Hey folks, Ambush Bug here. Twelve years. Wow. I certainly didn’t think when I paired up with a ragtag band of misfit Talkbackers a dozen years ago to write comic reviews for AICN that we’d still be around all this time later. But honestly, it’s been a hell of a good time putting these columns and interviews together and sharing our thoughts for the masses for you all every single week. Thanks to all of the Talkbackers who return every week to gab about these funny books we’re all addicted to and a special thanks to all of the @$$holes who make it all possible. On with the reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the review)
Advance Review: SUPERMAN UNCHAINED #1
AGE OF ULTRON #9
ASTRO CITY #1
ALL NEW X-MEN #12
GREEN LANTERN #21
Advance Review: SIX-GUN GORILLA #1
THANOS RISING #3
TEN GRAND #2
IRON MAN #11
Advance Review: BATMAN #21
Advance Review: In stores today!
SUPERMAN UNCHAINED #1Writer: Scott Snyder
Artists: Jim Lee & Dustin Nguyen
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Optimous Douche
I was going to open this review with a stupid DJANGO joke--had it planned for weeks. But after reading SUPERMAN UNCHAINED, I frankly don’t want to sully the book with such cheap review parlor tricks. Instead I’m going to open this review with an apology. I wasn’t the biggest fan of JUSTICE LEAGUE when it launched. I felt it was too big and too bodacious, it lacked the intimacy of Johns’ past work so I put the onus of my distaste on Lee. I claimed he gave it splash page pacing and as a result took my beloved Johns out of his comfort zone.
SUPERMAN UNCHAINED basically puts egg on my face. As you will see with the picture accompanying this article, it has one of the biggest god damn splash pages you’ve ever seen and it was still an intimate experience punctuated by epic grandeur – exactly how SUPERMAN should be.
I’m honestly amazed at how much ground the boys covered in such a short page count (aside from the aforementioned megasplash, there’s an epilogue, an interview, and of course…sigh…Channel 52). I’m going to say this is a basic SUPERMAN story and I say with that the utmost respect and reverence. It’s a balance that’s been missing in lieu of exposition in the New 52. We get equal doses of Clark and SUPERMAN in UNCHAINED, but Snyder melds them organically, unlike the clear issue by issue delineation we’ve seen in since the day FLASHPOINT changed everything. As Superman, Clark is the ego controlling the id. As Clark, Superman is the id making the superego more interesting than your typical corn-fed farm boy.
We all know the basic plot by this point: some satellites drop to Earth, all under the control of…some new villain. Of course, Superman stops the satellites and yes, there’s a new villain, but those broad strokes don’t even begin to describe the famous Snyder retcon that takes place behind the scenes or the spot-on characterization for Superman and his equally famous friends.
The book actually opens in 1945 in a small Japanese town. What comes next any of us could imagine, but not really. Yes, a bomb is released from an old prop plane, but instead of exploding above this town it breaks apart and releases a blue humanoid. Honestly, this figure was reminiscent of the days went SUPERMAN went blue (and I don’t mean his period as a stand-up comedian that swore profusely). This is a big change for DC to completely rewrite actual history. Sure, Snyder has had his way with the history of Gotham in the past, but it’s only been his Vertigo work where he transformed our reality.
Flash forward to today when the satellites start falling, and that gorgeous page-breaking megasplash. Be careful with this page, dear reader: while gorgeous and bold in execution, the logistics could use some work. Mine is precariously hanging on by a small gob of glue right now as I gingerly slip it back into mylar. As the satellites fell I knew SUPERMAN was back on track. A little inner story about Kansas, a screaming in the head on the sanctity of life and real harrowing struggle as he tries to divert a hunk of metal with a nuclear reactor to safety were all things that embody the character packed into three short pages.
Once the satellites are landed, of course Clark Kent needs to cover the story (not before a quick diversion to shake down Luthor, though) and here is where Snyder shows an aptitude for the ancillary characters in Clark’s life, especially Lois Lane. Up until now New 52 Lois has frankly been mildly cunty towards Big Blue. LobRocster’s run redeemed her a bit (along with the whole title actually), but we didn’t see “work” Lois during that time. Here, she is driven and focused, but courteous and dare I say mildly caring towards Clark and his freelance writer self. Jimmy is funny and Perry gruff--basically a return to the core characters that has again been greatly obstructed with 5 years before and the politics of media up until now.
The book ends as it began – with our big blue nemesis. Or is he? While Clark learns he wasn’t the only one diverting satellites today we get the omnipotent look at this blue character’s lord and master: the US Government, specifically General Lane.
The back-up story (another welcome Snyder staple) is mildly confusing, but a wonderful soft contrast to the main event in both tone and visuals. We meet another mysterious character with burnt out eyes hauled in by a fishing net while Perry shows Jimmy a pair of binoculars his Uncle retrieved from the ashes of Nagasaki. A nice moment with an obvious and yet also mysterious connection towards revealing this new 75 year old government secret Uberman.
Look, at the end of the day this is a SUPERMAN story. This is not a Millar twist event nor anything overtly shocking. If you hate SUPERMAN stories, keep on walking. But if you’re like me and have been waiting to see the real SUPERMAN for the past two years, here he is. DC branding called this SUPERMAN UNCHAINED for some reason; me, I’m going to call it SUPERMAN SALVATION.
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.
AGE OF ULTRON #9Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Brandon Peterson and Carlos Pacheco
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Masked Man
Here it is, the penultimate issue of this rather odd mega event. I say odd because not only has the story been mismanaged, but it wasn't until this issue--that's right, this issue (!)--that Ultron finally appears. And it's just a flashback of his creation--you know, back when he looked like a silver stand up vacuum cleaner.
Ok, first off let's talk about what's good about this issue, namely the whole debate about whether or not you can go back in time and 'fix' something. Now, being the long time comic book reader that I am, the universal answer to that question is YES- yes, you can. But BMB wants to look at the question from a different angle, and that's cool. Spoiler time, people: so Wolverine decides the best way to stop Ultron is to kill Henry Pym before he creates Ultron. But this just seems to screw up the present as well, with Morgan Le Fay taking over and killing everyone. So Wolverine goes back in time a second time to stop himself from killing Pym. That returns us to square one, except Pym now knows what Ultron will do after he creates him. I will admit, I'm curious where BMB will go now.
Now for the bad: BMB just can't seem to write a single issue of this series without something going awry. Spoiler time again (I'm sorry, but this is a time travel story and it's hard to talk about the plot without talking about the plot!): so Wolverine time travels where he time traveled and now there are two of them. In a very cool character moment, they both know this isn't right and one kills the other. Powerful stuff, huh? That is, until you realize this is Wolverine, a character who on page six of this very issue laid dead for five days only to pop back up alive. So how the hell does Wolverine kill Wolverine? BMB sure the hell doesn't know how, because it all happens off screen. The best we can hope for (in the interest of logic) is this is some kind of fake out, but I seriously doubt it because BMB has left many things unexplained in this story.
I do have good news for those of you out there who are interested in this story, but have been scared off by the bad reviews. As I've mentioned, the main point of the story, going back in time to fix things, is pretty good. To that point, I recommend you only read these issues: #2, #5, #6, #7, #9, (and I'll assume) #10. All the other issues focus on pointless plot lines, meaningless action, and or simple reiteration of plot points already made. You will miss some minor points between issues, the biggest being how they get to the Savage Land, but that's barely explained anyway, and there is always the “Previously...” page. Without those four issues the story becomes much more focused and more satisfying in general.
Art-wise this issue is serviceable, though I have to say the first two page spread on pages 2 and 3 should have been in the last issue. Issue eight ends with what was supposed to be an OMG cliffhanger moment, but the comic failed to explain why it was an OMG moment. These two pages do, so they are the cliffhanger and they should have been in issue eight (more mismanagement). Aside from that, Brandon Peterson does a good job drawing the future and Carlos Pacheco does a good job drawing the past, though for the life of me I can't understand how Pacheco can draw Sue Storm so unattractive while his usual work is filled with tons of beautiful women. I also don't remember the last time I saw Wolverine so...wide. Well, with everything else being off about this series, I guess it's no surprise that Pacheco isn't knocking out his usual awesome work.
With one more issue to go, BMB will try and teach us the lesson to stop buying these things because they are never any good. I'll check it out so you don't have to.
Learn more about the Masked Man and feel free check out his comic book CINDY LI: THREE OF A KIND and CAPAIN ROCKET at www.Toonocity.com
ASTRO CITY #1Writer: Kurt Busiek
Art: Brent Anderson
Publisher: DC Vertigo
Reviewer: Mad Mercutio
I’m a new resident to Astro City. I wanted to try it out years ago due to the scuttlebutt and the Alex Ross covers, but it seems like I could never find a good jumping on place. I always felt like the release schedule was weird, and then it just kind of disappeared. When I saw that a new number 1 was coming out, I decided to do a little research and then give number 1 a shot. Turns out that Mr. Busiek was quite sick for quite a long time. Now that his health has improved, we are being treated to a new ongoing ASTRO CITY series.
As I’ve said, I’m new to this world. I’m sure there were several moments that just went right over my head since I had not been indoctrinated with the back stories from years ago. I started to do further research to know what I was reading, but instead, I decided to write it from my own perspective with new eyes looking at this world.
I’ve been a fan of Kurt Busiek since UNTOLD TALES OF SPIDER-MAN. As a 99 cent book during the time of "The Clone Saga", I felt like it was the only Spider title worth reading. This book was just as great as anything else I’ve read from him. The story really sucks you in. The narrator shatters that 4th wall and hits you with some second person narration, which really drew me into the story. The characters were engaging and I immediately wanted to know more about them. There was a little humor sprinkled throughout the story, but I felt like it was mainly just some serious fiction that told a great story. I’m completely intrigued by the situation set up. Is the narrator crazy? Is there a point to his ramblings? Are the heroes corrupt? What is the thing that has gotten to them? I enjoy how the narrator teases the questions that the reader has as the story unfolds. Basically, it is just great storytelling. For me, it was nice to step into a brand new world full of interesting characters.
I really haven’t seen much of Brent Anderson’s art outside of ASTRO CITY, either. If I ever see his name mentioned, I immediately associate it with ASTRO CITY. Maybe the reason for that is that I found his art perfect for the book. His art told the story solidly. The framing and pace of the art almost reminded me of a soap opera. I mean, not that I’ve ever seen one of those.
One notable moment in the art came when an alien came out of the mysterious door. It was very Jack Kirby-esque in its design. It was a great moment. Check out the book for that moment alone if for no other reason.
Kurt Busiek made note that there are already a year’s worth of stories written. I’m definitely looking forward to the next year.
ALL NEW X-MEN #12Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Stuart Immonen
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Chris Massari
While it hasn’t developed into the deepest or most original of story lines, ALL NEW X-MEN is one of those comics from my pull bin that I get school girl giddy about every time I grab the latest issue. Bendis has made the books fun, interesting, entertaining, and hasn’t turned the time travel story into comic writing blahdom.
As a college philosophy student, the ideas constantly presented in ALL NEW X-MEN are a goldmine of philosophical inquiry and discussion. From encounters of the past self to changes of self ideologies and questions of self development, I could write a grade A paper about ALL NEW X-MEN to make my professors proud.
From a comic geek stand point, ALL NEW X-MEN has provided an excellent amount of nerdgasms between the character interactions and the various references mentioned in the series. The book provides for excellent entertainment and great writing that I just can’t get enough of. Issue 12 has been no different and keeps the trend going.
At the start of ALL NEW X-MEN 12, the X-Men are met with the current UNCANNY AVENGERS team. This gives the Scott Summers of the past a look at his present brother Alex Summers, aka Havok, giving the two Summers different moments of happiness. For Scott it was great seeing a long lost brother, and for Alex it was refreshing seeing who Cyclops used to be. However, this heartwarming family reunion across time doesn’t last very long, when a young Jean Grey begins peering into the Scarlett Witches’ mind. After Jean begins reading the Scarlett Witches’ mind, she then stumbles across Wanda’s involvement in M-Day and the decimation of mutant abilities, leading into a very short battle between the two, where Wanda easily defeats an emotional and inexperienced Jean. Issue twelve then leads into a couple panels of Sabertooth, Mystique, and Mastermind stealing more money and causing more destruction under the guise of the X-Men. The book then shifts back to some more past meets present tensions between the Uncanny Avengers and X-Men before ending with Wolverine telling past Hank McCoy that the team is now going after Mystique.
Bendis’ ALL NEW X-MEN continues to be a solid book and an entertaining read. I have only two issues with ALL NEW X-MEN number 12, and while they aren’t huge they are enough to highlight. The first problem I found, one that it also seems most had, is if Jean Grey had already read the present Beast’s mind then why is she so surprised and horrified after reading Wanda’s mind? When Jean was reading Beast’s mind was it information overload and too many memories to process? Or was Beast only replaying his own Jean Grey-related memories to her during their mental exchange for her to understand her own future? I’m not sure what the answer is, or if this will be addressed by Bendis in issue 13, but I think to fill some story related loopholes that it would be very helpful.
The second flaw in the overall ALL NEW X-MEN series that hasn’t been making sense or really shown purpose is Mystique’s role in the story. Her team has been going around committing various crimes under the guise of the X-Men, but it doesn’t seem to have any real direction or point. Bendis has left potential for the story’s growth, specifically with past Cyclops’s interaction with Mystique. Bendis has shown this young, naive Cyclops to have found some kind of a connection with her and trust in Mystique. However, Bendis has yet to water these story seeds, so it’s wait and see at the moment.
The artwork by Stuart Immonen, while not the most spectacular, has been pretty good for ALL NEW X-MEN. The style seems to incorporate a mix of art of the past X-MEN series, combined with a newer tone to create this combined artistic identity of ALL NEW X-MEN. Immonen’s style has definitely worked with the comics thus far.
In conclusion, I do recommend checking out this X-MEN series if you have not already. ALL NEW X-MEN has shown consistency in entertainment and is worth the read for fans of the X-Men or comic fans in general.
GREEN LANTERN #21Writer: Robert Venditti
Art: Billy Tan
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Optimous Douche
I stand of two minds about GREEN LANTERN’S brave new tomorrow. On one hand Vendetti carried the banner forward from Johns’ epic run with equal parts introduction and forward momentum. However, there is still that aching part of me that loved and loathed Johns’ epilogue to GREEN LANTERN 20. Knowing the Skittle Corps’ fate at the end of all things was an appropriate swan song, but blunts the incisors a bit for future surprises. For example, Venditti’s great interchange between Hal and Carol: knowing these two will be wrinkly on a porch together one day makes their game of “will they, won’t they” slightly less dramatic, because we know they will, eventually.
Ahhh, such is comics. I’m sure we can all be comforted by the fact Johns’ future will be explained away as a “possibility” versus concrete fact. Thankfully, Venditti is such the writer that his little plot turns and natural dialog easily make the end state forgotten since the moments are so damn intriguing. Ultimately, one day after the Next New 104 and then Super New 208 are launched Johns and Venditti’ss work will be dust in the wind anyway.
For those that don’t know Venditti, you should. He, along with his new GL cohorts on the other emerald titles, has been tearing things up over at Valiant. Now they are bringing that same realism combined with the fantastic to DC. As we all bemoan the loss of the current stable moving to indie, don’t fear the change--embrace it because the indie talent is now getting the chance to cut their teeth on the big brands.
So wha’ happen? Basically, Vendetti reintroduces our favorite characters set against the backdrop of turning Oa into a fully functional home base for the Green Lantern Corps. It shouldn’t take too long this time since they have had a lot of practice over the past few years. Some epic shit has occurred in GL since Johns took the reins; this is a nice quiet respite of rebuilding punctuated by a solitary threat as opposed to an epic event of cataclysmic proportions.
On the reintroduction part we get a moment between Hal and Carol that anyone in a relationship will instantly identify with. “I need more of you.” Maybe you’re such a man (or woman) that you can always satisfy all of your partner’s emotional needs. Speaking for myself, I instantly went “ah-ha” as Carol lamented Hal’s aloofness towards individual human beings in his efforts to protect humanity. It’s the flaw of most narcissists. Whether intentional or not, it’s very easy to get wrapped around your own drama and forget that others need support. Venditti also used this moment to tell us what a Green Lantern ring is and what the Star Sapphires are all about without ever getting heavy-handed. For the time being the two seem like they are on a “break.” Again, though, Johns’ finale last issue makes one wonder how long this “break” will last.
Leaving earth we next move to mending fences on Oa. The new Guardians’ joie de vivre (not Kyle Rayner’s crew, I mean the little blue bastards rife with emotion that were imprisoned by the passionless old guardians) is apparent as they try to discover OA before being masters of the whole universe. They also institute the game-changing act of making Hal the new leader of the GL Corps. His sordid past is brought up, but ultimately his heroics outweigh his past folly.
All of this is great stuff for a GL fan, but enticing new readers requires a little more action, Jackson. Venditti brings the thunder in the form of the Orange Lantern Corp(s). Larfleeze, ever the opportunist, decides to take advantage of Oa being on brown-out status to pillage the planet for ill-gotten gain.
Tan does a serviceable job on this book--nothing extraordinary, but certainly fine and dandy.
Again, I’m still of two minds about GREEN LANTERN. I think they need a break, which I hope doesn’t transcend to boring in light of Johns’ work. This is probably the most unenviable jobs in comics right now, and I think Venditti did just fine considering this is the equivalent of a warm-up act performing after Beyonce. I think as long as we all remember we live in the age of arc continuity versus impermeable series change, all will be right from sector 0 to 2814.
Advance Review: In stores today!
SIX-GUN GORILLA #1Writer: Simon Spurrier
Art: Jeff Stokely
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
Last week, I reviewed Brian Christgau’s SIX-GUN GORILLA: LONG DAYS OF VENGEANCE #1 and at the end of that review I mentioned that the book was one of two comics with the same title coming out. Well, in the sense of fairness, I’m taking a look at BOOM’s SIX-GUN GORILLA #1 this week by Simon Spurrier and Jeff Stokley. I figured it was worth my while to share which Six-Gun Gorilla will come out standing in a high noon showdown.
The thing is, the two books, though they both have a simian with sidearms, couldn’t be more different. One (the indie one) plays as a straight up Western with influences taken from KING KONG and MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, while BOOM’s version is much more Tatooine space Western-esque. While Christgau’s story spans time telling the story in three distinct segments in one gorilla’s life, Spurrier’s is a more linear tale with a much more expansive sci fi scope. There are definite moments of awe in Spurrier’s book with riders atop giant tortoises armed for battle and clockwork weaponry galore. A war is happening between seemingly human forces, some of them trained military while some recruits are set up as cannon fodder that have little to live for. The story focuses on one of the fodder, a loser with little to live for, paired up with death row inmates, those with incurable diseases, and the suicidal to run as the front line and die with purpose rather than selfishly of their own accord. Surprisingly, our “hero” somehow survives landing in the battlezone and is rescued by a cloaked monster with guns-a-blazin’.
I hate to compare the two books, but it’s hard not to. The thing that differentiates Spurrier’s SIX-GUN GORILLA from the other is that it is set up much more cinematically and in more of a decompressed style, which is often the case for mainstream books. The gorilla doesn’t show up until the very end of the book, though glimpses of him occur throughout. The big reveal, that he is a gorilla with a pair of revolvers, isn’t really a reveal since that’s the title of the book. It’s this type of thing that has both become somewhat of a given in intro issues, but also somewhat of an annoyance, especially when compared to the indie book which features the gorilla predominantly in the first issue.
Minor trifles aside, I really loved Spurrier’s concept and the steampunk backdrop he has cast this gorilla in. Spurrier does a great job of letting us know what kind of world would have a gorilla with guns roaming around in it, and thus makes the whole thing somewhat more fantastical and believable all at once, if there’s such a thing. The attention spent seeing the world through the novice soldier’s eyes does a great job of making it all digestible even though you’ve got tanks atop giant turtles.
The gritty artwork by Jeff Stokely gives everything a fluid feel. Reminiscent of a John McCrea in places, there is a dynamic feel to every panel, as if the tension the soldier is feeling is emanating across the panel. Still, though scratchy, there is a malleable look to the lines which makes this feel like an exciting comic. The cover alone, featuring a somewhat stylized gorilla shedding a flowing cape and blasting away, is a perfect example of Stokley’s gift for the liquid line. The expansive scenes of battle and awe inspire just that. All in all, a fine looking read.
I’ve come to conclude that I think there is room for two SIX-GUN GORILLAs in my life. One feels like I’m watching a quirky blend of big ape movie and old style Western, while another is an expansive sci fi epic with Western elements. I encourage you all to seek out both and compare yourselves. You’re in for a good read, whichever one you choose.
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 October 2013 as a 100-pg original graphic novel through Hermes Press). 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.
THANOS RISING #3Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Simone Bianchi
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Masked Man
Jason Aaron continues his tale of Marvel's number one bad@ss becoming who he is. As I've mentioned before, despite being a Thanos fan since the INFINITY GAUNTLET days, I've never read his origin, so I've been curious to see how Aaron (who has been killing it in THOR) handles the big purple puss's origin. If you are well versed in Thanos' origin, then this might be as boring to you as Geoff Johns' GREEN LANTERN and SUPERMAN SECRET ORIGINS were to me (even with the new wrinkles, I've just seen it too many times).
Still, without a doubt, this series has been getting better as it goes. The first issue, while clever at times, was nearly all set-up: Here's Thanos, this is the kind of child he is, now let's see what happens. This issue moves him into adulthood, and what an odd conflicted man he has become. When he was younger he thought he had a purpose--basically becoming a serial killer--but with age comes wisdom, and all that seems rather pointless to him now. So he wanders the universe looking for anything to interest him, but the only thing that ever did was the creepy girl he grew up with. The girl who watched him become a psycho killer, the girl who all signs seem to point to is Death herself.
This is the interesting thing about Thanos' origin: how does one fall in love with Death? Geoff Johns did this with Black Hand in GREEN LANTERN through him growing up in morticians' family. That angle doesn't seem right for the cosmic creature that is Thanos. So for reasons yet unexplained (though I hope they will be) Death seems to have singled out Thanos. Now, you could argue that this girl or Death herself is just his imagination, but with Thanos' history of actually hanging out with Death, I don't believe this to be the case. Also, this girl doesn't just hang out with Thanos--she lies in wait for him.
I won't get into spoilers about this issue, because while there is nothing grandiose about it, it is filled with unpredictable and gruesome events. You can argue that this is nothing more than standard villain building, I suppose, but that's what this story is: villain building. If you don't like villain building then just move on. Those of you who do, I believe, will enjoy this series. Aaron is clearly working hard to create a psycho killer without creating a psycho killer.
Simone Bianchi's artwork is as cool as always. He was a fine choice for this series. He handles the gruesome and cosmic very well. I don't think someone like Ron Lim, arguably Thanos' most famous artist, could have handled this story as well, though I do still find it amusing that Thanos still dresses the same way. From cradle to grave Thanos always wore the same suit. I blame editors for that silliness, afraid that people won't recognize him.
Despite all the crazy gruesomeness that has happened in the past two issues, I get the sense that $h!t is really going to hit the fan next issue. With his checkered history now in place, Thanos is about to take his first steps into being THANOS! So far Aaron and Bianchi are doing a fine job on delivering what the title promises: THANOS RISING.
TEN GRAND #2Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Art: Ben Templesmith
Publisher: Joe’s Comics/Image Comics
Reviewer: Humphrey Lee
My relationship with J. Michael Straczynski is as love/hate as my relationship with my craft beer (craft beer being third on the list of things that make life worth living, right behind my kitty and good comic books). Essentially, I’m always on the lookout for it, always waiting to buy something new and interesting. The rather large majority of the time (like with this Ithaca Flower Power I’m sipping as I type this) I absolutely love what I find. It also should be said that really, honestly and truly, I have to thank Mr. JMS for opening my eyes when it comes to the world of comics just a little bit via his MIDNIGHT NATION and RISING STARS books that came at an impressionable time in my reading and life habits. But, goddammit, when it’s a letdown, it’s a big one. In the case of the beer it’s not so bad; worst case is I have to drain pour it and I’m out a few bucks. The real bummer is in how I’ve come to really respect the craft of good beer and how much it means to me as a relaxation point at the end of the night so it just somewhat sucks to have that experience be a disappointing one. Mining that vein, just as I’ve come to beer as an elevator for my day, I’ve really come to expect JMS and his storycraft to be something that always raises an eyebrow of mine or lifts my imagination, but when he disappoints it can really be a significant letdown. Crushing, even. That brings me to this latest experiment of his and Ben Templesmith’s, TEN GRAND, from Image…
Okay, okay. Not to get everyone all worried about the content of the comic book at hand, but the disappointment I’m talking about is that how, invariably, a lot of JMS’ comics disappear. They just kind of, y’know, stop coming out more than they end up letting you down (though obviously not showing the fuck up is a letdown all its own). This new approach of his, this “let’s throw this shit at the wall and if it sticks we’ll spend some time admiring it and exploring it further” direction of launching new comic book properties - an almost blatant admittance of his wanderings – actually excites me. It’s a “no strings attached” relationship that you know upfront may be broken off at any moment, to move to another of my mind-numbing similes. Sure, you may get attached after a few months of wild excitement, but that’s your fault for not following the rules. In the meantime, if you can restrain yourself and temper future expectations, there’s a lot of fun to be had here with the sly, slight promise of more.
Now, okay, one more slight curve ball again; the “fun” here in TEN GRAND is not so much fun as it’s “pretty fucking dark.” It is also an example of what I come to JMS comics for, time and again, despite the previous falterings. You’ve got a nice medium-to-high concept of a man name Joe Fitzgerald who is killed alongside his wife by some demonic forces and makes a deal with some Angels to see her again for five minutes whenever he dies for their cause. You’ve got great execution on the emotional resonance you would expect this type of premise to inspire. Seriously, honestly and truly, there is a multi-page sequence in this issue of what happens when Joe gets his brief reunion in the afterlife with his Laura and it is as heartrending as you would expect and (begrudgingly) want it to be. The warmth of the encounter, the anxiousness that it inflicts on the reader as the time quickly runs out with the panels, and then the sudden sense of loss. Without going into the actual page-by-page of this book/issue so far, that right there is a selling point. It’s human emotion at its finest in a solid yarn.
As far as that page-by-page goes, I would say that if anything this book exudes atmosphere, though what Ben Templesmith drawn book doesn’t? Somewhat lost from the first issue - somewhat regrettably – is a heavy noir tone as JMS and Templesmith set up Joe as the “if you’ve got a demon problem, I’ve got the answer” guy and he did a lot of hitting the streets and the book did some setting up. This issue goes more into world building mode, showing off some of the colorful characters you expect to see more of on side – like Johnny, the man with no eyes and an otherworldly sight – and then goes down a vicious path of demon fighting and possession that leaves a lot of innocents dead, including one of Joe’s clients. It really gets the job done in showing how grimy and crooked the path is Joe now walks, but from a flow standpoint it’s a little jumpy and maybe tries too much. The sweet spot of Joe being reunited with Laura ties it together, but the event that pushes it to happen comes along quite suddenly after a multi-page sequence with a flesh demon that is somewhat long and repetitive and with dialogue that is a little rich in exposition and a case of trying too hard to be dark. This could all be written off as nitpicking, though. Like I said, the world building is good and it is nice to see how the supernatural elements work in this particular world and get a look at some of the characters we assume we will be seeing more of; it’s just a case of the time spent unwinding them being somewhat unevenly distributed.
TEN GRAND is an early beginning of an experiment, but I feel real positive about the two issues of results we’ve seen, even if there is the blatant peril of it all combusting looming about the lab. The current mixture seems to be percolating nicely. JMS is flexing his creative muscles with a really strong premise and a stronger emotional hook. Ben Templesmith is doing the same with a vision bordering on the surrealist side of things (a world he might as well be declared king of at this point) and a color palette that brings all the right tension and ambiance to each scene. It’s two stellar creators creating. And even though, like Joe and Laura’s five minute, there’s bittersweet knowledge it may be ripped away from you at any moment, that almost makes you cherish it more, and even put a little faith that this may be the time it stays. We’ll have to leave that one in the Angels’ hands. 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.
IRON MAN #11Writer: Kieron Gillen
Art: Dale Eaglesham
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: The Dean
Keiron Gillen’s IRON MAN has been one of the more interesting runs to follow in this Marvel NOW! era. Things started simply enough, blending old and new elements as Tony Stark fought to contain Extremis at New Camelot and donned a new suit, but it’s been these recent issues in “The Secret Origin of Tony Stark” where it seems Gillen is getting to the questions he’d been hoping to explore. IRON MAN #11 makes a few literal changes or additions to the DNA of the character that may rub some the wrong way, but it certainly has my curiosity piqued as we continue to evaluate who and why Tony Stark is.
With 451 still in control of P.E.P.P.E.R, the new suit’s AI, Tony’s stuck riding shotgun as 451 navigates their ship through deep space toward an undisclosed location. Where they’re going, however, is far less intriguing than where Gillen is going, as 451 passes the time by explaining to Tony that his entire existence was manufactured in no small way by him. It’s not like he was part of the three way that led to Maria getting pregnant or something, that’d probably be a lot worse, but this still has the potential to fundamentally change the character of Tony Stark if it sticks. IRON MAN would go from a story of human achievement, endurance, and perseverance, to…well, something else entirely. I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but it’d be like finding out Bruce Wayne was injected with a special karate serum as a baby, the side effect of which being that he’d be kind of surly when he grows up…
I can’t say I particularly like or dislike the changes just yet, but I’ve definitely been enjoying the read, and this is the best of the origin arc so far. It isn’t just the reveals that make this a great issue; it’s Gillen’s handling of Tony as a character that make this so much fun. He’s witty, shrewd, perpetually unsatisfied, and many of his traits are identified genetically in what might be my favorite splash page in recent memory, which is perhaps Gillen’s way of showing us that it’s not how he came to be that matters, but who he is now. 451 has developed into a great foil, and his fun exchanges with Tony take on a new meaning when we learn of his involvement in Tony’s birth. We get a great Commodore 64 jab from Tony, and 451 counters later in the issue with a shot to the gut that would probably have lifted Tony off his feet: “What separates you and Richards? You and Pym? You and T’Challa? They are men of genius. Men of science...and men of peace.”
Clearly shell-head is on quite the existential adventure here, so there isn’t a ton of repulsor blasting action, but it’s certainly an emotional ride which Dale Eaglesham and Gillen handle excellently. There’s this apologetic tendency to make comics look more cinematic these days, but IRON MAN looks and reads like a comic book--no overuse of widescreen panels or dramatic title cards to try to make it seem more important. Haphazard panel composition can destroy a talkative issue like this, but even the balloon placement here seemed carefully considered to make this read as fluidly as possible. There isn’t anything particularly breathtaking in this issue, but when we need to see frustration in Tony’s face or the not-quite-right emotions from 451, it’s all there, and it’s a big part of what made this issue resonate as well as it did.
There’ll be plenty more revealed in the coming issues, I’m sure, and regardless of how I feel about them, I’m at least happy to be getting a riveting IRON MAN story that both understands and challenges the core of Tony Stark (bonus points to Gillen for providing some level of insight in his Marvel AR stuff, by the way! He and Fraction regularly restore my faith in the app after sitting through a terrible Nick Lowe sketch). As long as Gillen and co. can keep up this level of storytelling, I think I’ll be able to suppress my discomfort in accepting change enough to simply enjoy the ride.
Advance Review: In stores today!
BATMAN #21Writer: Scott Snyder
Artists: Greg Capullo & Rafael Albuquerque
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Optimous Douche
"Zero Year" is a wonderful story in and of itself. Bruce has a naiveté that’s an appropriate juxtaposition to his current callous self. It’s a fine and fitting origin, but unfortunately by its simple existence calls to light one of the most controversial continuity kerfuffles of the New 52. “Mr. Owl, how many Robins can you stuff into 5 years?” “Let’s see one, two (crunch), three, four (crunch harder)!”
Six years ago. Clear as day the call-out box on page one instantly squashes all fanboy conjecture that BATMAN was a tour de force in Gotham long before (or at least several years before) the relaunch of the DC universe. When we were greeted with four Robins in-continuity two years ago, we instantly cried foul. If this was true, instead of each ward growing up with Bruce Wayne, they spent about as much time with him as a Red Box rental. We all apologized for the fact (at least I know I did) conjuring our own timelines that had Bruce protecting Gotham post 9/11 instead of 2006.
It’s a shame, because with one change of a digit I could have sat back and read the origin story I wanted to read post-FLASHPOINT sans consternation. The story of a Bruce who has yet to be hardened by his mission, the story of the birth of a legend instead of people looking in the sky and going, “Oh, yeah, that’s Batman.” Don’t get me wrong, I loved "Court of Owls", but I’m also a fan geezer who can fill in any and all story blanks. If DC was looking to entice new readers, BATMAN 21 was the story to start with, plain and simple. I think it would likewise satisfy old fans as well, because while it treads in past footsteps it does so in an original way with a true WTF story twist that hits you from panel 1.
6 years ago Gotham city was an overgrown I AM LEGEND jungle. That’s right--complete with tigers and crumbling buildings. Now, the story of Bruce fighting the Red Hood gang, fighting with Alfred and his Uncle about remaining legally dead and seeing the first appearance of his giant cave penny happened six months before that. On this fact alone and I am intrigued to keep reading to see the tie together, but I’ll also probably keep reading simply because Snyder does interchanges so damned exquisitely. As Bruce and Alfred squat in Crime Alley as their makeshift HQ, you can feel the malaise Bruce has towards Alfred’s nagging about his chosen mission, but also feel the love from Alfred no matter how tart his quips become. Snyder gets this relationship in the today and yesteryear.
Aside from the mystery of Jungle Gotham, Bruce’s Uncle Philip (on his mother’s side) is not only trying to get Bruce back into the family business, but he’s also trying to pull a double cross with a certain villain with a panache for riddles. There’s going to be layers to the arc that won’t be fully peeled away for many months to come, exactly as a bat mystery should be.
I loved this issue, I really did. I just don’t like some of the universal decisions that have been made and living in a world of arc continuity. Right now it feels like the rules and continuity get rewritten with every closing of a chapter. I’m sorry, but we’ve all been conditioned with much larger scope when it comes to comics. If this is the new norm, that’s fine, but don’t fault us if it takes some getting used to.
There’s a tidy and fun backup story that completely sidesteps my concerns by just being fun. Wonder how Bruce learned to handle a car? Look no further than Mr. Albuquerque’s pencils for the answer. This little back-up also provides a nice little twist at the end.
I love BATMAN #21 as much as I’ve loved other Bat-books. As long as you can abandon the fact that the universe itself is slightly off kilter, you’ll be just fine and love it as well.
Proofs, co-edits & common sense provided by Sleazy G
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