Monday, March 7, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 3/2

Bart Simpson Comics #100
Story: Nathan Kane & Ian Boothby
Art: Nina Matsumoto, Andrew Pepoy, & Art Villanueva

The final issue of Bart Simpson Comics came out a couple weeks ago, and as it sold out from my store quickly, it took me a bit to track one down, and I'm glad I did, as this issue does everything right that a Simpsons related comic should. Simpsons related comics feel like they're geared for two groups: younger readers (tween to teen) who are just getting into The Simpsons and want to see big, crazy stories, and die-hards like me who pick up all the random crazy references to classic episodes that litter the best stories. The basic story of this issue is one of the outlandish ones that tend to work better in the comic than the show: Bart stumbles into Professor Frink's time machine and after visiting the future inadvertently brings back an immortal cyborg Mr. Burns who conquers the Springfield of the present. The story is a comedy of Bart trying to find a way to stop Mr. Burns's conquest with the help of various Springfield residents, and has an ending that the show couldn't pull off because of how utterly sci-fi it is. There's also a brief moment where cyber-Burns actually kills Bartman, and Bart goes to heaven and has an actually very touching moment with Edna Krabappel, his former teacher, reminding us that Simpsons stories are at their best when there's a real emotional kernel at the heart of them; it's also a sweet moment of closure between two characters with a long history who couldn't have that moment due to the passing of Mrs. K's voice actor. But aside from all that mushy stuff, this issue is PACKED with references to Simpsons episodes. The time travel montage has scenes from the best Simpsons time travel episodes. Cyber-Burns initially appeared in the episode where Maggie finds Burns's teddy bear, Bobo. Bartman teams up with Mr. Burns's superheroic alter-ego, Fruit Bat Man. And in a moment that made me laugh out loud, we see Hans Moleman as leader of the molemen. The issue celebrates everything that has made The Simpsons a pop culture touchstone for over twenty years, and is a great send off to Bart Simpson Comics.

Beyond Belief #3
Story: Ben Acker & Ben Blacker
Art: Phil Hester, Eric Gapstur, & Mauricio Wallace

It's been a while, but Frank and Sadie Doyle, everyone's favorite bon vivant exorcists and mediums are back in a new issue of Beyond Belief. After last issue, where the Doyles befriended imaginary friend Mr. Fuzzyface, the Doyles are still in the haunted neighborhood they've been stuck, now having to save Sadie's friend Donna Donner from being sacrificed by the local cult. As with any story of Frank and Sadie, the highlight is how cool they are under pressure. The Bens (Acker and Blacker) write the Doyles as the wittiest people you'll ever meet, and they happily deploy that wit when confronted by knife bearing cultists, ancient druids, and pretty much anything else. Throughout the entire issue, the Doyles wield a simple stick as if its a magic wand, and are continually told it isn't, but the magic isn't in the stick, but in how clever the Doyles are. The Doyles always win because they outsmart their opponents, although you can tell how early this is in the continuity of Beyond Belief stories that Frank is ready to roll up his sleeves and, as Sadie says, "engage in fisticuffs with that statuesque gentleman." And by statuesque, she means a man made out of rock. Credit must as with previous issues go to artist Phil Hester for making the monsters, be they tree men, stone men, or ancient gods, truly frightening; it would be easy enough, in a tongue in cheek world, to make the monsters not that scary. Hester makes them something that makes you worried for the Doyles. I also absolutely loved the twist in this issue, the little bit of social commentary, that in fact the tree monster isn't actually an evil monster demanding blood sacrifice to empower those who worship it, but is an ancient druid who is using the blood magic to keep dark gods imprisoned, and it switched to telling people they would earn power through the sacrifices because most people care more about their own greed than the fate of the world. Social commentary isn't exactly the centerpiece of Beyond Belief, but I like the point that's being made, and it's being made in a funny and sadly accurate way. There's only one issue of this mini-series left, and the Doyles are now stuck with a dark god and no booze left, so I expect an issue with a quick fight and copious drinking ahead of us, but no matter what happens, I'm sure the Doyles will handle it with their usual grace and proper grammar.

Stumptown #9
Story: Greg Rucka
Art: Justin Greenwood & Ryan Hill

It's never easy being a private investigator, and it's especially difficult for Dex Parios, protagonist of Stumptown. What should have been an easy gig, picking up shipments of designer coffee beans from the airport and delivering them to the man who owns them, has turned into a true mess, as two of the brewers competitors have been coming at her to get each time a shipment comes in, and now with the last shipment arriving, Dex has been kidnapped by one of these competitors, and her ne'er-do-well sister, Fuji, has been kidnapped by the other. Dex deals with the rich Mr. Laidlaw easily enough, and once shes out, she begins preparing to pick up the last shipment and to put everything and everyone in their place. The climax of the issue has Dex gathering all the parties in her office, in a scene reminiscent of the great P.I. stories of old, like  The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man, and learning exactly who's who and what their motives are. But after a tense standoff, with guns drawn by multiple parties, Dex winds up pulling on over on the bad guys, and retrieving Fuji, who honestly she might have been better off without. Fuji winds up being a P.I. story femme fatale, with an agenda of her own and willing to leave Dex with little to show for her efforts on this case. Fuji has been a selfish, lousy sister throughout the arc, but this issue shows that its a lot more than sibling rivalry that has kept her out of Dex's life. The last panel is pretty much the ultimate P.I. noir ending, with the hero walking away from the train that the femme fatale left on; the only thing that would have made it more perfect is if it was pouring rain. Greg Rucka knows his detective stories down to the letter, and only a writer of that skill could make a story about designer coffee beans a truly exciting detective yarn. I'm looking forward to where he takes Dex next.

And for Dan Grote's pick of the week, we see reunion of the recent Daredevil creative team in the new Black Widow series...

Black Widow #1
Story by Chris Samnee and Mark Waid
Art by Samnee and Matt Wilson

In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Widow is easily one of the most important characters and definitely the most important female character. Yet the studio has made no plans for a solo film spotlighting the Russian spy turned SHIELD agent.

This book shows what a damn shame that is.

Black Widow #1 is a Mission: Impossible-style action film condensed into 20 pages. It is largely wordless, allowing the art room to breathe and for Natasha to escape from seemingly insurmountable peril on nearly every page.

And when your art team is Chris Samnee and Matt Wilson, whose lines and colors made Daredevil one of the best books of the past five years, you want the art to breathe. Samnee gets a co-writing credit with fellow Daredevil alum Mark Waid, who added the sparse dialogue, so really this is Samnee’s show.

And he does not disappoint. Natasha – branded a traitor by SHIELD at the outset - fights an office full of agents, leaps from the helicarrier, steals a jetpack in midair, shows off her ballet skills, commandeers a motorcycle and causes explosion after explosion. Nat is hypercompetent, but by the end you can feel her exhaustion as the last agent just won’t give up and she’s forced to make a choice.

Pages are panel-packed but never crowded, and while some of the action could have benefited from more space, splashes are used sparingly. The scene in which Nat leaps from the helicarrier gets the most real estate - a double-page spread - which serves both to show how small she is compared with the monolith she’s escaping and to provide room for the credits against the New York skyline.

We don’t know why Nat is now an enemy of SHIELD. We don’t know what she stole. Those are mysteries for later issues. What we do know is that this first issue was shiny and full of boomsy-booms and we want more of that in our lives.

P.S., for you Deadpool fans, this issue features a cameo by SHIELD Agent/Life Model Decoy/occasional Wade conscience Emily Preston. No Agent Adsit though.

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