Monday, February 23, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 2/18

Secret Identities #1
Story: Brian Joines & Jay Faerber 
Art: Ilias Kyriazis

We all have our secrets, and if you're a superhero, you probably have more than most. The debut issue of Brian Joines and Jay Faerber's Secret Identities is heavy on the secrets. Starring a team of heroes called The Front Line, the issue starts off looking like a by the numbers super hero team book. But pretty soon, we see that it's anything but. The private lives of the heroes are laid out before us, and we see the secrets they keep. Recluse has a secret prison beneath his mansion where he keeps prisoners for what seems to be a horrible purpose. Punchline is a failing comedian. Vesuvius seems to want to keep some aspect of his history a secret. Each of the seven members of Front Line have something they want to hide, and their new recruit, Crosswind, might have the biggest secret of all: he's a mole, sent in to learn the identities and secrets of his teammates to bring them down. And we learn that right out of the gate. This isn't a book about uncovering these secrets for the reader. Sure, there are details we don't know and twists that I'm sure will come, but this isn't about the secrets, but how we keep them and what they do to our lives. The Front Line, and the world they live in, jumps fully formed onto the page, with great designs for each of the characters by Ilias Kyriazis. It feels like a team that we know already, that lives in a world that has existed for some time. Jay Faerber is no stranger to the superhero soap opera, having written a book that falls more in line with that latter in Noble Causes, and while I'm less familiar with Brian Joines, I did enjoy the heck out of his Christmas action series, Krampus!, so the book is in good hands. This was a very strong start to a new series, one that established the stakes and the world, and gave us characters we could grow to like or despise. Let's hope for a nice long run, and answers to all the secrets and lies this first issue laid out for us.

She-Hulk #12
Story: Charles Soule
Art: Javier Pulido

*Sigh* Thus ends the current volume of She-Hulk. Charles Soule has written a book that focused more often on law then on super heroics, gave a full picture of who Jen Walters, She-Hulk, is, slowly built the mystery of The Blue File, and developed a great supporting cast for Jen Walters. This issue wraps up most of those plot threads. The issue starts out with exactly what happened to create the Blue File, the mystery case that Jen and various other super folk have been named as defendants in, and we see a seemingly new character, Nighteater. But with the revelation from the end of last issue about the culpability of Nightwatch in the case, things start to fall into place. This is one of the most action-centric issues of She-Hulk, but the intelligence and wit that have been the title's hallmark for this volume were not lost. While fighting Nighthawk, we get to learn exactly why he did what he did, why he remade himself as a hero. We get to see everything he's been up to, and we get a moment of, if not redemption, at least a moment where one of the villains we met earlier does the right thing. Hellcat and Angie Huang, Jen's employees, friends, and chief supporting cast, play a big role in the story as well. We never find out exactly what Angie's deal is, which is fine by me; I like the mystery of that, and what she is doesn't matter as much as what she is to Jen, her friend. The nature of heroism is a topic much discussed as She-Hulk fights Nightwatch, and in the end, Jen proves herself to be a true hero. But even with all these superheroics, the final few pages bring the series back around to what it's been about all along: Jen at her office, preparing for a new case. For the too short duration of its run, She-Hulk has been my favorite comic coming out from Marvel, a strong, character driven series that plays with the tropes of the Marvel Universe and builds on that history. I can only hope this isn't the last we'll see of Charles Soule writing this character.

Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars #1
Story: Ben Acker and Ben Blacker
Art: J. Bone

It's time to shine your astro spurs and don your robot fists, as we begin today's thrilling review of Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars #1! I've written before about how much I love The Thrilling Adventure Hour, live theatre and internet home to Sparks Nevada, Croach the Tracker, and a host of other characters. And their transition to monthly comics has gone off without a hitch. Written by TAH creators Ben Acker and Ben Blacker, this story takes place before the earliest Sparks Nevada story on the podcast, and so no prior knowledge of the characters is required. After a flashback to Sparks at the Academy (because all sci-fi worlds have an academy) with his parents, the story starts in earnest with Sparks escorting a stage coach across the crimson plains of Mars. The coach contains the Johnsons (one of whom we know from the shows and the issue title as the Widow Johnson, so it doesn't bode well for Mr. Johnson) and panicky local yokel Felton, who proves to be a chatty passenger to an increasingly irritated Sparks. As they travel across the plains, they run into Martians, who seek nothing more than to be out from under Onus (picture Wookiee life debt, only less for all your life and with way more complaining by those indebted) to Sparks, rogue robots, and aliens. The issue has the trademark Sparks mix of action and humor, with a healthy dose of the latter. The dynamic between Sparks and Croach, the martian who must perform the duty of helping Sparks and who will become his friend and companion, is already coming into focus this early, and their rapport and repartee (or lack thereof) is one of main sources of comedy. Artist J. Bone gets to stretch his artistic legs in his designs for the different robot rogues, as well as the group of aliens that appear at story's end. Accompanying the first issue is also a print version of the digital first Sparks Nevada #0, the story of how Sparks and Croach first met. so if you prefer your comics in print form, here's your chance to get this for the first time. Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars is a clever mixture of western and sci-fi tropes. one that should delight fans of either genre.

The Valiant #3
Story: Jeff Lemire & Matt Kindt
Art: Paolo Rivera

The Valiant #3 is really two great comics in one issue. Last issue left the series main characters divided, with Kay McHenry and Bloodshot on the run from the Immortal Enemy, while Eternal Warriro, Ninjak, and the rest of the Valiant heroes are ready to stand and fight. This issue, the two stories each develop on their own. The battle between the heroes and the Immortal Enemy is stunning. Paolo Rivera goes completely to town on drawing not just the combat, but the horrors when the Immortal Enemy gets into the heads of the heroes and shows them their worst fears. It's like a Scarecrow fear toxin attack on steroids. Rivera gets to draw all the Valiant heroes, from Archer & Armstrong to Quantum & Woody to Punk Mambo. It's the kind of thing that other companies would spread out over the course of three issues, but this series does it all in half an issue, and it doesn't feel rushed, and the art makes it so clear and crisp that you follow each stroke of sword and laser blast. The other end of the spectrum is Bloodshot and Kay. Bloodshot has been tasked with protecting Kay, so he brings her into a shopping mall. Lemire, who wrote this section of the issue, takes you through the pages in this issue's backmatter, and it's so cool to see these two people, thrust into lives of extreme weirdness, walking past home wares and all the things that they will never have. It's a very thoughtful scene, wonderfully written, as Kay keeps asking Bloodshot personal questions, and he keeps deflecting by doing his super soldier, preparing for the enemy thing. The dynamic between the two of them is wonderful, and I hope to see more of it in the future. The issue ends with Kay trying to help Bloodshot, but leaving them in a vulnerable position as the Immortal Enemy approaches. It's a great cliffhanger for a series that does everything you want from a crossover and does it without all the bloating from other companies. It's tightly paced and plotted, and never forgets character for action. There's still time to catch up before next month's finale, so if you haven't tried out The Valiant, what are you waiting for?

And Dan Grote brings us back to Jersey City, where Ms. Marvel goes to a dance and meets a certain god of Mischief...

Ms. Marvel #12
Story: G. Willow Wilson
Art: Elmo Bondoc and Ian Herring

After 11 issues of establishing Kamala Khan and her world, a standalone issue is a breath of fresh air.

It’s also time for another Marvel team-up, this time with the de-aged Loki currently starring in his own series by Al Ewing and Lee Garbett. Loki is sent to Coles Academic High by his mother, Freyja, for whatever expositionary reason is necessary to get Loki to willingly visit Jersey City. Much of the humor of this issue lies in the residents of J.C. mocking the Agent of Asgard as a “Hipster Viking from Brooklyn.” Loki certainly doesn’t give anyone reason to doubt that label, literally prancing about and writing love letters with the purplest of prose. One of the benefits of Loki looking the way he does now, though, is that he’s not instantly recognizable as the god of mischief, so it takes a while for Kamala to realize she’s locking horn-helmets with a classic villain. It also lets Loki do cliche Loki things like create duplicate illusions of himself and laugh while Kamala punches the wrong ones.

There’s a few other great beats in this issue. First, Bruno, the only human who knows Kamala’s secret, lectures his degenerate friend about why being “friend-zoned” isn’t a negative thing, because “friendship is something real and good and anybody who doesn’t understand that needs a dictionary.” Granted, he says this because Kamala has no interest in him romantically, but it takes a mature attitude to understand there are other types of love besides romantic.

Later, Loki spikes the punch at a Coles Valentine’s dance with truth elixir. Suddenly, a room full of teenagers stops being polite and starts getting real.

Finally, after Loki’s finished having his sport, he agrees to cast a spell of protection on the school, which is still half a mess from an attack by one of the Inventor’s robots.

For another great standalone featuring Ms. Marvel, check out last month’s SHIELD #2, in which Agent Simmons goes undercover at Coles High and teams up with Kamala against some loose supervillain tech.

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