Secret Avengers #2
Written by Ales Kot
Art by Michael Walsh and Matthew Wilson
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Secret Avengers is a chameleon of a comic book, one that always seems to change its traits from issue to issue. Last month, I compared the book to Hawkeye, but now it's a whole new animal. Think Nextwave meets Thunderbolts, as Ales Kot and Michael Walsh juggle equal parts cloak-and-dagger skullduggery with snort-inducing quippery. While Marvel's main entree into super-spydom is the dull and dreary Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Kot and company are taking a weirder, wilder, more energetic approach.
Since the last issue of Secret Avengers, the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are kind of in a pickle - Nick Fury and Phil Coulson are floating through space, having tried to stop the cyborg known as the Fury from turning satellites into space bullets. Maria Hill, meanwhile, has just been jumped by a rogue agent. (And that's after having an R&D meeting with the villainous defector known as M.O.D.O.K.) Things look bleak, yet Ales Kot always seems to have a smile on his face. Coulson and Fury wax philosophic as they hurtle to their assured deaths (with Coulson asking if Fury would prefer asphyxiation or immolation in space), and the general tone of the issue is actually somewhat chipper. While some might prefer their spy stories to be bleak, full of mistrust and broken personalities, Secret Avengers feels effervescent with its sense of humor. Indeed, it's hard not to be on this book's side when M.O.D.O.K., an evil cyborg head, is demanding that his minions "slow clap" for his success.
Artist Michael Walsh and colorist Matthew Wilson also do some really interesting things here. To begin with, they make the comic really sing at the beginning, particularly with the gorgeously colored sunset that the Black Widow, Hawkeye and Spider-Woman soar through as they propel themselves to outer space. (The way Wilson has a purple sky contrast against the flames shooting from the back of their flying car is one of the best beats in the book. Indeed, his use of bright colors against dark backgrounds really makes the whole book pop.) Walsh's sketchy style also really captures the atmosphere of this team in the shadows, focusing more and more on the panel-to-panel storytelling rather than overrendered characters or flashy layouts. Walsh also knows how to decide what will be his dominant image on a page, whether it's a flying car, Coulson's knowing smile as he waits for death, or Maria Hill striking a tough-girl pose on the last page of the book. Every page looks great.
There are a few minor hiccups to this book, but seen from the proper angle they can be contextualized. The last issue mainly put the superheroes on the team in danger - this issue, it's all the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents in trouble. The problem with that is that once the wonderful dialogue wears off, it kind of makes people like Maria Hill or Phil Coulson look a little ineffectual. It also winds up making the superheroes seem like plot devices, since there's nothing to stop them from flying in and saving the day, seemingly with no challenges. But if you look at this issue as the first half being superheroes-in-peril, and the second half being the suits in trouble, it's slightly less bothersome.
Still, it's hard to crack down too hard on this book, because it does so much else right. Ideas are flying like bullets, characters are crashing into each other and leaving sparks in their wake. There's humor, intrigue, high concepts and smart moments throughout Secret Avengers, quickly making this comic one of Marvel's most improved since the latest wave of Marvel NOW! relaunches. A creative team this good deserves to work out of the shadows.
Batman Eternal #1
Written by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Ray Fawkes, John Layman and Tim Seeley
Art by Jason Fabok and Brad Anderson
Lettering by Nick J. Napolitano
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10
Sometimes you can't have it all. And I think Batman Eternal demonstrates that.
Let's forget about the logistics about a weekly book that will last all year - for the first issue of Batman Eternal, the main lesson I take from it is this: You can't tell a story about Batman and Commissioner Gordon. Trying to make the characters equivocal never works. Try as you might, they're not equals - no matter who you focus on, it's going to be a protagonist and his foil. But by trying to put equal amounts of spotlight on Batman and his longtime police buffer, Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV and company wind up weakening both characters.
In terms of structure, this book swiftly introduces us to Jim Gordon and the Batman, all while setting up a catacylsmic event that will presumably propel this story forward. The problem with Snyder and Tynion's approach here is simple: It's already assumed we know who both of these characters are, so the level of characterization for both of them is almost nil. While it's understandable that Synder and Tynion shouldn't have to explain the long history of characters that have been in a billion-dollar trilogy of films, there's very little to make Gordon or Batman stand out. They have a pretty standard fight with Professor Pyg, a villain seemingly chosen at random with insane ramblings don't really evoke fear or make him stick in your mind. It's all by-the-numbers superhero action. Until the Moment happens.
I'm not going to go too in-depth with the Moment, other than to say it's the beat that will seemingly define the whole of Batman Eternal, having ramifications for Jim Gordon in particular, and Batman more indirectly. The problem I have with it is that I don't buy it. I don't buy how big the moment was - particularly since it winds up with a triple-digit casualty count. I don't buy Jim Gordon's passive response to it - since there's plenty of reasonable doubt to be held. I don't even buy how it took place - can that much damage really take place with one misplaced shot? Don't police officers have those on a fairly regular basis? It winds up making the drama feel artificial, because the stakes feel fake.
The artwork by Jason Fabok starts off a little too scratchy - even to the point where I thought another artist, like Tom Derenick or Dan Brereton was involved. Soon enough, however, Fabok is back to his usual clean linework, and it's some of the better bits of the book. Sometimes his layouts, particularly when it establishes new beat cop Jason Bard, are a little bland, focusing too much on a widescreen setup that doesn't have the content to deliver. While his overall character construction looks sleek and muscular, Fabok does have some malfunctioning when it comes to his compositions - Batman bursts into the scene wearing a giant metal suit, for example, yet he's barely a blip on the page. A huge disaster hits Gotham, and the wreckage barely comes into play.
But the real issue, beyond anything technical, is the overall premise to this first issue of Batman Eternal. Jim Gordon is not Robin. Batman isn't just Harvey Bullock or Renee Montoya. They come from two very different worlds, and you have to make a choice which one is going to be your focal point. By having the two at ostensibly equal levels, it either draws Gordon's gritty, realistic world into melodrama, or it takes Batman's larger-than-life theatrics and calls attention to its one-dimensionality. It's going to take a bit more than this to make me care about the Commissioner's latest dilemma, and it's going to take a lot more than this to make Batman Eternal worth 52 issues of investment.
Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Ryan Ottley, Cliff Rathburn and John Rauch
Lettered by Rus Wooten
Published by Image Comics
Review by Forrest C. Helvie
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
No doubt, there will be a lot of buzz surrounding this week's issue of Invincible #110, and given the nature of the story and the hype surrounding it, spoilers will be unavoidable. So be warned.
The first third of the issue centers on the turmoil in Mark's personal life as he returns to Eve following his supposed death. Instead of a heartfelt welcome, however, Invincible discovers the strain of living the life of a superhero's wife is more than Eve and their relationship can bear. She breaks off the relationship and even questions his right to play an active role as the baby's father. Needless to say, it's one battle that Mark finds himself unable to win and retreats into the skies to regroup. Unfortunately, he flies out of the frying pan and into the fiery arms of Anissa – the Viltrumite on a mission to procreate no matter how willing or unwilling Mark may be. The panels with Mark and Eve were a bit slow and filled stationary, talking heads; however, this scene is meant to feel "real," and given that there wouldn't be a great deal of action taking place, Ottley's decision to slow things down makes sense. More importantly, it also creates a sharp contrast to Anissa. Where Eve comes across as a woman avoiding the use of her superpowers to preserve the life of her unborn child and seeking to usher the child into a world free of super-powered violence, we will soon see Anissa as an opposite sort of mother-to-be actively embracing aggression and force to ensure the birth of a child.
What follows then is a brutal cinematic chase as Invincible attempts to break free from the aggressive advances of Anissa. Ottley and Kirkman set up an action-packed and fast-paced battle in the skies between Invincible and Anissa. From a technical standpoint, Ottley keeps readers' eyes glued to the two characters locked in combat through minimal background detail and heavier line weight (no doubt aided by Rathburn's inks). The result is that the backgrounds don't distract readers from seeing Mark and Anissa pop off the page, which adds to explosive action taking place. Although Anissa's stated desire is to carry on the race of Viltrumites, it is not hard to notice the undertones of her desire to make Mark feel less than invincible through physically dominating him into submission. She even makes an off-hand remark about half-heartedly trying to "woo" him like a human, but seeing him resist, finds herself more than happy to engage in Viltrumite tradition of turning sex into an act of domination. After bludgeoning him into the earth, we see clearly as Anissa takes what she wants from Mark, leaving him disoriented and in tears as she tells him to "Man up" and she'll be back for more. Make no mistake: It's a graphic and disturbing scene that Ottley paints with his use of perspective to close in on the brutal action and depiction of the broken and less-than-invincible young hero by the issue's end. On the page depicting the rape scene, there is a twenty-one panel breakdown, which proves especially disturbing. Here, the page layout creates a fragmented and almost claustrophobic reading experience as the reader's perspective shrinks as the scene reaches its climax.
Rape happens in comics, and it is almost always male-on-female rape, but it is incredibly rare that the roles are ever reversed. (Note: Hulk: Future Imperfect and Nightwing are the only other examples I can think of from mainstream comics). It probably goes without saying, but this is problematic and polarizing subject matter on the best of days. Issues dealing with depictions of sensitive subject matter need to be handled in a careful and meaningful fashion given the reality that there are readers who will have first-hand experiences with this violent, criminal action. Sadly, it is not an uncommon occurrence for media to make use of rape as a plot device in order to show how vile a character truly is or to create an opportunity for a protagonist to "rise from the ashes." There are ways to explore a character depravity or inner-resilience without needing to resort to subjection to rape. On the other hand, there are those who argue that (in part) art needs to reflect the world in which it exists, and there are ugly, terrible facets to life that should talked about – not ignored – and art in all its forms, including comics, can be such a vehicle for discussion. These are two sides on the issue as I see them in the most basic of terms. The question is whether or not the inclusion of Anissa's raping Mark as plot point is in good taste.
It is difficult to say at this time given the serialized nature of this story whether Invincible #110 is playing to lowest common denominator and aiming to shock its audience, or instead, engage its readers with some difficult questions about hard-to-read subject matter. The issue ends with Mark sitting on the ground with his head down and only the tattered remains of his pants clinging to him. Meanwhile, Anissa stands in the background reminding him she will be back for more and that he needs to "man up" – a clear reversal of expected gender roles when it comes to these situations. And that's it. We do not get to see the fallout from this traumatic experience. Those who have not experienced this sort of trauma can only image how long this would follow the victim, and so, only time will tell whether or not Kirkman is committed to truly exploring the issues related to female-on-male rape or if, after only a few issues, it dissipates and proves itself more of a stunt than a thought-provoking exploration of the human psyche.
In one regard, I'm reminded of one of the major criticisms against Superman: Man of Steel and Superman's decision to snap General Zod's neck. Some critics claimed that a stronger case for having Superman kill his opponent could have been made if the audience had seen the emotional fallout from having broken with his canonized code of nonlethal measures for resolving conflict. Instead, viewers saw him smiling and trading witty comments with the Army general in the very next scene – clearly undercutting the emotional build up to that contentious scene only moments prior. To avoid the cheap parlor tricks that readers have grown numb to over the decades of overuse, this story needs to take the time to decompress the physical and emotional toll inflicted upon Mark. And given Kirkman's past work on exploring issues of characters attempting to cope with extreme trauma as played out in The Walking Dead, I'm willing to give him the benefit of doubt that this will take place.
Still, there is no mistaking the desire to court controversy on the part of Invincible's creative team. As male reader, I did find myself feeling somewhat uncomfortable reading this issue; however, I immediately had to think about how often this sitation has played out for the many female comic book readers who encounter rapes scenes in their comics (regardless of whether it was done as graphically as is seen here). Some critics and readers may point out that the decision to depict the graphic nature of this act of violence in detail is a clear example of seeing just how far one series can push the boundaries of what is and is not acceptable in comics today. I'd argue that, in part, the real boundary pushing taking place is with Kirkman's putting this role reversal out in the spotlight. How do heterosexual male readers feel when the roles of predator and prey are reversed?
FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics #9
Written by Simon Oliver
Art by Robbi Rodriguez and Rico Renzi
Lettering by Wteve Wands
Published by Vertigo
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Federal Bureau of Physics is a comic that really wants to tax your brain. The story delves into the concepts of reality and existence with such zeal that you can lose yourself in the thread. To further enunciate the point, Simon Oliver spends the majority of the issue using voice overs and narrative boxes to provide the reader with a bit more clarity than the story provides. But is it a good sign when a writer has to paint the picture for the reader through step by step dialogue and explanation?
Yes and no. FPB starts out a bit choppy by dropping readers into the middle of a romantic moment between Rosa and Adam, but the Oliver just as soon forgets about this and instead turns his attention towards the more unique parts of his comic, namely the town of Nakeet and the copious physics phenomena that occur there. We learn, through much guidance, that Nakeet is a town that has grown so accustomed to daily phenomena that the residents no longer react to strange incidents like mini wormholes and transparent vehicles.
Here is where the narration takes over, and you almost feel like Oliver didn’t trust the story to deliver his point enough so he has to place giant bread crumbs to lead you along. It’s not patronizing, per se, but it’s definitely noticeable and under other circumstances, would make reading the comic less enjoyable. But Oliver makes the story fun, and so you don’t mind the hand holding.
The climax, a shower of bouncy balls punctuated by a cerebral conversation about the nature of reality, is where Oliver’s true focus lies. He touches upon the philosophy of reality, and the conversation that occurs between Sen and Cicero is both expertly crafted and utterly fascinating. Everything anyone needs to know about FBP can be summed up in Sen’s statement about reality: “With only our five senses to guide us through what we perceive as ‘reality’ chances are we’ll never know for sure if it’s real or not.”
FBP definitely succeeds in this concept. The comic is all about questioning reality, and what happens when we live in a world so devoid of fantasy that its actual occurrence is pause for wonderment.
With echoes of a “cleaner” Sean Murphy, Robbi Rodriguez draws thinly sketched characters who all seem to capture body language with aplomb. Several times, Oliver’s words can be eschewed completely as Rodriguez has given the reader everything he needs to understand what’s occurring in the story, and how the characters feel about it. The shower of bouncy balls is where Rico Renzi gets his time to shine as the pages are littered with color, and the dynamism of the artistic team is on full display.
I think that my assessment of FBP is really tainted by how much guidance Oliver has to provide in order for readers to understand his concept. The density of the book is both intriguing and frustrating as I feel a lot of the narration -- especially the conversation between Cicero and Sen -- is structured in a way that it leads the reader through the story.
That being said, this issue of FBP pulled me right in, even with its paint by numbers explanation. I love the concept, and the philosophy behind perceiving “reality.” So while Rosa may struggle with her new situation, I found myself like a lot of residents of Nakeet: seamlessly believing the craziness the comic has to offer, and wanting to see more of it.
One can easily see that Oliver has a firm grasp on his idea, and we’re the lucky recipients of his creativity.
Written by Joe Keatinge
Art by Leila Del Duca and Owen Gieni
Lettering by Ed Brisson
Published by Image Comics
Review by Brendan McGuirk
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
The first thing we learn about Kate Kristopher, the star of Shutter, is that she's a born skeptic. Even at the precocious age of seven, she was disinclined towards being wide-eyed, no matter what spectacular and unearthly wonders her famed explorer father tried to impress her with. The second thing we learn in reading Leila Del Duca and Joe Keatinge's new Image series is that Kate lives in what might be the most lush and vibrant world comics have seen since Alan Moore, Gene Ha and Zander Cannon's Top Ten, making her skepticism all the more pointed, and giving her all the more to explore.
Kate's younger life was full of adventures shared with her father, as the pair, part of a long familial tradition as surveyors of the fantastic, reported on fanciful worlds full of monster piracy, crocodile bellhops, and what are sure to be many more delightful sight-gags throughout the series. Years later, in the present, though, she finds herself mired in mid-twenties malaise. The world around her, we see, is still as fascinatingly out-there as ever, but for Kate, the wonder is gone. Young though she may be for retirement, she seems to have conceded many aspects of her dreams in favor of blasé practicality. She's given up the adventure game, until, as happens in stories of this nature, she finds herself swallowed into a mystery. Better still, the mystery is one with which she shares a personal connection. Dun dun DUNNNNNNN.
Shutter is an imminently appropriate name for this series, not only because Kate snaps pics, but because the book's visuals are equally standout to the most brilliant photo journalism. Del Duca packs each page with the sorts of flourishes that give worlds life and details that allow characters to be defined through their surroundings. You're rooting for Kate to get back into the exploration game because of how strongly you want to see more of the world Del Duca and Keatinge have imagined into creation, and she's clearly the most qualified guide. The character work is wonderfully cartooned; no line of dialogue is delivered without the ideal facial expression to cements the speaker's tone. Matching the line and ink work of the pages are the striking colors by Owen Gieni, who flavors each page with a Starburst richness that does justice to the many diverse landscapes of a fully realized world. This first issue seemed to have a lively green base tone that played against the city backdrop, and played up the contrasting outlandishness of the mysterious entities that jump out at Kate. There's something meticulously Wes Anderson to the book, not due to slavish symmetry but because it all looks so heightened and reasoned-out. It's extremely well-framed.
This first issue's plot did well to avoid any meandering exposition, and gave us just what we needed to begin investing in this journey with our reluctant cultural observe-and-reporter. Its tone, and its characterization of Kate as a world-weary twenty-something, felt honest and real, giving the live-wire shenanigans an important core emotional grounding. Of course, there is a paradox that comes with telling stories about worlds like this one, which are somewhat recognizable as related to our own but also full of intriguing distinctions like anthropomorphic cityfolk, ghost-ninjas and subway-riding astronauts; it begs the question of how and why this Earth is different in the ways it is So while the visuals made the intrigue of Kate's world self-evident, I couldn't help but want the story to give a little more by way of context.
That will come in time, of course, and as Shutter flashes on we are sure to learn more about Kate, her universe (multiverse?), her adventures, and why she gave them up. Distinct, lively and awash with fun details, Keatinge, Del Duca, Gieni and Image's new offering inspires the trait best paired with skepticism: curiosity.
All New Doop #1
Written by Peter Milligan
Art by David Lafuente and Laura Allred
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
From the opening lines, readers know what they’re in for with All New Doop #1. Writer Peter Milligan tells us that we’re in the margins, and as such we’re seeing the story of a marginal character. There’s probably no better way to describe Doop than as marginal. The character itself is somewhat of an enigma as Doop seems to have all the traits of a superhero - strength, flight, regeneration - but also abilities to manipulate time and space, particularly on his own person.
So through being on the outskirts - living in the margins, really - Doop has an interesting perspective on the daily occurrences of the Marvel universe, and so we’re treated to his whereabout during the “Battle of the Atom” as he provides readers with a new lens through which to see the action. Much like a Watcher, Doop observes the inner turmoil of the X-Men, focusing his attention solely on Kitty Pryde in order to confess his love for her.
Milligan is clearly having fun here, and his lightheartedness expels some of the dour feeling found in the current X-Books. Much of what we see is what we’ve already seen - incidents from other comics are re-explored, this time with Doop present and occasionally making minor adjustments to aid the heroes. A few times, Milligan steps away from the Doop story and instead focuses on the X-Men which makes me question just who the comic is about.
Because when Doop is the lead, one can’t help but laugh. Milligan’s objective narrative helps with this as the silliness of the visuals counters the businesslike tone of the writing. David Lafuente is really responsible for this as his Doop is fantastic. Cartoonish in design, and well drawn in emoting, Doop steals your heart, particularly in the final moments of the book when Milligan’s big reveal comes. And despite the simplicity of Doop’s design, Lafuente gets to play a lot with the imagery in the comic. From the action sequences involving the X-Men to Doop’s transformation at the end, LaFuente’s style is polished and appealing.
Still, we’re only seeing Doop react here. He doesn’t really command the issue, and as such, the title is a bit misleading. Milligan may have a plan for his creation - and for an introduction to a character, the comic is pretty solid - yet nothing really bowls you over and what you’re left with is a comic that is occasionally clever, well illustrated, but ultimately forgettable.
I liked what I read, but I can’t see caring that much about Doop, even if he is a pretty unique character.
All New X-Men #25 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): This is one of those rare issues that it remarkably represents everything that is great about The X-Men: it’s goofy, fun, heartwarming, terrifying, dire and outrageous. Each artist is able to take that sort of messy, alternate timeline and turn it into an amazing piece of artwork. Each artist is a different timeline and each style’s strengths represent the details of the future. Brian Michael Bendis’s story takes a step back and lets the guest artist take the reins. Bendis’ narrative lays the groundwork for the artist and plants a little tease of the next big crossover at the end. This is a can’t miss for anyone feeling sentimental about Marvel’s Merry Mutants and where they have been and where they could be going.