Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 4/8

Birthright #6
Story: Joshua Williamson
Art: Andrei Brissan

After a brief hiatus, Birthright is back and picking up right where it left off, both in story and quality. Brother Mikey and Brennan are now on the run together, and Mikey is using all the skills he learned spending years in the fantasy otherworld of Terrenos. There's some nice binding moments, as the two brothers act brotherly, playing and teasing in the way siblings do. But there's the darkness in Mikey, not just the fact that some aspect of the evil God King Lore is driving him, but what seems like PTSD from his years of adventuring. The jumping up from nightmares, the callous way he kills, it's clear that there's a darkness driving him. While the two brothers are off having this adventure, their parents are once again left to pick up the pieces of "real life." Aaron, the boys' father, is once again being interrogated by Det. Brooks, the officer who has been investigating the case form the start, and just as Wendy, the boys' mother, is getting through to Aaron, the NSA arrives in the form of the pompous Agent Kylen. As Kylen immediately says that Aaron's son is a threat, he seems to have less of problem with the idea that Mikey has aged twenty-plus years in the space of a year, so I'm wondering if he's just playing Aaron or if the government has some idea of what exactly is happening with Terrenos. Artist Andrei Brissan seems to have stepped up over the course of the short hiatus; while his art was excellent before, it's on a new level. The two pages spread that shows Lore and his realm is creepy and disgusting in the way you'd want the domain of a dark lord to be. There's a scene with a bear coming across the boys in the woods that really stands out, not just because the bear is gorgeously rendered (which it is), but also for the way Mikey acts towards it. The last couple of pages introduce who look to be Mikey's new nemeses, and while we know Mikey's the "bad guy" in this situation, we know him and care about him enough to want him to defeat them, which is a sign of how well written he is. Joshua Williamson amazes me; some writer have a hard time getting one book out in a month, and he writes three very strong creator owned titles, each with a different flavor. Birthright is one of most original books on the racks, mixing fantasy with modern family drama. The first trade is out now, so grab it and this first issue of the second arc now.

Convergence: Nightwing/Oracle #1
Story: Gail Simone
Art: Jan Duursema

As Convergence starts is earnest this week, we got the first week of mini-series set in old worlds, this week focusing on the pre-Flashpoint world. They were kind of a mixed bag, but shockingly, one of the really strong ones was Nightwing/Oracle from Gail Simone, who wrote Oracle longer than nearly anyone, and Jan Duursema, whose return to DC after years at Dark Horse doing some of the best Star Wars art ever is welcome. After a year under the mysterious dome, Barbara Gordon, better known as Oracle in this world, is starting to lose hope. She's been partnering with Dick Grayson, Nightwing, and they've been keeping Gotham safe. The issue is narrated form Barbara's point of view, and we see just how close she is to sinking into despair. It's hard to see Barbara, who is such a string character and been through so much, at this point, but it does make the situation seem all the more dire. Meanwhile, Nightwing is still full of so much joy and energy; Simone writes a Nightwing who is a big, grinning kid, not dumb, but as Barbara says, living every moment in the now. Duursema's kinetic style works perfectly with the acrobatic Grayson. As the issue progresses, we get the standard Convergence set-up, the gladiatorial conflict between heroes of two cities, and after seeing them wipe out the Justice Riders at the beginning of the issue, it's not a shock that our heroes will be facing the dark versions of Hawkman and Hawkwoman from the Flashpoint reality. But the deal that is offered isn't like anything else going on, and it leaves Dick and Barbara in a bad place. Barbara has just turned down Dick's marriage proposal and now tells him she's not going to fight the Hawks. But after Dick leaves, the last panel of the issue is one of those knock you off your feet ones, not for action or shock, but because it's so perfectly Oracle. Gail Simone writes a better Barbara Gordon as Oracle than pretty much anyone, and if these are the last two issues we're ever going to get, well, that last panel sums up what I want from an Oracle story and makes me even more excited for the next issue.

Convergence: The Quesion #1
Story: Greg Rucka
Art: Cully Hamner

And equally not shocking, the second Convergence title that really blew me away was The Question from Greg Rucka and Cully Hamner, who wrote the excellent backup stories featuring the character on Detective Comics. And as you'd expect from Rucka writing the Question, this is a very personal and human story about Renee Montoya. Most of the characters who formed Renee's supporting cast are all here: Huntress, Two-Face, Batwoman, and while they don't physically appear, her family's presence is felt. Renee's relationship with Two-Face has always been complicated, and while the two are working together at the beginning of the issue to find morphine to her father, who is dying, Two-Face doesn't realize Renee is the Question and they have a very different relationship. Rucka's Two-Face is one of the most sympathetic and well-rounded presentations of that character, and his time in the dome has clearly not been going well. Meanwhile, the easy camaraderie between Renee and the Huntress makes for some great interplay between the two. I don't think I'd realized how much I've missed either character more than when they were simply bantering in the apartment they share. But Huntress warms Renee not to trust Two-Face, but Renee still has faith in him. But when the dome falls, Two-Face decides it's time to leave the dome and finally act on the death wish he has by finding another Harvey Dent to finally kill him. Renee does care about Two-Face, just not in the way he cares for her, and so she does try to stop him, to not much effect, and the issue ends with Renee once again meeting the one that got away, Batwoman, another character I can't wait to see Rucka write some more. I have one minor quibble/question that if either of the creators happen to see this, maybe they can answer: historically, Two-Face has a two headed coin, one side scarred, that he flips. That's part of the shtick: Two-Face with a two-faced coin, and it's an important part of his origin. The coin he has here clearly has heads and tails, as he both says it and we see the scarred side is a tails side. Did I miss something? Is this not the original coin? Other than that, which is at best a minor quibble, this was a great character piece featuring one of the characters who has been lost to the sands of time. No one writes these characters better than Rucka, and as with Simone and Oracle, I'm glad to see one more go around for this combination of writer and character.

Copperhead #6
Story: Jay Faerber
Art: Scott Godlewski

Another Image series returned from its between arcs hiatus this week, and it's return was also strong and impressive. Copperhead, the frontier Western in space, is back, and the events on the mining colony aren't getting any easier for Sheriff Clara Bronson. After a very cool action opening where Bronson and her alien deputy Budroxifinicus (Boo for short) stop someone from robbing secrets from the local mine, she finds herself stymied as local land baron and mine owner Mr. Hickory refuses to press charges. Hickory proved at the end of the last arc that he is no fan of Bronson's, and while she warns him not to take justice into his own hands when the man goes free, it's clear that Hickory is not pleased. This becomes more clear when he later goes to talk to Boo about a... change in regime. It's nice to see more of Boo's home life, meeting his mate, seeing another of his flashbacks to the war between his people and humanity. We don't get Meanwhile, Bronson's son Zeke sneaks away from home to talk to Ismael, the artificial human who saved him in the first arc; since this is a good jumping on issue, despite this being a brief scene, it's nice that all the principle characters show up. Bronson's night is a little more action filled, as she goes to local saloon "undercover" since it's pay day for the miners and that usually means things get rowdy in town. She stops a particularly sleazy specimen named Nestor from beating one of the local ladies of negotiable affection (a phrase from Terry Pratchett I've always loved), and meets a new character, Madame Vega, the local, well, madame, who appreciates another strong woman in town, and I find myself wondering if Vega will be a friend in whatever is coming between the sheriff and Hickory. We also see local school teacher Thaddeus Luken, a purple skinned near human, talk to Barton at the bar and ask her out, something that is interrupted by Nestor, but an invitation she accepts later at the schoolhouse. One of things that Jay Faerber is doing with this book is playing on a lot of the classic Western tropes, and so having the school marm and the sheriff as a couple works as one of those tropes, but here the genders are reversed. Copperhead is a great genre mash-up with strong characters and great designs for its world; if you ever enjoyed a Western or a sci-fi series set out on strange new worlds it's a great book, and this is a perfect time to jump on.

Descender #2
Story: Jeff Lemire
Art: Dustin Nguyen

After last month's strong start, Descender returns with a powerful second issue. The first issue ended with a group of robot scavengers arriving at the moon where boy robot Tim-21 had just awakened. This issue begins with a single page that has narration boxes talking about a memory download. The story then moves in alternating pages. One page is in the present, where we see Tim and Bandit (his robo dog, fleeing the robot hunters, while the opposing page is a differently colored page showing Tim's memories, from the moment he awakened for the first time to when he went to sleep ten years prior. we get to see his creator, Dr. Jin Quon, who we met last month, from his point of view, and then we see him meet the family he was sent to, Ms. Travers and her son, Andy. It's heartwarming to see how Tim becomes part of this family, and it's juxtaposed against the hunt for Tim and the violence that is perpetrated both by the hunters and by Tim in defense of Bandit and himself. The story winds up looping back around to the first page in a clever narrative device, and gives a view of the scene from that first page pulled further back to show the full, painful scene. The issue ends with Tim in mortal danger and a new possible friend entering his life. For a story about a robot, Tim is one of the most human characters, and his heartbreak as he finds the body of one of the victims of the catastrophe that killed most of the moon's residents is palpable. Dustin Nguyen puts in some of the best work of his career on this title; it works perfectly with Jeff Lemire's script. With two issues down, it looks like Descender is another strong title from Image.

And Dan Grote bids a fond farewell (temporary as it might be) to Deadpool...

Deadpool #250/45
Story: Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn
Art: Mike Hawthorne, Terry Pallot, Jordie Bellaire and Joe Sabino

Backup strips: Ben Acker, Ben Blacker, Scott Aukerman, Mike Drucker, Jason Mantzoukas, Paul Scheer, Nick Giovannetti, Matt Selman, Mirko Colak, Todd Nauck, Ty Templeton, Jacob Chabot, Natalie Nourigat, J.J. Kirby, Scott Koblish, Val Staples, Veronica Gandini, Ruth Redmond and Irene Y. Lee.

Well, as promised, Deadpool’s dead. But so’s everybody else. Without spoiling things too much, there’s a reason this is happening right before Secret Wars.

That said, the main story of Deadpool #250/45 (gotta love Marvel’s selective numbering) is actually a happy ending for Wade Wilson. The last few pages find DP surrounded by the supporting cast of the Duggan/Posehn/Hawthorne/Koblish era, the closest thing he’s ever had to family, from his illegitimate daughter to the Life Model Decoy of his SHIELD handler to the ghost of Benjamin Franklin. When the end comes, Wilson loves and is loved – a far cry from the psychopath who used to keep a blind old lady prisoner. Matt went into greater detail on this last week, but for my money, the Marvel NOW volume of Deadpool is easily the best since the original Joe Kelly run in the late ’90s.

And now, backup strips galore! Duggan and Posehn’s comedy-writer friends fill half of this supersized issue, with mini tales by Thrilling Adventure Hour’s Ben Acker and Ben Blacker, Comedy Bang Bang’s Scott Aukerman, The League’s Paul Scheer and Jason Mantzoukas, and more. Deadpool’s demon wife, Shiklah, catches up on ’80s pop culture! The Prestons get a talking dog (my favorite strip)! Kid Apocalypse tries to be bad but fails! Agent Adsit takes wisecracking lessons from Spider-Man! The Thing and Ghost Franklin team up (favorite single panel)! And Michael the Necromancer goes on a date!

Finally, we come to the last of the Scott Koblish-drawn flashback stories, in which Deadpool steals the Infinity Gauntlet from Thanos and throws himself a roast guest-starring the entire Marvel Universe, which subjects him to a merciless barrage of jokes, many of which are fart-based. After he’s had enough, Wade freezes the scene and turns to camera, calling the reader out for making his life so miserable, reminding us once again that he is the ultimate self-aware sad clown. To which emcee Howard the Duck replies, “Kid, I was you before you came along,” bringing the curtain down on a money’s-worth read.

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