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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Comic Reviews: Week of Feb. 24th

DC/VERTIGO:

Scalped #35:

Just when I think that I know what Aaron has planned for the residents of the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation, he brings us a story like "Listening to the Earth Turn." If you've got any sense or heart, this issue will make your jaw drop. So even if you've never read a single issue of Scalped before, I cannot emphasize enough that you should run out and grab Issue #35 right now. Mance and Hazel, an ageing and isolated Native American couple, have chosen to forgo life in civilization for a simpler life, one that is far away from the corruption of the Rez, corruption that the rest of us have become so accustomed to. And while these characters might never show up in Scalped again, they provide an important contrast to the deeply flawed series leads. The parallel is only indicated once, as Mance passes a hellish casino billboard featuring Chief Red Crow. But even if we were to completely disregard the rest of Scalped entirely, this issue is nothing short of incredible. Going back and reading the issue for a second time, it's clear that Jason Aaron is a master of his craft. Aaron treats this issue as not only a comic, but also like a short story, using classic storytelling devices (foreshadowing, red herrings, etc.) to create a deeper reading experience. When they are written with this much skill and respect for the craft, it's clear that one-and-done issues can best any big money event or drawn-out arc with ease. Reading Scalped has always been a joy, but Scalped #35 is landmark achievement for both the series as a whole and for Aaron as a writer.

Unknown Soldier #17:

Like Scalped, Unknown Soldier is a book that does not dance around the harsh realities of our world. There have rarely been characters as desperate and as frightening as these. And like Scalped, Unknown Soldier is a study of crime and horror on a much larger scale than the average comic. To be fair, it’s pretty bleak stuff; in this issue alone we have a crooked U.N. Official involved in the theft of medicine in exchange for black market guns. As if an ultra-violent exercise in African-related social commentary wasn't enough, Joshua Dysart continues to redefine his Unknown Soldier with every new arc; in this most recent story, we find our Bandaged "hero" smack dab in the middle of a refugee camp murder mystery. Like Travis Bickle before him, Moses Lwanga is an insane man in an insane land, and with each passing day his psychosis and proclivity for violence continue to subvert his capacity for rational, humane action. The strength of the Unknown Soldier lies in Dysart’s capability to write many different stories all at once. It’s a crime/horror/political/action story, and a more than all that, it’s a story that will stick with you long after you’ve finished each issue.


MARVEL:

Marvels Project #6:

My interest in the Marvels Project has been on shaky ground since the first issue. Brubaker was writing it, so I was interested to see what he would do when given the chance to retell (for all intensive purposes) the beginning of the Marvel Universe. And up to this issue, it has been relatively ho-hum, other than some notable appearances by Nazis and Namor. This issue has a lot going for it, but again, Namor is the star of the show. Especially because he’s being the destructive, Human Torch punching son of a sea bitch that we all know and love. When the series is finished, I think that the Marvels Project will be a looked at as a success, however I think it is one of those titles that will resonate more readers as a collected edition. One thing that I can never complain about is the art. Steve Epting has accomplished something noteworthy with the book, in that the style is very reminiscent of Marvel’s earliest books without feeling dated or derivative.

Secret Warriors #13:

Secret Warriors is the ultimate slow-burn superhero book on the shelves right now, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve your time. Unfortunately for the book, the villains, especially Baron Strucker and the Gorgon, are currently the most compelling characters. Strucker looks like Sagat from Street Fighter II, and as if that wasn’t enough, he punches through a HYDRA henchman’s head. It’s very cathartic. The heroes, on the other hand, are stuck acting out stereotypical scenes that we’ve all seen a hundred times before. There’s a “team meeting” scene in this issue that reeks of poorly scripted, bland, action movie schlock. Other than that, I think Hickman’s work on the book is really starting to take off. Some people complain that the story tends to move too slowly, but I enjoy the tempo when compared to the obnoxiously action-packed stories elsewhere in the Marvel Universe. Hickman’s been reveling a long history of HYDRA, issue-by-issue, layer by layer. I feel like there are some major (or at least interesting) revelations up ahead, and hopefully they are worth the wait.

New Avengers #62:

New Avengers, where did you go so wrong? More and more, I believe this book peaked just around Secret Invasion and has since been on a long, slow decline. Maybe I just miss Doctor Strange, but I can’t deny that I’m just flat out bored when I read New Avengers. This month is more Siege-related stuff, with the Hood sending what is a laughably small team of villains to stop the New Avengers. This doesn’t make a lick of sense, since last time we had this showdown Doctor Strange was forced to channel a goddamn demon just to win. And other than that, another henchman loses his head, although this time he’s from H.A.M.M.E.R. and the death isn’t nearly as satisfying. Not to mention the ridiculous lack of surprise shown by Luke Cage and Spider-Man when they see Steve Rogers is alive again. Actually, their responses were quite similar to my own: “Oh hey. You’re back. Can we move on now?"

Thor #607:

And the Siege snooze bombs just keep dropping. Maybe I’m just experiencing exhaustion from too many “big team-ups, bigger ‘splosions” events of the past ten years, but I’m already over Siege. The story just isn’t hitting with me. So this issue as Kelda mourns the loss of Bill, we can all mourn the loss of J. Michael Straczynski. The first half of this is spent filling information that we could have probably inferred from the main Siege series. Then we follow Volstagg as he pleads his case to the world before setting out to protect Asgard. While it was nice to see the Voluminous one again, I hate that it lead to him making a YouTube video, which then lead to a one-off panel of faux-twittering. Turns out that as a story device, reading comic book Twitter is just as boring as reading real Twitter. I’m beginning to feel that the Thor tie-in is going to be very weak compared some of the other titles, which is just plain ridiculous given the Asgard-centric story. Worst of all, a fake Thor shows up at the end, which begs the question, if Osborn has already demonized the real Thor, and has the power of the Sentry at his disposal, why in Odin’s name would he need a clone Thor?


IMAGE:

Choker #1:

This first issue of Ben McCool and Ben Templesmith’s first collaboration totally had me until the last few pages, which was a shame given how much I was enjoying the story up to that point. I'm not willing to count it out just because of a personal taste preference, but I was disappointed when vampires popped up at the end of the issue. The mutants were enough for me; I don't particularly need another story with vampires in it. Looking at Templesmith's art, visually the book is quite stunning. The grotesque streets of Shotgun City, permanently stained by a sickly yellow-green fog, are truly something to see. Despite my one gripe, I've got genuinely high hopes for the series. With a catalog that is rapidly expanding and experimenting with off-kilter titles like Chew, King City, Orc Stain and now Choker, I don't see why Image feels the need to chase the superhero dollar with "events" like Image United. I say, stick to the weird: some of us have been dying to see something on the strange side.

King City #5:
Brandon Graham's King City is undeniably one of the most unique and enjoyable titles currently on the stands, which isn't a good sign since it was originally published back in 2008. Coming at the genre from completely original angle, King City is urban science fiction at it's finest. It manages to be both recognizable and completely original, drawing the reader in with playful art, enviable characters, and a dry sense of humor that is all its own. Every single page of this comic finds Graham firing on all artistic cylinders: the terse dialogue is potent, realistic, and hilarious, and though the images are still, the surrounding world appears constantly animated in intricately detailed graffiti-round signs and shapes. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go draw Elephants Gerald on my hand.

Viking #5:

No matter how long the wait between issues, Ivan Brandon and Nic Klein’s Viking is always worth it. Shipping schedules aside, books like this rarely come along. The story is great, but you’d have to be kidding yourself if you thought it was the main attraction. It’s a great story, yeah, but the art here is phenomenal. Each panel of each page is worth your undivided attention, and thanks to the advertising-free format, your mind is never diverted by a video game or toy promotion. I can already tell that this is a series I will probably never part with, unless I’m caught in a seriously dire financial situation. Epic and bloody, Viking Issue #5 is the official “Season Finale,” which means it will be god knows how long until we get another one. I’ll spare you the synopsis, as if you’re not already on board the title it won’t mean much, and if you have been reading it, you don’t need me to tell you what happens. The dialogue in this issue was also very telling, and I think the King might actually be my favorite character. “Remember that you are alive,” has never sounded so menacing. If you haven’t been reading Viking, and you want to see some of the best art around right now, do yourself a favor and snatch up the collected edition as soon as it hits the rack.

The Weird World of Jack Staff #1:

Although this is my first foray into the Weird World of Jack Staff, I’m interested in coming back to it. I’m drawn in by the idea put forth by the author in the introduction that though the book is about the title character, it is more about a much wider cast of characters. It creates the sense that this is a story about a fictional world more than just one fictional character, and often that makes for the best superhero story. Paul Grist’s writing is quick, easy, and readable, and the art is right on point. There’s not much else to say about this: if you feel like taking a chance on some relatively unknown crazies (including my new favorite superhero, the Butler) then pick this one up.


MISC:

Captain Jack Swing and the Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island #1 (AVATAR):

Although he assures us that this is " An Electrical Romance of a Pirate Utopia Thwarted," and not steampunk, it's hard to define Warren Ellis' Captain Swing and the Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island. Ok, maybe "Electitripunk" (actually I quite like that. Can we officially call this the start of a new genre)? No matter what you call it, Captain Swing and the Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island #1 is an intriguing and troubling first issue, depending on how you like your Ellis. Given that a lot of the issue is spent building a historical framework for the story, one can’t help but worry the story will suffer under the weight of Ellis’ encyclopedic imagination. Though it’ll probably turn away some readers, I actually found myself increasingly interested in the prose pages of the book, even going so far as to go back and reread them on their own. The action, meanwhile, is mostly series build-up, drawing the reader into the mystery through some good old-fashioned chase scenes and mild violence. Whatever you think of Captain Swing, there's no doubt that Ellis is in full command of this ship, unafraid to leave lazy readers back on the land.

Robocop #2 (DYNAMITE):

For anybody who liked the original Robocop, I say that this book is at least worth a read. Writer Rob Williams has distilled all the good things about the original Robocop without playing it too safe with Old Detroit. The book, like the film, does not shy away from satiric gallows humor, bullet-riddled civilians, or scathing television send-ups. This issue is worth flipping through if only to check out the advertisement for "Rage and the Machine." The one criticism I will say is that Robocop's dialogue isn't particularly well written, but there's so much more to love about the Robocop story that I'm willing to let it pass. Seeing a city full of ED-209s has been a dream of many a Robocop fan for a long time, and thanks to Dynamite's new series, we're finally getting the Robocop sequel we deserve. Now if only there was a way to bring Clarence Bodiker back.

We Will Bury You #1 (IDW):

This was an impulse grab, and overall I think it’s worth a shrug. There are elements to the story that are good, such as the slowly accumulating amount of flies in the panels, climaxing at the end with a big zombie reveal. The story takes place in 1927 in New York City, and from the get-go we all know there is more than just angry people to these riots. Our heroines here are a pair of down-and-out lesbians: Mirah, a dancer at a less-than-respectable club is married to Henry, a jealous, ugly misogynist who winds up on the receiving end of a typewriter thanks to Fanya, Mirah’s mistress. Like the best zombie stories, the real terror here lies in the people. Having seen people like him, Eddie the Drunk is far more frightening than any set of undead chompers. Dirtier than a NYC toilet, the art here is impressively sloppy, despite a few overly loose panels. I’m willing to give the next issue a shot, with the hopes that the writers didn’t show us their whole hand with this first issue.

3 comments:

  1. I love Captain Swing -- from the art to the crazy electricity to the cockney British slang! I agree that the prose of the book was one of the most intriguing parts. I was gripped by it. And I agree about Choker, except I found the art too visually distracting, especially compared to Ben Templesmith's original pencils. They're phenomenal! The colorful adornment was too much. Lastly, I gave up on The Marvels Project, but you have a great point -- it'll work better as a collected. Maybe that's when I'll dip back into it.

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  2. Brian, you've got the mind-reading skills today. Just the other day I was talking to a friend of mine who said the exact same thing about Choker's final art vs. the original pencils. He wishes they'd release the entire first issue again, except this time just use the pencils. I have to admit, it would be a sight to see.

    And yeah...I'm really nervous about the end of the Marvels Project. Either Brubaker is going to pull one big gigantic rabbit out of his hat in the next few issues and blow readers away, or we'll just get some bland drawn out story that we already knew, and the series will go down as another easily forgotten wet fart.

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  3. (I should say though that I do love that Red Skull cover...damn, I wish that they had that one at the store when I went. Instead I'm stuck with yet another Cap-In-Action cover.)

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