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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Comic Reviews -- Week of April 28th


Detective Comics #864: The era of Greg Rucka writing Batwoman is officially over (I think), and though I was primed and ready to hate this latest issue, it's actually not that bad. First off, Rucka writes the Question back-up story, so there's a bit of the Ruckster there at the end. Second, I'm a big fan of Arkham-based Batman stories, especially when they get good and creepy; and in that regard, David Hine does well enough. Most of the issue focuses around how Jeremiah Arkham functions among the general population of the asylum, and the Beauties are genuinely fascinating as Jeremiah's Achilles' heel. That, and the Cliff Chiang cover is slick as hell. However, it's going to be really hard for this reviewer (and others) to get over the loss of Rucka and Batwoman, so anything that comes now for Detective Comics will inevitably pale by comparison.

Scalped #37: Compared to the bombshell that was issue #36 of Scalped, this issue isn't as shocking, even though it's both incredibly violent and incredibly good. There were both figurative and literal jaw-dropping moments, and the less learned here is don't piss Shunka off. Without giving away too much, I was really concerned about the narration of this arc, but in the end, Aaron manages to pull a rabbit out of his hat with a fair twist, proving that the man is a master at misleading his readers. Man, Shunka is going to have one hell of a chip on his shoulder from now on. While before he always came of as the icy foil to Dash and Diesel, I wouldn't be surprised if we see him getting a bit more hot-headed in the future. At first I wasn't sure why this story was so important, outside of revealing Shunka's homosexuality, but keeping in mind that the Hmong gang has been largely taken care of, it's pretty clear that this is also about setting up another tenuous relationship for Red Crow outside of the Rez.

Unknown Soldier #19: Without wasting any time, issue #19 picks up right where we left off, with Moses Lwanga on his way to an arms deal driving a truck full of empty medical cases wrapped in land mines. Holy sh*t right? I don't know how he does it, but Joshua Dysart really knows how to move this story from one arc to the next, deftly switching between narrators and storytelling style to create a mult-layered, expertly detailed story. This time around, the action is framed for us by an after-the-fact military report, thereby weaving a deeper sense of mystery around the origin of Moses Lwanga's split-personality. This issue is also worth your while thanks to Alberto Ponticelli's art. Darkly cinematic and brutal in the best ways, you can almost feel the texture of every surface, from the rust on the mines to the filthy teathers of Moses's bandages. Beyond the excellent storytelling and art, this issue also lays out some harsh truths about the way guns, and more disturbingly medicine, are controlled by warlords and politicians as commodities of war. Beware the price of admission: Unknown Soldier is one of those books that always leaves one feeling a bit jaded but wiser for it.


Fantastic Four #578: I don't know if there is any other comic writer working today that requires as much patience as Jonathan Hickman. That's not necessarily a bad thing; his work on Secret Warriors is proof enough that it pays to keep up with Hickman's style of high-concept, character-heavy storytelling. However, the downside to his pacing is that it also makes it difficult to review single issues where not a lot really happens. I mean sure, stuff happens; Johnny Storm almost makes out with a bug monster, travels to the Negative Zone Prison only to find that it has been turned into a city, and we get the sense that shit is (hopefully) about to hit the fan. I honestly liked this issue, though I can see why a more anxious reader wouldn't. To me, this is what Fantastic Four is all about. They aren't the team, or the comic, you should go to when you want superhero-based, capes n' villains action; Reed Richards is a scientist, and the story should (and does) reflect that. Maybe I'm too eager to defend Jonathan Hickman, but I really think that reading his run on Fantastic Four will pay off. Plus, I love Dale Eaglesham's art, and I'm a sucker for the new FF cover quotes. They hook me before I've even opened the issue.

Marvel Zombies 5 #2: Yee-Haw! It's MZ5 time! After battling their way through the Wild Wild Undead West, our inter-dimensional zombie killers head to a land where War of the Worlds is fact and the survivors are being rounded up as food. Yummy, delicious people food. I loved this issue for a lot of reasons, but mostly because Fred Van Lente actually did something interesting with the idea of zombies, this time making them a method of salvation instead of destruction. This might be the only place where zombies have worked to win a war, even if only for a few moments. Pick up the book and you'll see what I mean. The issue is packed with Van Lente's solid sense of humor, another big time plus for zombie tales. Kano's art is solid, and it's obvious that his favorite character to draw (at least in this book) is Howard the Duck. Oh, did I mention that Howard the Duck is one of the main characters of MZ5? Well he is. Now go read it.

New Avengers #64: This issue was complete and utter crap, and though I'm pissed off that I wasted my money on it, I'm more upset over the loss of whatever brain cells were used to read it. It's issues like this that prove the big crossover events cause uniformly bad collateral damage on all the supporting books. There's no point in recapping what happens in New Avengers #64, as it's all happened before, in the past year even. In my mind, this issue was created like this: blah blah blah BIG FIGHT blah blah blah THE END, followed by some editor saying "Brian my boy, you've done it again!" before handing him a cigar made of money and old issues of Captain Britain and MI-13. Ugh. That's it; I'm done with New Avengers, and pretty much anything Bendis writes except for Ultimate Comics Spider-Man.

Punisher #16: Just when I thought nothing could wash the residual New Avengers schlock out of my mouth, along comes Frankencastle with a big bottle of monster-flavored mouthwash. Granted, Punisher #16 wasn't the best issue of Rick Remender and Tony Moore's run on the series, but as far as mandatory showdown showcases go, it was pretty damn phenominal. Is it a slugfest? Sure. Does a lot happen other than fighting? Not really, no. But does this fighting go down in a Hell dimension? Yes. More importantly, is it full of off-the-wall awesome art from Tony Moore, including a scene where Punisher rips his own friggin' arm off? You bet your sweet ass it is. Now go grab this book and do like Metallica did when they were talented drunks: "Jump in the FIYA!"


Random Acts of Violence (Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, Giancarlo Caracuzzo): I was really disappointed in this graphic novel, since I have a lot of faith in the Palmiotti/Gray writing team. Unfortunately, Random Acts of Violence is like a low-rent horror film of the 2000s (think Saw without the traps), concerned more with gore and self-referential characters than telling a good story. It's not so much a graphic novel as it is graphic pamphlet. Howver, the most unbelievable part of this book is that a horror comic, or any comic, would ever be as instantly popular as Slasherman is in Random Acts of Violence. Caracuzzo is good as always, but the concept as whole feels criminally half-baked. Sometimes, buying a comic on impulse pay off. Other times, you end up buying Random Acts of Violence.

Walking Dead #71: It amazes me that Walking Dead can go whole issues without a single zombie and nobody (myself included) seems to care. For a zombie-book, that's pretty impressive. I'm also impressed amazed that after 71 issues, Walking Dead still seems to have some tricks up it's sleeve. In this issue, we see Rick and the other survivors wrestling with their newfound security. They also forfeit all of their weapons (except Michonne's sword), so my guess is things are going to get stinky again real soon. What the hell did the people of this survivor camp do that has them so spooked? Some of my favorite Walking Dead arcs have played more like mysteries than horror stories, which is just another reason to love this book. I'm sure that sharp readers can guess what's going to happen, but I honestly have no idea and can't wait to find out. If there's one problem with this issue, it's that Kirkman spends an awful lot of time reminding us that our heroes are pretty messed-up individuals, and that getting back to normal life may prove just as hard as it was adapting to life in Undead-America. Other than that, another solid entry in the best long-running horror drama ever put to the page.


Stumptown #3 (ONI): While we can all agree that Greg Rucka leaving Detective Comics is a bad thing, we can all definitely agree that him spending more time on books like Stumptown is a very, very good thing. The one common gripe about Stumptown so far is that it has taken forever for new issues to come out; but when the storytelling and the art are this quality, you can't really shouldn't whine too much about the shipping schedule. The opening panel is a bit jarring if you haven't recently re-read issue #2, but this is probably the only problem with this issue. By not limiting the influences to noir-style storytelling, Stupmptown is a free to be a modern detective series, full of real, rounded characters instead of just shadowy character-types. Instead of continuing to list reasons why Stumptown is great in this part of the review, I might as well just kick it on down to my choice for book of the week.


Stumptown #3 (ONI, Greg Rucka, Matthew Southworth, Rico Renzi): Surprise! It's Stumptown! When I said that the art and story here are quality, what I meant is that they are of the highest quality. Stumptown is a book that ships late because it was created with care, making the wait for new issues equally aggravating and rewarding. Matthew Southworth's art is phenominally understated, creating a comic that is just as great to look at as it is to read. I can't remember the last time I was this impressed by an artist's manipulation of panel-to-panel flow. Almost every page uses a different technique, and yet they all fit together to create a truly unique book. Rico Renzi's colors are just as good, setting the perfect mood for each and every scene, each and every panel. Last but not least, Stumptown proves yet again that Greg Rucka remains one of the best comic book writers working today. He manages to take familiar stories, styles, and characters, and make them his own. Though she's a private detective, Dex is a wholly original, completely three-dimensional character. In other words, she's the kind of character that is woefully absent in most comics today.

1 comment:

  1. Jon -- after reading your reviews of Unknown Soldier, I wish I had stuck with it beyond just the first two issues. I think I'll have to go pick up a trade.

    I agree about Walking Dead. It's been continuously interesting, ever since we realized that the zombies weren't the true point of the story. I'm creeped out by the nicely shaven Rick and his attempt at a return to normalcy.

    And lastly, I hate to see modern horror (aka torture porn) make it's way into comics. I feel like comics are a wholly different medium, and that they aren't as adept at being "horror", but especially the new type of horror that aims more to gross you out than scare you.