Monday, October 1, 2012

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 9/26

Batman Incorporated #0
Story: Grant Morrison & Chris Burnham
Art: Frazier Irving

As #0 issues go, I think Batman Incorporated got one of the best. Many of the zero issues were really out to try to smooth over some continuity issues created by the New 52 or to detail brand new origins for existing characters. But Batman Incorporated #0 really works to not only set the stage for the ingoing, but to flesh out some of the existing characters. If you were a reader who came into this series fresh with the New 52, you now have met many of Batman Incorporated's members, seen how Batman recruited them, and gotten a feel for their different attitudes. Especially important was sare the scenes with Batman recruiting the new Dark Ranger, the Batman of Australia. This is a new character, one who hasn't really appeared in more than a panel or two before this, so getting to know him means, I assume, he will play an important role later. I liked watching his burgeoning relationship, albeit a long distance one, with Squire, the partner of England's Knight. Squire is a spitfire, a great character, and she provides a great sounding board for Dark Ranger. Frazier Irving is an outstanding artist, and his style, with it's heavy shadows and beautiful darkness, is well suited for Batman. The only thing I didn't get but was hoping for was an appearance by Cassandra Cain as Black Bat, Batman of Hong Kong; but I figured it was a long shot. A guy can hope that she might pop up before the series is out though.

Happy! #1
Story: Grant Morrison
Art: Darick Robertson

It's been a while since Grant Morrison stepped back into the kind of comics that made him famous. He's been working on Batman and Superman for so long, you can forget this is the guy who made his bones writing The Invisibles, Flex Mentallo, and the trippiest run on Doom Patrol probably ever. Happy! is is new creator owned series from Image, teaming with Transmetropolitan and The Boys artist Darick Robertson. What starts out as a noir, with four mobster brothers looking to take out ex-cop-turned-hitman Nick Sax, quickly turns into something very different as, after waking up from near fatal gunshots, Nick starts seeing a flying blue horse named Happy who claims to be an imaginary friend and needs Nick's help to save his master (owner? maker? You get the idea). Morrison is clearly working tongue in cheek with both the noir genre and the gritty comics of today. The two brothers who are talking at the beginning curse so liberally that they are a parody of the profane mobster. Happy stands out so much against the dark world that Nick exhibits that it's jarring, and I think it's supposed to be that way, similarly to how Batmite stands out against the world of Batman in Morrison's run there, although even more striking. Darick Robertson is an artist whose style is realistic, but who does a wonderful job of peppering in bits of sheer unreality, be they the sci-fi elements of Transmet or the supes in The Boys. Happy the horse is charming and amusing, and looks really out of place surrounded by mobsters in a hospital. Choosing to set the story at Christmas makes for certain overtones that come with all Christmas stories; ideas of hope and redemption most prominently, even if the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is never portrayed quite as cute as Happy. I don't know if this story is going to wind up being a tale of Nick's redemption by saving the girl from whatever danger she's in, but I'm along for the ride no matter what.

Justice League Dark #0
Story: Jeff Lemire
Art: Lee Garbett

Justice League Dark came out of the gate as a solid comic, despite its somewhat awkward title. But when writer Jeff Lemire took over with its second arc, the series really started firing on all cylinders, not only having a great supernatural feel but a wicked sense of humor. This zero issue details the New 52 history of John Constantine and Zatanna, and introduces a new character, their mentor Nick Necro. Necro is clearly a proto-Constantine, the man John models his eventual behavior after, for good or ill. Ok, this is Constantine we're talking about; it's mostly ill. John and Zee study under Nick, and watch his eventual descent into madness hunting for the fabled Books of Magic; that Nick will turn out to be the Big Bad of the current arc of Justice League Dark will probably surprise no one when it's revealed. Seeing Constantine, a character who has existed solely in the Vertigo side of things for so long, interacting with the DCU has taken some getting used to, but I've come to really enjoy it, and to see a young Constantine giving in to some of the instincts that an older one would deny, like the urge to run and help a clearly unbalanced mentor who, shock of shocks, betrays him, is something the older Constantine of Hellblazer of even JLD would never do. But a Constantine, no matter the age, is the bastard of all bastards, and anyone who gets close to him is probably on their way to a messy death. The lessons learned by Constantine in this issue, ones about control and about who really has power, are things that are key to his character, and it was a great ride to see him learn them. Consider it, "The Portrait of the Mage as a Young Bastard."

The Punisher #16
Story: Greg Rucka
Art: Marco Checchetto

Writer Greg Rucka's tenure on The Punisher ongoing comes to a close, and it does so in a way that nicely ties up all the loose ends. I'm not a huge Punisher fan, but I am a huge Rucka fan, and read the series with quite a bit of interest. I wrote a piece about Batman and his use as a plot device in Batman: The Animated Series, and I feel like Rucka has pretty much been doing that this entire run. Garth Ennis did that for much of his run on the MAX Punisher series, where the mobsters, victims, and other characters were the focus, but Rucka's Punisher is a force of nature, who spoke fewer lines over the course of the run than most lead characters do in a single issue. This series has really be the story of Rachel Cole-Alves, a marine whose family was killed in a mob scuffle and has become a sort of apprentice Punisher. Rachel's story wraps up this issue, with her finally reaching a breaking point, and realizing she isn't the force of nature that Rucka's Punisher is. It's a heartbreaking scene, Rachel guilt ridden over the death of an innocent during the final battle between her, the Punisher, and the super crime syndicate The Exchange, and watching Punisher quietly taking the police out of the equation to allow her the chance to live. One of Rucka's other supporting characters, Detective Ozzy Clemons, factors in to the end of Rachel's story, and he is given his own satisfying ending. In October, Rucka's Punisher: War Zone mini-series begins, which promises to be much less intimate, and more over the top crazy. But I think someday, this will be looked at as one of the best Punisher runs ever, and I'm glad I read it.

The Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror #18
Story: various
Art: various

Ah, it's that wonderful time of year again. The leaves are changing, there's a cool breeze, and Homer is going on a killing spree. Yes, just like the TV series, Bongo Comics releases a Simpsons Halloween annual each year, collecting various short pieces. This year's is chock full of some great horro/comedy. The first story, an Evil Dead/Cabin in the Woods parody, comes from The Houghton Brothers, creators of Reed Gunther. Gerry Dugan and Phil Noto riff on Rosemary's Baby. Jim Valentino does a Rashaman-esque take of the regulars at Moe's trying to remember how the Bride of Frankenstein makes her entrance. And Chris Yambar tells a tale of Bartman entering Springfield Asylum in a tale neatly parodying the Arkham Asylum video game. There's nothing heavy here, nothing to sit around and contemplate. But if you like The Simpsons or a comic that's going to give you a good chuckle, give this one a shot. Oh, and on a side note, if anyone out there has, or knows where to get, a Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror #1, let me know. I've been looking for that for, well, eighteen years now.

Talon #0
Story: Scott Snyder & James Tynion IV
Art: Guillem March

The first title in the new DCU to feature a completely new character began this week, and I was pleased to see it. The lack of new characters headlining books was something I was surprised by with the New 52, and although the concept of Talon comes from Scott Snyder's "Court of Owls" story in Batman, Calvin Rose makes his first appearance here. The reader gets everything they need to know about Calvin in these pages: his history before coming to Haly's Circus, his training with the Court of Owls, and his abandonment of his duties. There are mysteries left about his past, but they seem to be flavor more than essential, which is fine, although who knows what might be important later on. What we see is a character with a certain set of skills, an escape artist who now must use those skills to escape not just from a strait jacket, but from the men who are hunting him. Snyder and Tynion have proven how well they work together in the back-ups on Batman, and this issue only further cements it. Calvin has a great voice; he doesn't sound like a recycled Bat character. I do have a feeling we'll get a similar vibe to the early issues of the Azrael series, a mixture of adventure and secret societies, which I'm looking forward to; the first two years or so of the Denny O'Neil Azrael ongoing were great comics. But whether I'm right or not, I think the Bat-family has an interesting new addition.

Wolverine & the X-Men #17
Story: Jason Aaron
Art: Mike and Laura Allred

Oh, Doop. Nothing quite like a floating green potato man to save the day. This issue of Wolverine and the X-Men steps back from the ongoing plots of X-Men fighting Avengers and the machinations of the new Hellfire Club to tell a one off story of exactly why Wolverine has recruited Doop, former X-Force/X-Statix member, to hang around The Jean Grey School. Doop is Wolverine's secret weapon, to look for threats against the school and stop them before they can attack. This includes dealing with zoning, Nazi bowling clubs, teaming up with Howard the Duck, and internet trolls. It's a hilarious issue, with each predicament Doop gets himself involved in seeming to be more ludicrous than the last. The scenes of Wolverine recruiting him, including Wolverine having to put on a one man show of what he thinks Cyclops would be like with a claw in his head were unreal and amusing, and Doop's dinner with Sabretooth ends about as well as you would expect. Doop co-creator Mike Allred is on art duties this issue, and I could think of no one more perfect for the job. Allred's sense of the absurd is second to none, and he draws all these bizarre scenes with a straight face, for want of a better term, while still making it seem odd and off kilter. Even if you're not an X-Men person, this is a great comic, one that plays with all the weirdness that this medium does so well.

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