Monday, January 4, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 12/31

Howling Commandos of S.H.I.E.L.D. #3
Story: Frank J. Barbiere
Art: Brent Schoonover & Nick Filardi

Monster heroes are a genre I've always enjoyed, from Swamp Thing to Man-Bat to Werewolf by Night. And Marvel's new monster hero team, the Howling Commandos of S.H.I.E.L.D., are an eclectic mix of new and old characters. Th cast is large enough that it can be easily split on two for two and you still have plenty of characters interacting. This issue starts with half the team sent to check on a magical happening at a museum of Egyptology, while the other half is still at the base of S.T.A.K.E. (that's S.H.I.E.L.D.'s supernatural wing. They really love their acronyms). While team leader Dum-Dum Dugan, who's a robot now, leads Warwolf, Hit Monkey, and zombie Jasper Sitwell to the museum, the rest of the team has some downtime, which mostly means the monsters are in their cells, including Nadeen, the young girl the team took into custody last issue who was channeling Egyptian spirits. The two stories wind up tying together, obviously s the Sphinx, the old Nova villain, is behind both the museum attack and Nadeen. Writer Frank J. Barbiere gets to start the issue with both a wild action plot at the museum and a more character-centric bit with Nadeen, unhappy about being caged, talking with Kid Abomination in the next cell, who does his best to calm her down and make her understand, and we start to get a good feeling for both characters. As the stories intertwine, we learn what the Sphinx's connection to Nadeem is, and the action starts in S.T.A.K.E. base. Brent Schoonover draws a great series of action scenes, between ghosts at the base and mummies and spec forces mummies at the museum. This comic is old school action fun, a nice mix of characters thrown into fights with all sorts of crazy creatures; I like a good "modern" comic, but there's something to be said for an adventure story, something Barbiere knows from his excellent pulp inspired creator owned series, Five Ghosts. Oh, and one final note before going, while I really enjoy all these characters, the one who jumps out most at me is Orrgo, a classic Kirby created monster who now serves as support back at the base. I love his attitude, this sort of haughty superiority, who just seems to be enjoying himself when chaos ensues. I can only dream that someday the Fin Fang Four will appear and try to recruit him (and if you don't know who the Fin Fang Four are, look them up and then track down their comics. Totally worth it).

Lazarus #21
Story: Greg Rucka
Art: Michael Lark, Tyler Boss, & Santi Arcas

Lazarus is a title that falls into a category I've talked about before, a title that is so consistent in its high quality that I'm not sure what to say without being redundant. But the new issue, which wraps up the "Poison" arc, is an outstanding issue of an outstanding book. The war the Carlyle family is involved in is being fought on three fronts: Forever must lead her squad of commandos to make the final run against the Hock family gun emplacements, while Dr. Bethany is making last ditch efforts to save family head Malcolm from the poison ravaging him, while Johanna takes the political lead to keep the Carlyle's allies loyal. Those three plots showcase everything that Lazarus does: it's not just an action comic, or a sci-fi title, or a political thriller, but it's all three, and Greg Rucka does a great job of keeping all those balls in the air. But the book would not be as strong if not for Rucka's co-creator, Michael Lark. As this issue spotlights Rucka's ability to keep all the different plotlines of the series spinning, it also showcases Lark's strengths, as an artist who can draw both action and intrigue. The intensity of the scenes with Johanna and the other families as she shows them exactly what Carlyle can do is just as strong as the scenes where Forever storms the guns. Those scenes are particularly strong, as Lark not only knows how to draw down and dirty combat, both hand to hand and ranged, better than most artists in comics, but the flow of his panels and continuity is second to none. The world of Lazarus is dark, dystopian, and lived in, and Lark's art is gritty and perfectly suited to the story. This issue ends with what borders on a happy ending as Lazarus goes, with the Carlyles, who we are ostensibly rooting for, in a stronger position, although the cost was dear. The final page begins to answer the question of Forever, and sets up an interesting new status quo for the next arc, This is the last issue of Lazarus for a few months, as the creators prepare the next arc, and get set to release the first Lazarus Sourcebook, this one for the Carlyle family. I love the idea of expanding on this well designed world, and can't wait to learn more.

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