Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Review: Swamp Thing Annual #1

Swamp Thing Annual #1

Writers: Scott Snyder & Scott Tuft
Artist: Becky Cloonan
DC Comics

This issue was a breath of fresh air.  I haven't exactly been silent on my feelings regarding the overall direction of Swamp Thing and Animal Man since the New 52 began.   Initially, I loved that both of these books were essentially superhero horror stories, and I really enjoyed the interconnectedness between the two titles.  However, as the months settled, these books started to feel stagnant, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that they've essentially been facing the same mutual antagonist since day one: The Rot.  This lead into the Rotworld crossover, which I was initially excited for, but the delay brought on by Zero Month has made this crossover seem like its stalling.  These titles are just barely keeping me interested, especially as this crossover is scheduled to drag on into February 2013.  And in comes this issue, with guest co-writer Scott Tuft and art by the always wonderful Becky Cloonan.

Full disclosure: Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan's miniseries Demo was one of the first graphic novels I ever bought.  I have been fan of Becky's art ever since, so my capacity to judge her art objectively is somewhat blinded by the fact that I am an unabashed fan.

Along those same lines, Scott Snyder and Scott Tuft's 2011 collaboration, Severed, was one of my favorite comics of last year, so as soon as I heard that Tuft co-writing this issue, I started getting chills.

So it pains me to say that this issue is a bit of a mixed bag.

Most of this issue takes place outside of the main story of the Rotworld crossover, and this is where the issue really shines.  The introduction and conclusion of the story are pencilled by Andrew Belanger and take place within the Rotworld story, although not exactly from where Issue #13 left off, and well, it just serves to remind me of how tired I am of the whole storyline involving The Rot.  Once we're past that intro, and the story focuses on Alec Holland and Abby Arcane's first meeting, the issue really starts to take off and reminds me of why I love these characters.

It's difficult to describe the tone and atmosphere of this issue.  I'd say it's a cross between a romance comic and an EC horror book.  Most of the issue just focuses on Abby and Alec's first date, and it's exactly as charming and sweet as you'd think a story about star-crossed lovers drawn by Becky Cloonan would be...and then Anton Arcane is shown skinning a hanged man so he can wear his body like a meat-suit.

Wow, that got dark quickly.

Despite the abrupt shift in tone and genre however, the story and the art just work.  This is the best art I've seen in Swamp Thing, actually, any DC Comic, since Yanick Paquette left as the full-time artist on this book.  It's a real shame she isn't staying on this book longer, which is the same I'd say for Scott Tuft as co-writer.  Clearly, he and Snyder share the same horror sensibilities.  Though much of this issue is really light-hearted and romantic, this issue gets downright scary, much more than in any previous issue of Swamp Thing.

If Scott Snyder can leave The Rot storyline behind and bring Tuft on as a co-writer full time, it might be enough to keep me interested.  Anton Arcane has turned out to be a genuinely frightening threat, but crossover fatigue is keeping me from being excited about this book any more.  I know it sounds like backhanded praise, but if you've been feeling like I have about Swamp Thing, I'd recommend you pick this issue up. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Christian's Week in Comics 17/10/12: Marvel Point One, Harbinger #5, Captain Marvel #5

Marvel NOW! Point One
Writers: Various
Artists: Various

So since I enjoyed Uncanny Avengers a lot more than I expected, I've decided to give some of the Marvel NOW! books a chance, starting with the latest Point One issue.  First off, holy crap. This thing cost $5.99! I don't care if it's 64 pgs. For something that is basically just a glorified Previews catalog, I'm stunned. I bought it, because I'm a sucker, but damn Marvel.

So what did I think? Well, let's just say that out of the six titles previewed in this issue, at least four are on my Watch List and two are instant buys when their first issues come out. All in all, I thought it was pretty okay.

Nick Spencer and Luke Ross' Secret Avengers story didn't interest me in the least. This didn't surprise me, as I'm no fan of Spencer's writing in general. It's an overly talky scene that tries too hard to be clever and doesn't leave me wanting more. Moving on: Bendis and McNiven's Guardians of the Galaxy teased the new origins of Peter Quill, Starlord, but didn't leave me wanting more either. Instead, it just left me wondering why Bendis is writing Marvel Cosmic stories. Hmm. Is it just me, or have the Skrull's uniforms and weapons been retconned to make them look more like the Chitauri?

A big surprise for me was Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness' take on the new, kid-friendly Nova. I was expecting to hate this, but as it turns out, it was one of my favorite stories in the book. A small, self-contained adventure with Nova squaring off against one of his predecessors enemies, Diamondhead. Loeb seems to be having fun with this character, and that exuberance also comes across in McGuiness' cartooning, which is in fine form. I never thought I'd be saying this, but I am excited for a Jeph Loeb comic.

Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie and Mike Norton's Young Avengers was the highlight of the issue for me. Watching Miss America throttle Kid Loki over a plate of Korean BBQ was a thing of beauty. As it stands, this is one of my most anticipated titles of the relaunch. I will buy this without hesitation.

Matt Fraction and The Allred's FF story featuring Scott Lang as Ant-Man was a tragicomic story with some great art, but the more I thought about the odd storytelling choices and character motivations, the more I decided I didn't like it as much as my first impressions suggested. Lang wants revenge at Dr. Doom for killing his daughter, and he decides to vandalize his art show? Really? I love Mike and Laura Allred's work, but Fraction is on thin ice with me. This is a wait-and-see title.

Closing out this issue was a story previewing Cable and the X-Force by Dennis Hopeless and Gabriel Hernandez Walta, which is weird, because I'm pretty sure Salvador Larocca is scheduled to be the artist on the actual series. Again, I have to admit I'm shocked. Cable and the X-Force was not a comic I was looking forward to at all, but this weird little story featuring a future-shocked Forge repairing his own broken mind (I think?) and then ending the story with Cable and his little withered arm, was a strange but pleasant little surprise. This is definitely a title I'll be looking into when it debuts in December, and I haven't been excited about Cable since I was 10.

So there you have it. At $5.99, this is a steeply priced set of Previews, but at least 65% of the book was worth it, and now I'm excited about a handful of titles that I'm now looking forward to.

Harbinger #5
Writer: Joshua Dysart
Artist: Khari Evans

Five issues in, and I think it's safe to say that Harbinger is my favorite title of the Valiant relaunch. Everything about this book excites me. The complicated drama, the intense level of emotion poured into the characters, the awesome display of psychic powers, and the complex real-world politics that the book deals with on a regular basis.

This was the most intense, action-filled issue of Harbinger yet. Grieving and full of rage after discovering the body of his murdered friend Joe, Pete Stanchek takes the fight directly to Harada, but of course things get more complicated than that. For more of this series, I have been very critical of Pete's actions and have found him to be a very selfish and destructive character. And yet, when he tells Harada, "the thing you've never understood about me Harada, [is] I was born to die" struck me as such a tragic statement that completely underscores where Pete is coming from.

As a person who has spent most of his life in institutions and struggling to survive in poverty on the streets, Pete's entire life has been one of desperate, leading towards death. He's never really known love (except when he forced Kris to love him), and barely knows how to respond to basic kindness. Pete is a damaged person, but he isn't worthless and he can't just be used like some pawn on a giant chess board. Pete's always known that life was a brutal game and he's been on the losing team since birth.

That's a long way of saying you should definitely be reading Harbinger. It is one of the best comics on the stands currently, and is more essential and relevant than anything being currently published by Marvel or DC.

Captain Marvel #5
Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick 
Artist: Emma Rios

I was very critical of the first issue of the relaunched Captain Marvel series. Unfairly so. I am happy to report that this comic has been steadily improving with every issue. This issue continues where the last one left off, with Carol Danvers trapped in the past and trying to befriend her hero, who sees her more as competition than a comrade. The writing in this book has gotten much better. The rhetoric I complained of in the first issue has been toned down considerably, but this book is no less about women kicking ass in World War II. It's awesome.

Another improvement in this issue is the art by Emma Rios. Hers is the kind of expressive, impressionist art I'd expect more from an Image book than a Marvel comic. I love it, with one caveat: what the hell is wrong with Carol's face? Seriously. I am over the costume. I think the costume is bad-ass. Seeing photos of people cosplaying in the new Captain Marvel suit convinced me that it is an improvement over the Ms. Marvel getup. Seriously though, Carol's face in this issue is messed up.

I've been reading comics with a domino-mask wearing Danvers for years, and I never had a hard time recognizing her face. In this issue, there were several times when I lost track of who the hell she was. I understand that each artist wants to put their own individual stamp on the character, I get that, but at least try to make the character's facial features somewhat consistent with past appearances.

These minor gripes aside, this was a pretty good book, and makes me hope that someone at Marvel Studios has plans for Carol Danvers. I would love to see Captain Marvel in Avengers 2 or Guardians of the Galaxy.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Christian's Week in Comics 10/10/12: Uncanny Avengers, Frankenstein, Archer and Armstrong and More!

I liked doing the mini-reviews so much last week that I think I'm going to stick with this format for a while, although, given how fickle I am, we'll see. So, what did I read this week? Well, let's find out!

Uncanny Avengers #1
Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: John Cassaday

For someone who never read AvX, I got into Uncanny Avengers really quickly. Cyclops is the new Magneto, The Red Skull is experimenting on Mutants and has the brain of Charles Xavier, and Captain America approaches Havoc about leading a new team that will represent Xavier's dream of cooperation between mutants and humans. As someone who has been waiting for both an Avengers and an X-Men title to jump into, this is the perfect book for me. The team hasn't really been formed yet, but I'm loving the mix of old-school Avengers with classic X-Men. It's also nice to see Scarlet Witch in an Avengers book again. Please Marvel, don't let Bendis anywhere near this character ever again.

While I'd never read anything by Rick Remender before, what sold me on this comic was the art of John Cassaday. Cassaday is one of my favorite artists. His run on Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men is maybe some of my favorite X-Men art ever, and Planetary is one of my favorite comic book series of all time. Needless to say, I have high hopes for this series as well. Some people have complained about the look of Captain America's costume, but I didn't mind it, nor do I have any issue with Thor's costume being the redesign from the Avengers film. My only gripe with this issue was Wolverine's speech. I'm not sure what Remender is going for with Wolverine's voice. He doesn't sound Canadian, that's for sure. Again, it's a minor gripe, but I'm hoping he'll find the character's voice soon, since that lackluster bit of exposition was overshadowed entirely by Havoc's conversation with Cyclops, who is looking like a future-shocked Hannibal Lecter in that containment helm they've got covering his eyes. Overall, I am really optimistic about this series and can't wait to see what Remender and Cassaday deliver next.

Phantom Stranger #1
Writer: Dan Didio
Artist (s): Brent Anderson and Philip Tan

I was going to pass on this issue after being bored by last month's Phantom Stranger #0, until I flipped through the book and saw the art. Brent Anderson and Philip Tan's collaboration on art duties here gives this issue a very old-school DC horror vibe. It looks like a comic from another era. The problem is that it reads like one too. Nothing really happens in this comic. Phantom Stranger shows up, saves Raven from Trigon's followers, only to hand her over to...Trigon? Why? Phantom Stranger is apparently doomed to betray people for a greater good, but when you know that's the setup going in it makes for a very boring comic. This is a series that I want to like. I love DC's classic supernatural characters, like Phantom Stranger, Dr. Fate and The Spectre, but this comic is just DULL.

Archer & Armstrong #3
Writer: Fred Van Lente
Artist: Clayton Henry

I had some reservations about this series when it began. It seemed like Fred Van Lente was picking on Christians as an easy target for broad satirical comedy. This issue rectifies that and solidifies the premise and the bond between these two characters in a way that anyone, Christian, Atheist, or otherwise, can get into provided their open-minded enough. A sense of humour also helps. The issue continues where the last one left off, with Archer and Armstrong fighting off Lilith-worshiping ninja nuns beneath the Vatican in search of one of the pieces of The Boon.

Clayton Henry's pencils are very good. He doesn't try anything too crazy, but manages to change up his art style as the tone of the book demands, whether it's an action-packed page or a slapstick joke that lasts only a panel. I especially enjoy his clean lines, which Matt Milla's colouring compliments very nicely. This is a really fun book, and I think even those who aren't interested in the other Valiant titles might find something to enjoy here. If you were a fan of Fred Van Lente's Incredible Hercules run at Marvel, this is the book for you.

Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #13
Writer: Matt Kindt
Artist: Alberto Ponticelli

I read the first couple issues of Frankenstein when the New 52 came out, but quickly lost interest. I only picked up this issue because it ties into the Rotworld crossover taking place in Animal Man and Swamp Thing, but I'm very glad that I did. Basically, Victor Frankenstein was resurrected by the competing powers of The Red and The Green, but decided instead to serve Arcane and The Rot. He has a mystical object called a "Soul-Grinder" that he used to create Frankenstein (the monster), and Frankenstein now has to get the Soul-Grinder and help fight the Rotworld invasion. Why? Because Frankenstein is already undead and therefore the Rot can't corrupt him.

I don't know when exactly Matt Kindt took over this title, but he managed capture the voices of these characters very effectively. Victor is exactly the kind of pompous egoist that he should be, and Frankenstein is great as the reluctant hero. He's less talkative in this issue than in the ones I read by Jeff Lemire, and reminds me more of his portrayal in Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers of Victory, which I love. I don't know if Ponticelli is the regular artist on this title. I'd never seen his art outside of Dial H, but I really like the work he's doing here. I'll keep reading these Frankenstein Rotworld tie-ins and see whether I want to keep reading after that.

Can we quit putting those Arrow advertisements on the cover though, please DC? Pretty please?

The Secret Service #4
Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: Dave Gibbons

I didn't even realize that I still had this comic on my pull list. After trashing the last issue here on the blog, I thought I'd dropped it. Well, I'm glad that I didn't. I don't know what it was, but this issue really turned the series around for me. After stealing Jack's spy car and taking it for a joyride, Gary is given a second chance at turning his life around, but he has to make it all the way from Columbia in his underwear to M16 headquarters in London by midnight. Mark Millar hasn't been relying on the same shock tactics in this series as he has in other recent works (see: Kick Ass 2, Super Crooks), and its refreshing here. This is a classic James Bond spy adventure that openly engages with the politics of class implicit in the British spy genre. It's also a not-so subtle dig at contemporary British youth, in the book's comparison between one generation's idealized figure of masculinity with the contemporary urban English male. Dave Gibbons art here is masterful. Like Steve Dillon, he's one of those artists who favors minimal lines and realism over a more flashy comic book style, but here Gibbons is really able to showcase his talent for realist comic book storytelling. Great stuff and I look forward to seeing how this series concludes.

"Geekdom is a Nation with Open Borders"

I'm going to take Courtney's lead and start posting more informal blog posts on this, well, blog. And to start with, I'd like to draw your attention to what I think is a great article by author John Scalzi called "Who Gets to be a Geek?" 

Scalzi's article touches on a subject this is very close to home for me. This is getting somewhat personal, but Courtney and I had an argument not to long ago about the sentiment or intention behind the "Idiot Nerd Girl" meme. I'm not going to link it. If you haven't seen it before, Google it. I think as a male geek, I just didn't understand how that meme could be so hurtful, but I do now.

As male and female nerds, both our fanboy/fangirl obsessions initially came from a position of feeling like we were social outcasts as kids. Nerd culture was a safe haven for us, a place where we could indulge our own imaginations and fantasies with whatever obscure popular culture we could find.

But here's the thing: there is no such place. Everything we fantasize about, all of our fictions, have their origins in real life, and our entertainments, whether we want to accept this or not, are products of that world. Using comics as an example, we can see this in a book's use of politics, the depiction of its male and female characters as strong or weak, even the poses of their bodies are political statements. Sex is almost always political. Marvel's Civil War is a comic that was blatantly political, but every comic is representative of the politics and beliefs of its creators. This is why Batman used to carry a gun.

Comics can be very sexist, and self-entitled beta male nerds have shown that they are capable of horrendous misogyny. Especially on the internet. There is something wrong with a culture, any culture, that seeks to exclude women from participating solely on the basis that are women.

It's time to address this problem.

Guys, it's time to grow up. Girls can be nerds too. Girls are super nerdy. Some of the biggest nerds I know are girls. About 50% of my tabletop gaming group is composed of women. One of my best friends drives around with the trunk of her car absolutely FULL of board games (Talisman, Catan, you name it, it's in there). A few weeks ago Courtney spent more money on comics than I did! It's time to let the nerd-girls in and stop acting like they are what is destroying nerd culture, or little kids who think Jar-Jar is cooler than C-3PO, your non-nerd friend who thought the Avengers was cool, and LGBT nerds who want to see characters who represent their orientation. Alan Scott being gay isn't going to destroy comics, and it won't kill you if every superheroine isn't posed like a porn star.

You know what will kill nerd culture? Nerds. Nerds who aggressively try to scare off everyone who might also be interested in nerdy things (even if that's just dressing up in costume) just because they don't meet some kind of special qualifications for being a geek.

This is why I'm boycotting for posting this horrendous comic strip on "The Six Supervillains of Nerd Culture," and will not be buying Batman #13, in which this ad appeared. DC Comics should be ashamed for publishing such a blatantly misogynistic ad in their comic (an ad which, I should mention, didn't appear in this week's issue of Batgirl).

To finish this long rant, here's a quote from Scalzi, who writes:

"Geekdom is a nation with open borders. There are many affiliations and many doors into it. There are lit geeks, media geeks, comics geeks, anime and manga geeks. There are LARPers, cosplayers, furries, filkers, crafters, gamers and tabletoppers. There are goths and horror geeks and steampunkers and academics. There are nerd rockers and writers and artists and actors and fans. Some people love only one thing. Some people flit between fandoms. Some people are positively poly in their geek enthusiasms. Some people have been in geekdom since before they knew they were geeks. Some people are n00bs, trying out an aspect of geekdom to see if it fits. If it does, great. If it doesn’t then at least they tried it."

Sunday, October 7, 2012


Christian found this HUGE collection of Batgirl comics for me at Comic Readers for only five bucks.  This is going to take me at least a year to get through.  I've been reading a few, here and there, usually before bed, when I'm burnt out on theory and other thesis work.

 (I do find it odd that she's doing her makeup while Batman and Robin are kicking some serious bad-guy butt on the cover)

Anyway, the reason I share this with you is because I had no idea that her original costume goes from this:

To this:

Cool, hey?  I especially love the beret-turned bat-mask.  Also, her handbag reverses into her WEAPONS BELT!  That's totally a thing I need.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Mini Reviews!: Axe Cop, World's Finest, Earth 2, The Hypernaturals

I'm a little short for time this week, so instead of doing a review of a single issue like usual, I thought I'd give some brief thoughts on a few of the books I read this week. 

Axe Cop: President of the World (#3 of 3): When I started reading this miniseries, I wondered if I would continue to find its random plot and general silliness as amusing after this third issue. Thankfully, Axe Cop continues to find laughs in the most absurd, childlike plot twists. For example: an ordinary man gets forcibly injected with "the blood of everything," turning him into the villain Every Man, who has the power of--everything? This is exactly the kind of comic book I imagined when I was 8, except perhaps with more knock-offs of 80s slasher villains and some kind of Aeon Flux-y super spy. 

Axe Cop is a simple pleasure, but not a guilty one. If you don't like it, you probably have humour cancer.  

World's Finest #5: I don't disagree with those who say that this book doesn't move the plot forward in any meaningful way, or that it seems to be stalling between the first arc and the next, but you know what? I'm OK with that. For a standalone issue, #5 is packed full of story and art from Jenkins and Perez, and half of that story is so good that it's worth the $2.99 price point by itself. Seriously, Huntress saves a Take Back the Night rally from a woman-hating gunman. How awesome is that? Huntress is becoming my favorite member of the Bat-family, and while Power Girl needs to put some R&D money in designing a costume that doesn't burn off her body every issue (or just GIVE HER BACK HER OLD COSTUME DC), her characterization is great too. Sorry for shouting. 

World's Finest isn't breaking the mold, but it's the kind of fun, good-natured comic that I wish DC would publish more often.

Earth 2 #5: Speaking of great DC comics, Earth 2 continues right where #4 left off, with the new "Wonders" taking on one of my favorite Pre-52 villains, Solomon Grundy (just "Grundy," here). What can I say? I love Earth 2. This is how a reboot should be done.  There would be far fewer problems across the DC line if they would have just wiped the slate clean like they have with this title.  I have no doubts that Alan Scott is going to choose to be hero over spending eternity with his dead lover Sam, and will save the day by defeating Grundy with the help of The Flash, Hawkgirl, and The Atom. Beyond that, I have no idea where this series will go. 

In these past 6 issues, the groundwork has been laid for an exciting new chapter in DC Comics history and can't wait to see where Robinson and co. take these characters next.

The Hypernaturals #4: Hypernaturals is a good cosmic superhero story, if, and only if, you are a fan of the Legion of Superheroes. I know this title is creator-owned and supposedly therefore less restrained but in four issues, this book has just failed to make me care about the future of the series. The art is great. The production of this book is quite excellent, and has been far more consistent in this regard than either Extermination (great story/terrible art) or Higher Earth (good story/good-to-terrible art). Even so, I can't just get excited about this series when I feel like I know exactly what it wants to be: The Watchmen meets the Legion of Superheroes. There is clearly a mystery going on and one of the heroes is going to turn out be evil or something like that but I just don't care. 

Overall, I felt that this was a really strong week for DC, as Animal Man, Swamp Thing, and Dial H, which I also read, were all excellent.