(Click title to go directly to the review)
SEVEN SOLDIERS: SHINING KNIGHT #1
GREEN LANTERN/SUPERMAN: LEGEND OF THE GREEN FLAME
ARMOR X #1
GREEN ARROW #47 & 48
ESSENTIAL DOCTOR STRANGE VOL 2
ADAM STRANGE #6
RISING STARS #24
BLOOD OF THE DEMON #1
SEVEN SOLDIERS: SHINING KNIGHT # 1
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Simone Bianchi
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by Shining Buzz
One of the best things about SHINING KNIGHT # 1, the second entry into Grant Morrison's ambitious 7 SOLDIERS O' VICTORY series, is that you don't need any prior knowledge of old time DC hero The Shining Knight to enjoy the story. I felt like I could trust Grant Morrison to tell me everything I needed to know about the character in an interesting and elegant way. No cumbersome and obvious exposition, just good writing.
A horrific process called the Harrowing is going on in the DC Universe. It seems to involve the destruction of heroes and it is being conducted by a race called the Sheeda. The Sheeda may be aliens or demons. I don't know. I didn't ask. I didn't feel it was my place.
Apparently Arthur, Gynufwyr and Merlin are already dead. We get to see all the great Knights of the Roundtable, like Lancelot, Gawain and Galahad wiped out. That leaves the Shining Knight, one Sir Justin and his talking, winged horse Vanguard to stand alone against the forces of evil. It also poses a question important to all true geeks. Who'd win in a fight: DC's The Shining Knight and his talking, winged horse or Marvel's The Black Knight and his non-talking winged horse?
My money's on the boys from National Comics! They'd kick Timely's ever lovin' ass!
After some mind games involving a hot brunette with butterfly wings, Sir Justin confronts the queen of the Sheeda, Gloriana Tenebrae, beautifully depicted in fantasy art style by Italian artist Simone Bianchi. Bianchi carries on the European tradition of great, fantasy comic book art.
Sir Justin and Vanguard end up in 21st Century LA for the denouement. And I have to say, the denouement made me sad. I know that I will be told that the fun violence, the cool violence is desensitizing. Funny, I've had an IV drip of that kind of violence since the day I was born and they dropped me in front of the TV, and I'm not desensitized. It's simply that a good segment of readers will applaud their own intellects for reading a comic that shows the effects of violence while secretly patting themselves on the back for being able to take it.
Sorry, just trying a little fan improvement here. Think about it.
But I don't have that big a problem, overall, because the scene, hell, the entire book is so well written. The denouement had meaning to the character and will, no doubt, have overall meaning to the story.
If someone asks you about new comics worth reading, tell them about Grant Morrison's 7 SOLDIERS O' VICTORY and SHINING KNIGHT # 1.
Writer: Garth Ennis
Pencils: Doug Braithwaite
Inks: Bill Reinhold
Publisher: Marvel MAX
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
The MAX line was created to be Marvel’s mature readers imprint, but the comics that have occupied the line have been everything but mature since its inception. According to Marvel, “mature” means gratuitous nudity, unimaginative use of the swears, and a crotchety old Nick Fury who has a taste for many, many hookers. Comparing Marvel MAX to their Distinguished Competition’s mature readers Vertigo line is like comparing an adolescent’s version of mature to that of an actual adult. Quesada has vehemently exclaimed that MAX is not their version of Vertigo, but comparisons have to be made if they are supposed to be addressing the same audience, namely adults.
I comment on Marvel’s MAX line in this way because for the first time since its inception, Marvel MAX seems to be producing a “mature” comic book that actually has the sophistication and quality that I would match up with the Mature Readers tag. That title is PUNISHER. It’s ironic that Garth Ennis, a creator known for both high quality mature work at DC like PREACHER, HELLBLAZER, and HITMAN, and lowbrow, guttural pap for indies like DICKS and THE PRO, would be the one to bring Marvel MAX into the realm of sophistication. It’s been argued in the Talkbacks that Garth Ennis’ run on the new PUNISHER MAX title is similar to his previous run with the Marvel Knights imprint. But after reading the latest PUNISHER arc, “Mother Russia,” anyone unable to understand that needs their head examined.
When I first heard that Ennis was going to be sending Frank Castle into the heart of Russia, I let out a little groan. I plodded through Ennis’ first run on the PUNISHER pitting him against parodied heroes, annoying supporting cast members, and Charmin-worthy villains; one of which was the creative embarrassment known as The Russian, a transvestite, indestructible killing machine who spoke like Ivan Drago with a lesser vocabulary (if that is at all possible). Ennis’ first run with Frank Castle basically cast the vigilante as a characterless void, a cipher which allowed Ennis to bounce his increasingly unimaginative bizarre characters off of. There was nary an inner monologue caption or an inkling of insight into what was going on in Frank’s head throughout the entire series. Frank was merely a killing machine. Having read Punisher stories since he was first conceived, I knew Frank was more than that. In this new MAX series, Ennis did a turn around. With his first issue, showing Frank visiting his family’s graves, I knew that for the first time, Ennis was going to drop the snarky, lowbrow attitude he had with the character and deal with him in a more sophisticated manner. And Ennis continued to impress me as the series went on. But with Frank venturing into Russian territory, I had fears that Ennis would resurrect The Russian and return to his guttural roots with the character. That fear couldn’t have been further from the truth.
“Mother Russia” is simply the best Punisher story I have read in years. Throughout all six issues, Ennis built an impossible challenge for Frank to take on and resolved it in a way that was both logical and dynamic, all the while offering insight to the fascinating character that is the Punisher. Ennis does this by allowing Frank to have an emotional investment in this mission. A little girl, right around the same age as his own daughter when she died, is infected with a virus. Everyone wants this virus before is runs out of the girl’s system or she dies. The US Government, SHIELD, the Russian government, they all want this little girl, so Nick Fury enlists Frank Castle, the one man he knows that can get into and out of a Russian military compound, to save the girl and bring the virus back.
Ennis sets up the emotional investment masterfully. He has Frank talk about her with a cold, foreign tenderness and forces him to deal with feelings he has suppressed since he lost his family and picked up an uzi. But Frank is not a completely sane man. He slaughters Russian military officers in front of the girl, but yells at his mandatory partner in this mission (a US military Black Ops type) for swearing in front of her and lectures her to never pick up a gun. It is this type of complexity that had been missing from this character when Ennis was phoning it in with the previous series. This was the type of complexity that I knew Ennis had in him from reading his detailed dissections of machismo and bravado in the pages of HITMAN and PREACHER. This is the Punisher I was hoping I would see when I first heard Ennis was taking on the character all those years ago.
Story-wise, this is Ennis’ strongest yet. This story crescendoed last issue with Frank, the Black Ops guy, and the little girl trapped in a Russian missile silo. They are surrounded by Russian military, seemingly with no options in sight, but Frank pulls a trump card and threatens to fire the missiles in the silo into the heart of Russia starting World War III. With that final ultimatum in issue #17, I literally had a “Holy Shit!” moment. This was Frank Castle at his bat-shit craziest threatening to destroy the civilized world to save a little girl who reminds him of his daughter. It was a build-up that seemed crazy, but never failed to entertain. In issue #18, Frank is forced to make good on his ultimatum and what happens next is one of the coolest action sequences I have seen unfold in a comic in ages, depicted with gritty stylization by the superb artistry of Doug Braithwaite. This is the kind of shit you watch in a movie theater and it forces you up, out of your seat, and clapping at how goddamn cool it was.
There’s no way I am spoiling the ending for you guys. Just read this series. Watch Ennis build on the action and intensity with each chapter. Experience the emotional impact of this final issue and relish in the fact that this is what the Marvel MAX imprint can and should be. For the first time since it was created, Marvel’s mature line is worthy of its title. Like Vertigo’s superb THE LOSERS title, THE PUNISHER takes action and adventure and handles it with a quality and sophistication that is rarely seen in comics. This is Garth functioning at the potential we all knew he could. If you missed this one, buy the “Mother Russia” trade when it comes out. I promise it won’t disappoint.
GREEN LANTERN/SUPERMAN: LEGEND OF THE GREEN FLAME
Writer: Neil Gaiman
Artists: Eddie Campbell, Mike Allred & Terry Austin, Mark Buckingham, John Totleben, Matt Wagner, Eric Shanower & Arthur Adams, Jim Aparo, Kevin Nowlan, & Jason Little
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Sleazy G
Sometimes you get lucky. You’re just stumbling through your LCS, checking the shelves with the recent stuff in case you need to pick up something from a week or two back, and there IT is. Whatever that IT happens to be that particular week, of course. Something catches the corner of your eye, and you glance at it, and you think “now just how the hell did I not even know this thing existed?” So you pick it up and look at it, and sure enough, it’s real, and you really did somehow manage to completely miss it. You realize that something like this isn’t gonna come along again for months—maybe longer—so you grab it and buy it before anybody else sees what you’re looking at and snaps it up.
Which is exactly what happened with this little beauty. Honestly, I don’t think I can be blamed for missing it the first time around. I mean, there was a hell of a lot going on in 2000, not just for me personally but kinda overall. We were in the throes of all that millennial angst, after all, and even though every computer in the Western world didn’t choke on the 00’s and die at midnight in a great sweeping wave of darkness traveling East to West, people still felt like it was a pretty important time. Somehow, in the midst of all the brouhaha, I completely overlooked the Prestige Format release of a never-before-published Neil Gaiman story that is much more Hal Jordan than Clark Kent. People who’ve read Gaiman’s stuff know he didn’t play for long in the DCU. The publication of this story shouldn’t have been a little deal. It should have been a Big Deal, and yet I missed it, and I get the feeling a lot of other people did too, which is a damned shame, because it’s a lot of fun.
The story goes back even farther, though, to 1988. Back then DC tried an insane little experiment: ACTION COMICS became a weekly anthology title. My memory’s a bit hazy—I was still in high school back then—but I’m pretty sure it was priced at either 75 cents or 99 cents. Sure, it doesn’t sound like much, but that meant in a month you were spending three or four bucks, y’know? ACTION was where I first got introduced to some of the DCU’s lesser known characters, like the Secret Six. You got war stories with the Blackhawks, the occult with Deadman, and so on. It was a lot of fun to read, and I was bummed when, about ten months in to the experiment, the weekly approach came to an end and the title went back to all-Supes, all the time. If I had known then what I was missing out on, though, I’d have been even more bummed out.
LEGEND OF THE GREEN FLAME was originally written for ACTION COMICS while it was in the anthology phase. The idea was for Gaiman to incorporate several of the ACTION regulars into an issue-long story instead of doling out the story piecemeal over a month or so. He included Hal, Clark, the Blackhawks, the Phantom Stranger, a brief appearance by Catwoman, an appearance by The Demon (which had to be reworked into another rhyming demon) and even the unexpected and saddening appearance of some Golden-Age JSA artifacts. The story never saw print for various reasons, though, and was almost lost forever. Thankfully, a copy of the script was tracked down and all of this goodness is crammed into a 38-page one-shot where Gaiman really nails it down.
It’s not all fun and games, either—the story was written to explore Hal Jordan and some of the difficulties the character was facing at the time in the DCU. While touring different parts of the DCU it also explores what it means to be a Green Lantern, where the GL’s powers come from, and what it means to be a Lantern. Interestingly, even back then Gaiman could see that the Green Lantern Corps and characters had gotten off track, and had this story ever gotten off the ground, we would have seen a much different DCU and a much different approach to all the GL-related characters and titles.
By the way, do yourself a favor and go back and look at the lineup of artists again. That, my friends, is one HELL of a lineup for a Prestige Format book that was largely overlooked. This thing looks amazing. Mike Allred’s stuff brings out the timeless and iconic look of these characters, and I’m continually in awe of how classic and fun his work looks. John Totleben’s misty take on limbo while Hal and Clark talk to Deadman is wonderfully eerie and empty, Eric Shanower’s Hell is a harrowing little journey and Kevin Nowlan turns in some fine work as well. That’s not to knock anybody I left out, either—it all looks great. Those are just the ones that happened to resonate with me, but I’m sure somebody else would feel the same way about Jim Aparo or Matt Wagner’s work. It really speaks to the quality of the written work that these artists would all come together and pitch in on this story, and they really do a hell of a job on it.
I bought this book and had it sit in my apartment for three days before I finally read it. I read everything else I had bought first. I was a little nervous that it would be one of those cases where there was just so much talent that the project should have been perfect, but it failed to click. You can’t imagine how relieved I am that this wasn’t the case. It’s a fun story with fantastic art. It’s easily one of the best purchases I’ve made in a long time, and I can’t believe I managed to luck into finding it completely randomly. I didn’t know it existed, so I didn’t know to look for it, which is why I’m writing this. Now you all know it exists, and you know to look for it on the shelves. If my store could get some issues in, yours might be able to order it too. Check back bins, or track it down at a convention, or order it yourself online. Just go find it. If you’ve ever liked Green Lantern, or Superman, or any of the creative team on this thing, you owe it to yourself to find it as quickly as possible. It’s fun, smart, impressive material from a writer who doesn’t spend much time in the mainstream, current continuity at the Big Two, which makes it well worth the effort to track down.
ARMOR X # 1
Written by Keith Champagne
Art by Andy Smith
Published by Image
Reviewed by Buzz Maverik
I have to say that ARMOR X # 1 didn't read like any of the other X-books. I didn't come across the word "mutant" once! While I admire the X-titles for branching out, I missed some of the familiar X-Men. Would it have killed them to throw in an armored Wolverine, maybe with adamantium armor that had its' own healing factor?...Okay, this gag didn't work when our pal Greg Scott tried it with his cool EX MACHINA review. I think Greg and I were the only ones who thought it was funny, and a lot of the readership didn't know Greg was kidding. On to the review!
ARMOR X! It looks a little like an Image Comic from the 90s and a DC Comic from the 80s. It reads a little like early ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN and early INVINCIBLE (which read like early ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN) ...from hell!
The book is effective. Keith Champagne makes you feel for our down trodden, high school hero Carson Deeds. He's brutalized by a clique of jocks in the high school hallways, spurned by the pretty blind girl he tutors (for one of the few times since TAXI DRIVER we are told an honest truth: angry loser guys don't get the chicks!), harangued by his grandpa, and has a father who will be getting out of prison soon.
And you know he's dangerous because he likes Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails. Teenagers who like dark, brooding, loud, music by shocking artists are...well, perfectly normal, but get with the stereotype, folks.
After one last assault by the jocks interrupts Carson's journey to shoot everyone at his high school prom, he finds a suit of armor. It gives him super powers and allows him to travel to the moon. It also grants him the ability to attack the jocks at the prom. We have to wait until next issue to see how far Carson takes things.
I dunno. This is a tricky concept. I think we all wanted to see Peter Parker kick the crap out of Flash Thompson, but this is 2005, when a lot of kids have been murdered. We have a protagonist who has considered murder. If Champagne and Smith do things right, they could give us a story of redemption.
We live in a disgruntled society. The disgruntled take vicious action against immediate targets with no real purpose. It's just acting out, with horrible consequences. Real anger, which can change things for the better in the long term, is almost a forgotten concept. Just look at comic books. The angriest character of all, the Incredible Hulk, is now often depicted as a murderer and even a cannibal. It is often forgotten that the Hulk's anger can be used for heroic ends. We have to have a psycho, serial killer Punisher instead of a character who took his personal revenge and is now using his abilities for those who can't fight back.
ARMOR X is a tricky concept. The disgruntled teen angle can't last long (the jocks call Carson "Columbine"). It's too high concept. Comic books have to be both high concept and low concept at the same time. A guy gets spider-powers and has to spend the rest of his life making up for an irresponsible act that had lethal consequences.
I use movies and TV from the 80s to define high and low concept. Michael J. Fox TV shows are low concept: liberal parents have conservative and shallow kids. Michael J. Fox movies are high concept: a kid travels back in time, prevents his parents from meeting and has to get them together or he'll cease to exist.
ARMOR X was a good first issue. I just hope it has room to grow.
GREEN ARROW #47 & 48
Writer: Judd Winick
Artist: Tom Fowler
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewed by Dave Farabee
“Duke, duke, duke…”
“Duke of OIL, OIL, OIL…”
-- Nasal, Brooklynite hooker butchers Gene Chandler’s ‘60s staple in Steven Martin classic, THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS
Ha, the fools told me I’d never work a MAN WITH TWO BRAINS reference into a GREEN ARROW review, but who’s laughing now, jackasses?! Yes, the cited moment provides the perfect anthem for the Duke of Oil, the only DC villain whose existence makes Marvel’s Stilt-Man look like a mack-daddy pimp by comparison. It’s no wonder Batman left the Outsiders before they fought this robo-hillbilly in a ten-gallon hat. Truly, truly one of the embarrassing creations of the ‘80s.
And if you guessed this is the part of the review where I put my credibility on the line and recommend an issue starring him…?
Aw, guilty as charged, pard!
The Duke enters the picture when he’s hired by a Star City mob boss to harass Green Arrow and friends rather than outright kill ‘em. Mob-guy knows that Green Arrow’s got friends in high places and that outright wacking him would bring down the whole of the Justice League on his butt. Instead he opts for the strategy Rocky used to take down the all-powerful, all-mohawked Clubber Lang in ROCKY 3: wear him down.
I like the simplicity of the concept, and not a page after it’s been introduced, into a bank struts the wiry Duke of Oil his own bad self. Under the anarchic pen of artist Tom Fowler, the Duke’s somewhere between a Jim Aparo rendition of The Joker and a Don Martin character from MAD MAGAZINE. He’s all elbows and knees in his brown suit, bolo tie, and cowboy hat, somehow both dapper and spastic simultaneously. Winick outfits him with one outrageous southernism after another, from “fan-tater-tastic” to “I’m feeling hotter than a fat lady in Puerto Rico!”, and suddenly he’s ripping the vault open with his bare hands and the fun’s afoot.
Green Arrow shows, backed by “Team Arrow” (which includes bastard son, Conner Hawke, non-bastard son, Arsenal, and adopted daughter, The New Speedy). Here’s where the book kicks into overdrive, as the Duke goes from eight-foot-tall yokel-in-a-suit to twenty-foot-tall, unkillable, elongating robot who can Dr. Doolittle any other machine into obeying his command. Guy’s a hoot-and-a-half, and there are times when the action surrounding him is almost too busy to follow, but as the Duke’s Terminator-esque jaw becomes unhinged and his southern zeal rockets into Howard Dean territory…geez, you’ve pretty much gotta be won over buy it. Or have a heart attack. It’s propelled by sheer lunacy, with Winick fully aware of just how silly the Duke is and Speedy frequently grousing to that effect. Green Arrow responds sagely, “Psychotic supervillains are a lot like family! You don’t get to choose!”
And just every once in a while, it’s nice to see that level of fun in a superhero title…especially one that’s prone to doom ‘n’ gloom.
Which reminds me of something I forgot to mention earlier: yes, there is the obligatory scene reminding all readers that Speedy has AIDS. Don’t sweat it – it’s maybe three pages out of two issues, a spoonful of medicine that doesn’t threaten to keep the sugar from going down.
Besides, there are other, more interesting subplots afoot. Issue 48 sees the return, for instance, of Winick’s original hitman badguy, Drakon. I don’t know that Drakon has much of a gimmick besides wearing a black suit, black Birkenstocks, and generally being unstoppable, but I liked Winick’s treatment of him in previous issues and he’s a strong presence again here. The flashback that opens issue 48 sees him in a memorably devious hiring sequence, and he’s later seen stealthily working the perimeter of the whole Duke of Oil brouhaha to add to the chaos.
Truth is, this two-part dust-up isn’t a must-have, but in this brave new world of trade paperbacks and agonizing over whether to sign onboard a title for a writer’s full arc or not, it’s a fine little diversion. Whether you care about the larger story and Drakon’s return or not, you’re still guaranteed a good, old-fashioned slug-fest with a villain who has great visuals, chews scenery like Al Pacino on crank, and even gets to be drawn-up all artsy-like on the cover by FABLES cover artist James Jean! Besides that, the sheer exasperation of Team Arrow over the fact that this giant, Texan robot just won’t die is a special kind of entertainment. It’s like seeing how frustrated all those villains must’ve been with Spider-Man’s motormouth over the years...if Spider-Man was a big ol’ redneck shitkicker.
I say it’s too weird NOT to give it a look. I say the Duke of Oil could be this year’s Doctor Light (sans the raping).
ESSENTIAL DR. STRANGE VOL. 2
Written by Roy Thomas, Steve Engelhart, Gardner Fox, Archie Goodwin, Stan Lee
Art by Gene Colan, Frank Brunner, Barry Windsor-Smith, Dan Adkins, P. Craig Russell, Jim Starlin, John Buscema, Don Heck, Marie Severin, Herb Trimpe, Irv Wesley
Published by Marvel
Reviewed by Dr. Buzz
This is where it gets good. ESSENTIAL DR. STRANGE VOL. 2 covers all Sorcerer Supreme related material from the end of the Silver Age through the dawn of the Bronze Age. Usually, the second generation Marvel material comes across as slightly weaker than the works plotted and drawn by Kirby and Ditko and written by Stan Lee.
But with Dr. Strange, a cool character who is arguably second-tier in the Marvel hierarchy, we see some of Roy Thomas' best writing, coupled with art primarily by Gene Colan, an artist who could make almost any character his own. Colan, along with John Romita Sr., comes across beautifully in black and white. A few issues down, Frank Brunner proves he's almost equal to Colan in the art department. "Almost equal to Colan" means he's extraordinarily talented and that you'll love his work.
Writer Steve Engelhart scripts many of the later issues. In many ways, Engelhart was the Bronze Age at Marvel when it came to writing. His CAPTAIN AMERICA & THE FALCON is my personal favorite CAP depiction. He also wrote THE INCREDIBLE HULK, THE DEFENDERS, CAPTAIN MARVEL and THE AVENGERS, among others. Over at DC he was the man who co-created Joker-fish in BATMAN. This year, Engelhart will re-team with artist Marshall Rogers for BATMAN: DARK DETECTIVE. When the Doc stories became Lovecraftian, Engelhart completed them with the fantastic Shuma-Gorath storyline. Of course, it was writer Gardner Fox and artists Brunner and P. Craig Russell who gave us some of the best comic book faux-Lovecraft in the volume. Look for the stories from MARVEL PREMIERE # 6-7.
Also outstanding are Doc's battle with the Juggernaut, Eternity, and his team up with the Avengers. But the coolest hunk of Bronze here are the early DEFENDERS stories. I sometimes think Roy Thomas created the DEFENDERS because his DR. STRANGE and PRINCE NAMOR, THE SUB-MARINER series were both canceled and he clearly liked writing those characters. And he may have missed scripting the Hulk as well. Is there a better reason for the creation of a superhero team than the writer liking the characters? These DEFENDERS stories were reprinted just a couple of years back in DAY O' THE DEFENDERS, a little volume which accompanied the reeking DEFENDERS re-launch which we will never talk about again. I suspect that these tales will be reprinted in ESSENTIAL DEFENDERS VOL. 1, due in May, but I'd rather have too much than not enough.
If you like Dr. Strange, good writing, and sharp artwork, if you're interested in Marvel Classics, this volume is a must. Remember: if comics are literature and art, the classics are essential!
ADAM STRANGE #6 (of 8)
Writer: Andy Diggle
Art: Pascal Ferry
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewers Torn between Two Worlds, but of a Like Mind: Dave Farabee and Ambush Bug
Dave: ADAM STRANGE exists as the beautiful, action-packed opposite number to the slower, character-and-idea-centric science fictioning of ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR. See, a week or two back I was arguing the merits of decompressed storytelling to some in my group, and naturally Warren Ellis’s name came up. I argued that Ellis could be very effective with decompressed storytelling and that the technique had no inherent failings, but just the same, I felt there were still any number of titles best-served by classic, American-style, let’s-get-a-move-on superhero pacing! And ADAM STRANGE is foremost among ‘em.
Bug: I’m in total agreement with you, Dave. I’ve got to join in on this love fest towards this miniseries. Every issue makes my head spin at the sheer amount of action Diggle is able to squeeze into 22 pages.
Dave: This book is practically a textbook in writing action-oriented superheroics…and it’s not even a superhero book! All kinds of stuff goes down in this latest issue: Adam Strange continues his flight from the law, pursued now by the intergalactic police force, L.E.G.I.O.N.! Strange and pals The Omega Men mix it up with a Durlan shapechanger! Bad guys on Hawkman’s homeworld of Thanagar begin making plans for war! Strange pulls a James T. Kirk level bluff! And, in the end, the final fate of Rann begins to emerge…
Bug: And don’t forget the return of Vril Dox. Diggle writes him perfectly as a control freak hero set against Strange and the Omega Men. Dox is one of the characters I have sorely missed since L.E.G.I.O.N. was cancelled long ago. Pascal Ferry makes him look like an interstellar Napoleon in this issue and the characterization fits. Strange, Tigorr of the Omega Men (another favorite), and Vril Dox are all trapped together at the end of this issue. I can’t wait to see these extremely different personalities bounce off each other in the next issue.
Dave: Writer Andy Diggle brings the goods like he’s channeling the George Lucus of ‘77, folks. He knows, as the writers of BUFFY knew, that not only is there no sin in bringing the action in every single outing – sometimes several times an outing - it actually fits the property to do so! So while I’m looking forward to the Big Revelations sure to come as the series begins to wind down, I’m already starting to miss the high octane energy that’s defined this series. Combined with the artistic revolution heralded by Pascal Ferry and colorist Dave McCaig, it’s everything I could have asked for when it comes to updating the classic superhero stylings of my youth. I’ve got much appreciation for decompression done right, but there’s none required here!
Bug: There isn’t a miniseries out there that packs as much whallop per page as ADAM STRANGE. If you haven’t checked this series out yet, you have no right reading comics.
RISING STARS #24
J. Michael Straczynski: Writer
Brent Anderson: Artist
Image Comics: Publisher
Vroom Socko: Special Reviewer
It’s hard to believe that it’s been six years since this 24 issue series first began. Six years since that 16 page pencil-only preview first showed up in my box, my shopowner saying, “You like that Babylon 5 show, right?” And it’s been about two and a half years since I last wrote a review of the book, one where I dared to say that this story was better than WATCHMEN, a statement that one talkbacker compared to saying BATTLESTAR GALACTICA was better than STAR WARS.
Of course, nowadays BATTLESTAR actually IS better than STAR WARS. And from a story standpoint, you’re damn right RISING STARS is better than WATCHMEN.
This series is jaw dropping. Just when you think you’ve gotten a handle on where it’s going, it twists in your grasp like a snake covered in butter. Now, finally, the last page has given the last twist. The final, magnificent page, where the book at last comes full circle, and the main concept behind the book at last reveals itself. I had to reread the whole series again after I saw that page.
So what is the concept behind the book? Simple.
For twenty years now, deconstruction of superheroes has been the defining context behind the genre. Every major event storyline has been filtered through the idea that these superpowered individuals are just as weak and flawed as us mere mortals, and can even face situations where loss is inevitable. (Quick, name a synonym for Deconstruction that begins with the same letter.) But this book is the first effort that takes a look at that shambling deconstruction zombie and moves to remove the head or destroy the brain.
RISING STARS is not deconstruction. RISING STARS is reconstruction. It serves as a reminder that humans may have failings, but we also have amazing strengths, and superheroes even more so. This final issue is filled to the brim with something I haven’t seen from either Marvel or DC in over a decade: hope. Hope for humanity, hope for the world, and even hope for other worlds. That’s what drives this work forward. When was the last time you saw that in a superhero comic? When was the last time you read a series from the Big Two that made you feel like a storyline was heading somewhere wondrous? Somewhere beautiful?
This book is a must read. If you have any sort of love for comics, you MUST read this book. Even if you only read comics from the Big Two, you must read this book. If the monstrous wait between issues that made THE ULTIMATES look like it was a weekly drove you off, there’s no more waiting; you must read this book. If you think SUPREME POWER is the best work JMS has done, you must read this book. The story will soon be available in three volumes in softcover, as well as a single hardback that I’d willingly trade my genitals to have in my hands right now.
This book is a genuine event in comics. It’s the first superhero book to shift the storytelling bar upward to this sort of degree since MIRACLEMAN. It is the future of this genre, laid out for all of us to look at in wonder. It is a masterpiece.
BLOOD OF THE DEMON #1
Plots and Pencils: John Byrne
Scripter: Will Pfeifer
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Ambush Bard
Take heed to the Ambush Bard who oft talketh out his rear.
Tis a tale of loss and sacrifice, my delicate amigo,
One fueled by redundant reboots, hopes of profit, and John Byrne’s ego,
Tis a tragic tale of Jason Blood and his demonic alter ego.
Stinging tears doth cloud my vision as I harken to a golden time,
When the Demon known as Etrigan would bust forth with funky rhyme.
But those times they are all over now, gone forever more,
Never shall he speak in rhyming verse penned by Alans Grant and Moore,
Yes, those times they are all over now, they moonwalked out the door.
But fear not, noble listener, all is not completely lost,
Byrne and Pfeifer’s BLOOD OF THE DEMON is not an utter holocaust.
Jason Blood is especially vicious, lopping off heads when not crucified,
Tis blood, tis gore, tis violence, but not a Mature Readers tag to be spied,
Had I read this book as a youngster, I believe I surely would have cried.
The prose it is quite wordy, but common for a silly, little man,
Who spends time blasting others on his website because he can.
But Pfeifer makes tight word balloons, and guides the erstwhile reader,
Through a mystery about a mixed up curse that kept money in this attention meter,
Yes Pfeifer’s skill with words doth cause Byrne’s ego to shrink and peter.
But the taint of past indiscretions shall torment Byrne like Lucifer,
It will take much more than this to forgo his creation Crucifer.
The art tis crisp, the story tis fun, dare I say sublime,
Despite the fact that one of its writers is obliviously past his prime,
Tis sad though, for the Demon for he had to lose his rhyme.
DOCTOR SPECTRUM #5 - This, the fifth issue of a six issue miniseries is more useless than the last two issues. Simply put, this series is a waste of my time, your time, and a whole lotta paper. Here we have six issues of filler that may have made an interesting one shot. I mean, c’mon. Six issues of our hero lying in a coma? Are you fucking kidding me? It’s proof positive that Marvel editorial needs to start doing their jobs and tighten the reigns on their stable of meandering writers. - Bug
CONCRETE: THE HUMAN DILEMMA #3 (of 6) - Paul Chadwick’s CONCRETE has what I miss from other idea-centric comics: stories that anchor their wild concepts in human emotion. At the halfway point in the miniseries, Concrete’s full-on into his population-control campaign with its seemingly radical notion of promoting childless couples. What sticks about his debates is that they’re as much about him as they are about the issues. He’s showcasing both a newfound confidence in the wake of his strange liaison with Maureen and his traditional difficulty with being challenged by clever opponents. Plus there’s that mysterious scratching he can’t seem to control…I think readers have a pretty good idea of what it means by now, and it’s both nerve-wracking as a change in the status quo and simultaneously exciting – as it should be. Meanwhile, Chadwick breaks down the time-honored ritual of the one-night stand – it’s just too bad one of its participants is the eminently likeable, eminently engaged Larry Munro. Larry, you damn dog! - Dave
BREACH #3 -
“Push…puuuush…okay, wait, stop! Nurse, we’ve got a BREACH.”
”What’s that mean, doctor? Is it going to be okay?”
”Okay? Why, it’s excellent! I mean, have you seen the Marcos Martin artwork on this series paying homage to Ditko? And the strong writing by Bob Harras? I tell you, this baby is gold and getting better with every issue.” - Bug
MARY JANE #1 (of 4) - I’m happy to see this book back for a second round - after all, where else am I gonna find out who Mary Jane took to the prom?! Oh, alright, we’ve had this discussion before: this is a very girly book, but it’s one of the best there is at what it does. McKeever gives Mary Jane the happy blush of a dream sequence during the fun intro, then moves onto the more serious drama of whether she’s gonna help Harry Osborne cheat at school to insure he can join her at the prom. I really like that McKeever writes all this without the weight and portent of her future marriage to Peter Parker or the future villainy of Harry Osborne. Everything and everyone is still an open possibility, and isn’t that how it should be with young love? On the art, Takeshi Miyazawa once again proves himself to be the go-to guy when it comes to conveying the pangs of teen angst or the jubilation of teen bliss. It’s all very endearing. - Dave
NIGHTWING #105 - Not enough has been done with the Jason Todd character, so it’s always nice to see writers pay attention to him. It’s just a bonus that it is done this well by Chuck Dixon, Scott Beatty, and Scott McDaniel. I would follow this team anywhere. Great action and character interaction throughout. Plus it’s great to see a nod to the excellent THE GAUNTLET one shot from a few years ago. All this and Killer Croc too. Cool. - Bug
THE GRIMOIRE #1 - Always gotta give a new company its shot, right? GRIMOIRE is among the debut series from Speakeasy Comics, a loosely defined new company with excellent production values and stories that..err…leave a little to be desired. GRIMOIRE’s concept is pretty traditional for all-ages fantasy: young girl inherits a magical grimoire and finds herself drawn into a world of mystery and adventure. I liked the art – part Disney, part Josh Middleton from the MERIDIAN days – but the story left me completely cold. It’s all very scattershot, never allowing the reader to really plug into the characters or find reason to be caught up in the action. What’s more, with a creative team whose names include Sebastien Caisse and the monosyllabic Dkief and Kness, I think these guys may be moonlighting as STAR WARS bounty hunters. - Dave
ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR #16 - As heir to Lee/Kirby's FF, you'd probably have to consider this book a failure. I mean, here we are four issues into the Negative Zone exploration storyline and I don’t think a single punch has been thrown, a single monster clobbered. But as a "young adult" adventure series more in the tradition of prose fiction like A WRINKLE IN TIME, etc.? Seems to me Warren Ellis is actually doing a bang-up job. In this issue, the Four visit the ultra-creepy homebase of Annihilus and his first words come through as a chilling computer translation: “Welcome. To last station. I annihilate.” From there…well, if you can believe it, Annihilus doesn’t start blasting everything in sight, but he’s definitely one of the oilest Marvel villains of the last year, palpably menacing as he takes the kids on a tour of his refugee station huddled around the remnants of a dying star. I like Annihilus as the cruel host of the station, I like Reed’s disappointment at seeing yet another scientific opportunity fallen under the shadow of villainy, and I was quite taken with the cliffhanger ending. It occurs to me I’m probably gonna warm up to Ellis’s sci-fi approach just in time for Mark Millar to come in and turn the book into another one of his shock-tactic superhero series. Shit. - Dave
GOTHAM CENTRAL #29 - Anyone else think that Montoya's becoming a "blah" character, or more of one I should say? I know she's Rucka's darling, but she's not very interesting to watch. Generically good cop whose only real point of interest is a been-there-done-that homophobia sub-plot that adds forgettable angst? Bleh. I keep thinking about how much better Julian's homosexuality was handled on the last few years of THE SHIELD, how much more original his character arc was. As for the actual investigation stuff in this issue...solid. Especially enjoyed the initial meetings between the Gotham Cops and the Keystone Cops (heh):
”Yeah, they’re a group of metas, work together to make our lives miserable.”
”Christ, they’re unionized?”
It looks like Dr. Alchemy is getting a bit of a Hannibal Lecter treatment, which I hope Rucka's careful with. Seems everyone’s getting Lecter-ized these days. - Dave