Thursday, April 19, 2012

Comics Round-Up (Apr.18)


A pretty solid collection of varied comics: twisted fairy tales, fantasy, super-heroes, and horror. I wasn’t organised enough to get them all reviewed for a Tuesday post, so I was able to add a few more titles. There were actually going to be more from last week, but both of my go-to comic stores in New York had completely sold out of Saga #2 and Resurrection Man #8. I decided to cut back on a few of the others, too. For example, I decided that I’ll wait for Suicide Squad, Grifter and Demon Knights to be available as collections.


Reviewed: Alice #4, Batgirl #8, Batman & Robin #8, Batwoman #8, Dungeons & Dragons 2012 Annual, Irredeemable #36, Jungle Book #2, Secret Service #1, Star Wars: Agent of the Empire #5, The Theater #5

Alice #4 (Zenescope)


Writer: Raven Gregory | Artist: Robert Gill | Colours: Jason Embury

Alice escapes the clutches of the Mad Hatter and the tea party only to find herself captured by someone much much worse, someone who embodies the very insanity of wonderland and who’s thirst for bloodshed cannot be matched. Hold on to your heads because it’s about to get a whole lot more insane!

Alice-04-InternalArtWhat an insane issue. Alice has been drugged, and is experiencing some insane, mind-bending hallucinations (see right). There’s a nice little re-cap for people unfamiliar with the Zenescope version of Wonderland and Alice’s story. While fleeing from the Mad Hatter, Alice stumbles into the Kingdom of Hearts where she experiences the utterly bat-shit crazy Queen of Hearts who seems to have two (distinctly mad) personalities. With strong nods to the classic story about events in the Kingdom of Hearts, only stripped of all sanitisation, this was a great, fun issue. At the end, we also begin to see who may have been orchestrating things from the shadows, as Alice comes face-to-face with another member of Wonderland royalty…

Great stuff, this is still a series I highly recommend.


Batgirl #8 (DC)

New52-Batgirl-08Writer: Gail Simone | Artists: Alitha Martinez & Ardian Syaf | Colours: Vicente Cifuentes

The metahuman thief and killer Grotesque has set his sights on the perfect woman to add to his collection: Batgirl!

Also, we reveal the other traumatic incident in Barbara’s life – one you’ve never heard about before! It’s a Gordon family secret that has never been revealed!

This issue brings the Grotesque story-line to a satisfying conclusion. It also focuses as much on Barbara herself, and the night the Joker shot her, paralysing her from the waist down – one of Grotesque’s henchmen is connected to that night. The issue also has a lot of other stuff from Barbara’s past – her mother, for example, has returned to Gotham, and we learn something about Barbara’s brother, James. It’s clearly fore-shadowing for events to come, but it’s interesting and engaging throughout.

Gail Simone is an amazing writer. After reading eight issues of Batgirl, I can say that I am a real fan of the way she constructs a story and also writes the dialogue and narration. She’s made Barbara a complex, nuanced character still struggling with past experience of being shot by the Joker and living for a while as a paraplegic. It’s not over-wrought or emo – it’s realistic and honest. Love this series.

The artistic team has done a wonderful job, too, brilliantly evoking the two worlds Barbara lives in – that as Batgirl and also as Barbara, student. I thought this page was particularly interesting and informative about both Batgirl’s skills as a fighter, but also the control she maintains during combat:


Very highly recommended. I really must find some more of Simone’s work – I’ll probably start with Secret Six, unless someone has a better suggestion or recommendation?


Batman & Robin #8 (DC)

New52-Batman&Robin-08Writer: Peter J. Tomasi | Artist: Patrick Gleason & Mick Gray

The “Born To Kill” saga concludes in a storm of fire and water, as Batman and Robin find themselves beaten and battered emotionally, as well as physically, as the fate of NoBody is revealed!

I love this series. This issue brings the first story-arc to a close, as Batman and Robin return to Wayne Manor after their climactic battle with NoBody.

The writing and artwork are great, complementing each other perfectly: Tomasi has written a dark, deep story, and the artistic team have managed to enhance his writing with strong, atmospheric images. Alfred has them confined to the manor, which gives our heroes some soul-searching, and Bruce confronts Damian over his actions at the previous issue (not going to spoil that, but trust me – it was both shocking and awesome). The issue explores Bruce and Damian’s relationship in the aftermath of the NoBody showdown, and we see the beginnings of a new Damian coming through, as well as a new dynamic between the father and son. I don’t think he’ll ever have the same type of relationship as he did with previous Robins, but it will certainly interesting to see how they develop as a family and crime-fighting team in the future.

A great issue, this is a must-read series for all fans of Batman.


Batwoman #8 (DC)

New52-Batwoman-08Writer: J.H. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman | Artist: Amy Reeder | Inks & Colours: Rob Hunter & Guy Major

Six lives moving through different points in time, all heading toward a crossroads.

Batwoman faces gnashing teeth, claws and otherworldly powers. But can she defeat the villains of Gotham Harbor?

Maro, an arcane wizard, harnesses violent magics to create the vile creature known as The Hook.

Kate Kane struggles with living multiple lives and how that affects her relationship with Maggie.

Detective Maggie Sawyer transports a double agent named Sune.

Jacob Kane still holds onto hope for a life that he so desperately needs in his.

DEO Agent Cameron Chase covertly aids Batwoman in abducting one of the villain Falchion’s inner circle.

This issue felt a little all over the place. As can be gleaned from the rather long synopsis, there’s a lot of jumping around, back-and-forth, and switching of perspectives in this instalment. It felt a little like the writers had maybe binged out on Quentin Tarantino movies and multiple viewings of Memento, and wanted to jam the unconventional time-line into a comic. That sounds a lot harsher than intended, but it’s certainly how it felt. Nevertheless, the issue still added a lot of background colour and information relating to a number of characters that have appeared throughout the New 52 run of this series. No doubt this information will be valuable in a future issue. It just felt a bit functional, rather than properly integrated.

There’s some story progress towards the end, with a telegraphed reveal of a new potential ally. It could be interesting going forward, but this will probably be the last single-issue I buy for review.

The artwork remains excellent and I think Reeder’s work manages to hold up very well, following on from Williams’s distinctive style – although I’ve heard that she will be leaving the series in the very near future. It’s a pity Batwoman is not going to be part of the Night of the Owls Bat-Family event.

I also still think this issue has one of the best covers I’ve seen – really love the dramatic atmospherics.


Dungeons & Dragons 2012 Annual (IDW)

DungeonsDragons-Annual2012Writer: Paul Crilley | Artist: Paco Diaz & Atilio Rojo | Colours: Aburtov & Graphikslava

They call Sharn the “City of Towers”... but it’s what’s below the surface that interests Abraxis Wren, the most notorious inquisitive in the land. As Wren and his assistant Torin begin an investigation that pulls at the strings that bind the city together, it’s their own lives that might unravel!

A new tale in the exciting world of Eberron, following up last month’s Infestation 2 crossover.

Abraxis Wren and Torin have bought passage on the maiden voyage of The Breland Express, the first passenger train of its kind in Eberron. While on the train, Abraxis gets horrendously drunk while complaining that nobody knows how he saved the world from “a giant octopus beast” (referring to his part in IDW’s Infestation 2 event). Soon afterwards, someone makes an attempt on his life and a decapitated body is discovered on the train.

This is a pretty fun story, actually, and only makes me want to read more about Abraxis Wren, Torin and their hi-jinks. Abraxis, while ostensibly the more gifted and talented investigator is a bit of a dandy, and easily bored. It’s Torin who often figures things out, only for his partner to steal the glory. As the pair learn more about the murder on the train, things start to get ever-more tricky. As Abraxis says, “Politics, Torin. Why is it always politics? Politics makes me feel dirty. And not in a good way.” A sentiment many can relate to, I’m sure. It’s a fun, sword-and-sorcery crime caper, with some gentle humour, some engaging investigative work, and some action. All on a fast-moving train.

The artwork is very good, with clean lines and strong visuals in general. The annual also comes with the first seven pages of the new Abraxis Wren novel, Taint of the Black Brigade.

[Abraxis Wren is the star of a couple of novels, Night of Long Shadows and the aforementioned Taint of the Black Brigade, which I am going to attempt to get hold of for review. Watch this space!]


Irredeemable #36 (Boom)


Writer: Mark Waid | Artist: Diego Barreto | Colours: Nolan Woodard

The Plutonian has ruined so many lives, and nearly destroyed the human race. When a savior emerges from the most unlikely of places, leaving the world reeling from the news, where can the Plutonian fit into this new world? And is death a fitting punishment for a god?

Kaidan, Gilgamos, and Sy – have found some ancient seeds from the mythical Tree of Life that might help humanity survive the worst of what’s coming – in this case, a vast radioactive cloud that will decimate life in its path. Our heroes don’t realize they’re being hunted, though, and in order to overcome this new challenge, not all of them may survive.

Meanwhile, Qubit has convinced Plutonian to set aside his psychotic insanity long enough to help save the human race. After the shocking ending of issue 35 (I wasn’t sure what had actually happened, until starting this issue), however, Tony’s state of mind isn’t entirely conducive to helping with much of anything...

This series is one of my favourites, ever since I first tried it and blitzed my way through in order to catch up. With the whole story drawing to a close in the very near future, there remain a few questions that need answering and a couple of loose ends to tie up. I am of two minds of the impending finale: I can’t wait to see what Waid comes up with, at the same time as being saddened that the series will actually end.

As always, this is a highly recommended series, and a must read for anyone who wants to read super-hero stories with a difference.


Jungle Book #2 (Zenescope)


Writer: Mark L. Miller | Artist: Carlos Granda | Colours: Liezl Buenaventura

Shere Kahn prepares to strike at the very heart of the wolf clan beginning with his most hated rival and Mowglii’s surrogate mother, mother wolf. Meanwhile Mowglii’s wanderings bring her face to face with one of the most ferocious creatures in the jungle, the vicious bear Baloo. And her first encounter with the beast may very well prove to be her last.

This series is shaping up very nicely, with a brilliant, original take on the Jungle Book story. The pieces of the wider story are still falling into place, but it’s clear that this series is going to be action-packed from beginning to end, as Mowglii sets out for revenge against the Tiger Clan. We also see the beginnings of what will no doubt develop into either a love-interest storyline or a nemesis storyline, as Mowglii comes face-to-face with another of the human survivors that arrived on the island with her.

It’s all very nicely put together – in terms of writing and also the artwork – and was engaging from beginning to end. This series is highly recommended, and Zenescope once again show that they have a superior knack for messing about with classic stories and remaking them in fresh, interesting ways.


The Secret Service #1/7 (Icon)

SecretService-01Writer: Mark Millar (& Matthew Vaughn) | Artist: Dave Gibbons | Colours: Angus McKie

Gary’s life is going nowhere. He lives in public housing with a mother who answers to her brutish boyfriend, and spends his nights carousing with pals. But Gary’s Uncle Jack has taken a different path – one of glamour, danger, and mystery. And when Jack is called upon to get his nephew out of trouble one last time, their lives are going to intersect in a way neither of them could have foreseen.

The series has an interesting, contemporary premise: Government funding across the board, but especially for secret services, is being seriously under-cut to balance the books. This puts a massive strain on members of the clandestine operations, which is evident throughout this issue. It’s a bit of an odd story, though, alternating between Gary’s and Uncle Jack’s perspectives. Gary is just your typical going-nowhere kid from the projects, crushed by the obstacles life throws at him, but also quite self-destructive in his own right. Jack, a secret agent, has been put on a strange case. Some people are trying their best to take advantage of the fragile global situation, only in a very intriguing way: they’ve kidnapped a number of prominent stars from fan-favourite sci-fi TV shows and movies – the issue opens with a team of paramilitary types who have kidnapped Mark Hamill. It’s up to Jack to figure out what’s going on, while also dealing with his wayward nephew, who is arrested over the course of this issue for stealing a car.

This first issue lays a fair bit of ground-work, and I thought it was superb. The writing is great, and the artwork is equally fantastic. It’s only the second Millar-penned comic I’ve read, but it’s becoming clear why he’s so popular and successful. I’m really going to have to read more of his stuff – I’ll start with the first Ultimate X-Men book, but also have my eyes on Supreme and Nemesis, Ultimates, and the Marvel Civil War event. It’ll probably take a while to acquire and read all of those, though…

The Secret Service is very highly recommended.


Star Wars: Agent of the Empire #5 (Dark Horse)

SW-AgentOfEmpire-05Writer: John Ostrander | Artist: Stephane Roux | Inks & Colours: Julien Hugonnard-Bert & Wes Dzioba

Jahan Cross finally learns the truth about the deadly project called ‘Iron Eclipse’. Now all he has to do is defeat the crazed mastermind behind it all, keep his allies from double-crossing him, and escape the Corporate Sector with his life!

All in a day’s work for an Agent of the Empire!

This series puts us in an odd, interesting position of being on the Empire’s side, rooting for Jahan who is a supremely loyal servant of the Galactic Empire. His mission has finally reached its end, as he faces off against a crazy, largely-bionic baddie attempting to infect and take control of all droids with a new super-code-virus. In other words, a pretty fun Star Wars idea.

The story’s ending had the classic base-destroyed-flee-through-the-wreckage feel to it, with a hint of Luke Skywalker’s rescue from Bespin added for good measure. (Han Solo is along for the ride, too.)

I’m glad there’s going to be another series featuring Jahan Cross (“Hard Targets”, although it’s not clear when this series will surface). This was a fun mini-series, and certainly among the best Star Wars comics to date. The artwork was good, and more consistent this issue, with fewer weirdly-distorted or sloppy-seeming moments.

Espionage and thriller-style action, this is a very strong Star Wars story. With no Jedi.


The Theater #5 (Zenescope)


Writer: Raven Gregory | Artist: Novo Malgapo | Colours: Michael Garcia

Series conclusion! When a man wakes up to find that the world around him has begun to forget him one by one he will have to discover the source of the curse that threatens to erase his very existence before it’s too late. Meanwhile, a detective is closing in on the secret of the Theater and with the existence of the killers about to be revealed the family of psychopaths will be forced to make a decision that could very well threaten the entire world.

The story outlined in the above synopsis is framed in the “real world” with a cop arriving at the theatre, investigating a string of disappearances linked to the building. The story of the movie is pretty cool, once again – it’s a nice, original spin on justice and repentance. After the ‘movie’ is done, I thought the theatre’s story was wrapped up a  little suddenly and easily, without as much of a pay-off as I’d been hoping for. I suppose that’s not really what the series was about – the stories presented as ‘movies’ in the individual issues are the main attraction, and in each of them Gregory’s done a great job of offering new and interesting twists on common horror and thriller tropes.

The artwork is very good and consistent throughout, and there is plenty of detail. There is also a nice Easter egg for fans of Raven Gregory’s work:



Also released this week: Amazing Spider-Man #684 (Marvel), Avengers vs. X-Men #2 (Marvel), Batman #8 (DC), Birds of Prey #8 (DC), Catwoman #8 (DC), Defenders #5 (Marvel), Dominic Laveau: Voodoo Child #2 (Vertigo), Girl With The Dragon Tattoo #1 (Vertigo), Justice League #8 (DC), Manhattan Projects #2 (Image), Nightwing #8 (DC), No Place Like Home #3 (Image), Red Hood & the Outlaws #8 (DC), Resident Alien #0 (Dark Horse), Shadow #1 (Dynamite), Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi #3 (Dark Horse), Wolverine & the X-Men #9 (Marvel), Wonder Woman #8 (DC)

Pretty awesome week for comic releases (just as last week was, too), but there’s just no way I’m going to either have time or be able to afford to buy and read all of these issues. Some might feature in a review later this week or next – those titles in bold will definitely feature. I’ll also include Saga #2 (Image) and Saucer Country #2 (Vertigo) in the later review, and maybe a couple others. We’ll see.

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