Monday, December 22, 2014

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 12/17

Batman #37
Story: Scott Snyder/James Tynion IV
Art: Greg Capullo/John McCrea

Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's Joker story, "Endgame," takes a decidedly creepy turn this issue. Not to say that the work these creators have done with Batman's greatest foe has been pure comedy at any point, but this issue was that ratcheted up the tension and added a very horror movie feel to this clash. The opening splash page, of a frozen Bruce Wayne staring out of the page at the reader begins the issue with a sense of distinct unease. Once Bruce comes out of the paralysis from Joker's drug, we begin to see just how dire the situation is, with a new strain of aerosolized Joker toxin turning Gotham into a city of madness. And none of Batman's old cures are working. Batman has over one hundred cures devised for Joker toxin. If you think about the New 52 timeline, that's over ten cures a year, meaning either Joker gets out of Arkham even more than you'd think, or Batman spends a lot of time coming up with possible cures; maybe Joker isn't the only one a little obsessed with his rival. With no cure, Batman must head to Gotham Presbyterian Hospital to find the first infected person. The journey is the issue's action peace, as Batman fights his way through a hospital filled with people corrupted by Joker. And when he finds patient zero, well, if there was any doubt about whether Joker knows Batman's secret identity, it's gone now. Snyder brings Duke Thomas, the kid who has been popping up in his run (and was Robin in the possible future from Batman & Robin: Futures End) , as Joker gives Batman a chance to relive his worst memory. And while that's great material, the scenes with Jim Gordon make this issue into one of Snyder's best. As Gordon researches Gotham Presbyterian to try to figure out why Joker started his assault there, Gordon finds photos from over the past century. Photos that all have the Joker in them. And then Gordon hears a sound in his apartment. The following scenes, with Gordon and Joker in the apartment, are straight up horror movie scenes, and Capullo's Joker is so much creepier with a face than without. The pale skin and the black suit make him seems like an undertaker, a clown, and death itself mixed together. The issue cliffhanger sent a shiver up my spine. The back up ties into the Joker's seeming claim of immortality, or a connection to the dark heart of Gotham, with John McCrea adding his manic style to a tale of madness and clowns. And even if it's set a hundred years ago, you know clowns and Gotham don't mix. Batman #37 shows everything that Snyder and Capullo have been doing right for three years now, and moves "Endgame" on to an historic confrontation between comics' greatest rivals,

Lumberjanes #9
Story: Noelle Stevenson & Shannon Walters
Art: Brittney Williams & many more

I love scary stories, and I love telling them. I think I said in a previous review of an issue of Lumberjanes that I never went to camp, so I never told them around a campfire, but I've been at a Halloween party or two where people have shared a tale of the supernatural or two. This issue, the cast of Lumberjanes each get to tell a story around the campfire, each drawn by a different artist. "Tailypo" is a classic campfire tale, one I remember reading in one of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark volumes in my younger days; Felicity Choo does an admirable job of making the long tailed monster scary. The Aimee Fleck drawn, "Wrong Number" is a variation on another classic theme of the campfire tale, but since it's told by Jen, Roanoke Cabin's councilor, it has an ending that is a little less harrowing than it's usually presented as. "Bad Candy," drawn by Becca Tobino, is a whirling, trippy vision, perfectly in tune with the personality of the energetic Ripley, and the message at the end of the story reinforces to themes of friendship that underlies all of Lumberjanes. I'm a fan of Faith Erin Hicks, so her tale, "Ghost Girl," told by Jo, is the one that struck me the most visually. Mal's story, "Lonely Road," is one I'm not familiar as a campfire story, although it starts out like one we all know, and winds up with a twist that is a much more real life terror; Mal is a planner, someone who thinks things out, and I like that her tale of terror remains grounded in something that can be combated (for which she gets a bit of teasing from Molly). "Old Betty," with art by T. Zysk, is gorgeously drawn and atmospheric, giving off something of an EC Comics vibe. All of this is framed by art from Brittney Williams. Each of these stories is no more than a few pages, but no story seems rushed. It's a great one off that will give a new reader a great jumping on point for one of the best all ages comics on the racks now.

Multiversity: Thunderworld
Story: Grant Morrison
Art: Cameron Stewart

Wow. After what was the most complicated and intricate issue of Multiversity in "Pax Anericana" we get this gem. Not to say "Pax" was bad, far from it, but this issue is so brimming with the joy of Captain Marvel and everything that he embodies. The basic premise is that Dr. Sivana has gotten in touch with Sivana's from across the multiverse to gather suspendium, the mineral that he discovered that can effect time, to steal enough time to make a new day, Sivanaday, where he can triumph. It's a big, crazy plot, one perfect to a world of Golden Age simplicity and joy. He also has built an artificial Rock of Eternity so he can use science to create and empower his own Sivana Family. Pretty soon, the Sivana's are fighting the Marvels, and not just Captain, Mary, and Junior, but appearance from the likes of Uncle Marvel and Fat Marvel, the Monster Society of Evil appears, and in the end, Captain marvel must fight Black Sivana, a Sivana/Black Adam mash-up, to save himself and the Multiverse. In the end, good triumphs conclusively over evil for the first time in Multiversity, the wonder of magic triumphs over analytic science, and Sivana is bested as much by his own duplicity as it is by Captain Marvel. But as fun as the story is, the scene is completely stolen this issue by artist Cameron Stewart. I've rarely seen the Marvel's world look so wholesome and gorgeous; the only other story that comes to mind is Jeff Smith's Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil! That kind of wonder filled, childlike art was perfect for a story that at its heart is about joy and simplicity defeating cold, calculating analysis. Special call outs to the page with the first appearance of the technological Rock of Eternity, the first appearance of Captain Marvel, the splash page of the Monster Society of Evil (including 52 era butterfly Mr. Mind), the designs on all the multiversal Sivanas, especially snake Sivana and Hannibal Lector mask wearing Sivana, and the beautiful, sunshine filled last page. I feel like each issue of Multiversity has worn its influence in its sleeve, and maybe it says something about me as a reader that this is my favorite so far, a simple tale of good versus evil.

Sandman: Overture #4
Story: Neil Gaiman
Art: J.H. Williams III

Every issue of Sandman: Overture is a masterpiece. I guess you'd hope that, since it's at least four months between issues, but if that's what it takes to get a comic of this quality, I'll take it. This issue slides between Dream having a conversation with his father, the embodiment of time, and entering the city of stars to confront the being who is about to bring about the end of everything. It's nice to see that Dream's relationship with his father is no better than his relationship with any other member of his family. This issue explains exactly why the sequence with Daniel from issue two had to happen when it did, and Gaiman does a very good job of making what could be awkward timey-wimey stuff make perfect sense. Williams's shifting page and panels structure as Dream wanders, speaking to his father, and his father's shifting age, makes it clear that time to eternal beings is something that mortals cannot comprehend. The star city bits feature call backs to the Dream story from Sandman: Endless Nights, as Dream talks to the anthropomorphized stars, and once again meets Sto-Oa, the star who took the heart of Dream's first beloved. More interesting is Dream confronting the mad star, and learning exactly how that star relates to Dream. The flashback in this issue, the story of Dream and that star, is one of, if not the, earliest story of the Endless that we have seen; the personalities of Dream and Death in it are a clear indication of that. We have seen stories of Death early in her, for want of a better word, life, and the Death here is the cold, matter of fact being there, not the Death who has come to understand the value of life. But we have rarely if ever seen Dream so... soft-hearted. Dream has always been the character who has no problem taking a life to defend his realm, no compassion when he responsibility is invoked. And maybe now we know why. We see more of the little girl Dream picked up last issue, and her name, Hope, invokes the classic duel from Sandman #4, "Hope in Hell," so I wonder how integral she will be to this final battle, for good or ill (ill, probably, if the Wyrd Sisters are to believed in issue three, but they see things differently than most). The art is stunning, too stunning for someone with my limited vocabulary when it comes to art to even define, but this is Williams at the height of his powers. Sandman: Overture is a comic that, when I open the book, I hold my breath, and it stays held until the very last moment, it is such an immersive experience; maybe once every quarter is all I can take, but I'm waiting for that next one with that same held breath.

Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #5
Story: Corinna Bechko & Gabriel Hardman
Art: Gabriel Hardman

I wasn't sure how much Wonder Woman I'd be reading after the Azzarello/Chiang run ended. And while I'm not sold on the direction of the ongoing, Sensation Comics, the anthology series in the style of Legends of the Dark Knight and Adventures of Superman has given me my monthly dose of Diana. This issue is a full issue story from Star Wars: Legacy Vol.2 creative team Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman, with pre-Flashpoint Diana infiltrating Apokolips to save two of her Amazon sisters who had been sent to spy on Darkseid. I think it was George Perez who conceived of the antagonism between Themyscira and Apokolips, and I have always thought the two mythic realms make great foils. Diana fights the Female Furies, Darkseid's elite squad of women warriors, and faces down the despot of Apokolips himself. She finds out exactly what the Amazons on Apokolips are up to, and in the end she does the right thing, saving the planet despite all the evil it contains because she knows that not every life on the dread world is evil. And she inspires. She inspires the people of Apokolips with her strength and compassion. The issue's final line is a perfect ending to an issue where we see Diana at her most inspirational. I like that aspect of Wonder Woman a lot, one that was used in my favorite run on the character, Greg Rucka's, that Diana is a person whose mere presence and attitude makes people want to be better. Bechko and Hardman get that, and that makes for a great Wonder Woman story. I really enjoyed Hardman's take on Apokolips; he's an artist with a gritty style, and that perfectly suits the world of evil, it's master, and his servants. This is a good done in one story for anyone who has missed traditional Wonder Woman stories in recent years, and well worth picking up.

Terrible Lizard #2
Story: Cullen Bunn
Art: Drew Moss

A girl and her dinosaur fight a giant ape. Do I really need to say much more than that? Ok, here's a bit more. Jess, the daughter of a leading scientist, and Wrex, the temporally displaced T-Rex she bonded with in the previous issue spend much of this issue throwing down with a giant ape who has a crab arm. It's a gorgeously drawn battle from Drew Moss, full of all the action you'd expect from that simple, yet awesome, set up. But after the fight, the issue finds its heart. Jess and Wrex spend the day after the fight doing everything you'd do with a favorite pet, just to a scale where your pet is gigantic, another brilliant series of pages by Moss. But there are storm clouds on the horizon, as the mystery of how the ape was pulled into the present, the army's distrust of Wrex, and Jess's father's experiments all hang overhead. Cullen Bunn does a good job establishing Jess and Wrex's bond. For a writer whose work I think of as action and horror, he's doing a bang up job crafting an all ages book.

And, from the desk of Dan Grote...

Ms. Marvel #10
Story: G. Willow Wilson
Art: Adrian Alphona and Ian Herring

During the past year, Kamala Khan has experienced a lot of firsts: Getting powers, finding out she has them, using them, using them for good, wearing a costume, fighting an archenemy, teaming up with Wolverine and getting a pet.

(Yes, Lockjaw is not technically a dog, but I still want to scratch him behind his giant ears and kiss his wrinkly forehead.)

In issue 10, Kamala gives her first superheroic speech, inspiring a group of teens to rise up against their captor, a cockatiel/scientist named the Inventor, who has been harvesting their bodies as a form of alternative energy to, among other things, power his giant robots.

Let that last sentence sink in a minute. Drink in every ounce of its Silver Age flavor. Mmm, satisfying.

Kamala’s speech is meant to motivate not just the captive teens but millennials in general, countering stereotypes of a generation of shiftless smartphone junkies. The teens initially don’t want to be rescued because the Inventor has convinced them they are worth more as energy than as human beings.

There’s also a concern about overpopulation that was also stated in another Marvel book I bought last week, but I’m not sure if that’s coincidence or part of some editorial fiat.

Anyway, like any good villain, the Inventor teaches Kamala that heroics often endanger those close to the heroes, and so he kidnaps Lockjaw.

The last page ends with the words “To be concluded,” meaning this crockpot meal of a first arc is finally about to ding. I've very much enjoyed how Wilson and Alphona have taken their time developing Kamala this past year, but I’m also ready to see how Ms. Marvel’s second act plays out.

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