|Issue #27||Release Date: 10/10/12||Vol.#11|
(Click title to go directly to the review)
Advance Review: SWORD OF SORCERY #1
POINT OF IMPACT #1
UNCANNY AVENGERS #1
SALSA INVERTEBRAXA #1
Advance Review: SNAPSHOT #1
SOUL HEIR #1
NEW CRUSADERS #2
Advance Review: ARCHER & ARMSTRONG #3
Opinions Are Like @$$Holes: JLA Then & Now!
Advance Review: In stores today!
SWORD OF SORCERY: AMETHYST & BEOWULF #1Writers: Christy Marx & Tony Bedard
Artists: Aaron Lopresti & Jesus Saiz
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Optimous Douche
This third wave of New 52 is a strange wave indeed. PHANTOM STRANGER makes sense; the trinity of sin has been teased long enough, time to start opening their evil kimonos. TEAM 7 I liked in execution, I just can’t understand why the five years before thing is still a thing. TALON, meh, would have been better if it was Bruce Wayne’s supposed brother as the focal character. I get TALON from a sales perspective, but I just don’t care about some random Court of Owls assassin.
Then there’s SWORD OF SORCERY. It’s not a corrective measure, nor is it a Jefferson (my term for characters too big to contain in their parent series). It’s an almost 40 year old property that I have never heard whispered out of the mouths of nerds. However, out of the three it is far and away the property worthy of the famed comic outcry EXCELSIOR.
Marx has hydraulic powered writing chops, which is no surprise since she basically wrote the story of Gen X’s youth. TRANSFORMERS, G.I. JOE, hell even JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS were all Marx’s brain-babies. In the days when cable topped out at 50 channels, before there were 12 different cartoon networks, I and practically all of my contemporaries were enthralled by a Marx property between the hours of 3 and 5 PM after school every day.
Twenty some odd years later, Marx has lost none of her luster and it shines through in AMETHYST. Where so many writers of yore end up trapped in amber in with their structure and tonality, Marx shows she still has the aptitude to tap into the zeitgeist of youth.
This is issue 1, but let’s all be honest with each other: issue 1 was really disguised in the circular wrapper of zero last month. Issue Zero introduced us to our hero Amy, a girl moved from place to place her whole life, looking for some kind of tether to other teens. As she approached her 17th birthday in that issue, her courage gained power as she helped a girl in school escape jock rape and was summarily dismissed by said girl for ruining her chance at popularity. Basically Amy, like so many youth, just wants to belong, to not feel alone in the world. Unfortunately she is alone, as she learns when her mother enacts a ritutl seventeen years in the making that teleports them to the equivalent of DC’s Middle Earth.
Once in this strange land, which is ruled by the houses of greater and lesser gems, Amy learns of her birthright as the Princess of the Amethyst Empire and why she and her mother had been hiding in our world for so many years. Apparently Amy’s aunt and her mother have a difference in opinion on who should rule, and Amy was kept safe on Earth Prime until she reached a battle-ready age.
Now, that’s the meta story, the high level. Marx grounds the book in Amy’s wonder at this new land (especially the fact she’s now instantly blonde), her struggle with this new power of the Amethyst gem and a birthright to rule that would be unsettling for any American. As her new allies of the lesser Citrine help Amy and her mother escape the forces of the ruling Amethyst queen, Marx does a wonderful job infusing our world’s sensibilities and sarcasm with the ancient age of reverence and birthright. Amy…Amethyst…whatever you want to call her, is a strong female character who doesn’t need to use sex or man-hating to be interesting. She exuded a power of spirit in issue 0 helping others when she didn’t have mystical powers fueling her. Now that she’s super charged with Amethyst, her tale becomes even more intriguing.
I also applaud Marx for gently acclimating us to this strange new world. In each issue we learn a little more about this mystical place in just the right drips and drabs. Issue 0 introduced us to the House of Amethyst blood feud. Issue 1 expands to show us a little more about the Amethyst, reveals allies in the House of Citrine and introduces the House of Diamond, another greater house waiting to see who will win in the war of Amethyst.
Lopresti delivers gorgeous pencils that fall between traditional fantasy and younger reader comic fare, but even in this sugar-coated fantasyland there is a realness and power to every emotional close-up and weathered face of battle.
I never thought I would endorse a book about a teenage heroine and a land divided up by precious gems, but I stand here doing just that. Of course, the fangeezer in me is pulling a fervid Horshack (R.I.P.) oh oh oh oh Mr. Carter, on questions like, “Is this strange land a parallel earth or a pocket dimension” and “how the hell does this tie into main continuity?” However, for now, Marx has created enough of a character drama to keep those questions at bay.
Now where I’m having a hard time keeping those questions bottled is the Bedard-penned BEOWULF back-up. I groaned when I read the title as I remembered being subjected to this poem of ancient heroics in every English class from 7th grade to 101 in college. But then I saw Saiz’s gorgeous renderings of the ancient Nordic landscape and Bedard’s unique twist on the mythology of placing Beowulf as a modern man in ancient lands and I realized this was BEOWULF in name, but not ancient boredom.
As we rolled into issue 2, I mean 1, I was fully ready to accept this as a stand-alone science-fantasy tale and put my questions of continuity and larger world context on the shelf where they belong. Now, it wasn’t the appearance of Iron Trolls that made my fangeezer radar go off. After all, if an ancient Nord saw a robot, troll would be a pretty good designation. It was when we switched to Beowulf’s POV, and we get a computer heads up display that identifies the Iron Trolls as Waynetech war machines.
SO BEOWULF is either a machine or a man with heavy cybernetics, and Waynetech has made its way to this strange land of yore. After these revelations, I think fans everywhere are justified in their own Horshack moments of inquiry as we wait for the pieces to come together.
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-2012 from COM.X. Friend Optimous on FaceBook to get Average Joe updates and because ceiling cat says it's the right thing to do.
POINT OF IMPACT #1Writer: Jay Faerber
Art: Koray Kuranel
Publisher: Image Comics
Reviewer: Henry Higgins is My Homeboy
It’s rare that a comic book actually manages to live up to the potential of its cover art. They often prove forgettable (to myself, at least), and rarely are what entice me towards a comic. But then one sees a cover like POINT OF IMPACT. It’s stylized, evoking noir trappings wonderfully,.but it remains clear enough to make perfect sense – immediately, you can tell what kind of comic you’re getting into. It’s actually quite similar to the comic inside – a highly entertaining noir comic, and a fantastic first issue.
Writing: (5/5) Each character fulfills some common role, but with enough innate personality that they each remain entertaining to read and easy to empathize with. Faerber not only has a solid grasp on the character work, but the mystery itself is established quickly and well. The coinciding plotlines of the murder and the attack effortlessly draw the reader in. This is the first work of Faerber’s I’ve ever read, but it leaves a nice little impression. It’s a great exercise in genre writing, and a very well written first issue.
Art: (4/5) The opening pages of the comic immediately draw the reader in, with perhaps the best transition from cover to interior art I’ve seen in recent memory. The cover leads straight into the opening pages, effortlessly setting the mood for the entire comic. Kuranel has an inventiveness to his art, framing each scene in unique ways. As Abby stands atop the roof and gazes down at the spot where Nicole landed, a second frame appears in the shot. The expansiveness of the shot is simply impressive, put it never loses its attention to detail. The noir sensibilities of the art flow incredibly well with the storytelling, and everything looks remarkable. Some of his closer shots could use a little work, with some characters lacking consistency from scene to scene.
Best Moment: I just love the cover so much.
Worst Moment: Some of the art could use a little work.
Overall: (4/5) A very good first issue, despite some smaller flaws.
UNCANNY AVENGERS #1Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: John Cassaday
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Masked Man
Well, Marvel Now! is finally here, kicking off with the new status quo for the Avengers. You can tell by the cover that the Avengers and X-Men have now integrated (though seriously, was that supposed to be an even split-four mutants and two non-mutants?). For the most part I like this new angle. Being a long time Marvel reader I never understood how the general public knew who was a mutant and who wasn’t. How did they know to hate Dazzler but not Ms. Marvel? So now that the Avengers have embraced mutants, so should the rest of the world, putting some of that silliness behind us. Until the status quo returns, which you know it will. Funny how having Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, The Beast and Wolverine on the team didn’t help the public opinion of mutants in the past. But snarkiness aside, I do look forward to these two teams trying to work together.
Remender picks up with the new team trying to form. Captain America tries to recruit Havok to take the mutant lead. I’m guessing Remender chose Havok because he plans some future conflict between him and his brother Cyclops, since I believe Cyclops is on his way to super-villain town. Looking all Magneto-y in his special prison cell and not talking too apologetic about the whole AVSX thing (mind you, I still blame Cap for that whole mess). Wolverine’s eulogy at Professor X’s funeral was my least favorite part of the book. It came off a little clichéd to me and I can’t get all misty for a character who I know will return in a year or two. The big bad for this first story arc is (spoilers, people, spoilers) the Red Skull and his messy plans for all these new and returning mutants. Reminds me of what Straczynski was setting up in THOR (replacing Dr. Doom with the Red Skull and Asgardians with mutants) just as he was booted off. Using Avalanche to drive a wedge between mutants and humans works well for this book, but I’m not sure why the Red Skull would care to do that. I’m also not sold on the Red Skull as a solo Avengers villain. He’s a great villain, to be sure; I’m just not sold on him being in the Avengers’ class. Still, his creepy Nazi past plays well into the human/mutant scenario, especially if it moves beyond mere mind control. Elsewhere, while Rogue and Scarlet Witch try to hammer out their issues, the Red Skull’s cannon fodder attacks them. I’m curious who these goons are: just some more mutants (when will the mutant on mutant crime end)? Or are they also the fruits of the Red Skull’s labor, which would be cool?
Fan fav John Cassady does a decent job drawing this book, but I gotta say he always came off like a poor man’s Kevin Maguire. All the details Cassady puts into Captain America were first seen out of Maguire’s pencil. So while Cassady is a talented artist, he makes me wish Maguire was drawing these pages because—well, I’m sorry, but they’d be better. They also wouldn’t have Photostat/Xeroxed backgrounds--didn’t that get old back in the 1970’s?
With the gruesome final page, UNCANNY AVENGERS #1 is a pretty good first issue. It’s a far cry from the typical boring set-up issue, though I’m more curious about how the X-Men’s and Avengers’ worlds will unite than the Red Skull’s evil plans. I’m also curious to see how all these Avenger and X-Men books will work together, since many characters are listed to be in each book. So buckle in, kids--the ride is just beginning.
SALSA INVERTEBRAXA #1Writer: Mozchops
Publisher: Pecksniff Press
I’ve reviewed comics from the superhero realm to the Wild West, from books based on TV shows to even Shakespeare. But never did I think I’d read a comic about…insects.
And not just insects, but realistic insects. This isn’t a cartoony world with stoned caterpillars or wise arachnids. No, SALSA INVERTEBRAXA leans towards realism without overstepping into anatomical horror. By that I mean is if Mozchops had decided to render his subject matters completely accurately I probably wouldn’t have finished the book. I’d rather watch Pinhead and the Cenobites tearing apart their victims with hooks than stare at close ups of spiders eating their prey.
But artist/writer Mozchops doesn’t shy away from such scenes of brutality, instead displaying all aspects of this world--the luscious and the grotesque. Mozchops’ sense of depth and scale, along with a vivid use of color, is able to portray both the violent aspects of the insect realm and the serene with an equal sense of beauty.
But this wouldn’t be a comic if there weren’t a story to be told. The tale is hardly a narrative. Though the book is straightforward, it contains less a plot than a poem. SALSA INVERTEBRAXA follows “two scurrilous schemers,” a pair of invertebrates as they fly their way through their Darwinian lives, fighting to stay alive, fighting to eat, fighting on as nature intends them to. It is a linear story, with individual scenes, but it best plays out in one read, for in this way Mozchops is a beat poet. SALSA INVERTEBRAXA is propelled by the rhythm of his words. While the artwork is vivid and intense, Mozchops’ writing is smooth yet restrained.
SALSA INVERTEBRAXA was nominated last year for the Aurealis Award for best-illustrated book or graphic novel, a perfect fit as the comic could fit into either section of the category. In one way, it could have been published as a coffee-table book of striking drawings or as a short story found in a magazine. Instead, we got the best of both worlds.
Lyzard is actually Lyz Reblin, a senior screenwriting major with an English minor at Chapman University. Along with writing for AICN, she has been published twice on the subject of vampire films.
Advance Review: In stores early 2013!
SNAPSHOT #1Writer: Andy Diggle
Publisher: Image Comics
Reviewer: Optimous Douche
Here’s a lesson for you kids. Become a comic reviewer and completely fuck up the attribution of one of the most heralded names in comic history. Seriously, my review of BATMAN 13 was the equivalent of walking into Leonardo da Vinci’s studio and asking him how much the cheese costs.
The creator in question is Jock, and my review did not give the proper credit for what I thought to be the best part of the book. The end of BATMAN 13 felt like eye rape: Harley Quinn portrayed a level of profound sadness we’ve never seen before – and of course, Jock was instrumental in that moment. Mea Culpas off. However, if you do ever offend to such a level, I only wish you the same fortuitous penance I’m about to share with you.
It’s a rare occasion we get our hands on an indie book by two already established creators, but SNAPSHOT is seriously underground at this point. A clandestine placement in JUDGE DREDD magazine and a possible release date from Image are all that exist of SNAPSHOT right now. Although by the time this hits true publication I think more deets will be available, by then everyone will have shuffled off their NYCC True Blood hangovers.
So what is SNAPSHOT? Well, as we say on the Spoiler Alert podcast…it’s so so so so so good (yeah we’re a clever lot – that actually replaced jizztastic). SNAPSHOT takes the Hollywood concept of a murder being caught on camera and modernizes it better than the reinvention of Betty White.
It all starts with a cell phone being picked up off the ground. Right from the start Jock shows his skill for interesting and cinematic POVs for the panels and Diggle’s aptitude for never stuffing a word balloon is welcomingly real and allows the art to breathe the story along. This book is B&W, but with the way Jock gleefully plays with shading you’ll be thankful they skipped a colorist.
Our teenage protagonist takes the phone to his day job, which is at the comic shop Near-Mint Rhino (so which one of you is it that frequents Vegas, hmmm?). The conversation that ensues will ring like a “This is Your Life” for all the married fanmen out there who were able to sneak away for a trip to the LCS only to find a holiday bumped the delivery date (hate that shit).
Then the sublime turns into the fantastic after we find this phone is packing pictures of a corpse. Keeping the surprises coming, just when you think this is going to be a standard hunt and chase of murderer to witness, the guys pull the rug out. Just when you think this is the simple case of a doppelganger, there goes that rug again, and just when you think you think you have the players figured out, you don’t. Oh, and don’t get too attached to anyone.
There’re about ten mysteries in this first issue, but I never once felt lost. Also, Diggle and Jock move this whole thing without one narration bubble; in case you don’t know, that’s the sign of a writer and artist that spoon perfectly. Buy this book when whoever publishes it at the time they will or will not publish it. Or just go buy back issues of JUDGE DREDD, I guess.
P.S. This book would be worth picking up just for the one panel of the spiral staircase. You’ll know what I mean when you see it.
DEATHSTROKE #13Writer: Rob Liefeld
Art: Eduardo Pansica
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Mighty Mouth
DEATHSTOKE is kind of an amazing book. What makes it so amazing? It’s not the writing or artwork that makes this title so remarkable; it’s the fact that this book has not yet taken its place among the other short-lived New 52 titles. Let’s face it: comics based on villains rarely have sustainability.
Now, I should warn you Slade Wilson is by far one of my favorite characters in the DC Universe. When I heard that he was getting his own monthly title again, naturally I was enthused. Sadly, right from the onset I felt that the folks producing this title didn’t understand or handle Slade’s character correctly.
Then there was the announcement of a new creative team for DEATHSTOKE. I thought ok, maybe the next team will get it right. Imagine my despair once I learned who was taking over this title: Rob “The Grim Reaper” Liefeld. Needless to say, my hopes were ripped to pieces.
So here we are at issue #13 in the series and it’s not getting much better. Eduardo Pansica’s penciling talents are a welcome improvement over Liefeld’s brand of what passes for comics art; however, Rob still had his hand in the plotting of this tale. This led to what not only feels like a return to the same plot told throughout the first 8 issues of DEATHSTROKE, it also comes with a terrible 90’s-esque antagonist called Deadborn (Don’t laugh--it’s really not funny).
The one tolerable element regarding DEATHSTROKE #13 was the action that took place. The action sequences were well drawn and added a component of rising intensity to Slade’s cat and mouse encounter with Deadborn. Unfortunately, when 90% of your story that introduces a new adversary is scripted around just action, it ends up lacking the necessary depth that compels the reader to care.
Sorry, Robbie--I know the 90’s were good to you, but the days of being able to load a guy up with ginormous shoulder pads and weapons that look like they were purchased at Toys-R-Us are long over. Nowadays it takes more than just another oversized, armor-clad, kill-crazy, Jason Voorhees wannabe villain in order to carry a story.
While I’m on the topic of Deathstroke, what gives, anyway? With the New 52 there is an opportunity to make Slade take center stage as the DCU’s premier anti-hero and world’s deadliest mercenary; instead he is treated like a shell of the character he used to be. If it were up to me I would take some inspiration from the 1991 series written by Marv Wolfman. (The first 30 issues were actually pretty solid.)
Like I said, DEATHSTROKE is kind of an amazing book--meaning it’s nothing short of a miracle that this title has lasted this long, considering all it has been through. Here’s hoping someone can turn this around before DEATHSTROKE takes its place among the New 52’s other failed endeavors.
SOUL HEIR #1: THE DEAD FISHESWriter: Ocie Taylor III
Illustrators: Ocie/Anthony Taylor
Publisher: Hound Comics
Reviewer: Mr. Pasty
One of the things I like most about Hound Comics is how every book that leaves its stable has the “Hound” feel to it. It’s kind of like returning to the same universe again and again, much like you would for an X-Men book about a different character than the one you’ve been previously following. Now, that might not be something to look forward to if every published work was trash, but I have yet to see anything from Brimstone’s boys that’s failed to excite me, and that includes the very enjoyable SOUL HEIR.
At the forefront of THE DEAD FISHES is Captain Haki, who I would best describe as Ryu from Street Fighter, assuming he was a fast-talking bounty hunter or no-holds-barred lawman. Haki is on the hunt for some double-dealing do-badder, and where do you find the scum of the earth? Well, as fans of STAR WARS will tell you, head straight for the cantina, which is what our hero does and (surprise) a fight breaks out. If the formula sounds familiar, it is, but who cares? Using a turnkey plot to get your series off the ground doesn’t bother me when the execution is up to par (it is). And it sure beats some of these wacky creations of late that read like they were composed during a seventh grade creative writing class. And the best part? No zombies, Nazis or space pirates!
Writer/Illustrator Ocie Taylor III does most of the heavy lifting, and I appreciate his symmetry. Characters are big, bold and bright and leap from the pages, which is why their dialog is (fittingly) direct and to the point. No long-winded speeches or gratuitous exposition--just a straight-up chew bubblegum/kick ass approach. Not every comic has to be WAR AND PEACE, and a perfect example is SAMURAI JACK, a series that continually produced epic stories that were beautiful to look at, yet when was the last time Phil LaMarr was on his soapbox? Never. I get that same vibe from SOUL HEIR. Pretty to look at, fun to read and easy to digest. That’s why I got into comics in the first place.
As far as recommendations go, it’s hard for me to imagine even the most jaded of fanboys not getting a kick out of THE DEAD FISHES, particularly the last panel. This is my first introduction to Taylor’s work but so far, so good. I didn’t really expect anything less from Hound Comics. The real challenge will be to see if this series has legs, but the good news is, issue numero uno was strong enough to have me hanging around to find out.
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.
NEW CRUSADERS #2Writer: Ian Flynn
Art: Ben Bates (pencils), Matt Herms (colors)
Published by: Red Circle/Archie Comics
Reviewed by: BottleImp
The “Mighty Crusaders”—those superheroes whose exploits were chronicled alongside the teenage antics of Veronica, Jughead and the rest of the gang in ARCHIE comics, and later under the publisher’s Red Circle line—have not fared well in recent attempts to revitalize the characters for more modern audiences. First there was the !mpact imprint that DC put out in the early 1990s. This update of the Shield, the Fly and their fellow costumed cohorts actually was begun with some decent (if fairly standard) storytelling and artwork, and was initially aimed at younger comic book fans. But internal disagreements and the explosion of the grim ‘n’ gritty fare popularized by Image Comics led to an unfortunate change in direction for the line, and the imprint folded soon after. More recently DC attempted to resuscitate the Archie superheroes while at the same time integrating them into the post-FINAL CRISIS DC Universe with their own line of Red Circle comics, helmed by J. Michael Straczynski—the less said about this run, the better. But it looks as if the third time may be the charm with this new Red Circle line published (once again) by Archie, because the NEW CRUSADERS brings something to these properties that has been sorely lacking in these other attempted updates: a genuine sense of excitement.
Writer Ian Flynn certainly started this series off running, as the first issue saw the near-total destruction of the older generation of heroes—the original “Mighty Crusaders”—as well as introducing the readers to the next generation of heroes. This issue focuses on these children of the original Steel Sterling, Comet et al, and how they deal with the sudden knowledge that their parents were superheroes—as well as dealing with the shock of losing their loved ones. I like the fact that these children aren’t immediately ready to don the spandex and avenge their parents; Flynn writes their reactions much closer to what I think most of us would do if we were thrust in their position—namely, wanting to let the police handle the matter so that they can come to grips with what happened to them. Of course, this would be a pretty boring comic if the kids just went their separate ways, so it goes without saying that they decide to accept their destinies as the new generation of heroes. I also like the way in which the Shield (the only surviving member of the original Crusaders) convinces the children to stay; it’s done in a concise four-page sequence that adds action to this mostly narrative-driven issue. And it doesn’t hurt any that we see that Dusty, the Shield’s sidekick, is a mutant alien monkey.
Ben Bates’ artwork is a perfect match for the fast-paced, energetic script. Bates works in a simplified, cartoony style that echoes the streamlined animation style of Bruce Timm, giving the pages a lively visual excitement. I will say that at times Bates’ characters skew a little too anime for my taste, leading to some examples of facial distortion that tend to flatten out the faces rather than adding emotional impact. But this is a minor quibble, as for the most part the figures and page compositions are exemplary. Working in perfect harmony with the line art is the wonderful coloring by Matt Herms. Herms’ palette manages to be subtle and vibrant at the same time, and his technique pairs hard-edged tones that echo the stylized figures with delicate gradations of color. Alongside racks of comic books whose colorists seem to subscribe to the idea that every single object needs to be rendered as fully as possible (making for a jumbled, chaotic mess of tone that hurts rather than helps the visual narrative), NEW CRUSADERS is a sterling example of how to make the colors work to enhance the linework rather than simply cover it up.
It is this combination of writing and artwork that gives NEW CRUSADERS that genuine sense of excitement that I mentioned earlier. The Silver Age concepts and characters that created the original Mighty Crusaders had been tarnished with decades of sloppy storytelling and unnecessary bleakness. It’s a joy to see that Archie’s new Red Circle line is breaking out the polish to bring a little shine back to the best aspects of that period of comic book history: bringing fun and exciting stories to the stands month after month that can be enjoyed by readers young and old. This jaded and cynical reader feels rejuvenated by NEW CRUSADERS; fellow cynics should pick up an issue and regain a sense of that childlike excitement that made us fans of the medium in the first place.
When released from his bottle, the Imp transforms into Stephen Andrade, an artist/illustrator/pirate monkey painter from New England. He's currently hard at work interpreting fellow @$$Hole Optimous Douche's brainwaves and transforming them into pretty pictures on AVERAGE JOE, an original graphic novel to be published by Com.x. You can see some of his artwork here.
BATMAN #13Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist: Greg Capullo & Jock
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Humphrey Lee
If there has been an underlying craft to this New 52 BATMAN run by Snyder and Capullo, I think it would be the art of the sell. Back in issue five – still arguably the standout issue of the run thus far – the sell was that of dementia and despair; it was one of the very scant times having read hundreds of Batman comics that I truly felt like the Bat was being broken. The way the inner monologue broke, the vertigo inducing way the panels and pages were laid out, and the mystique that Snyder and Capullo were creating around the Court of Owls sold me that maybe, just maybe, Batman was not going to make it out of this one intact either mentally and/or physically. With this latest issue of BATMAN, the highly touted return of the Joker storyline, the good being sold is pure, unadulterated fear.
Joker stories get told all the time, of course. Honestly, throughout my comic reading career I’ve never really decided what I feel the best way to handle the character is. Highly hyped events, such as this one, seem to be simultaneously counter-intuitive but expected given the nature of the character and how important he is to the Bat Universe and, in my honest opinion, comics in general considering he’s pretty much the pinnacle of a super-villain. I say counter-intuitive, though, because the fucking batshit nature of the character, I always felt, led to the “Holy Fuck there’s the Joker!” spontaneous approach being more the game-changer the character demands. One of my favorite Joker uses in comics came during the fantastic GOTHAM CENTRAL series by Brubaker and Rucka because it combined a pretty under-the-radar featuring of the character with the absolutely horrifying idea of “oh fuck, he’s just acing dudes with a sniper rifle.” The fear of such a terrible and threatening character with such a simple device, but one that would enable that Wascally Wabbit of Death to bestow it from afar, was a horrifying concept that hit close to home. In “Death of the Family” hitting close to home is the name of the game, and it’s a pretty horrific thought in its own right.
What we have here now is a Joker that has laid low, that has spent a year away plotting and percolating his next move and, oh, he’s done it casually while missing that face thing we all take for granted. His return is quick, brutal, and immediately terror-inducing as he blacks out the GCPD and calmly executes several officers within a few dozen feet of Commissioner Gordon. A run at the mayor that ends with him outsmarting Gordon and the Bat and the deaths of another dozen officers and an encounter with a Harley Quinn that is genuinely scared of her Mr. J and we now have a setup that is fitting of the mythos the Clown Prince of Crime commands after all these years, even with the hype factor pumping this return for all it’s worth.
The grand guignol of this issue is where I admit some tentative feelings toward the real meaning behind this story’s “Death of the Family” moniker. The Smiling One going on a quest of retaking his trusty crowbar to some Boy Wonders whilst on his newest reign of terror? That I can get behind. But (what I assume to be) the implication behind his showing up at Wayne Manor and taking a different kind of blunt tool to Mr. Alfred Pennyworth – that the Joker may be in on the biggest joke of them all pertaining to his adversary – that worries me. It’s a Pandora’s Box that I think is better left sealed up, if this indeed is where Scott Snyder is going with this, and I can’t help but feel a little apprehensive about how messy this could get for the future, or how underwhelmingly “clean” it may go so as to more readily be swept up under the continuity rug later on. Either way I’m there for the long haul; the creative talent on this book the past year and within this particular issue has shown me they are definitely ready to tell a hell of a Joker story. Hopefully we get a tale that does its own figurative best to rip our faces off and do so with a smile.
Humphrey Lee has been an avid comic book reader going on fifteen years now and a contributor to Ain't It Cool comics for quite a few as well. In fact, reading comics is about all he does in his free time and where all the money from his day job wages goes to - funding his comic book habit so he can talk about them to you, our loyal readers (lucky you). He's a bit of a social networking whore, so you can find him all over the Interwebs on sites like Twitter, The MySpaces, Facebookand a blog where he also mostly talks about comics with his free time because he hasn't the slightest semblance of a life. Sad but true, and he gladly encourages you to add, read, and comment as you will.
Advance Review: In stores today!
ARCHER & ARMSTRONG #3Writer: Fred Van Lente
Artist: Clayton Henry
Publisher: Valiant Entertainment
Reviewer: Optimous Douche
Secret sects, a mystery as old as human history, and a fat indestructible drunkard with his young Christian compound-raised martial arts expert at his side. How could I not love ARCHER & ARMSTRONG?
Well, I’ll tell you how: if I let myself get hung by the noose of nostalgia like sooooo many of my contemporaries. The benefit of being an aged fangeezer is that we’ve read almost every comic on the shelf. The downside to being an aged fangeezer is that we’ve read every book the shelf. Valiant books especially hold a sweet spot in my heart that harkens me back to the early days of the 1990s, when all I had to do with my time was read comics and be a teenager. I relished every moment of Valiant 1.0; I loved, collected, and reread every title year after year right up until the turn of the millennium. They were my solace during the mid to late 90s comic apocalypse.
So I approached the re-launch of the Valiant universe with the greatest of trepidation. My nostalgia has been thoroughly raped in recent years by comics from CRISIS to AGE OF APOCALYPSE; the new has never been as sweet as the old.
Valiant deepened my worries since fundamental characters from the old universe have now had their copyrights spread to the four corners of comicdom: SOLAR, TUROK and MAGNUS were not only popular characters, they were fundamental to the birth of the universe and one of the best cross-overs ever, UNITY.
Well, now that we are a good five months into VALIANT 2.0 I can say without reservation life is about change, and change is exceptionally good – especially when change is being led by some of the newest and freshest voices in comics.
ARCHER & ARMSTRONG is different than before, but every change is steeped in deep reverence for the old series. This time Archer started working for his parents, a couple of one-percenters looking to take over the world using faith as their weapon of choice. Archer also no longer becomes disillusioned by his parents before running into Armstrong; this time around, killing Armstrong is what sets Archer on his mission of discovery and ultimate disillusionment in his parents’ Machiavellian ways. Another welcome addition this time around is that all of Archer’s martial arts moves are explained in handy and informative call-out boxes. Read ARCHER & ARMSTRONG because it’s entertaining AND educational.
ARMSTRONG is pretty much the same--a drunken lout who has spent eternity…well, just trying to get drunker and loutier.
When the two came together back in the 90s, it was a meeting without purpose until they ran into The Sect trying to kill Armstrong. This time the book is founded on much sturdier ground. Before Armstrong was immortal, a device called The Boon wiped out the old world (think mythological) and humanity started anew. Only Armstrong was left after the devastation, and he spent the next several thousand years hiding pieces of The Boon and then summarily killing the brain cells that remembered where the pieces were hidden.
Sound like a lot to absorb? Well, it is; this book is chock full of every conspiracy theory and piece of ancient lore since the beginning of time.
Van Lente does a great job getting new readers up to speed in the opening pages of the third issue, which takes our Odd Couple into the bowels of the Vatican where a piece of The Boon is guarded by a sect of nuns that eventually get dubbed with the LOL name nunjas in the heat of battle.
Also joining the pair is a wise nun who 100 years ago (not literally, though close) captured Armstrong’s heart. She acts as a mediator between Armstrong’s debauchery and Archer’s piousness, reminding both why they need one another. At one point she whispers a line to Archer about faith that were the wisest words I read in comics this week, and probably all year.
I’m not blinded by affection for what was. ARCHER & ARMSTRONG and the rebooted HARBINGER are some of the best comics on the shelves right now. They have reinvented the voice of Valiant for the new millennium, without once forgetting the deep and different characterization that made a name for Valiant oh so many years ago.
Now that we are in the second year of the DC’s New 52, I thought it’d be interesting to compare it to the last time DC re-invented its whole Universe, back in the 1980’s. Sure, they had mini reboots like ZERO HOUR, but nothing on this scale before--except after CRISIS ON THE INFINITE EARTHS. For a good one-to-one comparison, I decided to look at a title near and dear to me: JUSTICE LEAGUE!
It was back in 1987, after the second big crossover (LEGENDS) that DC finally decided to update the League for its new Universe. Enter JUSTICE LEAGUE #1, and that title hasn’t been used since--until 2011. Oddly enough, in both cases the previous title was JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA. Unlike the new Justice League (JL’11), Justice League (JL’87) didn’t wipe out all of the prior Justice League of America history, but it did making sweeping changes never seen before. Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman were never founding members, but Black Canary II was. The Justice Society of America existed before the Justice League of America--on the same Earth! So in both cases, it was a whole new DCU the readers were exploring.
First let’s look at the creative teams. The JL’11 has Geoff Johns as the writer; with the possible exception of Grant Morrison, DC has no bigger writer. Johns is DC’s golden boy (especial now being a Chief Creative Officer at DC) who successfully revamped Hawkman, Green Lantern and the Flash, plus led DC through several major crossover events (DAY OF JUDGMENT, INFINITE CRISIS, BLACKEST NIGHT). JL’87 had Keith Giffen, a veteran of the comic industry, but a far cry from DC’s golden boy (that was Marv Wolfman and the newly acquired John Byrne). His claim to fame was drawing LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES and creating Ambush Bug. On the art side, JL’11 has Jim Lee, one of the biggest names in comic books (and a Chief Creative Officer for DC as well). Jim Lee was one of the popular artists who helped create Image comics after drawing X-MEN for Marvel. After moving his IP (WildStorm) from Image to DC, he has become a major force at DC drawing Batman and Superman projects. JL’87 had the relatively unknown Kevin Maguire. Kevin had done fill in work up to this point, but JUSTICE LEAGUE was his first regular series.
What about the rosters of each team? Just coming off the lowest point in JLA history, the Detroit era, JL’87 was an attempt to get bigger names back in the League. Being a brand new Earth, a bigger selection of heroes were available for the first time too: Dr. Fate (formerly of Earth 2), Blue Beetle (formerly of Earth 4) and Captain Marvel (formerly of Earth S and no longer a member of the Marvel Family). JLOA standards like Batman, Black Canary II and the Martian Manhunter were on board, plus the new Green Lantern Guy Gardner, the new Dr. Light (who was quickly dropped) and Mr. Miracle. JL’11 was also coming off a low point for the team, as the prior line-up was nearly a junior varsity team with the likes of Dick Grayson Batman, Troia, Supergirl, Jade, and Jesse Quick. Now it had ‘the big seven’ (sort of): Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and Cyborg. In the brand new world, Cyborg was never a member of the Teen Titans, and now started his superhero career as a Justice League founding member. In its first 12 issues Green Arrow tried to join the JL’11 but was rebuffed. In the JL’87, Booster Gold successfully joined the team. Once the team turned International in issue #7, Captain Marvel and Dr. Fate were swapped out for Captain Atom (formerly of Earth 4) and Rocket Red (a Russian hero first seen earlier that year in GREEN LANTERN). I should point out that Cyborg is the only rookie of both teams. His origin was in the first story arc of JL’11.
Both teams have a normal human helping them facilitate their organization as well (shades of Snapper Carr). JL’87 had Maxwell Lord, a man who is a mystery to the League, but helps them establish their International presence. JL’11 has Steve Trevor, a man who has a history with Wonder Woman and acts as the go between the League and the rest of the world. Both men have a tough time of it as Max was a pawn of an evil supercomputer, and Steve is kidnapped and tortured by David Graves. But where Max was used to get closer to the League, Steve was attacked because he was close to the League. By the issue #12’s, Max is welcomed fully into the League and Steve is kicked out.
With the brand world aspect of both books, characters changed a bit from what they had been previously. In the JL’87, The Martian Manhunter, who was once a badass by the book cop, became a Buddhist monk type hero. He would get the title of the heart and soul of the League--a sharp contrast to today, as he was referred to in JL’11 as a short term member of the new team but it ended violently. Batman, who was once a good team player, became a jerk and a major ball buster. Captain Marvel, who was always portrayed as an adult, now acted more naïve like his younger Bill Batson’s self. Guy Gardner even nicknamed him Captain Whitebread because of it. In the JL’11 the once pacifist Wonder Woman is now near giddy over the idea of violent combat. Superman, who was once the outspoken leader of the Justice League, is now a quiet, brooding young man. In both cases, readers were seeing these ‘updated’ characters interact with each other for the first time.
The tone of both books changed as well, as the JL’87 became more humorous than before. Things never went smoothly for the team, especially in issue #8--“Moving Day”. Everyone was full of funny quips as they dealt with each other and supervillains alike. The Martian Manhunter found a love of Oreos. G’nort, the not too bright Green Lantern, was introduced. Oh, and lest I forget Guy Gardner, who was an insufferable ass until he was knock on the head and became twice as naïve as Captain Whitebread. JL’11, on the other hand, became more action-oriented and violent. Issues #3-6 were one long continuous battle. Issue #8 had three different fight scenes as Green Arrow tries to join the team, Steve Trevor was brutally tortured in issue #9, and Wonder Woman slugged it out with Green Lantern and Superman when she felt they were getting in her way.
So what actually occurred in those first 12 issues? Well, back in the 80’s the publishing of collected trades had yet to begin. Therefore writers weren’t forced to have each story arc be four to six issues. Short one to two issue stories were the goal to attract the casual reader. So while Keith Giffen (with his writing partner J. M. DeMatteis) had subplots continuing over many issues (like who is Maxwell Lord, and what are the Global Guardians up to) most stories were one to two issues. In them they battled the Heroes of Angor, the Royal Flush Gang, the Grey Man, the Manhunters (a MILLENNIUM crossover), and a New Gods supercomputer gone rogue. Now that four to six issues are the goal, Johns has had the JL’11 battle Darkseid and David Graves. Subplots, of course, have factored in as well, with the history of David Graves and the effect of the League on Steve Trevor’s life.
With new characters operating in a new world, character interaction was a big focus of both books. Oddly enough, both started with a physical fight. When the JL’87 team first got together in issue #1, a fight broke out thanks to Guy Gardner. In JL’11 issue #2 a fight broke out as well, again thanks to a Green Lantern. In JL’87, Gardner would continue to bump heads with the rest of the team until the infamous Batman/Guy Gardner fight in issue #5. In the JL’11 issue #11, Green Lantern was part of another fight as well; this time it was with Wonder Woman, and it was her fault. With its humorous tone, the character interaction in JL’87 was mostly sarcastic quips: “Team Leader for two days-- and already he’s sounding like Batman!” The first 12 issues of JL’11 had their character interaction based in the characters not knowing each other: “Superman’s a reporter? You don’t write about us, do you?”
The reception to JL’87 started strong, as any new JUSTICE LEAGUE book would soon expect. While many fans approved of the Detroit team’s demise, the new humorous angle put off some fans. Still, by issue #12 JL’87 was a hit. JL’11 with its all-star talent and all-star line-up was a major hit from the start and remains to be so, even though some fans feel the stories are too shallow. JL’87 would go on to be one of the best selling eras of the Justice League, launching a second series (JUSTICE LEAGUE EUROPE) and a quarterly for the next five and half years. The creative team of Keith Griffen and Kevin Maguire (who became a star on the book) would prove so popular that they have been invited to do it again every so often: FORMERLY KNOWN AS THE JUSTICE LEAGUE, JLA CLASSIFIED, and RETRO ACTIVE JUSTICE LEAGUE AMERICA. I’m not sure if that has happened to any other creative team (Marv Wolfman and George Perez did finally release NEW TEEN TITANS: GAMES). Will Geoff Johns and Jim Lee have that same impact? They have announced a spin-off book, JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, but that seems to have been pre-plan before the start of JL’11. Jim Lee will be leaving the book after issue #14. Maguire hung on until issue #24. Both men had fill-in artists on some issues.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this look at these two JUSTICE LEAGUE books: next time let’s review Superman, John Byrne and Grant Morrison.
Proofs, co-edits & common sense provided by Sleazy G
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