Review: Rescue #1

“Rescue Me”

Writer: Kelly Sue “Supersonic” DeConnick
Artist: Andrea Mutti
Colorist: Jose Villarrubia
Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Cover: Travel Foreman & June Chung

Oh, if only I could stay a while
what am I afraid of?
All this psychic damage
of all the years I’m made of

-Ted Leo & the Pharmacists,
“Bottled in Cork”

Forgive the indulgence of opening with a song quote, but it seems fitting given the previous connections we’ve made between Ted Leo and Invincible Iron Man. That particular quote, too, sticks out in my mind– not only for being (in my opinion) the best turn of phrase to be had on The Brutalist Bricks, but also fitting for where Pepper Potts stands at the opening of Rescue.

Set just before the events leading up to the climax of Siege, Pepper finds herself a fugitive on the run. She’s temporarily gone to ground, hiding out in the basement of a school somewhere in Oklahoma. Once she’s got a few minutes to herself, the lack of sleep and the surfeit of adrenaline from what she’s been through up to that point contrive to confront her with the one thing she hasn’t dealt with yet: Happy Hogan’s death. We’re treated to a flashback of Rescue in action as Pepper debates if she’s done enough, if there isn’t more that she could do, if she can ever do enough.

What I find most interesting about Rescue is how it compares to DeConnick’s other Women of Marvel one-shot from last month, Sif. At first blush it’s tempting to argue that it’s the same story with power armor instead of a longsword, and the arc of each character, from a distance, is certainly similar. The difference here, though, is the vector each character takes to get where they need to go. The two books compliment and bookend each other remarkably well as character studies. I could wish, further down the chain as things sort out for the Heroic Age and in what seems to be the new Avengers tradition, to see a Sif and Rescue team-up. They would be quite a force.

Also, as an aside, I love the version of J.A.R.V.I.S. in the Rescue armor. It’s obviously a cue from the movie-version of J.A.R.V.I.S., and Kelly Sue uses it to great effect as comic relief. Being able to banter with the suit is a real treat.

I’ve loved the design of the Rescue armor from when it was first introduced in Invincible Iron Man, and Andrea Mutti does it great justice here. In all the ways that Iron Man epitomizes Tony’s concept of masculinity, Rescue is undeniably feminine without losing any of the strength inherent in a Starktech armor.

Rescue is, much like Sif, something I’d like to see as an ongoing series, or at least a limited run. They both would take well to more breathing room. We’re treated to a wonderful and poignant bit of character development with Rescue that wasn’t quite as possible with the straightforward Sif. Pepper’s only human, after all, and as such is laden with all the complications and baggage any of us accrete over a lifetime. (Not to detract from Sif’s issues, but as an Asgardian and a warrior, her solution is somewhat more linear.) It’s rewarding to see Pep fight through some of her issues. And if things line up the way Matt Fraction’s hinting at with the recent return of the Spymaster in Invincible Iron Man… well, it’s a good thing Pepper’s had this moment of closure before her return to righteous ass-kicking.

Review: Heroic Age: Prince of Power #1

Prince of Power #1 cover.

...krakathoom me, Amadeus?

“Blasphemy Can Be Fun”

Writers: Greg Pak and Fred van Lente
Penciller: Reilly Brown
Inkers: Terry Pallot with Jason Paz
Colorist: Val Staples
Letterer: Simon Bowland

I’ve finally plowed through just about all of the Siege wrap-up books– I skipped Fallen Sun: The Sentry because I’m just about sick of Bob by now, no offense to the creative team intended– and am starting to get into the first few Heroic Age titles. Heroic Age: Prince of Power seemed like a pretty good place to start, and I’m glad I wasn’t wrong. Amadeus Cho’s first solo book is a fun ride.

A couple of shameful confessions are in order before I get down to business, I suppose. First off, I don’t really get into the Hulk the way I do, say, Iron Man or the X-Men. Thor’s managed to win a place in my pull thanks to Kieron Gillen, but the Hulk has never really had a creative team that appeals to me. Secondly, I’ve never read any of Incredible Hercules, and that’s entirely because I just don’t have the scratch to read everything I might want to read in a month. (I took an iPhone pic of the Department’s epically huge pull sheet for May 2010 when I filled it out. I should post that, just so you can feel my pain.)

I did, however, read the first issue of Hercules: Fall of an Avenger, and what I saw of Amadeus Cho in there, I liked. I knew that I was coming to Prince of Power at a heavy disadvantage, not having read any other books featuring everyone’s favorite boy genius… and, after my attempt at reading the new Birds of Prey earlier tonight, which presupposes a great deal of DCU knowledge, I was a little wary of what I was going to get here.

Thankfully, Pak and van Lente are smart, efficient writers who can pack a lot of backstory into a few witty captions. I went from not knowing shit about Amadeus Cho’s situation to meeting his ex-girlfriend, getting a feel for his mentor Athena Panhellenios, watching him fight the Griffin, and seeing him fail to manage his corporate holdings in any sort of reasonable fashion. For 22 pages, that’s not a bad start at all; I feel like I can read this series and understand what’s going on without having to hit up my resident Incredible Hercules fanboy every five minutes, and that’s a nice feeling to have.

The supporting cast is fleshed out nicely as well. Hebe, Amadeus’s personal assistant and Hercules’ widow, is a particular delight. She’s caught between a sense of responsibility to Amadeus, and a total unwillingness to roll with his grandiose and often poorly-thought-out plans, but she doesn’t come off as a blithering idiot or a doormat. Inexperienced, yes, but not naive; I could see her exchanging tips on “how to enable your crazy boss without incurring serious personal injury” with Pepper Potts. Given that I had qualms about Fall of an Avenger‘s habit of defining the women in Herc’s life in terms of their sexual relationships with him and nothing else, Hebe is a welcome change. She looks like she’ll grow into her role as Amadeus’s assistant over the next three issues, and that’s great to see.

Penciller Reilly Brown does some great facial expressions and a fantastic two-page spread of Amadeus fighting the Griffin here. His art is clean and straightforward, and Val Staples employs different color palettes to great effect over Brown’s strong linework. (Check out the transition from the day-glo fight with the Griffin to the subdued greens and grays of Bruce Banner’s lab. That’s some nice work.) The art has a solid contemporary vibe; Amadeus wears Marc Jacobs, Banner’s lab is stuffed full of ultratech goodies, and the Olympus Group offices have a Spartan feel to them. Nothing here feels tired or dated, and that’s exactly what I want in a book about a 17-year-old Einstein– a fresh, well-researched approach.

The A-plot comes a little late in the book, a casualty of the amount of pipe that needs to be laid to get there, but it’s a good one, and it plays off all the impulsivity and loyalty to Hercules that Pak and van Lente establish in the pages that precede it. Amadeus decides that, in order to bring Hercules back to Earth, he’ll have to become a god himself and start hunting Herc down throughout a number of parallel worlds. This is about as awesomely ill-advised an idea as Amadeus has ever had– and, indeed, this issue’s cliffhanger involves accidentally pissing off Thor, so you know it’s going to be a lot of fun across pantheons as the book progresses.

Hopefully, this book is a good omen for the Heroic Age– it’s a fast, breezy read with enough backplot to hook new readers without boring the old hands. It doesn’t require encyclopedic knowledge of the Marvel Universe’s current status quo. The writing is fresh and funny, and the art’s appealing. I’ll be pretty happy if other creators take Pak and van Lente’s cue and make their Heroic Age titles as accessible to those of us who aren’t omniscient.

Review: Siege #4

Siege 4 cover by Olivier Coipel, Mark Morales, and Laura Martin.

That's three madmen down and a Heroic Age to go.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Olivier Coipel
Inker: Mark Morales
Colorist: Laura Martin

First off, I’m reviewing this issue from the airport in Seattle– on Monday afternoon. How, you ask, considering that I get my pull on Wednesdays like the rest of you? Well, I spent part of my long weekend in Portland, OR, home of Brian Bendis… who had comp copies burning a hole in his pocket. Bendis dropped some off at Things From Another World, I scooted over there on my way out of town, and the Sentry’s your uncle. So, hey, thanks, Bendis! Thanks, guys at TFAW!

Speaking of Bob, this issue puts the entire “what do you do with a guy who makes the Beyonder look sane” question to rest for the moment, and it’s actually pretty satisfying. Better yet, Coipel’s art is what sells it. The Sentry’s been one of the major annoyances of the Dark Reign– too powerful to play nice with everyone else, too unbalanced to be really compelling as a character– and getting him off the board gives me the sense that we may actually get some forward momentum going from here on out. That’d be a welcome change from the previous year and a half of dealing with twinked-out, superpowered lunatics…

…which brings us to Norman Osborn. He gets his in the end as well, although Spider-Man isn’t actually involved. Neither is Tony Stark, oddly– it’s all Steve Rogers’ show, set up to provide us with a little insight into Steve’s new motivations going into Secret Avengers. I certainly don’t mind Steve’s redesign, but I feel like Spider-Man should’ve had the last laugh in the ongoing Osborn drama, or maybe Tony Stark. After all, Norman was a Spidey villain from day one, and the entirety of “World’s Most Wanted” was about his vengeance on Tony. That being said, I don’t think we’ve seen the end of Norman’s plot arc yet, so I’m not counting either Peter or Tony out of the final reckoning.

As for our final, and arguably biggest, psychotic madman, Loki… well. His comeuppance delivers a serious hit to Thor’s entire status quo. If you have any interest in Thor and the Asgardian arc plot whatsoever, you will need to read this issue (and, if you’ve got them, Siege: Loki and New Mutants #11, both of which appear to provide big hints as to Loki’s possible fate). After all the buildup Loki’s received in the last year, this is the sea change in his relationship to the rest of the Marvel Universe, and you will need to see it even if you’re not actively following the Siege.

While I don’t always find Thor a terribly compelling character in his own right, and I’m only starting to come around to his fandom, I want to see where Kieron Gillen and Matt Fraction go with what Bendis has done here. Asgard falling appears to be the least of the Asgardians’ worries at this point in the game. Siege #4 sets up a state of affairs that can’t be ignored… and yet, over and over again in Gillen’s run, we’ve seen the gods’ childlike naïveté and willful ignorance lead them into disaster. I don’t know how long it will take the various Thor creative teams to play this one out to its end, but I expect a lot of mayhem before it’s all over.

Bendis has cleared the decks for next week’s Avengers launch in grand, cinematic style; although I have quibbles with Osborn’s eventual fate, I can’t say I’m unhappy with the denouement here. The Loki plotline is worth the price of admission on its own. Most of all, though, I’m just glad to see the Siege and the Dark Reign well and truly done; it’s past time we moved on to some new storylines and new ideas.

Review: Hellboy in Mexico

Cover to Hellboy in Mexico by Richard Corben.

Yeah, Hellboy *is* beating up a demon luchador.

Note: Chad and I are celebrating our anniversary this weekend. Posting will be even lighter than usual as a result. –J

“Hellboy in Mexico, or, a Drunken Blur”

Writer: Mike Mignola
Artist: Richard Corben
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Letters: Clem Robins

The last year or so of Hellboy and B.P.R.D. have been dense with continuity, leading up to a radical change in direction for both books. I’ve been reading them pretty avidly, but I haven’t felt at all prepared to review them with the thoroughness they deserve. Fortunately, I have no such qualms about Hellboy in Mexico— like Mignola and Corben’s previous Hellboy: The Crooked Man, it stands delightfully and somewhat ludicrously on its own.

While waiting on a BPRD pickup in 1982 Mexico, Abe and HB stumble into a deserted cantina… with pictures of Hellboy and a bunch of luchadores on the walls. HB sighs and admits to Abe that, yes, he’s been here before; in 1956, Mexico experienced a plague of supernatural events thought to be the work of the Devil himself. Cut off from the usual BPRD support staff, HB teamed up with a family of wrestlers to fight the eldritch hordes.

What happens next is… well, even lucha libre can be neatly squeezed into the intricate Hellboy mythos. The brothers believe they’re on a mission from the Virgin Mary, the avatar of a demonic Mayan bat god appears, and everything, as usual, ends a little direly for HB himself. It’s a funny story, and a sad one, and it emphasizes the gulf between Hellboy and the people he loves. It’s hard not to see echoes of Dr. Who in Hellboy here. Like the Doctor, HB works best with companions, people whose brief and brave lives show him what it means to be truly human. Hellboy knows that he’ll always have to go on without them at the end of the day, though, toward that mysterious destiny we’ve seen teased in The Wild Hunt.

Corben does some of my favorite Hellboy art. The Crooked Man found him working in the tradition of underground comics, all deliriously thick lines and bulging eyeballs, and Hellboy in Mexico showcases his talent at brooding, expectant atmospherics. A lot of this book takes place in wide open spaces, lit only by the glare of headlights; it reminds me of early Spielberg cinematography in a good way. The fight scenes are chaotic and crowded, the cantina sequences cheery and bright. As much as I like Hellboy artists like Duncan Fegredo, Corben’s got the right attitude and solid chops to pull off a slightly gonzo Hellboy story like this one.

Soon enough, Mignola’s coming back to handle the art chores for Hellboy, and we’ll see what happens now that HB’s claimed Excalibur and appears destined for the throne of England. Hopefully, all that portentous Arthuriana doesn’t spell the end of these black-humored, North American-based Mignola/Corben stories. I’d miss them terribly.

Review: Terminator 2029 #2

Needle-Nose Ninja

Script: Zack Whedon
Art: Andy MacDonald
Colors: Dan Jackson
Lettering: Nate Piekos
Cover: Massimo Carnevale

When we talked to Zack Whedon last month about Terminator 2029 #1, he was coy about some details that were obviously going to play a part as the three-issue miniseries unfolded. This was to be expected, of course– but, having read issue #2, I have to chuckle to myself at just how much he was holding back, and how amused he was at what was coming up. He’s certainly earned it; this issue has elevated the series up a notch from “good” to “great.”

Terminator 2029 is technically centered on Kyle Reese, but Kyle’s lieutenant Ben gets all the love this time around. Ben and Paige’s arc in this issue comprises the B-plot, but they completely steal the show. I try my best not to spoil big scenes in these reviews, but I have to make an exception in this case, so steel yourself for the next paragraph.

How cool is Ben? He takes out a 800-series Terminator… with a pair of needle-nose pliers. Everyone else’s tech-geek cred just went down a few points by comparison, fictional character or not. Stand aside, Gordon Freeman, Ben’s on the scene.

When he’s not being a Leatherman ninja, Ben’s romantic subplot advances satisfyingly as well, intercut with scenes from Kyle’s bombastic A-plot. Kyle remains a strong character for Whedon to play with, but the main plot in this issue is a bit weak and formulaic. A band of renegades, ex-soldiers unsatisfied with what they consider to be the Resistance’s timid pace, bail Kyle’s refugees out of last issue’s cliffhanger… and that’s the problem.

In the immortal words of Bad Religion, these guys are “a pack of wild desperadoes scornful of living,” and Kyle’s stuck dealing with their issues. He’s essentially ego-goaded into helping the band’s leader make a raid on a strange new Skynet compound nearby. What follows is a workmanlike A-to-B progression– spot the base, go to the base, break into the base. It’s fun, but the Paige and Ben arc is so well done that it overshadows this de rigueur action.

Of course, that might be what Whedon intended all along. The ending ties both plots together in a surprise that will leave you smacking your forehead in why-didn’t-I-think-of-it delight. It’s not an M. Night Shyamalan-style twist, leaping on the unsuspecting reader out of nowhere, either– it’s actually neatly concealed inside the things we readers already know about the Terminator mythos. Or, well, if it’s not, it should be, anyway. Depending on how Zack decides to write himself out of the corner he’s just placed himself into, we’ll see what holds up through issue 3.

Also worth noting in this issue is Andy MacDonald’s steadily-improving art. #2 is a much tighter affair on all sides, and Andy’s really hit his stride. Dan Jackson’s use of a two separate color palettes, emphasizing the differences between the cold of the snow and Skynet and the tenuous warmth of the Yankee Company compound, is spot on. Massimo Carnevale’s cover art for this issue is poster-worthy, even as biased to Ben as we might be at the Department.

I was a big fan of Dark Horse’s movie properties in the early 90’s. Aliens, Predator, and Terminator mini-series were regular pulls for me when they were first running. This is the first time in a long time I’ve been this excited about one of them.

Review: Siege: Secret Warriors

Siege: Secret Warriors cover by Marko Djurdjevic.

Yeah, that's pretty much what's going on here. No subtlety!

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Alessandro Vitti
Colorist: Jose Villarubia
Letterer: Dave Lanphear
Cover: Marko Djurdjevic

I’ve read three of the Siege one-shots now– I skipped Siege: Captain America and Siege: Young Avengers, since I’m not following their home titles– and I’ve been pretty solidly entertained all along. Two of those three issues have played directly to their authors’ strengths. Siege: Loki showcased Kieron Gillen’s grasp of the Asgardian mindset, first displayed in “The Latverian Prometheus.” Brian Reed’s knack for physical comedy got full run of the place in Siege: Spider-Man, including the single best Ms. Marvel panel I’ve ever seen.

Given that, you’d probably expect Siege: Secret Warriors to go straight up the usual Jonathan Hickman alley– weird conspiracies, epic pseudoscience, and portents of disaster at every turn. You’d figure on at least a token appearance by Hydra, and you’d guess that Secret Warriors leader-in-training Daisy might be integral to the plot, as usual.

You’d be entirely wrong, too.

The focal point of this issue is Alex, the extremely creepy boy-genius son of Ares, the recently-deceased god of war. Unlike his dad, Alex is the god of fear… and while Ares can’t possibly have been the best of parents, given his treatment of his charges in books like Dark Avengers: Ares, he did leave a few very specific instructions for Alex in event of an emergency. Alex sets off to fulfill those requests as best he can, and, well, when you’re the god of fear, your best is probably a damn sight better than most people’s.

Hickman throws every bit of his usual carefully-honed subtlety out the window in this issue. I lost count of the number of people Alex chops up on his way to finding out the reason for his father’s (quite temporary, it seems) death. The entire A-plot is pretty much one dirty, protracted fight sequence; there’s not a lot of talking, just a lot of Alex going house on mortals who aren’t prepared for his assault. People who’ve been following Secret Warriors from issue one will be pleased to see Alex finally embracing his father’s amorality, which he displays in flashes throughout the regular series. His actions certainly bring up questions about how much longer he’s going to put up with being the mascot in Nick Fury’s Junior SHIELD Scouts, and I think that’s exactly what Hickman wants the reader to ponder.

If you’re not a regular Secret Warriors reader, though, Alex’s quest for vengeance probably won’t do much for you. After all, you’ve got almost no reason to care about him. You’re not going out and buying, I dunno, Secret Phobos or Ultimate God of Fear or Alex: Origins every month, because he doesn’t have that kind of cachet in the Marvel lineup. For you guys, Hickman’s thoughtfully provided a B-plot where Nick Fury and the reborn Steve Rogers renew their acquaintance over a round of hapless mooks. Vitti does a fine job with this big, sprawling Avengers-style battle, rendering Cap with a brawler’s raw physicality and Nick with the breezy charm of an amiable drunk.

The editorial dictate of the month, if this book and Invincible Iron Man #25 are any indication, is “Get all the major players in the Illuminati/ Civil War plotline back on or near the same page before June’s Avengers event.” Siege: Secret Warriors accomplishes the reunion of Nick and Cap in swaggering style. And, hey, if you’re a fan of Alex’s ongoing quest to attain the full scope of his divinity, there’s a lot to like here too. Essential for Siege diehards who were left hanging by Ares’ death, folks who liked Dark Avengers: Ares, and Secret Warriors readers. You could probably skip it if you’re not in those three categories, but you’d miss a rare atypical Jonathan Hickman story, and I don’t think I’d recommend that.

UnReview: Captain America: Who Won’t Wield the Shield?

We’ve had a good time reviewing things we dig here at Department H. Every once in a long while, though, something comes along that defies traditional critical review. Captain America: Who Won’t Wield the Shield? is one of these books.

How do you approach something where Deadpool breaks the fourth wall less than anyone else in the book? How do you judge six pages of psychedelia that make the most out-there Shade the Changing Man covers look like hotel room art? What commentary can possibly be made about Matt Fraction’s dying tweet?

In considering all of this, I decided that trying to answer any of these questions in normal, linear space and time was an effort in futility. I realized, after reading it Wednesday night, that I had a unique chance to do something different. To quote a very wise woman, in an insane world, it was the sanest choice.

Go, girl!

…so I went down to the LA Times Festival of Books today and got it signed by Ed Brubaker.

Review: Siege: Spider-Man

"blblblblbl, I'm your new boyfriend now!"

"blblblblbl, I'm your new boyfriend now!"

Writer: Brian Reed
Artist: Marco Santucci
Color Artist: Chris Sotomayor
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramanga
Cover: Marko Djurdjevic

Let me cut right to the chase: Where in the hell has this Venom been all my life?

I must admit up front that I’ve read none of the previous canon in relation to the character. When I was the obligatory angry young man, Venom’s meteoric rise to popularity soured me to the entire concept and what it appeared to be doing to Spider-Man and Marvel as a whole. I can trace my inability to find purchase in any of the Spider-Man comics to what seemed like an editorial mandate to over-hype the symbiote and its hosts. More than likely, looking back, Venom was the leading contributor to my disdain for Marvel in general for the majority of the last two decades. I’d walk into a shop, be greeted by a sea of fanged, saliva-dripping-tongued faces on posters, t-shirts, what have you, and I’d retreat hastily to the Vertigo section.

As my interest in the Siege storyline has grown over the last few months, though, I keep brushing up against the Mac Gargan Venom, especially as the action moves closer to Asgard. When Brian Reed posted the preview to Siege: Spider-Man to Twitter last week, I was dubious. But those six pages compelled me to do something I’d never even considered before.

I was going to have to buy a Venom story.

I was not disappointed, and I’m still not sure how to feel about that. I’ve invested a lot in hating Venom. It’s defined my comics fandom for twenty freaking years now. It’s not like I can just let that go all of a sudden. Reed’s sense of humor is natural for Peter Parker; when you see Spidey, you expect smartassery. The application of that same humor to Venom, though? It works, and it makes him a convincing dark mirror to Spidey– the one thing he’s been missing for me this entire time. Reed’s Venom is eminently quotable, and invoking the best lines in my head as I write this still makes me laugh hours after the fact. If nothing else, Reed deserves a medal for having Venom invoke the the phrase “OM NOM NOM” while dining on Asgardian flesh.

It’s essentially a prolonged, laugh-a-minute fight scene between Venom, Spidey, and Ms. Marvel, but the story never loses its awareness of surrounding events- the visual callback to Siege: Embedded is a nice touch that rewards observant readers. And despite everything else going on, Siege: Spider-Man never loses its actual focus on building the growing bond between Peter and Carol. How that’s going to work out in the long run is… unclear, but it makes for a nice story all the same.

The art, color, and lettering combine here in a very fluid manner to carry these hijinks along seamlessly. Caramagna’s lettering job, especially, makes Venom’s dialog shine through. And, uh… how can I say this? A naked man has never been funnier to me. Ever.

I keep having the same thought as I read all of these Siege and Siege-related one-shots from Marvel: More like this, please. Brian Reed and company actually made me like Venom, FFS. Clearly, we have entered the end times.

Review: Sif

Cover for Sif 1 by Travel Foreman and June Chung.

She don't need another hero: Sif fights her way back to self-respect.

“I Am the Lady Sif”

Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Penciller: Ryan Stegman
Inkers: Tom Palmer with Victor Olazaba
Colorist: Juan Doe
Letterer: VC’s Joe Sabino
Cover: Travel Foreman and June Chung

Sif has a tough lot in the Marvel pantheon. She’s a powerful and skilled warrior goddess, but somehow she keeps getting the short end of the stick. Loki shears off her golden hair in a symbolic rape, after which she’s sent away by her parents for warrior training– apparently, that’s the Asgardian concept of crisis counseling in action. When she returns, Sif and Thor proceed to have a relationship worthy of Jerry Springer, during which Thor hits her, she runs off with Beta Ray Bill, they discover that Thor’s mind-controlled, she takes Thor back and dumps Bill… oy. It’s all ugly.

That’s not even counting Sif making a pact with Mephisto at one point, or Thor exiling Sif from Asgard for objecting to his fascist reign. Or, you know, Thor hooking up with the Enchantress and getting her pregnant while Sif’s hanging around in exile. It’s a rough life in the MU if you’re an Asgardian battle maiden, apparently– and then, just when everything started to look up, Loki provoked the Ragnarok, stole Sif’s body, and imprisoned her in the form of a dying elderly woman.

Yeah. That’s some empowerment for Sif right there. When it’s not domestic abuse and getting thrown out of the hall in favor of the evil baby mama, it’s rape and more rape. Sure, Sif kicks ass against Surtur and is every bit as badass as Brunhild, but with a personal life that painful, it’s probably not much consolation… and if you’re a female comics fan, it’s not very cheering to see a character who’s had a lot of her development come at the expense of her autonomy.

Fortunately, Sif’s been placed in Kelly Sue DeConnick’s capable hands for the first step of her recovery from this ongoing soap opera. DeConnick is arguably best-known for her work on 30 Days of Night and Image’s Comic Book Tattoo anthology; she doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page of her own, and that’s a damn shame. Sif is a clear indication of a talent worth more recognition.

The book is a compact, kinetic tale of Sif’s first steps on the road from “survivor” back to “warrior.” Sheltered in the uneasy bosom of the citizens of Broxton, Sif is drinking and nursing hypervigilant combat reflexes when Beta Ray Bill (and Ti Asha Ra, last seen in Kieron Gillen’s Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter) arrives. Of course, he’s not trying to rekindle any romance– no, he wants a Real Man, in this case Thor, to help him regain his ship from Borg-like space pirates.

That’s when Sif stops having any of this macho nonsense, thankfully, and puts herself up in Thor’s stead. What follows is a vicious little romp reminiscent of Die Hard— “Come out to deep space! We’ll get together, have a few laughs!” Sif tests her physical mettle against the disciples of the Salvation Condition and her mental endurance against the memories of Loki’s tortures. The Korbinites become background figures, witnesses to her trial, and the story’s all the sharper for it; this story is all about Sif and how she wins her way back to her true self. DeConnick keeps the focus tight and the dialogue terse, emphasizing the tension Sif feels every day as a survivor.

The visuals convey this sense of tension as Sif throws herself into combat; artist Ryan Stegman has a clean style reminiscent of Madame Xanadu‘s Amy Reeder Hadley, making Sif seem like Nimue’s plucky adventuring cousin. The various residents of Broxton are salt-of-the-earth types, making a sharp contrast to Sif’s hard-edged biker beauty. Beta Ray Bill is as snouty and toothy as I’ve ever seen him– Stegman’s depiction makes Bill a heavy-hearted, distant taskmaster, presiding over Sif’s ordeal for her own good. The panel transitions are rapid and occasionally unnerving, highlighting Sif’s near-manic dread and battle rage. Particularly successful is a panel (I’ll try to get a pic uploaded later today) where a disciple of the Condition grabs Sif’s ankle… followed immediately by a quick cut to her revulsed, shell-socked reaction, and then to the lethal consequences. Solid, solid storytelling, a welcome change from the vague visual narrative you see in other titles.

Sif also sets up a future direction for the battle goddess… one that seems likely to pay off handsomely for her, especially when it’s seen in light of the events of Siege: Loki last week. I certainly hope Marvel lets DeConnick and Stegman run with that plotline, because it’s one I’d enjoy seeing.

One last confession. We bought two copies of Sif today. The first one was ordered weeks ago in our Golden Apple pull… but we were so eager to see how DeConnick and Stegman pulled this off that Chad bought a second copy on his way home from work. You should be that eager too; this book showcases two up-and-coming Marvel talents turning in rock-steady work that takes the misogynist tarnish off Sif and restores her to her Ripley-esque Simonson-era badassery.

Review: Cold Space #1

Written & Created by: Samuel L. Jackson & Eric Calderon
Art: Jeremy Rock
Letters: Troy Peteri

The term “self-insert” is generally not used in a positive manner when it comes to writing. That’s not to say it’s inherently bad; if it’s is done well, like so many other somewhat dubious approaches to writing, it can transcend negative connotation. A talented writer producing a solid narrative can judiciously employ a little self-insertion, but if someone’s looking for an Easy Button to make up for an innate lack of talent, there’s not too many options. Unless, of course, you’re just the right person.

In other words, you’d pretty much have to be Samuel L. Jackson, for whom self-insertion is practically mandatory.

I don’t say this to belittle the man, since I can think of nothing cooler than the Space Adventures of Samuel L. Jackson- the idea alone got me to drop $4 on the book. I know he’s a big comic fan in his own right, and I’m certain he’s probably got plenty of stories he could be telling that wouldn’t need the addition of his now-classic onscreen persona. I can’t fault him or Eric Calderon for going with the obvious strengths, though, in presenting a new book.

For the most part, the choice pays off. Mulberry, the main character, is an unspecified flavor of fugitive from what passes for the law in the year 4012. A warp accident while trying to escape the authorities lands him on an uncharted moon that appears to be a cross between the outer space Wild West of Firefly and the post-apocalyptic Mad Max-esque world of Pandora from last year’s excellent Borderlands video game. Mulberry is the kind of bad dude that always seems to have the upper hand and always gets the last laugh, even when things blow up in his face. It doesn’t hurt that it doesn’t take much to imagine his lines as read by his inspiration.

Cold Space #1 is, narratively, a straight journey from point A to point B. Again, though, I can’t fault it for that because it has a good time doing it. What will be interesting to see is where they take it from here. Will it simply continue to be just what it says on the tin, Sam Jackson: Badass In Space? Or will they suck us in on that premise and somehow turn it around on itself? It’s a win-win scenario either way, but I think in this case I’d prefer to be surprised. I’ll probably hang around for the remaining three issues regardless.