Staff Review: Nova #13.1

Nova #13

Nova #13.1 by Gerry Duggan & Paco Medina

This issue starts out with our young hero, Sam in a pretty good mood. His most recent Nova adventure, as seen last month, was a great success. He heeded a distress call, and rescued a spaceship, saving the lives of everyone on board. And so, for the whole first page of this week’s issue, everything seems to be coming up Milho—er, everything appears to be going great. Naturally, though, it doesn’t last.

First, he has a run in with school bully, Moffet. The fight between them is just escalating when Beta Ray Bill shows up proclaiming that someone must pay for their crimes. Moffet panics and flees as quickly as possible, right into a sign post. Human tormentor unconscious, Sam turns to Beta Ray. Having never met Beta Ray before, Sam does not know who this alien creature is. Sam does rush to Moffet’s side to make sure the boy is all right. See, Sam’s kind-hearted, always wanting to assist those in need, only, well, it turns out he helped the wrong person. Skaarn, the commander of the ship he rescued in the previous issue, is actually wanted by Beta Ray for grave crimes. It would seem that the learning curve for cosmic heroics is longer than Sam assumed. However, he volunteers to do the right thing, and help make his wrongs right. His determination to do the right thing, to live up to this legacy from his father, makes him a compelling character.

Sam and Beta Ray have a good dynamic together. (Also, Sam holds up pretty well against Beta Ray in a fight). Duggan also gives some time to Sam’s relationships with his family and classmate, Carrie, who I’m hoping to see more of as the series progresses. There are also some good uses of humor, which keeps the mood balanced. Overall, this is a promising start to the new arc.

Staff Review: Animal Man #28

Animal Man #28Animal Man #28 by Jeff Lemire & Rafael Albuquerque

This issue is an action packed conclusion to the current Brother Blood storyline. For the past several months, Brother Blood has been waging his campaign to seize control of The Red and with it mastery over all forms of animal life on the planet. As this plotline has progressed, his actions have grown more savage as he hunts for Animal Man’s young daughter Maxine, who happens to be the current Avatar of The Red. At the conclusion of last month’s chapter, the situation appeared pretty desperate for Little Wing, as her protector The Shepherd was dealt a mortal blow. Separated from both her parents, surrounded by adversaries, there seemed to be precious few options left for her.

For me, one of the most appealing aspects of Animal Man has always been his family life. Ever since he was revived by Grant Morrison, Buddy Baker’s wife and children have been an integral part of who he is. Ellen, Cliff and Maxine are not simply plot devices to be dragged out every once and awhile when the writer felt like it or needed some source of peril for the hero. No, they (along with all their everyday problems) are just as important as the more fantastic aspects of Buddy’s life. I suspect this is why the death of Cliff blindsided me more than that of Damian Wayne. I can easily imagine a Batman without a Robin, but the Bakers without Cliff? It has been nearly a year now, and I’m still not used to the idea . . .

The importance of family is a thread that weaves prominently throughout this issue. The story may be full of dramatic, large-scale battles between powerful creatures for earth-shattering stakes. Yet, again and again, Lemire reminds us that what Buddy is fighting for first of all is his family. Ever since Cliff died, they have been splintered, coping (or not) with the loss in their own individual ways. This week, Lemire finally reunites them once again. It may not be permanent; after all, there is one rather large source of unsettled business Buddy must still resolve. For the moment, though, they may take comfort from themselves once again.

I admit that Albuquerque is an artist whose work I enjoy sometimes more than others. For this issue, though, he is at the height of his powers. He captures both aspects of Lemire’s narrative, the personal and the spectacle, with equal skill. Then in the final page (see this week’s Freeze Frame, if you missed it), he combines both story elements for one of the most evocative pages of the week. Overall, this is an excellent penultimate chapter to Lemire’s Animal Man run. Here’s hoping that the conclusion can bring some peace of mind to the Baker clan. They’ve earned it.


Staff Review: Wonder Woman #28

Wonder Woman #28Wonder Woman #28 by Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang

Under the guidance of Azzarello and Chiang, Wonder Woman is one of the most reliable titles of the New 52. The opening scene depicts Diana, allied for the moment with Apollo’s sister Diana (let’s call her Moon for simplicity), tracking the missing Zola. The scene soon shifts to a forest in Provence, where Bacchus’ toying with Zola has taken an unexpected turn. Cue stampeding Minotaur. Soon various conflicting parties descend upon the woods. In the midst of this melee, The Minotaur snatches away Bacchus for its master, Cassandra, who is looking for a deity to sneak her onto Olympus. Little does she know at the same moment on Olympus, Apollo and The First Born are pitted at each other’s throats. This is an action-packed issue, which rarely lets up, right up to a rather, shall we say, explosive ending.

That said, there are quiet character moments as well. As Diana and her companions prepare to charge off into the woods, she tells Hera to remain behind. Hera, recently stripped of her immortality, is taken aback, unused to requiring such considerations. Before she can even form a reply, the others are gone leaving her alone in an empty villa. Lately, Azarrello has been giving Hera at least one small scene to shine in each issue, and as a result, she has quickly become one of my favorite members of the supporting cast. (When everything settles down a little, I would love to see one full issue of simply her and Zola out on the town together.)

Cliff Chiang is back on art duties this issue (with Goran Sudzuka only contributing layouts for five pages). As always, Chiang’s art is fantastic. His action scenes are smooth and dynamic (i.e. Hermes catching a spear with his foot). From the gleeful face of Moon on the hunt, to the delicate vines conjured by Bacchus, there is a wonderful expressive quality to Chiang’s work as well. Coupled with Azzarello’s writing, Wonder Woman continues to be one of DC’s stronger titles.


Staff Review: The Unwritten Apocalypse #2

The Unwritten Apocalypse #2 by Mike Carey & Peter Gross

And it’s back.

The last several months have been a mixed experience for this Vertigo series. The Great Fables Crossover turned out to be more Good-Pretty Good than Great. Not bad mind you, but probably the least interesting arc so far. On the upside, Vertigo released an excellent original graphic novel delving into the origins of Tom/Tommy Taylor. Then, Vertigo announced that the series would take a couple months off before beginning a final 12-issue arc. Last month’s kickoff for Apocalypse, while interesting, served mostly as a bridge getting us from Fables back to Unwritten. Still, I maintained my faith in what Carey and Gross are doing.

And this week, I was rewarded abundantly.

The world which Tom Taylor returned to at the end of #1 is rapidly coming apart at the seams. The beast Leviathan, which feeds on human stories, has been gravely wounded. The barriers between fictional worlds are dissolving, reshaping our reality into a surreal landscape. In the middle of a bleak 21st Century London, a band of men in period garb take our heroes hostage, almost hanging one of them. Their lives are only spared due to the quick thinking of Liz Hexam.

It has been too long since Lizzy played a prominent part in this series. She has always been one of my favorite Unwritten characters, on account of her intelligence, determinedness and charm. Faced with dire straits, Liz rapidly deduces from their appearance that the sword-wielding men in large wigs are from the 17th Century; by way of their speech, she concludes that they are rakes out of Restoration comedies. Since she knows the standard arc of these comedies, she can instantly slip into the character type necessary to soften their adversaries’ hearts. The exchange she shares, noose slipped around her neck, is one of my favorite scenes of the week.

Yet, there is more at stake here than simply avoiding the ire of a pack of libertines and a fop. Carey reminds us that as our ability to tell stories breaks down, so do so many of the basic functions we take for granted. How could we brag if we lack the talent for embellishing the truth; how could we seduce without second-guessing what our object of desire wishes to hear, or feel, next? Would we even be able to remember our past without imagining a framework for it, fitting random memories into a logical sequence we call a life? How could any of us get out of bed in the morning, if we could not imagine how our day might go?

All in all, an outstanding issue from what remains one of my favorite current series.


Review of Conan The Barbarian #25


by Brian Wood and Leandro Fernandez

If we’ve learned anything from the explosion of Superhero stories in film it’s that audiences love an origin story. Batman’s origin was rebooted in Begins just eight years after the last Batman film of the previous series and they might be rebooting his origin again. Superman’s origin was redone only seven years after another reboot. Spiderman and the X-Men lasted five years before the franchise holders decided to reboot their origins and even as I’m typing this news of a Fantastic Four reboot is popping up all over the internets. Don’t think comic companies haven’t noticed. DC went all in on the reboot concept with the New 52 delivering fresh origins for big ticket items like Batman, Superman, The Justice League and The Watchmen (!?!?!?) as the rest of the universes continuity was compressed into five years while Marvel have been releasing easily accessible Season One Graphic Novels to give modern origins of their popular hero’s for new readers at Barnes and Noble. Not to be outdone the forever scrappy runt of the comic publishing liter Darkhorse has responded by rebooting several of their own properties starting at Conan the Barbarian in 2011 with Brian Wood. Conan is tricky because he’s not really a hero in the traditional sense of the word and a large portion of his continuity is loosely based on short stories by Robert E Howard. Wood has taken one of those very early and minimal stories for Conan’s own origin and stretched it out to retrofit Conan in brilliant fashion and this issue was the swan song to his fantastic run. What makes Conan a barbarian? Turns out it’s the sudden and shocking death of his first love that shapes him. More then anything Wood’s run was a story of young love that burns far too bright to sustain itself. This issue was a fitting end as Conan mourns his first loves death, cut’s his losses and transitions to the next stage in adulthood. The illustrations from Leandro Hernandez are fantastic and worthy of the artist that have proceeded him but really this is all about Wood transitioning the young and brash Conan of his first issues to the world weary warrior that we’ve become accustomed to seeing. Wood has helped shape the way I view Conan by giving his early years context like no writer before and this was a fitting end to a fantastic run on the title.

Review of White Suits #1

24061by Frank Barbierie and Toby Cypress

If your not familiar with Frank Barbierie yet get ready because you are going to be hearing a lot about him in the very near future. Barbierie has spent years doing self published work before last years Five Ghosts from Image Comics hit mainstream comics like a freight train. Five Ghosts felt like a revelation in modern pulp genre but Chris Mooneyham’s fantastic illustrations overshadowed Barbierie’s writing in some regards and the conclusion of it’s first arc didn’t quite live up to it’s premise. Here we see Barbierie continuing his infiltration of main stream comics with creator owned work and much like the debut of Five Ghosts the first issue of White Suits delivers in spades. Aided by veteran illustrator Toby Cypress White Suits explodes off the page with a hyper stylized violent opening salvo into the world of the White Suits. This is a gritty crime mystery first and foremost about mob bosses in New York City, the mysterious group of assassins that are wiping them out in mass and a man trying to discover his connection to the organization through his hazy memory. Cypress’s illustrations have a sort of Sean Murphy style of visual story telling that let one image flow into another to create narrative while his drawing style lies somewhere in between rough lines of Paul Pope and Sam Keith creating a dark and dirty visual urban landscape for his wild eyed gangsters to fight out in within the pages. Color is used sparingly but is excellent in spots hedging toward bright reds, oranges and greens representing action and movement. Barbierie does a great job setting up the world and giving you just enough so you’ll crave seeing what’s next. It’s clear that as a writer his strength is in building a world and drawing the reader to dive in head first. This is a phenomenal first issue that crime noir fiction fans don’t want to miss. A stunning debut that lives up to the hype.