2013 Comics Highlights

capt-marvelIt’s the time of the year where we look back on the previous 12 months and the highlights and lowlights. Kimberley Griffiths and I dragged ourselves off our respective summer couches to throw some bouquets and brickbats:

Kimberley’s take

1. /Hawkeye v4/

This series has gone from strength to strength, and bringing in whole issues for Kate Bishop was a genius idea on the creative team’s part. Some have disliked the amount of introspection in Fraction’s book, but for me, it’s a welcome relief from the constant chaotic events that tend to take over the Marvel universe. It just edges out my number two thanks to none of its issues being annoying event tie-ins. Favourite issue? #11 (Pizza Dog), thanks to the innovative storytelling and David Aja’s fabulous art. (Marvel)

2. /Captain Marvel v7/

The first volume of Kelly Sue’s book is now over, but this has been a huge standout for me. When it first started, I was mostly just excited to see Carol in pants, but it had me hooked within two issues. Wonderfully written, only a few missteps with the art and the Infinity tie-in, and great character development. I can’t wait for volume 2.

Favourite issue? #17, which ended on a poignant, whimsical note.  (Marvel)

3. /Pretty Deadly/

Another Kelly Sue Deconnick title, this one is brand new but already shows promise to be a stand out for 2014. I feel like we’ve been waiting for it forever, but the anticipation didn’t dull any of my enjoyment – gorgeous art from Emma Rios, a witty, clever script from DeConnick, and Jordie Bellaire’s subtle touch on colours. It’s a fairytale western mystery, and if that combination doesn’t hook you, the art certainly might.

Favourite issue? #1 if only because there’s only three so far. (Image)

And the worst: Rick Remender’s /Captain America/ /v7/. I made it five issues in before I decided it wasn’t worth it, not even for Steve (Marvel). The Bounce, for being a self indulgent, trying too hard to be cool, disaster of a book (Image).

David’s take

1. /Daredevil: End of Days/

This mini-series was not only the highlight of 2013 for me but probably the highlight of the last five years in comics I’ve read. Art to die for, a brilliantly penned story with equal amounts of Daredevil history and new events – this series has got some serious praise and it’s all deserved. (Marvel)

2. /Judge Dredd/

I’m quite the Judge Dredd fan and I really like what IDW are doing with him. The stories are new, the art is more than respectable and the franchise is getting the respect it deserves. My only criticism would be that IDW oversaturated a little with the Judge Dredd: Year One and Judge Dredd Classics, although Mars Attacks versus Judge Dredd has been brilliant. (IDW)

ToddUgliest3. /Todd: The Ugliest Kid On Earth/

I’ve raved repeatedly on this title, and I’ll continue to do so. It’s wall to wall quality from an art, story and humour viewpoint. Each cover is pretty well worth the price of admission alone. (Image)

The lowlight for me was: Hoax Hunters even though I liked it a lot initially – it just lost me by issue six or seven and I just gave up.

For 2014 I’ve added Pretty Deadly to my pull list and would love any suggestions for others. Happy New Year from us all here at The Comics Herald!

Captain Marvel #16 – Deconnick/Van Meter/Oliffe

3316870-16I’m not entirely sure where to start with Captain Marvel #16, and there’s two major contributors to the apathy I feel over it. The first is the art, and the second is Infinity.

Overall, this issue is completely forgettable. While the dialogue is good, I’m finding myself left almost entirely cold by Infinity as an event. I’m bored with the repetitive nature of the narrative, and I’m sad that Deconnick’s wonderful title has been sucked into it.

This month, Deconnick has Jen Van Meter on board as a co-writer, and it shows. While previously, Captain Marvel has proven to be a fresh, clever, and easy to follow title, #16 feels far more ‘Hickmannish’ (a term I’ve coined to describe anything that gets sucked into Jonathan Hickman’s endless, talking in circles, deliberately obtuse style on his current Avengers and New Avengers runs). While Hickman is the main writer for the event, I fail to see why his narrative style must creep into a title that has otherwise featured a completely different tone.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy certain parts of the story – although they were mostly the dialogue sections – but I sincerely hope my favourite title isn’t drawn into any major events any time soon. There is some good exposition about Carol’s Binary powers, that is a simple introduction for newer readers, but not overly repetitive for those who have been reading Carol’s story for a while. Deconnick and Van Meter cram in a lot of characters, as is usual for a CM book, but this time around it doesn’t feel as seamless as usual. I felt like there were a lot of Avengers here, whereas normally that isn’t the case.

Back to the first major problem I have with this issue – the art. There really is no way to put it other than it’s really unpleasant.

Bodies are bizarrely proportioned, there’s little to no expression or movement, and some of the facial expressions are downright bizarre. The colouring is too bright and garish, the page layouts are uninspired, and at times quite irritating.

This book does little to advance the Infinity storyline (or what there is of one – I’m still waiting for Hickman to get to the point), and really only serves as an introduction to Carol’s Binary powers.

The bottom line? Don’t skip it, because CM is a wonderful title that needs to continue, but don’t judge this series on a decidedly mediocre issue.

Review: Avengers Assemble #17 and Captain Marvel #14

avengers-assemble-17And so we reach the conclusion of The Enemy Within, the Avengers Assemble and Captain Marvel crossover event that’s really put Carol Danvers through the ringer.

Avengers Assemble #17, the penultimate issue of this event, is a beautiful looking book. The art, colours, and page design are all truly stunning, but in particular Buffagni’s art is exceptional here. The faces are all expressive, poses are filled with movement and action, and body types are more realistically represented than in many comics, which for me, is something I really look for in a book.

As usual, Kelly Sue handles the large cast of characters excellently, without it ever feeling like the focus has been taken off Carol. Along with Spider-Woman, Wolverine, The Hulk, Black Widow, Cap, Wasp, Hawkeye, and Abigail Brand, DeConnick somehow manages to squeeze Sersi in there as well. I honestly don’t know how she does it, the issue never feels cluttered or rushed, and I’m in complete awe of Kelly Sue’s writing abilities.

The biggest strength in this book however, is the emotional response it generates in the reader. You really get a sense of hopelessness, so that while you know the Avengers will prevail, things aren’t going to turn out well for Carol.  There’s always been a certain amount of dramatic irony in this storyline, but it comes to a head at the end, where anyone who’s been reading closely, or actually taken notice of the title of the event, finally gets that ‘AHA! I knew it!’ moment.  Right after the big plot twist reveal, we’re confronted with an entire page of Carol lying prone and bleeding on the ground, eyes blank and unseeing, and it’s then you realise there might not be a happy ending here.

Despite her rather dire circumstances, she gets up. The determination and strength shown in this issue is actually quite inspiring. That sense of hopelessness is still there, but there’s an underlying feeling of dogged persistence, that’s cemented by Carol’s final words in the in the book – “I will make it if I have to crawl.”

Captain-Marvel_14Moving on to Captain Marvel #14, featuring Scott Hepburn and Gerardo Sandoval as artists. Hepburn’s pencils are more consistent here than in #13, and it makes for a much more enjoyable issue than his previous one. The difference between the two artists isn’t as obvious as I though it may have been, but I certainly still have issues with Sandoval’s way of drawing body shapes – his version of Abigail Brand is particularly displeasing.

Like AA #17, Captain Marvel #14 is action packed. There’s plenty of great action sequences, but also a more human element with Carol’s friends hiding in the basement as Yon-Rogg attempts to crush New York with New Kree-Lar, and some personal interaction between Yon-Rogg and Carol in the central part of the issue.

Carol is broken. She’s weak, damaged, and at the mercy of her enemy, yet this issue has one of the best lines I’ve ever seen in a comic. As Carol stands over Yon-Rogg after summoning one last energy blast to knock him to the ground, we see her anger, strength, and a certain amount of resignation (and kudos to Hepburn for this panel, it’s excellent). What’s the line? Well you’ll have to read the book to find out!

The final issue in this event isn’t anything less than brilliant in it’s hearbreak. DeConnick has crafted an incredible conclusion to an immensely satisfying mini-event, and I can’t wait to see which direction she takes Carol’s character in future Captain Marvel issues.

Well done, Kelly Sue. The tears were worth it.


Review: Captain Marvel 1-12 – DeConnick / Soy / Rios / Andrade / Barrionuevo

Captain_Marvel_11In a Marvel catalogue filled with multiple Avengers, Spider-Man, and X-Men titles, it’s easy for Captain Marvel to get lost in the melee.  As one of only three female hero focus books at the moment (the other two being Red She-Hulk and Fearless Defenders), writer Kelly Sue DeConnick (Avengers Assemble, Ghost) must be feeling the pressure for this book to be successful.

Happily, not only is the writing consistently excellent, but the combination of DeConnick and Dexter Soy on pencils for the start of the run tells us that this title is going to be something very special indeed.

I have always been impressed with Kelly Sue’s skills with dialogue, and as usual, the words jump from the page.  From the very first panel in the very first issue, we’re reminded that Carol is a tough, smart woman, who’s happy to point out that she’s better than you.  The snappy conversation with Cap as they’re fighting The Absorbing Man is witty, fond, and has some great moments where Carol asserts herself.  I’ll also admit, I’m kind of glad to see her wearing pants, and the trend with redesigning female heroes to have more practical costumes is something I can really get on board with.

Despite the action packed start, there’s a shift to a more character focus mid way through, and while it could have been a mess with flashbacks, multiple locations, and some pretty serious angst, it reads incredibly easily.  There’s also some foreshadowing that is so incredibly subtle that I’m not even sure if it’s intentional, but if it is then full credit to DeConnick.  Brilliant work.

After the soul searching in issue #1, you would expect the series to continue down a similar path of a character focus with the odd bit of action thrown in.  Think again.  The next five issues are a full blown time travel story, and while it may be a large departure from the themes introduced in #1, it doesn’t at all feel wrong or off.  Soy’s art suits the WWII era setting brilliantly, and Carol’s internal monologue reminds us that being thrown into the past isn’t exactly something she’s equipped to deal with.

The introduction of a group of all-girl commandos, known as the Banshee Squadron, is fabulous.  The interaction between the Banshees and Carol is dynamic and compelling, and while often rapport between freshly introduced and short lived supporting characters can seem forced or rushed, this is not the case here.

There is a change in artist mid way through #4 when, once Carol successfully escapes 1943 to land in 1961, Al Barrionuevo takes over briefly.  Barrionuevo’s art is pleasing, but not as edgy and filled with movement as Soy’s.  The decision to change artists to indicate the time shift is a good one though, and it adds to the feeling that Captain Marvel has been very well thought out indeed.

The remainder of the 1961 (#5 and #6) story is pencilled by Emma Rios, who brings a wonderfully quirky style to the table.  It fits the story beautifully, and while it’s not necessarily what I would normally look for in comic art, after a second look I found myself far more drawn to Rios’ work than at first glance.  These two issues are filled with great moments of strength from the characters, and it’s just so refreshing to have women heroes, and non-heroes, who are independent, witty (for lack of a better phrase) BAMFs.  Often when I come across female characters who are written by men, their strength feels like it’s ticking a box, rather than coming from any inherent character traits.  DeConnick usurps this by not only writing women from a woman’s perspective, but doing it so well.

Carol’s time travel adventure closes with issue #6, which is outstanding.  We see glimpses of Carol’s origin story, complete with original dialogue which may seem like lazy writing, but from a character and story standpoint fits perfectly.  DeConnick knows who her audience is, and she’s taking a moment to remind us who Carol is, and why she is here.  Rios’s art is beautiful, still keeping the element of whimsy that makes it so appealing.   I was also thrilled to see the appearance of Jessica Drew, in a role that really helps push home home how much Carol’s friends care for her.

#7 and #8 are a short standalone story featuring Carol and Monica Rambeau (former Captain Marvel, Photon, Pulsar) beating the bejeesus out of a giant robot made from the scraps of planes lost in the Bermuda Triangle.  It’s silly, fun, and a brief respite from the intense themes of identity and legacy that make up the first six issues.  We also get Frank Gianelli, the sometimes irritating photojournalist who used to work for Carol at Woman magazine, along with that still ridiculous crush he has on her.  Soy is back, Christopher Sebela joins DeConnick as writer, and they all work together to create two issues that are thoroughly enjoyable, and stunning to look at.

Issues 9-12 are a step in a different direction yet again.  The foundations are being laid for a longer, crossover story arc for Carol here, and while she’s still in costume most of the time, there’s a far more personal, small time tone to these four books.

While I disliked artist Filipe Andrade’s style at first, I’ve grown to really admire his expressive, idiosyncratic style.  The way he puts movement into every panel is pretty incredible, and Jordie Bellaire’s slightly washed out colours add to the feeling that Marvel is really willing to take risks with its art that are definitely paying off.

Carol’s daily life is in the spotlight during these four issues, and as usual, DeConnick’s brilliant skill with character interaction really shines through.  Carol’s interactions with her friends, fellow Avengers, and in particular, the adorable Kit, are clever, heartfelt, and never outstay their welcome.  DeConnick is by far my favourite writer of dialogue at the moment, and probably overall my favourite writer that Marvel has on their roster.

When a serious threat to her powers comes to light, we remember that Carol doesn’t always make the best decisions.  She’s stubborn, cranky, and often self destructive.  This has always been one of my favourite things about Danvers as a hero.  She is often instrumental in her own downfall, and this makes her seem so much more real.  I also love the way her ego and sense of pride contradicts her self deprecating moments.  Even when she’s making bad choices – or perhaps because she makes bad choices – she always feels unerringly human.  DeConnick’s take on this aspect of her character is truly inspired, showing us that while Danvers is tough, brash, and willing to tell everyone how great she is, she will also refer to herself as a glowstick in a circus suit without even thinking twice.

The first twelve issues of Captain Marvel are some of the best I’ve seen from any series.  The consistency of both the writing, and the quality of the art, makes it an absolute must read.  It’s a book full of friendship, heart, and really excellently written, flawed but genuine characters.  If you’re not reading Captain Marvel, you’re really missing out.

Review: The Enemy Within #1 – Kelly Sue DeConnick & Scott Hepburn

Avengers_The-Enemy-Within_1The Enemy Within is a five part crossover miniseries event that kicks off with this book, which is essentially a new issue of Captain Marvel that’s outside the normal distribution calendar.  While it’s not imperative that you read Captain Marvel before this, to fully understand what’s going on I would recommend reading issues 9-12 at the very least.

This book is, at its heart, a mystery.  While there’s action featuring The Grapplers and dinosaurs, the focus is on Carol’s search for Rose the slightly batty old lady, and the quest to uncover who is the mastermind behind all the unsettling events of the past few issues of CM.  All the while, she is dealing with the brain lesion that is supposed to be preventing her from flying.

As usual, Kelly Sue DeConnick’s work is above and beyond any other writers I’m reading at the moment (with the exception of  Matt Fraction’s current work who incidentally, happens to be her husband). She had me laughing out loud by the second page, and I really adore how she’s giving us a lot of Spider-Woman in Carol’s story.  Jess Drew is one of my favourite Marvel characters, so I’m always happy to see any Carol and Jess ‘besties’ interaction.

Jordie Bellaire’s colouring is gorgeous, and consistent with her previous work on CM.  I really adore her use of retro colours like greens, oranges, and pale blue.  It gives the comic an air of the seventies, while still feeling fresh and contemporary.  I really hope she continues to work on Captain Marvel, as she’s doing an excellent job.

Scott Hepburn’s pencil work has me in two minds.  While I really really like it at some points, there are moments where I feel like the faces in particular, are veering too far into caricature territory.  I don’t think I’ve ever read anything featuring Hepburn’s art, and while he’s done a good job here, it is a little inconsistent.  The design of every page is excellent though, and I’m really impressed with the action scenes, particularly during the pages where Thor and Carol battle a couple of dinosaurs to get to Rose.

Beneath all of this action, humour, and intrigue, there’s an undercurrent of unease.  Carol’s brain lesion is worsened by flight, and while she tries her best, there are moments where her stubbornness gets the better of her – she really, really hates Cap’s old flying motorcycle.  Just how much of Carol’s story is real, and how much is a hallucination?

All in all, The Enemy Within #1 is an excellent start to a mini event, and I can’t wait to see how it unfolds.

The story will be continued in Avengers Assemble #16Captain Marvel #13, Avengers Assemble #17, and concluding with Captain Marvel #14