Monday, April 25, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 4/20

Criminal 10th Anniversary Special
Story: Ed Brubaker
Art: Sean Phillips & Elizabeth Breitweiser

The world of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips's Criminal is not a world for children, either to read or to live in. It's a world where the good and the innocent alike are likely to wind up dead, and where the innocent are few and far between. For the tenth anniversary of the series debut, this double sized one shot revisits the series two most popular characters, Tracy Lawless, the soldier turned hitman, and his petty crook father, Teeg. Set in 1979, the stories from this era usually focus on Teeg, but this is a Tracy story, narrated by a young Tracy as his father takes him on a road trip. Of course, being Teeg Lawless, this road trip has to do with Teeg hunting for a criminal associate, and he's bringing Tracy along because cops will look less at a father and son together than a man travelling alone. And while there's crime in the story,it's mostly off panel. The story instead is of Tracy left alone as his father hunts his cohort, and Tracy making a friend. This sounds like a simple enough story for a twelve year old, but there's nothing simple about Tracy. His father has forbidden him to make friends, after all, because that could get them remembered. But Tracy meets a friendless girl named Gabby, probably a little too smart for her own good, and they develop a friendship. It's a coming of age story in the style of Stand By Me, as Tracy and Gabby just act like kids, which you get the immediate impression is not something Tracy gets to do much of at all (and if you've read other Criminal stories about the Lawless family, you know it for sure). But in the end Tracy learns the hard lesson that just being good isn't enough to survive in his father's world, and he makes the hard choice to protect his one friend, and any innocence he might have had left is gone. Every time I think Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser can't get any better as an art team, a new series or story comes out, and I'm blown away. The sheer pathos of Tracy as he rejects Gabby is one of the most emotional scenes I've seen in a long while, and the fact that the kids look like kids, not just small adults, a flaw in a lot of comic art, is impressive as all hell.

As with the last Criminal special, this issue has interspersed in it pages from an in-universe comic. And while the previous comic was a Savage Sword of Conan knock off, this one is a combination of horror and the 70s Kung-Fu craze, "Fang, The Kung-Fu Werewolf." Let me just go on the record as sayong that, if the Brubaker/Phillips/Breitweiser team wanted to do a full on Fang comic for an issue or two, I would be all over it. And also as with the previous Criminal special, this issue comes in both a standard comic and magazine sized format, and while either is a fine, the magazine is such a great package, I would highly recommend it for all readers to pick it up that way.

Divinity II #1
Story: Matt Kindt
Art: Trevor Hairsine, Ryan Winn, & David Baron

Valiant's first Divinity was the first series from the new Valiant to star a new character, Abram Adams, the Russian cosmonaut sent out into deep space during the height of the Cold War to return decade later with god-like powers. The sequel picks up a thread left hanging by the last series: what became of the other two cosmonauts that traveled into space with Adams? This opening issue of the new Divinity series follows Valentina Volkov, one of the remaining cosmonauts and a loyal Soviet. Volkov was a street kid who was taken off the street and raised by a doctor, a man who truly believed that the Soviet system was the best. The story moves back and forth between Valentina on Earth before leaving and her and Kazmir, the third cosmonaut, trapped on the Unknown, the strange world that transformed Adams. We see how loyal to the Soviet state Valentina was, not just in the flashbacks but on the Unknown, where Kazmir tells her he loves her and she shrugs it off, possibly the only person she will ever see again, because it is against the program they were in to develop attachments. And when she removes her helmet and is transformed as Adams was, she mercilessly kills Kazmir to power the pod that will return her to Earth because that's what she must do for the State. Valentina isn't evil; it would be easier if she was. What she is is a true believer,and in many ways that is more dangerous. As she returns to Earth and receives the radio and television signals beamed into space that tel the story of the fall of Soviet Russia, she returns home and goes immediately to Vladimir Putin, who clearly is ready to set her loose on the world. The issue is dense with history and symbolism, as "Little Myshka, " Little Mouse, the endearment that Valentina's adoptive father used and the one Putin knows, the mouse they experimented on to make the perfect Soviet, is prepared to head off and once more help the USSR to rise, or so it seems. Trevor Hairsine's art is gorgeous, both in the realistic and gritty world of the Soviet Union and the amazing foreign landscapes of the Unknown. Valiant has done a great job with their self-contained four issue mini-series, making them easily accessible; everything you need to know from the original Divinity is summed up straight away in this issue, so Divinity II would be a great place to try out Valiant if you haven't yet.

Harley's Little Black Book #3
Story: Amanda Conner & Jimmy Palmiotti
Art: Joseph Michael Linsnner & Hi-Fi

If the Harley Quinn monthly is a fun comic, Harley's Little Black Book, Harley's bi-monthly team-up book, takes everything that makes the monthly great and amps it up to eleven. It's a broad, kooky comic, and this issue has Harley meeting Zatanna as the magician comes to perform at the club that is in Harley's building to get away from the magical chaos of her superhero life, while Harley has guests, the London based super team she met back in issue one. But things aren't that simple, as a trio of ghosts, trapped on the Coney Island boardwalk, wind up taking up residence in Harley's building to avoid a ghost-demon that is hunting them. Zatanna agrees to help the ghosts stop their tormenter, and we learn that Harley can see ghosts for an as yet unexplained reason. The story continues with Harley and Zatanna travelling into the afterlife to find the ghost-demon who is hunting the spirits, and to find the demon who cursed him to stop the whole thing. It's a clever, fun superhero story, made all the better by Jospeh Michael Linsner's art. A famed "good girl" artoist of the '90s, Linsner is best known for having created Dawn, but his work here is lovely. Not only does he draw a stunning Zatanna and Harley, but his demons and monsters are also great, creepy and slithery or demonic. There's a funny gag with the demon behind the whole thing, a name that comes out to the fore with Ztanna's backwards speaking magic. And as a real plus, Zatanna is back in her traditional costume! A comic with magic, comedy, and bunnies hopping around. What more could you ask for?

Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files: Wild Card #1
Story: Jim Butcher & Mark Powers
Art: Carlos Gomez & Mohan

As the wait for Peace Talks, the new Dresden Files novel, stretches out, it's the short stories and original comics that are keeping me sane. The new mini-series, Wild Card is set deep in the thick of the novels, at the height of wizard-for-hire Harry Dresden's powers and friendships, with most of his staunchest allies at his side: his apprentice, Molly; his brother, Thomas; his friend at the M.E.'s office, Waldo Butters; and his police contact; Sgt. Murphy. The exact timeline seems to place it after the events of the novel White Night and the last comic mini-series, Down Town, and before my favorite Dresden Novel to date, Small Favor. One thing the comics can do that the first person narrated novels can't is show things that Harry doesn't see, as this mini-series begins with two women fleeing some sort of supernatural threat that seemingly removes their souls. This seeming is made more evident when Harry, Murph, and Molly go to the morgue where Butters shows them the perfect corpses left behind with no cause of death, Harry begins his investigation with the first soul sucking monsters he can think of, the succubi and inccubi of the White Court of Vampires, of which his brother Thomas is one. The set-up allows readers not familiar with the books to get a feel for Harry and his friends and family as we see Molly's growing skills as a wizard, Harry and Thomas's brotherly affection (and through that, details of the White Court), and Harry and Murphy's sometimes strained relationship, although they are the best of friends in the end, always, which I hope we get to see as well. There's also a great scene with Harry and Molly talking about power and the right and wrong ways to use it, a central theme of the Dresden Files novels. Artist Carlos Gomez has drawn the last handful of Dresden related comics, and his feel for the characters has grown with each one, and the characters are resembling Jim Butcher's descriptions more and more. I'm also very excited for this story because I've read about the series in an interview and known the identity of the big bad, the threat who de-souled the women at the beginning of the issue and attacked a police office in the middle, and it's a character from myth and story I've been waiting to see appear in the Dresdenverse since the Faeries became a major presence back in book four, Summer Knight. I won't say the name here, but, well, lord what fools these mortals be (a little hint if you know your Shakespeare). The Dresden Files universe is rick with story, myth, and character, and these original comics do a great job of telling smaller stories of the adventures of Harry Dresden.

And Dan Grote reviews the new special about everyone's favorite Luchador rooster...

Chew: Demon Chicken Poyo
Story by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory

First, he saved an English village from a mad scientist making it rain livestock. Then, he freed a faraway fantasy realm from the tyranny of mutant vegetables and was crowned king. He also did a bunch of awesome stuff in between.

Now, after having his neck snapped, everyone’s favorite cybernetic luchador rooster assassin (and all-around badass motherf$&#@%g bird) has taken his rightful place as a lord of hell.

As John Layman and Rob Guillory wind down their amazing, hysterical Image series, they’ve given us one last one-shot featuring Poyo, the poultry-turned-psycho government agent who steals fans’ hearts a little more with each successive two-page spread of him fighting some equally ridiculous monster animal or vegetable (Pengthulu remains my favorite, but this issue’s two-pager against Galaxseal is another feast for the eyes).

In his latest adventure, Poyo stars in his own Christmas-themed children’s tale, in which he takes down a disgruntled Santa Claus and his Seussical henchman, the Grumpass, after Santa declares war on Christmas and breaks the hearts of the children of Blun, as a narrator details Poyo’s adventures in not-necessarily-always-rhyming couplets.

But this children’s tale is a distraction from the framing sequence, in which a priest attempts to exorcise a little girl possessed by an ancient Sumerian demon and of the ability to vomit pea soup with firehose-like force. Poyo arrives in this sequence as well to mete out justice and generally be awesome.

But as always, Poyo disappears to his next adventure before he can be properly thanked for saving the day via ultraviolence.

And also as always, Rob Guillory’s art is a sick delight, brightly colored but with the gross details of John Kricfalusi animation. No one in Chew is attractive, even the people who theoretically are supposed to be. And how could they be with all the vomit and blood and missing limbs and gross food-based powers?

I’m behind on the trades – the last thing I read was Detective Colby snapping Poyo’s neck in issue #45 – so I think a key plot point from the series may have been spoiled for me, but if you just want to read a story about a robot rooster killing all manner of creature with gleeful abandon, well, really, you don’t have any other options.

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