Newsaramanation! Brendan McGuirk here again to present you with this week's Rapid Fire responses to yesterday's new comics' haul. Today we will delve into some Dynamite, Image, Dark Horse, DC, Marvel and IDW and share our gut-check reactions to their four-color glory.
Flashpoint: The Outsider #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose): In three years of reading his work since his return to DC Comics, I have to say, I think Flashpoint: The Outsider is one of the best books I've read with James Robinson's name on it. Unhampered by continuity or even much by the overarching Flashpoint event, Robinson's plotting is his biggest contribution to this book, giving artist Javi Fernandez the opportunity to swing for the fences. Fernandez is an artist certainly with room to grow as a designer, but his ambition is clear from the outset, when we see an Indian village utterly destroyed by a maelstrom. There are hints of Chris Bachalo in his scratchy, self-inked lines, and while his faces aren't quite as clean or dynamic as they could be, his composition is usually quite sharp. While the whys and wherefores of The Outsider are still unknown ― perhaps to a frustrating degree ― this is an action romp with tongue firmly in cheek, and a nice hearkening of the mirror-world, no-one-is-safe mentality of Age of Apocalypse. This is a surprisingly strong read.
Ultimate Spider-Man #160; Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman As Peter Parker battles Norman Osborn for the last time, you can’t help but appreciate what a good and often great book Ultimate Spider-Man has been. Having writer Brian Michael Bendis and original, long-time artist Mark Bagley together again on this comic ― and this issue in particular ― couldn’t be more fitting. Yes, we’ve known about Peter’s looming death for months, and the buildup went on too long. But in spite of that foregone, poly-bagged conclusion, this is an undeniably moving story. That’s due in no small part to the endearing hero that Bendis and Bagley reimagined for the Ultimate universe more than a decade ago. Bagley’s illustrations here are ferocious. When Spider-Man’s fist goes CRACK! against Osborn’s jaw, broken fangs and blood fly. Peter is badly wounded and running on fumes, so these scenes are all the more disturbing and intense. His loved ones are all but helpless on the sidelines, though Mary Jane comes through like a champ in a courageous rescue attempt. It almost works. Once again, Bendis shows just how over-the-top insane Osborn is, and for such a fearsome creature, he’s remarkably petty: He’s willing to destroy everything and everyone in sight, just to kill a boy. And in Peter's last moment with his Aunt May, we're reminded that, for all his extraordinary gifts, he really is just a boy. Comic book deaths and resurrections are now so routine that it’s a stretch to take them seriously. However, the demise of one of my favorite comic book characters feels uncomfortably, sadly final.
Vampirella #7 (Dynamite; Review by Wendy Holler; Click here for preview) The biggest problem with this issue is that it's good. Yes, the issue contains examples of everything that's frustrating about this series: gratuitous posing of sexualized women (18 panels by my count), unnecessary physical violence (a knee to the groin when harsh language would surely suffice), and a character backstory so baldly designed to evoke sympathy that I'm surprised it doesn't come with foldout violins. And yet this is an issue worth reading, even - or perhaps especially - if you aren't a Vampirella fan. Issue #7 is a rest between story arcs, a brief and standalone recovery piece set after Vampirella's fight with Le Fanu (yes, like Sheridan Le Fanu, only female and Cthuloid and far more grotesque than gothic). This issue is narrated by Sofia Murray, a human saved by Vampirella during the Le Fanu plotline. The story intersperses Sofia's memories of her past with details about Vampirella's past. Vampirella, meanwhile, spends most of the issue unconscious and writhing on her bed, which accounts for a fair number of the gratuitous poses mentioned earlier. None of this has any right to work, but Eric Trautmann and Walter Geovani give the issue the feel of an origin story. Sofia's psychological development is steady, neither slow nor rushed, and the rapport between the women is shockingly effective. While Geovani's art veers toward the pin-up, his perspective is spot-on and beautifully rendered. This is an artist who excels with human forms, and his style works well for a slow, reflective issue about character. It pains me to admit that the comic is good, but there ya go — the comic is good.
Usagi Yojimbo #138 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Deniz Cordell): What — I ask you — is the point in reviewing a book like this? As anyone who reads it knows, Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo is a triumph of graphic storytelling – ably merging character, story and style in a seemingly effortless fashion. I suppose such a review is more for those who haven’t read an issue before – and if you are one of those poor souls: don’t be a chucklehead, and buy this magazine. Though it’s the third – and final – part of the current storyline, the first page immediately tells you what you need to know to enjoy the work, and, indeed, it’s filled with the usual flourishes of visual wit and sudden violence that characterizes much of the series. Sakai’s black-and-white linework has an elegance and flow that could only exist on the printed page – and his characters are always pleasures to watch, each one having such a distinctive attitude and appearance. The dialogue has a blunt, poetic quality – it is unornamented, and perfectly suited to the characters. Sakai’s page layouts are created for maximum visual effect – including a seven-panel page which builds up a relentless rhythm that is then alleviated by a wide bottom-panel. This sort of tension-and-release strategy is on display throughout this issue (and indeed, the rest of the series), and the storytelling has a clarity that is both awe and envy inspiring. The final fight between Usagi and the Red Scorpion Gang is spectacularly choreographed and executed – particularly in a wonderful overhead angle that illustrates the physical artistry and chaos that makes up such an imbroglio. Then, there is the ending, which is a totally natural extension of the story being told, illustrates the nuances and tenets behind Japanese feudal culture, and strikes such a raw and powerful emotional beat, that it is nothing short of stunning. It’s an issue filled with all of the things that make Usagi Yojimbo the lauded piece of work it is – humor, action, rich characterization and design, and honest emotional resonance.
Superman #712 (Published by DC Comics; review by Jamie Trecker): There’s two things to get out of the way before we review the book at hand. This issue is the subject of two controversies: the first involves a late change in a storyline that would have seen Superman team up with a Muslim superhero. DC issued a vague statement saying the story as submitted did not fit within the overarching “Grounded” storyline written by Chris Roberson and J. M. Straczynski. It is not entirely clear why this happened, but the move has raised eyebrows. The second is that George Perez drew a variant cover for the issue that was also rescheduled late. This was distressing to Mr. Perez, who will be writing the title post re-launch, because the cover was a tribute to a recently deceased friend of his. That has made what should be an occasion for fan joy a little more sober. The fact is, this is, as billed, a classic “lost issue” of the title, prepared then shelved during the Infinite Crisis crossover. It’s a solo look at a beloved supporting character, and it’s crafted by two of the best talents in the business. We’re talking of course about the legendary “Krypto” issue of Superman, now finally out of the drawer and in your hot little hands. It’s hard to see why this issue was shelved. As it stands right now, it’s a classic piece of the craft that is hampered badly by the fact that the continuity it tied into took place five years ago. It’s great to be reminded of a time when DC did big event crossovers right, but it’s jarring to see the main characters in out of date uniforms, fighting old villains ― and not have any of this be set in the past. It’s not like Busiek or Leonardi could do anything about it. At the time, they produced a pitch-perfect ― and often wordless ― tale of Krypto searching for (then dead) Superboy and (then missing) Superman. Leonardi’s pencils are supple and expressive ― there’ no mistaking the emotions at play here and his Krypto is soulful, smart, and wounded. Busiek pulls off the equivalent of a high-wire act, trusting Leonardi to get every nuance right without the net of dialogue. So why did this book sit while other, lesser Infinite Crisis tie-ins come out? No clue. Ironically, we may be asking the same about Roberson and Straczynski’s spiked book in five years time.
All Nighter #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Aaron Duran): “Nine years ago, I killed my mother.” That's one heck of a way to hook a reader, and so opens David Hahn's newest work, All Nighter. What's interesting is that once we learn this bombshell about the books protagonist, Kit Bradley, the issue is all but dropped. And that is okay, because the character interaction between this emotionally wandering young woman and the people around her is so interesting, you're still along for the ride. Although the years where I found myself in an emotional limbo are relatively over, it was easy to connect with Kit. You can't be in the world of your childhood any longer (though visiting is nice), but nor are you ready to step up into the world of full-blown adulthood. You are simply existing, which is exactly where we find this story. Taking full pencil and ink duties as well, All Nighter really shows off Hahn's skills as an artist. His lines and shading creates a world that is familiar, yet slightly distant. Everyone in the book has very sharp features that cause elements of them to stand out, while the rest can almost subconsciously slip away. Not unlike a real person lit under the greenish hue of an all night diner. Hahn's choice to stick with black and white interiors was a smart move, as I worry that coloring would have given a cartoon feel to the book, which would have been a most definite distraction from what type of story Hahn is telling. There are other elements we will learn as All Nighter progresses: a wandering girl, Kit's thieving boyfriend, and that bombshell about killing her mom, but none of that really matters right now. This is all about experiencing Kit's world at this very moment. I am okay with that. More importantly, I want more.
The Last Phantom #7 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Deniz Cordell): Eduardo Ferigato’s facile art nimbly shifts styles throughout the issue – which moves between present day New York and a flashback to Bengali which consciously imitates the old Phantom house style, drawing from Lee Falk and Ray Moore’s aesthetics. It’s easily the strongest element of this issue, which begins a new storyline involving a villain with the whimsical name of “Mr. Quisling.” Scott Beatty’s script has its charms – particularly his work in the flashback segment, which captures that rat-tat-tat pulp rhythm quite well – but, for whatever reason, it never really gives cause to invest in the title character or his place in the Phantom legacy. The character fares better in the flashback, but in that, he works under the shadow of his father – and is not given a chance to show who he is on his own. The antagonist is far more compelling as a character, if only because we spend more time with him, and his moments are far more geared to his relationship to the world around him, whereas The Phantom’s scenes are focused far more on his being helped by his associates in the war on crime. Perhaps that is part of the point of the story – that The Last Phantom still hasn’t come into his own in fulfilling his place in the Walker lineage, but the characters role is somewhat unclear. It’s something of a shame, as I really enjoyed Beatty’s work on Buck Rogers, and find his work here somewhat airless. Vincius Andrade’s coloring is quite splendid in the flashback – really capturing the feel of old newsprint, while his work on the present day segments is suitably dark, with a dimmer palette. It’s a mixed bag on the whole, but the flashback scene is a bravura performance by Ferigato, and I hope it’s a style that’s revisited in future episodes.
The Search for Swamp Thing #1 (of 3) (Published by DC Comics; review by Brendan McGuirk; Click here for preview): It shouldn't surprise anyone that a couple of brooding detective-types don't get along. That's one thing. But when putting John Constantine and Batman together in a story like this one, the foremost responsibility of the storytellers is to create a sense, if nothing else, that both characters belong. I am not overly opinionated, one way or the other, about the validity of folding the Vertigo characters back into the DCU. I don't have a problem seeing these disparate characters cohabitate, so long as a credible common ground is established and the stories can serve both genre masters. Conceptually, a Search for Swamp Thing is a perfect vehicle to intermingle these gumshoe types, along with a few other familiar faces. After all, Swamp Thing was the intellectual forerunner to the Vertigo brand, and it was in that title that John Constantine debuted, and so a few capes here and there is nothing new. But if the idea with this book is to show the new status quo of how Vertigo and the DCU are one big happy family that live on one big happy world, the hope would be that this book celebrates some of the sophisticated weirdness of Vertigo. Instead, it feels more like a celebration of the many licenses of DC Entertainment. For me, John Constantine was never a particularly special character unto himself. What is special about Hellblazer is that it is a vehicle to tell a particular kind of story, one that can't be housed elsewhere in very many comics. In that regard, The Search for Swamp Thing is a Hellblazer kind of story; it has the intrigue, the magic, and Chas. The art from Marco Castiello and Vincenzo Acunzo does feel like the meeting point for DC action and Vertigo moodiness. Troubles arise in the voices of Bats and Constantine. When playing against one another, they both read like caricatures. These are ostensibly serious characters, but here it is hard to take both seriously. This story doesn't feel as thought it grew organically. Or that it was a story waiting to be told when the circumstances allowed. It reads more like a crossover, where there is an agenda and the chief objective is to throw the toys together and hope that's enough to satisfy the masses. Team-ups like this one are meant to be fun. This just feels sort of like the main players are being made fun of.
John Byrne’s Next Men #7 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Deniz Cordell): John Byrne’s Next Men almost belongs to another time – and that is meant as a high compliment, indeed. As someone who has found John Byrne’s output rather hit-and-miss over the last several years, it’s a real pleasure to see his work here. He moves his story forward at a fast clip, allows for moments of the entertaining interpersonal melodrama that characterizes his best work, and creates a compelling science-fiction mystery to hang all of it on. His art is as clean as ever, but has a more streamlined, simplified look that works quite well – his choice of which details to emphasize is careful, and provide just enough information for the reader. The plot offers a series of escalating and entertaining temporal paradoxes on a grand scale, as the Next Men travel to different eras to bring back their displaced colleagues. It’s a comic book that feels, looks like, and acts like – a comic book, and it’s a quite enjoyable issue. The story is well told, the characters are distinctive, and the in-story implications of altering time (and the idea that changing certain epochal events may end up having little effect on the general flow of time), are given thought and attention – particularly since Byrne makes sure to filter such notions through how it relates to the heroes. In addition, Byrne finds new ways to exploit the Next Men’s powers – such as a small bit where a bullet is thrown back in time until it breaks down into its component parts. It’s done with a “matter of course” type style, and he doesn’t linger on the bits that other writers might have spent pages focusing on – the focus and energy is squarely on the story, and that works to the book’s advantage. The issue ends, naturally enough, with a rather shocking development, and Byrne’s build-up to it makes the moment feel fully earned, even if it may leave readers who haven’t been reading the series raise their eyebrows in slight confusion.
The Incredible Hulks #631 (Published by Marvel Comics; review by Brendan McGuirk; Click here for preview): Smashing, clashing and wishing. What more could a pack of Hulks ask for? Greg Pak made his name with the Green Goliath by tearing the character out from his Earth-bound comfort zone and redefining him in an entirely new environment. Now, as Pak wraps up his tenure, the writer is looking back into the Hulk's history and pulling at every loose thread there is. When Amadeus Cho accidentally pulls a Rick Jones and summons a bunch of super smashers into an already crowded fray, no era of the Hulkster's past is overlooked. Paul Pelletier shines, whether rendering Silver Age favorites like Fin Fang Foom, or the Gary Frank era Troyjans, and when giving the entire book the frenzied attitude of Dale Keown. The core of the Hulk is the balance between the intellectual and the visceral. Pak has spent an awful lot of time parsing the nuances of the intellectual aspects of Banner and Hulk. As he races towards the finish, it appears he's allowing himself to just enjoy some smashing. Got a comment? There's lots of Newsarama conversation on FACEBOOK and TWITTER.