Capsule Reviews: Week of February 15th

Joe the Barbarian #2 (Vertigo; Morrison, Murphy, Stewart, Klein)

All hail Chakk.

Hear that? That’s the sound of a possibly awesome book becoming completely awesome. Grant Morrison turns in part two of a story that is rapidly turning into something I wouldn’t have expected from him. While there’s lots of little detail and callbacks to the first issue for the careful reader, those minutia never overwhelm the characters or pacing.

The task of getting those callbacks across often falls to the art, and it fails to disappoint. All those long establishing images of Joe’s house in the first issue that drew semi-critical ire elsewhere suddenly become very important. Sean Murphy’s style and vision settle in a bit and Joe’s world starts to clarify without losing its surrealistic quality. We’re also introduced to another central character, Chakk, the fantasy avatar of Joe’s real-life pet rat Jack. I found Chakk instantly endearing. Claymore-wielding rat-knights? Right up my alley. Vertigo can just go ahead and make a retail statue of him now, I’m good for it.

If you’re not reading this already, start.


Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D. #6 (Marvel; Bendis, Maleev, Petit)

Make with the blasty.

I’m guessing Bendis decided our heroine had enough mental trauma for the first five books, as issue six is delightfully uncomplicated: Jessica and the Thunderbolts fight. Atlanta burns. You get the idea.

That doesn’t in any way diminish the ride, however, as it’s a pretty fun fight. Ghost gets his ass kicked, Headsman really gets his ass kicked, Ant-Man is snarky, Yelena is annoyed, and Paladin… doesn’t really do anything, now that I think about it. And Jessica is generally awesome throughout.

I get the feeling, out of context, that we’re waiting for all the Siege stuff to be done with before Bendis really moves on with the character, which is understandable. As long as the fights are good, the dialog is fun, and the art remains especially pretty, I don’t mind killing time with Spider-Woman.

As long as she leaves the serious Ghost beatdown to Tony and Pepper, that is. A man’s got his limits.


Hit-Monkey (Marvel; Way, Talijic, Hollingsworth, Eckleberry)

The Banana Transporter

I’ll admit it right up front: Marvel had my four bucks when I saw the Frank Cho cover preview.

This came out last week, and I thought it deserved at least a few words. I wasn’t prepared, though, for just how straight the concept was played; I sat on it for a week pondering how to approach it. In my defense, the ‘I’ in the logo is replaced with a banana, so I don’t think I can be faulted for expecting something a little more… maybe not wacky, but at least funny. What I got instead was an almost straight-line action/crime comic that just happens to involve a pack of snow monkeys.

There’s nothing outright wrong with it. The script is solid and the art is right in style for the genre. I have to give Way credit for taking the concept so seriously. It works for a one-shot, but if there’s ever to be more Hit-Monkey, I don’t know that the literal take will prove to be sustainable. I’m both glad I got it and not sure what to do with it now that I have it. I won’t be surprised if we never see it again.

Also, in an opinion that truly does not matter, I think I liked the whole concept better when it was called Hitman Monkey. C’est la vie.

Capsule Reviews: Week of January 25th

Hi! I’m not dead, just short-slept and working– I have one of the few VFX jobs that requires constant attention and doesn’t involve long render times, so blogging from work is pretty much out. Understanding Comics Fridays will return next week with Chapter Four.

However, I did read just about everything in this week’s pull Wednesday night. On to the capsules!

Invincible Iron Man #23 (Marvel; Fraction, Larroca, D’Armata)

The cover for Invincible Iron Man #23, by Larroca and Hughes.

Tony's outside world is as complicated as his interior life.

This is about the only book where I not only tolerate two and a half pages of Bechdel Rule violation, but welcome it as absolutely necessary to the resolution of the overall arc. Tony and Dr. Strange may be mending Tony’s internal world– although I question the wisdom of having that internal world tied inextricably to Tony being Iron Man, and not Tony being, well, Tony— but our favorite technocrat’s external universe is a long, long way from being whole.

Fraction’s saying some interesting things in this issue about how cheaply Tony values his body as opposed to his mind, and, by extension, how dearly he regards the technologies that are the physical representation of his genius. For Tony, the work of his mind outweighs the works of his body, but this isn’t necessarily how everyone else in his world reads his choices. There’s been a lot of small parts put into place across Stark: Disassembled along those lines, and I’ll be interested in seeing the payoff next arc.

Also, hey, Rhodey. I’d like more Rhodey in this book.

Thor #606 (Marvel; Gillen, Tan, Batt, Rauch)

Thor #606 cover by Billy Tan

Doom. You're crushing my head. Cut it out.

Yeah, I know. It was last week. Blame Diamond.

“The Latverian Prometheus” concludes in this issue, and it’s a corker– not for the resolution of Doom’s Asgardian experiment, but for where it puts Loki in relation to the wider Siege plotline. With an upcoming Gillen/McKelvie Siege: Loki one-shot, that can only be good news for readers, if bad news for the deific citizens of Broxton, Oklahoma.

I jumped onto Thor cold because Kieron was writing it, which meant I was in for a whole load of “what the FUCK is going ON here,” but I’m glad I’ve stuck with it. This arc is unrelentingly dark– you’re gonna need a Volstagg chaser if you pick it up late like I did– and knowing that the bright and shiny Heroic Age is coming might blunt the impact of “Doom goes all Josef Mengele on the Asgardians” a little, but I still want to see where Loki and Doom’s plans take them in the next arc.

Billy Tan’s doing some great, expressive facial work on these book, too. Balder, Loki, and Thor are put in some heavy situations in this issue, and their faces reflect their struggles. Great to see; Thor has always been a hard sell for me for some reason, but this is a book that looks as good as it reads.

Siege #2 (Marvel; Bendis, Coipel, Morales, Martin)

Siege #2 cover by Coipel, Morales, and Martin.

Sentry's got the Oddball!

First off: I love Laura Martin’s color work and always will. Please take this as read from here on out if you see me review a Martin book. Thanks.

I wasn’t too into the first issue of Siege; I thought it set things up but didn’t move the plot forward much, and I was expecting a little more of a big bang to start off the Norman Osborn endgame. Turns out Bendis was reserving that for this issue!

Yup, someone dies. Yes, it’s a floridly gratuitous two-page Avatar-title-esque death scene with flying intestines and so on, but that actually suits the subject matter just fine. Yup, Steve is back. Yup, Norman’s about to take an epic ass-beating from Steve. While the death might be a surprise to you, not much else here is surprising, and that’s fine. I want this book to do a set list of things, and do them in a straightforward, precise manner, competently. It doesn’t have to shock me every issue, it just has to get me from mega-arc to mega-arc in a manner that will cause me to say “Yes. That is what I wanted to see here.” I don’t look to the big minis to wow me with their innovation; I want them to satisfy my need for closure. It’s kind of the same approach I take to well-executed fanfic that wraps up weird loose ends from TV shows that aren’t on any more. Nothing has to be revolutionary, but everything has to be good.

When I want innovation, I’ll go to Twitter and hyperventilate about our chances of actually getting a new issue of Casanova before year’s end– and those chances look pretty good right now. Siege, on the other hand, just started to deliver the solid goods as far as popcorn comics go, and I’m much more content about it now than I was a month ago. Coipel’s art is fantastic, with attention to small detail (page four, panel four, with Norman’s tiny surprise lines, was a particular Department favorite) and sweeping moments alike.

Plus, if you like Secret Warriors, this is the issue for you, as Daisy and her teammates finally show up to the main plot. All around, just Marvel Zombie comfort food– filling without being super-flashy or experimental.

Capsule Reviews: Week of January 11th

Here’s a few short takes on some other titles I picked up this week, just to tide you over on the long weekend.

The cover for Nation-X #2, by Dustin Weaver.

Nation-X #2. Cover by Dustin Weaver.

Nation-X #2 of 4 (Marvel; various authors and artists)

I’m really not sure what to make of Nation-X; it’s a sort of awkward anthology series about the various mutants who, in the wake of Dark Reign, have relocated to the newly-raised island of Utopia (formerly Magneto’s Asteroid M).  This issue’s not really helping the awkwardness, since it’s half standard Marvel fare and half artistically inventive stories featuring indie comics creators doing short mutant-themed vignettes.

There’s a “Jubilee misses Logan” story where, it seems, every possible comment on women who aren’t present is some variant of “oh, and she’s hot,” from multiple characters.  Dan Barber and David López contribute a war of wills between Quentin Quire and Martha Johansson that’s an entertaining enough read, even if it only serves to take Quire out of the jar for ten minutes or so until the Cuckoos can put him back again. That all seems rather pointless, but at this late date, so does Quentin Quire himself.

It’s the last two stories that make this worth picking up, though.  Tim Fish’s “LDR” is a manic recap of Northstar’s relationship with his SO, Kyle.  The art is suffused with a sense of Jean-Paul’s own kinetic joy; I put the book down, googled up Fish’s art blog, and dropped it into my RSS reader as soon as I got done reading.  In addition, the conflict Jean-Paul and Kyle face is one everyone faces in a relationship– there’s no specific gay angst going on.  Neither of them is a Doomed Homosexual; they’re just dating and their disparate lives are slowly getting adjusted to the new normal. It’s nice to see.

Plus, Fish brings in the Warwolves as a B-plot.  And if you don’t love the Warwolves like 11-year-old Excalibur-fangirl me loved the Warwolves, I don’t really know what to say.

Becky Cloonan finishes up the book with “Cajun Justice!”, an old-school X-morality tale focusing on Gambit’s conflicted loyalties. It’s a fairly standard “mutant with crisis of conscience helps out troubled human” setup, but the art is incredibly strong (Pixie on page 2 is possibly my favorite rendering of Ms. Gwynn ever). I’d love to see more distinctive work like this in the X-books, and less of the heavily-photoreferenced Marvel house style.

The cover to Strange #3, by Tomm Coker.

Strange #3. Cover by Tomm Coker.

Strange #3 of 4 (Marvel; Mark Waid and Emma Rios)

One editorial decision I like: the recap page consists of panels from previous issues that sum up the broad strokes of Dr. Strange’s decision to take on spoiled rich girl Casey as his latest apprentice. Yeah, it’s a limited series and they can get away with the concise approach, but it’s miles beyond the stilted writing on most Marvel recaps.

It’s standard fare for Stephen Strange, pacts with demons and like… at a children’s beauty pageant, though, which is new to him. Casey, though, is an old hand at the sort of situations that make great reality TV, and her impetuous nature suits the setting. Dr. Strange is in the middle of a Marvel reboot attempt yet again, and this isn’t really a bad choice for him. Powered down and stuck with a reckless teenager, he’s dryly engaging instead of imposing.

Rios’s art features wide-open panel layouts and carefully-chosen color palettes; I’m not a huge anime fan, but her anime influences suit Casey well. I’m not sorry I picked this up, and I’m looking forward to the last issue.