Hey folks, Ambush Bug here with another gaggle of reviews for you all to consume and gab about in the Talkbacks. I know we promised you Part Two of our SPIDER-MAN “Brand New Day” interview with Joe Quesada this week and fear not, it will be posted within the next few days. We apologize for the delay and appreciate your patience. It’ll be worth the wait. We promise. In the meantime, enjoy the reviews!
Writer: Jeph Loeb Art: Ed McGuiness (pencils) & Dexter Vines (inks) Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: Ambush BugAmidst the maelstrom of stink and hullabaloo that has been associated with Spider-Man and his corner of the Marvel U, there's been another pretty big shake-up in Marvel's second most recognizable character, the Hulk. I was left with mixed feelings at the conclusion of WORLD WAR HULK. I felt as if this was a story better suited to occur within the Hulk comic and that it was overblown and inflated in order for it to be categorized as a crossover event. I don't necessarily dislike the changes that occurred by the end of that event, just the method with which it was done.
That said, the Hulk has always been a story of change. In a literal sense, that change comes when Bruce Banner transforms into the Incredible Hulk. But on a more technical level, the status quo of the Hulk has always been shifting as well. I remember initially being taken aback when Peter David ended a storyline with the detonation of a Gamma Bomb and we came back a month later to see a grey Hulk dressed as a gangster mixing it up in Las Vegas. I remember being shocked at the time. I didn't know what to think and wasn’t sure I liked it, but now I know that change is often an uncomfortable thing, especially to comic book fans. The slightest deviation to the character and they are often up in arms calling for the head of the writer or editor responsible. I know it. I've been there. I’ve felt it. I’ve done it. But with the Hulk, something about the character makes all of the changes somewhat ok in my book.
THE HULK #1, written by Jeph Loeb and penciled by Ed McGuiness, is a definite change from what we've come to expect when we pick up a HULK comic. First off, the Hulk now seems to be red instead of green, a hue more akin to the theme of rage that permeates this book, but a shift that is unsettling nevertheless. The book is set up as a mystery, with all of the key Hulk players in tow: Doc Samson, General Thunderbolt Ross, She-Hulk, Rick Jones. All of these characters interact pretty much according to character. The intro investigation between Samson and She-Hulk is a little too snarky and cute to be taken seriously, but it's been established before that these two characters don't like one another, so it is, at the very least, believable despite its over-the-top-ed-ness. Doc Samson’s impulsivity seemed to be a bit out of character for a psychologist. His willingness to sucker punch the Red Guardian was pretty off base.
The story is a pretty full serving; featuring a hypothetical battle with the Abomination, a real battle with the Winter Guard (Russia's answer to the Avengers), and a pair of revelations that were pretty well structured and downright surprising. Lately, I've been unimpressed by Jeph Loeb's stories. They seem to lack the flair and heart that his epic LONG HALLOWEEN or FOR ALL SEASONS stories had. Although splashy (mostly due to Ed McGuiness' puffy Bart Sears-esque art), I found the issue to be quite substantial for a first issue. The hint as to who this new Red Hulk is appears to be ripe with potential and the embrace of the Hulk U is refreshing to see in this day and age where every creator wants to scrap what came before and make their own stamp on a book. Here Loeb runs with ideas presented at the end of WWHULK and does so in a manner that isn't flashy or even groundbreaking, but it ain't half bad either.
Like I said, the art is a bit puffy and cartoony. McGuiness may turn off some by penciling characters as if they were all He-Man action figures and not basing much anatomy on how real people actually look. But since this is an issue where the main character is stretched and pumped up to balloonish proportions, I found the artwork to be appropriate and not as much of a distraction as I have felt with previous McGuiness works.
I was fully prepared to hate this book, but found myself surprised and downright interested as to how the story will proceed with the new developments with the Hulk and his supporting cast of characters. Although this book has steered in the direction of Marvel's Ultimate line with its casting of Banner as an inmate, it maintains a lot of integrity and adherence to history in that the only constant with the Hulk is change. In time, I found myself liking Peter David’s status quo shattering Mr. Fixit storyline quite a bit, although I was up in arms when it first came out. So I'm not that upset about the change to the status quo. Turns out this book surprised me and although I doubt the changes are permanent, they may be fun to read for a while.
THE SPIRIT #12
Written by Darwyn Cooke (based on a story by Will Eisner) Art by Cooke and J Bone Published by DC Reviewed by Stones ThrowWell so long to that pesky Canuck Darwyn Cooke, who departs THE SPIRIT with this here issue. I feel some words of farewell are in order.
Dear Lord, up in comic book heaven (who is it? Jack or Will?), Darwyn Cooke’s THE SPIRIT and I may not have always seen eye to eye - - personally I feel the stunning art and refreshing ideas were oft hampered by unpolished writing - - but today I would like simply to pay tribute to what was, for one year, one of the most distinctive and downright best-looking books on the stands. I know you probably had some hand in those covers and double-page spreads. No one manages to draw winners like that so many times.
I know this is a time to set aside grievances, but I think one of the flaws with this series is that we didn’t get much of a sense of just who Denny Colt (the Spirit) is or why he does what he does. Well, apart from it being fun and him being able to, of course. I mean, it’s probably faithful to the original Will Eisner stories and all, but it did kind of ensure I never really got too involved in the story. Well, looks like you paid attention to my prayers because in this issue 12 Cooke re-tells the story of the Spirit and Sand Saref (a.k.a. the inspiration for Batman and Catwoman and Daredevil and Elektra) and gives us our best look into the mind of Denny Colt yet. Cooke’s Eisner homage in the flashback scenes really is beautiful.
All things considered, make sure you give this book a good shake on the hand when it gets up there. Not many books manage to buck trends so wholly, to meld and switch between tones so well, to establish a fully-formed and rich world so immediately or to tell so many good one-part stories in such a short space of time. And really, I don’t think anyone else out there could have sold THE SPIRIT so well. Good on the li’l guy.
Now I’ve just got to hope for Frank Miller not to fuck up the movie too badly.
Next issue: a holiday special, two months after the holidaze. Huh. But, with a story by Gail Simone and art by Michael Golden!
BAT LASH #2 (of 6)
Writers: Peter Brandvold and Sergio Aragones Artist: John Severin Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Sleazy GShort review: Buy this miniseries. Seriously.
Long review: I’ve been enjoying Palmiotti and Gray’s JONAH HEX since the first issue, including Bat Lash’s appearances there. Lash isn’t one of the Western characters I’m familiar with, so when this series was announced I was on the fence. I greatly appreciate the serious, thoughtful presentation DC is providing Western comics right now, and HEX has been such a good read that LASH was worth considering. On the other hand, it’s a character I don’t know well…and then there’s that “Writer” credit. Sergio Aragones? Naturally, I assumed this was going to be a humorous take on the character. I thought it would be a little tongue in cheek, a little slapsticky, and not my thing. I began to worry about the same problem when I heard Aragones would be taken over THE SPIRIT. My concern about the potentially silly direction BAT LASH might go was almost enough to stop me from buying this miniseries.
But then I reconsidered for one reason: John Severin. The man’s art so blew me away when he worked on one of Jeff Mariotte’s DESPERADOES series a few years back that I decided to flip through the first issue of BAT LASH, and I was won over immediately. Severin, now in his 80’s, has been in the business for over half a century—and you’d never know it. His work is detailed, fresh, lively, and emotional. It’s done in a classic style, yet never feels stagnant. The storytelling he accomplishes and the acting of the characters are exemplary. I sometimes find myself wishing I were better equipped to describe the art in a comic book; I don’t have the training or the vocabulary to do it justice. This is, without question, one of the most glaring cases imaginable of my handicap on this subject. I have been in awe of every issue of a comic I’ve purchased by John Severin. The man is truly a master, and it saddens me that he doesn’t have more support and exposure. The only disappointment for me when it comes to his art is that there will never be enough of it published.
And that alone should be reason enough for you to buy the first two issues of this series. But what of my concerns about the writing? As it turns out, unfounded. Completely. Perhaps this is because novelist Peter Brandvold is handling the heavier parts of the storytelling, or perhaps it’s because Sergio Aragones has talents which have lain hidden in the past, but this series is very well written. While there are moments of lightness (generally when characters are playfully expressing their feelings for each other), the tone is precisely what a good Western should be. There’s a sense of foreboding as all of the elements slowly fall in to place, gradually building tension over the first two issues.
This is the origin of Bat Lash—an explanation of what in his past made him the character we’re familiar with—so we already know things are going to end very badly for several characters here. Rather than rush straight to a big confrontation, we gradually see several disputes large and small unfold, building a head of steam as it moves towards the inevitable climax. In lesser hands this approach could lead to underwritten issues that leave the reader bored, and the inclusion of so many familiar Western tropes (the dirty sheriff, the racist treatment of mixed couples, star-crossed lovers, a land grab by the unscrupulous) could leave readers feeling like it was a lifeless retread.
Not in the hands of Aragones and Brandvold, though. They have thus far done a wonderful job of investing time in all of the characters, good and bad, making them far more sympathetic and relatable than many of those in comics today. I’ve read a lot of comics, and much of the time we accept the shorthand that is commonplace in the writing today: the twirl of a mustache, the villain saying something ominous or threatening, the hero letting loose a catchphrase, and lots of visual cues that suggest a personality. There’s not enough depth, and little time is spent fleshing out the individuals we’re reading about. In BAT LASH it’s clear the writers are spending enough time with these characters to make sure we genuinely care about what’s coming next and who it’s happening to, and it’s a delight to read. Seeing a family that truly loves each other standing up against the oppressive forces of those who seek their ruin is quite moving here, and the credit goes both to the writers for injecting such emotion into the dialogue and to the artist for conveying their feelings with such precision.
The first two issues are full of peril, intrigue, true love, corruption, and gunslingin’. That’s the kind of thing that’s hard to pass up, and a Western as well executed as this is not to be missed. This is one of the best written and drawn books DC has put out recently—creators at the top of their game telling a truly powerful story about people you care about. Its distance from the mainstream DCU means it was destined to be overlooked. Don’t make that mistake: there’s still plenty of time to pick up the first two issues and catch up. You’ll be rewarding those who are responsible for such fine work, and rewarding yourself in the process.
THE END LEAGUE #1
Written by Rick Remender Art by Matt Broome and Sean Parsons Published by Dark Horse Econo-review by Stones ThrowLet’s face it: you’re busy people. Okay, perhaps not YOU personally, but certainly some people out there. You haven’t got time to read long reviews full of paragraphs and words! You want reviews that fit into your 21st century lifestyle, allowing you to check your e-mails, make a cup of coffee, receive a text message, destroy the music industry, drink the cup of coffee, get up, stretch your legs, sit back down and surf the web while simultaneously being able to bone up on the latest comment-worthy graphic literature! To that end I have devised the EZ-Read review, consisting of three simple steps: WTS (What They’re Saying), in which I’ll recount what the comic book makers are telling you about their product; WTAM (What This Actually Means), in which I translate; and WITOI (What I Thought Of It), where I tell you what your opinion should be. Got that? How couldn’t you? Let’s go!
WTS: “a thematic merging of WATCHMEN and THE LORD OF THE RINGS”
WTAM: It’s superheroes in a post-apocalyptic world.
WITOI: I feel slightly dirty.
WTS: “The remaining heroes consist of the superhuman known as Astonishman; the WWII legend, Soldier American; the incredible half-spider half-man, Arachnakid…”
WTAM: They’re using ciphers of more popular characters.
WITOI: Arachnakid? Astonishman? Seriously??
WTS: “The battle between good and evil is long since over: evil has prevailed”
WTAM: Earth’s gone to crap after a mistake made by Astonishman set off a chain reaction of green bombs across the world.
WITOI: This is actually a pretty cool nugget of the story what with Astonishman still being hailed as a hero for his efforts in the clean-up while only he knows that he inadvertently caused the disaster.
WTS: “in order to make a superhero team work outside of Marvel or DC, it was going to need an artist who blew the nipples off anyone who saw it”
WTAM: A guy called Mat Broome is drawing. Number of nipples is undisclosed.
WITOI: The art is too dark and over-rendered in that typical computer-coloring way, but otherwise quite impressive, if a little stiff.
WTS: “a desperate and perilous journey through a world dominated by evil, in hopes of locating the one remaining artifact that can save humanity-- the Hammer of Thor”
WTAM: Thor shows up at the end too. But this ain’t your daddy’s Thor! This is full-on Viking barbarian Thor! Wait, SANDMAN already did that?...
WTS: “We hope you enjoyed this issue, and promise that the bi-monthly ongoing adventures of THE END LEAGUE will always be our best foot forward”
WTAM: Better come back next time, cash boys -- we’ve already paid the printer…
WITOI: Another passable deconstruction of superheroes. Unfortunately, it’s nothing we haven’t seen way too many times before and the frankly ugly blend of sci-fi, superheroes and post-apocalypse genres isn’t much fun.
So there you go! All you need to know about THE END LEAGUE in one short and snappy format to fit into your hectic day to day lives! Why not return next week, if you have a second or two to spare.
GREEN LANTERN CORPS #20
Writer: Pete Tomasi Art: Patrick Gleason & Carlos Magno (pencils), Prentis Rollins, Tom Nguyen, Drew Geraci, Rodney Ramos, & Rebecca Buchman (inks) Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Ambush BugAlthough I enjoyed the conclusion to the "Sinestro Corps War" as much as the rest of you, I have to say that this issue and the last issue of the regular GREEN LANTERN title were some of my favorite GL reading in a while. These two issues are establishing the new status quo and adding on to (not exasperating) ideas that were presented in the final chapter of the big event. It's refreshing to see that the writers behind the big war didn't completely blow their loads after finishing the final issue of the "Sinestro Corps War." Reading this issue of GLC makes me confident that the series is in good hands and that the good-time ring-slinging will continue well on into the future.
This issue starts off ominously as the Guardians watch sets of rings from both Sinestro Corps and Green Lantern Corps members fly across the universe to seek out new owners. This detail may add to the interchangeability of the ring-bearers, but it also suggests the story is so much bigger than who exactly is wearing the ring. It's about an expansive mythology that spans across the universe.
Of course, the story would go nowhere if there weren't appealing characters. Although not the most popular of GLs, Guy Gardner and Kyle Rayner are two characters with enough character to fill their own book. In this issue, we get to see the two bounce off one another, and the interactions between the two are what make this book truly special. Writer Pete Tomasi does a great job of fleshing out these characters. Dropping his editorial duties at DC in favor of a writing position may have been a leap of faith for Tomasi, but so far he seems fully capable and in complete understanding of not only the DCU but the characters residing in it.
Guy Gardner has shown quite a bit of evolution as a character in this GLC series. He's gone from the complete asshole one-note to a more gruff elder wiseass. He now reminds me more of a Ben Grimm character than anything else. Sure he still says jerky things, but it appears that Tomasi is actually trying to add a little depth here and it's much appreciated. There are a few tender moments in this issue involving Guy that resonate character with great effect. His relationship with Ice, his friendship with the rest of the human Green Lanterns, and even his lack of respect for authority figures shows up without cardboard cartoonishness, but with depth and a sense of understanding from this writer that hasn't been elaborated on much in the past.
Kyle Rayner is equally fleshed out in this issue, but Tomasi relies on the art to convey his actions here. Kyle has become a GL of little words. Through his short tenure as a GL a whole helluva lot has happened and most of it is pretty bad when it comes to the story of Kyle Rayner. Both Kyle and Guy are looking for a new start and this issue provides that.
As much as I love what looks to be the two new main characters of this book, I will miss the focus on the alien members of the GLC. I'm sure that they will have story arcs and appearances. These first 19 issues of this series have been good at showcasing the different characters, but honestly, because of the expansive cast, the title sometimes felt erratic and uneven. Scattershot would be a good way of describing it; sometimes hitting the target, but oftentimes all over the map. With the addition of the Guy/Kyle partnership as the book's core, I think this book is gaining the focus it needs to be just as good as the main GREEN LANTERN title.
I didn't notice it during my first read through of this issue, but there are 2 pencilers and 5 inkers responsible for the art chores on this book. That's a whole helluva lot of people for a regularly sized 22 page book. On second glance, I noticed the differences in styles represented in the book, but honestly, due to the fact that the story was so strong, I missed it on my first go around. The difference is noticeable and a consistent art team would be nice, but for me it didn't ruin a thing in this issue.
I couldn't be more happy with the GREEN LANTERN stories I've been reading lately. There really is nothing else like it going on in comics right now (maybe ANNIHILATION CONQUEST is a close second). It's a tightly woven, well thought out, and well characterized corner of the DCU that doesn't seem to want to be bothered by all of the COUNTDOWN crap that is smelling up the rest of the titles. My advice for DC is to drop the all-encompassing crossover events and do more smaller interconnection between the DCU. It's working well in the GL corner and will probably do the same if tried in other areas. In the meantime, while the rest of the DCU counts down to the bottom of my reading pile in terms of importance, it's good to know that someone over there still knows how to spin a good super hero yarn. GREEN LANTERN CORPS is just as good as the main GL title and now it features characters that have deserved their own title for years. Inconsistent art aside, don't miss this series.
THE TWELVE #1 (of 12)
Written by J. Michael Straczynski Art by Chris Weston Published by Marvel Reviewed by Stones ThrowOne of the many benefits of reading Michael Chabon’s THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER AND CLAY is that you get a real sense of the freight train of creativity that was forced into motion in the Golden Age of comic books. The mad scramble to capitalize on the sudden, immense popularity of “masked man” characters in the months after the debut of SUPERMAN in ACTION COMICS gets dramatized in one of my favorite passages in that novel, in which Sammy Clay, Josef Kavalier and other assorted, hungry, young would-be cartoonists sit around their tiny apartment and concoct a raft of superheroes to thrill an entire generation, and is also the impetus for this new miniseries from Marvel.
THE TWELVE cherry-picks, you guessed it, twelve of Timely’s (which changed its name to Marvel in the 1960s after briefly being known as Atlas) most obscure heroes that first appeared in that crazy time on the eve of the USA’s entry into WWII. These weren’t icons, or even characters designed to stand out with any particular hook, just serviceable adventurers dreamt up to satiate the audience’s (then kids, and young kids at that) appetite for superheroes. The best thing about THE TWELVE #1 is that it doesn’t try to pretend otherwise. In the grand tradition of the Marvel universe corresponding to the readers’ interest outside the comic books, JMS has these twelve guys be the bandwagon-jumpers that they literally were, except now suddenly thrust into a whole new world in which they suddenly are remarkable – the present. They’re the guys in the background while A-listers like Cap and Namor are photographed decking their way through Berlin. There’s super-powered guys like Dynamic Man and Rockman, the leader of an underground race of rock-people, robots like the original Electro, and then “tourists”, those who don’t have any powers, whether just out for thrills like the scarily-shirtless Blue Blade, or our narrator and eye-piece, the Phantom Reporter, who simply feels he has to contribute to the war in some way. When the most famous characters are the original Black Widow and Mastermind Excello, you know it’s going to be an interesting book.
One of the things about the premise that particularly impressed me is the way it’s established that these heroes aren’t any sort of team, just twelve guys who were in the wrong place at the wrong time when they ventured into the SS headquarters as the Allies liberated Berlin. You can feel the tension between a legitimate superhero like Captain Wonder and an interloper like the Laughing Mask, and the way everyone is spooked by that big, radio-controlled robot. Credit is due in particular to artist Chris Weston who manages to sell the wartime scenes despite there being as many guys in costume as there are in uniform. His work has a depth and unextravagant realism that you don’t often see in comics today.
THE TWELVE feels like it shouldn’t work but by golly I enjoyed it! So much of it sounds like clichés that are so embarrassing they shouldn’t even be spoken aloud. Twelve more WWII heroes in suspended animation certainly doesn’t seem promising but the way it’s presented is a detail and the moment of realization when our leads twig that they’ve awoken in 2008, where Captain America is dead and superheroes are required to register with the government rather than simply put on a mask and go and fight crime is genuinely jarring. Similarly, while it may seem that we could be in for more deconstructionist fare, treating us to characters from a simpler time acting ALL GROWN UP, this first issue has instilled in me the confidence that we’re in for something a little more interesting than that. What’s JMS saying? That as much as we’d like to think so, our WWII heroes weren’t black and white? A comment on the simple comics of yesteryear versus the supposedly more complex stories of today? Or maybe just a cool story with a bunch of random characters thrust together and now bound by fate? I’m not sure yet, but I’ll surely be there to find out.
Credit to Marvel for putting out something distinctive like this. I couldn’t care less about most of the events and hype that goes on at the House of Ideas these days, but with OMEGA THE UNKNOWN and now THE TWELVE they are putting out some genuinely interesting stuff. For some reason THE TWELVE feels like it would be much more at home at DC, what with the less continuity-led stuff they tend to publish. And if it keeps up in the same vein as its great first issue and manages to avoid JMS’ weak endings curse, I think I’d have no hesitation in placing it alongside opuses like THE NEW FRONTIER, MARVELS or THE GOLDEN AGE.