Monday, March 9, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 3/4

Descender #1
Story: Jeff Lemire
Art: Dustin Nguyen

Oh, Image Comics, you are going to break my bank. Descender is the new series from Image from Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen, a sci-fi series set out on non-Earth worlds, and this first issue is a sterling start. The series opens on Niyata, the hubworld of the United Galactic Council (UGC), as a giant robot appears in space. A robot that dwarfs the planet. Dr. Jin Quin, the leading expert on robotics, is called to investigate, just before the robot attacks. Flashforward ten years, and we are on the moon Dirishu-6, as a young boy wakes up. He wanders the seemingly abandoned moon, looking for his mom and Andy, and finds his robot dog, Bandit, at which time we learn that Tim-21 is, in fact, a robot child. We spend the issue with Tim learning about what happened when the Harvesters, the giant robots, attacked the various worlds of the UGC. We also return to Niyata, where Dr. Quin has fallen from the height of society to the dregs when he is contacted by Captain Telsa of the UGC. It seems analysis has shown that the Tim robots are the progenitors of the Harvesters, and while it was thought all the Tim's were destroyed in the anti-robot purges after the Harvester attacks, Tim-21 went on-line to search for his lost family, they now know he's out there. Lemire does a great job of getting the reader immediately on Tim's side. The appearance of a child, and the quest to find his family, makes him a sympathetic character, and since he's been shut down for a decade, it gives the reader a way to learn what happened with the Harvester attack without it seeming like awkward, out of place exposition. But what made me snag this book initially was the stunning art from Dustin Nguyen. Having commented last week on how his art in Batman #39 was so strikingly different from his Li'l Gotham art, this issue is yet another departure. He draws three distinct science fiction worlds, the desolated Dirishu-6, the upper crust Niyata from before the harvester attack, and the more run down Niyata of the post-Harvester attack. He draws various aliens, giving them distinct designs. I'm curious to see each of the other eight prime planets of the UGC and what those worlds look like. Add in ther gorgeous water colors that Nguyen works with over his own line work, and you have the best looking comic of the week. Descender #1 is a strong start to a series that has the potential to rank with Saga as one of Image's strong sci-fi titles, one that explores the nature of humanity as much as the galaxy.

Hero Cats #4
Stroy: Kyle Puttkammer
Art: Marcus Williams

Action Lab has some of the best all ages titles out there. with Princeless and Fight Like a Girl, and while Hero Cats skews younger than those two books, it's still an enjoyable read for all. Hero Cats features six cats, each with a special ability, who help protect Stellar City from all sorts of robots, monsters, and crooks. This issue sees the cats entering a mysterious sinkhole and finding an underground civilization beneath the streets they protect. The team splits up, and we spend time with Cassiopeia, the team's newest recruit and our point of view cat for the series, learning about some team history from Rocket, the super fast cat who claims to be an alien. It's a good jumping on point for new readers, as we get to learn how team leader Ace met Midnight, the Batman to Ace's Superman, and how they brought Belle, the telepathic cat, out of a life of crime. The action of the issue sees the Hero Cats meet Eastly the Brave, a member of the culture that lives in the city beneath Stellar City, and aid him in defeating the Coaliod warriors that have conquered his city. Belle is the cat who gets to take center stage, since it's her telepathy that allows the cats to communicate with the underdwellers. It's a story with a lot of great action pieces, and some wonderful subterranean designs by artist Marcus Williams, both the general look of the tunnels and the various creatures that inhabit the world. I'm a cat lover (although, God bless her, my cat Bess could never be a Hero Cat; it would require way more effort than she has ever done and she's actually afraid of mice, so I don't know what she'd do about a monster) and a lover of all ages comics, so Hero Cats is right up my alley, and is a book I love sharing with my niece, so it's a winner all around.

Rocket Raccoon #9
Story: Skottie Young
Art: Jake Parker

Rocket Raccoon is a comic that finds a good balance between fun action and some darker places, but it's at it's core a comic about the friendship between it's title character and his best tree pal, Groot. And no issue has shown that better than this one. The issue opens in what seems to be a future where a Kaiju-sized Groot is menacing Earth and the Avengers seem unable to stop him. The only hope that they have is to send out and Iron Man drone to find the one being who they think can get through to Groot: his old pal, Rocket. When Iron man contacts a grizzled, older Rocket, he gets the brush off, but under everything else, Rocket is still Groot's friend, and so he heads off to Earth for the big confrontation that, well doesn't go as anyone expects. I won't ruin the ending, but what initially seems to be a tragic ending comes back to being a much more hopeful one. Young does a great job of establishing exactly why Groot is on Earth, why he has become the giant monster that he has, and why Rocket isn't with him. Artist Jake Parker does a great job of working in a style similar to that of writer and series initial artist Skottie Young without aping his style, and so the book feels seamless to what has come before. He draws some incredible spreads, really showing the scale of the monster Groot and draws an awesome giant Rocket mech (yeah you read that right. Giant. Rocket. Mech). While we see the deaths of the Avengers, and we see friend fighting friend, the conflict isn't gratuitous, and setting it in a future like this would allow younger readers to still know everything will work out ok in the here and now. As the Guardians of the Galaxy have expanded to take up their own family of titles in the Marvel Universe, each book has taken up it's own flavor. Rocket Raccoon is a high action, high octane, buddy comedy. But between the last two parter and this issue, it's clear that the "buddy" part of the equation is the most important aspect of the title.

Star Wars: Princess Leia #1
Story: Mark Waid
Art: Terry & Rachel Dodson

The third title in Marvel's new Star Wars initiative features Princess Leia, adding to Marvel's growing number of female led titles. While  it remains set in that era in  between the original Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back, as the other two titles do, this one feels like it needs to be in that particular pocket, and for a reason that makes a lot of sense. In the original film, Alderaan, Leia's homeworld, is destroyed. In the remaining two films, Leia never really mentions that nearly everyone she knew and loved were wiped out in one fell swoop by the Empire. And while some EU writers dealt with Leia's grief, like Brian Wood in his monthly for Dark Horse and Martha Wells in her Leia-centric novel Razor's Edge, what should have been a central part of Leia's character arc is usually left alone. But in an issue that picks up right where the first film ends, Mark Waid is taking this front and center. With the Rebellion fleeing Yavin-4, Leia is at ends. Everyone is handling her with kid gloves, and General Dodanna tells her flat out that he's protecting her because the Empire has a massive bounty on her head so she will be guarded at all times. Meanwhile, we meet Evaan, a female Rebel pilot who is also from Alderaan, and is dealing with the loss of her world in her own way. Soon, the two women are running away from the Rebel fleet so Leia can do what she feels she must; gathering the diaspora that has been left behind by Alderaan's destruction. It's a strong mission statement for the book and the character, and it's important to note the book is called Princess Leia, not "Leia" or "Senator Organa." The nature of Leia as a princess of Alderaan is the defining aspect of her character for the plot of this story. Waid has captured the voices of all the movie characters well, and wins extra points for adding in two of my favorite movie characters, Admiral Ackbar and Wedge Antilles. I understand in a post-EU world there's a need to establish new characters and new settings, but the movies give writers plenty of small characters who can be used, and Waid gets this; he is a writer long used to working in shared universes and it shows. While both Star Wars and Darth Vader have been big action comics, it seems Princess Leia will be more character-centric, despite there being a really well drawn spacecraft chase scene drawn by the Dodsons, who do their usual great job on this issue. Now with all three titles up and running, I can safely say that Marvel is handling the Star Wars license well, and I look forward to seeing where it will grow.

And here's another #1 written by Jeff Lemire, reviewed by Dan Grote

All-New Hawkeye #1
Story: Jeff Lemire
Art: Ramon Perez and Ian Herring

The previous volume of Hawkeye, by Matt Fraction, David Aja et al, was easily one of Marvel’s best titles of the past five years and had a distinct voice and vision. Put more bluntly, I loved every damn page of it, from the tracksuit draculas to Lucky the Pizza Dog to dear, departed Grills.

But it’s time to move on.

All-New Hawkeye starts with a beautifully painted, swirling purple flashback to young Clint Barton and his brother, Barney, catching frogs and escaping their abusive foster father. That, paired with the cover, hammers home to the reader that they’re picking up a different book from what had gone before.

Or is it? By the sixth page of story, we’re back to good-old #hawkguy Clint Barton and Kate Bishop, sniping at each other and shooting arrows at Hydra goons in a situation that, just a few months ago, would have started with a purple narration box that says, “OK, this looks bad.” Ramon Perez’s style on the present-day pages even mirrors Aja’s, which is nothing if not comforting.

The past and present narratives switch back and forth faster and faster as the issue progresses, becoming more and more intertwined. Clint and Barney get separated upon their return home to their foster father. Clint and Kate get separated by a sliding door at the Hydra base. Barney takes a beating from the old man – and gives him one right back. Kate ignores orders to retreat and keeps ripping through goons till she finds what Team Hawkeye has been tasked with uncovering. The silhouette of a Hydra agent serves as a flashback panel. Finally, in a splash page drawn like a face playing card, young Clint and Barney stand in wide-eyed awe of their future, while Kate discovers what Hydra’s been hiding and is made ill by the sight.

My only teeny, tiny nitpick is I’m kind of over new Marvel series opening with raids on Hydra bases and ending with reveals of what Hydra is hiding. All-New Captain America #1 used the exact same plot device just a few months ago. Maybe it’s a concentrated effort on the part of editorial, something to do with Secret Wars or whatever, but there’s lots more villains to punch in the 616 than the boys in the green-and-yellow tunics and bug-eye masks.

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