Monday, October 20, 2014

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 10/15 and Special Digital Comics Review... From Earth

Daredevil #9
Story: Mark Waid
Art: Chris Samnee

The Purple Man, Zebediah Killgrave, is a creepy character. A man who can bend minds of others to his will, Brian Michael Bendis made him a particularly nasty guy in his run on Alias. So what can be done to make him even more creepy? Why make five Purple Children, of course! Yes, if horror movies have taught us nothing, there's nothing creepier than evil kids, and Mark Waid and Chris Samnee are playing on that fear in the new issue of Daredevil, as the children of Killgrave make their mark. While the Purple Children were introduced last issue, we see exactly what they can do this issue when they confront Daredevil. But that's the end of the issue. At the beginning, we get to see Matt Murdock, Daredevil, spending time with Kirsten McDuffie, his law partner and girlfriend, and a disguised Foggy Nelson, his best friend who faked his own death and is in disguise in the world's least convincing fat suit, which is the butt of several jokes from the others and gives the issue a touch of humor before things go sideways. Matt is talking with them about the proposition of writing his autobiography, something Kirsten's publisher father asked about last issue. Foggy makes a couple of valid points against it, most notably that Matt a) hates to write and b) Matt has lived a hard, nasty life, and maybe revisiting the darker moments isn't the best for Matt's sanity. But Matt shakes that argument off, confident that he is happy and can deal with it. Meanwhile, the Purple Children are stretching their metaphorical muscles by testing their powers and stealing a police car. It's a good bit of character that the kids act like kids. They don't start trying to take over the city or developing a cult, they just use their powers to get what they feel like getting. And when Daredevil stops their joyride and confronts them, Waid again does something very clever with Daredevil's particular skill set and limitations: despite knowing Killgrave is on the loose, he has no idea the kids are connected to him until someone else mentions their purple skin tone because Daredevil is blind. I've been reading Daredevil for a long time, and while every writer regularly mentions Daredevil is blind, and often play up the advantages of his heightened senses, Waid has been the best about playing on the way the blindness can hamper his abilities too. The battle with the Purple Children ends with them forcing Matt to face the darkness in his past that he's not faced since Waid took over the book, because the Purple Children don't just convince you of something, they make you believe it, a fine distinction, but one that makes them all the more powerful than their father. The issue ends with Matt in the darkest place he's been in years, proving Foggy might have been more on the nose about where Matt's head is, and with an enemy who might be an ally in this situation looming over him. It's a disquieting splash page, and the art uses shadow to add to the ominous tone. It's been nearly five years since Mark Waid took over Daredevil, and he still finds new things to do with the character month in and month out.

Justice League #35
Story; Geoff Johns
Art: Ivan Reis & Doug Mahnke

The prologue to the new arc on Justice League is an issue low on action, but high on character. It begins with a press conference announcing the partnership between Wayne Enterprises and Lexcorp that was established last issue. The scene does a great job of showing exactly how much the team trusts Lex Luthor, their newest member. The hero/villain team up is a trope in comics almost as old as the medium itself, but the twist here, that the heroes have to work with Lex in the light of day because the world now views Lex as a hero, is a nice twist. And it's not just like in the President Luthor years, where they could just avoid him. Nope, Lex is a full fledged Justice Leaguer. The whole team is on hand, ready to bust in and arrest Lex the minute Batman finds any evidence of Luthor doing anything illegal, which seems to be the razor's edge the team is going to be walking on for sometime. The press conference is a great showcase for how manipulative Lex can be, playing to the crowd, and just how much more clever Bruce Wayne is, invoking the death of his parents to slip in and undercut Lex in front of the media. During that press conference, we get to see what each of the Justice League members in the crowd are doing, and Geoff Johns uses the time to build the characters and relationships. We continue seeing Cyborg and Shazam as good friends, with Cyborg as the mature older brother figure to the more immature Shazam, who acts a bit more like a kid than he has in previous incarnations, where Billy Batson's teenage attitude doesn't creep through as much. Meanwhile Flash spends his time with Power Ring, who has at least for now mastered the evil ring that gives her the name, and I'm curious to see where the relationship between her and Flash goes. Batman then gets a guided tour of Lex Luthor's inner sanctum, one that again shows that the confrontation between Lex and the League is going to be a battle of wits between these two more than anything physical. Knowing what we do about Lex, it's clear he's sanitized the labs, since I can;t imagine he's not up to something even if it's not showing. We do get some insight into Lex's character with the appearance of his sister, Lena, before Neutron, the nuclear powered supervillain, bursts in to assassinate Lex, with a mysterious voice whispering in his ear, promising him his humanity back if he performs. We get a quick battle, where Aquaman jumps in and Johns once again proves that when written right, Aquaman can be a badass, and the issue ends with one of Lex's dirty little secrets being revealed, one that will set off the action of the arc, the titular Amazo Virus. Johns is firing on all cylinders on  this title, which continues to be the best it's been since the relaunch, nicely balancing character and plot, and giving just enough action to remind us what it's like when gods clash.

Spider-Man 2099 #5
Story: Peter David
Art: Rick Leonardi

Don't let that cover text fool you! Despite it saying that this issue is drawn by series regular penciler Will Sliney, it's not. Sliney has been doing a great job on this book, but this issue is drawn by Spider-Man 2099 co-creator Rick Leonardi, which deserves a call out. Now, I don't read anything else even tangentially related to Spider-Man, so my knowledge of the new "Spider-Verse" event is limited. This issue opens on one of the infinite earths (am I allowed to say that in relation to a Marvel comic?) where that world's version of Spidey 2099 is teamed up with Captain America, Wolverine, and the Genis-Vell Captain Marvel, whose series is one of Peter David's defining runs. Morlun, the Spidey-villain who eats the essences of Spider-powered characters, makes pretty short work of those guys, kills that universe's Spidey 2099, and moves on. In the traditional universe, good ol' Marvel 616, Miguel O'Hara, our Spidey 2099, still trapped in the present, feels a bolt of pain in his head when his counterpart buys it. In another universe, another Miguel O'Hara, this time the one who was a member of the universe hopping Exiles during Tony Bedard's run, is using his leftover tech from his time with the Exiles to try to reach Earth-616, the one reality Morlun fears since it was the site of his defeat. There are more Miguel deaths, and just as the Exiles Miguel is about to step through his portal, which 616 Miguel is watching, Morlun arrives. While Exiles Miguel falls, 616 Miguel gets hints of what is to come and heads off to find the person who might have answers. Peter David does a great job of explaining what readers might need to know about what is going on in this event without drowning the readers in details, or making them feel lost. David has always been a writer who knows how to take an event and do his best to make it show the strengths of a title he's writing without it interfering too much. He finds ways to work in the continuing plot lines going through the book in little scenes in between the big event scenes. I talked about Rick Leonardi's return to Spider-Man 2099 earlier, but I want to discuss it in context of the issue. Leonardi does spectacular work drawing Miguel in combat, both the alter-Miguel's fighting Morlun and 616 Miguel chasing bank robbers who are escaping in a helicopter. He has a sense of the way a body moves and that acrobatic style that works perfectly with characters like any version Spider-Man or Nightwing (a book he had a good long run on). I hope that Leonardi will come back to the book every now and then for a check in, especially if we get Miguel back to his own time; Leonardi really defined the skyline of 2099 New York. But for now, I'm happy to see him drawing Miguel in any era.

The Thrilling Adventure Hour #0
Story: Ben Acker & Ben Blacker
Art: J. Bone/Phil Hester

It was announced not too long ago that Image Comics would be releasing series based on the two cornerstone segments of America's favorite new time podcast in the style of old time radio, The Thrilling Adventure Hour. I've written a recommendation for the previously released graphic novel, and made clear my love for the show in any medium, but knowing that we'd be getting even more comics from these worlds had me hugely excited. And last week, I discovered that there were on-line zero issues for both the series (so it's not really released on the 15th, but I'm putting it in here), and immediately bought them, which is rare for me as I'm a person who loves his comics in his hands, and will usually wait for print editions of digital first projects. But I'm glad I bought the digital release, because this is some great material. Each story is an origin story, about the meeting of the two series principle characters, stories we've heard referenced on the show but have never actually seen played out, at least as far as what has been put up in podcast form, so it's a real treat!

Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars, is the story of, well, Sparks Nevada, who is a marshal. On Mars. Although, as he will tell everyone who he talks to, "I'm... from Earth." The story in this issue is Sparks dealing with his robot deputies going rogue, a flood, and picking up a Martian sidekick, Croach the Tracker, who is under onus to Sparks for saving his village. It gives new readers all the things they need to know about the Sparks universe, like robot rogues, martians, Sparks's usual problems with the ladies, and his love of paperwork. There's plenty of humor mixed in, with Sparks usual deadpan delivery. Knowing the show, I can hear the lines delivered by the actors (which makes sense, as the comic is written by series creators Ben Acker and Ben Blacker), and it works perfectly in the different medium, with the cadence made clear by how the panels lay out the dialogue. J. Bone does a beautiful job rendering the red plains of Mars. His Sparks and Croach seem to have stepped right out of my imagination, and he does great design work on the rogue robot deputies. It's a charming story that will appeal to fans of space opera or Westerns.

Beyond Belief is the story of Frank and Sadie Doyle, toast of the upper crust, headliners on the society pages. And oh yes, they see ghosts. When we meet them in the show, Frank and Sadie are happily married, living in the Plaza Hotel and loving nothing more than liquor and each other, although they are regularly interrupted by supernatural things knocking on their door, often literally. But this story takes place when Frank is out hunting demons and Sadie is with her ne'er do-well boyfriend, Bobo Brubaker, running fake seances. But when they pull that scam in a real haunted house, Sadie's actual sensitivity to ghosts summons something nasty and Frank must sweep in to save everyone. It's love at first sight, and the bond between the soon-to-be-Doyles, one of the defining charms of the show, is apparent from the moment they see each other. Also apparent is their love of gin. So much gin. Bobo is not enamored with Frank, and so proves the heel he is, not surprising as Bobo has popped up as an antagonist of sorts on the show before (not that the Doyle's let much of anything actually antagonize them, just interrupt their drinks briefly), but Bobo is put in his place and the Doyle's are on their way to bliss by story's end. Frank and Sadie are my favorite part of Thrilling Adventure Hour, so seeing how they met was a real treat. It's paced well, and has all the hallmarks of a Beyond Belief, including an amusing twist at the end as to the origin of the supernatural nasty. Phil Hester does an excellent job crafting a truly creepy ghost and his hellhounds, not surprising if you're familiar with his horror work, but also does great likenesses of the Doyles, who more than any other character, feel like they look like the actors who portray them, comedian Paul F Tompkins and actress Paget Brewster.

If you're a fan of TAH you know you want to read these stories, and if you're someone who has heard me natter on about it endlessly since I discovered it, this is a great place to try it out. The two issues are available separately for $1.99 each, or together for $2.99, and you can purchase them right here. So check it out and be ready for the February releases of the new series!

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