AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #548
Writer: Dan Slott Art: Steve McNiven (pencils), Dexter Vines (inks) Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: Ambush BugAs if we haven't covered the events in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN enough recently, I thought it'd be a good way to round out the coverage to focus on the first complete arc in this new "Brand New Day" era. I have to say that, up until issue #548, I was feeling a little leery of this title. Writer Dan Slott started out slow. He popped around the new status quo, showing tidbit after tidbit of supporting cast members, dropping subplots, and basically mapping out what us fans can expect from a Spidey comic. To be put into this position while the unsavory smell of "One More Day" still lingers in the air is a thankless job for Dan Slott. I don't envy his job right now, but after reading the first few issues, I feel a bit relieved and feel as if Spidey is in the right hands.
I know people still want to rant and rave about the Mephisto deal and the shattering of the marriage and the lack of explanation about details like Spidey's lack of organic webshooters and Harry Osborne's sudden resurrection. I have to admit, it was quite a shock when I opened the first issue of this story arc to see Peter kissing some random chick in a club. It made me feel uneasy, like when you catch your parents having sex. Sure, you know this is the reality. Peter is a single guy. Your parents had to do the scroggidy sometime in order for you to be there. But nevertheless, it's something you'd just rather not see. That first sequence in ASM #456 had the words "too soon" written all over it.
But I really tried to squelch those feelings of disgust for the direction Spidey's life is taking after the events of "One More Day." I tried hard to look at "Brand New Day" with brand new eyes. And in doing so, I couldn't help but notice how small Slott started out. We really don't get into the story until issue #547, where Spidey dons his costume to search for the Spider-Mugger (a guy who's been mugging New Yorkers with a gun and a Spidey mask, sullying Spider-Man's reputation--what reputation he has, that is). A new villain, Mr. Negative, was introduced that was all mystery and, I must admit, had a pretty cool look (he looks like the negative of a photograph). So issue one centered on the establishment of the status quo and issue two focused on setting up an actual story and getting the action started. That means that the payoff is in the third issue, #548, right?
Well, yeah, that is right. I guess.
This is actually a pretty finely crafted issue. After a slow start, I finally felt as if Slott had a handle on the story he was telling. No longer was he picking up the pieces left by Joey Q's editorial mandate. Slott seemed to be running free and telling the story he wanted to tell. This felt like your typical Slott story. It was filled with Marvel continuity nods, humor, and most of all moved at a rapid pace. I know I'm reading a Slott book when I get to the halfway point and feel full, then take satisfaction that there's still a whole lotta story to go before the end of the book. I did that in this issue and upon realizing it, it definitely made me smile.
There's action galore in this one. In the past, I was always more interested in the villains Spidey was facing rather than the hero himself. I find that to be true with a lot of icons. When Batman is solving a case with some street thugs, I always find my mind wandering no matter how great the story, compared to the interest I have in the book when he's facing one of his Rogues Gallery. Same goes for Spidey. Or it did, until this issue. Here Spidey faces a mugger and some nameless masked thugs. Sure Mr. Negative is in the background (until the end of the issue, that is), but for the most part, it's Spidey being heroic. We've seen Spidey save a kid from a falling air conditioner or pull an old lady back to the sidewalk to avoid being splattered by an out of control cabbie. But these actions are often used as precursors to the "main" action, namely, the villain of the month Spidey is set to face. Here, the heroic Spidey (not the super-hero Spidey) is highlighted. Spidey saved a tent-full of circus goers from a bomb. The focus is on saving a bunch of children, not punching the Lizard in the face. Slott places these heroic acts literally in the center ring in this issue and it's refreshing to see.
Steve McNiven is a pretty phenomenal artist. His attention to detail doesn't stop with the main action. It spills over into the people in the background or the details of the wall behind Spidey. There were a few instances during this issue in it's final pages where the panels would have resonated a bit more had Slott and McNiven more pages to tell their story (the standoff between Mr. Negative and Spidey at the end seemed especially truncated). But if you're looking for good art, this issue has it.
Sure being left with the responsibility to pick up the pieces after the OMD fiasco is a great one, but Slott appears to have the great writing power to accompany it. Sure it took him an issue or two to put the pieces in play and establish the new status quo, but by the end of this issue, when Peter is sitting on that rooftop, calling Aunt May to make sure she's ok, and worrying about all of the things he has going against him, I realized that I kind of liked this "Brand New Day." Now that Slott has the status quo and new subplots in place, he can focus on telling a good story. I'm hoping that now that all of that is out of the way, Slott will really take off. The jury is still out for the rest of Team Spidey, but Slott did a decent job with the first arc.
LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #38
Writer: Jim Shooter Penciler: Francis Manapul Publisher: DC Comics Reviewed by Humphrey LeeOver the past year here doing these little review ditties for AICN, I've been relegating myself to my own little role with what I cover. I've been basically steering clear of any big name books or crossover events or anything with too much hullabaloo around it for me to really care about (though even I couldn't help but be drawn in by powers beyond my control to stop by and bitch about Spider-Man and “One More Day”. The little fanboy that would in me couldn't help but break out for that chance to rant). But the main focus has been to try and shine a spotlight on the more underappreciated books like the FEAR AGENT's and CASANOVA's or THE ORDER's of the industry, or trying to get attention to some up coming creators that are still drawing a crowd like I did a couple weeks ago with Jonathan Hickman's PAX ROMANA. But sometimes, sometimes you just want to sit back, relax, and talk about a fun, entertaining, and action packed superhero comic.
Well, THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES for the past couple issues, aided by the return of Jim Shooter, has been a damn fine example of fun, entertaining, and action packed super heroics.
What has really pleased me about LOSH so far in the quick time Shoot has been back (is it okay if I call you "Shoot", Mr. Shooter? It saves me a couple keystrokes and I figured you wouldn't mind since I'm a fellow Pittsburgher. Thanks. Appreciate it.) is that there's just this amazing sense of urgency as these super powered teenies do what they do. They're not constantly fighting "Universe Devourers" or Crisis level threats, but since they are pretty much galactic police and diplomats in a way they're always thrust in the middle of the action and wars that never seem to let up. Even watching as Lightning Lad basically does Intergalactic Monitor duty as he settles into his role as the new leader of the Legion is exhausting to take in, ans Shoot does a great job of showing how important a member like Brainiac is to such a team despite not even having made an appearance in the book on panel in this run of his. You feel every twinge of exhaustion in him as he pretty much continually screws up, even while he's trying to get help to Saturn Girl and the others he walked into the middle of a gunfight with no way to pull them out.
But Shoot doesn't skimp on the humor either. It's not all gloom and doom as the Legionnaires fight for survival and order. There's some good chuckles here and there between Timber Wolf doing his best Wolverine impersonation, Starboy taking down some enemies with flair and Lightning Lad's impromptu "recruiting session" back at LOSH HQ before his verbal tirades send everyone a-scatter. But everything is all crisp and flows well. It's dire without laying it on too thick, there's great action, a little diplomacy, and the right smack of humor all wrapped up in a fine package sporting some very kinetic and vivid art on the behalf of Manapul. This is indeed the full package.
Finally a DCU book not wallowing in self-importance that I can get into. Even if you have never been much of a Legion fan, this is definitely worth a once over. I know I've never been much of one but I'm eagerly anticipating more. Thank you Mr. Shooter, you do the Burgh proud...
YOUNG AVENGERS PRESENTS #1
Writer: Ed Brubaker Penciler: Paco Medina Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: JinxoI have to say, I went into this issue with low expectations. This might sound odd because I really love the Young Avengers, but my love for the original YOUNG AVENGERS series is one of the very reasons I was worried this book would stink. YOUNG AVENGERS was utterly derailed by CIVIL WAR; one of my many annoyances with that whole event. So because of the Registration Act, there could be no Young Avengers. To resurrect the book in any form they had to bring it back as YOUNG AVENGERS PRESENTS. I thought, “uh-oh.” So I don’t even get to see the gang back in action together. Instead, I get a series issues spotlighting individual characters in one issue one-shot stories. Seemed like a recipe for disaster. I want to see the TEAM. I want a good sized arc of a story. The one-shot stuff I’ve been seeing in comics lately hasn’t exactly been blowing my doors off. More just blowing. The possibility of seeing my favorite team divided up and put in crappy solo one-shots didn’t thrill me.
I have to say what does thrill me is finding out my worries were unfounded. When I’m reading a one-shot, this is the sort of story I hope to see. The thing I didn’t know going in that would have eased my fears was the fact that Ed Brubaker was writing this issue. The man can deliver the goods. It’s a well written piece about the characters with a good dose of action thrown in so that it isn’t all just talking.
The story centers on Eli Bradley, The Patriot. He’s the grandson of the true first Captain America, a black man the super soldier serum was tested on before Steve Rogers. Since the Civil War, Patriot and the other Young Avengers who chose not to register have all been forced to sit at home on the sidelines. This issue is less about the hero The Patriot and more about Eli asking what it means to be A patriot. The really smart choice of the story is that it’s about asking that question and not about coming up with an easy answer.
The story also brings into play all of Eli’s various relationships in a nice way. The Young Avengers are not forgotten with several of them coming into play making it feel more like it was a team book. Eli is on a quest for an answer to who he is and what defines a patriot. Brubaker does a good job of having his questions as well as his search for answers formed by the people in his life much like it would be for anyone in real life. And, again, because this isn’t Doctor Phil for God’s sake, there is also some solid villain thrashing. The final scene between Eli and the hero who maybe can most relate to his situation felt heartfelt and earnest.
I liked this issue quite a bit. I hope the rest of the series is this well done. The thing is, there’s a different writer for each issue of this series. That means I feel like I have to be worrying before EVERY issue. If Brubaker was writing them all I would now feel confident. But now every month I’ll be thinking, “Man, I hope the next guy up doesn’t blow it.” Given how well things have started, guys, pleeeease don’t blow it.
CRIMINAL MACABRE: THE COMPLETE CAL MCDONALD STORIES
A collection of stories by Steve Niles Published by Dark Horse Comics Reviewer: Ambush BugCal McDonald is one of my favorite comic book characters. But it wasn't until a few years ago that I found out that Cal got his start in prose fiction. Since then, I've searched conventions and online for Cal's original prose adventures, collecting a few, but never getting all of them. It's great to see Dark Horse recognize an interest for Cal's original stories is out there. This book seemingly was meant for fans who can't get enough of the pill-popping, drug-addled, monster-fighting, multiple-fractured, heavily-stitched and bandaged paranormal detective. Fans like me.
So the completist in me is satisfied. I now have all of the Cal McDonald stories in prose and comic book form. Yay, me.
So how is the book?
It's pretty darn good. Personally, I prefer the comics. I think Steve Niles has developed quite a bit as a writer since these stories were first written. Sure Cal is still addicted to all sorts of drugs, apathetic as hell, and fully willing to jump into paranormal cases that others would never do. But the Cal in the comics is an offspring from this prose character. Niles has the character down now in his monthly CRIMINAL MACABRE series at Dark Horse. It is still nevertheless interesting to read Cal's first stories (although some of them were adapted to comics later) and it was equally satisfying to look at the stories in this book and see how much Niles has evolved as a writer.
That said, I don't want to mislead people in saying that this isn't quality reading. It was actually a lot of fun. There are some writers that are in love with the word. And there are other writers that see a movie in their head and get it down on paper. There's a literal and action based sense to the stories. Niles does a great job of mapping out cinematic action. I could see these stories unfold on screen or across a series of panels. Niles is one of those visual writers.
Although GUNS DRUGS AND MONSTERS and SAVAGE MEMBRANE are both great reads, I found myself having the most fun with the shorter stories. The last short story in particular (ALL MY BLOODY THINGS) is a blast. The book ends with this strong story about a human monster who captures people and becomes their worst nightmare. This cannibalistic tale not only exemplifies Cal's complex character, but it has an intensity and an immediacy about it that makes it much more effective than the longer stories.
Throughout this book, you'll encounter ghouls, vampires, werewolves, cannibals, and just about every other type of beastie imaginable. And it's all met with Cal's sharp tongue and numbed senses. Niles has created a character that is timeless, distinct, and able to crossover from books to comics and, hopefully, film. If you're a fan of the current CRIMINAL MACABRE Cal McDonald Mysteries, you won't want to miss this collection. It's short on bells and whistles. I'd have liked a bit of insight from Niles into the character in an intro or something. But the stories were strong enough to make me forget about any hesitation I would have in recommending this book.
THE ORDER #7
Writer: Matt Fraction Artist: Barry Kitson Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: JinxoMan, I love this book and man, do I pity The Order’s leader Henry Hellrung, aka Anthem. I pity him like every poor sap who’s ever taken a job only to find out it’s a way bigger pain in the ass than he expected. You go in as boss thinking you know the job; that you’ll be in charge. Then the next thing you know YOUR boss supersedes your authority so that you don’t seem to be in charge of anything, you’re trying to do the job you were hired for while also trying to organize your team into a real team and things keep going wrong. And then, just when things are already hairy enough, an even bigger disaster rolls up and smacks you in the face. The angry pain is the ass bastard your boss normally deals with insists on only doing business with YOU. And if you blow it, you’re screwed.
Sucks to be you, Henry.
The Order’s base of operations is being moved by Tony Stark without Henry having much input. The team is barely on its feet and already facing villains, scandals, and various other headaches. But for this issue all of this has to be tabled because Prince Namor has watched THE ABYSS one too many times and has decided to threaten San Francisco with a wall of water. And he only wants to deal with Henry, who has been a hero for, what, a month? No pressure. Just out of the gate and you have to have a battle of wills with the biggest pain in the ass in the Marvel Universe. Good times.
And it is good times. The characterizations of both Namor and Henry are really good. Namor is in his jerky glory. And even though you don’t really need much explanation for Namor being a pain in this case there is actually an intriguing purpose behind his arrogant behavior. Henry seems the intimidated, outclassed opponent… or is he just letting Namor underestimate him? The opening scene where Henry starts off his talk with Namor by awkwardly familiarizing himself with his records, “accidentally” annoying The Prince Namor by addressing him by his “proper name” is classic. And you do have to ask, is this guy really just out of his depths or is he using his skills as an actor to make Prince Namor think he is, while at the same time pushing his buttons? Assuming the latter, the dude’s got some balls. If he can take the skills he shows in this issue and turn them around on Tony Stark, Iron Man is going to have his hands full.
THE GOBLIN CHRONICLES #1 Ape EntertainmentI really liked this trip into fantasy. In the first few pages, the reader is treated to your typical big battle scenes where armies of faceless warriors clash. There’s some nice narration describing the cycle of violence that goes on in this land where elves, shape shifters, wizards, and goblins take part in a never-ending battle. But just when you think you’re going down a well-worn path, the focus shifts to the story of a young goblin who will most likely play a big part in this war. The tone is light. Although the stakes are dire, the scenes with the goblin child (Gorim) and the motley crew that he happens upon when he gets lost on a hunting trip are breezy and fun. The story turns into a WIZARD OF OZ-like tale where all of these different characters must band together to take on insurmountable odds. I liked the art quite a bit, too. Colin Fogel does a great job of making the characters distinct and down-right cute. He has a good grip on emotion and space within a panel. One criticism lies in the fact that the art could use some inking. Fogel’s art is very sketchy and I was sometimes distracted by this. But the strength of the stories and imagery well made up for it. Recommended for those who enjoy fantasy in a fun light. – Ambush Bug
ROGUE ANGEL: TELLER OF TALL TALES #1 IDW PublishingWhen I first saw the cover to ROGUE ANGEL, I mistakenly thought it was a comic aimed directed to me. I mean, since I’m bald, it would make sense for me to give the hair growth product a try in its new gel form. I just had no idea that IDW Publishing had ventured into the realm of personal hair growth formulas…
Ok, this was my first experience with ROGUE ANGEL. Comparisons to Lara Croft are likely. They are both curvy archeologists. Both prefer to be scantily clad as they go on their missions. And both seem to bound into trouble wherever they go. But Lara Croft doesn’t have a mystical sword thingee that appears whenever she’s in trouble. Rogue Angel does. It’s a fun romp and it does look like writer Barbara Kesel has done her homework and researched some obscure historical facts to make this a little more meaty than your typical Bad Girl book. The art by Renae De Liz is definitely dynamic. Sure, it’s T & A heavy. This Rogue Angel is a curvy gal, but the panels are vivid and varied. If you’re into the Bad Girl type books, this may be one to check out. – Ambush Bug
HACK/SLASH #8 Devil’s Due PublishingI want to like this book. The premise is pretty strong. A “last girl” survivor and an actual mindless brute (a la Jason Voorhees) team up to track down other serial killers. I’ve heard lots of good things, but never really checked out an actual issue. This may not have been the best one to check out if you’re a HACK/SLASH newb though. The plot is definitely exposition heavy and very, very melodramatic. Seems being a lesbian is tough. And I guess it’s especially tough when you’re a hot, Goth lesbian. That’s the message I got from this issue of HACK/SLASH. I’m sure that previous and future issues of this series would rock my socks off. It’s definitely up my alley, since I love me some serial killers almost as much as I love me some zombies. But this issue wasn’t the deal sealer. Maybe I’ll check out future issues to see if this talk/drama heavy issue is the norm or just a breath between stalkings. – Ambush Bug
ABC WARRIORS: HELLBRINGER TPB 2000ADAccording to the title, these Warriors have Already Been Chewed for your reading pleasure...
A-hem. Cranky robots galore with spectacular art by Kev Walker. I love the character designs to these battle-worn bots. The dented head of noble and oft times naive Hammerstein. The clunky and dumb Mek-Quake. And my favorite, Joe Pineapples, which is one of the coolest robot designs I've seen in a while. Think Snake-Eyes meets the Terminator and you've got a good idea as to what Joe Pineapples looks like. This is one of these "We're gettin' the band back together books." as the disbanded ABC Warriors (actually ABC stands for Atomic, Bacterial, & Chemical) must reunite in order to battle demons and a gigantic machine called the Hellbringer. I had the most fun during the first book collected in this trade as we find out where the ABC Warriors ended up after they disbanded. Writer Pat Mills does a great job of sprinkling humor in with his bad-ass robot action. And Kev Walker's art is lush and eye-melting. Reminscent of Simon Bisley, Walker's art has never looked better. Great sci fi fun. - Ambush Bug
LIFE SUCKS OGN First SecondMan, life sucks. Especially when you're stuck in a dead end job. Got no money. No girlfriend. And the only thing that brings happiness to your life is a Spanish Soap Opera...oh yeah, and that you're a vampire. Writer Jessica Abel and artist Gabe Soria do a great job of making the bland and sad life of a low level vampire interesting as hell to read. Dave works at an all night convenience store. He stocks beer, refills the nacho cheese machine, chats it up with his vampire buddies who swoop in throughout the night, and oogles over the cute Goth chick who stops by the store and never bats an eye at him. "Bats an eye", god, I'm full of unfunny puns today. Anyway, what I liked about this story is that it is completely mundane, yet every page is exciting and fun. Writer Abel slowly pulls back the curtain on Dave's life and exposes all of the boring details, but does so in such a thorough way that you can't help but identify and empathize with him. Dave's life truly does suck. He refuses to kill and therefore has very little vampire powers, yet unfortunately retains all of their weaknesses. It even gets suckier when he makes his move for the cute little Goth girl, only to find a rival vampire (this one with powers and no blood sucking qualms and all) has intentions for her as well. This is a sometimes funny, sometimes awkward, sometimes heartbreaking story. I whizzed through all 185 pages pretty quickly, not because it's a breezy read, but because it's such an engrossing one. And Gabe Soria's simple, yet finely nuanced art conveys the various emotions felt by the cast with great skill. I hate to sound trite with this one by tagging it with something like "It's CLERKS meets INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE" but that's kind of what it is. I'll just tell you it was a damn fine read and leave it at that. Highly recommended for people who like sharp, slice of life humor...and vampires. - Ambush Bug
THE CLAWS CAME OUT HC OGN IDW PublishingThis was a fun read about dames and the monsters who stalk them. The book is filled with stories and art by Pat Lewis, offering cartoony tales of women in distress fighting all sorts of monsters from abominable snowmen to zombies to aliens to vampires. The art is pretty cutesy and expect more "Aww"s than gasps of fright, but I found these tales to be worth quite a few chuckles in the way it turns women (who are often cast in the role of damsel in distress in comics) into the heroes of these stories. Sure using the term "broads" on the cover may cheese off some feminists in the crowd, but the empowerment of the women in this book is quite nice to see. - Ambush Bug
SHEENA: QUEEN OF THE JUNGLE #4 Devil’s Due PublishingThere are quite a few jungle chick comics out there but this one has more T&J (that’s Tits and Jungle) than you can shake a monkey at. Although the story had a somewhat jarring way of jumping from one point in time to another, I found it to be a pretty entertaining issue. Sheena isn’t your typical jungle girl. She talks with the animals, has mystic experiences with a jungle shaman, and occasionally talks like a Valley Girl. The book really gets good when all of the talk stops and Sheena silently takes on a small army of thugs. Blowguns, bows & arrows, panthers, and knives are used with expert skill; all illustrated extremely well by artist Matt Merhoff. Sure, the story is a bit light and breezy, but the panels with Sheena are definitely electric and make this a worthwhile purchase. – Ambush Bug
ASTONISHING X-MEN #24 Marvel ComicsThis is such a slam dunk for a comic review. I mean, how hard is it for me to say what a wonderful arc this has been? Not hard at all. The reason I don’t really follow the other X-books (other than X-FACTOR) is no matter when I browse then, I’m lost. Even if I pick them up in consecutive months, I’m lost. But when I pick up this book, even with the relatively small cast of characters, I can follow it. Maybe I’m just more vested, I dunno. But even when there’s a gap in production, I follow. Regarding the storytelling, there are so many clever moments, I could hardly list them all without just quoting most of the book. Regarding the characters, I know Wolverine is the money maker, but I love the attention Whedon takes with a friendship between two characters (a friendship that goes back almost as far as Reed Richards and Ben Grimm, in fact.) Regarding the art, I loved Cassaday ever since I picked up PLANETARY and he still rocks. Really, don’t wait for the trade. I can’t wait until the conclusion. It feels like comic books should feel. - Rock-Me Amodeo
FREDDY VS JASON VS ASH #4 (of 6) DC WildstormI’m still liking this miniseries pitting horror’s biggest names against each other quite a lot. Writer James Kuhoric does a great job of incorporating the three universes from the three films together. Ash thinks both Freddy and Jason are Deadites. Jason mindlessly and obsessively just sees everyone as a victim. And Freddy seems to be manipulating the whole thing with the smug self-confidence that usually is his undoing. I also like the way each issue sort of features the fight from one of the three icons’ perspectives. So far, it’s been mostly Ash, but in this issue we get to see familiar snippets from the EVIL DEAD series through the lens of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. Making Ash dream he has his hand back, only to have it be possessed by Freddy and not the Deadites was pretty damn clever. Next issue seems to focus back on Jason; the part of the trio who has had the lesser of the development and attention as the other two in this miniseries so far. Can’t wait to check it out. - Bug
HELLBLAZER #240 DC VertigoTwenty years on and ol' Johnny Boy Constantine is still in the game; it's a wonderful thing to behold. Yeah, the stories in this book tend to run the same gamut: Produce random Big Bad, have John battle it out for a few arcs before pulling out victory from the jaws of defeat, but given the consistency in the amount of talent that has helmed this title for so long these stories rarely ever feel played out. In fact the team of Diggle and Manco is holding up the great tradition of down and dirty with oh such delightful wit and gallows humor quite well. And this new storyline, "The Laughing Magician", looks to be absolutely no different (and makes a great jumping on point combined with the issue before it for all you heathens not already buying it. So there). So here's to you John Constantine. May you continue to entertain, all trench coat and cigarettes, until even that horrible pretender that played you in that motion picture rests in his grave. I mean, it's comics, not like you age or anything. But here's to twenty great years and hopefully another twenty more. Cheers... – Humphrey
THE PUNISHER #54 Marvel MAXDaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamn!!!
So who saw RAMBO this weekend? If you didn’t, shame on you. I did and loved the hell out of it. You know how that film was unapologetically violent for the last half of the film? Well, this is the comic book equivalent of that. Over the top violence and gore ensues as the Punisher and Barracuda face off for what looks to be the last time. And not only does this story deliver on the action and thrills, but is continues to shed a sliver of light on what soul Frank Castle has left inside that hard, cold shell of his. Ennis continues his excellent streak in this issue. Only a few more Ennis PUNISHER stories to go, folks. I’m going to savor them and so should you because it doesn’t get much better than this. - Bug