Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 8/6

Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files: War Cry #3
Story: Jim Butcher & Mark Powers
Art: Carlos Gomez

The Dresden Files has always been a mix of action, character, and comedy. This issue is very much an action piece, as Harry Dresden's small band of wizards, stranded in a small house in the woods, meet the vampires of the Red Court head on. It's by far the best action sequence in any of the Dresden Files comics so far. Writer Mark Powers, working from a plot by Dresden creator Jim Butcher, does a great job delineating the powers of each of the wizards. It would be easy to have the three junior Wardens (magic police, for those of you not in the Dresden know) fighting the same way as Harry, but each has their own style, focusing on a different kind of magic. Artist Carlos Gomez draws some horrifying vampires, and there is an air of menace to them as they charge the drastically outnumbered Wardens. It's a smart choice to have the Duke Bravosa, leader of the vampires, remain in his human form, as it feels like it's building to the big reveal of what exactly he will look like when he finally changes his shape. One of the things that has struck me about reading the Dresden Files comics versus the novels is the shift in perspective. All the prose Dresden stories are written from first person point of view, usually Harry, but occasionally some of his supporting cast. While there is still Harry's first person narrative in the comics, the events can shift away from Harry, showing the history of the mysterious force that the Wardens are trying to keep out of the Red Court's hands, the invasion of the house it rests in by the Court's human servitor and the desperate fight by the Venatori Umborum, the human scholars, to keep him from taking it, and the cloaked mystery man fighting his way through the woods. While I had seen the cover of issue four already and had a pretty good idea who that character was going to be, his last page reveal was one of those moments that makes me smile, not just because it means the good guys have a chance, but because this bold pronouncement is well within character for a major Dresden Files player making his first appearance in the comics.

She-Hulk #7
Story: Charles Soule
Art: Javier Pulido

After a couple issues investigating the mysterious Blue File, series artist Javier Pulido returns to She-Hulk for a delightful one-off that I can't help but think of as, "Honey, I Shrunk the She-Hulk."  An inventor whose partner has disappeared comes to She-Hulk for help in finding him and settling their dispute. The only problem? This isn't a normal legal dispute; their invention is shrink technology, and the partner has shrunk himself and is hiding somewhere in his own backyard. So She-Hulk goes to Hank Pym, Marvel's expert on shrinking, and She-Hulk, Pym, and Hellcat, who serves as investigator for She-Hulk's law firm, shrink down and go searching. As writer Charles Soule has done before, he tosses the usual tropes of this kind of story on its head. He has Pym make it clear just how dangerous being that small is; everything can now kill you. And when Hank is stolen away by a bird, She-Hulk and Hellcat are on their own. We've seen from the beginning of their relationship in this book how their personalities can clash, but the argument here works well to flesh out these characters; She-Hulk is kind of a control freak, and Hellcat feels like she needs more freedom and trust. The argument ends with She-Hulk proving how much she does trust Hellcat, and everything works out. Soule built in the limitations of the new shrink tech, and the end of the issue uses those limitations cleverly. I had figured out the big reveal as to who the buyer was the two inventors were arguing over selling to was, but the scene where they have to sit down together and She-Hulk does her lawyer thing was put together by Pulido perfectly; The body language on that page alone should be taught to young artists on how to get across character without words. The final page of the issue sets up the next story, one I'm excited to see. Soule continues to balance superhero action with legal drama in a way I haven't seen done in a long time, and each issue just gets better.

Swamp Thing #34
Story: Charles Soule
Art: Javier Pina

Charles Soule writes another of this week's highlights, wrapping up many of the plot threads that he has been building throughout his run on Swamp Thing. I feel bad, realizing I haven't talked about this book since Soule took over from Scott Snyder, as it has been consistently entertaining. Soule has really changed the status quo, removing many of the elements of the traditional Swamp Thing mythos and introducing his own characters. And so, of course, I'm reviewing the issue where he drastically changes his own status quo by removing most of those characters. This issue finds Swamp Thing finally facing down his former allies, The Wolf and The Lady Weeds, former Avatars of the Green that he returned to human form. They have been trying to find a way to return to their previous forms pretty much since they were made human again, and this issue the Lady Weeds, never the most well balanced entity in any form, takes her stab at it. Soule does a good job balancing the two aspects of Swamp Thing, the super hero and the horror hero, in this issue, by having Swamp Thing fight a big, hideous monster (very much in the mold of the horror hero), but still valuing the life of the innocent and the guilty (something in the superhero mold). Javier Pina's design for the monster is hideous, and perfectly suited to this horror tinged comic. But as with She-Hulk, Soule never lets the character work fall by the wayside. The final disposition of The Wolf is not something I saw coming, which is something I find happens all too rarely in superhero comics for me. And the fate of the Lady Weeds, well, let's just say wronging Capucine, Swamp Thing's warrior woman ally, is something you do at your peril. Capucine is an excellent addition to Swamp Thing's cast, and is a character with so many levels. It would be easy to play her as the typical badass warrior, but Soule has built a character with heart as well as muscles. And the transition of Brother Jonah, the third of the former Avatars to a new life, is not what I expected. I'm glad the character, who has been a wise adviser to Swamp Thiing since his introduction, will still be a presence in the comic. I am looking forward to seeing where Soule goes with the story with so much of the deck cleared, although the cliffhanger for this issue indicates things aren't getting any easier for our mossy hero, with the introduction of a new character who looks to be an avatar of a new parliament. Building onto an existing mythology is a challenge, sometimes falling very flat, but I'm happy to say Soule has done a great job so far, and I hope he keeps doing it for quite some time.

Thanos: The Infinity Revelation OGN
Story & Art: Jim Starlin

Jim Starlin, the creator of Thanos and so many of the major cosmic Marvel characters, returns to Marvel for an original graphic novel featuring his greatest creation, Thanos, and the character he redefined, Adam Warlock. It is... well, a story I'm still trying to process. Starlin writes stories about big themes, cosmic themes that somehow turn into these deeply personal journeys for these characters. The story opens with Thanos going on a quest to determine why everything has felt off since his most recent resurrection. Upon visiting Drax the Destroyer, to see if he feels the same way, we see Drax shift from modern Drax to classic Drax from one panel to the next. While I thought this was something in Thanos's head, showing how fragmented his view is, it is actually a clue to exactly what is going on in the book. Pretty soon, Warlock is back from the dead too and he and Thanos are investigating why the universe seems off. We get to see Thanos fight a bunch of Badoon, throw down with the team of cosmic superpowers, the Annihilators (and maybe see why they don't hang out too much anymore; Thanos and Warlock make pretty quick work of them), and then have a conversation with another version of himself. There's even a stoned alien comic relief, which feels like the gravedigger from Hamlet or the porter from Macbeth, the common man in a world of great beings who is just there for a chuckle. By the end, Thanos has his answers and Warlock is a different man.

One of the elements that struck me in the book was the use of the embodiments of the forces of the galaxy, Eternity, Infinity, Death, and the Living Tribunal. These characters are the things that divide Starlin's cosmic Marvel Universe from the one of Abnett, Lanning, and Bendis. Starlin likes to use these characters to investigate these grand themes and write great, Shakespearean tragedies. By moving away from those concepts and using characters who are more gritty and planetbound, like Rocket and Groot, the current Marvel cosmic world is more relateable in some ways.

Trying to talk about this book without spoiling anything is challenging, since so much of it works so much better on a second read when you know exactly what Starlin is up to throughout. Still, Thanos written by Starlin is not like Thanos written by anyone else. Not only is he cunning and regal, but other writers tend to forget that Thanos has a sense of humor; a biting and dark one, but a sense of humor nonetheless. He isn't all serious and dark pronouncements. And no one does introspective and haunted like Adam Warlock.  There is also a segment where we literally see the world as created by Warlock or Thanos, and neither is particularly appealing.

But I will say this: keep an eye on Warlock's gloves. Trust me, they're there for a reason

This is a book that is well worth the read, especially if you are a fan of the classic Marvel cosmic stories. Expect to have your mind screwed with, though, and if that ins't your thing, well, this isn't a book for you. I hope that Starlin and Marvel have reached the accord it seems they have, as Starlin has created a springboard for all sorts of interesting new Warlock stories that I hope he gets a chance to tell.

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