Monday, April 4, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 3/30

Captain America: Sam Wilson #7
Main Story
Story: Nick Spencer
Art (Steve Rogers): Daniel Acuna
      (Sam Wilson) Angel Unzueta & Matt Yackey

I picked up this anniversary issue of Captain America for the back-up stories, not having much hope for the main one. I haven't read much else about Standoff, the current Marvel event, and the cover made me roll my eyes; I maxed out on hero vs. hero battles about a year and a half ago. But the cover was misleading; the various current and former (and future) Captain America's don't fight in this issue. Instead, we get two narratives. The first deals with Sam Wilson, the current Captain America, running across Bucky Barnes, the original Cap's former partner and a former replacement Cap, as they make their way through the S.H.I.E.L.D. prison called Pleasant Hill, a town where the spy organization used a reality warping Cosmic Cube to make the incarcerated super criminals think they were ordinary citizens. The other half of this story sees the original Cap, Steve Rogers, who has been aged to what his age should be since the removal of his Super Soldier Serum, travelling first to get medical help for head of S.H.I.E.L.D. Maria Hill, and then to find the Cosmic Cube fragments that have gained sentience and taken the form of a little girl.

It's  lot of story  forty pages just for this main piece, and I like the focus on the idea that these men who have all wielded the shield of Captain America are brothers. Right now, Steve and Sam are on the outs for a reason I'm unsure of, but they still both think of each other fondly, and I think that's an important thing. If you're a fan of Cap, you'll also see three of his main adversaries in this issue: Baron Zemo, Crossbones, and... a third I don't want to spoil. But most important is how Steve is fighting his way across Pleasant Hill, and how he keeps fighting, even though he is physically far from his best. That's part of what makes him Captain America, whether he has the shield or not: he never quits. He faces down Crossbones, who he is physically no match for, and even as Crossbones pummels him to death, even as he prepares to die, he thinks about his life and he's happy how he lived it. It's a beautiful scene, but this is superhero comics, so you know there's more that happens there, and the end of this issue sets up the already announced Captain America: Steve Rogers series. It's a good lead off story, one that I didn't feel lost in despite not having read this title or the crossover it's taking part in before.

Story: Joss Whedon
Art: John Cassaday & Laura Martin

Joss Whedon and John Casaday tell a story set during World War II, and tells the story of a the destruction of Cap's original shield, and a meeting with a group of  army officials and ad men as they look for a replacement. The story is a bit on the nose, as Whedon can be when he's making a point, but the point, the difference between a shield and a gun, is an important one to make, and the art from Cassaday is as stunning as it usually is. The story is a solid fit for an issue that celebrates the history of Captain America, and what it means to be a defender of the innocent.

Catch Me If You Can
Story & Art: Tim Sale
Colors: Dave Stewart

Artist Tim Sale does double duty, writing this mostly silent story that could serve almost as an epilogue for the recent Captain America: White series he did with his constant collaborator, writer Jeph Loeb. Full of big panels and splashes, including a gorgeous two page spread that follows Cap through a Hydra base, the story's only words are a flashback to Steve as a young boy at the kitchen table with his mom, receiving a last gift from his late father. It tugs at the heart strings, and is a sweet story, the kind you expect from a character like Cap; it's not down in the dark, but spotlights Cap's long life and the warmth of him personally

Pas De Deux
Story: Greg Rucka
Art: Mike Perkins & Andy Troy and Frank D'Armata

This was the story I bought this comic for. Greg Rucka hasn't written a lot of Cap, although he won an Eisner for a Cap short he wrote some years ago, so I was excited to see him back with the character. The story has Steve and Black Widow going to the ballet to stop a Latverian prima ballerina who defected from being assassinated, with Widow dancing in the company and Steve in the audience. While there's a little bit of action, as Steve stops a team of Latverian snipers, much of this issue is about Steve Rogers first time seeing real ballet, The back and forth between Steve and Natasha is charming, the banter between old friends. And more than that, it's a discussion I've had with people: the idea that ballet (or in my case theatre) is an expensive art form for the elite, and not something everyone can enjoy is a problem that isn't going away. Mike Perkins art is especially gorgeous, showing the parallels between fighting and dance, the artistry of motion in both Steve Rogers fight with the assassins and Natasha's dancing. But the panel on the fourth page, I read as Steve looking in wonder at the ballet speaks to the power of art, and makes me smile. On top of all that, this has one of my two favorite pieces of dialogue in comics this week:

Steve: I saw The Nutcracker once. Bored me to tears.
Natasha: That is like saying I saw Sharknado, therefore all movies are a waste of time.

Any story that gets that in there wins. That is all I have to say.

Faith #3
Story: Jody Houser
Art: Francis Portela, Marguerite Sauvage, Terry Pallot, & Dalhouse w/ Spicer

Faith continues on, three for three in issues released and issues I've reviewed. Everything I've said about the earlier issues remains true: the story is charming, with a delightful and fun protagonist who does her best to always do the right thing. While there's some classic, Marvel-style issues of a hero trying to balance her life outside of costume with the one she lives in it, this isn't a book steeped in angst, which is part of its charm. It's a flat out superhero comic. This issue, Faith's life takes some major surprise turns, as she resolves the hostage situation at her job by revealing herself to her boos, and most of the rest of her coworkers find our pretty quickly. I commented initially that these people were pretty broadly drawn, which made sense for characters that only appeared in a couple pages of the first issue, but this issue starts to give them some serious depth. It would have been easy to keep Faith's boos as the "Devil Wears Prada," stereotype, especially after she rewrote Faith's story last issue, but she turns out to be something a little more decent, even if she still demonstrates self-interest. We also get another adorable scene of Faith and Obadiah Archer of Archer and Armstrong video chatting, and I love how Faith brings out Archer's fanboy side. We also get to see the description of exactly what Night Shifters, the hit sci-fi show that Faith, Archer, and other characters love, and I gotta say, the premise is so delightfully bizarre I could definitely see it as a SyFy Channe; original series in a block with some of my favorites like Eureka and Warehouse 13. I now want an issue where Faith and Archer just watch an episode together, and we see the episode on panel and get MST3K-esque heads of our characters watching along with us. I will say I was surprised when I googled this issue and got the covers, as it turns out I got one of the variant covers (Cover B as it turned out) because the big last page reveal of the villains behind the kidnapped psiots that has been the big superhero thing that Faith has been investigating, is given away on Cover A, which is what I used for the post; maybe my Valiant knowledge outside of the Brothers Anni-Pada is still light enough that something I took as a mystery was way more obvious than I thought? Ah, well, you live and learn,and it was a big surprise to me, so that was pretty neat. One last thing: I have to give a round of applause to writer Jody Houser. As Faith is fighting the suited bad guys attacking her office and figuring out her coworkers now know her identity, in her head she spouts off various sci-fi/fantasy swear words. It would have been easy to just have her say "frak" over and over again to keep up the nerd cred. But nope! Houser tosses in a gorram (Firefly), frell (Farscape), fewmets (D&D and other fantasy RPGs), and a true deep cut, Grozit, from my beloved Star Trek: New Frontier novels by Peter David. Brava, Jody Houser, for getting how us geeks think.

P.S,: As I prepared to put this up, it has been officially announced that Faith will continue as an oging series in July, not surprising with how sales and acclaim has been. I am excited to see where Faith goes next, and will be on board for the ongoing.

And this week we have two reviews from Dan Grote...

GI Joe Deviations
Story: Paul Allor
Art: Corey Lewis

The villains of 1980s cartoons sought world domination with the tenacity of the cereal mascots whose adventures were recounted during the commercial breaks. And Cobra Commander may have been the most cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs of them all, forever seeking weather-manipulation devices and the DNA of dead conquerors in his quest to defeat the Joes.

But what would happen if the would-be demagogue got his wish? That’s the subject of this one-shot, part of IDW’s “Deviations” line, which lets creators tell alternate-reality tales featuring the company’s licensed properties.

The book opens where so many episodes of the cartoon ended, with one of the Joes – in this case Roadblock – giving children a public-service lecture, this time on the dangers of talking with one’s mouth full.

But before you can say “And knowing is half the battle,” an explosion rips apart the Joes’ base. Around the globe, strange weather events wreak havoc. Finally, Cobra Commander tastes his greatest triumph as a bolt from above kills Duke, the leader of the Joes.

Five years on, it turns out running a one-world government doesn’t suit the Commander. While he dreams of ways to mess with people by disabling every mobile device on Earth or giving statues laser eyes, his lieutenants – the Baroness, Tomax and Xamot, etc. – talk about practical matters like currency stabilization and STEM education.

“The problem with running the world is, you have to run the world,” the Commander says.

So what do you do when you want to restore chaos to the order you accidentally created? Call in the Joes.

Well, the ones left alive, anyway. Indeed, the onetime global peacekeeping force is down to four members: Roadblock, Scarlett, Jinx and Snake Eyes. The Commander sends Major Bludd to convince the Joes to launch one last desperate raid on Cobra Island. And of course they agree to it.

“So predictable,” an exasperated Bludd says.

The Joes cut a swath through some of Cobra’s lesser baddies, like Big Boa, Croc Master and Nemesis Enforcer (NEMESIS ENFORCER!). Saying anything about what happens beyond that would be a spoiler. Just remember that ultimately, this is a story about Cobra Commander and his addiction to chaos.

Paul Allor does a great job writing from the perspective of villains unsure of what to do with their lives when they can no longer vill. Roadblock aside, the Joes get very little page time at all, which makes sense considering they’ve been reduced to having the effectiveness of gnats. And artist Corey Lewis draws in a style that’s very much manga meets Adventure Time by way of Brian Lee O’Malley, which works given the story’s mix of post-Apocalyptic meets patently ridiculous. (Cobra Commander apparently has been redesigning everyone’s costumes to make them more glam, including his own, which finds a way to combine both his classic head-sack and metal faceplate looks. And spikes.) One of the best touches comes when Cobra Commander visits the Baroness and Destro, who now have children, one of whom has a metal head just like daddy.

If you haven’t been keeping up with the Joes in their regular monthly IDW adventures but still have a fondness for the property, this book will make you want to dig through your parents’ old VHS tapes for that version of GI Joe: The Movie they taped off Channel 11 for you. Yo, Joe.

X-Men ’92 #1
Story: Chris Sims and Chad Bowers
Art: Alti Firmansyah and Matt Milla

While the Secret Wars volume of X-Men ’92 introduced the animated mutants of the Extreme Age to concepts created after their time, such as Cassandra Nova, this new story is a nearly pure, unadulterated throwback to the second arc of the adjectiveless X-Men series that began in 1991. Omega Red is here, Maverick, too, the Fenris twins and hints toward the introduction of the Upstarts and their @Midnight-style points system for killing mutants.

(P.S.: Didja see Trevor Fitzroy and Fabian Cortez on the cover? It don’t get more ’90s than that, kids!)

But it’s not a one-to-one match, before you go dragging out your old copies of X-Men #4-7. Instead of a shirtless basketball game between Wolverine and Gambit, we open with the reopening of the Xavier School to students again. A harried, hairy Beast makes his way down the hall, interrupted at every turn by hijinks, to arrive late to his first class, a mix of students from Generation X and the X-Statix (check out the forehead drapes on Doop).

That’s when Maverick comes crashing through the window with the old “They’re coming for you!” message, and the X-Men are forced into a fight with Soviet superheroes the People’s Protectorate – co-led by Omega Red and featuring Ursa Major, who is an actual bear – on the front lawn of the school.

The story also introduces a mysterious new villain, Alpha Red, the apparent precursor to Omega Red, created by the Russians to be their Captain America during World War II. The X-Men did more than a few stories about the tenuous post-Cold War relationship between the U.S. and Russia at the time, so while the “We’ve unearthed another country’s super soldier” bit has been done before, it fits the book’s tone perfectly. Plus, we get to read wonky Russian accents and dialogue bubbles with * that point to narration boxes that say *“Translated from Russian,” just like the old days!

The team lineup has changed since the last series. Cyclops and Jean Grey are taking time off and have been replaced by Bishop, the bandana-wearing, big-gun-carrying mutant lawman from the future, and Psylocke, the telepathic ninja. So for those of you hoping for more of Scott being no fun at all and Jean yelling and passing out every time she uses her powers, better luck next arc.

And as much as I miss Scott Koblish on art (check out his issues of Deadpool if you feel the same), Alti Firmansyah is an A+ replacement. Her work on the Star-Lord and Kitty Pryde Secret Wars miniseries demonstrated her chops for drawing animated, nostalgia-drenched X-characters, including my favorite Gambit since the days of Joe Madureira and the Kubert brothers. I also appreciate her more light-hearted take on Omega Red, complete with “Who, me?” smile and shoulder shrug.

Sims and Bowers continue to nail the tone and voice of the characters both from the ’90s cartoon and the books of the time, with just enough tweaks to add something fresh while capitalizing on the familiarity of it all. If we’re lucky, we’ll get their vision of the Age of Apocalypse as well.

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