Posted tagged ‘comics’

Review: Essential Sub-Mariner Vol.1

June 7, 2010

I’ve been waiting years for Marvel to get around to releases this book.  The Sub-Mariner is the last of their silver age super-hero titles to have gone without an affordable edition in print.  For that alone I’ve been wanting this to complete the collection, but also I always loved the character of Namor, probably the most pompous figure in comics, and a lot of fun because of that.

But sadly I think I see why Marvel was hesitant to bring these back.  As it turns out, there are exactly two types of Namor stories.

  1. Namor has a misunderstanding with the human race and nearly declares war
  2. Someone tries to claim the throne of Atlantis from Namor

Now, this collection has stories from 35 issues, granted most of these are only 12 pages long, but still, these schticks get old pretty quickly.  And it doesn’t help that there’s a fairly glaring problem with the art as well that I just can’t get past, even with greats such as Bill Everett, Gene Colan, and John Buscema at work.  

Namely, no one can seem to remember that Atlantis is actually underwater!  Why does the city have paved roads!?!  Why are robes in fashion and why don’t they float!?!  Why is Dorma’s hair perfectly styled, only to appear wet when she’s out of the water!?!  You get the idea.

There are a few decent issues here, and in small doses the stories can be fun, but as a whole, not one of Marvel’s better efforts.

Review: Scalped: the Gnawing

June 3, 2010

I’ve raved about Scalped a few times here and now I’m starting to run out of new ways to praise it.  It’s the best crime comic written today, and quite possibly the best ever.

The Gnawing is the latest tale, in which undercover agent Dash Bad Horse is tasked by Chief Red Crow to find the rat in his organization.  And if that isn’t bad enough Dash also has to attempt to keep a witness to a murder perpetrated by Red Crow alive long enough to testify.  And Red Crow has his own problems after inciting a war with his casino’s financiers.

The ensuing conflict is one of the most brutal stories I’ve ever read.  This is an epic tragedy, with no happy endings.  In fact, the saddest part of the book is the news that a character is pregnant and that the pain and suffering endured by everyone in the story is about to be extended into another generation.  It’s heartbreaking and ingenious writing that somehow made a great book get even better.

Review: Secret Six: Depths

June 2, 2010

The newest collection of Gail Simone’s twisted super-villain series, Secret Six, is the first misstep she’s taken since writing the first mini-series featuring the characters.  Her grasp of the characters is as strong as ever, and the first two issues in this collection, which are both one-off tales, are excellent.  However, the main story in this volume is a ill-conceived team-up with Wonder Woman, which pretty much just exists because Simone was also writing that book at the time.

The Six are hired by a group who has forced a band of Amazons into slave labor in order to construct the world’s greatest prison.  What exactly the six are hired to do, is never really explained, nor is it explained why the would be warden has made a deal with Grendel.  Then there’s the problem that Wonder Woman and the Six don’t mesh together at all.  Oh and there’s also that this makes back to back stories in which the Six turn on one another and then somehow make up afterwards.

The book’s almost worth it for the first issue, being the most awkward date comic in history, but the rest is just a mess.

Review: Annihilation

May 26, 2010

Annihilation was Marvel’s quite successful take at reviving their cosmic characters.  The cosmic branch of the Marvel Universe had been languishing for years under the weight of Jim Starlin’s legacy.  Starlin wrote epics of Godlike beings with nebulous powers who would battle across the stars while espousing cryptic philosophies.  His approach came to its head in the Infinity Gauntlet, a fairly legendary mini-series in the Marvel cannon, which everyone else to tackle this world has sought to emulate, never with much success.

Now the Gauntlet was published back in ’91, making it well past overdue for Marvel to try something radical, which is where Annihilation comes in.  It’s an event, comprising 7 mini-series, with 29 issues, and collected in 3 volumes.  The structure of this sort of thing is slightly odd, with 1 issue to launch the story, a big mini-series to wrap it up, and a bunch of more character focused minis between that serve to spotlight a pretty damn eclectic group of characters.  The Silver Surfer is there because there has to be one big name cosmic hero, but then there are stories for Super-villains Ronan the Accuser and Super Skrull, former teen pseudo-cosmic hero Nova, and one for a completely revamped Drax the Destroyer.

Their stories all bring them into conflict with the Annihilation Wave, an enormous army lead by the classic Fantastic Four villain Annihilus (a.k.a. the living death that walks).  Now I’ve always liked Annihilus for some reason, despite the fact that he’s hardly the most well-rounded villain, being someone who simply wants to kill everyone so he can be the last living thing in the Universe.  But as far as evil cosmic menaces go, that’s pretty good, and its kind of nice to see him actually trying to follow through on his goals after being around for 40 years or so.

So with that what we have he is a good old-fashioned space war, but maybe the best one ever portrayed in comics.  Worlds are destroyed, heroes fall, and in nearly every issue the status quo of the universe is changed.  And when it’s all over, Marvel cosmic is left a much more interesting place, not to mention one that’s proven to be able to sustain a few ongoing series for the first time in an age.

Review: The Unknown

May 19, 2010

The Unknown is the start of another high concept mystery series by editor-in-chief Mark Waid.  And much like Potter’s Field, which I reviewed last week, it’s a great idea for a series, that’s just in need of a slightly greater case to make it work, hopefully in the inevitable volume 2.

The Unknown focusing on Cat Allingham, a Sherlock Holmes by way of Warren Ellis figure with an insatiable need to prove how the world functions.  Only problem is she has an inoperable brain tumor that will kill her within six months, and which is tormenting her with constant hallucination, making her deductive skills useless.  Thus she is forced to rely on James Doyle, an ex-bouncer with a knack for picking up on the tells of those around him.

This book chronicles their first case together, as well as the start of Cat’s obsession with investigating the possibility of an afterlife.  The object of their case is a scale developed by a pair of quantum physicists that may be precise enough to measure the existence of the soul.

The story doesn’t really provide any answers however, which shouldn’t really be surprising given the title.  This proves to be a mystery story about mysteries and not about solving them, which is an approach I like a great deal.  All in all a decent start to this series and I expect great things in the future.

Review: The Bronx Kill

May 13, 2010

The Bronx Kill is Peter Milligan’s best comic in years, as well as being one of his most atypical.  He’s done some truly phenomenal books in the past (The Extremist, X-Statix, Shade the Changing Man) and has been writing a pretty good Hellblazer run for the past year, but generally he’s fallen flat every time he’s attempted a slightly more mainstream story (such as his runs on X-Men and Elektra).

So now we have a fairly low key missing wife story this is absolutely brilliant.  Martin Keane is an author whose sophomore novel was just released to scathing reviews.  But he has a new one in the works that has absolutely nothing to do with the family of policemen he comes from, or his grandmother that walked out on the family, or his great-grandfather who was murdered in the Bronx Kill for that matter.  He has spent his whole life trying to distance himself from his family’s legacy, and now he finds that its become his main source of inspiration despite his attempts to combat it.  Then when Martin’s wife vanishes one night he gets pulled into his family history even further, especially once he becomes the chief suspect.

Milligan here has created the first book that really justifies Vertigo’s new line of crime comics.  It’s also one of the best pieces of modern noir I’ve encountered.

Review: Potter’s Field

May 11, 2010

Potter’s Field is the coolest idea for a crime story I’ve come across in a while.  The title refers to the cemetery in New York used for unidentified bodies, and it fills up with around 125 corpses a week according to the intro.  Enter John Doe, a vigilante detective whose determined to give each grave its proper name, and more often than not resolve a few loose ends from their lives.

It’s the best thing I’ve seen from Mark Waid in ages, and it’s really nice to return to the mystery genre, which he hasn’t really touched on since his days at Crossgen (unless you count his Elongated Man bits from 52).  And being a big ideas sort of writer, Waid writes fairly unique crime stories that focus squarely on those ideas.  

Potter’s Field works well for that, but Waid does lay it on a bit thick at time.  Besides having a protagonist named John Doe, there are also cases here involving identical twins and identity thieves.  I’m hoping as he tells more stories with this character he’ll stop adhering to his theme so strongly.  But either way, this is a very promising start.

Review: Rex Mundi: Gate of God

May 11, 2010

The final volume of Arvid Nelson’s epic grail quest, Rex Mundi, is a huge improvement over the previous book, but still lacks the appeal of the first half of the series.  In an earlier review I called the series the Da Vinci Code done right.  The two works are really similar (of note, Rex Mundi started first), dealing with conspiracy theories involving the lineage of Christ and tons of research into Church history, although in the case of Rex Mundi this is taking place in an alternate history with a bit of magic.

And when the story focused on the alternate history it was fascinating, particularly France’s march to war in which they essentially recreate WWII (the villain here finally makes the jump to clearly being a stand-in for Hitler), and the magic worked best when it was used as a small background element where most people can’t do more than use it to light cigarettes.  However, the conclusion is the perfect opposite of what I liked about the series.  The conspiracies have been revealed, the war has been removed to the text back matter of each issue, and the conclusion is a full on battle between two rival wizards, complete with an army of Ray Harryhausen skeletons.

It’s a well done fight, and it’s not like I don’t enjoy that sort of thing, it’s just not what I was reading Rex Mundi for.  Although it is a great showcase for artist Juan Ferreyra who is much better at drawing this sort of thing than he was at the talking heads of the previous volumes.  So the big finale is pretty great, but it feels like its occurring in the wrong book.

Review: Captain America: Reborn

May 6, 2010

After 50 issues (of which the title character has been dead for the last 2 years worth) Ed Brubaker has brought things to a conclusion in Reborn.  It’s not a bad summation to the story (or of Captain America’s history for that matter), and it does accomplish its main goal of resurrecting Cap without resorting to too large of a deus ex machina, but it does have a pretty major plot flaw.

So, two years ago, Captain America was shot and killed by girlfriend who was being controlled by minions of the Red Skull at the time.  As it turns out what actually happened was that Cap became unstuck in time (slaughterhouse-five style) thanks to Dr. Doom’s time platform (which to be fair, had been introduced into the story before then).  And now in this book the Red Skull has launched his master plan, to bring Cap back to the present and take control of his body.

As master plans go, not so original.  And furthermore, this doesn’t really make sense as it was established pretty well in here that Cap’s time traveling was an accident because the time platform was broken.  So, after all this time Brubaker’s master plan for the Skull was this, despite tons of villainous monologuing from both the Skull and his allies about how nefarious his plan was and how people would be astonished when it was unveiled.  Yeah, not so much.

But looking past that flaw, the story’s pretty good in a widescreen action way, which isn’t a surprise with Bryan Hitch on art duties.  The man is the #1 go to guy for illustrating enormous super hero battles, and Brubaker gives him plenty to work with here.  And it does make for a pretty satisfying ending, but it is also a bit at odds with the more intricately plotted sort of espionage stories that Brubaker had been telling up until now.  Brubaker can do better, but Cap still remains one of Marvel’s best books.

Review: Captain America: Road to Reborn

May 3, 2010

Ed Brubaker treads water a bit in this volume of the ongoing series.  I suspect a lot of that is publisher interferance though, and Brubaker makes the most of the situation, but it is what it is.

The problem is a pair of scheduling debacles.  First of all there’s the slightly contrived back-to-back anniversary issues.  This volume collects issue 50 of the current series, and which point Marvel reset the numbering to its original system, giving us issue 600.  So we have an issue dedicated to the history of Bucky (the current Captain America), and one dedicated to remembering the death of the previous one.  Both are good, but both are also filler.

Scheduling problem two, Marvel decided to take the next major story arc, in which the original Captain America returns from the dead, and pull it out into its own mini-series in an attempt to boost its prominence.  This move left the series with an extra issue to be used up, so more filler it is.  This time its an unused annual Marvel had lying around that has become Cap 601.  The issue is really meant to be a tribute to Gene Colan, one of the legends of the industry.  And on that level it works, letting the Dean come back to draw a double sized issue of Cap battling vampires, elements from two of his signature comics.  And his art is as wonderful as it ever was (although he could make do with a better colorist).  However, this is also the third issue in a row that doesn’t advance the story, and enough’s enough.

I’m being pretty harsh here I realize, and none of these comics are bad issues.  But you can pretty much skip this whole book and not notice a thing, and that’s got to matter.