Monday, March 31, 2014

Captain America: Loose Nuke, Iron Nail

Since the current Iron Nail story is so tied to the Loose Nuke story, I'll be taking a look at both for my sublist assessment!

Few titles needed a refocus as much as Rick Remender’s Marvel Now Captain America. While I enjoyed the concept and repercussions of the Dimension Z story, it was not a saga that needed 10 issues to tell. By the end, I was barely making myself read the conclusion of the story. I appreciate self-contained stories as much as the next guy, but man, trapping Cap in another world, losing the costume and supporting cast, and keeping the main villain off-panel for much of each issue? Not a recipe for a compelling story.

Fortunately, Remender has refocused to EXACTLY the types of stories I want in a Cap title. First off, he set Cap and Falcon against Nuke, a classic Daredevil villain with perfect plot ties to Cap and the super-soldier program. Remender did a great job with Nuke’s characterization throughout, with constant references to “fighting for our boys” and the like. Nuke’s fears that American servicemen and servicewomen will be forgotten came from a sympathetic place, even as he engaged in horrible, mind-controlled atrocities.

Even better, I love the way Falcon has returned to his role as Cap’s most capable partner. Cap’s having a hard time dealing with the fallout of Dimension Z, and Falcon is his moral rudder during this emotional storm. Falc keeps him on-track AND helps him during his fights. Best of all, Falcon’s pet Redwing actually gets a moment too! At one point, Nuke tosses a grenade at the heroic duo, but Redwing knocks it aside. Now that’s a handy super-pet! I remember laughing out loud when I read it.

Later, when new villain Dr. Mindbubble has a slew of SHIELD agents going after our heroes, Falcon has a great line about how obvious it is that their opponents are not controlling themselves. It’s a “ho-hum, how normal” type comment that shows off how smart and professional the two heroes are at this point.

Another aspect of the book I’m enjoying is the inclusion of Arnim Zola’s daughter Jet Black. As I said in her first appearance, she could not look more like a Kirby creation, honestly, it is like Remender just transported Big Barda into the Marvel U. Heck, the more I think about it, the more accurate that comparison is. I thought Jet’s Marvel NOW issue was the weakest issue in a long time, which was a bummer, but fortunately she’s back to her hard-a$$ ways in the Iron Nail story.

The art has been great too. Carlos Pacheco came onboard during the Nuke story, while Nic Klein has been remarkable in his ability to keep the book with a consistent look. I absolutely hate Cap’s current armored look, but both Pacheco and Klein draw it well enough that I can tolerate it. The new villains Iron Nail and Dr. Mindbubble look like 1970’s Marvel creations, which is exactly how they should be portrayed. Nuke has never looked better either (and he may not get another appearance, if his status at the end of his story is correct).

This looks and feels like a classic Marvel super-hero story. Old bad guys, new bad guys, old heroes, new heroes. This book is adding to the Marvel Universe while utilizing the rich history of the main character. This is a GOOD comic with a solid spot on the sublist.  


Friday, March 28, 2014

Iron Man: Iron Metropolitan

Time for a sublist check-up! I'll be going through my sublist and posting my thoughts about my regular, monthly purchases and how safe they are to stay on my list.

First up, Iron Man!

This is a title that I really want to like, but I’m afraid that Kieron Gillen’s story just isn’t doing it for me. As I’ve said in the past, there are some fantastic story elements going on; I love the inclusion of Tony’s brother Arno Stark. Readers in the know realize that Arno is destined to become Iron Man 2020 (an 80’s villain with a distinctive look). One of the newer issues even had Arno controlling a massive suit of armor complete with the gear-shaped shoulder pads, Iron Man 2020’s most distinctive feature.

I also really love Gillen’s use of the Mandarin’s rings. Instead of a bunch of focuses for one character, Gillen has given each ring sentience and a personality. One of my favorite recent scenes was the virtual meeting where the rings met and discussed their current hosts. This leads to a bit of a “Green Lantern” vibe as the different rings seek out personalities that mesh well with the ring’s characteristics, but it does make for some nice visuals.

I also appreciate that even when a recent issue tied in to the totally uninteresting Inhumanity, Gillen still delivered a book that focused on its regular ongoing story and didn’t lose focus.

So in a book with all these positives, why am I not more engaged? I’m not sure. I think the pacing is off. It seems like not a whole lot has changed or developed since we first saw Tony and Arno decide to partner up. The whole Mandarin City story ended up being a six-issue exercise in wheel-spinning.

I wanted Iron Man to get back to more Earth-bound stories, and Gillen delivered that. Now I wonder if I need an issue or two of “classic” Iron Man style stories. The first 5 issues of this volume are still my favorite; done-in-one issues with classic (or classic feeling) villains made the book feel like it was moving along. Maybe we could get some Spymaster? Or a Stane or a Hammer? I’ve already forgotten the names of the ring bearers who plagued Iron Man during this story.

Joe Bennett’s art has been fine, but not anything breathtaking. The GL-style pencils I mentioned above looked perfectly normal, since Bennett pretty much epitomizes the current DCU house style. I wish I loved the art more, especially since I like this current black and gold armor so much.

I’m keeping this on the sublist for now, but man, this FAIR comic is on the lower tier of my sublist for sure. 
SAFE (for now)

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Suicide Squad v2: Basilisk Rising TPB

Ugh. I’m sorry, it doesn’t matter what else happens in this collection. The main villain behind the titular Basilisk organization is Regulus. Regulus is one of the worst designed, generic, and 90’s looking villains I’ve ever seen. What little we get of his origin is almost unreadably boring. Seriously, there is a zero issue in this trade that focuses on the New 52 version of Team 7, and I couldn’t read it. The characters all looked and talked the same and their motivations and plot were needlessly vague. Honestly, I couldn’t force myself to read it.

The main storyline isn’t quite as dire. The Suicide Squad concept works well because it is so darn easy to get invested in. A crew of super-villains sent by the government to do some dirty work? Instant classic. Even better, Adam Glass wisely steers away from too many New 52 references. This can almost, but not quite, stand on its own (there are a few too many references to Harley Quinn’s obsession with the Joker’s sliced-off face).

Deadshot makes for a surprisingly effective lead, and the romantic tension between him and Harley gives the book a good dynamic during the personal scenes. King Shark is played for savage comedy like always, and he still excels in the role. El Diablo and Black Spider are too generic to get too much of a read from, but they work well as seat-fillers for the rest of the team. New member Iceberg also fits right in (and seems destined for a quick body bag if you ask me).

The trade includes a pretty interesting race to capture the Resurrection Man. The crossover with that comic is the strongest story, probably helped by the involvement of Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning. That story feels the most populated and histories; the characters actually seem like they have complex motivations.

The Basilisk story is pretty generic; a traitor, secret organization, another traitor. It has been so long, I can’t remember if Boomerang’s relationship with Deadshot is from this series or if it relies on old continuity, but my confusion about what counts and what doesn’t ensured that I didn’t care about seeing these classic teammates reunite. It is simply too much work remembering what “happened” and what didn’t.

The art from Fernando Dagnino is average to good, with some action sequences really coming off nicely but the slower “acting” not coming through clearly. The art isn’t helped by some horrible printing; multiple pages are blurry or scratchy, looking like a bad print job. I could have spent more time trying to interpret those pages, but honestly… why?

This book is cancelled, and I can’t imagine my library is going to order any more trades for this POOR title. I think I’ll survive. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Harbinger Wars

I’ve kept up with a lot of the Valiant titles since the modern relaunch, although I generally collect them when Comixology runs sales. I hadn’t been following Bloodshot or Harbinger, but I wanted to check out the new Hard Corps series, and that story supposedly started here, so I picked up Harbinger Wars to see what was going on.

Joshua Dysart and Duane Swierczynski do a pretty solid job explaining a sort of complicated story. Basically, Project Rising Spirit is an evil company with super-powered child soldiers. They aren’t nice guys, because the kids are certainly the sympathetic characters when they are freed by Bloodshot. Bloodshot is a rogue PRS agent out to hurt his old company for wiping his memories and turning him into a killing machine. PRS also employs the Hard Corps team, made up of Gunslinger, Hammerhead, Shakespeare, and Maniac. Fans of the old series will remember these names, but surprisingly, these core characters don’t last anywhere near as long as I’d expected. Not that they are tremendously recognizable in their rebooted incarnations, but still…

On the other side of the conflict are Toyo Harada and his Eggbreakers. Still acting as a morally challenged messiah, Harada wants to save the world, his way. He sends his troops to rescue the PRS children so that he can mold them in his own image as new Eggbreakers. So basically, the kids are going to be used one way or another, it is just a question of which is worse.

The last faction is the Harbinger team, the Renegades. This is Pete Stanchek; Renegade, Flamingo, Zephyr, Torque and the gang from the Harbinger title. They are out for the kids’ welfare, but they find themselves sort of outranked by the self-elected leaders amongst the escapees.

Confusing, huh? Factor in the hatred that most of the characters have for their own bosses and things get complicated quickly. Spaced out over four issues, it does make sense, but man, I’ll be sort of glad when I’m only following one faction after this story arc.

Most importantly, the Hard Corps concept has been updated nicely, and the whole “calling for your next superpower” idea works just as well now as it did in the 90’s. I’ll definitely be transitioning over to the main Bloodshot title (where Hard Corps will live after this).

Clayton Henry has a clean, crisp style that works well both for acting and action. The kids are sort of hard to tell apart, but I really enjoyed his take on the Renegades and Bloodshot. Pretty much every character is sporting a modernized take on their original costume, so I didn’t have a hard time figuring out the players.

As an aside, how interesting is it that so many of Marvel and DC’s B-level talent are working for Valiant now? (I don’t mean that as an insult, most of my favorite artists are “B-level.”) Guys like Henry are solid, entertaining storytellers, and they’d be of great value on books from the big two, yet here they are delivering great work for an independent. It’s just interesting.

This is a FAIR comic, just because I feel like I walked in at the end of a film. But I’m excited to see the quality Valiant is putting out across the line. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Avengers: Prelude to Infinity HC

The beginning of this trade included the two issues that convinced me to drop the Avengers from my subscription. When the team is in the Savage Land, and the book involves the High Evolutionary, Garokk, and Terminus(!!!!!), I need more pages of fighting and less pages of Thor talking about having children.

I’m happy to say Jonathan Hickman did pick up the pace a bit in the next few issues. The different builder zones come into play a lot more, including a faction of awesome stone multi-face dudes. Hickman also gets some more mileage out of AIM Island when Superia and the Scientist Supreme unleash a super-powered creature on the already exhausted Avengers.

In fact, after the breather in the Savage Land, there is a lot of action and character based drama. Captain America, Bruce Banner, and Thor all get some respectable page time, along with Hyperion and a few others. I must confess I’m still not interested in the new Star Brand or Night Mask, but maybe they’ll get killed off during Infinity! My confusion on how those two got on the team is dwarfed by the handful of pages where Ex Nihilo and Abyss join the team. What? Again, I’ve got high hopes that Infinity can address this problem. When Sunspot, Falcon, Spider-Woman, and Cannonball can’t get lines, I don’t need to see more faces filling the panels. Hell, I’m starting to really like Manifold, the new teleporter who graduated from the pages of Secret Warriors.

Hickman really plays up the sense of impending doom, constantly hinting at just how horrible things are going to get for our heroes. Infinity was a big deal, I guess, even if I pretty much skipped it. I will say that reading all these issues right in a row gives the story a sense of momentum I really didn’t feel when buying the book twice a month. I’m actually excited to get to Infinity on Marvel Unlimited now.

Mike Deodato can do very strong comic book work. I really like his take on Captain Marvel’s new helmeted space-suit/uniform; she looks like she belongs hanging with all the big dogs making decisions for the team. I also really liked the modernization of Superia’s look. The AIM super-villain roster is pretty spectacular, and Superia comes off like a great boss villain, in large part because of her look. But the artistic high spots have to be the creatures that Ex Nihilo has seeded on Earth. From the tiger-striped kids in the Savage Land to the sonic bugs in Australia, the villains’ look really sells the danger of the varied foes. Those three-faced stone men… man, I want to see them again.

This comic is FAIR. It’s not what I want from my Avengers (see Mighty Avengers or Uncanny Avengers for that) but this isn’t bad. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Marvel Universe vs. The Avengers TPB

As long-time readers of my site know, I’m a sucker for “last hero standing” type stories so Jonathan Mayberry and Leandro Fernandez’s apocalyptic series is a nice fit for me. 

The first story to be released was Marvel Universe vs. the Punisher, showing the end of the cannibalistic plague that destroys the Earth. The second series followed Wolverine at the beginning of the outbreak. This collection focuses on Hawkeye as he and the surviving Avengers do everything they can to stave off the hordes of cannibalistic former heroes and villains that are now just out for lunch.

One problem with this type of format is that a whole lot of the heroes in the Marvel U have already been accounted for. We’ve seen Hulk, Spidey, the Thing, and tons more as cannibals already, so we know Mayberry can’t use them for much in this middle chapter. That’s how folks like the Avengers Academy students end up as regular characters in the backgrounds of most scenes. Black Widow, Deadpool, Dr. Strange, Thor, Iron Fist, Red Hulk, and Dr. Doom all get some time to shine too; but again, we all know how this story has to end, because of what we saw in MU vs. The Punisher.

Mayberry tells a compelling story; one that is hard to put down. I found myself rooting for the surviving heroes even though I knew what was coming. I enjoyed Mayberry’s use of Dr. Doom as such an enormous threat that even the end of the world just might be preferable to working with Doom. 

I’m not sure I agree with Mayberry’s understanding of Hawkeye, though. Hawkeye here is a much grittier, angrier character. One who survived all those years on the Avengers by hiding his true nature. That nature is closer to Punisher and Wolverine than I think I prefer. It works in the story, but I wouldn’t want to see “normal” Hawkeye acting like this.

Leandro Fernandez is such a fantastic artist. How he manages to blend such a mix of cartoony, bubbly art with the ultra-violence he’s known for… I don’t know how he does it. His take on Hawkeye’s classic suit gives me pangs of regret that we don’t see it more. I also liked his Black Widow and Iron Fist; it would have been fun to see even more of those characters too.

This is a GOOD story for those who like apocalyptic What If’s, especially if you like the idea of your favorite Marvel heroes eating each other. It won’t be as good to folks who want their stories to count. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Dark Avengers: The End is the Beginning TPB

Why was I not informed of this story? I have adored Jeff Parker’s run on Thunderbolts for quite some time, so imagine my surprise that his run was actually concluded in a satisfactory manner, just in a different title. That’s what I get for only following trades for a few years. It is awfully easy to just miss some.

The new Dark Avengers grace the cover of this collection, and they do get some stuff to do in the collection, but largely, the re-titling is a bait-and-switch. Fortunately, it is one that leaves me happy; this book still stars the time-lost Thunderbolts more than anyone else.

It is interesting seeing how Parker humanized so many of the villains on his team. Even Mr. Hyde has a brief moment of humanity when he saves Troll from becoming a monster like himself. It is also delightful seeing Boomerang as the smart-aleck of the group, since he plays that part to the hilt in Superior Foes of Spider-Man.

Parker knows how to balance his leads. The Thunderbolts get most of the pages, but he adds in the new Avengers nicely. He puts them under the command of Luke Cage, who is backed up by Songbird, Mach V, and Hank Pym. So for folks who want to keep up with the more “classic” T-bolts, this book has you covered there too.

I love when writers use pet characters, so I was pleased that Parker found another use for his Sultan Magus character from Red Hulk. He’s a good foil for the team, almost Graviton level if I had to place him on a power chart.

As if this wasn’t enough, the Thunderbolts end up tossed into a Judge Dredd-style future where Boss Cage leads a new faction of heroes and villains into the story. This does get a tad complicated!

The book does suffer a tad from a glut of pencilers, but at least they are all pretty good. Declan Shalvey, Kev Walker, Neil Edwards, and Gabriel Hernandez Walta split the pages up between them. It is telling that Shalvey and Walker have both moved on to prestigious titles since this came out; they are pretty darn good. I love the way Walker draws Satanna…

This is a GOOD comic that does feel like a product of its time and place. But for Thunderbolts fans, it is definitely worth checking out. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Justice League Dark v2: The Books of Magic TPB

You guys know I hate to admit when I’m entertained by a new 52 comic, but Jeff Lemire has pulled off that trick in the second collection of this series.

I gave up on volume one around the time the team was attacking some witch in a house filled with bees, or flies, or something. I picked up this trade at the library to see if things improved. They have. While the story picks up in the middle of some sort of vampire war that I have no clue about, things move along quickly enough that I can just ignore the whole thing. Other than I, Vampire becoming something of a reserve team member, it doesn’t seem that story really mattered much.

Things get more interesting when Constantine leads the Dark team to battle classic villain Felix Faust. Faust has a new, desiccated look that makes him pretty spooky throughout. I really dug the way the team talked about Faust as sort of a doofus, and he seems like he’s going to be a throw-away villain, but then he ends up foiling the team for the entire trade. Teaming Faust up with a few new and classic supernatural villains really gives this a big fight feel. This is the magic Justice League against the magic Legion of Doom. Faust teams up with Nick Necro (new), Blackbriar Thorn (classic), and Black Boris (new to me), along with a surprise traitor from inside the League.

The lineup is part of what makes this book work. While the Dark team was formed by ARGUS, Constantine works pretty hard to put together his own group by tying them to his own magic base of operations. Bennet (the vampire mentioned above), Frankenstein, Amethyst, and Dr. Mist all join to some level, while Black Orchid is on the team for the entire trade. They join Madame Xanadu, Zatanna, Deadman, and Constantine after Shade the Changing man bugs out and disappears. Black Orchid is a lot of fun throughout the story. Her “classic” super-powers actually work really well mixed in on a magical team. Even when people are tossing spells around, super-strength and shape-changing are pretty darn effective!

I’m not a fan of complete skullcaps on ladies’ costumes, but Mikel Janin almost pulls it off with Black Orchid’s new look. I’m more of a fan of the black and neon purple color scheme than the mast, but there is no denying the design is striking. Janin’s art often looks photo-referenced, but in a striking fashion. His Madame Xanadu and Zatanna are beautiful, and you can practically smell the cigarettes wafting from Constantine’s smug face. Janin gets to draw a lot of demons, monsters, and golems, and they all are sufficiently varied to make this feel like a well-populated corner of the Marvel U.

Since I didn’t really have an attachment to any of these Vertigo characters in the old DCU, I found myself enjoying this collection. The only characters I really know are Deadman and Zatanna, and they both are acting just as I remember. I don’t know Timothy Hunter from Harry Potter! No character conflicts for me!

This is a pretty fun collection that makes for a GOOD comic. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

New Warriors (2014) #1 & 2

This is a book where I really needed two issues to see where Chris Yost was going. After all, any book that features cow-person Bova (the adopted parent of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch) getting blasted and possibly killed, that’s a pretty shocking book. Two issues in, and it sure looks like Yost has killed off the Knights of Wundagore, although maybe they are just lying around knocked out in pools of their own blood. There is also a scene where a horde of Lemurian bodies wash up on the beach, so this is a book with a lot of casual death and destruction amongst the non-human races of the Marvel U.

The team takes its time getting together, with the focus spreading to the dispersed line up as they encounter the (SPOILER) High Evolutionary’s underlings.

Justice and Speedball are hanging around with the Salem Seven; it’s amusing seeing them interact with these evil-seeming characters, but in a new series that already introduces new characters, that seems like an awful lot of faces to try to keep straight. I know I already forgot everyone on that team. The two original Warriors are here for old timers like me who miss the earlier incarnations of the team. It doesn’t hurt that Speedball is back to goofing off and acting like the character I loved back in the ‘90s. It’s odd; in the early days, I loved the super-serious Justice. Now I find him a bit of a wet blanket.

Scarlet Spider and Hummingbird are Yost’s characters from his last title, so he seems very familiar with both. I read this comic with my daughters, and they really like Scarlet Spider’s bad attitude (but willingness to do the right thing). These anti-hero types keep coming up because they work so well, we all want the tough guy hero who seems like he’s too cool to help, but does it anyway. I’m less familiar with Hummingbird; she’s got a good look but I’m a little fuzzy on her exact power set. It is nice having Scarlet Spider’s external conscience actually be likable.

Then there are a few new characters, to fill out different groups in the Marvel U. The new Nova hasn’t done much besides get some villain monologues from the Evolutionary. The Inhuman Haechi and the Lemurian Water Snake have barely had any panel time, so I’ve got no opinion on them. I do like the cheerful Sun Girl. She’s got a classic name, a great retro-style costume complete with ridiculous jet pack. I appreciate the diversity of these new characters too. My daughters are already big fans of Sun Girl.

Yost’s villain henchmen are the weird cavemen purifiers from the X-Men series a few years ago. I read and enjoyed that story, but I can’t remember too much about them. They seem pretty powerful for sub-baddies, though. And I must confess I hope that the Evolutionary returns to his “neutral” alignment soon; I don’t’ like him as a straight up bad guy.

Marcus To’s art is bright, clear, and cartoony. The characters all skew young, but for this title, that is absolutely fine. His action is clear and exciting, and when an artist can get a cow-woman’s face to induce pity in the reader, you know the acting on the page is well done too. I can’t help but imagine what To could do with Richard Rider’s Nova costume though… or Namorita. I do love my classic New Warriors.

This is a GOOD comic. While it is a tad violent for my 6 and 9 year old daughters, with a few “they’re just sleeping” comments, it is a fun read for them too. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Moon Knight (2014) #1

I asked at my comic store if this is Warren Ellis from Nextwave, or Warren Ellis from Thunderbolts. The former was one of my least favorite comics I’ve read (an unpopular opinion, I know) while the latter is one of my all-time favorite runs. The answer is: this is Ellis working with established continuity, but bringing his bad-ass sensibilities to a character that can really flourish under that attention. This is Ellis from Thunderbolts!

Marc Spector was in LA, acting as a TV show coordinator in his last series. I can’t speak too much to it, since I skipped that run, but I was never sold on the idea of replacing Spector’s alternate personalities with Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Captain America. I will catch up on Bendis’ take eventually, but for now, I’m glad it is in the rearview mirror.

Moon Knight is back in New York, working with the cops, and while he does seem to be a very lonely man (no Frenchy or Samuels here), he’s got enough automated help to get by. Moonie’s car drives itself, and while he’s rocking a sweet new costume, his tech still seems pretty darn effective. Ellis’ Moon Knight is a very competent detective, too. I never got that impression in previous runs, but I like making the character more like a unique take on Batman. Moonie really enjoys his bad guys seeing him coming, explaining the white suit and mask. It isn’t the classic 70’s look, but it is a visually striking and impressive design. I didn’t think I’d like the new take this much, but after one issue I’m sold.

Declan Shalvey does a tremendous job establishing the tone with Moon Knight’s new look, but he really impresses me with the surroundings. The page showing Moon Knight descending into the lower levels of Manhattan were impressive, and the old-fashioned SHIELD logo really won me over. I also like that Moon Knight’s subtle heroics are totally visible on the page when you take a second look.

I usually don’t mention colorists, but I need to make a mention of Jordie Bellaire. Her use of colors to establish different moods in different locations really powers the book. Plus, Moon Knight’s lack of color on his suit is a striking use of negative space in the wash of constant color. It’s a great look.

There are some more callbacks to previous Moon Knight series, but I’m not going to ruin them here. But I can say that if you like Moon Knight, hard crime heroics, or fantastic art, this GOOD book is for you. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Punisher: Franken-Castle TPB

Listen, this is straight-up ridiculous, there is no getting around it. Frank Castle rides a dragon to attack the castle fortress of a cyberpunk monster hunter and his army of samurai killers. Punisher gets chopped to shreds by Wolverine’s son Daken, then goes after him for a rematch after the Legion of Monsters implants a Bloodstone (of the Ulysses and Elsa Bloodstones) in Frank’s chest. Hell, Punisher re-focuses his mission of revenge after seeing a subterranean kid (one of Mole Man’s people) get killed. Guys, a Mole Man kid inspires the Punisher. 

THAT is how crazy this comic is.

And you know what? It is straight up fun. Now, that’s an easy accomplishment when you are strong a writer as Rick Remender. Castle is always in character, even when he’s stomping around and dealing with ridiculous situations. He might be a little quippier than normal, but basically, Frank Castle acts just the way you would expect about all the madness that surrounds him.

Now, that’s a lot easier when the art is provided by talents like Dan Brereton and Tony Moore. Moore’s work in the opening chapters on the City of Monsters instantly populates the Marvel U with a great new location AND establishes the stakes and supporting characters. I even found myself rooting for Manphibian and I don’t even know who he is! Most of all, Moore makes the monsters look like innocents. They are clearly the victims in this story, and that is made clear from panel one. Brereton handle s some flashback art when dealing with the cyberpunk hunter’s origin, and it is, of course, beautiful.

This is not a comic for fans of the gritty street level Frank Castle. Heck, even at the beginning of Remender’s run he’s fighting the Sentry, the Hood, and a host of resurrected Scourge victims. This series does have some nice angst, as Frank does some pretty awful stuff right before his first meeting with Daken. See, the Hood, thinking that if he removes the Punisher’s motivations that Castle might back off, the Hood resurrects Frank’s family. And Frank burns them alive. He makes lots of comments that it wasn’t really them, but man, this is comics. Are you sure, Frank? And wouldn’t you want to give it a minute to maybe make sure?

So yeah, Remender mixes in some pretty deep stuff with the monster-on-monster ultraviolence. The most shocking part will be that you find yourself really rooting for the monster hunters to get what they deserve. They’re pretty bad villains in a pretty GOOD comic. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Captain America: Patriot (2010)

Honestly, I don’t understand comics. Who was demanding this series? Were people really clamoring for a feature on Jeff Mace, the Captain America of the 1950’s? I just can’t make myself believe there were many people who wanted this. Maybe Marvel was trying to clarify their continuity and timelines? I honestly can’t figure it out.
That’s not to say this isn’t a good series. Mitch Breitweiser’s art is gorgeous from start to finish, and Karl Kesel’s story hits all the required notes. I just can’t figure out why this book was made. Am I forgetting some crossover into Ed Brubaker’s run on Captain America?

Jeff Mace was active as the Patriot, dealing with New York street villains while Cap fought the good fight in WWII. After Cap’s disappearance, Mace steps up when the world needs another Captain America. It is pretty fun seeing Mace try to fill Steve Rogers’s shoes, especially when Namor won’t give him an ounce of respect. Namor is constantly belittling and doubting Mace’s abilities, even when the rest of the team is trying to give him a shot. It’s easy to root for Mace when he’s got a bully like Namor gunning for him.

As I said, Kesel hits all the required notes. There are some All-Winners Squad fights, but most of the interactions we see with the other heroes are personal and character-driven. There are allusions to the Red Scare. There is a nice subplot with Mace trying to figure out his love life. His co-worker and erstwhile partner Mary Morgan clearly loves him, but he has the hots for his FBI handler Betsy Ross. I felt like the Mary Morgan story was a tad unresolved at the conclusion of the series, but I did like Mace getting a happy ending.

Breitweiser’s art is a rare treat. Someone this good should get more work. His work has a lot of similarities to Dougie Braithwaite, only a tad more dreamy. The costumes on the heroes and villains are all nice designs, including new characters like Night Witch or redesigns like Red Guardian. He can clearly handle drawing a large cast; why doesn’t he do more work?

This is a FAIR comic; I don’t know why Marvel wanted it made, but it is fun seeing a forgotten chapter in the Marvel U get a few panels in the sun. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: The Return of the Master TPB

How many years has this series been going on now? 20? 25?

You have to admit, the fact that Mike Mignola has been chronicling the end of the world for this long is pretty darn impressive. Mignola and his co-writer John Arcudi aren’t afraid to upset the apple cart, either. At this point, the BPRD cast is almost unrecognizable. Only Johann, the ectoplasmic man, is left out of the squad of freaks that first appeared in Hellboy. Abe Sapien is floating in a healing tank. Liz Sherman is off the grid. Hellboy is in Hell. Roger the Homunculus is dead. Heck, even Captain Daimyo isn’t with us anymore after succumbing to his jaguar curse.

And the world needs the BPRD. Huge, Cthulhu-type monsters are sitting idle all over the world, spawning new clutches of monsters all the time. England is in ruins and in the midst of an evacuation. Things are frigging DIRE. Factor in the fact that there are still villains hanging around from the first Hellboy series, and things are bad. And this book is called Return of the Master. If you think that means the good guys are getting reinforcements, you haven’t been reading Hellboy.

I won’t spoil, but this trade includes the return of TWO of the Hellboy universe’s greatest villains. Honestly, the good guys don’t have a chance. And they know it. But what makes them heroes is that they keep fighting.

The fight is in the hands of new field agents like Carla Giarocco and Director Nichayko, the undead head of the Russian BPRD. Kate Corrigan is still in charge, and her confident leadership gives the heroes a chance, but it is getting tough to see a happy ending.

This book is full of insane battles. Human agents competently fighting monsters, ghosts, and creatures way beyond them. It’s tremendously entertaining seeing them trying to use high explosives and snipers against undead ogres. Part of the strength of this book is that even though I’m certain I’m not remembering everything I’m supposed to in the overarching plot, there is enough action front and center to make this a riveting comic.

I miss Guy Davis’ art something fierce, but Tyler Crook is doing a great job easing the transition. His simple line work can ably switch between the drab offices of the BPRD and the undead tendons on the monsters. Dave Stewart’s colors plant this firmly in the world of BPRD too; and that is coming from someone who rarely gives colorists the respect they are due.

This is my #2 comic (after G.I. Joe). Someday, when I have to purge some of my long boxes, I guarantee BPRD is going to make it to the last cut. This is an EXCELLENT comic. 

(But please, Mignola, at least bring back Abe Sapien! The heroes really do need some help!)