Singles Going Steady 11/19/2013: A Unity of QualityA comic review article by: Zack Davisson, Daniel Elkin, Taylor Lilley, Riagain27, Jason Sacks, Jamil Scalese, Keith Silva
Singles Going Steady is Comics Bulletin's weekly single issue review roundup.
(Matt Kindt / Doug Braithwaite; Valiant Comics)
Imagine you and your people had been abducted, tortured, and enslaved by aliens, escaping your bondage only to reach home 1600 years in the future and find it occupied. And if in the course of freeing yourself, you'd bonded with a devastating suit of space armour, one so powerful that you could both reclaim your homeland and then defend it from all comers, wouldn't you use it for just that?
This relatable homeland hook (the best event premise since Civil War?) is a rich foundation for writer Matt Kindt to work off. Aric, X-O Manowar to you and me, is the Moses-with-lasers in question, leading his people to a newly-seized home in Romania, cueing Russian aggression, global political crisis, and the necessary intervention (or introduction) of the Valiant Universe's greatest. Having thus furnished us with a sympathetic aggressor and no easy fixes, Kindt introduces our "heroes".
Harada, the creepy psychic string-puller from Valiant's Harbinger title, draws Gilad the Eternal Warrior and Ninjak the (ridiculously attired) assassin into the situation with only 24 hours until Russia goes nuclear (something Harada's experienced first-hand and sworn to prevent), and global dominoes fall. However, Harada is a man in love with power, its study and application, so his overarching goal remains hidden. Kindt sticks close to type in this opening issue, sketching the opaque power player, the sage warrior, and the obnoxious merc with broad strokes; but it's a first issue, and there are many plates to set a-spin. Fortunately, Ninjak's sneering superciliousness lightens the script's occasional freefall into the po-faced.
The other lightening touch is artist Doug Braithwaite, whose fine linework resonates with Trevor Hairsine's work on Eternal Warrior, or Cary Nord's X-O Manowar, two titles particularly aligned with Unity. He creates recognisable and differentiated characters, something crucial in a #1, while unleashing barrages of force and motion across jagged layouts, hitting splashes and fight scenes hard. If there is a preponderance of grim visages and default wreckage scenes around the big-money sequences, well, this is after all a superhero comic.
Packaged up in a wealth of variant covers at cover price, and a recap page intrographic that should be industry standard, Unity is every bit as good a cape comic as anyone else has to offer, and cements Valiant's place alongside the major publishers. If you're crossover-fatigued, this might be your antidote.
- Taylor Lilley
Avengers Arena #17
(Dennis Hopeless / Kev Walker / Francesco Francavilla / Jason Gorder)
From day one, Avengers Arena has been a divisive series. You either loved it or you hated it. It comes as a surprise to no one that this split is mirrored between critics and general readers. Critics have heaped their praises upon the series, while your average reader waits patiently or not-so-patiently for the series to end in order for their favorite characters to return to their normal books -- if their favorite characters are still alive, of course.
Issue 17 opens up with day 29 on the island out of what is supposed to be 30 days total. It also finally takes the reader back to the point in the story that we were introduced with all the way back in issue 1. A lot of people are dead, everybody is fighting everybody else, and all hell has broken loose. This issue sets us up for the endgame in issue 18 and between the chaos going on, Hazmat looking to go nuclear, and one character turning traitor it looks like nobody is going to get off the island.
It would be a suspenseful setup for the final issue and I would be on the edge of my seat despite my own misgivings about the series if not for the fact that Marvel has already spoiled the ending. We already know that X-23 is going to survive thanks to her upcoming appearance in All New X-Men. We know the same about Bloodstone, Cammi, Death Locket, Anachronism, and Hazmat due to the upcoming book Avengers Undercover. Nico is too popular to die and stay dead, and Reptil is likely immune to death due to his role within the kid friendly The Superhero Squad Show.
Out of the remaining characters that leaves Chase, Chris Powell, and Apex as expendable and I'm not certain about Chase as he may have blanket immunity due to his association with Nico and the Runaways. Chris Powell is a character that hasn't been able to find a permanent place to call home in the Marvel Universe since 1995 and Apex conveniently became the traitor that I mentioned earlier. All the tension drains right out when you look at it from this perspective. Whether you liked the premise of the book or not, the suspense of whether a character you liked was going to survive the island kept people coming back to it and now that suspense is gone.
Kev Walker's art is a major selling point for this series and this issue is no different. Walker's art adds a dirty aspect to every character and he makes it apparent that everyone has been living and fighting within a jungle for the past month. This is a great contrast to most other comics and their art wherein characters will fight for hours or even days and regardless of what happens, still look perfect at the end. The characters of Avengers Arena have gone through a hellish month, and Kev Walker shows it.
At this point, this cast isn't likely to have any more sudden changes
So is the book worth getting? That's dependent on several factors. If you've been reading the story from the beginning and enjoy it, then yes. If you haven't read any of it and have no intention of going back and getting the previous issues, then no. If you've been getting the series up to this point just to find out if a character is going to survive, then you already have most of your answer. Come the next issue, we'll have the full one.
All in all, this issue would be really good in setting up suspense within the reader for the final issue if it weren't for Marvel jumping the gun by giving away the ending. Because they did though, I have to give it 3 out of 5 stars.
Conan the Barbarian: Queen of the Black Coast #22
Issue #22 marks the beginning of the end of Brian Wood's run on Conan. I, for one, am not sorry to see him go. There have been some good issues in this series—and a few excellent ones—but the downswings have outweighed the upstrokes for this series, and for most Conan fans Queen of the Black Coast will be written off as an unfortunate, failed experiment.
As always, we start this new story arc with yet again a new artist. Part of me was hoping that Becky Cloonan would come back to finish off the series she started, but no such luck. This new artist Riccardo Buchielli is pretty typical of the artists Wood has selected for the series so far. He's not bad, but he's a far cry from great, and his art is ultimately forgettable. With bizarre anatomy that seems to shift every page, Burchielli seems to have little grasp of the human figure. And I would say he draws one of the ugliest Bêlits I have seen this entire series.
He draws nice boats, though. All the artists seem to draw nice boats. And great hands. Burchielli draws these fabulous, bendy-grabby hands that just jump off the page. So full credit for that.
Sigh … where do we start with the story? Well, this is the end of Queen of the Black Coast, so the story was written long ago by Robert E. Howard. And it is a classic. Unfortunately, Wood feels the need to alter some of Howard's most famous dialogue, including the conversation between Bêlit and Conan about belief in the gods. Howard's original is classic—some of his best lines. Wood's changes that conversation drastically, altering the intent with only a few words.
Howard's dialogue: "I would not tread on their shadow."
Wood's dialog: "I dare not tread on their shadow."
With that small change, Conan moves from pragmatic to fearful. And I don't really see the advantage of Wood's alteration. It seems like mucking about for mucking about's sake. And I'm just not buying it.
I know that many of us were hoping this uneven series would end with a bang instead of a whimper, once the focus of the story got back to Howard's original plot and away from the new waters Brian Wood was sailing it. But that seems not to be the case. Sigh …
- Zack Davisson
Marvel Knights: X-Men #1
(Brahm Revel, Christiane Peter; Marvel Comics)
Marvel Knights: X-Men #1 attains a seedy slinkiness the other fifteen-plus X-franchise titles can't quite achieve as they meander from event to event. So, how (exactly) is this X-title different another X-title? Well … for one, it has two fearless creators in Brahm Revel on story and art and the sublime Cristiane Peter on colors.
Revel has a heavy hand, a very heavy hand. His lines look more carved or etched than drawn. And ink? Dude slings inks by the barrelful which allows the moodiness of haunted places and dive bars to soak in. Revel gives Wolverine a wide flat face and a blunt nose. His hair is perfect. The other characters coiffures look as sharp as a sawtooth blade (locks like fangs) a hint, perhaps, to Revel's reveal at the end.
Peter's art betters whatever it comes in contact with, high praise here and given her resumé. She uses fashion fuchsias, fluorescent yellows and mantis greens to make drug trips and mutant powers strange (but similar) bedfellows. Peter gets ghosts in all their translucent murk which is maybe (I hope) where this tale is headed, but not yet.
The story begins with a dream Rachel Summers has about an amphibian-like boy (who looks like Leech from the Morlocks, sans hat) as he tries to escape … something. Cool on Revel if he aims to channel The New Mutants #18 which features another of Summers's nocturnal emissions. From there it's a 'city mutant(s) in the country ' yarn as Wolverine, Rogue and Kitty drive (!!!) to a wide spot in the road near the Appalachian Mountains to search for three mutants. There's also a Scobby-Doo-ish mystery involving missing -- Wolverine assumes, of course, murdered -- children.
The Marvel Knights imprint houses Marvel Comics edgier titles, in theory. I yearn -- yes, yearn -- for an X-Men story by creators who don't give a flying Adamantium asshole about continuity and who back up their experimental indie sensibilities with courageous narratives. Revel and Peter bear such pedigrees. Unfortunately, the pacing in this first issue feels both cumbersome and too vanilla. It's a comic with a tedious plot that's unable to match its superlative looks. The good news is it's one of five. So, paciência.
As my little league coach would say when an infielder made a diving stop only to sail his throw into the parking lot, Marvel Knights: X-Men #1 only makes half the play. But damn, I wish it was more, 'cause it was a hell of stab to start.
- Keith Silva
Eternal Warrior #3
So here's another comic I knew nothing about, heard nothing about, and thought nothing about until about 30 minutes ago. Now I totally regret my ignorance. What the hell, Greg Pak and Valiant comics, why didn't you tell me that Eternal Warrior was so freaking awesome? Are you that selfish? Or have I just been ignoring your advances all this time, afraid to commit, worried I might get hurt again?
If you haven't read any Eternal Warrior, drop everything you are doing (unless it is feeding a baby sloth or flying a plane full of kittens) and rush to your LCS and buy it now. I'm serious. If you think I am being hyperbolic when I tell you this book may be the zenith of modern comic book entertainment you would only be slightly correct. While I am giddy with excitement over this book, baby sloths and planes full of kittens are more important to our world.
Pak had me hooked from the get go with this one. There is a huge story going on here, and he's putting a human face on it. He's placing the eternal struggles between good and evil, wilderness and order, and the male and female dynamic into the auspices of a family-drama. There becomes an emotional resonance to every twist and turn this story takes that otherwise would be lost without the interpersonal relationships between father and daughter and son. Things get more intense when blood is involved; remember what my grandma used to tell me, “Nobody fucks you up like family.” Pak is playing with fire here, and it's going to blow up real good somewhere down the line.
When I took a look at the lenghty list of creators, my first thought was that too many cooks are going to spoil the stew. Then I punched myself in the face for using tired cliches. Despite the conglomeration of styles and ideas, all the people drawing and coloring Eternal Warrior #3 do a great job. You can see the change in perspective, but it flows. The timing of the shift in artists works and, in a way, adds to the pacing of the book.
Since Valiant began its relaunch, they've been going for the big stories. What is happening in Eternal Warrior may be the biggest story of them all. I get the sense that Greg Pak is sitting back somewhere in his writing space, cracking his knuckles, smiling a knowing smile, and preparing to let loose a serious awesome bomb.
I, for one, am camping out in ground zero.
- Daniel Elkin
Cataclysm: Ultimate Spider-Man #1
(Brian Michael Bendis / Dave Marquez / Justin Ponsor; Marvel Comics)
Hey, do you see that guy on the cover of this comic book? The one in the weird purple costume and horned helmet who looks like he's got very bad indigestion? A logical-thinking reader might think that purple giant, the much-feared Galactus, would appear prominently in this comic, bringing cataclysm upon the Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, as the title describes. But you might also have noticed above that this comic is written by Brian Michael Bendis, a man who likes talk over action, and wondered exactly how much Cataclysm you might see in this comic.
Well, smart reader, you're very right in your analysis, because this comic has an awful lot of talk and not a lot of relevant action.
Oh, it has some nice character scenes – the moment when a New York beat cop hugs Spider-Man because our hero has returned from the ranks of the missing is a genuinely nice moment, and there's a moving scene with Cloak and Dagger confronting the age-old problem of "you can't go home again". Like he always does, Bendis does a great job of bringing the world of Miles Morales to vivid light. Dave Marquez adds to that quality, with delightfully emotive characters and realistic settings. He does a great version of Thor eating Chinese food, and the inside of Miles's classroom looks realistic.
But right there you can see the problem with this issue: for the first part of a giant crossover cosmic saga, one that may destroy the Ultimate Universe and change Marvel itself forever, this is an awfully quiet comic book. The Big "G" appears only at the end of this issue, in a two-page spread that's dynamic and intriguing, yes, but also which kind of comes out of the blue and feels plothammery. I felt like we already had our nice goodbye to these characters with last month's final issue of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man and here we are again with the character stuff.
It's decent character stuff; just what we expect from Brian Michael Bendis, for better or worse. I was just hoping to watch Galactus try to eat planets. Yum, planets.
- Jason Sacks
Superman/Wonder Woman #2
(Charles Soule / Tony S Daniel; DC Comics)
Take DC's biggest male superhero and biggest female superhero and give them a comic together and what do you get? Turns out you get a pretty awesome comic. Superman/Wonder Woman #2 isn't the kind of comic that will go down in history as groundbreaking, but it is the kind I enjoyed and will almost certainly read over again.
The question for a series that centres around two of DC's most powerful characters is what challenge or villain could be thrown at them that could be taken seriously as a threat. This issue starts to answer that question with a bang as we open to Wonder Woman getting brutally beaten by, of all people, Doomsday. If there's any villain that we know is a threat it's the one that famously killed Superman -- and a threat he is as he makes Wonder Woman bleed and breaks her bones. But this issue isn't all mindless action either. Without spoiling anything, I will say there's a mystery running through the issue and our two heroes have more than just Doomsday to contend with.
Of course, all the action in the issue relies on the art to make it worthwhile and thankfully the artwork is simply fantastic. This is a comic packed with action, and Tony Daniel does great with job with it. The first page shows WW soaring bloody and limp through the air, an image that is both terrible and beautiful, and the comic just keeps going from there. You can see the flames and smoke still on Superman as he rises from a pool of molten metal, and see the power emanating from him after he gets charged up later. First page to last page this is just a beautiful comic. Doomsday looks menacing, Wonder Woman looks beautiful, Superman looks powerful and every hit has an impact.
On the non-action side we also get to enjoy some great interaction between Superman and Wonder Woman. Their relationship is so different from what we're used to seeing between Superman and Lois. No longer is Superman constantly having to save his helpless love interest, he's with a woman more than capable of taking care of herself. We even get a fun, weird twist on the boyfriend meeting the girlfriend's family as Superman meets Apollo. Seeing the god Apollo underestimate Superman is a ton of fun and, needless to say things, things do not exactly go smoothly.
Though it's only 2 issues in so far I'm enjoying this series far more than the Action Comics, Superman, or Wonder Woman series. Superman and Wonder Woman have always been great characters together, and with Soule and Daniel's work here they make for a fantastic new pairing.
- Bill Janzen
Red Sonja #5
Gone is the two-dimensional character with the three-dimensional figure. Red Sonja is a person, a powerful, committed heroic individual who just so happens to be female, not in spite of it. Simone has fleshed out this character by focusing less on the flesh and more on the character.
But you all probably know this already. I didn't. Now I do. It is nice to see that as I have matured, so have some of the comics I read as a kid.
In issue five, Simone has Red Sonja doing an awful lot of talking and very little fighting, which I guess I wasn't expecting. In a comic that is devoted to sword and sorcery, a plethora of chatter might seem off-putting. But dialogue in the hands of Gail Simone can sometimes be more exciting than the fiercest duel and cut deeper than the sharpest blade.
Complementing all this talking is Walter Geovani's art swathed in the colors of Adriano Lucas palette. I'm not all that familiar with the past work of either of these artists, but looking at Red Sonja #5 makes me want to find out more about them. There is a surety to Geovani's Sonja. She embodies strength, beauty, and grace – but above all else, Geovani's Red Sonja conveys confidence. Lucas' colors enhance this, giving a clear sense that Sonja is a force both apart from those around her and connected somehow to the very land from which she springs.
And then there is that huge panel with the giant leach sucking from Sonja's stomach... well, that just speaks for itself.
As I have no background in what Simone is doing with her Sonja story, I fully expected to be lost when starting with issue 5, but I found my footing after only a few pages. I wouldn't call this issue a jumping on point by any means, but Simone takes you by the hand without ever being didactic or sacrificing story. She even knows how to toss in a good flashback for help.
I was pleasantly surprised by all that I found in Red Sonja #5. While my expectations weren't high to begin with, I was really glad to see that Simone and her art team have taken a character that, especially in the hands of a publisher like Dynamite, could easily be exploitative and misogynistic and all the things that I hate about so many corporate comics, and made her someone that you could show your daughter and say something along the lines of, "Here's a role model to consider."
Superior Foes of Spider-Man #5
(Nick Spencer / Steve Lieber/ Rachelle Rosenberg)
Watch out, Hawkeye, Boomer and the gang are coming for your spot.
Like Daredevil before it, Matt Fraction and David Aja's comic about the purple bow-wielding Avenger has been received mounds of critical praise for being a progressive, self-contained, entertaining piece of art in a landscape where formulas and franchises rule the market. I'm in the opinion that Marvel publishes a heaping handful of high-quality comics, but there few that achieve the script/art combo Clint Barton enjoys. The Superior Foes of Spider-Man is of that ilk, and if you haven't at least given it a try you're doing yourself a terrible injustice. For shame.
The book, which focuses on working-class villains, succeeds in making you interested in thievery, blackmail and torture. There aren't too many likeable characters among this cast but it's easy to find yourself concerned for them, even rooting the foes along as they commit seedy acts and go around like perfect jerks. One way Spencer and Lieber pull this off is by contrasting the dickish Speed Demon or the control-freak Beetle with someone like the Owl, who shows up in this issue as both perpetrator and victim. Through the Owl we learn just how terrible this realm can get, the consequences of the protagonists' failure and a steamy bit of history about low-level brute Man-Bull.
Cape comics are basically soap operas minus the abundant infidelity. What I'm saying is that they never lack drama. The trick is inserting humor in a medium void of sound, a key element in timing, which is in turn a key element of comedy. Let's be real: comics are rarely funny. Hell, my favorite character, Deadpool, barely gets me to audibly laugh these days. But somehow, in all five issues thus far, there has been at least one moment that has produced a chuckle from me.
When story provides good laughs and great characters you kind of forget you're, you know, reading a story. The ending of this comic surprises and delights with a clever spin on information revealed in issue #3, and it nods to the creators' intention to entertain in the immediate and the long-term.
The blend of drama, humor and simple absurdity make this star shine bright, but what lifts it to new classic status is its accessibility. For a plot that references so many obscure characters, relationships and moments from old school street-level stories it really takes little effort to understand or appreciate.
Know what amazes me most though? Spider-Man hasn't actually showed his stupid, bug-eyed face yet. Amazingly, none of the plot events hinge on his presence, and it's cool to see this comic stand on its own two, contending for possibly the best item on the stands.
- Jamil Scalese
(Ray Fawkes/ ACO; DC Comics)
Afterlife with Archie #2
(Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa / Francesco Francavilla; Archie Comics)
BPRD: Hell on Earth #113
(Mike Mignola / John Arcudi / Tyler Crook / Dave Stewart; Dark Horse Comics)