Monday, June 11, 2012

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 6/6

Before Watchen: Minutemen #1
Story & Art: Darwyn Cooke

So, here it is: the first issue of Before Watchmen. I went in with some trepidation, I admit. As much as I love Darwyn Cooke's work, and I LOVE Darwyn Cooke's work, this project has raised more dander than pretty much anything that I've seen among comic fans, and all the vitriol is a major reason why I wanted to create this snark free zone. And now having read the first issue, I have to say... I'm glad I did. There is something of a case of what I like to call "first-issue-itis" here. There's a lot of information, a lot of set-up, and not a ton happens to forward what I assume will be the plot of the rest of the mini. But it was done so darn well, and the art was so beautiful, that I barely noticed.  Basically, this issue felt like a really well done handbook, giving you profiles and background on who each of the Minutemen are. If you haven't read Watchmen in a few years, which I hadn't, it was a nice way to remind you who each of these characters are, especially since none of them are from the main cast of the original. Being that it's set in the 30s and 40s, it speaks to Cooke's artistic sensibilities. I'm sure Cooke can do stuff set in the present and the future, he was after all a designer on Batman Beyond, but between DC: The New Frontier and his Parker work, Cooke's style makes me think of a bygone era. I am looking forward to the rest of this series, and to the other Before Watchmen minis. I hope they can all live up to this opening.

Creator-Owned Heroes #1
Story: Steve Niles / Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray
Art: Kevin Mellon / Phil Noto

The same week that Before Watchmen, which has caused one of the most polarizing debates one creators rights in comics history, came out, we also get the first issue of this, Creator-Owned Heroes, which is, like it says, a book that spotlights work that is, well, creator owned. I picked this up partially because I like to support creator owned books no matter what, partially because I found it appropriate to buy it because of when it was released, and partially because I happen to really like the work of Palmiotti & Gray. Toss in a story by Steve Niles, master of modern horror comics, and an interview with Neil Gaiman, and I was sold. The book lives up to the sum of its parts; a comics anthology that also features interviews and articles, all of which are interesting and fun. We get the first chapters of two serials, both of which have me curious.  American Muscle, the Niles story, with art by Kevin Mellon, is a group of people wandering a ruined and dystophic future story. Nothing new there, but Niles has always been good with character, which shines through, and there seems to be a twist coming in what caused this particular collapse of society that is hinted at here. Trigger Girl 6, by Palmiotti and Gray, is a spy/action/thriller. Again, this is just a short chapter, but it sets up an interesting premise, and makes me want to know the origin of the Trigger Girls. Phil Noto's art is dynamic and the aerial battle scene, that I don't want to talk about too much so as not to spoil it, it really a thing of beauty. Aside from the interview with Gaiman, there are also various articles about the origin of this project, an interview with cosplayers who have crafted a real world Trigger Girl costume, and some convention photos. This is a great package, where you get a lot of bang for your $3.99, and is well worth picking up.

Earth 2 #2
Story: James Robinson
Art: Nicola Scott

This issue marks the real beginning of the new Earth 2. Last issues was a solid comic, but it was really the last stand of the Trinity and didn't do a lot to introduce us to the main cast of the book. This issue, though, is a vast improvement. I really like the new Jay Garrick. I know a lot of people were making slacker speedster jokes after the last issue, but it looks like he's less a slacker and more just a twenty-something who isn't sure what he's going to do with his life. I do miss the old costumer with the Mercury helmet, but seeing this costume drawn by Nicola Scott on the internals made me like it a bit more. And the idea of a speedster who uses his speed in conjunction with parkour (the French art of roof running) is a very cool idea and a striking visual. Seeing Michael Holt, Mr. Terrific of Earth 1 arrive and be confronted by his Earth 2 counterpart was cool, and the seeming villainy of Terry Sloane, the original Mr. Terrific, leaves a lot of questions to be answered in a good way. No point in revealing everything right off the bat. And now for the elephant in the room: Alan Scott. This seems to be the week of books that raised a hoopla somewhere, even though most comic people really didn't react too much to the whole, "Alan Scott is gay," thing. Frankly, I really liked his portrayal. He and his significant other are together for most of their pages, and nowhere does anyone say any word meaning homosexual or acknowledge that they are anything other than a couple. The dialogue was natural, and I found the scenes between them charming. I hope Robinson can keep that up in future issues.

Swamp Thing #10
Story: Scott Snyder
Art: Francesco Francavilla

Swamp Thing has been a title with a slow build since it's return as part of the New 52. It took nearly six full issues before Swamp Thing showed his mossy hide. This isn't a complaint, as a lot happened in those six issues, but just a statement of fact. This issue, though, even with Swamp Thing back, is not even narrated by him. This issue is narrated by Swamp Thing's arch nemesis, Anton Arcane. There are some fairly major tweaks to Arcane's backstory here, but he's still pretty much the same creepy demon guy he was in his previous incarnations. The story begins with Arcane talking to an unseen person, and as the story continues, it winds up looping around to reveal who that is, in a great little storytelling twist. What makes this issue really pop is the artwork from Francesco Francavilla, an artists whose work on Black Panther and especially his run with Swamp Thing writer Scott Snyder on Detective Comics made him one of the breakout talents of 2011. His art has a wonderfully creepy feel in this issue, and the opening pages of Arcane talking sent a shiver up my spine. The fact that Francavilla colors his own work is impressive, and is clearly part of his overall style, which works to great affect throughout this issue. I hope that he does some more work on this title, or one maybe one of the Bat titles soon. As we get closer to the big Animal Man/Swamp Thing crossover, the stakes in both the books get higher, and this issue does a great job of ratcheting up the tension.

X-Factor #237
Story: Peter David
Art: Neil Edwards

X-Factor is one of the oddest super hero comics on the market, and possibly has been since it came back a few years back under Peter David's pen. It feels at times like the home for mutants and characters that no one else knows what to do with. It has an expansive cast, a continuing story that has last nearly one hundred issues, and that strange sense of humor that Peter David does so well. I've been with the book since the beginning of Peter David's first, early 90s, run on X-Factor, and so am very fond of a lot of these characters. This issue is one of those issues that Peter David is known for: a small character piece that tackles "issues" without turning into a very special episode of Blossom. Over the course of this series and her time away in X-Force, Wolfsbane has been put through the ringer in a way few comic book characters have; she has killed people, been brainwashed, killed and eaten her own father, impregnated by an Asgardian wolf god, given birth to his feral child, and then rejected it. And this issue she's forced to confront that. It's harrowing to read, seeing all that raw emotion dragged to the surface. The issue even plays a similar trick as the one in Swamp Thing, with a scene from the end of the story inserted at the beginning to really sock you in the gut and get you immediately into the story. Another plus for long time X-Factor readers is the return of Rev. John Maddox, the wayward Madrox dupe who has become a minister. Maddox has often been used by Peter David to discuss thorny issues, usually theological, but often personal and psychological, and is a favorite supporting character of mine. And not to have an issue go by that's all doom, gloom, and theology, David still gets to work in the funniest Thelma and Louise gag I've ever seen during the road trip to Rev. Maddox. All this happens, plus a set up for a future arc. More happens in one issue of X-Factor than most arcs of other comics, and I don't think I (or other fans) would have it any other way

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