Comics

AICN COMICS Reviews: AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE! CAPTAIN AMERICA! SUPERMAN UNCHAINED! ALEX + ADA! MY LITTLE PONY! & More!

Published at: Nov. 13, 2013, 8:53 a.m. CST by ambush bug

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

Advance Review: AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE #2
ALEX + ADA #1
CAPTAIN AMERICA #13
Advance Review: COFFIN HILL #2
MY LITTLE PONY MICRO FUN PACK
FOREVER EVIL #3
BALLISTIC #3
Advance Review: BATMAN #25
PROTECTORS INC. #1
AMAZING X-MEN #1
Advance Review: HUCK FINN’S ADVENTURES IN UNDERLAND #4
SUPERMAN UNCHAINED #4
TEN GRAND #5
Advance Review: 12 REASONS TO DIE #4


Advance Review: On sale next week!

AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE #2

Writer: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Artist: Francesco Francavilla
Publisher: Archie Comics
Reviewer: BottleImp


Halloween may have come and gone, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to sweep away the cobwebs and gloom and start setting up the Christmas lights (despite what the retail stores’ advertisements would have you think). There’s still plenty of time for the creepy and the crawly, though, and Archie and the gang are keeping the spirit alive (or at least ambulatory) with their fiendishly fun AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE.

This second issue picks up right where we left off, with a zombie-fied Jughead Jones crashing the Riverdale High dance. What surprised me about this month’s installment was that the tongue-in-cheek tone of the first issue (complete with several shout-outs to various horror classics) has been dialed back to make way for more of the gore. Even though I was expecting it as an inevitability, it was kind of a shock seeing good ol’ Jughead chowing down on a girl when the rest of the gang watched, horrified.

(Historical side note: Did you know that back when EC Comics got strung up by the Senate Subcommittee hearings in the 1950s and their horror and sci fi comics were in effect neutered by the formation of the Comics Code Authority, it was the publisher of Archie Comics who pulled the final trigger as one of the principal crafters of the constrictive Comics Code? It was a blatant move to eliminate horror comics from the competition and clear the way for Archie’s brand of harmless, sanitary hi-jinx. Now some 60 years later, Archie has finally come around to accept the awesomeness of well-crafted horror comics. As the Crypt-Keeper might say, a little irony is good for the blood… heh, heh!)

I’ll confess to not being overly familiar with the Riverdale gang aside from the core cast of Archie, Jughead and the sweet Betty and salty Veronica, but Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa does a good job of introducing newcomers like myself to some of the expanded cast of characters. Francesco Francavilla’s artwork balances the deceptive simplicity of his line work with rich blacks and moody, idiosyncratic coloring, giving the comic a tone that somehow manages to encompass both the cartoony, funhouse feeling of the ARCHIE world and the horror-movie blood ‘n’ guts.

The end result is a genuinely fun-to-read horror comic that strikes the perfect balance between light and dark. AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE is shaping up to be a series that, as William M. Gaines said when called before the Senate, gives the same thrills as a rollercoaster ride. I’d like to think that if Bill Gaines were with us today, he’d approve of Archie’s venture into the realms of horror…and say “I told you so.”

When released from his bottle, the Imp transforms into Stephen Andrade, an artist/illustrator/pirate monkey painter from New England. He's currently hard at work interpreting fellow @$$Hole Optimous Douche's brainwaves and transforming them into pretty pictures on AVERAGE JOE, an original graphic novel to be published by Com.x. You can see some of his artwork here.


ALEX + ADA #1

Writers: Jonathan Luna & Sarah Vaughn
Art: Jonathan Luna
Publisher: Image Comics
Reviewer: Anna Pederson


ALEX + ADA marks Jonathan Luna’s return to comics after a three year hiatus in which he learned to classically paint and even produced his first solo art book called Star Bright and the Looking Glass. He partnered with Sarah Vaughn to develop the story, and Luna picks up artistic duties on this sci-fi book, which centers on Alex, who receives an unexpected present in the form of a new top of the line X5 android, the most realistic version on the market.

Set in the near future, high-level technology has integrated itself into all aspects of life, including an implant that allows thought-based communication and holograms for daily usage in the home. Luna takes great steps in rendering these holographic visuals as realistically as possible. The translucent layers and J.J. Abrams-esque tech-glare are really the only aspects of a book that lists itself as sci fi. Considering that fact that these technologies pretty much already exist, though not as publically accessible as in the story, the sci fi angle is something that is still left to be discovered, or at least fleshed out.

That plot is essentially what was given in its solicitation, and nothing else about this story is revealed through this first issue. I don’t want to say that every comic has to be action centered, or have a large reveal at the end, but little is gained in the first issue that could not have been gleaned through Previews. I understand the nature of trying to establish a tone, one in this case that attempts to mimic the mundane aspects of Alex’s daily life and his feeling of monotony with the 9-5 drone. But that tone quickly turns to bored pacing without a payoff. The slow pacing presumably was a lead up to the reveal of Alex receiving an android, but since this was something we already knew simply from the synopsis, there was no payoff and no surprise. Maybe this wouldn’t be the feeling of someone who blindly picked this issue up without any knowledge of the new series, but the entire page that just shows a five-panel sequence of Alex waking up immediately sets up a less than engaging introduction. In general, the first issue is symptomatic of creating a comic for its trade format, leaving individual issues without much action.

Interviews with the two creators speak towards larger ideas in this book concerning our relationships with technology, the nature of love, and male and female gender roles. Thus far, these themes have only been scatted over while Alex has a video conversation with his grandma. If they fulfill that promise, ALEX + ADA could provide to at least be a thought-provoking read. Unfortunately, I wasn’t entertained enough through this first issue to really care to pick up a second issue.


CAPTAIN AMERICA #13

Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: Nic Klein
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Mighty Mouth


After spending time abroad in Dimension Z, Steve Rogers finally makes his way home--in more ways than one, I might add. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate what was attempted with Cap’s adventures in Dimension Z; it just took a little too long to play out for my taste. I started to long for Steve to escape that bizarre place about four issues in. But enough about that; he’s back and things are… well, problematic for our hero.

All those years in Dimension Z really took a toll on the good Captain. After losing several years and suffering heavy losses, Steve is faced with putting his life back in order. In other words, Cap feels like a man out of time again.

As if Rogers wasn’t dealing with enough crap, the psychopathic patriot cyborg known as Nuke has been reactivated and is waging a one man war in a third world country. Concerned with the impact Nuke’s blitzkrieg will have on foreign relations, S.H.I.E.L.D. pulls the ultimate in damage control stunts, sending CAPTAIN AMERICA to deal with this matter directly.

Nic Klein’s art is really growing on me. Klein’s panels are clear and carry a solid sense of storytelling that flows easily from panel to panel. He’s also not one to skimp on backgrounds, which is something I always appreciate.

For me, a big part of the appeal of CAPTAIN AMERICA has always been that he is a stranger in a strange land--a product of a different generation, forced to live in an age he could never have imagined. Remender’s story succeeds at reestablishing Cap’s sense of isolation, but in a way that doesn’t feel monotonous. The Dimension Z story may not have thrilled me, but I am truly enthused with the direction that its outcome has set in motion.

Give me that over a reimagining any day.


Advance Review: In stores today!

COFFIN HILL #2

Writer: Caitlin Kittredge
Artist: Inaki Miranda
Publisher: DC Vertigo
Reviewer: Optimous Douche


Sometimes having too many books to read is a good thing. I usually lament my week behind or few days ahead existence. I know advance books are the envy of all, so I’m not asking for your crocodile tears, but it can be lonely being out of sync with everyone else. In the case of COFFIN HILL, though, it worked to mine and the book’s advantage.

Had I not read issues 1 and 2 back-to-back (even though I really really wanted to read issue 1 when it came out, but time would not allow for it) I probably would have joined in on the vitriol being spewed towards issue 1 a month ago. Distilling all the commentary down to its core, basically issue 1 reads very disjointed. Like a block of Swiss cheese, you wonder why there are such gaping holes in this story of a young witch who is trying to escape her past. We meet Eva Coffin as a Boston cop in 2013, a hero who just captured a notorious serial killer. Then we get a scene in her apartment where some shit is going down with a meth addict who shoots her. Then we get a flashback 10 years prior to when Eva was a fifteen year old at her wealthy family’s estate in Coffin Hill, Massachusetts. After causing a scene at a hoity-toity party we then see her in the woods with friends about to perform some kind of magic ritual. Then she’s bathed in blood. Jump back to now, somehow she was disgraced and forced back to her family home. While all this is askew, it is made plainly clear that Eva Coffin is a witch descended from Salem stock. Confusing, right?

Issue 2 starts to fill in some of the gaps, like what happened to her and her friends in the woods, why Eva was forced to go back to Coffin, what happened to the dreamy guy from 10 years ago who said “fuck this noise” when Eva and the rest of the gals began to perform their ritual and what happened at her parents’ party to cause Eva to run into the woods in the first place.

Basically, Kittredge is playing a game of Connect 4 instead of checkers. She’s slowly and deliberately plunking in pieces as the story goes on as opposed to vomiting it all in front of us at once and then moving the pieces. Some will say this is the very nature of comics, and I’m inclined to agree. However, I also see the naysayers’ point. In a different time, when new #1’s weren’t littering the shelf each Wednesday, this approach would have received much less flak. In today’s age, though, we need a clearer delineation between series, miniseries and books that should just be outright graphic novels. I understand the financial boon that comes with trade writing. It’s a glorious double dip for publishers: get some money on the floppies and then sell the trades to those who don’t need instant gratification. It’s basically the same battle being waged between cable and services like Netflix. Seriously, from a cost perspective no one should have a cable package. Likewise with comics, since everything comes out in trade these days the virtue of the floppies is one part elitism and another part ritual. In days of yore, only the most special books hit trade; publishers today rely on this Pavlovian conditioning even though practically everything is packaged in volumes for later consumption.

As long as we are willing to oblige and feed this pattern we need to stop bitching when writers lift the kimono to only nutsack height. All books are written for trade these days, and ultimately it will boil down to your patience level whether you will let a story breathe. I truly don’t fault Kittredge for her choice to reveal in increments. Yes, some writers can find a better balance, but we shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater simply because a writer veers in another direction.

Inaki Miranda’s art also helps to keep my interest in COFFIN HILL. His pencils of characters are crisp and differentiated while leaving the mysterious woods of Coffin Hill a blurry nightmare of foreboding.

We need a good witch book. I haven’t seen too many in recent years that don’t obscure the magic with slutty battle armor and phallic swords or turn it into a CW soap opera. COFFIN HILL plays on many levels of the inescapable. Eva is trying to move away from her family’s legacy of the dark arts, her own past where she committed atrocities (maybe) in the woods surrounding her house, and an evil destiny waiting to devour her on that same hallowed ground. She’s also a female character with strength who doesn’t bludgeon it with a chip on her shoulder…in the now, at least.

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.


MY LITTLE PONY MICRO FUN PACK

Writer & Artist: Various
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Reviewer: Adam Forse


Unless you've been living under a rock, or have been banished to the moon, you should be aware of the phenomenon that is “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic”. Beginning in 2010, the cartoon series immediately attracted a legion of stalwart followers, young and old. It is one of those rare things: a series that is genuinely suitable for all. It doesn't patronize the younger audience or throw in dirty jokes for the oldies, it just does what it does, in earnest, and lets viewers make their own minds up. For the vast majority of people, to watch it is to love it, and you'd be hard pressed to find a more dedicated bunch of fans.

I wonder, then, if IDW knew what they were doing when they grabbed a handful of mane, leapt onto the saddle and rode headlong into the fandom, declaring their intent to deliver a new comic featuring these well-loved characters as they had never been seen before.

If their sales figures are anything to go by (over a million issues sold, less than a year after launch), the Pony Express delivered what they promised, and the fans have embraced the comic as they did the cartoon show.

So now IDW brings us these "Micro Fun Packs"; small comics packed in a baggie with some extra treats thrown in for good measure. It should be mentioned that these packs contain reprints of older "Micro-Series" issues; these were self-contained one-shots that ran alongside the main series. There are four to choose from in this set: Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Twilight Sparkle and Pinkie Pie. The idea of self-contained stories is a good one, as it can be difficult for new fans to jump into a series halfway through a story arc.

These packs are really rather nice - the presentation is superb. It seems that they are designed as gifts or impulse purchases, hanging in a baggie as they do. Each Fun Pack contains one Micro Comic, a poster (about A4 size), a sticker and a tattoo (some fans may be displeased to learn that these are impermanent).

The comics are really, really, small. Adult readers best get their spectacles on; they measure 3½" by 5½". Clearly these packs are intended for a younger audience with little hands. Nevertheless, they are presented akin to those deluxe, limited editions that publishers put out these days. The covers (featuring detailed and brightly colored artwork) have a nice matte finish and a glittery, textured application over the logo on the front. The reverse has a picture of the eponymous pony, and is again textured and glitterized. You'll find yourself running your fingers over it a few times. The paper stock is of slightly higher quality than a normal issue, too. Each comic is altogether exceptional in quality and outward presentation.

The interior is largely free from adverts, save the inside back cover, and includes a blank scene in the middle of the book, for you to stick your sticker on. Some stickers have text and backgrounds, though, spoiling the illusion a bit. The last four pages of each issue are handed over to Spike the dragon for a "How to Draw [insert pony here]" section. It's always nice to find bonus content inside a comic, but this feature is obviously intended for the little 'uns.

The posters are prints of the various covers that have adorned the series for the past twelve months, and they're all lovely. Unfortunately, they've been folded twice to fit into the baggie. The posters are sharply creased, and the print is liable to tear along the fold, bisecting an otherwise wonderful bit of art with ugly white lines. It's a crying shame.

I can see these going down well with younger fans and Bronies alike. The adult fanbase has so far shown a rabid appreciation for everything IDW has printed to date, and many fans like to purchase multiple copies of the same issue to collect the different covers. Certainly, these Fun Packs are collectible in their own right, and are sure to make nice gifts.


FOREVER EVIL #3

Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: David Finch
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Masked Man


We are getting close to the halfway point of DC's biggest crossover event of the New 52, focusing on Lex Luthor and a growing gang of supervillains looking to take on the Crime Syndicate.

For the most part, I have no real complaints about FOREVER EVIL; it's been a solid superhero (or should that be supervillain) fun book. Unlike the TRINITY WAR, Johns has decided not to withhold the plot from us, so we actually know what's going on and can appreciate it. There are, of course, bugging little things that I feel could be better, like actually working the comics crossover: a crossover is only as good as the information the publisher gives to the reader on what to buy. In this issue Black Adam is slugging it out with Ultraman, not mentioning the fight started in JUSTICE LEAGUE, because I guess DC's not interested in getting you to buy it. Now I understand many of us (often myself as well) don't like being forced to buy the crossover issues of a crossover event, but it's in the best interests of the publisher (and the readers) to at least let the readers know where they can read more about certain plot points if they want to.

As the story telling goes, I find it a little slow-moving. The Syndicate has kind of done nothing and Luthor's team has barely hit the meet and greet part of their union (you can also draw the parallel that Johns is reusing a plot device he used in INFINITE CRISIS, with Catman and VILLAINS UNITED, but I'm still not sure what the plot of that crossover was, with Superboy-Prime, Maxwell Lord, the Omacs, and the Secret Society all running around, so it's probably unfair to compare.). There is a lot of story yet to tell, and we've burned through three issues already.

Concept-wise, Johns is hitting it out of the park as usual. I'm a big fan of the Syndicate, and I'm glad to see them running around in a big way like this. I also like the concept of the villains becoming heroes to defeat the Syndicate. The execution (for the most part) has been good as well. This issue tells us more about what happened to the Justice Leagues (which I believe was covered more in-depth in crossover issues, but DC didn't think it was important for me to know that, so no sale). Each scene from Batman to Luthor to Captain Cold all plays out really well, though I'm curious how Ultraman could have just owned Black Adam; Superman was never that successful against him (also, how is Black Adam not a pile of dust anymore?). Still, I'm very curious how this will all play out: how much of a hero will Luthor and company be? How big of a role with the League have in defeating the Syndicate? Does the Syndicate have an endgame, after ripping up the world like they are? And what will happen to them once it's all over? So good stuff here, despite my nit-picking.

Artwork-wise, I think it's matching the story. As with Johns, I expect good things out of Finch and so far it's been just better than decent. He's not quite killing this series as, say, Ivan Reis did in BLACKEST NIGHT. At times, Finch's work is clunky and unappealing (see Ultraman after being hit by lightning), which is usually the opposite of his work. So while it's good stuff (check Black Manta coming out of the ocean), I hold Finch to a higher standard than the usual artist.

As far as a Johns mega-story goes, he's currently two for two--good idea and good execution. Hopefully he can pull off the hat trick with a good ending, too.

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


BALLISTIC #3

Writer: Adam Egypt Mortimer
Artist: Darick Robertson
Publisher: Black Mask Studios
Reviewer: Ambush Bug


Continuing the insane ride into the future with Butch (an AC repairman with aspirations to be a famous criminal) and Gun (his talking gun), BALLISTIC #3 sheds more light on the world which they inhabit. What I’ve found to be the most impressive aspect of this series is the way writer Adam Egypt Mortimer and artist Darick Robertson have fleshed out an entire world of the future that is truly unique.

The world of BALLISTIC is a place that is naturally evolved from the science of today. Reading this book from cover to cover is an experience that not only entertains from a story standpoint, but dazzles you as it points out modern technologies being developed and how they fit into the world of BALLISTIC. Mortimer provides links, photographs and all sorts of data to back up what looks to be kooky Morrisonian fever dream in the back of the book, showing us that all he is doing is taking the science and tech being developed in labs today and placing them in the story as if they’d been in the common culture for decades. By doing so, Mortimer makes a believable and lived-in future unlike anything ever put to print. It’s a testament to Mortimer’s skill as a writer to dilute these lab hypotheticals and implement them in his story making it science fact rather than science fiction.

At the same time, there is much drug use involved in this book, skewing reality in its own right. But while this book does tend to dive into a hallucinogenic state from time to time, the world around it remains detailed and graspable.

In this issue, Butch is still on the run and putting together the pieces of his first robbery, which was supposed to put him on the criminal map and ended up being a botched job. Noir-style, Butch finds himself in the middle of some type of scandal involving a pair of beauties (one of them blue, the other is some kind of android) and of course his Gun, which adheres to his hand in this issue and uses all of his bodily fluids to take care of a muck monster with gun hands of his own. The showdown between Butch and Gun and the monster is bombastic, and Darick Robertson offers up gritty versions of his usual style to give the story the edge it already exudes.

BALLISTIC continues to be one of my favorite books on the shelves today. It’s full of ideas that make my brain crack and beg for more all at once. This combination of Robertson’s hyper-real imagery and Mortimer’s trippy but logical storytelling make BALLISTIC a comic book for folks who like their stories a far cry from the norm.

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 4. Mark’s written comics such as THE TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, DEATHSPORT GAMES, NANNY & HANK (soon to be a feature film from Uptown 6 Films), Zenescope’sGRIMM FAIRY TALES Vol.13 & UNLEASHED: WEREWOLVES – THE HUNGER and a chapter in Black Mask Studios’OCCUPY COMICS. FAMOUS MONSTERS’ LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (co-written with Martin Fisher) will be available soon in trade. Mark also wrote the critically acclaimed GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK and its follow up THE JUNGLE BOOK: LAST OF THE SPECIES! Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller.


Advance Review: On sale today!

BATMAN #25

Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist: Greg Capullo
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Optimous Douche


Personally, Zero Year is EXACTLY what I wanted from the New 52. It’s clear, concise and the continuity is seamless. Take last week, for example: a superstorm threatens Gotham and Metropolis, and our heroes in both towns are being molded by this force of nature, one internal and external crisis at a time. If you want the inward reflection I highly recommend last week’s ACTION annual as Clark tries to wrestle a storm. The outward forces shaping came in the form of DETECTIVE where we see a young(ish) Jim Gordon dealing with corruption in the GCPD as the storm and Gotham’s blackout rages on.

There’s nothing big or bombastic like Parademons. It’s giving us time to get to know the characters – an osmosis of change instead of a slap to the face. It allows old continuity to carry over organically, in an explained fashion. Zero Year is my start of the New 52, even if historians end up disagreeing. I also think it’s a salvation for any fans who felt shunned post-FLASHPOINT. I’ve talked with a lot of fans, I’ve heard a lot of grievances about the “youth”anizing of our heroes, I’ve heard (and agreed with) the confusion caused by the 5 years before in some titles and the present in others. Zero Year is the fix, folks. Please come back--the universe is far more welcoming right now.

Zero Year also lets DC keep FOREVER EVIL humming without the oft fan complaint that other books aren’t acknowledging the event. Whoever’s idea this “event” was, you deserve blowjobs while eating ice cream.

The last arc of BATMAN introduced us to a pre-faceless Joker. Now, the Riddler is the focal point, but at the same time isn’t. As much as he is the overarching villain causing the blackout in Gotham, sending Batman on a goose chase of epic proportions, other forces seep into play to provide nice vignettes against the grander threat.

Our two new introductions come in the form of one Pamela Isley, a young botanist intern who is on the crime scene when some scientists are force-fed bone growth serum that turns them into marrow trees. Fangeezers can guess where this is going, but the mystery for noobs is firmly in place until Isley gets her foliage on.

The other threat is a resurrected Golden Age baddie by the name of Dr. Death. He’s made a few appearances in the new 52, but they have been few and far between. They’ve also never been this gruesome and in your face. The thing I liked best about this character is an origin shrouded in book-end mystery. The book opens with a flashback of a unit in some desert shithole uncovering a trap door. Flash forward to Gotham, the blackout, Isley bones and a turncoat Lucius Fox possessed by death. Then we flash back to the desert shitscape with a Humvee simply driving away from the mysterious hole.

A grand story driven by smaller beats has been missing from this universe for too long. As much as I enjoyed “Court of Owls”, I’ve been reading comics for 30 years. My brain could fill in holes or back story to make the proceedings come alive in a way a new reader couldn’t.

Before I walk away, two more things. Capullo did yet another amazing job on the art duties. He truly gave the piece a differing tonality between the bookends and main storyline. Snyder also did a great job coordinating the events of last week’s DETECTIVE COMICS #25 for synergy with the man who is Jim Gordon. While cynics will say DETECTIVE was just the origin of the bat signal, there are subtler beats redefining Gordon as a person.

With wafts of Frank Miller’s DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, I’m far more intrigued by this latest BATMAN “Zero Year” arc than I was the last one--and I loved the last one.


PROTECTORS INC. #1

Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artist: Gordon Purcell
Publisher: Image Comics
Reviewer: Humphrey Lee


I believe I’ve mentioned here before that in addition to my comic book consuming habits I am also an avid craft beer enthusiast, because I don’t enjoy actually saving money. And, honestly, that particular hobby is not unlike being in this one (or any for that matter); you find your taste, then you find creators that suite your palate, and then you grow upward and onward from there. This does not always work out; again, like in most things, and even with a really reputable brewer that you’ve come to trust and in a style you really enjoy, you can still find yourself a third of a way into a glass of fermented happy juice and find yourself not only lacking any enjoyment in the product but outright disliking it to the point you ditch the remains of the offending liquid. This is called a drainpour and it can happen to even the best of brewers. I think you can see where I’m going with this…

Personally, I think JMS, in this case our “brewer,” has been a good-to-great comic book writer for the solid majority of his body of work. Material like MIDNIGHT NATION, SUPREME POWER, and the first and last thirds of RISING STARS are all wonderful genre pieces that really twisted their conventions, which is where I like to think JMS works best. Some things could have been better, and there’s some obvious drainpours such as the last year and a half or so of his AMAZING SPIDER-MAN run (which I feel is mostly brilliant until it becomes a brilliant mess) but I consider the man’s work to be pretty reputable. PROTECTORS INC, unfortunately, got about a half dozen sips into my gullet when I realized there was just a whisper of flavors in play keeping me invested in tipping it back into my mouth instead of sending it swirling into the pipeworks.

It’s not so much that PROTECTORS INC didn’t grab me, but that the book didn’t really do anything for me either way. The book is almost textbook in presenting a world that was minding its own business until “The Day the Superheroes Came and Changed Everything!” that tends to be a popular trope in the world of spandex and fistfights happens. The history that we are given is essentially in that vein of powers happened, then more of them happened, and now we are in a world that will never be the same again. In the defense of PROTECTORS INC, though, that third part – the world that stands currently after over a half century after The Patriot showed and changed everything – has enough intrigue in it that I found myself pulling the glass away from the sink, to keep beating this metaphor into the ground, because sometimes you also realize you need to let things sit and open up a bit to become what they will, for better or for worse.

And that’s the real takeaway I pulled from this debut. I’m not going to pull back from that somewhat overly dramatic lead-in; I think that for the most part this book plays out with very little in the way of energy or freshness in the tone. The end result of the groundwork being laid, though, pulled me back from the drainpour drink. The idea that this world of superpowers in the wake of The Patriot didn’t become a Watchmen-esque grimy cesspit wrapped in political intrigue (yet) but instead just became a place where there’s really no superpowered crime, just guys and gals who can do special things being a clean-up crew and are really just in there to soak up adoration from the public, is intriguing. That this path leads to what looks like a murky murder mystery will shift that a bit, obviously, but it also is in a different paradigm than we are used to seeing in these types of worlds. Such settings are usually full of dastardly deviants that take their superpowers to excess and are all over the tabloids for their debauchery, and there’s still plenty of room for that to be revealed, but here in PROTECTORS INC everyone seems to be playing the game pretty clean sans the occasional dust-up between powers. So maybe we’ll get some unique storytelling perspective, as JMS declined to go all 80’s comics on us from the start.

That all sounds upbeat and all, and I do want to emphasize that I think this series, based off that solid third of an issue of world-building, deserves another look, but a lot of what I felt dragged this issue down – namely the energy and overly methodical pace – will really need to shift in order to become enjoyable on a month to month basis. Even the art, which I feel is very competent in going for sort of a retro vibe in the, let’s call it a Jerry Ordway vibe is what I got, becomes really monotonous. The designs are there but it’s the same super broad shoulders with the same musculature and jaw lines. The only way to really differentiate some of these folks -especially the males - are hair color and style and ethnicity. Again, I get that is part of the “feel” of the book, but it also makes for some really muddled storytelling to the point where I honestly don’t know if I’m supposed to make more out of the moment where The Patriot removes his uniform for the last time because of how much he looks like Detective Riley (almost identical except for a hair part), our narrator throughout the issue and I assume our lead going forth. And really, that is my summation of and the fault I find with this opening issue; it’s familiar enough to the point of being lulled into glossing over any unique or interesting beats. To finish out that beer metaphor, because I am a man who sees things through, there are some interesting notes in play, but they are being completely overwhelmed by mass amounts of the same old same old. But some of these stories, just like some beer styles, drastically change with some age, and that’s the reason why I will pull a couple more off the shelf before rendering my final verdict.

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.


AMAZING X-MEN #1

Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Ed McGuinness
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Corey Michael Dalton


One of the reasons I don't read many comics from Marvel or DC is because their series feel too cyclical and regressive to me. The illusion of change required by the Big Two for their corporate-owned characters just isn't enough to make me care about their ongoing narratives. Stories only really work for me when they have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Events need to have consequences, consequences that matter and aren't reversed or undone by the next editorial regime. Unfortunately, neither Marvel or DC will ever really let any of their IPs change significantly or *gulp* die, which leads to a feeling of wheel-spinning for most of their books.

So what does that little diatribe have to do with AMAZING X-MEN #1? More than half of the first issue of this brand-new series is given over to a plot in which Nightcrawler decides to come back from the dead. You can't get much more cyclical than that. Honestly, I didn't even remember that Nightcrawler had died, so I wish that Jason Aaron had just had him show up at the X-Mansion and then gotten on with the plot. Maybe they could have explained his return in a mini-series or something later. Instead, this issue treats us to scenes of a deceased Nightcrawler sitting on a cliff in heaven someplace and then deciding to jump back to Earth. This idea is just so ridiculous that I can't stand it. Is this a thing in Marvel Comics now? Do characters all go to a verifiable afterlife when they die and can then choose to walk back whenever they feel like it? Without death as a legitimate threat in your fictional universe, how can you possibly create drama? Where are the stakes?

At least I can give Aaron props for acknowledging how completely ludicrous the set-up is and playing to its silliness. I mean, he goes all-out with the craziness and introduces marauding demons dressed like pirates who invade heaven. That's pretty fun in a nutso way, right? Oh, and they're led by Nightcrawler's daddy, the red version of Nightcrawler called Azazel (who I mainly remember as Russian from X-MEN: FIRST CLASS). And that's the first 13 pages, kids.

The second half of the comic features more regression, this time in the person of Firestar. Ever since first seeing her on SPIDER-MAN AND HIS AMAZING FRIENDS I've had a soft spot in my heart for everyone's favorite microwave-wielding redhead (I even own a badass Art Baltazar painting called "It's Always Been About Firestar" that hangs in my kitchen.) I followed the character through NEW WARRIORS and then into THE AVENGERS. Over the years she has grown into a competent, confident woman who can kick butt with the best of them. In this comic, though, she seems to have returned to a younger, less secure version of herself who is intimidated by the X-Men and shocked to see a Brood wearing glasses. Look, I get the need to introduce a POV character, and I'm glad Firestar was chosen to be that character and finally join the X-Men. I just wish she'd acted a bit more like the Angelica we've grown to know over the past 30 years. Still, if it saves her from the character junk pile, I am happy to have her act a little more naive than in the past. At least she's back in her original costume instead of that terrible George Perez-designed outfit…now that's regression I can embrace!

Aside from half of the comic concerning itself with resurrecting a dead character and the other half featuring a slightly off take on an old favorite, I didn't dislike the issue. The writing was pleasant enough. I enjoyed Beast's preoccupation with trying to exterminate the "bamfs" (cute little naked Nightcrawlers that live in the school's walls and seem to be involved in bringing Nightcrawler back to the physical plane). I also dig the mix of characters; I've always kind of liked Northstar and Rachel Grey, so I'm glad to see them on this team alongside the expected Wolverine and Storm (who is rocking her awesome '80s mohawk again).

As for the art, I thought it was great! In the past, I've not been a big fan of Ed McGuinness' work. His stuff was always too bubbly/pillowy/cartoony for me. But none of those stylistic excesses are present in this issue. Instead the art is just a bit more realistic than I expect from him while still remaining superheroically bombastic. It reminded me of the more coherent work of Chris Bachalo. I could have done without the two-page spread of nothing but pink clouds and credits, though…when I'm paying $3.99 for a comic, I want more bang for my buck than that. Seriously, two pages of pink clouds!

Overall, this was a solid first issue. I'll probably give the second issue a look just to see how Firestar handles herself with the X-Men. If it wants to get four bucks from me every month, though, it'll need to step it up a bit. Maybe when it finishes the 5-part "Quest for Nightcrawler" storyline it'll really take off.

Corey Michael Dalton has written and/or edited trade books, magazine articles, short stories, novels, comics, plays, review, websites, blogs, and more. You name it, he's probably written it. Except religious scriptures. He hasn't gotten around to those just yet.


Advance Review: On sale today!

HUCK FINN’S ADVENTURES IN UNDERLAND #4

Writer: Nikola Jajic
Artist: Gabriel Peralta
Publisher: Alterna Comics
Reviewer: BottleImp


Nikola Jajic continues his comic book mash-up of the literary works of Mark Twain, Lewis Carroll, H.P. Lovecraft and then some in the latest issue of HUCK FINN’S ADVENTURES IN UNDERLAND. If that sounds like a lot of seemingly disparate parts crammed into one comic, don’t worry—it is. Unfortunately, while the first few issues of this series took the various characters from the pages of fiction (and, in the case of Lovecraft, real-life people) and found a way to keep them all in equilibrium, with this latest issue the plot is starting to strain under the weight of its own premise.

I still think that the idea of using Huckleberry Finn as an Alice-like protagonist in his own weird version of Wonderland is genius. Twain’s Huck possesses a certain…well, I wouldn’t say innocence, but perhaps an open-mindedness that comes with youth, combined with a frank acceptance of even the strangest circumstances. These qualities make Huck a perfect surrogate for the reader, seeing and accepting the bizarre creatures of Underland just as Alice cruised along with the flow of strangeness in the world on the other side of the looking-glass. The problem here is that with each subsequent issue, more characters are brought in to swell an already-ample cast, and poor Huck is starting to get lost in the shuffle.

I am reminded of the movie “Amadeus” and the Emperor’s reaction to Mozart’s opera: “Too many notes.” In his exuberance, Jajic has piled on so many figures from literature, history and even pop culture that the character who is supposed to be the focal point for the series has become just another bit player. I wish that the story had been streamlined so that Huck’s view of the weirdness around him remained in the forefront of the comic instead of being relegated to a few scattered thought-captions.

This sense of overcrowding in the plot is furthered by Gabriel Peralta’s artwork. Peralta’s loose and scratchy linework has a certain appeal, but at times the scribbly nature of his drawings makes the page feel a little muddy. I’d be interested to see what would happen if Peralta’s pencils were inked by someone with a slightly more controlled line; finished artwork that combined Peralta’s energy while bringing more clarity to the panel details would certainly aid the visual storytelling. But I can’t fault Peralta on his drawings of lizard-men astride Cthulhu-like monstrosities—those definitely tickle my geek fancy in the perfect tickle spot.

I’m hoping that this comic turns around with the next issue and brings Huck back to the front and center of the plot. Like I said, I think that Jajic and Peralta came up with a neat twist on a familiar trope. It would be a shame if the novelty of a quintessentially American Alice figure in a freaky-deaky version of Wonderland got lost in the cacophony of “too many notes.”


SUPERMAN UNCHAINED #4

Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist: Jim Lee
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Masked Man


I don't know about you, but after a few issues of Grant Morrison's Superman (ok, it was ACTION), Scott Snyder's BATMAN, and Jim Lee's JUSTICE LEAGUE, I dropped all of them. The character was unappealing, the history of Gotham and how it pertains to Batman was boring, and Jim did little to make it appealing. So why in the world did I pick up SUPERMAN UNCHAINED? Because I still hope for the best with characters and creators I respect.

To sidebar for a moment, I just want to explain why I say bad things about people I respect. It's not out of hate, but frustration and disappointment. When I badmouth a comic, movie, whatever it's usually because it fails to deliver on what it promised. My goal to the creators is to point out the bad things in an effort to get them to stop doing them. In my dream world, I wish creators would respond with yeah, I should have seen that, I'll try harder next time (though I’m quite sure their actual response is @#$ you, nerd). For you readers, I hope to create a space to allow you to vent your disapproval with me or perhaps avoid being frustrated all together. I also like to explain why things don't work, in hopes that aspiring creators will learn from these mistakes, or if they disagree with me, at least understand why they can be viewed as mistakes and address it in their own work.

Now I suppose you're thinking I'm about to let SUPERMAN UNCHAINED really have it. While it has yet to become all that and a bag of chips (which I'm sure is what DC hoped and wanted us to believe it is), it is still a decent enough series. So far the most interesting thing about the series is the multiple plotlines Snyder has running: Wraith, Ascension, Luthor, and the roles Jimmy and Lois are going to play in it all. Unlike, say, Marvel's INFINITY, Snyder is starting to show signs in this issue that these plotlines are connected and will come together to form the single story of the series.

Wraith is clearly the stand-out of the series so far--an alien superman working for the United States army who can apparently kick Superman's butt. Who is this guy, why does he do what he does and can he really kick Superman's butt? Questions I look forward to being answered. Based on the title here, I get the sense that Superman is being pulled in many directions: General Lane wants Superman to do more for the world and Lex Luthor wants Superman to do less for the world. Ascension is going to tax Superman's mental ability to the breaking point and Wraith is going to tax Superman's physical ability to the breaking point, to which Superman will finally take the chain off and show everyone just what the hell he is capable of and why he does what he does. If that's the plan, it should be pretty damn good.

Jim Lee's artwork is fairly standard--for him that is. He seems to have lost his spark. I sense he has been trying to evolve his work these past years, becoming more loose and freeform, like say the late Gene Colan. Unfortunately, I don't think he's quite figured out how to do this. Sketchy line work by itself doesn't make for freer or looser art--just sloppier art. If this is what Lee wants to do, he should be working on gesture, the under drawing, not the surface details—again, look at Colan. Overall it still has Jim Lee's cool style and sense of action; a fine looking book. Plus, Alex Sinclair's colors really help kick up the wow factor of these pages.

SUPERMAN UNCHAINED #4 seems to be the point where the plotlines start evolving into a single plotline as Synder starts revealing more plot points. It's about to become really damn interesting or rather disappointing from this point on.


TEN GRAND #5

Writer: J.Michael Straczynski
Artist: C.P. Smith
Publisher: Image Comics/Joe’s Comics
Reviewer: Optimous Douche


Oh, what a difference an issue makes. When last we left our lovelorn protagonist Joe, he was on terra firma still fighting the goodish fight against all sorts of demons and crooked angels for his 10 minutes of time with his dearly departed Laura. Sadly, the deal of a virtuous death for those precious moments of ecstasy ended, and Joe decided to book a first class ticket to purgatory to see what’s what. Issue 5 starts us on Joe’s trip through limbo. Of course, the landscape will be different because we’re now in the ethereal as opposed to the big city, but Ben Templesmith replacement C.P. Smith brings a fresh and cleaner art style to Joe’s Comics’ flagship title as well.

Cleaner doesn’t mean better or worse. I know there are a ton of Templesmith haters out there who will disagree, but on the right title like this one, his insane scratching was perfectly aligned. If anything, I think Smith is the one that will take some getting used to for me. While his landscapes and denizens of the place “in between” are perfectly creepy, our title character has become more cartoony and developed the jaw line of a true hero as opposed to Templesmith’s drowned rat rendition. Personally, I liked the drowned rat; it was more fitting of the anti-hero. However, it would take much more than a measly jaw for me to shun TEN GRAND, because every other element that has made this dark twisted love story great is still in place.

This is probably the most action-packed story of the series so far, certainly by volume. In past tales JMS had to do some heavy exposition work because of the title’s originality. We needed to learn Joe’s past as a fixer for the mob, the deal he made with the “angels”, and get introductions to the world of angels and demons and the primary players therein. Lazier writers would have spewed this out in call-out boxes during the first issue. JMS, though, takes no shortcuts. Combining the love story with the hardboiled detective tale, ground coverage had to be four issues. JMS writes everything with a humanistic element. He doesn’t get trapped behind kitchen tables like Bendis, but there’s a headiness to all dialog that examines and deconstructs humanity.

Take this issue, for example. After Joe fights off some nasty souls he reaches the famed river Styx. Usually the ferryman is a silent sort who just sticks out his hand for some silver and then points a lot with his bony claw. In the hands of JMS, Joe peels back the psyche of the ferryman. And the ferryman complies. There’s also a discussion about the nature of the river and how it reflects the soul that is being ferried across. Again, what could take a few panels to keep the plot moving is instead used for further character development. This is why I continue to be a fan of JMS’ work and feel crestfallen when he doesn’t go into these dark recesses in books like PROTECTORS INC.

Some will call my taste boring, and that’s fine; there are plenty of comics on the shelves for us all to be satiated. I’ll never claim that a JMS book isn’t meant for mature readers. But “mature reader” shouldn’t just be defined by potty language, nudity or violence. Sometimes, you need to be a mature reader to appreciate subtlety of story. Sometimes you need some maturity under your belt to understand the nature of the humanity – from love to loss, some things can only be appreciated with time. If you have that time under your belt, TEN GRAND will satiate comic fanboyism, just the tip of the occult and hereafter, and most importantly the unending human need to seek and fight for that one soul mate who makes life worth living.


Advance Review: In stores today!

12 REASONS TO DIE #4

Story: Ghostface Killah, Adrian Younge, Ce Garcia, & Matthew Rosenberg
Writers: Matthew Rosenberg & Patrick Kindlon
Art: Breno Tamura, Gus Storms, Joelle Jones, Edwin Huang, David Murdoch
Publisher: Black Mask Studios
Reviewer: Ambush Bug


The two-pronged story of Anthony Starks, an African American mobster trying to scratch and claw his way to the top of the world of organized crime in the past and in the present, and a record collector tracking down a dozen mysterious records whose owners have met unfortunate and unusual demises, chugs on in this fourth installment of 12 REASONS TO DIE. The story itself is based on a concept album by Wu Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah’s recent solo album, but writers Matthew Rosenberg and Patrick Kindlon have made it so much more.

What these two writers have done is mapped out a slowly unfolding mystery that only now is coming together and starting to make sense. With each chapter, a new record is found by the collector and Starks marches forward over dead bodies and bullets. The past and present seem inevitable to collide and with this tale, the most compelling issue yet of the series, it seems like the collision is going to be massive once all of the cards are laid on the table.

Having betrayed the 12 families that run the New York mob scene, Anthony Starks begins amassing an army of his own and in this issue the tables begin to turn. Having recently been watching BOARDWALK EMPIRE, I can’t help but make the comparison with Chalky White from that series and Starks. The story of power despite the way African Americans were viewed at the time is both badass and inspirational and the way it plays out in this issue of 12 REASONS makes Starks to be one of the baddest of the bad.

But the part that really intrigues me is the part that plays out in the future as the writers flex their creative muscles as the record collector scours the country for these haunted records that seem to cause all sorts of horrors once played. It’s an intriguing premise, and given the back-story that is unfolding, one that is worth following.

12 REASONS TO DIE is a very slowly paced comic which explodes with every installment as it inches towards the connection between the two stories its telling. The wait for these issues is tough on my patience, but the reward after reading the issue is tasty indeed as I know it’s going somewhere explosive. Look for 12 REASONS TO DIE, as it’s one of the coolest horror mysteries out there at the moment.


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

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