Monday, March 30, 2015

Princess Leia #1&2

This creative team pretty much guarantees quality. Mark Waid writing a strong lead character in an established universe? Easy sale. Terry Dodson drawing a powerful, attractive female lead with lots of action? Say no more. So yeah, this book pretty much sells itself.

With Jason Aaron handling the “team” book in the core Star Wars title, I was unsure how Mark Waid would handle Leia in her own book. What types of missions would she be on when she’s by herself? We saw her scouting new Rebel bases in Brian Wood’s Star Wars series from Dark Horse a few months ago. I sort of figured Waid would follow a similar path. He doesn’t.

Instead, Princess Leia is a bit more sheltered, much to her chagrin. After the destruction of Alderaan in the first film, Leia is dangerously close to becoming a figurehead and mascot for the Rebellion. The bosses want to keep her hidden and safe, minimizing her impact on the ongoing struggle. With the main Rebellion plans out of reach, Leia comes up with a great mission statement: save the survivors of Alderaan.

Joined by R2D2 and Alderaanian pilot Evaan, this book will follow Leia’s efforts to save the survivors of her home planet’s destruction. It seems the Empire wants to stamp out the last survivors of Alderaan, so Leia has to make sure to find them first. The race seems a tad artificial, but that’s OK with me. Mostly because this sure seems like a good excuse to get some bounty hunters involved. Surely, we can get some Boba Fett or IG-88 action hunting down survivors.

Evaan is a fun contrast to Leia with her strict obedience of Alderaanian norms and social hierarchies. Leia wants to buck the system, but Evaan values the system over everything else. This puts Evaan in a tough spot, since she by her own rules, she has to assist Leia in her unconventional endeavors. I think the two women (and one droid) cast does need a few more voices, but that should take care of itself pretty quickly.

Dodson’s art is wonderful. R2 looks shiny and clean. Leia looks like she just walked out of the films while retaining a comic-book look. I really like Evaan, since we don’t get to see too many female pilots wearing the orange Rebel pilot uniforms. I also like that Evaan is a big lady with a different body shape than Leia. Dodson also nails the Star Wars universe look for settings and aliens. Naboobians look like Naboobians, and the ships are dead on as well.

I’ll be sticking with this GOOD book, as Leia is an unexpectedly fun POV character to follow through the Star Wars universe. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Spider-Woman #5

Let’s all just agree to not really talk about the first four issues of this series, OK? They are very strongly tied in to the main Spiderverse story, and to be honest, they don’t really hold up that well. The story is clearly a side plot, and probably one that didn’t need to be told in such detail. Add in Greg Land’s much-discussed artwork… let’s all just agree that those issues happened, and move on.

The real first issue happens in issue #5. That’s the issue where Dennis Hopeless gets to trot out a new costume, a new attitude, and a new high concept for the series. Let’s be honest, this is 100% the Batgirl-ing of Spider-Woman. She’s got a new costume, she quits the Avengers, and she’s riding around in a cosplay-friendly suit handling street-level problems. This is Marvel’s answer to the DC’s modern Batgirl, and not surprisingly, I prefer Marvel’s take.

The main reason I dig Marvel’s Spider-Woman a bit more than Batgirl is due to the use of classic Marvel villains as plot devices. Any comic where Big Wheel (or his wife) play a role, you gotta know I’m going to appreciate it. Ben Urich is here too, tying this clearly into the Marvel U. I’m not a huge Urich fan, but he’s fine as a supporting character. He makes for a good plot device.

I also really appreciate Jessica Drew’s new outlook. Splitting from the Avengers makes sense, and while I don’t like that she’s messed up quite so many times since the break, I don’t mind the concept. Showing Jessica pull herself up by her bootstraps makes her easier to identify with and root for. I also like that her internal monologue feels like the same character as I’ve read about for years. This is not a new personality, instead it feels like Daredevil’s current outlook; it isn’t a new character, just a new attitude.

And the art is delightful. I will miss the classic Spider-Woman costume. It is just so full of 70’s greatness, I don’t’ think I’ll ever let it go. But the new suit is pretty darn striking and modern too. It still looks like a superhero costume, unlike Hawkeye’s terrible new duds. And Javier Rodriguez’s art is fantastic. The book maintains an independent feel while still looking like a Marvel book. I just wish that villain from the opening pages could show up again! He looks absolutely horrifying and fascinating, and he’s just a throw-away! Imagine what Rodriguez is going to do with classic characters and long-term villains. Exciting!

Thanks to the art, I think this might knock Silk out as my favorite of the Spiderverse launch titles. This book is GOOD!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Silk #1

Of the new Spider-series, my favorite is definitely Silk. I’m not sure if it is set in the regular Marvel U and just makes sense to me, or if it is the sheer joy that Cindy Moon exhibits when she heroes around. Either way, I like Silk, I like Cindy Moon and her secret identity life, and I like how Robbie Thompson is handling both.

For those unfamiliar with her, Cindy Moon/Silk is a new spider-character introduced in Dan Slott’s Spider-Man. Cindy Moon was on the same field trip as Peter Parker in High School, and that spider bit her first. The enigmatic spider-totem Ezekiel hid Cindy in a bunker for years and years. Spidey freed her, and since then she and Peter have had a spider-pheromone infused infatuation with each other. She has also established herself in her own super-identity as Silk.

By day, Cindy Moon works for J. Jonah Jameson at a Fox News analogue. She spends the rest of her time as the vigilante Silk. For a rookie, she’s already got the witty banter down, and she’s cultivating some new super-villains for her rogues’ gallery too.

Cindy is very likable, and her sad life in the bunker hasn’t turned her into a negative person (much like the excellent Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix!). In fact, one of my favorite things in this first issue is that Cindy has a really tough time dealing with people being around. She can’t take it after spending so many years alone in her bunker. At the close of the issue, she decides that the pre-paid bunker is actually still her home, and she returns. How interesting is that?

Stacy Lee’s art has way too much of an anime vibe for me, but again, like many of the current relaunches, I’m pretty sure I’m not the target audience. The art fits the story but the contrast with Dave Johnson’s fantastic cover is a bit jarring for me.

Of the spider-launches, this is my favorite. This is a GOOD comic starring a likable heroine in the mainstream Marvel U. It is good stuff! 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Spider-Gwen #1

I know next to nothing about Spider-Gwen. In Spider-Verse, Gwen had a featured role, but there wasn’t a whole lot of character development for her. In the new series, Jason Latour gives us a lot more, but it is clearly picking up from a series or one-shot that I haven’t read. For example, Gwen spends a lot of time dealing with a rock band called the Mary Janes, but I have no idea who they are or what the history is. Latour does a nice job catching me up, but this doesn’t exactly feel like a first issue.

To be honest, I could have used a tad more explanation that this was an alternate Earth. I mean, I know this Vulture is different than the one we know. I see that Ben Grimm is a cop instead of being the Thing. But there are so many subtle (or not-subtle) callouts to the regular Marvel U, it did limit how invested I got in this comic.

The whole tone of this comic is definitely along the lines of DC’s Batgirl of Burnside relaunch. That goes for the art too. Robbi Rodriguez’s art is very stylized and modern, not done in the normal Marvel style. It is fine but not exactly for me. That said, I love Rodriguez’s design on the Spider-Gwen costume. That is a striking, excellent design.

Like many other current and upcoming comics, I’m pretty sure I’m not the target audience for this comic. Hey, I hope folks dig it, but I’m probably going to pass on picking up the next issues. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

All-New Hawkeye #1

I will give him this; Jeff Lemire is doing his best to write Hawkeye in the same vein that Matt Fraction did. This is an introspective, modern comic. The modern action sequences are intercut by poignant moments from Clint Barton’s difficult childhood with his brother Barney. This is not an action-style book, although there is some Hydra battling going on. Instead, this is a character study of Hawkeye the goof-up, his partner (also Hawkeye, of course) Kate Bishop, and their continuing adventures in a realistic world. And for fans of Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye, this thing is perfect.

But man, this isn’t my Hawkeye.

I still prefer the high-adventure, Avengers-style stuff. I realize that I’m in the minority, but I loved Jim McCann’s Hawkeye and Mockingbird series from a few years ago. That was my speed. But let’s not dwell on what this book isn’t, let’s talk about what it is.

In the present, SHIELD has dispatched Clint Barton and Kate Bishop to attack a Hydra base. The action isn’t standout, but the dialogue is pretty strong as the two heroes banter back and forth. (I’m not sure if there is a printing error, but it did seem like a page or two repeated in an odd fashion.)

One thing that weakens this conflict is the lack of a strong antagonist. I used to have a test/rule about first issues, and this premiere issue fails the test. If the hero fights ninjas, robots, or generic terrorists, then there is not a core story in the title. There is no real bad guy for us to hate yet in this issue. Perhaps it is being written for trade?

Now, in the past, Clint and Barney definitely have a bad guy to focus on. Clint Barton’s Dad is one evil, evil dude, that is clear. From knocking his kids around to the ominous way the book leaves him towering over Clint’s pet frogs, this is a bad guy. There aren’t any super-heroic elements to this story, but it is still moving.

Ramon Perez does a decent job with the art, but he has to spend an awful lot of pages dealing with normal life stuff. It is hard to shine (at least to me) with normal life scenes. The pages battling Hydra have more action, but the faded color tones keep these pages from popping too strongly too. Any chance we get to see Perez do more with the “classic” Hawkeye look and costume?

This is a FAIR comic, but probably a GOOD one who is more into this type of thing. I’m not bailing from the title, as Hawkeye was one of my favorite characters for years. It is just too bad that the current Hawkeye is different from the guy we have now. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Original Sin: Hulk vs. Iron Man TPB

Mark Waid and Kieron Gillen wrapped up their run on two Marvel icons in a strange way. Departing Hulk and Iron Man, respectively, the last big story by the authors involved tying in to the Marvel crossover Original Sin. Unfortunately, I’d say that my opinion of this series is the same as the runs that these creators had on their books. Good concepts, solid execution, but the story never really hooked me.

The sin that comes to light in this story is that Tony Stark may have tinkered with the original gamma bomb. Was Stark responsible for Bruce Banner becoming the Hulk? (Spoilers: No.) There are some neat narrative tricks here. The best is that Stark can’t remember what he actually did the night before the gamma test because he had been drinking so heavily. So he has to use an assortment of technological aids to try to recreate just what happened all those years ago.

While this is happening, the Hulk is hunting down Tony Stark. It’s always fun seeing Hulk rip through Iron Man armor, and that holds in this collection. I also enjoyed the spin of this being an Extremis-focused Hulk. Thanks to Tony Stark’s brother Arno, Hulk is smart AND angry, which is a bad combination.

I am a bit bummed that Kieron Gillen’s Iron Man run sort of petered out in this tie-in mini-series rather than in the core title. I didn’t collect this as it came out, so it almost seemed like Gillen’s story just faded rather than going out with a bang like it deserved. The Iron Metropolitan city, Arno Stark, the black and gold armor… these are all dangling threads that could have used stronger conclusions.

Mark Bagley is one of the MVPs of the Marvel bullpen, and he pulls his weight again. It’s not a tough sell to draw Hulk fighting different Iron Man suits, but it isn’t guaranteed to look this good. I especially enjoyed seeing Bagley’s take on the black and gold suit. I’ll miss that one, the current white suit just doesn’t do it for me.

This is a FAIR comic. Perfectly fine, but an odd place to tuck away story conclusions that should have gone down in the core titles.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Red Lanterns v4: Blood Brothers TPB

Charles Soule’s name got me to pick up a series that I had given up on, and man, am I glad I did. This collection is a total reversal in quality from what I found in the first few trades. It turns out that adding a popular character, adding unique personalities to the supporting cast, adding a sense of fun, and reducing the use of “Hrrrngg” and “Grrrllrrrggg” by 75% goes a long way in making a bad comic turn good!

Instead of keeping the focus on the boring Atrocitus (who NEVER should have anchored any sort of series), Soule immediately brings in Guy Gardner. It is simply a revelation. Bringing in Guy Gardner, letting him keep his unique tough guy voice, and making Guy the leader of the Red Lanterns suddenly transformed this title into a great read. Even Rankorr, the stupidly named Brit who was meant to be our POV character in the early trades is suddenly interesting. Skallox, the goat-man with no personality is now fun! Bleez, with her tiny costume and bone wings, has actual motivations and interests!

Simply put, this is one of the most revolutionary about-faces I’ve ever read in a comic.

Heck, even the goals of the Red Lanterns seem to have been refined and re-though. In the early trades, the Reds were mainly about puking blood, grunting, and being occasionally crossing over with the core Green Lantern title. Now, under Soule’s pen and Guy Gardner’s leadership, the book is now about a new corps of space cops. The Reds are still angry, but now they are angry while policing the universe and punishing evil-doers. That is a concept that actually could go somewhere!

I don’t mean to be cruel to the original creative team, but I honestly am just shaking my head at what a great lead character and clear direction can do for a title. Soule is rapidly moving up my rank of writers to follow. (I’m still not buying Inhumans, though. Let’s not go crazy.)

Alessandro Vitti’s art isn’t revolutionary, but it is fine. He actually does a bit better on the aliens than his humans, but he still makes sure to keep Bleez looking weird/hot. Skallox is the character that has changed the most; he has gone from a cipher that only existed to fight the Stormwatch team into an alien with actual personality. Vitti’s art really helps sell that transformation. I also absolutely adore Zillius Zox as the roundest of the angry lanterns.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Savage Hulk v1: The Man Within TPB

Let’s get this out of the way. I’m a huge Alan Davis fan, so this was not going to be a tough sell for me. If Davis is drawing, I’m there. I have usually enjoyed his writing too, so this was like shooting fish in a barrel for Marvel.

This takes place years ago, after a brief interaction between the X-Men and the Hulk. (This era of the X-Men includes Havok and Polaris, to help date it for you oldsters.)

With Hulk wandering the American Southwest in a funk, Professor X decides that he’s going to help Bruce finally get free of his green demon within. This, of course, leads to some spectacular battles as the X-Men take on the Hulk and his foes the Abomination and the Leader. The artwork is the selling point here, because the story isn’t that complex. If you want to see Hulked out Jean Grey and all the X-Men looking simply fantastic, this book is for you. The Hulk, of course, looks great too, but I found myself falling in love with those 60’s era X-Men costumes on almost every page.

There is a speed bump, as one whole issue takes place in the mind of Professor X as he battles in a mental world. This gets confusing very quickly, and I’m afraid I was disengaged for much of the issue. Fortunately, Davis turns things around and gives me some nice physical fisticuffs at the conclusion to draw me back in.

This is a GOOD comic or better, for those who love Davis’ artwork as I do. It isn’t revolutionary, but as an artistic showcase, it is fantastic. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

New Invaders v2: Original Sin TPB

James Robinson is really impressing me on this title. It might say Invaders on the title, but Robinson is putting a lot of the focus on the under-used original Human Torch. Jim Hammond is a fascinating character with a ton of potential, and Robinson is really proving to have a nice handle on the character.

Captain America, Sub-Mariner, and Winter Soldier all appear on a fair number of the pages, but make no mistake; this is Jim Hammond’s book. When a super-powered pop star goes rogue, it is the Torch who tracks down her secret past and the “sin” of the original Invaders that did the original damage. Torch takes the blame like a champ, too. It is neat seeing how Robinson is writing the Torch so consistently in both his titles (this and Fantastic Four).

Not satisfied with the Kree and the original Invaders, Robinson tosses even more elements of classic Marvel in to the mix with Deathlok and the cyborg’s secret master. I won’t ruin it (although I think recent covers have), but this might end up being a pretty big tie in to a lot of clues found in Bendis titles over the past few years. Marvel has used these aliens for years, but their best role was definitely in the 1970’s title Killraven. I’m sure he’ll show up soon.

But for now, there are a legion of Deathloks taking on the Invaders. I was never a Luthor Manning guy (more of a Michael Collins deadhead, you know), but Robinson makes it easy to cheer for the mind-controlled, undead soldier. I also have to wonder about the psychopathic Deathlok that Jason Aaron used in his X-Men and Wolverine run.

One of the coolest choices in this book is the new Human Torch uniform that Marc Laming and Steve Pugh use for Hammond once he joins up with SHIELD. It is almost the same as the Super Soldier (or Nick Fury) suit, with the primary-colored shirt with a big logo on the front. Hammond’s has a flame (obviously) and the SHIELD logo on the sleeves. I hadn’t really thought about it before this, but the original Human Torch would look great on screen, wouldn’t he?

One complaint that keeps this book from being EXCELLENT is that the story always feels like second fiddle. Perhaps it is my resentment of the eternal and boring incursion story from the Avengers titles, but seeing Namor treat this book like it isn’t his priority; seeing Cap wrestle with bigger problems on his other team… well, it just makes this title’s stories feel like they don’t matter as much. If this is a relaxing distraction for Namor, how huge can the stakes really be for the reader? That makes this merely a GOOD comic.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Nightcrawler v1: Homecoming TPB

Like many fans my age, I grew up on Chris Claremont X-Men comics. They were just about the apex of my comics experience for years. Eventually, Claremont left and had an eventual triumphant return to the X-titles. The problem was, the books were not good. It certainly seemed that Claremont had lost “it” during his time away. But now, I don’t think that was necessarily the case. That’s because his current run on Nightcrawler shows flashes of that old adventure and fun.

After returning from the dead, Kurt Wagner has some affairs to settle. In addition to taking some time with his X-Men pals, Kurt needs to get in touch with the love of his life, Amanda Sefton. The sorceress is excited to see him, and their reunion goes well, with the exception of repeated attacks by a bunch of weird robots.

The story progresses as Kurt and Amanda meet up with Margoli Szardos, Kurt’s adoptive mother. This leads to a reunion with some low-powered mutants from Nightcrawler’s past. Throughout, Claremont does a nice job re-introducing these older characters for the current audience. I certainly couldn’t remember Margoli or Amanda’s status quo, so I appreciate the reintroduction.

Things do get a bit chaotic and confusing as the story returns to the Jean Grey School. It makes me wonder if Claremont’s greater strength is with solo characters. The best emotional beats and most dramatic moments are all centered on Nightcrawler. The interpersonal drama with the greater X-team isn’t quite as strong.

Todd Nauck’s art is deceptively simplistic. It seems to be so cartoony and elementary, but it tells the story so well. The characters are all on model and the action is well set up. I think the Chris Samnee covers are stunning, which sort of hurts the interior pencils. That doesn’t mean the interiors are weak, but man, imagine seeing Samnee’s Nightcrawler every month.

This is a FAIR comic. It doesn’t affect the greater Marvel U or even the X-Universe, but as a solo feature, this is a fun book. I wish Claremont could have kept this as more of a team-up title; I think that was the strength of the series. 

Friday, March 6, 2015

Iron Fist v1: Rage TPB

Oh man, I tried. I really tried. Kaare Andrews’ art is pretty, make no mistake. But the grim dark tone. The insane violence. And the portrayal of Danny Rand as being a superficial bozo. It’s all too much.

When I got to the cliffhanger where K’un L’un was burned to the ground with bodies and blood everywhere? Yeah, that’s enough for me.

This book is EVIL. I’ll wait for Iron Fist’s next appearance. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

East of West v1 TPB

Well, separated from my beloved Avengers (and SHIELD, and the Fantastic Four) I find Jonathan Hickman’s tics and tricks a lot less annoying. All your favorite Hickman elements are here. Mysterious prophecies known only to some of the cast. A looming end of the world conflict. Alternate histories making the reader even more confused. Heck, it even has a protagonist that really isn’t much of a good guy (like many of the Avengers these days). All that said, when it isn’t the Avengers or another Marvel property, I don’t have a problem with it.

I came into this book totally cold, with literally no idea what the book is about. It turns out to be fairly complicated, but by the end of the first trade, things have cleared up nicely. Three of the four horsemen of the apocalypse have been reborn as very dangerous children, and they spend all their time traveling the world making sure that things keep moving the way they are supposed to (towards the end times). Certain powerful individuals are either profiting from or helping those end times along.

The powerful folks helping the Horsemen give us a nice glimpse into the alternate world we are reading about. America is divided, with a Native American nation and a new China, things are very different than the world we know. Add in that the familiar elements of America are either futuristic or Wild West archaic, and that makes for one mixed-up but interesting setting.

The last horseman, Death, has not been reborn as a child. After falling love and fathering a child, Death is instead riding around the Earth avenging the death of his wife. Since this version of Death is a big mean cowboy riding a robot horse with no head, that revenge takes the form of shooting an awful lot of people. Death and his allies are not heroes in any sense, but it is easy to start rooting for them when you see the other horsemen’s corrupting influence. I actually found myself more interested in the dissention in the ranks of the secret society more than anything else.

(I also loved the search for a new President after Death’s visit in the first issue. It was refreshing to see that so many of those government servants were unwilling to go along with the three horsemen’s demands.)

Nick Dragotta’s work isn’t exactly realistic or dark, but he is still a great choice for the book. The world is both foreign and familiar, and the character designs are memorable and easy to “get.” Death’s two Native American companions are going to be hard to top, though; they are pretty dang cool with their simple white and black designs. I also found myself fascinated by Death’s headless horse. I’m glad it seems to have survived the first collection!

This looks and feels like a Vertigo book that I would have gone crazy for back in college. So maybe I’m learning that Jonathan Hickman actually writes GOOD comics, I just don’t like the mix of his ideas and my classic super-heroes!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Inhuman v1: Genesis TPB

After reading Charles Soule’s She-Hulk and Death of Wolverine, the guy can really do no wrong with me. That said, I have less than zero interest in the Inhumans as the core protagonists of their own series. Making matters worse, knowing that Marvel is “pushing” these characters so dang hard makes it even harder to really be invested in them. I like the OLD X-Men; I don’t need their corporate-approved replacements, even if it makes sense from a Marvel Cinematic point of view. (For wrestling fans, it is sort of like how I can’t get into Roman Reigns because you just KNOW that WWE has anointed him the next big thing.)

Because let’s be honest with each other, this book is essentially the X-Men. There are some different trappings thanks to Medusa’s royal status, but c’mon. She’s Professor X, reaching out and discovering newly powered people and bringing them back home. She’s got her core team of X-Men in the royal family. And we’ve got newly discovered “mutants” like Inferno.

Oh! Medusa is also racing against an evil Inhuman who is out to gain influence over these newly powered individuals. Just like Magneto and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. In just about every way, this is an early-era X-Men comic.

I will admit to being puzzled at the use of the royal family though. None of the new Inhumans have grabbed my interest, yet old faces like Gorgon and Triton really haven’t had much to do. I know Karnak is dead after stupidly killing himself in the Inhumanity one-shot (which was a stupid and short-sighted decision to start with), which doesn’t leave us with a lot of big-time characters to use. Frankly, I think this book would benefit from using Crystal. She’s got a good look and nice power set (although I guess Inferno has the fire part covered). Heck, if Soule could get Quicksilver to make some appearances, that would help too.

Right now, this feels like a bunch of stuff being thrown against the wall to see what sticks. Maybe Inferno will end up being a character I can really get behind, but for now, there are no new Inhumans that I’m rooting for. Now is that my established prejudice against the Inhuman concept? Or is it that Soule hasn’t hit on the right character yet? I’m not sure; all I know is that I’m reading this book waiting to be hooked.

The most obvious strength of this title is Joe Madureira’s art. After all these years, I still love his manga-influenced style. I love the huge shoulders and chiseled chin on his male characters. I love the bubbly bodies on his ladies. His work just screams 90’s comics, and since I dug comics in that time, the fit is a good one for me. I’m not sure if Madureira made the choice or not, but other than Medusa, no one is wearing spandex in this book. That robs Mad of one of his strengths, he is dang good at drawing super-heroes; I feel he’s a tad wasted drawing ugly looking mutants. Sorry! I mean Inhumans!

This book isn’t awful, but man, it sure needs something else to hook me. Right now this FAIR comic is feeling way too forced.