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A&A: THE ADVENTURES OF ARCHER & ARMSTRONG #1
SUPERMAN: AMERICAN ALIEN #5
THE INFINITY ENTITY #1-2
POWER MAN & IRON FIST #2
HEAD LOPPER #3
LORDS OF THE JUNGLE #1
SUPERMAN: AMERICAN ALIEN #5
A&A: THE ADVENTURES OF ARCHER & ARMSTRONG #1Writer: Rafer Roberts
Artist: David Lafuente
Publisher: Valiant Entertainment
Reviewer: Humphrey Lee
As much as I like to pride myself as being a “knowledgeable” person when it comes to the comic book medium, I am woefully tardy when it comes to this new form of Valiant Comics. This is a situation I am working hard to rectify, but with my horribly completist tendencies, it has been a slow going overall. Regardless, one aspect of the universe the Valiant folk have been crafting since the reboot that I am at least somewhat well versed in is the “funny book” sections that include QUANTUM & WOODY and ARCHER & ARMSTRONG since they were easier for me to focus on with them being pretty self-contained from the rest of the line. It also helped that those books were goddamned hilarious in both their forms and the DELINQUENTS “team up” making it easy to consume all of those books as fast as possible. Now the portly immortal and the ass-kicking former evangelical are back at it with a whole new creative crew, a new look, and, well, pretty much the same attitude.
The issue starts off like a lot of familiar A&A hijinks begin: Armstrong getting drunk and then maudlin about something in his past. In this case it winds up being the obituary of a comrade and thief named Frank he knew back in the 1950’s now having passed. A flashback to one of these adventures is what kicks us off with the expected results; rare booze is stolen, drank, and used as a weapon, and then the present-day sets in and Armstrong’s half-soused reminiscing leads us to believe he somehow wronged Frank after those days depicted in the old time warp device. If anything, this is a nice introduction by our new creative crew showing they know what they’re doing with these characters and knowing that the “heart” of a good A&A story typically goes through the liver and kidneys of the eternal part of the duo. It’s also a nice showcase for what David Lafuente is bringing to the table because, of course, there is a lot of enthusiasm and frantic energy involved in this caper of Armstrong and Frank’s and Lafuente has one of those “cartoonish” (to use a broad term) sensibility that really exaggerates the shenanigans involved.
What happens next is also kind of a tone-setter I think as well. The more svelte of the two, Archer, comes looking for Armstrong only to find his own “bag of holding” gaping open on the floor with a rope leading downward. Drunken adventure is afoot! But this time there’s also weird lizard people and a fish guy and Archer is as confused and dismayed as ever. And it works; it works pretty well actually. The previous volume of A&A had plenty of slapstick and unusual circumstances to its action and adventure and this is very much in that vein, but what transpires as Archer pieces together Armstrong’s plans and plunges into the bag itself is a degree higher. That’s why I say this is a “tone-setter” because a skinny, white-bread master of the martial arts diving into a bag with near infinite space on the inside to hunt down his immortal partner who is looking for a specific bottle of booze he saved over the centuries is not in any way a stretch for this book, but I feel it goes to a different level for its humor compared to what came before.
The A&A book that we got when Valiant came back on the scenes was something that typically went to the referential or the political (or more socio-political I guess is the apt modifier) for its gags and humor. This debut by our new team of Rafer Roberts and David Lafuente seems to like peddling in the “absurd” a bit more, and that’s a good direction to take it. Like I said before, this premise is in no way a stretch of a journey for this odd couple to be thrust upon, but it is much more the basis for the humor than the plots ever really were before. There’s much more in the way of sight gags and oddities than just making fun of Archer because he probably still thinks dinosaurs only existed 6,000 years ago, and that works well here because Lafuente is great at it. Instead of creationist humor we’re getting talking mackerel in a three-piece suit living in Armstrong’s bag kind of humor. And it totally works, even if it takes a bit to get into the groove. This is a fine rendition in an “All-New, All Different!” vein, except for the part where it’s only slightly different and still packs all the heart, action, and odd ball jabs and gags its predecessor presented.
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.
SUPERMAN: AMERICAN ALIEN #5Writer: Max Landis
Artist: Francis Manapul
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Lionel Putz
After a somewhat disappointing issue #4, SUPERMAN: AMERICAN ALIEN returns to form this week, bolstered by supremely-talented guest artist Francis Manapul and with an issue focusing on the Man of Steel’s nascent days as a costumed vigilante.
This one cold-opens with Clark foiling a bank robbery, whisking two would-be crooks into the air while wearing a leather helmet, goggles, bulletproof vest, and black cape. The fledgling crime-fighter, as he assures his parents, is just trying to use his powers to do some good, once a day, be it big or small. He’s yet to pick a name for himself, but he’s already got the attention of a much-more three dimensional and realized Lois Lane than we’ve seen so far. She explains to Clark over coffee that the mysterious do-gooder wears the vest only for show, that she saw bullets bounce off of his forearm by slowing down news footage of one of his skirmishes. If he doesn’t pick a name for himself soon, she says to a troubled Clark, someone else will (Among her suggestions? “Mister Metropolis”, “Skyman”, and “The Black Cape”).
Max Landis shines again in this issue, managing to use the little details to capture the essence of Clark Kent, which in his telling of the story is the real essence of Superman. There’s a moment where Clark is sitting on top of a building in his ridiculous costume eating lunch when he’s interrupted by a construction worker. Startled but unperturbed, Clark asks if it’s okay for his to eat his lunch there before offering the guy some of his Chinese food. It’s a quick aside, but one that encapsulates Clark’s earnestness, his naivety, and his heart, all in one go. Moreover, that moment and the issue as a whole are benefited by Manapul’s beautiful spreads in what is probably the best match of artist to material in the series yet. He takes the rooftop scene—which is sparse on dialogue—and opens it up over two pages with large, mostly-silent panels that confidently convey the majesty and serenity of Clark’s abilities, as well as his genuine camaraderie with his new lunch buddy. These two pages probably best capture the thesis of this entire book, and the quiet, between-the-action scenes that truly define what makes Superman such an enduring character.
The main conflict of the issue, however, sees Clark squaring off against Parasite, this time a LuthorCorp creation. It seems to be Clark’s first encounter with another super being, and one that ends up being defined by his cooperation with the local SWAT team. When he shows up on the scene, neither he nor they know what to do, but the cops quickly recognize the benefit of working with him, and Clark quickly begins thinking how to best coordinate with them so as to best protect them, rather than trying to alpha dog them off the scene.
This issue does a much better job of utilizing Lois Lane and Lex Luthor to define the character by giving him to strong personalities to play off of than did the previous issue with the introduction of both. Once Clark’s defeated the rampaging Parasite, he returns him to LuthorCorp by smashing him through Lex’s penthouse window. Unimpressed, Lex calls Clark out for being a reckless child with no real plan, and explains that not only is he not beaten, but that he’s made a huge mistake. He thought Clark was “a post human… a Superman”, but he realizes now that the young man is just “an idiot”. Clark is thoroughly shamed in the moment, but later re-energized by another conversation with Lois. She likes Clark’s theory that the mysterious “Skyman” is just a good guy with free time because it gives her hope, and hope shouldn’t be too much to ask for. Later that night, Lex returns to his penthouse to find his smashed window replaced, and a note: “Sorry about the window. See you real soon. xoxo Your pal Superman.”
Lionel Putz is a lawyer by day. He watched Matlock in a bar last night; the sound wasn't on, but he's pretty sure he got the gist of it. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
THE INFINITY ENTITY #1-2Writer: Jim Starlin
Artist: Alan Davis
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Masked Man
The next chapter of Jim Starlin’s Infinity Saga continues! After THE HULK VS THANOS, THANOS: THE INFINITY REVELATION, and THANOS: THE INFINITY RELATIVITY, comes THE INFINITY ENTITY. Which by the way is to be followed about another original graphic novel THANOS: THE INFINITY FINALE (although come on Jim, the Finale? After the Revelation, and Relativity, you should have named it Resolution; that way we could refer to the whole thing as the ‘Infinity R’ series).
For those who came in late, Thanos is dead (killed / kinda by Annihilus) and Adam Warlock has been replaced by an Adam Warlock of a parallel dimension. A dimension that no longer exists, and it looks like Warlock is carrying around all the energy of that dimension too- hence the Infinity Entity. Starlin does enjoy supremely powerful characters, doesn’t he.
As for the spoilers of this issue, there really isn’t much. In fact it starts off like a puff piece. This Adam Warlock is a little lost in our reality and seeks out the Avengers for help. Getting time and space mixed up, he finds the Avengers at the start of their career, waaay before they’ll met him and que fight music. After Warlock b!tch slaps the lot of them, he finally gets back to the here and now, dropping in on the Guardians of the Galaxy. Who are still reeling from the events of THANOS: THE INFINITY RELATIVITY. Next thing ya know, the In-Betweener shows up and soon so does every other major player in all of creation. As we get the big spoiler reveal, this Adam Warlock is destroying the everything, just by being in our reality (though how cool would this have been if it tied into the destruction of the Marvel U in THE SECRET WARS).
Overall it seems like this is may be going the way of THE HULK VS THANOS, which was bit of a puff piece. As the bulk of the first issue was a fun yet kinda pointless fight with the original Avengers. The second issue is tour of the universe and a meet and greet of every major entity in the Marvel Universe. So rather slow story telling here. But at some point in the series, I assume there will be an important story point will be made. Which will help set-up THANOS: THE INFINITY FINALE (man, it gets tiring typing all that holding the shift key down). Again just like how THE HULK VS THANOS set-up THANOS: THE INFINITY RELATIVITY. So we should just sit back and enjoy the pre-show. Also, for myself, I’m a much bigger fan of the 90’s Infinity stuff than the Guardians 00’s stuff. So I enjoy watching Starlin steer all these characters back to his way of thinking.
Arwork-wise, this is the first of these new series/OGN that Starlin isn’t drawing. In his place is the great Alan Davis. Davis is just a great superhero comic book artist. And whether this draw the Avenger mixed it up with uber-powerful Warlock, giving us a view of devastated universe, it all looks great. Occasionally, there are these oh so Photoshop outer-space backgrounds, that I’m not fond of, but the rest is great.
In truth, nobody does these characters better than Jim Starlin, and with Alan Davis backing him up, the next two issues should be a blast.
POWER MAN & IRON FIST #2Writer: David Walker
Artist: Sanford Greene
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Humphrey Lee
This series is kind of a big deal to me. Now, I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I’m the ultimate “Heroes for Hire” superfan who knows everything about every issue with this duo in its pages (most of all this stuff was before I was even born) but the 70’s Marvel era is by far one of my favorites in a retro sense. They may have been before my time but I grew up with a pretty big fondness for Kung Fu and Exploitation films of that same decade and earlier, so it was only natural to finally progress into an enjoyment of similar comic books when I really became obsessed with the medium in college. In fact, my primary “in” to these comics – since there wasn’t exactly the best of collected editions of them at the time – was to take my first real influx of post-college cash and pick up a Marvel Premiere #15 (first appearance of Iron Fist) and the bulk of the Byrne/Claremont run for his own series (everything sans the Sabretooth issue because it was too damned expensive) just to finally read the things until finally the “Essentials” collections reprinted the stuff. Needless to say, I’ve already got the Shang-Chi Omnibuses on preorder.
So, yes, seeing the big, bad mother lovin’ Luke Cage and the lily-white boy with all the martial arts moves back together again in a team up book stokes the Kung Fu and comic book fanboy in me. The oddball combination just works on so many levels, and I’ll level my first bit of “critical” analysis at this new title by saying that writer David Walker and artist Sanford Greene absolutely get it. Obviously their relationship has evolved over the years as the characters have grown – and I’ll get to that in a bit – but our creative tandem here obviously understands that the appeal to these two getting together is in their “opposites attract” lure to each other. They come from completely opposite sides of the track but are not completely unalike with rough childhoods of their own flavor and losses early in life. Luke Cage’s street smarts and Danny Rand’s energetic optimism cut with naïveté, though, make for one of the best combination of personalities in all of comic books. Throw in some down and dirty street brawling combined with some graceful martial arts beatdowns, and you a recipe for some of the most fun, adrenaline rush comic books out there.
That’s what Walker and Greene have thrown at us so far though, and it still absolutely works, though with some reservations. These apprehensions aren’t of mine, though, but now stem the Man of Power himself, as the man with unbreakable skin now has a wife and kid to think about back home, so he’s not exactly willing to bull rush into things as he was back in his more headstrong days. Like, I said, the characters have changed (well, mostly Luke) but everything still totally works not just despite this but also because of its insertion into their lives. Instead of a relationship by almost necessity that brought them together before, the relationship has evolved into a “getting the band back together” form and the humor and tone of the book totally reflects that. Luke Cage is now the doting family man who is overly concerned about the concern the people in his life have for him and Danny Rand (Iron Fist) is kind of the “party boy” who never grew up and is trying to get his old drinking buddy out to remember the “good old days.” Sometimes Walker’s script kind of rides this joke a little too much in a sitcom-esque “will they or won’t they get back together” way, but it’s still a very entertaining and workable humor style for the book in its early stages.
The plot points that bring these “Heroes for Hire” back together is also fun but a little dark, which also fits this book tonally given some of the adventures back in the day with their “more you know” PSA messaging they tended to have. In this case it’s a matter of one of their former allies – former secretary Jennie Royce who went to jail for manslaughter, even though she was possessed at the time – turning on them and manipulating them while secretly working with an old nemesis in Black Mariah. Again, it’s a good throwback to the good old days with a twist while playing up the “growing up” angle of the book. While the boys were busy having children and becoming Avengers, one of them was somewhat “left behind” and is not exactly teeming with giddiness over their revival. In fact she wants them to feel a little pain, which is why she manipulates them into events that have them going toe-to-toe with hardcore mob super villain Tombstone and his crew. Sure, this leads to some of the book’s best physical comedy and insider jokes but it also has that little dark edge of lost trust to it that underscores the book just that little bit to make it feel more “real.”
And as for one of the last reasons this book really, really works, is of course Sanford Greene’s artwork. I’ve never been exposed to it before this book so it was a very unique looking style when I first saw the solicitations for this book, but in action it totally works. It’s just a style with a lot of energy and big, bold figures that really make everything pop. There’s a lot of “movement” in the panels themselves with exaggerated gestures and facial expressions to sell everything. You will fully believe that Luke Cage is still the baddest man on the streets, even while saying “fiddle faddle” because he made a promise to cut back on the swearing to his wife and kid. And, really, that kind of sums up why this newest rendition of POWER MAN AND IRON FIST is a giant success, especially for a more enthusiastic fan like myself. The characters are in many ways exactly as you remember them but they have definitely grown. It’s a fun and entertaining take on the band getting back together even though the band hasn’t really broken up, they just had fits of “life happening” that made doing gigs together a bit of an improbability. But now the guitars are getting tuned and the mic checks are done, so it’s time to kick this mutha off and watch one of the most oddball pairings of ass-kickers in comic book history do their fiddle-faddling thing.
HEAD LOPPER #3i>Writer: Andrew Maclean
Art: Andrew Maclean
Publisher: Image Comics
One of the beautiful advantages of the Indie Comic Golden Age we’re living in right now is depth and breadth of choice we have when it comes to genre. The Big Two might have the market all but cornered when it comes to capes, but out in wilds of the Indie Comic scene, romance comics, auto-bios, westerns, and sci-fi are just a few of the dozens of different categories, sub-categories, or mash-up genres you can pick from. The best part about it though, is that no matter what you’re into there is something out right now that is KLLING IT. For example, if you have any interest in the swords and sorcery, D&D high fantasy, big hulking dude whose head-lopping actions speak louder than the few that he says kinda books, then Andrew Maclean’s HEAD LOPPER is a MUST.
In a cruelly short four part miniseries, of which the third issue was just released this past Monday, the Son of the Minotaur, aka The Executioner, aka HEAD LOPPER (Just call him Norgal) takes the reader on a tour of every trope that the fantasy genre has to offer. From the first page of issue one, you can’t help but mouth “Yaaaaas!” as each turn of the page reveals giant monsters, corrupt priests, court intrigue, and swamp sorcerers. From there, Norgal and, begrudgingly, his companion Agatha (the lopped-off head of a blue witch) quest on through a realm of magic and mystery, where any problem can be fixed with a mighty swing of the blade!
Issue three keeps the momentum going as more monsters are introduced as plot and characters previously left unresolved in issue one and two get fleshed out and explained. Meanwhile, each issue has included a classic genre setting, and number three finds Norgal trapped in a dungeon. Yet again, Maclean simultaneously keeps the story moving forward while letting each scenes have the time it needs. Consequently, despite the fact that the protagonist is chained up for most of the issue, the book never drags or feels like Maclean is just killing time to reach his page count. The artwork is both clean and simple, yet detailed where it counts, which comes in handy as the fights ramp up; where other books get muddled by too much action, Maclean never fails to keep a good flow by pulling the eye to where it needs to go.
With three quarters of the story now laid out, HEAD LOPPER consistently has demonstrated why indie books are knocking it out of the park. Only in the realm of indie books could Maclean have the freedom and trust from his publisher, Image, necessary to create this great of a book. The conceit is recognizable; all the tropes of the genre are there. The art has a familiar minimalism; in fact, it attributes so much of its style to HELLBOY's Mike Mignola that the pull-quote on issue one out right makes the comparison. In fact, no aspect of this book seeks to push the edge of the envelope. Instead, not beholden to any continuity or overbearing editors, this simple concept was just allowed to flourish. It’s a labor of love and the results reflect that.
In an industry constantly worried about sales, HEAD LOPPER needs to be looked at as a model of how to succeed. At $5.99 it’s more than most. But issue one is 80 pages, two, three, and (presumably) four clock in at 56, and considering six bucks is only a dollar more than some of the books at Marvel or DC, trust that that dollar is well spent. It’s also a quarterly comic, so if you’re jumping on now, sorry to say you got to wait a couple months for the epic conclusion. Thing is though, to me it hardly felt like any time had passed between two and three, and rarely is a book satisfying enough to last me a whole month, let alone three. Without access to sales numbers, I can’t tell you how successful the book has been commercially. I do know, however, that this intersection of value and satisfaction HEAD LOPPER achieves is emblematic of how the Indie Golden Age can keep comics alive and relevant. Swords and Sorcery might not be for everyone, but quality comics are a genre that we can all use more of in our lives. If we keep fueling books like this, than this Golden Age doesn’t ever need to stop.
LORDS OF THE JUNGLE #1Writer: Corinna Bechko
Artist: Roberto Castro
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Reviewer: Masked Man
Just a few months ago Dynamite brought us Conan and Red Sonja, now they give us another great pairing: Tarzan and Sheena (oddly enough both Conan and Tarzan come from books, while Red Sonja and Sheena both come from comic books). Corinna Bechko, who wrote Star War books for Dark Horse and a ton of Planet of the Apes for Boom is writing this six-issue mini, while Roberto Castro is doing the drawing. Castro had been drawing Dynamite’s LORD OF THE JUNGLE series (aka Tarzan, as they believed the copyright on the 1914’s TARZAN OF THE APES has lapsed (while ERB and Dynamite have come to an agreement over John Carter, I haven’t heard if there is one for Tarzan)) and their RED SONJA / CONAN mini.
Right off the bat, I’m confused why Dynamite is using the latest reboot of Sheena, as a modern day character running around South America. Which was created for the Devil’s Due recent series. Personally, I would have used the classic take on the character, which would have allowed the two characters to meet (with a little fudging) without any time travel. But I guess they are contractually obligated to use Hollywood writer Steven E. de Souza’s version.
This first issue starts with quite a bit of decompression writing, as it is mostly just a prolonged fight scene with Sheena. First she is punching out people in 2016 Amazon, then she falls into a time vortex (I hate when that happens) and starts punching people in 1936 Africa. On the last page we get a glimpse of Tarzan hanging out in London (1936).
So Bechk’s main goal of the first issue is to educate us about Sheena, since it’s not the classic character from the Golden Age of comics running around African jungles (nor is she the updates of film and TV). As always though, this Sheena is a bad@$$ with the ability to communicate animals. I suppose next issue will then focus on Tarzan, who will be based on Dynamite’s own continuity of the character.
Castro’s artwork is as energetic as ever. In some ways it reminds me of Neal Adam’s latest look. Heavy inks on dynamic figures, often with well sculpted anatomy. I’m glad to see Castro is drawing Sheena’s ribcage, as he often forgot draw Red Sonja’s. Making her look like a limp noddle with boobs, often times.
In the end, Bechk’s breezy script and Castro quick rendered art work well together. While I can’t say there is anything that really sells me in this first issue. As there is no hint of the plot and Tarzan is M.I.A.. But it’s a decent issue, and with the promise of watching these two icons of the jungle teaming-up, it easily holds my attention for another issue or more. And while it’s sure to be cliché, who doesn’t want to see Jane get jealous over Sheena.
SUPERMAN: AMERICAN ALIEN #5Writer: Max Landis
Artist: Francis Manapul
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: The Kid Marvel
AMERICAN ALIEN is by far one of my favorite books out right now and Landis has done an incredible job of capturing the Superman character, as well as Clark Kent’s journey to becoming a hero. Landis has definitely kept this series in the realm of deepening the character, rather than another origin story.
Issue #5 of the SUPERMAN: AMERICAN ALIEN series focuses on Clark finding his niche as a hero in a variety of ways. He’s trying to figure out a costume, how to handle or react to criminals, what he stands for and his portrayal to the public. Plus, on a basic level, Clark is trying to figure out what the hell he’s doing as a hero.
There are three main situations in this AMERICAN ALIEN #5, each reflecting Clark trying to grow in how he should handle them. The first is relatively small but, Clark leaves two street thugs with an awkward, poorly thought out “don’t do this” warning. The second, a much larger dilemma, is a battle with Parasite and having to interact and work with the police. Beginning as more of a backup piece to the situation, before needing to step in a more hands on and direct approach. With the final plot thread involving Lex Luthor, who cuts deeply into Clark as an individual and what he thinks he is doing, such as his lack of understanding in terms of politics, the law and perception towards the public. Lex basically berates Clark as a strong man amateur, with no real plan or sense of understanding towards the real world, rather than someone to be feared or even bothered with. Now, sandwiched in between each of these plot points is Clark having a dialogue with Lois, about this new hero and Clark, as well as Lois, progressing in character growth towards their views of this new hero of Metropolis. Lois comes around to Clark’s idea of who this hero is by the end of the story or really, the commentary Clark is making about himself, voiced from his civilian identity and what he feels his purpose is. The whole story is really a progression of Clark needing to better understand himself and coming into his own as a hero, now that he has taken steps towards becoming Superman.
Overall, this is another solid issue and probably the best Superman title, next to SUPERMAN: LOIS AND CLARK. Landis has brought characterization to Superman, who is generally written flatly or the writer just doesn’t seem to understand what the character is about. Landis on the other hand, understands and embraces the mythos of Superman and tries to really capture the elements of what makes him tick and getting him to the point of the fully realized Superman, were all familiar with.
As far as artwork goes, Manapul captures the lightheartedness of the younger Superman, as well as the youthful vibrancy and newness if you will, of Superman before he is quite The Man of Steel, boy scout Superman. The art work is bright, it’s cheery and it has a tone of hope to it. Everything you should associate with Superman, you know, the opposite of everything being done with the Superman cinematically.
I definitely recommend this book and honestly, the whole series if you haven’t started. It’s a solid standalone issue but, I would take the time to check out the previous four issues because it’s well worth it. The story fun and it shows Superman as a person, rather than an empty caricature. SUPERMAN: AMERICAN ALIEN is one of the best comics from DC at the moment.
Proofs, co-edits & common sense provided by Sleazy G
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