Review: X-Men #1 – Brian Wood and Olivier Coipel

xmen-1The story of X-Men #1 begins with twins separated at birth, one male, one female – both begin life as a strange form of intelligent, evolving bacteria. John Sublime has evolved from the bacterial stage to become the preliminary adversary of the story, but things aren’t always what they seem to be. He is following Jubilee who has with her a tiny traveling companion, a baby. We don’t find out much about the little guy in this issue beside the fact that it is of the utmost importance for Jubilee to get him safely back to The Jean Grey School and once there to give him a family. This task is close to Jubilee’s heart because she came to the X-Men in much the same way, with nowhere to go and no-one who wanted her. The sincerity she feels for this child’s safety and well-being comes across so well in Wood’s writing. This is by far the most emotionally charged of the X-Books and I am not saying that because of the all-female team. I’m saying it because of Wood’s character driven story that focuses on interaction and dynamics rather than pointless action and contrived dialogue.

The chase takes us from Bulgaria to Grand Central Station where Storm, Rogue and Kitty meet up with Jubilee on a moving train. It is Kitty who actually meets her as she phases through the roof of the train to find Jubilee and baby, however unbeknownst to her John Sublime has learned that she is headed to The Jean Grey School.  Once the four X-Men are reunited on board, Jubilee begins to explain her current situation. It is at this point that we see the baby is no ordinary baby. He reaches out his tiny hand to touch one of the train’s P.A. speakers and some sort of electrical charge is passed from his finger into the train’s wiring system short circuiting many of the doors and killing the two drivers. The team flies into action to save the passengers. This scene is another example of how emotion trumps mindless punching. The action is suspenseful and smart, more of the edge-of-your-seat type than smash & crash, but no less exciting.

While waiting for their team mates to return to the school, Rachael and Psylocke are about the business of interrogating John Sublime, who has surrendered himself to their custody. Sublime explains in some detail the danger of his sister’s return. He implores the team to help him, stressing the life/ death seriousness of the situation. The last two pages of the book are gripping and full of tension. Wood has constructed a rich, poignant sequence of events that leaves us wanting the next issue immediately.

Brian Wood is a class act all the way around. He has taken the high road with this book from the costumes to the absence of any male X-Men to come in and save the day (it’s very clear they are not needed here). The gender of this team is not even thought of when you are reading this book – you are just swept up in a great story that is complex, entertaining and ultimately very satisfying. The characters are genuine and altruistic and they come across as very human. Wood has set this book apart from the other X-Books simply by virtue of its distinctive captivating tone. This is not to say that it is the only X-Book worth reading but it is very high on that list.

Olivier Coipel has created a visual delight. His work on this book ranks as some of his best in my opinion, and I consider him one of the best artists working in comics today. He doesn’t waste time with garish pin-up poses of these heroines; instead he draws strong women who just happen to be beautiful. His realistic style brings the characters to life in a way that is sometimes lost in comic books. Laura Martin does a really excellent job of coloring Coipel’s work. Her colors add dimension and emotion providing each page with depth, combining for a visually stunning book.

Overall I think Brian Wood has set the bar extremely high with this first issue. X-Men #1 is a dynamic story that is emotionally charged and suspenseful. Olivier Coipel delivers some of his best work to date concentrating on the plot and not the poses. I would suggest you not pass this one up. In a time when money is tight and comics are expensive this one is worth the $3.99.

So until next week, see you at the comic book store.

Justice League Dark #20 – Lemire / Fawkes / Janin /Cifuentes

justice-league-dark-20The House of Mystery has been seized and Swamp Thing imprisoned – the work of the sinister Doctor Destiny. He has sent his nightmare creations to battle the Justice League Dark, who have recruited The Flash to aid them in the fight. These are the events that bring us up to issue 20 which is the second part of a three issue story arc by Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes with artwork by the very impressive team of Mikel Janin and Vicente Cifuentes.

The Flash and Frankenstein find themselves assailed by Doctor Destiny’s constructs of Frankenstein’s bride and their son. The abominations seem to be similar to the Green Lantern’s constructs in that they are the product of “hard energy”, a material The Flash is able to dispel by use of his vibrations. This is a method that will serve them well in battles to come. The two are then off to find the rest of the team beginning with Madame Xanadu, which The Flash accomplishes in scant seconds.

At this point in the story Doctor Destiny is slowly torturing Swamp Thing with fire and a prophecy that promises his ultimate demise. While elsewhere Deadman finds himself at the merciless hands of a twisted perverse troupe of circus performers before he is rescued by Frankenstein, The Flash and Madame Xanadu. The next order of business is to rescue their fearless leader, John Constantine, who is at that very moment busy fighting himself – specifically duplicates of himself made of his own blood. The team shows up and thanks again in large part to The Flash, they make rather short work of the constructs and save Constantine’s chain-smoking cantankerous hide.

Far from a happy reunion, the Justice League Dark welcomes their leader back into the fold with accusations and threats. The plucky Englishman takes it all in stride and suggests they get on with the business of finding The House of Mystery. Once again it falls to The Flash to get this done and once again he does so in a split second. He locates the house and off goes the team to retrieve it; however it is not in its original form – it is twisted and spreading like a patch of bad weeds. Constantine dispatches Frankenstein and The Flash to deal with any street level threats while he and the others go inside in search of Swamp Thing. They are met straight away by Doctor Destiny who greets Constantine as The Last Mage. This leads to a final page cliff-hanger that very deeply impacts the League as a whole but one particular member even more so. Trust me, you will want to read this issue.

There is an under-current of dissension in the ranks all through this issue as the rift between Constantine and his team mates begins to become a chasm. His arrogance and shoddy leadership seem to be pulling the team apart. Lemire and Fawkes are writing the Constantine book as well, so they have become the voice of this character who has been written by some of the best writers in comics today (Andy Diggle, Jamie Delano and Garth Ennis to name a very few). I find the use of Constantine not only in a team but as its leader to be quite contrary to his character but I am enjoying it – Lemire and Fawkes are doing a bang-up job. Constantine in the New 52 is definitely not Hellblazer of the Vertigo universe but it is a good read. I’m on board to see where this goes, whether he is replaced or remains on the team. Justice League Dark is a fun book with perhaps the most unique team dynamic anywhere in comics.

Mikel Janin is superb. He is solid and consistent. His work is flawless. I can’t wait to see what he does on this title as we move into Trinity Wars. He handles the supernatural subject matter so well, especially the scenes of Doctor Destiny.  I would be remiss if I failed to mention Jeremy Cox’s colors here. He adds such dimension to Janin’s work that some of the pages look as if you could reach into them. Overall Justice League Dark is one of the books I look forward to every month. It has been solid since the inception of the New 52 and I hope it continues to gain the readers and recognition a book of this calibre deserves. I unreservedly recommend adding it to your pull list especially now with Trinity Wars gearing up.

So until next week, see you at the comic book store.

Review: Thunderbolts #9 – Daniel Way and Phil Noto

thunderbolts9Thunderbolts is far from being the shining jewel in the crown of the Marvel Now Universe. At its best it is a fun read peppered with an ample amount of violence, intrigue and witty jabs dealt out between team mates. I started reading it for several reasons – the first was because I loved the previous incarnation of the book when Thunderbolts was a team of villains led by Norman Osborn during his days as head of the Dark Avengers. The second reason was the current team’s diverse albeit volatile line-up featuring the likes of Deadpool, Punisher, Venom, Elektra, Red Leader, Red Hulk and the very mysterious Mercy. The final was that the very awesome Steve Dillon was going to be handling the artwork. I have always liked Daniel Way as well, so the fact that he was going to be writing the book didn’t hurt.

Now having said all of that, I have not been completely won over by the effort thus far. The opening story arc was fair, pretty straight forward but with hints at a flimsy sub-plot of a love triangle between Deadpool, Elektra and Punisher. This has been lingering on the periphery of the main story for months now with no resolution in sight. This brings me to my next point. Daniel Way is no stranger to writing Deadpool – in fact he has written some of the best Deadpool stories to date, so why does it seem like he has no idea how to use him here? If it is a question of Deadpool working well as part of a team, I would point out Rick Remender’s very fine job of doing just that in his turn on X-Force.

So now the question is, if after working the bugs out of the team and changing from one excellent artist to another, in this case bringing on Phil Noto, is Thunderbolts headed in the right direction? Let’s take a look at issue number nine.

The story is mostly maneuvering and behind the scenes scheming, and is heavy on intrigue. The most memorable action sequence is one in which Red Hulk single-handedly dismantles an entire unit of enemy agents all wearing Crimson Dynamo armor. Deadpool spends most of his time in this issue languishing on the floor healing from a gunshot wound to the head he received last issue. It’s not until Red Leader finds him that we see him awake and on his feet again in time to witness Red Hulk and Venom save the team from suicide bombers in Crimson Dynamo armor. The damage sustained from this sends Flash Thompson to the hospital where he has a rather bizarre sports-themed nightmare in which the Venom symbiote is a football. This all leads up to a big final page reveal that ties one of the team to a cryptic character from the recent past.

One thing Thunderbolts does not lack is potential. The creative team is top-notch, as are the characters on the team. I think this book will hit its stride, but right now it is struggling under the weight of its own high expectations. It’s not a bad book but it’s just not as good as it should be given all the advantages it has going for it. Even the artistic change was one that worked – Steve Dillon is great but Phil Noto has a style that is better suited to this title giving the book a visual direction that more readily lends itself to action sequences.

As for the writing, Daniel Way needs to play to his strengths, put Deadpool to better use and downplay the moral drama. I’m not sure this is a title that benefits from a love triangle. He needs to work on the team dynamic here and get us to care about how these characters interact, form some friendships among the various team mates. Let us see the human side of these guys. Way is capable of writing some fantastic dialogue and I would love to see that here.

All things considered Thunderbolts is by no means a throw-away. It’s just been slow to build up any momentum and as I have said the bar is set pretty high for this creative team but I believe they will deliver. I’m going to stick around for the long ride – the talent is there, the material is there and it’s just a matter of time before all these elements align themselves and we are talking about who has been cast in the Thunderbolts movie (I assume Joss Whedon will be directing). Hey, if the comic has a dream sequence why shouldn’t the review!

So until next week, as always, see you at the comic book store.

Review: Batman #20 – Snyder / Capullo / Miki

batman-20This issue is the end of the two-part Nowhere Man story arc as well as the final story to be told in the present day in Batman, as Year Zero begins in issue 21. This is another amazingly rendered issue by Greg Capullo. His Clayface is menacing. His fantastically detailed visage is freakishly frightening as he twists his amorphous body into an oozing blob of murderous intent, actually swallowing a battered Bruce Wayne in the opening pages of this issue. He is then very unceremoniously spat into a crusher used by Wayne Enterprises R&D Department to eradicate unusable prototypes – he joins a previously deposited Lucius Fox. Fox informs him that Clayface has over-ridden the fail safe protocols and that there is no other way out. All the weapons are gutted before being disposed of, but there hidden beneath a mound of bits and pieces of discarded Wayne-Tech is a concept suit which he Bruce dons to rescue them both. In a nod to Batman Beyond, Lucius explains to Bruce that it will be twenty years before this suit will become cost effective. Bruce leaves in pursuit of Clayface.

In the guise of Bruce Wayne, Clayface is leading the Gotham Police on a high speed motorcycle chase. Batman, now wearing a sort of electrified armor, catches up to him and informs him that his blackmail scheme is over. He then attempts to use hydrogen fluoride to thwart the shape-shifting monster – to no avail. Clayface taunts Batman by morphing his fingers into grotesque puppet-like versions of The Joker, Penguin and Riddler. Batman tries solvent, coolant – anything that would have worked on the old Clayface. Nothing works so then he resorts to electricity – he charges the suit and releases every ounce of power he can generate into Clayface.

This does nothing more than tingle the hulking villain. He grabs Batman by the head, crushes the face mask of his helmet and makes contact with his skin just as Commissioner shows up with a squad of police officers. They hold their guns on Clayface and he transforms again into Bruce Wayne. Clayface now believes he has uncovered Batman’s secret identity for all to see. Since making contact with Batman’s skin should have allowed him to become whoever he is under the mask. However in the confusion, Clayface is trapped in a panic chamber that has been programed to respond to the only person Batman can be sure that Clayface cannot duplicate the DNA of – Basil Karlo. It seems that in becoming everyone he touched, Basil Karlo had lost his own genetic code thus, making himself a cipher, a perfect clay man. Batman explains that he was wearing a fiber mask of Bruce Wayne’s DNA, which is the reason he became Wayne after touching him, once again preserving his secret identity. This angers Clayface so much so that he takes on the likeness of Damien Wayne and rages against the rich like Bruce Wayne and their disregard for everything including his own son. Batman is still raw from his loss and flies into a blind rage, kicking the panic chamber containing Karlo who is still maintaining the image of Damien.

Batman is recounting the capture of Clayface to Alfred back at the Batcave. Alfred has just finished wrapping Batman’s most recent bruises, when he joins him for an evening of reminiscing about his lost son. In an extremely poignant and tender moment we see a single tear stream down Bruce’s cheek as he watches the view screen inside his visor.

This was an extremely well written arc. Scott Snyder kept the possibility of Batman’s identity being exposed just out of reach for the entire story. The suspense just added to the excitement of an already pulse-pounding plot. Snyder re-invents Clayface as a more powerful, far more formidable foe. This was a nice send off before Year Zero starts next issue, which will tie things up for the next eleven months. I could read Scott Snyder’s dialogue forever – it is so good that I find myself quoting it as one might do from a favorite film.

Let’s move from some of the best writing in comics to talk about some of the best artwork in comics today.

Greg Capullo is unbelievable at drawing horrific monsters – just look at his work on Spawn and Haunt. The amount of detail he puts into his creatures is what makes the difference. His Clayface is not just a blob but a layered mass of crust and teeth and muddy goo, something truly disgusting and awful to behold let alone to be swallowed by. I can only call to mind the words of Han Solo when he commented about a freshly opened taun-taun, “And I thought they smelled bad on the outside”. Just imagine what Bruce Wayne endured while inside Clayface. I’m sure it was an assault on all senses, and Greg Capullo brings that so sharply into focus that you can almost smell the dank musty mud. His artwork is second to none and his work on Batman is some of his best.

The back-up story written by James Tynion IV, with art by the great Alex Maleev, is also brought to completion here. It’s not an Earth shattering epic but just a nice Batman/ Superman team-up story. The two heroes battle a supernatural entity called Will O’ The Wisp. The end of the story shows us a moment of deep friendship and the effects of Batman’s loss on that friendship. Ultimately that’s really what this story is, a glimpse of a deep friendship.

Batman #20 is an all-around top-notch comic book with fabulous writing and fantastic art. If you are not currently a regular reader of Batman you might want to take the upcoming Year Zero event to jump on. You will be happy you did, trust me.

So until next week, see you at the comic book store.

Review: Aquaman #19 – Johns, Pelletier and Reis

aquaman19Some Atlantean weaponry has fallen into the hands of The Scavenger, who is operating out of a pilfered Russian nuclear submarine, and Arthur has taken it upon himself to retrieve it. He seeks the assistance of Topo, a giant octopus-like monster with intelligence equal to that of a human.  Geoff Johns has mined the silver-age to bring back this one-time Aquaman side-kick.

Meanwhile on the surface at the Belle Reve Penitentiary Orm is presented with the reality of facing multiple murder charges. He is told that unless he pleads guilty to the murders that the victims’ families are going to speak on their behalf. Orm is beyond reluctant to take this legal advice – in fact he feels the Atlanteans that were killed are being swept under the rug while only the American lives lost are worth mentioning. He dismisses the lawyer with a foreboding threat as he alludes to the fact that he has plenty of non-air breathing friends.

Murk and Tula are searching old Murk City for Swatt, an Atlantean who cannot breathe under water without the aid of a special helmet. He is not home when they arrive so they let themselves in to wait for him. It is then that they notice all of the surface objects Swatt has been hoarding. Tula is fumbling with an old camera when Swatt surprises them – the flash goes off, flooding the room with bright light. He lunges at Murk and they begin to scuffle. Tula gets behind Swatt and tries to restrain him but he has other plans. He shocks her but while dealing with her Murk is able to get a hold of him and remove his helmet. Now that he cannot breathe under water, Murk forces his head into a pool and holds it under. He releases him just short of drowning and Swatt scrambles to replace his helmet. Everyone settles down long enough for Murk to tell Swatt that he and Tula need his help in freeing King Orm. He goes on to explain that it is Swatt’s knowledge of the surface world that they have need of. Before anything can be resolved, Tula and the Drift are summoned to Arthur.

Now somewhere south of the Florida Keys, a small sailboat is tossed like a cork caught in a tumultuous storm. The doomed sailors go below deck to the safety of the lower cabin, however one of them notices a lone woman perilously adrift in the threatening waters – it is Tula. The boat begins to spin completely out of control and just when she thinks all is lost a hand reaches out to grab Tula and pull her aboard. The exiled King of Atlantis has saved her but she refuses to bow before him when asked. He tells her they are being pulled down into the triangle by his design. Down and down they go, and as the tiny sailboat is crushed, Tula swims away.

Arthur leads the soldiers of The Drift in search of The Scavenger’s fleet as they now know he has more than one submarine. Tula has finally joined up with her King and is told to take The Drift further down the coast and then circle around. He takes a complement of Drift soldiers with him and stays close to the ocean floor. It is then that he notices a strange smell in the water – fuel. Just then an explosion throws Arthur and his men like dolls, scattering them along the shoreline where a broken and damaged submarine sits lifeless like a beached whale. On board the tattered vessel Arthur and his men find two of their own, one is already dead the other has undergone some type of hackneyed surgery. He lies close to death but clinging tenaciously to life on the floor of the submarine. Arthur instructs his men to help him and bring him home.

Amid the backdrop of sunken ships and the long forgotten relics of maritime plane crashes, Princess Mera swims gracefully through the skeletal remains in search of Nereus, her estranged husband. She finds him standing regally atop the broken deck of a barnacle encrusted ship, spear in hand. He asks just one pointed question, “Where the hell have you been?”

Granted this issue was predominately set-up, the story didn’t advance all that much but Geoff Johns can sometimes go for issues on end without advancing the plot, just introducing characters. That seems to be what he has done here. The one I enjoyed the most was The New 52 debut of Topo. This is a completely new look for him. More kraken than actual octopus now, Topo is truly a sea-monster, albeit one with an extreme intellect. Beyond that we had Swatt and this whole sub-plot involving Murk and Tula’s plan to break King Orm out. With all these Kings and pretenders to the throne I can’t help but think of this as Game of Thrones underwater (without the nudity). There is lots of intrigue and even some hints at a love triangle at the very end of this issue. Ultimately this is Geoff Johns doing what he does best – writing great character driven stories full of good solid dialogue and characters you can actually care about.

Paul Pelletier’s art is dynamic on its own but Rod Reis’s colors really give this book the feeling that it is taking place under water. The muted blues and greens applied over the other colors cast an ethereal other-worldly glow over everything. This works especially well on Pelletier’s incredibly detailed graveyard of sunken ships. More than backgrounds these meticulously rendered scenes frame the action without overpowering it. I found them to be some of my favorite pages. Pelletier and Reis seem to have a great chemistry and it comes through in their work.

Overall Aquaman is fast becoming a stand out in the New 52. Geoff Johns is doing here very much the same thing he did for Green Lantern, writing great stories week after week and making the character his own. I look forward to a good long run from him on this title. If you don’t already get it, give Aquaman a look – I don’t think you will be disappointed.

So until next week, see you at the comic book store.

Review: Deadpool #8 – Duggan, Posehn and Hawthorne


Deadpool, ‘The Merc with the Mouth’ could more accurately be called the Merc with the Mouths now that he is sharing the space inside his head with Agent Preston, the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who hired him to kill the reanimated presidents in the first story arc. She was killed before she could cross over to the other side, so her consciousness was trapped inside Deadpool’s head by a bumbling necromancer named Michael. Now Deadpool is on a quest for revenge and money owed to him from S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Gorman, however before he deals with that there is the matter of getting Agent Preston out of his head.

In an ill-conceived plan to visit Agent Preston’s family, Deadpool hijacks an ice cream truck, hog ties the driver and shows up at her home in the middle of the night. Armed to the teeth he climbs up a tree leading to Agent Preston’s young son Jeff’s bedroom window. He enters the child’s room, waking him to the sight of a crazed masked man in head to toe red and black spandex with twin katana blades strapped to his back. The child is understandably shaken. Deadpool silences the kid by placing a hand over his mouth and then attempts to explain where his missing and presumed dead mother is. To add to Jeff’s confusion Deadpool tells him that his mother is not only alive but that she is here inside his head. Jeff asks if he can speak to her and after a short chat she tells Deadpool that he needs to get out of there before her husband Shane wakes up. At this point a shot-gun wielding Shane enters the room and opens fire on Deadpool.

Deadpool hauls his buckshot riddled butt out the window and away to the waiting ice cream truck. He then frees the hog-tied driver and speeds from the scene. A safe distance from the house Deadpool discovers he is not alone in the truck. A demon named Vetis, who had previously made a deal with Deadpool to get Tony Stark drinking again, reveals himself and the two begin tussling. Vetis refers to the the satisfaction guaranteed clause in their contract and states most ardently that he was anything but satisfied. He then hands Deadpool a scroll upon which is written five names, one of them is the name Michael, the necromancer and quasi-friend of Deadpool. Vetis then tells him that if he kills the other four Michael will get a reprieve.

Now in The East Village of New York City, in a dingy dive of a diner, Deadpool, Michael and the re-animated Ben Franklin occupy a corner booth. Ben Franklin tells Deadpool that the names on the list are of men who have signed their souls over to Vetis in exchange for various abilities beyond those of mortal men. When asked why he did this Michael explains that he was about to wash out of the experimental S.H.I.E.L.D. program for magic users when Vetis found him and offered him the power he needed. Agent Preston joins the conversation and it is discovered that Ben Franklin is acquainted with the very first Sorcerer Supreme called The Ancient One and he knows the location of his hidden writings. They decide that the answers they need to defeat Vetis may be in these writings. They also decide that they need a dead body to send Agent Preston into and since her body is no more they will have to come up with one. Deadpool is of the opinion that one of the names on the list will work just fine.

The first name on the list is located in Ridgewood, New Jersey. Corrado Coloruno is one of New Jersey’s most wanted, responsible for bank robberies and murders up and down the state. He traded his soul for invulnerability. Deadpool spots him leaving the scene of a robbery with a gym bag full of cash in his hand. The getaway car is waiting but unfortunately for him so is Deadpool. He runs a sword through the roof of the car clean through the drivers head killing him instantly. Coloruno then flees on foot which doesn’t work out any better for him. Deadpool lassos him around the neck with a chain. He then speeds off in the getaway car dragging Coloruno behind. His ill-gotten invulnerability is now working against him as Deadpool drags, chokes and shoots Coloruno all the way to a metal recycling plant. He tells Deadpool that as long as his body drew breath he could not be hurt. To remedy this Deadpool coats Coloruno’s head in molten metal sealing his mouth and nose thus effectively shutting off his airways. Once the body is good and dead he offers it to Agent Preston. She promptly turns it down and requests that Deadpool give her some time to think about their next step.

Deadpool is approached by a young woman who asks him if he would walk her home. She tells him that some weirdoes are following her. While she engages him in conversation her accomplices open fire on Deadpool. His attention now thoroughly occupied, another thug approaches him from the rear and tazes him unconscious. Now the entire group sets up a makeshift operating room and begins an impromptu surgery. They are after his liver and a kidney. They get the kidney and two pints of blood but their time runs out before they can get the liver sample. It is not clear who they are or for whom they work but it is implied that they do in fact work for someone as they leave Deadpool lying lifeless on the side of the road.

Deadpool has been one of my favorite characters since the first ongoing series, however when he first showed up in the Marvel universe I paid little attention to him. This is because he was created by Rob Liefeld and I tried to avoid anything even remotely related to Rob Liefeld. This is a rule I still live by to this day. Having said this, I did read The Deadpool Corps book that Liefeld did a few years back. It was awful. But it is not my intention to trash Rob Liefeld here –  I mention him merely to show how this character can be misused. When in the hands of a capable writer who understands the comedic aspects of Deadpool, he is so much fun – but when the opposite is true Deadpool is just another gun crazy mutating sword swinging jackass in tights. In other words, he is every character churned out by Image in the early 90s.

Fast forward to the 2000s and thanks to writers like Daniel Way, Andy Diggle, Victor Gischler and Fred Van Lente, Deadpool is thriving and entertaining. Now enter crazy man Brian Posehn, known more for his roles in such films as Rob Zombie’s Devil’s Rejects and the voice of Murray the robot in The Haunted World of El Superbeasto but is now along with Gerry Duggan the writer of Deadpool. And they are doing an awesome job. The humor is there, the action we have come to expect is there and so is the trademark snappy dialogue. This is a consistently well written book. I know we are only 8 issues into the run but every one has been a gem. I hope Posehn and company stay on this title for a good long time.

Mike Hawthorne was the artist on this issue. He did a four-issue mini-series called Three Days in Europe for Oni Press in 2002. His art is clean and intelligible. Hawthorne is a good visual storyteller able to convey a wide spectrum of emotion through his characters’ body language and facial expression. His page layouts are clear and understandable adding to his ability to keep the pacing of the story kinetic and entertaining. I’m looking forward to seeing more work from him.

Overall Deadpool is back on track in the hands of a very capable creative team. I hope to see the level of quality kept high and not seeing Deadpool dropped into any book that needs a boost in sales. This title is not for everyone, but for those of us who love irreverence and biting satire, Deadpool is definitely worth a look.

So until next week, see you at the comic book store.

Review: Nova #3 – Loeb and McGuiness

nova3Sam Alexander’s first flight after putting on the Nova helmet lands him on the moon, but not alone. He looks up from the moon’s surface, and towering over him is a giant bald man dressed in a Romanesque toga. He is known as The Watcher. He stands silent as stone refusing to respond to Sam’s rapid fire succession of questions. Instead he only raises a hand to point ominously out into space. Sam’s gaze follows The Watcher’s indicating finger to see a vast fleet of alien spaceships. This does little to clear things up for him – quite to the contrary Sam fires off another salvo of questions. These too go unanswered by The Watcher. Realising that further inquiries would be futile, Sam bids farewell to The Watcher and rockets toward Earth. Re-entry proves tricky as the immense build-up of heat turns Sam into a veritable fireball. However he is unharmed by the incredibly high temperature much to his surprise and delight. He touches down safely in his own backyard.

Sam makes his way into the kitchen where he finds his mother waiting up for him. She has a thousand questions of her own for him but Sam understands very few of them as she is speaking Spanish. However he understands enough to ascertain that she is mad. He calms her enough to sit down and have a conversation about his father. She tells him that his dad used to disappear like this from time to time but that after Sam was born he tried very hard to be a good father. Although he appreciates his mother’s willingness to talk about his father, Sam senses that she is not being entirely forthcoming. To her credit as a mother she likewise senses that Sam may be keeping something from her. She leaves her son alone with his thoughts.

Sam places his father’s helmet upon a shelf, where he begins to speak to it as though he were able to question his father through it. But it is the green skinned Guardian of the Galaxy Gamora who answers. She and fellow Guardian, Rocket Raccoon appear in Sam’s house. They have come to explain exactly who Sam’s father was and the importance of the helmet and what it means to his future. It is immediately apparent that Rocket Raccoon, who holds Sam’s father in the highest esteem, has feelings of an entirely opposite nature for Sam himself. Gamora is somewhat less critical of young Sam Alexander but still tells him that his behavior is an insult to Richard Rider also from Earth. He and the rest of the members of Nova Corps made the ultimate sacrifice for the cause. She and Rocket Raccoon tell him to suit up for training.

His performance in the training session is less than spectacular. Sam is not especially pleased about being fired upon by Rocket Raccoon, who is even less pleased to lose his favorite laser pistol when Sam blasts it to pieces. Gamora enters the training at this time, swinging her broad sword at Sam’s head – from this point on it’s Sam being relentlessly pummeled by the two superior combatants. Beaten and defeated, Sam surrenders at the point of Gamora’s blade. She informs him that actual enemies will not be as forgiving as she. The two Guardians begin an impromptu lesson on the various warring alien species, focusing on the Chitauri who have gained control of a weapon called The Ultimate Nullifier. They plan to use the weapon on Earth as its test case. This prompts Sam to recount his encounter on the moon with The Watcher and the glimpse of the Chitauri armada he was shown. Rocket Raccoon surmises that it was the Nova helmet that allowed Sam to see the alien warships. The helmet logged the coordinates which would allow Sam to return, mark their position in the quadrant and allow them to make arrangements for reinforcements. However in order to do this Sam will have to “Space Jump” to get there. This involves reaching a certain velocity to complete the jump. Sam is more than willing to do this, so he leaves Earth and begins building up speed until the proper velocity is reached. The “Space Jump” is successfully executed. He finds himself right in the line of fire of the Chitauri armada, who waste no time blasting him.

Sam Alexander is not a reluctant hero. He has the courage to save the world but lacks the training and discipline. Not unlike Luke Skywalker, Sam’s father casts a long shadow over his life. One must learn the ways of the Force, the other the ways of the Nova Corps. The fate of many hangs in the balance for both of these young men. Jeph Loeb’s Sam Alexander is very human, his father is very human complete with frailties and flaws, but it is in overcoming these frailties that Sam becomes heroic. The more Loeb reveals about Sam’s father the more we see those heroic attributes come to light in Sam. Jeph Loeb is taking us on a journey of discovery – we are learning about Sam Alexander and the Nova Corps as the character learns. We make these discoveries page by page with Sam. Incredibly well paced, the story unfolds quickly and moves of its own volition but still leaves us wanting more. I read this issue three times – admittedly one of them was to more fully appreciate the excellent artwork.

Expertly rendered by Ed McGuinness this book is gorgeous to look at. The pages of Sam’s encounter with The Watcher are amazing. Without a single word McGuinness gives The Watcher a complete and undeniable personality. His facial expressions speak volumes. The training session is so cinematic that you can almost hear the 80’s rock as the montage plays out. His Gamora and Rocket Raccoon are superbly rendered. This book is beautifully executed from start to finish. It is exciting, fast-paced, action packed and visually stunning – everything a good comic book should be. We are only three issues into this series, so if you have been on the fence about this one, I suggest you make room on your pull list for Nova.

So until next week, see you at the comic book store.

Review: Star Wars #4 – Wood and D’Anda

Review: Star Wars #4I can almost hear that instantly recognizable John Williams score as the Millennium Falcon zooms across the star field. I am not in a darkened Cineplex, I am sitting at my desk reading Dark Horse Comics’ Star Wars #4 by Brian Wood and Carlos D’Anda. This team has so accurately and astutely captured the feel of the original films that it is Harrison Ford’s voice in my head as I read Han’s lines.

The issue begins with Han and Chewie being pursued by a squadron of T.I.E. fighters. As usual, the Corellian and his Wookiee co-pilot find themselves on the losing end of an Imperial proposition – until a very unorthodox solution presents itself. Chewbacca opens the Millennium Falcon’s hatch and uses his signature crossbow blaster to make short work of the menacing T.I.E. fighters. With the pursuing Imperials vanquished, the Millennium Falcon drifts into hiding more than a thousand levels below Coruscant’s surface.

Meanwhile, the Rebel Fleet under the command of Admiral Ackbar and Mon Mothma have (unbeknownst to Admiral Ackbar) deployed Gray Flight, a secret squadron of X-Wing fighters which includes Princess Leia, Wedge Antilles and a grounded Luke Skywalker. The squadron is so secret that Mon Mothma instructs Admiral Ackbar to not only scrub any mention of Gray Flight from the bridge logs but from his mind as well. The secret unit’s main objective is to scout locations and gather Intel on the Pybus System as part of searching for the Rebellion’s new home – a place they can regroup and grow strong again after their defeat of the first Death Star. Princess Leia has a second agenda of her own however – it is her hope that by having C-3PO slice misinformation into Rebel data cores that she can manipulate a spy entrenched deep within the Rebellion’s ranks into revealing him or herself. A short time into the mission an Imperial Star Destroyer and an Interdictor Cruiser show up and begin bombarding the surface of Pybus. As if this isn’t bad enough, two squadrons of T.I.E. Interceptors are deployed from the bottom of the huge Imperial Destroyer.

On the Rebel command ship, Luke hears the voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi warning him of impending danger for Leia. Against orders and probably his own better judgment, Luke suits up to join the fray in the Pybus System. As he retrieves a data-pad from a scolding C-3PO, we see an ominous sight. Slave One, the battered ship of infamous galactic bounty hunter Boba Fett creeps between the ships of the unknowing Rebel fleet like a stalking wolf amongst sheep.

In yet another part of the galaxy, Darth Vader meets with his Imperial admirals and commanders to discuss their apparent lack of progress in completing the second Death Star. Vader is displeased to say the least when he finds that the admiral would rather report directly to the Emperor in person than to him. In his classic fashion the Dark Lord of the Sith voices his opposition to this request by igniting his light saber through the admiral’s back. The glowing red beam exits his chest leaving the admiral quite dead.

When asked if anyone would care to back the admiral up we meet Birra Seah, a strange system designer. She explains to Vader that his reports no matter how descriptive cannot accurately communicate the details of such an undertaking as constructing a new, better and more deadly Death Star. She continues to boldly tell Vader that the work crews desire the stability that only the Emperor’s attendance could provide. It is at this point that Darth Vader senses a stirring in the force that he attributes to Birra Seah. Though somewhat taken aback by his comment she assures the Dark Lord that if she is granted temporary Moff status over the construction she will see to its completion personally. With this, Vader exits to the sanctuary of his meditation chamber to contemplate all that has transpired. He whispers one word, a name, “Skywalker.”

With their backs to the wall, the Gray Flight Squadron engage the T.I.E. interceptors above Pybus. Now armed with Proton torpedoes they prepare for what could very well be their last stand.

Brian Wood has captured the voice of Star Wars, not just the individual characters but the voice, the soul of the original films. He is writing high adventure set in an alien galaxy far, far away but near and dear to everyone who grew up with these characters. Much like the ensemble cast he created in his DV8 series for DC Comics, Wood gives each character a very distinct life of his or her own. Even though this time we have already been introduced to the characters for the most part when he does add a new member to this inter-galactic cast the way they interact with the existing characters rings true. Brian Wood is using his own thread but he is very successfully knitting into the multi-colored tapestry that is the Star Wars universe – a mosaic of space pirates and princesses, droids, wookies, Jedi and Sith Lords.

This is no doubt the assignment of a lifetime for Wood but a daunting task as well. The hyper-critical Star Wars fans can be a temperamental bunch – some of us will never be convinced that Han didn’t shoot first; we know he did and we like it that way! But I believe that if Brian Wood keeps the bar as high as he has set it with these first four issues and The Force continues to be with him, I have no doubt that this book will be a commercial and critical success.

The artwork thus far has been very aptly handled by Carlos D’Anda. His lines are very clean and sharp. His anatomy is believable and his faces are expressive – the robots, aliens and ships look exactly as they should. His backgrounds are exciting without overpowering and his page layouts flow in a very cinematic way which is perfect for this book. I hope these two stay together for a good long run, or at least until Disney says “You can’t play with our new toys anymore.” If you are not getting this book because you are afraid of the complicated timeline that now exists in the Star Wars universe, fear not. This book can be easily understood and enjoyed with nothing more than a working knowledge of the original three films. If you are a fan of those wonderful movies this is the book you should be reading. It captures the magic of the films without beating you over the head with jargon heavy convoluted stories and unresolved plot threads that leave you hanging over the pit of Sarlacc.

This is just good solid writing and dynamic top-notch artwork. You can’t ask for more than that.

Review: Superior Spider-Man #7 – Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos

superior-spidey7Dr. Elias Wirtham is a humanitarian about to re-open a free clinic to treat the city’s less fortunate.  The re-christened H.E.A.R.T. Clinic (Hospital for Emergency Aid and Recuperative Therapy) is located in the building that formerly served as a front for Mister Negative’s criminal empire.  The crime lord used the facility’s good works to hide his evil endeavors. Now Dr. Wirtham will treat New York’s poor ill and infirm while as Cardiac he will use the clinic’s remaining hidden passages to conduct medical procedures that have not been approved by the F.D.A. – procedures he deems medical miracles.

He and a team of like-minded doctors work tirelessly healing the forgotten of society with experimental technology. When a little girl with severe brain damage requires a device that can only be procured by stealing it from Yardale Storage, the police impound for items seized at superhuman crime scenes, Cardiac crosses paths with The Superior Spider-Man.

Peter is on the verge of a breakthrough in regaining control over his body from Doc Ock. Before being awakened by the patrol app on his phone Peter attempts to move his hand while his body under Doc Ock’s control slumbers. His attempt at scribbling a note is less than successful and he knocks his notebook into the trash can as Doc Ock wakes to go on patrol. Upon reaching Yardale Storage (also known as the Boneyard), Spider-Man orders the responding police officers to maintain a perimeter and leave the super-powered criminal inside for him to deal with, effectively relegating them to security guard duty. Once inside Spider-Man makes quick work of subduing Cardiac. He is about to pummel the apprehended culprit mercilessly when he hears a voice shout “Stop right there!” The voice belongs to Peter Parker.

Taken aback by the outburst in his head, Spider-Man allows Cardiac to regain his footing. Single-minded the doctor redoubles his efforts to obtain the device that has brought him to this place. There amidst the wreckage of crushed and battered evidence containers Cardiac finds exactly what he is looking for. But there is no way Spider-Man is going to allow him to leave with it, especially when he finds out that the object in question is one of his own technological breakthroughs, a neurolitic scanner, the device that allowed Doc Ock to communicate with his mechanical arms. He attacks Cardiac with renewed vigor and intensity, pinning him to the floor. All set to demolish Cardiac’s face, he is again put off by the disembodied voice of Peter Parker causing his punch to land just beside Cardiac’s head, crushing the concrete floor instead of the doctor’s face. This diversion allows Cardiac to escape but not before Spider-Man is able to attach a spider-tracer to the fleeing doctor’s ankle.

In the aftermath of the battle Spider-Man is collecting his thoughts when he receives a priority one alert from The Avengers. It seems they have noticed his disconcerting and uncharacteristically violent behavior of late. In light of this, Captain America calls for a full battery of tests to prove the identity of this Spider-Man. However this isn’t met with approval, not by a long shot. Spider-Man throws Cap across the room and challenges the entire team to a fight. This is exactly what Peter Parker has been hoping for. Finally Doc Ock’s sinister deed will be uncovered and the process of regaining control over his body can begin.

I have to admit that way back in the beginning when the idea of the “body swap” was announced, I was somewhat less than enthused. Although I am a life-long Spider-Man fan and have thoroughly enjoyed Dan Slott’s work thus far, this was sounding like the time to abandon ship. But I stayed through the entire clone saga so I had to at least try to get through this. As it turned out my misgivings and doubts were completely unfounded. This has been one of the most fun and exciting chapters in the Spider-Man universe in quite some time. I love it. Week after week I look forward to Superior as well as Avenging Spider-Man.

Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos are creating a perfect comic book, not just once but issue after issue. The writing has been flawless. The character of Superior Spider-Man is not merely Doc Ock nor is he just Peter Parker. He is conflicted in a way no other Marvel hero is or could be. He is truly his own worst enemy. Dan Slott has created a perfect anti-hero. Superior Spider-Man does what Amazing Spider-Man refuses to do. He kills, but not indiscriminately. He weighed his options, then he acted but in so doing he opened the floodgates. Now when faced with an opponent who does not deserve such harsh treatment, that thin blurred line is not enough to stay Superior Spider-Man’s hand. He is about to brutally beat a man who albeit by illegal means wants nothing more than to help sick people. These moral dilemmas are skewed when filtered through the mind of Doc Ock and governed over by Peter Parker. Decisions are reached by committee. Dan Slott does a great job of portraying that inner conflict and the helplessness felt by Peter Parker when watching Doc Ock destroy his reputation – but much more than that as Parker watches himself betray that great responsibility that comes with his great power.

This is a great time to be reading Spider-Man, not only for the fantastic writing but also for the amazing art of Humberto Ramos. His work is so dynamic and recognizable. His style is so kinetic and alive that it adds a fluidity and movement to his pages. He has also given Superior Spider-Man a look very much of his own. Subtle in some ways but no less unique are the changes to his eyes, hands and feet which make this a new character, not just a new costume.

The Superior Spider-Man is an original in every way. I love this book and number seven is a good spot for new readers to jump on. It begins a new story arc and promises to be a turning point in the evolution of the story and the character of The Superior Spider-Man.

So until next week see ya at the comic book store. You can follow me here and @bagandbored1 as well as on Twitter @shawnwarner629.


Review: Age of Ultron #3 – Bendis & Hitch

Review: Age of Ultron So here we are three issues into the Marvel event, Age of Ultron and this is the story so far:

After being rescued by Hawkeye, he and a battered and unmasked Spiderman join the group of surviving heroes in the burned out remains of a helicarrier in Central Park. A pervasive sense of gloom permeates the meeting as individual members convey their grief over the loss of those closest to them. Emotions run high and tempers flare. When Tony Stark opines that the Ultron problem is not Hank Pym’s fault Hawkeye becomes irate. Captain America intervenes and points out that it is time to formulate a plan. He suggests that since Ultron is bartering for heroes that they offer one of their own. Once inside Ultron’s world this Trojan horse of sorts would wreak havoc from within. There is no shortage of volunteers but we see at the beginning of the book that the mission is given to She-Hulk and Luke Cage. After slugging her and knocking her out Cage approaches the Ultron stronghold with an unconscious She-Hulk over his shoulder.

At this point we see a devastated Chicago skyline where atop a badly damaged building we find the unlikely trio of The Red Hulk, Black Panther and Task Master. They are monitoring the activities of Ultron. It seems they are out to retrieve an Ultron head and spinal column. The Red Hulk successfully acquires this, tearing it from the robot’s body and tossing it to Black Panther. He continues to throttle the robots, pulling them apart limb from limb. Black Panther and Task Master flee with the head, however an explosion sends them flying. Black Panther appears to break his neck. When Task Master finds him unresponsive he takes the Ultron head and continues on his way.

Back in New York, Luke Cage is permitted entrance into the Ultron stronghold. He is led deeper into the structure through corridors lined with golden red-eyed sentries, into the inner sanctum where he is confronted not by Ultron as expected but instead by the floating upper body of Vision. Bendis uses this entire issue to set up the last page. Short on action, this is a dialogue heavy issue but that’s not a bad thing.

The interaction of the characters as they devise the plan to infiltrate Ultron is quite enjoyable. The verbal sparring between Tony and Clint, the father like guidance and wisdom of a world-weary Steve Rogers as he proceeds to dissuade an all too willing Wolverine from jumping into certain doom – through all of this we see the human side of these heroes. The personalities and qualities that have endeared these characters to us come shining through. They are the definition of grace under fire. Bendis is concise but not overly simple, instead he lets each character’s words build upon the others, driving the plot forward through conversation. Even though there is a minimum of fisticuffs in this issue it is extremely fast paced. Bendis doesn’t bog us down with flowery prose and inane rambling – each word is essential, thus the dialogue rings incredibly true. You feel like you are listening to people speak more than reading scripted lines.

The pace is so fast that the book feels much shorter than it actually is. Bendis accelerates toward a shocking reveal and one heck of a cliff hanger.
Bryan Hitch is a master at drawing devastation. His attention to detail is obsessive. It is evident in each twisted girder and exposed beam. The same detail is employed to convey an expansive spectrum of emotions in the facial expressions of the characters. For example the confusion turning to rage on Clint’s face as he argues with Tony comes across very clearly in Hitch’s lines. His lines are sharp and clean but not sterile. There is an urgency to his work that vibrates off the page.

Paul Neary’s inks and Paul Mounts’ colors are equally impressive. Neary is a consummate professional and his work is always meticulous. Paul Mounts’ colors give this book a cinematic look. There are pages that literally glow, appearing almost illuminated in contrast to the darker moodier scenes inside the burned out blackened husk of the S.H.I.E.L.D helicarrier.

Visually, Age of Ultron is vibrant and exciting. The story is engrossing, complex and multi-faceted. It’s solid work from both Bendis and Hitch but by no means is it their best. It poses some very interesting questions pertaining to continuity as well as certain characters, especially Superior Spiderman. The return of Vision is in and of itself enough to get me to pick up the rest of the series.

So until next week, see you at the comic book store.