ best use of layouts and artistic design in the entire book. It is a fantastic scene.

But man, this story is surprisingly complicated. This is a book definitely written for the hardcore fans of Batwoman. I think I’ve read all her trades so far, but they haven’t made such an impression that I can remember all the details of what’s happening in this comic. Recurring villains don’t have quite the impact they should. Werewolves switching sides and becoming noble don’t have the drama that they should. Simply because I can’t remember who all these people are and what they did in comics that I read three years ago.

Because it is required, I’ll poke some holes in the new 52 timeline. Wasn’t AcroBat inspired by Batman? How can that be when he has an adult daughter but Batman has only been active 5 years? Who are Director Bones’ parents? I assume he was never on Infinity Inc., right? Somehow 52 still counted for this title? But not for other titles in the new 52? Blargh.

I guess I can give this an AVERAGE, but man, it almost falls off the cliff. There are too many neat ideas and wonderful scenes to hate this comic, but I can promise I’ll never read it again. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Happy TPB

So Grant Morrison really wanted to try to write a Garth Ennis story, huh? He even went so far as to get frequent Ennis collaborator Darick Robertson to give him a hand. The result? A violent, profanity-filled one-off story that would be in the lower tier of Ennis’ work. This book is a good reminder that people should stick to what they do best.

Nick Sax is such a dislikable character, I almost feel like Morrison is trying too hard. Heck, he’s described as a “c-word” on the opening page. The story is so predictable that anyone who has read a book before knows how Sax’s character arc is going to go. There isn’t really anything original enough about his descent into the gutter and eventual redemption to make it memorable.

I suppose the titular “Happy,” the unicorn/Pegasus horse that inspires Sax’s journey is a bit memorable. He’s a floating cartoon that only Sax can see, one that can help him cheat at cards and punch thugs’ teeth out. That contrast should maybe go a bit longer than it does. Maybe it is because I already knew the concept behind the series before starting it, but I never found the cartoon/violence mix to be that striking or amusing.

Morrison usually really shows off with his insane villains. But Mr. Blue isn’t memorable, and pervert Santa is too much of a cliché at this point to be impressive. It is another swing and a miss.
Robertson’s art is gritty and realistic, with cartoonish ultra-violence. He excels at it, of course, but again, there is something missing. The sheer joy of The Boys is missing. It seems like Robertson is going through the motions too.

If you want a POOR take on better comics, you can check this out. But I’d rather read Garth Ennis’ filthy book and Morrison’s mad and wild ideas in separate titles.