Friday, September 28, 2012

Comic reviews for Wednesday, August 25th

GOON #42

Eric Powell's commitment to produce another year of monthly stories on "the Goon" has quickly returned to the devices the writer/artist used the last time he produced an extended monthly epic. Namely, this issue offers 17 pages of the main plot, while the back-up helps raise the page count to the traditional number.

Powell tries to offer a complete story as well as the one that sets up the larger conflict. The common ground the two plots share is the supernatural, particularly witches' magic, which works very well with the title's usual modus operandi. The issue opens and ends with the relatively serious story of a boxer going up against the Goon's pick for the fight.

The story's too brief to register as anything but a diversion meant to provide the issue with a story of its own, with the eponymous boxer simply not having enough space to develop into a more nuanced character. Powell finds much more inspiration in the events directly involving the Goon, as the protagonist is continually confronted with bizarre harbingers of his upcoming doom.

Seeing a skeleton loaded with dynamite serves to both amuse the audience and provide some measure of physical threat in an otherwise static issue. The series creator doesn't waste any space, making each of the altercations last no more than a page or two, and still manages to provide some color besides the bizarre fights. For example, the page contrasting Franky and the Goon's clothing choices has two solid gags on it, that momentarily slow down the pacing, and help give context to the brawls.

Despite the focus on the plot, such as it is, Powell remains a cartoonist and heart, and understands that the little details have enliven the relentless pacing. Seeing the one panel depiction of the toilet at Norton's bar is in many ways the highlight of the issue. Still, this doesn't prevent the writer/artist from granting the issue a more traditional ending, with the box match fight wrapping up and the Goon and Nameless priest exchanging a crucial and poignant dialogue.

Despite the last page being packed with panels so as to have the story wrap up as soon as possible, the focus on the character's faces manages to save the sequence. Powell's artwork is typically layered and well-realized, and just looking at the beautiful ink washes makes the reader appreciate the time-consuming process. Despite still retaining the zany edge to his drawings, the writer/artist has improved his craft to such a high level that both the stylized cartoons absorb the cozy, melancholy atmosphere they're set against.

At this point, the book occupies a niche all its own, and the creator's insistence on working on his own terms in regards the scheduling and the presentations certainly makes up for one of the nicest looking books on the stands. The back-up section, realized with the artistic talent of Marc Buckingham presents a portion of a fight scene, that can be read on its own, but it hardly presents anything more than a snippet of a larger story. The "Fables" artist continues to prove a surprisingly strong match for the material, which remains somewhat hindered by the lack of coloring. The characters are continually on model, and the gray tones help make the action clearer, but there is still no indication how long the story is supposed to run.


The penultimate chapter of"Everything burns" starts slowly, covering several of the locations and major player, before choosing to concentrate on Loki's point of view. The co-writers try to give Thor's predicament a modicum of tragedy, but the focus is once again clearly on his half-brother.

Starting off with a scene spotlighting the role of Loki's demon dog Thori, the creators proceed to endear themselves to the reader. The follow-up sequence is ridiculously over the top but highly amusing, with Fraction and Gillen stopping just short of derailing into absurdity.

The co-writers use Desir, the "Journey into Mystery" to sober Loki, and get him back to solving the predicament he started in the first place. The follow-up scene directly picks up on the plot point in the title's "Fear Itself" tie-in arc, once again clearing up that the current mini-event is meant largely as the conclusion to Kieron Gillen's short run on the title.

Taken on these merits, "Everything burns" acts as a very successful final act in the run that started off strongly, before hitting a rough patch with the artistic changes and tangential stories. It's hard to consider that anyone but the title's biggest fans would have imagined that it would close on such a strong note, in essence providing a capstone for a whole era of "Thor" comics.

Fraction's run is largely represented by Volstagg's turn as the replacement king of Asgardia, which also builds up on his role in "Journey into Mystery". Carmine di Giandomenico's art remains heavily involved with the use of computer coloring and angular crosshatching, doing everything to overpower the reader. The effect remains muddled and distracting, sacrificing everything for the immediate effect.

The unclear layouts, excessive details, characters that fail to emote, all belie an artist not really interested in traditional storytelling possibilities of the medium, who is miscast drawing the character-focused epic. Giandomenico succeeds in some measure in instilling a broader range of expressions when it comes to Loki, but otherwise the artist is preoccupied with instilling the mood and the look that make "Everything Burns" much more chaotic than the script calls for.


The latest installment in the relaunched and renumbered "Prophet" series was originally supposed to be published as #25. Following up on the first Faryl Dalrymple illustrated episode, Image even published the cover to what was the direct follow-up, but instead went on with a different story on the inside. It's only now, months after the initial publication, that Image presents the second Dalrymple issue, under the cover that has no immediate bearing on the story contents.

Reading the story, the reader is immediately aware for the reasons behind the delays. Dalrymple is called to illustrate the story which excels in detailed depictions of interstellar warfare and repeated scenes of an alien society that seems inspired by the work of Hieronymus Bosch. The artist's style is loose and expressionistic, but fairly graphical, and he's called up to depict numerous of the (presumably Brandom Graham designed) aliens. Despite all of the minute details, Dalrymple's layouts are at all times clear and in service to the story, revealing an artist that has spent considerable time thinking about way the readers experiences the page when they first encounter it.

 The crowd scenes are simply packed with detail to be discovered on the rereading, but they carry over the most pertinent information even for the reader who reads the captions and gives the double pages spreads the briefest of the glimpses, before turning over the page. The artist's Prophet clone is much more heroically proportioned than in his debut in #24, and with a physical frame and long hair that directly betrays "Conan" as an influence on the Graham-written approach.

The story assumes that the reader has a basic familiarity with the series, but otherwise reads like a separate adventure, in keeping with each issue's stand alone quality. On the surface, it seems like a divergent adventure of a clone, that winds up in a repressive society and connects with the local rebel movement to fight back, but Graham uses the cliche to have it work on several different levels.

Satirically, Graham presents a war-oriented economy that numbs the slaves and noncombatants into a constant state of providing for a senseless war raging for 300 years. In the process, the Prophet clone is forced to confront his own loyalty to the Earth Empire, which suffers in the direct comparison, giving the series' first glimpse at the potential corruption behind the protagonist's masters.

In Graham's original plan, this issue was meant to precede the stories that have subsequently been published. When he first resurfaces, the reader had no reason to immediately sympathize with the Old Man Prophet's mission against the Earth Empire. Had this issue been published in spite of the story that was published in #25, the reader would have already seen the a more ambiguous portrayal of the Earth Mothers, whose manipulations are equated here with a society that brainwashes its members into servitude.

Beyond the justification of the original Prophet's mission, the story transcends the familiar set up by the way of the title's now standard odd character designs and the generous world building that goes far beyond the needs of the narrative needs to provide a unique atmosphere that makes each issue of the series a pleasant experience, no matter its relationship to the wider plot.

As of now, the series has wondered in and out different stories, and will remain fairly credible even if all of the plot threads never cohere into a traditional whole. Seeing the organic technology and the lived-in inventiveness of Graham's take on the Rob Liefield property is always an interesting experience that draws deep from a well of science fiction entirely out of touch with the pervading modern genre depictions.

Andy Risaino's back-up presents a much more subdued science fiction vision. The artist's simple style depicts the opening as an ironic approach to thoughtless space opera pulp, before pulling back and revealing the tragedy of a space mission gone horribly awry. The melancholic protagonist's story is still told in a minimalistic style, but with much more nuance. The somber colors work to prepare the reader for the final twist, which reveals the protagonist's predicament through Risaino's clear layouts. Despite its brevity, the writer/artist covers all of the necessary ground and establishes an atmosphere conductive to the philosophical query which finishes the story. The ending completes the story by answering the readers' questions and boiling down the predicament to a philosophical choice.

It's commendable that Image has decided to complement Graham's work by adding these vignettes after their highly acclaimed relaunch. It's highly doubtful that this kind of experimental work would have gained this level of market penetration if it was in a anthology or as a webcomic.


Despite Rucka and Chechetto's careful work and attention to detail, this final issue of their "Punisher" relaunch, coupled with last issue's cliffhanger, do account for a rather quick wrap up. A sorrowful mood permeates the whole issue, as the tragedy that claimed a cast member's life last time stretches to endanger Frank's understudy.

Rachel Cole-Alves has been the reader identification figure from the start, and in this issue the creators finish her story, without even attempting a broader character arc for the title character. The whole affair with the Exchange seems to represent merely a phase in the Punisher's life, where he tried to train another in a stern but accepting way.

Frank deals with the fallout in his own way, accepting full responsibility, and acting upon it. His hand remains present until the end, but the police action taken against the pair ultimately resolves very quickly. Rucka wisely uses the two remaining supporting characters to play key roles in the final scenes, but it doesn't change the familiar feeling of a run being wrapped up before its natural end point.

Thankfully, Rucka eschews the familiar route of the police falling for the villain's ruse, and gives the officers a modicum of intelligence and respectability. The ending is tense and emotive, but once again slightly undercut on the artistic side. It's hard to determine whether the fault lies with Marco Chechetto or colorist Matt Hollingsworth, but the intense rendering of hail and rain that provides the cover for the title character in the final sequence quickly becomes distracting.

The clarity problems were somewhat present in the final pages of the last issue too, but this time it's clear that Rucka was writing for a technically more accomplished artist. Chechetto's figure-work remains appealing and dynamic, but the continual reliance on repeated panels and erratic panel flow have proven time and time again a hindrance to his work on the title. Chechetto is by no means a bad artist, but his tendency to concentrate on the pleasing visuals betrays an artist who has yet to develop the skills Rucka continually calls upon.

The writer's scripts are very precise and detailed, making them much more suited for an artist that cares much more about the sense of place and finds it natural to focus on the research as well as presenting characters whose conversations are as nuanced as the action he places them in. His association with the character is set to end with the upcoming "Punisher War Zone" mini-series, illustrated by Carmine di Giandomenico. The "Journey into Mystery" artist comes as a replacement for Marco Chechetto who withdraws due to a personal issue.

Rucka has since expressed his disapproval for the company's treatment of talent, stating that he will concentrate on creator owned projects for the time being. One of the reasons given is the Punisher's inclusion in the upcoming "Thunderbolts" title, adding to the bittersweet feeling of this final issue. Greg Rucka and Marco Chechetto have given Marvel their professional best on the character that the audience is so accustomed to that it remained largely unaware of this particular iteration.


This issue of the "Winter Soldier" is perhaps the weakest in quite a while, in that it overly concerns with the plot mechanics, while not rewarding the reader with particularly impressive craftsmanship. After Michael Lark's short and stellar run on the title, the comic is for the duration back to where it was before.

Butch Guice is still trying his best at inventive layouts, without a firm handle on the experiment - basically, reinventing as the artist in front of the reader's eyes. Ed Brubaker is going through the motions of a complicated plot that doesn't inspire the reader to keep up with the details, and there's very little of personality besides the now familiar spy/superhero genre hybrid.

Both of the book's nominal protagonists are largely kept at the sidelines, even though it keeps a strong focus on Bucky. The gruff protagonist is neither very effective nor very interesting this time around, nor does it feel that his actions have any wider consequences beyond the cat and mouse game with Leo. Hawkeye doubles as a solid co-lead, but he mostly serves as the sound board to animate the weary Winter Soldier. Leo continues to formidably play the role of the dangerous psychopath, but with every passing issue his plan grow to be more and more convoluted.

Still, the character serves as a credible mirror version of Bucky, forcing him to continually confront his past and the methods shared on both of the Soviet sleeper agents. Despite having the issue start with an action sequence, the near continual voice-over and the relentlessly overdone artwork work to tire the reader, so that the action that takes over the latter third of the book feels ponderous. The creators try to give Bucky an interesting moment at the beginning of the attack, but it feels as wrongheaded as the character's casual slaughter of AIM agents that follow it.

After setting the central conflict between Leo and Bucky so well, the book seems to have entered the territory where the creators have simply misjudged the length of the story, and forced a dragged out, uninspired issue on the part of the audience. By this point, should Brubaker had decided to stay with the book beyond this story, he would have had to tinker with the series, and come up with new ground to cover. Seeing that his tenure ends before the end of the year, at least he'll be leaving a tonally coherent run behind him, that will hopefully wrap up the book's central conflict.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

G.I. Joe - Cobra v1 #1-4

As a part of the 2008 IDW "GI Joe" relaunch, the company published a mini-series focusing on the updated take on the terrorist Cobra organization. The series follows the undercover mission of Chuckles, an existing character whose mission is depicted in a manner similar to Wildstorm's "Sleeper". Thus, writers Gage and Costa underplay the more outrageous elements of the property, settling for a take that is much closer to modern spy fiction.

Antonio Fuso's depiction of the protagonist likewise dispenses with the bulkier physique and keeps only the blonde hair and the occasional Hawaiian shirt of the original. Fuso's Chuckles is slim and tense, in keeping with the gravity of his mission. He is also a very smart character, aware of the risks that accompany his status as a double agent.

IDW does not shy away from depicting his assignments as the dirtiest black ops missions, but most of the gory details are hidden from the reader. These original four issues cover a lot of ground, from his initiation to an unknown terrorist organization, to his advancement in the Cobra hierarchy, to the eventual final confrontation with his leaders, but the pacing is intentionally detached and murky. Gage and Costa use the captions to provide a closer look into the psyche of a man enduring such a soul shredding assignment, which is why the book works as well as it does.

If not for a sympathetic main character, that is equal parts manipulating and self-destructive, these four issues could easily have become an exercise in a drab and pointless misreading of the material. Updating a franchise that is so over the top as G.I. Joe is an undertaking that is best taken with a somewhat lighter focus, but the creators manage to achieve a significant degree of nuance.

"G.I. Joe - Cobra" is still by and large an action spectacle, but there is a feeling that the creators are pushing the envelope. Chuckles' relationship with women from both sides of the divide likewise refuses to comply with the familiar genre cliches. The deep cover agent's feelings for Jinx are more or less the compass that he holds on to when faced with repeated requests that challenge his humanity, but the affair he strikes with a woman in the Cobra organization feels more than a simple manipulation on his part.

There is a real feeling that the physicality of it is helping him deal with the day to day stress, instead of a chance to spice up the story with hints of erotica. Fuso is certainly not the artist to objectify the female form, as his artwork aims for a much seedier, detached effect. The artist is trying for a modern, more sedate style of artists such as Michael ("Alias") Gaydos and even Andrea ("I, Vampire") Sorrentino, but his style is clearly still developing. The paired down pages offer a nice grasp on layouts and pacing, but there is a definite lack of definition throughout.

The colorist is thus employed to provide more than the atmosphere with his work. Despite the shortcomings, Fuso exhibits an affinity for the material, that succeeds in so small part thanks to his strengths as a storyteller. The chapters provided glimpses into crucial events in Chuckles' mission, but are otherwise separated by a few months, enabling the writers to cover a lot of ground in only four installments.

Thus, the reader is left to sympathize with the protagonist and his plight, without losing focus on unrelated missions and the divergent plots needed to maintain the formula indefinitely. The final chapter has Chuckles bringing his mission to an end, only to come into a specific set of storytelling limitations. It's telling that only the last chapter prominently names Cobra as the threat, and identifies several of his bosses by name. The protagonist may have been running away from the franchise that he was created for, but in the end the wider concerns of line-wide continuity, and ironically, the success of the three issues preceding it, paint a very inconclusive end.

Having spent three and a half issues setting up the terrorist organization with an agenda that has some real world relevance, Chuckles' plan to sabotage the operation includes intelligent robots and is ultimately threatened by twin masterminds and comic book villain logic. In reasserting the dominance of the recurring Cobra characters, Gage and Costa simply go too far, weakening the conclusion. As the closing editorial suggests, the company was already making plans for the series' continuation, and further integration into the "G. I. Joe" line.

"Sleeper", the series' obvious inspiration, was thankfully allowed a greater degree of independence from the Wildstorm continuity, but it also had to fight an uphill battle to avoid cancellation. It certainly speaks to IDW's ingenuity that the company has found a way to keep the "G. I. Joe - Cobra" book alive in a market that is nothing if not hostile to tertiary licensed titles.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Comic reviews for Wednesday, 19th September


The latest issue of "Daredevil" follows up on the Matt/Foggy split in a way that both introduces a new plot point, and teases a twist regarding our protagonist's mental state. Once again, Mark Waid focuses on Daredevil's legal career as a way of bringing in new characters and situations, while grounding the series in a semblance of reality.

Everything about this new story feels natural, and it works on a basic level that all superhero stories should follow. The creators offer an easily accessible issue that stands on its own, while being a part of the larger whole, that is informed by their previous work on the character. Samnee is equally adept in long conversation scenes, featuring Foggy and his new client, as he is in making the Daredevil sequences flow in a way that is organic and interesting.

His characters and expressive, and slightly exaggerated, which fits with the quirky script, The one page sequence the creative team devotes to Matt's burgeoning relationship with Kirsten likewise perfectly illustrates the pair's playful dynamic and the romantic tension that has been simmering between them. The subsequent inclusion of a character associated with previous runs on the title becomes both sudden and intriguing, with Waid giving the uninitiated the necessary information to follow the sequence.

The protagonist is as surprised by the sudden arrival, and the complicated continuity alluded to is anything but essential to understanding their current predicament. The imparted information was pertinent to justify Matt's reaction, which serves to reconnect him with Foggy, and in turn bring him in contact with the case. The writer uses Foggy's brashness to acknowledge that is too early for the two to start mending their relationship, but there is still a feeling that Waid could have found another way to get Daredevil in contact with the situation.

The following action sequence is as well executed as it is unlikely, but it serves to underscore the supernatural element of the situation, which is further cemented in the cliffhanger, that offers definite proof of a third party interfering with everyone's perceptions. This kind of stories, where the villain plants evidence and makes everyone assume the worst out of the protagonist can be as familiar as they are unrealistic, but thankfully, the creative team offers enough style and competence that it makes the reader enjoy the experience.

By focusing on the interplay of the characters, Waid and Samnee may be encroaching on the soap opera territory that was severely mishandled at Marvel during 1990s. Using a intuitive, detailed approach, the creative team (including the colorist, who notably changes the color scenes to avoid the captioned interrogation sequences slow down the book) successfully update the original Stan Lee/Bill Everett/Wally Wood "Daredevil". The continued audience support and the recognition when it comes to comics awards are the best example of how well the industry rewards such solid, wholesome entertainment.


So far, DC's Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns has allowed himself a great deal of fr`eedom in crafting the #0 issues of his books. Given that the entirety of the initial "Justice League" arc served to introduce the characters in their first adventure, the writer makes an unorthodox choice here, and uses the space as the continuation of the Shazam back-up.

The Gary Frank illustrated story largely serves as the character's superhero origin, and therefore fulfills the remit of a #0 issue, with additional emphasis on the subjective importance to the wider DC universe. On a structural level, there are a lot of problems with the issue, starting with the first page. A confusing layout choice makes it uncertain if the antagonist is present in the room, with the next page following up on Billy Batson.

Frank's representational artwork and a deep seated cynicism continue to sit uneasily with the traditional fairy tale elements, but the feature once again manages to provide a satisfying experience due to sheer experience of the creative team. Seeing the Seven Deadly sins of man in different colors, with their names floating under the designs in a graffiti-like font certainly seems like another in the line of heavy handed decisions made in revitalizing Captain Marvel.

The Golden Age property has proven so resistant to any kind of revitalization, and at this point the Johns/Frank effort seems like a credible attempt at keeping the characters around. Yet, seeing the Wizard, a confused old man who instantly rejects Billy as the champion seems as reactionary as the rest of the revamp. The creators stubbornly work in opposition to the naivety of the original premise, yet they don't go so far as to subvert it. The lesson seems to be that underneath the negativity, all of these are hopeful, optimistic characters, that just need a real chance to show their goodness.

This is the lesson Billy teaches the Wizard, who in trading with absolutes forgets the need for the Earth's magical champion, and ends up accepting the orphan so that he can combat the threat of Black Adam. After several hurried lines, Billy's mentor dissipates, leaving the problem child to find his own way with the powers and the maturity needed to wield them.

The creative team accomplishes this by bringing Shazam back to the streets of America, where he continues reacting to the situation in the way a pre-teen boy would. In Johns and Frank's hands this means leads to a series of quick confrontations, notable for their artificiality and the disturbing way Frank renders Shazam's face. The penciller/inker tries to recreate the C.C. Beck's design, which translates to the page in a very unnatural way. The popular artist, whose expressive characters owe a great deal to Steve ("the Preacher") Dillon's techniques felt much more natural when rendering the Christopher Reeve inspired Superman during his tenure on "Action comics".

At this point, he has yet to find a way to make the original Captain Marvel design his own. The feature remains ill-balanced and somewhat dishonest, translating the children's power fantasy into a forced retelling that will hopefully be discontinued following the protagonist's confrontation with Black Adam and Sivana.

Without a major rethinking, a misreading of the material on this scale seems like a waste of the time for both of the creators, whose talents could be better used in bringing another character to the forefront of the modern DCU (or even creating their own properties, however unlikely given the writer's status at the publisher).

The remaining four pages feature Johns once more collaborating with another of the company's most prized artist, Ethan Van Sciver. The "Green Lantern: Rebirth" creative team feature another of the ominous "Justice League" back-ups hinting at an upcoming major event. The feature follows up on the Wizard's eventual fate following his departure from Shazam, before setting up the Question for a seemingly important role in the shared universe's near future. The artist's detailed style meshes well with Frank's work on "Shazam" and the teaser is unoffensive enough, if overtly dramatic.


The fourth chapter of the "Everything Burns" crossover presents a largely transitory entry. Despite being told in an issue of "the Mighty Thor", this plot heavy issue continues the spotlight on Loki. Repeatedly the episode calls specifically to the events in the relaunched "Journey into mystery"'s initial arc, to the extent that Thor is perpetually sidelined. Beyond the "Fear Itself" call back, Matt Fraction's own work with the mythos is at the moment relegated to the obligatory renaming of Asgard.

Yet, despite having a firm basis in Kieron Gillen's work, the storyline works as if features the same group of characters, especially when rendered by Alan Davis. The penciller's clean figures, richly colored by Javier Rodriguez do provide some variations when it comes to the pages featuring Thor's struggle. The character is inked differently, and feels slightly out of place next to the rest of the cast, who are more traditionally realized.

Usually, there is a slightly caricatural bent to Davis' figures, which disappears in the ethereal scenes featuring Thor in Musspelheim. The character's features look exaggerated to the point that he almost appears as if he was rendered by Mike ("New Avengers") Deodato jr. Aside from this, the issue covers several different battlefronts and generally succeeds to establish the escalating threat of Surtur unleashed against the Nine Realms. At this point, Vanir are largely forgotten about as anything but his proxies.

Having established that Heimdal shares their ancestry, it would have been interesting to his changing role in the story brought up by a deeper conflict than mere mechanic possession. Still, this makes sense given that the story prefers to flesh out the roles of the two book's mutual cast instead of focusing on a number of new characters.

Thus, "Everything burns" continues to slowly build to a crescendo that will pit brother against brother and everyone against Surtur, while no doubt finding the space to satisfactory resolve Freya's role. Despite the presence of two pencillers, its a model example of two titles wrapping up in a satisfactory way, in a storyline that has the appropriate gravity and requisite storytelling quality.


Cullen Bunn concludes his introductory storyline on "Venom" just before the title enters into the crossover. The three-part "Monster of Evil" nevertheless promises to carve out a new direction for the title, rooted in the occult and end of the world scenarios. Picking up from the loose end of the Ghost Rider-centered "Circle of Four" crossover, the new writer is adamant to continue pursuing the unlikely direction, with Thony Silas in tow as the regular penciller.

Three inkers are tasked with finishing the artwork, but the discrepancy only shows in the last several pages, serving as the epilogue to the monster fighting. The writer finds space to provide some background for the four demon possessed entities, but it still seems like there's too many of them. Even if the creators have found a way to introduce the titular Monsters of Evil earlier in the story, there is no guarantee that they would have left a better impression.

Silas seems particularly on form on the splash pages featuring the entities though, who remain colorful enough to capture the reader's attention. Beyond the fight scenes and Venom's scheming against Hellstorm, there is a nod to the traditional Spider-Man characters that made up the book's previous supporting cast. Yet, the writer seems very firm in taking the book in the new direction, one full of ominous portents.

Seeing that the creative team is apparently looking to expand the Son of Satan's role in the title, perhaps it's better that the readers approach him as a totally new character. The book plays fast and loose with the spiritual framework of Marvel universe in a similar way to Roberto Aguirre Sacasa in his work on "Nightcrawler", but for once the publisher's inter-continuity largely limits the implications.

As the story nears conclusion, Flash's actions become increasingly arbitrary. It's clear that the creators are committed to making the title their own, but it's hard to accept the change when it involves Venom keeping the demon who tried to possess him under control as he enlists his new supernatural aide to read up on the end of the world. By the time Katy Kiernan, the book's new Lois Lane analogue improbably declares that the Marvel mainstay Doctor Strange has repeatedly asked for her help, the readers will have to decide for themselves how much they trust the new creative team with the unlikely direction.

Flash's last page attempt to get back to Betty, a major link to the title's status as a Spider-Man spin-off, get cut off for the purposes of transitioning into the "Minimum Carnage" crossover. It remains to be seen how the book manages to continue once it stops functioning as a tie-in for the overarching Venom/Scarlet-Spider event.


Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard wind down the latest arc of "Walking Dead", with an issue that serves to underscore the character's predicament. The issue is not in the least subtle, and basically features Rick coming to a decision regarding Negan's captured leutenant, and surveying the rest of the cast to see if they agree with his plan.

Charlie Adlard is called time and again to illustrate the close-ups of characters talking, with layouts frequently featuring seven or eight panels. Michonne's reaction is most interesting, and the three page conversation scene seems in many ways the highlight of the issue. Adlard is particularly inspired when it comes to illustrating her features, that are for once tender and defensive.

Still, the conflict between Rick and Andrea makes up the crux of the issue. The characters are separated in the emotional way too, as their intimate scene lacks the empathy the protagonist shares with Michonne. From the artistic point, the issue is obviously hurried, as the artist takes more than the usual amount of shortcuts, with several repeated panels, and a persistent lack of backgrounds.

The artist does get to achieve a strong effect with a panel featuring Rick behind the fence, illustrating the character's forced retreat. The issue sets up Eugene's new role in the story, which comes organically from some of the last developments regarding the long troubled character. Otherwise, it is the last page cliffhanger that suggest a more proactive future for characters.

With "Something to fear", Kirkman has achieved a semblance of a story that stands on its own after several of the last arcs that had much looser structure. The last time the sprawling series tried a similar feat was with "the Hunters", and it's nice to see the creators returning to the more conventional format. Having said that, the effects of the last few issues (particularly #100) have come to more or less define the new status quo, and there is every indication that the series will return to exploring it in its own meandering way, a slow burn strategy that is not without its obvious strengths.


Both Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang are confident creators, and it comes as no surprise that they try something new with #0. The perfunctory prequel issue is used to set-up the title's next story arc featuring Ares, but it stands out more for the way in which the story is told. Namely, the creators use the prequel issue to tell the story in a way reminiscent of a Silver Age Marvel comic.

Thus, the laconic Azzarello persists in using outdated techniques such as excessive captions and thought balloons, spelling out what is readily apparent on panel. Just like the superheroes of 1960s, the characters speak in banalities and frequently reference Greek heroes, leaving no trace of the writer's usual highly stylized dialogue. Chiang likewise tightens up his inks and provides a much more defined look for his pages, filled with familiar panel layouts. The colorist shies away from an over-reliance on the primary colors, saving the book from devolving into outright pastiche. Yet, the tribute is apparent in little details like teenage Diana's huge expressive eyes, and the Minotaur wearing purple shorts.

By deliberately slowing down the pacing, the writer forces the reader to appreciate this accessible entry point into the creative team's controversial rebuilding of the Wonder Woman story. Surprisingly, Stan Lee's trademark self-doubt does prove to be a viable technique to understanding Diana's views on the Golden Age fairy tale society.

At first glance, Ares' dialogue sounds like deities from Marvel's "Thor", but there is some genuine emotion between his actions. At first, it may be hard to respect the character clearly modeled on the writer's current look, but the Wonder Woman/Ares dynamic eventually does make up for an interesting conflict. Eventually, the addition of Daedalus' labyrinth and Theseus-like battle with the Minotaur end up being so derivative that they make a full immersion next to impossible.

The artificiality of both the trappings and storytelling comes as an in-joke between the creative team and the readers, whose attachment to Diana's conflict with her mentor will likely determine their enjoyment of the issue. In any event, one must respect Azzarello and Chiang's audacity to satirize DC's Zero month, who have certainly found a way to follow the company's edict, set up the upcoming storyline and enjoy themselves in the process.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Captain America #17, Winter Soldier #10


The Ed Brubaker "Captain America" run inches towards finish with an issue that will be of interest only to the fans who have stuck with the writer for all this time. Cullen Bunn continues to co-write, as Scott Eaton provides the visuals for another tiring issue in the much maligned "New World Orders" arc. This installment begins at a heavy handed attempt at relevancy, linking the causes of social unrest to the media manipulation.

Beyond the obvious CNN substitute, the script repeatedly uses the term "couch potato" to refer to the average American affected by terrorist manipulation. The message is somewhat muddled by the genre requirement science fiction technology, but it carries through in a way that climaxes the ideological underpinnings of the relaunched title.

Brubaker's latest cycle of stories have tried to deal more directly with the always tenuous grasp at relevancy, and "New world orders" certainly delivers on the premise of Steve's one time allies challenging him where it hurts the most. The problem is that Bunn presents such a dry, super-serious script that it feels a slog to get through. Diamondback's moment of flirtation aside, the issue is weighted down by a ponderous dialogue, going over many of the points made over the previous issues.

When the heroes finally decide to confront the threat, the co-writers split them into three teams, with most of them only starting to begin their assault when the story comes to a halt. Despite the fact that the bulk of the fighting is set to take place next issue, there is a clear sense that the Sharon Carter sequence has progressed to a point where Cap and Falcon will have to quickly deal away with their share of the threats and help save Agent 13 from the clutches of the enemies.

At this point, it's clear that the inclusion of Baron Zemo II was largely unwarranted. He serves as a secondary villain in this issue, but even as such he takes the focus away from Codename Bravo and Queen Hydra, that have lingered in the shadows since the inaugural arc of the relaunched title. The latter has particularly been slighted by Brubaker's retreat from the title, as the writer is effectively leaving the title before giving her any kind of definition.

It will be interesting to see how Brubaker eventually wrap ups the loose ends in his remaining two issues, but the feeling remains that there is little left of the strength of the writer's initial stories. The Steve Epting illustrated issues were very ambitious and well executed, standing in stark contrast with the above average fare that is on display here. It's not to say that Scott Eaton is a lesser artist, but that he's in a position where he's contracted to illustrate the tail end of a well defined run, which has already been defined by a host of artists with complementary visual styles.

Forced to follow the established character redesigns and the visual style that is contrary to his own caricatural aesthetic, it's no wonder that even the artist is finding little inspiration in the storyline.


The first chapter of Ed Brubaker's last arc on the title begins by properly following up on the last issue's cliffhanger. The scene is protracted but expertly executed, in the writer's typical methodical manner. Butch Guice, the returning artist adds an experimental dimension to the proceedings, as his art looks like a cross between Jim ("Nick Fury") Steranko and Jim ("Modesty Blaise") Holdaway.

Bettie Breitweiser colors the pages in a washed out look, in keeping with the tense and somber mood pervading the issue. The layouts are ambitious but never confusing, with Guice rendering these larger than life super-spy characters in a way that is energetic, but completely in tune with the script. Most importantly, the artistic team manages to execute a flashback sequence in a very natural way, without resorting to some sort of unwieldy formal effect.

The series' accelerated schedule helps with the seeming lack of forward momentum, resulting in an issue that seems perfectly content to provide the reader with all of the necessary facts and exposition needed to follow the chase after Black Widow. Brubaker confirmed exit from the title adds gravitas to the death of a supporting cast member, even if the character wasn't anywhere as developed as the two leads.

Guice's subtly redesigns Leo, but the character is recognizable even with the addition of a longer hair. The innovative artist renders some of the Avengers in his own, bulky and energetic style, but the writer's thankfully chooses the characters with a degree of personal history with Natasha. It's hard to think that these late additions are going to seriously derail the departing writer in finishing his story on his own terms.

Despite a somewhat unwieldy start, "Winter Soldier" has proven to be a book that exemplifies Brubaker at his genre best, working with talented creators that are not afraid to push their boundaries. Most importantly, he has managed to craft a run that still makes sense despite his early exit from the series, with this last story shaping up to be as strong as any Brubaker has told with the character.

Comic reviews for Wednesday, 12th of September


The #0 issue of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's "Batman" offers a very unusual entry. Starting with a heist scene that would not be out of place in a Christopher Nolan Batman movie, the creators feature an early Red Hood phase Joker gang, before getting back to Alfred and lieutenant Gordon. The story is almost evenly divided between the two halves, and amounts to a fairly disconnected day in the life of Bruce Wayne, covering out the early days of his mission.

Snyder and Capullo naturally fare better when it comes to conveying the opening action sequence, which manages to hold the reader's attention despite the familiarity of the tropes involved. Capullo's work is rough, but effective, with clear layouts and a reasonably distinctive designs of the two relevant Red Hood gang members. The backgrounds are sparse and generic, but the art conveys everything it needs to keep up with the tense dialogue. Inker Jonathan Glapion opts not to refine Capullo's pencils and carryies over the artist's scratchy, kinetic line.

Where the story stumbles is when Bruce returns to his temporary abode and starts conversing with Alfred. The butler voices his suspicion towards his master's early, pre-Bat-suit mission, before the writer decides to avoid tradition and instead of providing some kind of closure towards the Red Hood gang plot, he brings in James Gordon for a long conversation piece that rounds out the issue.

In so doing, the writer tries to recreate the typical Batman and Gordon rooftop dynamic, but there's little tension in the ground the two cover here. Bewaring the scene's static nature, Snyder introduces a ticking clock gimmick, by having a Batarang about to activate just out of the lieutenant's reach. The device is not entirely unsuccessful, but its artificiality becomes apparent as the reader gets to the final page.

In realizing that Snyder's script comes to no real conclusion but simply stops, the reader is made painfully aware that the rooftop scene was an underwhelming substitute an additional action scene following the opening, and that there is not even a hint of resolution of the immediate plot. The story ends up being simply a short window in the life of "Batman: Year One" phase Bruce Wayne, dedicated to setting up the upcoming Joker crossover. As for the resolution of the cliffhanger, the reader is told to wait until 2013, where it wil presumably be revealed in a "Death of the family" flashback.

As for Capullo's work, it strangely becomes more defined during the conversation pieces. The backgrounds are more than serviceable, and his layouts manage to liven up the static pages in ways that seem natural. Strangely, the younger selves of Bruce and Jim end up receiving very diverting redesigns. FCO Plascencia's palette of blues and grays is in full display, but the future Batman's blue eyes end up highlighting his youth and arrogance in a very unfamiliar way. Likewise, Jim Gordon's bushy hair and stunted posture provide a caricatural look for the character whose mannerisms seem broad, if familiar.

No doubt these are carry overs from the artist's early days as a Todd McFarlane devotee, but they are usually better integrated. Yet, for all of his shortcomings, no doubt coming on the heels of the deadline pressure (which has already necessitated Becky Cloonan filling in for Capullo in the previous issue), the penciller's style remains direct and in synch with Snyder's script. Seeing the tighter, more direct line signals to the readers that Andy Clarke continues to illustrate the back-up, even before they get to reading the credits.

James Tynion IV has sole credit as the writer of the piece, taking place a year into Bruce Wayne's career as Batman. Tynion IV frames the sequences featuring Batman's future Robins around Gordon's conversation with his daughter Barbara. The lieutenant is justifying the use of Bat-signal by highlighting the inspirational aspect of Batman's mission, which Clarke proceeds to illustrate in the three two page sequences.

The cutaways are short but informative, carrying over the momentum before they converge just as Gordon lights the signal. Some of Jim's narration goes overboard in explaining his motivations, but the story is otherwise functional, if unnecessary. The main thing the reader comes away from is the writer adding an edge to the future Robins, that oddly succeeds in making the problematic Jason the most sympathetic of the three. The backup goes on to clarify the characters' New 52 origins, but it doesn't elevate the eight pager from its function of a storytelling exercise.

Batman's origins and the details of his modus operandi are at this point so familiar with the audience, that there was no reason to reiterate the basics in this title (not to mention the character's other concurrent solo series). Taking the Red Hood plot as the single plot strand that has direct bearing on the upcoming events, and seeing it cut short to make place for a highly unnecessary backup story reflects the counter-intuitive move of having an entire month of editorial driven flashback stories in each of the publisher's ongoing series. Hopefully, the creative team will deliver on their promise to follow up the events of this issue's cliffhanger, which is the only way to justify the purchase of this #0 issue.


The Frankenstein #0 issue offers a primer in respect to the character's early days, setting up his relationship with the scientist who made him. Loosely inspired by Mary Shelley's novel, the action oriented story follows the monster as it gains sentence and makes its first steps in the world of men.

Despite the S.H.A.D.E. director captions, Kindt and Ponticelli serve up a very dynamic retelling of the Frankenstein story, punctuated only by some conveniences when it comes to the series' overall continuity. For instance, there is no reason for why the monster doesn't slaughter it creator, as it does to the men serving him. The plot point makes sense only as it sets up the ongoing title's next arc.

Likewise, the inclusion of Lady Frankenstein brings nothing to the story at hand, and only makes sense in the context of Frank's previous adventures. The character's further adventures, as selected by Kindt likewise follow up on the connection with his creator, leading up to another brawl that finishes the issue. Kindt does a solid job in depicting the monster's fanatic tendencies, as well as its sense of nobility, while casting light on the previously underplayed Victor Frankenstein connection.

Ponticelli's rugged, kinetic style helps visualize the grim and determined story, which is surprisingly grounded considering the title's tradition. The artist's design for Victor seems as uninspired as the doctor's one-note lunatic characterization, standing in stark contrast to Frank's single-mindedness. Otherwise, the penciller/inker continues to provide clear layouts and fast flow, without cohering into an all around smoother presentation.

Despite the rough edges to his work, Ponticelli remains a rare DC artist who has managed to not only keep up with the deadlines but also pitch in to help illustrate "Animal Man". The story ends with a montage delineating some of Frank's other adventures, but the visuals only highlight the problems with the character starring in an ongoing title. At this point, after a year of stories featuring the monster and his supernatural allies, there is still a feeling that DC would have been better off producing an occasional mini-series with oddball pulp premise.

Looking at the title from both the creative and the commercial standpoint, it's hard to see the series lasting past the arcs featuring the protagonist confronting both Victor and S.H.A.D.E, respectively.


The third entry in the "Everything burns" crossover comes in the "Journey into Mystery" spin-off, once again illustrated by Carmine di Giandomenico. In keeping with the crossover, it offers little actual momentum, with most of the plot progression carried through conversations. Once again, the characters reveal secret histories behind their previous dealings, and the Asgardia/Vanir war gets relegated to the sidelines.

In keeping with the title, the chapter focuses on Loki, and his devious ways. To the writers' credit, there is a real sense of Laufey's son manipulations reaching critical mass, and him struggling to find a way to square off all the accumulated debts and broken promises. The story starts with stylized captions typical of Kieron Gillen's "Journey into Mystery", but they evaporate as soon as the writers complete the introductory scene.

Yet, it's unlikely that a reader not keeping up with the previous chapters, or even the entirety of the Loki-starring "Journey into Mystery", will be able to make much of what happens in this issue. Keeping up with the static nature of the crossover, the creative team surpasses the challenges the God of Mischief encounters as he ventures into Muspelheim. The character focus breaks only for the subplot involving Volstagg, that was chosen to lead the Asgardian effort to counter the Vanir.

Despite this unlikely turn of events, Fraction and Gillen go to great lengths to make it feel like a temporary role, that the Voluminous warrior takes with a heavy heart. The crux of the issue revolves around an eight page conversation between Loki and Leah, that will be hard to fully appreciate for anyone not previously acquainted with the title. In the process, Thor's half-brother executes another of his manipulations, which the creators try to get across as a major plot point, but it falls short for reasons regarding the very same character history.

Thus, the character's betrayal already hints at a noble higher purpose for his actions, which will be revealed at a crucial moment during the crossover. Thanks to the company's marketing department, it's already certain that Loki will play some kind of role in an upcoming "Young Avengers" title. In terms of the crossover, the suspension of disbelief should be stretched to except everything including the character's eventual heroic sacrifice.

Even as Thor and his friends are progressively closer to defeat, the writers are careful to keep up the whimsical tone. Thus, the captions return to illustrate "Volstagg's War Journal", but beyond the surface Punisher parody stands a scene that illustrates the biggest weakness of the crossover. The writers once again use a two page sequence to remind the reader of the scope of the war, but it only serves to underscore their disinterest in the epic storytelling that would go with the implications.

A true commitment to a fantasy war would seemingly take years and years of continuous publication to support the various fronts and alliances made on the way. Gillen and Fraction are not set on writing that kind of "Lord of the Rings"-inspired story, as "Everything Burns" aims to achieve a completely different set of goals.

Marvel and the respective writers are mainly using the storyline to wrap up the iteration of the title started with JMS' revamp before the Marvel NOW! relaunch. As such, the crossover is not only timely but time constrained. To the writers' credit, the slow paced, character centered crossover is everything but a dashed off effort to wrap up the loose ends and end the books in the way that does not entirely alienate the existing audience.

Unfortunately, the biggest point of contention still comes from the artwork, which tries to match the title's seedier nature.  Yet, the artist's angular style is not an ideal fit for a dialogue heavy script, even if the ornately designed characters find themselves in exotic locations. Di Giandomenico's characters grimace, but they lack the expressiveness needed to carry over the long conversation scenes.

Despite a lack of strong definition, the artist's style is kinetic and elaborate, but the computer coloring underscores that he is simply illustrating the wrong storyline. When employed during the "New Mutants" crossover, Di Giandomenico helped define the look for the chapters in both books, and its hard to imagine the story without his art. Yet, "Exiled" was an action packed superhero story, aiming for a much lighter and more traditional tone. "Everything burns", with its two pencillers achieves a dynamic quite different than the more harmonious effort of its co-writers, and really brings into question the publisher's decision to rush the story into print without a unified visual aesthetic.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Animal Man #0, Swamp Thing #0


With all of his work in revitalizing Grant Morrison's "Animal Man" by diverting from the post-modern superhero tendencies to a more organic series, Jeff Lemire has slowly piled up a multitude of retcons. With the #0 issue, both him and the book's new regular penciller Steve Pugh basically return to completely recreate the character's beginnings.  The character's ties to Swamp Thing are now an integral part of the story, which is still functioning in the superhero mold, but striving for a very different tone.

Lemire elaborates on Buddy's status as a semi-avatar, and how the stuntman landed an opportunity to fulfill such an important role in the life web that is the Red. Pugh is tasked with illustrating a dynamic action series featuring the eventual fate of the previous Animal Man, reminding the reader that he can still match the previous penciller's muscular and powerful art. The role of the Totems in the regards to the manipulations concerning the Baker family receives the bulk of the creative team's interest, and at this point, the explanations feel adequate, if overcomplicated.

Lemire is basically using the issue as an opportunity to revisit the original "Showcase" Animal Man story, showing where he diverges from the tone adopted by Grant Morrison. The writer still uses the yellow aliens of the original Silver Age adventure, but they are merely a part of the narrative designed to ease Buddy into his eventual role of the protector of the Avatar. It is not the smoothest of explanations, but it manages to acknowledge the character's beginnings as the company's animal themed superhero, without continuing to elaborate on the metafictional aspects of the premise.

In Lemire's hands, the superhero identity is merely another role that Buddy is playing, a much preferable one compared to the shortcomings of his acting career. The character does end up feeling infantile in the process, but the creative team try to ground his naivety as a part of his role of a loving father. The issue ends by returning to the aspects of the plot relating to Swamp Thing and the Rotworld crossover, but despite the continuity hurdles, Lemire and Pugh manage to make it feel much more essential than the Annual published a few months ago.


The prequel to "Swamp Thing" picks up from the aforementioned "Animal Man" Annual, and further reinforces the fact that Anton Arcane is a threat to both Red and the Green. The character, as depicted here, serves as sort of an eternal avatar of the Rot, with the mission to exterminate his opposite numbers in the other two pantheons.

Scott Snyder has Arcane narrate the issue, revising Alec Holland's origin to further tie in to the new overarching Animal Man/Swamp Thing mythology. The writer still allows for the previous Swamp Thing stories to have taken the place in the five year gap, but keeps focused on the forthcoming Rotworld showdown. Kano is traditionally a more subdued artist, but he adepts his style to incorporate unusual page layouts and the aggressive visceral approach of Yanick Paquette.

The maniacal glee of Arcane and many of the rampages depicted in these pages feel abhorrent, but bring little to the book besides the fulfilling the perceived genre requirement. The carnage, both shown and implied quickly rises to absurd levels, but thankfully, the Swamp Thing origin sequence serves to orient Arcane's madness and makes the feud between two characters even more personal.

Even though Holland's nemesis was absent from the introductory arc, the writer has used the last few issues to cement both the character's power level and the personal enmity he feels against the protagonist. Next month's beginning of the Rotworld crossover should also mark the first step to the character's temporary demise, as Arcane's continued presence overshadows any other Swamp Thing story the creators could be telling. It's unclear what the editorials plans are for Kano, but the artist certainly has much to offer, especially if allowed to work in the style that is closer to his own work.

Comic reviews for Wednesday, September the 5th


Grant Morrison's "Action Comics" run started very early in the career of the first and most famous superhero, making the company's prerequisite #0 prequel issue largely superfluous. Both Clark's origins and his early days have been the topic of countless retellings, but this issue purports to reveal the exact circumstances behind his origin in "New 52".

Penciller/inker Ben ("Vigilante") Oliver for the moment replaces Rags Morales as the artist behind the T-shirt and jeans Superman's debut. His work here is somber and figure oriented, serving to ground the fantastic events in the sepia toned uneasiness. It works to instill a sense of past the recent past, but it still imbues the story with a wearisome tone, that works better with the subplot involving the titular "Boy who stole Superman's cape".

Morrison chooses an early transitory period in Clark's life in Metropolis, and frames the story around the question of how he ended up with the Superman moniker. The writer uses a couple of pages showing the protagonist settling in to his new apartment to set up the forthcoming arc starring Mr. Mxyzptlk, but he mostly focuses on the regular supporting cast. It's Clark's colleagues in the rival Daily Planet that get to asks the questions regarding his cape and the nature of his powers.

Typically, this kind of story doesn't really challenge Morrison's sensibilities as the writer. The departing scribe tries for his professional best, but it's hard to exhibit much enthusiasm when tackling material this well tread. As for the Luke, the child that steals the cape to confront an abusive father figure, his story is about as perfunctory as the rest of the issue. It serves to both encapsulate the wish fulfillment behind the Superman's powers, as well as to remind the reader of his role as the champion of the oppressed.

Yet, the regular reader of the title is deeply aware how quickly Morrison dismisses with the more grounded elements of Superman's accomplishments. The issue even climaxes with the scene featuring Clark stopping a train, a clear callback to his actions in Morrison's first issue. It's not to say that there's no style on display here, but there is a definite sense that the company is forcing the writer to repeat himself very soon after debuting with what is essentially the same story. It is unfortunate that the company did not simply reschedule the story as an Annual, and have commissioned a script from one of their other freelancers.

Of course, this is exactly what the company is already doing with the back-up. This time, Sholly Fisch returns with a simply story detailing the origins of Captain Comet. The writer's script is very accessible and more traditional, as is CAFU's art. The reader follows a scientist researching the truth behind the Blake Farm ghost story, who ends up meeting Adam at a crucial point, which forever alters his life. The short ends with a hint linking the events to the Andy Kubert pencilled fill-in arc from issues #5 and 6, but it reads just as well for the reader who is unaware of the connection.

BOYS #70

With the series set to conclude with #72, the biggest impression this issue makes is how calm it appears. There is no sign of rushing through the plot lines, character behavior that feels sudden and off key, and a general sense of the creators losing control of the series, unable to properly finish their work. If anything, Ennis and Braun treat this issue like any other in the series, quickly setting the somber mood and following the rising tension until the cliffhanger.

The spotlight is kept firmly on Wee Hughie, and his fragile state of mind, as the character tries to cope with last issue's cliffhanger. Throughout "the Boys", Hughie has been the reader identification figure, a flawed and sensitive young man, whose presence has managed to ground the series in the best way.

Throughout the series, the Scotsman has been surrounded by veterans of the decades of superhero conspiracy, who exhibited a great deal of patience regarding his many misgivings. At this point in the series he has been left without their help, and for once there is no one around to shoulder his pain. Realizing this, Hughie goes about his way, encountering two of the series' odder mysteries.

It should be noted that both of these are of a nature that would have made it extremely unlikely that would have passed the original publisher DC/Wildstorm's consent. The first of these is quickly wrapped up, but there is a sense that the writer is deliberately focusing of the body horror aspect of the scene, to distract from what it could signify story wise.

Russ Braun's artwork likewise skirts the line of horror and parody, with his design of the "monster" in the basement going completely over the top. The Vought-American subplot gets its requisite three pages, this time a lovely choreographed dialogue scene that finally starts addressing the obvious question of the choice of the scapegoat for the company's failings.

The slowly escalating plot allows for one final diversion before the finishing set piece, dealing with another minor series' mystery. This time, Ennis uses the opportunity to directly tie it into Wee Hughie's forthcoming confrontation with the Butcher. Faced with even more evidence of his tutor's shady dealings, the writer lets the protagonist gathers his thoughts, before heading off to finally meet him face to face.

A particular coloring choice carried out through the issue becomes more than apparent in this sequence, as the texture used to indicate Hughie being covered in soot somewhat distracts from the more traditional colors otherwise employed. The use of water colors (or more likely, a computer filter fulfilling the same purpose) feels somewhat distracting when placed over Braun's rendering of Hughie, even though it adds to the feeling of the hopelessness emitted by the character who faced with overwhelming odds.

The episode ends with the sequence featuring another New York landmark, which has added resonance following last issue's end. The slow burning conflict feels natural, with Ennis' dialogue perfectly pitched and life like. Braun's frames the sequence in a way that competently dramatizes the deeper conflict, which breaks only for the cliffhanger.

In the end, the readers get to benefit for having two more issues of the series to look forward too. Each of the plot lines has been given a proper send off so far, and barring any last minute rushing, the eventual fate of Vought-American superhuman handler, Annie, Hughie and Butcher, is likely to be a culmination of everything that's lead up to this point, in the best possible way. It's extremely rare for a series to be executing its final arc this well and "the Bloody doors off" is at this point setting up to be the title's best arc.


Having established his take on the character last issue, Matt Fraction and David Aja use the second entry in the series to set up their story. In essence, the creative team seems to be using the backdrop of global depression to tell the adventures of Clint Burton as a modern day Robin Hood, while still working in the milieu of Marvel universe.

Starting with this issue, the book includes Young Avengers' Kate Bishop, the teenager that used the Hawkeye moniker as a spunky sidekick. Matt Hollingsworth provides a palette of differing shades of purple, the color traditionally associated with the Avenger, helping the creative team realize their stylish superhero book.

In trying to maximize the effectiveness of the artist's detailed, intuitive panels, Fraction deliberately slows down pacing with a combination of naturalistic narration and quirky dialogue. In effect, this frequently breaks down Aja's pages into a high number of panels, trying to capture the details of the mood and atmosphere, imbuing the book with another layer of personality.

 At this point, the book lacks the sense of fluidity that characterized Waid and Rivera's "Daredevil", the book's closest match when it comes to the publisher's output. Both of the creators seems to be trying hard to make the experience special both for them and the reader, in the process creating a comic that tries to be too many things at once.

On one level, "Hawkeye" wants to be a slick heist story in the vein of James Bond. Unfortunately, the addition of Marvel supervillains serves to remind the reader that they are reading a variation on a superhero formula that can only go so much before circling back to the same tropes. For the moment, the writer may be concentrating on Hawkeye's circus past and not on his more traditional days, but it's only a couple of pages later that the he brings in the Swordsman connection.

In trying to honor the essence of the character, Fraction is well aware that he has to include Hawkeye as a superhero, but he tries to keep his archery skills in the background, making it all the more special when the character finally uses them in action. Even then, the protagonists helpfully point out that they are using nonlethal violence, another hallmark of the limitations placed on the superhero storytelling.

There is no doubt that both of these accomplished creators have a plan with "Hawkeye", and it may be that in time they'll manage to build upon the foundation laid here, but at the moment the book feels labored and less than the sum of its parts.


"Everything burns" continues in "Thor", with Alan Davis returning to pencil this part of the crossover. Once again, the writers reiterate the information pertinent to the new Aesir/Vanir war, maintaining the tone of the event focused on character conflict. It's telling that a two page sequence tries to inform the reader that this is the conflict raging in huge battles all over the Nine Realms, but in practice it feels like nothing as such.

Until now, the war has consisted of an opening barrage and is more or less still in the opening stages of the conflict. Mainly, Thor and his friends are still debating the way to deal with the Surtur-powered threat, with the creators adding in the aforementioned sequence precisely for the purpose of fulfilling genre expectations.

This is not to say that "the Mighty Thor" features no fight sequences. The issue starts by picking up on the cliffhanger from "Journey into Mystery", featuring a fight between Thor and the Warriors Three. It is is a familiar image, if not the most welcome one, but Fandrall's subsequent derision works to make it a bit more authentic than the average clash between heroes.

These characters have traditionally be prone to speechifying, but their actions so far feel somewhat out of character. Seeing Thor address the Loki by putting the child in the choke-hold further undermines the strange state of the series the event is spinning out of. With Freya's characterization, Fraction and Gillen have finally managed to get some storytelling opportunity from the character's raised profile, but the wider trinity of Allmothers still feels strange and out of touch.

Idunn and Gaea‘s role never managed to stretch beyond the symbolism, with Odin continuing to play a larger role even though he is absent from the proceedings. The issue finishes up on a promising cliffhanger that further integrates how personal the conflict feels to both Thor and (especially) Loki.

All things considered, despite the creators' best efforts, the crossover is unlikely to prove relevant beyond the current moment in both "the Mighty Thor" and "Journey into Mystery", but the story certainly feels larger and more important than anything following "Fear Itself". And while "Everything burns" lacks the more universal appeal of the wider Marvel universe crossover, it more than makes up in its tone that is respectful to both the Lee/Kirby interpretation of the Norse mythology, as well as everything that Fraction and Gillen brought to their respective titles.


The penultimate issue of the Rucka/Chechetto run on "the Punisher" (before the title transforms into the "War Zone" mini-series that will wrap up this take on the character) deals with the fallout of Frank and Rachel's last issue's mission. After last issue's flawless showdown with the Exchange, the vigilantes are forced to contend with one last bit of unfinished business.

The things quickly spin out of control, as one loose end overreacts to the shootout, leading the Exchange leader to maniacal lengths. As always, it goes without saying that Rucka's script works as a story in its own right, providing everything the reader needs to understand the events in motion, without resorting to expository monologues.

The creators are depicting an ugly situation, but the approach their utilizing is anything but. The bulk of the realization falls on the hands of Chechetto, with the returning penciller/inker realizing all of the disturbing events in the way that is both concise and powerful. The reader is at all times aware where each of the characters are in opposition to one other, except for the very end, where the lack of perspective becomes an important story point.

Marco Chechetto's return to these pages after two fill-in issues feels very welcome, as his powerful, animated figures have come to define this approach. The artist naturally feels much more at home with the character designs than Mico Suayan, even though he lacks the latter's darker edge. The brighter colors do somehow re-frame the horrible massacre into something approaching video game violence, but for better or worse, this was the way the title has always worked in the hands of these two creators.

The crux of the issue revolves around Frank's tactical approach in a situation going haywire, which ends with a seeming demise of a cast member. The antagonist willingly sacrifices himself to bring Frank and Rachel in conflict with the authorities, providing the impetus for stories now that two have dealt away with the Exchange organization.

At this point, it's pure speculation whether Rucka's original series overview included provided for the inclusion of superheroes that will have large roles in the "War Zone" mini-series. The conclusion of this issue certainly hints at an extended hostility with the local authorities, but the creative team's insistence that their story takes place in the superhero universe certainly provides for a possibility of a larger role for the superhuman community.


The greatest compliment that could be given to Cullen Bunn's second issue as a solo writer of "Venom" is that the story stars to read as a comic in its own right. Even though it recasts Daimon Hellstorm as a generic sadistic monster, and has very little to do with Venom or Flash Thompson, "Monsters of Evil" is at least starting to function as an entity of it own.

The story legitimizes itself as the follow-up of the "Circle of Four" crossover, which only complicates the matters. In order to get to the pulp thrills that Bunn is trying to carry over, the writer has to meander through both the internal logistics of Marvel universe and the series' own continuity. At this point, the reader is made to feel every leaden step of his way through both of these, resulting in an overloaded synopsis.

Flash Thompson is the man who has had the Venom symbiote grafted to him, whose soul has been marked by Blackthorn the devil as part of the story in which he met Hellstrom. Following up on a McGuffin, Venom ends up being duped by Hellstorm, who possesses the symbiote with a demon. Having discovered that he still has a measure of control due to the mark on his soul, Flash tries to get the demon out of his body, first by visiting a local exorcist, before confronting Hellstorm and trying to force Daimon to restore him to his previous condition.

It's a needlessly convoluted set-up, that substitutes the title's inherent possession analogy with a literal demonic possession, in order to tell the story the writer is interested in. Bunn is purposefully distancing the title from its roots as a Spider-Man spin-off, which again makes the story all the more generic and unnecessary. The reader is to forget that he is reading about Flash Thompson, and instead try to embrace the new supporting characters lacking both the charisma and the sense of family of the original Spider-Man supporting cast.

In many ways, Bunn's story is struggling with both the format and the title it's appearing in, and Tony Silas does little to provide the individualization the writer strives so hard for. The penciller exhibits solid designing skills when it comes to the exorcist and the titular Monsters of Evil, that appear on the ending double page spread. Otherwise, his linework is neither caricatural enough to compare to the opening Tony Moore issues, nor does he exhibit a strong sense of naturalistic draftsmanship that Lan Medina had in his issues of the title.

Silas' Venom seems credible enough when in the traditional Agent Venom mode, but he fails to find a way to make the demonic transformations work in a consistent way. The images are gross but random, without the full demon-Venom form appearing particularly uninspired. Yet, despite the lack of embellishment, Silas' layouts maintain a clarity that helps his inherently dramatic art carry the story.

It's a shame that Bunn wasn't allowed to start a brand new volume of "Venom" stories on his own, as "Monsters of Evil" would have certainly read more organically had he been allowed to set the story up on his own. This way, in light of Rick Remender's scripts, Bunn's more traditional genre adventure work lacks the personal touch Rick Remender had managed to graft onto the grim an gritty villain fused with the body of a longtime Spider-Man supporting character.