Monday, June 30, 2014

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 6/25

Adventures of Superman #14
Story: Max Landis/ Fabian Nicieza
Art: Jock/ Phil Hester

I've had a problem with Superman since the New 52 (more on that later), so I've been interested in Adventures of Superman, the out of continuity, digital first series that mostly features stories of the pre-Flashpoint, red trunks wearing Superman. And an issue with that cover? Well, I'm going to pick it up. The first of two stories in the issue, the story by Chronicle writer Max Landis is a new take on the first meeting between Superman and Joker. I went back and forth on the story as I was reading it. Landis's Joker is closer to the Dark Knight Joker, one who has planted bombs all over Metropolis for no other reason than he can and he wants to meet Superman. I was trying to decide of Landis was putting a personal opinion about Joker in Superman's mouth, that he is a character with no real personality, who is simply who the actor playing him/creator writing him wants him to be. I was also uncomfortable for a time about how brutal Superman was, hinting to Joker he was willing to kill the clown, and how dark he got when he was facing down Batman for letting Joker get into Metropolis to test Superman. But the last moment, where Superman flies into space and chuckles at one of Joker's jokes (one that was pretty funny, actually) paints a human Superman with a sense of humor, something I like. The thing about this story that really sticks out, though, is Jock's art. I've loved Jock's art since The Losers, and his sort of distorted, convulsive Joker is brilliant. He also does a page that I think of Joker through the ages. As Joker is talking about what he might become (this is an early Joker, after all) each panel is a different version of Joker; eight panels with eight distinct and classic images from comics and film: Jerry Robinson, Neal Adams, Brian Bolland, Greg Capullo, Batman: The Animated Series, Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, and Heath Ledger. That page alone is worth the price of admission. The issue's second story is a fun, light tale of Clark Kent having to babysit 1950s DC Comics characters Sugar and Spike. It's a cute little story, where Superman has to take the kids on an adventure to stop Atomic Skull, and the mischievous kids wind up helping Superman. Makes me also think that Phil Hester is the premiere artist for re-envisioning fun 50s DC characters in a modern setting, between this and his work on Kevin Smith's Green Arrow with Stanley and his Monster, but that's a discussion for another time.

Batman #32
Story: Scott Snyder
Art: Greg Capullo

One issue to go before the end of "Zero Year" and the stakes for a young Batman have never been higher. Batman has prepared for his final confrontation with the Riddler, as he moves in with all his allies lined up: Lucius Fox is remotely prepared to shut down Riddler's signal, while Jim Gordon and a group of Navy SEALs sneak in from another entrance. It's a tense scene that has been done in a million movies, but Capullo draws it beautifully, amping up the tension. But since we're dealing with Riddler, it's never as easy as it seems, and Batman realizes pretty quickly that this is all too easy, and Riddler's robots, all set with monitors with his own gloating face displayed on them, shows just how right Batman in. What was a;ready a tense situation becomes a race against time to save Gotham City. One of the nice touches of this issue is it requires Batman to use his brain and his detective skills without any of the trappings that he has in the stories set in the present; there's no Alfred to run things through the Bat Computer, no crazy gadgets. It's just Batman facing down a foe who is as smart as he is. Scott Snyder gives Batman a great speech as he heads off to what might be, as far as he knows, his final fight with the Riddler and his own death, where he leaves a message for Alfred about how Batman is really about failing and then rising up to meet the challenge again. It's a great moment, and gives a human side to a character who is often portrayed as more single minded and inhuman than the aliens he teams up with, and makes Batman an aspirational and inspirational figure, instead of just a brooding shadow. I've enjoyed the heck out of "Zero Year," and while I'm glad to be returning to the present again in a couple months, it's been quite a ride.

Outcast by Kirkman and Azaceta #1
Story: Robert Kirkman
Art: Paul Azaceta

Before I get into the content of the comic, I want to point out that the title with the creators listed are exactly how the book has been marketed. It's interesting that we've reached a point where Robert Kirkman is enough of a name that he gets top billing and his name above the title, so to speak. But that's just academic geekery; now on to the comic. Kyle Barnes is a loner. He lives alone in a rundown house, and his foster sister is the only one who will come to talk to him. Plus he seems to have visions of some hideous aspects of his past. Pretty quickly into the first issue, we see exactly what all of that is about: the women in Kyle's life seem to get possessed by demons; first his mother, and then his wife. And there's something in Kyle that attracts them and that he can also use to drive them off. That's the set up to the new series that Krikman himself describes as a scary comic. He never viewed The Walking Dead as a horror comic, but this one he does, and it is delightfully creepy. We see the local pastor coming to Kyle to get help with a possessed young man, we see exactly how Kyle's brother-in-law feels about him (hint: he doesn't like him), and we see just how lonely Kyle is. The issue is a pretty solid self contained story, as we get a beginning, middle, and end to that possession, but it also does a great job of setting up everything in Kyle's world, including the mystery of exactly what he is. Artist Paul Azaceta does an excellent job complementing Kirkman's script with dark, creepy pencils. The darkness is thick, but you don't lose track of what is going on and who the characters are. All of that, and it's a double sized, no ads comic for $2.99. That's a great deal at twice the price, so if you've ever tried Kirkman in any form, be it comic, TV, or video game, get in on the ground floor of his new series.

Superman #32
Story: Geoff Johns
Art: John Romita Jr.

OK, now more on what I said in the earlier review about having problems with New 52 Superman. I read Grant Morrison's run on Action Comics and the first year of numerous creators on Superman and I was unimpressed. Superman was at best aloof and at worst kind of a jerk. His supporting cast felt wooden, and more like characters for him to stand opposite to than be with. So I gave up on Superman. But when Geoff Johns was announced as the new writer, I felt I had to give it a shot. Johns's run on Action before the New 52 was great Superman comics, and I figured he might have a way to make this new Superman feel more like the character I remember. And I have to say, his first issue shows a lot of promise. Almost immediately, Perry White calls Clark Kent on exactly how I've felt about this version of the character: he stands apart from everyone and doesn't want to connect with the people in his life. This sends Clark home soul searching, and hopefully he'll realize that he needs to be more human. There's also a cold open with interesting parallels to Superman's story, a mystery villain, a character from another dimension, and drama revolving around Jimmy Olsen's millionaire parents. It's the beginning of one of those series that Johns does well, with what I think is some long term planning already starting and some nice character beats. And the icing on the cake is the art from John Romita Jr., making his DC Comics debut (unless you count Punisher/Batman from the 90s). I've always loved JRJR's action sequences and he does a great job in this issue, both in Superman's fight with Titano, DC's answer to King Kong, and the final fight with the extra dimensional alien. I like the design of our new hero, Ulysses, and am curious to see Superman have someone like him to talk to, and how this will affect his interactions with the rest of the world. Welcome back to Metropolis, Geoff. We've missed you.

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