"A Month in Comics"
It’s the time of year when instead of doing more detailed reviews on selected
titles, I pull together a column with capsule reviews of every comic book I
read over the previous month. So pull up a chair, settle back and revisit all
those comics that passed through my hands* during the month of October
(* OK to be technically accurate some of them didn’t actually pass
through my hands because I read them on-line as "dot comic")
As always, comments and feedback are more than welcome.
Alan J. Porter (http://alanjporter.com)
2000AD #1310 (Rebellion)
Britain’s top science fiction / action anthology comic continues its resurgence with a almost perfectly balanced selection of strips. The lead Judge Dredd story is a wonderfully subversive tale by the original and best Dredd writer, John Wagner. This issue also sees the return of the "Future Shocks" feature that launched the careers of many of today’s top stars, including one Alan Moore. The "Sinister Dexter" strip that pays a post-apocalyptic visit to my old home town brought smiles of recognition for this reader. Unfortunately the weakest strip here is the one that I was looking forward to the most — the return of "Rogue Trooper." Despite that disappointment this was overall an excellent issue.
ARCHIE #528 (Archie Comics)
By Craig Boldman & Stan Goldberg
32 pages of comic book, 5 stories and still priced under $2. Archie Comics are always value for money and a perennial favorite in my household. They may not be intellectually challenging, and the stories may be simplistic on the surface. But they usually offer a mix of valuable life lessons and educational hints for the young readers that the title is aimed at. While not an outstanding issue of Archie, this particular issue is a reasonable representation of the current title.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #45 (Marvel)
By J.M. Straczynski & John Romita Jr.
With scenes that reflect on recent tragedies and the absurdity of Hollywood this issue of Spider-Man makes you feel uncomfortable one minute and light-hearted the next. Although it centers around a super-hero slugfest and even pays homage to one of Steve Ditko’s most famous Spider-Man scenes; once again, it’s the sheer human interaction and emotion that makes this book stand head and shoulders above most titles published today.
APACHE SKIES #3 (Marvel / MAX)
By John Ostrander & Leonardo Manco
Another outstanding chapter in John Ostrander’s gritty Western series. Manco’s art supports the taut script adding to the overall feel of the American south west. Reading this you can almost taste the dust in your mouth and smell the horses. From a historical perspective it exposes the corruption and xenophobia behind the expansion of the railroads into the frontier lands.
BATMAN #608 (DC Comics)
By Jeph Loeb & Jim Lee.
"It begins here!" proclaims the cover of this much anticipated issue. But what begins here? Two creators having a ball with a character they’ve wanted to get their hands on for a long time. And the result ? Light action orientated fun. And maybe that’s just what this title needs after years of drawn out saga’s that put the characters through emotional and physical carnage and that tried the patience of even the most stalwart of Bat fans. If this first issue is anything to go by, the next 12 issues of Batman will be an enjoyable adventure.
BATMAN: GOTHAM ADVENTURES #54 (DC Comics)
By Scott Peterson & Tim Levins
Although the Adventures title has been one of the most consistent of Bat titles over the years, I found this particular issue to be a little weak in both characterization and central plot. The idea of the story being told through the overblown prose of a hack journalist was clever, but I think it lost something in the translation to the comic book page.
BATMAN: GOTHAM KNIGHTS #33 (DC Comics)
By Scott Beatty & Mike Collins
The new creative team take over the Gotham Knights title and kick off with a tale that sees the return of Bane to the Bat-cave much to the consternation of the rest of the Bat-family. The twist at the end is a shocker for long time Bat fans but does answer the nagging question as to why Bane was so obsessed with Bruce Wayne. This issue’s black & white back-up story by Darwyn Cooke and Bill Wray is one of the weakest so far fitting uncomfortable between being a homage to the Animated series and a MAD magazine style parody.
BATMAN: LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT #159 (DC Comics)
By John Ostrander & David Lopez.
John Ostrander picks up on what was a throw away line in the seminal Batman: Year One story line and sets the reader out on a journey to discover just why Captain Jim Gordon left Chicago for Gotham. This opening segment of the three issue story arc builds the mystery, hints that a future member of the Bat family was a key child-witness to a crime, and puts the wheels in motion to send the Bat to the Windy City — the one place in the US that in my experience looks most like the fictional Gotham. For anyone with an interest in the early days of the Batman’s career this is a must-read story.
BEANO #3141 (DC Thompson)
Something’s never change, and the Beano is one of them. The same old strips fill the pages of this grand old British humor anthology. But somehow it still brings a chuckle to my lips. Maybe it’s more nostalgia than genuine amusement, but I don’t care — it’s still a fun read.
CAPTAIN MARVEL #1 (Marvel / DotComics)
By Peter David & Chris Cross
Of the three U-Decide comics this is the only one worthy of consideration. I must admit to having drifted away from this title many months ago. This new story arc, which PAD insists he was going to do anyway, is an excellent jumping-on point and is recommended for those who haven’t read the title before or, like me, were a lapsed reader.
DAREDEVIL #29 (Marvel / DotComics)
By Brian Micheal Bendis & Alex Maleev
I’ve never subscribed to Daredevil as a monthly title, but do have several of the trade-paperbacks on my bookshelves. Reading it on-line is a great way to sample the current storylines. The story of the Kingpin’s apparent murder and the reaction it causes amongst the New York underworld is powerfully told. The dark art style complements the mood of the story although at times it does mask the action.
DETECTIVE #775 (DC Comics)
By Greg Rucka & Rich Burchett
I really don’t know what to say about this issue. OK — it was bad, really bad. Greg Rucka and Rick Burchett are capable of so much more. As a conclusion to the Sasha Bordeaux storyline this was a massive anti-climax. In fact it was a cop-out, it read like a "lets bury this character in an obscure corner of the DCU and forget about her." Burchett’s art came across as hurried and inconsistent. The only saving grace here was the short back up story "The Hunt." which hints at a new force on the streets of Gotham.
DIGITAL WEBBING PRESENTS #5 (Digital Webbing)
Publisher Ed Dukeshire has launched a showcase title for many new writers and artists to get their work published. The result is an anthology title that mixes a variety of story genres and a variety of talents in a professionally produced and distributed comic. With 24 different creators and 9 stories it represents value for money and is a great way to discover new talent. A project that deserves a lot of support.
EDGE #6 (CrossGen)
This issue of the excellent "Compendia" series includes chapters from 6 different CrossGen series. 224 pages in total. The Edge anthology books tend to focus on the lighter fantasy titles from the CrossGen stable. Highlights of this issue are the second chapter of the martial arts tale "Way Of The Rat" and two of the most powerful chapters from the excellent "Scion" medieval sword series. From my perspective the only down side is the inclusion of an issue from "The First," which I find to be the weakest of the CrossGen books.
FADE FROM BLUE #1 (Second 2 Some Studios)
By Myatt Murphy & Scott Dalrymple
At just $1 for the first issue and $1.50 for subsequent issues, this is the best deal in comics at the moment. The basic premise is original and Scott Dalrymple’s art is better than that found in many of the "big two" titles. Fade From Blue is the tale of four half-sisters all fathered by the same man, who just happens to be some sort of spy. They are thrown together following the sudden unexpected deaths of their mothers and form their own unusual family to survive. The first issues introduces the four sisters, their personalities and careers while laying the ground work for the mysteries to come. Highly recommended. And at these prices a project well worth supporting.
FANTASTIC FOUR #62 (Marvel )
By Mark Waid & Mike Wieringo
Mark Waid has me reading the FF on a regular basis for the first time since John Byrne’s run in the 1980s. His handling of the family dynamics has restored the soul of the title. Having been away so long, it’s like visiting relatives you thought you knew but finding out new things about them as the conversation flows around you. The only negative to the human drama element is having Johnny Storm run the family business; unfortunately from a business practices point of view I think that Mark Waid has ventured into a territory he neither understands nor researched too well. I’m still not a fan of Wieringo’s "big foot" art style, but the strength of the story telling is carrying me past that.
FORGE #7 (CrossGen)
This month’s Forge, the darker of the two CrossGen compendia titles, introduces "Route 666" CrossGen’s first horror title plus chapters from 5 other titles. Of these the strongest were the samurai drama "The Path" and the science fiction saga "Negation," probably the most overlooked CrossGen book. While having fewer pages (only 192 !!) for the same price as the companion Edge Compendia this is the more powerful read.
GOTHAM GIRLS #2 (DC Comics)
By Paul Storrie & Jennifer Graves.
Paul Storrie writes a fun tale of Gotham’s femme fatales as the focus this issue switches to Poison Ivy. You don’t need to know the details of the animated series continuity to appreciate this book, but if you are familiar with the TV show it brings additional nuances to the story. Jennifer Graves’ art brings the look and feel of the show to the printed page while exhibiting strong comics story telling skills. This book is fresh and a delight to read, easily surpassing the similarly themed Gotham Advntures which is becoming a little tired.
GREEN LANTERN #154 (DC Comics)
By Judd Winick & Dale Eaglesham.
This is the "hate crime" issue that received so much media attention recently. It’s a powerful and disturbing read. Winick’s tale serves to tell a story of hate and revenge; but it’s not just the criminals who are guilty of hate crimes here. It’s the hero too. GL’s reaction to the "gay-bashing" of his young assistant treads dangerously close to paralleling the actions of the assailants. An outstanding example of how the comics media can be used to educate, provoke discussion and address serious topics in our own world.
HAWKMAN #7 (DC Comics)
By James Robinson & Rags Morales
Robinson used to do the occasional "past Lives" issue during his critically acclaimed run on Starman. Here he applies the same formulas to the Hawks with a tale set in the American West that explains the Hawks connection with the town of St. Roch. But you don’t have to know anything about Hawkman’s convoluted history to appreciate this book. It works equally well as a stand alone Western tale, and I’d love to see more of them.
HOLLIDAY #1 (Saddle Tramp Press)
By Dave Samulsen & Jason Wright.
I’m fascinated by the various participants of the infamous OK Corral gunfight and of those John "Doc" Holliday is perhaps the most mysterious. Part of his legend is his mortal feud with a gunfighter known as Johnny Ringo. The creative team behind this book have taken that relationship, built on the mystery of "Doc" and thrown in a couple of super-natural aspects to weave an interesting tale that intertwines historical fact ( as far as it can be established) with a horror story and an examination of what man will do to slake a thirst for revenge. The art is a little flat and the backgrounds minimalist, but overall this is a promising start to what could be an intriguing series.
JACK STAFF #10 (Dancing Elephant Press)
By Paul Grist.
Paul Grist’s wonderful series continues to evoke both a sense of wonder and nostalgia. His unique story of "Britain’s Greatest Hero" mixes mystery with super-heroics with a definite British twist. His use of half-remembered characters from old UK anthology titles alongside his own creations brings a sense of familiarity to the story while balancing it with a fresh perspective that is pure Grist. I’m not sure how well this title will fare as a full color Image comic when it is re-launched next year. At the moment it’s like a secret between a group of friends who all share the same childhood experiences — and to be honest that’s the way I’d like it stay.
JLA#72 (DC Comics)
By Joe Kelley & Doug Mahnke.
Yawn !! The hunt for Aquaman continues, and I couldn’t care less. Any story that needs pages of exposition and is still as confusing as this one is fatally flawed. Why am I still buying this title ?
JLA DESTINY #4 (DC Comics)
By John Arcudi & Tom Mandrake
At $5.95 for each of the four prestige format editions I’ve ended up paying nearly $24 for what ? A tale that could have been just as easily been told in a quarter of the length and was maybe suitable for the old "Annual" format. Notice how those "out of continuity" tales are now all conveniently labeled as Elseworlds and given this high priced format. The concept and the format have been way overused on low quality projects like this one to the detriment of both. What ? What’s it about ? — Oh it’s some other version of the League made up of alternate versions of half forgotten DC heroes and with a "surprise" twist on Batman & Superman. In other words — same old, same old.
JUSTICE LEAGUE ADVENTURES #12 (DC Comics)
By Christopher Seqeira & Min S. Ku
The animated style title is easily the best JLA title on the stands at the moment. This issue pits the League against a teaming of the DCU’s coldest villains lead by Mr Freeze. It’s a shame that the story didn’t follow through on its initial premise of the JLA jumping into action before realizing that the "villains" had been invited into the drought stricken country that they apparently were holding to ransom. I guess in a book primarily aimed at kids the good guys have to be right and the bad guys have to end up in jail — but it would have been interesting to explore the consequences of those we consider heroes jumping to conclusions.
JSA #40 (DC Comics)
By David Goyer, Geoff Johns & Leonard Kirk
Another excellent issue of the JSA that respects and mines the deep history of the team while giving it a contemporary spin. Linking the Golden Age villain "The Shadower" with his Grandson the current holder of his mantle against the current Dr MidNite. But this acts merely as a backdrop to the central story of how Capt. Marvel and the Star Spangled Kid deal with a hostage crisis. It’s an examination of what motivates Marvel and how he tries and relates to the modern world around him.
KAMEELMAN #1 (A1 Oregon Publishing)
By "T-Bone" & Rom Randell.
This was sent out as a free preview issue to retailers to drum up additional orders. A smart marketing initiative. But it would have been better if the product matched the pitch. I gave up on this book just six pages in. The story is a muddle, the characters ill defined at best and the art so bad that I couldn’t tell one person from the other. Even as a freebie it wasn’t worth the small amount of time I spent trying to read it. I won’t waste your time by trying to describe the basic premise. But if you must know the "hero" is a boy with "chameleon" powers to become someone else.
KILLRAVEN #1 (Marvel)
By Alan Davis
I love Alan Davis’ art work, especially when inked by Mark Farmer. His writing can be innovative too. Killraven is a character I remember fondly. So I should have enjoyed this book — right? Well it just didn’t work for me. I can’t pinpoint exactly why. The story felt derivative and the artwork looked to be a collection of Davis’s standard poses from various other work over the years. Hopefully it will improve as the series progresses.
LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN Vol. 2 #3 (DC Comics / ABC )
By Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill.
You can read this installment of the Martian invasion of Victorian England very quickly. Moore’s dialog is relatively sparse and O’Neill’s storytelling skills propel the story along at a breathless pace which matches the unfolding events. If you do that, then go back and really examine the book from the front cover full of wonderful visual references, to the adverts of the inside back cover. Every panel is a piece of a greater jigsaw that adds up to one of the best books on the market today. It’s a perfect example of the way that the comics medium can work on a multitude of levels.
MARVILLE #1 (Marvel / DotComics)
By Bill Jemas & ??
What is this meant to be? As a parody it’s so heavy handed it’s not even close to being clever. The humor (if I could call it that) is infantile — and that’s being kind. While I have put down "real" comics before unfinished I’ve never given up on an on-line comic. But Marville changed all that —don’t waste your money or your time with this. Memo to Joe Q: Just because the boss wrote it doesn’t mean that you have to publish it.
MASTER OF KUNG FU #2 (Marvel / MAX)
By Doug Moench & Paul Gulacy
Moench and Gulacy revisit the character were they arguably did their finest work. Updated to match modern sensibilities (i.e. no red pajamas) this rendition of Shang Chi and his world reads like one of the numerous derivative "Hong Kong style" action movies we’ve been bombarded with of late. Most of the action is set at night which by necessity dulls the action sequences and renders a flat look to the book. Moench’s plot extrapolates yet another conspiracy based on an historical incident but is devalued by the introduction of stereotype characters and an over reliance on familiarity with the title’s back history.
MEKANIK #1 (Marvel)
By Chris Claremont & Jaun Bobillo
Kitty Pryde has grown up and gone to college. As a member of the Advanced Phsyics group she becomes targeted as a suspected mutant. We can all see where this is leading, can’t we? Maybe I’ve been away from the X-Men for too long but the Katherine Pyrde depicted here doesn’t fit with my recollections of the character.
METAL HURLANT #2 (Humaniods)
The second issue of the American / European anthology title continues to showcase and intriguing mix of story telling and art styles. The opening science fiction style story by the team of Geoff Johns and Red Star’s Christian Gossett has a neat twist that, although far from original, is still surprising in its delivery. The most poignant tale is by Swiss artist Pierre Wazem in a simplistic rendition of how he spends a "Day Off" and his interaction with his TV obsessed father. The issue is rounded off by a further installment of Jodorowsky and Beltran’s "Megaplex" saga that addresses the blurring of the lines between reality and entertainment.
PLANETRY / JLA: TEAM OCCULTA (DC Comics)
By Warren Ellis & Jerry Ordway
Warren Ellis brings his unique perspective to a version of the DCU under the control of "The Four," his main protagonists from Planetry. It’s a brave writer who makes his own creations the villains of the piece. His versions of DC’s big three iconic characters without the costumes brings a new perspective to their motivations and helps reinforce the needs for their underground resistance style modus operandi. The action is tense, explosive and occasionally violent. Ordway’s detailed art style shows the consequences of actions in a tale where no character is sacrosanct. Perhaps the most shocking aspect of this excellent story is the apparent fate of one character and the way it is left unresolved.
ROBIN #106 (DC Comics)
By Lewis & Woods
Batman and Robin back on patrol in the Batmobile; and it’s about time. After all the angst before and during the recent multi title Batman sagas the situation between Tim Drake and his mentor needed resolution. The plot of the duo been tricked out of the Batmobile while chasing a mysterious crook is fun, but takes a back role to the dialog between the Dynamic Duo, even if the Dark Knight was a little out of character in terms of his desire to engage in small talk.
SCION #28 (CrossGen)
By Ron Marz & Jim Fern
This issue of CrossGen’s best title opens a new story arc in the story of the warring Raven and Heron kingdoms and the independent new nation founded by the rebel scions of both houses, Ethan and Ashliegh. As such it both recaps the past and hints at plots and intrigues for the future. A perfect "jumping on" issue for new readers but one that still advances the overall tale for long time fans. CrossGen are producing comics with a sense of old fashioned fun and great story telling supplemented with modern writing, art and production values. The result is a lesson in how comics should be produced — the value is in the product, not the hype.
SKINWALKER #3 (Oni Press)
By Nunzio DeFlippis, Christine Weir & Brian Hurt.
Ancient Navajo legends tell of a shaman who would wear the skin of animals and inherit their characteristics and powers. So what would happen if a serial killer corrupts the ritual by skinning his victims? TV writers DeFlippis and Weir bring their story of the hunt for the elusive serial killer to comics and the result is a beautifully paced tale of suspense, horror an intrigue.
SPIDER-MAN/BLACK CAT: THE EVIL THAT MEN DO #3 (Marvel)
By Kevin Smith & Terry Dodson
This series makes me fell uncomfortable. Sure it’s well written and the dialog is witty. The artwork is as good as you’d expect from the Dodsons, and the Black Cat never looked so curvaceous before. But the subject matter and the implied off panel violence and rape just don’t fit in a Spider-Man book. A know this is a tale about "the evil that men do" but somehow I just find it hard to accept it in a mainstream comic like this.
STAR WARS REPUBLIC #46 (Dark Horse)
By John Ostrander & C.P. Smith
The monthly Star Wars title shifts it emphasis to tell tales set in the days of the Republic between Episodes 1 & 2. This first story introduces some new characters and sets up an interesting plot line full of potential. But it’s let down by the artwork and clumsy coloring. The images of the familiar characters from the movies are so off likeness as to be distracting; the new characters are often too similar in appearance to easily distinguish them visually. The coloring is so heavy handed that background characters just merge into blocks of color rather than retain any individuality. A shame for a book that will be read by a lot of people who don’t buy other comics.
STRANGERS IN PARADISE #53 (Abstract)
By Terry Moore
This issue marks a milestone in the relationship between Katchoo and Francine. Terry Moore subtly shifts the roles between the two as Francine is finally ready for commitment while Katchoo beings to draw back from it. The introduction of a "minder" for Katchoo also adds another twist to the already complex web of relationships being woven in this tale. This issue will be significant to long time SiP readers but would confuse anyone new to this excellent series.
THING: FREAKSHOW #4 (Marvel)
By Geoff Johns & Scott Kolins
The Kree and the Skrulls battle over the fate of a baby Watcher. If that description means anything to you, then caches are you are a long time Marvel fan — and that’s who this mini-series will most appeal to. Otherwise take it as a metaphorical tale of Ben Grimm coming to terms with the "freakish" nature of his appearance. Either way it works.
ULTIMATE ADVENTURES #1 (Marvel / DotComics)
By Ron Zimmerman & Duncan Fegredo
The second title in the U-Decide contest (Alongside Captain Marvel & Marville) is an awkward "homage" to the Batman legend set in Marvel’s "Ultimate" universe. As a homage it’s so unsubtle in drawing on its inspiration that it is borderline on parody. But the intent seems to be to tell a serious tale of abandonment. The basic plot has been recycled so many times over the last sixty years that it’s impossible to bring anything new to it — as this attempt proves.
THE VISION #2 (Marvel)
By Geoff Johns & Ivan Reis
For anyone familiar with the convoluted back story of the metallic Avenger then this mini-series will be a joy to read, for others it will probably be too confusing as it refers to many different aspects and incarnations of the synthezoid known as The Vision. Unfortunately at this point it doesn’t appear to beading anything much more to his legacy, it’s a by the numbers standard super-hero tale.