(Click title to go directly to the review)
Advance Review: CAPTAIN AMERICA #1
ALL-NEW X-MEN #1
SMUT PEDDLER VOL.1
Advance Review: JUSTICE LEAGUE #14
THOR: GOD OF THUNDER #1
FABLES: WEREWOLVES OF THE HEARTLAND HC OGN
FANTASTIC FOUR #1
Advance Review: HARBINGER #6
AVENGERS ASSEMBLE #9
TEAM SEVEN #2
Advance Review: INDESTRUCTIBLE HULK #1
Advance Review: In stores today!
CAPTAIN AMERICA #1Writer: Rick Remender
Art: John Romita Jr. (pencils), Klaus Jansen (inks)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
Yet another new number one CAPTAIN AMERICA comes down the pike, solidifying my theory that they should either start with a new number one on a yearly basis or whenever a new creative team begins. With the way the industry is going, especially Marvel, I think it would benefit to just own up to the fact that we’re never going to get another 100th issue of a new Marvel series. That tired rant aside, CAPTAIN AMERICA #1 is a nice beginning that starts with a little action, injects a heavy dollop of character in the middle, and ends with another intense dose of action and intrigue and, of course, a cliffhanger. All in all, it’s got everything a first issue needs.
Without giving too much away, the book does shed a little light on Cap before he got all roided up in the Super Soldier Program. I’m not sure if this is some kind of revisionist detail, but having Cap come from a not-so-perfect home lifestyle is definitely something that sheds new light on the character and may actually make him a bit more sympathetic in the eyes of the reader. Cap, like Superman, is a difficult hero to identify with because he is so darn perfect, and the details Remender adds actually makes you understand why Cap would risk his life to become an experiment in order to become bigger and stronger.
I also liked the attention paid to Cap’s relationship with Sharon, which has been a mainstay all through Brubaker’s run, but the relationship definitely took the back burner as Bru’s run seemed to favor action and spy stuff over relationship drama. Of course, Cap was dead for a while too, so it’s hard to develop a relationship with a corpse, or so I hear.
That said, I think Sharon’s new push for deepening the relationship provides a nice real world pressure for Cap to deal with—one he can’t ricochet away from him with his shield. The development Cap finds himself in at the end definitely seems to have ties to Sharon’s sudden shift towards a more serious relationship as well, which adds some nice texture to Remender’s take.
Though there are some rough spots, JRJR’s art is much more solid here. I’ve chided the artist in the past for phoning it in and doling out chicken scratch, non-detailed character sketches and calling them panels in the past. Here, with Klaus Jansen’s inks, JRJR’s work is better than I’ve seen in quite a while.
Though this issue isn’t going to burn down any barns with shocking developments, it does present a solid look at the character of Cap, something I appreciate much more than BIG, BIG changes that revert to status quo. Here Remender seems to want to plumb deep into Cap’s character, something few Cap writers have dared do before, and I’m interested in seeing what comes to the surface.
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over eleven years & AICN HORROR for two. He has written comics such as VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS THE TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, & NANNY & HANK (soon to be available on iTunes and soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He has co-written FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND’s first ever comic book LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in 2013 as a 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark wrote the critically acclaimed GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK last year from Zenescope Entertainment & look for his exciting arc on GRIMM FAIRY TALES #76-81 released August-December 2012. Mark will be writing GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK: LAST OF THE SPECIES to be released in February-June 2013. Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitter @Mark_L_Miller.
BATMAN #14Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Greg Capullo
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: The Writing Rambler
They say you really don’t miss something until it’s gone, and man have I missed The Joker. Despite the phenomenal run that Scott Snyder and his team have been on since the NEW 52 relaunch of BATMAN, it’s like the BATMAN universe is never quite right when The Joker’s looming presence is not being felt. Well, with issue 13 The Joker clearly stated he was back (to Alfred’s dismay) and what we get in BATMAN 14 is an almost poetic level of The Joker vs. Batman legacy.
I don’t envy Snyder currently, as after he was revered for the fresh and inventive “Court of Owls” storyline, he has now chosen to top it with the most classic version of Batman possible. Joker stories are always special, and fans expect more from them, so to tackle a year long hiatus from Batman’s greatest foe is no small feat, yet somehow (at least what I can see so far) this “Death of the Family” storyline has raised everyone’s game to a new level.
There’s just something about Batman vs. The Joker that is better than any other hero vs. villain. It’s not a debate for me, it’s just fact.
Snyder brings The Joker back with all of his fiendish traits but somehow ups his level of depravity (if that’s somehow even possible). It’s like The Joker is focused this time. He has a clear goal and it’s something he believes he needs to do. He generally wants to help Batman become what he believes he once was, and will stop at nothing to do it.
What has always made The Joker the cream of the crop when it comes to DC villains is his personality and how it works in a complementary way to Batman’s own. Snyder fully understands this as a writer, and you can see it expressed through each page of this book. The Joker is presented as sick and twisted, yes, but more importantly Snyder emphasizes the importance of Batman and The Joker’s relationship. Batman knows it, The Joker knows it and most importantly the readers know it. Snyder does everyone a service by not only acknowledging it, but doing so in a respectful way. There’s a point in the issue where The Joker talks (and at times monologues) with Batman about his plan and why he needs to do it that just perfectly displays their unique relationship.
A key point to this story is that throughout the years, Gotham has grown beyond its city walls. It’s not just Batman anymore, it’s the Batman family. Snyder understands that despite this growing cast of characters in Batman’s life, no one is more important than The Joker. They’re connected in a way most other characters never will be and the goal of this story seems to be to remind us of that. It’s oddly like a marriage relationship, and all of the side characters have just spawned or developed from it. It’s twisted, but it’s beautiful, somehow.
The Joker’s plans, as they begin to play out, are seemingly to bring Batman back to his core (or whatever he believes Batman’s core to be), to remove the elements in his life that are preventing him from being the Batman of old. I wonder how far Snyder plans to go with this idea (or, for that matter, how far DC is planning on letting him go). Realistically I can’t see The Joker killing off a large number of major players in Batman’s world, but I would not be surprised to see one or maybe two of Gotham’s brightest take their last breath before “Death of the Family” is done.
The way the issue itself breaks down may leave some disappointed, as there’s really only about 20 pages of the actual storyline with a short story by Snyder accompanied by Jock on art showing The Joker’s impact on the Penguin’s current life, but the quality of the story more than makes up for the short page count. Much like Snyder’s own personal bar being raised on the storyline, the same can be said for Greg Capullo’s job with the artwork. Capullo sells this story with striking visuals, and I love the sense of dread he is able to capture in the look of his characters. From Harley Quinn’s despair at the changes in The Joker to Batman and Nightwing’s reactions to learning about Alfred’s current situation, every panel is just hauntingly beautiful. There’s also a fantastic moment where we see Batman and The Joker finally coming face to face on a bridge that perfectly captures their relationship with each other.
I could not imagine anyone second-guessing Snyder and team at this point in time with this story. The best advice I can give for this “Death of the Family” story is get on board now. It’s so easy for people to write off current storylines because in our world of comic book fandom it seems that nothing new can ever be good and could not possibly be better than past classics, but I implore you to check this book out if you haven’t already because this is destined to be a classic that future storylines will never be able to compare to.
You can follow The Writing Rambler on his blog here and follow on Twitter @Writing_Rambler !
ALL NEW X-MEN #1Writer: Brian Bendis
Artist: Stuart Immonen
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Optimous Douche
Mr. Bendis, Where Have You Been All Our Lives? - Oh yeah, Avengers…
While I still think the brand “Marvel Now” reeks of Marvel’s Mousealini master, I can’t help but marvel at the enjoyment and ease in which this refresh has laced up and kicked the ass of the ever-popular reboot.
For those who say nothing has changed, you’re wrong: they have. I will be more than willing to have the debate with you in comments or email. It’s a shift in tone, style and, yes, accessibility that holds a steep reverence for the old (at least for X-Men), but also welcomes new readers with open arms (and I’ll say that for more than just X-Men). There are movie fixtures in place (most notably with Iron Man), but I would much rather take this balls in approach to embracing the popular perception of titles than the staccato intrusions that occurred in the middle of ongoing story arcs (looking at you and the black suit, “Spider-Man 3”).
From character to story, ALL NEW X-MEN is really the all old X-Men. But it’s still exciting, haunting in parts, and fresher than a vat of Summer’s Eve.
As the cover implies, the original Fab 5 of Mutantdom are going to come face to face with their future terroristic selves. Yes, terroristic. Xavier is dead in body and ideology. Magneto’s dream won. Scott Summers’ dalliances with the Phoenix Force perverted him into that which he once despised most – he is now the shadow of Magneto, and God help the human that gets in his way.
Before we get to the reintroduction of the 60s group, Bendis opens with the most impactful introduction since Whedon’s awesome ASTONISHING bedroom scene. Hank McCoy is about to undergo his third mutation, but this time his nine lives might have run out. Middle age is a bitch, and what one could once handle sometimes proves fatal. It’s a choice some will question, but most will scoff at claiming even if Hank dies “he’ll be back.” I don’t know. There’s been a commitment to dirty mutie death in recent years, and I actually believe this countdown clock of Damocles hanging over the series is real.
If this series has one simple mantra, it will be the search for salvation. Hank’s penance for robbing the world of his genius and heart far too soon, and the mantra of the Jean Gray school to redeem the soul of Scott.
Just as in that first issue 50 years ago, bad mutants (Scott, Magneto, Emma) and good mutants (Kitty, Bobby, Hank, Storm) are searching to help and recruit the latest outcropping of baby muties that were reactivated by the Phoenix Force. What’s interesting is the perspective time brings to the proceedings. There’s empathy now for the bad guys that makes the gray moral boundary of Magneto’s eye-for-an-eye approach inches ever closer to white than black. Clearly Hank and crew are on the side of angels since they respect all life, but the way they lose out on getting to two new mutants before Scott’s crew makes one start to wonder when pacifist simply becomes whiny loser. Bendis solidifies this theory with the juxtaposition of non-stop action in the Bad X-Men scenes versus the heavily talking head moments at the Jean Gray School.
Realizing the damned if they stop Scott and damned if they don’t conundrum the good Xies are stuck in, Hank throws a hail Mary through the space-time continuum to get a young Summers to talk himself darkly off the Hitler ledge. By the way, bravo to Immonen for blending today’s art sensibilities with that of comics’ Paleolithic era on these pages; a touch few more lines to the original five and a few less to Hank made the meeting naturally jarring – that’s a good thing.
Being a dirtie mutie lover, I love creative powers, and our two new entrants into club mutie are no Maggot or Beak (power-wise, I mean—yes, I love them as characters). We have a young lady that can now stop time in a controlled space and a healer…make that resurrector ,actually.
I would ask that even Bendis haters pick this book up. I would say it’s his most comicy/least David Mamet-like title to date. Very few trail-off sentences, and I would say even less quips. Bobby’s a little heavy-handed with the passage of time delivery, but I think it was necessary for any of the next generation picking up X-Men for the first time.
For all of us old timers, the passage of time was clearly exhibited in the first few pages and became even sadder with each passing moment. The X-Men are in a crisis of world domination, but also friendship and faith.
Oh, one final rant, if I may? I insist on characters evolving. If Scott Summers is now “evil”, so be it, but I insist it sticks. And if he ever comes back from the dark side it’s evolutionary, not a fucking parlor trick like mind control or, dare I say, sleeper Skull. He’s viewed the universe now through the eyes of a God; it would make anyone more of a “big-picture” thinker. That’s all I need.
Welcome, Mr. Bendis; stay the course, sir, and I think this arc at least will be playing in such revered territory as “Dark Phoenix” and “Days of Future Past”.
Optimous is writing a graphic novel; it has pictures by Stephen Andrade (aka BottleImp). To find out more about this book head to robpatey.com. Also see Optimous’ awesome B2B Marketing there and at MaaS360.com.
SMUT PEDDLER VOL.1Managing Editor: Spike
Cover Illustrator: Emily Carroll
Publisher: Iron Circus Comics
Reviewer: Mr. Pasty
Like racists, homophobes have demonstrated, above all else, the inability to think for themselves. By age 13, it becomes pretty evident that we’re all equally fucked up across the board. It’s when you learn to enjoy the ride that life really becomes worth living. That’s probably why I was so enthralled with SMUT PEDDLER, a daring and oftentimes hilarious collection of kinky short stories. But calling it “short” may be a bit of a misnomer, as this thing is fucking huge. I’m talking Mr. Marcus huge. If you don’t know who that is, I’ll send you a copy of BIG BLACK POLES, LITTLE WHITE HOLES (I still argue the sequel was better). Anyway, let’s get back to the matter at hand, which is animated sex stories. To put in bluntly, this book has balls (har har).
I say that because SMUT PEDDLER opens with a handicapped handjob – between two dudes -- right out of the gate. That’s a pretty ballsy move because it instantly alienates a certain school of thought. It’s the wrong school, mind you, but when you want to sell books, giving a big “fuck you” to a sizable chunk of your potential buyers is not without financial risk. But here’s the punchline: most of the haters are secretly sticking around anyway, despite what they tell their bros at the bar. If that doesn’t scare them away, there’s always the interracial blowjobs and alien tentacle sex (hello, Japan). SMUT PEDDLER carries the tagline “Impeccable Pornoglyphics for Cultivated Ladies (and Men of Exceptional Taste)”, and I must concur: there’s a little something to please everyone, along with a little something to displease everyone, depending on what floats your boat. I have a fairly liberal approach to sexuality. I know what I like (hot babes) and I know what I don’t (hairy man sex). I still enjoyed the book, because I don’t see myself as better than people who think differently than me. If futuristic robot sex is your thing, no problemo, we’ll just have to find something else to talk about.
The question for AIN’T IT COOL readers is how SMUT PEDDLER holds up in the world of graphic novels. Why would anyone buy this when they can just ogle 100+ different porn sites online? Well, this wasn’t designed to be a gratuitous compilation of pin ups drawn to get you hard (or wet); rather, it’s a diary of the fantasies and desires of its authors. Sex may be the final destination, but it’s their journey that holds the appeal. Not all of the contributions are without flaw, and some of the artwork is barely passable, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I found SMUT PEDDLER to be a fascinating journey across a widely diverse sexual landscape. If the same old web clips have left you flaccid, give this one a try. You may find yourself more engrossed than you would have expected (or would be willing to admit).
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.
JUSTICE LEAGUE #14Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Tony Daniel & Gary Frank
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Optimous Douche
It took a year, but I think Johns is finally finding his groove on this book. Well, let me be more succinct: I think Johns has finally found his groove to appeal to a broader range of comic consumers.
To say this book was a failure the first year is myopic and stupid; it was THE bestselling book for the first six months after launch. Also, kids are eating this book up with one of their stupid little safety sporks. The main grumblings have come from us old timers who compare the title to the volumes sitting inside our brain vaults. Even with the thin and often inconsistent characterization compared to the JL members’ main books, the New 52 JUSTICE LEAGUE after launch was 10 times better than where the book was post FINAL CRISIS. Hell, I remember two issues in those dark days where in one issue the Holy Trinity were swapping hero pictures like baseball cards to form a new team. Exciting, huh? Then there was the cover where the Big 3 were walking away from the JL logo with their shoulders slumped: some say it was a good-bye and fresh start; I firmly believe it was shame.
With the New 52, JUSTICE LEAGUE at least had a plan. All comic aficionados should appreciate this. However, the plan was heavy on art and very light on heart, and Johns was given little space to do what he does best – turn a trope into a human. Not human human, but you know what I mean. Without humanity to these superbeings, we should all just keep rereading the Golden Age and call it a day.
Issue 14 succeeds for one reason and one reason alone…contact. No, not the Jodie Foster movie. What I mean is the contact between Superman and Wonder Woman. If you read JUSTICE LEAGUE on its own, these are the loneliest characters on the team. They are Gods amongst mortals. Every fellow member of the team was once human in some capacity; they can at least relate to the human condition, even if they no longer are mere mortals. Superman and Wonder Woman are true outsiders, yet they revere and long to be one with the human race. As comic collectors we always felt these two should be together, and I applaud Johns for making this a courtship versus a wham bam thank you ma’am. Like most couples, the woman is never satisfied…I mean, Wonder Woman isn’t satisfied with only knowing the Super and not the Man. So Supes introduces her to Clark. The part where he takes her to Clark’s favorite diner would have been an awesome; it was a nice show and tell of the reason why Superman helps humanity. I say “would have”, because they wore their costumes. It’s tough to have a conversation when you are the two most powerful beings on Earth. Would have gone civvies for this scene. However, the moment when they go to the Kansas farm--that was perfect in tone and emotion.
The Cheetah storyline also ends before this event. It was all right. Daniel’s a more than welcome addition to this book, but one of Wonder Woman’s B-List villains simply doesn’t seem sponge worthy to me. Sorry.
Before we get into Shazam, there is an ominous last two panels that set Batman on a path he’s been down before and has always led to ruin. It will be cool to see how they twist it in the New 52.
Finally we have the backup Shazam story. SWEET HOLY FUCKITY FUCK WAS THIS GOOD. It makes zero sense to me why this isn’t a solo book yet. I can only guess it’s because Shazam is going to join the League in 2013. At least I hope so, because I want more--much more. For this vignette we see Black Adam discovering the world for the first time, and his arrogance is amped up to 11. A little murder, a discovery that magic has been stolen from the world and the resurrection of the first sin of man, Sloth, made me scream at the page when this quick moment was over.
This issue proves JUSTICE LEAGUE is salvageable for fangeezers. My personal opinion? They need a big bad guy to fight. The fallacy with the Darkseid arc was no development of Darkseid. Likewise, the two arcs after never really explored the psychology of the villain. Slow it down, guys; we’ll be patient with you, I promise.
THOR: GOD OF THUNDER #1Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Esad Ribic
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Masked Man
Marvel Now! has caught up to Thor, with a new series and creative team. I started really reading THOR with JMS, and it was one of the best comic runs I hadever read. Since he’s left, I’ve been rather disappointed and dropped the title. So as Marvel had hoped, I decided to check back in with the Thunder God again with his new series. Quick sidebar: I’m rather surprised to see Marvel call the comic ‘God’ of Thunder. In recent years I’ve seen Marvel (especially in other media) make strange, seemingly politically correct decisions, like replacing Nazis with Hydra in WWII stories. With Thor, I’ve seen him referred to as the Prince of Thunder--are they afraid of offending religious groups or something? Anyway, I’m glad to see Marvel proudly proclaim Thor is a god--anything good enough for Stan is good enough for me. And speaking of gods, that is the major focal point of this new story.
Aaron’s first issue is loaded with mood, which colorist Dean White helps to sell. And unlike a lot of first issues, this is no set-up issue; it’s a great first chapter of a book. Nothing in this issue is boring. It starts in the past, with Thor, almost “X-Files”-like, coming across the handiwork of something that can kill gods. Jump to the present and again Thor discovers more handiwork of this powerful butcher. And lastly, we skip to the future, where all hope is lost. This first issue is all about selling the threat of this new villain, and Aaron does it very well. There are also nice character moments in here as well for Thor. He displays his love of alcoholic beverages and his desire to answer prayers, no matter where they come from. Aaron also puts out an interesting idea: that there has never been a world without gods. Then he possibly comments on real religions, with Thor’s response to answering prayers.
Ribic’s artwork is very nice in here as well. While his Thor might not be the prettiest the Asgardan has ever looked, he is loaded with personality. His quiet scenes and action scenes are all really well drawn. Dean White’s coloring job blends really well with Ribic’s pencils, as well. Maybe Ribic’s wide-eyed expressions on his faces are too wide, but that’s about all I can find fault with. Ribic does solid work, front to back.
This first issue is a great example of all the creators working together to craft the same story. So often I see comics where the script and the art don’t match. Someone is usually just doing their thing and not really working with their teammates. But these guys knocked this first issue out of the park. The script, pencils, and colors all work really well together here. Now, in the past few years I have read some great starts to a Thor story, only to be disappointed by the final issue, so I do worry if Aaron can knock this story out of the park as well as he has the first issue. But as of now, things look really good for Marvel Now! THOR. It’s their best first issue so far.
FABLES: WEREWOLVES OF THE HEARTLAND HC OGNWriter: Bill Willingham
Art: Jim Fern (layouts/pencils/inks), Craig Hamilton (pencils/inks), Ray Snyder (inks), Mark Farmer (inks), Lee Loughridge (colors), Daniel Dos Santos (painted cover)
Publisher: DC Vertigo
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
Though I haven’t been following FABLES for quite a while, when I heard of the title of this one shot hardcover graphic novel, I couldn’t help myself but re-immerse myself into the world of FABLES. See with my own werewolf comic LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF coming out as a 100 page graphic novel next year, every time I see werewolf in a comic book, my ears perk up. Both out of curiosity as to how werewolves are depicted in comics and to make sure my comic is not like the ones coming out.
In FABLES: WEREWOLVES OF THE HEARTLAND, werewolves as we know them are the legacy of FABLES central character Bigby Wolf, who is in actuality the Big Bad Wolf from classic fairy tales. Bigby has been around for a long time and that makes a person bored. So what does a man-wolf from Fable do to pass the time? Well, he kills Nazis, of course. Not really a part of any military team, Bigby knew right from wrong and makes life interesting by tearing through Nazi squads. When he finds himself trapped in the legendary Frankenstein’s Castle, a series of events inadvertently creates a race of lycanthropic offspring, which takes us to the here and now. While investigating a town called Story City, he finds that it is populated by werewolves thinking that he is a wolf god. Fur flies after that.
Basically, the closest thing to a Wolverine DC has, Bigby Wolf is a fascinating character to follow and one of the reasons I get into FABLES in the first place (also coincidentally why I dropped it, since the focus shifted from Bigby to other characters for a while in the main series). Willingham writes him strongly here, making him noble and heroic, but not afraid to get his claws dirty. This predicament he finds himself in is a fun one as he feels a sense of responsibility for this town of werewolves which is a simmering caldron of animal tension threatening to boil over and unleash mad werewolves on the world. It’s a great heroic threat and one that challenges Bigby capably.
The pacing in this book is slow. Action is often glossed over in favor of character moments for Bigby. While I appreciate the slow burn, I do think there are elements that feel somewhat overused as the Nazi connection to lycanthropy has been used before. While it’s interesting to see the Master Race infused with the close lineage of the werewolves in this community, I feel as if I’ve read that story before. That said, the ending is exciting and the way Willingham ties it all to the character of Bigby sells this book for me.
The art is good. The images, which seem to be from a team of artists, are solid and straightforward. The problem is that there is no shading or depth to a lot of the pages. I know this is a personal style that occurs in comics these days where there is almost a draftsman tracing quality to the pages, but here, it makes things feel too clean for a story of building tension and horrific werewolves. Jim Fern and Craig Hamilton’s characters are strong and consistent, but I did feel like a shadow here and there would have made the art work better for me.
All in all, this is a great Bigby Wolf story. While infusing characters from another genre, namely Universal Monsters, the story does a great job by giving the central character a challenge which is unique solely to him. Though the pacing was a bit drawn out and the art is a bit flat at times, it is a solid werewolf yarn which will most likely interest fans of werewolves and FABLES alike.
FANTASTIC FOUR #1Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Mark Bagley
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: The Dean
Never have I been more prepared to be disappointed than I have with the release of Matt Fraction and Mark Bagley’s FANTASTIC FOUR #1. My cautiously pessimistic approach had nothing to do with the talent on board the title, as I’m actually a big fan of both, but I’ve blushed my way through a couple loving reviews of FANTASTIC FOUR and FF this past year, and following such a beloved run set this new team up for almost certain failure due to the inevitable comparisons. Pretty early to say this will be anything close to what Hickman’s accomplished with the two series, but thankfully, this first issue promises that we’ve got a lot of fun reading still ahead with Marvel’s first family.
The new logo and “#1” branding don’t hurt, but Fraction and Bagley aren’t wasting any time in making this series their own. The issue opens with a vision of Franklin’s bad dream, leading to an almost more nightmarish scenario as Franklin awakens to a team of Mombots rushing in as Franklin calls for his real mom, immediately marking a distinct difference in this run right away. Hickman’s focus on family gave his run a huge amount of heart that proved to be the backbone of his work with the team. It’s not that this issue is without heart, but it’s bringing the message of family to the table in a darker, more cautionary way. Bagley captures the emotions of Franklin and Sue particularly well in this issue, and I love the connection he’s able to portray when Franklin falls asleep in Sue’s arms after asking to sleep in their room for the night (I’m also pretty sure he threw in a reference to the movie “Parenthood” in the way Val falls asleep in her bed, so automatic A+ for that). But the team of Mombots is a great way to point out that being the child of brilliant workaholics might not be such a fun way to grow up, and I’d love to see this new creative team explore the idea that perhaps the most unusual, unrealistic ability that Reed and Sue have displayed over the years is the way in which they balance their home and work lives.
The strains of the superhero life on the family is far from being unexplored territory, especially for this family, but rarely have the consequences of such a life felt so plausible and dire so quickly. The issue comes with some truly funny moments as Johnny makes his best effort at being selfless and Ben has a run-in with the Yancy Street Gang, but the lingering ominous feeling set by Franklin’s nightmare and Reed’s “amazing idea” to put the Pestilence back in action to embark on the greatest field-trip in history are what make this one of the strongest first issues I’ve read all year. It’s too early to say anything for certain regarding Reed’s characterization for this run, but he’s noticeably more shadowed in his motives, and I’m glad to see that some risks might be taken in his portrayal as more issues hit the stands in the coming months.
It’s been a great time to be a Fantastic Four fan, and Bagley and Fraction look like they’ll be keeping the pace after Hickman’s amazing turn on the title. It might be a little different than what we’ve been reading, but it’s just the spark needed to set it apart while building on the work before it. FANTASTIC FOUR #1 is definitely one to pick up for both old timers and newcomers alike, as the Fraction/Bagley era kicks off with one of the most exciting and promising starts that Marvel NOW! has produced thus far. Or, to put in in a more dynamic, pull-quote ready way: The Fantastic Four are still fantastic!
HARBINGER #6Writer: Joshua Dysart
Artist: Phil Briones
Publisher: Valiant Entertainment
Reviewer: Optimous Douche
I consider it my personal mission to herald the virtues of great comics to the masses. While I like to spread this love across the entire industry, lately I can’t keep my eyes off Valiant. Their realistic, no bullshit approach to the fantastical is almost impossible to emulate while wearing spandex and capes. Hey, I understand gritty realism isn’t for everybody, and even I with all my dark cynicism need my escapist dose of poses and dialog bubbles that are decrees instead of conversations, but Valiant cracks a nut that no “Reboot” or “ReNow” will ever be available to achieve simply by virtue of who they are.
I was all set to extol the virtues of X-O MANOWAR this week, and while this ancient Norseman in futuristic battle armor is a great read, X-O is mid-story right now. HARBINGER, the Valiant answer to the X-MEN, starts a new arc this issue and with it Dysart reveals yet another layer to a book that was already several strata deep. Basically, if you’re a fan of old Valiant you’re a fucking idiot for not imbibing Valiant 2.0. If you are too young to remember old Valiant or still don’t know a Shadowman from Dayman, I hope the following will entreat you to learn more.
HARBINGER is the new term for the age-old problem of muties, mutates, freaks—basically, the next generation of humanity that can control the world instead of being hapless victims to circumstance like all of us poor old Homo Sapiens. What’s different with HARBINGER is that it takes a pragmatic approach to this problem as the real world dictates, avoiding the exercise of making the real world transform to fit the narrative.
The bad guy in HARBINGER, Toyo Harada, was the first of this next gen--an early baby boomer caught near grand zero when America ended WWII in a flash of light. He is also one of the most powerful of this next generation; he can manipulate minds on a global scale, transform reality, and activate anyone who is latently carrying the Harbinger gene. All of these issues have been explored before in comics, but never with this stark level of realism. Instead of donning a cape and hat, getting five mutants together, and then destroying some high-profile target, Harada realized that power simply was not enough. In this complex age, he who has the money writes the rules. One can use far less power to control much more if they have a solid infrastructure in place before beginning their power play. To that end, Harada spends the better part of the 20th century using his power to build a global conglomerate before moving into his end-game of checkmate.
The flip side of Harada is Pete Stancheck, a young man on the same power scale as Harada with a millionth of the ambition. In fact, Stancheck is more afraid of his abilities than ready to embrace them. Rightly so; as a member of the “better parenting through pills” generation, Pete grew up believing that it wasn’t the blessing of power he carried, but rather the curse of insanity. Once Harada took notice of Peter in the early issues of HARBINGER, we begin to see the man Peter might become, but the journey will be long. As a member of Harada’s HARBINGER Foundation, Pete quickly realizes Harada’s power play and makes a hasty exit for freedom. Peter was greatly helped in this decision when he uncovered last issue that his insane friend, Joe, who Harada swore to protect, was merely a pawn in keeping Pete under control.
That’s things in a nutshell: all good stuff…but what makes it truly great? This is where we get into the infinite layers that clearly show Dysart has a plan instead of just throwing random superhero tropes onto the page.
Harada is more than a man of power; he is the embodiment of the at death’s doorstep baby boomer generation--a generation that was able to ride the spoils their parents fought so hard for and lived a life of relative ease as a result. Alan Greenspan said thirty years ago that the next generation will not do as well as the baby boomers. We all laughed at the time, but as the current state of the economy shows, where raises are a gift instead of an expectation, the legacy of the boomers could very well be a bust. Yes, this is part of the “stuff” of HARBINGER (not the Greenspan thing, that’s my value-add); Harada can slow the decay of time, but not stop it. And he is damned and determined to leave his final mark on the world.
A generation ago, when Gen X was far from middle-age, the kids who we are learning will be the renegade Harbingers (off Harada’s reservation) came together in a very different way by virtue of the time period. Twenty years ago life was much simpler: a tradesman could practice their craft and thrive, there was a freedom and prosperity when my generation was leaving high school and college that simply isn’t real anymore. Back then the Harbingers came together through happenstance as they all were searching for the adults they would one day become. The powers basically were secondary…at first. In today’s world of heavy processes, and need for predictive ROI, very few young people hit the road searching for themselves.
We can also attribute this lack of generational courage to helicopter parenting that does nothing to prepare kids for tomorrow and keeps them in Mom and Dad’s basement until their first prostate exam. Fellow renegade Harbinger the fabulously floating Zephyr is a prime example of this new mollycoddling. She’s fat, she knows she’s fat, yet she embodies her Christian name of Faith at every turn. Twenty years ago, Faith was a big fat mess mentally, even though she tried to keep a firm upper lip. Now, she’s part of the home schooled generation that as soon as the going got tough the less than tough turned to Mom to become their HS principal. Now Dysart doesn’t specifically state Faith is home schooled, but by her golden retriever levels of trust in humanity, it’s clear she was sheltered versus mooed at in the hallways of public high school. Don’t get me wrong, I love Zephyr: a character that simply floats instead of flies is the type of deconstruction comic fans live for.
Finally rounding out the new renegade Harbingers is Kris, the young lady who Pete has imprinted on as his life mate. With Kris you see the starkest differences between Valiant 1.0 & 2.0. A generation ago these two were truly in love and Kris came with Pete willingly on his adventure of overthrowing Harada. In the 2.0 world, Kris and Pete only dated a few times, he thought more of it then she did, and in the first few issues he mind rapes her into loving him. Powerful stuff. Even more powerful was when he let her go, when he though the HARBINGER Foundation was serving the greater good. Even powerfuller is the full circle this issue takes to bring Kris back into Pete’s arms and her altruism in taking on the babysitting of a living God.
I could continue to ferret out the details of HARBINGER, discussing in depth how each conversation has emotional resonance, how Briones’ art perfectly captures the moody scenes as well as the action with equal aplomb, but…wouldn’t you rather just read the book? Please say yes; my fingers are tired and I really want to get back to reading more Valiant books.
AVENGERS ASSEMBLE #9Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Reviewer: Masked Man
It’s Marvel Now! time in AVENGERS ASSEMBLE, as a new creative team takes over. Aside from that not much has changed, except that the characters are a little more flippant. There’s a lot of Keith Giffen’s JUSITCE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL-inspired dialogue here, as Iron Man and The Hulk decide to have a contest to see who can find a missing scientist first. Now, isn’t this a no-win situation for Tony? I mean, if he wins, big whoop--he did something smarter than The Hulk. And if he loses, he lost to the Hulk--and in a battle of the brains! Not sure why Tony would even pursue such a contest. In the story he was trying to prove something to Bruce Banner, but the Hulk doesn’t have Bruce Banner’s brain--and Bruce knows this. So it’s like someone challenging your 4th grade child who rides the short bus (short bus riders unite!!) to a battle of wits. I think Tony just lost the bet simply by trying to make it!
Now as I mentioned, this book has a lot of old JLA humor in it; unfortunately, most of it falls flat to me--like the whole Iron Man vs. Hulk challenge. It reminds me of how other writers tried to write Giffen’s League: they all tried really hard to be funny, but they weren’t. Missing scientist plot aside, the bulk of this issue is the humorous quips and situations DeConnick gives to the characters. Heck, we even get nearly a whole page devoted to The Hulk making a sandwich. I don’t think I’m surprising anyone if I tell you it comes out poorly. Now DeConnick did have some good moments here, like The Hulk warming Spider-Woman’s head or when Iron Man is thinking of ways to help keep Bruce Banner more mellow, Thor suggesting mead. But most of it comes off stilted and forced.
The new artist, Stefano Caselli, is coming off a little uneven too, but I see more good here than not. He draws really nice expressions on peoples’ faces, again making me think of the old JUSTICE LEAGUE days, this time Kevin Maguire. He also has really nice figures in general. But every now and then his panels get clunky, and his characters appear to be overacting with their expressions (something Maguire has trouble with, too). There’s something unappealing about how he draws Captain Marvel, too--maybe her mullet-like hair or how her mouth is closed in several panels while she is talking while other characters flap their gums no problem. But as I said, for the most part Caselli’s work is really good here. Overacting aside, nearly every head shot looks great.
Lastly, I’ve heard AVENGERS ASSEMBLE is supposed to be the book that lines up more with the movies, but then Spider-Woman and Captain Marvel are in it. Next, I hear DeConnick wanted to expand the roster, but in an effort to have my cake and eat it too, she really hasn’t added much. Captain Marvel so far doesn’t do much and Spider-Woman could have been easily replaced by Black Widow.
AVENGERS ASSEMBLE is a little wobbly to start, but if DeConnick can work on her jokes, this could be a really good book.
TEAM SEVEN #2Writer: Justin Jordan
Artists: Ron Frenz/Julius Gopez
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Mighty Mouth
TEAM SEVEN is one comic I would love to hate. I guess that's what so perplexing to me, even after two consecutive months of turning the final page left with an overwhelming feeling of indifference, oddly… I still want more.
If you are new to comics you may not recall that the original TEAM SEVEN was actually a concept of WildStorm comics back in the 90s. It brought together several WildStorm characters such as Grifter, Deathblow and John Lynch in an effort to create a team of total badassery and flesh out their backstories.
With WildStorm’s characters recently absorbed into the DCU’s continuity, this new variation of T7 consists of an amalgamation of the original characters and some of DC’s roughest hombres, including Amanda Waller, Slade Wilson and Dinah Lance.
After enduring the second issue, I think it's the concept more than anything that drives this book. I mean, this title comes chock-full with several kick-ass characters brought together as the ultimate team of black ops miscreants. What's not to love?
The problem I have with this book is that so far both the writing and the artwork have yet to do justice to this pack of death–dealing degenerates.
I wouldn't go so far as to call the writing flat out terrible; it just feels a tad tedious. Writer Justin Jordan tends to be a little heavy on the narratives; at times it works and at other times it feels extraneous. The dialog between team members is overloaded with testosterone-laden tough talk, which makes this team feel more adversarial than professional. This type of inexorable ball-busting works better after a team has had time to find their groove as a unit. That being said, the plot is tolerable and I do recall a chuckle-out-loud moment or two between all the gunfire and grunting.
Artistically TEAM SEVEN #2 feels off to me. Ron Frenz (whose work I loved on SPIDER-MAN long ago) provides the breakdowns with guest artist Julius Gopez handling the pencil finishes. The art is just all wrong for this band of scalawags. The combo of brightly colored panels and characters rendered very clean and well-groomed just sets the wrong disposition and tone for this comic. There are several artists whose artwork feels too gritty for other titles, but in TEAM SEVEN’s case, one of those more edgy artists might be exactly what this title needs.
So far TEAM SEVEN has been reckless with regards to its true potential. As stated, I do want more TEAM SEVEN, but I also want more from TEAM SEVEN. I need a little more than just several panels of characters blasting away; I want to believe that this crew is both capable and dangerous. I want their actions to do a better job validating why these roughnecks were chosen for this team. Most of all, I want each character’s expertise to hold more significance when they are on assignments from a show don’t tell perspective.
There is a lot of potential here, and I’m willing to give it a few more issues to find its way due to my adoration of the concept. On the other hand, if things don’t improve in a timely manner, I wonder who will drop this book first: me or DC.
Advance Review: In stores today!
INDESTRUCTIBLE HULK #1Writer: Mark Waid
Art: Leinil Yu
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
Having done the impossible and gotten Matt Murdoch out of the depression he’s been suffering since Bendis first began writing the title, Mark Waid sets his sights on another one of Marvel’s mainstays this week with THE INDESTRUCTIBLE HULK. What’s interesting about this new series, yet another number one for the HULK in less than a year I believe or maybe just about that, is that the title not only serves as a fun descriptor of the title character, but it also encapsulates Bruce Banner’s new philosophy about his green alter ego. After battling it out with old jade jaws for decades, Banner has finally accepted that he cannot destroy the Hulk and that he and the Hulk are stuck with each other. Sans this inner turmoil, it opens up Banner to pursue more philanthropic scientific pursuits and gives him a new purpose in life.
As with the Cap first issue I reviewed at the top of this column, Hulk battles an old school villain in this issue, but unlike Cap’s issue, the focus is not on that but a coming to terms with a SHIELD agent many will be familiar with. I’m looking forward to seeing where this new relationship goes, knowing that this character has been known to have a tough streak as well.
All of this is drawn by Leinil Francis Yu, who I usually am not a fan of, but here his style seems much less sloppy and more restrained. I liked Yu’s use of panels in this issue, and his version of the Hulk is undeniably savage, and Yu communicates the destruction well.
Whereas Aaron’s last series seemed more interested in the Hulk rather than Banner, Waid seems to favor Banner, at least in this issue, and while I was intrigued with the turn Banner took as evil genius in Aaron’s run, it’s good to feel sympathetic once again with Banner and actually root for him instead of seeing him battle himself. While the Hulk has seen many incarnations in the past, one at peace with himself is something pretty new and I’m definitely in for the long haul to see if the magic Waid brought to DAREDEVIL seeps over into this title.
Proofs, co-edits & common sense provided by Sleazy G
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