Saturday, August 11, 2012

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 8/8

Archer & Armstrong #1
Story: Fred Van Lente
Art: Clayton Henry

I was a little young back in the heyday of Valiant Comics to really get into titles that didn't have big, flashy, familiar super heroes in them, but since then, the classic Valiant universe has been on my radar, and I've picked up some of the back issues. I hadn't tried out any of the reborn Valiant titles, but this week, I saw two creators who I like on a title that I have read some issues of, so I thought I'd give it a try. Archer and Armstrong is a kooky buddy cop/odd couple title, mixing a young, naive martial artist (Archer) with an immortal, tough as nails, drunkard (Armstrong). The concept is the same as it was in the original run, with the two of them tossed together and at war with a covert organization called The Sect, but it has a modern twist, with more social commentary in Archer's background, his parents being high powered Tea Party like politicians. The book is helped by Van Lente's strong character work. Archer comes off as naive but good natured, but still can say things that would make your average east coast liberal (like yours truly) shake his head in wonderment, and Armstrong, while clearly a drunken lout, quotes Carl Sandburg while breaking up a fight. This is a fun first issue, and a good introduction to the characters, that leaves you wanting to see what happens to them next.

Batman #12
Story: Scott Snyder & James Tynion IV
Art: Becky Cloonan & Andy Clarke

Reading the new issue of Batman evoked some very clear thoughts for me, thoughts I've had about Batman recently. Firstly, the issue harkened back to a post I made a little bit ago about classic episodes of Batman: The Animated Series that feature Batman as a way to tell the stories of those he encounters. This issue is a story like that, fully introducing Harper Row, a character that we've seen pop up in cameos throughout Scott Snyder's run. A tough kid from the wrong part of Gotham, Harper works for Gotham Power doing electrical work and takes care of her high school aged brother, who is probably not more than a couple years younger than her. She's smart, she's brave, and she has the attitude of someone raised in hard times, who rolls her eyes at the idea that rich guys like Bruce Wayne really can help or understand the poor of Gotham. And one night, the girl who is used to taking care of her own problems is cornered by a gang of toughs, who were looking to once again beat up her brother for nothing more than him being gay. And out of nowhere, here comes Batman. He swoops in, takes out the thugs, and swoops back out. And what Harper decides to do next is what makes her special: she decides to help Batman. She uses her smarts to find him and does her best to aid him. And when he tells her to stop, she decides to redouble her efforts. This story has some thematic ties to The Dark Knight Rises, in that it looks at how people can be inspired by Batman. Superman is usually the hero in the DCU that people look on as the noble figure that holds a beacon of hope for the world, but sometimes, Batman, for all his darkness, can inspire the right person at the right time. The art on the main story is by Becky Cloonan, and is absolutely stunning. She was an excellent choice for it, as she has a style that fits Harper, a rough and realistic style, but one that showcases people, their emotions, in body language and facial features. I hope to see more of her art in future issues. And that goes double for Harper Row, an excellent new addition to the Batman cast.

Batman and Robin #12
Story: Pete Tomasi
Art: Patrick Gleason

The end of first year of Batman and Robin isn't exactly what you'd expect. The issue;s Batman plot is really just Batman and the villain Terminus slugging it out in giant battle armor, which is cool, and then Batman flying a missile out over Gotham Bay to keep it from destroying the city (I know that sounds familiar, but I think it has more to do with coincidence than an intentional tie in to a certain film). The part of the story that really grabbed my interest when the three previous Robins all pop in to help Damian fight off Terminus's goons. Each of the Robins is shown fighting in their won distinct styles, and Gleason does a great job of showcasing that each of these characters are distinct physically. With their battle done, writer Pete Tomasi gives the Robins a moment of mutual concern for their mutual father figure, illustrated in a panel of gorgeous poster quality art for Patrick Gleason, followed by a panel showing real worry from the usually so stoic Damian. And when the danger has passed, the Robins go their separate ways. Instead of going with any kind of hackneyed, "And now they see they're all so much alike," moment, Tim Drake and Jason Todd still don't want to be around Damian, who has spent the past couple of issues demeaning them. And Dick Grayson, the maturest of them all, reminds Damian that he has nothing to prove to the world, that he has to make peace only with his own feelings about being Robin.

Demon Knights #12
Story: Paul Cornell
Art: Diogenes Neves

Demon Knights was one of the truly original concepts to come out of the New 52: a team of different magical heroes, some classic, some new, fighting during the Dark Ages. It's been a fun title, with lots of action and a feel unlike any other title out there right now. It is far more fantasy comic than it is super hero one, with the characters thrown together not by any desire to do real good, but by the whims of fate, and there is much in the way of scheming going on behind the scenes. These aren't really heroes, or most of them aren't; just people (or demons or immortals) in difficult circumstances. This issue is the end of the Knights battle with Morgaine Le Fey, as she attempts to transfer her essence into the currently deceased body of Merlin. While this gives us a great action scene as Etrigan the Demon breaks the bonds Morgaine has imprisoned him in, and there is a tender scene where Shining Knight is given a second knighthood by King Arthur, the scene is stolen, as ever, by Vandal Savage. Savage, portrayed in the modern DCU as a cunning killer, and in the pre-New 52 universe as a world conqueror, here revels more in his nature as a Neanderthal in the "modern" world, where he loves wine, women, and song, and is given choice lines. Cornell uses him to say things that are both apt and funny. This issue's best line, in regards to Morgaine's plans to use the Demon Knights' essences to further strengthen Merlin's body, is "I will not die so a woman with no face can gain different genitalia!" The issues does end on a massive cliffhanger, and as the next issue blurb points out, it won't be dealt with until after next month's Zero Month in DC, so I'm even more on edge to see where this motley crew winds up.

Mouse Guard: The Black Axe #5
Story & Art: David Petersen

Mouse Guard is like a rare treat: it doesn't happen often, but when it does it's always something special. Set in a medieval world of animals, the story focuses on the mice, and their loyal Guard. While the creatures are anthropomorphized, it is not to the extreme that they act truly human: they are still mice, and react to situations as such. This issue finds our hero, Celanawe, on the island with the weasels, burying his clanmate, Em, and then heading off with Captain Conrad to return to the mouselands. It is an issue that tugs at the heartstrings, as Celanawe must start to come to terms with how lonely his life will be, now that he has accepted the Black Axe, the mythic weapon, into his life. The story is wonderful, each bit adding a little more to the world that creator David Petersen has been building since his first issue. The art is simply gorgeous, detailed and luscious, and the lettering is very distinct, unique in style to the title. Everything about each issue is particular to Mouse Guard, and while it would be great to have new issues every month, if this is the product the wait gets us, it is worth it.

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