This is yet another week with a bunch of first issues; most are either Marvel, Image or smaller publishers, but let’s start with DC’s second weekly comic. It helps a lot if you come into this having read the Free Comic Book Day Futures End #0, since that sets up the premise — the DC Earth of 35 years from now has been taken over by Brother Eye (in this continuity, created by the New-52 version of Mr. Terrific), who’s turned almost all the heroes into cyborg/insect killing machines. Bruce Wayne tries to prevent this from happening by sending Terry McGinnis (Batman Beyond) back in time to stop Brother Eye from being created — but, due to a glitch, Terry arrives seven years too late — which is five years in the future of the current DC continuity, and where this story takes place. Got all that? Good, because this comic barely mentions any of it, instead setting up a couple of ongoing plots involving Terry trying to figure out what to do, Grifter killing some daemonites, Stormwatch getting blasted, and Firestorm arriving to help Green Arrow in a crisis — but a little too late. There are a number of echoes of other time-traveling dystopian-future stories here — Terminator and Age of Ultron, especially — but the writing team here is strong, and watching them play with the anything-goes nature of possible-future plots should be interesting. If you dislike grim stories and high body counts, though, give this a pass: there are already a number of bodies on the floor (one literally) after this debut, and 51 issues to go before the inevitable reset-button push.
Marvel’s own summer mini-series begins, and while it’s smaller in scope (eight issues versus DC’s 52), it’s thinking big, too, beginning with the apparent murder of the Watcher (and the theft of his eyes). The premise here (although it isn’t really touched on much in this first issue) is that the Watcher, cosmic Peeping Tom that he is, has catalogued a number of prior sins of some of the Marvel characters, and they will come out, to potentially embarrassing and life-altering effect. Once again, if you like shiny, happy comics this isn’t going to be your cup of tea (and if you dislike having your favorite books’ continuity interrupted to take part in editorially-mandated crossovers, then you’re even more out of luck for the next few months), but Aaron is good at the solemn, doom-portending tone that’s required, and Deodato’s art, as always, is very solid and well-constructed. There’s a classic break-the-heroes-into-smaller-teams plot going forward into the next issue, too, and that promises to be interesting (one team is Emma Frost, Ant-Man and the Black Panther; another is Dr. Strange and the Punisher), so here’s hoping that Aaron’s natural exuberance and wit leaven some of the darkness, and that this manages to deliver a good story.
The Amazing Spider-Man: Learning to Crawl #1.1 — Writer: Dan Slott; Art: Ramon Perez
Two new Spider-books, but there isn’t really anything new here. Ultimate is still by Bendis, and if you’ve been liking it (and, hey, it’s a likable book; Spidey works best when he’s a high-school kid, whomever he is, and Bendis has always made the character(s) work really well in that setting), you should keep reading; for new readers, it’s as good a jumping-on point as any. I’m not sure I like where the last page is going, but it’s pretty obviously a feint, so I’m not too worried. As for Learning to Crawl, it’s a Spider-Man Year One mini-series (with annoying numbering), one of many done over the years; Slott, as the regular Spider-writer, is fine on it, although it’s a well-traveled road (the Kurt Busiek/Pat Oliffe Untold Tales of Spider-Man is the best version so far, and it’s still available as cheap (@ $3) back issues). Perez is OK, too, although he has the unenviable task of trying to recall Steve Ditko without actually imitating him, and isn’t always up to the job — although very few artists would be. Given that Amazing has just relaunched, this isn’t a bad reminder of the character’s origins and early supporting cast.
This is the “young” Cyclops, from All-New X-Men, and in that series he was recently reunited with his father, Corsair of the space-pirates-fighting-for-good Starjammers, and decided to go spend some time with him in, you know, outer space. This series is what happens next: father and son exploring the universe. As a swashbuckling romp, this has some promise: Rucka’s a good writer, and Dauterman, who’s done work on Superbia and Nightwing, is young but shows some promise: much like the title character himself.
Jen has a consultation with Matt Murdock, and then goes to Latveria for a talk with that country’s ruler, in a continuation of last issue’s story. Lawyers talking to other lawyers, clients and adversaries: sound boring? Not when they’re bright green and super-strong, or swashbuckling acrobats, or giant robots; also not when they’re by Soule (who gets just the right combination of drama and whimsy for this book) or by Pulido. Here’s a test for fans of comics art: show them his version of She-Hulk, and see if they complain because she isn’t “realistic” enough, or because her eyes are too big. This means they are sad people with limited taste, because he’s rapidly becoming one of the best artists around, with a neo-pop-art style that I think might have begun with Mike Allred (and maybe Mike Parobeck?), and now boasts people like David Aja and Chris Samnee. Like Hawkeye, Daredevil, and Silver Surfer (each by one of those artists), She-Hulk is a very attractive, modern-yet-retro-looking comic, and a fun, energetic antidote to the gloomy, death-obsessed books that seem so much the rage right now (see the first two comics in this review list…). Oh, and special mention to colorist Muntsa Vicente: a seemingly-simple style like Pulido’s lives or dies by its coloring, and Vicente knows just when to lay back, and when to pull out all the candy-colored, psychedelic stops.
Very, very few people in comics have Ellis’s knack for telling a complete story in one 20-page issue; sometimes that makes the book seem too slight (a problem last issue, although there it was helped by the way he was playing with the narrative), and sometimes, like here, it just creates a tight, satisfying tale. Mix in Shalvey’s detailed, spooky art and Jordie Bellaire’s subtle coloring (he makes the main character just black-and-white, but that creates a cool, eye-catching contrast with the rest of his subdued palette, and the result is yet another book with a strikingly-modern style; I’m going to have to start listing colorists in the credits full-time if this kind of thing keeps up…).
You know, I find very few mainstream-DC titles, other than the occasional Bat-book, that hold my interest, but Marvel’s been producing a number of quirky, well-crafted titles lately: the ones I mentioned in the She-Hulk review, and this one, too (Loki’s previous title, Young Avengers, was very high on that list, and it’s a tribute to Kieron Gillen that he recrafted this character so well there — and in the earlier Journey Into Mystery — that now he’s carrying his own book). Ewing does well with a difficult-to-write lead, and he’s got the same knack for humor and light touch (look at the clothing and food narrative boxes here, for example — and Thor’s T-shirt on the last page), that’s then able to turn serious too, which is the mark of so many of Marvel’s better writers right now.
This is another Marvel book that could be called “quirky,” with a decidedly indy flair in both the story (Bunn has done Sixth Gun and The Damned) and the art (Walta reminds me just a little of Farel Dalrymple). It’s quite a bit on the dark side, though (each issue, including this one, has Magneto killing at least one person, some deservedly and some less so), and Bunn, who’s also written some horror, does a good job of making him both appalling and sympathetic — although there’s a little too much of the character’s by-now stock I-survived-the-Holocaust flashback imagery. It’s high-quality work, although the lead and subject matter make neither humor nor any sense of fun part of the package.
This reprint of Alan Moore and Alan Davis’s groundbreaking deconstruction of super-heroes is starting to get to the good parts now (although it will be the next issue or two, which start to get into the longer Eclipse stories instead of the short serial chapters from the British magazine Warrior, where things really take off). I’m still struck by how these don’t seem all that special now — but also by how that’s because the parts that were so new and different have become, over the last 30 years, part of the expected vocabulary in comics; the darkness of both Futures End and Original Sin owe a lot to the shadows cast both by this series and by Dark Knight Returns. Asking $4.99 for 23 pages of story and six pages of “Behind the Scenes” content — plus a couple of reprints of the egregious ’50s British Marvelman comic that originated the characters — still seems a bit much, but there’s no other way to read this work right now, and at least the reproduction is much better than in the original ’80s books, giving Davis’s art the showcase it deserves.
Now we get to the smaller-press first issues, with this offering from Boom! studios. It’s an interesting genre piece, an sf/horror tale about an entire high school, of maybe 500 kids and teachers, that gets mysteriously transported to an alien planet, where they have to fight for survival against the creatures who live in the titular woods there; as most people panic, a small group of outcasts bands together, realizes they’re actually facing some kind of extraterrestrial test, and sets out into the unknown (naturally, it’s a D&D group: a strong guy, a tech wizard, an outdoors person, etc.). Not bad; some of the normal-people-vs.-alien-creatures scenes are very reminiscent of The Mist, but Dialynas does a decent job of both high-school-student caricature and alien environment — particularly on a double-page spread at the center of the book — and Tynion looks to be making a subtle metaphor about how the adult world after high school is a vast, dangerous alien land, so there’s enough to bring me back for at least another issue or two.
A horror book from Image (whom I’m not sure even count as a “small” publisher any more, given the number of books they produce right now), about a small Oregon town that’s produced 16 serial killers over the years (including the titular one, whose gimmick is meant to be creepily crazy but comes off as kind of dumb), and what happens to the investigators who go there to find out why. Reads like a pretty decent B-movie script, with art that’s generally up to the task; if you’re a horror fan, it’s a step above, say, all that Avatar Night of the Living Dead stuff, and worth a look.
Seeley brings back all the Chaos characters — Purgatory, Evil Ernie, Chastity, etc., although Lady Death is now called “Mistress Hel,” presumably to avoid copyright problems– in a six-issue series that is meant to help relaunch them; this is from Dynamite, but it’s nice to see that they put the old “Chaos” logo on the front cover. If you were (or are) a fan of Phoenix’s own comics company back in the ’90s boom years, this will be hard to resist. Non-fans may find it tough sledding (there’s a one-paragraph plot summary on the inside front cover, but otherwise the story starts in the middle and has a big cast, so good luck figuring out what’s going on), and I was never able to see the attraction of any of these books when they were originally published (too old to be part of the adolescent target audience), but I can appreciate the people who grew up on these and are true fans; if you’re one, here you go.
Space horror from Ellis, about a crew on an extra-dimensional-traveling ship that collides with an alien vessel, merging the two as they try to occupy the same space at the same time, and marooning them. There’s a nice creepy Alien vibe here, as the survivors explore their new smashed-up, co-mingled and (seemingly) deserted environment; this is another book that reads like a decent B movie, and if you accept it on that level you’ll be suitably entertained.
This series is almost over; the way this cover harkens back to the one on the very first issue helps to emphasize that, as does the issue’s focus: it’s a look at the history of the main bad guy, with the title character barely there at all, just the kind of thing you’d present right before a final-issue confrontation. It’s been a fun ride, with both Brubaker and Phillips doing some of their best work — the combination of noir and Lovecraft has always played to both of their strengths, and it will be interesting to see (a) if they can stick the landing, and (b) what they’ll tackle next.