Monday, 26 May 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man: Spider Island

I think this is the definition of "taking the
shirt off your back".
Writer: Dan Slott

Artist: Humberto Ramos

Collects: The Amazing Spider-Man #666-673, Venom 7-9, Spider Island: Deadly Foes, material from The Amazing Spider-Man: 659-660, and Spider Island Spotlight.

Background Information:

Spider-Man’s comic history has had high points and low points, but one of the strengths of the franchise is that it embraces them both. What you need to know for Spider Island is that a lot of the story has its roots in the now-infamous Clone Saga from the 90s. In that story, a mutated college professor known as The Jackal cloned both Peter Parker and Gwen Stacey… repeatedly. It was a fairly long, fairly drawn-out affair that introduced Spidey’s villain/clone/brother Kain- he fought the Web-head, hunted down other clones and even went mad and killed his love interest. He found himself killed in the storyline called Grim Hunt.

And that’s all you need know.


Sometimes I wonder what happened when writer Dan Slott gave his pitch for Spider Island to the guys at Marvel. Surely, Joe Quesada must have been scratching his head. Yet, despite, or even because of its ridiculous premise, Spider Island manages to be incredibly entertaining.
I get by with a little help from my friends...

So that ridiculous premise? The Jackal, through genetically-altered bed bugs (yep) has given all of New
York spider powers. Peter’s abilities are now apparently obsolete as every New Yorker revels in their newfound powers, not everyone really connects power and responsibility like he does. The event calls for assistance from the Avengers, the X-Men and even Agent Venom.

The best thing about Spider Island by far is that Dan Slott realizes just how silly his story is. There are plenty of moments in the collection which, had Slott decided to take himself too seriously, would switch readers right off the event in the blink of an eye. Yet Slott’s script makes fun of all of these moments with lines like “I swear, if we’re doing the clone-thing again I’m going back to L.A.!” as a result, it’s hard to feel angry at Slott for penning a rather silly event, and you’re left just feeling amused by the whole thing.

Although Spider-Man is always fun to read about, it’s Mary Jane that I found myself enjoying a lot more, for reasons too awkward to spoil, she doesn’t get spider powers at all for most of this book. Her frustration over this is delicious, as she rolls her eyes and pouts over missing out on what initially seems like a party. When she finally does get the powers, she revels in them in a way that is thoroughly satisfying and brings in more than a few laughs.

Other characters in Spider Island help to make this collection fun and exciting. The issues featuring Venom are by far the best of the lot of the collection, with Rick Remender absolutely nailing the character of Flash Thompson. J. Jonah Jameson also stands out as the spectacular spider-mayor, Kaine Parker is well done for the short time we see him, even Spidey’s girlfriend, Carlie-Q is entertaining to read about. It’s great when a books supporting cast do so much to further the story.

But therein also lies Spider Island’s only real flaw. Spidey’s role in the story is fairly minimal. He spends most of his time watching events unfold, and only really takes action when he inevitably saves the day. Peter Parkers place in the story is minimal, and it feels like we may as well be reading about Reed Richards or Tony Stark. It makes the story feel slower than it actually is, and certain parts feel harder to read than they really are.

The art is done mostly by Humberto Ramos. If Ramos’ art style was done with any other character (say, Wolverine or Hulk) it would have looked ridiculous. Ramos uses a cartoony, exaggerated style that emphasis the humour that prevails in any Spider-Man story worth its salt, and it works a treat.

And people get mad a Superman for property damage...
Though possible, it’s difficult fault Spider-Island. The collection sees some great characterisation that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It gets four and a half out of five clone things.

**** ½

+ Great Characterisation

+ Doesn’t take itself too seriously

- Peter Parker may as well not be there half the time.

Alternate Option: The Superior Spider-Man: My Own Worst Enemy

For more Dan Slott Spider-stories, look no further.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Iron Man Vol. 1: Believe (Marvel NOW!) Review

Tony Stark tests his new invention:
Iron Man Vol. 1: Believe (Marvel NOW!)

Writer: Keiron Gillen

Artist: Greg Land

Collects: Iron Man #1-5

Background Information:

If you don’t know who Iron Man is by now, you probably shouldn’t be reading this blog. The guy’s been in four movies now and has appeared in two cartoons over the past five years. I therefore won’t waste too much time with the background information only to say that he’s become one of the most valuable franchises that Marvel publishes (and... y’know... still owns the film rights to).


Considering how big a franchise Iron Man is these days, you would have expected a lot more care to be taken when making Tony Stark’s debut in Marvel NOW! Sadly, Marvel’s biggest player at the moment has the worst debut trade in Marvel’s renumbering initiative.

Black is the new red.
Believe’s story is centred around Extremis; y’know, that strange genetic thing that made people puke fire Iron Man 3. That’s really the first problem with Believe: Iron Man 3 wasn’t the worst of the Iron Man films, but if you’re going to reference a film, reference the first one- it was much better. Here, thankfully, Extremis doesn’t blow people up; rather, it  gives them different abilities that can be used for destructive purposes. Somebody has sold Extremis to a slew of different buyers and that bothers Tony Stark, so he goes out to stop everybody who is using it; regardless of their intentions.
and explode in

What follows is a series of isolated battles that have very little to do with each other except that the bad guys use Extremis. I don’t mind it when stories are isolated if they are entertaining. Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye pulled it off amazingly in the first volume. The problem is that writer Keiron Gillen treats these isolated incidents like they’re part of something greater and they just aren’t. There is no reason to care about any of these battles that Stark is launching himself into. Even the threat of Extremis doesn’t seem like it’s that bigger a problem. Stark tends to nullify all the threats before they seem like a challenge and that makes the whole thing seem too easy.

The bigger problem, though, lies in what this book doesn’t do.  Marvel NOW! is all about placing different heroes in new situations that push the boundaries about what we know about these characters. Thor meets gods from different faiths all over the universe. Hawkeye has a life outside of the Avengers. Captain America is in another Dimension and Spiderman is possessed by Doctor Octopus. Iron Man, though, is plain-old, regular Iron Man. When everyone else in Marvel NOW! is being pushed to their limits, Believe give us an Iron Man who is incredibly uninteresting.

In my mind, Tony calls this the "Fat-Suit".
The art doesn’t really help Believe. Yes, Iron Man looks good, but Tony Stark appears to be using Botox. For that matter, so does every character in the book. The women in particular look exactly the same but for their hairstyles. Gillen almost recognises this in the dialogue when Tony Stark tells Pepper Potts that she doesn’t look like all the other women he was involved with because her hair is red. That line says more about the art than anything else I can tell you.

The end of Believe suggests that there is a far better story about to happen, but with how pointless this story felt, you can probably skip straight to Iron Man Vol. 2: The Secret Origin of Tony Stark Book 1 without missing out on anything. It gets a one out of five Botox faces.


+ Iron Man looks good as Iron Man

- Tony Stark, and all other characters look fake

- Story fails to engage

Alternate Option: Superior Spider-Man: My Own Worst Enemy

This is the true spirit of Marvel NOW!; new things being done with their characters that builds interest.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Justice League Dark Vol. 1: In the Dark (The New 52) Review

Justice League Dark Vol. 1: In the Dark (The New 52)

Nobody has any idea what is
happening in this cover art.
Writer: Peter Milligan

Artist: Mikel Janin

Collects: Justice League #1-6

Background Information:
This is a version of the Justice League that, to my knowledge, hasn’t existed before. It’s also one of the only New 52 Justice League launch title that doesn’t feature Batman as part of the lineup.
Instead, the Justice League Dark is made up of magic-based characters who haven’t really been in DC’s spotlight. Most of them are characters that formerly belonged to DC’s Vertigo imprint; the magical detective/conman John Constantine, the reality-bending alien Shade. Others have been a marginal part of the DC universe for years, though; the magician Zantanna and the body-possessing ghost Deadman. It’s a group of heroes that have a bit of a cult following, no pun intended.


For a DC title that features some lesser-known characters, Justice League Dark has been more successful than the big wigs at DC seem to think it should be. The series is still going strong with no signs of being cancelled in the near future. That’s because, unlike other Justice League titles that have failed to have the same sticking power (Here’s looking at you, Justice League International), Justice League Dark’s writer, Peter Milligan actually seems to love the characters he’s writing.

"This isn't even the weirdest thing that's happened to us..."
In the Dark comes as part of DC’s horror subset, placing it alongside titles such as Animal Man, Swamp Thing and Resurrection Man. As such, the plot predictably runs the “grotesque stuff happens, heroes need to stop it” line. I’d be doing the plot a disservice if I left it at that though; an evil sorceress known only as the Enchantress is seeking her other half, that means sending clones of this other half running all over the world raising hell. A clairvoyant named Madame Xanadu decides that the only way to save the world is to bring together the most power magical heroes in the world.

That sounds like a run-of-the-mill style plot, but Milligan peppers it with some great moments of characterisation. The stand-out here has to be Shade, whose can create whole people with his reality-bending ability. The way he uses these abilities more often than not serve an emotional need more than anything, but the result is these fantastic glimpses into the psyche of a man (alien?) who is deeply troubled, but wants to do the right thing.

Another great one here, appropriately, is John Constantine. There were points when I was wondering if he had any real magical ability at all- he mostly steals spell from other sorcerers to use to cheat people out of money. His magical knowledge, though is fantastic. This all gets wrapped up in an irreverent, cockney ego that is heaps of fun to read.

My problem with In the Dark is that it uses quite a bit of sexual innuendo, and even some sexualisation of its female characters. If you thought Zatanna looked a little trampy before reading this collection, you’re in for a surprise. She shows a lot more skin here and is even seen after a one-night-stand with Constantine (though, to be fair, it’s more subtle here than it was in books like Catwoman). As for sexual innuendo, it gets a little overused by Deadman; who tries to use his possession of others for some pretty creepy reasons. What bothers me about all of this is that Milligan has written some really great characters here. They didn’t need to use sexualisation of anything to make this team work as well as it does and the result is that these moments feel juvenile.
And oddly, Deadman's the only character in this book with
a girlfriend. Let it sink in that you're officially less attractive
than a dead guy.

DC’s horror subset of books has had some excellent art in other titles that I've read, and here is no different. Weirdly-shaped panels combine with deft use of light and shadow to create something really special here. All the scary parts look scary, and that is the best praise I can afford it.

In the Dark is an excellent entry-point for those wanting to look at DC’s horror collection. It gets a four out of five grotesque things.


+ Milligan writes some great characters

+ Art is scary when it should be

- So much sexualisation

Alternate Option: Swamp Thing: Raise Them Bones

A great introduction to Swamp Thing and an excellent horror title in its own right.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Batwing Vol. 1: The Lost Kingdom (The New 52) Review

Batwing Vol. 1: The Lost Kingdom (The New 52)

Metal Batman outrunning Apache
helicopters in Africa. Your argument
is invalid.
Writer: Judd Winick

Artist: Ben Oliver

Collects: Batwing #1-6

Background Information:

There was a time when Bruce Wayne had disappeared from Gotham City, leaving his protégé Dick Greyson to take the mantle of Batman. When Bruce returned, he returned with a vision: a global network of Batman allies- people who had taken the mantle of the bat all over the world. That’s where Batwing comes in. Batwing is David Zavimbe, a former child soldier for an African Warlord in the Congo. Long since escaped from his oppressors, David takes on the tech-armour of Batwing to take down those who would let the Congo descend into war again.

Apparently DC’s Congo is more peaceful than the real one.


At first, it struck me as strange that Batwing was still going while Nightwing was getting cancelled. Surely, Nightwing is a far more popular character than this African knock-off, right? After reading The Lost Kingdom, however, I have conceded that Batwing has definitely earned his place in DC’s New 52.

If you're a bat-character, you need to have a
statement to that effect.
So in this volume, Batwing’s chasing someone called Massacre; a guy wielding dual machetes who really wants to see a former superhero group called The Kingdom dead. As he tracks Massacre down, Batwing  gives us glimpses into his past as a child soldier and starts to discover the ugly truth about The Kingdom.

Alright, when dealing with race in comics, you have to be careful these days. Somehow, you need to make your lineup diverse without it seeming like gratuitous “diversity for the sake of it”. Never mind the fact that white characters need no justification for their race; if you’re an Arab, Asian, Hispanic, or anything other than a white American, you’d better have a damn good reason for not being so, or you’re just playing the race card. Batwing gets around this by its very unique setting. Africa is full of, well, Africans, so the most likely candidate for a superhero is probably going to be black. But David isn’t a hero just because there is no white guy around; his skill comes from his time under a warlord. This is one of those times when race actually does matter; I doubt Batwing would have had the same punch if David were a white dude who ended up a child soldier, so the whole thing feels rather natural. Not even the most arrogant racist could fault this one artistically.

But that isn’t what makes The Lost Kingdom great. While reading, you get the feeling that writer Judd Winick actually understands the Congo; he seems to get the great political unrest and the many dangers that surround that part of the world. Granted, this is coming from a guy whose only knowledge of African warlords comes from the Kony 2012 campaign and The Gods Must Be Crazy, but it’s still one of the rare comics that actually makes you feel smarter for reading it. You somehow feel like you’ve gained a greater insight into the world just by finishing this volume. Marvel fans often boast that because much of their action is based in New York, rather than, say, Gotham. But I would be so bold as to say that there is more of the real world in Batwing than in any Marvel comic currently on the shelves.

I know DC said you'd get your own book,
My only qualm with Batwing is that it feels like it has to include Batman to be legitimate. DC were so close to having a great, relatively new, ethnic character who didn’t need to stand on the shoulders of other characters, but ruined it a little by reminding readers that DC also does Batman. And no; he doesn’t actually need to be here. It may as well have been one of The Kingdom, which I would have liked to see more. I like Batman, I really do, but if DC keep using him everywhere, he’s going to turn into Wolverine; which would cheapen the guy beyond belief.

Art by Ben Oliver is perfect considering the setting. Somehow, you can feel the African dry heat radiating off the pages. Straight away, you can tell that you’re not in the US- it looks like what you would expect Africa to look like.  Some fairly minimalist background designs in parts helps keep the focus on the action, and Batwing looks just as dynamic and awesome as you’d expect.

The Lost Kingdom does diversity perfectly. Batwing almost stands entirely on his own two feet here, and that’s insanely refreshing. It gets a four and a half out of five race cards.

**** ½
+ Diversity done right

+ Excellent setting

+ Art conveys a real sense of the location

- Does Batman need to be in every DC book? NO!

Alternate Option: Static Shock

Okay, it’s actually nowhere near as good, but if you’re desperate for a non-white hero, you could do worse (you could do Mr. Terrifc... urgh, what a train wreck).

Friday, 2 May 2014

Batman- Detective Comics Vol. 1: Faces of Death (The New 52) Review

When you can't afford a bouquet, say it
with severed heads.
Writer/Artist: Tony S Daniel

Collects: Batman- Detective Comics #1-7

Background Information:

Batman, if anything, is Detective Comics. The man we know as the Dark Knight made his debut 75 years ago in the series in Detective Comics #27.

Since then, Batman’s gone through multiple transformations. He stopped using guns, he started employing 12-year-olds as sidekicks, and went from a black cape to a blue one and back to a black one. But throughout Batman’s entire lifespan, Detective Comics has been there, focussing on mystery over action and intrigue over fisticuffs. To say it’s a big deal would be an understatement.


For the one title that should really be central to understanding who Batman is, Faces of Death gives the impression of having no idea who Batman is at all. A strong plot is let down by essentially awful scripting that the rather average artwork does nothing to conceal.
The guy has multiple cars, motorcycles, jets, helicopters and
even a hang-glider, yet we're treated to page-spreads of this

So Faces of Death focuses on a villain known as the Dollmaker; a man who has a sick penchant for takingBatman Vol. 1: The Court of Owls, except here, it’s got a lot more significance to future Batman (specifically, Death of the Family), and the mystery surrounding the Dollmaker is interesting.His hobbies include capturing people, cutting them up and putting their pieces back together in Frankenstein’s monster-styled freakshows. The plotline itself is rather good, it teases the Joker in much the same way that Scott Snyder did in

The problem, though, is that while Tony S Daniel is a fantastic plotter, he’s a less-than-average scripter.

Faces of Death is peppered by some of the most awful dialogue I have read in a comic. Right off the bat (pun intended, but it’s not hyperbole, it’s literally on the first page), we’re treated with such gems as “his MO changes with the wind... and it’s been windy in Gotham.” If that line doesn’t make you cringe, you have a problem. Unfortunately, it’s not something that gets better, we’re later treated to lines like Bruce’s “I can see them [his love interest’s eyes] and they’re shooting daggers,” to which the love interest replies with “Then kiss me before you bleed to death.” They’re the most obvious examples of poor scripting, but Tony S. Daniel continues with that standard throughout the book, creating more melodrama than mysterious intrigue and lowering any interest that’s likely to come out of the mystery.

In short, Tony S Daniel writes the plot like it’s designed for Christian Bale’s Batman, yet scripts for Adam West, and that disharmony shows.

I never thought I’d see the day when a Batman story would entertain me less than Battle for the Cowl (also written by Tony S Daniel) did. Yet, here I am today, writing about a story that was, quite honestly, poorly scripted. The art, unfortunately, doesn’t alleviate any of those problems. It’s decent; Tony S Daniel draws a good Batman, but it’s neither anywhere near the standard set by Greg Capullo in the titular Batman book nor does it really get a chance to shine due to Daniel’s poor scripting.

Foreshadowing? What's Foreshadowing?
I don't know this word Foreshadowing?
I think the big problem for Tony S Daniel is that he tries to be both writer and artist on too many story arcs. He, in particular, needs to choose a side. He strikes me as someone who is overworked on this title, and cannot admit that he needs to cut down. Like I said, the plot for Faces of Death is solid, but scripting suffers because Daniel seems to want to control every aspect of this book. Comics are team efforts and they’re best when two very different people and that’s something that the big guns at DC haven’t understood here.

Faces of Death has potential, and I can’t see it going anywhere, but this volume isn’t the strongest testimony to the legacy of Detective Comics it gets a two out of five windy moments in Gotham.

Urgh... what a line!


+ Plotted well

- Scripted poorly

- Art doesn’t distract from script

Alternate Option: Batman: The Court of Owls

When this story is going around, it’s weird that you would consider anything else.