Monday, November 2, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 10/28

Batgirl #45
Story: Cameron Stewart & Brenden Fletcher
Art: Babs Tarr & Serge LaPointe

I love an October wedding, probably because I had one myself. This month's issue of Batgirl features the wedding of Barbara's best friend and former roommate Alysia, and her fiancĂ©e, Jo. And fortunately, since neither of them are actual super people, there is no supervillain attack. That's not to say everything goes off without a hitch, because Barbara is maid of honor and has brought her new boyfriend, Luke Fox, formerly he superhero Batwing and son of Batman's ally Lucius Fox, as her date just as Dick Grayson shows up unexpectadly to have a talk with Barbara. Dick's return to Gotham and "from the dead" has been handled very deftly in Grayson and Batman & Robin Eternal, and this issue takes a different, but no less important and emotionally resonant, turn with it. Because Dick has come back to woo Barbara, and Barbara will have none of it, so Dick lifts Alysia's wedding ring pre-ceremony, and has Barbara chase him. And when they stop, he gives a very heartfelt speech about how she's the rock that's kept him going while he was embedded in the spy organization Spyral, goes in for a kiss, and... Barbara shoots him down. I love Barbara and Dick, they're one of my favorite comic book couples, and I'm happy Gail Simone gave the pre-Flashpoint versions a happy wedding in Convergence, since in this case, Barbara is completely in the right. Dick's actions are selfish, and are making a day that should be about Alysia and Jo about him, and this is not at all out of character for Dick, who loves grand gestures and big moments, but has never been too good in the day-to-day of a relationship. And I'll be honest, as much as I want to dislike Luke Fox for getting between them, Stewart and Fletcher have made him incredibly likeable and a good match for Barbara. And so the two make peace as friends and part ways, with Barbara having outgrown Dick as he is now. The art from regular series artist Babs Tarr is even more astounding than usual this issue, not just in the chase between Barbara and Dick, which she draws beautifully (and can we get her to draw some more Grayson? She has such a great sense of motion she's made for Dick's acrobatic style), but the actual wedding sequences are gorgeous. Alysia is a lovely bride, and the designs for all the dresses and outfits are perfect. I've always been a fan of quiet, character based issues breaking up the action in between big superhero battles, and Batgirl #45 is one of the best I've read in years.

Black Magick #1
Story: Greg Rucka
Art: Nicola Scott & Chiara Arena

Greg Rucka is one of my favorite writers period; his comics thrill me every month, and his novels are some of the ones I look forward to the most each year. And so a new creator owned Rucka series from Image, with art from Secret Six artist Nicola Scott, was high on my list of new series I was looking forward to this year. And the first issue of Black Magick did not disappoint. Rucka is a writer best known for writing in the crime, spy, and thriller genres, bringing touches of these even into his superhero work, and like his other creator owned series for Image, Lazarus, a near-future dytopian political thriller, Black Magick is a genre bender, a mix of police procedural and occult thriller. The first issue is all about mood, atmosphere, and establishing our protagonist, Rowan Black. The issue starts out at a witches' ceremony, with chanting and a circle, drawn in black and white, timeless and all sorts of creepy until a cell phone goes off, breaking not just the ritual, but the sense that this could be any time, firmly rooting it in the now. The phone belongs to Rowan, and she is being called away for work; Rowan is a police detective, and a hostage taker is demanding to talk to her and only her. The book moves immediately from the supernatural atmosphere seamlessly into a police stand off, as Rowan and the hostage negotiators talk to the nameless man who is holding four people hostage, demanding Rowan come in and talk to him privately. It's not a scenario unique to this comic, it's something that anyone who's a fan of crime drama has scene many times before, but Rucka handles it well, letting the reader get to know Rowan through how she interacts with the other officers and the criminal. And once she gets in, and the hostages get out, things get supernatural again, as the man, who refuses to let Rowan have his name, knows that she is a witch, and has been sent by someone or something, something that is in his head, to kill her. Rowan is able to cast a spell to stop her own death and turn it on him, but there are a lot of questions left, about who sent him and what Rowan means when she calls someone at the end of the issue to tell him that it's starting again. Nicola Scott's art is even better than I remember from Secret Six, and only helped by the "black and white with just the occasional hint of color" coloring she did along with color assists from Chiara Arena. And as with Lazarus there is extensive backmatter that aids in the world building that Rucka is starting. Oh, and as an aside, there was also a new issue of Stumptown, Rucka's private eye comic, from Oni this week that is also definitely worth a look. There are few writers who do crime comics like Greg Rucka, and Black Magick's blend of supernatural and crime is a nice twist on his crime work that's fresh and innovative.

Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1953-  The Phantom Hand and The Kelpie
Story: Mike Mignola
Art: Ben Stenbeck & Dave Stewart

The current realities of the world of Hellboy and his allies are pretty grim: Hellboy is dead and in Hell, the B.P.R.D. is fighting the Black Flame and the giant monsters that ravage the world, and Abe Sapien is still on his walkabout, unsure of what he truly is. Those of us who have ben long time fans of Hellboy and his friends remember a time when things were a little more whimsical, when we regularly got stories like "The Corpse" and "Pancakes" (this isn't a condemnation of the current era of Hellboy stories, just a statement about their evolution). This new one-shot, going back to Hellboy's earliest days with the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, hearkens back to some of those earlier stories, as in "The Phantom Hand," where Hellboy heads off to England with his mentor and father figure, Prof. Trevor Bruttenholm, and Bruttenholm's friend, paranormal researcher Harry Middleton, to investigate the case of a hand that roams the night on its own. The story of the hand's origin is a dark one, as few Hellboy stories are that light, but when Hellboy and the hand start to fight, it becomes a big brawl when what has been animating the hand comes out. It's fun to see Hellboy just punching the crap out of something, and equally fun to see Bruttenholm's frustration with Hellboy's, shall we say, hands on approach to paranormal investigation. The second story in the issue, "The Kelpie," is a tale of Bruttenholm and Middleton as young men, heading out of their first paranormal investigation with a third man, Billy Connolly, and how this ties in to the Celtic myth of the Kelpie, a horse that lives beneath the sea. It's darker than "The Phantom Hand" but does what a lot of great Hellboy stories do, which is tie classic myths into the modern world of Hellboy. Kudos also must go to artist Ben Stenbeck, who worked with Mignola on many of his Baltimore comics (stories of Lord Baltimore, the vampire hunter, not the city of Poe and bird themed sports teams), who draws a great Hellboy, some excellent demons, and one creepy horse monster. If you enjoy Hellboy stories, but have shied away from the epic stories running through the current titles, this is a great one-shot to get some old school Hellboy action.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1
Story: Ryan North
Art: Erica Henderson & Rico Renzi

After a short hiatus, Squirrel Girl is back in her second ongoing of this very year, a point both the cover and the narration in the bottom gutter, Ryan North's answer to rollover text in web comics, make. There's a lot to love about Squirrel Girl, both the comic and the character, and one of the great things is how self-aware it is. There's this joke about number one churn, and another about how Squirrel Girl is not biologically or LEGALLY a mutant, which some have taken as a decree from Marvel on high, and I take as North having some fun with his readers; he knows that fans are aware if the world of comics, and lets us in on the joke. The issue itself is more than just a string of inside baseball jokes, and while it doesn't pick up directly from where the previous volume left off, it's not a book where the time gap is full of mysteries. We open with Squirrel Girl and her animal themed super friends, Chipmunk Hunk and Koi Boi, helping rescue people from a fire, so we get a glimpse at the superhero cast of the title before the main plot of the issue kicks off, as Squirrel Girl and her roommate, Nancy, move into a new apartment and meet Squirrel Girl's mom, Maureen, for lunch. Maureen is a great addition to the cast, funny and so deeply proud of her daughter; she's the mom with the baby pictures and the stories ready to go at a moment's notice, to Nancy's delight and Squirrel Girl's chagrin. And upon returning to their apartment from lunch, they are seemingly attacked by Brain Drain, a z-list villain with ties to Hydra, who they find wrestling with Tippy Toe, Squirrel Girl's right hand squirrel, and Mew, Nancy's cat. But as things have proven often when Squirrel Girl has fought a supervillain in her own title, there's way more going on here, and the fight itself is resolved in a way that isn't about the punching, but instead with talking and computer literacy, since Squirrel Girl and Nancy are studying computer science at Marvel's famous Empire State University. That sort of non-traditional dynamic is a key element and a real charm for this title; Squirrel Girl really wants to make everyone's life better, wants to do the right thing, and this means the villain often winds up being befriended by Squirrel Girl (not always, but she never fails to try). This makes for probably the most all-ages friendly superhero book coming out from any publisher right now. It is also, far and away, the most densely written and drawn comic I picked up last week (and believe me, that's saying something; I only review about a fifth of what I pick up week in and week out). And that's not a dig. You sit down with Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and you're due for at least two to three times the normal read time of a mainstream comic, when you factor in the full script and the narration text in the gutter, and even more time if you pour over every one of Erica Henderson's panels for all the jokes she has going on in them, this issue's highlight being the food court on Avengers Island, home of the New Avengers, the team Squirrel Girl has joined post-Secret Wars. With a  new number one, there's no better time to check out the adventures of Squirrel Girl and her friends, both human and animal.

Dan Grote comes back for the finale of he mini-series about Death's two paramours, Deadpool Vs. Thanos...

Deadpool vs. Thanos #4
Story: Tim Seeley
Art: Elmo Bondoc and Ruth Redmond

Deadpool and Thanos’ quest to rescue the living embodiment of Death and restore order to the universe has gotten bigger with each issue, from a visit to the chicken-hooded voodoo priest Black Talon, to a fight with the Guardians of the Galaxy, to a war among the lords of Hell, to, finally, a place outside time and space, where giant characters like Eternity and the In-Betweener stand in a ceiling-paint-white void being everything.

On the one hand, it makes fans of old-school cosmic Marvel want to go running for their old Jim Starlin comics. On the other, Tim Seeley and Elmo Bondoc also found room to pepper in Easter eggs from the most arcane parts of Deadpool’s continuity, from Sluggo to Slayback to Ajax.

In issue #4, we learn that Eternity, the living embodiment of all that is, is keeping his sister, Death, locked in a cage beyond existence, despite a plea from the In-Betweener, who represents the balance between order and chaos, to maybe chillax a bit. Fresh from the underworld, DP, Thanos, and Black Talon teleport into the void and spring Death from her prison, at which point she sets her two thralls against her brother, in a grand bid to kill everything.

When Deadpool realizes his on-again, off-again girlfriend (Worry not, Thursdays with Wade fans, we’ll be getting to this soon) has lost it, he turns on Thanos, who throws him into Eternity, at which point a floating space monkey turns him into Captain Universe.

Altogether now: COMICS, EVERYBODY!

Deadpool uses his newfound Uni-Power to defeat Thanos, restore the peace between Eternity and Death (discover Eternity is ticklish), teach everyone a lesson about the beauty of a finite life, and consider the merchandising rights to a Captain Uni-Pool action figure variant.

In the end, Deadpool is mortal once more, Black Talon gives up death worship, and Thanos is sent away by Death, “until she has further use for him, in some Secret War yet to come” (capitalization mine).

Like most Deadpool minis of the modern era, you don’t need to read Deadpool vs. Thanos for any sort of important continuity moments, but, also like most Deadpool minis of the modern era, it’s hyperviolent, a lot of fun, and contains many a gift for longtime fans. If you love Wade, or even cosmic Marvel, and you one day stumble upon the trade in a cheap-o bin, definitely pick it up.

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