Singles Going Steady 3/4/2014: Fantastic WeekA comic review article by: Daniel Elkin, Shawn Hill, Taylor Lilley, Kevin Reilly, Ra’Chaun Rogers, Jamil Scalese, Chris Wunderlich, John Yohe, Travis Moody, Richard Zom
Singles Going Steady is Comics Bulletin's weekly single issue review roundup.
Fantastic Four #1
(James Robinson / Leonard Kirk; Marvel Comics
Having the Fantastic Four take front and center in our feature this week was a no-brainer. First, was the casting of the film reboot that incited a thousand suburban white riots (kidding; cynics of all races joined in on the plunge). Second, this All-New Marvel NOW! issue marks a return to glory for James Robinson.
Known best for his epic run on Starman (to which I own every hardcover omnibus), Robinson had been in a bit of a funk with DC Comics lately. Blame the skimpy assignments (Flashpoint: The Outsider? Earth-Two?), or blame the savage criticism of those who cried for justice at some of JR’s plot decisions and, worse, freakish characterizations (Supes replaced by…Mon-El? Red.. Bleeping.. Arrow…). Either way, something just wasn’t right; this guy co-created Starman, dammit!
Thankfully, Mr. Robinson is able to capture his JSA-scripting roots with Marvel’s First Family and capture it well. In this first ish, readers should “lol” at Ben Grimm’s classic disapproval of Reed’s usual overthinking and feel touched by Susan’s reasonably rocky state-of-mind following the intergalactic departure of her daughter. Rob’ nails the F4 dialogue. And whereas Fraction did a nice job with plot exploration and Hickman was impressive in all his world building, Robinson is just as splended at keeping all of the danger right at home. The book’s wrap on reality feels more Mark Waid F4 than anything else.
I was also impressed by how tight-knit the family felt despite the inclusion of the Future Foundation. The zany presence of Frac’s favorite students never once deterred the muddy waters. For a comic with such an overall positive vibe, there’s just enough foreshadowing that this series may just get uglier than Fox’s casting decisions: a desecrated logo, massive monster brawls, and new duds that reflect more Blackhawk than Maple Leaf.
And wow does Leonard Kirk make all of this newfound Baxter Building gloom go boom. Even panels featuring the more personal — such as Sue and Reed having a moment, or Bentley just being his usual mischievous, inventive self — pack plenty of pretty things (at least as much as I can alliterate…). Call it: no cubicle left behind. Thankfully, feeling lonely will be far from the truth for Fantastic Four comic book fans smart enough to pick this up. Don’t call it a comeback…
- Travis Moody
A second opinion...
Here we go again. I mean really, really again. There's nothing here we haven't seen before. Sue starts things off in a very bad mood, ultimately flashing back to a battle with Fin Fang Foom. Johnny makes a smart remark. The Thing clobbers something. Reed messes with some framistatsimabob. He also tells Sue to do a lot of things she's already doing, and then she says "I can't hold him for long!" Later on Ben kind of makes up with Alicia, again. Which is sweet, but also so familiar.
This comic could have been written at any point in the last thirty years. There's nothing wrong with it. But is relentlessly average really the way you want to go with Marvel's First Family? Even as Sue introduces the flashback, she's sitting at her desk writing. Is there a less eventful way to introduce the idea of tragedy destroying what was meant to be their everyday peace, happiness and tomfoolery?
It's not as bad as when Mike Carey did the same thing to the Ultimate counterparts (effectively ignoring all the groundwork of the previous issues to tell a generic Fantastic Four story that wasn't Ultimate at all). At least Robinson is in the right universe. And he doesn't introduce a new team of weirdoes that seem like bad guys but are probably sort of good, just for the need of antagonists. The Inhumans only happened once, not everyone can dip into that well.
Instead, it's a horde of invading insect/Brood-like critters. Sure. Same thing. Leonard Kirk's art is strong, as always. Kesel gives it a real nice spit and polish with his clean lines. But nothing can make these rote motions really feel fresh.
- Shawn Hill
Quantum and Woody: Goat #0
(James Asmus / Tom Fowler / Allen Passalaqua / Matt Milla / Dave Lanphear; Valiant)
A better reviewer than I would probably spend the first half of a review of Quantum and Woody: Goat #0 talking about the storied history of the goat and what the return of Tom Fowler means to this series, but I'll freely admit that I'm too
tired lazy uninterested much of a professional to do the 15 minute internet search it would take to ground myself in the goat background and/or familiarize myself with who Tom Fowler is in the first place and then cleverly pass this information off as if I knew it all along.
Rather, I'm diving into the turbulent waters of this book wearing nothing but a Speedo made of muffins and my lack of better judgment to see if I will sink or swim in what Valiant is passing off as “excitement and laughs and all that!”
Wait.. did I just write “Speedo made of muffins”? Blame it on the goat.
Because this ain't no quotidian goat.
Once again, Valiant has released a Zero Issue full of fun and creativity and great art and sweet dialogue and a fast pace and lollipops and ice-cream cones (well, maybe not the lollipops). Quantum and Woody: Goat #0 is full of one-liners and zingers and puns and visual gags and Carl Sagan. This is no thick Russian novel or grand Grecian monomyth – Goat #0 is a shaggy dog story devoid of the tediousness of such a tale, substituting a goat for the dog and leaving you with a smile on your face.
It's the kind of book that you just have to let yourself like, as some of the jokes might make you wince if you think about them too long. It's the kind of humor that's especially funny when you haven't slept in a few days. Don't over-analyze; giggle til you pee.
This is an origin story that is more concerned with story than origin. Asmus and Fowler obviously have a great fondness for the goat and it shows in their careful handling of story and art. Fowler draws one of the best “Goat-in-Love” panels I've ever seen (and believe me when I tell you, I've seen quite a few), and the last page seemingly indicates some major revelations about the goat's importance to the larger story of the series (I think – it's a little confusing).
Also, a quick shout out to letterer Dave Lanphear for his work on a top quarter of a panel TWO-BOOM sound effect. It's a thing of beauty.
So where was I?
Oh yea, you could buy a lot less entertainment for $3.99 in most circles, brother, and almost all of it would have a lot less goat. So go on and get your goat, if you're looking for a couple of chuckles and a Speedo made of muffins (why do I keep coming back to that – damn goat)
- Daniel Elkin
Reading what happens to Griffin Franks will peel your face back. More accurately, it will peel his back and make you watch.
In busy times it's sometimes hard to get around to solicits, so when I ventured to the LCS this Wednesday previous I had nothing to go on but creators and title when it came to Image's Revenge. Payback is such a delightful concept, the solid basis for narratives both in fiction and real life. When the slighted party claws and creeps his or her way toward retribution there is a darkly cathartic experience that audiences soak in. Titling this comic project Revenge is a bold move in itself, both boiling the work down to a single concept and outright promising the reader that someone will be transgressed against and that person will seek out due justice for the perceived betrayal or crime.
Within the first three pages senior citizen and cult film actor Griffin Franks has plenty to be pissed about, and via a wicked double-splash featuring a patchwork of horror, sex and Hollywood the stage is set for the guy to get even.
However it's not that easy. Franks is kind of a dick. In fact, he used to be an even bigger jerk than he is now, but at the ripe age of 73 he's mellowed a tad. Owning a bulk of his fame to a 70's flick called "The Revenger", which is more blunt than the title of the comic that houses it, Franks finds refurbished success when he reprises the vigilante role for the present-day sequel, "Revenge!". The fake movies and this very real comic share a common tone: Abundant nudity and extreme violence are the main sells , forgoing nuance in favor of shock and emotion.
This first issue works because Ian Churchill knows how to tell a story. The grotesque and savage things that happen to Griffin are expertly portrayed, not holding back on showing details, but doing it in such a way that emphsizies the outlandish nature of the actions. The whole thing reads like a fever dream that refuses to relent. There's a touch of absurdity to what Ross and Churchill are trying to achieve here, and in a few brief sequences it's tremendously successful.
What the first issue lacks is space. The ending is set up well but reads rushed in comparison to the pacing of the rest of the issue. Additionally, as a character Griffin Franks only works because he's the shiniest turd in the batch, diluted by the fakes and thieves that surround him. While Ross does some work to try to get inside his head Franks is really just a wrinkled curmudgeon who goes through a unnecessarily horrific experience. What happens to him would you feel pity for anyone, even a seasoned bastard with decades of seedy activities behind him.
Plainly, Revenge isn't for a wide audience. It appeals to certain taste, people who like their stories baroque, severe and without subtlety. In an age where comic books of an increasing literary quality appear more frequently week by week this title slides in the opposite trend, giving us over twenty pages of sexploitation for those with a more grimy appetite.
This debut issue did just enough for it to be a success, but this series could fly off the rails at any point. Revenge #1 is full of surprises but it hinges on how it happens and not what happens. The concept of revenge is one explored many times in every nearly artistic medium, and it's hard to tell if Ross and Churchill are exploring its complications or merely paying homage. The narrative needs to elevate in some way, and I'll be checking out issue #2 to see if they can do it.
- Jamil Scalese
The Darkness: Vicious Traditions #1
(Ales Kot / Dean Ormston; Top Cow)
I became a Darkness fan while reading Phil Hester and Michael Brossard's run on one of Top Cow's most violent and complex characters. Over the years Jackie has been many things: hitman, crime boss, father, husband and false God. But now Jackie Estacado is dead, and his stranglehold on the new Top Cow universe is at an end. While we wait for his return (because this is comics …) Top Cow has decided to do a series of one shots and start from the humble beginnings of the Estacado clan. That is where we find ourselves this week.
This first issue starts in a battlefield littered with the corpses of Visigoth barbarians who had just been slaughtered by the Roman legion. An unnamed member of the Estacado clan lies at the top of the heap, with the darkness reviving him. From there we enter a Roman legion encampment where that Estacado attempts to reason with the Romans by explaining that their campaign is doomed. This ends in a large scale battle in which many lives are lost -- but not before we get a bit of insight about war, those who conquer and those who lose. When the dust settles we get the beginnings of an event that shapes the history of the world and a question that may very well be the overlying theme of the series.
I've always known the Darkness to be a bloody, fun filled romp through the tortured soul of man who, above all else, just wants to do right. This story, however, was a more introspective look at war, violence and the legacy of the Estacado clan as whole. This singular Darkness wielder wasn't driven by greed, or lust, power or vengeance. Instead he was driven by a strange kind of irony that could lead himself, his tribe and perhaps the world speeding towards ruin.
This is the exactly the type of writing I've come to expect from Ales Kot, writing that makes you think about the larger picture in such a way that hopelessness doesn't seem so hopeless. The main character seems to take solace in the fact that everything in the end is pointless and the realization of this grants him a stoic demeanor, even when faced with the destruction of his own tribe.
I first encountered Dean Ormston's art in Sy Spencer's Books of Magick: Life During Wartime. His art was never the greatest in comics, but it works well in settings where people are being disemboweled or decapitated on a large scale. The most striking thing about the art is the eyes of the main character, which look like those of a diseased insect and matches the feral nature of the Visigothic warrior. This book is getting off to a great start and until Jackie returns I look forward to more stories of the Estacado clan.
- Ra'Chaun Rogers
Superman: Lois Lane #1
(Marguerite Bennett / Emanuela Lupacchino; DC Comics)
Well, let's get this out of the way: the good news is that for the first time in forever, there's a comic book with "LOIS LANE" in big bold letters on the front. In fact, Lois' name is bigger than the Blue Boy Scout, and she’s not overtly sexualized on the cover. The bad news is—and it breaks my heart to say this—it isn't fantastic.
- Kevin Reilly
(Tommy Lee Edwards / Noah Smith / Dan McDaid / Melissa Edwards; Dark Horse Comics)
While I'm loath to judge a man until I've walked a mile in his fingerless gloves, Chuck Carducci is a mess, an MIT robotics/A.I. whiz who fled to L.A. to make custom vans, only to fall into garage-bound obscurity and hard drugs. So when power-shouldered, suntanned science-merc (and former MIT alum) Taylor Grey shows up with a lethal, decommissioned A.I. system in need of a body "and most importantly – a heart" (oh, he brings bundles of cash and dope too), we know where we're headed. We're in vintage '80s territory, where Greed creates monsters, enlists vulnerable creative egos to chase it's sunk costs, and the result is destruction that can end only with Greed's redemption or an awe-inspiring display of superior firepower. Team Vandroid have tricked out the template though, mapping 21st century ideas of identity and construction onto this vintage action chassis. There's Nitrous in this tank.
As proof, I'd ask you to look out for the page (not included here) where Chuck activates Nu-Chuck. In four choice panels, penciller Dan McDaid shows us flawed flesh bestowing its hopeful imprimatur upon nu-flesh, creating not in its own image, but in its best self-image; corrective lenses become crimson visor, gauntleted pudge becomes ripped symmetry. What Chuck does with Nu-Chuck is what we do with the online selves we create. What Taylor Grey does in creating the Vandroid A.I. is what Facebook and Google do with their algorithms. We put our flesh on their mainframe, and together chase "better" selves into tomorrow. The brilliance of Vandroid lies in the tenderly deprecating way this is played, though. Despite McDaid's jacked, ready-for-action design (complete with primo Arnie-era body language), Nu-Chuck's loose for barely a day before he collapses, in need of more juice, right in front of Chuck's naked ex-wife. Our avatars are no more potent than we are. Our self-projections suck energy, and go limp.
McDaid is a big part of why I was excited for this comic and why it works, his line straddling past and present (Kirby's heft and modernity's ease) just as the story does. Though there are a couple of places where the exact progression of panels is unclear (including a couple classic B-movie continuity howlers), and I would have liked to see Melissa Edwards' colour choices taken further (though the sudden lavender of the former Mrs Carducci's home is a splendid setting for malfunction) the narrative drive of this comic can't be faulted. This creative team knows the material they're dealing with, the importance of balancing concept-justifying period designs, and trimming the fat that slowed these projects down back in the day. They know that 21st century comics readers lack the patience of '80s video fans, that we've shelled out our four bucks and we want stuff to happen toot de fricking sweet. Their response?
"Greetings and Salutations. How may I help you?"
- Taylor Lilley
Rogue Trooper #1
(Brian Ruckley / Alberto Ponticelli / Stephen Downer; IDW)
I'm happy there's a new Rogue Trooper series, really I am. I enjoy the few Fleetway/Quality reprints I own. Artists like Brett Ewins and Cam Kennedy really knocked it out of the park back in the day, drawing some of the dreariest yet impressive battlegrounds I can recall. I'm not one for war comics, but Rogue Trooper always hooked me with great scenes. This new series is no exception. Alberto Ponticelli is the reason to buy this book, if any.
Unfortunately, he may be the only reason. This book took me about 10 minutes to finish, including time spent going over the awesome fight scenes. I can't say I absorbed much the story, however. I can't say there's much story to absorb. Ruckley introduces us to our Rogue Trooper, gives us the basics about his bio-chipped equipment and tells us he's the last surviving blue-skinned badass. It's the intro to a war book, so the villains don't need schemes or characteristics; they just need to show up in opposing uniforms. A good guy gets captured, Trooper deals with it. A tank is spotted, it's dealt with. The end tries to give the reader something to look forward to—a reason to actually buy the next issue, but fails.
Rogue Trooper as a character falls flat as well. In past series, his talking helmet, backpack and gun always provided an interesting one-man-team dynamic, each with their own unique voice. It's attempted here, but there simply isn't enough. We understand how his equipment works, but the dynamic isn't there yet. By design the Trooper should be a cold, lifeless killing machine without a care for anything but war—and he is. I can't say he's all that interesting though. This first issue boils down to "he sees bad guys, he kills bad guys". And what of the mysterious event that killed his blue-skinned comrades? It's mentioned and will most likely be the driving force behind this first arc, but the fact that I can't tell you for certain goes to show how little story there is to latch onto here.
I wanted to like Rogue Trooper, I really did. Alberto Ponticelli is an artist that deserves to be seen by the masses and treated like an A-lister. He was the perfect choice for this series and delivers with fluid, action packed frames. I can't recommend his work highly enough, but there needs to be meat behind the pictures. If you can't care about the characters or storyline, you're not going to care how awesome it looks. I want to care, but I've got nothing to hold onto here. Perhaps once the story picks up I'll dive back in, but $3.99 for 10 empty minutes? Not worth it just yet.
- Chris Wunderlich
(Greg Pak / Jae Lee; DC Comics)
NEVER.. BET.. ON BIFFLE!
Just when you thought it was dropped…they pulled me back in. The third arc of Greg Pak‘s surprisingly most inconsistent run on Batman/Superman continues the goods from the first arc — bringing back superstar artist Jae Lee back into the fold — in addition to a story many have wanted to see: a team-up of the original World’s Finest with the current: Huntress and Power Girl. First Contact allows the new Dynamic Duo to join their far-far-out Earth 2 relatives for some heavy combat and a most intriguing cross-Earth examination (A Dark Knight Daughtah from Anotha Motha?). If you thought things were strange with Bruce and Clark’s E1 doppelgangers running around, just wait ’til they mingle with what is essentially their female counterparts. If nothing else, witness the rebirth of my frontrunner for Writer of the Year (Turok, Eternal Warrior, Action Comics) do the damn thing once again with DC’s Mightiest Heroes, complete with plenty of magical sights to drool over.
- Travis Moody
The near-future Pariah starts readers in the middle of the action—a crisis on an old space station, where a group of teenage "vitros" (as in, I assume, "in vitro" fertilized, and in some cases, enhanced) has been sent to live in exile. Some of this we learn through dialogue between the characters, though much is via the thought-captions of Herman Toulane, a skinny quiet kid with family issues.
I'd put the target audience of Pariah as YA, similar to book series like The Hunger Games and Divergent, in which teens are thrown together in a dystopian science-fiction world constructed by adults, and forced to survive and/or go Lord of the Flies on each other. Though like these books, the world of Pariah is interesting to adults (or, this adult) especially in why/how these stories work as allegory, in the sense that I think teens today really do feel thrown in an adult, dystopian, science-fiction world and forced to fight or die.
The artwork by Brett Weldele is minimalist, with some panels looking more like sketches, which is an interesting choice for a science-fiction setting, where most artists might opt for a more detailed rendering of the technology at least. But, it works, thanks to the coloring (also by Weldele) that goes with it, with lots of moody, water-color-y, green and blue shadows.
I will quibble a bit with the portrayal of the characters on the space station, though, since there's no gravity. I'm not a rocket scientist, but I do know that, since these vitro kids are dressed in normal street clothes, that if you're going to show someone's tie floating out in front of his face, you should probably show people's hair floating up all over the place. That, or would they really be in street clothes? With normal teen hair styles? I don't think the story would suffer if they looked more like actual astronauts.
Also, one drawback to relying on Herman's thought-captions is that, towards the end of this issue, when he's not around, suddenly there are no caption boxes, and the story goes on, as if, in a normal book of just text, the narrative switched from first person to third person. Not unheard of, and since the story still works, though I wonder if the story could have, and maybe should have, been the comics third person of (just, or, simply) art and dialogue from the beginning.
Still, this is an intriguing premise, and the first issue is a real story, not just an excuse to introduce characters, while at the same time building towards a longer story arc.
- John Yohe
(Charles Soule; Carlo Barberi; Israel Silva; Marvel)
Welcome to Marvel's Land of Misfit Toys.
Thunderbolts is definitely one of the oddest comics of the Marvel NOW! era. Hijacking the title of one of the companies' most beloved hidden gems Daniel Way and Steve Dillon launched the series with a story about hard hitters working outside of the standard hero ethical code. Using Frank Castle's modus operandi as a template General "Thunderbolt" Ross, aka the Red Hulk, recruits the team under shadowy circumstances. As I stated almost a year ago, the whole endeavor maturated hazily, never making an earnest point to glue the diverse cast together.
Sudden superstar Charles Soule has a impressive workload, and I find it interesting what he's chosen to do with Thunderbolts. The start of the run felt more like a grind, first settling in with a a pair of decent fill-in issues, then moving onto a rocky tie-in Infinity arc with Jefte Palo. Tonally, the smash-and-shoot mentality was still there, but the drama often filtered through humor and it never hit the spot it was aiming for.
Thunderbolts #22 wraps up the "No Mercy" arc, a redeemer for this series. In an effort to eliminate their resident death goddess Red Hulk, Deadpool, Venom, The Leader and Ghost Rider find themselves in Mephisto's realm, working for the demon to overthrow Hell's new ruler, X-Factor's Strong Man. It's here where the balance between serious and silly really finds it's groove, and the issue ends with many of Soule's subplots paying off in huge ways.
The addition of Carlo Barberi proves to be the 3D glasses to Soule's summer popcorn flick. A former Deadpool artist his ability to portray both the big action and little ironies make Thunderbolts a fascinating read. The big, bruising backdrop gets cut to pieces by sardonic humor and savvy fan service, but not enough to break the tension.
With the new art team and the writer's comfort with the volatile cast and the book's voice this series finally has potential to set itself apart from the rest. It's lighthearted with the dirtiest intentions, and has quickly risen to one of my favorite reads.
- Jamil Scalese
Tomb Raider #1
(Gail Simone / Nicolás Daniel Selma / Juan Gedeon / Michael Atiyeh; Dark Horse Comics)
Wolverine & The X-Men #42
(Jason Aaron / Quentin Quire; Marvel Comics)
So, this is it. As Marvel fools everyone each week with their own rendition of the New 52 — by rebooting all of their series one or three at a time, rather than as a whole — creative teams and books are slowly earning the NOW! reboot or disappearing entirely. The good news: Wolverine & The X-Men attained enough sales and interest to keep going. The bad: it’s the end of the road for Jason Aaron-slash-Wolvie diehards who’ve been following “Logan’s Run” from the accomplished scribe the entire time. I’d argue that no other writer has taken Wolverine to the brink quite like this. From the regenerized danger of a modern Weapon X program to HELL to his current status as Professor Logan (a near overhaul of a character that saw no one complain, unlike all of that new killable/bad guy stuff), seeing this series go just stinks.
Unfortunately, the comic feels more like a tribute to the likes of Quentin “Not Quagmire” Quire and his merry band of nutcases at the school rather than an ode to the Canadian runt. It’s graduation indeed, so expect the same great, biting humor installed in the prevous fourty-one. Plus, plenty of DOOP! This swansong also showcases art from eight of the talents who contributed throughout this healthy 3-year+ run, a nice touch considering how consistently awesome the book has looked since day one. For some, this is just a milestone for the Jean Grey School with more All-New adventures coming up. But, for others, it’s a day we wish would never come.
- Travis Moody
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