Five Ghosts #6
Story: Frank J Barbiere
Art: Garry Brown
After a few months off after the initial arc, Five Ghosts is back with a tidy and fun little one off. Fabian Gray travels to Japan to answer a summons from an old flame of his, to aid her in stopping a clan that is moving in on her family's lands, and to retrieve a mythic sword, the sword of Masamune, which she tells him is made from the same Dreamstone material that gave Fabian his own unique powers. It's a story of samurai action, with beautifully choreographed fight scenes, betrayal, and Fabian using his powers in some cool ways. It's cool to see more about Fabian's backstory; at one point he gets out of a trap that was crafted to stop him from summoning the ghosts that grant him his abilities, and he points out that he was the world's greatest thief before any of that happened. Little bits like that add to Fabian as a character and make him more well rounded than just being a vehicle for the stuff that happens when he calls one fo the ghosts. Artists garry Brown fills in for regular artist Chris Mooneyham, and does an admirable job of it. His style is different than Mooneyham's, but still creates a great pulp atmosphere. If you haven't tried Five Ghosts yet, this is a perfect issue to try out, and if you're a fan of the pulp atmosphere, you'd be doing yourself a favor.
Guardians of the Galaxy #8
Story: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Francesco Francavilla
Guardians of the Galaxy has been a pleasant surprise since its reboot. I was a very big fan of the last incarnation of the book, the one written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, and featuring a sprawling cast that included most of the current members, plus a bunch of others, including Adam Warlock, my favorite Marvel character of all time, and Cosmo, a telepathic Russian dog. So the streamlined team was a worry, since I felt one of the things that I enjoyed about the last series was all the different relationships; although the new series did still include Peter Quill, Starlord, a character Abnett and Lanning spent a lot of time fleshing out, cosmic mainstays Drax and Gamora, and fan favorites Rocket Raccoon and Groot. The stories so far have been fun, and the characters read like themselves, if slightly Bendis-ized versions. This issue begins Guardians' crossover with Marvel's big Summer/Fall event, Infinity. The main Infinity series has been ok, if a bit lacking in focus in my opinionso it's nice to see a crossover that has a nice tight focus. The Guardians have been contacted by Abagail Brand, the head of SWORD, the Earth organization in charge of dealing with extraterrestrial incursion, asking for them to free her from Thanos's forces on The Peak, the Sword space station headquarters. There's some great action scenes, as Starlord and Rocket infiltrate the Peak, free Brand, and go to try to retake the station. But the highlight of the issue is some great character work at the beginning. With Thanos making trouble again, Gamora, who was raised by Thanos, confronts Starlord and Drax about exactly how Thanos and Starlord escaped being trapped in a collapsed dimensions together, and how Drax is alive again. She gets little answer, and Gamora's anger at Starlord, and her own decision to go storming off to confront the father figure who has haunted her for her entire adult life, not to mention killed her on at least once occasion, does a lot to further develop her character and the reactions of the others helps flesh them out. Add the usual incredible art by the busiest man in comics, Francesco Francavilla, who draws a particularly great Rocket Raccoon, and you have a book that is living up to it's concept and its pedigree.
Itty Bitty Hellboy #3
Story & Art: Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani
If only every comic could get Itty Bitty, I think we'd have much happier fans. After Tiny Titans and Superman Family Adventures, I didn't expect Art and Franco would next move to the macabre world of Mike Mignola's Hellboy, but not terribly surprising, it's still a joyful and amusing romp. Every issue is packed with humor and fun little character beats. This month's issue of Itty Bitty Hellboy opens with Hellboy preparing his favorite dish, pancakes (or "pamcakes" as he calls them, which readers of regular Hellboy comics know saved him from becoming evil), with the help of Liz Sherman's fire powers. Hellboy gets Baba Yaga to make one of his pancakes gigantic using her magic, and before you know it, everyone is asking Baba to make something huge. She banishes Hellboy and his friends to Hades, and the demons rally around Hellboy, only to have him use his pamcake making skills to keep them from destroying Earth. Lobster Johnson and Lobster Smith, his pet Lobster, dig their way out to try to help the world. And Roger the Homunculus finds a little love with Baba Yaga and Hecate. I can't really do the issue justice, since so much of it is about the punchline to the wonderful set-ups Art and Franco come up with, and the adorable visuals. I've said something like this with eveything I've ever reviewed by Art and Franco, but if you're looking for a change of pace from the usually grim and grity comics of today, you couldn't do better than trying out Itty Bitty Hellboy.
The Sandman: Overture #1
Story: Neil Gaiman
Art: JH Williams III
I wish I could type an approximation of a squeal of delight, because that would be the only thing that could do this wonderful comic justice. Neil Gaiman's The Sandman is one of the touchstone comics of the modern age and possibly of all time, and it is my favorite piece of longform graphic storytelling. New work from Neil Gaiman is something I always look forward to, and this past year has been an embarrassment of riches, between The Ocean at the End of the Lane, his first novel for adults in years, two new childrens' books, Chu's Day and Fortunately the Milk, and now a return to the world of the Endless, with a story set before the first issue of The Sandman. Dream, or Morpheus if you'd rather, the protagonist of The Sandman, appears in this issue as he did in the many flashbacks that took place before his imprisonment in the first issue of the series; he is imperious, cold, and callous, something made clear in his tone when addressing Lucien, the librarian of dreams, a character who is a loyal retainer who Dream dismisses with barely an acknowledgment. The tone of Dream is chilling, as he prepares for war, something we saw a couple times over the course of The Sandman, and any reader familiar with it knows this can only mean trouble. Gaiman has lost none of his feeling for the characters that we know and love from The Sandman. It's interesting to see the Corinthian, the nightmare serial killer with mouths for eyes, again, and to see exactly what made him slip out of the Dreaming and into the waking world in the time of Dream's imprisonment. We also meet some new characters, including George Portcullis, a dreamer who manages Dream's London office, and Gaiman uses him to demonstrate the malleability of identity in dreams; identity was one of the themes often played with in Sandman. The final pages reveal something about the Endless and Dream that will hopefully be as surprising to the reader as it is to Dream himself.
Gaiman has often said he writes for his artists when he is working on a comics projects, playing to their strengths, and this issue is a perfect example of that. I've loved JH Williams III's work since Chase in the 90s, and his work has grown exponentially over the years, and this issue is a masterpiece. His use of nearly entirely two page spreads, his frightful Corinthian, the alien world at the beginning of he issue and it's population of sentient flowers, are all drawn in exquisite detail. Williams draws a Death who is especially beautiful, and the soft look he gives her stands in sharp contrast to the harsher lines he uses to draw her darker brother, Dream. The issue is a feast for the eyes, and I hope that the eventual collection is in landscape format to allow the art to be appreciated in its entirety by those who want to read the story in that format. When a creator returns to a legendary work there's always the concern they will have lost whatever it was that made that work something special. I am glad to say none of the magic that made Sandman has been lost over the intervening years; go, read it, and plesant dreams.