Beyond Belief #1
Story: Ben Acker & Ben Blacker
Art: Phil Hester
Who cares what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Me for one, if that evil is spooooky and being investigated by Frank and Sadie Doyle in the pages of Image Comics second series based off the wonderful Thrilling Adventure Hour, Beyond Belief. Beyond Belief is my favorite segment of TAH, starring Paul F Tompkins and Paget Brewster as everyone's favorite married mediums, the Doyles, and as with the other TAH comic, Sparks Nevada, this takes place before the events of the podcast, so no prior knowledge is needed. You get to meet the Doyles, bon vivants and alcohol aficionados, who love nothing more than booze and each other. But their bliss is interrupted when Sadie's best friend, Donna, calls to ask for the Doyles' help, as the house she just bought is haunted. For those who know their TAH, Donna will one day be Donna Henderson, vampire and wife of werewolf Dave Henderson, and mother to the beast of the Apocalypse. But right now, she's just Donna Donner, new homeowner. The Doyles enter the haunted house to find a room full of creepy dolls, ancient spectres, and the ghosts of Mary Ellen Capp and her dead husband, Ted. With the story written by TAH creators Ben Acker and Ben Blacker it's not surprising that the dialogue is spot on; I can hear the actors reading the dialogue in my head. It's funny and with just a hint of creepy, especially the flying evil dolls. Phil Hester does a great job, not just capturing the horror, but also the essence of the Doyles. Frank and Sadie look dapper, dashing, and just a tad drunk, which is the ideal for the Doyles. And as a bonus, this issue also contains the digital first Beyond Belief #0 from the same creative team that tells the story of how Frank and Sadie met! If you've never tried Thrilling Adventure Hour, and like horror and comedy, this is the book to try, and if you're already a fan, well, you know what's in here, so get out and pick it up.
Empire: Uprising #1
Story: Mark Waid
Art: Barry Kitson
I love that no project is ever completely dead in comics is the creators have the passion and the rights (yeah, that last one is a little more problematic, but still...). It's how John Ostrander can return to Grimjack after a decade plus away, how I still hold out hope for Mage: The Hero Denied from Matt Wagner, and how we can get a new Empire story a decade after the last. I've been reading Empire through all of its incarnations, the two issues through Image and then the six from DC, so its new life at IDW is exciting. Empire is the story of a world conquered by Golgoth, a supervillain, and the workings of his inner court; it's like Game of Thrones with supervillains. This issue picks up a year after the end of the last issue, and the reader gets a primer on what has gone before from a schoolteacher talking to her class about world history; we hear her sanitized version of history along with panels showing exactly what Golgoth did to bring about his utopia, which is a nice touch. It's the anniversary of the death of Golgoth's daughter, Princess Delfi, and the world will have a moment of silence. And we quickly see that moment of silence is enforced with lethal force for anyone who breaks it. It's chilling to see that there's no real heart in Golgoth. This isn't the villain who has some kernel of good in him; he's a monster. He is also ridiculously powerful, which is evident as he slaughters a group of resistance fighters who attack during the moment of silence. Attacking in masks of Delfi is creepy enough, but as they cry out "Daddy!" in combat, well. brrrrrr. With the soldiers put down, we see various members of Golgoth's inner circle, and get a feeling for those who surround him. And we see Golgoth change his mind, something that does not go unnoticed by the various villains who serve him. Predators always sense weakness after all. It's a strong set-up for the return to this dystopia, and I'm looking forward to heading back in and seeing exactly who is trying to overthrow Golgoth and what their plans are.
Story: Ed Brubaker
Art: Steve Epting
One of the numerous impressive things about Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting's spy thriller, Velvet, is the way they balance action and plot.Over the course of this arc, Velvet Templeton, on the run from her own agency, ARC-7, has been attempting to find a traitor, and done some things along the way that would indicate to an outside observer she is the traitor, including freeing imprisoned traitor Damian Lake. Well, Damian escaped at the end of last issue, and now Velvet, on a train, is confronted by French authorities. This sets off an issue that is full of intense action, with a fight and flight on the train, through the woods, and to a farmhouse. Epting is at his best in this issue, drawing Velvet making her way through and on top of the train, diving off it, and fighting gendarmes and dogs hunting her through the woods. Brubaker gets to do some nice character work during the chase, especially as Velvet has to fight a dog and does so with reluctance. But as we get to the end of the chase, we see that Damian sold her out to the local ARC-7 office, and we meet the next of our potential traitors, local chief Jean Bellanger. But Damian is up to tricks, and a captured Velvet doesn't remain so as Damian's plan unfolds. The final pages, both Velvet's final scene and the epilogue, set all the gears that have been moving slowly into full speed. There is blood and bodies, and a power vacuum left at issue's end that will need to be filled, and whoever does it is going to want Velvet. It's a nail biter of an ending, one I absolutely didn't see coming and left my jaw on the floor. Velvet is the best spy comic I think I've ever read, adding a modern tilt to the classic James Bond formula. This issue marks the end of the second arc, so it's a perfect time to catch up before the third act begins.
And Dan Grote looks at this week's most talked about comic...
All-New X-Men #40
Story: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Mahmud Asrar and Rain Beredo
X-Men post-crossover issues are often some of the franchise’s best moments, a chance for creative teams to mold memorable character beats, like Jean Grey proposing to Scott Summers or Jubilee teaching Professor X how to rollerblade. Frankly, I’d be weirded out if Brian Michael Bendis, who wrote many a breakfast scene during his run on the Avengers, couldn’t hack that.
Cards on the table: As someone who has been reading X-comics for more than 20 years, I have no problem whatsoever with Iceman being gay. Let’s be honest, the original five X-Men – five white kids, one of whom was “the girl” – were the Blandest Teens of All. Stan and Jack couldn’t even bother to write origin stories for them; they were just born with powers. Having one of them turn out to be gay at least adds a little spice to the mix. And it’s not like Chuck Austen didn’t toy with the idea during his run on Uncanny, much maligned as it is. And how many stories have there been in which somebody accused Bobby Drake of holding back? Perhaps that wasn’t just about his powers. I guess my only REAL question is: Whatever happened to Opal Tanaka?
I know some have raised issues about the WAY the reveal occurred, with Jean being telepathically invasive and the sort of heteronormative idea that gay people need to “out” themselves whereas straights can just be. I won’t pretend to be an expert in those things, nor should I, but as to the fact of a longtime character being retconned this way, I’m on board. I also really like Jean’s facial expressions and hand gestures in those panels.
All-New X-Men #40 wasn’t just about Bobby and Jean’s heart-to-heart, though. We also get a midair chat between young Angel and X-23. Warren is sporting new wings after the Black Vortex story, a move he says he made deliberately after learning how his adult self was corrupted by Apocalypse and then essentially erased by a Celestial life seed.
The framing scenes set up one last storyline (because Secret Wars) involving a band of mutants protecting Utopia, the X-Men’s old island base. I won’t spoil who they are, because I could only make out two of the six, one of which is an Obscure ’90s Relic.
Also, heh heh, Tyke-lops.