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AICN COMICS REVIEWS: SHADOWMAN! CYBORG 009! BATMAN & RED HOOD! JUNGLE BOOK! SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN! & MORE!

The Pull List
(Click title to go directly to the review)

Advance Review: BATMAN & RED HOOD #20
SHADOWMAN #0
SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #9
THE JUNGLE BOOK: LAST OF THE SPECIES #3
Advance Review: SUICIDE SQUAD #20
JUDGE DREDD #1 (2nd printing)
CYBORG 009: CHAPTER 000
VICTORIES #1
Indie Jones presents PRINCELESS V2 #1
SUICIDE RISK #1
AGE OF ULTRON #7
Advance Review: DREAM THIEF #1


Advance Review: In stores this week!

BATMAN & RED HOOD #20

Writer: Peter Tomasi
Art: Patrick Gleason
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Optimous Douche


As sad I was to see Damian Wayne flayed by his clone self, this death has given DC writers a fresh direction to take the Dark Knight – namely, Bat-shit crazy.

A week ago in BATMAN INC. we saw Batman transform himself into a Batman-Manbat-Mecha-Azrial-Zoid for his final confrontation with Talia. This week we get to see a softer unhinging of his skullcap. Where BATMAN INC. was an aggressive “fuck you”, this is a much softer mind-fuck with Jason Todd as the prime target.

I think Batman might have a slight case of Asperger’s Syndrome. Most can reasonably rationalize the human experience to external events. We can judge how others react with pretty good accuracy to things we might say or do. Not Batman. What seemed like an altruistic reach out to exact vengeance on the assassins Talia hired to kill Damian turns into a horrific macabre dance of mistrust and short-sightedness on the part of Mr. Wayne.

I’m getting ahead of myself, though. To feel the full impact of Bruce’s parental boner…wait, that sounds bad….screw up, we need to go back to page one. The issue starts with a reappearance of Carrie Kelly appearing at the mansion front door to give Bruce back $9,000 of the ten grand he paid Carrie for Damian’s acting lessons. It was a great moment that helped flesh out Carrie more with an intense integrity, it gave Alfred a new distraction, and my favorite moment of all is that it gave Titus a new caregiver. All Tomasi had to do was throw in Bat-Cow and I probably would have shed a tear. So despite Bruce’s inability to feel, it looks like Carrie will become a permanent fixture in Wayne Manor thanks once again to Alfred, the true heart of the Bat-Clan. Dan Didio warned me after my rant on Carrie’s first appearance to be patient and wait. He was right. She’s no longer just a cosplayer anymore; there was some definitive sass and spunk this time around. I still don’t think we need a new Robin yet, but Carrie is now a seed I am more comfortable watching germinate. I would still like a little more Miller infusion, but I’m willing to trust there’s a slow burn chance I’ll still get it.

Next guest is Jason, and here is where there is some very tender emotion displayed through male bravado and machismo. After some wonderful interchanges in the cave, which I won’t ruin here, the two take flight to Africa to show would-be assassins why they shouldn’t take contracts to kill kids. Of course, the two open up barrels of ass kicker, and there isn’t a trigger finger that remains unbroken. Unfortunately, after this moment is where Bruce truly shows why he should never have another sidekick. Instead of heading home Bruce takes Jason to Ethiopia, where the Joker shuffled off Mr. Todd’s mortal coil. The reason? Bruce hopes that by visiting the land of crowbars and dynamite, Jason will unblock the memories of his resurrection so they can be applied to Damian. Here are the reasons in no particular order this was monumentally stupid on Bruce’s part:

1. You lied again, Bruce. This is the reason Jason is the only Bat friend who will talk to you. Don’t say you care about vengeance when you’re really just trying to find a Lazarus Pit for Damian.
2. You selected the one ex-Robin with more daddy issues than a stripper who works for quarters. Seriously, Jason always felt like he was in Dick’s shadow and now you put him in Damian’s. I voted to kill Jason almost thirty…wait…I mean three years ago, so trust me, I hold no sacred calves. But I truly felt bad for Jason after this.
3. Most people don’t like to revisit horrific experiences. Just because you like visiting the Crime Alley lamppost a few times a week, Bruce, that’s just not how normal folks operate. There’s a reason the term suppression exists, most of us choose to block out the bad.

And that’s how we leave the issue, because while Jason has issues one of them is not the ability to process emotions like those of us on the normal spectrum. Don’t let any of this come off as a negative critique. Bruce…Batman has been almost far too normal for too long. The middle aged man in me has a soft spot for kids and family, but the teenager in me still screams for this man’s life to be anything but happy. Hells yes, Batman has Asperger’s Syndrome. Because the only other option is sociopath, and that’s a line the epic heroes can never cross. The loss of Damian is shaping up to be the loneliest place of dying to ever test the mettle of the Bat.

Optimous Douche has successfully blackmailed BottleImp to draw purty pictures for his graphic novel AVERAGE JOE coming out in 2013 from COM.X. When not on Ain’t It Cool, Optimous can be found talking comics and marketing on robpatey.com and just marketing on MaaS360.com.


SHADOWMAN #0

Writer: Justin Jordan
Artists: Roberto De La Torre, Mico Suayan, Lewis LaRossa, and Neil Edwards
Publisher: Valiant Entertainment
Reviewer: The Dean


I’ve been enjoying SHADOWMAN for the most part, but I’ve considered dropping it a few times now because I just haven’t connected with its titular hero, or really any character in the series for that matter. It’s also been frustrating because the idea behind SHADOWMAN is a great one, with all the potential to be a real showcase for a more diversified Valiant, but it’s been a bit predictable and formulaic for a character that should be anything but. With SHADOWMAN #0, Justin Jordan rights at least one of these issues in taking a time out to dig into the history of its leading villain, Master Darque, but does so with a familiar, though effective, backstory.

I think using “familiar” when describing a story tends to connote a more pejorative sense of the word than I intended there, but it’s a fitting description of the villain’s journey that we get in this issue – he’s a young guy with an incredible talent, there are some signs of villainy early on in his misuse of magic, but he’s pushed over the edge and loses perspective by the story’s end. The beginning of this issue played out like the start of a horror movie, and develops a touching relationship between brother and sister Darque, leaving us anticipating that inevitable moment where everything falls apart. The unwelcome attempt by their father/magic teacher to sacrifice Sandria, his less evil twin sister, becomes the impetus of Nicodemo’s turn to the ‘Darque’ side (yeah, that’s right), and we now have a more fleshed-out villain with the option of sympathy whenever this side of his story is invoked in the future.

So it’s not entirely original, as this could easily be the origin of Mr. Freeze or Dr. Doom with a few changes here and there, but it works well for Master Darque, and it helps to breathe life into what had been a somewhat two-dimensional series to this point. Similarly, some of the art in this issue brings about a look that distinguishes itself from past issues and other Valiant titles, with much of it being among the most haunting and atmospheric that this SHADOWMAN has ever produced. The world Master Darque grew up in looks eerily dangerous, as though something hides in every shadow, which is something we don’t get enough of in a lot of these “dark” comics nowadays. Andrea Sorrentino’s art, for example, is what made I, VAMPIRE for me – she created an entirely different atmosphere from the rest of the DC lineup, whereas SHADOWMAN has always looked like just another one of Valiant’s superhero titles.

With a little more character – and I don’t care who gets developed, anyone will do - and a greater emphasis on the “shadow” in the artwork, I think SHADOWMAN could become one of the more interesting titles out there. SHADOWMAN #0 is a definite step in the right direction, but I think it might still be a little early to tell what kind of comic SHADOWMAN is going to be: is this another big budget, high-octane, “everything is the most epic thing ever” type of Valiant series (they’ve been doing it well so far, so why not?), or will SHADOWMAN push the reborn publisher into a more varied line of storytelling, swaying a little more toward the Garth Ennis or Jamie Delano days? We’ve been getting the former thus far, but somewhere down the line, I’m hoping we see a little more of the latter.


SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #9

Writer: Dan Slott
Artist: Ryan Stegman
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Mighty Mouth


For a few months now, Marvel has been hinting that SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #9 will mark a turning point that will get readers angrier than they were after AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #700. Judging from fan reactions so far, it was hardly just a bunch of lip service.

Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that over the past several issues, a disembodied Peter Parker has been struggling to regain some semblance of control over his mind and body from Otto Octavius. When Otto discovers the existence of Parker’s persona, he sets out in an attempt to forcibly purge Peter’s memories destroying him conclusively. Of course, what’s left of Peter isn’t willing to just stand by idly while his essence is amputated; thus the battle for dominance begins and seemingly ends in SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #9.

Dan Slott has already shown readers that he is more than willing to take incredible gambles with Marvel’s flagship character. But delivering on his promise to piss readers off not only once, but twice, in less than a year--now that takes some ginormous cojones.

One of the fundamentals that makes SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN so interesting is that it’s not about a physical confrontation, but a battle of two wills intertwined in one mind. Issue #9 captures the crux of this internal struggle marvelously. Even though the nature of the battle is psychological, the peril increases in intensity panel after panel.

I was thrilled to see that Ryan Stegman returned to handle the artistic duties for this issue. Nothing against Humberto Ramos’ art, but his style is a just too cartoonish and light-hearted for a story of such consequence. Stegman’s panels capture the tone and despair needed for an account like this superbly and really displays the distress Peter feels by the issue’s end.

Now I’ve scanned some fan reactions on various sites, and similarly to AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #700, the distaste for Dan Slott is once again at an all-time high. It seems the thing that is getting everyone’s panties in a bunch is coming from a particular moment concerning Octavius’ cross-examination of Peter’s interference with an operation Spider-Otto performed to save a young girl in issue #8. First, I have to say I’m surprised any self-respecting fan would take anything that Otto says as gospel. I mean, this is Doc Ock we are talking about here--a master manipulator and murderer! Can anything he says really be trusted? Secondly, we have yet to see the unintended consequence of Ock’s half-assed lobotomy. So relax, people--it ain’t over till it’s over.

The beauty of this storyline is in how divergent it is from the typical comic format. I mean, the rinse & repeat premise of superhero beats up supervillain wears thin after so long. One of the chief disappointments with big storylines is how quickly and easily they get resolved. Too often in comics the hero overcomes adversity with even less drama than a television sitcom. I have no doubt Peter will fight his way back from this; that’s what he does. But what I don’t know is how & when, and I kind of like that. Whether you have incomparable praise or unmatched hate for SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN, ask yourself: what other comic has evoked such strong reactions? Sure, we all know the hero wins in the end, but the hallmark of good drama is when the narrative actually makes you forget that simple certainty, even if only for the moment.


GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK: LAST OF THE SPECIES #3

Writer: Mark L. Miller
Artist: Eduardo Garcia, Ricardo Osnaya
Publisher: Zenescope Entertainment
Reviewer: Lyzard


THE JUNGLE BOOK: LAST OF THE SPECIES #3 is the calm before the storm. Dewan is keeping Bomani in a drug-induced stupor; Mowglii and Tobaqui are lost in a myseterious cavern, which leaves Akili without her go-to sidekick on her rescue mission. The issue is based around set-ups and not action. It is an introspective piece, where character matters more than flair. That might have been the saving grace for LAST OF THE SPECIES #3.

What you will notice first is the altered artwork. Garcia and Osnaya are new to the island of Kipling and fail to carry over the style of previous issues. Bomani is no longer threatening, and somehow Mowglii and Akili are even more objectified (not surprising for Zenescope, but you know). The animals have lost their personalities, and all these changes were only heightened in their juxtaposition due to Miller’s consistent writing. If there is a silver lining to this poorly drawn cloud, it is that the issue highlights Miller’s work. Without the character designs to guide the reader, Miller at least retained the animals’ and humans’ voices in order to make distinctions between the tribe members. But all the while, this issue is never able to coalesce with such disparity between the words and drawings.

However, this run of THE JUNGLE BOOK is always accompanied by a short story, always written by Miller and drawings by Renato Mapa Jr. Unlike TIME IN THE SUN, whose artwork I dread returning to not for lack of quality but for its sheer horrific impact, WHEN TOBAQUI MET AKILI shifts to adorable. The Tavi tribe is much cuter when their heads are not being worn as jewelry by bear cubs. Out of all the humans, I find Akili the easiest to cheer for, and her origin tale only cements this opinion. Miller and Mapa’s additional stories, even when grotesque, have successfully added a unique perspective to the main plot, providing various backstories to the island’s inhabitants (new and old). But this time, their piece has also overshadowed the lead work as well.

It is a shame that LAST OF THE SPECIES #3 lacks the visual punch provided previously by artists Jorge Mercado and Jason Johnson, but luckily this change in artists came into affect during an actionless issue. When Carlos Granada from the first run of THE JUNGLE BOOK was replaced for these current five issues, the initial transition was smoother. The story wasn’t affected. The characters’ personalities were not altered. This time, we are left with a good story that is made partially inaccessible due to the distraction of the new.

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 this week!

SUICIDE SQUAD #20

Writer: Ales Kot
Artist: Patrick Zircher
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Optimous Douche


There’s a lot to say about SUICIDE SQUAD: bloody, morally void, a sociopath buffet. One thing I would not have ever called it is a psychological drama…until now.

Welcome aboard, Mr. Kot--you packed in more characterization in this issue than the entire past 19. I’m not slamming Glass; he provided a great action adventure with smidgens of sanity behind the lunacy. It was a fine and entertaining direction.

This is definitively something new, though: King Shark trying to break the bondage of his lizard brain, Harley Quinn actually showing smidgens of Dr. Quinn psychoanalyst woman, Voltaic…well, he dies so forget about him, and last but not least Deadshot--a man being subjected to a Clockwork Orange-style reliving of horror.

Actually, all the anti-heroes are being subjected to the whims of Amanda Waller. She not only has shed a good buck twenty from her frame, compassion and humanity have now been relegated to a pre-FLASHPOINT universe. She’s trying to break the team in what one can assume is under the moral compass of rebuilding them for the better. Her delivery mechanism, though, is an evil of the heart and complete corruption of the soul.

Now for the really cool part: her helping hands in this Machiavellian scheme is a character I have tried desperately to care about and one I care about very much and have been waiting for him to get an on-going spotlight in a book. Unknown Soldier just hasn’t done it for me, sorry. And I won’t say Kot made the bandaged monosyllabic one interesting, but he certainly used him interestingly. Now, the real good stuff for me was Amanda’s accomplice in designing this scheme to peel apart the team’s cerebellums – none other than James Gordon Jr.

Now, I may be impulsive here. I do have a small concern that we’ve only seen James in the context of torturing long-loved characters like the Commissioner and Barbara. Kot will have to show the same level of malice towards anyone that crosses li’l Jimmy’s path; we’ll see if it works.

Zircher works a little too well with blood; I hope never too meet him in a dark alley.

If you haven’t dug SUICIDE SQUAD in the past, now is the time to come in--it’s a whole new tone. If you liked SUICIDE SQUAD before, you’ll appreciate this chance to see your favorites unwound.


JUDGE DREDD #1 (2nd printing out last week)

Writer: Duane Swierczynski
Art: Nelson Daniel, Jock, Paul Gulacy
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Reviewer: Masked Man


So good ol’ Judge Dredd is back on the comics stands-- that is, in a brand new series created for the American market. This time IDW is tying to see what they can do with Dredd. So far Dredd has never been able to really catch on here as he has in the UK. I myself have never been a big reader of Dredd, but I do have a healthy respect for the character.

The first thing that struck me about this first issue is the sense of humor, something I felt was missing from the big DREDD movie. Judge Dredd's books usually have a sense of humor to them, in like a ROBOCOP way. Mega-City One is clearly a totalitarian society, but when you get a load of the mooks who live there, they pretty much deserve it. As Swierczynski states, everyone is a potential criminal in Mega-City One. Of course, Dredd himself is a completely humorless character, which in turn can make him very funny (in a black comedy way). So for me JUDGE DREDD always works best when it lampoons the worst of society.

Oddly enough, this issue also reminded me of MAGNUS, ROBOT FIGHTER, because just like in North Am, something has gone wrong with the robot servants in Mega-City One. Things start out pretty small with this issue, though I'm sure this is just the tip of the iceberg. Dredd and two other Judges respond to some looting at a Pleasure Mall, stemming from the malfunctioning robots. Bigger things are afoot as a gang of thieves are using the chaos to target a specific store for body parts--anyone want Channing Tatum's abs? In his usual shoot first ask questions later fashion, Dredd gets things under control, but not before getting a hint of what's to come.

There's also a back-up story of a rather twisted little shop owner. The shop owner's malfunctioning robot leads him into a confrontation with Dredd, something that should be avoid at all costs! But again, the people of Mega-City One aren't all that sympathetic. Kind of like how Gotham deserves Batman, Mega-City One deserves Judge Dredd.

In all, Swierczynski does a good job with this first issue. He explains the setting and characters well for a first issue (I swear, text boxes are you friends, comic book writers!) but doesn't make the issue stink of set-up. Lots of Mega-City One craziness, Judge Dredd action, and safe for new readers.

Artists Nelson Daniel and Paul Gulacy do a nice job on the book as well. Daniel draws the main story, which comes across well. His use of zip-a-tone is rather curious in this age of computer coloring, but it's fine. His figures are all rough and a little cartoony--which works on Dredd. Gulacy's back-up story focuses on an ugly little character, and his drawing fits in perfectly. Each artist doesn't have a typical superhero style, which is good for Dredd. And while I thought a few panels were weak, most of the storytelling is really good.

In the end, IDW has a solid start for JUDGE DREDD. I hope it continues to grow and turn into something really good.

Learn more about the Masked Man and feel free check out his comic book CINDY LI: THREE OF A KIND at www.Toonocity.com


CYBORG 009: CHAPTER 000

Writers: F.J. DeSanto and Bradley Cramp
Art: Marcus To and Ian Herring
Publisher: Archaia Entertainment
Reviewer: Ambush Bug


I can’t say that I am familiar with Shotaro Ishinomori’s manga classic CYBORG 009, but I’m told it’s a big thing with the manga crowd, and after reading the first snippet of the series released last week from Archaia for a single dollar, I can kind of understand why. Though the characters were new, the pacing and the action of the series had me rooting for it from page one.

Writers FJ DeSanto (INSURGENT) and Bradley Cramp have brought the tale of the ninth cyborg test model and the models before him as they go on the run from their makers to life. In this issue, the action comes quickly as Cyborg 009 wakes up and immediately finds himself in peril. Soon he is reunited with Cyborgs 001 through 008, each of which seemingly having its own set of fantastic powers, and the robo-fun begins. DeSanto and Cramp pace this issue feverishly, which damn near made me out of breath by the time it was done.

The action is communicated well, too, by artists Marcus To and Ian Herring, who straddle the fine line between manga drawing and a more Americanized version of comic booking. Whether it leans more manga or American, one thing is for sure—To and Herring communicate the sometimes complex action scenes with ease and flair. Though I am not sure what all of the powers are of these cyborgs, the ones that do take part in the action in this issue make me want to see more.

In the end, this snippet of the upcoming full length graphic novel by the same creative team did what it was supposed to do. It tantalized my jones for high octane action just enough to pique my interest for the upcoming book. Though I wasn’t aware of CYBORG 009 before, I surely am now and can’t wait for more.

Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 12 years & AICN HORROR for 3. He has written comics such as VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS THE TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, & NANNY & HANK (soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He has co-written FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND’s 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 from Zenescope Entertainment & GRIMM FAIRY TALES #76-81. Look for GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK: LAST OF THE SPECIES available in February-July 2013 and the new UNLEASHED crossover miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS WEREWOLVES: THE HUNGER #1-3 available in May-July 2013! Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitter @Mark_L_Miller.


VICTORIES #1

Writer & Artist: Michael Avon Oeming
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Reviewer: Optimous Douche


Right now I feel like Kevin Costner in “Waterworld”. My ear lung labia grows quite weary from drinking in the constant and unchanging sea of superhero pastiches around me. Everywhere I look someone is doing their JL, their Bats, their Supes. Some are very good, most aren’t bad, but the originality train is wearing down fast with each book having to up the ante on their creation until the lines of superherodom are non-existent.

VICTORIES could quite easily fall into this trap, but doesn’t. It’s the Mt. Everest of my “Waterworld”, in fact. MAO (whose monogrammed towels have my deepest sympathy), elevated this book with a layer caking of laser-focused characterization and a plausible social Armageddon.

Oeming’s distinct artistic style is going to make everyone immediately whine “POWERS clone”, to which I say reading is fundamental: true in the 80s and true today. MAO is not as snarky as Bendis, he’s a might bit dirtier and embraces the narrator box a bit more. Also, aside from superheroes THE STORIES ARE NOTHING ALIKE. POWERS is a cop drama; this is a damaged Justice League with way cooler powers. A villain that makes you horny or drunk, a hero who literally believes he’s the voice of God, Meteron The Victories’ leader and finally, our protagonist this issue, DD Mau.

DD is an emotionally damaged mess and I couldn’t love her more. Her powers of rapidly gaining mass and then needing to expel it in large quantities of inordinate speed and strength is a power set with definitive danger it’s also the ultimate tale of body dysmorphia. Ask any ex fat kid (raises hand) and they’ll tell you when they look in the mirror the first things they see are those attributes that were tongue-lashed into our subconscious by douche bags in gym class. DD gets to literally see that every morning after a good night’s sleep. During her thin and hot moments, she lashes back in that same ex fat kid way of an almost sociopathic disregard for abuse of self and partners (raises hand). DD uses the world to compensate for parental and child abuse in such stark realism I almost want to ask MAO if he wants to start a support group together.

Oh, and she also kicks ass and quips like a sailor.

That’s just one character in a team of six. Personally, I would have bought the book for DD alone. As an added bonus (read that as a second story), we get to see a societal shake-up akin to what’s kept us reading THE WALKING DEAD for so long. No, not fucking zombies. I hate zombies. I’m talking the exploration of humanity once societal conveniences are gone and the perks of consumerism utterly spent. In the world of VICTORIES we have sucked the world dry of energy. The entire world is living and dying, as Jimmy Buffet would say, in ¾ time. Fear not, though--there are rays of hope trying to permeate dystopia and they come from the most clever of places. I’ve been waiting for another book that casts aside the rules of society, and I love the fact MAO was able to make it plausible with capes.

VICTORIES was the kind of mildly dirty main stream imbibing that has kept Dark Horse on my radar for twenty plus years. I’ll admit I don’t consistently always have a Dark Horse title on my pull list, but when I do they stay with me for life. VICTORIES, welcome to the Optimous’ Gray Matter Playhouse: pull up a lobe and stay awhile.


PRINCELESS Vol. 2 ISSUE #1

Writer: Jeremy Whitley
Illustrator: Emily Martin
Publisher: Action Lab Comics
Reviewer: Mr. Pasty


Sometimes you go into a book expecting one thing, but get something entirely different. When I got PRINCELESS delivered to my inbox, I was under the impression that I was getting something akin to Vivid's NO MAN'S LAND or the vastly superior SISTAH 7. Then I got a few pages in and realized I wasn't ogling soft-core toons aimed at middle-aged perverts like myself, I was reading an all-ages comic book with a heavy emphasis on equality in both gender and race. Awkwarrrrrrd. I took a few minutes to un-creepify myself and, upon returning, went in with an open mind. It's hard to sell me on a bunch of quirky tween girls in a medieval setting, because I'm one of those EXCALIBUR freaks that doesn’t like anyone's sword touching the memories of my stone. I probably should have had a little more faith in writer Jeremy Whitley, who was kind enough to recommend the near-flawless EHMM THEORY a few weeks back.

PRINCELESS is exactly what it sounds like: you have a young princess trapped in a tower with a dragon keeping her prisoner, but she doesn't feel like waiting around for her knight in shining armor and basically bails on her parents (king and queen), taking the mild-mannered fire-breather out for a joyride and bringing along her bestest gal pal. With his daughter missing, the king rounds up the kingdom's mightiest (and funniest) warriors and sends them on a crusade to retrieve her. The one who succeeds wins the hand of any one of the king's daughters. Like any story from this era, there are a lot of elements borrowed from previous offerings, but the protagonists are girls and the royal family is African-American, or African-European based on the time period this story reflects. It helps to have read volume one, but I wouldn't necessarily call it required, as the learning curve is not insurmountable.

So…is it any good? PRINCELESS succeeds in the same way many of today's PIXAR films succeed. It's got a fairly universal message cloaked in kid-friendly entertainment, but has sharp enough writing to keep the adults following along. The proof is in the pudding. I enjoyed PRINCELESS, then passed it off to my 10 year-old daughter to see what she thought. I heard plenty of chuckles in the next room and an unsolicited nod of approval upon its return. If you like comic books, it's going to be hard to not like PRINCELESS. And the illustrations by Emily Martin are miles ahead of the work in volume one. Not that the inaugural effort was bad, per se, but this second go-round is just fantastic. If you want to buy a comic for the kids that you'll want to read yourself, this is probably the one. Action Lab Comics just continues to impress.

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.


SUICIDE RISK #1

Writer: Mike Carey
Art: Elena Casagrande
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Reviewer: Humphrey Lee


I’m a man who loves watching top tier talent do creator-owned projects; I think I’ve made that clear in my tenure at this joint. I get a thrill out of watching creative people being creative in as unfettered a fashion as possible. But I also enjoy watching these guys and gals who put together these funny books go into the more traditional books and writing up some of the characters I grew up with, which means superheroes (or at least superpowers), which is something you typically do not watch creators step out of the mainstream to go and do for themselves. Mike Carey’s UNWRITTEN I’ve felt has been a Top 5 book since inception and LUCIFER (yeah, it’s not creator-owned but you know what I’m getting at here) is one of the ten best runs we’ve seen in comics ever. But the only time I’ve seen him step out and do superheroes and villains proper was with a quietly enjoyable and crossover-dominated run on X-MEN: LEGACY that left me feeling something special could be done by the guy if he got to cut lose in the genre. And that brings us to SUICIDE RISK.

Immediately, SUICIDE RISK confronts us with a premise that always scratches the right spot with me: the existence and proliferation of superpowers in the “real” world, a place that is reacting to the wonder and (more commonly) horror that individuals with these abilities inspire. For Officer Leo Winters, it’s all a horror show of the worst order as this debut issue starts with a recounting of Leo watching as several of his fellow officers are literally rendered limb from limb during a supervillain rampage. His partner goes down, one of the local “heroes” (or in this case, a superpowered grandstander) is turned to dust before him, and by some miracle he not only survives but also manages to apprehend one of the baddies as they start to teleport away. Some quick digging from said baddies’ effects, some breather time with his family and sexy time with his wife, and then Leo is out to embark on the same slippery slope that made all the bastards he faced down earlier in the day just that.

That’s a pretty brief synopsis of what goes down and somewhat cuts off what I think I enjoyed about this debut: the human element. Carey wisely chooses the most intimate and dangerous job you can probably think of to cover in a world where powers are running amok and runs him through the wringer and then puts him in the midst of people who think the world of him. Most of this is presented really well; the tired way Leo recaps his near-deadly encounter at the beginning to the determined attitude he exudes when he gets “on the case” with the powers dealers and then his distractedness when with his family. I like the flow of the presentation as Leo goes through his ordeal but – and I admit these two aspects are really my only qualms with this issue – but I think there are a couple things in the execution that do bug me. One is the “grief” stage of Leo post-fight and recap as he goes from tired and somewhat stressed to “oh, yeah, gonna get home to the kids” with really no “oh shit, I can’t believe this fucking happened!” kind of exasperation. I mean, I don’t expect the guy to be a breakdown of tears and angst, but you figure one of those sequences where he’s clearing out his locker and finds himself shellshockedly staring into the distance would be in order. Maybe it’s a testament to how jaded people in the line of duty have become in this world as the Supes become more and more prevalent, or maybe it’s a character flaw we’re going to see come up later, but it felt somewhat cold to me given how warm the character shows himself a couple pages on with his family.

Other than that, I think the only thing that bugged me was the ease with which Leo - and the rest of this lot I suppose – gets “activated”, it looks like is the proper term in the context of getting powers in the world of SUICIDE RISK. It’s almost become a trope in recent years of the “eh, they got their powers from some drug dealer types” ever since Mutant Growth Hormone became a thing in the Marvel Universe. A catchall is all it really is. I guess the premise dictates that powers be somewhat easy to get considering how harrowing a problem it is to be in this world with them, but at the same time you’d like it to be a little more than “shady types touch a wand to your head in a back alley” like happens with Leo, even if it did take him a bit of detective work to even set up the meet. But honestly, now that I just typed all that out, I’m probably dwelling on that aspect too much. And there is little bit of a deeper layer to this as the “P-Wand” that supes up Leo is also a device that detects whether they can even become a Super and potentially on what power level. That does create a little more nuance into the origins of these new beings as opposed to “some asshole stuck a needle in their arm and now they shoot eye beams.” Again, I’m probably dwelling on that too much but it seems kind of a cheap way to put superpowers on the street from a creator of Carey’s talents.

Those two nits that I apparently felt were worth a couple hundred words to pick aside, I really enjoyed this premiere issue. I like Leo and how he’s got some grit and determination and recklessness to him, which will undoubtedly cause havoc on himself and those around him now that he’s gone down this path. I also enjoy being in a world where those with powers are basically aimless gangs of sociopaths or kind of showboaters who do not know of the existence of the word “altruism.” There’s a lot of moral grey here, which will play well off of Leo’s cop background now that he’s dived right into the deep end of it all. And to top it all off, I like the art. It’s very expressive in the literal sense of there’s lots of range in the facial expressions and emotions. This will also be key when the shit hits the proverbial fan with what Leo is doing and how it affects his job and family life and the painful ramifications that are undoubtedly coming. On top of that, there sequences where things get rather kablooey are very vivid and detailed, so it really is the best of both worlds, which is apt to say about the writing and art combined as well. Overall, there’s just good stuff here with lots and lots of room to go--the benefit of being one those “creator-owned” jaunts I bothered to tout in the opening paragraph. Now why don’t you all flex your own creative muscles and insert some sort of clever play on the phrase “Miss this one at your own risk!” (cause the book is called SUICIDE RISK, har!) as you plop down four bucks to give it a shot. Cheers…

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.


AGE OF ULTRON #7

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Brandon Peterson and Carlos Pacheco
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Masked Man


So now that Wolverine and the Invisible Woman have (this is pretty much all spoiler here) killed Henry Pym, preventing him from creating Ultron and preventing Ultron from creating the Age of Ultron, they travel back to the present to check out their handiwork (though I'm curious how the flycar is right where they left it, or how it still functions perfectly years later). Unlike BMB's HOUSE OF M, this change of history doesn't create a utopia, but then it doesn't really create a dystopia, at least not that we can see so far. As Wolverine points out, at least things are still here.

Making their way back to New York City, the two are confronted by The Defenders (the heroes on the cover). For some reason they pick a fight with The Defenders and Wolverine gets to fight himself, which leads me to believe that they didn't change history, they just splintered it. Because you would assume that you can't have more than one Wolverine in a timeline (though yes, he could jump around and meet himself, but that doesn't seem to be the case here). Anyway, the bulk of this issue is a fight with The Defenders, for reasons we have yet to learn. But since it's a superhero book I suppose you don't need reasons for superheroes to punch each other, they just do (didn't AVSX prove that?). The bigger question is, is the world better off with Pym and Ultron dead (or never existed?). This issue doesn't answer that, but it does show The Defenders having a fear of Skrulls and perhaps Iron Man.

Now while alternate realities (which, lets face it, this is) can be fun, they can also be pointless. This usually happens when the changes become more important than the story. Like with FLASHPOINT, instead of focusing on the Flash trying to fix the timeline, it focused more on the lives of the alternate characters--characters who become moot at the end of the story. Hopefully BMB won't fall into that trap, because while I'm curious where the dents in the Thing came from, I don't care that much because he's a throwaway character.

The thing I'm most disappointed in with this issue (and last issue as well) is Carlos Pacheco's art. Pacheco is one of my favorite artists working to day (I prefer his work to the great Ivan Reis). He has awesome drawing skills and I just love how he draws. Here his stuff seems rushed, though--not as strong as I've come to expect of him. He has flashes of greatness, with all the dinosaurs, but Sue Richards' face just looks off every time. Brandon Peterson, who I don't hold in such high esteem, does a fine job. His two page city spread does have the ugly look of a Photoshop-traced photograph, but the bulk of his work is good. You can tell he really enjoyed drawing the Wolverine-on-Wolverine fight.

As we start getting closer to the end of this series I still have hopes that something will tie it all together, giving meaning to the first half of the series beyond just being the catalyst to kill Pym. If not, AGE OF ULTRON will remain a jumbled series of events that have little to do with each other (why spend an issue saving Spider-Man, why spend an issue killing She-Hulk, what's the point of having Moon Knight, etc). So here's hoping.


Advance Review: In stores next week!

DREAM THIEF #1

Writer: Jai Nitz
Art: Greg Smallwood
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Reviewer: Ambush Bug


I don’t know if it’s a good thing that I relate just a bit too much to the main character of this book…

The book begins with John Lincoln waking up in some strange bed with no recollection of the drunken night before, wondering who and what he got himself into. Now, having experienced this more times in my lifetime than I care to admit, usually I find myself taking a break from the nightlife when this occurs, but our hero doesn’t really learn his lesson, as in this book he blacks out a few more times before the issue is through. Now, some of it is because he most likely is an alcoholic. But some of it might also have to do with some very potent weed he bought from his dealer and some of it also might have to do with the aboriginal dream mask he stole on a drunken dare when out drinking at a museum opening with his best friend.

Though not a lot of answers are provided in this first issue, a lot of solid character work is at play here as we really get to know John Lincoln and though he is a very flawed man, because of the down to earth way writer Jai Nitz writes his inner dialog, I couldn’t help but root for the guy despite the fact that he’s a drunk, an asshole, and a moron.

Or maybe, like I said, this character just hits a bit too close to home for me since I’ve been known to be all three at times...

Either way, one thing is for certain: Nitz has partnered himself up with a rock solid artist in Greg Smallwood. Reminiscent of GOTHAM CENTRAL’s Michael Lark by way of THIEF OF THIEVES’ Shawn Martinbrough, Smallwood offers up some gritty yet solid panels which results in some fantastic storytelling. Though the look of the mask John comes into possession of is simplistic and pulpy, he makes all of the panels vivid and eye-catching. There are a couple of double page spreads in this first issue where Smallwood is able to communicate volumes that stand out as some of the most memorable of the issue, incorporating aboriginal designs with trippy marijuana- and alcohol-induced hazes. Smallwood goes surreal and trippy in one second, and harsh and stark reality in the next. Solid art, through and through.

DREAM THIEF will be available next week from Dark Horse and it really is an impressive debut issue opening with a solid mystery, some pulpy anti-heroism, a shady main character you can’t help but endear yourself to, and art that makes you salivate for the next issue. Don’t miss this first issue when it hits shelves next week!


Editing, compiling, imaging, coding, logos & cat-wrangling by Ambush Bug
Proofs, co-edits & common sense provided by Sleazy G

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