Monday, March 4, 2013

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 2/27

All Star Western #17
Story: Jimmy Palmiotti and Justi Gray
Art: Moritat/ Staz Johnson

A new story begins in this All Star Western, bringing Jonah Hex, still in Gotham City seemingly against his better judgement, up against another of DC Comics great characters, the villainous immortal, Vandal Savage. As a plague ravages a neighborhood called Death's Doorstep, Catherine Wayne, wife of current Wayne patriarch Alan, is kidnapped while trying to give the victims aide, and Hex, along with his current partner/sidekick Amadeus Arkham, and two other bounty hunters are sent in to retrieve her. Moritat does a beautiful job giving the creepy, near deserted and corpse strewn Death's Doorstep a horror movie feel, and when the plague victims attack, the scenes seem right out of a modern zombie thriller. The fights are brutal, and Hex shows his usual casual feelings about taking a human life. Meanwhile, Vandal Savage is presented somewhere in between the madcap barbarian warrior he is in Demon Knights, set in England in the Dark Ages, and the calculating serial killer from his appearance in DC Universe Presents, set in the present. Savage has the air of his more jovial self, filling himself with wine, women, song, and gambling, but does not charge in to immediately take what he wants, instead laying out an elaborate plan. Hex already is more than prepared to kill Savage for cheating at cards, so when he finds Catherine in Savage's clutches next issue, who knows exactly what's going to happen, but I know it's going to involve a hail of bullets. The back up story is also the first part of a new one this issue, introducing the Stormwatch of the 19th century. Specifically, this issue features Jenny Freedom, the embodiment of the century, who controls steam (as Jenny Sparks, of the 20th century, controlled electricity, and Jenny Quantum of the 21st manipulates the building blocks of existence, as scientific understanding grows), fighting a mad scientist/anarchist on a blimp who is controlling ancient, Mesoamerican mummies, and plans to kill Chester A. Arthur. It's a fun steampunk western, and with the appearance of Adam One, the leader of Stormwatch at the end, we know there's more to come. All Star Western has done a great job since the beginning of its run in balancing its lead and back ups, and tying them together after a time. I look forward to seeing what happens when and if Jenny and her teammates, who I hope we meet next issue, run across Hex.

Batman Incorporated #8
Story: Grant Morrison
Art: Chris Burnham & Jason Masters

Ok, I knew that this book was going to be the elephant in the room if I didn't review it, clearly indicating a severe dislike for what is the keystone Batbook of the week, if not the month or year (difficult to say, in a month with the excellent Batman #17, wrapping up "Death of the Family," a book that should reverberate through the Bat titles for a while as well). Fortunately, I wound up enjoying the issue a great deal. I admit, when Damian was first introduced, I hated him. He was replacing Tim Drake, my favorite Robin. He was obnoxious and arrogant. And he was homicidal. None of these thing endeared him to me. But slowly, over the course of the past few years, especially in the early issues of the Morrison Batman and Robin, he grew on me. And now, I admit, I'm going to miss him. The highlight of this issue for me had nothing to do with Damian's battle with his evil clone, or Batman breaking out of a deathtrap that would have done in Houdini. Hell, it wasn't even Red Robin, the aforementioned Tim Drake, fighting off a group of Talia's soldiers and acting like the Tim of yore, and not the current version, one I have various issues with. No, it was the scene where Damian and Nightwing, Dick Grayson, team up again, for what is currently the last time.The rapport Morrison built between them, the fact that Damian actually likes and respects Dick, came through, as Damian admits that Dick, who was Batman when Damian first officially became Robin, was his favorite partner. They work well together, and have an easy camaraderie. Knowing what was coming made this moment all the more poignant. Death in comics is more like the common cold than anything permanent, I admit, and when you come from a family who has access to boiling pits of chemicals that can raise the dead, well, it might be an even quicker turnaround. But still, Morrison and other writers have done a great job over time of making an unlikable character very likable, and I'll miss Damian as long as he's gone. Now, we just have to see how Bruce reacts, and what happens next.

Star Wars: Agent of the Empire- Hard Targets #5
Story: John Ostrander
Art: Davide Fabbri

Agent of the Empire has proven to be a fun series, with a perfect espionage, James Bond caper sort of feel. I've talked before, in a review of previous issues of this series and in my list of favorite Star Wars characters, about my affection for the "noble Imperial" as a character type, and I think Jahan Cross fits that bill very well. But what he is also is a spy, and his morals are greyer than even characters like Thrawn, Pellaeon, or Baron Fel. In this issue, Cross's plan to save the young Count Dooku, distant relation to the Prequel villain of the same name and current count of Serenno, comes to fruition. It's one of those spy plots, with wheels within wheels, but much of the issue is focused on Cross in combat with Boba Fett. Davide Fabbri is one of my favorite Star Wars artists, with a lively style that fits the pulpy worlds that populate the Galaxy Far, Far Away, and his backgrounds are nicely detailed. This adds to a big fight by making it feel more definite, less sketchy. Cross cleverly fights Fett, but knows that he can't beat him. His stalling action works, and his plan goes off without a hitch. But in the process, one good woman dies, and Cross has no problem seeing a villain killed in complete cold blood, and the Empire winds up with a pawn in place; Cross still doesn't quite see the evil in the Empire, but sees it as a necessary one. This is not a man who would settle in nicely with the Rebel Alliance. Cross is a hard man, one who fits into the world of double dealing and backstabbing perfectly. In the end, the fate of the young Count Dooku is placed in safety, but his fate is far from certain, as anyone with a passing familiarity with Star Wars knows that Alderaan isn't going to be safe for much longer. Also, for those of you out there who are fans of John Ostrander's Star Wars work, did you pick up on the name drop that now connects Agent with both Republic and Legacy? If you didn't, go back and try again. I've always loved how Ostrander ties together works that exist in a shared universe, and it's little nods like this that make the universe seem like a place that exists as a whole, and not isolated pockets.

The Answer #2
Story: Mike Norton & Dennis Hopeless
Art: Mike Norton

The Answer is a series that debuted during my brief hiatus, and is one of three books I feel bad not reviewing at the start to try to get it some more attention with issue one (the others are Kill Shakespeare: The Tide of Blood and, no one is more shocked than me, Justice League of America's Vibe). After last issue, where the quirky superhero calling himself The Answer saved librarian Devin Mackenzie from gun toting guys who tried to kidnap her, we open in a bus station, where Answer is trying to get Devin to safety. Unfortunately, more gun wielding thugs appear, this time with a creepy looking nurse and orderlies, and a madcap chase ensues. Devin is picked up in a limo by people claiming to represent the Brain Trust, an organization that is a think tank for the world's smartest people, of which Devin is one. I like Devin a lot as a character, this sort of smartass, take no crap from anyone, librarian, and she doesn't take any guff from the Brain Trust people. They provide evidence proving The Answer is an escaped lunatic, and in the end she goes off with them and Answer is carted away by the nurse. But Devin knows that something's up, and it becomes clear to the reader that the Brain Trust is tied to the mysterious self-help program, Apeiron (picture Tom Cruise from Magnolia meets Scientology, all wrapped up in a guy with one of those crappy little trianlges of hair under his lower lip). The Answer himself is a hectic, madcap sort of hero, in the style of The Creeper or Madman, quirky and probably not all there, but the good guy nonetheless. This is a fun, self contained series, and one I hope does well for Mike Norton and Dennis Hopeless, creators whose other work I also quite like, and hope that it ends as strongly as it began.

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