Monday, 27 July 2015

Batman Vol. 5: Zero Year- Dark City (The New 52) Review

Batman Vol 5: Zero Year- Dark City (The New 52)

Psst... Don't tell Oliver Queen that I
stole his gimmick!
Writer: Scott Snyder

Artist: Greg Capullo

Collects: Batman #25-27, 29-33

Background Information:

Ask any DC reader about Snyder and Capullo's run on Batman, and the only words you're likely going to hear will allude to the phrase "nailing it". The industry's own dynamic duo have been, in many ways, bigger heroes than the characters they write/draw; standing strong against DC's attempt to raise the Batman single-issue price to $4.99. When you buy this book, understand that you're buying the industry's best.

But aside from that, in the last volume, Bruce became Batman. During that time, his uncle Phillip, who was running Wayne Industries, fired one Edward Nigma, which will probably have no repercussions whatsoever, right?

Right?

Review:

Let me save you all some time. The thing you'll find yourself thinking throughout this trade is "Yeah, why not?"

So you still want to read the whole review? Okay.

Gotham has been blacked out. Amidst the chaos, the mother of all storms is coming to Gotham, and Dr. Death is wandering Gotham causing havoc. In the meantime, the Riddler is slowly closing his grip on Gotham and the cops are out to catch Batman and bring him down for his vigilante action at ACE Chemical from last volume.


He was driving a black... tank- no, wait...
This sounds like a fairly tame plot, except that nearly everything you see in the volume knocks you for six. Each thing that happens in Snyders second part to Zero Year creates feeling of repulsion, acceptance and love in that exact order.

Want an example? Have a look at this picture on the right. That's the Batmobile. Notice how it looks absolutely NOTHING like the Nolan, Burton, or Batman: The Animated Series version. In fact, it looks like nothing you've ever seen before. My first instinct was to hate it; the Batmobile to me, should be black, long and sleek. This is blue, yellow and relatively squat. I wanted to hate it; I really did. But dammit, Snyder/Capullo, I couldn't bring myself to do it. Somehow, this and various other changes just gelled with me, and I came to love it. I actually want to see this Batmobile again; I want it to be the Batmobile.

And that's a feeling you get throughout the whole book. You want to see the blimp in action. You want more of sleeveless and capeless Batman on a motorcycle. You want to see more of Batman in the day. Somehow, this team takes everything that shouldn't work with Batman and makes it work. They make it work well.

Another thing that should do nothing but annoy me is the fact that, after avoiding it last volume, we get the dead parents story again. I really thought this was going to be cliché and bland. Somehow, Snyder avoids making this same-old-same-old. I'm not sure how he does it, maybe it's that he doesn't let the flashbacks depicting that moment in Bruce's life be something that keeps us from seeing him as Batman. Maybe it's that Bruce doesn't spend this volume agonising over the loss of his folks. Whatever it is, it actually added to the entertainment in that title- something that I was sure wouldn't happen.

But by far the best part of this book is in the second half, where the Riddle has turned the entire of Gotham into a wild wasteland under his control. This is where the big set pieces are; buildings fall on each other like dominos while US marines leap from rooftop to rooftop trying to avoid falling to their doom;  whole sections of the city flood, and Batman faces off against lions in an underground carpark. It's intense, it's engaging and it's utterly masterful.

I can't go on too much further without talking about the ending. I won't reveal too much and just say that it's really about Alfred's hopes and dreams for Bruce's future. Hopes that are bittersweetly dashed in one moment. It's by far the most poignant scene in the book and shows just how much Alfred has been the emotional centre of Snyder's run.

"I am vengeance. I am the... late afternoon... y'know what,
let's skip that line."
The only complaint I really have about Zero Year- Dark City is that it leaves me concerned for the future of the series. I know Jim Gordon will take over as Batman and a new status quo will be introduced. I'm not sure if, even under Snyder's pen, we will get a Batman status quo that feels as fascinating and beautiful as what we've seen thus far. Yep, my negative is that very little can live up to this one. That's how good this is.

Capullo has been given a time to shine, here. Having so many daytime scenes allows this artist to use *GASP* ACTUAL COLOUR!!! Maybe it was because Snyder wanted to do something new, maybe Capullo was running out of black and grey paint. Either way, these daytime scenes look incredible and, somehow, we don't lose any sense of darkness despite the wide range of colours.

I'm sure someone will call me a DC fanboy for not giving perfect scores to a Marvel book. But you know what? Zero Year- Dark City has well earned it's five out of five empty black and grey paint pots.

*****

+ What shouldn't work, somehow does.
+ Amazing set-pieces.
+ Ending that is bittersweet and beautiful.
+ A dark and gritty story that has actual colour in the art.

Alternate Option: Batman- Earth One Vol. 1&2

An origin story and a Riddler story. Not as good as this one, but still a great yarn.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

X-Men: Battle for the Atom Review

X-Men: Battle of the Atom
Hey, look what we can do with photoshop!

Writers: Brian Micheal Bendis, Brian Wood and Jason Aaron.

Artists: Frank Cho, Stuart Immonen, David Lopez, Chris Bachalo, Guiseppe Camuncoli and Esad Ribic.

Collects: All-New X-Men #16-17, Uncanny X-Men #12-13, Wolverine and the X-Men #36-37, X-Men #5-6, X-Men: Battle of the Atom 1-2/

Background Information:

Okay, the short version of X-History is this; after House of M, the mutant population was shaved down to 200. This put a lot of strain on the X-Men, and the team soon divided into two; the Uncanny X-Men, led by Cyclops, and Wolverine's X-Men running the Jean Grey School for mutants. A while later, when the Pheonix Force came to Earth, Cyclops was infected with it, and, drunken with power, he killed Charles Xavier. Now Cyclops and the Uncanny X-Men are on the run, and Cyclops is regarded as a kind of "new Magneto".

To help Cyclops recognise the error of his ways, Beast brought the original five X-Men; younger versions of Cyclops, Iceman, Angel, Beast and Jean Grey, to the present to show the current Cyclops what an evil twerp he is.

So far, it hasn't worked.

Review:

Rule of thumb: time travellers are twits.

They're always messing with the space-time continuum, enforcing dodgy agendas and generally X-Men: Battle of the Atom; the second time-travelling story for the X-Men is about as many years. It's pointless diversion that makes very little sense.
Quick, guys! Do that thing you had just decided to do! PHEW,
dodged a bullet, there.
being not very nice about anything. Such is the case of

And it's awesome.

So, the All-New X-Men run into the Uncanny X-Men while trying to take down a new mutant (who does not matter to the story in the least- thank goodness). In the process, young Cyclops gets temporarily killed (temporarily is the key word, because comics), which temporarily removes old Cyclops for existence. When all is fixed and the X-people decide that they youngsters need to be sent back to their own time after all in come a bunch of Mutants from the future, claiming to be the new X-Men. They have an important message for the X-people of today; wait for it... the young X-Men need to go back to their own time!

Lucky someone told them that... they were CLEARLY having trouble figuring it out for themselves.

Okay, Brian Michael Bendis writes more than half of this book and if you're reading his work, you're NEVER doing it for the plot. You're reading it for dialogue and characterisation and Bendis excels at that. The whole book is filled with some of the best dialogue you're likely to see in a Marvel comic. A standout here is Iceman (actually, all three of them). Bendis ramps up the silly in Bobby Drake's character to the point where nearly everything that comes out of his mouth is dripping with humour. Bendis also continues to build on the characters in both Uncanny and All-New in ways that feel organic. Emma Frost's jealousy of Jean Grey finally comes to a head, the romantic triangle between Jean, young Cyclops and young Beast continues to develop and the lack of trust between Wolverine and old Cyclops just keeps simmering.

Thankfully, Jason Aaron and Brian Wood do enough to keep the plot going, And there is a lot that happens here. Moments of note include the mental fight between Jean Grey, Xorn, Emma Frost and the Stepford sisters; it's wonderfully drawn and oozes of tension. Maria Hill's regular declarations of how much she hates Hank McCoy is also fun. Oh, yeah; and Dazzler becomes the president in the future- wow. These moments all come together in a story that feels fun, epic and mostly self-contained.

And therein lies the problem. If Bendis and Co designed this story to be a way to keep interest in the X-Titles, Battle of the Atom isn't going to do that. The book couldn't feel more like a jumping-off-point for the X-franchise if it tried. True, there's a possible future for All-New, but not one that sounds patricularly compelling.

Hmmm... is this a bad thing?
Speaking of All-New, this is very much a book about that particular series. As such, all of the virtues and vices of All-New are present. We get to see innocent idealism shown as a strength, but we also have to have our brains melted by the logical fallacies induced by time travel. We get the young X-Men, but we also get reminded that Marvel doesn't care much for the X-Men anymore. We get great character drama, but we also get dialogue that goes on, and on, and on.

There is, however, no dowside to the art. There's a lot of artists here; something that comes naturally with multiple-title crossovers, and that normally leads to a comparison to what happens with too many cooks. Here, though, it works. No artist is doing less than whole issues and their styles somehow flow with the storytelling. It's great to look at and at no point does a change in artist feel like a change in quality.

Battle of the Atom may not be perfect, but it's damn fun. It gets a three and a half out of five time-travelling twits.

*** 1/2

+ Focus on All-New X-Men.
+ Character Drama.
+ Great art.
- All the negatives you saw in All-New.
- More of a jumping-off point, even though it isn't meant to be.

Alternate Option: X-Men: Schism

Another X-Character drama.

Monday, 22 June 2015

I'm a Peter-Parker fan, and I'm not concerned with the Miles book.

Yeah, okay.
So, the internet exploded today.

The New York Times, in an exclusive interview, told us that a new book, called only Spider-Man will be released, starring not Peter Parker, but Miles Morales,  the Spider-Man who, well, looks like this under the mask:

Oh... my... gravy...
Yep, Miles is a major departure from the old Spidey, and it's a heresy. I mean, HE'S GOT REALLY SHORT HAIR! HERESY! THE SPIDER-MAN I GREW UP WITH A WAVY AND LUCIOUS HAIR, MARVEL! YOU HEAR ME?! WAVY AND LUCIOUS!

Wait, isn't that what we're complaining about?

It's not?

Well, anyway, people seem to be treating this as though Miles is replacing Peter in the Marvel Universe. Peter, according to sites like The Outhousers, are talking as though Peter is Spider-Man no more. Now I'm a fan of Peter; Miles is nice and all, but he does nothing for me. Yet, upon hearing this news, I'm not at all worried about Peter. Why, you ask?

Because Peter will absolutely still be Spider-Man.

I know this because of this teaser Marvel released about a month ago:

Notice the complete lack of no Peter-Parker-Spiderman..
Now, I may be misinterpreting, but that definitely looks like Peter Parker in a Spidey costume in the top left. He's posed like Spidey in action. He's airborne. He's still doing whatever a spider can. This isn't a retired Peter; it's the Amazing Spider-Man in all his glory.

My theory? We'll see an Amazing Spider-Man book announced to continue (hopefully under a new writer, as I'm pretty sure Dan Slott has run his course) that will run ALONGSIDE Spider-Man. DC has been doing a similar thing for a few years, now. There have been four Green Lanterns working simultaneously, and I believe there was a point where both Wally West and Barry Allen held the mantle of The Flash at the same time. There's no reason the same can't happen with Spider-Man.

But that doesn't stir controversy; which we all know is what comics media sites are more interested in, so here I am, doing silly things like drawing reasonable conclusions based on evidence.

*sigh*

Friday, 19 June 2015

Green Arrow Vol. 5: The Outsiders War (The New 52) Review

Green Arrow Vol. 5: The Outsiders War
In case you weren't sure, the colour
green is a big deal here.

Writer: Jeff Lemire

Artist: Andrea Sorrentio

Collects: Green Arrow #25-31

Background Information:

So, Oliver Queen has been through a rough patch, hasn't he? Turns out that the island that he never stops talking about was the home to the mystic Green Arrow (That's a literal arrow, by the way); the totem weapon of the Arrow Clan. The Arrow Clan is one of the many clans of The Outsiders; a group of weapon-obsessed clans who are set to take over the world if Oliver doesn't stop them.

Oh, Oliver also has a step sister, Shado's daughter Emiko, who is being raised by last volume's big bad, Komodo.

Review:

With the huge success of Arrow, it would have been tempting for Jeff Lemire' Green Arrow to go the same route as it's TV counterpart; make Count Vertigo a drug dealer, have Ollie fight Deathstroke and make Deadshot a major part of the plot. Thankfully, Lemire decided to go the opposite direction and make Green Arrow one of the most interesting DC titles out there, The Outsiders War continues this tradition, delivering a story that is action-heavy and conspiracy-driven.

... Apparently, so are circles.
Now Ollie and pseudo-step-mother Shado (yep, not love interest; take that, CW), have gone back to plot device island where he was stranded for years in search of the famous Green Arrow (like I said before, that's an actual arrow)- the totem weapon of the Arrow Clan. In the meantime, the Outsiders are getting ready to take over the world.
the

Okay, so the real hero of this book isn't Oliver Queen- it's the art by Andrea Sorrentino. Her page designs are nothing short of amazing. In some places it takes less time for me to write this review than it does to fully take in a page-spread. Usually, such busy panels would be a minus, but here, Sorrentino's style takes you by the throat and drags you in. You want to see everything because it all grabs your attention.

The story is hardly a afterthought, the whole thing is paced exceptionally well, and Lemire peppers the whole thing with surprises. I won't spoil them, but Lemire shows here that he's a master of misdirection. I can't say that I'm a fan of all of them, but I appreciated the effort and admittedly did not see the ones I didn't like coming at all.

Action here is also incredible. Lemire has a real flair for making villains threatening; Komodo, last volume's bad dude, look more intimidating than ever minus one eye, and the Shield Clan may just be the most oogah-boogah crazy group of killers in the Outsiders- which I also never expected.

See? Green!
The volume also gets points for bringing Katana into the Green Arrow lore. Lemire cast her as the leader of the Sword Clan, with the Soultaker sword as the Clan's totem weapon. It works; at no point did I feel that it was a stretch for it to happen- something helped, I think, by the fact that Katana is the only Sword-Clanner shown in the volume.

The only part of the story I really wasn't fond of was the Zero Year crossover. This certainly isn't a bad issue; the action here is just as good, and Ollie battling Killer Moth actually makes for a fun story. But it gets so bogged down in John Diggle's backstory that I lost interest halfway through. It's no exaggeration to say that this overdrawn exposition ruined the issue for me.

Thankfully, anything aside from that issue is brilliant and as a whole, The Outsiders War gets a four out of five oogah-boogah shields.

****

+ Art is amazing.
+ Lemire writes near-perfect action.
+ Katana's addition feels natural.
- The Zero Year crossover.

Alternate Option: Green Arrow: The Kill Machine

If you're going to read The Outsiders War, you need to read this one.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Vol.1 (Pre-52) Review

T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents Vol. 1 (Pre-52)
"Let's put thunder in the background. That
way everyone will know they're
T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents!"
"That's Lightning, actually..."

Writer: Nick Spencer

Artist: Cafu Bit

Collects: T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents #1-10.

Background Information:

T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents has been the IP version of a football over the last fifty years. Beginning as a property of Tower Comics in the 1960s, the team has switched hands to Deluxe Comics and JC Comics. DC picked it up in 2011 and now it's in the hands of IDW.

This is the DC run on the series.

Review:

Ever thought to yourself; man, the sixties were awesome!

I mean, this is the era that had The Beatles, The Beach Boys (growing up, The Beach Boys were the only band us kids agreed on with our parents), and many of the greatest comic icons appeared in that era as well (most notably, the X-Men).

In many ways, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents feels like a throwback to the great stories of the era; chock full of spy drama, and costume designs that really feel like the silver age of comics. That's reason enough to pick up the book, but nice artwork, along with an admirable first story arc make the buy well worth it.

So, the Agents are a group of superheroes who work for an agency called T.H.U.N.D.E.R. (The
"Well, let's call the L.I.G.H.T.N.I.N.G. Agents!"
"We already have someone called Lightning... on the team..."
Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves) in their fight against Spider (Wikipedia says that's an acronym, but it's never mentioned in the book. These heroes get powers, which is cool.

Those powers eventually kill them.

Which is not so cool.

In fact, a few of the old heroes have already died, leaving T.H.U.N.D.E.R. "Salesmen" (people who try to convince others to become agents), Colleen and Toby, to search for new recruits to help save Raven; an Agent who has been kidnapped by Spider.

I haven't spoken much about the Agents themselves, and with good reason; this story is really about Toby and Colleen. In a superhero book, that would seem like a detractor, but the chemistry between the two characters is brilliant. It's hardly romantic- that would actually spoil it- more like annoying younger brother VS calm, irritated sister. The whole book revolves around their journey to find people who would be willing to die for a short life of power and glory, and while you don't see them talk about it much, there's a real sense that this whole thing is unsettling for them.

Even though I haven't spoken much about the Agents, there's a team here that I really want to see more of. Lightning is an African ex-sprinter, who has speed powers that have the side effect of making him see his death come closer and closer as he runs. Dynamo is a drunk who has the power of strength and invulnerability. NoMan clones himself repeatedly and can turn invisible; but what really makes him interesting is that cloning himself makes him lose all that made him human. Then there's Menthor; who sounds like he should be giving you fresh breath, but actually has mind powers. I won't go into who he is beyond the mask, because that's too good a twist. I really want to see more of these characters; they don't get much of a spotlight here, and I think there's some excellent stuff to work with.

"Okay, do you have a problem with this
page?"
"No, not really."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, I'm sure."
"Because...
"JUST PRINT THE PAGE!"
These are all great things; which makes it so weird that the plot itself feels... lacking. The book starts off with a brilliantly placed "heist" story, but then loses all moment in the latter issues. I really lost interest in a story arc about Colleen's mother; it has so little to do with the agents and Toby's absence really hurt it.

Cafu Bit's artwork, though, is excellent. I miss DC books that looked diverse and this volume definitely has that. The sixties vibe drips off the pages thanks to classic-looking costumes and designs. That's something I didn't expect to say; because the art isn't exactly four-colour, but the book still looks like it might as well be Starsky and Hutch for the superhero genre. It's engaging and I love it.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents is no longer in print, but if you look hard enough, you may find the trade lying around. It gets a four out of five Menthors for fresh breath.

****

+ Colleen and Toby's chemistry.
+ Interesting team of heroes.
+ Nice vibe to artwork.
- Second half of the book fails to hold interest.

Alternate Option: Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol

It's the only other book I can think of that would maintain that sixties vibe.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Fantastic Four Vol.2: Road Trip (Marvel NOW!) Review

Fantastic Four Vol. 2: Road Trip (Marvel NOW)

Another night in (insert dodgy local suburb
here).
Writer: Matt Fraction

Artists: Mark Bagley and Andre Araujo

Collects: Fantastic Four #4-8 and #5AU

Background Information:

In the previous volume, Fantastic Four father figure and resident genius Reed Richards (also known as Mr Fantastic) discovered that whatever was giving him, The Invisible Woman (Sue Richards) The Thing (Ben Grimm) and The Human Torch (Johnny Storm) superpowers was also killing them. Determined to beat it, he took the entire family on a trip through space and time to find the cure to their predicament.

He just told everyone it was a vacation.

Which is not going to bite him on the backside at all.

Review:

A labour of love... are words that nobody would use to describe Road Trip.

Not to say it's a bad series, but it's clear that Matt Fraction has been having more fun writing books like Hawkeye than he has with Fantastic Four.

In what I guess must be typical Fraction fashion (anyone want to clarify for me) the issues in Road
Trip are only vaguely connected. One issue is about a planet whose myths revolve around the Four, another sees the family witnessing the death of Ceaser. Another still sees Ben becoming human for a day. When Fraction did this in Hawkeye, it was charming. I don't know exactly why it's less so here, but this time it feels like pointless padding.
Kids,  today we're learning
What Fraction gets right, though, is characterisation. The Four feel exactly like a comic book family should; true-to-life interactions, kids that somehow manage to sound like kids while discussing complex comic-science, and two uncles that are uncles in every sense of the word are what makes Road Trip shine.

Another thing to love about this book is that it's only technically connected to the events of the greater Marvel universe. We spend most of the book in space and at no point do we have to deal with the Nova corps, the Guardians of the Galaxy, or the fact that Iron Man is in space. At times, the Marvel universe can feel too connected, and it's nice to get some relief from it.
Just sayin'; this was a good issue. I liked this issue.

Unfortunately, it doesn't feel like enough to make up for the fact that  Road Trip is an entire volume of filler. Entertaining filler is still filler and by the end, I was left wondering why I was even reading the collection.

The end of Road Trip suggests that there is something truly interesting in the next volume, but for now, this book gets three out of five filler issues.

***

+ Nails family dynamics.
+ Little mention of the wider Marvel universe.
- An entire volume of filler.

Alternate Option: Fantastic For: New Departure, New Arrivals.

Start at the renumbered beginning.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Animal Man Vol.1: The Hunt (The New 52) Review

Animal Man Vol. 1: The Hunt (The New 52)
I swear, he actually has a shirt.

Writer: Jeff Lemire

Artist: Travel Foreman

Collects: Animal Man #1-6

Background Infromation:

Buddy Barker can take on the powers/abilities of various animals. He does so through the morphogenic field; something he calls "the life web", which connects him to all animal life. Before the New 52, Buddy was under the impression that he got this power from aliens.

If you only know Animal Man from this...


...then you don't know Animal Man.

Review:
Only bad books get cancelled... is one of the least accurate statements I have ever heard. Sure, if a book isn't selling, publishers have the right to cancel, but sometimes that means getting rid of really, really good books in the process, and Animal Man, if The Hunt is anything to go by, is one of those really good books.
See? There's a shirt!
So, wierd things have been happening to Buddy Barker. His eyes are beeding, he has grusome dreams and... let's see... what else is there... oh yeah; his daughter, Maxine, finds herself able to summon the skeletons of dead animals.

See, even though Buddy thinks he got his powers from aliens, he actually got them from a force called The Red, the force connected with animal life who disguised themselves as aliens. Maxine is the Avatar of The Red and Buddy is tasked with protecting her from the forces of The Rot, who emobody death and decay. This evil force have sent three hunters to kill Maxine, though, Buddy has to work fast to keep Maxine safe.
Okay, excluding Justice League Dark, I have a soft spot for DC's horror line. Scott Snyder's Swamp Thing was just brilliant and honestly, so is this. The real hero of the volume is Jeff Lemire's ability to build up tension. We start with a first volume, that, I'll admit, feels pretty dry, but by the end, Lemire has raised the stakes.

And then he brings on the scary; monsters hiding in plain site, dialogue that sends chills down your spine and causes you to jump at the slightest noise. I can't recall the last time I found a comic this terrifying, but this one definitely takes the cake.

Of course, horror doesn't actually work if you don't care about the characters. A monster killing an empty shell, no matter how gory, doesn't terrify you the same way that almost capturing a character you care for does. Lemire's delivered in this area too; giving real life to Buddy's family. That's right New 52 haters; DC actually allowed a character to not only be married, but to have two- yes, two- kids. And what a family it is; each member has their own real voice. They aren't just there to be "the family member". Buddy's wife, Ellen, is a powerful figure in and of herself. Maxine has just the right amount of innocence, and Buddy's son, Cliff, has all of the over-the-top enthusiasm you would expect from a kid whose dad is a superhero. It's a great cast that serves the horror story perfectly.
See? Another shirt! This book has shirts!
The real fine point about this volume, though, is the art. Travel Foreman draws some amazing character designs, cheif among which are The Rot's Hunters. I imagine that under any other artist, these designs would have looked silly. I'm ready to admit that there is a fine line between silly and terrifying, but it's safe to say that Foreman gives us plenty of the latter. All of it's helped with these washed-out colours that more often than not betray the darkness and become blissfully unnerving.

I plain cannot fault The Hunt it gets a perfect five out of five dogs left on the street.

*****

+ Scary as hell (I mean that in the most literal sense).

+ Family dynamics that make us care.

+ Grotesque character designs.

Alternate Option: Swamp Thing: Raise Them Bones

Another brilliant horror title that ties into Animal Man.