Monday, February 9, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 2/4

American Vampire: Second Cycle #6
Story: Scott Snyder
Art: Rafael Albuquerque

After returning from hiatus, it felt like American Vampire went back on hiatus with the massive delays between issues four and five and then five and six. But the wait was worth it. Any comic that opens in 1965 with the Russians retrieving a pod of space monkeys who turn out to be vampire space monkeys is off to the races in the best possible way. There's a lot that happens in this issue, and a lot of information that we finally learn. Firstly, it puts all of the surviving main characters in one place. I don't think an issue of this series has actually featured a meeting between all four of the American Vampires: Skinner Sweet, Pearl Jones, Calvin Poole, and Felicia Book (I know Felicia is a half breed, but close enough for government work). We see there's no love lost between the Vassals of the Morning Star and Skinner who betrayed them in the final arc of volume one. Of course this is a scorpion and the toad kind of thing; Skinner is self-interested at heart, and they should have just killed him because that betrayal was inevitable, Suicide Squad-style bomb or not. But once things settle down a bit, we finally learn the origin of the mysterious Gray Trader, the big bad introduced at the end of volume one, and we realize he is Darth Vader to the Emperor Palpatine of this series. It all ties together in a very cool way, tied in with various world mythologies. Snyder has established that all monsters are simply different breeds of vampire earlier on, and we even get a Gorgon this issue, which is a nice touch to reinforce it before the big reveals later. By issue's end , all the pieces are in place for this arc. We know the stakes, with the Cold War masking a secret supernatural war for the weapon to destroy the Gray Trader's master. We know the weakness of the Trader, so it doesn't pop up like a deus ex machina later. We know what Pearl and the others will have to do, including the infiltration of Area 51 (not said expressly, but when you talk about secret bases in the Nevada desert, that's a gimme). And you meet a vampire elephant. Of course, we are also reminded that Skinner has been touched by the Trader, so, as ever, Skinner is the wild card. I've missed American Vampire, with it's mix of myth, history, and genuine horror. I'm glad it's back, and hope it stays a while.

Saga #25
Art: Fiona Staples
Story: Brian K. Vaughan

And speaking of books returning from hiatus, Saga is back from it's standard between arc break. One of the best things about Saga is it's wide cast, which allows for some very interesting character combinations. The end of last arc has now created the unexpected duo of Marko, father of Hazel, our narrator, and one of the principal protagonists, and Prince Robot IV, the robot who has been hunting Marko since the beginning of the series, as they both hunt for their kidnapped children. Dengo, the robot kidnapper, has left Alana , Hazels's mother, and Klara, her mother-in-law, imprisoned together, and so we really get to see how they have grown together. And we get the really odd combination of The Brand, Pretty Boy, Gwendolyn, Sophie, and Lying Cat, hunting down the semen of beast to cure The Will, and accidentally grabbing a female, and hilarity and chaos ensuing. Beyond the character interactions, though, the opening of this issue feels different than usual. The opening to an issue of Saga is usually a flashback narrated by Hazel, and while this issue is no different, the scope of the flashback is. Instead of discussing some personal moment between characters, it is an examination of the origins of the war between Wreath and Landfall, about what drives people into the army, and what drives the war. It's a thoughtful discussion of the blindness on the homefront that can occur in a long standing conflict, and I feel it's setting up a new element to the series. The issue ends with the introduction of a new faction, one that makes perfect sense in the context of the series, and one that will add even more characters to the epic of the series. Also interesting to note is the inversion of the typical comic book credits, both on the cover and on the title page, with the artist listed before the writer. It's a testament to the marriage between art and story in this series, and how the creators view each other. The letter's page includes a comment that, despite all the new projects both creators are working on, there will be no additional delays or fill ins for the series, because this is a series they are both invested in. That investment shows on every page.

And from Dan Grote...

Ms. Marvel #11
Words by G. Willow Wilson
Art by Adrian Alphona and Ian Herring

Well, we’ve made it. After a year and 11 issues, G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona have capped their first arc on Ms. Marvel. She’s got her origin story, kept her secret identity from loved ones, established a support network (Lockjaw!), teamed up with Wolverine, given an inspiring speech or two and defeated her first villain, only for a loophole to set up his inevitable return around issue #25. She’s earned that cupcake she’s eating on the cover.

Kamala’s establishing arc is paced for the decompressed, trade-waiting age of modern comics. Consider that 50 years ago, by issue 11, Spider-Man had already faced the Chameleon, the Vulture, Doctor Octopus, the Sandman, Dr. Doom, the Lizard, Electro and the Enforcers. While Ms. Marvel may seem slow by comparison, consider how much character work Wilson and Alphona have done in this time. The book has really been more about how Kamala interacts with the people around her – her parents, her Muslim faith, her friends, the teenagers duped into working for the Inventor – as it is about “embiggening” (1 million points for working a classic Simpsons reference back into the popular lexicon, BTW) and punching stuff.

Taken by itself, this issue’s greatest achievement may be the splash page that shows Kamala inside one of the Inventor’s robots, stretched and weaving among the gears, filling tight spaces already inhabited by rats, garbage and what appear to be Christmas lights. Also, for you Easter egg hunters, enjoy spotting references to The Princess Bride, Black Dynamite and bad Japanese-English video game translations.

Next issue sees Kamala dipping another toe into the wider Marvel Universe, meeting up with the sexy-teen version of Loki. Here’s hoping Kamala keeps embiggening and learning along the way.

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