Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 10/7

Atomic Robo and the Ring of Fire #2
Story: Brian Clevinger
Art: Scott Wegener & Anthony Clark

Atomic Robo is back! Again! After the first issue of the current volume of Atomic Robo, where a few of the action scientists of Tesladyne were able to retrieve the head of Atomic Robo from a warehouse currently controlled by the international super-science secret police, Ultra, we get a return of everyone's favorite super genius robot. Well, his head in a box anyway. The first few volumes of Atomic Robo had our heroes with nearly unlimited resources, but now, on the run from Ultra, they have to make due. I've missed Robo himself all these months, and it was wonderful to see that, as much as I missed him, those who work with him miss him more. I can only imagine what a great boss Robo must be to inspire so much loyalty in his employees, and how much joy in  his return. But there's much more for the team to do, and so they set off for the Disputed Zone, a stretch of the South China Sea that has dubious political ownership, where sales the Vasilia, a ship with the international super science black market (God, I love writing sentences like that), which comes from the remnants of Department Zero, the Soviet Tesladyne-analogue, which just screams for a story of its own. While the team is working on getting together everything they'll need to restore Robo, Ultra continues to prepare for the Biomega threat, which I'm sure will have nothing to do with the plot going on involving Robo, nothing at all... And back with the Tesladyne crew, well, things go well and they're able to put together a temporary body for Robo, only to be raided by Project Zero's security guards, led by... Phil, one of their old coworkers! I love that we're slowly getting the band back together, and I love the genre awareness that Robo has, when he's told that Jenkins, his right hand man of butt-kicking's body wasn't found, and Robo is completely sure he's not dead. This scene also has a great Hackers reference, which every comic should have more of. Oh, and a Biomega attack. Biomega are naturally big scary kaiju things, which are designed incredibly by artist Scott Wegener; they feel right at home in the tradition of kaiju without looking like Godzilla knock offs.  So, two issues into the new volume, we've got more of Tesladyne together, Robo back (well, he doesn't have one, but he is anyway), and giant monsters. Yup, it's Atomic Robo, and it's wonderful.

Nailbiter #16
Story: Joshua Williamson
Art: Mike Henderson & Adam Guzowski

After declaring Nailbiter my favorite horror comic on the racks a couple weeks back, how could I not review this excellent one off issue this week? It's Halloween in Backaroo, and you'd think that a town filled with so many day to day horrors wouldn't celebrate Halloween, but I looks like they do it in spades. But being Backaroo, there are certain very specific traditions, as we follow a group of kids who plan to knock on the door of the current local boogeyman, Edward Charles Warren, the Nailbiter. There's a lot of typical and classic kids out on Halloween in a spooky story/urban legend, with the one kid who's kind of reticent and his friends who keep egging him on and teasing him. And when they arrive and knock on Warren's door, they find it... unlocked. And when they go in to investigate, well, they find more than they bargained for, but less than what they might have feared. Warren is such a complicated character. I know he's a monster, a killer of multiple people in the coldest of blood, but it's very hard not to like him. He has his principles, he's a monster with a very particular code, and his kindness to the kid left behind, like telling him how he did he same thing when younger at the home of another the Buckaroo Butcher, the Bookburner, is the kind of thing that makes you hope there's something in Backaroo making people monsters and there's a cure. Of course, Nailbiter is an ensemble book, and we spend a few pages off in the hospital with Sheriff Crane at the bedside of her daughter, Alice, recovering from her stabbing and talking with Morty the Mortician, and Agent Finch runs afoul of the FBI, finding out not only that Carroll, his fiend and the instigator of so much of what has happened, has awakened and disappeared under the auspices of FBI Agent Burke, who we know has been infected with some of Buckaroo's madness. Things aren't looking good for Carroll, and Finch's hot temper has once again gotten him into trouble, which is par for the course for him. But this issue is Warren's, further digging into his mindset, and setting him of on a roadtrip. The final pages look like they're setting up a new Butcher, and the title of the next arc, "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," has me already haring fiddle music. Nailbiter is a comic perfect for a Halloween issue, and this one did not disappoint.

Paper Girls #1
Story: Brian K. Vaughan
Art: Cliff Chiang & Matt Wilson

Credit where credit is due, Brian K. Vaughan has range. Paper Girls, his third series currently running through Image Comics, is a completely different animal than either his space opera/love story Saga or his revolutionary tale We Stand On Guard. Set in the '80s, Paper Girls starts on Halloween night, as Erin goes out to deliver her paper route, and quickly runs into three toughs who are scared off when three other paper girls, Mac, Tiffany, and KJ show up. Erin is taken in by this sisterhood so they all have cover on this particularly dangerous night, only to encounter weirdoes in robes who steal from them and lead them to a house with a device that looks alien in the basement, and once it goes off, they find themselves in a world with a strange sky. Even stranger, when they confront the berobed men again, they are something less than human underneath and drop a device with a version of a logo familiar to us but foreign to the 80s. This is Vaughan hearkening back to Runaways, his last teenager coming of age story, but adding in psychedelic prophetic dreams with elements of the Challenger disaster, fewer evil parents, and more weird alien languages. The first issue spends much of its time giving us a feeling for Erin and Mac, who interact the most, but still spends time making more Tiffany and KJ more than cardboard characters. As always, Vaughan is working with an impressive artist, in this case Cliff Chiang, who is a favorite of mine from his work on Wonder Woman, Zatanna, and Human Target. One of the important things about Chiang in relation to this title is when he draws teenage girls, they look like teenage girls, not shrunken adults. They are also wonderfully expressive. But along with the normal stuff, he also draws a great alien machine and freaky guys under robes. And Erin's bedroom has a movie poster from The Monster Squad up in it (Seriously folks, it's around Halloween, and if you haven't seen that movie, or seen it in a while, do yourself a favor and go out and watch it. It holds up). With a wealth of mysteries, well thought out characters, and excellent art, Paper Girls looks like it will sit nicely with Image's current crop of series.

Rowan's Ruin #1
Story: Mike Carey
Art: Mike Perkins & Andy Troy

Mike Carey's comics work usually has a touch of horror; Lucifer had it's share of monsters, as did The Unwritten, and even his run on X-Men had a giant consciousness eating monster. But Rowan's Ruin is the first time in a while Carey has dived in to pure horror. Opening with a young woman being pursued by some sort of revenant, we flash back to see the woman as Katie, who has just agreed to swap houses with a British girl, Emily, so Emily can see the States and Katie can see England. Arriving at Rowan's Rise, the house she will be living in, Katie gets a bad feeling, but she ignores it, and goes about seeing the local landscape. But things are off, and Katie's bad feelings about the house get worse; it seems to eat electricity, for one, and is old and lonely. Most of this first issue is dedicated to getting to know Katie. Narrated by her blog, we get inside her head, and even see her starting to get involved with a local constable, James Hallam. But there's a pall hanging over Rowan's Rise. Inside Emily's bedroom, locked but suddenly mysteriously opened after a fuse blows, we see the room of someone disturbed; not necessarily insane disturbed but haunted disturbed. Mike Perkins is a great artist, but the scene that really sent gooseflesh up my arms was Emily's room. Festooned in horseshoes hanging from the ceiling, with a circle of salt around her bed, and a booby trap of nails under the window, this is the room of someone who is trying to protect herself from something. More disturbed than ever by this, Kaie confides in Hallam that as a child she had feelings about places, and after years of therapy she got past it, but now those feelings are creeping back. Carey plays with atmosphere, contrasting the beautiful English countryside near Stratford with the dark foreboding of Rowan's Rise. Even without the opening flashforward this would all have the feeling of a classic haunted house tale, but with that it takes on the drumbeat of the inevitable, moving inexorably, horribly towards the monster's coming. Tension is the key to a good scary story, and Rowan's Ruin #1 sets up the tension for the remaining issues perfectly.

Southern Bastards #11
Story: Jason Aaron
Art: Jason Latour

One of the best parts of any of Jason Aaron's books, and especially his crime comics, is the depth and ambiguity of his characters even the blackest of villains has a side that is not so dark, and nearly all his heroes are far from spotless. The new issue of Aaron and Jason Latour's southern crime epic Southern Bastards introduces a new character, and one who I found absolutely fascinating, a character I couldn't take my eyes off of. Boone is a southern man, a woodsman. He is a bow hunter, but not for sport. He kills to eat. He's a self professed holy roller and snakehandler. He is a man of faith, who goes to church, but who kills a man because that man committed an unspeakable crime, and this is what God would want him to do. He might be the first character we've met in this entire series who can't stand football. And he hates Coach Boss, the series' principal antagonist. Listen, I'll be up front if you haven't figured it out yet: I'm about as much the stereotypical Yankee intellectual as you can get. But this issue so deeply dives into Boone's mind that I get a real feeling for the man. In one issue, Aaron has found a way to define a completely different southern man than any other we've seen, a study in contradictions in many ways, but a man who is confident in what he's doing, because he has his faith. Jason Latour's art is stellar as always, crafting the world of Craw County, and this issue really drew my attention to the colors he's using. I wouldn't say the color pallet is muted, but it's unique to the book, really setting it apart from everything else on the racks. The scenes of Boone in the woods, of him facing down some of Boss's men as they encounter each other on boats travelling along the river, and of snakes crawling all over him at his church are indelibly grafted onto my memory. Aaron and Latour are setting up a board with many different pieces in place, and this new one, Boone, strikes me as far more than a pawn. He's a knight, maybe a tarnished one, but an important piece that will be making his move against Coach Boss soon enough, and I can' wait to see what that move is.

And Dan Grote brings two reviews for two of this week's most anticipated launches...

Jughead #1
Story by Chip Zdarsky
Art by Erica Henderson

When I found out Chip Zdarsky (Sex Criminals) and Erica Henderson (Unbeatable Squirrel Girl) were going to be teaming up on the all-new, all-different adventures of Archie’s be-crowned best friend, I pretty much yelled “Shut up and take my money” at my phone.

I was not wrong.

Jughead’s solo sojourn fits perfectly in the retooled Archieverse but also stands perfectly on its own. Whereas the main Archie book by Mark Waid and, until recently, Fiona Staples, is more teen soap, Jughead is quirky teen comedy, hence the creative team, which specializes in quirky characters and generally laugh-out-loud comics. There’ll be no talk of the Lipstick Incident here, but there will be plenty of talk about hamburgers.

With the new series comes a shakeup in Riverdale’s status quo. Longtime Principal Weatherbee is out, clearly not of his own volition, and a younger, leaner, angrier-looking Principal Stanger is in. Stanger is immediately positioned as Jughead’s nemesis when he changes the cafeteria menu, replacing lasagna Mondays with a high-nutrition gruel. As someone whose one true love is food, this will not stand.

This leads into a terrific parody of Game of Thrones, complete with a dragon, an incest reference and football player Moose in the Hodor role. Such dream sequences and other flights of fancy appear to be a regular part of the book, as next issue teases the return of Jughead’s Time Police.

The thing to remember about Jughead is that he appears lazy, but he can be quite resourceful when compelled to action (which we saw in Archie #1 when he set about his own plan to reunite Archie and Betty). The book opens with him spending an entire night killing people in a video game, then, upon arriving at school, mocking Betty for protesting the clear-cutting of trees by Veronica’s developer father. Once Stanger implements the new food policy, Jughead makes his own protest sign, has the home ec teacher show him how to make his own burgers, then bypasses Stanger’s rules by selling burgers for charity in the cafeteria, piggybacking on Betty’s open-space initiative and turning the new principal’s face new shades of red.

Also, he dispenses this nugget of wisdom by which I will now live my life: “Teach a man to fish, and he’ll bring home fish, which are gross. Teach a man to make burgers, and he’ll be the hero Gotham deserves, or something.”

Doctor Strange #1
Story: Jason Aaron
Art: Chris Bachalo and Tim Townsend

Stephen Strange has an odd place in Marvel’s pantheon. As the Sorcerer Supreme, he’s arguably one of the most powerful people in the universe. As a member of the Illuminati, he’s helped manipulate events over decades. Heck, in this summer’s Secret Wars, he was literally the right hand of God (till, you know, God killed him).

Yet the one thing he hasn’t been able to do, at least in the past few years, is carry his own book.
But with a movie coming out next year, Marvel can’t afford to let its top mystic ride the bench anymore. And so, in the first week of the All-New, All-Different age of Marvel, we get Doctor Strange by Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo.

First of all, how has Chris Bachalo never drawn Doctor Strange before? His dark, psychedelic, heavily inked style is a perfect fit for the doctor. Artwise, this book is all giant-mouthed soul-eaters, tentacle porn, mystical bacteria, and floating teddy bears. Everything is in constant, swirling motion, even Strange’s cloak, which he can ride like a magic carpet or tie around his neck like a hipster scarf. (His tunic also transforms into a sleek denim jacket when he’s on the street).

Storywise, Aaron is creating a Doctor Strange for new readers, much the same as he’s done with Thor in the past couple years. An intro page quickly retells his origin, reprinting classic Steve Ditko art, but that’s all the continuity you need for this book. Baron Mordo, Clea, Dormammu, Wong and the rest of his normal supporting cast are all on the shelf, at least for now. This Strange is too busy making house calls, casting interdimensional bogeymen from children’s nightmares, wrestling soul-sucking leeches on the streets of Brooklyn, hitting on women of all planes of reality, and showing up late for drinks with his fellow Marvel mages.

Aaron’s Strange eschews shadowy meetings with Namor, Black Panther and Reed Richards in favor of pub crawling with Doctor Voodoo, Shaman of Alpha Flight, and the Scarlet Witch, all of whom take pot-shots at Strange as if he were their version of Andre from The League. I quite like this unexpected circle of friends, both for its diversity and the fact that no one is treating Wanda like the delicate continuity wormhole she’s been for the past decade.

The book’s long game appears to involve some sort of interdimensional migration (there should probably be a blanket ban on the word incursion after Hickman’s Avengers run/Secret Wars), with all sorts of be-fanged nasties fleeing other realms ahead of a coming slaughter (“Great. Another one of those,” Wanda says casually). There’s also some talk about keeping the cosmic balance by sacrificing a life for every life saved through magic. As of right now, I plan on sticking around to see how these themes play out.

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