Singles Going Steady 7/8/2014: A Genuinely Great Week for Comics

A comic review article by: Jennifer Flatebo, Justin Giampaoli , Jackie Henley, Lance Paul, Norrin J. Powell, Jason Sacks, Lisa Wu, Alex "Vicar"

Singles Going Steady

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

[NOTE: The review score above is the average score for all reviews in this column. Each comic also has its own score below]

Rocket Raccoon #1

(Skottie Young / Jean-Francois Beaulieu; Marvel Comics)

4 stars

Size matters, especially in the Krakel System where Rocket Raccoon’s antics include some unwarranted murders and lots of persistent womanizing. Bradley Cooper appropriately voices the character in the GotG movie, where he continues his balancing act of dick-ish behavior with that one-of-a-kind Cooper charm that most women are weak in the brain and knees for. Rocket’s love of violence is only rivaled by his love of women, as is demonstrated in the sci-fi WWE match he chooses as a first date setting in “A Chasing Tale”, part 1.

But hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and soon Rocket finds himself the wrong kind of Wanted and is sent on a run to save his tail.

The coloring by Jean-Francois Beaulieu (Avengers Arena) heightens the sci-fy galaxy in which Skottie (Marvel’s Wizard of Oz comics) Young‘s alien creatures gather with human-kind alike to set the scenes for a wild Rocket Raccoon raucous. The uses of purples and greens give an immediate depth to the story that sucks you in from the very first frame, and carries you through to the end. The feature film looks to have borrowed the same dark and colored visual tones, and looks to stay true to the sometimes raunchy, and a little campy humor found within Rocket and his fellow Guardians we all know and love on the page.

- Jackie Henley


DKW: Ditko Kirby Wood

(Sergio Ponchione; Fantagraphics Books)

4 stars

Okay, let's get the easy stuff out of the way first. DKW: Ditko Kirby Wood is a heartfelt tribute to three of the greatest comic book creators of all time: Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby and Wally Wood. It's a gorgeously-illustrated exploration to these brilliant cartoonists, drawn in a style that evokes the astounding art that these three men created. For anyone who cares about comics, this comic is must reading. It's a smart introduction into the careers of three men who are essential to the understanding of this artform. Ponchione's art is simply luminous; as Ditko scholar Blake Bell points out in his introduction, Ponchione's full-page and double-page images are stunning. This is a spectacular comic.

Full stop.

And yet...

 

I wish I could recommend this book without caveats but I just can't. For all its beauty and kind charm, this book is just wrong in some ways that drive me crazy.

In one of my side pursuits, I'm a writer for the fanzine Ditkomania. I've written tens of thousands of words about the career of Steve Ditko, including a few words on this site. Ditko is an immensely complicated man, a man who lives with enigmas and mysteries in his life, what-ifs and who-is and a hovering veil of mystery. With all that mystery surrounding him, it's easy to see Steve Ditko as a reclusive, antisocial hermit, as Ponchione does. But Ponchione dwells on the life of that alleged hermit, even though he's an 87-year-old man who seems to be very happy in his life and his thoughts. When he was younger Ditko got out of the house, played ping pong with his friends in comics, probably attended a meeting of Objectivists at one time or another. To see him as some kind of tragic figure now that he's elderly completely gets Ditko wrong, in my eyes. It's projection. It's a wish to see him in a certain light. It's conventional wisdom and, to me, it's completely the wrong attitude to take. The other two chapters of this book celebrate the lives of their respective protagonists, despite Woody's tragic suicide, but the Ditko chapter mourns a man who is very much alive and creating interesting comics.

It's aweseome (literally) that Ponchione celebrates Jack Kirby's space adventures and their astonishing grandeur. I love how the art is all square fingers and bold lines. But a few details are wrong: the King's work desk isn't how he always worked (there are legends about Kirby's famously beaten drawing desk and uncomfortable chair), and the Kirby in this strip is at an uncertain age -- his final words, "Maybe I've finally found the place where I'll forever be the king!", grate as something that he likely  would never have said, unless he was ranting about Stan Lee when both men were old.

From the narrative chapters one and two, we get to a more descriptive and text-heavy chapter three about Wally Wood, and the transition grates. It feels inelegant to change to a different narrative approach in the final third of this comic, but Ponchione makes that choice. The prose is poetic and the art samples are wonderful, but there are incongruities and oddnesses: a focus on Wood's 1950s work over everything else, along with the very strange juxtaposition of Frank Zappa with Wood -- an analogy that I just don't understand, even after repeated rereads.

So listen: ignore this old, over-informed man and his whining complaints about this book. It's a lovely piece of work, and a nice introduction to these important cartoonists. You will probably like and appreciate this comic more than I did.

- Jason Sacks


Black Widow #8

(Nathan Edmonson / Phil Noto; Marvel Comics)

I'm really enjoying the latest incarnation of Marvel's Black Widow. In years past, I honestly never really bothered with the title during its brief stints. However, this creative team of Nathan Edmonson (writer) and Phil Noto (artist) seem to have a strong grasp on the character and her personality quirks. Together, they're telling great stories marrying their detailed writing and painterly art.

Issue #8 takes us to Prague, where Natasha, wearing an almost Moon Knight-esque outfit, glides across a snow filled sky making her way onto a speeding train. She's been contracted, by way of her Handler/Agent, Isaiah, to steal,…um,…I mean appropriate, appropriate an item from a lone passenger aboard the train. Supposedly, the item had been stolen from the party initiating the contract with Natasha, and, whether that is true or not, she accepts the contract.

Once aboard the train, our Black Widow finds her prize, claims it, and thanks the passenger for his cooperation. No, seriously, she literally says, "Thanks for your cooperation." Although this is a serious story, with thrills and espionage, this reminds us that a little humor sprinkled on at just the right time can thoroughly enhance the storytelling process.

We're also treated to Bucky Barnes (a.k.a the Winter Soldier) making an unplanned appearance, advising Natasha that they need to “get off the train fast.” Apparently, Bucky is there to stop a completely different party, referred to as an "international gang", from robbing the train. This, however, doesn't seem to trigger some inner moral compass to stop Natasha from robbing the train. In fact, he helps her escape.

From there, the two stumble upon an empty house after a brief trek through the snow. While escaping the train, Natasha was shot in her calf. So, once inside the house, Bucky tends her wound. This really shows the depth of their relationship, both past and present. Instead of taking the whole, tough it soldier approach, he takes time to ensure Natasha is cared for, even in their precarious position. Beyond that, Bucky insists that Natasha sneak out of the house where they're holed up, remaining behind to draw focus away from her and ensure her escape. Once Natasha is safely away, Bucky attacks the man that shot her, singlehandedly.

Black Widow is an aesthetically pleasing fun read, with drama, mystery, espionage and occasionally a dash of humor. I look forward to future issues.

- Norrin J. Powell


Lazarus #9

(Greg Rucka / Michael Lark; Image Comics)

5 stars

I feel like "Lift" is the arc that really sells the world of Lazarus, in the way it draws a hard line separating the "Haves" and the "Have Nots" and the incredibly low probability of stepping up from the latter to the former. That's why it resonates with audiences, to me at least, because it exponentially exaggerates our current socioeconomic fears. 

Michael Lark turns in his usual dark and elegant work (several early pages in succession carried in total silence, the iconic nature of the street art graffiti stencil for Free – notice the way that idea is sneakily worked into the cover too, hiding right there in plain sight like a sleeper cell!), but Greg Rucka brought his A-game dealing with economic inequality leading to an irreversible collapse of traditional social structures. Rucka also does a good job in trying to present matters from both sides of the equation, insight into the oppressors, and some of the hypocrisy of the oppressed and their would-be actions.

One of the (many) reasons that Lazarus succeeds is because it avoids that obvious good-guy vs. bad-guy dichotomy that plagues so much of pop culture. The scene with Forever and Marisol is important because it establishes one of the primary bits of characterization for Forever. It shows that she can follow the technical letter of the law, while leaving herself personal wiggle room in the morality of the spirit it was intended. The arc doesn't end the way you expect it to, but there's still significant loss that feels like heartbreak.

While the next arc looks very intriguing and suggests a fleshing out of more families in the East, I was a little disheartened to see that in exchange for upping the price point from $2.99 to $3.50 per issue, all you get is a 5-week publication schedule instead of a 4-week turn around. Booooo. Does this mean sales of the singles are slipping? Lazarus is essentially 100% critically lauded from what I see, so that's a shame if the sales aren't corresponding because all of the punters are still favoring crap like Forever Evil instead of Forever Carlyle.

- Justin Giampaol


Legendary Star-Lord #1

(Sam Humphries / Paco Medina; Marvel Comics)

3.5 stars

There are certain times in your life when you get the chance to try something new– and that’s what GHG brought me in to exactly do. My first assignment happens to be “Legendary” Star Lord #1. Perhaps what makes this character so “legendary” is that his story starts off similar to Batman. Flashback 20-years ago with a young kid staring at the grave of his mother, with an older gentleman behind Mr. Lord (ayo!) attempting to encourage him to "be the Captain of his own ship” before he is, well, shipped off to a foster home. Fast forward to the present, and Peter Quill (real name) is in trouble again…while in an orphanage. The irony.

I found Sam (The Ultimates) Humphries‘ version of Quill to be amusing and resourceful. After capturing a glimpse of Quill in comic form, I can see why Chris Pratt was cast in James Gunn’s GotG. He has the perfect balance of snarky humor along with the ability to be a bad ass. This Vestal can’t wait to see more of his portrayal of Star-Lord come August 1st. Although this particular comic did not get very far, it was hard not to admire Paco (Nova) Medina‘s pretty pencils — and at least sense some depth in Quill’s character — enough to keep my attention till next month.

- Jennifer Flatebo


Moon Knight #5

(Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, Jordie Bellaire)

5 stars

All our lives we've been told a picture is worth a thousand words. Moon Knight #5 proves that is fact. True, Warren Ellis' undeniably perfect dialogue is sporadic in this issue. But, let's not forget, he wrote and scripted the entire story so that Declan Shalvey could bring us some of the best art Moon Knight has ever given its readers. I also have to mention the colorist, Jordie Bellaire, because the color -- and lack thereof -- is such an important part of Moon Knight right now.

This issue follows the "Mr. Knight" incarnation of Moon Knight rescuing a young kidnapped blind girl named Scarlet. This is my favorite version of Moon Knight, where Marc Spector wears a white business suit, a white mask with a crescent moon slapped right in the middle of his forehead, white gloves and white shoes. He also carries a white quarter-staff, similar to Daredevil's, which has the same basic capabilities and functions.

As the story begins, Moon Knight pulls up to a semi-dilapidated, seemingly condemned building in his white limousine. Its autopilot capabilities allow our hero to ride lavishly in the passenger compartment. From there, he rolls down his window and, at sword point, obtains a full confession and the exact whereabouts of the kidnapped girl from one of her kidnappers. After that, Moon Knight enters the building.

A few pages later, Moon Knight is standing in the interior courtyard of the building, his back to the reader, eyeing the six story structure. He only needs to make it to the fifth. But, there are visible obstacles in his way, standing in doorways, stairwells, and hallways. Moon Knight battles his way from one floor to the next, ascending stairs in a Bruce Lee type manner from Game of Death. He uses his quarter-staff, moon-a-rangs, fists, and even the coat he's wearing as weapons to get past his adversaries.

In the end, after rescuing little Scarlet, Moon Knight ensures the intensity used against her kidnappers isn't filtered onto her. Instead, he's very gentle and kind to her, ensuring she's unharmed.

Normally at the end of my review I might try and explain to you why you should read Moon Knight. But, I'm not gonna do that because it's Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, Jordie Bellaire! Read Moon Knight! You're welcome.

- Norrin J. Powell


Sheltered #10

(Ed Brisson / Johnnie Christmas / Shari Chankhamma; Image Comics)

5 stars

I've always enjoyed Ed Brisson's writing on Sheltered, but I have to say that I've been consistently captivated by the strength of the art, particularly the great pairing of Johnnie Christmas and Shari Chankhamma. They just have a way of bringing such a warm glow to the page, and it's so pleasing to the eyes.

Christmas's art is full of natural poses that just make everything so believable. I notice small moments like Lucas splashing water on his face, the way it perfectly isolates a quick moment in time. The art is somehow leathery and sinewy and detailed, yet still manages to have this warm supple quality to it that is very engaging and never pushes you out with awkward angles or off-model shots.

Anyway, there's still lots going on in this arc. Justin and Curt are dead (umm, spoiler alert(?) but it happened in the last issue), the lone survivor of the crazy shootout is still on the run and could out all of Safe Haven, and Lucas' leadership seems to be faltering. I always like how Brisson chooses to pair characters off for these conversations. Here, we have Lucas and Joey counterbalanced by Victoria and Nancy, both trying to make sense of what's happening. Hey, if you thought killing dogs sucked, well, this issue builds toward one hell of a gut-punch. #TeamVictoria

- Justin Giampaoli


Deadpool vs. X-Force #1

(Duane Swierczynski / Pepe Larraz / Nolan Woodard; Marvel Comics)

My feature this week, Deadpool vs. X-Force #1 – penned by Duane Swierczynski (Birds of Prey) and penciled by Pepe Larraz (The Mighty Thor) — is a much lighter retconned meeting between the Merc With a Mouth & Cable’s….. I can’t call them…. X-Force.

If you were a fan of the now classic early 90’s Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza’s New Mutants #98, which helped launch X-Force #1 – a grittier and more violent foray away from all things 80‘s — then you will find this more comedic fluff of this time traveling first blind date as nothing more then a soon forgotten waste. But, if you have been a fan of the more recent runs on Deadpool or the now digitized early-millennium Cable & Deadpool, then you will be left smiling through the checkout.

This "what-if" tale takes place before the Liefeld/Nicieza penned classic. Our favorite Pool is still wearing the villain hat (yellow word bubbles and all) and the grizzled “I hate all things” Cable is leading the New Mutants (referred as X-Force minus the lesser backboned kids of the NM).

Will the real X-Force please stand up?

Will the real X-Force please stand up?

Have I lost you yet?

Good. So was I, initially.

Rather then waste numerous pages explaining backstory and how-the-hell’s, Swierczynski jumps right into the action with little more than a “hi how you doing.” His first issue in the mini series is a must read for the Deadhead fan who grew up on Wade being nothing more than a joking anti-hero. I mean, for pete’s sake, his big ass gun he uses to mow down the British during the Revolutionary War is called Kingslayer.

This loyal Marvel Apostle enjoyed the read for its simplistic approach and Larraz’ fun sketches and Nolan (Planet of the Apes) Woodard‘s vibrant colors that can’t help but scream right off the page.

- Lance Paul


Robocop #1

(Joshua Williamson / Carlos Magno; BOOM! Studios)

3 stars

Robocop is hard to get right. Don’t believe me? Watch literally 75% of the existing Robocop movies. It’s a long-held belief of mine that, divorced from the masterful satire that makes Paul Verhoeven & Ed Neumeier’s version unassailable, Robocop becomes just another tin-man with a big gun. So to say I was hesitant about BOOM! Studios’ new ongoing Robocop by Joshua Williamson (Captain Midnight) and Carlos Magno (Deathmatch) is an understatement, though the good news is they mostly seem to get it right. Kind of. Set after the events of the O.G. Robocop - and bringing back Lewis, Sgt. Reed, even deep-cut Detroit cop Manson - the story wastes no time giving fans what they want, front-loading “I’d buy that for a dollar” and “Dead or alive…” literally into the first two pages.

The action – featuring a few good, bloody shocks in the Verhoeverkill (TM) vein of the original - centers around newly-paroled super-criminal Killian, whose jailtime predates Robocop’s arrival in Detroit; instantly fascinated by the challenge ahead, Killian devises a probably-fiendish plot to bring down the Officer Formerly Known as Murphy. Murphy and Lewis, meanwhile, are tasked with leading a new initiative to confiscate guns all around Old Detroit – certain death to any cop that comes collecting - brought to you by your pal and mine, the Old Man and OCP, in cahoots with Killian (dunh dunh dunh). While Neumeier’s brand of hardcore subtext or irony has yet to manifest, Williamson’s script is nonetheless a good continuing-adventures set-up, though I’m wary that future issues will be preoccupied with easter-egging the events of Robocop 2. But for now, I’d buy issue #2 for a dollar.

- Alex "Vicar"


Southern Bastards #3

(Jason Aaron / Jason Latour; Image Comics)

5 stars

"Now Earl has a stick" could basically be the motto for all of Image Comics in the last couple of years. They've found a weapon and they're poised to unleash it. It's called "Creator-Owned Comics" and I capitalized that on purpose, not to be pretentious, but to call your attention to the creative renaissance occurring in so many books, Southern Bastards among them.

This issue opens with complete saturation in red, and it gets carried through in smart color fashion to the red of tablecloths and t-shirts in the following pages. The issue gets so much so right, and a lot of it is attributed to deliberate creative choices like that. I'm talking about something as simple as deliberately punctuating a sentence with ",boy." and how that charges up the scene instantly. It's how the racial undertones make themselves known in the way the sheriff is getting talked to. It's how the goons talk football before business with Coach Boss, 'cuz y'all need to get your priorities straight!

Jason Aaron is smart to address the motivation of Earl. It's not just mindless country violence, Earl needs a purpose, to live for something, whether it's stepping out of daddy's shadow, or not just going trough the motions of his life in Birmingham, and he's even coming to terms with that: "You're dead." "Nah. For the first time in forever… I don't think I am." Well, cast my vote for Tad as my favorite new sidekick. If that all isn't good enough, there's even a Country Fried Lettercol and a Fried Apple Pie recipe courtesy of Mama Aaron!

- Justin Giampaoli


Father Robot #1

(Sam Garland / Kristopher White / Jenny Gosk / Adam O. Pruett; 215 Ink)

3 stars

Isn't that a charming cover below? It's just a wonderful moment of contact to see a robot use its delicate touch to hand a beautiful flower to a very small girl.

The cover sets the tone for Father Robot, a very sweet and sincere comic that explores the question of what a father might do to save his daughter. In a strange land, our heroes defend themselves from attack by the dreaded Southern Army through the use of Mechs, Avatar-like robots in which they channel their human intelligence. But when the Southern Army embarks on a surprise attack and the robots are orders to fall back from their defense of the humans, one robot comes alive to save his daughter.

Father Robot is a tremendously sweet and sincere comic, created from passion and love by the creators. That obvious love for the characters and events goes a long way towards making this story work. The human-looking robot seems a stand-in for writer Sam Garland himself, and the situation he presents allows him to explore his feelings about his family.

Though I was a bit annoyed by the overly-cute depiction of the robots here (there's one moment when it's mentioned that the Father Robot appears to shed a tear), the artwork is energetic and at times quite clever and carries this story ahead nicely.

This comic never quite lives up to the promise of its cover, but for anyone looking for a kind-hearted reminder of the importance of family, this is a nice read.

- Jason Sacks


The Extinction Parade: War #1

(Max Brooks / Raulo Caceres; Avatar Press)

2.5 stars

This issue is a continuation of Avatar comic series based on Max Brooks's 2001 short story Extinction Parade. With the success of the short story and comic series, it was announced in April that Legendary Television (Godzilla, Watchmen, 300) will developed the vampire/zombie chronicles into a new television series. And, from the looks of things, Brooks has learned his lesson from the Brad Pitt abortion of his masterpiece World War Z and will be working closely with the project and writing the Pilot episode. So, to further please his excited fans, this new chapter begins with a telling dream sequence followed by two gratuitously naked sexy, bad-ass Euroasian vampires. But, it is okay, because illustrator Raulo Caceres (Elizabeth Bathory) strategically placed limbs over her lady parts like The Council of Trent placing fig leaves on Eve. Honestly, on one page, Laila and her sister Min are clothed; and suddenly on the next, they are naked and killing some scouts and stealing their clothes to kill zombies.

It makes NO GODDAMN SENSE! It would be one thing if lovely immortals used their nudity to distract their victims before attacking them, but they killed from behind. Why, Brooks? Why? And, why did Caceres with all his dark artistic talent not say "Brooks, save it for Legendary." Despite this jarring WTF panel, readers get to see these bad ass chicks punch the shit out of some zombies — or, the series preferred nomenclature, subdead. But, it seems the focus of this issue is to set up the Catch-22 of our vampire vixens and other vampires in their quest to save humans or solbreeders, their only vampire food source; they must kill and feed on more humans to have enough strength to continually fight and destroy the plague of the subdead, a bit of irony and interesting conflict that will be interesting to see Brooks develop. Are vampires in a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation? Stay tuned to find out.

- Lisa Wu


Tech Jacket #1

(Joe Keatinge / Khary Randolph; Image Comics)

2 stars

Space is awesome. Mix that with an alien hybrid of Iron Man and Gundam and you should have all the workings of an off-the-chain galactic thrill ride. Tech Jacket, from the pen of Joe Keatinge (Shutter, Glory) and illustrations by Khary Randolph (Starborn, Fanboys vs. Zombies), is not that unfortunately.

Though a well-paced execution, Jacket drops the pen when it comes to actual character development and exposition. TJ #1 opens up with a short flashback that does little more than explain that his father figure has and will continue to be a poor role model. Flash forward– and we find more panels of his father trying to figure out an unemployment application than actually developing story on what TJ is, how he came to be, why his father gets unemployment when he operates Jacket's battle station, and what Tech Jacket’s motivation or modus operandi. In addition, there’s a short glimpse of a love interest (with not more then a word bubble explaining she’s a queen of a system), a shadowy meeting between what one can only assume is a potential villain modeled after Virgin America Richard Branson (80's Macgyver haircut and all), and, then, the galactic presence of something bigger then your usual tongueless alien invader. Mix that with art befitting a late night binge showing off of www.AnimeFreak.com, and there’s little here that urges me to continue.

- Lance Paul


East of West #13

(Jonathan Hickman / Nick Dragotta; Image Comics)

5 stars

Shit! I forgot how Jonathan Hickman left off with "this scene," so this serves as a great refresher and builds toward an incredible action piece between the Ranger and Death.

Nick Dragotta's art is like liquid fiction, man. Not only is that cover just a disturbingly fun nightmare image, but that split panel page of the Ranger and Death racing towards each other in opposing triangle panels makes me feel like I'm riding Star Tours and someone is rocking the hydraulic platform I'm sitting on when reading this comic. It all leads to an old-school meet-fight team-up fomenting, and then a killer visual of a cliffhanger.

East of West remains one of the most imaginative books on the stands, in that I never know where it's going to go next, but it never fails to delight when it gets to its destination.

Well, I'm either feeling very charitable, or this was an exceptionally strong week of comics. Four 5 stars books in a row for me this week? In one week?! I don't think that's ever happened before.

- Justin Giampaoli

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