Monday, December 8, 2014

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 12/3

Detective Comics #37
Story & Art: Brian Buccellato & Francis Manapul

Regular creative team Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul return to Detective Comics after a two part fill-in story to introduce Anarky to the New 52. I like Anarky as a character, always have, despite some overuse in the late 90s, and I think in a world where government gridlock and income inequality are in the news every night, a character who is against the wealthy and the government seems to fit a certain zeitgeist. Hints were dropped to Anarky in issue 34, and Harvey Bullock and his not-partner-but-sort-of-partner Detective Margaret Yip are looking into the mysterious A symbols. We get a nice scene with Bullock and Yip talking about how they view Christmas and the New Year, how one sees it as a chance to start fresh, and the other sees it as a year where every open case goes down as unsolved, and how Bullock sees his cases and the GCPD as his life; Buccellato and Manpul are writing a great Harvey Bullock, and I'm glad to see him getting a spotlight. This is shown in comparison to Batman and Alfred, with Alfred taking Bruce on a walk on the grounds of Wayne Manor with Titus, Damian's dog, and Alfred insisting Batman have some, "Bruce time," something Bruce doesn't like the phrasing of, since he feels it makes him sound like he has multiple personalities. The primary action of the book involves Anarky killing a crooked Wayne Enterprises employee (one who was introduced in the previous arc, making it look like the creators are playing a long game with lots on interconnected plots, which I like), and then hacking Wayne Enterprises and setting everything networked to the system to blow. Batman, Bullock, and Yip, with a hand from Lucius Fox, attempt to evacuate the building, seemingly to no avail. I was pleased to see the creators using Anarky's established hacking skills, and not just changing him to be some murderous thug with a chip on his shoulder. I also want to throw credit to Manapul for drawing the CREEPIEST Mad Hatter ever in a scene at the beginning of the issue where Batman fights ol' Jervis Tetch. When he reappeared in  Batman: The Dark Knight, Ethan Van Sciver drew him in grotesque detail to the point he felt a little too realistic for a character who is so outside the norm. Manapul's style captures that madness and the creepiness of the Hatter perfectly, with some very clear influence from the original John Tenniel illustrations in Through the Looking Glass. There are a lot of questions left with the return of Anarky, and I'm looking forward to seeing the answers from Buccellato and Manapul.

Fight Like a Girl #1
Story: David Pinckney
Art: Soo Lee

Action Lab Entertainment publishes one of the best all ages comics on the racks, Princeless, a book that tosses fairy tale tropes on their ear and has a heroine who is tougher than any Disney princess, and I accept the blasphemy of  saying anyone is better than a character from Frozen gladly. This week, Action Lab released a number one of  a new series, Fight Like a Girl, which looks to capture the same magic. And while Princeless is still in a league of its own, the first issue of Fight Like a Girl is a solid introduction to its protagonist and its world. Amarosa has a brother who is dying, and since no doctor can save him, she goes before a council of gods from a mixture of pantheons, and asks to take a series of nine trials, which if she succeeds, the gods will cure her brother. It's a classic conceit, and it's presented well. We see a little on Amarosa's life outside the mystical realm, but mostly this issue is letting us understand the stakes. We get to see the fairy that is Amarosa's gods' provided sidekick, and we do get to see the first trial, where Amarosa confronts a shapeshifter who attacks her in the form of a T-Rex. So girl with a bat versus T-Rex doesn't seem too fair, but when the bat turns into a chainsaw, I feel like we're entering Scott Pilgrim territory, with that blend of realism and fantasy, which is a sweet spot I'd be happy to live in. But what grabbed me, and elevated this to something I'd like to talk about is that fact that the shapeshifter isn't s ravening monster. When we first see her, she's a in the form of a young woman. And while she's clearly a monster (she has to absorb other living things to enable her shapeshifting), she doesn't just attack Amarosa; she gives her a chance to walk away, and only takes action when Amarosa makes it clear she isn't going anywhere. And in the end, the shapeshifter points out to Amarosa how proud her family must be of her for killing someone who was willing to just let things go. I hope that thread, that idea of how far you're willing to go to do what you feel you need to, and at what point do you become something worse than what you're trying to kill/stop, is explored further. It's heady stuff for an all ages comic, but I feel we don't give kids enough credit for deep thought. So if, like me, you're feeling some Princeless withdrawal, I'd snag Fight Like a Girl.

Nailbiter #8
Story: Joshua Williamson
Art: Mike Henderson

OK, I feel guilty. Nailbiter is one of the best horror comics on the racks, and I've only reviewed it once. Last month's issue featured a guest appearance by Brian Michael Bendis, and it was a great issue, but I skipped reviews that week, but I'm reviewing this week, and so I have to hit Nailbiter. This issue begins the second major arc in earnest (after two stellar one off issues), and we get to spend some time with each member of the cast. Disgraced NSA agent Nicholas Finch continues to follow the trail left by his friend, FBI Agent Carroll, to try to find out not only who kidnapped and beat Carroll into a coma, but the secret of Buckaroo, the town that spawns more serial killers than any other. And his investigation leads him to a small farm that keeps bees. I am not really phobic when it comes to bugs of any kind (rats, on the other hand...), but Mike Henderson has made this book atmospheric from page one, and watching what is going on with the bees, and the sing song of the man in the basement, might make me reconsider that, because even if the bees aren't creeping me out, everything around them is. Meanwhile, the town preacher is ranting against the sins of the town that have brought this curse upon them, and cost him the life of his son, the bully who was killed at the serial killer super store in the first arc. He confronts Sheriff Crane, who was the childhood sweetheart of Buckaroo's celebrity serial killer, Edward Warren aka The Nailbiter, and talks about how prayer is going to stop these horrors. While Finch is usually the center of the action, I think Crane, as well as high school outcast Alice (who also stands up to the preacher), are my favorite characters in the book, and I think the introduction of a local rival with the preacher is going to give Crane more time to shine. And of course, Warren, the titular Nailbiter, gets his moment to shine, in a scene with a reporter that would make The Joker nod in approval. Nailbiter is a study in character and atmosphere, with each issue pulling you deeper into the terrifying town of Buckaroo, and this second arc looks to give us some answers. Or maybe not; with horror, who knows if what you'll get is what you want. Oh, and as an aside, the third issue of Williamson's fantasy series, Birthright was released this week, another book that continues to twist genre and move at breakneck speed, so I'd check that out too, if you aren't.

Secret Six #1
Story: Gail Simone
Art: Ken Lashley

It's baaaaAAAAck! Yes, Gail Simone's team of supervillains make their triumphant New 52 debut in an issue that is different from the old series, but still has enough of the familiar that it's clear we're in for the same insane ride. Gail Simone's trademark mix of humor and violence is well on display in this issue, as we're introduced to the new members of the team that will become the Secret Six: two old members (Catman and Black Alice), two characters from Simone's run on Batgirl (Strix and the Ventriloquist), and two new characters (Porcelain and Big Shot). The point of view character for this issue is Catman, which shouldn't surprise anyone, as Simone clearly loved that character. Catman is a slightly different character in his new incarnation. He seems, if not quicker to anger, far less strategic; when fake law enforcement come to pick him up, he simply starts attacking them with not much of a plan. Still, he tough and a complete badass, which keeps the original Catman formula in place. It's also interesting to see him with some more cat-like behaviors; if you've ever seen a cat shut in a room, you can see that reflected when he's trapped. And that's where he meets the rest of the team, trapped in a room with a big monitor and a voice telling them one will be killed if they don't discover the secret. The dynamic between each member of the team is already starting to build, and each character is distinct: Strix is quiet and haunted, Black Alice is distant and damaged. Big Shot seems to be the one trying to make things work, Ventriloquist is completely insane, and Porcelain seems the most together, which means, if I know Gail Simone, she's the most screwed up of the bunch. Ken Lashley's art is good for the book, dark and violent. His fight scenes are great to watch, as the action is clear, and his Catman has a cocky look to him, although when he realizes he's trapped, the terror bleeds off the page. While I'm going to miss Bane and Scandal, and the bromance between Catman and Deadshot, Gail Simone has proven she can take a concept she has done before and breathe a very different life into it, so I'm excited to see where Secret Six goes.

Wolf Moon #1
Story: Cullen Bunn
Art: Jeremy Haun

I think I've said this before, but in case I haven't, I love werewolves. Whether it's the classic movie versions like Larry Talbot from The Wolfman, Joe Kelly's haunted one from Bad Dog, the terrifying one from An American Werewolf in London, or the cute ones like Patrick the Wolf Boy. So, I was interested to see what Cullen Bunn, a writer whose horror and weird tales have always appealed to me, would do with the werewolf myth for Vertigo. And Wolf Moon is a very interesting take. Dillon Chase is a man who is haunted by the wolf, and now he hunts it. His girlfriend is similarly damaged, and she doesn't want him to go, but he must find it and stop it. But what Bunn does that is different is that this is not a werewolf that is transmitted by bite, as is usually the way. No, this wolf possesses someone for the three nights of the full moon and then leaves them, and their life, in shambles. What this does is making hunting the beast all the harder, as Dillon realizes when he has the werewolf in his sights; the person the wolf is riding ill be free soon, and has done nothing wrong. That doesn't mean they don't know what's going on. We do see some of the wolf's previous hosts, and the horror of knowing what they did. "The wolf," says Dillon, "doesn't just reshape flesh and bone... it reshapes lives." This issue is a number one, and so it spends much of its time introducing concept and character, but we still get a brutal attack from the werewolf in a fast food restaurant, drawn by Jeremy Haun. I've been a fan of Haun since Battle Hymn, and while I enjoyed his recent run on Batwoman, I'm glad to see him on Wolf Moon. His wolf is huge, menacing, and looks like it could swallow you whole. There is more going on here, a mysterious someone else hunting, and Bunn has built enough of a mystery to add another layer to his horror. With The Sixth Gun, Bunn's weird Western, wrapping up in a few months, it's good to see he has some more supernatural stories lined up to keep his fans coming back for more.

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