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Singles Going Steady 12/10/13: Man Vs. Inhumanity

A comic review article by: Daniel Elkin, Rafael Gaitan, Shawn Hill, Taylor Lilley, Chris Wunderlich

Singles Going Steady

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

Inhumanity #1

(Matt Fraction, Olivier Coipel, Mike Morales, Laura Martin; Marvel)

3.5 stars

What a beautiful downer. You could do worse than pick Coipel to illustrate your world-shaking calamities. He first came to my attention years ago doing just that for the Legion of Super-heroes, sending them on their darkest destiny ever for a few years. Now it seems it’s the Inhumans' turn, and it's disturbing to see Earth's oddest royal family brought so low.

Inhumanity #1

There's also a fair amount of hubris on display, because these powerful Kree offshoots are as at home in space as on Earth, and have ruled galactic empires when called to. They're a culture that embraces rapid genetic change rather than fearing it, so Marvel's mutants were never a problem for them. They're the original mutants in a way, and now it's their turn to infect the planet with their flaw.

For, be assured, in an issue where Karnak does most of the talking, there will be a flaw. Or quite a few. Some really bad ones. Most of these can be traced back to Thanos, a being so opposite to the fertile creativity of the Inhumans as to be their nightmare boogeyman. That seems to be what he's done to Karnak, who is a broken relic of himself, met in the street arranging skulls in patterns. I didn't follow the recent galactic crossover featuring the death god, so I don't know exactly how his agents managed to force Black Bolt to destroy Attilan. But Karnak is taking it the hardest, feeling like he failed his king.

Inhumanity #1

Medusa's taking it slightly better, and the artists for Inhumanity promise to have no end of fun playing with those undulating scarlet tresses of hers. There's not a lot more to the story than that this month, as we get a brief history of the Inhumans, some speculation about Thanos, and a surprise move by Karnak that catches the Avengers while distracted and ineffective. It remains to be seen whether Fraction can do with the Kirby/FF legacy what he tried with Asgard a few years ago. As it was with Immonen on that work, however, the apocalypse will be gorgeous.

- Shawn Hill

 


Triple Helix #3

(John Byrne; IDW)

1 star

What can be said about John Byrne that hasn't been said already? The man has touched just about every major superhero book. His visions of Superman, the Fantastic Four, Avengers, X-Men and so many more still dominate the preconceptions of many long-time readers. To say he's been a major creative force within the industry would be an understatement. When John Byrne aimed his creative energies at a project, it exploded. Personally, I find his work hit and miss. I fell in love with Alpha Flight but wanted to burn his run on Doom Patrol. She-Hulk was brilliant; Next Men made me shrug. Genesis was the worst event comic I had ever read. Where then would Triple Helix lie?

Triple Helix #3

Despite Byrne's often controversial personality, I try to separate the man from his work. I went into Triple Helix thinking, as an original creation, Byrne could do whatever he wanted within the superhero genre. This was his chance to break loose and say what he always wanted to say. Did he want to homage comic greats? Perhaps change the rules of the genre? Perfect team dynamics, thrill us with deep plot and original characters or simply give us a story he always wanted tell? If he set out to achieve any of the above, he failed miserably. Triple Helix #3 wasn't just boring; it was a chore to read.

First, Byrne's art: I used to like the way this guy drew. His issues of Fantastic Four still look great, but for some reason his signature style has devolved, becoming slicker, messier and less impressive in every way. It looks dated, but not in a good retro way—just weak. His characters still have those “Byrne eyes” and his layouts are still decent, but Byrne just can't draw like he did in the 80s. Artists change—I accept that.

Triple Helix #3

The story is where the real pain lies. Generic, generic, generic—say it with me. This story is so bland I actually started to get angry with it. In-team fighting is interrupted by attacking robots, controlled by a seemingly sympathetic scientist who wants revenge on his former colleague—Triple Helix's mysterious leader! The lame, uninspired characters all struggle with lame, uninspired issues. Top it off with some lame dialogue and Byrne's lame art and your book is just plain lame. And generic. And uninspired. You get it.

I'm not sure what Triple Helix aims to be. It's not “old-school” enough to seem like a throwback and it doesn't do anything new. It doesn't really do anything at all. I don't know why it exists or why Byrne decided it had to be made. If you like your superhero team books bland and you can't say no to anything with Byrne's name on the cover, this might be for you. If you're anybody else, you should avoid Triple Helix #3.

- Chris Wunderlich


Action Comics #26

(Greg Pak / Aaron Kuder; DC Comics)

4 stars

Action Comics #26

In Action Comics #26, writer Greg Pak expertly ticks the (presumably) requisite boxes. He scripts Supes as a straight guy who showboats for old flames, unveils New 52 Lana Lang (who does electrical engineering for a green energy non-profit, right on!), introduces a new and legitimate threat in the intangible, mohawked Ghost Soldier, and drops a MASSIVE final page-turn reveal. Artist Aaron Kuder captures the majesty, warmth, and speed of Big Blue, outfitting the Fortress of Solitude in cosmic minimalism (thankfully all without the excess glossiness of many DC comics, thanks in part to June Chung’s colors). So… that’s that then. Job done, down tools, time for tea and crumpets, lads! But Pak’n Kuder didn’t come to tick boxes. They came to make Action Comics a flagship title again.

Action Comics #26

Relocating the emphasis from “Super” to “Man” is key. Kuder’s style, a refreshing break from the Reis/Daniel/Lee/Finch school of immobility, gives Superman’s face a lightness, turns his smile into a farmboy grin, not a superhero smirk. Likewise, his frown is one of thought or resolve, a precursor to action rather than a cosplay pose. Pak sets a furious pace in this issue, juxtaposing non-stop super-speed action with charmingly believable narration. When the monster Supes is fighting blindsides him, shaking him like a ragdoll in front of Lana, he’s vaguely embarrassed, but mere panels later he catches himself overcompensating by throwing Lana’s truck at the beast (very much against her wishes). So as Kuder hurls Superman around the page, now up close, now wide angle, we’re hearing him chuckling, self-effacingly. There’s no pomposity here, and no hokey blushing either. In the age of self-consciousness, this reads as very real.

Action Comics #26

But the issue isn’t called “Monster” for nothing. Despite the Ghost Soldier’s knives and the endangered lives, Superman can see the monster for what it really is. As we learn from a vivid flashback, Superman has been in the creature’s situation, powerless to stop the damage he’s causing; having thus been a monster, he is resolved to act with compassion rather than the expediency demanded of him. What separates Superman from everyone else in the issue, from all of humanity, is his empathy. That Pak wraps this nugget in a satisfying action comic, never pausing for a lachrymose instant, promises much for future arcs.  

Enough cannot be said about Kuder. His ability to find space on the page is invaluable for Superman’s movements to feel free, while the variety of angles and expressions he employs are dazzling. It’s telling that the only recognisably New 52-style panel of Superman occurs when he returns after “disposing” of the monster, the up-angled shot and back lighting evoking the darker-browed, looming Superman we’ve seen so much of. That this “darker” appearance follows his act of singular and secret compassion is another thoughtfully ironic juxtaposition, and Pak lends it added heft through Lana’s inner monologue.

This issue of Action Comics looks great, reads fast and funny, and offers a fresh angle of approach for readers who aren’t established fans of Big Blue. Mission accomplished, Pak and Kuder. Up, up, and away!


Harbinger #19

(Joshua Dysart / Barry Kitson with Brian Level and Riley Rossmo / Ian Hannin / Dave Sharpe; Valiant)
4 stars
The Valiant line of comics continues to wander into previously unknown red poppy-laden fields that offer thick and wavy stupor inducing questions like, “So, what do you get when you cross two imploding psionic dreamscapes and a super-powered psiot going through a mind squall?

The answer to this question happens to be Harbinger #19.

As if you didn't know that already.

Harbinger #19

I haven't visited the Harbinger field for quite some time. A matter of fact, the last time I Kubla Kahn-ed  any of this Xanadu, it was the zero issue. “But oh! That deep romantic chasm” seems like so long ago, for all sorts of things have occurred since then. Luckily (and pluckily, I might add), Valiant books all seem to feature a nifty little “Our Story So Far...” on their inside front cover, and so, as every comic may be someone's first, I quickly was able to drink “the milk of Paradise” and hop right into the story.

Peter Stanchek has powerful psionic abilities. He also recruited a bunch of other psiots to try to dismantle Toyo Harada's Harbinger Foundation. These “Renegades,” recently been captured by Harada, have been “trapped in Torque's mental manifestation of his dream world, Torquehalla” (of course), and Harada has been keeping Stanchek sedated in a psychic “Perfect Day Experiment

Harbinger #19

I realize this all sounds kind of hokey, or the result of awakening from an opiate fevered dream too soon, but bear with me. There is much more going on here.

The key to what makes Harbinger #19 more than the puerile smatterings of a too-much Sci-fi TV junkie is one line, a throwaway from the character Monica Jim (Codename: Animalia) who has just been informed that the world in which she has been existing is actually a “separate virtual construct built solely to pacify her.” There is almost a resignation to her reaction to this information. She says, “I was just too happy for it to be...you know, anything lasting.

Harbinger #19

And therein writer Joshua Dysart unloads on us and plays the Abyssinian maid. We know perfect moments are fleeting. We construct and we strive, and sometimes we find something good. But all the while we know that its power lies in its inevitable disappearance. We cling tighter to those things bound to escape our grasp: life, love, joy, youth – all these are sweetened by their fragility. In a way, they are our dulcet prisons into which we constantly try to escape.

What Dysart and his team of artists are able to do in Harbinger #19 is help us understand this through subtly and juxtaposition. There is as much hard ruthlessness and barbarity in these pages as there are dreams of salvation. The idea of neutralizing an enemy by putting them in a facsimile of their perfect place resonates as strongly in this book as in a Coleridge poem. The anger it must breed when the illusion is lost must fertilize gardens bright with sinuous rills.

Ultimately Harbinger #19 is about control and the lengths people are willing to go to maintain it. It's also about how this colors the dreams of a morally relativistic world. Oh yea, and it's also a pretty damn fine comic book.

Finally, I couldn't complete a review of Harbinger #19 without mentioning the “UNEXPECTED GUEST APPEARANCE BY THE KARDASHIAN MERMAIDS!” There's that aspect to this book as well.

Go buy it. Read it. See for yourself. It's a miracle of rare device.


In Xanadu did Daniel Elkin a stately pleasure-dome decree. What good did it do him? He never tweets about it (@DanielElkin), but drops hints as Your Chicken Enemy 

 


Guardians of the Galaxy #9

(Brian Michael Bendis/Francesco Francavilla/VC's Cory Petit; Marvel Comics)

Man, if there is a more consistently fun book on the market than Guardians of the Galaxy I have yet to find it! Every issue of this book finds its way to the top of my read stack when it comes out and it never disappoints. Guardians of the Galaxy can always be counted on to provide a rollicking comic book read featuring one of the most underrated and eccentric casts in all of comics. Where else are you going to find a talking raccoon and tree and still have it read as a serious comic?

Guardians of the Galaxy #9

Much like the rest of the Marvel Universe, the Guardians have been dealing with the threat of Thanos and the Infinity event. Unfortunately the rest of the Marvel U has already reached its conclusion with Infinity a week ago and are dealing with the ramifications, but for some odd reason this issue takes place before the final chapter in that storyline. Despite this small hiccup this issue really drives the nail home on just how fun and bad-ass this bunch of characters truly are.

This current issue focuses on the final moments of Infinity before the battle reaches Earth. The Guardians are tasked with allowing the space-faring Avengers entry to the Earth to face off with Thanos and his minions in their attempt to take over the planet. This allows the team the opportunity to work with Abigail Brand of SWORD--the offshoot program of SHIELD--in an attempt to retake the Peak from Thanos' henchmen. It takes the sum of the Guardians, including a save by Angela and a deep sacrifice by Brand, to thwart the final obstacles preventing the Avengers from reaching Earth.

Guardians of the Galaxy #9

Brian Michael Bendis brilliantly uses his dialogue to define the key points in his ensemble of characters. All of the self-doubt is prevalent in Peter Quill, who as Star-Lord is the de facto leader of the Guardians. Quill's banter with Rocket Raccoon is always a pleasure to partake in as well and the two just have such a great back and forth sense of camaraderie. The inclusion of Angela to the cast has been a welcome addition as she offers such a mysterious element to the familiarity that the team has amongst one another.

The artwork by Francesco Francavilla does a haphazard job of conveying the action and emotion of the script. Francavilla's lines consist of a much more stylized form of sequential storytelling than one accustomed to his work work may encounter ant the end result and may serve to distance some due to their personal artistic tastes. There were some real iffy depictions of characters throughout the issue though the most troubling was that of Groot who amounted to a rectangular being of scratchy lines. On the plus side though was practically everything else, lots of lasers and explosions and all around ass-kicking.

Guardians of the Galaxy #9

Despite the shortcomings of this particular issue I can't stress enough just how much fun this title is. Every month Guardians of the Galaxy continues to impress and with 2014 bringing their much anticipated big screen debut Marvel's misfit band of spacefaring oddities are bound to grab the world by the balls.

- Robert Tacopina


Burn the Orphanage #2

(Sina Grace, Daniel Freedman; Image Comics)

4 stars

To take a phrase from the ghost of former Comics Bulletin editor Danny Martin Djeljosevic, "this is that shit." 

Burn the Orphanage is one of the pleasant surprises to come out in the comics world this year- an homage/ ode/ exploration of pop-culture and video games through a sequential art lens. On paper it sounds like a Scott Pilgrim clone, but in actuality co-creators Sina Grace and Daniel Freedman have created more of a pastiche:  this is the Pineapple Express to the Midnight Run of comics. It is a smart and knowingly crafted nod to the original without direct cribbing. 
Burn the Orphanage
 
The first issue was crazy tight, with our lead character Rock (who looks exactly like the homie Axel Stone from Skreets of Rage) boppin' his way through town to fight the fuck out of a Mike Haggar look-a-like, all while fistvestigating the case of who committed the titular act of burning the orphanage he was raised in. It was a beautiful pulp-flash, and left us hesitant of what else there was to explore- the answer, it turns out, is plenty. In the second installment "Demons," we find Rock after the end credits screen, a shell of himself until a night of passion with a sorceress lands him split in the middle of a tournament for his life and presumably the fate of the world. Oh HELL yeah.
Burn the Orphanage #2
 
"Demons" is the series' ode to Mortal Kombat/ Street Fighter and every other game ever button-mashed, but Grace and Freeman have found a brilliant through-line: all the characters in those games always have insane stories of how they got enrolled into those tournaments, so why can't one of them just be "guys likes to fight so he found a fight?" 
 
As clever as Freedman and Grace's premise is, the shoryuken is Grace's gorgeous and animated style- he's able to replicate the style of what he's shouting out without directly stealing (although the homie does look egg-zachary like Axel Stone) and he's got an intuitive sense of motion- this is a fight comic, after all, and these fights are brutal- it's best you find out when you buy the book what happens to Ramuu the goat-headed luchador. There is a shot of a character about to be on the receiving end of a spinning pile-driver that is also worthy of that DMD phrase from above. Grace and Freedman's layouts are the most ecstatic thing about the book- they provide a great clip to the story and also innovate shorthand- a tournament bracket not unlike a select character screen moves the plot along at one point, but this is also a 48 page book packed with violence and fucking (and fucking violence.) 
 
Although it's a $5 cover price, Burn the Orphanage #2 is a surefire read- it's smart, scrappy and spunky as hell. Freedman and Grace have avoided the rose-colored pitfalls that come with writing a love letter to a genre and instead have left it a note indicating it knows where to find them if it ever wants to see its daughter again.
 
- Rafael Gaitan
 

Hinterkind #3

(Ian Edginton  / Francesco Trifogli; DC Comics/Vertigo)
3.5 stars
I'm a sucker for an overgrown city. Show me skyscrapers covered in creeping vines, asphalt awash in fecundity, and I'm halfway into a loincloth. Hinterkind occupies just such a world, with pockets of humanity surviving on relearned woodcraft and lo-tech jerry-rigging. The community we follow are based in a Central Park long since reclaimed by Gaia, and though they're humbled by this return to Eden, they are no holier. Riven by the usual petty betrayals and a renewed fear of anything non-human, it's no wonder Prosper (Kate Bishop without the cutesy cool Hawkeye-isms) and her friend Angus (gay and growing a very non-human tail) are eager to be gone.

Hinterkind #3

Having barely survived an encounter with a many-limbed troll, the pair are quickly captured by Hinterkind bounty hunters, a crew of satyr, Cyclops, and goblins lead by Hobb, a Sidhe or elf. This issue finds the group heading toward a trade station, where our young adventurers will be repeatedly sold until they reach the Sidhe Queen on the West Coast, who is rounding up all the humans… for a bonfire. At the same time, another party has left the Central Park encampment, to determine the well-being of an Albany outpost gone radio silent. A fool's errand, this leads the most progressive Central Park native (and Prosper's mentor) into the path of a much nastier Hinterkind crew than Hobb's comparatively amiable gang.

Hinterkind #3

Before that encounter can occur, we learn that NORAD has skin in the game, and witness the arrival of some prismatic (think Smallville's Bizarro) dudes in radiation suits, who are operating the underground, Perspex-celled, monster-hunting base from Buffy's season at Sunnydale U. Plus there's intrigue in the Sidhe court, the Queen's daughter being very unhappy at Mama's fondness for sapien culture. Did you get all that? Because that's a dense world of story in one $2.99 comic, and we haven't even mentioned the frequent and profane humour.

From basic survival to conquistadorial "one elf to rule them all" shenanigans, what sells the various motives of Hinterkind's cast is their affectless characterisation. In neither the acting nor the dialogue do the Hinterkind reference their own outlandishness, there are no awkward self-consciousnesses, nor any "noble savage" style elevation. Everybody in this comic is flawed, whatever their provenance, flawed, scarred, and oppressed by somebody. So it's just as well artist Trifogli invites readers in with humane expressions, and backgrounds bathed in golden light (courtesy of Cris Peter's perfect palette). Together, Edginton and Trifogli manage to pull off enjoyable complexity, offering a paradise which runs more like purgatory. It's a place with serious potential.

- Taylor Lilley


Velvet #2

(Ed Brubaker / Steve Epting; Image Comics)
3.5 stars
The only thing Ed Brubaker does better than write comics is wear his influences on his sleeve. Long a fan of '70s BBC espionage as much as noir, Velvet seems like a natural extension of Bru's love affair with fiction and shadows. Treading into Greg Rucka territory, Brubaker and artist Steve Epting are answering the question we all had but never asked as Bond fans- what DID Moneypenny do before she jockeyed a desk? 
Velvet #2
 
Velvet #1 was an instant sell-out and rightfully soon: it was a pronounced and bold first issue that set the tone for what to expect: no damsel-in-distressing, no bullshit cop-outs and absolutely no slut-shaming of any kind. Brubaker wanted to write a character that felt genuine and multi-faceted and succeeded. The second issue loses some steam due to its follow-up nature, but what it lacks in initial spark it makes up for with a good pace. Sometimes Bru can't shake off the old tricks- while firsthand narration is a damn-near requirement in the noir world, in this issue it tends to be distracting and feels a bit hand-holdy. 
Velvet #2
 
While Velvet Templeton's inner monologue does have its moments, the issue's B story is a richer and more compelling effort: taking place slightly later than part A, it has the determined Sgt. Roberts debriefing with   the Lieutenant Director of ARC-7, this world's MI-6. There is some expert cross-cutting between Velvet's hurried and sloppy escape from pursuit and Roberts gaining clarity in the past life of Codename: Valentine. Steve Epting's art has always been complementary to Brubaker, especially on their Captain America run, but with Velvet they may be in a state of symbiosis- his richly detailed and kinetic linework help accentuate the age of the era as well as the characters: he nails something as difficult as a car chase with the same ease as he does a person standing in shadows. Colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser is crushing it as well- she takes a cold, rain-soaked palate to Epting's pencils to create a gorgeous haze- any frame could be a still from an episode of The Sandbaggers. Brightness as an accent is also handled well, such as the warm oranges of the Director's home, reminiscent of the gorgeous Control office from Tomas Alfredson's version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy, which you should all have seen.
Velvet #2
 
Velvet is one of the tightest and rightest (and brilliant) books coming out today, so do not be deterred- it's definitely a series that will gel beautifully when read back-to-back, but month-to-month it is still delivering some of the finest work from two of comics' greatest creators.
 
- Rafael Gaitan
 

Indestructible #1

(Jeff Kline / Javi Garron / Salvi Garcia / Alejandro Sanchez / Troy Peteri; IDW/Darby Pop)


Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze #1

(Chris Roberson / Bilquis Evely / Daniela Miwa / Rob Steen; Dynamite Entertainment)

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