Marvel – Read About Comics http://www.readaboutcomics.com Where to find out what's really good. Mon, 16 Nov 2015 17:36:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.5.10 Miracleman #15 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2015/02/10/miracleman-15/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2015/02/10/miracleman-15/#comments Tue, 10 Feb 2015 17:00:57 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2537 Written by Alan Moore Art by John Totleben 48 pages, color Published by Marvel Comics

When Miracleman #15 was first published in November 1988, saying it was attention-grabbing is a bit of an understatement. Those who were reading the title found themselves confronted with a comic where Alan Moore and John Totleben took the normal [...]]]> Written by Alan Moore
Art by John Totleben
48 pages, color
Published by Marvel Comics

When Miracleman #15 was first published in November 1988, saying it was attention-grabbing is a bit of an understatement. Those who were reading the title found themselves confronted with a comic where Alan Moore and John Totleben took the normal levels of violence present in comics and upped the ante considerably, presenting a series of images unlike anything else published at the time. Since that time, so much of what occurs in Miracleman #15 has been reused and recycled in both comics and other media forms. But with the shock value stripped away, it’s almost a relief to see that Miracleman #15 still holds up to a critical eye; it’s still an excellent if disturbing comic.

Miracleman #15 is the climax to the third volume of Miracleman, with one final issue displaying the aftermath still to come. Moore and Totleben don’t skimp at all on the promise of a fight to end all fights; the battle between Miracleman and Kid Miracleman is more than brutal, it’s apocalyptic for the city of London. That’s something that fits in perfectly with the overarching story of volume 3, suitably titled, “Olympus.” This is the rise of Miracleman and his associates to godhood, and the battle here is nothing short of a god versus the devil himself.

Moore asks the reader what a truly insane and evil person with near unlimited powers could do to the world, and has Totleben deliver the results in eye-searing detail. This isn’t a man who is going to build a crazy device, or perhaps hold people captive. This is carnage, pure and simple; never mind the ruined buildings, but the moments where you see the tattered skins of his victims flapping in the breeze is when you realize that Miracleman isn’t fighting a bad guy, but rather a madman in every sense of the word. The fact that Kid Miracleman is able to accomplish (or rather, destroy) so much in such a short period of time speaks well to what Moore and Totleben are trying to present here: he is a threat not just to Miracleman and allies, but literally the entire planet.

Along those lines, the battle between the forces of good (Miracleman, Miraclewoman, Huey Moon, and Warpsmiths Aza Chorn and Phon Mooda) and evil is suitably difficult. The attempts to stop Kid Miracleman start in a standard manner, but quickly shift to increasingly inventive and desperate. The ways in which first Aza Chorn and then Miracleman ultimately defeat Kid Miracleman are both memorable, but in different ways. Being inspired by Japanese culture, Aza Chorn’s usage of his Warpsmith abilities to bring Kid Miracleman to his knees feels almost like a Japanese koan. It’s a smart but elegant solution on how to stop an invulnerable foe, and it’s an example of a writer using a logical method to resolve a plot rather than a random, previously unseen power.

And then there’s the final confrontation, something that’s been reused in a series of homages and outright lifts over the years. As a result, readers will probably see it coming far more than those who first picked up the comic in 1988 did. But here’s the thing: strip away the shock and surprise and it’s still remarkably effective. The emotional undercurrent of the scene between the two characters is the big moment, not the surprise of how it’s accomplished. Moore gives both characters so much grief, regret, and sadness that all these years later I found myself still affected by that final scene.

Totleben’s art—recolored by the legendary Steve Oliff—is so amazing that it’s all the more heartbreaking that we get so little art from this raw talent these days. Totleben’s thin, graceful lines are so beautiful that it makes the hideousness of Kid Miracleman’s rampage that much more memorable. The aftermath is haunting, a level of carnage that it would be hard for anyone to not be permanently changed by. For a moment that literally changes the world (as you’ll see in next month’s aftermath), Totleben and Oliff deliver over and over again. There’s not a single artistic misstep here; Totleben handles every emotion from rage to sorrow, and Oliff’s recoloring of the pages is so deftly handled that it makes you feel like he had been the original color artist right from the start.

Even the page layouts of Miracleman #15 are the sort of craft that now is a bit more common but at the times was a step ahead of most artists. Look at the panels on page 2, drawn as jagged shards tumbling down like the wreckage that Kid Miracleman has created. It’s almost hard to notice them at first because you’re so busy seeing the horror that they encapsulate. But every page is like that, thought through carefully to provide the strongest impact on the reader, and one that rewards multiple re-reads.

Miracleman #15 was for many ears a legendary comic, one that commanded incredibly high prices in the back-issue market. It’s easy to claim that happened because people wanted to see the gore and destruction. I think the reality is something far more important: it’s the climax to all of Moore’s revamp of the comic, a confrontation building since the very first installments in Warrior magazine. Does it deliver what it promised? Most certainly. All of these years later, Miracleman #15 succeeds because of the intelligence, the emotion, and the amazing craft on display here. The series coming back into print, finally, was most definitely worth it so that new readers can see it all for themselves.

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Road to Oz http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2013/07/03/road-to-oz/ Wed, 03 Jul 2013 13:00:59 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2482 Adapted by Eric ShanowerBased on the novel by L. Frank BaumArt by Skottie Young136 pages, colorPublished by Marvel

It’s no secret that one of my favorite childhood novels was Ozma of Oz, and that I thought Eric Shanower and Skottie Young’s adaptation of the book was fantastic. Even better, having only read the first three [...]]]> Adapted by Eric Shanower
Based on the novel by L. Frank Baum
Art by Skottie Young
136 pages, color
Published by Marvel

It’s no secret that one of my favorite childhood novels was Ozma of Oz, and that I thought Eric Shanower and Skottie Young’s adaptation of the book was fantastic. Even better, having only read the first three Oz novels as a child, I’ve been delighted that Marvel has continued to hire Shanower and Young to create adaptations of the books that followed. Road to Oz is the fifth Oz book, and it’s also a very peculiar one. Shanower himself notes in the introduction that many fans consider it one of the weakest Oz novels. So should you read it? Now that I’m done, I’d have to say… yes.

The plot of Road to Oz is a meandering one that wanders even more than the titular road. Dorothy and Toto get dragged along by a new character, the Shaggy Man, into a route that suddenly begins to head in strange directions and deposits them in the vicinity of Oz. On the way they meet multiple new characters and creatures, even as anyone and everyone is apparently desperate to be invited to Queen Ozma’s birthday party. And if this doesn’t sound like much of a plot, you’d be absolutely correct. That’s the big weakness of Road to Oz, in that there’s virtually no plot whatsoever. It’s just a handful of characters stumbling through a series of random events until they find themselves at the conclusion of the book, where there’s a birthday party and everyone goes home.

Here’s the thing, though. Having since dipped into a copy of the original book (thanks to the joys of Project Gutenberg it’s legally available for free), I quickly learned two things. First, the book’s text is dry and uninspired; the fact that L. Frank Baum tried to end the Oz series with the next volume (The Emerald City of Oz) is unsurprising, as it feels like Baum is already tired of these books. And second, where charm is lacking in the original book, it is wonderfully on display here. Shanower’s pacing in Road to Oz feels much better than in the original; it flows smoothly, and he knows when to linger and when to speed up. Shanower’s script also amplifies some of the stranger moments in the original novel of Road to Oz, like the Shaggy Man’s casual stealing of Toto at the start of the book. In the novel it’s presented in such a matter-of-fact manner that it’s hard to comprehend why it happens; here, Shanower gives Young a bit of a motive to show through the art, and one that ties into later revelations about the Shaggy Man when we get to the conclusion of the story.

Even then, of course, there are still some parts of Road to Oz that Shanower simply couldn’t fix. The nonchalant way that first Button-Bright and then the Shaggy Man get their heads transformed into those of animals feels out of the blue, and the way in which they’re suddenly restored still feels equally sudden. It’s a less than ideal sort of storytelling, and you can tell that Shanower is doing the best he can with slightly weak source material. Still, where Shanower can’t perform the heavy lifting, Young’s art usually can. Like all four of the previous adaptations, Young’s illustrations here are clever and charming. Polychrome in particular looks lovely, a swirling mass of colors that is just as entrancing through the fluid outline of her body as it is the colors contained within. Dorothy also gets some great expressions here, especially when getting irritated at the profoundly annoying Button-Bright. And when get to the conclusion of the book, the party is far more interesting in the graphic novel than in the original book, thanks to Young’s illustrations of all the guests, many of whom are just mentioned in passing without even an explanation. (Considering a lot of the throwaway references to the guests were supposed to make people want to read Baum’s non-Oz novels that they appeared in, I must say that Shanower and Young do a better job of cross-marketing than Baum himself did.) I still have no idea who Queen Zixi of Ix is, but I love the way she looks in Road to Oz and now I feel the need to find out.

There’s no denying that Road to Oz is my least favorite of the five Shanower and Young adaptations of the Oz books, but it’s really not their fault at all. Baum’s book may have been a bit of a dud, but Shanower and Young transform it into something far better than where it first began. The original might not have been much to talk about, but Shanower and Young give the comic version of Road to Oz some real charm. And that, in the end, makes it worth it.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Hawkeye #2 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/09/10/hawkeye-2/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/09/10/hawkeye-2/#comments Mon, 10 Sep 2012 13:00:07 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2385 Written by Matt FractionArt by David Aja32 pages, colorPublished by Marvel

Five years ago, Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker, and David Aja teamed up to produce a revival of The Immortal Iron Fist. The series didn’t last too long, but it was a lot of fun, and it introduced Fraction and Aja to Marvel’s readers and [...]]]> Written by Matt Fraction
Art by David Aja
32 pages, color
Published by Marvel

Five years ago, Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker, and David Aja teamed up to produce a revival of The Immortal Iron Fist. The series didn’t last too long, but it was a lot of fun, and it introduced Fraction and Aja to Marvel’s readers and well as them to each other. Now, Fraction and Aja have reunited for a new ongoing series starring Hawkeye of Avengers fame. And two issues into Hawkeye? All I can think is how much better Fraction and Aja have gotten since Iron Fist, and they were already good back then.

The first issue of Hawkeye was grounded firmly in the real world; aside from references to the Avengers, it was a story that could have taken place in a non-superhero universe and merely starred a vigilante/crime-fighter. With Hawkeye #2, Fraction enlarges the scope of the worldview a bit—the Hawkeye (Kate Bishop) from Young Avengers guest-stars and some villains from the Marvel Universe make an appearance too—but the comic never loses sight of its overall feel established in the previous issue. Superpowers are limited to hypnotism (which while more effective than in the real world, isn’t unbelievable), and it’s still about fighting the good fight. This is, at its core, street-level heroics.

Lots of Fraction’s little writing tics from the previous issue surface once more in Hawkeye #2, which is ultimately pleasing. The marked off by parentheses effect for people talking in languages that Hawkeye doesn’t understand is amusing, and the ever-shifting unknown language takes that previous joke and pushes it up a notch. More importantly, Hawkeye’s narration continues to guide the book. Little moments like, "See? She’s perfect," give the book a relaxed, conversational feel that is what helps define the comic. Played simply as an action story, Hawkeye #2 would be good. Told in this manner, though, it turns into your new best friend and his casual explanation of events.

After last month’s debut, I thought we’d built up the new supporting cast, but it’s nice to see that’s not the case. Kate Bishop (who with the end of Young Avengers and Avengers: Children’s Crusade has been without a comic to appear in) is a strong addition to the title, one who will hopefully appear again. She’s not so much a foil (which would have been an obvious role) but a mixture of protégé and confidant. It’s a good role for her to play, and it’s fun to see her having to save Hawkeye rather than the more predictable reversal. Ultimately, any character who can burst into a circus dressing room and say, "Hey, jerk du soleil," gets my vote for a return.

Just as important as Fraction’s writing, though, is Aja’s art. I’d always liked Aja’s art before, but it seems that when I wasn’t looking he stepped up his game big time. It’s now much more David Mazzucchelli influenced, harkening to his work on books like Batman: Year One. Very crisp and well defined figures make up a lot of that, certainly, but it’s more than just that now. Aja’s creating some amazing page layouts; often with dozens of panels (everything from talking heads to a time lapse where fourteen panels break down Kate saying, "That’s cool"), and occasionally using panel insets within a larger illustration to help delineate motion across a lobby. He’s still great at action sequences, too. Launching arrows isn’t the most dynamic of events, but watching Kate shoot as Hawkeye bounds up and down is far more exciting than one would think, and that’s just one moment where you can all but see the characters moving across the page. It’s a great looking comic, to put it mildly, and for whomever has to inevitably provide fill-in art for Aja, I pity them.

Some of the artistic credit also needs to go to colorist Matt Hollingsworth. He’s wisely staying away from computer coloring effects and sticking with flat, simple (but attractive) colors. He’s also sticking to a limited palette here; mostly purple and black (the colors of Hawkeye’s superhero outfit), with some blues and the occasional complementary color when need be. He’s not afraid to use a red or a yellow, but he’ll pick ones that don’t clash with those already chosen, core colors. It’s a delicate and careful decision, and the end result is staggeringly beautiful.

With more and more comics being written with an eye firmly focused on the collected edition, it’s a pleasure to see a book that’s so much fun to read issue-by-issue. Both issues of Hawkeye have stood on their own as single, focused stories that can be read in a vacuum and loved. At the same time, it feels like Fraction and Aja are building towards a larger picture that promises to engross the reader even more. I, for one, am not complaining. I never thought I’d be reading a Hawkeye series. Then again, I’d felt the same way about Iron Fist. If you aren’t already, check Hawkeye out. Highly recommended.

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Astonishing X-Men #51 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/06/25/astonishing-x-men-51/ Mon, 25 Jun 2012 13:00:09 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2335 Written by Marjorie LiuArt by Mike Perkins and Andrew Hennessy32 pages, colorPublished by Marvel

Marjorie Liu and Mike Perkins taking over Astonishing X-Men—a book that has floundered for a direction, creative team, and publishing schedule ever since the tail end of Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s run—should have been a great thing. Their debut with [...]]]> Written by Marjorie Liu
Art by Mike Perkins and Andrew Hennessy
32 pages, color
Published by Marvel

Marjorie Liu and Mike Perkins taking over Astonishing X-Men—a book that has floundered for a direction, creative team, and publishing schedule ever since the tail end of Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s run—should have been a great thing. Their debut with issue #48 was not without its problems, though, and the highly-publicised engagement issue of Northstar and his boyfriend Kyle for #50 felt like things were getting worse, not better. But curiosity got the better of me for the big wedding issue this month. Because, after all, in fictional works everything always works out just fine once the wedding itself arrives. Maybe the real world would follow suit?

Astonishing X-Men #51 is actually part four of an ongoing storyline in the title that began with Liu and Perkins’ arrival, although most of the main storyline is turned into a bookend framing the wedding. Readers who have come in for this as their first issue might be a little surprised at a five-page sequence set in the sewers with Karma having apparently betrayed the group (especially since they won’t have read the installment in #49 where she’s taken over by the villain of the piece), although Liu herself doesn’t dwell on it again until the end of the story. It’s probably just as well, since no one seems to point out that in a comic with a same-sex wedding, the person who betrayed the team is the sole lesbian character. Instead it quickly turns into a strange exercise of how many wedding cliches can be crammed into a single issue. The family member who’s afraid that things are being rushed into. The acquaintance who won’t come to the wedding. The friends popping out of the woodwork to help at the last minute. The problem is, none of these feel particularly compelling.

Take, for example, a sequence in which Warbird (now a member of the Astonishing X-Men cast) tells Northstar that she doesn’t recognize his wedding and won’t be attending. Northstar replies, "Please stay. Stay as my friend and teammate." An emotional moment? Well, not really. This is a relatively brand-new character, introduced in the pages of Wolverine and the X-Men less than a year ago. The two have now appeared in Astonishing X-Men #48-51… in which this is the first actual conversation the two have had with one another. For the vast majority of this storyline, they haven’t even appeared in the same scenes together. It’s a moment that ends up ringing hollow because Liu is looking to invent drama where none logically exists; a need to have someone object to the wedding but ending up with no candidates that would actually be close to the character. And that’s the problem with Astonishing X-Men #51 in a nutshell. None of this feels logical; it’s a group of characters being assigned roles for the sake of a wedding issue, not because these are characters who would actually say any of these lines or do these actions. (I suppose we could discover in an issue or two that the entire cast of Astonishing X-Men #51 was being mind-controlled—since that’s what was going on to other characters in #48-50—although the idea of doing that to their big marquee wedding issue feels so ridiculous that I’m not sure that would be any better.)

The art for Astonishing X-Men #51 feels a little underwhelming. Jumping back to the Northstar/Warbird scene, the basic staging is good; Perkins certainly knows how to lay out a page and I appreciate that. But the finer details are off, here; their faces both look continually pinched and crushed. Why are Warbird’s eyes closed for her entire second page? Why are Wolverine’s eyes closed on the very next page? Why is nothing falling out of Aurora’s box of trinkets that she’s holding open at an 80-degree angle? And is Northstar passing gas when talking to his sister Aurora? Something is never quite right with every other panel, and I’m not sure why this book looks so odd the closer you examine it.

Then again, that’s a problem with the entire Liu/Perkins Astonishing X-Men run to date. At a glance, it seems nice enough. But the second you look a little closer? Nothing comes together. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I want to like this book. It’s probably why I’ve given it multiple chances. And if anything, I’m predisposed to like a same-sex wedding in a comic. Astonishing X-Men #51 will probably make a lot of casual readers happy, especially ones who haven’t read the issues that led up to this. But the more you think about Astonishing X-Men #51, the less enjoyable it becomes.

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Winter Soldier #1 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/02/03/winter-soldier-1/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/02/03/winter-soldier-1/#comments Fri, 03 Feb 2012 14:00:20 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2132 Written by Ed BrubakerArt by Butch Guice32 pages, colorPublished by Marvel

Call it heresy, but I think I enjoyed Ed Brubaker’s issues of Captain America that starred Cap-replacement Bucky Barnes in the outfit more than when Steve Rogers was in the suit. And with Rogers helming Captain America once more an inevitability, I’m glad that [...]]]> Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Butch Guice
32 pages, color
Published by Marvel

Call it heresy, but I think I enjoyed Ed Brubaker’s issues of Captain America that starred Cap-replacement Bucky Barnes in the outfit more than when Steve Rogers was in the suit. And with Rogers helming Captain America once more an inevitability, I’m glad that us Bucky Barnes fans are getting our fix in the new series Winter Soldier. And so far, it’s exactly what I want from such a series: a mixture of black ops and crazy Marvel mayhem.

Brubaker’s origin for the Winter Soldier, when first introduced a few years ago, was that Bucky Barnes had not only been brainwashed by the Soviets, but put on ice and then thawed whenever they had a mission for him. It makes perfect sense, then, for Bucky to not have been the only killer on ice, and Winter Soldier #1 opens with him trying to track down three recently discovered sleepers. From there we’ve got casinos, Soviet agents in America’s heartland… oh, and a gorilla armed with heavy artillery that shouts anti-American phrases in Russian.

And to me, that sums up everything that works with the whole idea of Winter Soldier #1. Similar to Greg Rucka and Marco Checchetto’s revival of The Punisher, Winter Soldier is taking a mostly more-serious, grounded tone… but still reveling in all of the craziness that the Marvel Universe offers, like talking Communist gorillas, or cyborg Prime Ministers. I like that he’s taking established Marvel villains like the Red Ghost and his Super Apes and keeping their same spirit alive, but at the same time making them feel a bit more dangerous, for lack of a better word. The overall grounded feel for Winter Soldier doesn’t exclude the fantastic, it just makes them fit better into the book’s particular world view.

Speaking of views, the view of the world through Butch Guice’s pencils is a lovely one. Guice penciled some issues of Captain America starring Bucky as the main character, so he and Brubaker already had a history of working together. The art here looks just fantastic; carefully crafted, fine-detailed portraits of characters that look like they’re ready to step right off of the page. He and colorist Bettie Breitweiser work well together on some of the trickier moments, like the slightly granulated look for a video projection, only to shift back to a more subdued, gentler look in the next panel as we snap back into reality. Even some of the smaller moments, like the establishing images of the casino on the first page, come across classy and slick thanks to Guice; who knew a playing card and a few poker chips could look so intriguing?

Winter Soldier has only just begun, but considering it’s spun directly out of multiple years of Captain America, it’s not like we don’t already have somewhat of a good idea what we’re in store for. If you’ve never read stories with the character before, though, this is a solid entry point. Winter Soldier continues to remind us that what had sounded laughable (Bucky Barnes is alive and a Soviet assassin!) could be top-notch story material in the right hands. I’m along for the ride, absolutely.

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Criminal: The Last of the Innocent http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/12/21/criminal-the-last-of-the-innocent/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/12/21/criminal-the-last-of-the-innocent/#comments Wed, 21 Dec 2011 14:00:15 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1959 Written by Ed BrubakerArt by Sean Phillips112 pages, colorPublished by Marvel

One the most dependably good comic series being published is Ed Brubaker’s and Sean Phillips’s Criminal. A series of crime comic mini-series, whenever a new Criminal comes down the pike you know you’re in for something good. With their new collection, Criminal: The Last [...]]]> Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips
112 pages, color
Published by Marvel

One the most dependably good comic series being published is Ed Brubaker’s and Sean Phillips’s Criminal. A series of crime comic mini-series, whenever a new Criminal comes down the pike you know you’re in for something good. With their new collection, Criminal: The Last of the Innocent, Brubaker and Phillips not only keep their comic well-rooted in the dark and slightly depressing real world, but also give us flashbacks to a slightly more idyllic setting, one that comic-book readers might be especially familiar with.

I suspect for most readers, the first time that Brubaker and Phillips shift Criminal: The Last of the Innocent into a flashback that is straight out of Archie comics, it’ll come as a surprise, and then feel like a gimmick. But what’s great about Criminal: The Last of the Innocent is that this storytelling turn is anything but a gimmick. Brubaker uses these familiar character tropes for something bigger, more than just "when Archie characters go dark." Instead we’re getting a story about how even those growing up in small-town America can end up in a darker, more dangerous adulthood… and that perhaps even as teens they were less than the innocent ones that they showed to the rest of the world.

Riley Richards is our main character, and as Criminal: The Last of the Innocent plays out, we get a long hard look at a man that was everyone’s role model, but ended up in a loveless marriage and up to his ears in gambling debts. Brubaker doesn’t just take the easy way out of "Archie marrying Veronica equals disaster" though; instead we see just how things would have gone sour, through both glimpses at Felix’s teenage years (and how even then she was more heartless than Riley perhaps caught on) as well as how both Riley and Felix would have drifted apart as Riley ended up breaking away from everything that he held true. Riley in a soul-crushing office job makes perfect sense in the setting that Brubaker has provided, and while at first some of Riley’s darker moments are a little jarring, Brubaker makes sure to always give us a perfectly reasonable (in Riley’s head) explanation for them.

Criminal: The Last of the Innocent also still has Brubaker’s trademark smarts throughout the story. When Riley decides it’s time to try and kill someone, we get a methodical, carefully plotted out strategy that not only gives Riley a strong alibi, but also squarely plants the blame on someone else. Watching it play out is engrossing, in part because Riley has set everything up so well, but also because it is that much more grim when you realize how many other people’s lives Riley is destroying in his quest to kill someone. It’s bad enough that someone will die, of course, but the callous nature in which even friends get ground to a pulp as collateral damage gives us that much more of a realization of Riley’s sociopathic nature.

Phillips draws Criminal: The Last of the Innocent with his usual excellence; I love his rough, scratchy style that he draws all of the main narrative in. It’s expressive and it makes the story feel real because of his strong attention to detail on both his characters as well as the backgrounds. Phillips shifts his style for the flashback sequences in this mini-series, though, and it was a great surprise to see that Phillips can draw Archie-style, too. With the clean lines and uncluttered pages, it paints a rosy picture of those earlier days, even if you’ve somehow never encountered an Archie comic before and aren’t picking up on the homage. Best of all, though, is how comparing the characters from one to the other, there’s no doubt whom you’re reading about. The two styles might have a huge gulf between them, but it’s that consistency from one to the other that makes it all work.

Criminal: The Last of the Innocent is a strong return to form for Brubaker and Phillips; it’s one of my favorite Criminal stories to date. Even if you don’t make the connection to Archie comics, this is a strong, well-crafted story that hangs tightly together from start to finish. And if you do get all of the in-jokes that reference that long-running all-ages comic? Well, it’s that much more entertaining as a result. If you’ve never Criminal before, this is as great a place as any to begin. Highly recommended.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Punisher #1-6 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/12/19/punisher-1-6/ Mon, 19 Dec 2011 14:00:14 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1956 Written by Greg RuckaPenciled by Marco Checchetto (#1-5) and Matthew Southworth (#6)Inked by Marco Checchetto (#1-5) and Matthew Clark (#6)32 pages each, colorPublished by Marvel

When it comes to characters who have had an extremely varied range of depictions at Marvel, the Punisher is probably somewhere near (if not at) the top of the list. [...]]]> Written by Greg Rucka
Penciled by Marco Checchetto (#1-5) and Matthew Southworth (#6)
Inked by Marco Checchetto (#1-5) and Matthew Clark (#6)
32 pages each, color
Published by Marvel

When it comes to characters who have had an extremely varied range of depictions at Marvel, the Punisher is probably somewhere near (if not at) the top of the list. Some takes have had him fighting cheesy super-villains like Stilt-Man, punching a polar bear, or getting turned into a Frankenstein’s monster. Others were grim and serious, going up against human-trafficking and a distinct absence of super-heroes in a "for mature readers" title. Greg Rucka’s new take on the character is on the more serious side of things (having replaced the admittedly-fun monsters of Marvel title), and in many ways it distills a lot of the different takes into a unified front.

Under Rucka’s pen, The Punisher is a book where the titular character is more often than not a silent force of nature; he doesn’t have a single word of dialogue in the first issue, sweeping in during the second half as a mute angel of death. As the book has progressed we’ve gotten some narration and dialogue from him, but he’s still by no means a chatterbox. Rucka writes him as a serious, driven man haunted by his demons even as he continues to push forward with a relentless focus. In many ways it reminds me of Garth Ennis’s long run on the character; he’s not joking or silly like some renditions, instead a fairly accurate take on what a person in real life would be like if they went down this path.

Unlike Ennis’s Punisher MAX series, though, this version is set within the Marvel Universe, and so we’ve gotten at least one glimpse of a super-powered being in the form of the Vulture. At first the idea seems a little jarring—this is a comic that up until now had been focusing on a massacre at a wedding, and a police detective being coerced into giving information to the Punisher—but Rucka takes the idea of a character whose big power is to fly and handles it with a dangerous, grim mood. The Vulture isn’t a joke or a throwaway here; he’s a nasty creature who gets sicced on our protagonist and does some serious damage. If anything, it ends up providing one of the things I found myself liking the most about this new The Punisher series; the idea that injuries will take time to heal. We get this at first with Rachel, the bride who survived the shoot-out at her wedding, as we see her slowly move from hospital to physical therapy. But we even get that with the Punisher himself, forced to lie low for several months after his encounter with the Vulture and slowly get back up to full strength. It’s a tactic that we so rarely see in superhero universe books, and it helps further root The Punisher in a slightly more serious take on the character.

I wasn’t familiar with Marco Checchetto’s art before this title, but I’m a convert now. He draws the characters in a realistic, rough-hewn style. The way he draws the Punisher in the first issue alone made me a fan; the shadows around his eyes so that you can’t see then, that evil little smile right before he pulls the gun away. He’s dangerous and it lets us see him from the villains’ perspective, that unstoppable force. It’s a great contrast to later on when he draws a bedraggled, healing Punisher; his hair is stringy and longer, facial hair has come in, and at a glance he doesn’t look that dangerous… until you see his eye glinting in anger and you realize that even a beaten down Punisher is still deadly. Matthew Southworth and Matthew Clark step in for art on The Punisher #6, and it looks well in line with what Checchetto produced for the first five chapters; it’s also nice to see the pair still bring their own little flair to the comic.

The first six issues of The Punisher are set to be collected in March 2012, and it’s a satisfying chunk of story. While Rucka’s telling a bigger story that will continue beyond this point, it’s a good first taste as anything. The Punisher has always been a slightly odd and varied title, but I feel like Rucka’s found a way to bring a little something for everyone into the title. (Well, maybe not the really strange stuff.) This is definitely a title worth checking out.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Generation Hope #13 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/11/28/generation-hope-13/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/11/28/generation-hope-13/#comments Mon, 28 Nov 2011 13:00:49 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1925 Written by James AsmusArt by Ibraim Roberson32 pages, colorPublished by Marvel

Generation Hope‘s first twelve issues were, on the whole, a fun little book about a young girl named Hope Summers who is prophesied to be the mutant messiah, as well as a handful of new young mutants whose powers recently manifested. Written by Kieron [...]]]> Written by James Asmus
Art by Ibraim Roberson
32 pages, color
Published by Marvel

Generation Hope‘s first twelve issues were, on the whole, a fun little book about a young girl named Hope Summers who is prophesied to be the mutant messiah, as well as a handful of new young mutants whose powers recently manifested. Written by Kieron Gillen, it tied in closely with Uncanny X-Men and rocked out smaller stories that focused much more on character growth than plot-of-the-month. With issue #13, though, the book’s been handed off to James Asmus and Ibraim Roberson, and I can’t help but feel like this book is different enough that it warranted a name change.

The debut issue for Asmus and Roberson has Hope’s squad going up in battle against a handful of X-Men. Presumably it’s to let new readers (coming on board because of the "Regenesis" banner, perhaps) see what the kids can do, but it comes across as a bit blatant and overly standard super-hero. And that, in a nutshell, is the big problem with Generation Hope #13; it feels like any other super-hero title, only a little too blatant. Characters far too often act out of character to make a point (like Magneto ripping Kenji apart without knowing he’d survive), and there’s an almost random level with its plotting. So when we get a new member in the form of Martha Johansson (aka the floating brain from Grant Morrison’s New X-Men run) with no rhyme or reason? Sure, why not.

The most painful part is the dialogue, though, which states things in a way to dole out exposition, but instead just serves to sound awkward. "Every time I use my powers, I’m burning faster and faster into my old age!" It’s clumsily written, and it’s stating a fact to characters who already know it all too well. (The later line about being a teenage boy is even worse, if that’s possible.) The sad thing is that the basic plotting isn’t that bad—the team finding out about Sebastian Shaw but not realizing it’s him—although it does require the Stepford Cuckoos to act a bit more dim than normal for it to happen. And if there’s one thing that almost all of these characters weren’t up until now, it’s dim.

The part that does work is Roberson’s pencils, which are a contrast to past artists on Generation Hope but still feel at home with the title. It’s a smooth, shaded style; I like how Gabriel is starting to look a little older under his pencil, and Kenji’s powers feel that much more grotesque and monstrous when Roberson draws him, an unholy match of man and machine. There’s an energy in his drawings too; when Hope and Teon are running out of the Cerebra room, I actually felt like we could see them in action. And when Noriko looks bored out of her skull while Kenji flirts with Martha, it’s what could be a throw-away moment that just looks awesome.

Generation Hope doesn’t feel at all like its past year, to the point that I’m wondering why (if Marvel likes the concept) they’re sticking with the name. The book’s sales are already rather low, and it might have been smarter to just relaunch the characters into a brand-new book and hope for a sales bump. As it is, I can’t help but feel like #13 might be alienating those who enjoyed the tone of the past twelve issues. This doesn’t feel like a good match of title and creator, and if it lasts for a full second year I’ll be surprised.

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S.H.I.E.L.D. Infinity http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/04/22/shield-infinity/ Fri, 22 Apr 2011 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1767 Written by Jonathan HickmanArt by Nick Pitarra, Zachary Baldus, Kevin Mellon, and Gabriel Hernandez Walta48 pages, colorPublished by Marvel

If I had to make a "top five comics from Marvel that have caused some long-time readers to go into a tailspin over the past several years" list, S.H.I.E.L.D. would certainly be on that list. Jonathan [...]]]> Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Nick Pitarra, Zachary Baldus, Kevin Mellon, and Gabriel Hernandez Walta
48 pages, color
Published by Marvel

If I had to make a "top five comics from Marvel that have caused some long-time readers to go into a tailspin over the past several years" list, S.H.I.E.L.D. would certainly be on that list. Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver’s stories of ancient history in the Marvel Universe (showing the S.H.I.E.L.D. organization spanning thousands of years, complete with alien invasions dating back to the time of the Egyptian Pharaoh Imhotep) mix our history with that of the fantastical from Marvel, and it seems at times almost designed to ruffle feathers. The idea of a S.H.I.E.L.D. Infinity issue sounded interesting, then, taking a break between the first and second volumes to let some other artists step in and draw vignettes from Hickman about the S.H.I.E.L.D. organization. But while I enjoyed it, I was a tiny bit disappointed in that as a potential jumping-on point, S.H.I.E.L.D. Infinity is anything but.

Of the four stores in S.H.I.E.L.D. Infinity, only the first can stand in a vacuum and introduce people to Jonathan Hickman’s take on S.H.I.E.L.D.. Starting in 1497 Florence, it quickly jumps back in time to 226 BC, where a giant alien Kree is attacking Rhodes, and it comes down to Archimedes to power up the Colossus of Rhodes and use its massive size and power to beat down the invading enemy. In a nutshell, it’s the perfect example backdrop for S.H.I.E.L.D. as a whole, with Hickman taking established facts about both our world (the massive Colossus of Rhodes statue, one of the Ancient Wonders of World that stood over the entrance of Rhodes’ harbor) and the Marvel Universe (the Kree and their invading technology) and mashes them into a single unit. Reading S.H.I.E.L.D. means you need to accept the idea of these two concepts colliding, adding all of this fantastical technology not just during the eras in which the comics were published, but far into the past and retroactively making it a world of wonders. Hickman and artist Nick Pitarra knock this chapter out of the park, evoking the sense of awe that S.H.I.E.L.D. so often gives to the reader, and it helps that Pitarra’s art is a great cross between Arthur Adams and Geoff Darrow. Archimedes piloting the Colossus of Rhodes is one of the funnier things I’ve seen in a while, and I love all the gears, cogs, and pulleys that Archimedes uses to pilot it, even as the Kree threatens to destroy the Colossus once and for all.

Once this particular chapter is over, though, the remaining pieces serve more as gap-fillers for people who already read S.H.I.E.L.D. Volume 1. "The Hidden Message" from Hickman and Zachary Baldus is probably my favorite of these, thanks in part due to Baldus’s watercolor inspired pieces. The backgrounds shift from panel to panel between fully detailed, and a smear of color as the three infiltrators break into the Vatican. It’s a great overall look, and every page has a burst of excitement in the art. And while it’s a prologue to another story, it stands well enough on its own to still give the reader enjoyment if it was read in a vacuum.

Less successful are the remaining two stories. "Life, the End of the World, and the Key" (with art by Kevin Mellon) has no pretenses of standing on its own at all. It’s very much part of S.H.I.E.L.D. Volume 1’s story, giving us more information its villain and his plans getting set in motion. As a story it’s just lukewarm—I’m not sure it gives us anything of particular interest, old or new reader alike—and the art is just all right, a sketchy style which doesn’t seem to fit with the other stories here or S.H.I.E.L.D. as a whole. It’s the most standard art style on display here, one that ultimately suffers in comparison rather than through any fault of its own.

"The Apple," wrapping up S.H.I.E.L.D. Infinity, is another story that doesn’t bring terribly much to the big picture, once again filling in a small gap of story as Gottfried Leibniz and Isaac Newton face off against one another. The high point here is Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s art, but only in certain scenes. He’s at his best in the flashback scenes, drawn to look like woodcuts and presenting stark, deadly moments of Newton’s killings. It’s the action sequences in the "present" story that don’t work quite as well; for example, it takes a second to realize that Leibniz is tossing an apple to Newton, not holding out a still hand and causing the apple to levitate above it. There’s no good sense of movement here, and that’s a shame because it makes the climactic scene of "The Apple" to look staged and lifeless, not fast and deadly.

Overall, S.H.I.E.L.D. Infinity is an interesting sidestep for the series, giving Weaver an extra two months off to prepare for S.H.I.E.L.D. Volume 2 and letting Hickman tell some shorter stories set in the greater scheme of his comic. I just wish that, given the opportunity, it might have worked a bit better as a true stand-alone issue, not for all intents and purposes S.H.I.E.L.D. Volume 1 #7. For readers of S.H.I.E.L.D., definitely pick this issue up, it’s clearly as much a part of the series as any other. But for potential new readers? You’re probably better off by way of introduction with the first issue of the comic, or the collection that’s around the corner. S.H.I.E.L.D. is a great comic, but this is a less than idea first taste.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Astonishing X-Men #36 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/03/21/astonishing-x-men-36/ Mon, 21 Mar 2011 12:00:08 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1722 Written by Daniel WayPenciled by Jason PearsonInked by Karl Story32 pages, colorPublished by Marvel

This is going to sound strange, but I feel a little bad for Daniel Way, Jason Pearson, and Karl Story. Stepping onto Astonishing X-Men—a book that was once the flagship title of the X-Men family, but has since fallen in stature [...]]]> Written by Daniel Way
Penciled by Jason Pearson
Inked by Karl Story
32 pages, color
Published by Marvel

This is going to sound strange, but I feel a little bad for Daniel Way, Jason Pearson, and Karl Story. Stepping onto Astonishing X-Men—a book that was once the flagship title of the X-Men family, but has since fallen in stature due to increasing delays and stories drifting further away from the other titles—has got to feel like a bit of a poison pill. Expectations are simultaneously high and low, and after watching the wheels fall off on the book over the past few years, they just have to know that most readers are going to assume more of the same.

So with that in mind, reading the start of their run on the comic? It’s surprisingly average. Way’s working with a reduced cast (Cyclops, White Queen, Wolverine, and Armor) as he and Pearson mix a story about Armor returning to Japan after the death of family members, with one involving the Roxxon corporation deciding to drill for oil underneath nearby Monster Island. It’s not a bad idea, but in a trend that is happening with increasing regularity these days, this first issue is slow. I’m not against a comic taking its time and building up to a crescendo, but this comes across more as the pacing being slightly off. For a book promising a lot of monsters, we’re getting cameos and a final-page looming silhouette. This in its own right might not be so bad, but the other half of the title—Armor’s return to Japan—feels just as glacially paced.

The thing is, I think there’s a spark here that shows a lot of potential. Way’s reducing the cast is a smart move, doubly so with using the shortened number of characters as an attempt to focus more on Armor. Considering she’s been a member of the title for several years now, she’s still a blank slate. Way is giving her a past, a family, and examining how else her power could be used. They’re all obvious steps, nothing revolutionary, but it’s more attention than she’s been paid by previous writers Joss Whedon or Warren Ellis. So if nothing else, it’s a start.

I am happy to see Pearson attached to the book; he’s one of those artists that pops up every now and then (I’ve loved his art ever since Legion of Super-Heroes in the ’90s, and he’s continued to improve since then) but not often enough. For the most part, he and inker Story do a solid job here. Pearson’s pencils are open and clean, with a slight cartoonish exaggeration as part of his style. There are moments in here which really sing; Cyclops and the White Queen giving each other "oh really?" looks, for instance, or Wolverine turning around to show off a Brood-infection.

On the other hand, some moments don’t work quite as well. When Armor breaks down in the Danger Room, it’s supposed to be a dramatic two-thirds page image as her three teachers stand over her crumbled form, with nothing but the dent in the wall for a background. It sounds great, until you look a little closer and notice that Wolverine isn’t looking at Armor, but instead staring at some point on the horizon, or maybe even the ceiling. It’s these kinds of little glitches throughout the comic that keep it from shifting from good to great.

Here’s the truly strange thing about the new Way and Pearson team on Astonishing X-Men, though; someone editorially seems to have lost a bit of faith in it, or at least their timeliness. So after part two of this story, the comic will alternate between issues by Way and Pearson, and a new storyline by Christos Gage and Juan Bubillo (and starring Storm, Colossus, Shadowcat, and Beast). And once again, I feel a little bad for Way and Pearson. I understand that Marvel wants to keep this book on a regular schedule again, but this looks like something that will ultimately undercut the creative team’s new position. With all of the delays leading up to this moment on Astonishing X-Men, surely there was enough time to line up a creative team and give them plenty of breathing room to finish their run?

At the end of the day, Astonishing X-Men #36 is a strange comic, in part because it feels like it’s moving far too slowly out of the gate, and in part because Marvel seems to have started backing away from it before things even began. I wish Way and Pearson luck, and I think they’ve got some strong potential here to deliver a thoroughly entertaining book, but if this review was a Magic 8-Ball it would be stating, "Outlook Cloudy."

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