Monday, February 1, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 1/27 Part 1

Lats week was such a big week of comics, and I liked so many, that I decided to divide up the reviews into two days! Today, there will be reviews of books from DC & Dark Horse, and come back tomorrow for books from Image and IDW...

Black Canary #7
Story: Brenden Fletcher
Art: Annie Wu & Lee Loguhridge

Black Canary is one of the best books to come out of DC's most recent wave of titles (the other one will be popping up in a review a bit farther down the page), and the final issue of this first arc is a great example of everything this book does right. The origins of the mysterious Ditto are revealed, and it's a crazy sci-fi concept that still feels perfectly right in a comic that is mostly grounded in some of the more real aspects of a superhero universe. The thing that keeps the book grounded are the relationships between the characters. Despite Ditto having a seriously wacky and awesome sci-fi origin, the fact that everyone cares about her so much that it keeps them all grounded. And when Dinah tells the others to leave, that she's the one who will stand to defend Ditto against what is coming, no one else goes because, to quote Lord Byron (the band member, not the poet), "We're more than a band now, Dinah. We're a team, for better or worse." That journey, to be more than just a group of people driving around in a van, has been the core of this arc. And it's Ditto that allows everyone to come to a peace not just with each other but with their enemy, Bo Maeve, who also cares about Ditto. The origins of the band, why they're together and who brought them together, makes perfect sense in retrospect, as well. It's nice when the mysteries at the foundation of a book come together so nicely, and the answer about how Maeve got her powers and why it seemed like the same people helping the band were also working with their enemies. I also have to stress how impressed I am that Brenden Fletcher found a way to make me really like Kurt Lance, a character whose appearances in Team 7 and Birds of Prey made me think of him as a convenient plot device more than a character. The relationship between him and Dinah makes sense after this issue; you see that he's more than just some spy guy, but a decent man who really cares about people and is clever. There is a good potion of the issue that is a battle of the band against a creature called The Quietus, a thing that eats sound, and so much of the issue is silent, and Annie Wu, whose work has been astounding so far, steps up with her best work on the book. The Quietus itself is a great design, a roiling maelstrom on feet, and the sequence where first the band fights the monster with music and when Dinah and the mysterious white ninja attack the thing more physically are great. You can follow the action perfectly without any guidance of text, and it's exciting to watch. Not like any other book on the stands right now, or any other version of the character, Black Canary is a great book that had an ending to its inaugural arc as exciting as everything that lead up to it.

Grayson #16
Story: Tom King & Tim Seeley
Art: Mikel Janin & Jeremy Cox

After a detour into the "Robin War" crossover, Grayson returns to its standard form, a wall to wall international espionage action with plenty of joyful cheesecake shots of its lead. I'm sure we'll get some answers in the future about Dick's role with the Parliament of Owls, but as much as I'm curious where that goes, I'm glad Grayson returned to tie up the threads about Dick's war with Spyral, his previous employer. The majority of the issue is Dick and The Tiger, also known as the former Agent One of Spyral, both of whom have gone rogue and know something is rotten in Spyral progressively taking down one Spyral agent after another and bantering. The bantering is mostly from Dick, granted, as the Tiger really doesn't banter, but is more talkative than Batman, who usually is the recipient of Dick's friendly banter, and his grumping back at Dick is almost as funny as Dick's jokes. There is some really phenomenal art in this issue, including a Dick and Tiger walking out of the water shot right out of James Bond movies, and the montage accompanied by Dick singing his personal theme song set to the tune of "Goldfinger" also intentionally evoke Bond, and that theme song will be caught in your head. For days. DAYS. The few scenes that aren't Dick and Tiger's excellent adventure are dedicated to Matron, Helena Bertinelli, the current head of Spyral, growing more and more frustrated by Dick and Tiger's exploits. There is also a meeting of the Syndicate, the best spies in the world, who we have seen hints of, but now who stand revealed, and who will go after Dick and Tiger soon, and they're a group of pretty big names who I'm excited to see in action. To stand against them, Dick makes a seeming deal with the devil, but I won't say who that devil is; you'll have to read the issue to find out. Grayson is getting more exciting with each issue, and I'm curious to see what happens when Dick finally faces down Spyral. Because after all, he's Grayson. Dick Grayson.

Hellboy Winter Special
Story: Various
Art Various

While nobody writes and draws Hellboy and his world like Mike Mignola, but one of the best things about the whole universe is the different visions we get from other artists and writers, and so these occasional Hellboy anthologies allow for some new visions. The Hellboy Winter Special features four stories (well, three and one two-page gag strip) that bring some new creators into Hellboy's world and lets them tell stories of the Hellboy universe's past.

Broken Vessels (Story by Mike Mignola & Scott Allie; Art by Tim Sale and Dave Stewart): One of the stories set farthest back in the history of the Hellboy Universe, the story finds the original wielder of a magical blade that has been featured in B.P.R.D. back in the ice age running a foul of a sorcerer talking about the mystical Vril energy and then fighting ghosts. It's the first time Tim Sale has drawn the Hellboy universe, and the story is well suited to his dark and moody style

Wandering Souls (Story by Mike Mignola & Chris Roberson; Art by Michael Walsh & Dave Stewart): The longest of the stories in the anthology, this story takes place right in the middle of the current Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1953 series of one-shot and minis. Hellboy and Agent Susan Xiang are on a mission in Wyoming to investigate a haunting. They follow the local sheriff, who is quickly possessed by the ghosts, and while Hellboy fights him, Xiang communicates with the spirits to learn about why they're haunting, and we see that this isn't a simple case of angry spirits who need to be smashed. Chris Roberson will soon be taking over as regular co-writer of Hellboy and the B.P.R.D., and if this is any indication, he'll it in just fine, and Michael Walsh is one of my favorite artists in comics right now, and I;m glad to see him working on Hellboy.

Mood Swings (Story: Chelsea Cain; Art: Michael Avon Oeming & Dave Stewart): Novelist Chelsea Cain steps up to tell a story about Christmas with Hellboy, Prof. Bruttenholm, and a teenage Liz Sherman. And the only thing scarier than a teenager is a teenager who can burn you alive with a thought. And when her Christmas present from the professor doesn't go over well, Liz runs into the woods, where a sweet gift of a ring of festive snowmen from Hellboy turns horrible when they're possessed. Michael Avon Oeming draws some really creepy monster snowmen until, well, just think about a pyrokinetic fighting snowmen. Guess who wins, and it makes me want to see more stories of teen Liz.

Kung Pao Lobster (Story & Art: Dean Rankine): A two page gag strip where Lobster Johnson orders Chinese food, and, well weird stuff happens. It's a funny little story, and that's pretty much what you can stay about it.

None of these stories require any previous knowledge of Hellboy and his world, so if you're a new fan, a lapsed one, or one of the faithful, this is a great one-shot to check out.

Scooby-Doo Team-Up #14
Story: Sholly Fisch
Art: Dario Brizuela & Franco Riesco

When telling Scooby-Doo stories, the trick to keeping them fresh is not changing the formula, but finding ways to play with that formula for fun effect. Sholly Fisch's Scooby-Doo Team-Up always finds a way to take the Mystery Inc. gang, have them meet superheroes, and make it feel fresh while not violating any of the tropes of either world. When the gang gets invited on a cruise ship because of monster problems, it turns out the monsters are, shock of shocks, guys in suits, and with the help of Aquaman, they easily catch the undersea robbers. But pretty soon, it turns out this was all part of a plot by Aquaman's arch-enemies, Black Manta and Ocean Master, to distract Aquaman so they can conquer Atlantis. There's an homage to a classic Aquaman story, with Black Manta having kidnapped Aquaman's baby son, Arthur Jr., but being this is an all ages comic, the ending is much happier than in the DC Universe. There are cameos by much of Aquaman's classic supporting cast, including Aqualad, Tula, Topo the Octopus, Tusky the Walrus, and royal adviser Vulko, who is drawn way more ripped than I have ever seen him; animation treats Vulko pretty well. There are the usual gags with Scooby being a coward and Shaggy having the munchies, but the best classic Scooby-Doo gag that gets twisted here is Freddy continually trying to unmask villains underwater, and Velma and Aquaman having to remind him that if he does, these people will, well, drown. Oh, Freddy...

We Are Robin #8
Story: Lee Bermejo
Art: Jorge Corona, Rob Haynes, & Trish Mulvihill

The other highlight of the new DC titles, We Are Robin, also comes out of "Robin War" with a clean playing field and a new menace on the horizon. The focal points of this issue are two characters, our normal series lead, Duke Thomas, and Johnny Bender, a young man leaving juvie who after a failed surgery to solve facial paralysis is left with a permanent grin. And it should surprise no one that a Gotham kid with behavior problems and a fixed grin is going to idolize not Batman but his opposite number. We do see the other principle Robins being watched over by Alfred (I especially like Andre working out his anger in Midnighter cosplay (I'm trying to think what Midnighter's junior partner would be. The Nooner? Kid 10 p.m.?), so it's still an ensemble, but we're mostly following Duke and Bender. Duke is still on the quest to find his parents, and SPOILERS, he does find them. This kind of caught me off guard, since the end of the last issue of Batman teased Duke finding his parents, but this is his home book at this point, I suppose. It's a bittersweet reunion, as they are still effected by the Joker's toxin and don't remember Duke. Joe Corona draws the scene with true pathos, as you can see Duke's joy turn to pain and you watch his heart break. Meanwhile, Bender's reunion with his parents is no better. They're clearly pretty terrible people, superficial and unpleasant, and it's easy to see why their son looks for someone else to look up to, and unfortunately it has to be Joker. His decision to kill his parents is not surprising, as his narration has been disquieting since page one, and the pages and story are structured to really set Duke and him as opposite numbers in their own right. Between Batman and especially here in We Are Robin, the character work on Duke Thomas has made him and engaging and worthy member of the Batman family, and so giving him an archenemy seems like the next logical step. This clearly feels like it's the beginning of the Jokers, a gang that has its roots in Batman Beyond (yes, they're Jokerz there, but that's such a '90s future thing), and since so many of the aspects of that show have been entering the DCU since Convergence, it makes perfect sense and seems appropriate in this title. This is the beginning of the second arc for We Are Robin, and a great place to jump on.

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