@@@ AICN COMICS REVIEWS! @@@
|Issue #38||Release Date: 2/9/11||Vol.#9|
(Click title to go directly to the review)
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #654
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #654.1
FLASH GORDON: INVASION OF THE RED SWORD #1
SHERLOCK HOLMES: YEAR ONE #1
NOCHE ROJA HC OGN
POWER MAN & IRON FIST #1
HOTWIRE: DEEP CUT #3
DAYS MISSING: KESTUS #3
INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #500.1
Big Eyes For the Cape Guy presents BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL Vol. 23
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #654Writers: Dan Slott & Fred Van Lente
Art: Stefano Caselli (back-up Paulo Siqueira & Ronan Cliquet de Oliveira)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Henry Higgins is My Homeboy
Spider-Slayers aren't the most ridiculous part of this issue.
They're not. Never a huge fan of the Spider-Slayers (pushing some of the credibility a bit too far--if the U.S. government has spent countless billions on Sentinels against the X-Men that are always destroyed, why not buy some Spider-Slayer tech? It's cheap enough for a newspaper editor to afford some), and the return of them wasn't among the things I'll love to read in the series. Slott, to his eternal credit, is able to make a solid story out of it, and it reads great. Until the end. The back up story is...well...
Writing: (3/5) On the main story, Slott and Fred Van Lente turn in a surprisingly enjoyable issue, given the threat. His Spider-Man is quick witted with some genuinely funny lines, while also ringing true to the character. His take on the rest of the Avengers, while brief, works as well and sells the dynamic of the team. The snark is light and fun, just as you'd expect it to be. The arc itself, while not groundbreaking or especially amazing, ends on a good note, fast and full of cool moments.
The introduction of Max as a possible support system for Spider-Man could lead to a lot of interesting places, but it remains to be seen how it plays out. Jonah gets a nice bit of character development, which is welcome. “Brand New Day” honestly set him back a fair amount, and he needs the boost.
Hobgoblin, for what it's worth, is still a little bitch. But his one scene in this book is good, and has a nice angle to it. His attempted murder of Robbie's son is a decent moment, and falls more into the Hobgoblin character, trying to take advantage of a crisis. It'd be better if he weren't a bad skew on the Joker during and after. Smythe is still Smythe, and by that I mean he kind of sucks. But his scenes work, for the most part, and the return of the Scorpion is a solid move.
The back up....
It just doesn't work. It doesn't. Slott gives the characters good dialogue, gives them personalities (or more accurately, gives them clichés). He gives them everything he can. And it still just doesn't work. Flash as Venom isn't a believable idea. The idea that after Gargan the military would immediately try again doesn't ring true. The operation seems to be in the hands of three people, which also doesn't quite work. Shouldn't there be more security, more protection, something? But biggest of all is this...why Flash? Seriously, Flash? Why? What can he bring to the character that hasn't been attempted before? Why is HE the soldier chosen for this? Why set up the obvious conflict later in the story so clumsily ("I have to give up the suit? But I love my legs!”)? Why Flash? Is everyone from Peter's high school going to eventually become members of the superhero community? Just wait, his fourth hour lab partner is going to become a villain OH WAIT, THAT ALREADY DID HAPPEN. Despite his best attempts, it just doesn't work. Sorry Slott.
Art: (4/5) Caselli is one of those artists almost suited perfectly for Spider-Man. It's got the perfect amount of cartoony flair to take advantage for slapstick and action, while still being able to look realistic enough to easily be connectable. The designs and shots of Spider-Man in battle flow, as do the rest of the Avengers. No one seems out of place or inconsistent. And the final scene is well paced, despite the presence of a lot of standard tropes.
The back up, much like the writing, tries its best to sell its premise. And you can't fault them for that. You can fault them for trying to sell a ridiculous idea.
Best Moment: The notion of Peter's boss helping out with the science here and there. But it's also sort of implied that Max may be onto something more. Be interesting to see where this goes.
Worst Moment: Flash is Venom now...awesome.
Overall: (3/5) The main story is a good issue of Spider-Man. The back up detracts in so many ways. Not much else to say, really.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #654.1Writer: Dan Slott
Art: Paolo Siquiera
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Johnny Destructo
If you don't know who the new Venom is, despite them telling us last issue, don't read the rest of this review. DO however, go buy and read this issue. This is great stuff! I wasn't all that tickled about the last story-line, featuring the overly Manga'd Spider-Slayers and the terribly designed Scorpion costume, but we're back to swimming in a big bucket of awesome with this ish. Two things I loved about this'n are: 1. the Venom bits read like a Splinter Cell game (I just beat the latest one this morning) and the Flash Thompson bits read like ...well...like a Peter Parker story. Actually, that sort of makes three Peter Parker-esque characters in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN currently, if you include the fact that the new Hobgoblin is basically an evil version of Parker.
Speaker of ole Puny P, he's only in this story for literally one panel. Which is fine since this is a .1 issue and basically serves to whet our interest in the new upcoming VENOM series. Well, I'm sold! I'm not entirely sure this new Venom NEEDS his own title (especially considering all the other lackluster titles he's headed up in the past), but I definitely want to pick up issue 1 to find out. I realize that the identity of the new Venom was spoiled for everyone a couple weeks ago, but I held off on reading the news until the actual issue hit the stands, and I think it was worth it. I can't say I saw that coming at all! I loved when Eddie Brock sold off the symbiote during the Marvel Knights Spidey story, and I'm loving the new direction they're taking it. It's doing something new with a character that's been done to death, AND it's giving the previously useless side-character Flash Thompson a reason to be involved in the comic at all. He hasn't had really anything to do as one of Peter's best friends for years, and this is the PERFECT solution to his leg issue. (You know, the whole "not havin' them" thing). This new Venom idea is a blast and it's heading in a really intriguing direction. Now all I need is a Venom version of Splinter Cell for my X-Box. Make it happen, Marvel!
JD can be found hosting the PopTards Podcast, discussing movies, comics and other flimflam over at www.poptardsgo.com, graphically designing/illustrating for a living, and Booking his Face off over here.
FLASH GORDON: INVASION OF THE RED SWORD PART 1: TERROR #1Writer: Brendan Deneen
Artist: Eduardo Garcia
Publisher: Ardden Entertainment
Reviewer: Professor Challenger
“I'm not saying I had a 'life flashing before my eyes' moment or anything...but still...I was scared, Hans. And it made me realize how important things are to me. Like home...and Dale.” -- Flash Gordon
Arrden Entertainment hits the stands this week with the further adventures of Flash Gordon, Dale Arden, and Dr. Hans Zarkov. The three humans are trapped on the planet Mongo and while Arden and Zarkov try to figure out how to return to Earth, Flash is working with Prince Barin, King Thun, and Prince Vultan to plan a series of tournaments as a way of peacefully uniting the people of Mongo in the post-war environment after toppling the despotic regime of Ming the Merciless.
This new series is set just a few weeks after Ming's first defeat (first of many, I will assume) at the hands of his frustrating human nemesis, Flash Gordon. This issue is an excellent set-up for this new story arc continuing the same successful approach of Arrden's earlier series. The developing relationship between Flash and the beautiful, and smart, Dale Arrden has solidified into something good. Zarkov is still throwing surprises Flash's way, which makes the development of the three humans into one of my favorite aspects of this comic.
I enjoyed the interaction between the three humans and the various alien races on Mongo. There is respect, but not necessarily trust, between many of these peoples and Deneen does a good job distinguishing the different cultures and attitudes. Adding to the difficulties here is that the “global translators” are malfunctioning. Yes, that old sci-fi standard for ease of communication is on the fritz which forces everyone to have to figure out different ways to be understood and cooperate.
Thrust into the middle of this “Tower of Babel” situation, an armored group of humans from Earth appear and begin an invasion of the planet Mongo and throw everyone's plans into turmoil. They have barely begun recovering from defeating the internal threat of Ming and now they have to face an unexpected external threat. Ending the issue with an unexpected and intriguing cliffhanger should bring anyone back for issue 2.
Overall, this is another excellent publication from Ardden. The art of Eduardo Garcia continues in the same style as established with the original series artist Paul Green. This makes for a seamless continuation of the story and characters from the first story arc. It's almost an American Anime (is there such a thing?) heightened reality look to the art. The colors are credited to “Estudio Haus” and what I really like about the coloring work in this comic (and in the previous series) is the otherworldly glow that the panels have when the story takes place on Mongo. I really get the sense of this being an alien world because it feels...different. The sun looms larger and its rays infuse every daylit scene with its presence. I like the way Garcia structures the panel flows from page to page. He breaks things up in an interesting way and when he starts angling the panels during scenes of movement, there's almost a lightning bolt sense to it, which makes sense for a FLASH GORDON comic book. I even liked the fact that “Consulting Editor” Jim Kreuger injects himself in the panels where appropriate to refer the reader to earlier trades. It's “old school” and I like seeing that.
I think Ardden demonstrates, once again, they truly understand how to take classic characters like Flash Gordon and modernize them in a relevant and fun way. And that's the bottom line as to why you should get this comic: It's fun!
Prof. Challenger is a wanker. If you want more wankness, visit profchallenger.com.
SHERLOCK HOLMES: YEAR ONE #1Writer: Scott Beatty
Artist: Daniel Indro
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Origin stories are extremely popular right now. For example the upcoming X-Men film, X-MEN FIRST CLASS, is just one in a long line of superhero origin films that have been coming out. There is also CAPTAIN AMERICA this year as well. In the comic book world, characters have numerous origin stories, such as Catwoman. Scott Beatty, the writer of SHERLOCK HOLMES: YEAR ONE, has done several YEAR ONE comics for DC Comics such as ROBIN, NIGHTWING, and BATGIRL.
Now he is taking on another famous literary character, but outside of the DC universe. In the official canon of Sherlock Holmes, by that I mean works written exclusively by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, there is little written about the early years of the famed detective. There are hints here and there, but I feel we learn more about Watson’s background than Holmes’. SHERLOCK HOLMES: YEAR ONE is exploratory fiction, a “what if” series of stories about how Beatty imagines Sherlock became Sherlock.
The first issue contains the story THE BUTLERS DID IT. Early on we are introduced to Watson, who is examining a battered youth for the inspector. But the young man entreats Watson to continue his tale of the events that just took place. He was part of the help brought in to assist for a lavish party. But have the guests partied too hard or is there trouble afoot?
The idea of bringing Sherlock Holmes to the comic medium is one I was apprehensively happy with. Comics are a literary form, but a visual medium as well. In my readings of Doyle’s stories I never found them to be full of stunning visual potential. Instead, they are full of talking head moments and expository dialogue. My worry with the comic was how they were going to take this style that is so well known and adapt it for comic book readers.
For one, they kept the language. The wording of Sherlock Holmes stories is key. They also kept the voice of Watson throughout the book, as it is in the stories. But, there were not the massive chunks of dialogue that one would expect. The writing is very succinct and to the point but in keeping with the tone of the original source work. Speaking of tone, the humor of Doyle’s work is integrated beautifully, an element I would have sorely missed.
As for the visuals, they help bring Doyle’s story to life. Sure you read that Holmes gets into a fight, but there is rarely much description of how it goes down. Now it is much easier to visualize. It is, in my mind, better than what the recent film did. Instead of describing to us what he plans on doing and then showing said actions to us, you get streamlined fights. This is much more natural and appealing in my opinion.
Holmes does not come off as much of a cocky bastard as in Robert Downey Jr’s. portrayal. He is merely a man of great intelligence who speaks his mind. The relationship between Watson and he has yet to be solidly established, but that is what the rest of the series is for. Whether or not Beatty’s version of Holmes’ origins are in the vein of Doyle is up to personal interpretation. I for one feel that he gets the gist of what the author was going for, and presents Sherlock Holmes in a way that a modern audience can still enjoy, without altering the conventions and characters exceedingly.
Lyzard is actually Lyz Reblin, a film student at Chapman University. Lyz’s love for comics stems from an internship at Dark Horse Entertainment as a freshman, which may explain why some of her favorite comic book writers are Gerard Way and Steve Niles. You can find her on Facebook, but only if you follow her band: Castle Town Convicts (possibly a Zelda reference?).
NOCHE ROJA HC OGNWriter: Simon Oliver
Artist: Jason Latour
Publisher: DC Vertigo
Reviewer: Optimous Douche
I have to start by saying NOCHE ROJA is not my usual type of book. For as worldly as I consider myself I’ve lived my life in the comfortable insulation of a loving family, good education and a well paying job — essentially, the embodiment of the American dream. Because make no mistake, no matter how bleak of a picture the 24 hour news cycle wants to paint our lives to be with talks of recessions and jobless rates, our lives are still better than what 99% of the rest of the world experiences. So my escapism into comics is usually embedded in the same cheery optimism as the world I live in, worlds where death may occur, but is never lasting. The good guys always win in my world. This is not the case with NOCHE ROJA, this book is a bitch-slap of noir reality taking place not too far south from the land of red, white and blue sunshine and lollipops. Like real life, no one is 100% good in NOCHE ROJA, no one can escape their dirty deeds done dirt cheap, and no one, not even the reader escapes from this novel unscathed.
NOCHE ROJA proves that nothing was free about the North American Free Trade agreement. The profits reaped from this cross-border sharing of goods and services were in fact fueled by the underpaid and down trodden unlucky enough to live close to the American dream, but just a few degrees south of true opportunity. The novel opens with a female teenage Mexican factory work lying in a heap of garbage, murdered and mutilated. This is about as cheery a picture as you will receive in NOCHE ROJA. Ex-private eye Jack Cohen is drawn into this web by a beautiful aid worker looking to stop the murders and save other girls from a similar fate. This is the surface of NOCHE ROJA. When you scratch a level down, Oliver paints a picture of depravity and corruption that taints even the souls of our hero and “dame in distress.”
American politicians, Mexican officials, entrepreneurs and journalists all share a deep secret that allows the darkest depravity of the soul to come to light for their own gratification. Jack Cohen is not an anti-hero, he is rather a vignette one would expect to see in a movie like “Pulp Fiction.” He is a man you want to love, but whose own moral turpitude makes you feel unclean for loving him.
From a publishing standpoint, DC has done right by the noir crowd. This pint-sized hard-back screams five and dime mystery in appearance and story execution. My only complaint lies in Latour’s sketchy portrayal of this dark world. Noir should be shrouded in darkness, but all would be served to remember the modern comic collector feasts on a diet of hyper-stylized over production. Lazy readers will have a hard time discerning ancillary characters and events. However, patient readers that are ready to explore just how dark this world can truly be will devour this “Red Night” one gut-wrenching page at a time.
Optimous has successfully blackmailed fellow @$$Hole BottleImp into being his artist on Average Joe. Look for Imp's forced labor on Optimous brain child in mid-2011 from COM.X. Friend Optimous on FaceBook to get Average Joe updates and because ceiling cat says it's the right thing to do.
POWER MAN & IRON FIST #1 (of 5)Writer: Fred Van Lente
Art: Wellinton Alves (pencils) & Nelson Pereira (inks)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
Though I’m probably in the minority these days, I remember the original POWER MAN & IRON FIST series. It was an odd pairing and a ballsy move to pair up these two--the kind of move that, if looked at through the span of 35 years, Marvel has made a lot of (especially recently with Hercules taking over INCREDIBLE HULK for a while and Black Panther doing the same with DAREDEVIL). Long before Danny Glover was too old for Mel Gibson’s shit, an African American ex con from the ghetto and a privileged white dude in kung fu slippers paired up and it was comic book gold. Bringing together two popular film genres (which Marvel was prone to do in the 70’s) of Blaxsploitation and Kung Fu flicks, POWER MAN & IRON FIST took two wavering titles and melded them together into one awesome chunk of often goofy, most of the time damn cool goodness.
Now Fred Van Lente breathes new life into the concept. Since Luke Cage is too cool to be called Power Man anymore, a new kid has taken the mantle. This one is one of those Jason Todd-like youngsters who’s all attitude. In the past, folks have not liked characters like that so much given Todd’s original fate, but now with Damien in the Robin togs, folks seem to be ok with it. This new Power Man is pretty arrogant and I’m sure he’s due for a wake up call soon. With Iron Fist acting as the new Power Man’s mentor, old is all new, all different again.
I liked the concept when it was introduced in last fall’s SHADOWLAND event, but it wasn’t until I checked out this first issue that I was completely sold on this series. Van Lente has been writing some great stuff with all of the Hulk, Herc, and Spidey stuff, but PM&IF may be the title that finally makes him a big name. Every page and panel of this book is filled with fun, from the humorous interactions between Iron Fist & Power Man to the hilariously goofy villains littered throughout. Van Lente sprinkles plot landmines through this issue to be tread upon later in the series such as a former Heroes For Hire secretary who is in trouble with the law, a cadre of goofy villains with ties to Iron Fist and Luke Cage’s past, a break-up between Misty Knight and Danny Rand, a privately owned prison with an upside down cross as a symbol (always a bad sign), a new secretary who is sassilicious, a femme fatale in all black named Noir, and of course a sad clown. This issue is overstuffed with everything a first issue should have—teasers for things to come.
Back to the villains. I love them. They remind me of some of Morrison’s unique new baddies he added to the Batman mythos. They’re deadly and fun. I mean, how can you not love a masked Mexican gunman named Don of the Dead who spouts such classic lines as “I kill jour face!” And though the sad clown Pagliacci inspired by the opera may be reminiscent of the Joker, I’m holding out for Van Lente to have something up his sleeve that differentiates the two.
The art by Wellington Alves is pretty straight forward and the artist seems to be able to depict scenes of action very well, something necessary for a street fighting and kung fu comic. The inks by Nelson Pereira are thick and convey a lot of gritty mood, yet the artist known when to reign in the pen for the lighter moments. All in all, the art wasn’t distracting and allowed for Van Lente’s amazing characterization and multiple set-ups to shine through.
POWER MAN & IRON FIST #1 was probably the best first issue of a miniseries since Abnett & Lanning reintroduced the concept of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. It’s got a fantastic cast of characters, subplots galore to be followed up on in future issues, fun villains, and it’s filled with action. I know this is just a miniseries, but I’m hoping enough people are out there interested in checking it out to make this into an ongoing very, very soon.
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole / wordslinger / reviewer / co-editor of AICN Comics for over nine years. Support a Bug by checking out his comics (click on the names to purchase)!
MUSCLES & FIGHTS VOL.3 & MUSCLES & FRIGHTS VOL.1.
VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS: THE TINGLER #1 and #2(interview, interview, preview, & review).
VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS #20 WITCHFINDER GENERAL(preview, review)
NANNY & HANK miniseries: #1, #2, #3, & #4 (interview, interview, interview, preview, & review, review, Facebook Page in stores now!)
Zenescope’s WONDERLAND ANNUAL 2010
THE DEATHSPORT GAMES miniseries: #1, #2, #3, & #4 (review, Facebook Page, in stores now!)
HOT WIRE: DEEP CUT #3Writer: Steve Pugh
Art: Steve Push
Publisher: Radical Comics
Reviewer: Mr. Pasty
“I’d be happy to work on HOTWIRE forever. The great thing about the premise of this book is that it's wide open for almost any kind of story. There can be sad stories, comedy stories, high adventure. It really is a big deep well to mine from.”
The above quote is from just over two years ago, when AICN COMICS Master Chief Ambush Bug shot the messenger who brought him HOTWIRE: REQUIEM FOR THE DEAD by writer/illustrator Steve Pugh. I know a lot of creators talk the talk, but Pugh also walks the walk, which is why we were fortunate enough to see Alice return for the DEEP CUT miniseries that wraps up with #3 from Radical Comics.
For the un-initiated, Alice Hotwire, Detective Exorcist, is the kind of girl you might mistake for the lead jammer in a women’s roller derby league. Sexy and sardonic, Alice has apparently fallen down a cybernetic rabbit hole where she has to navigate through a population of ghosts, machines, ghosts in the machine and just about everything else under the “WTF?” category that you might expect from the mind of Pugh. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Well, HOTWIRE isn’t exactly BEETLE BAILEY. If you’re thirsty for comics and want something quick to wash it down or just do some animated shots at the local rag shop, you might want to leave this one for the heavy drinkers. DEEP CUT isn’t necessarily a long read, but it’s not something you can flip through in the parking lot while your wife runs into CVS. There’s a lot going on in here and some of it is just so fucking bizarre you have to take a break and go back to fully appreciate it.
Having said that, it’s also refreshingly genuine. Pugh puts all his eggs in one basket by serving as both writer and illustrator and at least in my experience, it doesn’t always work as well as the creator might think. That’s not a knock on whoever you just thought of but rarely you get creative ambidexterity in this industry. Since two successful HOTWIRE efforts rules out the “one-hit wonder” argument, it’s safe to say Pugh is the exception to the rule. As chaotic as the pacing is, the story is fairly simplistic, which is why I think the narrative the works so well. Strip away the blue-light ghosts, the gorgeous artwork and the zany characters and at its core you have a “stop the bad guys and save the day” type of story. Fine by me.
There’s a lot to see and do in HOTWIRE and issue #3 is also saddled with the responsibility of landing the plane without losing any passengers. I’m happy to report that I’m still on board and ready for another trip. DEEP CUT is an unusual journey through the mind of an unusual artist, who not only gives you a guided tour of his strange and eclectic universe, but also a hot-ass tour guide to show you his beautifully realized and consistently rewarding comic book. More please.
Web heads who can’t get enough of Mr. Pasty’s word vomit are encouraged to watch him operate as Nostradumbass over at MMaMania.com here. Love, hate and Mafia Wars requests should be directed here.
DAYS MISSING: KESTUS # 3Written by: Phil Hester
Illustrated by: David Marquez
Published by: Archaia
Reviewed by: superhero
With the first two issues of this comic I figured the formula had been pretty much set. Seems like I may have been a bit wrong. In issue one and issue two I’d been introduced to a dynamic between the protagonist and his antagonist that I’d seem before. Sure it was shrouded in its own mysterious mythology but I think it’s safe to say that the hero going along his adventures and encountering a sexy, yet cunning, nemesis has been explored before. After all, it pretty much is the basis for Batman and Catwoman’s relationship.
In this third issue, though, it seems as if The Steward and Kestus’s relationship has taken a step that other hero/villainess relationships rarely take: one of understanding and possibly kinship. This chapter in DAYS MISSING: KESTUS takes place during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969. While the beginning of this issue starts with what may seem a somewhat typical encounter in relation to what’s been set up by the first two issues, by the end of the book it’s taken an interesting turn that made me realize that what was being developed here is definitely outside of the norm. Maybe I’m misreading the comic but it seems to me as if Kestus is now developing as more of a partner of The Steward as opposed to his enemy. This particular development has made me far more interested in seeing how this book will grow as it takes the whole DAYS MISSING concept and adds an amount of character development to the whole arc of KESTUS that I wasn’t expecting to see.
As with the first two issues, KESTUS # 3 offers up absolutely fantastic artwork. Everything here is rock solid. The draftsmanship, the storytelling, the coloring. It’s a really well produced book and it’s of the exact kind of quality I’ve come to expect from Archaia. I can’t imagine this book not being held up as one of the best looking comics out there on the stands. This thing reeks of professionalism.
Before I’d been given this comic to review I’d never even heard of DAYS MISSING. Now, I’ve been converted to a true fan. While I can’t say I’ll be tracking down individual issues as I’ve pretty much given up on most floppies, I will pick this up as soon as it’s collected. I’ll also be picking up the original DAYS MISSING collection. I’ve just become as interested in DAYS MISSING’s past and future as The Steward is in humanity’s.
An excellent book. I am hooked.
Discovered as a babe in an abandoned comic book storage box and bitten by a radioactive comic fan when he was a teenager, superhero is actually not-so mild mannered sometime designer & cartoonist, Kristian Horn of Los Angeles, California. He's been an @$$hole for three years. Some of his work can be seen at www.kristianhorn.com and check out his blog at www.parttimefanboy.com.
INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #500.1Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Salvador Larroca
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Optimous Douche
Like sports, my knowledge of IRON MAN has always been at the cursory level. I’ve allowed myself to absorb just enough information to hold my own with a few glib statements if the subject ever arose in conversation. While I love comics, I simply never developed affection for old Tony Stark and most of his Avenger counter-parts. In short, I am the numero uno target for Marvel’s Fraction-based reboot of their beloved titles.
I’ll fully admit I wanted this to be a grudge-review, an angry spew on how marketing and cross-channel synergy have relegated comics to be nothing more than advertisements for the next big movie blitz. While my conspiracy theory mind still believes this to be true, who gives a fuck as long as he material is enjoyable? If I can sit through three hours of Super Bowl drudgery for brief glimpses of the finest Madison Avenue has to offer, surely I could afford twenty minutes to open my mind for the hobby I so dearly love. Not only didn’t I hate IRON MAN 500.1, I would say this issue was my favorite read out of the past two weeks. It’s more than enjoyable, it transcends to an amazing story that completely encapsulates the man Tony Stark and the long history of IRON MAN in one of the cleverest and engaging packages I have ever read.
There ain’t a hell of a lot of action in this puppy, yet the story moves with a rocket powered briskness. I already knew Tony Stark was an alcoholic (remember cursory knowledge), but I never understood how deeply this demon affected him. In my past dalliances with the title, the alcoholism was always underplayed for story-arc exposition, relegating Tony to some Douche in a suit as opposed to a hero battling real demons. And I would venture a guess that Fraction either has an imagination that is simply off the charts or he has been affected by these demons as well, whether personally or from a loved one.
Right from page one, the entire set-up for Tony visiting an AA meeting felt real. Centering around the shitty coffee often found in any community setting, Fraction quickly parlays the literal Maxwell House swill as a metaphor that keeps Tony sane. Of course at AA it’s not about the coffee, it’s about the sharing of story, the feeling of community, the supplanting of the drinking activity for a connection to something other than alcohol. As is tradition with AA, everyone has a story. Instead of Tony standing up and saying “I’m a runk schuper hewro,” he goes the true anonymous route delivering his tale as just another schmuck off the street. And that’s the true brilliance of this tale.
Fraction uses his divine gift of storytelling to allow Tony’s story to unfold as some middle-management drone. Of course Larocca’s visuals paint an entirely different story…the real story. Tony tells the group he had a mentor and that mentor died. Everyone at the meeting would assume this mentor was some six sigma black belt that taught Tony the benefits of a lean organization; we all know of course this mentor helped him build the first IRON MAN suit inside that cave so many years ago. So on and so on the story goes, taking each pivotal IRON MAN moment and burying it under the guise of the less-than-fantastic.
If Tony Stark is remains this interesting…if Fraction can continue to make Tony as much of a man as an IRON MAN, and if Larocca can continue to deliver the quite whispers of a story with the same intensity as each moment of action….I am ready to take off the .1 training wheels and give IRON MAN’S armor a true spin in my pull list.
By Hiroaki Samura
Release by Dark Horse Comics
Reviewer: Scott Green
For better or worse, BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL is no longer in the dungeons of Hiraoki Samura's interests. On one hand, I don't feel entirely great about the excitement to welcome back BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL's battle royale of exotic swordsmen after Samura's highly exceptional exploration of the human potential for horror in the more bolted down, remarkably subversive even by BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL standards, the Prison Arc. Then again, this is Samura, and what BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL does is still brilliantly abnormal. It's still quite a particular, political take on period action, and still incomparable in a way that makes this scrapping, long running (been released in North America since 1996) manga vigorously competitive in the crowded action media landscape.
BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL is reliable for its "wow, THIS happened" scenes. Even in its less action driven phases, you can regularly describe some moments of Blade of the Immortal and reflect a bit of their amazing spectacle. While it does boast an impressive set piece turned duel, Scarlet Swords doesn't have much in the way of those on paper, out of context marvels. And yet, there's still enough emblems, ninja gadgets and uniquely designed swords to establish the manga's appeal.
The new storyline it still showing signs of mustering and drawing battle lines. What the volume does feature is a bit of vanguard action, with slow walks and old weapons unearthed. Old favorites inch onto the scene while newer operative begin showing what they're capable of.
True to the dynamic nature of the manga, in what's supposedly its final stages, BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL is driven by a fight between once object of the series' vengeance hunt Kagehisa Anotsu backed by his once-series antagonist renegade swords school itto-ryu and government heavy puppet master Habaki Kagimura with his own cadre of ninja and freaks, the now-renegade Rokki-dan. The title's immortal swordsman is largely sidelined, and, ever the target of lectures intended for the audience, it's pointed out that the girl he was to protect, along with another sub 90lb, knife armed young woman were the ones who recently saved the day by storming Edo Castle.
Samura has shown every sign of being restless in his approach to BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL, with little interest in perpetually doing what made BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL popular on day one. The manga is back to featuring oddly armed, oddly behaved individuals hunting each other to resolve matters on swords' edges, and yet, even beyond the fact that many of the current set of hunters and queries haven't populated BLADE for too long, the manga is still mutating. Exemplifying how the manga is back to square one, in a completely reworked way, the long absent death murals, extravagantly depicting the fatal results of a settled conflict make a return... after a fashion... with a kimono blanketed sexual mural.
Beyond the headier elements of BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL, that sometimes seem profound and, sometimes seem maybe there just to keep Samura himself interested, if you just want a violent story, there's nothing better. Samura changes focus, changes subtext and experiments, but his manga continues to distinguish itself with precise, artistic rendering, anarchic battles and rebellious sentiments. Beyond the visual strength of Samura's work, beyond his proclivities to overload the conflict with some interesting political implications, Blade of the Immortal is simply a top action serial. Except maybe in that intentionally frustrating Prison chapter, Blade is consistently satisfying. In each phase, Samura makes the point he wants to make. Sure, plot threads tether current events to future ones, but he doesn't rely on the readers faith that what he is developing will pay off down the road. Rather than teasers and dangling, incomplete ideas, the momentum that carries BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL forward is the enticement to read more.
This commencement of BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL's new, possibly final chapter, gives every indication that Blade will continue to be the primary manga to read if you have any interest in its domain of wandering warriors, ninja and the like.
Scott Green has been writing for AICN ANIME for over nine years. If you like what you see here and love anime & manga, be sure to check out his latest AICN ANIME column every week on AICN.
BATMAN & ROBIN #20
Though this comic has garnered a reputation for being over the top in its 19 issues prior, Peter Tomasi begins his stint on BATMAN & ROBIN with a quiet moment shared between Bruce, Tim, Dick, Alfred, and Damien. It’s funny that there have been a lot of scenes shared between these characters since Bruce’s return, but Tomasi makes all of them fall by the wayside in comparison to movie night at Stately Wayne Manor. Like a highly trained doctor, Tomasi injects loads of character in these quiet scenes. But this is just the calm before the storm. Soon, angels with glowing blood are falling from the sky and Man-Bat shows up giving new meaning to the term batshit crazy. Everything that made Tomasi’s GREEN LANTERN CORPS a hit shows up here, including Patrick Gleason’s clean and bold forms and dynamic camera angles. This is a very strong start to what I hope to be a strong new era for BATMAN & ROBIN. - Bug
SIR EDWARD GREY WITCHFINDER: LOST & GONE FOREVER #1 (of 4)
Dark Horse Comics
Mike Mignola’s no nonsense occult investigator travels to the Old West and finds all kinds of Western movie clichés with a spooky slant. Sure a lot of the scenes play out as expected with the “stranger rides into town” motif, but writers Mignola and John Arcudi park enough weirdness here and there to make this one a breezy page flipper. The fact that John Severin is doing the art here makes this one even more authentic feeling. Toss in a buffalo headed monster at the end and this new miniseries has me for the long haul. - Bug
SECRET SIX #30
Something was off with this issue. It’s got a new villain. There are a few good moments with Bane, Deadshot, and Catman. It’s got Ambush Bug in it. It’s a DOOM PATROL crossover, but like many other comics of this sort, the crossover-ness of this book makes it ultimately a turn off. The problem with this issue is that is assumes you’re reading DOOM PATROL. And if you’re not, you’re kind of left out in the cold. I don’t read DOOM PATROL (though I keep on hearing good things and the inclusion of the Bug on the team is making it mighty hard to avoid), but I am familiar with some of the characters. If you’re not, you’re going to be really lost. Characters aren’t introduced. Details about Oolong Island are assumed to be common knowledge. I don’t think it has to be completely spelled out, but if this was an issue that was supposed to bring in new readers (which is basically the point of a crossover, right?), big fail. The new punk villain seems to be fun. The impulsive King Shark is damn cool again. And, again, it’s got Ambush Bug, so I’ve gotta love it. But as far as a comic that I’d recommend to others who don’t know anything about SECRET SIX, DOOM PATROL, or obscure islands from maxiseries events from three years ago, this ain’t it. - Bug
THE WALKING DEAD #81
Image Comics / Skybound Entertainment
Have you ever seen someone almost fall down or watch a movie where a hero just narrowly escapes something awful and your arms tense, your shoulders raise, and your anus puckers? I’ve never had that feeling reading a comic until this issue of THE WALKING DEAD (how’s that for a pullquote!?!?!?). There a lot of tense moments in this “the truckload of shit hitting the fan” issue of “No Way Out” as a rope is shimmied, a wall crumbles, and something major happens to a major player. I don’t review this comic often because I feel like a stuck record, but THE WALKING DEAD never fails to please every month. - Bug
Proofs, co-edits & common sense provided by Sleazy G