Monday, December 7, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 12/3

Atomic Robo and the Ring of Fire #4
Story: Brian Clevinger
Art: Scott Wegener, Anthony Clark, & Jeff Powell

Things are looking bad for Earth. An island of Biomega, this undifferentiated mass of monster that spawns kaiju, is heading to make landfall in Tokyo, and only Atomic Robo can stop it. Well, at least stop it without causing nuclear winter or a mass extinction in Tokyo. So really, it's just another day at the office for Robo. With the Biomega island getting near land, Robo makes a Hail Mary to stop it, heading to Kazakhstan to board a Russian space rocket to use a Nazi-launched space weapon to blast the island to nothingness. And that sentence is why I love Atomic Robo. It combines the real world history with crazy science ideas and conspiracy wackiness to come up with something that is more than the sum of its parts. And now that Robo has a body again and is up and about, the book is complete. It was nice to spend more time with the Action Scientists and get to know them better, but there's a reason this book is called Atomic Robo! Robo's cool under fire reactions to the possible extinction of everything on Earth is part of his charm. What also makes this issue prime Robo is the time table is ticking on two ends; not only is the Biomega threat looming, but Robo has only limited power in his system, so has only a couple of hours before he powers down again to save the world. It's a tense situation made all the tenser. And it wouldn't be an issue of Atomic Robo if even more wasn't happening. That's the beauty of Robo's comic; creators Brain Clevinger and Scott Wegener make every panel count. Robo's Chonese allies are trying to figure out exactly how Robo is powering himself, which won't bode well when they find out he's draining from their grid, and Majestic/Ultra, the international science army, are sending in their giant mechs to fight the Biomega. Wegener hits that sequence out of the park, drawing not just incredible giant robots, but equally incredible monsters. This is where comics succeed where most other visual media fail: there's no budget, no limit aside from the imagination of the people writing and drawing it, The issue ends with Phil (my favorite Action Scientist other than the maybe-late and lamented Jenkins) arriving on Hashima Island, a locale familiar to the Robo faithful, and after pulling off a pretty hilarious fake out, heading down below the surface to meet an old... let's be nice and say acquaintance of Robo's. The set-up for a climactic issue has me really excited for next issue. Before the switch to IDW, I read Atomic Robo in trade, and now I don't know how I missed out on these monthly doses of Action Science!

East of West #22
Story: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Nick Dragotta & Frank Martin

The silent issue is a tricky beast. It can sometimes come off as lazy, or something the creators are doing as a stunt. But when it's pulled off right? It is a sight to behold. And this month's issue of East of West? This, my friends, is a sight. East of West is often a title that spends issues building up to an explosion, with the politics and hunting boiling over into an explosion of action and violence; it's masterful slow burn. This issue is all burn in the best way, as assassins invade the palace of the house of Mao. I want to spend a whole paragraph explaining, analyzing, talking about the countdown clock that runs through the issue, but I don't want to spoil anything. Artist Nick Dragotta, who started this series as an artist I liked and has become an artist I adore, hits a homerun, scores a midcourt shot, hits a hole in one, insert your chosen sports metaphor here. His storytelling has never been better, cleaner, and without anything to distract from his art, he shines. There's a fight scene that could very easily have come across as tawdry and exploitative, but instead shows the power of a principle character in a way that is breathtaking. If you've never read East of West, this may not be the perfect jumping on point for you, but if you're a fan of comic art as a form, there's not a better comic to see a master craftsman at work than this one.

Robin War #1
Story: Tom King
Art: Rob Haynes, Khary Randolph, Alan Mauricet, Jorge Corona, Andres Guinaldo and Walden Wong, Emilio Lopez, Chris Sotomayor, Gabe Eltaeb, & Sandra Molina

This is how you start a crossover! Robin War, the event tying in all the comics featuring everyone who has, in current continuity, ever warn an "R" on their chest, is more than just a comic about teen superheroes fighting for their right to be teen superheroes. It touches on issues of policing and government, and, along with Batman #44, shows how the Batman titles are DC's best attempts to touch on some of the society's real issues, When one young Robin inadvertently shoots not just a criminal but the police officer who has arrived on the scene, This quickly spreads into "The Robin Laws," which basically make underage vigilantism, or even the possession of anything Robin related, illegal. We see limits to freedom and the abuse of power by the police. If the individual panels of the police tasing and beating kids aren't enough to make this clearly a problem, we see Duke Thomas, lead of We Are Robin, arrested not because he's out in costume, but because he's wearing red sneakers and, "Red means Robin." Duke is considerably smarter than the arresting officer and escapes, and calls a meeting of all the Robins. Meanwhile, two other factions are getting involved. Red Hood and red Robin are in communication, trying to decide what to do, especially when a certain x-factor returns to Gotham. And we see that Councilwoman Noctua, who is spearheading the anti-Robin legislation, is working with the Court of Owls to set off the Robin War, not exactly a surprise after last week's We Are Robin and the cover to this issue. The Robin gathering is broken up by the arrival of Damian, angry to see what in his mind are a crowd of posers using the name he's earned, but his beatdown of the Robins is interrupted by the arrival of Jim Gordon as Batman, who Damian is equally not impressed by and who he proceeds to take out with ease.When Damian doesn't listen to the Reds, they call in the one person left he will listen to, Dick Grayson, and all the players are in place, especially as the Talon of the Court makes sure the Robin responsible won't be able to come forward. That coming forward, that discussion of taking responsibility for one's actions, is another key theme here, as Duke believes it's what needs to be done, not just to put things right, but because it IS right, another reason to love Duke Thomas. As you can see from the list above, there are a lot of artists involved here, and these jam issues can often look like a mess, but the whole issue has breakdowns by Rob Haynes, and so there is a unity to the general look of the comic that helps keep the flow constant. With its strong characterization and fast-moving plot, Robin War has the potential to be the best Bat Family crossover of the post-Flashpoint era.

Dan Grote reviews another sterling issue of Doctor Strange this week...

Doctor Strange #3
Story: Jason Aaron
Art: Chris Bachalo & Tim Townsend

A good creative team can convert a nonfan into a new fan with minimal effort. Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire turned Blue Beetle and Booster Gold into DC heads’ fave besties. Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting turned a lot of people into flag-waving Captain America devotees. Mark Waid and Fiona Staples showed naysayers the beauty in Archie Comics.

And Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo have me wondering what I’ve missed all these years in the Sorcerer Supreme.

Of the many All-New, All-Different Marvel series that have launched since October, Doctor Strange may be my favorite. Aaron and Bachalo have woven a wonderful, swirling tapestry in which there is weirdness all over the mundane to the point where, to a mystic like Strange, the weird is mundane.

Until it’s not.

Something is chasing magical beings across dimensions, leading to infestations on Earth of creatures that, while hideous and possessed of many eyes and teeth, are not so much deadly as hungry and scared. Strange has seen bits and pieces of this so far the first three issues, but when he steps into Fandazar Foo, an interdimensional nexus conveniently reachable via a doorway in his house, he discovers the full scope of what is happening. Other dimensions’ sorcerers supreme hang slaughtered from the trees. A plane that should be rife with rainbows is gray bordering on dead (Note: Bachalo’s color game is as strong as his pencils, and in fact the art is at its best when the two work in contrast). The Empirikul, like winter, are coming.

In between all this, we get giant slugs, mushrooms straight outta Wonderland, a sweet ax, a heart-shaped grenade, New Yorkers barfing en masse, unfortunate knocks on Cleveland, floating Easter Island heads with third eyes, the brutal execution of a floating space whale and a naked Stephen Strange, because why not?

I know writers and artists work in different parts of the world, communicating via pdfs and Dropbox files. But in my heart, I picture Aaron and Bachalo exchanging ideas back and forth in person, and high-fiving when they stumble on something batsh** enough to put into the book. Those imaginary high-five moments are why you should be reading this book.

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