Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Red Lanterns v4: Death of the Red Lanterns TPB

You will never convince me that Peter Milligan doesn’t see this book as a sad joke. There are far, far too many instances of laughable dialogue in these pages. Let me give you some of the finer quotes.

“Gnnng… Gnnnn…”
“Gnngn! Kkilll…Yoouu…”

I’m skipping over all the “Aarghs” and “Aagh’s”. But between them, they account for about 20% of the story. Plus, let’s be real, this is a story about a bunch of space monsters that are CONSTANTLY PUKING UP NAPALM BLOOD. And the lead? The closest thing we’ve got to a point of view character? His name is Rankorr! It’s not even spelled correctly!

There are a few moments when I almost made myself care, when the new 52/bad versions of good characters show up in the Stormwatch crossover. Seeing somewhat interesting characters fighting the Red Lanterns at least gives me someone to cheer for. Am I supposed to prefer Atrocitus over Abysmus? I can’t even read their names without giggling. Don’t worry, their angst-ridden dialogue is full of purple prose, exposition, and lots of vomit. I mean that literally, as a Red Lantern, about 50% of Atrocitus’ dialogue is positioned over a spume of red puke. 

The art is acceptable, but is lacking backgrounds in almost every scene. Every character is disgusting, with bones and spikes poking out of flesh. Some of the panels look a bit… computery? Miguel Sepulveda's style is way too "house New 52" for me. 

I suppose, in the end, there was sort of a point to the story in this collection. But man, it sure takes a long time to get there. The pacing had driven out the last of my limited interest about halfway through this EVIL comic. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Green Arrow v4: The Kill Machine TPB

Why, oh why, does every single hero need to be a part of a secret conspiracy? Wasn’t it good enough that Oliver Queen learned to shoot a bow fighting pirates on some crazy island? I guess not, because Jeff Lemire spends this entire trade building up a complicated backstory devoted to giving a vigilante with a bow a deeper meaning.

It seems that Oliver Queen’s dad was really a devotee of a secret cult of weapons masters. These “Outsiders” are each named by a totem weapon, and they have secretly guided the world for centuries. The elder Queen gave up on Oliver when he didn’t show an aptitude for the bow, replacing him with an apprentice who has stuck around to endanger our hero now.

I can’t stand it when characters are suddenly revealed to be one in a long-standing line of legacy characters. In my opinion, it just makes the current lead less unique (Marvel is doing the same with Black Knight these days).

You know I can’t get through a DC review without complaining about the “reimagined” versions of characters I used to enjoy. This time, in addition to Green Arrow himself, we have new/bad versions of Count Vertigo, who has given up the spandex and looks ready for a TV movie. Richard Dragon, formerly a butt-kicking hero, is now a criminal with an entirely different look and motivation. Butcher is one of the aforementioned “Outsiders” the master of the axe or some such. The only character to make it through mostly unscathed is Shaddo. She seems to have retained the look and powers that made her an interesting character in older GA stories.

Andrea Sorrentino’s art has one big thing going for it: it doesn’t look like every other book in the new 52. It’s got almost an Alex Maleev vibe going on, a grittiness that really sells Green Arrow as being in his own corner of the DCU. Too bad that every single issue includes one character or another saying “Should we call the Justice League? Nah, let’s let GA handle it himself.” So basically, the dangerous situation only exists because no one feels like giving Martian Manhunter a call.

Sorrentino’s down-to-Earth style does keep the look grounded, but that actually hurts when dealing with more historically flamboyant characters like Count Vertigo. Without his cape and spandex, he just seems like a boring version of his old self.

This might be an OK comic if the reader has no experience with Green Arrow. But this is an EVIL comic if you have the option of going back and reading stories that are actually good. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Powers Bureau v1: Undercover TPB

It’s been a long time since I checked in on Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming’s corner of the independent comic scene. I started off a big fan of Powers back in the day, so when I saw this new relaunch sitting at the local library, I decided to give it a whirl.

I need to catch up, but evidently there was a huge battle in Chicago, and Walker now has some new powers. It sounds like he’s basically a Green Lantern, only he can only use his new powers when he’s on a mission of cosmic importance. I guess he and Deena tracking down a super-villain with super-sperm doesn’t qualify.

That’s right, the first villain in this volume is a dude who makes super-sperm that can impregnate men AND women through any skin contact. This is understandably gross, and it must be the kind of concept that Bendis has to keep tamped down when he’s writing X-Men. I’m glad he gets to indulge somewhere, because it is an original idea that leads to some explosive results. Deena’s foul language does grate on me a bit, but it seems to do the same for most of her new co-workers too.

I’m having a hard time remembering who Walker and Deena are working for, is that the lady who seems to have Big Barda’s powers and backstory? I know she was a fed in earlier issues of the series.
The rest of the villains in this volume are a secretive gang trying to grow super-powered kids for the mob. There are some ties to previous Christian Walker stories, so that leads to some neat interactions. I also love undercover stories. There is always one or two guys that just totally trust that undercover cop, aren’t there? I almost feel bad for those guys.

Avon Oeming’s art remains deceptively simple. While the details are sparse, the storytelling and scene-setting are strong. At this point, I don’t think anyone else could draw Walker’s square jaw just right.

This is a GOOD comic for Powers fans, either current or lapsed like me. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

New Warriors v1: The Kids are Alright TPB

What a delightful first story arc. Don’t get me wrong, I’m certain the book is not long for this world. But for now, I’m going to read this with my daughters and love every minute.

The opening arc starts off right, with the High Evolutionary teaming up with Craig Kyle’s evolution-minded cavemen from his X-Men arc a few years ago. I’m a sucker for classic opponents like Herbert Wyndham, so seeing him rationalize his plan to wipe out all non-baseline humans? Right in line for the confused character.

But man, bringing in the Darkhold? The evil Cthullu-based book that anchored some great Avengers and Midnight Sons stories? (And yes, there were some great Midnight Sons stories, people!) Now I’m on board. And Yost cranks up the nostalgia even more by confusing the identity of his creation Water Snake. She says she’s a Lemurian sent to the surface to find heroes, but Justice and Speedball are absolutely convinced that she’s their old teammate Namorita. It’s hilarious reading Speedball dialogue as he needles her. He’s convinced she’ll come around, but he doesn’t seem too eager to force the issue. It is great seeing the two characters just accept the oddness of comic book amnesia.

And then the guest stars. Yost does a wonderful job with the guest-starring Avengers. Thor is a mix of imposing and fun. Cap is the just, but fair leader. Cap’s understanding response that Speedball and Justice are of course welcome to use the tower, but they have to give up the New Warriors name is reasonable, justified, and enraging. Yost does a great job playing the Avengers as the annoying authority figures.

The art by Marcus To and Nick Roche is consistent too. I’ve always like Roche’s Transformers work, but he impressed me with his great job with costumed superheroes. I can’t imagine he will need to wait to get more work from Marvel. To’s characters always skew a bit young for me, but there is no denying their flashy, dynamic appearances. My daughters both adore the look of the team in their costumes.

This is a GOOD comic, a pretty kid-friendly one. I had to skim over some Penance hints, but other than that? Fun for the whole family! 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Deadpool v3: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly TPB

Well color me impressed. After two fairly lackluster stories in this volume of Deadpool, Gerry Dugan and Brian Posehn really up their game in volume three. They play on some of the classic Weapon X and Deadpool tropes of missing memories, confused pasts, and anguish that reaches into the present.

In this volume, we’ve seen strange secret agents kidnap DP for mysterious purposes. It turns out that rogue geneticist Butler is working for the North Koreans. He’s been kidnapping DP and learning from his super powered healing factor for years. It seems that not only is North Korea asking for Butler to create his own mutants, but Butler himself has a sister (?) that he is trying to save from cancer, just as Wade Wilson was saved all those years ago.

The story is good, but not excellent as it opens. Butler kidnaps DP, gives him a bit of a fantasy world to sleep in while the current research happens, but ‘Pool breaks out and starts to wreak havoc. He meets up with some disfigured “artificial” mutants; poor folks who have been tortured and threatened into compliance. Deadpool finds a couple more Weapon X’ers, and the three of them start getting some sweet vengeance.

Dugan and Posehn have always had a nice voice for Wade Wilson, but man, do they nail Wolverine and Cap. Cap is a strategic leader, always saying the right thing, even getting good effort and some degree of loyalty from Deadpool. Wolverine is a killer, like DP, but he understands Cap’s position too. When Deadpool questions some of Cap’s decisions, Wolvie has the perfect answer. Cap doesn’t hang around for killing because he’s needed elsewhere, but Cap is under no illusions of what kind of people Wolvie and DP really are. It’s a great scene, one of the many that really impressed me. I’d like to see these guys do more with the greater Marvel U.

Scott Koblish wasn’t always this good either, right? Heck, maybe I’m thinking of something else, because a quick Google search only shows solid work. I’m impressed by the art in this trade too. The main characters all look great, especially the disfigured, tragic X-Men copies. The art makes me care for these guys after only a page or two; the emotion is so clear on their faces, I’m invested immediately.

This is the best Deadpool story in Marvel now, and really, a fun story overall. It messes around with Wade’s already confusing past, but that doesn’t keep it from being a GOOD comic. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Rocketeer Adventures HC

So in all honesty, this thing barely holds up as any kind of narrative. Sure, some top notch writers get to throw together some quick plots and fun dialogue, but let’s face it, this is an art book. You’re picking up this collection to see top notch artists draw a classic pulp hero and his gal Betty. If that is what you came to see, you won’t be disappointed.

Not surprisingly, my favorite sections are the ones drawn by Mike Allred and Darwyn Cooke. Both indulge in a bit of tasteful good girl art, but it is all in service to the story (wink). Gene Ha’s section has a much stronger conflict than the rest, with the Rocketeer facing down against a Nazi aeronaut with similar powers. Ryan Sook is such a great artist, seeing his gleaming Rocketeer helmet shine off the page made me long for more work from the guy. John Cassaday knocks his pages out of the park too, surprising no one.

As an art book, this thing is wonderful. I am not very familiar with the Rocketeer himself (other than the move when I was a kid), and I can’t say I know too much more about the character after reading this collection. But again, the story isn’t the point. If you want to see some EXCELLENT artists put together some beautiful pages, then this will be a GOOD comic for you.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Batman: Dark Knight: Mad HC

Guys, I've read a lot of Batman comics. A lot. I've been reading them for 30-some years.

And I think this might be the worst Batman comic I've ever read.

I'm tempted to just give you a list of the neck-snapping, head shooting, mass drowning, body-dropping violence. Or I could describe the massive beatings, jaw-breaking punches, or psychological torture that Batman ACTUALLY CARRIES OUT on his foes. Or I could list the silly puns and nicknames that Gregg Hurwitz has Batman and Alfred use with each other.

Or would you like to hear about the "one true love" that Bruce Wayne finds in this book? The woman who is going to change everything. Make him retire into happiness? Oh wait, she dies an awful, tortured death and has her body thrown out of a helicopter onto the Bat symbol. But wasn't it dramatic? Don't you love seeing Batman re-dedicated to his grim, dark task?

Or maybe the villain? The Mad Hatter? Did you know that he's super strong because of special teas now? Or did you know that he has Scarecrow-like "fear tea" that can cause identical problems for the Batman? (Identical even down to the type of hallucination suffered by our Dark Knight.) Rubbish.

This is about as new 52 as anyone could ever want. There is not a single relatable character in this entire story. (Maybe Alfred. Maybe.) Both Hurwitz's story and the art take great joy in each tearing bit of muscle, each bit of brain blown out, or in the HUNDREDS of drowned corpses slopping through the sewers of Gotham. This is a mean-spirited, petty comic. Even for a book based on revenge, this is too much. I don't want to read about a world so dark that Gotham PD has to fish men, women and children off the shores of Gotham after they drown themselves.

I've read and enjoyed other comics by Gregg Hurwitz. I don't get it! His Moon Knight was great! His Punisher was satisfying! How could that same guy write this???

Ethan Van Sciver's art is as detailed as ever. Each hanging bit of jaw tissue is visible after Batman pulverizes Tweedle Dee's jaw. When hallucinating, I can practically pick out each piano key sticking out of Batman's girlfriend's torn flesh. The other artist? Szymon Kudranski? Things happen in his chapters too, but I'm afraid I can't tell you what. The art was incomprehensible to me.

I jokingly judge comics either "Good" or "Evil" on this blog. When I call this one "Evil" I might not be joking.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Transformers: Regeneration One v2 TPB

Skorponok leads the charge! This second volume of the "original, continuing adventure" for the Transformers switches antagonists as Megatron fades from view. Instead, former headmaster Skorponok steps up with a pretty diabolical plan.

At the end of the series in the '80s, a bunch of the characters had used nucleon, a strange substance that removed the Transformers' ability to change forms, but souped up their energy levels or brought them back from near death. Grimlock has been searching for a cure, now that most of the recipients are unhappy or in agony after using the substance. Skorponok has a fix, but he wants Grimlock to help him with his little plan too. Skorpy has invented a device that turns Autobots evil.

This leads to a great little chase where more and more Cybertron-based Autobots are "freed" from the burden of morals. Grimlock gets the ball rolling when he turns Perceptor, but most of the Autobots quickly fall too. In the end, the Dinobots, Grapple, Hosehead, Blurr, and Crosshairs eventually represent the last 'Bots in control of themselves. (Hot Rod is still around too, but he's busy with other problems.)

In the end, Simon Furman has a nice little twist that shows the Autobots' ingenuity and gives the villain his appropriate comeuppance. There are also plenty of clues about where the rest of the series is headed. Galvatron, Soundwave, and Hot Rod all seem to have subplots percolating that should lead us into our next volume.

Andrew Wildman's art is still tremendous. I wish he was drawing a few more "classic" Transformers, though. He gets to draw a ton of Autobots as more and more of them start showing up, but since Megatron killed most of my old favorites in v1, we don't have enough cassettes, jets, or insecticons hanging around. Me Timbotron disappointed.

This isn't as strong as More Than Meets the Eye, but it is probably as entertaining as Robots in Disguise. Fans of the 80's series owe it to themselves to see how this GOOD comic ends.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Infinity: The Hunt #1-4

I will say this: the crossover/spin-offs for Infinity do a remarkable job maintaining the level of quality and the excitement from the main title. Having read all of the Infinity books and crossovers on Marvel Unlimited, boy am I glad I just read them online. (Inhumanity sure seems like more in the same vein.)

When the super-schools of the Marvel Universe gather for a Contest of Champions, things go wrong when Thanos' generic alien army attacks the Earth. Rather than focusing on the more interesting instructors (we could have read about She-Hulk, Giant-Man, Meggan, Captain Britain, Shuri Panther and more), the focus is on the students. Even worse, with so many characters caught up in other stories (like the excellent Avengers Arena), we are left with only a few strong characters to carry the load.

Quentin Quire, Finesse, and Genesis all have potential, but they share too much screen time with generic students from Wakanda, Latveria, and other schools. The villains don't offer us very much motivation either, as they are faceless masses of underlings.

Matt Kindt does a remarkable job making me care for the conflict at all. There are even a few times when I was worried for a new character! The big leviathan beast's fate in particular is quite moving and well handled. But the whole time I read this series, I was confused as to why the characters up on that cover aren't the ones featured.

Steven Sanders' art is pretty strong at this point. His takes on the characters are all on-model and the storytelling is clear. I wish I could have seen more "big-names" on the page, though.

As I said, much like Inifinity itself, this EVIL comic is skippable.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Infinity Heist #1-4

I'm torn. I always enjoy Frank Tieri's focus on the underworld of the Marvel U, and there is no doubt that this is the only place to check in with d-listers like the ones that star in this comic. But uneven art and a fairly generic, impact-less story keep me from recommending this too highly.

So yeah, if you wanted to catch up with Whiplash, Firebrand, Spymaster, Whirlwind, Unicorn, and Blizzard (who is almost the star), this is the book for you. It starts off in a pretty amusing fashion as the group plans to steal a bunch of Iron Man's armor while the Avengers are off fighting in the Infinity crossover. (Iron Man is one of the Avengers to stay on Earth, but that doesn't seem to be a problem.)

Things go along fine until the book earns its place as an Infinity tie-in when Blizzard suddenly gets Inhuman powers. It seems he can overload machines... why? Blizzard was a perfectly good D-level villain and part-time Thunderbolt, now he's got a confusing new skin color and a power that seems worthless when combined with his alter ego's ice powers. Worst of all, this Inhuman connection barely ties into the plot; it is there to show a connection to the main event, that's all.

The main book has a surprise villain with a pretty silly master plan. Taking over New York? I suppose that small scale mission is about right for the cast, but it seems silly. It doesn't help that I don't know who the suprise villain is and I never really learn more about him in the comic. He's too generic to ever really make an impression.

Tieri does his best work when dealing with the interactions among the team of thugs. Whirlwind is likable and stupid, and Tieri does include a callback to his obsession with the Wasp. Blizzard seems like a pretty decent guy, an everyman who somehow became a villain. The other characters don't get too much time to shine, but what we see of them works nicely, especially when interacting with each other.

Al Barrionuevo handles most of the art, and he's OK. The modern redesigns of the villains are all weaker than the originals, making me pine for the classic 70's and 80's looks of Spymaster, Blizzard, and the rest. The art gets confusing when Iron Man shows up, it sure seems to me that he switches armor halfway through the fight (he's in his space/Guardians armor for a bit, then the black and gold Earth suit on subsequent pages).

This book attempts to give us a glimpse into the world of "normal" supervillains, but when that same type of story is being done SO well over in Superior Foes of Spider-Man, it is hard to recommend this take. This book is EVIL.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Abe Sapien: Dark and Terrible and The New Race of Man TPB

As the rest of the B.P.R.D. deals with the slow descent of the world into the Apocalypse, Abe Sapien's comic is telling a much more personal story. After getting mortally wounded, Abe has fled his home at B.P.R.D. It doesn't seem he has a terribly clear goal in mind, he's just out trying to figure out who he is and what he stands for. Fortunately, he's still the same good-hearted, heroic character we've come to love over the last decade.

Dark and Terrible covers his initial run from home. Mike Mignola and John Arcudi get some nice mileage out of the recap sequences that lays out just how horribly messed up the world has become. Things were bad when Abe was shot, but things are a lot worse now. Eventually, Abe finds himself sheltering in a small town church; a church where the paster is a bit too accepting of weird ideas and people.

I enjoyed seeing Abe's stay in this town, because I've got to think this is what life is for most "normal" people in the Hellboy universe. Chicago is abandoned. San Diego is destroyed, we know lots of other cities are totally gone too. But small towns like Grayrock live on. Cut off from aid, with no military support coming, these small towns are just hanging on, hoping that things will get better. Sheriffs, local cops, and militias are the only line of defense against the supernatural. Maybe if something big is happening, the BPRD will send a strike team or two to help out.

Sebastian Fiumara's art is moody, dark, and evocative. In other words, perfect for a Hellboy universe story. It's a little thing, but I loved the tactical gear he gives the BPRD members. Everyone has hooks, clasps, and pouches hanging off them, making them seem so much better equipped for the madness than those poor normals hiding in rags.

The New Race of Man takes us to the Salton Sea, where strange egg pods are hatching, although their odd babies are rapidly eaten by mutated coyotes. Abe does some swimming in the salty water, finding more weirdness and maybe remembering a bit more about his past. The bulk of the story takes place on shore, as Abe joins a community of monster-watchers who are just waiting for the world to end. Again, the main focus is on the sociology of mankind as it watches everything collapse. Why go back to work at Costco when a horde of tunneling monsters might pop up and kill you tomorrow?

Max Fiumara handles the art on this story, and I don't care for the art as much as in the first. The details are a bit looser, fingers don't look right, faces are more impressionistic, body shapes are less realistic. It isn't bad art, but when the monsters look as realistic as the humans, that takes a bit from the narrative.

Mignola and Arcudi are still steering their corner of comics into some absolutely amazing places. You can't go wrong with this GOOD comic.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy Fourth of July!

Things have been hectic around here the last few weeks, but normal M-W-F services should start up again on Monday! Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Iron Man: Rings of the Mandarin (#23-28)

In the end, I find Kieron Gillen's run on Iron Man to be a frustrating one. Gillen clearly has some fantastic ideas for the character. The run is full of unique, new obstacles for Tony Stark to overcome. The opening arc showed all sorts of potential, especially when dealing with magic as technology.

Gillen went back to the well for this final arc. The Mandarin's rings have always been alien tech, but they blended suprisingly well into a story that featured Malekith the Dark Elf. Malekith's faerie world proved fertile ground, as a souped-up, magically augmented Iron Man armor really made these conflicts stand out. And after seeing Stark struggle for so long, Gillen did a great job of turning things around just a few issues in to this storyline. With Dark Angel and Arno Stark's help, Iron Man was ready for just about every contingency. The three person think-tank was a great storyline, especially when Dark Angel became Stark's personal Oracle. (If DC isn't going to use the concept, why not let Marvel use it?)

After dealing with Malekith for a few issues, Iron Man takes on the remaining ringbearers as the story wraps up. While there are definitely times where the story starts to feel a bit Green Lantern-ish, with different colored rings tossing around different colored creations. I almost think this was on purpose, though, because the story quickly moves past the device. The driving force (for me) was the unique, interesting personalities exhibited by each of the rings. Instead of brainless tech, each ring has a personality and regularly attempts boardroom style meetings to hash things among peers. What a concept!

The Liar ringbearer was Pepper Potts' fiance, but man, I can't even remember the guy's name (and I read the issue last week). It sure feels to me like that storyline got rushed when Gillen exited the title. The dude was introduced and turned so fast, he didn't have time to make that much of an impression.

The art was consistent through this entire arc. Joe Bennett and Luke Ross made seamless transitions as they traded off artistic chores, and their complimentary styles meant that I barely noticed the artistic switches. (I've noticed this about Ross before, he's a chameleon). I love that Arno Stark is wearing a modern, black and gold suit that is CLEARLY telegraphing Iron Man 2020's gear-shouldered armor. We all know where this story is going, and it is great seeing the seeds planted.

So Gillen's run. Entertaining. Enjoyable. But I can't help but feel that there was some sort of disconnect between the dynamic ideas and the somewhat meandering feel of the monthly books. Perhaps some stories were padded? In any case, I will continue following Gillen to his next Marvel book (let's cross our fingers for those Dr. Strange rumors).

This book ended up being GOOD, but man, I think it was almost EXCELLENT.