Monday, September 8, 2014

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 9/3

The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage #1
Story: Jen Van Meter
Art: Roberto de la Torre

Valiant continues to move from strength to strength with the debut of The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage. While all of Valiant's books are superhero comics at their heart, they all exist within the trappings of other genres. X-O Manowar is really the most superhero of the lot, Bloodshot is an espionage comic, Archer & Armstrong is about conspiracies, Quantum & Woody is a buddy comedy, etc. Shadowman has been the occult comic, and with its end, it feels like this series is picking up that baton. From what I gather from a friend who reads all the Valiant books, Dr. Mirage made her first appearance in the pages of Shadowman. However, you don't need to know anything about that other appearance to get into this first issue; all I know is that it happened, nothing more, and I really enjoyed this issue. Dr. Shan Fong, also known as Dr. Mirage, is a medium and paranormal investigator who is the real deal. She can speak to the dead. The issue opens with her agent having ambushed her with a seance for a group of wealthy widows, and this sets off some issues for Shan; you see, her husband, Hwen, died and she has never been able to speak to him. Dr. Mirage is tough as nails, and she admits it freely. She isn't a warm, fuzzy character, not one of those John Edwards-esque mediums. She calls 'em as she sees 'em, and no one gets in her way. After the initial scene, that does a great job of establishing personality and the status quo, we get the thrust of where the series is going. A billionaire hires Mirage to help solve an occult problem, one that he is clearly not being entirely up front about, and unbeknownst to him, Mirage gets a hint from a creature that he is vonbed to of what might have become of her husband. And so the issue ends with the beginning of a classic Orphues in the Underworld journey. Jen Van Meter is one of those writers whose work I always really enjoy, as she has a great feel for character, and this issue does an excellent job of packing a lot of that in with all the required backstory and never feeling burdened by it. Roberto de la Torre's art is well suited to the story, with dark tones that are still realistic but with a bit of creepiness to them; I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do with the much more abstract canvas of the afterlife next issue. As someone who appreciates a supernatural hero, I was pleased to see Valiant resurrecting Dr. Mirage, and this first issue makes me hope that, if the series keeps up at this pace, we'll see this five issue mini spin off an ongoing in the not too distant future.

Grendel Vs. The Shadow
Story & Art: Matt Wagner

New Grendel written and drawn by Matt Wagner is something I look forward to a lot. When Wagner is just writing Grendel stories they're still great, but that mix of his story and art are a real treat. And when it was announced that not only would the new Grendel story feature my favorite Grendel, Hunter Rose, but it would also be a crossover with The Shadow, one of the prototypes for all masked men, and a character who Wagner has written before but not drawn except for covers, I was chomping at the bit. The story starts with Hunter Rose being displaced in time from the present (well, Hunter's present, which is the 80s) to the 30s. With Prohibition ending and one of the leaders of the Five Families dying, Hunter begins to take over the gangs of New York as Grendel while making himself the toast of New York literary set as Hunter. Meanwhile, the Shadow is also preparing for the coming gang wars and learning more of this new player, Grendel. The issue has dual narrators, with Hunter narrating his own parts in his inimitable style, and the Shadow's companion, Margo Lane, narrating others. It's interesting that Wagner chooses to not have The Shadow narrate his own parts of the stories, something that amplifies the mystery of the character (it is of note that in his The Shadow: Year One mini-series, Wagner also chose Lane as the narrator). This also gives the reader a different sort of insight into The Shadow, and lets the reader really understand Margo, who is a key character in the Shadow mythos. The plot is fine, a good gangster/30s/masked man story, but the issue is really outstanding for its atmosphere. Hunter slides into the 30s perfectly; he's a man about town and a bon vivant, so he fits perfectly in this era, The looks of the piece is outstanding, with Wagner really drawing the hell out of the vintage clothing, cars, and settings. And the action scenes are equally astounding, with Grendel's usual graceful slaughters and The Shadow's appearances and disappearances and his gun play. It's also of note that the story starts in the present with the typical Grendel color palate of black, white, and red, and when he moves back into The Shadow's time, the story shifts to full color, which is a great storytelling technique. This is a great jumping on point if you're a fan of one of these characters and not the other, or haven't read anything featuring either.

Justice League #33
Story: Geoff Johns
Art: Doug Mahnke

Justice League is a comic I've had very mixed feelings about, and I've said that before. I've been unsure of the gravity of it, of the darkness, of the fact that the League, which was before sort of a group of peers and friends, were bickering like the Avengers at their worst. But things feel a little different since Forever Evil. While we're still waiting to see if that crossover will have any real long term effects, the short term effects on this book have been to kick into a much higher gear. This issue wraps up the Justice League's first confrontation with the New 52 Doom Patrol. Johns takes the Grant Morrison idea that The Chief, mad scientist and the leader of the Doom Patrol, is comics biggest ass, and plays it to the hilt. When there is a guy on the page who is even more full of himself than Lex Luthor, you know this guy has some serious chips on his shoulder. The dialogue between the Chief and Luthor is crackling, with them feeding off each other's egos. I'm not a big fan of the Doom Patrol. I don't have anything against them, but with the exception of Morrison's run, I don't think I've read more than an issue here or there featuring them, although I did like their appearances on Teen Titans and Batman: The Brave and the Bold. I do like what Johns does here, which is give each of them a unique personality and reaction to their freakishness, from Elasti-Girl's mind numbing happiness to Negative Man's apathy. I'm not sure of these are logical extensions of previous characterization or something new, but I liked it. The other moment in this issue that spoke to me was when Batman has to talk down Jessica Cruz, the young woman possessed by the Power Ring from the alternate Crime Syndicate universe, where the green ring is sentient, evil, and powered by fear. There's a scene from the episode of Justice League Unlimited, "Epilogue," where Batman finds the immensely powerful psychic called Ace, who is dying, and sits with her and talks to her and agrees to stay with her until the end. Here, Batman, the master of using fear as a weapon, talks to a woman who is agoraphobic and traumatized about his own fears and how he was able to not give in to them, and get her to come around and throw off the ring, which is fueled by her fear. It's a wonderful scene, and one that shows that Johns can really get Batman. Batman isn't some aloof, ogre, but someone who is intrinsically and at times almost painfully human, who understands fear and pain, and really wants no one else to experience it. The issue ends with the completely expected induction of Lex Luthor into the Justice League, but the scene leading up to it, between the DC trinity, gives a new context to that, once that I think will make for some great plot in the future.

She-Hulk #8
Story: Charles Soule
Art: Javier Pulido

She-Hulk is beginning to feel like Batman, in that it's a comic I review every month. I freakin' love this comic. It's smart, it's well written, the cast is wonderful, the art by Javier Pulido is beautiful. This issue, where Jen starts representing Steve Rogers, better known as Captain America, in a wrongful death suit from the 40s, is a really solid story, and write Charles Soule writes Steve so well. But this month, I want to pull back a bit and focus in a particular aspect of the issue that made me unadulteratedly happy. With Jen Walters, the lawyer also known as She-Hulk, having to go out to represent Cap in California, she needs to find a firm that she can attach herself to, since she isn't licensed to practice in the state. And the firm she chooses is the firm headed up by the character find of 2014: Matt Rocks. If you don't know your Marvel comics well enough to get the joke there, and haven't read enough about X-Factor on this blog to pick it up either, what we're dealing with is a duplicate of Jaime Madrox, the Multiple Man, former leader of X-Factor who can create duplicates of himself. Jaime sent out legions of dupes years ago to learn skills so that when he reabsorbed them, he would pick those skills up himself. Turns out, one of those dupes became a leading Hollywood entertainment lawyer who has basically been paying Jaime off with half his income so Jaime wouldn't reabsorb him. It's a weird, crazy idea, and deeply steeped in the knowledge of a pretty obscure Marvel comic; X-Factor isn't the Avengers or Uncanny X-Men, it had a pretty niche audience. But Soule doesn't shy away from it. He dives right in, explains what you need to know about the character and creates something delightfully fun with it. I'm the guy that scene was written for, someone inundated in this comic book minutiae, someone who would have gotten the joke without the prompting, and I say thank you for it. Next month, the trial will begin, and an idea that I'm shocked no one has pulled before, two super-hero lawyers challenging each other in court, will kick off in earnest for a story that I'm sure will be full of fascinating twists and turns. But for this month, well, Matt Rocks is just going to make me smile.

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