Monday, November 3, 2014

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 10/29

Archer & Armstrong #25
Story: Fred Van Lente & others
Art: Clayton Henry & others

Credit where credit is due, Valiant does up a heck of an anniversary issue. The (for now, anyway) final issue of Archer & Armstrong is chock full of different stories that sum up the relationship between our two leads perfectly. The lead story, "Back to the Beginning," reunites the series original creative team of Fred Van Lente and Clayton Henry, to tell a story that ties up many of the series loose ends, including the identity of Archer's parents, Archer's relationship to The Sect, and the origin of the Archer cult from earlier in the series. More important is the scene where Archer asks Armstrong to show him more of the world, and Armstrong sets him straight about exactly what that will mean. It's a thesis on judgement and what it means to really live, from someone who has lived longer than pretty much anybody, and if we never hear another word from these character by Van Lente, it is a perfect send off. The second long form story in the issue, "Immortal Combat,"by John Layman and Ramon Villalobos, is much lighter. An immortal returns to fight Armstrong, and thanks to Armstrong's... pickled brain, he has little recollection of someone who has spent hundreds of years planning his demise. This story is just pure fun, which has been something that this book does and gets right every time. Also included is a short that leads into the upcoming one shot that features A&A enemies the 1%, and three time hopping stories that show Armstrong at different points in his immortal life. This is exactly what I feel an anniversary issue should be, one that celebrates all the aspects of a title, and gives long time readers a reward for picking it up. Van Lente and Henry will soon be starting a new Valiant series about Armstrong's time travelling brother, Ivar, Timewalker, so they'll be hanging around the Valiant Universe some more, but I'm glad they got the band back together to tell one more story from what has been my favorite Valiant series from the new line.

Marvel Comics 75th Anniversary Special
Story: Various
Art: Various

And here's another anniversary issue. I have to give Marvel credit, while I'm a DC guy, Marvel has done more with this 75th Anniversary one shot than DC has done with most of its big 75th anniversaries. A series of short stories, taking place throughout Marvel history, all the pieces have some feeling of history. The Spider-Man and Wolverine stories are fine and interesting, but it's the other three that really grabbed me. The opening story is a meditation on when the world changed, when the Fantastic Four got their powers and created the new heroic age. Narrated by Ben Urich, this story, written by James Robinson and drawn by Chris Samnee, is just so beautifully drawn, showing where many of the great heroes were when the FF took their space ride. Bruce Timm then adapts the Captain America prose story from Captain America Comics #3 that was the first Marvel work by The Man himself, Stan Lee. Any new work from Bruce Timm is worth celebrating, and this classic Stan Lee story is a fun throwback that's 40s setting works really well with Timm's style. Finally, Alias creative team Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos tell a story of Jessica Jones helping a little old lady find the fireman who saved her the day the original Human Torch debuted. It's a sweet little story, and feels like it's setting up a new Jessica Jones series, which makes sense with her Netflix TV series on the horizon. Along with all of this, we have a series of pin-ups with concepts by Bendis and art by various A-List artists, my favorites being a 90s X-Men one, featuring such luminaries as Marrow, Stacy X, and Adam X the X-Treme, with art by Joe Quinones, and a Groot Attorney-At-Law with art by Francesco Francavilla. The whole issue is a fun tribute to Marvel's past, with some great creators doing some top notch work. I know issues like this often seem a shameless cash grab, but this one is well worth your time.

Rasputin #1
Story: Alex Grecian
Art: Riley Rossmo

One of my favorite Image series of all time is Proof, the story of a Sasquatch who knew Thomas Jefferson and now works with a government organization investigating cryptids, things like Sasquatch and chupacabras. The creative team of Proof is back at Image this month, with the debut issue of Rasputin, a historical fiction based around Russia's mad monk, Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin. This opening issue is a solid done in one of sorts, starting as Rasputin sits down to dine at the dinner that, for anyone who knows his story. will end in his seeming murder, and flashes back to his youngest days. Rasputin is already being fleshed out as a full character, not the mad, licentious figure he is often portrayed as in fiction, but someone with a backstory. The issue specifically show the conditions Rasputin grew up in, with a father who had little trouble savagely beating his wife and son. By issue's end, we have seen that this is a world where the supernatural will play heavily, and one where violence is going to be as central, and not in a graphic way, but in the sense that life started with pain, and will probably not get any easier. As good as Alex Grecian's story is, and it is very good, Riley Rossmo's art adds something to it that makes is all the better. In pure text, a first person narrator is only as trustworthy as your impression of him or her, and if you know anything about Rasputin, he isn't someone you should trust. However, the graphic element of art in flashback adds a dimension. You see Rasputin use his power to heal (or resurrect?) his mother after a beating, and you see the expression on his face. You see him make the cold hard choice after his father is attacked by a bear. Rossmo is one of my favorite artists in comics, his work on series life Proof, Cowboy/Ninja/Viking, and Bedlam showing the breadth of his talent, drawing character moments with the same strength he draws monsters. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Image is producing the widest variety of interesting new comics on the racks right now, and a supernatural historical fiction is a great addition to that. If you like history, magic, and bears, you should check out Rasputin. Oh, and Riley Rossmo, in case you read this, I read you bit in the backmatter, and yes, there is still an audience waiting for more Proof. Give it to us and I'll preach it to the mountains.

Saga #24
Story: Brian K. Vaughan
Art: Fiona Staples

Ah, the pre-hiatus issue of Saga. The last issue of an arc on Saga usually steps away from the family who are our main protagonists and instead spends some time with one of the other characters, be it The Will, Prince Robot IV, or Gwendolyn. This time, the issue's driving force is The Brand, freelancer (bounty hunter) and the sister of bounty hunter The Will, who is looking for the person responsible for her brother being in a coma, and her partner, Pretty Boy, who's a big dog. The Brand crosses paths quickly with Gwendolyn and Sophie, as well as series favorite Lying Cat, who are seeking a cure for The Will. The first scene, where they retrieve the scroll with the cure's ingredients on it, has the best Lying Cat moment since the heartwarming scene between the cat and Sophie. Vaughan develops these characters further, giving us a bit more of The Brand, exploring Gwendolyn's roll, showing more than a force hunting Marko, but as the honorable warrior she is, and starting to see Sophie come more out of the shell she was forced into by her horrible past. Aside from the A-story, we also get a great flashback to The Will's time with his ex-lover, The Stalk, and see more of the complexity of their relationship, as we learn we will soon be visiting The Stalk's home planet. And that final page cliffhanger, the thing that Vaughan does better than anyone in comics, has me ready to tear my hair out in the best kind of frustration from the wait until early 2015 to see where it goes.

Southern Bastards #5
Story: Jason Aaron
Art: Jason Latour

No one is the villain of their own story. And even the villain usually has his reasons and his backstory. Sometimes, I feel this is unnecessary, like with The Joker or Hannibal Lecter, but in most cases, that backstory makes for a much better character. Jason Aaron proved to be a master of the well rounded villain with Lincoln Red Crow, Agent Nitz, and so many others in Scalped, and this issue of Southern Bastards begins an arc focusing on the background of series villain, Coach Boss. The story flashes back and forth, from the present, where Coach Boss is heading to the funeral of Earl Tubbs, the protagonist of the first arc and the man Coach Boss killed at the end of the previous issue, and a young Boss working to make the football team. The Boss of now is a cold, calculating bastard, the kind of guy who goes to that funeral knowing full well everyone knows he killed the man, and who by issue's end shows that he wants the town to remember that. The young Boss, while not a tough guy physically, still shows the will that will make him Coach Boss one day, although here he comes to a bad end by not knowing when it's best to let a bully mouth off. We get to see Craw County from Boss's point of view, an insider's view, versus the outsider that Tubbs was. I'm a northerner, and can count the number of football games I've watched on one hand, but it's a credit to Aaron's writing that I can see where the mania for the game in these southern town comes from. This arc will continue to fill out Boss's history, and while I don't think he's ever going to be a character we like, it's going to be an interesting journey to see if he's a character that I can understand.

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