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AICN COMICS Reviews: JUSTICE INC! TETHERMEN! AVENGERS UNDERCOVER! & More!

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

HEXED #1
Advance Review: JUSTICE INC. #1
THANOS: THE INFINITY REVELATION Original Graphic Novel
Indie Jones presents TETHERMEN #1
AVENGERS UNDERCOVER #8
Raiders of the Long Box presents MAN OF STEEL #4 (1986)


HEXED #1

Writer: Michael Alan Nelson
Art: Dan Morra
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Reviewer: Frida Gurewitz


Before starting this review you should know I am not a horror person. Movies, books, shows. I can barely stomach an episode of NBC’s HANNIBAL and the wikipedia description of Stephen King’s IT terrifies me. So when I initially picked up HEXED, by Michael Alan Nelson and Dan Morra, I was apprehensive. I was ready to be scared and to not like it. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that HEXED is not so much traditional horror as it is fantasy with a horror twist. Think less blood and gore and more black magic--though the black magic causes blood and gore. That, strangely, I can handle.

This issue of HEXED is titled “Chapter 1: The Empty Garden, wherein Lucifer saves a Dead Man and Loses a Live one.” Like I mentioned earlier, the story melds fantasy and horror together. Our protagonist is Lucifer, an art thief who steals mystical and mysterious pieces for an art dealer so they won’t fall into the wrong hands. Nelson sprinkles her dialogue with sass, making her seem more realistic and also more likeable. After a mishap on one of her robberies she accidentally gets mixed up in some trouble. We learn of a war between two mysterious and powerful siblings known as Yves and Cymbaline, as well as Lucifer travelling to The Shade, or the land of the dead, to retrieve a soul after Yves attacks. The way Nelson has structured the story, it feels like a Greek myth. The hero, Lucifer, is a scoundrel and isn’t entirely trustworthy, though she is likeable. In my opinion Lucifer, not Luci like the Lucifer in THE WICKED + THE DIVINE, aspires to be the neutral third party but takes the place of the hero. Rarely does the hero ever want to be the hero. They just settle into being the hero. The getting pulled into a conflict as a “mortal” is very reminiscent of Greek myths, as is the classic saving of the soul. I think the set up for the next issue is very good. I’ll definitely be coming back to see if the quest of sorts is successful.

I’m not sure I like Mora’s art as much as like Nelson’s story, though, to be completely honest. The two don’t match up perfectly. The art doesn’t illustrate the dynamic nature of Lucifer, and I’m not freaked out by the parts that are meant to be freaky. The way it’s drawn doesn’t suit the style of writing or the genre. It’s called HEXED, for goodness sakes! I should at least be more freaked out by the visuals. And I’m easily freaked out. I wasn’t. The art did encapsulate the fun of HEXED, but not the freakiness.

HEXED may not be the darkest and densest of the horror-fantasy comics, but it is super enjoyable. It is, overall, really cool. I’ll definitely be coming back for issue 2.


In stores this week!

JUSTICE INC. #1

Writer: Michael Uslan
Artist: Giovanni Timpano
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Reviewer: KletusCassidy


The Shadow, Doc Savage and The Avenger aren’t characters I grew up reading or have much of a connection to; however, a good story can make any character interesting. If you don’t know the writer, Michael Uslan, he’s written comics for both Marvel and DC and has been a producer on every Batman movie since Tim Burton’s BATMAN, including MASK OF THE PHANTASM and the upcoming DAWN OF JUSTICE. He is also responsible for teaching the first legit (3 credit) college course on comic books, which also included having comic legends such as Denny O’Neil speak to his classes. Needless to say, this guy knows his way around a comic book and it shows in his issue. I, Kletus T. Cassidy, have dipped my toes into the cold river of justice and sat with the heroes of yesteryear (I got three hours of sleep--bear with me), thus my review of JUSTICE INC #1.

Who the hell is Justice Inc, you say? I’m not sure if this team was a thing back in the day or just created solely for this comic, but I wouldn’t be surprised if these heroes had teamed up in the past to take on overtly stereotypical villains who planned to slip polio in to the drinks of all the 1930s Worlds Fair attendees or something of that sort (I kid, I kid). Justice Inc consists of Doc Savage, The Shadow and The Avenger, the last of which I am not very familiar with. This issue starts off great, dropping us into the middle of an experiment involving a Hadron Collider, Doc Savage, time travel talk and some doe-eyed assistants. This opening scene did a great job of simultaneously getting the story started quickly as well as giving us some insight into who the so called Man of Bronze (Doc Savage) is and what he’s about. From what I gather, Doc Savage seems to be a mix of Mr. Fantastic & Bruce Wayne with two cups of Indiana Jones (for those who may not know). I’m pretty sure he may have come before those characters, but as I said I’m going on no sleep and probably am not going to look that up and confirm. Basically there is a complication with the experiment, spacetime is ripped open and Doc Savage dives in to fix the collateral damage. The Shadow shows up because he’s got some informants that clue him in and The Avenger (who may be closer to Tony Stark with a teaspoon of Bruce Wayne) also joins the fray, being that he was the one who financed the experiment. While I was kind of lost as to who/what The Avenger was (guess I could have googled it), my ignorance didn’t take away from my enjoyment of this comic since all of the major characters were seamlessly woven into the story, and I’m sure The Avenger will be expanded on in future issues. The art is this book is pretty good and did a great job of balancing the intimate moments with widespread action, and the coloring was very vibrant but not in a way that takes you out of the story. I’m not familiar with Giovanni Timpano’s previous work but I’d definitely like to check out more from him in the future.

Even though I was never really a huge fan of the heroes in JUSTICE INC, the plot was interesting and fun enough to keep me curious about the rest of the story. There’s a playful nature about this book in that it doesn’t take it self too seriously, but then it doesn’t come off as a parody, either. I like when comics stories such as this tie themselves to historical events or people, mostly because the history nerd inside me loves to see weird facts from our past peppered in to my comics. Speaking of which, in the back of the book there’s a writers’ commentary (something I’m also rapidly becoming a fan of) that gives us an insight into Uslan’s technique and expands on a few of the ideas and historical fun facts that are presented in this book. This issue was also very science-heavy (another joy of mine) but didn’t make the mistake of talking down the reader to make things more digestible. I mean, we all have computers, right?!? Use them shits! The art is definitely solid and can handle the big moments as well as the small; also, the Alex Ross cover is pretty badass. This is a fun story with great art, and if you have any love for these characters or pulp heroes in general, JUSTICE INC won’t fail you.

If you’d like to hear more from Kletus Cassidy (I know, why would you right?), you can listen to him and his good buddy Steve discuss comics, comic news and more on the SANCTUM SEQUENTIAL podcast now on iTunes. Email questions, comments and hate mail here! Thanks!


THANOS: THE INFINITY REVELATION Original Graphic Novel

Writer/Artist: Jim Starlin
Inker: Andy Smith
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Masked Man


Hasn't really been that long seen we've seen old prune-face. Aaron and Hickman had redefined him as the universe’s villain again in THANOS RISING and INFINITY. But before that Jim Starlin, his creator, had cast him more as a philosophical quester and protector of the universe (Starlin always wanted Thanos to have more in common with Metron than Darkseid). Now that Starlin and Marvel have kissed and made up (seems like companies and creators are forever in that dance), Starlin has his grubby little hands on Thanos again creating three OGNs (Original Graphic Novels) of old purple-puss, starting with this one: THE INFINITY REVELATION. Again, Starlin sees Thanos not so much as evil or mad (as he was in INFINITY) but more of an amoral person, seeking universal truth, power and his place in the universe.

Starlin also claims he wasn't privy to INFINITY as he was working on INFINITY REVELATION, which is a bit of a shame, because aside from retro-fitting some of Thanos' new flunkies in the panels, it doesn't continue any of the concepts from that series. So for better or worse, Thanos has two personas in the Marvel U: Starlin's and everyone else's. On some level, I suppose this is why INFINITY REVELATION is an OGN, where one could argue about whether or not it's in the current Marvel continuity, because last we saw him, he was trapped in a big cube.

All right, let's get into the book itself, all 100 pages of Jim Starlin goodness. Overall this is a queer duck (as in strange, not sexuality, people), as the goal and point of the story is, as characters in the plot had said themselves, “Yes, for all its buildup, this cosmic spectacular has proven disappointingly mundane.” That's the overall feeling I have as well, or to put it another way: was this trip necessary? Perhaps things will be clear when Starlin unleashes the other two planned Thanos works (though he says they are not a trilogy). But until Starlin gets a chance to explain the greater nuances and ramifications of INFINITY REVELATION, this is all we have. Spoiler time, people: Thanos, joined by Adam Warlock (of course), feels something amiss with himself and the universe, so he goes searching for answers. This leads him to a chance to recreate the universe (something he seems to get to do often), but end up doing nothing--except for recalibrating himself and Warlock. While I'm sure this has meaning for them (as Starlin spends seven pages telling us so), I'm not sure it has any meaning for us. I mean, considering this story started out as a recalibration of Thanos (compared to INFINITY), to re-calibrate him again seems pointless. And do we really need 100 pages to do it?

For the most part, the first 60 pages of this book are pretty trite. While there are some amusing character moments, it's typical Thanos waxing we've seen a million times and the inclusion of the Guardians of the Galaxy and the Annihilators was rather pointless. Even the admittedly kick-butt fight was pointless, as it could easily be removed and have no impact on the story at all. Once you do hit that 60th page, Starlin finally starts getting into some cool stuff. And at the risk of revealing too much, there is a very nice twist in this story (which becomes the point of the story)--but fear not, it's nothing as lame and conventional as he was a she(!) or he was actually dead(!) or it's people (!).

Of course, the art for this book is pretty great. While I question the validity of his script, Starlin's pencils are as sharp as always. Though, yes, I think Thanos is wearing an outfit two sizes too small, but that's just nit-picky. I can't say I'd recommend this to any non-Starlin/Thanos fans, but for those of you who are there's enough good stuff here to give it a read. Just maybe wait for the softcover. On the Masked Man's scale of CRAP, POOR, DECENT, GOOD, GREAT- THANOS: THE INFINITY REVELATION scores a DECENT.









TETHERMEN #1

Writer: Matt Bellisle
Illustrator: Matt Bellisle
Publisher: Gravity DSN
Reviewer: Mr. Pasty


I loathe digital comics. Probably because I grew up with paper between my digits and like most old farts who can't let go of the way things “used to be,” I yearn for the days of yellowing paper and subscriptions to GRIT. That said, I was excited to hear about TETHERMEN, which not only gives me something I can touch and feel, but also takes it one step further by thinking outside the box. Way out. The story is not bound in a traditional comic, but rather printed on a series of 6x9 cards that have the main story on one side, and KINGS OF STONE mini-stories on the other. Sounded great in theory and the presentation, admittedly, is beautiful. As for execution? Well, I had my problems.

The cards come in a sleeve reminiscent of the ones that used to house those old floppy disks for the Commodore 64. They look great and feel great, but I wasn't sure how to read them. I tried holding them like playing cards and they ended up all over the floor. I then did the “hold one up, read it, put it face down” method like I was giving myself a Rorschach test. I think I finally found a manageable method when I treated them like a deck of fresh 52s, and rummaged through them as if I was trying to find the jokers. In the grand scheme of things, it really wasn't a big deal, but trying to get from one card to another caused unwanted breaks in the action.

I probably wouldn't have cared as much if TETHERMEN was TETHER-MEH, but this book is terrific. The story centers on a “small group of 'Tethers' who can travel through the dreams of others and affect the real world through those dreams.” I'm not sure how it is I've never heard of Matt Bellisle, but his art is outstanding. Probably some of the best-looking animals I've seen in a great while, and I was impressed by his command of the human face. I didn't go deep enough into the story to really get a verdict on its long-term merit, but through one chapter, I like what I see. Good balance on exposition and intrigue. KINGS OF STONE was a nice bonus, as well, and hey, I can put all the cards together when I'm done and make one giant poster. Overlooking the clumsiness of the reading experience, which may be too exclusive to me (I'm not that swift), TETHERMEN is well worth the measly $3 asking price.

Web heads who can’t get enough of Mr. Pasty’s word vomit are encouraged to watch him operate as Nostradumbass over at MMaMania.com here. Love, hate and Mafia Wars requests should be directed here.


AVENGERS UNDERCOVER #8

Writer: Dennis Hopeless
Art: Tigh Walker
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Henry Higgins is My Homeboy


I've been really liking AVENGERS UNDERCOVER, and for a specific reason. It feels like the second part of the most engaging teenage superhero drama we've seen in some time. The character work, the engaging and ever-changing situations, the world at large conspiring against them...it transformed into something incredible.

AVENGERS ARENA concerned me, as it did a number of other fans. But, despite the easy premise of teen heroes killing teen heroes blah blah blah shock appeal shock appeal, the title actually turned out to be one of the most interesting character dramas to come out of Marvel Now. Each of the teens has a different reaction to the situation, and those feelings expanded and grew as the story continued. And AVENGERS UNDERCOVER has done a great job of extending those conflicts and turning even an army commanded by the fanatical son of a Nazi into a reasonable idea. It invites a new sense of grey into the world - the villains do, on some level, truly understand the teens better than the heroes, thanks to ARENA - and that invited a whole new world of possible depth into the world.

And then UNDERCOVER did this whole thing where it’s running half as long as ARENA and did a "THREE MONTHS LATER" deal. And it killed the momentum dead.

And that sucks. The book has thrived on the great character work. Both the writing and the art have complimented the growth of these characters as the real draw of the story, but here? It honestly feels like the title skipped three months. As in, I was horrified when I realized I was in fact not missing any issues.

The three months forward jump feels less like a storytelling device here, and more like we've literally skipped ahead three months. The amazing character work is somewhat undone if the cast have gone through incredible shifts in personality since last we saw them. We kept up with this title BECAUSE we cared about these people and the growth they went through. But in AVENGERS ARENA, we saw those changes. We saw why they had to take place. We SAW them happen. We honestly get a character, whose entire growth was indicative of what AVENGERS ARENA repersented, and here? She goes from "Evil seems interesting, maybe..." to "I'M EVIL NOW!". And it doesn't feel half as earned as even her fighting a bad guy previously.

This is depressing, you guys. I really like this book, and Zemo's endgame plan is wonderfully done. The art is clever enough to be funny sometimes and HORRIFYING at others. And the writing is still great. But...this book needs to be a thing, for much longer. It feels like they're cutting their losses and going over the sparknotes of the actual story. And this is a title that thrived on the little moments.

And it decided to summarize the little moments.


MAN OF STEEL #4

Release Date: August 21st, 1986
Writer/Artist: John Byrne
Inker: Dick Giordano
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Masked Man


Few characters are getting the amount of buzz (good and bad) the past few years of Superman. From a lackluster reboot in the New 52 and the MAN OF STEEL movie to getting ready to battle Batman, turning into Doomsday and being drawn by John Romita JR, he hasn’t gotten this much press since he died--or got his first major reboot by John Byrne. So let's jump back 28 years ago this week, when THE MAN OF STEEL #4 hit the shelves.

By summer 1986, the world had witnessed the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster, the return of Halley’s Comet, and something called Hands Across America. Pixar became a company, Microsoft when public and the first TRANSFORMERS movie hit the silver screen (without Michael Bay). HOWARD THE DUCK and ALIENS both made a splash on the silver screen as well, although for different reasons. Everyone was 'Dancing on the Ceiling' with Lionel Richie and kids were watching summer reruns of DISNEYSs ADVENTURES OF THE GUMMI BEARS on Saturday mornings. In the world of comic books, it was the heyday of the 80s. The indie scene was never so strong before with Eclipse, First, Dark Horse, Comico, and Mirage. Marvel was celebrating their 25th year (as Marvel not Timely) but nothing was beating DC, as they rebooted their universe and stole superstar artist and writer John Byrne from Marvel to reboot Superman in THE MAN OF STEEL.

Another two weeks have gone by and DC has rewarded us with another new issue of THE MAN OF STEEL. Now, I'm a fan of Superman to be sure. But I'm sorry, after 20 plus years of Curt Swan's boring drawings of Superman (yeah I said it, the guy can draw, but it's just dull looking), I'm giddy as a schoolgirl over John Byrne working on Superman. I know there are a few people out there still in love with Beppo the Supermonkey and all the other ridiculous stuff the Superman mythos had acquired in the past 48 years, but this series is just what Superman needs, stripping everything away but the core essence of the character and updating his world. Like Clark Kent himself. He's no longer a disguise for Superman--think about it, how much of your life do you want spent living as a 'disguise'? Now, the infallible hero is the disguise--puffing out the chest, deepening the voice and all that. Clark still tries not to act like Superman, but he's no longer a cartoon caricature of a cowardly, clumsy fool. He's more an average man, someone who grew-up in a hick town who comes off a little naive and silly to the city slickers of Metropolis.

Ok, now let's talk about Byrne's art: this is the hottest Lois Lane has looked since ever! Instead of looking like a close personal friend of Aunt May, she's now in the Mary Jane league. It's even really nice to see her, as the character, getting all dressed up for the fancy party Luthor is throwing (more on that later). As for the other characters--Clark, Supes, Lex--they all look pretty great. And being a story that happened 'a few years ago', it's fun to see Lex Luthor is still holding on to some red hair there. Overall, the one thing Byrne is really bringing to this series art-wise is majesty. Byrne gives every super-powered feat, from crushing a gun to flying, the space and elegance to make you appreciate it. Like SUPERMAN THE MOVIE, Superman's powers aren't supposed to be same old same old; they are to be marveled at.

Now the plot of this issue (beware of spoilers), like the last few, has been a bit on the lean side--but again, like the previous issues, this is a character piece. Issue by issue Byrne is revealing more and more of who Clark is (how he shaves), who Lois is (who she will and won't sleep with) and who Lex Luthor is--the main focus of this issue. While not the criminal scientist guy anymore, he's still a genius. It's just that's he's now rich, respected, and terribly corrupt. This is a guy who is used to getting what he wants, and the ends justify any means. So, the story goes that Lois Lane with a plus one (being our boy from Kansas) has been invited to a party on Lex Luthor's huge yacht (ocean liner size, it seems). Back from a yearlong business trip in South America, Lex wants to reconnect with the Metropolis elite: the Mayor, who is in his back pocket, and Lois, who he wants in his bed, and Superman--or rather, he wants to meet Superman. So Lex allows some terrorists to attack his boat knowing Superman would probably come to the rescue. When he does, Lex attempts to put him in his back pocket. Long story short, Lex isn't the top dog in Metropolis anymore--he even gets some jail time (until his lawyer shows up), and so the lifelong rivalry is on.

This is all really good stuff, and this is from a DC guy who has barely read Byrne's Marvel work. To a degree, it's not so much what Byrne has changed--it's how he's telling a Superman story: more dynamic art and a more contemporary take on Lois, Clark and Lex, which leads to a more contemporary storytelling style to the comic--which is the real goal to this reboot.

Lastly, I want to mention Dick Giordano, Mr. DC these days. His inking is very much a 'house style' for DC, kind of like Joe Rubinstein over at Marvel. So while everything is fresh and new-looking under Byrne's pencil, Giordano's inks still manages to give everything a familiar feel. And, quite frankly, these guys look great together.

I'm not sure the last time Superman was a must buy book, but it is now! Even the few of you who hate this post-Crisis world, I would recommend you give this book a try. As long as you are a fan of George Reeves or Christopher Reeve, you will enjoy this new Superman, because Superman's really not that different--just his world is.

There are few comic book creators with the clout of John Byrne. Before making his epic leap over to the Distinguished Competition, he set the comic world on fire with Chris Claremont on the UNCANNY X-MEN. He breathed new life into the FANTASTIC FOUR and created his own superhero team for Canada with ALPHA FLIGHT. After writing and drawing SUPERMAN and ACTION COMICS for nearly two years, he would go back to Marvel and launch a successful, humorous, run on SHE-HULK, which is still copied today. Over at Dark Horse he would create another group of heroes, known as the NEXTMEN. While many believe his skills have faded and his opinions have become too narrow with age, he still gets plenty of work from DC and Marvel, and the ability to do many creator-owned projects with other publishers. This run on Superman may have been the apex of his career, though, as even in the New 52, Lex Luthor is still a businessman, and Superman (in MAN OF STEEL) still kills General Zod--stuff that probably wouldn't have happened without John Byrne.

Dick Giordano, while just an inker on THE MAN OF STEEL, was DC's managing editor under Jenette Kahn from 1981 to 1993. He was usually part of anything big happening at the company--either helping to reboot Wonder Woman as a depowered action hero, or being part of Superman's biggest fight: against Muhammad Ali. Giordano also oversaw the whole DC Crisis reboot and the creation of creator's rights in the comic book industry. Before really making his mark at DC, Giordano worked for Charlston comics, helping them create their Action Hero line with Steve Ditko and Denny O'Neil. Then he helped Neal Adams create his Continuity Associates art production and comic book company. Giordano passed away in 2010, remaining active in comics until the end at the age of 78. After his passing, Hero Initiative created The Dick Giordano Humanitarian of the Year Award in his honor.


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

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