Friday, February 28, 2014

Worlds' Finest: The Lost Daughters of Earth 2 TPB

More than any other New 52 title, I really wanted to like this book. Two of my favorite artists, George Perez and Kevin Maguire were teaming up on the art. When they couldn’t quite finish, I knew Jerry Ordway (another favorite) was coming in to lend a hand. Paul Levitz is a legend in the industry. That’s not even mentioning that this series starts my favorite DC heroine, Power Girl, and I’ve read and enjoyed a lot of Huntress stories over the years too.

Surely this creative team could overcome the disappointment that has crushed so many of the new 52 relaunches.


Instead, I found this to be a pointless series. There is no greater through-plot running through the book. Random villains show up, get vanquished, and move on. George Perez handles the art in this “present” portion of the story, while Kevin Maguire handles the flashbacks to the ladies’ arrival on the New 52 Earth.

This could actually work if I could make myself care about any of the villains. But the opening villain, the radiation based Hakkou, is not very interesting. I don’t understand his goals or motivations. He doesn’t seem to have any plan or plot in motion. He’s destroying Power Girl’s equipment because the plot requires it. This trade has 6 issues in it, and the only super-powered foe the ladies face is the generic Hakkou. This is a greater problem in the New 52 in general; the villains are all so generic.

Maybe the flashbacks save the story? Nope. Kevin Maguire gets to draw exquisite facial expressions and top-notch comic “acting” as the heroines go shopping, eat in parks, and chat. What a waste! Huntress must make comments about embezzling from Bruce Wayne at LEAST once an issue. There is no hint that this might come back to bite them. Power Girl flirts with everyone around her, usually wearing cutesy shirts like “Free Hugs.”

The art is great, as we knew it would be. The costumes stink, of course, especially the “present” version of Power Girl. I sort of like the Robin and Supergirl costumes that Maguire designed for Earth 2, but there aren’t enough flashbacks in that setting. Hakkou looks like an off-model parademon. Every artist in the book takes every opportunity to show Power Girl’s clothes getting ripped, burned, or torn off. PG finishes half her fights in a bra. Since it is mentioned in the dialogue, I assume that was scripted? Just… why?

I hoped this could be a super-gal team-up book I could read with my daughters. Instead, this joins the stack of EVIL comics that I won’t rush to follow up on. I mean, when Maguire and Perez both leave the book shortly after this, why keep reading? 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Swamp Thing v3: The Green Kingdom TPB

Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire are widely credited with killing two successful comics with this Rotworld crossover. As a fan of desperate alternate futures, I was hopeful for the collection. Part of my itch was scratched, as the team of heroes facing down Anton Arcane in a rot-controlled world is pretty good. Swamp Thing, Man-Bat Batgirl, Steel, Beast Boy, Black Orchid, Poison Ivy, Deadman, Frankenstein, and that plant Green Lantern is a nice, varied crew of leads. This collection only spends a lot of time with four of those people, but I like the concept.

I also think Anton Arcane is a great example of a boss villain. With his legions of turned heroes and the sheer repulsiveness of his underlings, this is a desperate story from page 1. He’s a good smack-talker too, clearly relishing in rubbing in his victories over all his foes. I mean, Swamp Thing and Abby Arcane are already “his” arch nemesis anyway, but he sure likes coming after Animal Man and friends too!

Honestly, I couldn’t really see a way for the heroes to come out on top and have a world worth saving. So the writers dodge the issue in the conclusion, but they kind of had to. There wasn’t really any other way to deal with the level of insanity they’d established.

There are clearly a lot of chapters missing from this trade. I would have liked to have seen more of the surviving heroes and a bit more of the Rotworld than I saw in this trade. Of course, I understand there may have been too much once all the crossovers and tie-ins are tallied, but for now, I’m interested in seeing more.

Yanick Paquette’s pages are beautiful, as always. His majestically antlered Swamp Thing is striking, and giving him big plant wings just helps even more. The aged Parliament of Trees is impressive, as are their guardians Poison Ivy and Deadman. I will say I wasn’t overly impressed with the Rotlords or whatever they were called. Shimmery ghost faces aren’t dramatic enough to be responsible for the deus ex machina that overturns this whole story.

This FAIR comic is fine for what it is, but I also see how the book lost steam afterwards. When the entire run has been leading up to one fight against one boss, why would the readers stick around after that’s done?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Secret Avengers v1: Reverie HC

Nick Spencer: props. Props for actually understanding how Hawkeye is supposed to work. He’s on a black ops team. They’ve got specific orders to kill the Scientist Supreme. And Hawkeye just won’t play along. He’ll go on the mission, but the first chance he gets he blows his cover to save Black Widow, just the kind of choice an Avenger should make.

What makes the interaction more fun is the varied response from Hawkeye’s teammates. Black Widow knows Clint and just goes along, figuring it is not a big deal; she’ll take care of it herself. Nick Fury Jr. is insulted that Hawkeye can just consider himself “above” killing. Fury is a soldier, not a super hero, and he has no qualms about taking out the target.

Jim Rhodes is getting a lot of respect in these pages, which is nice to see. He’s a senior hero and the best example of a good soldier/hero in comics, so I liked seeing him take ownership of a role he was meant for. I think Marvel might just be maneuvering him into the Iron Patriot armor, though.

Spencer has some nice interplay between the core team and backup players Mockingbird and Taskmaster, but I still found myself unsatisfied while reading this book. When you’ve got AIM’s super-villain team of bosses that includes the evil Black Widow, Mentallo, Taskmaster, and Graviton, I WANT TO SEE THOSE VILLAINS. Instead, there are an amazing number of pages dedicated to Maria Hill and some random UN dudes talking about who should be in charge of SHIELD.

Honestly, maybe it is just me. Is this what people want from their Avengers comics? Or their SHIELD comics?

Luke Ross’ pencils are as dynamic as ever. I found myself really impressed at his faces for Daisy Johnson and Maria Hill until I realized they were just about the same. I also recognize how well Ross draws the Super Soldier costume on Fury Jr. and Black Widow in her suit. Imagine if he was drawing Hawkeye’s real costume? Or we actually saw those villains in more than a panel each?

This is another comic where I love the cast, I love the villains, and the writing is competent, but the pacing and the actual story on the pages is lacking. It is like the comic book industry is TRYING to spend time on the boring stuff between fights. Any media can do talky and stand around. Only comics can bring an insane level of action on every page.

(I should note that I don’t NEED insane action every page, but I need more than is in this FAIR comic.)

Friday, February 21, 2014

Secret Warriors v6: Wheels Within Wheels TPB

I’ll say this for Jonathan Hickman; he’s consistent. I dropped his Avengers titles a few months ago because I found them overly clinical and unnecessarily complicated. Going back and reading his Secret Warriors series on Marvel Comics Unlimited shows that it was these very same skills that got him the job writing the Avengers. He’s always written like this, it just seems that is what Marvel wants on their flagship title.

Abandoning the core cast of “Caterpillars” from the earlier parts of this series, the last few issues of this comic put the focus on an entirely separate cast. Hickman ties the ongoing SHIELD storyline against his Shield group from ancient times, mashing them up in a super group after World War II. I have to confess, I’m a huge comic nerd and I think I only got about half of the members of the Zodiac that Da Vinci recruits. Part of the problem is that I still can’t keep any of the Leviathan members straight, and they are pretty important to this flashback.

Now you’ve got an even bigger problem. Huge, continuity altering LMDs that have been scattered throughout SHIELD’s history. People long thought dead suddenly show up alive. With no real clues or ability to predict. Out of sequence flashbacks deliberately obfuscate the narrative at multiple points. Folks act out of character in order to add more drama.

Basically, this thing is a mess. At the end of the day, Nick Fury is going off into the sunset to rescue his now-evil ex-girlfriend, the Contessa De Fontaine. (She was a double, no, triple agent.) He leaves Daisy (Quake) Johnson in charge, which at least ties back to the Caterpillar characters that launched the book, but her time on top comes to an end pretty quickly in Secret Avengers. (How could a 19 year old kid ever, EVER be put in charge of a global organization like SHIELD?)

Alessandro Vitti’s art is fine, especially when he gets to draw crazy armored folks and science villains. I can’t tell his 60’s era Germans, Americans, or Russians apart unless they’re bald, but that’s why comics have costumes.

So in the end, this was a story with way too many players, narrative double-blinds and loops that led to nowhere or showed up out of order, and the writer was able to either mangle characters (Contessa) or kill them and take them out of the Marvel U unnecessarily (Howling Commandos.)

How the heck did this EVIL book get made? 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Detective Comics v3: Emperor Penguin HC

I had heard that John Layman did a nice little reclamation project on this title, and after reading his opening chapter, I have to agree. After the drudgery of reading the previous two trades, this one doesn’t feel like work. I was actually interested in seeing what adventures Batman is up to!

My favorite part of this trade is the approach Layman uses to participate in the overwrought Death of the Family crossover. Rather than dwelling on the faceless Joker himself, Layman creates the Merrymaker and his band of lunatics for Batman to take out. Admittedly, the “mystery” of Merrymaker’s identity is so predictable I literally guessed it the first time the character is mentioned, but this isn’t about the mystery. Instead, the book focuses on Batman putting a stop to some new villains (thank goodness) using different levels of punishment. The fact that Bats sometimes just scares off poseur kids is a great touch and one of the best bits of character Layman uses.

With Joker abducting the Penguin for Death of the Family, that leaves a vacuum in power at the Iceberg lounge. In steps Emperor Penguin, the former boss’ assistant. He’s a sharp one, this new crime boss, and that is never clearer than in his backup stories. My favorite is the story where he takes out a new criminal arriving in Gotham because the guy is just too smart. The folks at the top have to protect their perch.

Layman uses some classic villains in this collection, and my enjoyment of them varies based on their use. Poison Ivy and Clayface have some new roles to play; roles that let them exhibit some personality that hasn’t come out in the past. Using these well-heeled villains in a new way gives them new life. However, when Mr. Zsasz shows up, he’s just like he always is; the perfect villain for the new 52. Honestly, in the hyper-violence of the new 52, a guy with a knife who kills dozens of people is about as dead-on as can be.

Jason Fabok takes over on art, and I liked his clean style. He gets to draw some neat Batman armor, hitting the spot for the more toyetic among us. He also has nice takes on Clayface and Poison Ivy. Ivy is a difficult character to get right, but Fabok does a nice job making her look like a heroic villain (or maybe a villainous ‘tweener?)

This isn’t GOOD enough for me to collect, but dang it is nice to actually look forward to reading other Bat books when I get to the library! 

Monday, February 17, 2014

She-Hulk #1 (2014)

I find it interesting that so many of my favorite characters are getting this “Hawkeye” style overhaul. This is very much in the same vein, with Charles Soule putting the focus squarely on the “regular” life of Jennifer Walters, lawyer. Sure, she’s big and green and smashes a couple robots. But there is very little in this issue that couldn’t have been starring a regular super-powered lawyer.

After quitting her job in a law office, She-Hulk takes a case for a super-villain’s widow. It seems that a Stark subsidiary illegally acquired some of Jonas Harrow’s inventions. I appreciate that Soule uses the death of D-lister Harrow to provide the plot device for another issue. If characters have to die to serve a story, they might as well power more than one story!

Soule toes the line perfectly throughout the issue, keeping She-Hulk likable, smart, and confident. She won’t back down, even against her old buddy Tony Stark. And Stark, when he does show up, is perfect. He’s confident, smug, and a bit of a horn dog. And he also does the right thing, like a hero should. Jennifer Walters gets a nice payout and a nice new status quo for her new series.

I’m happy to see She-Hulk so happy and confident; the last series by Peter David was a bit too much of a downer. I do hope that Soule factors in some super-heroics soon, but honestly, if the law-based stories are as interesting as the one in this issue, I’m fine with getting my She-Hulk “hero” fix over in Mighty Avengers.
Javier Pulido’s cartoony art keeps the tone of this series quite clear. As I said, this is a Hawkeye type series; we’re going to see a lot of She-Hulk in the normal world, in normal clothes. I can’t say I wouldn’t love to occasionally get a more “classic” super-artist drawing some issues, but there is no doubt that Pulido handles this material perfectly.

This is a GOOD new issue and a hopeful launch for the jade giantess. Maybe this one will stick around for a while; I certainly hope so! 

Friday, February 14, 2014

X-Factor v10: Second Coming TPB

Ah, this is why I quit reading X-Factor. Crossovers.

Peter David does his best, but it is frustrating seeing outside crossovers become the main plot mover for a book that does so well hiding in the corner of the Marvel U. Having Bastion and his puppet Trask become obsessed with wiping out X-Factor might make for decent issues worth of conflict, but the motivation and resolution don’t exactly spring from this book.

Now, the other half of this conflict? The part involving Strong Guy and M taking on Dr. Strange villain Baron Mordo? Now that’s just fantastic. I love seeing non-powered family members interact with super-heroes, so seeing M rescue her Dad, followed by the interaction and discussion on what to do next? That’s my cup of tea.

The problem is that this collection is just so darn slight. Reading all the issues in arrow, I found myself much more interested in the things that happen right before and right after this story. Other than the Mordo stuff, this is a crossover chapter, a palate-cleansing exercise that lets David set up his enormous cast as he launches in to much more character-based stories over the next issues.

Valentine De Landro’s continues to tighten up. His take on the characters gets stronger and stronger as he continues working on the book. I also wonder if he’s photo-referencing at this point, because the faces in particular look much stronger in this GOOD collection. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Savage Wolverine v1: Kill Island HC

Let’s be honest, folks who read this book are doing it for one of three reasons. I’ll tackle those reasons as my review.

1 - Shanna the She-Devil – it is no secret that Frank Cho draws spectacular comic book women. So Shanna looks tremendous. You can almost play a game as you read the comic: spot the places where the inker or colorist had to draw panties on Shanna! I will say that he writes Shanna as a supremely confident and capable heroine. I’m curious if the power upgrade he gives her will stick or not; it would be fun to read about a super-strong, super-fast jungle woman in the Marvel U.

2 – Monsters and Monkeys – Cho also excels at drawing monsters, dinosaurs, and gorillas. He gets to do all of that here too. I guess when you are the writer; you can make sure that the same story that had raptors, T-rexes, cavemen, and fish-people also has super-strong, mystic gorillas and Lovecraftian (almost Prometheus-looking) space gods. Fans who come to this story looking for bloody action will be satisfied.

3 – Marvel U fans – Maybe you are the type that just wants to see Frank Cho draw icons on the Marvel U. He doesn’t have a huge cast, but he does have Wolverine, Hulk, Shanna, and at least one Celestial. He also spends a lot of time with Amadeus Cho. I’m not sure I remember Cho having all the powers he exhibits here, and he is a lot “prettier” and heroic than I remember, but I think that is what you get when Frank Cho draws a book. He did well choosing Shanna and Wolverine as his leads. His dialogue and banter between the two of them is very well done, especially considering how often he lets Shanna come out on the better end of the conversation. Wolverine seems a bit overmatched by the jungle heroine.

So the plot is fine, it moves the story along. Wolverine and Shanna get to meet up and either fight or team-up with a lot of interesting-looking foils. Folks should read this book for the art and to find a crowd-pleasing high adventure. This is not a character-examination or high drama. This is a FAIR comic where the writer/artist knows exactly what he set out to do, and he does it. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

X-Factor v9: Invisible Woman Has Vanished TPB

My second trade back and I’m loving Strong Guy. Again, I’m shocked that Peter David has made me root for the losers that make up this team. I mean, I know they are the stars of this book, but when the Thing starts going after Shatterstar and Strong Guy, there was not a moment of doubt in who I was cheering for. This era of X-Factor is a delight.

To celebrate the return to New York City, David has the X-Factor investigations team taking a case from Franklin and Valeria Richards. With Madrox and Layla Miller returned to the present, you can only imagine the sparks that fly between Layla and Valeria. It’s a testament to David’s writing that they can maintain their separate voices while exhibiting so many similar characteristics.

I don’t think I’m spoiling anything to say that Reed Richards isn’t really turning into an evil monster. And while the explanation is a bit of an overused cliché, that main plot is only there as a MacGuffin. Once again, characterization is the engine for this vehicle. Seeing the budding relationship between M and Strong Guy as he makes his feelings for her more and more obvious is a classic comics (and soap opera!) storyline, and I know I loved seeing it again. Siryn/Banshee gets rehabilitated and ready for duty in a nice scene involving Jamie Madrox’s most likable dupe.

And again, Layla Miller is playing all the angles as she teams up with Dr. Doom to deal with the Reed Richards problem. The best line of that interaction is undoubtedly Doom’s wish to protect the sanctity of the Richards’ marriage. Even mega-villains have their limits!

The three artists in this collection all do a decent job, but I found myself liking Bing Cansino’s art the best. His work had a pleasing texture to the figures that made them seem more three dimensional, and while his characters had a tendency to fluctuate between cartoony and beautiful, the acting is clear. Valentine De Landro’s work already looks better than in the last trade; more backgrounds and tighter pencils on characters’ faces have done wonders. Karl Moline’s work looks a tad rushed in his short story, with figures a bit more balloon-y and cartoony than I’m used to in his work.

This comic is the strongest ensemble book I’ve read in years. How in the world did I ever stop reading this GOOD comic? 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Detective Comics v2: Scare Tactics TPB

So Batman didn’t really change that much in the new 52. While most of my disregard for DC’s comic books stems from my dislike of their rebooted continuity, my distaste for this comic boils down to the generic nature of the story and the generic nature of most of the art.

I’ve never been a fan of Tony Daniel as a writer, and this trade doesn’t change my mind. The first story is the strongest. Scarecrow sends Batman on a quest to save a little boy, and when Bats gets there, he finds out he’s much too late. It’s an interesting take on a classic story. How can Batman save everyone?

After a crossover with Night of Owls (and man, I’m amazingly tired of those stories already), Daniel transitions to a cloning story featuring the ridiculously named Mr. Toxic. The art doesn’t really help this story feel like anything more than a generic Gotham story. I never really cared for the scientist cloning himself, and only the opening chapter with the Batman robbers felt unique.

The Black Mask story that makes up the next few issues doesn’t make sense. I don’t remember Black Mask having mind-control powers like Mad Hatter, so I felt confused through the entire story. Did I miss that? And again, the art doesn’t do the story any favors, with muddy panels and faces that look like they were rushed.

The final story? I’ll never know. I hate to be mean, but Szymon Kudranski’s art was illegible to me in Green Lantern, and it is just as confusing here. I honestly couldn’t figure out what was happening from panel to panel. So I just gave up. I read just about everything I can get, but I put this book down unfinished. It just wasn’t worth trying to figure out the story.

So average at best story supported by awful art? Yeah, this is an EVIL comic. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Cable & X-Force v2: Dead or Alive TPB

With the flawed core concept out of the way, Dennis Hopeless has a much easier time getting his adventure stories across in this trade.

I never bought into the idea that the X-Men and Avengers would suddenly believe that this X-Force team was evil. It is far more likely that most of them would react like Boom Boom does in this story; she trusts that they have reasons for their actions and asks how she can help. By having Captain America, Rogue, and the rest of the “Unity Squad” be such a bunch of hard asses, they end up coming off like villains. (I think I need to devote an entire post to what has happened to Rogue in Marvel Now. Where most characters have been refocused and “fixed” during the relaunches, I’m convinced Rogue has been ruined.)

So, if we accept that Cable is taking action to save the world various apocalypses, and he can’t tell anyone else besides his chosen half-dozen heroes, then at least we know that is the concept going forward. With that out of the way, the stories go a little more smoothly. One story involves breaking into the Raft to get a high-value alien target off the Earth.

I really like the relationship Hopeless has established with Colossus and Domino, so their scenes through the bars of Colossuses’ cell are well played. I also loved the interaction with the two X-bosses. Wolverine trusts Colossus implicitly (as does Shadowcat). As for Cable, when Cyclops comes calling, he’s there to support his son, contrary to the sensational cover.

Hope finally ditches her foster family in the final issue of this collection. We knew it had to happen. She’s too important a character to the X-mythos to retire off-panel so soon.

Are people really in to the banter and rivalry between Forge and Dr. Nemesis? I have to confess it isn’t doing anything for me. I’ve never taken to Dr. Nemesis. I like jerk characters, but he’s too far gone for me.

Salvador Larroca’s art is still a high point for me. I love his shiny take on Colossus, and other than the hand, I like his Cable too. Domino looks fantastic. It’s a little thing, but I like the different hairstyles on different characters. Larroca has a lot of guest-stars to draw, and they really shine. Cyclops’ new ruby visor seems to be a piece of hard plastic wrapping around his head. Abigail Brand has a sci-fi look different than the other characters. The only thing I don’t like is that AWFUL new Captain America costume. It is in the same category as Hawkeye’s current suit; no one draws it well.

This is the definition of a FAIR comic.