Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 3/19

American Vampire: Second Cycle #1
Story: Scott Snyder
Art: Rafael Albuquerque

Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque's American Vampire returns with a new volume in an issue that i a great place for new readers to jump on. The final issues of the previous volume did a great job of closing that first chapter, and so our series two principle characters, American vampires Skinner Sweet and Pearl Jones are in very different places than the last time we saw them; set in the sixties, a decade after the end of the last arc, Pearl is running a halfway house for vampires trying to flee they're past and make good lives without killing, and Skinner is, "The Sugar Man," a highway bandit riding a motorcycle, not the evil mutant. Each character has a gorgeous two page spread beautifully put together by Albuquerque that gives a montage of their pasts, and no knowledge of the previous series is required. The issue opens with a scene of Pearl defending her newest charge from a lynch mob, which is done very cleverly, playing off reader expectations, since the reader doesn't find out until later the girl is a vampire, and seeing a large group of white people with pitch forks and torches chasing a young African American girl conjures images that aren't out of horror movies, but historical horrors. There is more to the girl than seems, as she is tied to the mysterious Gray Trader, the villain who was hinted to in the final issue of volume one. Skinner, meanwhile, heads to hijack a cargo that is not what he expects, and seems to run afoul of the Gray Trader himself. The Gray Trader is the new mystery to keep readers guessing, and to draw Pearl and Skinner back together in the dance they have danced since Skinner turned Pearl. American Vampire has done an excellent job of building its mythology and developing different threads, and it looks like the second half of the series will be drawing those threads together into a new, terrifying tapestry.

Buffy the Vampre Slayer: Season 10 #1
Story: Christos Gage
Art: Rebekah Isaacs

While I thought Season 9 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was an improvement on the somewhat meandering Season 8, the real highlight of the Whedonverse comics last year was the wonderful Angel & Faith by Christos Gage and Rebekah Isaacs. Gage knew the character well, and wrote character driven stories that explored his two leads and pushed them to new places they hadn't been before, while mixing in humor and action in big doses. Isaacs is an artist who has quite a few credits under her belt, and is just waiting for that one big project for her to become a breakout star; her characters are distinct, well wrought, and she draws great action, great character pieces, and some creepy monsters. When it was announced this team would be moving over to the main Buffy series with the new season, I was excited to see what they would do with the whole Scooby Gang, and it has paid off. While Willow and Spike appeared in Angel & Faith, Buffy herself didn't, and Gage hits it right out of the park in issue one with his narration from Buffy's point of view; he captures her voice, while also making her the confident character that she has completely developed into over the course of the last season. This issue ties up a loose end from last season, using that as a way to bring all the relevant characters into play, as Buffy and her allies fight off an horde of zompires, the mindless vampires created by the lack of magic the previous year. By issue's end, the zompires are destroyed, but the new breed of vampire introduced at the end of season nine confronts Buffy, and while it looks like things might end poorly, a couple old allies reappearing tip the balance. OK, SPOILER hats on, so stop here if you haven't read the end of Angel & Faith, or want to avoid knowing a bit of the end of the issue, even though it was telegraphed at the end of A&F. Buffy's reunion with the de-aged Giles is a scene that warmed my heart. Giles was one of my favorite characters in the Whedonverse, and his loss was keenly felt when he left the series (something Buffy references in her narration). I'm sure there will be plenty of humor down the line from a father figure in the body of a thirteen year old, but for the end of this issue, the teary moment when Buffy and Giles embrace is done so beautifully and wordlessly that it was definitely the moment of the week for me.

Daredevil #1
Story: Mark Waid
Art: Chris Samnee

For the past three years or so, Mark Waid's Daredevil has been a breath of fresh air. Since Frank Miller, Daredevil as a character has been mired in so much darkness that it's been hard to see the red costume in all that black. But when Waid came on, he brought some joy back to the character, making him fun and fearless without making him a poor man's Spider-Man. This was vastly helped by his artistic collaborators, especially Chris Samnee, who worked on much of the run. Last month saw the end of that volume, and this month sees the dawn of a new era. While many All-New Marvel Now! number ones introduce new creative teams on their books, the change in Daredevil is very much internal and plot driven. After the end of the last volume, Matt Murdock, Daredevil, has had to move to San Francisco, where he lived back in the 70s briefly. With his powers and identity public, Matt can work with the government of the city. I'm curious to see of Waid actually uses some of the material established with the Marvel Universe San Francisco back in Uncanny X-Men, or if he'll just start fresh; I have no problem with either, frankly, but am curious. We get an issue that has Daredevil going to rescue a kidnapped girl, and then must escape the terrorists who kidnapped her. It's a good place to start, because you get a good impression of exactly how Daredevil's powers work, something that Samnee has developed a great visual representation for, and to see the new status quo with his new partner, both in law and crime fighting, his maybe-sorta-ex-girlfriend, Kirsten McDuffie (in all fairness, there are very few female characters in the Marvel Universe who aren't Matt Murdock's ex). The two have an easy banter that is charming, and Kirsten is willing to stand up to Matt, and even hit him back in a metaphorical way. The final page sets up a mystery that I don't expect to last long, but definitely left me scratching my head in a good way. If you have heard good things about Daredevil, this is a perfect place to jump on, so go for it.

Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi- Force War #5
Story: John Ostrander & Jan Duursema
Script: John Ostrander
Art: Jan Duursema

So far today I have written up three new number ones that are places to start a series. The final review of the day is a final issue, and more than just the final issue of a series or mini-series, but the end of an era. John Ostrander is one of my three favorite writers in comics, and he has had a run on Star Wars comics that stretches over a decade. With the license shifting from Dark Horse Comics to Marvel Comics in 2015, a lot about Star Wars comics is up in the air, so this is definitely the last Star Wars comic by John Ostrander published by Dark Horse, and maybe ever. And it's a perfect send off. Working with his regular collaborator on these comics, artist Jan Duursema, Ostrander brings the story of the war between the Infinite Empire of the Rakata and the Jee'dai, the order that will someday become the Jedi of the films, to a close. Each of the major characters gets a resolution to their arc, and that's an achievement with such a large cast; but then again, Ostrander crams more into one issue than most writer do into three. Xesh, the Force Hound and sometimes Jee'Dai, and Shae Koda, have a showdown while Daegon Lok, the mad Jee'dai general, faces down Skal'nas, the leader of the Rakatan invasion. Sek'nos Rath, the Sith Jee'dai, faces his won darkness when he confronts Trill, the woman who betrayed him. And Tasha Ryo, the Twi'lek Jee'dai seer, finds her connection with the Force after it was severed. It's a very satisfactory end, and it leaves the world open if anyone wants to revisit it in the future. I am going to miss Ostrander and Duursema on Star Wars more than any other creative team, and I'm going to look forward to revisiting all their work in a re-read soon, something I intend to write up later in the year.

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