Tuesday, December 31, 2013

12 Days of X-Mas Day 7: X-Factor #43 (1989)

Now how weird is this? This issue is actually BETTER than I remember!

First of all, Paul Smith's art is pretty fine. It is a bit cartoony, but the emotion on the faces is clear and the acting is strong. The alien planet is a bit on the generic side, but I'm not sure if that is Smith's fault or not.

It seems that X-Factor is required to always have one crazy person on the team. Jean Grey is up to the plate in this. It seems she's absorbed the memories of the Phoenix and of Madelyne Pryor, understandably making her go a bit bonkers. Of course, when she tries to rocket into space, killing her teammates, that is more than a "bit" bonkers.

One thing I'm pleasantly reminded of in this issue is the fun idea for Ship. Louise Simonson wrote X-Factor's new headquarters as half-puppy, half-servant. You couldn't help but pull for the sentient ship after the team freed him from Apocalypse. Ship's childlike responses made the entire team act more responsibly.

I also like that Warren Worthington is back and acting normally. Sure, he's got his souped-up Archangel powers, but he's clearly back to being the character we know and love. So overall, not a bad transition. He got new, better powers, a modern look, and in a few years the creators will reveal that he isn't even bald! That's just a skullcap that he wears for years straight!

As for the plot itself, it involves the team getting involved in some weird conflict between beautiful people and monsters. Of course, there are varied motivations and outlooks among these aliens, but that is to make sure the mutant metaphor is laid on pretty thick.

Maybe this story goes downhill in the subsequent issues, but as an opening chapter, this held up just fine. This is a FAIR comic.

Monday, December 30, 2013

12 Days of X-Mas Day 6: X-Factor Annual #3 (1988)

The best part of this annual is that sweet Walt Simonson cover. If you click over on that, then you've seen the best part of the issue.

So Angel is dead. Beast is dumb (and getting worse). And Louise Simonson has to write a middle chapter to a big crossover. That's a losing combination.

Making matters worse, almost all of the pages feature blank slate, flunky villains working for the High Evolutionary or moloids. The X-Factor team are practically bystanders in their own comics!

Terry Shoemaker's art is sort of loose and impressionistic. There aren't any pages with lines as tight and dynamic as that cover. I'll be honest, after about 5 pages, I just started skimming. There aren't a ton of backgrounds to give this story a strong sense of location and the choreography of the fights is pretty loose.

I do find it odd that I remember this issue fondly, but honestly, it is an EVIL comic. The only GOOD part is that cover.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

12 Days of X-Mas Day 5: X-Factor Annual #2 (1987)

Oof. Losing the Angel really throws off the chemistry for this team.

I'm not sure if Jo Duffy was trying to clean up Quicksilver's villainous portrayals in the Marvel U or what, but this is a reclamation project. Of course it was Maximus the Mad causing Quicksilver to behave so badly. And of course X-Factor can handle the problem.

It is weird, for a story that is fixing Quicksilver, he sure doesn't get a ton to do here. He spends too much of the issue mind-controlleld!

This is the first meeting between the original X-Men and the Inhumans, and things go fairly smoothly. Triton has a role much more front and center than I'm used to, while Gorgon fades into the background. Karnak gets some work too, but this is mainly a Black Bolt and Medusa show.

The problem? The Inhumans are boring. This is perfectly serviceable, but I never really got interested in the conflict because it was Inhuman-based. Even worse, there is a ton of cutesy Franklin Richards baby talk to make this even harder to bear. When things break down and the action starts, business does pick up nicely. But it almost too little too late.

Tom Grindberg's art can't really compete with the other artists I've been finding in this flashback review. I will say the inking by Joe Rubinstein is noticably effective, especially on shadowed shots of the main cast like Cyclops.

Yeah, so this is just sort of there, not awful, not great. I think this might have been when X-Factor started to lose its charm for me.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

12 Days of X-Mas Day 4: X-Factor #15 (1987)

And now we have one of the first comics to break my heart.
As a kid, I was never a huge Angel fan. His powers weren’t visually striking or really very useful in combat. Of the original team, my favorites were probably Cyclops, Beast, Jean Grey, Iceman, and finally Angel. I think I’ve gotten wiser about that order over the years, but as a kid I knew no better. Louise Simonson made me appreciate the character too late when she wrote this surprising issue.

This is the issue where Angel kills himself. During the Mutant Massacre, the two Marauders Blockbuster and Harpoon pinned Angel to the wall by his wings. As we find out in later issues, the secretly evil Cameron Hodge used this opportunity to have Angel’s wings amputated (after Thor’s great rescue in his own book).

Warren Worthington can’t deal with the loss, and the only one of his teammates to see him struggling is Jean Grey. Iceman and Beast are too busy dealing with the Mutant Massacre fallout with the Morlocks, and Scott Summers is moping in Alaska, deciding on revenge for his seemingly dead wife. Only Jean spends the issue trying to convince Angel he’s going to be OK. In the end, the team can’t stop him and Angel runs off and blows up his plane, attempting suicide. We all know that this just puts him in line for a sweet character makeover as Archangel thanks to Apocalypse, but at the time this came out, I was crushed.

Walt Simonson handled the art during this second year, and his dynamic, kinetic pencils were a nice fit. The characters aren’t individually as striking as in the earlier issues, but the sense of action is a lot higher. I’m also pleased to report that Angel spends multiple pages in his underwear as he escapes from the hospital. Seriously, what is up with that? Was that part of the character’s shtick back in the day?

Also, in a neat bonus, the letter column has fans writing in trying to figure out how Angel could remain a contributing member of X-Factor even without his wings. I don’t think anyone saw the Archangel swerve coming.

This is a sad comic, but a GOOD one. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

12 Days of X-Mas 3: X-Factor Annual #1 (1986)

Don’t you miss the days when annuals were just extra-length adventures? This annual doesn’t have any huge reveal, any huge crossover, or really anything to differentiate it from a normal storyline in X-Factor. Maybe having Bob Layton on both writing and penciling duties was enough to justify this going in an annual? Regardless, this is just another case-of-the-week procedural adventure for early X-Factor.

As a kid, I remember loving the stealth costume Angel is wearing on the cover. It isn’t that radical or awesome, and the story reason he wears it seems a tad unnecessary. You see, Russia contracts X-Factor to come give a talk on detecting and capturing mutants; X-Factor wants to go investigate how Russia is treating its mutant population. Everyone but Angel goes along by plane. Angel is the scout and has to FLY TO RUSSIA. Now, I know he didn’t fly the whole way, but dang, his wings are gonna be tired! (It is still worth it for this nicely toyetic new costume though.)

Since this is a story involving Russia in the ‘80s, the Russian mutant prison camp is guarded by Crimson Dynamo. I was sort of shocked to see Dynamo’s enormous scale compared to the mutants. And let me tell you, the original five X-Men vs. Dynamo is not a fair fight. Dynamo mops the floor with them. Seriously, was the disparity between mutant characters and Avengers characters always this strong? It is pretty neat seeing Iceman have to resort to subterfuge to win the day.

No one draws tech or armor better than Layton. Dynamo looks tremendous. Heck, even the mutant labs look striking and perfectly “comic-booky” to my eyes. (Since this was an early comic for me, that doesn’t surprise anyone.) I also love the way Layton draws Beast’s flattop as a near match for James Rhodes’ in Iron Man.

This Cold War throwback is GOOD!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

12 Days of X-Mas 2: X-Factor #2 (1985)

So remember yesterday when I said Angel should have been my favorite? I still believe it. 

The guy is so confident that he strolls around his X-Factor headquarters in an open robe. IN HIS UNDERWEAR. Seriously, there are like 3 pages where you just have cut-Angel walking around chatting and drinking coffee in his tighty whiteys. If Jean Grey did that we’d say it was exploitative!

And poor Jean. So Angel and Cyclops are already in love with her, and therefore awkward around her, but now the new recruit Rusty is smitten too. He’s stuttering and stammering as she tries to get him to master his pyro kinetic power. Note that she does this by saying, repeatedly, “I KNOW you can do this crazy new thing with your power.” There was no actual training that I could find.

You have to love 80’s plots. This issue has Beast and Iceman hook up with an old girlfriend, introduces size-changing villain Tower, and has Beast abducted from a supporting character from his Amazing Adventures days. PLUS a re-match with X-Factor taking on Tower at the end of the book.

This issue introduces Artie, now famously appearing in the FF title. He seems to be exhibiting more mental-reading powers in addition to his illusions; I don’t remember that aspect of his powers in current books. And why has poor Artie not aged like Black Bolt’s kid or Crystal’s daughter?

Again, Jackson (Butch) Guice handles the art, and again I love it. The 80’s hair, the tight pencils on the x-uniforms, this is good stuff. What impresses me most is the choreography of the fights. Guice puts some great shots in the battles, reverse elbows, full-on optic blasts, and ice clubs.

The 80’s made GOOD comics. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

12 Days of X-Mas 1: X-Factor #1 (1985)

Merry Christmas everyone! I hope everyone is having a wonderful time during our X-Mas season!

Are you ready for the Twelve Days of
X-Mas! This year is all X-Factor, all the time! 

Oh my goodness. How the heck did I ever love Cyclops so much when I was ten years old? Scott Summers is living in Alaska with his wife, Madelyne Pryor and his unnamed son, and he’s the definition of a deadbeat dad. He’s never around, and when he is finally forced to go home after Storm beats him for leadership of the X-Men, he sulks around and moodily fantasizes about his dead girlfriend Jean Grey.

No, the clear favorite for my childhood should have been Angel. The guy LOVES being a mutant, is filthy rich, has a smoking hot girlfriend, and basically pays for his two loser buddies to travel from super team to super team. Warren Worthington is awesome! Plus, he gets in on the romance-angst that is to prevalent in this comic just after the return of Jean Grey.

Jean’s return was handled in some Avengers and FF issues, so her appearance here is sort of odd. She just kind of… appears. No huge dramatic moment for Angel or Cyclops when they finally meet up. I really liked how Bob Layton wrote Angel as being sort of protective of Jean after her return. He wants Jean for himself, so he really struggles with calling the other X-Men back on the scene.

And poor Jean. Half of her teammates are in love with her. Plus, no one will actually tell her that her ex-boyfriend, the guy she is throwing herself at, is now married and a father. Yowch. I’m also puzzled why Marvel wanted to remove her telepathy and stick with telekinetics. It weakens her a bit, although her powers are certainly more visual.

One thing that impressed the heck out of me was the introduction of Cameron Hodge, Angel’s old roommate and the head of X-Factor. Longtime X-readers know that Hodge is secretly the founder of The Right, an anti-mutant organization bent on genocide. Hodge’s plan is clearly whacko, and will just add to the mutant panic that is present on every page. But since Hodge was actually working undermine the mutant cause, it all makes sense.

The art is fantastic. Too much of Jackson (Butch) Guice’s pencils are covered up the 80’s era purple prose, but what is there shines through. The X-Factor uniforms are dynamic and striking. They might remain my favorite X-costumes for these characters. Angel’s red and white x-suit in particular is just tremendous. It is interesting that Guice gives new mutant Rusty the Quicksilver/Tyrannus hair cowlick, but that must just be a Marvel thing.

So basically, this Energy Analyzer review proves that ten-year-old Timbotron had good taste. This is a GOOD comic!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Ultramarines: A Warhammer 40k Movie

Let me preface this by saying I’m not a huge fan of Warhammer 40k. It isn’t that I don’t like it; it is just that I’m not overly familiar with it. I’ve played some Dark Heresy RPG, I’ve painted some miniatures (the wrong colors, and never done any actual gaming with them). So I’m probably more familiar than most with the 40k concepts that show up in this film. For those who don’t know, this is an animated film, not live action.

Let’s start off with the good stuff. The voice acting is very strong. There are a lot of recognizable actors here, including John Hurt and Terence Stamp. Sean Pertwee is the lead space marine, and after seeing him in the similar Mutant Chronicles, it wasn’t a stretch to see hear him in this role. The ambient music and sound effects are quite good also. The sense of forbidding doom that creeps around the tainted planet is established quickly and effectively. The dialogue doesn’t win any awards, but it is effective at showing the grim dark future of Warhammer 40k. The marines refer to each other as brother, despise chaos, and constantly look to the Emperor for protection.

The bad? Everything else. The animation is very weak. The battle scenes are pretty hard to follow due to shaky cam. I don’t know why things need to be shaky in cartoon, but they are. The lack of any female characters keeps the interactions quite limited. The space marines are entirely indistinguishable from each other. I’m not sure if their armor markings actually changed or not, but it sure felt like they did. And once the helmets went on? I had no idea who anyone was, even the leads. It is hard to be worried about characters dying when you literally have no idea who it is.

There are only 12 Ultramarines on this mission. There are no named bad guys. There are almost no bystanders or other characters. And yet I still couldn’t figure out who was who. And keeping the cast of marines so limited made the space marines seem like a particularly disorganized organization. Why send 12 guys on a ship as enormous as the one we see them travel on?

So this is pretty flawed. I’d say it really is only for hard core fans who want to see the Ultramarines on their TVs, but I’m worried those people would be upset at the portrayals that veer too far from the game books. This is a movie to check out when it hits Netflix streaming. Any more commitment than that will leave you disappointed.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Swamp Thing v2: Family Tree TPB

Gosh, this book just feels so Vertigo-y, doesn’t it? The absolutely horrific violence that gave the first few issues their charm continues here.

The opening Rot story is actually resolved and wrapped up in the first few issues of this collection. Swamp Thing and Abby Arcane get a nice win, one that makes it finally seem like Alec Holland has a chance against the overwhelming odds he’s facing. (Both this title and Animal Man portray the Rot as a foe WAY outside the range of their leads.)

Scott Snyder uses the early conclusion to great effect, reintroducing classic Swamp Thing villain Anton Arcane. He’s a natural, disgusting fit for the narrative. His monologue over a dying human (and directly to the reader) gives him a high level of villainy instantly. Only two or three issues in, and I’m anxious to see him get taken out by Swampy. It is hard to earn that level of hate this quickly. 

There is a lot of Parliament of Trees stuff, including the idea that Alex Holland was destined to be a champion long before the accident that left him at the bottom of a swamp. Was Arcane always that intimately involved in that origin? The fate of Holland’s wife in this collection is even more horrific and tragic than I had remembered.

Yanick Paquette again handles the bulk of the artwork, and he’s a great fit for the title. His majestic, antler-bearing Swamp Thing looks like a vegetable god, as he should. This is the most imposing Swampy has ever looked to me. He continues to outdo himself with the Rot, too. This book practically stinks. There is so much wet viscera and rotting flesh, sensitive readers might want to pass.

If you’re after a mature super-hero comic that proudly walks the path of early Vertigo, this is a GOOD comic for you. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Justice League v3: Throne of Atlantis HC

This hurts to admit, but I’m starting to get over my anger at the new 52. Now, this is accompanying my new attitude towards the new 52. In the past, I collected dozens of DC comics every month. I kept meticulous attention to my favorite characters, mostly the JLI-era leaguers and their supporting characters. 

Now, with the new 52 a few years old, I find myself as an interested observer. I will read any new 52 stocked by my local library. I have no interest in OWNING any of these comics. They don’t need to be added to my 75 long boxes. But I’m happy to read them for free and judge the DCU that left this old (38 year old) man behind.

And you know, it isn’t all bad! As I’ve said before, Geoff Johns is quite good at getting to the core of his characters. These leaguers feel close to what I remember from my older comics. This is like a cartoon version of the DCU, where everyone is angrier and more innocent bystanders die in order to up the stakes of each story. 

This is a DCU for fans of the Dark Knight, where seeing the heroes suffer is a big part of the fun.

The book opens with a very classic-feeling story starring a new 52 version of Cheetah. She works much better as a League-wide threat thanks to a massive power upgrade from Johns. Tony Daniel draws her as a sleek, nude murderess. She’s able to snatch Flash mid-stride and repeatedly slash his hamstrings to slow him down. She chops at Wonder Woman’s throat and is basically tremendously dangerous. I liked how Johns used a “personal” villain of Wonder Woman’s to show the league growing closer together. This is Diana’s villain, but her friends are happy to help her deal with the situation.

The rest of the book is the titled “Throne of Atlantis” story. Including issues from both Aquaman and Justice League, this opens with multiple coastal cities being flooded, including Gotham and Metropolis. There are many comments made about how many people died in the tsunami, once again showing that if I were living in a fictional comic book universe, make mine Marvel.

Johns gets a lot of mileage out of Aquaman’s torn loyalties between the surface and Atlantis. Ocean Master in particular seems obsessed with revenge, but not entirely unjustified in his actions. It’s a nice turn to make the villain somewhat sympathetic.

One of my favorite things about the new 52 is the use of Mera. She’s arguably more heroic than Aquaman now, who is too busy being angry and pouty to be a good hero. She gets a lot of nice moments throughout the story, including a big rescue scene where she arrives with the Justice League cavalry. I think she belongs in the league full time.

Especially since this trade includes the expansion of the Justice League ranks. Atom, Vixen, Black Canary, Element Woman, Firestorm, and long-time favorite Hawkman all join up to help repel the Atlantians. We know some of those folks are just here short term, as they are destined to split off into the JLA.

With nice callbacks to early Aquaman stories (both pre and post new 52), this feels like an epic story that pays off a lot of subplots. This GOOD comic is by far my favorite in the new 52. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Nova v1: Origin HC

Wow. Was I wrong about this comic!

I’m a huge Richard Rider fan, so this book was not going to be my speed, no matter what. Heck, I love Ed McGuinness’ artwork, but I knew that this wasn’t going to be a comic I could get behind, because I want more from Rich, not some new kid Sam Alexander.

Then I heard from some guys at my comic store that this was a pretty kid-friendly comic, so I decided to read it with my almost 9-year-old and my 6 six-year old daughters. Oh my lord, did they love it. They even requested to read new issues of Nova over new issues of Adventure Time, so you know they loved it.

The art is fantastic, as you’d expect. This thing looks like a cartoon come to life. And it functions as a great intro to cosmic Marvel, with Gamorra and Rocket Raccoon both showing up multiple times. I also like the way Jeph Loeb uses the Watcher. That guy is totally interfering now, he barely even hides it!

The villains are the Chitauri, the alien race from the Avengers film. McGuinness does a nice job keeping both the aliens and their “whale ships” looking on-model. That was another plus for my daughters; they felt they knew the villains already.

Loeb does a masterful job mixing in “normal” kid problems like school, parents, and siblings. Sam is a really well fleshed out character. Both of my girls are extremely taken with him. And that hopeful close to the book? Perfect. That’s what comics should be delivering.

And now my daughters are calling Sam “their Nova” and Rich is now “Dad’s Nova.” Oh my goodness, when did I get on the wrong side of history. (And Loeb, not even a shout out to old Richard Rider? C’mon now!)

This Nova for the next generation is GOOD!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Thief of Thieves v2: Help Me TPB

I dropped Thief of Thieves after one issue because I felt like Kirkman expected us to care a lot more about these characters than we did. After one issue, who cares if people are double crossing each other?

I grabbed this trade to see if things have improved. To the surprise of no one, they really have. Kirkman knows how to spin a good yarn, and Thief of Thieves has really taken shape into a good one. I barely knew who the players were when I opened this book, but I found myself rooting for most of the conflicting players by the end of this.

It is interesting that Kirkman is joined by James Asmus, a writer I’m starting to notice. How is the work split exactly? This pairing seems very effective, both in the amped up plot and in the rich characterization throughout the book.

Conrad Paulson is the star of the book. He’s a professional thief respected by his peers and the police alike. He plans jobs carefully, sets things up perfectly, and never gets caught. Unfortunately, he has a bozo son who keeps messing up. Augustus Paulson is a decent thief, but man, he gets himself into one spot of trouble after another, and he needs his dad to bail him out.

It’s a classic noir set up; the master criminal who is untouchable with no weak spots except for his family. And the family is always full of them.

I thought this read like a TV show in the first issue, and it still does. But by reading the issues in trade format, the pacing doesn’t bother me at all. I found myself anxiously turning the page to get to the next issue. This is definitely a book that benefits from the trade format.

Shawn Martinbrough doesn’t get the credit he deserves. His super-hero work has been fine, but I was never a super fan. But the acting in this comic is superb. With no costumes or other shortcuts, Martinbrough has to sell everything though well drawn facial work and “acting.” He knocks it out of the park; there is never a moment where the direction of the art is unclear.

This is a GOOD crime comic. It is no Sleeper or Criminal, but it would be a great crime show on network TV. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Iron Man 2.0 v1: Palmer Addley is Dead TPB

What an odd trade. This clearly wasn’t written for the collected format. Nick Spencer spends the first few issues setting up James Rhodes’ new status quo. After the War Machine armor fails him in the field, Rhodes becomes Iron Man 2.0, and gets a gig with the military again. He’s “on loan” to a General so that the military doesn’t use someone else. Rhodes has a team of intelligence contractors, but throughout this trade they don’t get to do much more than fill in the background. They are too vanilla to make an impression.

Spencer clearly likes his “Palmer Addley is dead” through line, the phrase comes up at least once an issue for the first half of the book. And Addley has some potential. His creations are being used in “real world” type terrorist attacks, very much in the vein of Matt Fractions early Iron Man work with Ezekiel Stane. The neatest bit is when Spencer spends an entire issue revealing a bit (but not too much) about Addley through archived interviews. This is an interesting baddie!

Too bad he disappears halfway through the book. In a jarring change in tone, the book suddenly becomes a Fear Itself tie in. Titania and Absorbing Man do a quick walk on to pick up a hammer before wandering out of the book; I assume their story is resolved elsewhere.

Then, Iron Man 2.0 is teleported with Iron Fist and the other Deadly Weapons to stop a spiritual jailbreak from the Eighth City. Oh, and while they are there, they meet up with the Monkey King.

… I’m sorry, what? How in the world do these stories fit together? This is one of those times where having your main character voice the same confusion just makes things worse. When Rhodes says “I hate magic. Why am I here?” and stuff like that, I had to agree with him. This is a story for a different character. The collection ends with Dr. Strange talking about the magical entity that possessed Iron Fist. In an Iron Man comic?

Barry Kitson is the first credited artist on the cover, but it sure doesn’t seem like he did a whole lot of this. I love his art, but there aren’t a lot of pages boasting his tight pencils. He’s joined by a legion of fill-in artists, too many to list here. The drastic change in artistic tone, along with the jarring shift in plot from military industrial complex to magic makes this feel like a book that had no direction.

I still love James Rhodes. But I liked him as War Machine. Or maybe Iron Patriot. I think Iron Man 2.0 is insulting. I’ll keep waiting for a book that handles Rhodey with respect and a clear direction. This book is another in a long line of EVIL War Machine comics. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

X-Men Legacy v1: Prodigal TPB

I think I can sift through potential readers for this title with only a sentence or two. If you like the idea of a creature called Tyrrannix the Abominoid, if you want to hear him lisp “Mine is the power of telepathy,” then this is going to be a good book for you.

Simon Spurrier isn’t reinventing the wheel, here, but he is telling a strange, offbeat story different than anything else on the stands. I don’t recall having strong feelings on his writing either way, but after seeing how strong his voice is in this collection, I think I’ll be keeping an eye out.

After years focusing on the X-Men team, then on Rogue, X-Men Legacy now stars David Haller: Legion. The character makes sense with this title, and while I still don’t count Legion as a favorite character, there is no debating that this book is filled with intriguing concepts.

In order to harness the many powers at his disposal, Legion has always had a big disadvantage; Legion is a split personality, with each personality exhibiting a different power set. After months of training at a weird retreat for psychics, Legion has created a mental prison. A construct that allows him to utilize one power at time, while keeping his other personalities locked up in mental “cells.” They don’t like this, of course, and things go smoothly for only a few pages.

This book kicks off after Professor X died during AvX, and his death shakes Legion to his core. And frees his many personalities. For the rest of the collection, Legion is hiding from his alternate selves, but trying to grab them in order to use their powers. It’s a weird game of cat-and-mouse where the roles are constantly reversed.

Spurrier uses young X-Man Blindfold quite a bit; it seems she’s got a destiny tied to Legion. There are some nice reveals tied to both characters, and a disturbing new villain with familial ties to Blindfold. Again, I could barely process what was going on, but the sharp, witty tone throughout makes it work.

Tan Eng Huat and Jorge Molina share the art duties in the first six issues. Huat reigns in his madness a bit, but this still doesn’t look like any other book on the stands. Fans of Chris Bachalo and other impressionistic artists might dig this style, but I preferred the more straightforward super heroic work from Molina.

This is another book that falls in the FAIR category. I’m not sure I’ll ever re-read it. It isn’t a modern classic. But Spurrier is weaving an inventive, odd ball tale here, and I want to see where it goes. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Thunderbolts v1: No Quarter TPB

It really bums me out that we lost Jeff Parker’s fantastic take on the Thunderbolts, and all we got was this.

Now admittedly, that’s an unfair comparison; I’ve enjoyed just about everything I’ve read from Parker, while Daniel Way’s hits are far rarer for me. (I’m pretty sure he did a Sabretooth limited series that I enjoyed…)

Anyway, on to this book. The main theme of this book seems to be Marvel characters that wear black or red and enjoy killing. Venom and Punisher even give themselves costume updates to make sure that they are only wearing black and red. That just doesn’t seem like too good of a unifying theme for a team, does it?

The Red Hulk puts the team together to deal with a past sin; General Thunderbolt Ross has more ties to gamma radiation than we ever expected. He gets Punisher on board through a pretty fun coercion angle, and Venom just signs up for a senior officer. Deadpool and Elektra are mercs; I can’t imagine it was too hard for them to get involved.

The plot involves a South Asian island called Kata Jaya. The red Thunderbolts head there to take out the current dictator and his muscle, Hulk villain Madman. I’ve been reading Hulk comics for a long time, and I must admit that the Leader’s brother never really made an impact on me. Sorry!

That brings me to my favorite aspect of this collection: the Leader. Daniel Way clearly has some affection for the Leader, an while the villain doesn’t exactly set the world on fire in this first collection, it is clear that he has set himself up for a return as a big bad. The scene where Punisher finds out he is on the team is laugh-out-loud funny.

Steve Dillon has drawn so many classic, emotionally resonant Punisher story, I kept finding myself being jarred out of this story. Dillon’s Punisher is the “real” Punisher for me now; the character lives and breathes under Dillon’s pencils. It probably isn’t fair to compare Jason Aaron and Garth Ennis’ classic out of continuity tales with a Marvel U-based adventure book, but the book just feels wrong. That bite of satire, the extra gut punch of violence… it is missing.

So a team of killers working on a generic mission in a setting none of them belong in. AND, this is Marvel’s follow-up to one of my favorite runs of all time (Parker’s Thunderbolts). That makes this an EVIL choice for the next chapter of this storied franchise. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Captain Marvel v2: Down TPB

How in the world did this book last as long as it did?

Kelly Sue DeConnick has built a cult following around Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers. The Carol Corps clearly adore this book. And I admit there is a lot to like. DeConnick has a great supporting cast, a nice handle on regular guest stars (including Monica Rambeau!) Death Cry is a great choice of villain too, considering the main drama of this collection is CM’s loss of her flying powers.

And that’s a neat idea! We saw in the opening chapters how important flying is to Carol, so seeing that ability fading away is heartbreaking. And I love how CM deals with the warnings too; she just ignores them and figures she’s stubborn enough to get along. That is my kind of character!

There is a bit too much talking for me, and I can’t make myself care about every member of the expansive supporting cast, but there is a lot of stuff to keep me interested.

But the art.

I dropped this book after one issue because of the art. I hoped when I grabbed this trade that the issue would have been addressed. It has not. Dexter Soy’s artwork is impressionistic, lacking backgrounds and settings in almost every panel. His actual figure work is OK when dealing with heroic characters (or sharks) but I never get a sense of where the action is happening. Filipe Andrade draws the 2nd half of the collection, and he clearly never saw a model sheet. He’s drawing a different main character than the one that appears on the cover of this trade. His backgrounds are stronger, but his actual figure work is inconsistent. Characters change sizes between panels, their eyes expand and contract like a manga book.

This is a fair story torpedoed by art that is clearly not my style. It could be that I’m just not the target audience for this book, but I’d argue the relaunch (with a more classic artist) will prove that the art hurt this book. Overall, this is an EVIL representation of a character filled with potential. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Cable & X-Force v1: Wanted TPB

I’m sorry. I just don’t buy it. The premise of this book is that Cable puts together a team of “outlaw” mutants. Motivated by apocalyptic visions of the future, Cable needs to head off the next mutant disaster before it strikes. For some reason, he thinks that he can’t tell the X-Men, SHIELD, or anyone else. And when things go sour, he still feels that being on the run and not clearing up the situation is the best choice.

It just doesn’t work. I can’t buy it. It’s too bad, because Dennis Hopeless puts together a fun team, and he’s got a good handle on their disparate personalities. Forge hasn’t been this cool in years, I’ve missed the guy. Domino and Colossus are favorites of mine, so seeing them pair up and find a bit of happiness together is a brilliant move. I really like the way Hope and Cable work through their father-daughter issues in terms of guns and survival training. Heck, even the weird outbreak they have to stop is pretty neat and dramatic!

One weakness for the book is the lack of a clear antagonist. There is some sort of shadowy manipulation going on, but there isn’t enough of a mastermind or common foe to give the book much direction. That directly plays into my other problem with the book; the pacing. It takes three issues for Colossus to even show up. He’s the reason I tried the first two issues off the shelf, that’s too long for arguably the biggest name on the team. Hopeless just isn’t getting there fast enough for me. I’m not even certain that the end of the trade qualifies as a cliffhanger. It’s more like the mutants are just hanging out on the run.

It is too bad. Salvador LaRocca is an artist who I’ve liked for years and years, ever since his Ghost Rider days. This is more in the digital style of his Iron Man work, but the guy is a talented artist. I just wish he got to draw the characters doing a bit more comic book fisticuffs. When the characters do get to cut loose, it looks great. There just needs to be more.

Good art and solid characterization can’t overcome a lack of momentum in the plot. This comic is EVIL.