AICN COMICS Reviews: UNWRITTEN: APOCALYPSE! HARBINGER! DAREDEVIL! ALEX+ADA! & MORE!
(Click title to go directly to the review)
Advance Review: UNWRITTEN V2 APOCALYPSE #1
SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #25
ROVER RED CHARLIE #2
THOR: GOD OF THUNDER #17
Advance Review: SCRIBBLENAUTS UNMASKED #1
Advance Review: In stores this week!
UNWRITTEN V2: APOCALYPSE #1Writer: Mike Carey
Artist: Peter Gross
Publisher: DC Vertigo
Reviewer: Optimous Douche
Before the cynic in you takes over and bemoans “ughhh…another #1 to satiate the speculator market,” consider purpose versus Machiavellian corporate scheming. Yes, #1s sell, and yes, many companies are taking the DC reboot concept to the nth degree, but sometimes…just sometimes…the baptism of a #1 is just that. It’s the chance to start a concept anew, driving the desire of consistent readers who may have snapped into a malaise or to bring in someone who wanted to join the ride without breaking their leg as the story whizzes by at 80 MPH. That is UNWRITTEN: APOCALYPSE.
Tom Taylor, the physical embodiment of the wizard boy who died, spent the first fifty or so issues of his existence learning that there is no distinction between story and reality – that we all just simply exist within the muses of consciousness greater than or own. Tom thought he was real until he, like all stories, was devoured by the great leviathan. And there was a no greater bearer of this truth than the cryptic Frau Totenkinder of FABLES fame. It was a glorious swan song for both tales.
While FABLES has used this as a time to end the story, UNWRITTEN still has one more chapter (or hopefully epoch) left to write.
This is a glorious beginning of the end. Carey dumbs down his hyper-literary brain by having Tommy regurgitated from the belly of the beast Leviathan. Once he leaves the great whale he is thrust into a slew of famed literary tales where he is always the protagonist that meets an untimely demise. I say Carey dumbed things down because, quite frankly, I was able to nab every story without a trip to Wikipedia. If a reviewer can’t recognize such staples as “Alice in Wonderland” or the Narnia tales they need to cut off their fingers and go knead bread with their stumps. This surprises me, because Carey, much like Gaiman, usually requires an annotated edition to get all the reference bombs.
So Tommy dies: he dies as Riki Tiki Tavi, he dies as the ugly duckling, he dies as Aslan. Each time, though, he remembers a little bit more about the revelation he spent years trying to learn during the first arc: the simple fact that the veil of reality is as permeable as cheesecloth, and with enough of a push we can enter into parallel streams of consciousness with nothing more than the force of sheer will.
Sadly, or joyfully if you like maudlin reunions, Tom ends up back in reality prime. This is the world where his father created a series of tales about a boy wizard and subjected Tom to heinous amounts of child abuse to make that fiction real in this particular reality. And boy, have things gone south: Tommy leaves some stories to enter the final story.
We only get to see one panel of the London Bridges falling down as Tom is reunited with his Hermione and Ron, one a vampire and the other his lifelong love (that’s right--no ginger porn here, folks). While I hate to see endings, any endings, it makes what came before that much more real and impactful. So, a toast to the end of everything: I’m sure it’s going to be one hell of a heady ride.
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.
SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #25Writers: Dan Slott & Christos Gage
Artist: Humberto Ramos
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Mighty Mouth
In an attempt to rid Flash Thompson of the symbiote, Spider-Man finds himself the newest host for the alien parasite’s influence and runs amok in NYC. In response, the Avengers assemble to take down their possessed teammate and, much like the cherry on top of a sundae, the Goblins are about to engage in a turf war. Yeah, there’s a lot going on within these extra pages.
With Otto Octavius in the driver’s seat of Peter Parker’s mind and body, it makes perfect sense that the Superior Spider-Man would face off against several of Spidey’s classic foes. To not include Venom amongst these clashes would be a textbook example of a missed opportunity. The idea of the symbiote attempting to re-bond with Parker’s body under Otto’s watch is a bit anticipated, but still makes for a fun read. I particularly liked the bit where Otto attempts to blame the symbiote for all of his ill choices as of late. SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #25 is arguably the best chapter in the “Darkest Hours” story arc and wraps things up with a climax that Spider-fans have been waiting for: the first sign of Peter Parker’s inevitable comeback.
Humberto Ramos’s art will always be something of a conundrum for me. I’m not saying his work is bad; far from it. While his anatomy sometimes drives me a little nutty, his stylized quirky renderings do create a sense of action that make his panels almost appear as if they were in motion. I think Ramos is good at his craft; it’s just a bit of an acquired taste is all.
By now the spoilers are all over the web (web, heh). The public at large knows that Peter Parker will indeed return in Marvel Now’s AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #1 premiering this April. Nevertheless, before that story can be told spider-scribe Dan Slott has one last superior tale to tell--namely the Goblin War. Over the past twenty-something issues, Slott’s subplot has been building to a faceoff between the Green Goblin & Hobgoblin. I for one am very curious to see how far this conflict goes and how it ties into Peter Parker’s return.
In comics, death and return stories have become a bit cliché. Still, Slott fashioned a (dare I say it) “superior” take on the tired formula. Now, with the endgame about to begin, how fondly this story is remembered rests heavily on its culmination.
It’s been one Hell of rollercoaster ride so far Danny boy--don’t mess this up!
ALEX+ADA #3Writers: Jonathan Luna & Sarah Vaughn
Art: Jonathan Luna
Publisher: Image Comics
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
Without a doubt, I deem ALEX+ADA one of my favorite comics on the shelves today. And the book couldn’t have hit the stands at a more timelier of times as HER is currently occupying theaters and technology is beginning to make the futuristic world depicted in ALEX+ADA seem more and more a reality.
Love is a funny thing. It’s one of those ethereal things we all try to believe in, but ask three people on the street what love is and you’ve get three entirely different answers. For some it’s acceptance, for some it’s company, for some it’s the desire to be needed, and for others it’s something to obsess over and for others it’s none of those traits or all or some of them. ALEX+ADA finds the lead character, Alex at a particular point in his life where he doesn’t have a lot going for him. No girlfriend. A decent, yet under-stimulating job. A lazy dog and close ties with his grandmother seem to be the only things he has even resembling a relationship. As grandmothers do, she is a bit pushy about the way Alex lives his life and she sends him a present which he opens in the first issue. Being a strong advocate for android companionship herself, Alex’s grandmother sends him a female android companion who identifies herself as Ada. Issue two has Alex contemplating whether or not he wants to keep the android and finding out some of the setbacks for not spelling out directives quite literally to her. And issue three—the issue at hand, opens with Alex dealing with his decision to keep the android instead of packing her up in her box and sending her back to the company she was made.
The interesting thing about this predicament Alex has found himself in is that he doesn’t exactly know why he decided to keep Ada. And that lack of understanding is the soul of this book. Getting into any relationship requires a leap of faith and that ambiguous leap is something scary and new. While this might be an unconventional pairing of man and machine, it still in many ways is a love story through and through and the strength of this book is the way Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn are able to tap into the commonality of the great unknown that is a relationship and make it shine in this semi-futuristic landscape they’ve created.
This issue has Alex introduce Ada to his friends in a scene that is by far my favorite of many awesome interactions this book has given me so far. The different directions this conversation Alex has with his friends feels very real, without trying to be smart or funny or cool. It’s just genuine as feelings of curiosity, confusion, jealousy, pride, and compassion are all utilized in a fun and compelling conversation that had me more interested than a thousand spandex-tearing slugfests could ever interest me. The depth and emotions triggered just in these first three issues are more than most comics achieve in an entire run.
The art itself by Jonathan Luna continues to be plain and simplistic, but perfect for this title. An overly flashy artist with too much detail would guide you away from the raw emotion of this story. Luna gives just enough for us to understand the action, the technology, the emotion, the nuances to get what’s going on without cluttering up all up with too many lines.
There is a secondary plot through the book regarding sentience of the androids and how one android went on a rampage which spurned many to distrust this level of robotics. It’s an integral motivating factor to the story and I don’t mean to give it the short shift here in this review. It is equally compelling and tied to how Alex is trying to make Ada into something more akin to a real person, but to be honest, that’s the part of this book that least interests me. I love this book for the raw emotion it contains. All the rest is gravy to me. ALEX+ADA had me intrigued in its first issue, but after reading the second and third, I’m addicted and unlike Alex, I don’t need to understand why I love this book. I just do. It’s one of the best books you’re going to find at the moment.
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.
DAREDEVIL #35Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Chris Samnee
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Masked Man
It's kind of weird to think Marvel is actually canceling DAREDEVIL, but then of course they are just relaunching a month later because DC has proven sales will always increase if there's a #1 on the front- thank you, silent majority! All that marketing brouhaha aside, Mark Waid and Chris Samnee are still knocking out one of the most unique and clever superhero tales ever.
For those of you missing out, old horn-head has been mixing it up with the Sons of the Serpent, a white supremacy group. Unlike some of the other villains Waid has thrown at DD during his tenure (Klaw, Doctor Doom) I have no trouble wrapping my head around this. Just as I'm not crazy about stuff being too realistic or gritty for Daredevil, I'm also not crazy about things getting too sci fi, superpowered actiony either, so I feel The Sons of the Serpent is a great street level threat for DD. Just like he has done in previous story arcs, Waid has again managed to throw a mighty mean curve ball here. Want to know what it was? Ok, spoiler time: The Sons of the Serpent plan to do a full press release exposing Matt Murdock as Daredevil (Matt's been trying to play it off as a rumor since issue #1), detailing all his weaknesses, etc, etc. unless Matt defends a high level agent's son in court. Plus they talk about what they can and can't do for Matt's good buddy Foggy, who is battling cancer. So what's Matt to do? Pull a Robert Downey Jr. in court--“I'm Ironman, er Daredevil”, of course! Along the way Daredevil meets up with his old girlfriend Elektra and punches out some Serpent Society goons--“Look before you leap next time, jackass.” Sure we know the hero will win, but I like when a villain can punch his lights out good just to keep him honest.
It's often hard to explain why some creative ventures work. On the surface Waid and Samnee aren't doing anything different than anyone else in comics. Their main trick is, they found the right touch. Waid has managed to balance fun superhero action with good subplots and clever plot twists. Not pushing too hard, and not pushing to little as well--just the right touch. Samnee, meanwhile, has done a great job of capturing the favor of the book on top of great storytelling. The simplicity of his style disguises the clever nature of his layouts and design work, much like how Waid's apparently simple storytelling sets you up for his plot twist.
So as DAREDEVIL comes to a close and DAREDEVIL comes back to us in March (hey, DC did it with Green Lantern), it appears that it will be just as amazing as it ever was with Mark Waid and Chris Samnee.
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
HARBINGER #20Writer: Joshua Dysart
Artist: Clayton Henry
Publisher: Valiant Entertainment
Reviewer: Optimous Douche
A prophetic if ominous new start for the Harbinger kids. When last we left the crew, they were breaking free from their Harada-induced comas. While it might have been Paradise Found for strong man Torque, thankfully the rest of the team saw through the death metal world so everyone including us readers could snap back to reality and continue the fight against Harada's machinations in the real world.
Now the team is back in Los Angeles and ready to recruit a new Psiot (gifted person) to join in their fight of superpowered liberation.
I say it with each new arc, and believe it to the core of my being: right now is a great time to jump on the Valiant bandwagon, especially since HARBINGER is the finest of what Valiant has to offer. One read of this dark reality and I guarantee other team books will cause a snort and a chortle with every staid superhero contrivance. Naturally, buying the hardcover of the past two years would be the panacea of catch up, but in tough economic times sacrifices must be made. I promise you, buy this latest book and if the completist in you needs more details on this book or anything Valiant my email is but a click away and I would be happy to kibitz.
Now, despite my noob-friendly praise, I will say you're not going to get a great deal of info about the past or the current team of rebel Psiots called the Renegades, but that's extraneous information at the moment anyway. This issue is about Harada, the villain who straddles the lines of morality for the betterment of mankind. I don't mean to be overly passive with my assessment of Harada, but his “ends justify the means” mantra of gathering up Psiots is a foggy gray pall, especially when you compare his machinations to those of Project Rising Spirit (PRS), the other corporate hungry hungry hippo trying to gobble up powered kids for profit.
Harada basically has a new enemy, a hacker extraordinaire by the name of Ax, who is able to control machines the same way Pete can control the mind and Flamingo has mastered fire.
In a pull from today's headlines, Ax releases PRS classified docs in a Wikileaks-style sieve across social media and any other media that would pick up the story. One would think Harada would be pleased to have all of the competition's dirty secrets laid bare, but as we learned in the Harbinger Wars, Harada was once in bed with and stole secrets from PRS back in the 60s, plus given the bitter fruit between these two organizations, PRS was keeping diligent tabs on Harada's dirty deeds done dirt expensive as well.
The issue ends as it began…sort of. See, the whole issue starts a heartbeat after tomorrow, with Harada making his final chess move for he and all Psiots to finally take over the world. The events of this issue are the catalysts for that dark tomorrow. Now, will this future come to fruition? Probably not, but I think we’ll see the next arc take us a taint hair away from global thermonuclear war.
Would you like to play a game, Professor Falken? Hells yes, Joshua, as long as Valiant is the gamemaster in charge!
ROVER RED CHRLIE #2Writer: Garth Ennis
Art: Michael Dipascale
Publisher: Avatar Press
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
Being an animal lover and a lover of animal stories (hell, I write THE JUNGLE BOOK fer cryin’ out loud, so you’ve got to know I love this stuff), it’s hard for me to read ROVER RED CHARLIE and criticize it because there are so few books who dive into the minds of animals in comics these days. But as much as I want more books like this out there, I just can’t bring myself to recommend ROVER RED CHARLIE.
Comparisons to WE3 are going to inevitable here as with that story, we’ve got three animals going on an adventure that is beyond what their lesser developed minds can comprehend. Unlike WE3 in which Grant Morrison was able to tell one of his most human of tales by bringing three animals with a limited vocabulary to life, Garth Ennis just misses the mark slightly here as three normal dogs find themselves in a CROSSED-like/end of the world situation where the human population has been killed off and all that’s left are the animals. What Ennis does well is establish the personality traits we often attribute to the specific breeds in the story such as with the red Irish setter who is a bit dense, but sincere, the Basset hound who’s looking like a cranky, yet wiser elderly man and acting like a cranky, yet wiser elderly man, and the Border collie who is trained to be a seeing eye dog exhibiting characteristics of being overly loyal and trying his best to save everyone from the horrors they are facing at every turn.
In the first issue, the three dogs; Red the red Irish setter, Rover the Basset hound, and Charlie the Border collie make their way through the ruins of New York trying to avoid the insane virus-afflicted humans only to be saved by a human who sacrifices himself to save the three dogs by tossing them across a skyrise into another building. The actions of the man in this first issue to save the dogs strummed enough heartstrings for me to endear myself to this book for a second issue. Though it isn’t really probable that in the last moments of one’s life someone would rather save a trio of dogs he’d never met before than save himself, the final scene in issue one served as a way to bring tension to the end of the issue. As improbable as it was, it still made my heart go out for this last act of humanity.
Issue two has the dogs meet another species, a cat or hisspot as the dogs call it. Here, I feel Ennis goes the easy route in making the cat such an asshole. I understand there are dog people and cat people out there, but for some reason dog lovers hate cats and cast them as evil at the drop of a hat while I know a lot of cat lovers who find dogs just as endearing. Which makes me ask; who are the real assholes—the cats or the dog lovers who anthromorphize their dogs to the point of hating another species? But that’s a bigger discussion for another time. Still, even if you’re going the “cat is an asshole” route, Ennis’ inclusion of the hisspot here is somewhat uninspired and doesn’t really do anything to make this rivalry interesting. The meeting of cat and dogs here ends in an action scene that is pretty predictable where Ennis chooses to make the cat look stupid rather than the dogs seem particularly smart or crafty or even lucky. And if we’re to root for these dogs, the writer’s job is to make us want to root for them. This doesn’t happen by making the villains idiots. It happens by giving the heroes traits that make us want to root for them. This being a dog lovers’ book, we’re just supposed to like the dogs because they’re dogs, but for me, Ennis needs to try a little harder.
Aside from the cat clichés, Ennis makes these dogs smarter than they should be. One dog knows what an air conditioner is. Another dog conveniently knows what a boat is. All of the dogs somehow have developed a keen sense of geography by knowing that across the splash (the ocean) is another land, which to me is a bit of a leap in understanding I couldn’t get over. Rudimentary psychology teaches us that cognitive resonance is something only higher developed animals have and even babies don’t develop it immediately. To a dog, even if he travelled across the ocean in a plane or boat, it’s unlikely it will understand that he crossed a large distance of water to get there. Here I am trying to explain why a dog doesn’t understand long distance travel, but that’s the shit that is bothering me as I’m reading this book.
Here’s where I’m going to sound like a crazy person (too late, I know), but I just don’t think that Ennis has that understanding and resonance with animals to really understand how one would think and interpret . Sure there would be basic things like the sun, humans, different species, food, shelter and basic necessities that a dog would be able to identify, but when you go beyond that, you’re stretching. I’d love to see this story without the stretch marks where the dogs use what they understand to get out of this situation rather than give them human intelligence and understanding. It’s subtle. It’s obviously hard for me to explain. But read ROVER RED CHARLIE and WE3 back to back and it’s obvious who gets the mentality of the animal and who doesn’t.
In the end, if you’re a dog lover and don’t mind a story that takes the easy route more than the more interesting and more challenging one, you most likely won’t have issue with ROVER RED CHARLIE. For me, I’ll stick with books like Brian K. Vaughan’s PRIDE, WE3, and even Jill Thompson’s BEASTS OF BURDEN which seem to challenge the writer to bend down and understand the animals, not clumsily force the animals to think like humans when it suits the story.
THOR: GOD OF THUNDER #17Writer: Jason Aaron
Artists: Emanuela Lupacchino and Ron Garney
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Masked Man
I don't know about you, but when this story started, I figured it was just a throwaway story meant to cash in on Malekith appearing in THOR: THE DARK WORLD. Well, now I'm pretty dumbfounded at the awesomeness of this story as it comes to a close.
Now to be fair, this storyline hasn't been that awesome, and to a degree I felt Aaron was trying to pull off the same trick again. He built up Gor as the biggest, baddest, evilest thing you've ever seen in “The God Butcher” and now he's been building up Malekith as the biggest, baddest, evilest thing you've ever seen in the “The Accursed”. So while it's been nice, I was expecting better things from Aaron.
Then the last issue hit.
Ok, it's spoiler time, people, so avert your delicate eyes: So Malekith has been on a murderous rampage, killing any and all dark elves that ever looked at him funny, and when Thor finally catches up to him, when it's finally time for Malekith to finally get what he richly deserves, the dark elves make him king of Svartalfheim?!? Why, you ask? Because that's what they like in a king. Okay, I didn't see that coming. Plus now Malekith is building an evil League of Realms made up of Svartalfheim (dark elf land), Niffleheim (frost giant land) and Muspelheim (fire giant land) to combat the good guy League of Realms: Alfheim (light elf land), Nidavellir (dwarf land), Jotunheim (hill giant land) plus Asgardia and/or Midgard. I'm definitely down on seeing this war kick up! So color me very impressed, Aaron.
On top of all that goodiness, Aaron just put together a great final climatic battle in this issue. What happened to the troll? Awesome, just great. What happened to the dwarf? Nearly the highlight of the issue. What happened to the dark elf? Just more wtf. I will say the bug was too cutesy, and yes Thor casting a spell was pushing it, but I love how it played out, so Aaron gets a pass. Pure and simple, Aaron just crushed it with this issue.
With the two artists in this issue, that was the one weak point. Lupacchino did a good job, with regular colorist Ive Svorcina bringing his pencil to light, but the last few pages by Ron Garney were really lacking. It really looks like Garney didn't finish them. Add to that, they weren't inked and were poorly colored by Lee Loughridge (maybe it was a rush job) and this book didn't end as visually strong as it should have. Though again, to be fair, it looked better than the final issue of BATTLE OF THE ATOM.
So on the Masked Man's scale of Crap, Poor, Fair, Good, and Great, “The Accursed” scores a GOOD. Can't wait to see where Aaron takes all this next, and I look forward to artist Esad Ribic returning to the book.
Advance Review: In stores today!
SCRIBBLENAUTS UNMASKED: A CRISIS OF IMAGINATION #1Writer: Josh Elder
Artist: Adam Archer
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Optimous Douche
I’ll be honest: I was ready to move right past this seemingly legoized version of the DC Universe when it arrived in last week’s packet. I love Scribblenauts on my 3DS and I love DC. I also love peanut butter and pubes, but some things are simply best left separate, right? WRONG, because SCRIBBLENAUTS UNMASKED is seriously awesome. Funny, fast-paced and the sharpest lampoon of all things DC since Ambush Bug (the character, not the Ain’t It Cool editor).
Seriously, just forget the whole Scribblenaut connection all together. It only comprises about 30% of this book, and it looks like this pattern will hold for the series to come. Yeah, Maxwell and his bitch-ass notebook are the protagonist, but with each Scribble comes another harpoon at DC that is so Pixar-nuanced and layered, parent and child will both laugh in glorious unison.
Issue one sets its scathing sights on Gotham, but not before starting the adventure in a place without place, the House of Mystery. Here, the Phantom Stranger gets tongue-razzled by Madame Xanadu as she tells the Phantom he needs to go use his power of passiveness on Earth i (for imagination – if you get that, then you get the morality lesson this book delivers) to drive the Scribs to help the potato tot knight. This would be the Crisis part, to stop the evil a’ brewin’ across all Earth i.
Once in Gotham, the scribble trappings all end and Elder gets to have some real fun using his rapier wit on the entire Bat-family and all of the big baddies they often battle. No one goes unscathed--not even my favorite bat-character, the bovinely delicious Bat-Cow. Special shout out to Optimous Superfan Carlos Reyes for alerting me to the presence of the cloven-hoofed one by posting a PR panel on the Fans of Bat-Cow group I admin on Facebook. Without him enticing my lizard brain allure for the beast I would have missed the other 99% of the goodness inside.
This is a short review because well, frankly, this is a short book, as it should be. We need books like SCRIBBLENAUTS UNMASKED to ensure there will still be sequential art and word stories in the year 2030. There are a ton of kids comic books out there, and for some inexplicable reason people have asked me to review a lot of them. I turn down many because I believe comics are the original lapware for the whole family to enjoy; sadly, so many books pander and any enjoyment is only had by the publisher who laughs their way to the bank. SCRIBBLENAUTS UNMASKED makes the cut and is close to the top of my child approved comics…Optimous Douche’s Child Approved comics…just want to make that clear before any of you decide to abandon parental responsibilities.
Proofs, co-edits & common sense provided by Sleazy G
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