Monday, July 16, 2012

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 7/11

Atomic Robo: Real Science Adventures #4
Story: Brian Clevinger
Art: Josh Broglia & Various

I admit that I read the core Atomic Robo mini-series on trade, but when this monthly anthology was announced, I jumped right on board. It's been a lot of fun so far, and since I missed reviewing issue 3 in the week I was moving, I had to do this issue. There are two continuing serials in the book. One is a Robo-less tale of the Sparrow infiltrating a Nazi fortress. The other, which tends to be the story I look forward to most in each issue, is Robo training with Bruce Lee. It's interesting to see Robo in a situation where he's trying to learn instead of teach and inform, and Bruce Lee serves as an interesting mentor figure, one who is less of a father figure than Tesla, who treats Robo as a child rather than a pupil. There are three one-off shorts, and one of them really drew my interest. In it, Robo wanders into a comic shop in 1994 and is exposed to comics as they were in the mid-90s (and how they still are to an increasing degree today). Clevinger does a good job on condemning the violence and mass consumerism of the industry in a story that is not preachy, but is a melancholy testament to someone who remembers when the industry was something else. He does a better job in four pages than most commentators can do in dozens of posts.

Batgirl #11
Story: Gail Simone
Art: Adrian Syaf

Batgirl was one of the New 52 titles I was most excited for, and while I have enjoyed it, I felt like it took a little while to find its feet. The current arc, dealing with a new vigilante named Knightfall and her cadres of cronies, though, has been very strong. This isn't the first time that the Bat titles have dealt with the idea of vigilantism and what are the lines you do not cross (the name of the villain is possibly an intentional nod to the Knightfall/Knightquest/Knightsend trilogy that is probably the most famous example in the Bat family), but this time there is an additional aspect, made more clear in this issue: the terrors of Gotham can sometimes change the innocent into the horrors that they are believed to be, and who's truly responsible then? Since the New 52, the idea of Gotham as a presence that affects its citizens has become more clear, and now this title is adding to it. Readers also get a better idea of Detective McKenna, Batgirl's GCPD nemesis, and she and Barbara reach a sort of accord. One other subplot that gets some attention is Barbara's roommate Alysia and her new beau, who just happens to be Barbara's brother James Jr., who just happens to be a serial killer. Alysia clearly doesn't know this yet, and I'm curious to see what James's plan is.

Batman #11
Story: Scott Snyder
Art: Greg Capullo & Rafael Albuquerque

"The Court of Owls" story wraps up this issue, and it ends with a bang, both figuratively and literally. Batman's confrontation with the new Owlman, his possible brother, Lincoln March aka Thomas Wayne Jr., is interesting not just because it is a beautifully constructed fight scene, which it is, but because we get a real insight into exactly what the Court of Owls has spent years doing to Lincoln's mind. The loud, brutal fight scene is nicely set off by the end of the main story, where Dick Grayson comes to Wayne Manor to talk with Bruce. The last time the two met in Batman, Bruce sucker punched Dick, and there's a nice call back to that, but more, this is two men discussing their friendship and the world around them. Bruce admits that it is Dick, his friendship and trust, that keeps him sane, and the story ends with the two of them looking out at the Gotham skyline with a renewed promise to protect their home. It's a great ending to one of my favorite Batman stories of the past few years. The backup story, the final part of "The Fall of the House of Wayne" does an interesting job of mirroring the ending of the main story, this time with Bruce and Alfred talking about the way the Court has effected their lives. Snyder has done a great job of making this story not just a superhero slugfest, but a personal challenge for his heroes, and I am very much looking forward to his next arc on he book, and the return of the Joker.

Chew: Special Agent Poyo
Story: John Layman
Art: Rob Guillory

I think I might have made this observation before, but I'll make it again here: Comic books as an art form seem to have a great ability to take the absurd, play it straight, and somehow come out with something that is not laughable but actually really fun and awesome. Chew is a book that does this really well, and that is never more clear than when the uber-rooster Poyo appears. Poyo is a cybernetic, feral, kung fu, luchadore rooster who is the deadliest fighter in the world. This sounds ridiculous, but writer John Layman makes Poyo actually a great character, and artist Rob Guillory finds a way to make you know what's going on in Poyo's head without him speaking. Granted that is mostly Poyo wanting to kill anything in his path, but still... In this spotlight one-shot, Poyo goes to England to defeat a mad scientist who has developed a device that makes it rain farm animals. It's a chaotic comic of body parts flying and chickens kicking ass. Oh, and Poyo briefly winds up in hell and beats the hell out of the Devil. To quote one of the issue's characters (with judicious censoring, since this is a family blog), "That's Poyo, mother%*#@(!"

The Walking Dead #100
Story: Robert Kirkman
Art: Charlie Adlard

Anniversary issues are a tough thing: you want to create something that rewards long time readers, but also is accessible to new readers who might jump on board for the big issue. The Walking Dead #100 does a good job of doing this. I tend to find it hard to view an issue of Walking Dead on its own; it is a continuous narrative from issue one, so everything builds on everything before. However, this issue really does establish everything you need to know, who the characters are and what they are doing, and introduces a villain who looks to be the biggest threat the survivors have faced since The Governor. We've seen Rick, our lead character, poking a metaphoric bear for the past few issues, and while things have gotten tough, this issue really makes it clear that he's in for a world of hurt. The assumptions Rick has been working under have proven wrong, and someone has paid. I've seen this issue described as the most brutal in the history of a series that never pulls its punches. While I still feel that the issue long torture scenes between Michonne and the Governor still is the most brutal, this issue does send a shiver down my spine. It looks like the next hundred issues are going to be no easier for our heroes.

Wolverine and the X-Men #13
Story: Jason Aaron
Art: Nick Bradshaw

While I have mixed feelings about the core Avengers Vs. X-Men mini-series and event, I have to admit the crossovers in both Uncanny X-Men and Wolverine and the X-Men have been very good. I am, for want of a better pop culture reference, Team Cyclops, but I think Wolverine and the X-Men is probably the best X-Book on the market right now. Jason Aaron does a great job of balancing action, humor, and character moments in each issue. This issue serves as a spotlight for Warbird, the bodyguard of student Kid Gladiator, son of Gladiator and heir to the throne of the intergalactic Shi'ar Empire. It's disturbing to see how alien the Shi'ar mindset is, which is cool, as alien races are often portrayed as just human society with some superficial changes grafted on. Warbird's story is tragic, and the idea that she has been trained to have all compassion crushed out of her, and the result of what we could call abuse and what the Shi'ar would call teaching is something that leaves a mark. This is balanced with a savage battle between Gladiator and the Phoenix Five, which ends with an undisputed victory by one. We walk out of this issue with a better understanding of Warbird, and a clear idea that the Phoenix Five are going to be ever harder to stop than they have seemed so far. Let's see where the series goes, and if the Jean Grey School will be anything but rubble by the end.

Oh, and a couple of random notes here at the end.

I thought most of the announcements made at this year's San Diego Comic Con were fairly run of the mill, well except for the one about NEW SANDMAN BY NEIL GAIMAN!!!!!! Excuse me as I go into a brief coma of sheer rapture...

Ok, ok, I'm back. If you have ever read and enjoyed work by Greg Pak, writer of such comics as Incredible Hulk, Incredible Hercules, Magneto: Testament, and Doctor Strange: Season One, he was the mystery guest on this week's episode of Ask Me Another on NPR. You can listen to the whole episode on the link, and hear him talk about what's great about comics, and get into a trivia contest with artist Dean Haspiel about animals in the Marvel Universe.

No comments: