Singles Going Steady 12/31/13: Ringing In the NewA comic review article by: Daniel Elkin, Shawn Hill, Jason Sacks, John Yohe
Singles Going Steady is Comics Bulletin's weekly single issue review roundup.
Forever Evil #4
(Geoff Johns / David Finch / Richard Friend; DC Comics)
Luthor vs. the Bat! Continuities crossing and all tangled up! Heroes on the run and villains taking over, even to the point of some of our familiar villains seeming almost … heroic in comparison? All that and more is promised by the cover, but Johns is actually playing a somewhat subtler game inside.
Yes, really. Because the issue isn't about Lex and Bruce bashing each other's brains in with their shiny exo-skeletons after all. It's about two smart men, and the fates of their protégées. Johns asks the question, perhaps never articulated quite this way before: what if the conflict between Clark and Luthor isn't really about xenophobia, or jealousy, or fear of invulnerability? What if it's really about fatherhood?
Johns does a more than decent job of setting up Bruce being worried about Nightwing's captivity (while the latter is getting a new father surrogate in the form of Owlman's proposed alliance), while Lex has to deal with his latest problematic Kal-El clone, christened this issue (thanks to a demand from Captain Cold) as "B-Zero." Okay, that's not subtle, but we already knew who he was from Finch's rendering. This flawed monster doesn't seem to have the archetypal urge to render everything in reverse. He's barely articulate at all, more a Frankenstein than anything.
But in a crisis moment in subterranean tunnels, Luthor and his cronies realize that the Superman travesty has feelings if not thoughts … he's scared of the dark. And once Luthor notices, he takes the time to reach out to his creation with something very like empathy, making a potential problem into a training moment. Like a father would. Was all he ever wanted for Clark to just once ask his advice, and mean it? I can't decide if the question is corny or profound, but it's a moving sequence.
Especially contrasted with the other Clark analog in the story, the vile Ultraman, who now feeds on Kryptonite and is somewhat less than responsible when Super-Woman reveals herself to be with child. Both seem more worried about Owlman's potential betrayals than their impending offspring.
Fatherless, friendless, hapless Power Ring, on the other hand is worried only about himself. Reaching out in any direction for help with his dominatrix ring and finding only cold rebuffs from his supposed allies. The Crime Syndicate doesn't tolerate weakness. He's definitely the reversal of everything Johns' beloved Green Lanterns are capable of being, which makes him a very revealing case study. When Sinestro shows up at the end, you realize that for Johns Power Ring is as bizarro as anyone ever needs to be.
- Shawn Hill
Doctor Who 2013 Special
(Paul Cornell / Jimmy Broxton / Shawn Lee / Denton J. Tipton; IDW)
You don't have to be a Doctor Who fanatic, or even a fan, to enjoy this single-issue Doctor Who 2013 Special, "The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who" from IDW, though a basic knowledge of the TV show and its premise—The Doctor periodically changes incarnations and travels through time fighting monsters—helps.
The twist here is that The Doctor (in his Matt Smith incarnation) and the Tardis accidentally fall sideways into the Real World, i.e. our world, just in time for filming of an episode of the Doctor Who show on the streets of London, and a Doctor Who convention, spawning numerous insider/meta jokes.
The Doctor's sidekick for this issue is the twelve year old Ally, an avid Doctor Who fanatic, who's being bullied by kids in the neighborhood. Ally ends up being the Doctor's guide, helping him understand what exactly has happened to him by showing him all of her Doctor Who paraphernalia, like DVDs, comics, and action figures. He, in turn, models the best way of dealing with bullies, when a 'real' monster turns out to have fallen into our world with him.
The brilliance of the story, by Paul Cornell, is that the meta and self-referential jokes are not at all too insider for ‘normal' people, yet reward hardcore Doctor Who fans for their hardcore-ness. The G-rated story line is for ages ranging from children (say, eight to ten year olds) on up to adults, as long as, again, they have a basic knowledge of the Doctor Who TV show. I found myself actually laughing out loud (as they say) at some of the jokes.
Hardcore Doctor Who fans will of course want to buy "The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who". As a self-contained issue, without the need for too much insider knowledge, this is a good buy for anyone looking to explore outside their normal interests, and I can't help think that this would make a good gift, especially for younger folks. The only danger is that it might serve as a gateway drug to the regular Doctor Who TV show. And the comic. And action figures....
- John Yohe
The Fox #3
(Dean Haspiel / Mark Waid / J.M. DeMatteis / Mike Cavalaro / Terry Austin; Archie Comics / Red Circle)
The Fox is all-out super-hero action with all the joy and energy and thrills and spills that you want in a comic book. It's a shot of the good stuff, straight no chaser, with plenty of boldness and flash that will have you smiling but none of that annoying angst that will bring you down.
This issue is basically just a monologue by our hero as he journeys down into a cave in order to stop the brutal Druid from killing the Queen of Diamonds. Really, though, the plot doesn't matter. What's important here is that the comic reads like the best scenes from the Indiana Jones movies, only with a guy in an expressive and impressive black fighting against giant spiders and fighting a mysterious monster in order to solve a locked-room mystery.
I was just talking with my friend Mike, who often laments that there are too few comics on the stands that are truly joyful. He sounded excited when I mentioned The Fox and praised Dean Haspiel's wonderfully animated figure drawing, the charming way that Haspiel creates the odd creatures, and the smartly rendered layouts that he creates. Haspiel's art is a perfect fit for this book – bright, animated, energetic, and always well composed with the Fox at the center of the frame.
He was less excited by the idea of Mark Waid writing this book, for some reason, but here, at least, Waid is channeling his best Stan Lee on Spider-Man vibe – the repartee never gets old, the excitement builds nicely, and the payoffs along the way are satisfying. This is the same Mark Waid who's rocking Daredevil.
The team of DeMatteis, Cavallaro and Austin deliver a somewhat more serious story with their backup featuring The Shield; really though, with its WWII setting, cheesy Axis villains and wackily weird creatures, serious is a relative term here.
The Fox is sly and addictive fun, straight no chaser.
- Jason Sacks
The Illegitimates #1
(Marc Andreyko / Taran Killam / Kevin Sharpe / Diana Greenhalgh / Peter Pantazis; IDW)
This is a comic that is all about premise. There is not much to it otherwise. The question becomes then, I guess, is premise enough for a critic like myself to declare something “good”? This, of course, brings up questions about the nature of criticism itself, as well as an even larger can of worms concerning what, itself, is “good”. But I'm wondering if a review of IDW's The Illegitimates #1 is really the platform for such a discussion? This strikes me as neither the time nor the place for this larger discourse.
Instead, let's talk about premise. The Merriam-Webster definition of the term is“a proposition antecedently supposed or proved as a basis of argument or inference; specifically : either of the first two propositions of a syllogism from which the conclusion is drawn.” It is, in a nutshell, the “IF” to the “THEN” of the cause and effect relationship. Premise is all about Idea, and Idea is the fecund ooze from which all art arises; it's the single celled organism about to evolve through evolutionary action. As my fellow reviewer Justin Giampaoli has never said, “A sandwich is a premise, while a Banh Mi is its fruition.”
So what is the premise of The Illegitimates? IDW has this solicitation:
Jack Steele: World renowned agent of OLYMPUS, super-spy, debonair, lover of ladies, man-slut. While facing off with his arch-nemesis, Viktor Dannikor, Steele faces his biggest defeat, but who will take his place? Olympus scrambles to find not one, but FIVE newbie agents to fill the void and, unbeknownst to them, they share a common thread. Can these five strangers embrace their fates and come together to save the world? They are THE ILLEGITIMATES! And if you called them bastards.... you'd be absolutely right!
Yea so, the premise is that there's this James Bond like character who has, through the course of his storied career, been bedding down all sorts of lovely ladies. The natural outcome of such behavior is to leave behind a string of illegitimate children. In this book, these children have each genetically inherited one of the aspects of their absent father's super spy skills. When Daddy dies, the government recruits five of them to fill the gap. Writers Marc Andreyko and Taran Killam spend this first issue explaining just that, in the broadest strokes possible, leaving out things like character development or motivation or, well, traditional plot.
Like I said, this is all about premise.
As a comic, there's not a whole lot to talk about. It seems like this whole bit could have been summarized in a page or two instead of a full length issue. This sort of decompression doesn't necessarily bode well for the longer story. If it takes this many pages just for set-up, how many issues will it take to complete the first arc?
As there isn't much to this issue other than premise, I find it very difficult to fulfill my role as a critic and make an assessment as to whether it is “good” or not. The Illegitimates #1 just kind of “is”, you know? It's a book that, in a way, defies critical analysis, which, in and of itself, is a rather interesting premise too now that I think about it.
But this is Singles Going Steady and these are supposed to be short reviews of new comics. So I'm going to derail that train of thought for now, do my job, and make my pronouncements.
I guess I could say that The Illegitimates #1 is a “good” premise. Now about that Banh Mi, Giampaoli....
- Daniel Elkin
Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight #4
(Alex De Campi / Simon Fraser / Gary Caldwell; Dark Horse Comics)
Anybody who's spent any amount of time watching Skinemax or the better episodes of MST3K knows exactly what they want from a story like "Prison Ship Antares", this issue's entry into the drive-in culture that Grindhouse gleefully celebrates. They want some violence, some weird villains, a few flashes of tit, an evil bitch villainess and just enough pseudo-science to make the whole rickety plotline work for the plot it needs to tell.
Alex De Campi and Simon Fraser deliver a comic book like the true fans that they are of this genre, hitting all the high notes, with none of the ridiculous special effects or rotten acting that can sometimes take the joy away from the campiness of a movie. Instead, Fraser's artwork, combined with Caldwell's wonderful earth-toned coloring, gives Grindhouse #4 just the right feeling of uninhibited fun.
Plus these women are tough. Their tale of rebellion against their oppressors is a nonstop thrill-a-page ride that's relentless in its flow. This comic doesn't slow down, one event tumbles onto another without hesitation or a chance to look back, keeping the reader at the edge of their metaphorical seat throughout the entire comic.
"Prison Ship Antares" ain't high art but it sure works great as low art.
- Jason Sacks
The Saviors #1
Bad Blood #1
(Jonathan Mayberry / Tyler Crook; Dark Horse Comics)
Origin II #1
(Kieron Gillen / Adam Kubert / Frank Martin; Marvel Comics)
Twilight Zone #1
(J. Michael Straczynski / Guiu Vilanova / Vinicius Andrade / Rob Steen; Dynamite)