Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Valiant reviews: Shadowman #4 and Archer and Armstrong #7

It's been a while since I've done a review of any Valiant Comics, but since their marketing department is nice enough to keep sending me preview copies and I'm still buying 3 out of the 5 monthly titles they're publishing, I figured I would review the last two Valiant issues I've read and give my thoughts on them.

Shadowman #4
Story by Justin Jordan and Patrick Zircher
Art by Patrick Zircher

This concludes the first story arc of the newest incarnation Shadowman by Patrick Zircher and Justin Jordan, and by newest incarnation, I mean a pretty even mix of the original Shadowman from the early 90s and the Garth Ennis reboot from the late 90s. This doesn't really mean anything to you if you're new to the character or Valiant Comics, but it makes for an interesting, if somewhat conflicted reading experience for people who are familiar  with the character's history and the various ways he's been portrayed over the years.

The biggest difference is this: the original Shadowman had no powers, was a jazz musician, and was possessed by a voodoo spirit to go out into the night and fight evil.  The reboot featured a much darker version of the character, and introduced many more supernatural elements into the story, including a parallel universe called Deadside, which is exactly what it sounds like: a voodoo-inspired land of the dead.  It was a good reboot, but short lived and too different from the original for some people's tastes.

This new series mixes elements from both the original series and the reboot, but leans much more heavily on the supernatural side, and is much more rooted in the traditions of the superhero genre.  Shadowman has a healing factor, a symbiotic costume, and a retractable scythe and to be honest: I'm not quite sure how I feel about that.  Shadowman has everything going for him, but he seems to lack depth beyond his slick presentation and coolness factor.

Patrick Zircher is a very solid artist.  His pages look polished and professional, but they haven't looked as good as the original preview pages that accompanied the teaser for the very first issue.  There hasn't been a substantial drop in quality over the past four issues, but the art seems to lack personality.  It reminds me very much of the kind of art you'd find in Marvel Comics a few years ago, or DC before the New 52.  Not that this is a bad thing, but compared to some of the other books Valiant is publishing, this looks the most like a standard superhero comic, which it really isn't.  Or shouldn't be.

Shadowman is a horror-adventure series starring a superhero.  In a sense, this is what DC tried to do with the relaunch of Animal Man and Swamp Thing, but not nearly as successfully as Zircher and Jordan have with Shadowman.  This is a really good comic book, and easily worth your time and your four dollars, but compared to the other Valiant titles I would rate it only above Bloodshot, which I quit reading a couple months back.

This arc ended much better than it began, and wrapped up very well.  I'd say this is pretty much how all introductory arcs should be written these days.  In four issues: the character is introduced, we get a glimpse of his power, the key villain is established, a crisis is averted, and plotlines for future story arcs are carefully seeded among the minor details.  In a Marvel book, this arc would have gone on for at least six issues.  At DC:  maybe seven?  Even though I would rank this series below my current favorites in the Valiant stable, and I'm not sure it's better than the original, it has my attention and will continue to take my money.  Go to  your local comic shop, pick up Shadowman, and let them take yours.

Archer & Armstrong #7
Written by Fred Van Lente
Art by Emanuela Lupacchino

I'm not going to talk as much about this as I did about Shadowman, but I will say a few things about Archer and Armstrong:

  • It's my second favorite Valiant title; right behind Harbinger.  
  • There's nothing else on the stands like A &A.  It brings together a lot of familiar elements with its emphasis on action, conspiracy theories, and buddy comedy, but it comes off as completely fresh and original. 
  • I'm starting to warm up to this new version of the Eternal Warrior.  Yeah he's still a little too much of a "superhero" compared to the bad-ass original, but the dude's got style.  I submit the machine-gunning while driving scene in this issue as evidence.
  • The banter between A&A continues to be hilarious, and I'm glad that Van Lente seems to have toned down Archer's "aw gee willickers Mr. Armstrong, I'm a dumb Christian" tone from the first couple of issues. 
  • Emanuela Lupacchino has a name that is really hard to spell but its worth writing down because his/her (I'm honestly not sure) art is great, and doesn't make me miss Clayton Henry, whose art was cleaner and a little stiffer than this.  I don't know if Clayton is coming back to draw this series, but I wouldn't mind one bit if they decided to trade off arcs. 
  • Kay McHenry is one of my new favorite ladies in the Valiant Universe, and maybe one of the only women in comics you'll see this month wearing pants and a shirt that looks more like LuLuLemon than a porn outfit.
  • I always thought the Geomancers were stupid.  This issue proves that they are actually very cool.  Like Neo in The Matrix cool. 
  • Mother Nature as a monkey in a dress: more comedy like this please.
  • The Null are a very cool organization to pit against A&A.  One of the more interesting evil organizations I've seen in comics lately.  
  • I can't wait to see The Immortal Enemy next issue!

Batgirl #17: Wait, What?

Batgirl #17
Writer: Ray Fawkes
Penciller: Daniel Sampere
Inker: Vicente Cifuentes

Writer Ray Fawkes?? Where's Gail Simone!?  Oh wait, she'll be back in two issues.  Call off the internet search party.

Ok, so you got me, I went into this issue with skepticism and came out with a "decent face" (that face you make when you're pleasantly surprised by something/someone--see the latest Judge Dredd movie for plenty of examples).

First off, props to Fawkes for writing this issue from her brother's perspective.  Ballsy move.  Readers are used to hearing Batgirl's inner thoughts but....

You know, I just thought of something.  I always associate Simone with Batgirl herself.  Her run on the series is characterized by Batgirl's inner narration.  I can't help but hear Simone's voice through Batgirl.  And I don't think I'm alone in that.  Her fandom freaked out when she was unceremoniously fired and re-hired on Batgirl.  Her voice was reestablished as Batgirl's and now we have a new writer for two issues.  I don't think it's a coincidence that Fawkes has chosen to take on her brother's voice.  At one point, her brother says, "I know her so well."  The statement struck me at the time because I didn't yet know that the narrator was her brother--I was still hearing Fawkes' voice.  All of Batgirl's readers are out there, knowing that a new writer is on Batgirl, and we're all thinking, "You don't know Batgirl.  What makes you think you can write Batgirl?"  Admit it, you thought it too.

I revise my previous statement.  I'm not going to finish with a "decent face."  Fawkes just blew my mind.  I'll be reading the next issue with relish.

Oh, also, I love this first page.  Love it!

Katana #1: On the Fence

Katana #1
Writer: Ann Nocenti
Artist: Alex Sanchez
DC Comics
February 13, 2013

I picked up Katana because it's written by a female author I haven't read.  I read Gail Simone religiously and I've read some of DeConnick's Captain Marvel but I haven't read anything by Nocenti yet.  I have to admit, the writing is good but, so far, very safe.  It's subtle, rather than beating you over the head with action and a ton of unanswered questions.  There's a nice balance, which can be refreshing.  But I hope the momentum kicks up in future issues.

I like the character of Katana a lot more than I thought I would.  I'm a newbie, so forgive me if I'm stating the obvious, but her belief that her dead husband lives in the sword (now her sword) that killed him really drew me in.  She's alone, she's grieving, but she's also a fighter.

The art is particularly good during the action sequences but lags a bit otherwise.  Don't be fooled by the cover--the art inside is quite different.  The pastel colors seem like an odd choice but they become much more vivid towards the end of the issue.

I'm still on the fence about this one but I'll probably give it a few more issues to show me what it's got.