Friday, November 25, 2011

Comics Round Up (Nov.23)


Another good week for DC’s New 52, plus Diablo, and Wolverine kicks some ass…

The final week of the third month of New 52 releases. For the most part, they’ve all been pretty good or even great. They do all have a ‘middle’ feel about them, though this can be expected as we start getting into the wider plots and larger stories. This week’s titles are on the darker side of the DCU, which as long-time readers will know is where most of my favourite titles come from: All-Star Western, I Vampire and Justice League Dark; but we also have Batman: The Dark Knight (which is pretty, uh, dark as well) and also Aquaman.

As well as the New 52s, I’ve also picked up the first issue of a five-month run of Diablo, a title based on the computer game franchise and world of the same name (yet more media to get my anticipation for the game ratcheted up even further); and the second issue of Marvel’s Wolverine & The X-Men. There’s a pause in New 52 releases next week, so I’ll have to come up with another comic-related review – a catch-up on some heretofore unread titles in the reboot, most likely (I already have a few on my desk, waiting to be read and reviewed).

All-Star Western #3

DCNew52-All-StarWestern3Writer: Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti | Artist: Moritat & Jordi Bernet

The Gotham City Police Department teams up with the vigilante Jonah Hex to bring a serial killer to justice, setting a dangerous precedent – but even that won’t stop the Religion of Crime from staking its claim on these streets. Will Hex ever get away from this place that makes the Wild West seem tame – and can he survive Gotham City’s first drive-by shooting?

Plus: Will El Diablo’s rampage against a zombie horde be halted by the bloodthirsty White Arrow?

This was another good issue. Picking up right where the previous instalment left off, Jonah Hex and Doctor Arkham’s investigation in the identity of the Gotham Butcher finally pays off with a victory against the Followers of the Crime Bible – a group intent on controlling Gotham City as a haven for crime and violence. The Followers, however, do not brook outside meddling, and their retribution is swift and bloody. Strangely, and somewhat disappointingly, Hex then disappears off the larger case and goes back to pursuing the bounties that brought him to Gotham in the first place. I had hoped that the first two issues would herald the beginning of a partnership between Arkham and our psychopathic former Confederate soldier. With luck, Gray will write the two characters back together at some point. It remains an interesting diversion to see Gotham in a different period, and the art, while it may not suit everyone’s taste, I think does a great job of evoking the grimy, gritty feel of the city at that time.

I’m afraid I remain uninterested in the El Diablo story that was included in this and last issue. The excerpt of The Ray, a four-part run that will start in December featuring the eponymous hero, was far more interesting. (It appears in all of the New 52 titles released this week.)

Aquaman #3

DCNew52-Aquaman-3Writer: Geoff Johns | Artist: Ivan Reis & Joe Prado

The secret of the Trench revealed! Where did these cannibalistic sea creatures come from? What fuels their monstrous hunger? Why have they chosen now to invade the surface world? To unravel the mystery of the Trench, Aquaman must seek help from the last person on earth he ever wanted to see again.

The fight with the Trench creatures continues! From the very first page, in fact, which sees Aquaman brutalised by what must be the leader of the rampaging beasties. Things are pretty hectic to begin with, as Aquaman and Mera fight off the hunting pack. After the violence stops, they discover that the creatures are also collecting people and animals for food, rather than just eating them on the spot. We get a bit more backstory – some of which may be more resonant for long-time fans of the character (I’m afraid the academic they visit was completely new to me, and I didn’t really feel the significance of Aquaman’s request for help). Mainly, this issue acts as the set up for Aquaman’s voyage to the Trench, in the hope of finding and rescuing anyone else the beasts took home.

The art is vibrant and striking, and I really like how this issue and the title as a whole looks. Reis and Prado do an amazing job. It’s another solid issue, but one that suits more as a bridge to the next chapter – I’m not sure it would stand alone too well, so I recommend you seek out the first two issues before diving in.

(This is true for all of the New 52, actually. Given that they’re only three months into the new run, if there are any titles that strike your fancy, it shouldn’t be too expensive or difficult to catch up.)

Batman: The Dark Knight #3

DCNew52-BatmanDarkKnight3Writer: David Finch & Paul Jenkins | Artist: David Finch, Richard Friend & Jay Fabok

A wave of fear washes across Gotham City as a mysterious toxin radically alters the bodies of its criminals, sending crazed villains into the streets and stretching the resources of the police department. Can Batman and his vigilante partners follow the clues and uncover the perpetrator’s real identity? And when one fabled hero is stricken by the poison, the trail will point to the mysterious White Rabbit.

A new lead surfaces in Batman’s investigation of who or what is making Gotham’s baddest of the bad mutate and get crazier and more vicious. But first, he has to deal with the cliff-hanger from the previous issue – which is done rather nicely, although at the same time I was a little disappointed with the hoodwink (sorry, it’ll really ruin it for new readers if I go into more detail). We have a guest star (the Flash), and an altercation with an anti-Batman cop. I’m not entirely convinced we needed the Flash to turn up – he doesn’t really serve much of a purpose. The role he plays could have been done better using some other character or plot device.

The Dark Knight continues to be an interesting title, but I’m not sure we are really getting as much story per issue as we are in some of the other Batman titles (see the previous Comics Round Up). Good writing, with realistic dialogue and great art to go with it. Also, it gets points for some added racial diversity in the characters. The White Rabbit is an intriguing, if as-yet-unexplained addition to the cast, and I’m looking forward to seeing how this story unfolds in future issues.

Diablo #1/5

DC-Diablo-1Writer: Aaron Williams | Artist: Joseph Lacroix

From the world and legends of Sanctuary, the setting for the award-winning Diablo video game, comes the tale of a hero’s birth. Jacob has fled from his homeland in the north, hunted by his kinsmen for the crime of murder. Led by the visions of an ancient prophet, pursued by his childhood friend, Jacob finds his destiny in a desert cave at the foot of a mountain carved in two by the sword of an archangel – Tyrael. But will Jacob be able to claim the sword that could save his people, if not the world, before he’s brought to “justice”?

This is an interesting idea. I loved Diablo and Diablo II (perhaps the computer game franchise I’ve enjoyed the most), and have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the third instalment. The comic based on the world is certainly interesting, and offers another perspective on the world of Sanctuary (it’s nice to not have to click a mouse button endlessly during the combat scenes, for example…), and we get a glimpse of some of the politics and racial tensions at the centre of life in this world.

One thing that did strike me: the art in this comic is very different to the distinctive Diablo-style that fans of the game will be familiar with. It’s rougher and less epic than the impression I have of the Diablo world. It’s by no means bad art (in fact, I rather liked the rougher-around-the-edges style), but I wonder if anyone else familiar with the games also found it strange?

It’s a good and engaging story, though – it perhaps jumps around in time a bit too often without much warning, but it still works. I’m not sure where the story’s going, but it’ll be an interesting journey. With only five issues, I wonder how much they’ll be able to cram into the forthcoming comics. Will this slake people's thirst for Diablo-related material? I'm not sure. It's still too early to tell how this is going to turn out, but I'm certainly intrigued.

I,Vampire #3

DCNew52-IVampire-3Writer: Joshua Hale Fialkov | Artist: Andrea Sorrentino

Across the country, bodies litter the streets as the Queen of Blood builds her army. A weakened Andrew must seek the aid of an old ally, but the game of death has a new wild card who may help Andrew tip the balance of power – or decapitate him.

I Vampire is, in my opinion, easily one of the best titles in the New 52. I love how dark it is, and how Fialkov is playing with both the DC Universe setting and also vampire mythology. It is utterly unlike the contemporary popular vampire style – it’s bloody, grim, violent and gothic as hell. Sorrentino’s artwork is fantastic (see below for a taste): visually atmospheric and stunningly gothic. The story is very well written, too. Andrew recovers after the battle with Mary’s followers, who are now on the move to Gotham. We get a little more background as Andrew picks up a couple of followers – one long-time ally, and a new independent vampire hunter. I really love this title.


Some internal art from I Vampire #2 (Couldn’t find any from #3)

Also on CR: An interview with Josh Fialkov

Justice League Dark #3

DCNew52-JusticeLeagueDark-3Writer: Peter Milligan | Artist: Mikel Janin

What is Madame Xanadu’s plan? And why is she urging Shade the Changing Man to recruit a killer? One by one, our anti-hero misfits are drawn inexplicably to each other… While John Constantine aids Zatanna in escaping a town destroyed by magic, June Moon seeks help from Deadman. But in the end, will any of it be enough to escape the dark clutches of the insane and powerful Enchantress?

This title is weird! But I kinda like that about it. The magic and occult elements are a real draw, and they’re very well done – all of the characters are different and have different powers, which makes it a very mixed affair. This is, however, another third issue that feels like a pause before things really hit the fan (just wait ’til you see the final page – you’ll be impatient for issue four). These are all interesting, strange and broken characters, dealing with varying levels of past issues (a rather quaint word to use for some of them), with some great dark and gothic artwork to go along. Justice League Dark walks the fine line between the superhero and horror genres, but doesn’t fall off – it’s a very deft blend, and I think it works excellently. I will certainly be interested to see where it goes in the future, and how the various threads will be drawn together. There’s a lot still to be revealed and explained, and plenty of ground left to explore. I’m confident Milligan will be able to deliver, and that Janin’s art will continue to suit the tone perfectly. I came to this title late, but it’s been quite satisfying.

Wolverine & The X-Men #2

Wolverine&TheXMen-02Writer: Jason Aaron | Artist: Chris Bachalo

Wolverine and his X-Men have very little chance of surviving the new Hellfire Club. And that’s without another classic villain returning.

Hm. Ok, this is weird. I enjoyed the first issue quite a bit – it came across as quirky and having a sense of fun with the Marvel Universe (despite the Regenesis one-shot being quite dark, and the more serious Uncanny X-Men reboot). The tone of the second issue, however, is more... well, childish. The Hellfire Club, the apparent antagonist of the title, is comprised of 12-year-old rich kids who hate mutants. This is, frankly, very silly. Wolverine & The X-Men started out fun, but has jumped the shark in just one issue. That’s got to be some kind of a record...

The artwork is more cartoon-y, which works fine, but isn’t for me. It also has a more manga feel to it, which along with the tone reminded me of Trigun (although, that had some pretty good moments). This issue puts me in mind of why some people think comics are for kids. After also recently reading the first issue of Astonishing X-Men (Joss Whedon’s X-title), I can confidently say that there are much better X-Men comics out there.

Overall, disappointing.

*     *     *

Another good clutch of comics (bar one). I’m not 100% sure if I’ll keep buying the individual issues of these titles, or if I’ll wait for the collected editions that are released throughout next year (see the 2012 Releases page for tentative dates). I’ll be travelling a bit again, away from easy access to the comic stores I’ve been frequenting, but it’s possible that I’ll start getting things through Comixology. It’s just really nice to see one’s collection grow… We’ll have to see.

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