Monday, April 6, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 4/1

Gotham Academy: Endgame #1
Story: Becky Cloonand & Brenden Fletcher
Art: Jeff Stokely, Clio Chiang, Joy Ang, Vera Brosgol

I firmly believe that scary stories are best told out loud, top a group of people, and in the dark. The communal scare is a binding experience. So, as the Joker's rampage continues through Gotham, the students of Gotham Academy, including series protagonists Olive, Maps, and Pomeline, are sealed up in the school gym in tents to avoid the chaos and share a series of Joker themed tales of terror. Olive tells the tale of a stolen Laughing Mask that haunts the boy who stole it. Professor MacPherson, who teaches history, tells a particularly macabre and gory tale from her native Scotland about the Wandering Jester, who if you don't laugh with him, you become a part of his act straight out the worst of EC Comics. And Olive shares a story told by her mother about Gotham's own version of Bloody Mary, the Smiling Man (a nod to Snyder's conceit in the main Batman title that the Joker is in fact an immortal who has been haunting Gotham for centuries, I believe). Each of these tales of terror is drawn by a different artist, giving them a unique look that still fits nicely with the style of the monthly comic. It's also interesting to see how jaded Maps is, how she brushes off the presence of the Joker as someone who interrupted her cartoons a couple times a year and then as stopped by Batman. When you look at how the adults and the superheroes are all affected by the Joker in all the other tie-ins, this reaction is fascinating: when you grow up with something like the Joker making the world as terrible as it can be, you just get used to it. There's also the mention of another of Gotham Academy's legends, The Custodian, who defends the campus from all threats external to the school, and as some of the people infected by Joker Venom begin to raid the school, a man dressed in antique garb with swords begins to fight them off. And where exactly is Headmaster Hammer in all this? If you've been picking up "Endgame" and not Gotham Academy, or vice versa, this is a great way to get a taste of the other series. And if you haven't read either, and just like a good spooky story, then pick it up.

Graveyard Shift #4
Story: Jay Faerber
Art: Fran Bueno

Jay Faerber and Fran Bueno's tale of vampiric terror, Graveyard Shift, comes to an action packed conclusion in this exciting fourth issue. Having identified where the vampires who turned Hope have been working out of, Liam and his vampire fiancee head to confront them. But Cromeyer, the master vampire, is prepared, and Hope is brought to his photography studio while Liam is brought down into his dungeon. We follow our two leads as they fight very different threats. Faerber sticks to all the classic vampire rules, so Liam come prepared with an arsenal that the cocky vampires don't even search him for, while Crommeyer attempts to lure Hope over to the dark side (Yes, a bad pun, but I stick by it). This was a really well structured series, starting out with an exciting, action filled first issue, then slowly building the world over the next couple issues to set up this final confrontation. It really gave Fran Bueno a chance to shine, showing some great fight scenes, and some really monstrous vampire faces.  When the dust settles, Liam and Hope set off for future adventures to try to find a cure for Hope's vampirism. Yes, that gives away some of how the series ends, but this is a classic monster movie: good is going to defeat evil. And if you are even the slightest fan of vampire movies and tv, you are going to get the biggest smile when you see the last page; I'm not going to give that away. Graveyard Shift was a great horror story in a model that isn't often used anymore: the monsters were villains and the good guys were good guys. If you like The Lost Boys, Near Dark, or The Monster Squad, you can't go wrong with Graveyard Shift.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Best Story Ever
Story: Tim Seeley
Art: Reilly Brown, Iban Coelle, Jacopo Camagini

There are a lot of fans who don't like one shots because, unless they're part of major stories they, "don't matter." And fans of that particular mindset probably skipped this one-shot, and if they did, they missed a very fun comic. Star-Lord and Rocket are in prison, and in a cell together begin telling the story of one of the Guardians escapades; with Thanos on trial for his crimes before a gathering of cosmic entities, like Eternity, Infinity, and the Loving Trilobite ("Living Tribunal! Don't they teach you anything on Earth?"), Nebula is going to help free him, and the Guardians stand in their way. While the guards are distracted, the remaining Guardians are sneaking into the facility for reasons unknown. The bickering Rocket and Star-Lord sequence is a lot of fun, as writer Tim Seeley does a good job of capturing both of their voices. It's also cool to see Nebula backed up by the Graces, a group of female warriors introduced in the run up to the original Annihilation crossover brought together and trained by Gamora in one of her darker times, of which Nebula was a member. This is one of those plot threads I always hoped would be picked up somewhere, and I'm happy to see them used again. Rocket and Star-Lord wrap up their story as the caper works out and the Guardians make their escape, but we then get a different version of the ending, one that is a bit more thoughtful, and continues to draw the relationship between Gamora and Nebula a bit closer to the movie continuity without feeling forced. There's the final reveal of the McGuffin that the Guardians were trying to steal, which is just singularly ridiculous and perfect for the "Guardians as rag tag band" concept that has been their recent shtick. If you enjoyed last summer's Guardians of the Galaxy movie, this is a great issue to give you a better idea of their comic book status quo.

Kanan: The Last Padawan #1
Story: Greg Weisman
Art: Pepe Larraz

While I haven't disliked Marvel's new Star Wars line, I've grown less and less wowed by it. It's not that it's bad, it's just that it doesn't feel like anything new; after twenty plus years of stories set in that period between Episodes IV and V, there's not much new to be mined. But the debut of the first Marvel series set in another time period has rekindled my hope. Kanan: The Last Padawan tells the backstory of Kanan Jarrus, the lead of Disney's well received Star Wars: Rebels cartoon. Set as the Clone Wars are coming to an end, we see Caleb Dume, Kanan's  real name that he abandoned to go on the run from the Empire, and his master, Depa Billaba, leading their clone battalion to retake the world of Kaller from the Separatist Droid Army of General Kleeve. After victory is assured, the Republic forces find themselves less than welcome by the natives, with Kalleran leader Gamut Key downright rude to Master Billaba, something she takes far better than her Padawan. Moving out of the city, we get a thoughtful discussion of how young Caleb is adjusting to being a Padawan instead of just a youngling at the Jedi Temple, how he fits in with clones, like Commander Grey and Captain Styles, and the Jedi's role in the war, something Billaba sees as heading in the wrong direction for the order. We also see more of Caleb as the inquisitive student, an impression first hinted at in the novel A New Dawn, another recent Star Wars tale that shone a light on another aspect of Kannan's backstory. The issue ends on a dark note, as writer Greg Weisman doesn't drag out the suspense leading up to what all Star Wars fans know is coming: Styles receives the transmission from the newly christened Emperor to execute Order 66, meaning next issue will begin Caleb's flight for his life and heading towards becoming Kanan. Greg Weisman, showrunner of the first season of Star Wars: Rebels and creator of one of the greatest modern animated series (Gargoyles) and showrunner of the one of the best superhero cartoons ever (Young Justice), does his usual deft work of establishing character and setting, and gives old fans of the Star Wars Expanded Universe hope that not everything has been forgotten; his reference to Master Billaba being known to be unstable is a clear reference to her fall to the dark side in the novel Shatterpoint. That bit of knowledge, or any foreknowledge of Rebels, is completely unnecessary, though, to enjoy a Star Wars comic that stands up well with many of the Dark Horse tales of the Clone Wars.

Southern Bastards #8
Story: Jason Aaron
Art: Jason Latour

The second arc of Jason Aaron and Jason Latour's southern Gothic, "Gridiron," wraps up the origin of the series antagonist Coash Euless Boss. After the first arc introduced and quickly killed off the character most readers assumed was going to be the series lead, it was an interesting choice to spend the second arc digging deep into the history of the man who killed that character. Aaron's work on Scalped showed that he was fascinated in making all his characters as three dimensional as he can, and so giving us an understanding of who Coach Boss is makes perfect sense. This issue we see the final confrontation between Euless and his abusive father, a confrontation that ends with Euless proving just what he'll do to be involved with football. He gives a speech about why the game matters, why he loves it, and what he loves about it; it's not the winning, it's the beating of the other team, the moment when they're so beaten he can see in their eyes they just want to quit. It's a cold speech, the kind that sends a little chill down your spine. And we see what Boss does to become the young coach, the deal he makes with local mobster Mozel, and how he tells Big, his mentor, that all this is "worth the blood" to be able to be on the field, to be able to do the only thing he's good at in the world. But it's apparent that Big has his misgivings, and the issue ends back at the present where it seems that the events of the first arc and the death of Earl Tubbs, has been the final straw that Big can no longer take. The final pages set up the next arc, as there's another Tubbs headed to Craw County, and there's a storm on the horizon. We might understand Coach Boss, but for me, I sure as hell don't like him, and I hope that storm hits him hard.

And Dan Grote visits Black Bolt in the zero issue of the new title in Marvel's new hoped for franchise...

Uncanny Inhumans #0
Story: Charles Soule
Art: Steve McNiven, Jay Leisten and Justin Ponsor

Uncanny is a loaded word to tack on as the title adjective of the new Inhumans series. It plays into reader concerns about the caste-obsessed subrace supplanting mutants because of movie-rights issues.

But the Uncanny in Uncanny Inhumans doesn’t seem to be so much a shot at Uncanny X-Men as it is an homage to Rick Remender’s first volume of Uncanny Avengers, specifically the subplot about Kang the Conquerer raising the progeny of superheroes.

In Uncanny Avengers, Kang stole the X-Man Archangel’s twin children from a Red Skull concentration camp and raised them to get mutants out of his way so he could rule time properly. In Uncanny Inhumans, Black Bolt – deposed ruler of the Inhumans – asks Kang to send his son, Ahura, into the timestream to save him from the end of the world, aka this summer’s Secret Wars.

The book presents itself as a Black Bolt solo title. We follow him from the streets of Rio de Janeiro, thwarting a crew of poachers hunting terrigenesis cocoons; to New Attilan, where his estranged wife, Medusa, scolds him for past grievances before sending him through a portal; to 1908 Siberia, where Kang is hiding out with Ahura.

The opening of the Siberia sequence is some of Steve McNiven’s best artwork in this issue, as Black Bolt storms Kang’s castle, which is guarded by an army of time-plucked knights and soldiers. When Black Bolt’s done playing games, he whispers “Goodbye” and blows a hole in the wall.

The one real downside to this book is it’s a little heavy on exposition. The poachers explain to each other who Black Bolt is. Medusa recounts recent events. Kang explains to Black Bolt that he is a time traveler as if that were not already evident. And Ahura, moody teen that he is, feels compelled to keep explaining that Black Bolt’s full name is Blackagar Boltagon, one of the more patently ridiculous firsts and lasts in the Marvel Universe.

But first issues have a lot to set up. Writer Charles Soule has built up a lot of good will having written the most recent She-Hulk series, one of this blog’s more beloved titles of the past year, so let’s see where he and McNiven take Marvel’s royal family.

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