Thursday, September 27, 2012

What We're Reading 28/09/12

This is what happens when grad school kicks in. Best intentions lead to missed opportunities, and I keep forgetting to update the list of what we're reading.

Obviously, a lot of what I said in that "Coming Soon" post from a few months ago. Courtney and I would still like to do a podcast, but between finishing grad school and planning our wedding, we've got a lot going on. Once the wedding happens and we're out of school, then we'll talk podcasts.

In the meantime, here's the current list of the monthly comics we're reading, when they actually decide to come out month-to-month *coughSAGAcough*

What We're Reading - 28/09/12

  • Animal Man (DC)
  • Archer & Armstrong (Valiant)
  • Batgirl (DC)
  • Bloodshot (Valiant)
  • Captain Marvel (Marvel)
  • Debris (Image)
  • Dial H (DC)
  • Earth-2 (DC)
  • Happy! (Image)
  • Harbinger (Valiant)
  • Hit-Girl (Icon)
  • The Hypernaturals (BOOM)
  • Higher Earth (BOOM)
  • Justice League Dark (DC)
  • The Manhattan Projects (Image)
  • Phantom Lady and Doll Man (DC)
  • Prophet (Image)
  • Saga (Image)
  • Swamp Thing (DC)
  • Wonder Woman (DC)
  • World's Finest (DC)
  • X-O Manowar (Valiant)
Oh and before I forget, GO WATCH DREDD 3D! 

Justice League Dark #0: Constantine, You Gotta Love the Bastard

Justice League Dark #0
"Young Bastards"
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Lee Garbett
Inker: Cam Smith, et al.

Alright, it's time I do the Werner Herzog and eat my own shoe.

I said some not so nice things about Justice League Dark #11, dropped the book from my pull list, and was ready to walk away from this title without looking back.

Then I heard some good buzz surrounding this issue, which tells the origin of everyone's favourite magical bastard, John Constantine, and decided to give this title another chance.

I'm glad that I did. This issue doesn't so much tell the origin of Constantine as it does explain where he gained most of his power from, and how he and Zatanna first met. Basically, Constantine shows up in New York in what looks like the 1980s, seeks out the best mage in the city, a sorceror named Nick Necro, convinces him to teach him the dark arts. Then he steals Necro's girl, Zatanna, and after the two have a falling out, Constantine kills the bloke: because that's what a bastard like Constantine does. It's a smart retelling of Constantine's origins that stays true to the character's roots while also manages to connect to the larger story arc that Lemire has been building since he took over this book from Peter Milligan.

On that subject, Lemire has been building a very good team book on Justice League Dark. His character work has been very consistent, adding additional layers and depth to the characters and their stories with each new issue. Despite what's still an unfortunately awful title (seriously, can't we just give this book a new name?), Justice League Dark is becoming one of the strongest team books from DC and after reading these more recent issues, I think I'm enjoying this book even more than Animal Man. This story finally reveals the history between Constantine and Zatanna, and explains the . source of the romantic tension that has been between the two since the series began.

Lee Garbett's art in this particular issue is great. He has this cartoonish style that really fits the magical underworld that Constantine and Zatanna inhabit. There is some nice panel work that breaks up the action but doesn't distract from what's going on. It's a clean, professional art style that features simple line work, but manages to be very expressive when it needs to be. Mikel Janin's art was what kept me reading the title throughout Milligan's run, so I'm not in any hurry to see him leave the book, but I would absolutely be into having Garbett do an occasional fill-in issue.

So there it is. I take back what I said previously about this book. It's quite entertaining and you shouldn't let a bastard like me or Constantine spoil your fun. Read this book and enjoy one of the best issues from DC's Zero Month.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Rose & Thorn One-Shot

Rose & Thorn 
Writer: Tom Taylor
Artist: Neil Googe
Cover: Ryan Sook
DC Comics

I knew I was going to buy this comic as soon as I flipped through the first four pages.  The first page shows four solid panels: a star with streamers, green shapes, flowing red hair, and a mouth screaming.  It looks like something out of Sailor Moon.  Then, she wakes up in an incredibly pink, preppy room full of stuffed animals (Wonder Woman stuffie!), books, and pictures.  I was initially skeptical, to say the least.  But then, she throws off her blankets and discovers that her stomach and hands are covered in blood!

I was hooked.

 This comic is a page-turner.  It's tightly-written and drives you on to the next page and the next to find out what on earth is going on.  I was honestly disappointed to get to the last page and realize (again) that this is only a one-shot.  Christian was telling me that DC may turn it into a series depending on sales.  Here's hoping!

However, I'm not a fan of the art.  It has its moments; some panels look like they're right out of Joe Hill's Locke and Key, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez.  Unfortunately, in other panels, their lips are bizarrely shaped and their square jaws make the girls look like men with long hair.  There are also a few hints of manga, like the over-exaggerated screaming and smiling mouths. 

I did expect Thorn to dress a lot differently from Rose, rather than just emphasizing the slutty school girl look.  That's really my only problem with this issue: Thorn uses her sexuality to get what she wants and she uses her sexuality just for the sake of proving she's a "bad" girl.  Granted, she is a villain in the original series, but why couldn't she have a real power (like the original) rather than just being sexy?  It just seems to perpetuate the idea that there is a bad girl inside every goody-two-shoes who wears a uniform to her prep school.

Still, I would be very curious to see how this would turn out in a series.  It could be really great, especially if Thorn does have a power, or if Rose does.  I'd like to see how Rose handles her other personality and whether she takes steps to restrain her, or disguise her, or if she just lets it ride.

I'd say, pick it up if you're curious!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Wonder Woman: To Continue or Not to Continue?

I have now read Wonder Woman: Issues #1-6 and #0.  I'm really enjoying it so far and I somehow managed to block the knowledge that Superman and Wonder Woman are going to become a couple.  While reading the first six issues, I just couldn't reconcile the Wonder Woman in those issues to the Wonder Woman who ends up with Superman.  That prospect just seems so foreign to what I've been reading.  I don't see how she goes from seeing the bad things that happen to her mother and Zola after sleeping with powerful men to deciding that it would be a GREAT idea to hook up with another powerful man.  At least Superman is an alien and not Zeus?  He's also not married to a vengeful goddess, so that might help.

So, the question is, do I catch up to the current issue?

I love the mythology involved in this comic and the way the various gods are portrayed.  Poseidon as a HUGE sea monster? So cool! Hades as a child with dripping candles on his head? Did not see that one coming!  Hermes as an alien-looking being? Very cool!

I really have no complaints about the first six issues.  I love this artist's portrayal of Wonder Woman.  I've never been much of a Wonder Woman fan because I find her costume ridiculous (why is she STILL wearing a bathing suit?) and she ends up just looking odd, somehow.  But the angular lines of her face and her body build (broad shoulders, long, thin legs) done by this artist really work in her favor.  She is both tall and imposing, as well as womanly.

I blazed through those seven issues in about an hour.  As soon as I put one down, I was going straight to the next one.  I am really curious to find out about how she deals with Hades kidnapping Zola. 

However, I'm leaving it to you, readers: do I keep reading Wonder Woman?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Birds of Prey #0: Christian Takes on these Kick-Ass Birds

Birds of Prey #0
Writer: Duane Swierczynski
Artist: Romano Molenarr
Inker: Vicente Cifuentes

I have to fess up: I've never read an issue of Birds of Prey before. I know, I know. I've heard great things, especially about Gail Simone's run on the series, but at the time she was writing it I just wasn't reading DC Comics. I never saw the ill-fated WB series either.

When DC launched the New 52 last September, Birds of Prey just wasn't one of the comics I picked up. I didn't have the budget for it, I hadn't read any of Duane Swierczynski's work (prior to his current run on Bloodshot), and I wasn't previously a fan of any of the characters in the series. Therefore, it went unread by me, until Courtney picked this book up today because it had a cameo appearance by Batgirl.

As a single issue comic, I have to say I really enjoyed it, even though I don't really know more about the Birds of Prey and their team members than when I first started reading.

This is sort of the problem with these #0 origin issues. They're meant to act as a jumping on point for new readers, but they're also interrupting the regular schedule of the books, forcing fans to wait another month while the storyline goes back in time to show how everything began. That's what this issue does, it shows the series of events that lead to Black Canary and Starling to team up with Batgirl and form the Birds of Prey.

Still, as a new reader to this book, I don't really know anything about these characters other than Black Canary has sonic powers and Starling likes to slap her on the bum occasionally.

Swierczyski is a very underrated writer in my opinion, and his storytelling in this issue reminds me of Gail Simone's work on Batgirl. It's really refreshing to actually spend some time reading a comic book, rather than just speeding through large-scale decompressed action scenes like in so many mainstream comics. The story is narrated through Black Canary's inner monologue, and while some might find this to be an outdated storytelling method, I think it's great. Even if I don't know much about Black Canary's history, I know what's going on inside her head, and I love that.

I'm not familiar with any of Romano Molenaar's previous artwork, and while I wasn't really wowed by the art in this issue, I thought it served the story fairly well. The structuring of the panels is odd. It seems to be house style lately at DC to fragment the panels on the page with no rhyme or reason except to emphasize whatever actions seem appropriate at the time, but it's not nearly as all over the place as say, Red Hood and the Outlaws.Molenaar's character work is pretty good though. The women in this comic manage to be both muscular and sexy without being objectified, with the sole exception being one "pause for the camera" pose near the end of the issue.

I can see how this issue might not be effective in bringing in new readers to Birds of Prey, but I enjoyed it. Birds of Prey is a comic that deliberately mixes high octane action with sex positive feminism, and I can get behind that.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Dial H #0: Bumper Carla VS the Beast of Babylon

Dial H #0
"Sundial H for Hero"
Writer: China Mieville
Artist: Ricardo Burchielli

Dial H has consistently been my favorite ongoing title from DC. It features the same unpredictability and weird, stream-of-consciousness storytelling that typified the best of Grant Morrison's early Vertigo books, particularly his run on Doom Patrol, and is one of the only comics that makes me laugh out loud every time I read it.

It's zero issue month at DC this September, and every book is focusing on the origin of its titular character. True to the spirit of this book, Dial H #0 doesn't give us the origin of any one character, so much as it reveals the origins of the mystical H Dial itself.

As it turns out, the H Dial was originally a giant sundial created by a Babylonian woman named Laodice, who saw the design of the dial in a "true dream."

Laodice and her servants struggle to build the sundial as the Babylonian army are massacred by a creature called Mushusshu, the Beast of Babylon, and just as Mushusshu reaches the dial, Laodice is transformed by its powers into...Bumper Carla! That's right, Bumper Carla, a domino-masked wearing heroine that drives a super-charged bumper car.

If I would have been drinking something when I first read that, I would have done a spit-take.

Bumper Carla defeats the Beast of Babylon, and then transforms back into Laodice, who is hailed as a Queen and protector of the Empire. The plot moves forward a few years, and Laodice is visited by a friend who has spent years searching for her "magic chariot."

We learn that Laodice destroyed the sundial which transformed her into Bumper Carla, and that her friend isn't Laodice's only visitor; a mysterious stranger who came to see the Queen was imprisoned for wizardry, and apparently knows something about the magic dial.

Without spoiling the entire issue, let me say that this issue did a great job of showing us the origin of the H Dial without giving away all the mystery of how it works and why. There is still a lot to learn about where characters like Bumper Carla and Chimney Boy come from, and how the H Dial brings them into our world.

This is Ricardo Burchielli's first issue of Dial H, and I don't know if he's taking over for Mateus Santolouco or not, but I thought his art fit this issue fairly well. It wasn't fantastic and if I had to nitpick I'm sure I could find things, but Bumper Carla had a great design and her appearance in the book gave it a much needed boost in the art department. Whoever does the art needs to be flexible, and Burchielli's contrast between Babylonian period details and carnival superheroics showcases that flexibility very well.

Dial H #0 is not an origin issue that a casual reader could pick up and understand how it connects to the larger narrative, but it would give new readers a good idea of just how strange, funny and unexpectedly poignant this series can be.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Advance Review: Archer & Armstrong #2

Archer & Armstrong #2
Writer: Fred Van Lente
Artist: Clayton Henry
Color Art: Matt Milla

I enjoyed Archer & Armstrong's debut last month, but I know a lot of people had their issues with it. After reading this second issue, I think that Archer & Armstrong is Valiant's biggest shot at a mainstream comics hit.

Archer & Armstrong does a great job of mixing humour with globe-trotting adventure, martial arts action, and a heavy dose of satire directed mostly at conspiracy theory nuts who can't get enough of hack genre fare like The Da Vinci Code or the National Treasure movies.

This issue finds Archer & Armstrong making a temporary alliance to find the pieces of the Boon before The Sect (aka The 1% aka The Cult of Mammon) can. They travel to Italy and meet a tommy-gun toting nun named Tommy who helps them break into the secret Vatican vaults (of course) which contains another piece of the Boon, but not before encountering the The Sisters of Perpetual Darkness, black-eyed ninja nuns who lurk in secret Vatican crypts and who may-or-may not be vampires, it's hard to tell honestly.

Like many of the artists in the Valiant relaunch, Clayton Henry is someone I'd never heard of before, but who is doing a great job on this title. More than any other book, Archer & Armstrong reminds me of a Marvel comic book in terms of style and tone, and while that might not appeal to readers of Harbinger or Bloodshot, it has a better chance I think of appealing to readers outside of Valiant's hardcore fan base.

I wouldn't want every Valiant book to be like this, as I'm currently loving the more realistic take on science fiction featured in Bloodshot and Harbinger, but it's a nice change of pace and a hell of a lot more fun than most books I'm reading from Marvel and DC these days.

If none of the other Valiant comics have appealed to you so far, give Archer & Armstrong a try. If you are following the other Valiant titles, then let me tell you that this is one comic you don't want to miss.