Monday, February 10, 2014

Weekly Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 2/5

Archer & Armstrong: Archer #0
Story: Fred Van Lenter
Art: Pere Perez

After doing a whole recommended readings on Archer & Armstrong on Friday, I had to review this book today. This issue fills in the background of one of the title's leads, Obadiah Archer. It's a pretty harrowing story, with not a lot of humor, but every now and then, even a comedy needs that bit of gravity to stand counterpoint to the comedy. We see Archer's abduction, brainwashing by Project: Rising Spirit, time with the Archers, his evil foster parents, and him coming into his power. This ties this book a little more firmly into the Valiant universe; Project: Rising Spirit, a major mover in other aspects of the universe, has been dancing around the edges of the title, and now we see exactly how they tie into Archer's background. I'm curious to see if at some point soon the creators address the fact that Archer was stolen from his real parents, and if we see him go on a hunt for his roots. Archer has always been a sympathetic character, someone who clearly has this kind of tragedy in his back story, but really seeing it doesn't lessen that, as it sometimes does, but heightens it, especially at the end when he finally is pushed over the edge and savagely beats one of his fellow children of the Archers. The rewarding of this act shows exactly how poisoned his past is, and it makes the reader really feel bad for the kid. The end of the issue does indeed set up the crossover with Bloodshot and the H.A.R.D. Corps, so it's not just a book about the past, and it's curious to see how Archer is indeed the villain from, to quote one of my favorite movies of all time, a certain point of view. It has made me even more excited for that crossover, so bring it on.

Bad Blood #2
Story: Jonathan Maberry
Art: Tyler Crook

While Image has been getting a lot of credit for the launching of new series (and rightly so. Many of them are incredible), Dark Horse hasn't been noticed for a lot of its new works, which is a shame, because there's a lot of great work, especially in the horror genre. One of these books in Bad Blood, a vampire comic. And it's a great vampire comic. I'm not a big fan of vampires; give me a werewolf comic any day. But this book does some really interesting things with vampires. The book isn't about vampires, really, but about the life of one guy whose life has been affected by them. Trick is dying of cancer, and after a vampire attacks and bites him and is poisoned by the chemo drugs in his bloodstream, the vampire begins to exact revenge by killing his friends. This issue sees Trick going out to try to find the vampire and stop it from harming anyone else. This issue we get to know Lolly, a goth girl and stripper who wants to meet a vampire and be given its "dark gift." Lolly has a hard past, one that she doesn't really let Trick or the reader into until the end, and she is far more than that past. We spend the issue with these two characters, one who is sure that vampires are evil, the other who doesn't want to believe it. They're both very well rounded characters, especially after only a couple issues of exposure. Lolly takes Trick down into the depth of vampire culture, something that Trick finds frustrating, because he knows exactly what these creatures really are. For a book about vampires, it's a very realistic book, about people who are trying to escape: Lolly her past, and Trick his oncoming death. The supernatural does rear its head in the issue, but it's really a book about two people trying to connect and not really succeeding, like young people so often do. The thing that convinced me to pick up this book is the art by B.P.R.D. alum Tyler Crook, whose work is even better here, softer and dreamlike. I think next issue we'll see more vampires, and I have faith that we won't lose that strong character work as the book moves deeper into that realm.

Batman: Black and White #6
Art & Story: Various

The new volume of Batman: Black and White wraps up with this issue, and as with all the other issues, it's a gorgeous thing, full of great short stories by a murderer's row of creators. Under a great cover by Doug Mahnke, we get the following stories:

"Clay" by Cliff Chiang- This is a Dick Grayson as Robin story more than a Batman story. It's set in Dick's early days with Bruce, when the GCPD isn't taking Robin seriously and Dick isn't fitting in at school. It's narrated by Dick, and Chinag does a great job of making you understand Dick's feelings. The villain of the piece is Clayface, and Chiang does a great job of drawing the villain, which is not unexpected, since Chiang does a great job on everything he does.

"Bruce" by Olly Moss and Becky Cloonan- Becky Cloonan is an incredible artist. I've loved her work from the time she did Demo with Brian Wood, and was hugely impressed with the Batman issue she did with Scott Snyder. She draws great action, but even better people interacting, with wonderful faces, and so this story by Olly Moss seems tailor made for her. It's the story of a woman making her way out of Wayne Manor after a night with Bruce Wayne and meeting her friends. It's rare we see the point of view of people about Bruce Wayne without him being there, and I like the particular point of view given.

"The Batman: Hiding in Plain Sight" by Dave Taylor- The most traditional story in this issue, it's a story about Batman investigating the statue of a giant robot that has appeared on land that might have been crookedly purchased outside Gotham. Dave Taylor has a lot of history with Batman, between a run on Shadow of the Bat and the Batman: Death by Design graphic novel with Chip Kidd. His art works really well on this story, and it mixes aspects of Batman, with him both being the detective and being the hero who fights a mad scientist's bat-themed robots.

"She Lies at Midnite" by Adam Hughes- If Adam Hughes was going to write and draw a Batman story, it only makes sense it would feature Catwoman, a character Hughes has a history with. I've never read anything Hughes has written before, but I feel like he has the voices of Batman, Catwoman, and Slam Bradley down pretty well. The story seems to take place in a continuity adjacent to Ed Brubaker's run on Catwoman, a favorite run of mine, so a little revisiting of the Batman/Catwoman/Bradley love triangle is fun to see. Hughes gets in a great line in Batman's narration, about his view of Catwoman as, "someone I could love, if one of us was able to change just a little bit," that I really loved and really speaks to the relationship between the two.

"To Beat the Bat" by Dave Johnson- Dave Johnson's story is a noir, told from the point of view of a three time loser waiting for Batman to come and hunt him down. The gritty nature of the story works perfectly with Johnson's style, best known for his covers on 100 Bullets. You see this guy go down a path to hell because of a femme fatale, like many great noir protagonists. I don't want to talk about the ending, since like many good short stories the end has a twist to it, but I think the end of the story shows the darker side of the fear Batman inspires; fear doesn't always scare a guy straight. I would be curious to see exactly how Batman would react to the events of the story after the last page, and that's also something a good short story does: it leaves you wanting more.

Bloodhound: Crowbar Medicine #4
Story: Dan Jolley
Art: Leonard Kirk

After the tragedy at the end of the last issue, Travis "Clev" Clevenger is even more driven to hunt down Dr. Morgenstern, the man who is giving out the chip that gives people super powers. Each issue of the new Bloodhound series has been building and building, and the explosions are just starting to happen. One of the great things about this book is that Clev looks like a big bruiser, even moreso now that he's shaved his head, but he's quick witted and smart. He deduces Morgenstern's location, and goes out on the hunt. The truth behind Morgenstern's history now bears a frightening parallel to Clev's own after last issue (something I really don't want to give away if you haven't read the series), but I don't think that is going to stop Clev from dealing out some justice. There's some great action as Clev and his partner, Saffrom Bell, find some of Morgenstern's custom superhumans guarding his compound, and not only does Leonard Kirk do a great job of illustrating it, but there are moments I assume writer Dan Jolley scripted in that show just the kind of guy Clev is; he fights dirty if he has to, and I like him all the more for it. With a little help from the mysterious superhuman Terminus, Clev and Saffron are on their way to confront Morgenstern. Seriously, folks, I can't recommend this book enough. If you like Gotham Central, Powers, Chase, Alias, or any super-hero/procedural, you're doing yourself a disservice not reading Bloodhound. You have time to catch up before next issue's finale, so what are you waiting for?

Juice Squeezers #2
Story & Art: David Lapham

David Lapham is best known for his noir masterpiece, Stray Bullets (something I'll be writing about in the not too distant future), so the fact that he's doing an all ages book about kids fighting the giant bug infestation beneath their town seems a bit out of character. But that book, Juice Squeezers, is turning out to be great fun. In the initial story in Dark Horse Presents, we met the Juice Squeezers, the kids who defend Weeville from the giant bugs, and got to see the giant bugs, although we also got hints that there's more to the bugs than the Squeezers believe. Issue one of this series introduced Billy Farnsburger, the new kid in town who has moved onto seriously bug populated land with his dad. This issue, Billy traps a giant bug, and makes it his pet. He spends much of the issue with Lizzy Beedle, the only female Squeezer, who is disobeying orders from her teacher/leader of the Squeezers, Mr. Kettleborne, by befriending him. Billy is the reader proxy, the outsider who is going to be learning about the secrets of Weeville with them. It's a fun comic, with lots of action and great character work. The Squeezers interact like kids would, not like little adults and not like adults imagine kids would; their dialogue is realistic without lots of slang that would date the book. I have to reiterate what I said when I was talking about Bad Blood, and say that I'm impressed with the breadth of books Dark Horse is publishing right now, and between that title, this one, and Bloodhound, we've got three comics with very distinct voices and string characters.

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