Monday, September 30, 2013

Resurrection Man (2011) #1-7

I finally got around to giving one of my favorite writing teams a second chance on their new 52 launch book. I’ve loved just about everything Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have worked on, so I remember being a little stunned at my lack of interest in the rebooted Resurrection Man. I went back and read a bit further, making it all the way to issue 7. I don’t think I’m going to make it any farther.

The odd part is, while this is clearly a reboot, it really doesn’t directly contradict any of my memories from the original series. RM is still Mitch Shelley, his powers and attitude remain much the same. I don’t remember quire this much from Heaven and Hell battling over his soul, but that’s hardly a huge problem.

Instead, most of my problems come from some of the house style decisions from the New 52. The body count in the first few issues is really high, involving a plane crash and lots of bystanders getting blown apart. The Body Doubles were always slinky, sexy assassins, but it seems like they are ramped up to a more ridiculous level in issues 1-4.

When DnA get around to Mitch’s origin, I found myself a bit more interested. We see a neat flashback to Mitch’s work in the Middle East, back when he was hiring Deathstroke to provide security. I’m not sure what this does to the 5-year timeline of the new 52, though. Either Mitch just because Resurrection Man very recently, or he and Deathstroke have been around longer than 5 years. The problem with having a recent origin is that it takes away from some of the “mysterious, long lifetime” stuff that Mitch and Wolverine both benefit from.

I also have to mention the Transhuman. He’s a nineteen year old trapped in the body of an elderly man, and his armor is actually pretty cool. The problem is that name. Why are all the names in the new 52 so awful? Are all the good names really taken? I mean, jeez!

Fernando Dagnino provides the DC house style for the art in all the issues I read. I respect his consistency (and his ability to keep a schedule) but man, it just seems wrong having Birds of Prey style art in an action-horror book. I’ve got to think another artist might have been a better fit.

So I don’t regret reading these books, but I’m not in rush to see what happens. I think that means this comic is EVIL.  

Friday, September 27, 2013

Justice League v2: The Villain's Journey HC

I suppose if I’d never read an old Justice League story, I’d be fine with this. The closest I can come to explaining my feeling is this; this collection reads like a decent cartoon. It is “inspired” by the real Justice League. The roles are there, the power sets, and some of the characterization. But the costumes, the 90’s attitude, and the laughably named villain are all way-too New 52.

Steve Trevor gets a lot of time in this one, and Geoff Johns does a nice job fleshing him out. Trevor is the type of character Johns used to excel in writing back in his Flash days; the normal friend or co-workers that kept Wally West tethered. (Of course, with Trevor leading the JLA soon, I don’t think he stays grounded too long.)

This thing almost works. When Green Arrow shows up, he’s clearly different than his historical self, but this version has the important character elements that made Ollie Queen interesting. Cyborg fits in surprisingly well on the League, taking Martian Manhunter's place but actually bringing in a nice level of humanity.

Johns is getting more comfortable with the new continuity, making more references to GL’s time in space and the Batman/Superman team-up that we now know is happening. Batman is the most consistent in his characterization; this could basically be Batman from the old days. Superman sounds close, but not quite right. Flash? Honestly, he could be about any character. If I’m not sold on boring Barry by this point, I don’t expect I ever will be.

The villain, Graves, has an interesting backstory, especially with his interactions with the “cast out deities” that help him get his powers. His abilities aren’t physical enough to lead to any really strong conflicts, but that’s OK sometimes. Some comics just need to have the heroes repeatedly fall to their knees due to crippling emotional pain. I did enjoy the League’s internal battle, just because it gave us some “normal” fighting.

Jim Lee is quite talented. Surprising no one, he handles the new costumes and designs better than anyone else in the New 52. It makes sense, he designed most of them. His Wonder Woman and Aquaman are especially impressive. Both heroes are imposing and look like alpha heroes. I’d say Flash is the weakest of his characters, and Cyborg is a big too bulky for me. I prefer the sleek George Perez look. Graves’ design is insane. He looks like another alien monster, but I guess he just wore an ice-mask and armor. Lee certainly has his favorite types of villains.

It’s worth noting that Carlos D’Anda does a nice job with the Green Arrow fill-in issue. GA doesn’t look anything like I normally picture, but he does look like a neat hero.

This comic is fine for fans of the new 52, or for people who don’t realize how good old Justice League comics were. So on its own, this comic is perfectly fine. But compared against even decent runs of the past, this collection is still EVIL. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Superman v2: Secrets and Lies HC

Geez. Look at that cover. That’s not Superman, it’s Twilight. It just isn’t! If you think that feeling invalidates my opinion on this trade, feel free to skip it.

There are moments in this collection where I can almost see the real Superman about to break through. Dan Jurgens provides the story and some of the pencils in this collection, and if anyone should know Superman, it’s him. He did some of my all-time favorite Superman stories over the years, so I really want to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Superman sounds right. His attitude on dealing with criminals, maintaining his secret identity, and his general outlook are all correct. This Superman is a positive guy, looking for the best all around him. He tries to keep everyone happy even as his personal life suffers (but not too much, he’s Superman and he can handle that too). He even tries to talk things out with the ridiculous-looking Helspont.

That’s the problem with this thing. The villains! The first villain is a predator-ish alien lizard man who kills a ton of people. The body count is high right off the bat. Then we get to Helspont, who is one of my favorite types of villains: the big talker. Helspont gets a bit done, but man, he spends a lot of time talking about how great he is and how evil his plans are. I wouldn’t blame Superman if he drifted off for a minute there. I’m a tad unclear on Helspont’s powers, though, unless he’s just “generally godlike.” The next villain is the awkward Anguish, who goes around talking like an angry teenager. Her dialogue is awful, including the gem “You can’t touch Anguish – that’d be me… but Anguish can touch YOU!” Ouch. Plus she just talks about Daddy issues and her rough childhood!

Jurgens’ art used to be a favorite for me, and just like the writing, there are elements here that I can still appreciate. The bright colors, clear layouts, and tendency for direct punches and conflict; all good. But the character design is lacking. Predator and Anguish are 90’s generic to a ridiculous level. Helspont and his daemonite underlings are clearly inspired by Jim Lee’s art, but they don’t work as well without all the cross-hatching. Jurgens’ pencils (and the other artists in this collection) just can’t replicate the look.

Perhaps there is some sort of Superman fan out there really satisfied by this book. But it just makes me want to break out my old Superman comics and remember how much I loved them. That makes this comic EVIL. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Scarlet HC

Bendis is notoriously hit or miss with me. I must admit that his track record is a bit stronger with his creator-owned work than it is with his Marvel stuff. Scarlet follows along that pattern; this is an entertaining book.

It’s odd, I think I like the attitude and the idea behind the series more than the execution. Scarlet Rue is a woman betrayed by the system, and she’s not taking it anymore. After her boyfriend has an extremely unfortunate run-in with a random policeman, Scarlet’s life spirals out of control. The book opens with her trying to even the score with the men who ruined her life. The simple motivation of revenge and revealing corruption are easy to root for, making Scarlet a good protagonist.

This is a Bendis book, so there is a TON of dialogue. Scarlet spends almost every page giving running commentary to the reader. That’s a trick not used very often in comics, though, so it does give the story a unique feeling. It’s worth noting that Scarlet may look like a crazy vigilante type on the covers, but she’s actually a lot more relatable in the interiors. Again, the dialogue is copious, but there are some neat characters here.

The pacing is a bit strange, as entire pages are given over to backstory. When using it on Scarlet or her co-conspirators, the conceit works. But when we lost a few pages to watching Scarlet follow a crooked cop, it is hard to see exactly what we’re supposed to be watching. I think the pacing might have annoyed me if I was paying for the issues individually.

Longtime Bendis-collaborator Alex Maleev provides the art. I’m torn on the guy; I can recognize the great, emotional stuff he puts on the page, but I do get lost with his storytelling. There are multiple pages where I got lost and read the panels out of order. He also loves to use photo-references, to the point of distraction. That said, as a stickler for backgrounds, I certainly appreciate his attention to detail in set-building.

This is an odd comic, not a huge winner for me, but definitely entertaining. Is it time to break out the old rating system and say this comic is FAIR?

Monday, September 16, 2013

G.I. Joe: Real American Hero Vol. 7 TPB

I simply can’t love a comic more than this. 

GI Joe was my favorite comic as a kid, and somehow, some way, Larry Hama is still putting out comics that make me feel exactly the same way I did when I was 8. Sometimes, I do read comics for nostalgia, and this is the absolute best book on the stand at filling me with that childlike sense of wonder.

That’s not to say that there aren’t new ideas, great twists and turns, or fun plots. Hama can do all of that in his sleep. This trade in particular has three missions, each one with its own squad of Joe specialists. And since Hama wrote those old file cards, you know there are going to be some fantastic asides for the old timer fans like me.

This book should have been called “No Joe Left Behind” since each of the three missions has Joes in trouble getting bailed out by their friends. For those of you (like me) who love seeing character lists, here is a high level list of the missions.

Lt. Falcon, Spirit, Zap, Leatherneck, and Rip-Cord have to figure out a way to rescue Dusty, Airtight, and Tunnel Rat from some tight spots in the Middle Eastern country of Benzheen. This one features Zartan and the Dreadnoks, Destro, and the Baroness on the Cobra side.

Scarlett, Stalker, Beach Head, Torpedo, and Gung-Ho have to rescue a recurring hostage from pirates. The entire conflict is set on a freighter rolling around during a storm. This has a ton of supporting characters and vehicles like the Whale and the Tomahawk. It also has the first appearance of the Red Shadows.

In the last (and so far incomplete) tale, Low Light, Chuckles, and Lady Jaye are in a tight spot going against Major Bludd and some military types in a rural town. This is worth it just to hear all the different ways Low Light wants to shoot the bad guys. While waiting for permission from base, he’s getting antsy, and so is the reader!

S.L. Gallant continues to be meticulous and precise in his attention to detail for the Joe uniforms and costumes. Everyone looks like the toys you remember, even down to the weapons! Sure, it doesn’t make sense to shoot a shotgun at long range, but dangit, that’s what Falcon’s toy came with, so that’s what he’ll use! It was great seeing Ron Wagner draw these characters again too. 

Books like this are the reason that I still read comics. Comics are VERY VERY GOOD!

Friday, September 13, 2013

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: Pickens County Horror TPB

Comics like this are so good, it makes me wonder why I still read super-hero books. The Hellboy universe is obviously filled with monstrous but heroic protagonists. But they are nowhere to be found in this collection. 

This book is all about the “normal” agents of the BPRD and the good work they do defending the world from monsters of all types. Mike Mignola and Scott Allie write a passel of wonderful, spooky tales, ably aided by Jason Latour, Max Fiumara, James Harren, and colorist Dave Stewart (who keeps the whole thing looking nice and uniform. This is clearly the same world in every story.)

Of the artists in this collection, I like Latour’s vampire story and Harren’s barbarian stories the best. The BPRD vampires are long game planners, and it is pretty awesome seeing them put a plot together. Even better, while the mission is dangerous and there are casualties, we see how even normal BPRD agents get the job done and live to fight another day.

The Abyss of Time is simply brilliant. With a wonderfully entertaining framing story to set things up, Mignola gets to deliver a story that is more Robert Howard than HP Lovecraft. The worlds do fit well together, but this thing might as well have starred Conan or Bran Mak Morn. Of course, since it is Mignola, there is more to the story, tying it to the modern day Hellboy universe. But man, that last page, those last few panels. Masterfully done. A real kick in the gut.

This comic is for readers who think they’ve seen it all. If you think comics can’t still impress you with new ideas and flawless execution, pick this up.

Horror comics are GOOD!

Monday, September 9, 2013

X-Men: Battle of the Atom (Parts 1 & 2)

Honestly, the whole world is upside down. Things have gone truly mad when I’m more into the X-Men than I am into the Avengers. I never thought I’d see the day.

I’m honestly a little shocked at how much I’m enjoying this comic. Bendis’ work on the X-titles has been extremely uneven, with some fantastic issues of All-New X-Men followed up a week later by average issues of Uncanny X-Men. He seems to clearly dig the young X-Men, so basing an event on their presence is a good move. This is “Good Bendis” through and through.

These opening issues have everything I look for. There is a big fight with a new mutant (who can create fantastic-looking Frank Cho dragons). It is worth mentioning that this new mutant is a hot girl that young Iceman would very much like to date, again playing to Cho’s strengths. This is the strongest that Bendis has written the Uncanny team, with Cyclops and company looking very confident. Plus, they actually interact with the All-New team with some maturity, a much easier process when Wolverine is absent.

So right off the bat, this book is juggling two casts of characters, a new villain, and some violence. Good start. Then, with the arrival of the FUTURE X-Men, we’ve got three teams all interacting with each other. The future team is easily recognizable (with one or two exceptions), but man, Lady Xorn’s reveal adds a whole other level to the proceedings. It gives me hope that this story could have some big repercussions. Of course, Wolverine’s team ends up fighting the future team, so again, action in a Bendis book is much appreciated.

One risk when doing these alternate future storylines is that the creators might have too big a hit on their hands. I find myself instantly loving the future version of Molly Hayes, Princess Power. She only gets a line or two of dialogue, but how can you not love her? It’s her kid personality all grown up, with some fantastic additions to her childhood costume. I’m ready for a limited series!

Bendis accomplishes a lot with his young team, too. Jean Grey spends pages trying to convince her current beau Beast into fleeing the future team and their unreadable minds. Of course, Cyclops agrees with no debate or discussion. He’s all in for Ms. Grey. Powerful, clear characterization.

I can’t understate the importance of the art. The threat of the future X-Men is clear in Stuart Immonen’s nuanced pencils. The old-time costumes look like clothe under Cho’s pencils. These are two of the top artists in the game, and these issues make it easy to see why. I will say, Cyclops’ odd new costume looks a lot better on Immonen’s bulky Scott Summers than it does on Cho’s “slim” version.  

I’m all in with the X-Men these days. You guys can keep Infinity; I want Battle of the Atom! This storyline looks GOOD!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Wolverine: Rot TPB

I’m a Cullen Bunn fan, but I must admit that’s partly because he seems like such a nice guy in real life! He’s active on Twitter and seems to be nice to everyone, so I’m always inclined to grade his stuff on a curve. (Hey, if I can ignore all of Howard Chaykin’s work cause he’s a jerk, I can seek out Bunn’s because he’s nice!)

Taking over for Jason Aaron has got to be pretty tough. While Aaron didn’t wrap up his Wolverine run with a tremendous bang, it was still an interesting story that had some nice developments for Logan. Bunn goes back to the well to bring us a sequel to the Weapon X storyline featuring Doctor Rot. It’s a good choice; Bunn’s penchant for ultra-violence is well served using Rot. This is NOT a kid-friendly comic. Page 2 has three corpses with the tops of their heads cut off!

Doctor Rot has a mental back door that allows him to control Wolverine, and he’s using this to set up greater control over the X-Man. Logan tracks Rot down, giving the reader a nice tour of the sicko childhood that Rot left behind. Bunn keeps the story grounded by keeping the X-Men on the fringes of the story, but giving us a normal point of view from Logan’s girlfriend Melita and a team of FBI agents. Rot is a lot bigger threat to them than Shadowcat or Phoenix.

I’m actually more intrigued by the fallout from this story than the actual presentation here. Rot succeeds in ripping out portions of Logan’s brain, and when the flesh regenerates, Logan’s memories are gone. Bunn has cleverly brought back a classic element of Wolverine’s long-standing characterization: the mysterious past. Only now the reader sometimes knows things that Wolverine doesn’t! Neat idea.

The artwork is a great fit with the story, from one of my favorites, Paul Pelletier. This is an unbelievably gory story, featuring maniacs with chainsaw hands, scarred nurses, and brain monsters. I think there are two characters in the whole story that don’t end up being eviscerated or at least slashed up (I might be exaggerating).

 I do wish Pelletier could have had a bit more of a chance to draw Wolverine in costume. The juxtaposition of the bright super-suit against the violent, Texas Chainsaw Massacre type villains is a neat visual.

This trade proves that comics are GOOD!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Astro City #1-3

Kurt Busiek has still got it.

 I read but didn’t love the Dark Age mini-series; too many of my favorites were off-screen. But they are back here in the new volume, along with fun new creations like American Chibi and Wolfspider. It’s odd, these characters haven’t appeared anywhere but in this title, but they’ve been around so long, seeing the Samaritan, MPH, and Winged Victory is pretty great.

The first issue gives us the Sandman-esque Broken Man. He opens the issue breaking the fourth wall and addressing the reader directly. According to him, the reader is actually helping save the world by reading the first issue of Astro City! That’s a great idea, and the twist on the final page left me with a smile on my face. It’s an issue that keeps you thinking for a bit.

Issues 2&3 feature Marella Cowper, a phone bank operator for the Honor Guard. It’s a high-stress position, but one where Marella can do a lot of good. Busiek keeps the story nicely grounded on her, but still delivers some nice moments with the Guard members themselves, especially Cleopatra. It’s funny, but I almost wish Busiek could leave the “normal human” point of view a bit more; I’d love to see straight up super-heroics featuring these characters. Astro City always had a bit of a DC feel to it, so this could really scratch an itch for me these days!

One thing the series is lacking at this point is a strong antagonist. None of the villains in the first three issues have enough weight or danger to them to give any strong sense of suspense. The Honor Guard has the situation under control pretty much the whole time, so there is a bit of tension that is lacking.

Brent Anderson continues to deliver strong, emotional work as he has for years now. I love the new Wolfspider character, with his awesome jet-bike. I never realized quite how cool Cleopatra was until these issues either. She’s basically a female Thor, and Anderson really gives her the gravity and power she deserves.

I hate paying $3.99 for these issues that don’t even have a digital code, but now that I’m back, I don’t think I can leave Astro City again.

Astro City is a place where comics are GOOD.