Monday, January 12, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 1/7

Detective Comics #38
Story & Art: Brian Buccellato & Francis Manapul

Detective Comics continues to be the most gorgeous comic coming out on a month-to-month basis. Not in a sexy way, but in an exciting, dynamic way. Whether it was the traditionally exciting Batman stopping the explosion from the end of last issue scene or the bank robbery at the end, or the quieter moments on Matches Malone talking to a snitch or Batman shaking down Mad Hatter, every moment brims with energy. I have a particular affection for Batman's other secret identity, his undercover in the mob identity Matches Malone, so any time Matches pops up I'm pleased, and to see how Batman can use Matches for more than just getting dirt, but to test the crooks he gave another chance to, gives that identity a bit of nuance. The A-plot of the issue continues the return of Anarky story. I like the way the creators are playing Anarky. Many stories with Anarky over the years made him out to be a homicidal whacko at one moment and this petulant child in the next. In the world of Anonymous, I feel like the character has a renewed purpose and message, a character who really works, especially because the idea of someone with the know how erasing all of our digital background and giving us all a clean slate is something not out of the realm of real possibility. The new design for Anarky is closer to his look from Batman: Arkham Origins than to his original costume, which is more grounded in reality, as Anarky's original costume is a bit goofy with the long neck and robes, and might be telling about his secret identity. I feel like we're being presented with two suspects for Anarky, and I'm completely unsure which it might be. Is it Sam Young, Gotham City councilman who had some dirty dealings with the Wayne Enterprises exec Anarky killed last issue and seems to be using Anarky's attack as a platform to run for mayor, or is it Lonnie Machin, the original Anarky from the pre-New 52? If it's the former, it wouldn't be unprecedented; a similar fake out happened in Nightwing Annual #1 with the identity of the new Firefly. And the end of the issue certainly seems to indicate Machin isn't a suspect. But I think Buccellato and Manapul might have something up their sleeves. I'm also curious how the Mad Hatter plot is going to fit in; it might be an unrelated subplot, but I think it might have more to do than it seems now. Buccellato and Manapul have breathed new life into Detective Comics since coming on the book, and this story is their strongest yet.

The Fade Out #4
Story: Ed Brubaker
Art: Sean Phillips

As the first arc ends, I have to say that I think The Fade Out is the best Brubaker/Phillips collaboration since Sleeper. And that's not to put down any of the intervening work; Criminal, Incognito, and Fatale are all brilliant. I just have a real love for Sleeper, something in it struck me, and this is a book that hits a similar cord, but in a very different way. The Fade Out is like the best historical fiction, dancing in and out of the real world in ways that make you ask exactly what they're creating and what actually happened. If you know anything about the Golden Age of Hollywood, you know that all that gold did not glitter, and this is a series about murder, loyalty, and what it takes to get ahead. This issue sees Charlie Parrish, the series principal protagonist, going to a Hollywood event to show off the new starlet of the movie he wrote, the one who replaced the woman who was murdered in the first issue, the murder Charlie knows more about than he can remember. He interacts with most of the series principals along the way, lecherous leading man Earl Rath, his old writing partner Gil Mason (who is on the Communist blacklist now), Dottie Quinn, PR girl, and Maya Silver, the starlet. What initially seems a scene that is just there to show off exactly what a scumbag Rath is and to maybe give Charlie a further hint at what he doesn't remember about the night of the murder through his drunken haze turns out to be something much darker by issue's end. And the web connecting the characters draws tighter, as what wasn't a date with Dottie might have been more. Along the way, we also get an appearance by Clark Gable, mentions of Ava Gardner, and a photo of then Screen Actors Guild president Ronald Reagan. These appearances give the issue a sense of veracity. The issue's end deepens the mystery at the center of the series, adding a new element that might just make Charlie's ties to it all the more dangerous to him. A murder mystery/conspiracy story with compelling characters and a setting that allows Phillips to show off his artistic talent makes The Fade Out a must read.

Nailbiter #9
Story: Joshua Williamson
Art: Mike Henderson

Every time I think Nailbiter can't get any creepier, if finds a way, and that's the finest compliment I can give a horror comic. This issue has a lot going on in it, the least of which is the payoff to the end of last issue and a new Buckaroo Butcher with his bees. Poor Finch, former NSA intel agent on the outs, winds up once again looking like he's not quite right, although he has discovered more of the tunnels that seem to honeycomb below the town of Buckaroo. There are clues to the conspiracy that seems to lie behind some of what is going on in Buckaroo, but no answers yet. The centerpiece of the issue is the introduction of Mr. Crowe, the school bus driver who we see at the beginning of the issue has driven more than his share of the Buckaroo Butchers, the serial killer Buckaroo seems to create as its chief export. What happens to Mr. Crowe, as he drives children to school who are fascinated by the Bucthers is something dark. It begs the question where the Butchers stop and people who are broken by living in a town with such a dark history and reputation begin. I want to see where the story with Mr. Crowe goes next issue to see how far down the path of madness we've seen so much of in Buckaroo he has gone. But if you're looking for a scene that packs all the best, most violent cut punch a horror and suspense comic can pack, you go no further than the scene where Sheriff Crane comes home. Finding Reverend Fairgold in her house, she has an exchange with the preacher before sending him off, and then lies down in her bed, where... Now why would I spoil the surprise? It's a punch right out of the best urban legends and horror stories, and Mike Henderson is at the top of his game in how he presents the sequence, making it all the creepier. As the clues mount and the horror factor amps up, Nailbiter goes beyond all expectations to present human horror; if you're suffering withdrawal from Hannibal, Nailbiter is the book for you.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1
Story: Ryan North
Art: Erica Henderson & Maris Wicks

I admit freely, I never thought I'd pick this book up. My exposure to Squirrel Girl is limited to her appearances with the Great Lakes Avengers, and I have no particular feeling for the character. But the advance buzz was so good, and having just finished the fourth volume of Ryan North's work on Adventure Time, a book rife with the humor and sadness that permeate the best episodes of the cartoon on which the comic is based, I figured why not give this book a try. And it is outstanding. Doreen Green, the titular Squirrel Girl, is a charming lead; she's a little spacey without being ditzy, loves what she does as a super hero, and is excited to start college, Marvel's catch all school Empire State University. The issue has its share of action, starting with Squirrel Girl defeating some muggers to the tune of the Squirrel Girl theme song (you know the one that sounds suspiciously like the classic Spider-Man one), and has a throw down with Kraven the Hunter, who she defeats not with her fists but with a clever gambit. We also meet Tippy-Toe, Doreen's pet/sidekick; I don't know if previous appearances have had Tippy-Toe's speech appear as words only Doreen understands or just as symbols, but I'm glad North chose to have the squirrel speak, as it gives the reader someone Doreen to talk to and give exposition to. And upon arriving at ESU, readers are introduced to characters who I assume will be the principals of our supporting cast: Tomas, who offers to help Doreen move her boxes and is tossed for a loop by her quirky demeanor, and Nancy Whitehead, Doreen's prickly but good at heart roommate. Erica Henderson has a delightful, light style that works perfectly with Squirrel Girl's world, and Maris Wicks adds to it by drawing the illustrations for the trading cards Squirrel Girl uses to determine who the villains are, cards narrated by Deadpool in his inimitable voice. This is the most all-ages comic that exists from Marvel, more so than Ms. Marvel or Rocket Raccoon, finding a perfect balance of character, action, and humor; and yes, it is a very funny comic, both in character and in situation. I would love to know why the "T" rating was decided on for the book, but regardless of that, this is a book that can be shared with anyone. Oh, and if you do pick the issue up, be sure to check out the text along the bottom gutter of the page; North got his start doing a webcomic, Dinosaur Comics, and as webcomics usually have hidden scrollover gag text, he places similar jokes down there both in Adventure Time and here, and it's worth reading.

Before we move on to Dan's review of the week, I just wanted to call out some of the announcements from last week's Image Expo. I love how Image uses the expo to announce projects and build buzz around their existing books; it feels like they're really excited about comics, something that's missing from some other publishers.

- The creative team of the incredible first arc on Marvel's recent Moon Knight series, Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, and Jordie Bellaire, reunite for a sci-fi series very much in the Ellis mold called Injection.

- A.D.: After Death is an original graphic novel from Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire about a world after the cure for death has been found.

- From Jeff Lemire (as writer this time), with art by Emi Lenox, is Plutona, where a group of kids find  the body of the world's most famous super hero. It made me immediately think of Stand by Me, which Lemire states as an influence.

Sons of the Devil is a thriller from Detective Comics writer Brian Buccellato with art by Toni Ifante With how impressive Detective has been, I want to see Buccallato work his own suspense series.

- I'm always willing to try out new James Robinson, and Heaven, with art by Philip Tan, is the story of mankind going to war with God and his angels, and I'm on board since if Supernatural has taught us nothing else, it's that angels are dicks.

- I Hate Fairyland is from Skottie Young, known for his darling Marvel babies variants and work on books like the Oz adaptations. This book seems like the reaction to years of having to be so nice, as he has a protagonist who murders her way through a children's book world.

- Not one but two new projects from Matt Signal favorite Brian K. Vaughan! Paper Girls, with a excellent Cliff Chiang on art, is about four paper girls making deliveries the day after Halloween, when something weird happens, and We Stand Guard, with art by Steve Skroce, where,100 years from now, Canada must fend off an invasion from mechs from the USA.

- Last but most assuredly not least is a new mini-series from the always incredible Darwyn Cooke. Revengeance is a three part murder mystery set in Toronto, which is Cooke's first long form story that is not licensed or adapted from another work. He says he wants to play with form and storytelling, which for anyone who has seen what he's done with style his Parker series knows means it's going to be quite a ride.

And now, from Dan Grote:

Ant Man #1
Story:  Nick Spencer
Art: Ramon Rosanas and Jordan Boyd

Last week, Marvel released a two-front Ant-Man assault: a teaser trailer for this summer’s movie starring Paul Rudd as Scott Lang and Michael Douglas as Hank Pym, and a new comic centered on Lang, the second Ant-Man, written by the mastermind behind the dearly departed Superior Foes of Spider-Man, one of the best series you didn’t read.

The print Ant-Man won, on account of it had all the heart and humor the trailer didn’t appear to have time for.

Like the nonheroes of Superior Foes, Lang is a loser. He’s out of work, divorced, separated from his daughter, can’t hang on a superhero team for very long and maybe lost a step after spending most of the past decade dead-ish. He wears his costume in public hoping people will recognize him, but more often than not he’s mistaken for Pym.

The first issue goes a bit heavy on history – new readers need the exposition, quite frankly – but it ups the page count to compensate. That said, I could have used a box or two explaining why Lang’s daughter, Cassie, is in middle school when just a few years ago she was in the Young Avengers. Was she de-aged when she was resurrected? Feel free to tweet @danielpgrote if you know.

The book also relies on a big-three cameo from post-Axis, Jerkface Iron Man, who pits Lang against some special guests from Marvel’s more critically celebrated titles for a security job at Stark Industries. Look for the gag early on referencing everyone’s least favorite Iron Man story.

There’s a twist at the end that sets up the true premise of the book, as well as its true setting, that keeps the whole thing from falling into the cliché of the ex-thief who becomes head of security because he can think like the bad guys. Here’s hoping Spencer can keep Ant-Man fever going till the movie premieres this summer.

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