SECRET INVASION # 1
Written by Brian Michael Bendis Art by Lenil Yu and Mark Morales Published by Marvel Reviewed by Secret Stones ThrowFor the last… however-the-hell-long-it’s-been, Marvel and writer Brian Bendis have been dropping hints all over the webs as to which character may or may not secretly be a Skrull. I thought this was pretty cool, but wondered why a 46-year old comic book was getting such a big push.
So imagine my surprise when I discovered THE SECRET INVASION was another multi-part crossover event from the House of Ideas. As part of the majority of the populace (someone who hasn’t been following the build-up in Bendis’ AVENGERS books) I thought I’d take a look at THE SECRET INVASION # 1 and see how it held up for its target audience of the casual Marvel fan.
The covers: Pretty cool. You’ve got yer Avengers all standing there, ‘cept with Skrull chins and pointy ears. Steve McNiven drew one too. And Lenil Yu, who did the insides. There’s sketch variants for each of those, which are basically the same cover, except unfinished. Marvel even put out a completely blank cover! So by my count, one comic has six different covers, which you’ve gotta buy, cuz they’re suckers for giving away such a great investment for only $3.99. I know it’s fun to tease the zombies, but this is going too far.
The first few pages: Some cool mystery as we open with a quote from the Skrull Book of Worlds. Lenil Yu draws an impressively otherworldly Skrull homeworld, although he’s assisted by the color effects. Skrulls used to have generically Kirby-esque tech. I guess this is an improvement. All in all, a nice, moody three pages.
Bendis swiftly kills any tension as Iron Man enters page four dragging the body of Skrull-ektra behind him and handily explaining the plot. Wouldn’t it have been better to see our heroes gradually realize that the Skrulls have mounted a secret invasion of an unprecedented scale, by, I dunno, stuff actually happening? Nah, Iron Man immediately working it out and everyone going along with him is fine.
Page six: Bendis is sure into the exposition. Dum Dum Dugan tells assembled agents of SWORD “this is just a get-together between world-saving agencies”. Agent Brand of SWORD tells him he’s “one of the all-time greatest agents of SHIELD”, then where they’re standing. This comes after Iron Man tells Reed Richards and Hank Pym why he’s telling them about Elektra. Then who they are. Hank Pym tells the other two who Elektra is. C’mon guys, this is an event about minor Marvel characters turning out to be shape shifters. Either find a better way to integrate it or assume your audience is gonna have the knowledge. Page ten: Cut to the Bendis Players. Iron Man radios Spider-Woman, who calls in the Secret Avengers (basically everyone who isn’t meant to join the Avengers, and Hawkeye in shoulder pads). Wolverine’s sat around in their apartment. Contractual obligation, I guess. Not necessarily a criticism per se, but I thought this was INVASION OF THE BODYSNATCHERS in the Marvel universe. Like, the Skrulls are among us. But all we see are rich Avengers and world-saving satellites. Not much of a SECRET INVASION if you ask me. Kirby and Ditko, and especially Alex Ross in MARVELS, excelled at giving you a real world perspective, which I still maintain is the central theme of Marvel comics. This is more like a sit-com, with the colorful leads in the middle of the frame.
Page fifteen: Action time! A Savage Land dinosaur eats the New Avengers’ Quinjet! They stop chatting about Hawkeye’s girlfriends! Nice panel from Yu.
Page sixteen: Were people really saying Bendis’ Spider-Man is funny? Sample dialogue: “Wow.” “I was thinking more like… ow!” Suspense killed.
Page 21: Okay, the exposition is going to ridiculous lengths now. For no apparent reason, cut to the SWORD satellite so Agents Dugan and Brand, watching on satellite, can provide the director’s commentary for readers too slow to follow.
Page 30: Splash page. Captain Marvel wordlessly crashes into Norman Osborn’s Suicide Squad’s hideout. None of these characters appear before or again in this issue. Couldn’t say why this is a big moment.
Page 40: Cliffhanger ending flops. The premise is various characters are Skrulls. To have a reveal of exactly that end your first issue (not even a major character, mind you) is a shrug of the shoulders to the audience, followed by an eh, what did you expect?
Final judgment: I don’t know what they’re going for here. The promotion has an alien invasion B-movie feel, but it looks just like an average issue of NEW or MIGHTY AVENGERS. Big moments hinge on minor characters and it spins directly out of Bendis’ AVENGERS books, but the clunky exposition and the way Tony Stark orders Hank Pym and Mr. Fantastic around make me think it’s not for the diehards either. The paranoia and intrigue angle were hyped, but there’s none of that, and any time suspense accumulates Bendis undercuts it with a joke. Despite the title, the secret’s out before the first page. I’m not sure Marvel even knows what they’re going for.
Things get slightly interesting at the end when the ‘70s heroes emerge from the Skrull ship, but since it was never explained why the invasion matters, or even what the Skrulls want with Earth, I couldn’t bring myself to care. It looks great, but the cartoonish figures and primary-bright colors seem wrong for the story, though well matched for the kooky, hipper-than-thou talk of every single character. There was a time when Bendis’ dialogue was called realistic, but it’s past self-parody now.
So I dunno about this SECRET INVASION. If you’ve been following the build-up, I guess you’ll like this. But I’d just like to remind everyone else: just cuz they call it an event doesn’t make it one.
ACTION COMICS #863
Writer: Geoff Johns Artist: Gary Frank Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Optimous DoucheMy knowledge of the Legion of Superheroes could not fill a thimble (assuming knowledge now comes in liquid form). Given this fact, I was truly concerned about being the one to review this title. While I enjoyed every action filled, paradoxical, moment of this book and the entire series, I was concerned that my lack of knowledge would negate Johns’ greatest strength – blending his reverence of “what was”, and turning it on its ear with his own fresh, imaginative spin.
After closing the last page, I realized that I’m exactly who this book is intended for. Even without being able to tell a 31st century Legionnaire apart from someone with legionnaire’s disease, I was enthralled with this story and the characters that Johns has reanimated to live in this post INFINITE CRISIS/pre FINAL CRISIS universe.
For anyone that missed the five stories leading up to this ass kicking, teeth clenching finale, the story focuses on a xenophobic Justice League that is touting the fact that the Kal-El of yore and legend was not the last Son of Krypton, but a rather just another human blessed with extraordinary abilities.
This causes a PR backlash against earthbound aliens akin to the Jewish plight in Nazi Germany. Aliens are rounded-up into futuristic internment camps and the hefty charge of righting this situation is left to a few lone Legionnaires that were able to cloister themselves into hiding. Their plan to bring the Galaxy back from the brink of inter-galactic war is simple (at least in comic book reality): build a time machine and bring the Man of Steel to the 31st century to right this grave injustice of historical inaccuracy.
Johns’ infusion of social relevance to today’s world, remembrance of humanity’s past mistakes (was anyone else half expecting Kal-El to find Brainy hiding in an attic?) and spot-on characterization, made me care about a sect of superheroes that I often shunned, simply because I’m not a fan of books from the Silver Age.
I don’t think I’ll be presenting any spoilers to say that Superman saves the day. After all, he’s frakkin’ Superman. If death couldn’t stop the Big Blue Boy Scout from saving humanity from our own innate foibles there’s no way a second rate villain from the future could pull it off. Most fans of Superman will agree, though, that the love of a Superman story is not in the ultimate destination, but rather the ride that gets you there. Well, Johns takes us on one hell of a ride in this issue. Pay close attention to the moment Superman regains his powers after Earth’s red sun is turned back to its original yellow. The perfect harmony of Johns’ plotting and Frank’s pencils made me take pause and hover my gaze over those few delectable panels for what felt like an eternity.
And while speaking of Frank’s pencils: again fantastic from start to finish. Frank, like Quitely, tends to get a lot of message board guff for being a little too real with his pencils in a fantasy setting. This all boils down to preference, but in my mind when you ground as many elements of the title as possible in reality, it makes for a much easier willing suspension of disbelief when dealing with abstract concepts like time machines, the future and people that can fly.
I enjoyed every damn moment of this book, and my appetite was certainly whetted by the final pages advertising the impending war to come in the FINAL CRISIS bout between the Legion of Superheroes and the Legion of Super Villains. Geoff, Gary – mission accomplished. You created a devout convert for an upcoming title that without this storyline would not have made into my long boxes.
When Optimous Douche isn’t reading comics and misspelling the names of 80’s icons, he “transforms” into a corporate communications guru. Optimous is looking for artistry help, critical feedback and a little industry insight to get his original book AVERAGE JOE up, up and on the shelves. What if the entire world had super powers? Find out in the blog section of Optimous’ MySpace page to see some preview pages and leave comments.
Writer: Mark Millar Artist: John Romita Jr. Publisher: Marvel Icon Reviewer: Ambush BugOK, I think everyone needs to chill a bit about this book.
I know there are a lot of people who like this book. And after reading it and rereading it, there is a lot of stuff to like. Millar is telling a story that is much more involved than any other thing he's done at Marvel. If anything, this book can be compared to probably his best work, WANTED, which is another nicely paced introduction to the world outside your window being shattered by the introduction of super-heroism into a young man's life. I recently reread that story and the book holds up. I even liked the existential/self-aware ending that often is the cause for debate when the story is brought up and something that I seriously doubt will come up in the upcoming film.
The art by John Romita JR is strong, but JR JR is always strong. My beef with JRJR's work is that it is extremely consistent. You can look at a JRJR book from the eighties or nineties and compare it to one from today, and there are very few differences. He's not an artist that I have seen evolve much in the twenty years I have been following him. If anything, his work has become looser, and more sketchy, which to me suggests a bit of laziness. Again, I always like JRJR, but to me, he seems like an artist who is very comfortable with what he's been doing and will continue to do it forever. His art on KICK-ASS is good and dynamic. His characters always pop off the page, but if you look at a retrospective of the guy's work, his children all look the same, his gang members all similar. I like what I see but the lack of detail and the sameness of all of the characters makes it all seem rushed, almost an afterthought of an artistic attempt.
But it really isn't the art or the story that has given me a bad taste in my mouth every time the book's name comes up. It's everything else around it. If this book were released and left to be judged on its art and story alone, I think I would have a lot more respect for the book, its creators, and Marvel itself. But the hype and pomp surrounding this book hits me in a place that makes me not want to buy the book anymore.
Hollywood is acting like a desperate 35 year old single woman on a date here, rushing to produce a KICK-ASS film when issue two hasn't even hit the stands. Like said MILF, the Powers That Be are skipping formalities like the all-important "getting to know you" stage and diving right into marriage before anyone has even really had a chance to read the book. Call me kooky or non-committal, but shouldn't we see how the first arc pans out before polishing the Oscar?
Hearing about the Hollywood offer made me look at the book in a different light. All the hype kind of shattered my positive image of the book and made me look at it a bit more scrutinously. Although these were decent first and second issues, nothing inside really impressed me to the point of jumping up and down and christening it as the second coming. I found the first issue to be extremely typical and even a bit sophomoric, pandering to the audience while at the same time making fun of them. And it actually made me kind of sad to think so many fanboys reading this issue thought it spoke directly to them. Like 80's movie director John Hughes, I felt as if Millar was writing what he thought fanboys would eat up, only to distance himself all the more from the intended audience. I could see the dainty Scotsman, dressing up in dark shades and fedora, leaning into conversations at his local comic shop and scribbling their words into a tattered notebook. KICK-ASS #1 was filled with wince-inducing word balloons seemingly ripped from message boards. And it all seemed so…well…fake to me. As if Millar was writing what he thinks comic book fandom wants to read instead of an actual honest-to-gosh story. People seem to be eating it up nonetheless.
KICK-ASS just seems to be happening a bit late in the game to me. Deconstruction seems to be on the outs in this post-NEXTWAVE era and straight-up storytelling looks to be making a comeback. And I'm glad for that. Another comic book set in "the world outside your window" like HEROES, RISING STARS, WATCHMEN, SQUADRON SUPREME, NEW UNIVERSE, WANTED, et cetera, et cetera, de blah, de blah-blah…this is hardly a new concept, folks. When looked at it through this lens, KICK-ASS is a step backwards instead of forwards when it comes to the evolution of comic books. Since Millar already ventured in this story much more successfully in WANTED, it makes me wonder if this is the only type of story Millar can tell.
I always felt an acidic tone towards super hero comics (the same tone I sense when reading Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, even Brian Michael Bendis in his disregard for comic book staples such as secret identities and costumes) while reading a Millar comic. It was a sense that these guys really didn't like it that they were writing comics and were going to take it out on the characters many of us have grown up reading and laugh all the way to the bank when the crowd buys into it. Millar's dislike for mainstream comics comes through once again in issue #2 as the main character calls them "stupid adolescent crap." The character then burns all of his comics in a flaming trash can screaming "Fuck these guys! Fuck these comics! Fuck these stupid characters!" in an act that reflects Marvel's actions towards their own characters for the last ten years.
But the rancor towards mainstream comics isn't the main turnoff of this book. It's the Marvel Hype Machine revving in to overdrive that really makes me wince. This book is unafraid to cram down your throat how crazy-awesome it is. Not only do we read it right on the front cover, but after finishing the book, in a one-page editorial, the makers of this thing have to tell us how awesome it is. Then we get a bunch of blurbs across the back cover by artists, writers, and websites parroting those same words. Guess what? If you have to tell everyone how awesome you are all of the time, it's a sure bet that you're not.
Look, I'm sure there are those who think that this comic is the coolest thing since the invention of the spinner rack. All the power to you guys. The deconstruction is a bit late. The negativity towards comics leaves a bad taste in my mouth. And the author's version of fanboyism seems a bit unauthentic and downright offensive, if you ask me. The book has bits of ultra-violence. So it has that going for it. And JR JR's art is good, as usual. But for me, there are plenty more worthy books on the shelves deserving of the unabashed knob-slobbery this book seems to be receiving. Maybe this book will turn around and be as amazing as everyone promoting this book seem to think it is, but unlike Hollywood, I think I might wait until the first arc is over with before I decide to get down on bended knee.
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, reviewer and co-editor of AICN Comics for close to seven years. Look for his first published work in this March's MUSCLES & FIGHTS 3 from Cream City Comics. It is also well known that Bug’s Word Fu is stronger than your Word Fu.
PROJECT SUPERPOWERS #2
Plot, Covers and Art Direction: Alex Ross Plot and Script: Jim Krueger Art: Carlos Paul Colors: Debora Carita Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment Reviewed by: BottleimpAfter my negative review of the last issue of this series, I swore not to waste my money on it again. And yet, when I saw that cover with the Golden Age Daredevil (here called the Death-Defying 'Devil to avoid copyright problems) standing next to Lou Fine's Flame, bright in their Alex Ross-rendered glory, my resolve melted and I had to shell out three bucks to see what Ross and Krueger would do with these classic characters. And I'd LIKE to tell you that unlike issue #1, this comic was brilliant, brimming with an astounding story and incredible artwork...
...but that would be a lie.
If anything, this issue was even worse than the last, and for all the same reasons. Number One: lack of character development. The Black Terror, freed from the Urn of Pandora in which he had been imprisoned for the past seventy years, repeatedly asks, "Where's Tim?" Nowhere in the story is the reader clued in as to who Tim is--you have to look at Ross' character sketches in the back of the issue to learn that Tim is the Terror's sidekick. That's some sloppy storytelling, my friends. Number Two: dialogue that has about as much life as a dry old grandma fart. Most of the characters speak in language so uncomfortably stilted that it could have been cribbed from George Lucas' script from Episode II. Here's some examples: "A machine. That's all this is. All you are." "Yank, this is the luckiest day of your life... You're lucky, Yank, because you get to live one more day." "I promised his mother I would look out for him. Return him to her. And even though I clearly can't do that because, obviously, she can't still be living... What kind of monster would I be if I didn't make certain Tim was okay? What kind of monster?"
Aside from being awkwardly written, the script also has the random quality of a book report written by a kid with ADD. "All I know is that something's going on with my friend Jet...the Green Lama. Who suddenly seems to have taken himself out of the fight. Jet claims to be in touch now with the meta-natural world. I call him 'friend' because he's the only one here who doesn't want me dead." What?! Did Krueger write this while on a Nyquil bender? Another one of my favorite nonsense lines: "Not sure I want to turn my back on you, Carter. But I don't want you goin' a head [sic] of me, either." All this bad writing drew my attention to another problem: the lack of variety in the lettering. Granted, nobody wants to see a comic being written like issues of FANTASTIC FOUR from the '70s, where EVERY! sentence! ends with an EXCLAMATION POINT! But when a character is clearly drawn as yelling, shouting, or even just in a stressful situation, whatever he or she says should reflect that intensity. 99% of the text is lettered all the same weight, and ends with a period, giving all the dialogue the intensity of a mid-afternoon tea party.
Reason This Book Blows Number Three: Paul's artwork (which might have been fine as he pencilled and inked it, as I said in my review of last issue) is ruined by overzealous computer coloring that saps almost all the solid black from the artwork. Look, comics are a graphic medium, and the organization of solid black areas on the page is integral to moving the reader's eye through the story. By taking away these important visual stopping points (as well as almost all the defining black linework) the artwork is reduced to a jumble of color without strong definition. Panels and pages that would otherwise be easily scanned through become more vague and bland. I know they're trying to emulate Ross' art, but it just isn't working.
I get the sense that this whole project came into existence because Ross wanted to get his jollies by re-imagining some of his favorite Golden Age characters. The story was obviously a secondary consideration. But after three issues of crap, I can't see why anyone would want to stick around for the rest of the series if the only point of interest is Ross' designs. I know that I'm done with it. And if next month rolls around and I'm even the slightest bit tempted to pick up #3, I pray that cannibal midgets gouge out my eyes and ravenous goats gnaw off my hands before I waste another three bucks.
INFINITE HORIZON #2-3
Writer: Gerry Duggan Artist: Phil Noto Publisher: Image Comics Reviewer: Ambush BugThis modernization of THE ODYSSEY is one of the stronger reads I have laid my eyes on in quite a while. Gerry Duggan, who brought us the madcap-tastic THE LAST CHRISTMAS last year, shows that he can handle serious action and drama here. Casting the drifting crew of soldiers as modern military men, thought dead by their families at home, is a story that is resonant in this modern age of war.
On top of being a timely tale, this story has a lot of heart. The central drive of the soldiers in this story is the desire to return home. These are men that don’t often show their feelings. Their actions show how passionate they are, how strong their convictions. The Captain of this crew and his men fight hard for a chance to see their loved ones once again. Writer Duggan does a great job of making the actions of this fearless crew reflect the strong beating heart of this book.
Action is another major factor in this book. Obstacle after obstacle rises between the Captain and his home, each posing different challenges. In issue #2, the Captain faces sea pirates. The scenes leading up to their sea battle are about as tense as you can find in comics today. Issue #3 brings the Captain and crew to a remote island to face a man in cyclopean armor. Duggan flexes his creative muscles by modernizing the mythological monsters Odysseus faced in his famous tale. The Cyclops in issue #3 is both formidable and somewhat believable (it’s the armor that has only one eye, not the man itself). Duggan smartly infuses future tech with mythology, resulting in a nice mix of myth and sci fi.
Phil Noto’s wonderful art makes this reading experience all the more fun. Noto’s characters are gritty and sketchy, but well defined. Colors are overlaid onto others and carefully selected to heighten the mood of the scene. Noto doesn’t deal with a simple palette. His light and dark tones help set the mood for Duggan’s intense scenes.
If you enjoy war stories, modern or classical, this is a book for you. It pulls no punches and looks good while doing it too. I can’t wait to see the rest of the Captain and his crew’s journey and what modern myths Gerry Duggan and Phil Noto have in store for them.
THE TWELVE #4
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski Penciller: Chris Weston Inker: Garry Leach Publisher: Marvel Reviewed by: BottleimpI haven't been this intrigued with a comic book story since DC's IDENTITY CRISIS (well, at least up until the last issue, when it was revealed that the killer was the Atom's ex-wife... *cough*). THE TWELVE ticks along like a Swiss-made precision timebomb, upping the suspense with every detail.
For those of you coming late to this title, THE TWELVE centers around twelve mystery men from the latter days of World War II. During a strike on Berlin, the heroes are cryogenically frozen by Nazi scientists, lost as the war comes to a close, and found and revived in the present day. These men (and one woman... and boy, WHAT a woman!) must deal with adjusting to life in the 21st century, as well as dealing with the losses of friends and family. One of them, the Blue Blade, is later found dead by our narrator, the Phantom Reporter, and as the story unfolds we are shown the events leading up to the murder.
Straczynski does a remarkable job of building an undercurrent of tension that flows through the story without resorting to gratuitous fight scenes. Actually, the lack of action just drives home the fact that this is a character-driven drama, as we learn more about these heroes and their motivations through their interactions and flashbacks to their lives before being frozen. Weston's artwork perfectly suits this approach--his facial expressions are fantastic, and he makes the Twelve easily distinguishable from each other even in civilian clothes (a feat that many comic artists, even some of the great ones, have had trouble with). This issue is no exception, as we see the origin of Rockman, the crimefighting of the Laughing Mask, and the growing animosity between Dynamic Man and the Reporter.
Another aspect of THE TWELVE that I love: though it's ostensibly set within the current Marvel continuity (other WWII heroes such as Captain America and the Sub-Mariner appear during the siege on Berlin, and a passing reference is made to the events of the CIVIL WAR and INITIATIVE storylines), the series so far has been self-contained--you can dive into it without having to worry about buying a dozen other titles to bring you up to speed.
There's only one thing I can gripe about: the covers. If Marvel is trying to emulate those old 1940s pulp magazines, they really should hire artists who actually paint rather than ones who screw around on Photoshop. The covers are so obviously computer rendered that it looks pretty cheesy, and I think real painted images would make THE TWELVE stand out much better on the racks. But really, that's a minor issue when the material inside the covers is so good. Go and pick this series up--I can't recommend it highly enough.
HACK/SLASH: THE SERIES (#1-7)
Story: Tim Seeley Art: Emily Stone (#1-5), Fernando Pinto (#6), Rebekah Isaacs (#7) Publisher: Devil's Due Publishing Reviewer: barking_frogThis is not exactly a TPB review. HACK/SLASH has an interesting publishing history. It began as a long series of one-shots and minis. These have been collected as HACK/SLASH VOLUME 1: FIRST CUT and VOLUME 2: DEATH BY SEQUEL -- except for HACK/SLASH VS. CHUCKY, which is the final one-shot. There is also a HACK/SLASH OMNIBUS, which appears to be out of print, and which includes all the one-shots and minis, combining FIRST CUT and DEATH BY SEQUEL with the CHUCKY issue. After that, HACK/SLASH: THE SERIES began publication, of which there have been ten issues. HACK/SLASH VOLUME 3: FRIDAY THE 31ST [sic] reprints the CHUCKY issue and the first four issues of the ongoing series. (For completists, there's a Free Comic Book Day issue that I don't think has been reprinted, but which itself partially reprints material reprinted in DEATH BY SEQUEL and OMNIBUS. It all seems fairly confusing).
So what you have here is a review of the first seven issues of HACK/SLASH: THE SERIES, which is the last half of the FRIDAY THE 31ST TPB and will no doubt be the first half of a VOLUME FOUR TPB that hasn't been announced yet. ^.^ On with the review...
Comics are full of "new and original" ideas. I use the quotation marks very consciously.
It seems every first issue that arrives is heralded -- on its own cover if nowhere else -- as that month's AMAZING FANTASY #15 and, of course, the content normally falls short of history-making.
I don't remember why I picked up HACK/SLASH. I think I was in an adventurous phase, reading first issues from 2006 and 2007, just looking for something with legs.
It doesn't look like the sort of book I'd review. Splatter books are big right now (FRIDAY THE 13TH, HALLOWEEN), and "bad girl" (conscious quotation marks again) comics have been strong sellers since at least the 80's among fans who consider story to be optional with their artwork. HACK/SLASH looks like that stalest of marketing ploys: combining two hot-selling themes in one story to try to pull in twice the market (Zombies vs. Porn Stars, anyone?).
Except that, like BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, HACK/SLASH is only about monsters and the babe on the surface (and often only in the advertising).
HACK/SLASH is a warm story about a pair of outcasts who have formed a bond. It's BUFFY with a cast of two, or the X-MEN on the rare occasions when they're being written at their best. But these are two characters we haven't really seen in BUFFY or X-MEN, where it's normal for the cast to be a little angry, condescending, or at least exclusive about their marginal relationship to the human social matrix.
The characters in HACK/SLASH are the kind of self-blaming nerds who sit at the front of the bus a safe distance from the cool kids, but who have concluded that whatever the problem is, it's with themselves and not the human race.
Then -- despite this alienation -- the HACK/SLASH protagonists, as they're trying to sort themselves out, do the thing that only people of remarkable character ever do in the real world. They try to help other people when they need it.
From there, add a liberal helping of classic slasher film icons and themes, and you have HACK/SLASH. Cassie Hack, the babe/bad-girl nerd, is the focal character. She was traumatized when she discovered that her mother was a serial killer, and is now off on a series-long quest to rid the world of other such monsters.
Her partner (in the platonic sense) is Vlad, an enormous misfit with repulsive visage and a bad respiratory problem. ("Platonic" is not just my impression -- midway through these issues, in a story arc involving the literally Satanic roots of 80's metal, Vlad goes on a heroic quest to become a man so he can save Cassie from an evil Hell-like dimension.)
A place where HACK/SLASH shines is in Seeley's decision to do it without superpowers. The main comics genre (i.e. superheroes) provides abundant fantasy material about being big and powerful in a scary world. The slasher genre, on the other hand, is all about being helpless in a big and scary world, and consequently it's the villains who are super powered.
While Whedon handled this automatic contradiction in BUFFY by making his heroes and villains super powered, Seeley does it the much more difficult way -- sticking close to horror-genre tradition, he makes Cassie and Vlad "mere" humans.
This raises reasonable questions about the survivability of Seeley's heroes when they're confronted with antagonists like Jason Voorhees (or analogs of such) -- Seeley resolves his end-of-storyline conflicts not with Godzilla vs. King Kong style smash-ups where the strongest character wins, but rather with clever writing. Which is always a joy to behold in an industry where superhero-battle climaxes are so de rigueur that RUNAWAYS could get belly laughs a year or three back just by portraying Spider-Man and the kids, when they met in New York, going out for pizza instead of fighting.
HACK/SLASH is not a difficult story to pick up in the middle -- the current series comes at the end of an assortment of previous short pieces which I myself have not read. But Seeley keeps his story arcs almost entirely self-contained, and his plotting is not complex. Since the most interesting aspect of HACK/SLASH is the peculiar bond between Cassie and Vlad and their relationship to the world, staying away from long intricate plots is a point in Seeley's favor.
You can pick the book up at almost any point.
If you want a "bad girl" comic, this is a bad girl in the manner of Buffy, not Lady Death. If you want a slasher comic, this is firmly in the mode of Gaiman's "Serial Convention" from SANDMAN. If you want gore and monsters, they're here, but with tongue planted firmly in cheek à la EVIL DEAD.
If you want well-written, lightweight stories about two nerds you'll come to care about, who love a world they don't fit into, then HACK/SLASH is your book. I can't recommend it enough.
barking_frog is Edward Livingston-Blade, currently busy at work on FOX AND GEESE, the follow-up to last year's The Man Who Wasn't There short story FIVE PAWNS.
Writer: Kelley Puckett Artist: Drew Johnson Inker: Ray Snyder Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Rock-Me AmodeoYes. Yes! YES!
I feel like Meg Ryan, pounding on the table of a quaint diner as everyone stares. Except I’m not faking it as much as her. And I’m not a chick.
Finally, I’m beginning to see the realization of a promise made several months ago. Good writing. Excellent art. Thoughtful premise. And now, I’m getting to see all three in the same exact issue. What a lovely thing.
No more dream sequences. No more “nuff said” sequences. And actually, the art has been good pretty much every issue, so no complaints there. It was always a matter of pacing, subject matter or execution.
This issue, Supergirl must continue to follow through on her promise to cure cancer. Obviously, something is going to happen to thwart this, but it’s a premise that hasn’t been followed in a while: why CAN’T the world’s superheroes really fix all the evils in the world that are not derived directly from free will? Cancer, birth defects, people who wait until they get to the teller to fill out their deposit slips…
Supergirl, for her part, seems to be doing what teenagers do. She’s following whatever ideas come to her, completely unaware that she may fail. Like the old adage regarding teens, “move out while you still know everything,” Supergirl is probably convinced that the problem has never been solved because no one has really considered it, or at least, they’ve never considered it the way she has.
The moral dilemma of this issue was nicely done. I was 50-50 on how a character like her could have handled it, but I’m glad she erred (if indeed she erred at all) on the side of nobility. What a change from a few years ago. Just think, when Supergirl “first” arrived several years ago, she was only a bit of naked cheesecake for Ian Churchill to draw, and the game was what exactly would cover up her naughty bits. She was fairly brutal and threatening and not the Supergirl one would want to be like.
Then she cleaned up, made a few (editorially mandated, my guess) errors in judgment and learned a few lessons. And she’s still a teen: she’s still making mistakes. But now, she’s learning the measure of responsibility that comes with having the red “S” on one’s chest. She’s sipping the nectar of nobility, high ideals and honor. She’s doing it within the context of a well told story.
If that’s really the case, then hey, I’ll have what she’s having.
Dante “Rock-Me” Amodeo has been reading comics for thirty-five years. His first novel, “Saban and The Ancient” (an espionage/paranormal thriller) was published 2006. He began writing for AICN Comics in 2007 and his second novel (“Saban Betrayed”) is due 2008. He’s often told he has a great face for radio.
Writer: Jonathan Hickman Artist: JM Ringuet Publisher: Image Comics Reviewed by Humphrey LeeIf there's anything us @$$holes have a reputation for here - well, besides being assholes, that is - it's that when we actually do enjoy something, when something strikes us in just that certain way, we tend to be very adamant about it. We've been known for tendencies to just let it all hang out there and absolutely destroy something, but when we likey, we really likey and will get pushy about it. Well, right now I'm definitely drinking some creator Kool Aid, and that beverage is Jonathan Hickman flavored...errr, wait. That didn't sound right...
Awkwardly worded jokes aside, I've talked before about how I enjoy what Hickman's bringing to the table from a creative standpoint. The way he has presented his comics thus far (even this time with someone other than himself on art chores) has been such a fresh air and TRANSHUMAN is no different. This time Hickman ventures into the world of the documentary, which really is the perfect accompaniment to what he's shown us thus far, as he apparently loves to info dump on his readers.
TRANSHUMAN is what the title implies: a story about the Post-human, the Superhuman. What's interesting about this take, besides the presentation, is that this time the world's first superhuman didn't come about by, I dunno, a spider-bite, or a meteor, or gamma bomb, but by good old fashioned genetic engineering as two pharmaceutical companies race to create these premiere super-beings. Obviously this issue is a lot of establishing. Setting up the players in this corporate warfront, showing their past relationships and all the back-stabbing and bitterness and bad blood in general that drives the two conglomerates to race each other to usher in this "Brave New World".
You wouldn't think that would be entertaining, but it really is. The documentary format works wonders in divulging all this information to the reader, and like I said earlier is a nice little accommodating twist on what we've seen from Hickman and how he's presented his comics to us so far. The pacing on this issue is perfect, too. It gives us all the right info at all the right times and just snaps snaps snaps along with the back and forth talking heads. And I have to say, the double page "Study Interlude" with the first wave of text subjects (monkeys, of course) was absolutely genius. Taking a complete backseat to the corporate speak, this was just an absolute howl as we see all these primates in various forms of mutation (and I use that word for a reason) on the way to being readied for human consumption.
Overall, TRANSHUMAN is just another stallion added to help pull along the Bandwagon. It's another great concept, with very intriguing and creative development and execution, and that just packs so much into 22 pages making it again one of the best "bargains" for your money in floppy format. And while obviously it's sad to see Hickman depart from doing his own art chores as well, JM Ringuet's pencils are more than adequate. Very angular and kind of "dirty" I guess I could say, the art makes a very nice accompaniment with all those lovable words Hickman loves to throw around. TRANSHUMAN is just another great example of why Jonathan is becoming the worst kept secret in all of comics.
Humphrey Lee is a long time AICN reviewer and also a certified drunk whose claim to fame is making it up four steps of the twelve step program before vomiting on steps five and six and then falling asleep on steps one through three. Also, chances are, he's banged your mom (depending on the relative hotness of said parental figure) and is probably the father of one of your younger siblings.
PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL #18
Writer: Matt Fraction Artist: Howard Chaykin Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: Ambush BugI’m still on the fence with this Matt Fraction guy. I’m digging his run on IRON FIST, but honestly, I’m not sure where the Brubaker ends and the Fraction begins on that one, so that book isn’t really indicative of how good a writer he is. I have enjoyed some of THE ORDER and after reading a few issues of that book and PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL, I think I’m finally getting to see what makes this guy tick. Fraction seems to be one of Marvel’s new go-to players. In the past, that role has been passed to writers such as Chuck Austen and Ron Zimmerman. Now, Fraction is nowhere near as bad as those two. In all honesty, it’s a disservice to the man’s talent to be placed in the same sentence as those guys, but it appears that you can’t throw a 25 cent back bin issue of RAWHIDE KID at a Marvel comic book rack and not hit an issue written by Fraction. With Fraction, Marvel seems to be doing what they’ve done before by throwing a lot of pretty big titles on his lap without him really proving that he can do it (at least to the general public).
But again, I’m not here to rip on the guy. As a writer, I’ve noticed that Fraction seems to understand the format of comics; more specifically he understands the episodic aspects of comics. Fraction’s best issues of THE ORDER and PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL seem to be single issue stories that advance the plot a skosh, but make for an interesting single issue experience. I’m talking about the Namor issue of THE ORDER and the last issue of PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL, where the Gibbon plots revenge on The Punisher for blowing up the Bar With No Name. Like a good television episode, this issue embraces the overall story, while telling a complete and satisfying read in a single issue format. Fraction’s multi-part endeavors, though, have left me cold. The multi-parter in PWJ where the Punisher, reeling from the shock of Captain America, takes on a new Flag-Smasher and ends up killing an innocent woman in cold blood, for instance. This arc, to me, reeked. Although the Punisher may have killed innocents when he was first introduced in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, he’s evolved quite a bit as a character. To believe he would be able to kill an innocent woman and not be racked with guilt goes against everything Garth Ennis has done with the character in the last ten years. On top of that, the story dragged its heels, the issues ended unfulfillingly (making me check to see if the copy I got was missing a page or two at the end), and hopscotched between a serious story and a comedy. So where Fraction showed promise as a “done in one” storyteller, he’s yet to prove himself to me that he can tell an entertaining arc.
So issue #18 of PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL begins a 6-part arc, appropriately titled “Jigsaw” and focusing on Punisher’s only surviving arch-nemesis, Jigsaw. Sans the title character, this issue was decently structured. The action cuts between a pair of dirty cops and a man interrogating/torturing another man in a chair. From page one, aside from wearing a hideous Hawaiian shirt, we (the readers) don’t know what this guy did to be tied up and ball-gagged as he is. It’s one of those stories that starts a few pages into the action, not wasting time with slow builds or introductions. I liked this. Fraction paces the action well and both stories unfold to compliment the other and reveal information in a logical and suspenseful manner.
That doesn’t mean the story is perfect, though. Jigsaw speaks as if he’s been hijacked straight from a Bendis comic on his wordiest of days. A snippet of the “oh so useful” dialog from the very first panel of the book:
“You’re thinkin’ about, what, you’re thinkin’—you uphold the—you OBEY the law? The letter of the law? That you, you, you’re a law-abiding, what, a tax paying—you’re not. You’re not. I know you. YOU know you and I know you. You know you are NOT. And I know you’re not.”
Uhm…what the fuck did I just read?
It looks as if Fraction is trying to illustrate Jigsaw’s insecurities with his dialog. The hissy-fit Jigsaw goes into when he has to hurt the man in the chair shows this. I understand what Fraction is trying to do, but writing out every stutter and stammer is about as exhausting to read as Bendis’ overuse of thought balloons in MIGHTY AVENGERS. Trying to sort out what Jigsaw is trying to say during his issue-long monolog with “man in chair” is as excruciating as the torture “man in chair” receives in this issue. Dialog like this makes me understand why they guy was named Fraction.
Apart from that, the Hollywood revisionism kicks in during this story, tying Jigsaw closer to the death of the Punisher’s family than past stories have indicated. Wikipedia states that Jigsaw was hired to whack the guy who tried to kill the Punisher after he retaliated against the guys who killed his family (follow that, I guess I’m channeling Fraction here). Fraction skips a few beats and ties Jigsaw closer to the actual murder in this issue. Of course, this is coming from Jigsaw himself who is proving to be pretty delusional and fucked up.
Howard Chaykin provides the art. Although I can’t stand the guy’s books when he’s writing them, I can appreciate the gritty and in-your-face violence the guy draws. His attention to backgrounds earns a boatload of respect alone. And although a lot of his square-faced men look alike, I’m pretty pleased with the art in this issue.
Aside from the dialog which reads like the bastard child of Bendis and Michael Palin circa A FISH CALLED WANDA, this issue has me interested in giving Fraction a chance to prove himself as not only an interesting “done in one” writer, but someone who can handle a decent story arc as well. Although Jigsaw’s been touted as the Punisher’s arch-nemesis, I can’t recall the last time I read a story pitting the two characters together. So although the start was a bit choppy, I’m hoping for the best.
And maybe, just maybe, we can have the Punisher show up next issue too. Hmm?
ALL-NEW ATOM #22
Writer: Rick Remender Pencils: Pat Olliffe Inks: John Stanisci Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Rock-Me AmodeoRyan Choi is a good character. If you like him, you better hurry up over to this book and get an eyeful, while he’s still here.
Over the past few months, Choi has fought an odd zombie or two, discovered a twisted underground civilization, ridden in Wonder Woman’s bosom, and generally had some well-scripted adventures. He’s smart, honorable and self-deprecating. From Simone to Remender, from Byrne to Barrows to Oliffe, we’ve had good, consistent art and more consistently good stories that have improved each month.
The quirky and slightly slapstick feel of the early issues has long since given way to a drama that has some real consequences attached. We still have the occasional cerebral quote (none in this issue), but it’s not nearly as forced as the early issues.
In light of that, I will submit a favorite cerebral poem, just for Atom fans:
Billy slept through Chemistry, Now Billy is no more, For what he thought was H2O Was H2SO4.
Now, to the present: this month, Ryan’s dealing with the fact that his best friend and supporting cast member (Panda) was just killed, ostensibly by Ryan’s carelessness. Despite the gravitas, I have this feeling we’re being set up for a MAJOR transition. I wonder why? Let’s review:
Several writers with good grasp of narrative? Check.
Rotating list of capable artists? Check.
Comic usually leaves you a little smarter than when you first picked it up? Check.
Hmmm…so what is really going on? Maybe we’re asking the wrong questions, reviewing the wrong facts.
Unnecessary death of a major supporting cast member? Check.
Major wound/damage to hero, the kind from which he may not recover? (Ryan’s hands are severely burned. Plus he’s exhausted.) Check.
Monthly dwindling sales? Check.
Ah, I think it’s becoming clearer. But those things aren’t even the kicker. I think the kicker is that Ray Palmer is back in town. Not literally, not yet. But I don’t think this book is ready to be renamed “BI-ATOMIC COMPOUND.” (That would be two Atoms.)
And that means Ryan Choi now has the life expectancy of any woman who marries a Cartwright.
I’m enjoying the series more than ever before. But with Ryan already wounded and Ray returned to our section of the Multiverse and an issue #25 looming before us…well, better get over here and say your goodbyes. This could be the beginning of the end. Join us, won’t you?