Singles Going Steady 10/8/2013: X-Men Done Right, Star Wars Done Wrong

A comic review article by: Rob Tacopina, Paul Brian McCoy, Taylor Lilley, Jason Sacks, Jamil Scalese, Daniel Elkin

Singles Going Steady

Singles Going Steady is Comics Bulletin's weekly single issue review roundup. 

Jamil has a lot to say about Forever Evil #1.

All-New X-Men #17

(Brian Michael Bendis / Stuart Immonen / Wade von Grawbadger/ Marte Gracia / Cory Petit; Marvel Comics)
4 stars
The Battle of the Atom event running concurrently in the pages of the "core" X-Men titles has been quite an exciting ride, reminiscent of those great days of X-Men past. This issue of All-New X-Men takes all of those qualities that were so prevalent and beloved in the heyday of X-Men comics and incorporates them in here with near perfection.
All-New X-Men #17
As the story opens we learn that in the future Hank McCoy has just won the first ever mutant for presidential election. However, as with most things in the X-world things go terribly wrong and fast as the newly minted President is assassinated while giving her election speech. As the remaining X-Men are left to pick up the pieces you see the fraying of the team cohesiveness begin.
As original time-displaced Iceman and Beast jump to the future, courtesy of Magik, they are confronted with a second team of X-Men from this timeline. The conundrum the trio are faced with is which team to trust? There are great moments of dialogue as the various characters question each other as to what is occurring. Iceman, past and future--who is a Gandalf-esque Iceman, in particular shines through here due to his monologue which often times borders on hilarity. The cliffhanger ending promises to ramp things up as we head into the home stretch of Battle of the Atom.
All-New X-Men #17
Writer Brian Michael Bendis is firing on all cylinders on this issue. He is often criticized for overly "wordy" comics but I applaud his writing technique as it allows for a greater amount of character development, and if the X-Men are anything they are deep character driven stories. All of the classic trappings of great X-Men comics are evident here and while the revisit to the Days of Future Past timeline has been done many times before it is a testament to Bendis' talents that the premise remains fresh. 
The art team of Stuart Immonen and Marte Gracia are as equally adept as the story's writer, providing a beautifully illustrated and colored sequential. Immonen has such a fine line and attention to detail with beautifully drawn emotional expressions. Gracia's excellent choice of palette enhance everything with vivid precision.
All-New X-Men #17
All-New X-Men #17 is a prime example of the X-Men done right. The tight-knit family feeling infused with rich characterization solidify the fact that the mutants are in very capable hands under the pen of Brian Michael Bendis.
- Robert Tacopina

The Star Wars #2

(J. W. Rinzler / Mike Mayhew / George Lucas; Dark Horse)

2 stars

Our second installment of Dark Horse's adaptation of George Lucas's 1974 rough-draft screenplay for The Star Wars collapses in on itself and demonstrates just why this was a rough draft and didn't get produced. Where the first issue did a fine job introducing our main characters and setting up the conflicts, issue two completely loses any sense of time passing and seems to be missing scenes and dialogue.

The Star Wars #2

This isn't scripter J. W. Rinzler or artist Mike Mayhew's fault. They're doing the best they can with what they've got to work with. As such, The Star Wars is still a beautiful book to look at, so there's that.

The attack on the Aquilaean System pending at the cliffhanger ending of the first issue takes until the middle of this issue to begin. During which time we're treated to discussions of politics, an awkward dinner with the King, Annikin acting like an idiot, Princess Leia acting like a spoiled brat, and some random farmers or shepherds or something witnessing the Death Star's initial attack. An initial attack that specifically targets the King somehow. From well beyond orbit.

The Star Wars #2

Anyway, the rest of the issue is an attack by Aquilaean forces on what I'm calling the Death Star even though nobody in the book has named it yet. It's all very boring and while Mayhew's art is gorgeous, the action of the attack isn't very engaging. Story-wise, this initial attack nearly destroys the Death Star! If the cowardly politicians hadn't forced General Luke Skywalker to call back his forces that would have ended the story.

Instead, the last Aquilaean forces are routed while withdrawing and General Skywalker swears revenge.

The Star Wars #2

In the meantime, Annikin and Leia are missing and an extremely annoying, and as yet unnamed, android duo haul their metallic asses off the Death Star when it looks like everything's going tits up. If you thought C-3PO was prissy and irritating, wait until you get a load of an R2-D2 who actually talks and is kind of a dick.

Lucas' story has already fallen apart and the first act isn't even complete. None of the heroes are remotely likeable, the villains are nondescript and flavorless, and a lot of the boring political blather that helped ruin the Prequel Trilogy is on full display. What I'd hoped would be an interesting look at an alternative take on the story we all know and love, is instead just the displaying of a corpse that maybe never should have been uncovered.

- Paul Brian McCoy

Batman: Black and White #2

(Dan DiDio / Rafael Albuquerque / Jeff Lemire / Michael Uslan / J.G. Jones / Rafael Grampa / Rafael Albuquerque / Alex Niño / Dave Bullock; DC Comics)
4 stars

For those loving New 52 Bat-tales, a pricey anthology title without colour, continuity connection, or the caché (Albuquerque & Lemire excepted) of an all-star creative team must feel unnecessary. However, if the New 52 is awkwardly fumbling around your special Bat-places, this title is the mysterious silhouette that beckons you from the dark, promising to put on a show.

Batman: Black and White

J.G. Jones opens the comic with a display of texturing and depth far more vivid than his coloured work, yet his panels are oddly disjointed and, sad to say, Didio's script won't be the one to convince readers he can write. The showstopper, by a mile, is Rafael Grampa's Pope-like pencils describing Gotham City, Wayne Manor and its grounds, as Joker eats a banana and Batman throws elbows, all laced together with a narration (from who? You decide!) packed with references and ideas (actual ideas!) that blossom on rereading. This is Batman: Black and White's justification, a rare piece of Grampa virtuosity that brings something new to the Bat look-book (check the armour) and the age-old topic of the Joker's genesis.

Batman: Black and White

By contrast, Rafael Albuquerque's tale, while deliciously lettered by Sal Cipriano, seems over-familiar with comics' "turn, turn, kick, turn" of set-up, set-piece, reveal, and money-shot. Albuquerque is an exciting artist, crafting gorgeous imagery that tells a story well, but that story? It's Batman by the numbers. Jeff Lemire and Alex Niño follow with a short that's lost somewhere between Lemire's cute insight into Batman and Niño's kinetic but ultimately inaccessible linework (stunning last panel aside), before the finale; a silent cinema pastiche in which Dave Bullock transcends Michael Uslan's dull script, bathing it in an old-timey glow that brings out a wealth of spot-on visual references.

Sure, it's a mixed bag, and those who choose their comics by writer will find little outside of Grampa to please them. But as a break from the oppressive new Bat-reality, and a showcase of fine artists working near their peak, there's no other show in town. If you have $5 a month for some special Bat-sauce, and the time to luxuriate in top-drawer comics art, this book can't be beat. 

- Taylor Lilley

The Shaolin Cowboy

(Geof Darrow / Dave Stewart; Dark Horse)

4.5 stars

There are a few comics that render me completely speechless, that make it seems almost completely unnecessary to be able to speak. Some comics are so overwhelmingly intense, so thoroughly wacky and bizarre and auteur-driven that I just kind of sit back and giggle and enjoy all the insanity.

The Shaolin Cowboy #1

The Shaolin Cowboy is one of those comics, and Geof Darrow is one of those creators. This comic is plain crazy in so many ways: the absurd and obsessive attention to minor detail, the brilliantly slow, deliberate pace that gives even the most violent scenes in this comic – and there are some insanely violent scenes in this comic - an odd sort of timeless grace that seems to be in inverse proportion to the amount of red ink spilled on the page.

The Shaolin Cowboy #1

This month our hero the Shaolin Cowboy emerges from a shallow grave, Uma-style, only to find himself confronted by a zombie invasion along with some taunting from a bunch of drunk, stupid teenagers. There's some sort of satellite named Cheney666 watching our hero (on YouTube) and all kinds of small indicators of a larger world beyond the endless desert (which somehow contains alligators and frogs along with lizards of all shapes and sizes), but all that stuff that implies a larger world is awesome and interesting and full of Darrow style jokes and ridiculousness, but really all that doesn't matter to me.

The Shaolin Cowboy

None of it matters because The Shaolin Cowboy is incredibly odd, incredibly dense, incredibly thrilling in a way that gives me a small little high every time I read an issue of this series. Yeah, this comic's back after way too long and for those of us who remember it, yay! an amazing comic is back. But for those of you who never read Shaolin Cowboy – well, goddamn, you're a lucky motherfucker, you know that? Because you'll feel this rush completely fresh.

- Jason Sacks

Mara #6

(Brian Wood / Ming Doyle / Jordie Bellaire; Image Comics)

5 stars

"I couldn't imagine anything mattering less than what you all think of me right now."

Ming Doyle, together with Jordie Bellaire's generally restrained colouring, have until this finale created a feel of poise and remove. Mara and her co-stars' acting has resembled the manufactured expressions of catalogue models, creating an unusually cold approach to leading characters for a comic from writer Brian Wood. Yet this aloofness suits the world of Mara, where collective sacrifice fuels commercialised state oppression, where sparring sports-celebrities are the primary escapism from dutiful citizenship. It's hardly a world where expression is free, or encouraged.

Mara #6

Mara's powers mean she can strike back at those who have stifled her, express her rage and hurt at an excellence machine that rejected her surpassing excellence. Yet she forsakes nuclear vengeance for global mock execution. Then she does the most dramatic thing she can, she turns away. She leaves the conversation. Refuses to feed the trolls. Mara finds her own perspective, with the aid of a lone astronaut and a certain blue marble.

Mara #6

Fundamentally, Mara is a hopeful book, drawing inspiration from humanity's striving to be more "super", our group grasp for the stars, but also from our individual capacity for perspective. Mara finds herself and her future when she experiences a "tertiary power manifestation". Empathy. From there, she can build a future, outside of Wood's allegorical world, which is our world minus the actions and creations of individuals. Mara shows us the way out of the corporatized, constitutionalised mechanism that traps us. We must learn to care far less how we are perceived, and far more how we perceive. Simple, right? It's no wonder that this is the issue where Doyle lets Mara smile, and I encourage you to be there when it happens.

- Taylor Lilley

Savage Wolverine #9

(Jock; Lee Loughridge; Marvel)

3.5 stars

Not only at what he does, but maybe the best in the entire genre. I'm not a Wolverine fanatic, this might be the first Logan solo I've bought since my preteens, but I'm in the opinion he's the king of the superhero world, the best character among many fabulous ones. The most recent issue of Savage Wolverine helps prove this.

The once acerbic jokes about how Wolverine's multiple appearances across an array of tiles have turned into a bit of a dependable character trait. Marvel aptly turned Wolvie into one of the most durable and diverse tools in the kit. Think about his roles in Wolverine and the X-Men, Uncanny Avengers, All-New X-Men, Age of Ultron and think about how different, yet credible they are. Truly a Canuck of all trades.

Savage Wolverine #9

Marvel has done a decent job of providing a handful anthology books to let creators play around with the best characters in the biz. Although it switched over for obvious reason Avenging Spider-Man started this recent trend, followed by A+X and now Savage Wolverine, which has already featured topflight talent.

Jock has seen a swift rise in the last couple years, in particular gaining notoriety for his Detective Comics run. He works as both artist and writer for this tale about Wolverine stranded on a desert-like planet. Jock's thin and boxy style gives the story a certain roughness befitting the setting and lead. The real sell to his work is his skills in design, demonstrated repeatedly over his career in both cover work and interiors. The true smart moments are in depiction of motion and passage of time, from space dives to fights with fucked up looking leech creatures. The sci-fi elements are heavy, but as I said, I don't see that has unknown land for our clawed hero, after all, he hangs around the X-Men and they're in the space all the time. Lee Loughridge adds a whole lot of dimension with the colors, complimenting his former The Losers partner at every single turn. The alien light clashes well with the sandy, pallid tones, and the shadow work is wonderful.

Savage Wolverine #9

The script isn't too far behind the art at all. The slow burn opening serves to disorient the reader and presents an interesting situation for Wolverine. Context is doled out judiciously, with the appearance of a young child providing the main tension. Much is to be revealed, but Jock clearly exhibits his storytelling chops.

The lone major flaw is Logan's voice in the brief text heavy ending. His voice falls flat, and while it already has a tendency to sway from book to book it's missing the grunting, grumpy tone. Much of what I love about Wolvie is his gruff personality, and this version lacked that distinct adamantium flavor.

It's safe to report that the art is what you would expect from the creator, which is fantabulous and engaging.  The story also works on some levels, isolating The Best There Is in a far off place. I'm eagerly looking forward to the next two issues. 

- Jamil Scalese

Archer and Armstrong #14

(Fred Van Lente / Khari Evans / Tom Fowler; Valiant Comics)

S.H.O.O.T. First #1

(Justin Aclin / Nicolas Daniel Selma / Marlac; Dark Horse)


Invincible Universe #7

(Phil Hester / Todd Nauck; Image Comics)

Happy dog!

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