Monday, July 20, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 7/15

Black Canary #2
Story: Brenden Fletcher
Art: Annie Wu & Lee Loughridge

After a strong debut, there is no sophomore slump in Black Canary. With the threat of weird monsters after youngest band member Ditto, Dinah Drake (the titular superheroine, if you don't know) decides it's time to show her bandmates how to defend themselves. The flashbacks to their hand-to-hand combat training is exactly what you'd expect, but it's the gun training we see, and immediately it's clear Paloma Terrific, keyboardist and the person least likely to support anything Dinah says, has an aptitude. Paloma is getting less and less inclined to hold back her criticism of Dinah's role in the band, and a confrontation is growing inevitable. The problems in the band are made even worse when Maeve, the original singer when the current quartet was a trio, shows up out of nowhere and starts poking at things. I have a bad feeling about Maeve, and I have a feeling there's more to her than meets the eye. The charm of this comic, like all the ones Brenden Fletrcher has been writing since he burst onto the Bat-scene with Batgirl, is the characters and their interactions. Dinah just wants to get her life back, and while this started as a means to an end, now that Ditto is in trouble, Dinah's instincts are almost maternal towards her, trying to get some hint of her past out. The band are all well formed characters two issues in, and while I think Paloma is being hard on Dinah, I can understand her point of view; some singer shows up and suddenly she's starting fights and monsters are attacking your shows? I'd be pissed too. To makes this the most rock n' roll comic ever, there's also a two page spread in the middle of the issue that is an article about the band by a music mag called Burnside Tofu, another connection between this book, and Batgirl, that feels like the best of old school Rolling Stone actual fun music journalism, and it's a nice treat before the chaos ensues again. It seems like the black slime monsters aren't the only thing tracking Black Canary, as the issue ends with Dinah fighting a stealth suited opponent in a music store at the issue's end. Annie Wu's fight choreography still leaves me breathless; there are few artists I've seen that can capture the kinetic action of a good fight as well. And I like Dinah's clever use of flutes as escrima sticks too. A very nice touch. But when her opponent is defeated and unmasked, the reveal is that (SPOILER WARNING) it's Dinah's husband, Kurt Lance. And I admit to an eye roll. Kurt, from his appearances in Team 7 and the end of Birds of Prey, was a character I just couldn't care about, partially because of what Dinah turned every time he was a plot device. She would be willing to do anything to save him, and was moody, irrational, and not the Dinah I was used to. I am hoping that Fletcher can do something to flesh him out and make him more interesting, make him seem like a guy that the amazing character that is his Dinah would love. If he can do what he's done in two issues with everyone else, I think he can finally put this romance to rest, or make it one for the ages.

Book of Death #1
Story: Robert Venditti
Art: Robert Gill, Doug Braithwaite, David Baron, & Brian Reber

The Valiant, Valiant's last stand alone event mini-series, was a tremendous success for the publisher, both critically and financially. So Book of Death has some pretty big steps to follow in. And if the first issue is any indication, it will succeed. Written by Robert Venditti, who is the writer of Valiant's flagship title, X-O Manowar, picks up one of the major threads from the end of The Valiant, the death of Geomancer Kay McHenry and the appearance of a new Geomancer from the future. The issue opens with a boy named David, sitting on his lawn as vermin and snakes crawl all over him as he smiles and says they're talking to him. From that chilling image, the book doesn't get any less creepy as we cut to soldiers finding a small town murdered by trees, which have sprung to life and murdered everyone. It seems that Gilad Anni-Pada, the Eternal Warrior and guardian of the Geomancer, is on the run with Tama, the girl who appeared as the only hope to stop a great dark age, along with the Book of the Geomancer, which foretells what is to come. Neville Alcott and Jamie Capshaw, the UK and US representatives to the superhero team Unity respectively, are butting head about what to do about Gilad, but the decision is made to send X-O Manowar, who is probably the closest thing Gilad has to a friend, to try to talk him down and get him to turn over the girl, who they believe is responsible for this horror and series of others. X-O tries his best, but Gilad is, well, bullheaded to begin with and used to playing a long game. Not to mention he knows the girl is innocent. When X-O flies off, Tama reads to Gilad from the pages of the book, pages only she can read and telling him about what is to come. This flashforward/story sequence is drawn by Doug Braithwaite, an artist who I've liked since a run on Green Arrow with Chuck Dixon in the 90s, and his art is outstanding here, detailed and full of the pathos as we see all the heroes of Valiant's universe fall. This is not to take away from Robert Gill, the artist on the main story, whose work is also stellar, really adding to the creepy air of the horror sequences while still drawing the quieter ones with subtlety. As with The Valiant, this book is standing on its own and doing a good job of explaining anything you'd need to know if you are new to the Valiant universe. We are given hints of the big bad who is hunting Gilad and Tama, and I have a strong suspicion a major player in the classic Valiant Universe is about to re-enter the stage in a big way, one that will reward older fans, and next issue should give s a fight scene between Gilad and the rest of Unity, which I can only imagine won't end well for one side (and my money is on Gilad to win this one). Valiant has proven that they can pull these standalone event mini-series off in the past, and this one looks to be a winner as well, so it's a good way to enter the Valiant Universe. Oh, and if you're a variant hunter, Level Up Entertainment, home store to contributor Dan Grote, in Mays Landing, New Jersey has an exclusive variant for this book available only at their store from a local artists that's really sweet (I scanned it and completely forgot to put the file on my flashdrive, but take my word for it, it's awesome), and it's a full on Variant, so you might want to head down or get in touch so you can complete your variant collection.

Secret Six #4
Story: Gail Simone
Art: Tom Derenick, Ken Lashley, & Jason Wright

Originally solicited as issue three, this issue of Secret Six now fills in some of the gaps between the end of the second issue and where we popped up last month. As with any issue of Secret Six, there's a lot to love. The team dynamic deepens each issue, and I am developing a deep affection for each of these characters. Gail Simone has done a phenomenal job with them all, but it's Strix who drew my attention this issue. I love how childlike she can be, taking a lawn gnome affectionately with her into the house or waiting to enter the fight until she was done eating a cookie. I also think Simone has done something interesting with the gender fluid Porcelian, adding a new layer of diversity to the book. I was also momentarily worried when Big Shot, who we know from last issue as Ralph Dibny, seemed to have a transphobic moment, only to instead have a moment of class and charm by offering Porcelain a hat. I love how Simone writes Ralph, love it, and it makes me happy that, if I had to wait this long for the character to pop up, it's by a writer who clearly loves him. Speaking of characters who I've been waiting to see pop up again, Mockingbird sends three agents along to return the Six to his prison, and it's quickly apparent that they are Scandal, Jeanette, and Ragdoll, members of the original Simone written Secret Six! I was thrilled to see them back, and happy that Gail Simone found a way to work them back into the title. The fight between the three of them and the Six was fun and exciting. I liked how they were clearly fighting for form's sake, with the three bringing cookies and first asking if the Six would just come with them, or where Jeanette let's Big Shot call a time out in their fight so he could stop a vase made for him by his wife from breaking and putting it somewhere safe before resuming. Secret Six finds a way to both be dark and disturbing and hilarious, in ways that many of the best horror movies are, and it's a joy to see it back in that top form.

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