Monday, May 16, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 5/11

4001 A.D.: X-O Manowar #1
Story: Robert Venditti
Art: Clayton Henry

There are many comic with deep messages that make you think. And then there are comics that are just plain action from wall-to-wall and have giant robots. Take a guess which one this is? The first one-shot tying into Valiant's new event mini-series, 4001 A.D., features a story from regular X-O Manowar writer Robert Venditti and original Archer and Armstrong artist Clayton Henry, and provides the backstory for the giant robot from the first issue of the event series, and how it ties into X-O Manowar's armor. The issue provides a lot of backstory for those of us unfamiliar with the future status quo of the Valiant Universe, like why Japan is an island floating in space, and how the rest of the world reacted when that happened; it's not essential for the main series at all, but it makes for an interesting story. I don't think it's spoiling too much to say that the world governments design giant robots to send after New Japan and its controlling artificial intelligence, Father. We follow the American pilot, as he prepares to take his Manowar up into space to fight Father. He's a hero, with a family, and he's doing what he thinks is best. And things go horribly wrong. Venditti provides a platform for Clayton Henry to go to town, drawing giant robots in a Charge of the Light Brigade style suicide mission against Father. Henry is able to not just draw that extremely well, but the reactions from the American pilot, stuck in his hanger, and the American control room as one of Father's agents, the former Armor Hunter known as Helix, makes short work of them, are intense and heart breaking. This is how a crossover issue should be done. It stands alone on its own, inform a bit about the characters and backstory (or fate, in the case of a crossover set in the future) of its native book, and gives nuggets of information that informs the main event. If you're a fan of X-O Manowar and haven't tried this issue because you were worried you'd be lost if you're not reading the main event, have no fear. And if you just like comics about big robots fighting, you should also give this a chance, and really, who doesn't like that?

Batman #52
Story: James Tynion IV
Art: Riley Rossmo, Brian Level, Ivan Plascencia, & Jordan Boyd

Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo wrapped their run on Batman with issue fifty-one, so the final issue of this volume comes from James Tynion IV and Riley Rossmo, who provide a nice companion to the series.The issue follows Batman as he chases a new villain, Crypsis, who has stolen something from a safe deposit box, while we see a series of flashbacks to Bruce's youngest days after the death of his parents, followed by some others of his training across the world. The narrative device that ties it all together is a journal that Bruce is given at the beginning by Leslie Thompkins, a character I have sorely missed since the reboot; she pops up infrequently and with oddly divergent backstory/characterization. Nonetheless, here she gives a journal to Bruce where he can write ideas on "How to Move On,"and we see how he takes those ideas and uses them to forge his training, and how he uses them in his hunt for Crypsis. And while the battle is very cool, and it's really exciting to see Riley Rossmo, one of my favorite artists in comics right now, doing a full issue of Batman, and him hitting it out of the park with a spectacular design for the villain and a great, dynamic Batman, it's the scenes between Bruce and Alfred that are the spine of the comic, as it has been throughout so much of this volume of Batman. Bruce and Alfred are in radio contact the entire time, as we figure out that the safe deposit box is Bruce's, and we see a flashback to Alfred trying to help Bruce along on his grieving, and that while the young Bruce doesn't take kindly to it, the grown Bruce has learned enough to take the words to heart. Alfred has always been more than just Jiminey Cricket to Bruce's Pinocchio, he's been a father figure, confidant, and friend, and this issue's ending ties that aspect of their relationship together nicely. It gives Batman's mission a warm spin,makes it a crusade and not just a dark mission of vengeance. It's a message that Batman is more than what so many think of him as, more the Knight than the Dark, something this series has been exploring since its inception. I'm going to miss this version of Batman, but I'm curious to see what comes next, and hopeful it can keep up this message.

Southern Bastards #14
Story: Jason Aaron
Art: Jason Latour

After a bit of a delay, the final part of the third arc of Southern Bastards arrives, giving readers their first real exposure to Roberta Tubb, daughter of Earl Tubb, the protagonist of the first arc, who was brutally murdered by Coach Boss. Roberta gets back to Afghanistan, and immediately heads to Earl's house, despite having been estranged from her father before his death. And as she gets into the deep South of Alabama, things almost immediately go wrong for her, because while Earl might have been white, it seems Roberta's mother was not, so all the locals near Earl's old house just see her as an uppity black girl in their neighborhood. The police are called when she walks into her own father's house. The neighbor advises her to leave, that there are plenty of houses in other places where she would be better off. And when she finds that her father's riding lawnmower has been stolen and retrieves it? Well, it ends with people on the ground in a lot of pain, and a rude lesson that not even the children in the town can escape the racism that runs through it. As we get to learn more about Roberta, we can absolutely see Earl in her; she stands up to those she sees as wrong without thinking about the ramifications, or probably more accurately not caring about them. She's tough, savvy, and nothing is going to stand in her way. It's clear her mother doesn't like the idea of her looking into her father's death, but that isn't stopping Roberta in the least. I want to go back and reread all of the "Homecoming" arc now, to be ready for the next arc. It feels like Roberta is the last puzzle piece this book needed to move forward, the person out to avenge Earl, as things close in around Coach Boss, and her being a deep and nuanced character makes me all the more interested to see what her next move will be.

Star Wars: Darth Vader #20
Story: Kieron Gillen
Art: Salvador Larroca & Edgar Delgado, Mike Norton & David Curiel

I was talking to my friend and former Dewey's co-worker John Bush not too long ago, and he commented how Darth Vader was his favorite of the current Star Wars series, as it treated Vader as a force of nature, moving silently through the book, spotlighting those around him and how they react to him, sort of like what Garth Ennis did in his MAX run on The Punisher. It's an apt comparison, and as the series begins its final arc, Vader as an unstoppable force seems to be the perfect way to describe him. With the Imperial scientist Cylo, who had been designing cyborgs to replace Vader, on the run, Vader is called before Emperor Palpatine, where Palpatine explains how all of this had been part of his plan to break Cylo and strengthen Vader, which Vader knows is only half the story, as Vader observes Palpatine would be making a version of this speech to Cylo had his cyborgs bested Vader. Vader knows that Palpatine is always playing every side. With that taken care of, Vader goes to meet Inspector Thanoth, the Imperial agent sent to investigate a crime Vader perpetrated through his agent, Dr. Aphra, who has seemingly finally discovered the truth. And it's more than seeing, as Thanoth tells Vader he knows the truth, and knows where Aphra is. But he also tells Vader he has not and will not tell the Emperor, as he serves the Empire, and not the Emperor, and he sees the Empire's future in Vader. The power and manipulations are everywhere in this book, with everyone having their own agenda, Vader included, but it's Vader's agenda that is ventral, Vader who will stop at nothing, even killing the man who has provided him the information (a man who goes willingly, since he believes it is for the best). And as Vader heads off to face Cylo, he sends his droids, Triple-Zero and BeeTee to find and remove Aphra, the last evidence of his treachery against the Empire. We get a fun little back-up story of the two of them visiting a droid maker to repair Triple Zero's arm and get them back in proper torturing shape after the events of the "Vader Down" crossover, and we see again that the two droids are as clever and ruthless as their masters. With five issues left, I can only imagine the swath of destruction that Vader will reap across the galaxy.

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