Posts Tagged ‘marvel comics’

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After giving Bullseye #1 a richly-deserved rough time of it in my review last week, I was leaning pretty heavily towards giving the rest of Marvel’s “Running With The Devil” titles a pass, but some nagging little voice in my head told me that Kingpin would probably be worth at least an initial $3.99 investment. Okay, fair enough, Matthew Rosenberg’s earlier Civil War II : Kingpin series was generally savaged by critics (to the point where I stayed away), but I chalk that up to the fact that all “event” tie-ins are garbage weighed down by a shit-ton of editorial mandates — surely free of these constraints, the writer behind 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank and We Can Never Go Home can give us a decent crime story, don’tcha think?

Jeff Dekal’s cover doesn’t necessarily inspire a ton of confidence — he’s been absolutely killing it over on Hulk, but his composition on this one seems a bit curious, to say the least, especially considering that Daredevil, Elektra, and Bullseye don’t feature in this book at all (apart from a cameo by Matt Murdock in his civilian guise), and it seems to me that if you’re gonna include superfluous characters in order to drive up sales, it might be best if one of them doesn’t look like he’s hopped-up on cheap bathtub crank. But who knows? Maybe I’m just old-fashioned — and besides, as with prospective romantic partners, it’s what’s inside that counts, right?

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Fortunately for us all, Kingpin #1 grabs you immediately on page one and doesn’t let go. Rosenberg’s characterization of Wilson Fisk is definitely “in line” with Vincent D’Onofrio’s portrayal of him on the Daredevil Netflix series — frightening, physically and psychologically imposing, ultimately unknowable — but with a crucial twist : his motives this time out appear to be far more personal and therefore more potentially dangerous. Yes, he seems determined to save “his” city and to employ his customary morally-ambiguous (to put it kindly) methods while doing so, but he knows that he’s got some serious image rehab to do first, and to that end he’s selected down-on-her-luck journalist Sarah Dewey to ghost-write his (auto?)biography. Dewey  is a fascinating and fully-fleshed out character who functions as both an eminently relatable audience stand-in and an immersive figure in her own right at the same time : her trepidation at “getting close” to such a dangerous figure mirrors ours, but her personal problems (divorce and custody issues, 12-stepping) are very much her own, and this comic ends up being every bit as much hers at it is the title-holder’s. She’s our “eyes and ears,” sure (and perhaps our conscience?) — but that doesn’t mean she can’t pull “double duty” and be very much herself while she’s acting in that capacity. I don’t know how many issues this series is slated to run, but I’m already hoping that Marvel finds a worthy spot for her once it’s over.

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But let’s hope this doesn’t end too darn soon — because not only does this book read well, it looks absolutely gorgeous. Artist Ben Torres borrows a bit from Frank Miller and Tim Sale here and there, it’s true, but he’s got a distinctive “medium-heavy” line all his own and, together with colorist extraordinaire Jordan Boyd, navigates the borderlands between noir and everyday urban not-quite-grime with a fluid ease that’s enough to make lesser talents downright jealous. A truly successful Kingpin book can probably only look one way, and guess what? This is it.

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Have I convinced you yet? If not, then I guess I’m just not doing my (voluntary, I admit) job well enough. Or maybe spot-on characterization, sparkling dialogue, superb illustration, and pitch-perfect colors all working in concert to accentuate a slowly-encroaching sense of dread and unease just isn’t your particular cup of tea. That’s entirely possible — but even if that’s the (unlikely) case, I’m still willing bet you just about anything that this issue’s simple-but-jaw-dropping cliffhanger will leave you wanting more.

So, yeah — I was all kind of impressed by Kingpin #1. Give it a chance I’m confident you will be, as well.

 

 

 

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Whatever you do, please — don’t call her “She-Hulk” anymore!

In the aftermath of the near-universally-panned (and not without good reason) Civil War II, Jennifer Walters is feeling even less herself than usual. Her cousin, Bruce Banner, is dead (for now, at any rate) and she’s recently spent a fair amount of time comatose, herself (as did most readers, but that’s another matter). So, with no “incredible” Hulk left, the now-adjectiveless mantle belongs to our gal Jen. Except — she really doesn’t want it. And she’s doing anything she can to remain calm and prevent her transformation from triggering. Her “mellowing-out” habit of choice? Watching YouTube cooking videos. I’d get downright sleepy, myself.

Oh, and she’s going back to the lawyering thing, taking on a new gig at a firm that primarily represents super-hero clients. That could be interesting, I suppose. Unfortunately, nothing else about Marvel’s new Hulk #1 is.

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Credit where it’s due : Nico Leon turns in some really nice, clean (if somewhat antiseptic) art on this first issue, and colorist Matt Milla is having all kinds of fun playing with various green tones (meant to hint at the inevitable, I suppose) in his color palette. But the tonal shift from the last few She-Hulk-centric titles to this one shows everything wrong with Marvel Now! circa 2016 in a nutshell : this comic just isn’t every fun, and almost nothing happens in it.

Granted, Jen has any number of good reasons for being a basket case these days, and for doing everything in her power to keep her alter-ego in check. She’s had a rough go of things lately. But seriously, when I say “in this issue she starts a new job and gets her first client,” that really does pretty much sum up the plot. Sure, there’s something weird about said client (besides the fact that she looks like Marina from John Byrne’s old-school Alpha Flight series — and who knows? Maybe that’s who she is), but it’s not like whatever mystery writer Mariko Tamaki has in mind for her is given anything like a gripping, or even mildly curious, introduction, and so the final-page cliffhanger? Yeah, it falls a little flat. And I honestly have to wonder how fans are gonna react to not seeing Jen transform into her green-skinned “better half” at all in this debut installment. A Hulk book starring She-Hulk? People can probably — or maybe that should be hopefully — get behind that. But a Hulk book with no Hulk in it at all? Even for a page? Can you say 70% drop in Diamond orders for the second issue?

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I’m sure Jeff Dekal‘s striking cover is going to be more than enough to entice some folks who were “on the fence” about this series when it was first solicited to give issue one a shot, but honestly, the storyline here is basically daring you to stick with the book, and offers prima facie evidence for the argument retailers are making (one which seems to be falling on deaf ears so far at 135 West 50th Street, but that’ll change soon enough) that this latest round of Marvel Now! is a loser. Second-tier characters thrust to the front of most major series while the few “A-listers” who do remain are shunted off into unpopular story arcs that see their powers, stature, or both reduced? DC tried that about 18 months ago with DC You, and in less than a year they were re-booting their entire line with Rebirth and embracing “back-to-basics” as the model of the future. Something tells me plans will soon be underfoot for Marvel to do something similar, given that the top-selling book of this “soft re-boot” — Mark Waid and Mike Del Mundo‘s The Avengers — didn’t even clear 100,000 in sales for its first issue. The writing, friends, is already on the wall.

And that’s too bad, because it’s the “marginal” titles that are the first to go when the orders to clear decks are handed down. For all the shit DC You got from fans, books like Prez and The Omega Men were actually really fucking good, but there’s no room for “outreach” series in Rebirth. It’s all tried, true, and depressingly conservative. If Marvel had stuck with a handful of “offbeat” or “non-traditional” books like The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and Moon Girl And Devil Dinosaur, those titles could have co-existed peacefully alongside their major players on the shelves for years. But by trying to skew their entire line toward the “emerging reader,” the “established reader” is fleeing in droves, and in order to win ’em all back in 10 or 12 months, it’s the Squirrel Girls and Moon Girls of the world that are gonna bite the bullet to make room for double-shipped Thors and Spideys.

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So, yeah, Jennifer Walters isn’t gonna be the less-than-incredible Hulk for very long — and given how lackluster this comic is, that’s probably no bad thing. But in the larger scheme of things, getting our “old” Hulk back a year or so from now isn’t all that exciting a prospect, either. Not because I have anything against Bruce Banner per se, but because when Marvel’s tanking sales dictate that they hit the “reset” button yet again, it’s going to mean that a lot of books that are a lot better than this new Hulk are going to get a date with the axe that they don’t deserve. Squirrel Girl herself is nowhere to be found in the pages of Hulk #1, but her presence looms large over it nevertheless, because as I read this and other Marvel Now! titles, all I can do is shake my head and think about how much I’m gonna miss her when her series is canned along with the rest of the books in this doomed-from-jump relaunch. Good-bye, unconventional Marvel titles — it was nice knowing you while you lasted.

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Before we get rolling on our look back at 2016 in the world of comics, let’s take a brief moment to acknowledge the passing of two masters, shall we? Darwyn Cooke and Steve Dillon were  very different artists with very different visions and very different styles, no doubt about that, but both were among the very best at what they did, both entered this undeserving world in 1962, and both exited it, leaving it a decidedly poorer place for their passing, in 2016. Both gentleman turned the medium upside – down with their brilliance and created bodies of work that are more than guaranteed to stand the test of time, so I feel it’s only appropriate, prior to diving into our annual retrospective (which, you’ve officially been warned, will take a minute, so buckle in) to say “thank you” and “we miss you” one more time to this pair of undeniable greats. And now, onto the business at hand —

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Wow, it’s been quite a ride, hasn’t it? In a year when both of the “Big Two” decided to hit the “reset” button again, it’s probably fair to say that DC Universe : Rebirth #1 — and the entire Rebirth initiative in general — will go down as the major “event” of 2016, given that it essentially catapulted the publisher from a distant-second-place competitor to Marvel to “Top Dog” in the industry in the space of one month. That doesn’t mean that the comic itself was any good, of course — my feelings on it are well-known and I believe that Geoff Johns and his artistic collaborators Gary FrankEthan Van SciverIvan Reis and Phil Jimenez essentially churned out a stinkbomb here that will ultimately do both the DCU “proper” as well as the so-called “Watchmen Universe” no favors by setting them on a collision course with each other — but at this point, what’s done is done, and in the short run that means we’ve got a two-horse race for the top spot in the Diamond sales charts every month as DC’s decidedly mediocre twice-monthly efforts compete with yet fucking another round of “Marvel Now!” relaunched books that by and large are, in their own way, every bit as uninspired and predictable as their rivals’ four-color “floppies.” Honestly, this has been the most convoluted path back to the status quo that I’ve ever seen, and just goes to show that a bunch of hype is all that’s needed to sell readers on the same old crap. Of the two reboots, Marvel’s is the most promising, given that they’ve made an effort to carve out some space for genuinely interesting and off-beat titles, but you know most of ’em aren’t going to last, as the so-called “House Of Ideas” is putting far more promotional muscle behind crap like this —

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than they are behind intriguing and potentially subversive fare like this :

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So, yeah, on the whole, count me as being more or less completely uninspired by both major initiatives by both major publishers. Marvel’s in the awkward position (although it’s one they’re well used to after last year’s Secret Wars) of rolling out a raft of new books hot on the tail of a major crossover that hasn’t even ended yet, given that Civil War II was beset by the usual delays we’ve come to expect from these things, but I do give ’em credit for having about a half-dozen or so pretty good books stemming from “Marvel Now!” 2016 — and that’s roughly four more than post-Rebirth DC is giving us. For all that, though, once you move outside the Rebirth realm, DC is actually putting out a fair number of quite good books, which brings us to our main order of business here —

Ryan C.’s Top 10 Comics Series Of 2016

Same rules as always apply : these can be either “limited” or “ongoing” series — as long as they came out within the past 12 months in single-issue format (our preferred consumption method around these parts), we don’t discriminate. But it’s not a “real” Top 10 list without at least a couple of “honorable mentions,” though, is it? So let’s look at those first —

Honorable Mention #1 : American Monster (Aftershock)

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Brian Azzarello — whose name will be coming up again later for decidedly less complimentary reasons — is proving he’s “still got it” and then some with this decidedly sleazy, amoral small-town crime series that features a cast of pedophiles, gun-runners, neo-Nazis, corrupt preachers, and other fine, upstanding citizens. And Juan Doe‘s animation-cel inspired art is absolutely killer. Unfortunately, this book has seen so many publication delays that we only got three issues all year. If it was coming out on anything like an even remotely consistent basis, this would not only be “Top 10” material all the way, it might be “Top 2 Or 3.” I love this comic. Now feed me more of it.

Honorable Mention #2 : Power Man And Iron Fist (Marvel)

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David F. Walker is The Man. You could ask for no more perfect writer to chronicle the exploits of Luke Cage and Danny Rand. And Sanford Greene and frequent fill-in Flaviano Armentaro are doing a nice job on the art. Unfortunately, this title got sidetracked for no less than four months into the creative black hole that is Civil War II, and while these issues weren’t bad for tie-in nonsense, they were still — well, tie-in nonsense. Now that we’ve got the real story rolling again, all is right with the world, and you can blame this one narrowly missing out on the Top 10 squarely and solely on Marvel editorial, who steered the ship into “event” territory before it even had a chance to properly get its feet off the ground. It was a real momentum-killing decision, and I sincerely hope it won’t prove to be a fatal one, as well — but it may turn out to be just that given that sales on this series have been tanking in recent months. So much for the notion that cross-over “events” boost interest in a book.

Honorable Mention #3 : Love And Rockets (Fantagraphics)

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I’m not too proud to admit it — seeing the first issue of this new series from Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez on the shelves of my LCS, and back in its original magazine format at that, was enough to make me tear up just a little bit for a second. It was hardly an issue for the ages or anything, but everything about this just feels right. I love it when life comes full-circle, I love Los Bros., I love their characters, and I love this world. It’s a shoe-in for the Top 10 next year, but one issue is simply too small a sample size for me too include it in good conscience this time out. Not that I wasn’t tempted.

Honorable Mention #4 : The Fix (Image)

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Nobody does fuck-up criminal low-lifes like Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber, and in the pages of this book they up the ante by making their fuck-up criminal low-lifes cops, to boot. This comic is all kinds of perverse and depraved fun, and I’d dearly love to have found a spot for it in the Top 10, but there simply wasn’t room for more than — well, shit, ten titles. Nevertheless, it’s a series you absolutely should be pulling.

And now onto the main event —

10. Doom Patrol (DC’s Young Animal)

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The flagship title of Gerard Way‘s new “art comics” imprint, this book is proving a mere three issues in that it’s gonna push these characters in directions even Grant Morrison never dreamed of. Way and artist Nick Derington are doing the genuinely unthinkable here — producing a well and truly experimental comic with the full blessing of one of the “Big Two” publishers. All may not be lost, after all.

9. Deadly Class (Image)

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Rick Remender and Wes Craig gave us the “Holy Shit!” moment of the year in comics when they actually fucking killed their protagonist (doubly shocking when you consider he was an obvious stand-in for a youthful Remender himself) twenty-some issues in, but the new crop of students at King’s Dominion Atelier For The Deadly Arts is decidedly less interesting than was the last, hence the drop for this series from its loftier perch last year.

8. Southern Bastards (Image)

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Jasons Aaron and Latour just don’t let up. This deep-friend southern noir is loaded with so much gallows humor, spot-on characterization, and low-rent evil that not even a spotty publication schedule and a lackluster fill-in issue could keep it outta the Top 10. A legend in the making, even if it ends up taking a decade for it all to get made.

7. Jacked (Vertigo)

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As near as I can determine, nobody other than myself actually read Eric Kripke and John Higgins’ superb six-part tale of pharmaceutically-charged super-hero revisionism, and that’s a damn shame as it’s one of the single finest and most honest portrayals of mid-life crisis that this beleaguered medium has ever produced, and the art is simply sensational. Do yourself a favor and grab it in trade — you won’t be disappointed, and you won’t hate yourself for that beer gut and receding hairline anymore, either.

6. The Vision (Marvel)

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Enough ink — both physical and digital — has been spilled in praise of Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta‘s admittedly Philip K. Dick-inspired techno-Shakespearean tragedy that adding to it just feels like piling on against the rest of the industry at this point. Suffice to say all the superlatives you’ve heard are true and then some and yeah, this one has “destined to be talked about for years to come” written all over it.

5. Hip Hop Family Tree (Fantagraphics)

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Ed Piskor put the wraps on the 12-part single-issue reprintings of his cultural history milestone earlier this year, and while I’ll certainly continue to collect and enjoy his oversized hardcover volumes, there was just something about having these previously-told stories presented on cheap, pre-yellowed newsprint that was beyond awesome. And the last issue even came packaged with an old-school floppy record — that was actually a code for a free digital download, but whatever. This book was more satisfying than a 40 of Olde English on a hot summer day.

4. Glitterbomb (Image)

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Jim Zub and deliriously-talented newcomer Djibril Morissette-Pham came out of nowhere with this series about Lovecraftian horror intersecting with the seedier side of post-fame Tinseltown (with bloody results) and just blew me the fuck away. The surprise hit of the year for this armchair critic and a book I can’t stop thinking or talking about. The first trade should be out soon enough and collects the self-contained story presented in issues 1-4,  and they’re coming back in late 2017 with a new arc that — man, I just don’t even know where they go from here. But I’m dying to find out.

3. The Flintstones (DC)

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Believe it. Mark Russell and Steve Pugh are putting out the most socially- and politically-relevant comic on the stands, and the satire in this book is by turns hilarious and heartwarming. A truly “mature” take on characters we thought we already knew everything there was to know about, and consistently one of the smartest books you’ll have the pleasure of reading. I don’t know that I have words to adequately describe how unexpectedly awesome this series is — when I said that DC was actually putting out some damn good stuff outside its main Rebirth line, this is exactly what I was talking about. If you’d have told me a year ago that one of the books I was going to be most eagerly looking forward to month-in and month-out was going to be The Flintstones, I would have thought you’d lost it. In fact, I probably would have said that Donald effing Trump had a better chance of being elected president. And yet, here we are — ain’t life crazy? And shitty? But at least we have this comic, and as antidotes to a new age of right-wing anti-intellectual barbarism go, you won’t find much better.

2. The Sheriff Of Babylon (Vertigo)

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The Vision may have gotten all the attention, but Tom King‘s best series of 2016 — by a wide margin, in my view — was this Iraq-set murder mystery drawn heavily from his own experiences as a CIA case officer during that bloody boondoggle of a war. Every aspect of this comic is almost painfully authentic, and Mitch Gerads rounds the package out with artwork so gritty you can feel the sand underneath your fingertips. This. Shit. Was. Amazing. Or maybe that should be “is” amazing, since — well, more on that in a minute.

1. Providence (Avatar)

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I’m out of superlatives, honestly. I review each issue of this series as it comes out, and my mind is blown more completely every time. I said last year that Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows were potentially creating the comic of the young century with this volume of their “Lovecraft Cycle,” and with one installment left to go in this 12-parter, I think it’s safe to say we can take the “potentially” qualifier out of that statement :  Providence is, in fact, the best comic of the century so far.

Wait, though! We’re far from done —

On the graphic novel front, it’s gotta be said that 2016 was a banner year, as well, in many respects — but I’m always a bit perplexed on how best to assemble a “best-of” list when it comes to the GN format because it only seems fair to subdivide it down into wholly original works, trade collections, old-school vintage reprints, etc. Throw in the fact that may “original” graphic novels got their start as serialized installments on the web, and things get even dicier. What really constitutes “new” work anymore? Still, there is definitely plenty outside the realm of the single-issue “floppy” that deserves a mention, and so —

Original Graphic Novel Of The Year : Patience By Daniel Clowes (Fantagraphics)

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Five years in the making, and it shows in every panel on every page. Clowes outdoes himself with each new project, it seems, and this is jewel in his creative crown — until the next one, at any rate. Love, obsession, longing, time travel, regret, loneliness, desolation — even optimism? This work encompasses all of it and then some; a monumental achievement of staggering proportions.

Best Collected Edition Of Recent Work : American Blood By Benjamin Marra (Fantagraphics)

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Anyone who’s read Terror Assaulter : O.M.W.O.T. knows that Ben Marra exists on a planet of his own, and this collection of the self-published works issued under his awesomely-named Traditional Comics imprint runs the stylistic gamut from insanely exaggerated pseudo-“realism” to Gary Panter-esque primitive id-channeling. WaPo columnist Maureen Dowd as a sexy super-spy? Bloodthirsty barbarians from distant worlds? Gang-bangers who do nothing but fuck and kill? Freed slaves who can tear white men apart with their bare hands? It’s all here, in suitably gaudy purple-and-white.

Best Collected Edition Of Vintage WorkMarvel Masterworks : The Black Panther, Volume 2 By Jack Kirby (Marvel)

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In recent years, the awesome body of work produced by The King Of Comics during his second, late-’70s stint at Marvel has finally been given its due as the visionary output it so clearly was, but while books like Machine ManThe EternalsDevil Dinosaur and “Madbomb!”-era Captain America have now taken their rightful place among the rich pantheon of Kirby masterworks, Jack’s Black Panther run from that same period still doesn’t get anything like the love it deserves. Hopefully this handsome hardbound collection will finally start to clue readers in to what a magical and imaginative Wakanda Kirby created in this high-flying techno-fantasy epic.

It wasn’t all good news, though, and since we’re on the subject of T’Challa, we might as well segue into some of 2016’s lowlights —

Most Disappointing Series Of The Year #1 : Black Panther (Marvel)

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There’s no doubt that Ta-Nehisi Coates is a literary and journalistic genius, and his voice in this ugly new Trump-ian era is more necessary and urgent than ever. Unfortunately, he can’t write a comic to save his life, and his dour, humorless, self-absorbed, navel-gazing take on The Panther reads like a relic of the worst sort of over-wrought 1990s excesses. This is a genuinely lousy title, and it doesn’t help that neither of its usually-reliable artists, Brian Stelfreeze and Chris Sprouse, are delivering anything like their best work.

Most Disappointing Series Of The Year #2 : Batman (DC)

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Tom King giveth, and Tom King taketh away. We’ve already covered the great stuff he’s given readers in 2016, but he’s also taken one of the most consistently-good super-hero books and turned it into a massive fucking train wreck. Lots of people were jazzed when he was announced as Scott Snyder‘s replacement on the “main” Bat-book, but King has struggled to find a “voice” for Bruce Wayne either in or out of the cape and cowl, his two major storylines to date have featured ridiculous plots, and 13 issues in all we can really say is that he writes a pretty good Alfred. The illustration by David Finch on the first five-issue story arc was atrocious, and the only thing that saved this title from being dropped from my pull for the first time ever was when the magnificent Mikel Janin took over art chores with the second arc and delivered work of absolutely breathtaking scope and grandeur. Still, at this point, I have to say — when he goes, I go. And I think he’s gone after next issue. And yet, horseshit as this book has been, it’s nothing compared with our —

Worst Comic Of The Year : Dark Knight III : The Master Race (DC)

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Unmitigated garbage that plumbs new depths of hopelessness with every issue, Brian AzzarelloAndy Kubert and Klaus Janson (with nominal involvement from Frank Miller) are doing something here no one thought possible : making fans yearn for the days of The Dark Knight Strikes Again!  (which, admittedly, I’ve always liked, but no one else does). Also, they seem to be doing their level best to match that title’s glacial publication schedule. At this rate, we’re gonna wait three years to complete a story that’s been a total waste of time from the outset. This series is honestly starting to rival Before Watchmen  in the “artistically-bankrupt blatant cash-grab” category. I expected nothing from it, true — and yet somehow we’re getting even less than that.

I’m going to close on something of a high note for DC, though, if you can believe it, because they also get the award for —

Best Development Of 2016 DC’s Young Animal

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I’m still not sure what the hell a “pop-up imprint” is, but Gerard Way has one he can call his very own, and so far all four series released under this label’s auspices — Doom Patrol (as previously discussed), Shade, The Changing GirlCave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye and Mother Panic — have been not just good, but great. While at first DCYA sounded like little more than a stylistic heir to vintage-era Veritgo to my mind, in fact its aims seem to be much different, while admittedly utilizing a number of characters and concepts from that fan-favorite period. This is an imprint where anything both goes and can happen, and we’ve sorely needed that for waaaaayyy too long. In short, this is the most exciting thing either of the “Big Two” have done in — shit, as long as I can remember. Long may it continue.

So — What About The Year To Come?

By the sound of it there’s plenty to be excited about, from Warren Ellis spearheading the re-launch of WildStorm to the debuts of much-publicized new series from Image such as God Country and The Few, but my most-anticipated events of 2017 (at least as far we know now) would have to be —

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March 31st (seriously, guys?) is slated as the provisional release date for Providence #12, and to say that I can’t wait to find out how it all ends would be an understatement of criminal proportions. It would also be an equally-proportionate understatement to say that I’ll simply “miss” this series when it’s over. So, ya know, maybe take your time with that last issue, after all.

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The so-called second “season” of The Sheriff Of Babylon is due to hit sometime in the latter part of the year and, simple as the “teaser” image shown above was, it was still enough to get me excited. And finally —

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January sees the release of the first installment of Kamandi Challenge, a “round-robin” 12-part series from DC starring The Last Boy On Earth that features a different creative team on each issue trying to solve the cliffhangers left by the folks the month before, as well setting up new messes for the next bunch to get themselves out of. This is the first of what I hope to be many releases commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Jack Kirby that we can look forward to over the next 12 months — in fact, DC has just also announced an omnibus hardcover reprinting of Kirby’s entire original Kamandi run, so let’s hope that 2017 really will be a vintage year for fans of The King.

Whew! Okay! We’re done for the year! Enjoy your holidays — or what remains of them — and we’ll see you back here in January, when we get to start the whole thing all over again!

 

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A few weeks back, we took a look at what Marvel was doing with the “classic” Clint Barton iteration of Hawkeye in the pages of Occupy Avengers #1, but Clint’s not the only archer at loose ends in the MU these days — his protege/successor/sidekick, Kate Bishop, is on her own on the West Coast and finally ready to step out of her mentor’s currently-troubled shadow after playing second-fiddle to him in the last three (Jesus, guys, seriously?) Hawkeye series by starring in her own solo book. And since a year apparently can’t go by without a new Hawkeye #1, December 2016 sees our annual quota met with the first issue of Kate’s new title courtesy of writer Kelly Thompson, artist Leonardo Romero, and colorist Jordie Bellaire. But does it hit the mark?

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Based on what’s on offer here, I’m pleased to answer that question with an enthusiastically tentative (how’s that for an oxymoron?) “yes.” Thompson has a superb handle on her protagonist’s voice, mannerisms, speech patterns, and overall attitude, and since “attitude” is the arguably the most dangerous (and fun) metaphorical arrow in Kate’s equally metaphorical quiver, that counts for a lot. As we watch her attempt to set up shop as a private eye in Venice Beach, California, we get sass and smarts to spare, are introduced to a tight but intriguing supporting cast, and hey — there’s even a pretty slick Point Break-esque bank robbery sequence that plays out in a manner that you could almost be forgiven for calling charming. Yeah, alright, Kate’s first case does seem like a rather standard-issue affair, but there’s even hope for that, as the last page shows that what we thought to be a rather “open-and-shut” affair is probably anything but. In short, then, the operative word here is fun, and that’s something that’s been sorely missing from any Hawkeye book since Matt Fraction and David Aja left the building.

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Romero’s art is of the “crisp, clean, and contemporary” variety, with some cartoon-ish influences at the forefront that suit the tone of the script quite well, and while it’s not what you’d call outright remarkable in any way, it’s certainly several steps above merely “competent” and definitely reinforces the comic’s overall “let’s not take ourselves too seriously here, folks” tone. I’m not sure that his style would work on, say, Captain America or any other “traditional” super-hero book, but on this one, it not only does the job, it does it well. Bellaire’s color work is always among the best in the business, of course, and here she employs an uncharacteristically bright and lively palette that further cements the feeling of fun and light-hearted (though hardly insubstantial for all that) adventure established by the line art while eschewing the temptation to fall completely over into the whimsical and/or farcical. The end result is that rarest of rarities these days : a single-issue “floppy” that both reads and looks like it was intentionally designed to be experienced as such, rather than simply as the first chapter of an inevitable trade paperback collection — and this, friends, is something that I dig very much, because the monthly (or thereabouts) single is still where my heart as a comics reader lies.

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On the subject of monthly singles, though, I don’t think it’s any secret that I was less than enthusiastic about yet another “Marvel Now!” relaunch back when it was originally announced — even if its arrival meant that Civil War II was, mercifully, over with — but I have to say that on the whole I’ve been more than pleasantly surprised by what’s come out of it, particularly as far as our two favorite bow-slingers are concerned. Any gripes I have about the new Hawkeye #1 are very small indeed (for instance, while I love Julian Totino Tedesco’s cover, shouldn’t it say “The Adorable Archer Takes Aim — At Danger?”), and for anyone who’s been waiting for Marvel to “get it right” with the Hawkeyes again, between this book and Occupy Avengers it looks like they’ve done just that. Thompson, Romero, and Bellaire have scored a real bull’s-eye with readers on this one, and ya know what? It doesn’t hurt a bit.

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As we’ve already established around these parts in earlier reviews for his Shaft and Shaft : Imitation Of Life series, David F. Walker is the man. I don’t think it’s an act, either — this guy just plain knows the streets. He understands the vibe, tempo, rhythm, and flavor of an urban setting in a way that no one else working in comics right now does, and so when I heard that Marvel had chosen him (minus usually-present the “F” in his name, for some strange reason) to spearhead their umpteenth relaunch of Power Man And Iron Fist, I knew they had hired the right guy for the one-time Heroes For Hire. Now all I have to do is sit back and say “I told you so” for a few paragraphs.

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Simple, straight-forward, and to the point — that’s Walker’s M.O. across the board, and here he uses it to great effect : Luke Cage and Danny Rand are back together — for a day, not permanently (yet) — to greet their former secretary, Jennie Royce, as she gets out of prison. Neither of them visited her much while she was locked up, it’s got to be said, but then Luke was busy getting married to Jessica Jones and starting a family while Danny was off galavanting around the globe, as detailed in his recently -concluded, Steranko-esque solo series. Jennie doesn’t seem to hold much of a grudge, though, and is glad to see her former bosses — especially since she could use their help getting back a piece of jewelry with heavy sentimental value attached to it. Sounds like an open-and-shut case, right? The only problem — the necklace in question is now the property of bad-ass underworld boss Tombstone. And he doesn’t tend to let his possessions go easily, especially since he’s got more than enough hired muscle to ensure that he can keep whatever the hell he wants wherever the hell he wants it.

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If you’re thinking some bad-ass fight scenes are in store, you’re right on the money, but there’s more to Power Man And Iron Fist #1 than just  good, old-fashioned brawling (not that we have a problem with that). Walker’s got such a firm handle on the characters right from the outset that you could be forgiven for thinking he’s been writing them for years, and the issue has an underlying comic tone that serves it well and puts one in mind of the dearly-missed Superior Foes Of Spider-Man. There’s a lot of seriously cool shit happening in this book, sure, but it never takes itself too seriously, and in today’s ultra-grim, ultra-dark comic book landscape that’s a very welcome thing indeed. Walker hits the exact right tone in every line of dialogue in every panel on every page, and watching a master at work like this is more than just fun, it’s an absolute joy.

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Please don’t get the impression that this is anything like a one-man show, though : artist Sanford Greene brings a fresh, dynamic approach to the look of this series that’s about as far removed from the visual trappings of a traditional super-hero book as one could ever hope to find in a “Big Two” comic, and when you combine his rough-hewn, energetic pencils and inks with the superbly-chosen color palette of “steady hand” veteran Lee Loughridge, the result is pure magic. This is a comic that looks every bit as contemporary and “real” as it reads, and all I can say is that I hope this team remains together for a good, long, prosperous run because as much as I didn’t want this issue to end, multiply that by about a thousand and you’ll know how much I  really don’t want this series too, either.

So let’s all do our part to make sure it’s with us for the long haul, shall we? The popularity of the Netflix Jessica Jones television series should go some way toward steering the curious towards this title, but it’s a glutted marketplace right now and “niche” books like this sometimes have a hard time standing out from all the “Bat-books” and “X-books” stuffing the shelves. Marvel deserves some credit for reserving at least a corner of their corporate universe for comics with an “indie vibe” like this one, but whether we’re talking about the Fraction/Aja run on Hawkeye or the already-mentioned Superior Foes, their patience for the “offbeat” never seems to last all that long. One thing can change their minds in a hurry, though, and that’s sales — so buy this book, get your shop owner to add it to your pull list, and then tell your friends about it.

Now, the cynical and/or realistic among you are probably of the opinion that it’s a bad sign that I’m worried about the long-term “health” of this title after only one issue, I suppose, but I offer the rejoinder that a book must be pretty damn good indeed for me to have a heightened level of concern about its prospects this quickly. So consider this an opportunity to make both you and me happy at the same time — get on board with Power Man And Iron Fist right now and enjoy what promises to be one heck of a fun ride.

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To quote the Man In Black himself — “I sense something, a presence I’ve not felt since —” oh yeah, since the last horeshit Star Wars comic I read, Jason Aaron and John Cassaday’s Star Wars #1. Marvel cranked out the second issue (which I didn’t buy) of that series a mere two weeks after the first, and now here we are a week on from that with the debut installment of their first “spin-off” book, Star Wars : Darth Vader, which comes our way courtesy of respected creators Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larocca.

Given the thorough dressing-down I gave of Aaron and Cassaday’s comic (a view not shared by many, as most write-ups online have been positively effusive in their praise for it) , some readers might be surprised that I forked over five bucks for this one, but I was determined to give it a shot simply due to the fact that  Gillen is one of my absolute favorite writers at the moment (are you reading The Wicked + The Divine? Because you really should be), and the “virgin art” preview pages for this tacked on at the end of Star Wars #1 made it look kind of interesting. What the hell, I figured — even if it’s lousy, I can cut my losses quick and high-tail it after the first issue.

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Needless to say, that’s exactly what I’ll be doing. Yeah, I admit I went into this prepared for the possibility that it might suck, but there’s no way I could have guessed that it would suck this badly. Larocca’s art is nice, sure, even if it’s highly and obviously photo-referenced, but his stubborn insistence on horizontal panel grids for every single page (apart from the double-page splashes) begins to grate rather quickly, and even colorist Edgar Delgado’s nicely-rendered hues can’t save this comic from working your last nerve in the visuals department for too long. Salvador, buddy, you can draw pretty well — now please vary things up a bit so we actually want to keep looking at your drawings from the first page to the last!

Still, that’s a chump-change complaint in comparison to the larger one I have about this book — one that, in retrospect,  should have been obvious from looking at the cover alone. I’ll freely admit that Adi Granov gives us a nicely-rendered, iconic Vader pose to kick off the proceedings (one of a dozen different options for the easily-snookered consumer to  choose from, including the ever-popular Skottie Young and “Action Figure”-style variants, as shown), but within a few pages it becomes apparent that he didn’t opt for a “timeless”-style image simply because this is a first issue, but because nothing fucking happens in this comic that he can base a cover on. Yes, the fact that this is most likely a standard-length story that was expanded out to 30 pages so Marvel could gouge an extra buck out of readers is a problem (and one not unique to this book — Marvel recently had Joe Quesada spread Grant Morrison’s “lost” Miracleman story out from what should have been three or four pages to 10 for All-New Miracleman Annual #1, with predictably disastrous results) that well-nigh destroys any sense of pace and timing Gillen’s script could theoretically have possessed, but the simple turth of the matter is that there’s not even enough happening here to fill a standard 20-page comic.

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Consider : Vader is sent by the Empror to cut some sort of deal with Jabba The Hutt. Upon arrival, he kills a couple of Hutt’s lackeys with his light saber. He attempts to cut a side-deal of his own while there, and a flashback sequence showing him being chastised by Palpatine for letting the Death Star be destroyed (like Aaron and Cassaday’s Star Wars this series apparently takes place between A New Hope  and The Empire Strikes Back) that dovetails with events happening over in the “main” SW book shows why he’s opting to play this little gambit of his out. Then he meets up with the guys who are going to help him with his  “off-the books” mission, Boba Fett and some Wookie sidekick of his. The end. Positively scintillating stuff, is it not?

Yeah — I didn’t really think so, either.

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About the only thing I can say in this book’s favor story-wise is that the opening “credits scroll” is kinda fun in that it’s clearly written from a pro-Empire, pro-Vader point of view, but beyond that I have to admit that Gillen really seems to be mailing it in here. Some might just chalk this up to the absence of his frequent creative partner Jamie McKelvie, but that theory quickly falls flat on its face when you consider that  Uber is a pretty good book and McKelvie is nowhere to be found on that one. More than likely I think the obviously talented writers Marvel is employing on their Star Wars comics don’t seem to give much of a shit about the work they’re turning in here because the publisher itself doesn’t give much of a shit. As long as they have all the superficial trappings in terms of look and feel of the films themselves, the so-called “House Of Ideas” knows that most of the suckers out there will be back every month. The old saying might go “once is an aberration, twice is a coincidence, and three times is a pattern,” but two strikes is definitely enough for me as far as these SW series go. Star Wars #1 was a failure, Star Wars : Darth Vader #1 is an absolutely dismal failure, and the forthcoming Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, and Han Solo “spin-off” books won’t be getting any of my hard-earned cash.

Not that it matters much, of course — some poor schmuck will no doubt buy two copies of every cover for each comic, and Dis/Mar will get by just fine without my custom. Folks like that are the real “target audience” for these books, anyway, as evidenced by the fact that so far there’s been no attempt to even interest anyone else outside of the hardest of hard-core Star Wars fan circles. Mind you, those people probably should be pissed off about the fact that Marvel is so openly contemptuous of them that they aren’t even bothering to give ’em much of anything for their money, but maybe that’s just human nature — if readers are going to fork over the same $4.99 a pop regardless of how much effort you put into it, would you bust your ass, or would you just put the whole thing on cruise control, sit back, and collect their money?

 

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So this is it. After months of relentless hype and build-up, the opening salvo of Dis/Mar’s full-spectrum Star Wars dominance has arrived in the form of the new Star Wars #1 from Marvel Comics. Get ready for more, of course — the year-long lead-up to the new SW flick, The Force Awakens, is going to get positively deafening. We’ve only just begun.

And the four-color page seems a natural enough place to start things off, given that the second Disney purchased Lucasfilm lock, stock, and barrel it was obvious where the Star Wars license was going to go once Dark Horse’s deal for the property expired at the end of 2014. Marvel is using “back home” as their motto not only for this series, but the solo series featuring Darth Vader, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, et. al. to come, and while it’s true that they were the first to publish Star Wars spin-off comics, I’m not sure if what’s going on here isn’t more of a consolidation than a true “homecoming.”

Still, make no mistake — a lot is riding on this book, and especially on this first issue. Marvel has put this out stapled between no fewer than 100 (yes, you read that right) variant covers (of which I’m only including a few examples —- hmm, can you guess which one is by Skottie Young?), and a distribution deal with Toys ‘R’ Us has them confidently predicting that this will be the first comic to sell a million copies in well over a decade.

Honestly, it’s enough to make the early ’90s — when people argued over whether or not Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man #1 was a “legit” million-seller because it featured two different covers — seem quaint, isn’t it? Of course, the profits involved here are staggeringly higher,  even though the numbers being bandied about are similar,  simply because Spider-Man hit the stands with a cover price of $1.50, while Star Wars costs a mind-boggling $4.99, and it doesn’t exactly take a math whiz to figure out that a million books at five bucks a pop adds up to five million dollars. Sure, the price per issue Marvel is getting from Diamond — and Diamond from the stores — is a lot lower than the $4.99 us dumb suckers have to pay, but considering that the variant covers are being parceled out based on number of orders per shop, and that most of them cost anywhere from $10 to $50 depending on their “rarity,” five mil seems like a pretty solid bet for this book’s total take for its publisher at the end of the day.

Tell ya what, Marvel will probably reach that lofty goal, too — at my local comic shop this morning (Comic Book College on Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis) there were all kinds of people pouring in who quite obviously hadn’t set foot in the place in years, if ever, and most of ’em were buying both the regular five dollar version to read and at least one of the variants, most of which were in the $12-$20 range, to bag, board, and presumably save forever — or to hustle off on eBay within the next week when demand will be at its highest, take your pick. One guy I saw was buying six different copies of what is, let’s face it, exactly the same comic.

Well, to quote In Living Color, homie don’t play dat, so I just walked out the door with the bog-standard version only, and I damn near didn’t even get that because this way a pricey enough Wednesday as it is, what with a number of actually good books coming out.

The common theme you’ll be hearing, of course, is that this temporary surge of interest is “good for comics,” because at least a few of the hard-core Star Wars fans out there who come into the shop will find a few other things to try, and if they like ’em, they’ll be back. Maybe that’s true — but I remain skeptical that this hoopla will be “good” for anyone other than Marvel, and that even for them it will represent only a temporary bump at best. Consider — the nearest thing conceptually to Star Wars to come out this week was the newest issue of Image Comics’ frankly far superior sci-fi series, Copperhead, and my LCS only ordered its usual five or six copies of that, despite the fact that anyone who takes a chance on that title probably will be back for more, while your average Star Wars customer, assuming they’re not completely drunk on Lucas Kool-Aid, is simply going to go home, read the thing, and feel instantly ripped off.

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All of which is my none-too-subtle way of saying that, you guessed it, I didn’t like the book. Oh, sure, I probably should have given the fact that it boasts a trio of “A-list” creators in writer Jason Aaron, artist John Cassaday, and colorist Laura Martin, but once the story proper starts in (after a mind-numbing four introductory “design pages” at the front), it becomes pretty clear that everyone involved is mailing this one in. Cassaday’s art looks okay but is nowhere near his usual standard with uncharacteristically sloppy character forms and facial expressions, Martin’s colors are solid enough but don’t really add any depth of feeling or atmosphere to the panels, and Aaron’s script is a threadbare run-around in space peppered with just enough quick and easy “spot-on” bits of dialogue to fool lazy readers into thinking he “gets” these characters. Shit, after spending most of the preceding 29 pages setting up some lame non-negotiation for the supply of unspecified “raw materials” to the Empire from our barely-disguised Rebel forces, the story ends on the most predictable cliff-hanger of all — a splash page teasing a looming light saber battle between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. Hmmm — where have we seen that done both before and better?

From the moment I read the initial announcement regarding the creative teams behind these titles, the choice of Aaron to script the main series puzzled me. Yes, he’s one of the best writers in mainstream comics today — Scalped and Southern Bastards prove that beyond a shadow of a doubt — but gritty rural-ish “noir” seems to be his forte, and his one foray into the cosmic that I’ve read, Thanos Rising, was almost remorselessly uninspiring stuff, despite featuring some truly incredible art from Simone Bianchi. There’s probably nobody in the industry I’d rather have telling me stories set in Deep South backwaters or on “The Rez,” but as far as space operas go, Aaron just isn’t the man for the job. Sorry.

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Cassaday, on the other hand, definitely seemed like a “home run” choice for artist, but he’s really off his game here. Presented with a number of chances to do some truly dynamic, memorable splash pages — I believe there were three in this issue alone — his work instead appears stiff, uninspired, and even out of proportion. Is this really the same guy who did all those beautiful issues of Captain America a decade ago? He seems a shadow of his former self here.

Still,  while the choice of Aaron and the work turned in by Cassaday were both surprising — and not in a good way — what doesn’t surprise me in the least is Marvel’s decision to set these stories in between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. If you’ll recall, the first issues of Marvel’s spin-off Star Wars comic came out right after the first film and before the second was able to further “nail down” Lucas’ mythology, and consequently, a number of things that the creators of those books, most notably Archie Goodwin and Howard Chaykin, came up with were subsequently either ignored completely, or changed beyond recognition in Empire and Return Of The Jedi — things like a skinny, yellow-skinned Jabba the Hut with long walrus whiskers, or that pesky flashback scene that shows Luke’s father being killed in a light saber fight (of course) by Darth Vader. Clearly, there are numerous continuity issues here that Marvel probably won’t bother trying to actually resolve, but will do their damndest to bury under a raft of new, more technically “accurate” stories set in the same period.

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This is one reader who definitely won’t be sticking around to see how it all plays out, though. Star Wars #1 was so thoroughly mediocre, with all of the principal creators giving such a sub-par effort, that no matter how much better things get (assuming that they do), it won’t be enough to even drag this series kicking and screaming up to “average” status. Once upon a time, we got really well-done imaginative Star Wars comics, but that feels like it happened a long time ago in a galaxy — well, you know the rest.