Comic Review – What If? Spider-Man #1

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While never a long-running success, the What If? series of comics has proven to be one of Marvel Comics’ most persistently published properties. From 1977 to 2015, the series has seen 12 different volumes devoted to the idea of exploring the alternate realities spinning out of classic Marvel stories.

Some of them were fairly mundane, such as “What If Spider-Man had successfully convinced The Fantastic Four to recruit him and become The Fantastic Five?” way back in Amazing Spider-Man #1. Some of them were fairly strange, such was “What if Wolverine Traveled Back To The Time of Conan The Barbarian?” (SPOILER – Logan becomes King of Aquilonia and makes Red Sonja his queen. Always with the redheads, that Canucklehead.) Now, the company is reviving the concept again, with a new series devoted exclusively to Spider-Man stories set in divergent timelines.

The first issue goes back to Spider-Man’s origins with a classic concept – What if Flash Thompson had become Spider-Man instead of Puny Peter Parker? The obvious answer is “Spider-Man would have been a total jerk.” It’s accurate, but that basic truism is taken in unexpected directions by writer Gerry Conway, who (if you don’t know the name) has more than a little experience writing Spider-Man.

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Thompson’s Spider-Man is a divisive public figure, but for completely different reasons. Armed with all of Spider-Man’s strength but none of Peter Parker’s compassion, Flash is a brutal bully of a vigilante whose actions scare the public. This is due largely to the pictures that Peter Parker takes of him in action and in spite of J. Jonah Jameson’s editorials about how Spider-Man is just the sort of decisive man-of-action the city needs.

I dare not spoil where the story goes from there, beyond saying that Conway pays tribute to a number of classic moments from the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko era of Spider-Man while showing how those events were drastically changed by Flash Thompson being in the Spider-Man suit. I can note, however, that Ben Parker is alive and well in this reality, since Flash Thompson always saw himself as a hero in the making and didn’t hesitate to stop the runaway thief that would go on to kill Uncle Ben in the main Marvel Universe. It’s fascinating stuff if you’re a Spider-Fan and Conway handles it with style.

The artwork by Diego Olortegui matches the writing in quality. Though a number of classic scenes are reenacted, Olrotegui maintains his own unique style while utilizing the classic layouts and blocking of Steve Ditko. The final effect is memorable, though the inks by Walden Wong seem thin at times and the colors by Chris O’Halloran often lack the boldness this story demands.

It’s hard to gauge a series like What If? which often has a rotating team of creators. This means that the level of quality from issue to issue can vary wildly. As such, I can’t say that every issue of this series will be worth picking up in the future. This one, however, is definitely worth reading if you like classic Spider-Man stories.

7/10

What If? Spider-Man #1 releases on October 3, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

Comic Review – Heroes In Crisis #1

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There is no way to discuss Heroes in Crisis in detail without some fairly significant spoilers. So I’m going to break my usual format for my reviews and give you my blunt and unrestrained opinion at the start, before I describe how I formed that opinion. And that opinion can be summed up in a single sentence.

Heroes In Crisis is the single biggest betrayal of the idealism that lies at the core of the DC Comics multiverse since Identity Crisis and the single most flagrant example of false advertising since the Batman/Catwoman wedding issue earlier this year.

It’s a shame the story is so terrible, because the artwork by Clay Mann is beautiful. Yet a pretty face cannot mask an empty heart and this comic has nothing where it counts.

SPOILERS to follow, after the image. You have been warned.

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The early promotional materials for Heroes In Crisis were built around the concept of Sanctuary – a secret trauma center for superheroes that allows them to privately seek mental health treatment for the unique kinds of PTSD that one develops when you’re the last surviving member of an alien race or you develop disassociate identity disorder because of your secret identity. It was reported that writer Tom King – a former CIA operative – got inspired by the stories of the problems encountered by soldiers returning home from overseas and decided to write a story around the concept of Sanctuary as a metaphor for the real issues our real-life heroes cope with.

It’s a noble sentiment, but Heroes in Crisis is not the M*A*S*H*-style examination of medical treatment in war-time we were sold in the early solicitations. Nor is it a murder-mystery centering around the death of a hero in Sanctuary that the later promotions suggested, complete with a list of odds as to just which character would be the one to die in the article in DC Nation magazine.

The shocking twist of Heroes in Crisis is that there is more than one victim. Everyone in Sanctuary is killed and the apparent killer is revealed on the final page. Of course it’s unlikely to be that simple, with eight more issues to go in this series, but I defy anyone to see any reason to care about the ultimate mystery given the cynicism with which the audiences were played by the advertising for this series.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – don’t people die in comics all the time and come back to life eventually? Yes, which makes it all the more offensive that they would try and pull that play in a book that was advertised as a realistic, grounded portrayal of how difficult it is for heroes to heal in the face of tragedy.

I find it particularly vexing given that one of the few identified fallen heroes in this issue is Roy “Arsenal” Harper. This is because Roy is one of my favorite comics characters of all time and I haven’t been happy with the way he’s been written for the better part of a decade. Even before The New 52 revamp back in 2011, everything that made Roy Harper interesting and unique as a character (i.e. White kid raised on a Navajo reservation, single father, etc.) was discarded in The Fall of Arsenal, in favor of turning Roy into a one-note character whose one note was “recovering junkie.” Benjamin Percy finally gave Roy the respect (and backstory) he deserved in the pages of Green Arrow, only for all of that to be junked here, as Roy is once again viewed only in terms of his battles with addiction for one page, before being unceremoniously killed off-panel.

It makes the whole thing feel like a waste of time and effort. Ditto the death of Wally West, whose recent troubles in The Flash (long story short, he lost his wife and children due to reality being rewritten) have touched me more than any other story this year. All that potential wasted again, for the sake of luring in all the Flash fans who were told Wally’s story would continue in this book after he was sent off to Sanctuary in the pages of The Flash.

And there’s the rub of this book – his story will probably continue. Somehow. Given that Booster Gold is involved, the solution as to how to fix all this is immediately apparent. But using time travel to erase the events of a story (as King did with a story involving Booster Gold in Batman recently) just eliminates any sense of drama the murder mystery is meant to evoke.

There’s no sense of King’s stated purpose in this book. No examination of the pain of heroes and the sacrifices those who serve make for the sake of others  No grand mystery to be solved. There is only death for the sake of publicity and making a quick buck. This isn’t a comic book – it’s a superhero snuff film on paper.

4/10. And that’s purely for the artwork.

Heroes In Crisis #1 releases on September 26, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

Comic Review – Batman: Damned #1

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The Joker is dead and Batman killed him. That’s the story the local news is running with but Commissioner Gordon doesn’t believe it. Partly because the one witness is a crazed homeless man who is either off his medication or too heavily medicated. But mostly because he believes in Batman.

Batman, for his part, isn’t sure what to believe. It’s all a blur before he woke up in an ambulance as an EMT was trying to pull off his cowl. He was wounded. He was delirious. He was wanted. And just when the night couldn’t possibly get any worse, John Constantine showed up.

There’s more to this murder than meets the eye, and like it or not, The Dark Knight Detective needs help. But can he afford the rather questionable assistance that comes from dealing with The Laughing Magician? And even if he can’t, does he have any other choice?

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When it was announced that DC Comics would be starting a new imprint – Black Label – exclusively for superhero stories set outside of the main continuity that could deal with more mature themes, I was a little bit skeptical. For every work like Watchmen or The Sandman that has pushed the boundaries of the comic book medium and proven that “Comics aren’t just for kids anymore!”, there have been roughly 100 graphic novels published by creators for whom “mature content” means “blood, cursing and naked people.”

Brian Azzarello is one these creators, but that is not why I find most of his work distasteful. Azzarello is also one of those writers who bends established characters to fit the stories be wants to tell rather than writing stories to suit the characters. And while a writer could potentially tell some interesting stories by subverting expectations, Azzarello only seems to do it for shock value. Like a stage-magician, Azzarello uses distraction to keep your attention where he wants it. In this case, sudden curse words, surprise cameos and the shadowy outline of Bat-wang serve to distract you from the stunning secret of Batman: Damned #1 – nothing really happens in this book.

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Oh. events occur, but there’s nothing that happens which seems to have anything to do with the plot as described on DC Comics’ website. Weird things happen, but there’s no indication what any of it has to do with anything, especially John Constantine’s rambling narration. The whole thing comes off like a rejected script from Azzarello’s run on Hellblazer, which centered on John Constantine wandering the United States as weird things happened and John just observed them happening, when he wasn’t using magic to troll the Muggles.

This ran completely counter to John’s previous portrayals, where what power he had was used sparingly and he was much more inclined to use his wits than a spell to get out of a jam. Come to think of it, I recall that Azzarello’s Batman stories were far more interested in the villains than The Dark Knight, with Batman coming off as something of an empty suit. I mention this because Batman: Damned has a scene where a naked Bruce Wayne literally fights an empty Bat-suit.

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The damnable thing (see what I did there?) is that the artwork of this comic is as fantastic as the story is non-existent. Lee Bermejo is rightly regarded as one of the greatest Batman artists ever and he also did a great two-issue story for Hellblazer when Mike Carey was writing it. Unfortunately, his most famous works are his collaborations with Azzarello.

It is a rare thing for me, as a writer, to recommend a comic but say you should only look at the pictures. Yet that is how I suggest you handle Batman: Damned. Beremejo’s gift for storytelling is such that you can follow along with all the plot relevant portions of the story without reading the dialogue. Even the random bits seem to make a good deal more sense if you ignore the text. I’d also suggest tracking down a graphic novel called Batman: Noel – a Christmas special which Lee Bermejo wrote and painted, which is far better on every level than this Damned book.

5/10

Batman: Damned #1 releases on September 19, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

Comic Review – Mystery Science Theater 3000 #1

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In 1988, comedian Joel Hodgson was approached about creating an original local television show for station KTMA in Minneapolis. The result was a unique twist on the classic “horror host” movie program, where the host mocked the movie while it was playing rather than just presenting skits before and after the commercial breaks. The show was dubbed Mystery Science Theater 3000 and the next decade would see it picked up for cable distribution by three networks and syndicated.

MST3K (as it is called for short) has one of the most prestigious reputations of any cult television show in history.  It won a Peabody Award in 1993 and inspired a feature-length film in 1996. More recently, Hodgson attempted to crowdfund a new season of the show on Kickstarter, going on to shatter the record for money raised for a television series. This prompted Netflix to pick up the distribution rights to the new series, introducing MST3K to a new generation.

The show has a surprisingly extensive mythology involving generations of mad scientists attempting to take over the world by abducting hapless working-class schlubs and forcing them to watch bad movies. All of this is just window-dressing for the basic concept of the show – three funny people (some of whom happen to be robots) watching the worst movies ever made and making fun of them. The new MST3K series on Netflix has revised the concept somewhat, with mad scientist Kinga Forrester and her assistant Max (played by geek royalty Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt) now more concerned with becoming Internet Famous than achieving World Domination, but the core idea is still the same.

So what the heck does that have to do with comic books?

Just in time for the 30th anniversary of the show, MST3K has now been adapted into a graphic novel format by Joel Hodgson himself and a team of writers and artists. How this is accomplished is more easily explained with pictures than words. Luckily, Dark Horse Comics, in their wisdom, has made these preview pages explaining the concept available for us to share with you. Aren’t you lucky?!

 

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TL;DR? Jonah Heston (the current human host of the show) and his robot friends are put into a public domain comic book and are soon sarcastically working their way through the plot of Johnny Jason: Teen Detective #2, with Tom Servo (everyone’s favorite robot who looks like a gumball machine) placed in the role of Johnny Jason. It’s all annoyingly wholesome, or would be if the robots didn’t keep putting words in the mouth of various supporting characters, such as a cop randomly noting, “This is off-topic, but I just gave my gun to a hobo.”

The writing perfectly captures the anarchic spirit of the show and Teen Titans artist Todd Nauck does a great job capturing the cast in the opening “host segement.” Likewise, Mike Manly masterfully alters the original Johnny Jason comic art to work the MST3K characters into the story. How well all this works will depend upon how much you like referential humor and parody. In other words, if you’re a fan of the original show, you’ll probably enjoy this comic after adjusting you brain to how to read it. If you aren’t… well you definitely won’t.

If you’re a comic fan who isn’t sure if you might be a fan of this sort of thing… well, much as I like the comic, I’d definitely encourage you to check the show out first, just as a point of reference. (You can watch several episodes for free on MST3K.com – I personally recommend The Killer Shrews). That being said, while this might not be everyone’s cup of tea, the high-concept and execution make it worth checking out, even if you aren’t already a fan of the show.

8/10

Mystery Science Theater 3000 #1 releases on September 12, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

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Comic Review – Border Town #1

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In 1993, DC Comics transitioned a number of their titles aimed at mature readers into a new line called Vertigo Comics. The brainchild of editor Karen Berger, the core idea behind Vertigo was to take those comics that were already being used to tell more complex stories and expand them outside of the strictures of the Comics Code Authority. The end result was a number of legendary series (Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, Brian K. Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man and Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan, to name a few) which blended genre fiction with social commentary to create something never before seen in American comics.

Recently, Vertigo Comics decided to get back to basics just in time for their 25th anniversary. In addition to their revamping The Sandman with four new series spinning out of The Sandman Universe #1, they announced seven new on-going series cut from the same cloth as the original Vertigo line.

Hither comes Border Town – the first of these seven titles. Set in the town of Devil’s Fork, Arizona, the plot centers around Frank Dominguez, who – much like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air – was forced to move across the country after one little fight and his mom getting scared. Yet Devil’s Fork contains dangers more menacing than over a dozen species of native lethally-venomous reptiles and skinhead gang-members.

The boundaries between this world and the next are weakening and creatures that take the form of your worst fears are now roaming the desert. It will fall to Frank and his fellow teenage outsiders to solve the mystery of what is really behind a series of violent deaths and deal with a problem the local authorities are quick to write off as being the work of “God-dang illegals.”

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Border Town inspired controversy as soon as it was announced, due to a concept that was based around addressing issues of racism in the Southwestern United States through the lens of Aztec mythology. This prompted death threats against writer Eric M. Esquivel and talks of boycotting the new line, Vertigo Comics, DC Comics and everything Warner Bros. makes. All over a book that has no agenda beyond saying “racism exists and is a bad thing” while using literal boogeymen as a metaphor for how foolish people are when they let irrational fears control them.

I mention all this because, as a critic, it’s my job to consider the context of these things going into a work. Personally, I love analyzing and discussing this sort of thing and how the writer’s life influences the work, though it hardly takes a great scholar to guess that Esquivel (a half-Mexican, half-Irish native of Tuscon, Arizona) probably put a fair bit of himself into the character of Frank. I appreciate, however, that many would just like to get down to brass tacks, ignore the controversy and simply be told if this book is worth reading.

Holy Mother of All Things Good N’ Plenty And All Her Wacky Nephews, YES, this book is worth reading!

While Esquivel’s plot is hardly original (seriously – think about how much children’s fiction and horror is built around kids and teenagers fighting monsters their parents don’t believe in), the execution is flawless and the setting puts a wholly unique spin on a classic concept. While one can draw comparisons between Border Town and Stephen King’s IT, it would be lazy to write it off as a Southwestern Stranger Things. If anything, I’d compare Border Town to Garth Ennis’ Preacher, which also explored issues of racism and politics in a Southwestern setting with twisted humor. Both series also share a willingness to go over the top for a joke, as when we see the various forms the fear monster takes on its rampage through town.

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Artist Ramon Villalobos does a fantastic job bringing the world of Border Town to life. Sporting a highly-detailed style that invites favorable comparison to Frank Quitely, Villalobos’ work is intricate in its line work without feeling cluttered and thinly-inked so we get to appreciate every little touch. The colors by Tamra Bonvillain are equally impressive, with gradient effects in several scenes that perfectly capture the aura of an Arizona sunset. Letterer Deron Bennett keeps the text visually interesting, with distinctive fonts for narrator captions and word balloons.

Ignoring all the controversial elements (which really are much ado about nothing, in this critic’s opinion), Border Town #1 is a solid start for a series that upholds the finest traditions of Vertigo Comics on every level. If the rest of the revival is this strong, I predict we’ll see a new congregation of Vertigo enthusiasts heading into 2019.

10/10

Border Town #1 releases on September 5, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

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Comic Review – Venom: First Host #1

Venom First Host 1 CoverEvery Spider-Fan knows how Venom was created when the alien symbiote Peter Parker rejected bonded with Eddie Brock – a disgraced reporter, who blamed his fallen fortunes on Spider-Man, whose capture of the serial killer known as The Sin Eater revealed that Brock’s article identifying the Sin Eater as someone else was a sham.

The devout fans will recall how the symbiote later found discharged soldier Flash Thompson and allowed him to enter the action once again as Agent Venom.

The truly devout fans will tell you that Deadpool encountered the symbiote before it bonded with Spider-Man and that’s probably what drove it crazy in the first place.

Yet in all of these stories, nobody has ever explored the history of the symbiote between the time it was taken from its homeworld and when it was discovered in Secret Wars. Until now…

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Meet Tel-Kar – soldier, spy and the titular First Host of the symbiote that would become one-half of  Venom. The first half of this issue details how Tel-Kar worked deep-cover during The Kree-Skrull War, with his symbiote “partner” enabling him to replicate the natural shape-shifting powers of The Skrulls. This is a brilliant conceit on the part of writer Mike Costa and one can easily see them doing an entire series based around the idea of a Kree spy playing a dangerous game working among his people’s sworn enemies while struggling to maintain control of himself and his other half in the name of the greater good.

Unfortunately, after this promising start, the second half of the book is largely devoted to the same-old Venom shenanigans and establishing a status quo that is remarkably similar to the plot of the upcoming Venom movie. We see Venom stop a convenience store robbery in his usual gory fashion and discover how Eddie Brock is paying the bills by allowing a bio-tech company to study his symbiote’s latest “baby” to develop new miracle drugs. This section of the book isn’t bad, but we’ve seen this sort of thing done before in earlier Venom comics and it’s something of a step-down after the introduction gives us something new and original using the symbiote in an outer-space setting – another odd rarity given its alien origins.

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That being said, whatever issues this book’s story may have, the artwork is fantastic. This is no surprise, given that it’s by Mark Bagley, who I’m fairly sure has drawn more Spider-Man comic books than any other artist in history at this point. Certainly he’s done a lot of them, even apart from his work on Ultimate Spider-Man. The book’s layouts are fantastic, but the inks by Mark Hennessy are a little thick at points and obscure the original line-work.

All in all, Venom: First Host is a solid work that does what it set out to accomplish. For those who are new to the character, it tells you everything major you need to know about Eddie Brock and his better half. For long-time fans and Marvel history buffs, it shows us something we’ve never seen before and establishes a fascinating new character in the form of Tel-Kar. And it will prove an interesting first comic for anyone who comes to the comic shop for the first time wanting more after Venom arrives in theaters in five weeks.

7/10

Venom: First Host #1 releases on August 29, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

Comic Review – Catwoman/Tweety & Sylvester Special #1

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It seems obvious that the recent rush of Hanna-Barbera and Looney Tunes crossover books was motivated more by marketing than good sense. One can picture some junior executive in the Warner Brothers offices trying to sell his bosses on the idea… ‘We own the cartoon characters!  We own the superheroes!  We put them together! It’s gold!’ Or it would be if the average kid today read comic books or remembered the Looney Tunes characters.

Despite this and the general comic reading audience’s refusal to take this sort of thing seriously, some writers managed to pan gold out of the premise. Batman/Elmer Fudd was a neat Film Noir thriller that turned everyone’s favorite hunter into a hired gun in Gotham City. The Snagglepuss Chronicles used Hanna Barbera’s animal characters to spin a complex tale of repression in the age of McCarthyism. And someone has got to be buying Scooby Apocalypse for it to have lasted over two years.

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This brings us to Catwoman/Tweety & Sylvester Special #1 – a book which opens with a witches convention and a wager between Witch Hazel and The Kindly Ones as to what is the more witchy animal – birds or cats. This leads to Sylvester and Tweety being sent into the DC Universe and having one night to seek out a champion as they settle the matter once and for all, with the stakes being “reality as they know it!” And the lives of every bird or cat in the universe, along with any superhero and super-villain with a bird or cat theme.

‘No prethure’, as Sylvester would thay.

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Whoever had the idea for this story, I know the title had to have been conceived by one of the aforementioned marketing weasels because they buried the lead. Yes, Catwoman is in this story. So are Tweety and Sylvester. But none of the promotional material for this book mentioned one very important fact: Black Canary is in it.

Oh, I’m well aware that the general public knows who Catwoman is far better than they know who Black Canary is and that she has more star power as it were. But if you wanted to make some serious clams selling this book to people who buy comics, all you need to say is that Gail Simone is writing Black Canary again and watch the Birds of Prey fans come running.

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Certainly DC Comics fans will get the most value out of this book, if only for the fun of spotting all the references artist Inaki Miranda snuck into the background. Those who don’t enjoy this sort of game will have to content themselves with the well-written story and gorgeous artwork that somehow finds a way to translate a Tweety and Sylvester brawl into a more realistic art style. Not to mention the amazing colors of Eva De La Cruz!

So even if you’re not the sort of person who likes “funny animal” books, Catwoman/Tweety & Sylvester Special #1 is well worth checking out.  And if you are the sort of person who likes “funny animal” books, you’ll love the back-up story, told in a traditional Looney Tunes animation style, where Tweety has to defend Granny’s home from Catwoman.

10/10

Catwoman/Tweety & Sylvester #1 releases on August 29, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

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Comic Review – West Coast Avengers #1

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It had seemed like such a simple plan at first – Move out to California to get away from the craziness of New York, set up shop as a private investigator and build a new life away from the insanity of saving the world by shooting things with pointy sticks. Unfortunately, craziness has a way of finding you when you’re a recovering superhero. Particularly when you’re trying to build a normal life with a new boyfriend on the other side of the country. Hence why Kate “Hawkeye” Bishop found herself as the only person able to do something about a stampede of land sharks in Santa Monica.

The incident drove home one thing to Kate – the greater Los Angeles area is woefully unprotected when it comes to the sort of craziness that happens multiple times a week in The Big Apple. Somebody needed to build a team that could protect the west coast. And that someone, apparently, was her!

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Luckily, Kate’s mentor Clint Barton (a.k.a. Hawk Guy, a.k.a. The Other Hawkeye, a.k.a. “Wait, how come I’m The Other Hawkeye When I’m The Original?”) is ready to lend his support, as are her boyfriend (newbie superhero Fuse) and her friend America Chavez. Unluckily, the best recruit Kate could attract for the new team after a day of auditions was Gwenpool – a superhero (sort-of) who has powers (kind-of) who is crazy (totally) and only showed up because she wanted to take Kate out for tacos. Then there’s the question of how she’s going to pay for the whole thing…

Enter Quentin Quire (a.k.a. Kid Omega) – telepath, telekinetic, super-genius and insufferable jerk. Like every third person in Los Angeles, Quentin had gotten his own reality show, which was in danger of cancellation since Quentin had kinda lied about still being part of the X-Men when he pitched the idea of a new kind of superhero reality show. Bringing him in would solve all Kate’s financial problems. Unfortunately, it also meant having to deal with Quentin Quire on a daily basis and having every aspect of her life filmed for the amusement of the masses.

Still, Kate has a team. It’s a team made up of newbies, narcissists and heavily armed lunatics. But still, technically a team that is largely committed to saving lives in a way that is totally non-lethal and worthy of the Avengers name! We hope.

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I love comedy superhero books and that alone would be reason enough for me to recommend West Coast Avengers #1. The fact that this book is hilarious, however, is secondary to the fact that there’s a great dynamic to this book, which continues the stories of several great characters who were in danger of vanishing into Comic Book Limbo. And Quentin Quire. (Seriously – does anyone like this guy?)

Writer Kelly Thompson is on familiar territory here, having written the Hawkeye solo series and America Chavez’s book America. Those of you who enjoyed her work there will find more of the same blend of high-octane action and character-based comedy here. And those fans of Gwenpool still grieving that series’ cancellation will be glad to know that Gwen is back and as wacky as ever.

All of this is ably illustrated by Marvel mainstay Stefano Caselli (Amazing Spider-Man, Avengers, Civil War: Young Avengers/Runaways). Caselli proves equally capable of depicting any action sequence, no matter how insane, and instilling a sense of life and motion into the static scenes of the characters talking. He also shows a fantastic gift for expression, somehow making even the masked Gwenpool expressive despite half of her face being concealed.

Bottom Line: if you’re in the market for a fun and funny comic book that isn’t afraid to get dangerous and ridiculous in equal measure, you should give West Coast Avengers a try.

10/10

West Coast Avengers #1 releases on August 22, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

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Comic Review – Pearl #1

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People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.”

That line and variants of it have been credited to many people over the years. Yogi Berra. Mark Twain. George Bernard Shaw. Even Honest Abe Lincoln! And as is usually the case with this sort of line, none of them can be credited as the original source.

The line was originally written by a man named Artemus Ward, who I was surprised to find out was a 19th century humorist and not the lead character of an urban fantasy series about a wizard detective. Sadly, it’s probably the most famous funny thing he ever said, but nobody today ever quotes him on it.

I mention this bit of trivia because that quote was the first thing that came to mind after I finished reading Pearl #1, as I wondered who the target audience for this book was and who might enjoy it.

Pearl #1 is the first new title produced for Brian Michael Bendis’ Jinxworld imprint, since he set up shop at DC Comics. It is also his first collaboration with artist Michael Gaydos since the two of them worked on a little series for Marvel Comics called Alias, which introduced the character of Jessica Jones. You might have heard of her from a show on Netflix that was rather popular and well-received.

So what is Pearl about? Beyond “a girl named Pearl” that’s a bit hard to say after just one issue. All we get are a simple series of factoids – she’s a tattoo artist, she’s an albino, she’s part of a Yakuza family in San Francisco and she’s uncommonly good with a gun. As is typical with Bendis’ writing, he’s taking his sweet time letting the main character’s backstory unfold and there’s no internal monologue. This places a greater burden on Bendis’ partner to make the characters’ reactions clear through their facial expressions, but usually leads to some amazing artwork.

Unfortunately, this is a burden that Gaydos is ill-equipped to handle. Gaydos sports a fine, photo-realistic style but he’s never been very good at drawing expressive faces. Most of his characters look bored or stoned, even in the middle of a gun fight! A larger problem with the artwork is the color tints Gaydos lays over each page, which make it unclear that Pearl is an albino until another character outright tells us she is one.

In fact, most of the story of this issue is unclear unless you’ve read the interview where Bendis explains the ideas behind Pearl, which basically come down to him wanting to do a Yakuza story that avoided the usual cliches and how nobody ever makes albino characters the protagonists in popular fiction. Unfortunately, Bendis has yet to give Pearl much of a character beyond being an albino and there’s nothing much to the Yakuza elements of the story so far beyond the usual cliches.

Personally, I didn’t enjoy Pearl much, but I was also equally unimpressed by Alias when it first came out. That’s fine. Some people enjoy Bendis’ and Gaydos’ work. I am not one of them. That is my right and if you think they’re awesome, more power to you.

Which brings us back to that quote – “People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.”  If you’re the sort of person who likes Bendis’ and Gaydos’ work, you’ll almost certainly like Pearl. If, like me, you’re not a fan of decompressed storytelling and the Bendis/Gaydos ouvere, this probably won’t change your mind.

One other note of trivia: this issue also contains a reprint of a story called Citizen Wayne, which has the distinction of being the only thing Brian Michael Bendis wrote for DC Comics before being signed to an exclusive contract with Marvel Comics for the better part of two decades. Coincidentally, Michael Gaydos was also the artist on this piece, which is basically the movie Citizen Kane only with Bruce Wayne reworked into the Charles Foster Kane role and Clark Kent as the reporter trying to figure out why Bruce Wayne’s last words were “Rosebud.” Bat-fans may be tempted to pick up this issue for that reason, given that the original issue has become something of a pricey  collectors’ item.

5/10

Pearl #1 releases on August 15, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

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Comic Review – Fantastic Four #1

Fantastic Four #1 Cover

It’s been a rough couple of years for the Fantastic Four. Both in the real world and in the Marvel Universe. The on-going battle between Marvel Studios and Fox over the film rights to the franchise saw Marvel Comics stop publishing a monthly Fantastic Four comic in a bid to deny any sort of cross-promotion to the 2015 Fantastic Four movie. Given how infamously awful that film turned out to be, they needn’t have bothered, but that’s another story.

Regardless, the past few years have seen Reed and Susan Richards lost in space, Ben Grimm joining the Guardians of the Galaxy and Johnny Storm living with The Inhumans. They also saw Doctor Doom reinventing himself as a new Iron Man during the time when Tony Stark was presumed dead.

Thankfully, with Fox recently sold to Disney, the time has come for Marvel Comics’ First Family and their greatest enemy to return!

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It spoils little to say that we don’t actually get to see the glorious return of the Fantastic Four promised by the cover in this issue. The first steps are taken, however, to see The Invisible Woman and Mr. Fantastic reunited with The Human Torch and The Thing. That’s not really what this issue is about, however. What this comic is about is reminding us of who these characters are and what made The Fantastic Four so revolutionary.

While Stan Lee and Jack Kirby would go on to refine the formula more strongly with later creations, Fantastic Four was the first superhero book to challenge the usual character cliches of the genre and develop its main characters into more distinct personalities. Reed Richards, for instance, looked like the usual stock scientist character common to Atomic Age science-fiction but was also a pompous jerk. The hot-tempered and impatient Johnny Storm seemed like a more realistic teenager than the clean-cut, golly-gee Robin and Bucky. The Thing was a noble monster – Frankenstein’s creation in orange rock. And Invisible Woman… well, eventually she became a more proactive heroine. (Sorry, Stan! Gotta be honest!)

Dan Slott’s love for these characters is apparent and he does a fantastic job of handling both The Thing and The Human Torch, who are the focus of most of the first story. The artwork by Sara Pichelli, with colors by Marte Gracia, is vibrant and animated. The story and the artwork feed each other perfectly, balanced yet piercing, like a finely made sword.

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Where this issue truly excels, however, is in its back-up story. It is here that Slott and artist Simone Bianchi begin to restore Victor Von Doom to his proper place as the greatest hero in the Marvel Universe. Hero? Yes, you read that right, True Believers! Because nowhere did Lee and Kirby more masterly subvert the order of superhero comics than with their creation of Doctor Doom – a villain who was, in many ways, more heroic than the “heroes” he routinely fought against.

The story here is a prime example of this, focusing on a Latverian peasant who dares to enter into the long-vacated Castle Doomstadt, after spying a light inside of it. It is here that she finds Doom, wounded in body and spirit, lamenting as only the truly great can after a fall from grace. Yet Doom puts his cares aside, after the woman informs him that the forces that have taken over Latveria in his absence now threaten to destroy his people with Doom’s own technology.

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Slott writes Doom in a Shakespearean fashion, with all the gravitas that the character demands. Bianchi’s artwork proves a perfect match for this dialogue, possessing a similar dark complexity. Even those who dismiss Doom as a mere villain will find it hard to reconcile that portrait, forged by lesser writers, when they consider his actions here.

Fantastic Four #1 may not bring about the return of Marvel Comics’ first superhero team. It does, however, take a solid step in that direction. It’s also a darn good read and well worth picking up.

9/10

Fantastic Four #1 releases on August 8, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

Comic Review – Sandman Universe #1

Sandman Universe 1 Cover

The only real flaw with Sandman Universe #1 is a presumption that the reader is already familiar with the universe of The Sandman. This is a fairly safe assumption, however, as the original Sandman series by Neil Gaiman and a host of fantastic artists is one of the few undisputed classics of the graphic novel medium. Thankfully, what little information the book itself doesn’t give you is easily looked up on-line. But in the interest of speed and keeping you reading, I will explain…

There are seven beings called The Endless. They are personifications of forces we believe need to have an intelligence behind them, like death or destiny. So there is a Death and a Destiny. And there is a Dream, who is known by many names, including The Sandman. Dream is the personification of creation and imagination. He is the Prince of Stories and his realm, The Dreaming, is the place where gods are born, ideas are forged and anything is possible.

Sandman Universe 1 Page 1

The Dreaming is also home to many strange beings who came from elsewhere to become a part of its stories. There are the brothers Cain and Able (yes, THAT Cain and Able), who safeguard Mysteries and Secrets and the houses that hold them. There is Eve the raven woman, who guards her own sinister house when it is not a sinister cave. At the center of it all, in the ghostly castle at the center of The Dreaming, lies the Library of Dreams where every story ever written and never written can be found. And at the center of that may be found Lucien – the Librarian of Dreams and the servant Dream leaves in charge of his realm when he goes off to do business in The Waking World.

As the issue opens, Lucien is informed that a crack has appeared in the sky of The Dreaming and the people are fearful that history may be about to repeat itself, as The Dreaming was all but destroyed in a similar manner once after Dream was bound and held captive for several decades. With Dream not responding to Lucien’s summons, Matthew The Raven – the messenger of Dream – goes forth to find his master by following the magical bond that connects them. This leads Matthew into The Waking World and through a number of scenes that suggest whatever forces are changing The Dreaming are also altering the rest of reality as well…

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What follows sets up the various spin-off series that will make up the new shared reality of the revamped Vertigo Comics universe. Matthew and Lucien will continue to try and solve the mystery of Dream’s disappearance in The Dreaming. The adventures of newbie magician Tim Hunter (another of Gaiman’s creations) will continue in a new Books of Magic series. A new house, overseen by the Vodou deity Erzulie, will be introduced to The Dreaming in House of Whispers. Finally Lucifer, the fallen angel and one-time ruler of Hell, will once again headline his own series that will have nothing to do with the recent Fox television series that was VERY loosely based on the original Lucifer series that spun out of The Sandman.

Of the four stories we see here, it is the one setting up The Dreaming that attracts the most attention, largely because it promises to directly continue the story introduced here. It is Lucifer that is the hardest to get a read on, being so alien in reference even to those who read the most recent Lucifer series by Holly Black and Richard Kadrey. Strangely enough, House of Whispers looks the most intriguing despite barely tying into the narrative of this issue, thanks to some eye-catching artwork. Even the weak link – the section with Tim Hunter – is not bad and it suffers only because of how short it is and how disconnected it is from the main story, with Matthew The Raven basically saying “This looks interesting, but I can’t stop to help this kid.”

So what’s the verdict? If you’re a fan of The Sandman and Neil Gaiman, Sandman Universe #1 will prove a welcome return to form and an exciting promise of what dreams may come. Based on what we see here, this will be one of those rare anniversary events that will live up to the legend of what inspired it. If this is your first time venturing into the Vertigo Universe, you should be fine, but you may want to treat yourself to the original Sandman books that lay the foundation for what we see here anyway.

8/10

Sandman Universe #1 releases on August 8, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

Comic Review – Infinity Wars #1

Infinity Wars #1 Cover

I must confess that I’m not a big fan of the the cosmic side of Marvel Comics’ universe. No disrespect intended to Jim Starlin and everyone who enjoys his grandiose space operas but it just isn’t my cup of nutrimatically replicated dried leaves infused with boiling water. And Infinity Wars is a prime example of why that is so.

First of all, if you haven’t been reading the many Infinity series that Marvel Comics has been publishing this year to build off of the hype of Avengers: Infinity War, you may find yourself largely lost. Despite being largely promoted as the perfect entry point into the ongoing saga of The Infinity Stones, there’s a lot of backstory to unpack and a lot of characters who will be totally unknown to casual readers, much less those seeking an entry point into the comics having only seen the movies. The only concession made to new readers is a cast list and chart showing who currently holds the six Infinity Stones.

Infinity Wars Cast Page

Even this guide offers more questions than it answers. While fans of Marvel’s Netflix series will know who Turk Barrett is (i.e. the unluckiest crook in New York), most of his crew is made up of villains who haven’t appeared in the movies or TV shows, such as The Spot and Tombstone. Even this amounts to little, as they’re mostly background fodder for when the inevitable fighting begins.

Ignoring that, there’s some drastic changes from the movies that may confuse new readers. As the issue opens, The Guardians of the Galaxy have broken up and their membership has largely separated. Also, Groot is either now speaking with an extensive vocabulary or the comic is just automatically translating everything he says. It isn’t really clear and that’s the biggest problem with this book as an entry-point — there’s too many differences from the movies to be comfortable to newbies and too many things it is assumed that the reader already knows.

Ironically, those who have been keeping up with the on-going Infinity saga of the past year are likely to find this book largely repetitive. Until the very end, there’s no real new information introduced. Most of the comic’s story is concerned with running down who currently holds the Infinity Stones and their gathering at Doctor Strange’s request to discuss spreading the stones out so there aren’t as many on Earth if Thanos comes looking for them.

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The book’s one saving grace is its artwork, which is uniformly fantastic. Mike Deodato Jr. and Frank Martin’s work here invites comparison to Alex Ross’ art in Kingdom Come, being full of detail and rendering everything in an epic scope. Unfortunately, while the story flows well between panels, most readers may find themselves having to stop and Google certain character names or look up a synopsis of an earlier storyline.

Is Infinity Wars #1 worth picking up? Certainly, if you enjoy the cosmic side of Marvel Comics or are highly invested in learning how The Infinity Stones will be forever changed. Casual readers and newcomers will have a harder time without investing some time in studying Recent Marvel History 101. If you don’t mind a little homework, this is a rewarding book with fantastic artwork, but it’s hardly the marvelous entry point to the Marvel Universe it’s been promoted as.

5/10

Infinity Wars #1 releases on August 1, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

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Comic Review – Justice League Dark #1

Justice League Dark #1

Ever since the invasion from The Dark Multiverse and the destruction of The Source Wall that marked the boundary between universes, magic has ceased to act reliably. Now simple spells summon monsters from beyond reality and the mages of Earth fear that the nature of magic itself may be changing to reflect the broken universe.

It is a mystery that Diana of Themyscira would solve but she does not know where to begin. Despite her inherently magical nature, the mages of Earth do not see her as part of their world. Even Zatanna, the one magician with whom Wonder Woman is friendly, is standoffish on the subject and The Oblivion Bar – once home away from home to mages in need of refuge or a drink – is all but empty, as Earth’s mages seek shelter from the storm they sense coming.

Still, heroes are needed. And if the mages will not act, the outcasts of the magical world will.

An Amazon Princess empowered by the gods of Ancient Greece. A scientist turned monster seeking redemption within the mysteries of magic. A swamp monster connected to a power he barely comprehends. A stage magician just now starting to understand the true magic she commands. And an an immortal talking chimp with a magical sword, who owns a bar and works as a private investigator. It’s an unlikely group but they may be all that stands between us and total destruction.

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Those who are familiar with James Tynion IV’s work on Detective Comics will not be at all surprised to find that Justice League Dark is cut from the same cloth, despite featuring an entirely different cast. Tynion’s greatest gifts as a writer are his ear for dialogue and the ability to balance an ensemble. Both talents are well-displayed here, as we are introduced to the line-up of the new Justice League Dark.

Tynion also has a great gift for delivering exposition naturally and subtly working references to classic comics into the narrative. Fans of Shadowpact (the series that was the director ancestor of the first Justice League Dark series) and Tynion’s Constantine The Hellblazer series will appreciate some of the nods that this story includes. There’s even a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to Crisis on Infinite Earths!

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The artwork is of equally excellent quality, produced by Tynion’s former partners on Detective Comics. Alvaro Martinez and Raul Fernandez were a wonderful art team and prove as adept at depicting otherworldly creatures and magical way-stations as they were the thugs and dark alleys of Gotham City. Martinez lends an aura of mystery to everything he draws, resulting in sights I never thought I’d see within the pages of a comic, like a chimp with an enigmatic stare. Fernandez’s finishes, paired with Brad Anderson’s colors, result in some truly atmospheric panels where the fire light on the page seems to radiate heat.

Justice League Dark #1 may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Personally, I loved it. And I think you’ll love it too if you’re a fan of magical heroes, Wonder Woman, unique ensembles, good, dark artwork, John Bloody Constantine, chimps, detectives, chimps who are detectives or have been following the on-going collapse of the DC Comics Universe since No Justice.

10/10

Justice League Dark #1 releases on July 25, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

Comic Review – The Life Of Captain Marvel #1

The Life Of Captain Marvel #1 Cover

Before she turned 30, USAF Major Carol Danvers was a top-notch pilot, a highly-decorated intelligence agent and the head of security for NASA. It was in this capacity that she befriended an alien named Mar-Vell and was caught in the explosion of a piece of advanced technology that gave her unparalleled superpowers.

Since that time, she has joined The Avengers and the led them. She’s battled alcoholism and her teammates. She has gone by many names and had her powers change more than once.

Now, she is known as Earth’s Mightiest Hero – Captain Marvel. But before she was Captain Marvel or Ms. Marvel or even Major Danvers, she was “Beans” Danvers. Before she was a hero, she was a tomboy. Before she was saving the world on a weekly basis, she was an ordinary girl from the Boston suburbs, who liked The Red Sox, science and playing with her brothers.

And before that… are a lot of things she’d rather not remember.

When a bout of PTSD and repressed memories during a fight leaves Carol struggling to breathe, it is suggested that she take some time off from saving the world. This prompts a visit to Harpswell Sound, Maine – the small town her family visited every summer and the current home of her mother and brother, Joe. It is here that Carol must face a battle where all her powers are useless and a new tragedy that will change her life forever.

The Life Of Captain Marvel #1 Page 1

The Life of Captain Marvel #1 is that rarest of all origin stories, capable of informing new readers while simultaneously showing long-time fans something they haven’t seen before. I know something of Carol Danvers’ background and to the best of my knowledge, her father was never depicted as physically abusive before this story. It does fit the facts of what came before, however, as Joe Danvers was incredibly cruel toward his only daughter, belittling her ambitions as pointless because “girls can’t do that” and choosing to send her brother to college instead of her, despite her having better grades.

Margaret Stohl – most famous for her work as a young-adult author, co-writing the Beautiful Creatures series with Kami Garcia – does a fantastic job of balancing the story between the flashbacks of Carol’s troubled past and her current day encounters with her family as she tries to come to terms with how utterly complicated her family life was and her guilt over walking out on them to live her own life. What’s truly impressive is how Stohl subtly works in some nods to older comics that long-time fans of Carol’s character will appreciate (such as Carol’s friendship with fellow recovering alcoholic, Tony Stark) without dragging down the narrative to the point that new readers will be lost in the shuffle. There’s not a lot of action in this issue, but as a character-driven drama, it’s first-class.

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The artwork is equally impressive, with different teams handling the flashback and modern-day sections of the stories. Marguerite Sauvage renders Carol’s past with muted pastels that hint at the faded nature of her memories while subtly painting it with a false aura of cheer that clashes with some of the depicted events. The modern-day scenes, penciled by Carlos Pacheco with inks by Rafael Fonteriz and colors by Marcio Menyz – show an equal level of skill and care, despite being handled by a team rather than a single artist.

Bottom LIne: Whether you’re a long-time fan of Carol Danvers, or just want to learn more about her before the Captain Marvel movie comes out next year, this is a book you’ll want to pick up!

10/10

The Life Of Captain Marvel #1 releases on July 18, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

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Comic Review – Superman #1

Superman #1 Cover

A SPOILER warning before we start. If you haven’t read Man of Steel #1-6, which directly lead into this book, you may want to do so. A summary on the first page of this book will spoil it for you otherwise. So will this review. Please bear that in mind and thank you for reading.

***

Superman is feeling uncharacteristically depressed. His wife and son are beyond his reach, taken into space by his father, Jor-El. His only means of communicating with them has been destroyed, along with The Fortress of Solitude and The Bottle City of Kandor. Between that and his cousin, Supergirl, having gone into space in search of information on Rogol Zaar – the madman who apparently also engineered Krypton’s destruction and is now trapped in The Phantom Zone – Superman is feeling more than a little bit sad and lonely.

Clark Kent isn’t one for sitting around feeling sorry for himself, however, and soon he is throwing himself back into his work and building a new Fortress Of Solitude in a new location. Still, he is troubled by something his father said to him  – about how he should be guiding his adopted home world to a better future rather than devoting himself to fighting crime and natural disasters.

It is a sentiment echoed by J’onn J’onzz, The Martian Manhunter, who feels that Earth is approaching the point where it will be ready to enter the galaxy as a power to be reckoned with and that Clark is the person best equipped to guide the way. Thoughts of Superman as a political leader will have to wait, however, as a new crisis threatens the Earth…

Your enjoyment of Superman #1 will ultimately come down to how much you enjoy the writing of Brian Michael Bendis. Personally, I think Bendis is a decent writer, though often overrated and increasingly given toward lapsing into laziness in recent years. That said, there are certain things he does well as a writer and his flaws and talents are both well displayed in Superman #1.

Bendis has a great gift for dialogue and character. Unfortunately, he has also has a tendency to write many characters according to the “types” he enjoys writing. He writes a good snarky genius, but his snarky geniuses all sound like Peter Parker. He writes a good strong woman, but his strong women all sound like Jessica Jones.

It turns out that Bendis writes a good Clark Kent, a good Lois Lane and a good Jonathan Kent. Unfortunately, the best moments of the book – the flashbacks in which Clark thinks on the family he is missing – are all too brief and not the focus of the story. Had Bendis elected to continue the Super-Family stories started by Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason, this would be a fantastic book.

Sadly, happy families apparently hold little interest for Bendis, who has secluded Clark in order to make him dwell on a question that has been tackled before and tackled far better in earlier stories – Should Superman Run The World?

I think anyone who has played the Injustice series of games can tell you what a tremendously awful idea that is. Ditto anyone who remembers Elliot S! Maggin’s classic Must There Be A Superman? In fact, one of Lex Luthor’s key motivators in the modern age is the fear that Superman will someday try to do that, because that’s what Lex would do if he had that kind of power. It also seems to be the main motivation of new villain Rogol Zaar, who apparently destroyed Krypton over his fears of the Kryptonian people becoming a race of world-conquerors.

It’s possible that Bendis may wind up crafting a fantastic parable out of this conceit, exploring the nature of how power can corrupt even the most noble of men. Unfortunately, all I can think of while reading this book is the ludicrous Superman IV: The Quest For Peace movie, which was also based around showing why Superman shouldn’t involve himself in political matters. And it seems horribly out of character for Martian Manhunter to be pushing Clark to take the lead in preparing humanity to enter a bigger universe – particularly when J’onn is far more qualified to tackle that mission!

Politics and story aside, the artwork for this issue is fantastic and a welcome change after the ever-changing inconsistency of Man of Steel. Ivan Reis and Joe Prado are rightly praised as one of the greatest artistic duos since Miller and Janson. The colors by Alex Sinclair are phenomenal and Josh Reed does a great job keeping the word balloons from obscuring the action, despite some lengthy monologues and dialogues.

It remains to be seen where Brian Michael Bendis is ultimately going with his efforts to revitalize Superman. So far, I’ve seen little to justify the belief that he is attempting anything truly revolutionary. Despite this, Superman #1 is a competently handled first issue that sets the stage for the story to come.

6/10

Superman #1 releases on July 11, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

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Comic Review – Batman #50 & Catwoman #1

Batman #50 Cover

There is no real way to review Catwoman #1 without also discussing Batman #50 and the long awaited wedding of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle. The one informs the other, as the cover of Catwoman #1 helpfully informs the reader that they should read Batman #50 before opening it up.

This proves ironic, given that The New York Times spoiled the story of Batman #50 three days before it ever hit the shops! Despite this, I will endeavor to dance around any major spoilers in both books as best I can.

As a tribute to the relationship of Batman and Catwoman and the history of the two characters, Batman #50 is a smashing success, with much of the issue being devoted to Bruce and Selina’s thoughts about one another as we are treated to a historical montage of sorts, illustrated one page at a time, by some of the greatest Batman artists of all time.

As an actual story, however, Batman #50 doesn’t quite work. It’s anticlimactic, to put it mildly. The pageantry far outweighs the actual event. To put it plainly, this book isn’t worth the hype that has been invested in it.

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Don’t get me wrong. Batman #50 is a beautiful book and there’s some poster-worthy artwork. Even the main story, as illustrated by Mikel Janin looks fantastic. Yet those who have a low tolerance for Tom King’s style of writing, where consistency of character is sacrificed for the sake of the story he wants to tell (as in his recent story where Booster Gold was turned into a complete idiot for the sake of a dark comedy), will not enjoy themselves here.

Ultimately, Batman #50 is a spectacle and nothing more. If you enjoy collectible covers and fine art, it’s well worth picking up. As an actual book, unfortunately, it leaves a lot to be desired.

4/10.


Catwoman #1 CoverThere is a cruel irony that Catwoman #1 should be so closely tied to Batman #50. Much like how Selina Kyle is so much more interesting as a solo act than when she when she is joined at the hip to Bruce Wayne, so too is this book at its best when it is separated from its ties to Batman #50.

Thankfully, those ties are dealt with early on and we are soon thrown into a high-action adventure, where Selina Kyle is suddenly a wanted woman. It seems that some woman in a cat-suit is killing cops and the police are targeting the most obvious suspect, having also somehow learned Selina’s secret identity!

This is apparently the work of a mysterious new enemy named Riana Creel, whose motivations and reasons for holding a grudge against Catwoman are unclear. Raina is a striking character whose presence immediately grips you and it will be interesting to see her developed in the coming issues.

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Joelle Jones spins a wonderful first issue, which, apart from the first few pages, stands strongly on its own terms, much like Catwoman herself. The artwork – also by Jones – is utterly amazing, with Laura Allred’s colors and Josh Reed’s letters providing the perfect finishes. The story flows naturally and smoothly from panel to panel and its hard to imagine any artist who was better born to draw Catwoman in action than Joelle Jones after reading this issue.

The only imperfection in this diamond is its unfortunate need to be placed in the setting of the fool’s gold ring that is Batman #50. Get past the first few pages, however, and you have one heck of a book that should be on everyone’s subscription list.

9/10

Batman #50 and Catwoman #1 releases on July 4, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

Captain America #1 Teaser

Comic Review – Captain America #1

Captain America #1 Cover

Steve Rogers was a loyal American, who wanted to serve his country as a soldier during World War II – not for glory or out of bloodlust, but because Steve Rogers believed in The Dream. The American Dream. The biggest Dream there ever was. The most advanced science of the age gave the sickly Rogers that chance, transforming him from a 98-pound weakling into what was meant to be the first of a platoon of Super Soldiers. Unfortunately, a Nazi saboteur killed the scientist who held the key to the whole process, leaving behind an army of one.

Thankfully, Rogers rose to the challenge and as Captain America he gladly gave his all to fight the scourge of fascism and the forces of HYDRA. Steve Rogers was ready to give his life to the cause as well, but fate had other plans for Captain America. And what should have been a watery grave instead preserved Steve Rogers for decades, until he was revived to find an America divided but still in need of heroes.

America is more divided than ever in the wake of a HYDRA plot that saw them rewriting time so that The Nazis won World War II and Steve Rogers was one of their top agents. Somehow, the true Captain America returned, and defeated his dark doppelganger, but by that point the damage was done.

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Now the image of Captain America is one that inspires fear and nausea among the freedom fighters who work to reclaim the world from the HYDRA forces that are on the run. Of course the top brass know the truth of things, but, as always, the politicians are more concerned with the appearances of things than the truth. That is why, when a new organization is formed to protect the world in the wake of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s destruction, Steve Rogers is politely told that there is no place for Captain America in it.

What place is there for The Dream in a military where the likes of General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross can be reinstated and pardoned for past crimes because of his leading an team of resisters against HYDRA?

What place is there for The Dream in a government where The White House praises unashamed Nazis like Baron Von Strucker for their actions in fighting HYDRA, which were motivated purely by self-interest and a struggle for positon?

What place is there for The Dream in this new world? Steve Rogers doesn’t know.

What he does know, however, is that there are still people – either brainwashed by HYDRA’s plotting or true believers – who plan to hurt the innocent. And with or without the backing of a team, an organization or a government, Captain America will be there to protect them.

What he doesn’t know, is on the other side of the world, a new group is already plotting against him and The Dream…Captain America #1 Page 36

Unsurprisingly, given his previous politically-charged work on Black Panther, Ta-Nehisi Coates exits the gate at a full run with his first issue of Captain America. While not quite so politically charged as the comics from the 1970s which revealed Richard Nixon as a secret HYDRA agent, there are many metaphorical parallels to be found between this story and current events. Thankfully, the politics don’t get in the way of the action, and there’s a number of fantastic fight sequences throughout the issue.

Leinil Francis Yu seemed an odd choice for an artist on this book at first, boasting a gritty style that is dependent on vague pencils, heavy inks and deep shadows. While this would be inappropriate for a typical four-color kiddie comic, Yu’s aesthetic proves a perfect partner for Coates’ script, lending a perfect aura of ambiguity and mystery to the proceedings.

The only real flaw with Captain America #1 is, sadly, a rather big one. One presumes, when a series starts over with a #1 issue, that there is some base intention of attracting new readers. Yet the greater portion of this comic depends upon knowledge of recent events in the Marvel Universe at large and some of the characters involved. While this is less of a problem in the Internet Age, when one can generally find up-to-date biographies of major comic book characters and summaries of old storylines somewhere, it still puts a burden on the reader that a clever writer could avoid.

To Coates’ credit, he does manage some clever exposition to handle a few plot points. Of course it helps that he can presumably depend on those new readers who were lured in by the Marvel Comics movies to know who General Ross and Bucky Barnes are after Avengers: Infinity War. One can’t say the same of Sharon Carter (despite a role in the Captain America movies), who is now old before her time thanks to the events of a previous storyline. Little is done to explain what happened to her and nothing is done to explain the presence of Selene – former Black Queen of the Hellfire Club, psychic mutant and sorceress – or why Captain America is seemingly fighting multiple clones of the villain Nuke in the opening battle.

In the end, Captain America #1 is well-worth picking up, promising to be the first chapter in a strong story with amazing artwork. Just be prepared to do a bit of additional reading to understand it all.

6/10

Captain America #1 releases on July 4, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

Comic Review – Detective Comics #983

Detective Comics #983 Cover

Back in The Dark Age of Comics (roughly 1986 to 2000, by most historians’ reckoning), there was a rather odd divide in the DC Comics Universe. If you read only the comics starring Batman, he was portrayed as a lone Dark Knight and was considered an urban legend by most of the people of Gotham City. Read any other DC Comics’ book, however, and Batman was operating openly as part of The Justice League.

This gave way to an argument, which rages to this day, about what vision of Batman is the “proper” one – the lone vigilante who strikes terror into the hearts of criminals or the patriarch of a like-minded “Batman Family” made up of other masked heroes.

This argument lies at the heart of both subplots in Detective Comics #983 – the first issue by new series’ writer Bryan Hill. Half of the issue’s action concerns itself with Batman seeking out Jefferson Pierce (a.k.a. Black Lightning), whom Bruce wants to recruit as the first member of an elite team he is building who can operate “outside” of The Justice League. The other story concerns a new villain, who is targeting Batman’s sidekicks, due to his belief that Batman has become less powerful as he has come to trust more people with aiding him in his mission.

The story with Black Lightning is fairly standard superheroics. One oddity is that the script identifies Black Lighting as operating out of Metropolis, when his most recent reboot for DC Comics Rebirth depicted him as the defender of Cleveland, Ohio. Despite this glitch, Hill has a solid take on the character and writes Jefferson Pierce true to form.

The subplot involving the new villain is more interesting, if only for the metatextual parallels he suggests. The arguments delivered by this unnamed baddie mirror those of Bat-fans who argue that Batman should be a loner and an urban myth and that the DC Rebirth initiative made a mistake by bringing back characters such as the Cassandra Cain Batgirl, The Spoiler, the Helena Bertinelli version of The Huntress and Batwoman or by introducing new characters such as Gotham Girl and The Signal. Indeed, The Signal – a metahuman with light-based precognitive powers whom Batman recruited specifically to protect Gotham City during the day – is the first target of the new villain, along with a young Bat-Fan who became YouTube-famous for talking about how he thinks Batman is inspiring rather than scary.

Gate-keeping fanboy metaphors aside, it’s a brilliant conceit and one that is remarked upon ironically in the artwork, as Batman listens to the villain’s rantings while chasing another criminal down a busy street in full view of dozens of witnesses, all of whom snap pictures with their phones.  This is but one example of the fine detailing that Miguel Mendonca works into the art. His pencils find a perfect partnership with Dianna Egea’s inks and the colors of Adriano Lucas.

It will be interesting to see how this story develops in the coming issues. For now, it is enough to say that if you’re a fan of Batman looking for a good entry point into the comics or a fan of Black Lightning from the new TV series, this is a book you’ll definitely want on your subscription list.

8/10

Detective Comics #983 releases on June 27, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

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Comic Review – Tony Stark: Iron Man #1

Tony Stark Iron Man #1 Cover

Once upon a time there was a poor little rich boy who made his own toys to keep himself amused. In time he became a poor little rich man, whose toys made him richer still, though poor in spirit. That changed after some very bad men took the poor little rich man away from his mansion and asked him to make a toy for them. A deadly toy.

He wound up escaping from the bad men with the help of a true friend and the best toy the poor little rich man had ever made. From that day forth, the poor little rich man was a changed man, devoting his life and his riches toward helping others.

That poor little rich man was named Tony Stark. And the toy that he made became known as Iron Man.

Andy Bhang remembers the Tony Stark who was once a poor little rich boy – one who did not play well with others, even at something so simple as a robotic soccer tournament. As such, he isn’t happy when Tony Stark buys his company out from under him, lock, stock and barrel. He is surprised, however, when Tony Stark shows up on his doorstep to whisk him away in a flying car to the headquarters of Stark Unlimited with a job offer.

As stunned as Andy is by what goes on behind the doors of Tony Stark’s research and development company, he is even more stunned when a typical day at work  – which for Tony involves fielding complaints from the Robot Resources department over the discrimination the artificial intelligences are experiencing at the hands of their human counterparts – is interrupted by a dragon attack. Then Andy is treated to a front row seat as Tony Stark goes to his “other job” to save New York City faster than you can say Dovahkiin.

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(Click on the above image to open it full-size in another tab.)

 

The chief problem with Tony Stark: Iron Man #1 is one that stymies most writers who try to handle Tony Stark, particularly in the wake of Robert Downey Jr.’s masterful portrayal of the character in the films. Tony is a funny guy but he also comes off as an arrogant jerk. He has learned a modicum of humility but he still pushes peoples buttons by sheer virtue of his expansive personality. It’s hard for most writers to manage that balancing act and create a Tony Stark who is both larger than life but still sympathetic to readers.

Many writers overcome this by telling their story through Tony’s eyes and focusing on the thoughts of the man behind the mask. Dan Slott adopts a different tactic in Tony Stark: Iron Man #1, using Andy Bhang as our point-of-view character while twisting the weirdness and comedy knobs up to 11, as Slott turns Stark Unlimited into a twisted combination of Google and Willy Wonka’s factory. Unfortunately, most of the jokes fall flat and most of the characters sound like reference-dropping machines rather than real people.

The artwork is similarly muddled. Valerio Schiti’s artwork is inoffensive enough, save that the thick inks on the line-work kill the detailing on any panels that are not close-ups. Virtually every character in this book not portrayed in a close-up seems to be rendered with a perpetual squint. There are also a number of forced poses, with dialogue that suggests calmness spoken by characters who seem to be in the middle of shouting. The color art by Edgar Delgado is nice enough, but it’s a pretty paint-job on a run-down house.

It’s a bit hard to judge this series by its first issue, which seems to be a one-shot story despite being labeled as the first part of a storyline called “Self-Made Man.” As it stands, fans of Iron Man who aren’t too picky may enjoy this series, but those who don’t already love Tony Stark won’t have their opinions changed.

6/10

Tony Stark: Iron Man #1 releases on June 20, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

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Comic Review – Plastic Man #1

Plastic Man #1 Cover

Patrick “Eel” O’Brian was as slippery and slimy as the animal that prompted his underworld nickname. He was a career criminal. A con artist. A petty thief. A cheap thug. The sort of sordid individual whose best effort to clean up and straighten out his life ended with him taking a job as the night manager of a seedy superhero-themed strip club in the worst part of Cole City.

The funny thing is that Eel O’Brian has been reborn. At least, he’s pretty sure that he died. Or at least felt like he was dead. Or maybe he just wished that he was dead after he was exposed to some weird chemical and his former partners in crime tossed him out of the getaway car following a botched robbery .

Whatever happened to him, Eel O’Brian has seen the error of his ways and is ready to bounce back in a big way. He doesn’t remember much about that night, but he distinctly remembers that a security guard died during the robbery that turned Eel into a nigh-invulnerable, shape-shifting super-freak. And Eel is going to track down his former friends and deliver some justice. Somehow.

That was his plan, anyway. Unfortunately Fate, as represented by an agent of the covert organization called Spyral, has bigger plans for Eel O’Brian. Plans that involve a sinister cabal of the most brilliant and evil geniuses in existence and their plot to take over the world. Only one man has the skills and powers needed to infiltrate their organization while remaining beneath their notice… and unfortunately for us all, that man is Eel O’Brian.

I should note something for the benefit of those readers who are parents who are mostly familiar with Plastic Man from his appearances in various cartoons – this is not a kid-friendly comic! This should, perhaps, be obvious, given the fact that the cover features a blood-soaked body. Then again, you never can tell with some people, so let me say again that the general wacky tone of this book is more in line with Deadpool than anything you’ll see on Justice League Action, Batman: The Brave and The Bold or The Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show.

This should be no surprise given that this comic is written by Gail Simone, who got her start in mainstream comics writing Deadpool before going on to horrify decent people everywhere with both volumes of the villain-focused series Secret Six. (Fun Fact: Superiors, the strip club Eel O’Brian manages, is a nod to a business frequented by the main characters in Secret Six.) What is surprising, however, is how neatly Simone has updated the classic origins of Plastic Man for the reality of DC Comics Rebirth.

By way of a for instance, Plastic Man was originally recruited as an FBI Agent after acquiring his powers. Given Eel O’Brian’s criminal record and lack of qualifications, that would never happen today. Recruiting him for Spyral, on the other hand, is a brilliant conceit, given their established history of employing vigilantes and other people with questionable backgrounds. This is one fine detail of many that makes Simone’s script a neat nod to Plastic Man’s origins as well as a fun read on its own terms

Sadly, the artwork by Adriana Melo doesn’t quite equal up to the writing. Melo’s pencils are fantastic, but some of her inks are overly thick and give the finished art a weight that seems at odds with the light aesthetic that Plastic Man demands. Yet these inks perfectly suit the more Noir-based scenes detailing Eel O’Brian’s efforts to play detective. Altogether, the art works more often than it doesn’t, even ignoring the many sight gags Melo sneaks into the background, such as Eel wearing a DC Superhero Girls T-shirt. The colors are nicely applied as well.

Bottom Line: If you’re a fan of Plastic Man and/or dark comedy, you’ll want to pick this one up.

8/10

Plastic Man #1 releases on June 13, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

Comic Review – Justice League #1

Justice League #1 Cover In the wake of the invasion by The Dark Multiverse, the destruction of The Source Wall and the coming of The Omega Titans, The Justice League have expanded their ranks. Though a core team still exists, most of The World’s Finest Heroes have been recruited to act in a reserve capacity to face those threats even greater than The League at large.

One of those threats – six teams of genetically altered prehistoric humans, dubbed Neoanderthals – have taken the world by storm, attacking by land, sea and air. Worse yet, some new being – a Totality containing all of the power of The Source Wall – is coming right for Earth. All of this news comes in the face of an announcement by The Green Lanterns that, by their best estimates, the multiverse has less than a year before it collapses completely!

There is only one group that can stop the coming disaster. And it isn’t the Justice League. Not if Lex Luthor has anything to say about it….

“Epic” is the only word that adequately describes Justice League #1. I’m using the word in its classical definition, meaning a long poem detailing a series of heroic exploits. Though the more modern definition referring to something impressive also applies.

Justice League #1 is the capstone of the tale Scott Snyder has been spinning for most of the past year in Dark Nights: Metal and No Justice. It’s too early to say, but based on this first issue we may be treated to the greatest Justice League comic since Grant Morrison’s legendary JLA run from nearly 20 years ago.

It’s hard to put a finger on precisely why Snyder’s story resonates as well as it does, but two noteworthy aspects of the comic are its treatment of Martian Manhunter and the clever ways in which Snyder utilizes classic elements of DC Comics mythology to create something new. For instance, the opening sequence describes the newly-built Hall of Justice and how it has a museum that is open to the public but the portion of the building utilized by The Justice League is telepathically hidden behind a door that is visible only to those people Martian Manhunter allows to see it.

Likewise, we learn that the basic design of The Hall of Justice was inspired by a Martian symbol that J’onn J’onzz found fitting in describing their goals. While not literally translating as “justice”, the symbol refers to an effort to progress beyond the natural laws regarding what is or is not possible and impose a higher standard upon reality. All of this helps to establish the power and influence of a character long associated with The Justice League in the comics, who was largely neglected by The New 52 reboot seven years ago.

The artists treat this grand story with the reverence it deserves. Jim Cheung’s character designs are amazing and the action of the various fight sequences flows naturally from panel to panel. Mark Morales’s inks properly enhance the original pencils without obscuring them. And the colors by Tomeu Morey are brilliant.

If you haven’t been reading Justice League, this is the perfect time to start. Despite building off of all of Scott Snyder’s more recent works, this book is surprisingly friendly to new readers. It is truly epic in every sense of the word.

9/10

Justice League #1 releases on June 6, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

Man of Steel #1 Teaser

Comic Review – Man Of Steel #1

 Man of Steel #1 Cover

What can be said about The Man of Steel #1?

Does it dramatically redefine the Superman mythology? No.

Does it seem like it’s about to radically change everything we know about Superman and Krypton? No.

Does it seem like the coming of Brian Michael Bendis to DC Comics was over-hyped? A little bit.

Is it a bad comic? No. Not even close.

Is it a solid Superman story? Yes, it is that. But not much more than that. So far.

Unfortunately, what The Man of Steel #1 delivers is about what I expected based on Brian Michael Bendis’ first Superman story in Action Comics #1000. The parts involving Superman being Superman and doing Super-things are incredibly good and interesting. The parts involving Rogal Zaar – the new villain Bendis created, who has some kind of vendetta against The Kryptonian Race – are not. This leads to an odd paradox, given Bendis’ reputation for writing fantastic character-building scenes, which drives to the heart of the problem most writers seem to have when it comes to handling Superman.

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Superman is at his worst as a character, to borrow a phrase from Mark Waid in Kingdom Come, when the “Super” is emphasized over the “Man”. Throwing Superman against a never-ending series of seemingly invincible enemies is just boring. This does not mean, however, that Superman is a dull character. His stories are frequently dull, however, because writers can’t think of anything to do with him other than keep throwing more and more powerful villains at him.

The best Superman stories, therefore, are the ones that explore who Clark Kent is as a person and show him having to work around the problems that all the super powers in the world can’t solve. Stories like Miracle Monday, What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice and The American Way? and All-Star Superman are fondly remembered because they saw Superman being tested on a moral battlefield. Of course this sort of story is far more difficult to manage, which is why many writers don’t bother.

The grand irony of The Man of Steel #1 is that there are several moments where Bendis absolutely nails the character of Superman and puts his own unique touch on the Superman mythos. There is one moment, for instance, where Superman is listening for trouble on his nightly patrol and overhears a woman singing a song that he vaguely recognizes but can’t remember the name of. The problem is quickly put aside as a crisis arises but it’s a brief moment that shows how very human Superman is at his core. Who hasn’t heard a snippet of a song and briefly had their routine thrown into sharp relief as they tried to remember what it was?

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Bendis also manages that most difficult of all tricks and writes a Superman who is honestly funny and pokes fun at the villains he faces without being mean. I honestly heard Christopher Reeve’s voice in my head reading some of the dialogue in this issue. Which is why it is so heartbreaking that so much of this issue is devoted to introducing Rogal Zaar instead of seeing Clark Kent spend time with his wife and son.

I’m sad to say that the artwork is about as uneven as the writing. Ivan Reis is a fantastic artist, but Joe Prado seems to be a poor partner for him. Prado’s inks muddy some of Reis’ pencils, leaving some pages looking like watercolors rather than inked artwork in terms of the amount of definition that comes through. The colors by Alex Sinclair are nice and vivid, but the only two pages with an consistent view to them are the final two, which were drawn and inked by Jay Fabok.

In the end, Man of Steel #1 is worth picking up if you’re a fan of Superman or any of the creators involved. So far, it doesn’t seem like this series will be the grand, reality-altering epic that was promised over a month ago. Still, it’s a solid Superman story with some good moments and good artwork.

7/10

The Man of Steel #1 releases on May 30, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

Comic Review – The Further Adventures of Nick Wilson #5

The Further Adventures Of Nick Wilson #5 Cover

It’s the opening day of The Nick Wilson Experience – a museum devoted to Earth’s first (and so far only) superhero. All-American Nick Wilson lost his powers almost as quickly as he gained them, falling far from the heights of fame and fortune he once enjoyed. He had been squeaking out a shameful living as a Nick Wilson impersonator at children’s birthday parties. Now, he’s getting ready to start earning an even more shameful living working for his former arch-enemy – billionaire genius Clive Morganfield – who financed The Nick Wilson Experience as a tax dodge and a way to finally “win” their rivalry by putting Nick under his control.

At least, that was Clive’s plan. There’s just one problem. Nick is MIA!

Has Nick regained his powers? Or maybe his self-respect? No, he’s searching downtown Cleveland for the bookstore that employs some woman he met at a bar, whose contact info he forgot to get.

Will Nick find the woman of his dreams? Will he find a way to be a hero and strike a blow for good without superpowers? Will Clive succeed in his evil schemes? And most importantly, will we see Further Adventures of Nick Wilson after The Further Adventures of Nick Wilson #5?

The Further Adventures Of Nick Wilson #5 Variant Cover

Clearly, I’m not going to answer those first few questions, but the last question can be answered with a resounding “yes”! At least, if writer Marc Andreyko’s afterword about this being “the end of the first Nick Wilson mini-series” can be believed. I think it can, but it’s worth noting that Andreyko also notes that he doesn’t know “when I will visit with Nick and Jane and Xavier…”

Hopefully the wait between visits will not be a long one, because this little series was something magical. The characters created by Andreyko and Eddie Gorodetsky feel like real people despite inhabiting an unreal world. The odds are good you know a lovable shlub like Nick or a woman like Jane who was the girl everyone wanted to be or be with in high school only to have everything go south after graduation. If you’re unlucky you probably know someone like Clive Morganfield, who will use whatever power they can get their hands on to indulge their petty grudges and devote their lives to feuds that no one else cares about.

Another interesting note is the way the series turns the city of Cleveland itself into a character. Cities have character, of course – personalities all their own. Yet few comic book settings ever seem to establish their own unique aura, with the notable exceptions of Gotham City as envisioned by Tim Burton, Metropolis as written by Dan Jurgens or James Robinson’s Opal City in Starman.

Talking of Starman, former Starman artist Stephen Sadowski brings it home with his performance on this final issue. His work is always fantastic, but the work here sets a new high-water mark. The colors and lettering, by Hi-Fi and A Larger World respectively – are also fantastic.

I don’t know when we’ll meet Nick Wilson and company again. I just hope that we do. And if we do not, we still got one heck of a story with great artwork before it ended. If you haven’t been picking up this series, be sure to order the trade-paperback collection that will be coming out soon. I will be very surprised if this series doesn’t get nominated for at least one Eisner.

10/10


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

Comic Review – Quicksilver: No Surrender #1

Quicksilver No Surrender #1 Cover

Pietro Maximoff is the fastest man in the world. When it comes to running, there is no one better. Hence why, when two immortals with a fondness for games incapacitated most of Earth’s heroes for the sake of a wager, he was chosen to run a race for the sake of The Earth itself.

With his sister, The Scarlet Witch, using her powers to push his speed beyond its previous limits, Pietro was able to win the race and save the world. Or so he thinks. The world is still there around him, albeit frozen in a single moment in time.

As far as Pietro can tell, he is moving so fast that time itself can’t touch him. Worse yet, there’s something else in the space between seconds. Something as fast as him. Something that looks like him. Something that is trying to kill innocent people in the time it takes to blink…

Despite some impressive portrayals on the Silver Screen (including the best scenes in X-Men: Days of Future Past and X-Men: Apocalypse), Quicksilver has yet to benefit from the same level of popularity and name recognition as a certain “Fastest Man Alive” on a different Earth. Part of that may be due to the complicated status regarding the character in the comics, thanks to the legal shenanigans involving his status in The Real World.

In order for Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch – long portrayed as the long lost children of X-Men villain Magneto – to be used in The Avengers: Age of Ultron, their backstories had to be changed so they were no longer mutants. This is because Fox Studios owns the film rights to all of Marvel Comics’ X-Men characters as well as any characters who are mutants.

The practical upshot is that this has left Quicksilver with nowhere to go in the comics. The Avengers writers can’t use him on a regular basis due to editorial fiat that the book has to promote characters from the movies. The X-Men writers don’t want him now that he’s not a mutant.  And while Pietro does have a long association with The Inhumans… well, hanging around with your ex-wife’s family? ‘Nuff said.

The good news is that Quicksilver: No Surrender #1 avoids a lengthy discussion of these matters, beyond Pietro having been an Avenger and a hero as well as a terrorist who fought The X-Men. The bad news is that without an explanation of who he is outside of his powers, Pietro comes off as rather shallow and dull as a character.

The best bits of the book come when Pietro shows off the one thing that has ever distinguished him from Barry Allen and Wally West – his bad attitude. By his own admission, Pietro is “a petty man” who finds “great amusement in mocking the people who annoy me.” Yet one can’t help but smile as Pietro tracks down Magneto purely for the purpose of dressing him up like a clown and taking pictures. The fact that his camera phone shouldn’t be able to work if time is frozen does not diminish the power of the joke.

Apart from that, virtually every aspect of Saladin Ahmed’s story seems to have been lifted from earlier The Flash comics – even Pietro’s introduction where he introduces himself as “The Fastest Man On Earth!” The idea of a speedster being trapped in a world where everything around them is frozen? It’s been done. Repeatedly. A super-fast superhero fighting a dark duplicate who is as fast as they are? Speedster Problems 101.

The artwork is nearly as bland as the story, with the frozen world represented by a complete lack of color. This is a stylistic choice which, ironically, this only helps to highlight Eric Nguyen’s pencils, which are lightly but visibly inked, apart from Pietro. This has the interesting visual effect of making Pietro appear to be the ghost he feels like. This also makes what few colors Color Artist Rico Renzi utilizes burn all the brighter. The final effect makes it appear that a four-color superhero has somehow forced his way into a Japanese Manga!

In the end, Quicksilver: No Surrender #1 works far better for the set-up for a bigger story than it does as an introduction to one of Marvel Comics’ most conflicted and interesting characters. Hopefully later issues will delve deeper into Pietro Maximoff’s rich history. For now, at least, this comic serves as a decent continuation of the No Surrender storyline but it’s no great character piece.

6/10


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

Comic Review – Justice League: No Justice #1

Justice League No Justice #1 Cover

It was Earth’s darkest hour. The Collector of Worlds known as Brainiac had come and immediately sought battle with the World’s Finest heroes. The Justice League, The Teen Titans – even The Suicide Squad faced him. They failed and were captured, taken to the deepest reaches of space.

The fact that they had been spared at all stunned them. What shocked them even more was that Brainiac had come not in conquest but with a warning of a cosmic threat that could lay waste to all reality!  It is a menace that operates wholly on logic and thus can only be bested by something never before attempted – unions of hero and villain never before seen in the history of any world in the Multiverse!

The question remains – will the greatest enemies of The Justice League and Teen Titans kill them before this new enemy can? Or will they all find a way to work together even as all reality goes mad around them?

Justice League No Justice Teams

When the concept for Justice League: No Justice was announced, fans were flabbergasted. How can you have a Justice League team with the likes of Lobo, Lex Luthor and Deathstroke? Who thought pairing Beast Boy and Batman was a good idea? What is Starro The Flipping Conqueror doing in this thing?

The reasoning of this became apparent after Dark Nights Metal and the reasoning is that there is no reasoning. Picking up from where that mini-series ended, we learn that space is warping and the laws of magic, science and everything that keeps everything moving are going awry. The Green Lantern Corps are busy trying to hold back something from beyond their universe – hence why Brainiac is taking the lead in organizing a group of heroes to deal with a threat that completely passed by The Lanterns.

The most amazing aspect of the script by Scott Snyder, Joshua Williamson and James Tynion IV is how easily they explain all of this for the benefit of new readers who might not have seen Dark Nights Metal and set up the cast of characters. Despite the heavy focus on exposition, there are also a number of character moments that introduce the more obscure players.

While it’s a safe bet everyone knows Batman and Wonder Woman well enough, there’s a fair chance they might not be familiar with the Damien Wayne version of Robin or the likes of Etrigan The Demon. The best of these scenes involves (of all people) Lex Luthor having a strangely meta conversation with J’onn J’onzz about where everyone’s favorite Martian has been the past few years and how it feels to once again be in the role of holding together a team – a nod to how, until The New 52 reboot, Martian Manhunter was the heart of The Justice League and its most stalwart member.

A big story like this deserves powerful artwork and the art team delivers that. Francis Manapul is one of best creators in the business, as anyone who reads Trinity can tell you. The character designs and modified Brainiac armor for all the characters look fantastic and there’s not one badly drawn panel in the whole issue. The colors chosen by Hi-Fi are all vibrant and eye-catching, helping add to the warped nature of the story by showing the characters in ways that look like them yet not like them at the same time. Superman’s costume, for instance, looks rather odd yet familiar tinged in violet rather than blue.

Bottom Line: If you haven’t been keeping up with DC Comics and need a good entry point to the universe as a whole, this is where to start.

9/10


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

Comic Review – Red Sonja/Tarzan #1

Red Sonja Tarzan #1 Cover

Though best known for her work on DC Comics’ Birds of Prey, Batgirl and Wonder Woman, writer Gail Simone has become equally famous for her work in the sword and sorcery genre in recent years. She first found glory with a revamp of Red Sonja that proved popular enough that it was quickly expanded from a 12 issue engagement to 18 issues. She co-authored the first team-up of Red Sonja and Conan The Barbarian in decades and later teamed Cimmeria’s favorite son with Wonder Woman in a six-issue miniseries. She also edited Swords of Sorrow – a major event for Dynamite Comics that saw Red Sonja leading a team of pulp fictions’s greatest heroines.

Red Sonja/Tarzan follows after this final story, but the connection is little more than an Easter Egg that should appeal to fans of Swords of Sorrow without confusing those readers who pick this book up on a whim. While the fact that the witch who facilitates the meeting of our two heroes is The Traveler from Swords of Sorrow is a nice nod to continuity, the exact means to the end is ultimately immaterial.

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This first issue is largely devoted to set-up, with brief introductions of Sonja and Tarzan’s characters and showcases of their awesomeness. In Sonja’s case, this involves her treating her own wounds with strong liquor and a heated dagger. In the case of Tarzan, the involves his showing restraint when dealing with a nobleman whose personal zoo is horrible even by the standards of the 1920’s. The issue also introduces our villain, Eson Duul – a trophy hunter who somehow exists both within the realms of Hyboria and Interwar Era Britain.

Red Sonja Tarzan #1 Page 1

One interesting note about Simone’s script is her depiction of Tarzan, who spends the entire issue in England rather than Africa. It’s a safe bet that most readers think of Tarzan as a chest-pounding warrior who wrestles with rabid lions and commands the animals of the jungle with a shout. The Tarzan we see here is an older lord Greystoke, taken from the original Edgar Rice Burroughs stories, where Tarzan had learned the ways of civilization and proved as capable of navigating the savagery of aristocratic society as the wild. The Tarzan sequences of the book also establish Tarzan’s sense of compassion – a trait not often considered in most pastiche works involving the character – which makes for another interesting contrast given the Sonja scenes’ focus on her skill as a fighter and her sense of endurance.

Simone is joined in this crossover by Walter Geovani – her artistic co-creator on her original Red Sonja run. Unsurprisingly, Geovani proves as skilled in depicting the forests of Australia and the estates of Enlgand as he does the world of Hyboria. Geovani possess a remarkable gift for depicting vivid details yet keeping his art smooth and streamlined. He’s also a wonderful choreographer and the action of the story flows easily from panel to panel under his direction. The color art by Adriano Augusto is also worthy of praise.

For those who are unfamiliar with Tarzan or Red Sonja, this series will prove a perfect introduction to both characters. Those who have already traveled alongside them through the wastes of Hyrkania or the jungles of the Congo in will also find this story to their liking. This unique merger of two of pulp fiction’s greatest heroes is certain to stand the test of time as a true classic.

10/10


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

Comic Review – The Hunt For Wolverine #1

Hunt For Wolverine #1 Cover

Wolverine died, entombed in molten Adamantium.

The X-Men took his metal-encased body and hid it away, keeping its location secret.

But nothing stays buried.

It was only a matter of time.

With these words, Charles Soule opens the first chapter of The Hunt For Wolverine – what may well be the most eagerly anticipated Marvel Comics event of the year. (Well, apart from that movie that’s coming out later this week that you might have heard of, but we’ll stick to the books today, thank you.)

Logically, we all knew that James “Logan” Howlett would not stay dead forever. It’s the nature of comics. No matter how much the writers and editors may insist that dead is dead and that the torch has been passed and that a successor will be forever taking up their mentor’s name, it is as the introduction to this issue says – nothing stays buried and it was only a matter of time.  To that end, The Hunt For Wolverine contains two stories, which begin the epic tale of just how Wolverine apparently came back from the dead and had to be hunted down afterward.

The first, Secrets And Lives, centers upon The Reavers – a group of mutant-hating mercenaries who went through a series of surgeries to become literal killing machines. The Reavers have fought the X-Men on more than one occasion and they fight them again here, after the gang of cyborgs somehow learn the location of Wolverine’s body and decide to indulge in a bit of grave-robbing.

This is the weaker of the two chapters by sheer virtue of the fact that The Reavers are hardly the most exciting group of antagonists. With code names like “Pretty Boy” and “Starshine” and costume designs that resemble rejected characters for the He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe toy line, The Reavers wouldn’t be memorable even if Charles Soule had bothered to introduced them individually. The artwork by David Marquez doesn’t make this action-based story any more exciting, somehow managing to be over-inked in a way that leaves everything cloaked in shadows while still leaving some of the defining pencils untouched!

The second story, Hunter’s Pryde, is a marked improvement. The action here focuses on Kitty Pryde as she seeks out various figures from around The Marvel Universe and asks for their help in trying to find the missing Wolverine. This leads to the formation of several groups, including various X-Men and Avengers.

Despite this chapter largely being expository and devoted to setting up the teams that will be the center of the action of the upcoming Hunt For Wolverine mini-series, Soule’s script is full of a wit and humor that the first chapter with The Reavers lacks. If nothing else, it’s funny watching Tony Stark’s reaction to finding out he wasn’t the first person Kitty approached and then seeing who she did go to first. The artwork by Paulo Siquiera is stronger for its clarity – a quality the fight scenes earlier in the book might have benefited from. Still, the artwork here is somewhat flat due to their being no action and most of the book being devoted to characters standing around and talking.

Ultimately, your enjoyment of The Hunt For Wolverine #1 will come down to how big of an X-Men fan you are. The chapter with The Reavers is largely pointless and only serves to balance the lack of action later in the book. The second chapter has some great character moments and conversations but it doesn’t really do anything but set the stage for the books that are coming out later where people will actually start hunting for Wolverine. It doesn’t seem like there’s anything here that is absolutely necessary to the crossover but neither is it so pointless as to be worth skipping entirely.

6/10

The Hunt For Wolverine #1 releases on April 25, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

Comic Review – Action Comics #1000

Action Comics #1000 Cover
Let us take it as a basic truth that Action Comics #1000 is a book of some significance.

It is the first of DC Comics’ series to hit the 1000 issues milestone, despite a number of divergences where the book was renumbered during those times when it was thought that starting everything over at #1 would lead to increased sales.

It contains the first published work for DC Comics by Brian Michael Bendis – recently signed to an exclusive contract – whom you might know as the writer who made Spider-Man fun again and created Jessica Jones. (If you don’t know who Brian Michael Bendis is, click the link. You’re welcome!)

It also features multiple collectible covers, for those who enjoy collecting multiple covers.

None of this, however, has anything to do with why I’m writing these words that you’re reading. I’m here to tell you if this $7.99 tome is worth picking up if you have no interest in collectibles or historical significance. I’m here to calm the nerves of those rare few souls who actually still read comics, who want to know one simple thing: Is Action Comics #1000 worth reading?

The answer, in a word, is yes.

Superman Crowd Shot From Action Comics 1000

It would take most of my word limit to list all of the creators involved in the creation of this volume, never mind describing all of their work. Suffice it to say that if you have ever loved any version of Superman, there is something here that will appeal to you.

If you’re a fan of the current Superman series, Dan Jurgens, Patrick Gleason and Peter Tomasi are given a chance to take a bow and pay tribute to The Man of Steel while closing out their own runs.

Were you a fan of the 1990s’ Superman animated series? There’s a Paul Dini-penned story with art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez you’ll get a kick out of.

Are you an old-school Super-fan? There’s a classic Lex Luthor vs. Superman story by Paul Levitz with artwork by Neal Adams that is well-worth checking out, as well as some previously unpublished work by legendary Superman artist Curt Swan.

Supposing you’re a Bat-fan who is too cool to read Superman comics? There’s even something for you, with Batman writers Tom King and Scott Snyder having created comics with artists Clay Mann and Rafael Albuquerque that number among the more thoughtful works in this anthology. And I’m just scratching the surface describing these seven stories. There’s even more than that!

Superman Fights Rogol Zaar in Action Comics 1000

The flip side to this format is that there will almost certainly be something in this book that you won’t enjoy. For me, ironically enough, it’s the story that is supposed to be the book’s main selling point – the final chapter by Brian Michael Bendis and Jim Lee. Lee’s artwork, I’m sad to say, has looked far better and there’s a number of continuity problems with Superman’s wounds changing from panel to panel. The uneven and frequently sloppy inks of Scott Williams don’t help matters.

The biggest disappointment, however, is the story, which largely devotes itself to Superman fighting a new seemingly invincible villain. It also ends with a cliffhanger urging you to read the upcoming Man of Steel mini-series to see what happens next. Unfortunately, the brief sample here offers little reason to read on, with Bendis’ new villain differing from Doomsday in only three respects – he has better fashion sense, he wields an axe and he won’t shut up.

There’s some irony that this book devoted to The Man of Tomorrow does a better job in honoring its past than in encouraging readers to look to the future. As a tribute to the last 80 years of Superman, it’s fantastic. As a preview of what is to come, I fear it’s better at inspiring fear than hope.

7/10

Action Comics #1000 releases on April 18, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

Comic Review – Domino #1

Domino #1 Cover

Confession: I don’t know much about Domino. To be honest, I don’t know much about any of the X-Force/Six-Pack/Liefeldian side of the 1990s X-Men, because what little I’ve read from that time period suggested the characters had more pouches than personality traits.

Here is everything I knew about Domino. She was a mercenary who worked with Cable and Deadpool a lot. She was a mutant who had the power to alter probability in her favor. There was some controversy regarding the actress playing her in Deadpool 2, but most people (including comic fans) didn’t much care about the complaints.

Beyond that, I didn’t know what to expect going into Domino #1 beyond the fact that I would probably enjoy this book. Why? Because I have yet to not enjoy anything written by Gail Simone. Simone has an amazing ability to add a sense of fun to even the darkest and most ill-developed of characters.

Domino #1 Page 3

I can’t vouch for how well Simone’s presentation of Domino in this issue conforms to Neena Thurman’s past characterization. What I can say is that I found her to be a likable heroine and I would love to see more of her once this limited series is over.

The basic action of the issue is split into two halves. In the first we witness Domino in action, teaming up with fellow female mercenary Outlaw (a Gail Simone creation from her brief but beloved Agent X series) to take down a team of timber pirates. (Yes, that’s an actual thing!)  The second half of the issue sees Domino suffering through a surprise birthday with several cameos, including a certain Merc With A Mouth! Where It goes beyond that, I shall leave for you to discover.

The action of the issue is as fantastic as it is funny. Domino’s cartoonish probability powers are a good fit for Simone’s twisted sense of humor and Outlaw proves a perfect foil for Neena. The banter here is reminiscent of Simone’s work on Birds of Prey for DC Comics and it goes without saying that this issue passes The Bechdel Test.

The artwork by David Baldeon is a perfect fit for the story. Baldeon boasts a kinetic, animated style that suits the frantic tone of the action sequences. Far from the grim-and-gritty aesthetic that dominated most of Domino’s past comic book appearances, the artwork here is bright and silly as befits someone whose powers honestly could cause everyone around her to pratfall at just the right moment to allow for a hasty escape.

Bottom Line: Domino #1 is a fun romp through a side of the Marvel Comics universe that is often portrayed as far too serious. No previous experience is required. In fact, you may enjoy this book more if you’re going into ignorant, as I did. Agent X fans will definitely want to check this out for more Outlaw, as will fans of any of Gail Simone’s previous work on series like Secret Six and Deadpool. Here’s hoping this one goes series!

10/10


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

Comic Review – Xerxes: The Fall of the House of Darius and the Rise of Alexander #1

Frank Miller’s 300 was something of a revelation when it first came out in 1998. Based in equal parts on the writings of the Greek historian Herodotus and the 1962 film The 300 Spartans, it told the tale of The Battle of Thermopylae from the perspective of King Leonidas of Sparta. Though Leonidas and the Greek forces were defeated by the invading Persian army, their stand helped inspire the various Greek city-states to unite as one in a larger force. This would lead to the war that ultimately halted Persia’s attempts to conquer Greece. For that reason, The Battle of Thermopylae is held alongside The Alamo as one of the greatest last stands in military history.

300 is widely considered to be Frank Miller’s greatest work. It won the 1999 Eisner Award for Best Limited Series, with Miller being honored as Best Writer & Artist and colorist Lynn Varley winning Best Colorist. The book was later successfully adapted into a 2006 film directed by Zack Snyder, fueling his rise to fame.

Despite being a critical and commercial success, 300 did not go uncriticized. Many took Miller to task for the story being historically inaccurate in certain respects, such as depicting The Spartans as homophobic or going into battle essentially naked. Writer David Brin specifically criticized Miller’s ignoring the greater historical context of Thermopylae and how The Spartan’s involvement in the battle was driven by their shame at having sat-out The Battle of Marathon a decade earlier, due to it occurring during the holy festival of Carnea, in which martial combat was forbidden.

This bears consideration when one reads this first chapter of Xerxes: The Fall of the House of Darius and the Rise of Alexander – the five-issue follow-up to 300. The title and cover are a bit misleading, with Xerxes – the villain of 300 – not making any appearance in this book apart from being seen on the cover. Rather than focusing on a single battle, Miller is now exploring the long history of Persian/Greek conflicts, starting with the first attempts of Darius (father of Xerxes) to invade Greece and ending, eventually, with the rise of Alexander The Great.

This first chapter is devoted to The Battle of Marathon and seems to have been written purely in rebuttal to Brin’s criticism in specific and complaints of Miller’s failure to profile the contributions of the Greek city-states besides Sparta in general. The focus here is on the Athenians, as they lead the charge against The Persian Army, driving them back to their ships.


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(Click To View The Full Image In Another Window.)

Those who enjoyed 300 will find more of the same intense action here. All issues of historical accuracy aside, Miller can block a fight sequence better than most and the battles here are as gloriously over the top as you would expect. The fact that our heroes are now the playwright Aeskylos and a young Themistokles, years before he would go on to become a great Athenian general and politician does not stop them from unleashing Hades upon the Persians, Unfortunately, Miller’s tendency towards unnecessary homophobic remarks continues, though it may be more historically accurate for The Athenians to be making jokes about how The Spartans can’t join the battle because of a fertility festival, because that is the only time Spartan men share beds with women.

A larger problem is that Miller’s glory days as an artist are behind him and it is clear now why his most recent efforts have seen him focusing on writing with other artists illustrating his stories. While Miller’s work here is far stronger than his most recent works at DC Comics, it’s a far cry from the level of quality we saw in 300, with Miller’s tendency toward cartoonish exaggeration not serving the story well. The colors by Alex Sinclair don’t help matters, putting a vibrant coat on artwork that was always at its best when kept half in shadow. One wonders if age is starting to make the old master’s hand falter but he’s too proud to admit it.

Ultimately, there’s little reason to pick up Xerxes #1 unless you’re a fan of Frank Miller and the original 300 looking for more of the same. There’s nothing new here, beyond Miller showing that The Athenians were more than capable of winning a war without The Spartans’ assistance. It’s good for what it is but it’s ultimately an unnecessary prequel.

5/10

Xerxes: The Fall of the House of Darius and the Rise of Alexander #1 releases April 4, 2018.


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.