Sunday, November 06, 2011

Bumper Comics Round-Up (DC Comics/Dark Horse)


In this instalment of comic reviews, I catch up on some series that I’ve not been following on a month-to-month basis, as well as a new issue in a series I thought had come to a complete close years ago. All of the titles are new to me, except for one – Star Wars: Crimson Empire III (I read the first two series, what feels like a very long time ago). The three DC New 52 titles I decided to finally try out are Aquaman, Justice League Dark, and Batman: Detective Comics (the first two were just spur-of-the-moment reads, while the first issue of the last has been frustratingly difficult to get hold of).


Aquaman #1 & 2

DCNew52-Aquaman-1Writer: Geoff Johns | Artist: Ivan Reis & Joe Pardo

#1 – Aquaman has renounced the throne of Atlantis – but the sea will not release Arthur Curry so easily.

Now, from a forgotten corner of the ocean emerges: The Trench. A broken race of creatures that should not exist, an unspeakable need driving them.

#2 – An entire town, devoured. As Aquaman and Mera discover the grisly truth behind a town’s disappearance, the Trench infestation spreads inland.

Early in the first issue of the New 52 Aquaman, the eponymous hero intervenes in a police chase. One cop asks, “What’s Aquaman doing here? We’re not in the ocean and I don’t see any fish around...” Well, that’s an excellent question – as someone completely new to the character (save the rather limited featuring of the hero in Smallville), those were my thoughts exactly...

There’s an unexpected lack of respect for Aquaman from the cops and citizens. People don’t seem to be too in awe of him, or really know much about how he works, what his gifts are, or what to make of him. It confuses the patrons of a seafood restaurant when he comes in for fish & chips, so misunderstood are his sensibilities and so forth. There is, as a result of this, a cheeky sense of humour running through the first issue – it’s a humour that is accompanied by pity for Aquaman. There’s a real outsider sadness about our protagonist, and the debut issue does a great job of locating him in the super hero pecking-order according to the people of the DC universe. One character, a blogger, is particularly tactless and insensitive (all bloggers, take note of how NOT to conduct interviews...).

DCNew52-Aquaman-2The underwater beasties, which feature on the cover of the second issue, but appear only in the final moments of the first, remind me of the frogmen in Sam Sykes’s Aeon Gate novels, although I think they’re still a little different. It’s entirely possible that I will now visualise them like this, though…

The second issue is also very strong, offering up a little more background, and develops Aquaman and Mera’s relationship and offering a little more of Aquaman’s motivation and general state of mind at the time this series begins (he’s not very enamoured of the idea of remaining a hero and helping a public who clearly doesn’t much care about him).

There is also a full-blown attack by the frogmen! The episode ends on quite a cliffhanger, too. I think I may have to add this to my monthly acquisitions…

A recommended title with quality writing and striking art.

Action Comics #3

DCNew52-ActionComics3.jpgWriter: Grant Morrison | Artist: Rags Morales

“Superman, Go Home!” In a startling tale only Grant Morrison could bring you, the people of Metropolis turn on their new champion! But why? Plus, shocking secrets from Krypton revealed!

The title page-spread (page 7, perhaps? Not sure if you count ad-spreads) is amazing – a riot of green, and huge in scale and scope. The issue takes a little while to get going, but it does become clear why we have such a long flashback, as the issue draws to a close. There’s still some mystery as to what is really going on, but we’re edging towards a more tense situation in Metropolis, with potential for a lot of action and conflict in the near future.

This version of Superman/Clark Kent is growing on me. He’s less perfect, which was the problem with Superman in the first place. Morrison has made him more interesting. The artist has also given Clark Harry Potter-specs, which was an odd but strangely nice touch.

This issue had a lot of dialogue, which I was initially a little concerned about - regular readers will know how iffy I find Morrison's dialogue. However, in this issue, I thought it was all pretty good, even funny and understated at times:

Lois: “Kent, you look like something a pig couldn’t hold down.”

Clark: “Duly charmed.”

The story includes some nice reference to modern themes and concerns about the media, corruption, bribery, as well as a public’s propensity to be fired up in opposition to “the other” or false threat.

The issue also ends on a pretty big scene. While this is an interesting take on Superman, I think it’s going to be swallowed up by extra-terrestrial storyline, in which I have little interest. This version of Superman, fighting crime and so forth in Metropolis (a la Batman I suppose), and coming to terms with his abilities and life on Earth, would be far more interesting to me (which is what the synopsis of this issue suggests – but in truth, it’s clear that the series is ramping up for something other than this).

Ultimately, this shows considerable improvement on the first couple of issues. If you like Superman, Morrison, and the less Earth-bound storylines, then this is a must for you.

I also like the extras included in the Action Comic issues – explorations of the way Superman and the related characters and plotlines have been developed for the various New 52. Very interesting additions.

Justice League Dark #1 & 2

DCNew52-JusticeLeagueDark-1Writer: Peter Milligan | Artist: Mikel Janin

#1 – The witch known as The Enchantress has gone mad, unleashing forces that not even the combined powers of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Cyborg can stop. And if those heroes can’t handle the job, who will stand against the mystical madness?

Shade the Changing Man, Madame Xanadu, Deadman, Zatanna and John Constantine may be our only hope – but how can we put our trust in beings whose very presence makes ordinary people break out in a cold sweat?

Not really sure why I decided to try this out, as I’ve had no interest in reading any of the Justice League titles (Green Arrow wasn’t very good, but Aquaman is a good new find). There was an interview with Milligan and Janin in the back of one week’s lot of DC New 52, and I thought they made this title sound interesting, quirky, and dark enough to attract my attention. I do like me some dark in my comics, apparently…

The first two issues are certainly intriguing. The story doesn’t really progress too far, as we’re still getting to know the lead characters. All of them seem to not only be dark and dangerous (to themselves as well as others), but they are also pretty broken. Each is dealing with their own issues, which adds an element of tragedy to their characters. Constantine is the only one I’m familiar with (because of the Keanu Reeves movie, which I haven’t seen in years), but all of them are interesting and engaging.

The artwork is nicely done, subdued palette overall, but with moments of vivid colour to create good contrasts. I liked this a lot more than I was expecting, so I think I’ll stick with this for at least another issue, see if the story starts kicking off into full swing (the final page of issue two is quite revelatory). It must be the occult elements, as I’ve always been drawn to occult or supernatural narratives. And, as I said a moment ago, I do like the darker side of things…

Detective Comics #1, 2 & 3

DCNew52-BatmanDetectiveComics-1Writer: Tony S. Daniel | Artist: Tony S. Daniel & Ryan Winn

A killer called The Gotham Ripper is on the loose on Batman’s home turf – leading The Dark Knight on a deadly game of cat and mouse. The Gotham Ripper, however, has also set his sights on Batman.

Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne explores a budding romance with television journalist Charlotte Rivers, who’s in Gotham City to cover the gruesome slayings – while also trying to uncover Bruce’s own mystery. But time is running out as both Commissioner Gordon and Batman work to uncover the true identity of this new serial killer.

#3 - He makes dolls out of his victims – and he’s tired of being referred to in the media as the Gotham Strangler. His moniker is the Dollmaker, and he and his insane family are going to hunt down Gotham City’s public figures and turn them into the ultimate collectables. As the Dollmaker ups the stakes, Batman finds himself in a race against time – because one of his allies is the Dollmaker’s next target!

DCNew52-BatmanDetectiveComics-2So. Another Batman title… Do we really need another? Do I really need to be reading another? (For people keeping track, I’m reading five of the eleven Batman titles, after already – maybe – dropping one.) The real reasons I decided to try Detective Comics were first that issue one was always out of stock, and second it was getting good reviews from people whose opinion I value.

As it turns out, I do appear to still have space for another Batman title. In fact, this one is superb! It’s extremely dark, and the antagonist is particularly gruesome and scary. The first issue follows Batman in a relentless pursuit of the Joker, who he is quite clearly fixated upon catching, to the extent that he doesn’t notice hints around him that someone else may well be pulling the strings.

DCNew52-BatmanDetectiveComics-3The artwork is some of the best in the new reboot, and delightfully gothic and atmospheric – as much as the artwork for I Vampire, only more cleanly rendered. The level of detail is impressive, also. The story and artwork are a lot more brutal and graphic than many of the other New 52, but not necessarily more so than the other Batman titles I’ve been following. It’s grim, it’s violent, and Bruce Wayne is certainly interesting as well. Unlike in Batman, though, he’s properly rendered and Daniel and Winn are able to draw each character so that they appear individual and unique, rather than slightly different versions of all the other men.

Each of these issues was able to stand on its own – they still form a single story, of course, but there is something about the way they are written and put together that gave me the impression that I would be satisfied reading just one issue a month. That’s not to say I wouldn’t be eager to read the next issue; it’s just that they felt more substantial.

Detective Comics is certainly among the top tier of the New 52, and if you read just one Batman title, I think it may have to be this one.

Star Wars: Crimson Empire III #1/6

SW-CrimsonEmpire3-1Writer: Mike Richardson | Artist: Paul Gulacy

Star Wars: Crimson Empire, the story of the last Imperial Guardsman, returns after over a decade of anticipation, reuniting the original creative team.

The reach of the New Republic is expanding, but the days of fighting for the galaxy have not ended. A threat against Princess Leia and Han Solo’s family disrupts usual business on Coruscant and also Luke Skywalker’s Jedi training on Yavin 4!

In another part of the galaxy, a former Imperial Guardsman turned bounty hunter, Kir Kanos, is ready to settle an old score after three years in hiding – if a new adversary doesn’t kill him first!

First, an observation about this comic’s production: it’s printed on very good quality, thick paper. One should never underestimate the impact this has on the reading experience – it feels not only more substantial, but also like it will last longer.

This title has very good artwork and colouring throughout – something that has not, in my experience, been the norm for comics set in the Star Wars universe. (Long-time readers will remember the reviews I did for the Vector and Legacy comic titles a couple years back – both of which, while having some strengths, were ultimately underwhelming.)

The issue had a good story progression – it has a gentler pace than many of the DC New 52 titles I’ve read and become familiar with, but Richardson has managed to get a good amount of story in and laid a decent amount of groundwork for the next five issues.

It’s quite a long time since I read the first Crimson Empire trade paperbacks, so it took a while to adjust to the setting and characters again. It is certainly better-written than the aforementioned other Star Wars comic titles I reviewed here a couple years back: the dialogue is solid and realistic, not childish or cliché, for starters. It’s set after the formation of the Galactic Alliance (13 years after the Battle of Yavin), and even mentions the Yuuzhan Vong, an enemy that features at the centre of the 18-novel New Jedi Order series. The Solos’ still-very young three kids also make an appearance (fans of the novels will know how far back this takes us, given the troubled and violent history that has been created for Jaina, Jacen and Anakin). Luke also turns up, and the groundwork is laid for much upcoming intrigue and action.

It’s strange that one character seemed to be inspired by the Geico gecko... A police officer, no less.

I was very impressed by this overall, actually. I’ll wait for the collected edition to read the rest (which is how I read the first two), but if the other five issues are this good and substantial, it should be well worth it – I’m going to be travelling again, so no clue if I’ll get to keep up with it issue-by-issue.

I do have one complaint about this comic, though, and it’s a long-time bugbear of mine. The author is guilty of Sci-Fi/Fantasy Naming Syndrome: “Xbrr-Zinnggog, emissary from Rhommammoo”? Really? That’s just silly…

Uncanny X-Men #544 – “The Final Issue”

Writer: Kieron Gillen | Artist: Greg Land & Jay Leisten

Battered, beaten and bruised due to the catastrophic events of Fear Itself and X-Men: Schism, the creative team of Kieron Gillen and Greg Land bring fans the final issue of Uncanny X-Men. They’ve been through it all together, and now they’re on the dawn of a new age. And when you throw Mr. Sinister into the mix – there’s no telling how this one will end.

I used to read a number of X-Men titles when I was younger, and I loved the characters and films (all of them) that have come out. This issue, however, while filled with nostalgic mentions of the past and past characters, left me a little cold. Mainly, because I didn’t really know what had happened immediately prior to this ‘ending’. It’s clear that a lot of dark stuff has recently happened to the X-Men team (they are splitting down the middle), and there appears to be no Professor X around to keep them together. They have been relocated to an island base, and Cyclops has made a lot of decisions that have had scarring consequences on others, but not so much on himself (though he has not got by totally unscathed, either). Sadly, that is the level of information I got from the issue, so I can’t offer a fuller explanation.

I can see what Gillen was working towards with this issue, and I imagine long-time readers of the series will ‘get’ it. As for me, I did think the gloomy atmosphere was portrayed rather well, and Land’s artwork and Leisten’s inking has created a great comic issue (the stuff with Sinister is particularly well composed).

I wish I knew what had happened before, but a quick search of past issues and collections... Well, I just can’t find a good starting point to catch up. Anyone have any suggestions or advice?

Now that the series will be split in two (a re-boot of sorts), should I start following from this point? I’m not sure. It certainly means buying collections in the future could be easier, as they both seem to offer new starts. But... Well, I’ll have to see. At least this way I have an excuse to try out the first issues of Wolverine & the X-Men (back at a re-opened Westchester Xavier Institute) and… well, Uncanny X-Men (it’s a bit weird to have “The Final Issue!” plastered on the front cover, only to finish it and see that it continues next month...).

We’ll see. I’ll check out the first two issues and decide after that.

*     *     *

So, a bit more of an eclectic comic round up this week, given my general lack of interest in many of the DC New 52 titles that got their latest issues this week. I almost bought the first three issues of Swamp Thing and the latest Men of War, but I decided that I didn’t want to spend money on something that, if the past issues were anything to go by, would just disappoint. I’ve also ordered Batman Noel from Amazon, so I’ll hopefully get that reviewed over the next couple of weeks or so. I’m really looking forward to it. I also stumbled across the collected edition of Batman: A Death in the Family, Red Hood: The Lost Days and Batman: Under the Red Hood, which could serve as great prequels and introduction to the New 52 title, Red Hood & The Outlaws (a late find for me, but one I rather enjoyed, and for some reason find fascinating). I’ll have to check finances and time, but I think there’s a strong chance that I’ll pick those three up at some point in the near future.

To refer back to a comment just above, about travelling and inability to keep up with this… Well, I may start getting more comics through Comixology. Sure, they’d be better on a tablet of some sort (they look wonderful on a friend’s iPad…), but reading the Mice Templar title on my laptop was perfectly fine, too, so I’ll be seriously considering doing that.

Anyway. Until next time.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading Justice League #1 & 2 the most. To be truthful I've never read comics too much but am trying to read graphic novels.

    So, that one looks interesting and I got really confused by the issues connection but like darker, paranormal occult reads so I'llbhave to add the Justice League since I do enjoy their adventures from t.v.

    Good luck on your reading of Boneshaker that read looks very interesting/steampunk-ish.