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Singles Going Steady 2/3/2014: Escalation is Unavoidable

A comic review article by: CW Cooke , Daniel Elkin, Taylor Lilley, Matthew McGrath , Keith Silva, Chris Wunderlich, John Yohe

Singes Going Steady

 

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

Invincible #108

(Robert Kirkman / Ryan Ottley / John Rauch; Image Comics)

4 stars

Invincible. Its Kirkman's "other" book, the one that isn't a TV show, video game, or movie, and yet it's done just as much for the superhero genre as Walking Dead has for comics' cultural visibility. Invincible may well mark the passage of time better, more convincingly and relatably, than any other superhero comic. It ain't saying much, with Batman and Superman both in their seventies and yet their twenties, and Marvel using reboots as ersatz Infinity Formula, but it adds weight to Kirkman's soapier tendencies. Invincible's turn toward gorier consequences and darker motivations feels like the inevitable result of Mark Grayson's actions and their rippled reactions, of his lived experience as a superhero and a guy; rather than a sudden yanking of the authorial wheel toward Gritsville, just because that's where everyone else went.

Invincible #108

In #108 Rex Splode (remember when he was kind of a joke?) takes Invincible alternate dimension road tripping, looking for Angstrom Levy, the grotesquely vein-brained nemesis of Invincible who recently declared himself back in the "gonna getcha" game, for realz. Angstrom's in the custody of the ex-cannibal, Mohawk-rocking Invincible that our Mark saved from Levy a while back, but doesn't completely trust. You know, in that way you don't completely trust versions of yourself you've watched eat other versions of yourself. I forgot how rich Invincible is with this kind of detail, the parallel universes and wildly divergent alternate selves, his sense of go-anywhere do-anything storytelling descended straight from the wack-a-doo plots of '60s superhero comics, the ones whose fun lawlessness we so often bemoan.

Invincible #108

By playing off Rex Splode's lost years of war-mongering in the Flaxan Empire, Mark's proven capacity for murder and super-male condescension ("What the hell has gotten into you?! Is this hormones?!" to a worried, pregnant Atom Eve), and actually "shattering" the status quo, Kirkman delivers the kind of spandex switcheroo that made him. Mark is left stranded in the Mohawk-verse (with all the potential that being the ruler's double entails), Angstrom is dead(?), and Rex is triumphantly born-again B-A-D. Ryan Ottley gets the crucial foreshadowing moment all to himself with a silent panel, before delivering a finale drenched in that particular shade of Invincible claret we've come to know so well.

This, this is a good superhero book, one where strength is the only certainty, and escalation is unavoidable, not unbelievable. It leaves me asking my favourite comics question: "How's he going to get out of this one?"

- Taylor Lilley


Archer and Armstrong #0

(Fred Van Lente / Pere Perez / David Baron / Tom B. Long; Valiant)

4 stars

I'm assuming that there is a mandate at Valiant Publishing that no reader is ever allowed to feel lost while reading a Valiant title. I've been jumping in and out of various of their books – sampling with a smile, as it were – and I've always found each one easy to get cozy in. There are very few series one can say that about, let alone an entire publisher's line. So bravo, Valiant, you know how to throw a party and make everyone feel at home.

Archer & Armstrong #0

Then you go ahead and do something like let Fred Van Lente wrap up an arc on Archer and Armstrong and let him release a Zero Issue to explain some minor point about the background of one of its main characters. No overall plot is advanced in this issue. Hell, the entire thing is basically a flashback and what happens in the past is not really all that compelling in the current sequential narrative.

But it is. It is compelling – or at least Van Lente makes it so.  Obadiah Archer's origin story in this issue only steps back slightly further from ground already covered earlier in this series, but by doing so the larger storyline edges forward and ties this series into the grander conflicts occurring in the vaster Valiant Universe. It's the beginning of a cross-over event that actually has a story telling rather than a financial motivation, or at least MORE narrative than financial. These are hard times, after all, and I don't begrudge anyone trying to make an extra buck. I respect Valiant, though, for handling this thing with class.

Archer & Armstrong #0

Valiant is planning on releasing three more zero issues – standalones to bring readers in and tie titles together. It's both impressive and exciting. It's also nice to have a publishing house that seems genuinely interested in the comics it is releasing and is infusing their talent with a sense of ownership and open creativity, without actual … you know … ownership and within ... you know … certain editorial guidelines.

Still, the World building that all the Valiant titles are working on is pretty impressive. Connections are being made between titles to further flesh out characters, narratives, and motivations. Archer and Armstrong #0 builds to include Project Rising Spirit in order to enlist the talents of Bloodshot and H.A.R.D. Corps and it sets up something that only the most cynical of us left out there couldn't get interested in (I'm pointing a finger at you, Obama).

Archer & Armstrong #0

Van Lente and Perez make the most of this opportunity. It's great to see creators having fun on corporate properties, and its great to see a corporation allow their creators to have so much fun.

- Daniel Elkin


Earth-2 Annual #2

(Tom Taylor / Robson Rocha / Scott Hanna; DC Comics)

3.5 stars

This issue starts in 1979! The summer of…love? Alien and the Muppet Movie came out that year. As did Star Trek: The Movie and Mad Max and Rocky II and The Jerk! And this issue starts with a Jerk shooting Bruce Wayne’s parents. Not really a spoiler alert; we all know Joe Chill killed Bruce’s parents. But in this universe, it happened in 1979 and Bruce had been Batman since at least 1994. So, you know, he probably went and saw Michael Keaton as Batman in 1989 and thought, what a good idea!

Also, one of the villains of the book is named Frankie Francavilla, after Francesco Francavilla, who is just a titan of comics art. Too friggin’ cool.

Not hard to guess which flight he took.

After a scene of Batman truth-seruming Frankie, we get another flashback to 1971, where we learn that Doctor Thomas Wayne, Bruce’s dad, helped Frankie (here, it’s laid bare that his real name is Francesco Francavilla…so yeah, pretty cool) in a pinch. Frankie gets shot, soon-to-be Doctor Tommy Wayne saves his life, so Frankie throws a party in his honor. A swingin’ 70s party too. So you know, flashy dames, disco balls, and Jarvis Pennyworth as Tommy’s butler/bodyguard.

Then we find out that Tommy and Martha Wayne were hard-partying drug addicts and drug pushers (up until they have Bruce that is, and decide to change their partying ways). And this leads to Batman/Bruce meeting up with an old friend who wants nothing more than for Frankie to be dead (we’re back in 1994 at this point). And spoilers are on, kiddies.

Chris Cooper gets all the good roles.

Writer Tom Taylor (Injustice: Gods Among Us) lays on the swerve pretty quick, making you think the culprit, the guy attacking and maiming Frankie’s family and goons is Jarvis Pennyworth, but we find out it’s Thomas Wayne, still alive. Faked his death with the help of Leslie Tompkins and everything.

Thomas Wayne is addicted to Miraclo in 1994 (the same drug that gives Hourman his powers, soon to be a hit TV show on the CW!). Thus, Tommy and Brucie have a big bitchfest where Bruce calls him evil and a villain and everything he’s fighting to put away; T calls the whambulance on a Brucie in dire need of a whamburger and French Cries (brought to you by Miraclo, yummy drugs for an hour of power!). That’s pretty much it.

We flash forward to 2014 and find out that he’s telling all of this to two other members of the team (Hawkgirl and Lois, who he knows would have just figured it out anyway) and that Thomas looked in on his son periodically and watched him grow and watched his granddaughter grow. You know, all kinds of normal stuff in stories like this.

As an overall story, everyone knew that Thomas Wayne would end up being revealed as the 65-year old badass Batman we’ve always wanted: the one that fits into the world a little better because he’s a beast and takes drugs and kicks ass. He’s still addicted to Miraclo, he’s still kicking ass, and everyone he loves is dead so he can’t let anyone down. That’s a Batman for the movie fans and the Dark Knight Returns fans out there. That’s a Batman who will get the job done, one neck snap at a time.

Still, it was a paint-by-numbers story. Everything fit into place at the end. No big surprises. No shocks. No shock and awe and nothing really out of the ordinary. The story itself did the job it meant to do, telling a different kind of Batman’s different kind of origin. And the artwork by Robson Rocha (possibly the best name in comics this side of Francesco Francavilla) gets the job done too. At time it flourishes and other times it just tells a clean story.

- CW Cooke


Shadowman #15  

(Peter Milligan / Roberto De La Torre / Al Barrionuevo / David Baron; Image Comics)

2 stars

It's week 4 of my Valiant adventure. So far every title I've read has either knocked my socks off (Quantum and Woody) or at the very least shown potential (X-O Manowar). This week I was very excited to finally delve into a Valiant title written by one of my all-time favourite writers. Peter Milligan should be kicking all kinds of butt on Shadowman, but unfortunately the title fell flat.

Despite writing some of my favourite books (Shade the Changing Man, X-Statix) Milligan has proven these last few years that he can be one of the most inconsistent writers around. He had his chance bringing Shade back with Justice League Dark and underwhelmed. He should have been the next great Brit to tackle Stormwatch, but blew that too. I didn't even try Red Lanterns. But hey, that's all big 2 stuff right? Surely freed from the bonds of reportedly heavy editorial hands Milligan can once again free his creative madness. One would think. One would hope. One would find themselves sorely disappointed with Shadowman.

Shadowman #15

Week after week I have to hand it to Valiant for their great recap pages, and this issue is no exception. I was caught up on everything Shadowman by the time I hit page 1. I was a big fan of Shadowman back in the Acclaim days (Garth Ennis and Jamie Delano wrote some killers stories) so it was a treat to see him rise again. I loved the setting, mood and surprisingly sly wit of the old series (around the time the video game was released) so I was hoping to get more of the same from this new title. Bayou-style voodoo, crazy snake demons, adult sensibilities—I thought Milligan could pull it off.

From the opening pages I found myself disappointed. Milligan's dialogue felt played out, unoriginal and phoned in. The story was especially disappointing. Apparently this new Shadowman can't control his inner demon, so his higher-ups want him eliminated. They manipulate his love interest into helping them, and a few other demons (or "loa" as they are called here) are out for blood as well. I'll admit there are a few good ideas being thrown around, like the villainous rival loa, but overall it seems like it's been done. For every good idea (the slave-flesh whip) there's a few bad ones (the trickster-spirit pee gun). The worst part, our new Shadowman has to deal with his childhood bully who—SHOCK!—is now is a wheelchair. How does one deal with such a dilemma? Who cares? Oh, and the last act twist that brings about an important revelation? It makes no sense and an explanation is barely attempted. Bad form Mr. Milligan, bad form.

Shadowman #15

I read almost every issue of Ms. Marvel Roberto De la Torre drew, so I thought I was familiar with his work. Here, it's completely different. This is much less Bryan Hitch and 110% more Alex Maleev. The character seem cut from their settings and pasted back in, thanks I'm sure to the colouring of David Baron. It's a neat look and one we've seen before but it works for the story. It's dark, with thick outlines and fine, scratchy details. Occasionally the action isn't exactly clear, and characters aren't as well defined from each other as I'd like, but for the most part it's the perfect style for the book.

I'm not sure what Valiant's new Shadowman was like before Peter Milligan got his hands on it, but I do hope that when he leaves someone can point this book in a better direction. This is the first Valiant book I have zero interest in reading next month. I was hoping I could end my review with a line like "the insane mind of Milligan is back!" or "Shadowman is the must-read Valiant everyone is talking about!" but I simply can't. Skip this one for now and buy some of the better titles of the company is offering.

- Chris Wunderlich


Inhumanity #2

(Matt Fraction / Nick Bradshaw; Marvel Comics)

2 stars

Inhumanity #2

Black Bolt is dead again; Medusa is a widow again; this used to be called Inhumanity: Medusa (but was changed to Inhumanity #2 for some reason); Matt Fraction was supposed to continue this two-parter for Marvel with the looming Inhuman ongoing, but left the book (Last month he was quoted as saying, “nobody wins with me writing a book I don’t want to write”) and now it’s to be written by Charles Soule — and that’s the opening for this review. And that’s pretty much all there is to it. There are ideas put in place here that don’t seem out of the ordinary. There are ideas that seem to have been touched on countless other places before (and in other stories, hell, even in Robert Kirkman’s Inhumans 2099 one-shot). Once it starts to pick-up, one it starts to get good, it gets over with. Pretty much immediately. And then we get a one page ad for Inhuman #1 by Soule and Joe Madureira and that’s that. Harumph. 2/5 (Once it got good, it was starting to go somewhere, but everything before that was just fluff and wasted space)

- CW Cooke

CW Cooke joins us courtesy of our friends at GodHatesGeeks.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #30

(Kevin Eastman / Bobby Curnow / Tom Waltz / Ross Campbell / Ronda Pattison / Shawn Lee; IDW)

Sometimes a review requires one to go full-Yoda: 'An epistolary story. Heh. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Heh. A comic book reader craves not these things.' No and yes.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #30 continues to work the grey seam of recovery with the froth and foment that comes from feeling adrift, alone and unloved. Tough stuff. Like Skynyrd says, All I Can Do Is Write About It.
TMNT #30

To address these problems Michelangelo puts pencil to paper (makes his marks) and writes to his friend Woody back in NYC. The writers -- the script credit goes to Tom Waltz, who, along with Kevin Eastman and Bobby Curnow receive credit on story as well -- are keenly aware of the seriousness of the topic and the clichéd and literal manner in which they choose to frame their story and so they acknowledge it and move on. Mikester (the sobriquet he later signs his letter with) begins ''Dear Woody,'' deems it ''too corny'' and opts for the more personal Tú form, ''Yo Woody.'' When it's right, it's right.

TMNT #30

The Turtles default has always been an earnest self-awareness; they are, after all, teenage, mutant, ninja turtles, self-deprecation kind of comes with the bandanas. This story arc (so far) centers on healing and soul-searching and so requires a delicate touch. Physical and mental wellness is (always) personal. Credit the storytellers with the chutzpah to take the time to show how the process plays out. The proof comes in the closing scene which feels both honest and earned. There are still bones to mend and hearts to heal, the process continues, but the Turtles, Splinter and Alopex have (mostly) come to a better place.

Ross Campbell's cartooning could make a stone weep. He works with such poignancy and humanity it's easy to forget these emotions come from talking animals. Campbell conjures up two dream sequences with the look and feel of a storybook. Clouds and curls of hair become borders as Campbell shows a kind of practiced effortlessness in a switch from cartoonist to illustrator and back again. Rhonda Pattison's palette of wheat and straw intensifies the childlike qualities of these scenes and attests to the power of color to tell a story as much as the marks of pencils and words. Credit to letterer Shawn Lee as well for finding the perfect look for Mike's hand as his words wend across the page and through the story.

TMNT #30

As Michelangelo demonstrates, there's a reason pencils have erasers. The turtles are healing, starting over and nothing fixes the heartbroken like the love of family and hot dogs roasted over an open fire.       

- Keith Silva


Hacktivist #1

(Alyssa Milano / Collin Kelly / Jackson Lanzin / Marcus To / Ian Herrin; Archaia Black Label)

4 stars

Hackivist was created by actress and UNICEF ambassador Alyssa Milano. Yes, I thought that was odd too, and actually googled around to make sure it wasn't some other Alyssa Milano, but no, it's really her, though the actual writing duties are credited to others. And though I don't doubt her interest in philanthropy, and activism, I'm still not sure how she came to be working in the sequential art field. Apparently, according to one interview, she didn't even have much knowledge of comics or graphic novels before starting on the project. Pure speculation, but perhaps this started as an idea for a movie?

However it happened, it's working.

Hacktivist #1

Archaia, an independent company known for putting out straight graphic novels, has been bought by Boom! and now claims to be moving into the monthly series format for some stories. Thus, I guess, this four part series, Hacktivist, though the full graphic novel is already done and supposedly due this summer (2014).

Archaia calls Hacktivist a "cyber-thriller" based on very recent events in Real Life surrounding social media activism, including the Tunisian Revolution and the Anonymous movements. It involves two young men, Nate Graft and Edwin Hiccox, founders of a social media network called "yourlife"—a mix of MySpace and Facebook, but with the twist that they've written it to be "decentralized" and encrypted from the prying eyes of the government, or anybody. Which I can't help thinking is Milano's way of saying to Mark Zuckerberg, Hey, what can't this be an actual reality?

Hacktivist #1

Anyways, yourlife is just a front for the founders (though of course it's made them billionaires) to be able to use their creative and technological talents to help out groups around the world to fight the good fight against The Man. Though tensions between the two men's styles may cause problems, soon.

Milano says she modeled one of the key characters after the founder of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, with whom she is friends, and who she considers an activist, using social media to help people in Real Life. Interesting that, rather than a collective of hacktivists like Anonymous, Milano places her hopes one single rich white man (or two) working to make the world a better place, and that this man is rich, and white. Must we, still, hope for rich white men, and one lone Ayn Rand-ian, however altruistic, to save us?

Hacktivist #1

Still the story is engaging, and I'm glad to see graphic novel folks taking on the real bad guys of the world, and not just the cops or the Mafia. Illustrator Marcus To does a good job of creating tension and energy in the otherwise seemingly bland action of typing on a keyboard, though the stakes in the story are high at points, with the two main characters, hacking into the Tunisian government, and the country's entire internet system, itself.

- John Yohe


Never Ending #3

(Adam Knave / D. J. Kirkbride / Robert Love; Dark Horse Comics)

2.5 stars

What if Superman wanted to die?

That’s the question the three-issue Dark Horse mini-series Never Ending, which concluded this week, sought to explore. Chuck, an auto mechanic granted powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men, has fought crime and saved the Earth from monsters, aliens and a mad scientist driven by jealousy for more than 80 years all while clad in a royal blue tunic and matching scarlet boots and cape and using his real name, and he’s tired.

If you looked like "Lumberjack" Rick Fuller, you might not want to live, either.

If you looked like “Lumberjack” Rick Fuller, you might not want to live, either.

“The media was always trying to come up with superhero names for me back then, but the good one were already take by the comics,” Chuck laments as he remembers the 1960s.

Now, his wife is dead. So is his only son. He has a granddaughter and two great-grandsons, but he chooses to distance himself from them because he doesn’t want to watch them die too.

In his desperation, he turns to Archie, the jealous mad scientist and his nemesis, to assist in his suicide.

“It’s been years since I did anyone actual good,” Chuck says while remembering his most recent fight was Archie. “This is just a grudge match between two old men and everyone else is just an innocent bystander.”

The plot is filled with potential. Yet, it falls flat. The story, penned by Adam P. Knave (Amelia Cole & The Unknown World) is mostly told through flashbacks, and the it is narrated by Chuck from his perspective just before his presumed final battle.

Three issues just isn’t enough to tell this story. Each issue is rushed. Narration is the driver. Dialogue and art are almost afterthoughts. So the reader is always being told what’s happening rather than being shown.

The exceptions are the few panels that show Chuck, in the prime of his life, flying with his frail elderly son, Harrison. Harrison dies soaring above the Earth in his father’s arms.

But Harrison as an octogenarian still reacts to his father in the way that he did as a Kindergartener. Chuck’s wife remains dutiful and happy even though Chuck spirals out of control. He gains weight, let’s his hair and beard grow long. He covers up his scarlet and blue unitard with a trench coat.

I hate Beatles cover songs!!!

I hate Beatles cover songs!!!

Chuck has these phases, but his family doesn’t. His wife, Ellie, remains the same person regardless of what her husband is doing and irrespective of her place in time. The same goes Harrison, who did not inherit any of his father’s abilities. As a young man, Harrison shows no sign of jealousy or any type of riff with his father who spends his days saving the planet.

Chuck is, as should be expected, betrayed by Archie. Chuck is stripped of his powers. Archie steals them, but his frail centenarian body, which now resembles more of a rotting corpse than a human being, can’t handle the power and disintegrates.

Chuck powerless and mortal is left alone. His home is sold. His remaining family is estranged. And aliens have invaded.

In the final panel, Chuck dons one of Archie’s battle suits to take on the invasion and fully anticipates his death.

The story needed more issues to explore what happens to Earth when Archie leaves for six years in the early 2030s. There’s one brief panel that shows him in what is presumably Vietnam — a village is burning and Chuck says he’s tired of war.

In the beginning the United States takes Chuck on as an employee. The government pays him a salary, but there is no exploration of how that relationship changes, evolves, and, presumably, dissipates.

All that should have been expected in a story called Never Ending that concludes in just three issues.

 Matthew McGrath

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