Monday, June 27, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 6/22

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 10 #28
Story: Christos Gage
Art: Rebekah Isaacs & Dan Jackson

This issue of the current Buffy the Vampire Slayer season feels a lot like an episode of the TV show right before a season finale, which makes sense as this season wraps with issue #30. Buffy and her friends have been driven apart by, well, growing up (or growing down in the case of the de-aged Giles), and this is the issue where they get the band back together. People often give the character of Buffy a hard time, for being the title character but not the brains of the group, but its Buffy who has the plan this issue, and as she makes preparations, she and Spike discuss their relationship. Christos Gage does a great job, a job equal to that of Joss Whedon, of balancing the personal with the supernatural in this issue, and while we don't know what Buffy's plan is, the issue does a great job of building up the anticipation of what it is. The way Buffy and Spike interact, Buffy talking about how her instinct is to run from relationships while Spike realizing he needs to take Buffy off the pedestal he has placed her on, are mature reactions, and show signs of growth not just from the beginning of these character's live, but of this season. Meanwhile, Willow realizes that working with the army isn't going to fly anymore, and Andrew meets with his kinda-boyfriend and has a realization about himself. As I've said in other times I've talked about Buffy here, I detest Andrew as a character, but I think Christos Gage has finally had him grow up and realize exactly what he is and what he's done, to a point I don't cringe every time he enters the scene, which is a major achievement. And finally, there are Dawn and Xander, who, having been left in a hell dimension a few issues back to seal the gate from that dimension to Earth, make their trip back home. I don't know how much Rebekah Isaacs adds to the story in these issues, but the different dimensions Dawn and Xander, as well as their demon sidekicks, pass through usually only hey one panel each, but they're so well realized that if Isaacs didn't suggest at least some of them, she embraced them fully. There's even a reference to the classic explanation of parallel worlds involving shrimp, or the lack thereof. This balance, between the mundanity of Buffy and Willow (and Giles in the previous issue) dealing with their relationship woes while Dawn and Xander travel through dimensions, is a great example of what makes a Buffy story work. If you lean to heavily on the metaphor and the weird it gets overblown, and if you do nothing but everyday character stuff, you lose what makes it special. There are only two issues left in this season of Buffy, and this issue makes me really excited to see what Gage and Isaacs have planned for us.

Detective Comics #935
Story: James Tynion IV
Art: Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira, & Adriano Lucas

Detective Comics knows how to kick off an issue. We open to see a desperate Red Robin, Spoiler, Orphan, and a de-powerd Clayface facing down an army of Jokers. That's an opening that sure grabs your attention. We quickly learn things aren't as they seem, and we get introduced to the Belfry, the team's new headquarters, and the Mud Room, the Danger Room if it were powered by Clayface's powers. It's interesting to see that Batwoman, who is running the training session, is hard on Orphan, Spoiler, and Clayface, but leaves Red Robin alone, respecting him. It's Red Robin who is the focus of the early part of the issue, as we see him first interact with Batwoman, then Batman, and finally Spoiler; it seems that Red Robin and Spoiler are destined to be together on whichever timeline they're in, which is sweet. What's a little different is the way Tim Drake interacts with Batman. In pre-Flashpoint continuity, Tim was Robin for years before becoming Red Robin, and was an integral part of the Batman family, but in the new continuity it's not only established he was always Red Robin, but it's been said numerous times that he has kept his emotional distance from Batman and the others. Tim has frankly been one of the biggest victims of the New 52 compressed timeline and the need to come up with reasons why he's in Teen Titans and not a Bat book. This issue we see Batman reaching out to him, telling him he's welcome to come in and be a part of the family, which is a nice gesture, and we see exactly what's going on with Tim, and that he might just have a life outside Gotham and the shadow of the Bat planned, which adds a different sort of tension. Through Tim we get to see some of Spoiler and Orphan, and we also get to see what happened to Azrael and we get the return of the classic Leslie Thompkins, who is treating Azrael and who is still judging Bruce for bringing teenagers into his war; thanks for that James! Batwoman gets in another scene with her father, Jake Kane, and we get a better feeling for why the Kane family, Batman's maternal relatives, haven't been a part of his life, as Jake warns Kate away from him. "Zero Year" and Grant Morrison's Return of Bruce Wayne mini-series both established issues between the Wayne and the Kane families, but here we see it on a much more grounded and personal level, with Jake's issues not just with Bruce, but an undercurrent of resentment towards Bruce's long dead father, Thomas. While the issue has a lot of character building, it ends with an action scene (after a clever bit of Alfred's trademark snarking at Bruce), as we start to get a better idea of who is behind the vigilante hunting, the new threat called Colony. The final page is one of those classic Batman being a badass pages, which shows that Tynion also knows how to get a reader desperate to come back for more.

James Bond #7
Story: Warren Ellis
Art: Jason Masters & Guy Major

James Bond is a character right in that Warren Ellis wheelhouse. He's a hard drinking, hard smoking man with a penchant for women and brooding. The Bond Ellis writes is closer to the one in the current films and in Ian Fleming's original stories, and not the campy one of the bigger, bolder Bond movies. And while Bond is grounded, the first arc of Ellis's Bond read like one of Ellis's sci-fi stories, where he reads about something in a tech journal and extrapolates the science into a crazy sci-fi comic. And while this second arc might go the same way, this arc feels more in line with a dark spy thriller, as Bind has to rescue an undercover agent from the Turkish Consulate in America, only to have things go off the rails. The first issue sets the tone, giving us a mysterious villain who combines the typical Bond mastermind with a more physical threat, continues to build on the internal conflict in British intelligence established in the first arc, re-introduces Bond's CIA counterpart, Felix Leiter, who now has cybernetic parts because why not, and introduces the agent Bond has to retrieve, who has the absolute Bondiest Bond name I've seen in comics yet, Cadence Birdwhistle. The fight when the Turkish agents catch up to Bond and Birdwhistle is well choreographed by Jason Masters and is as brutal as anything you'd see Daniel Craig do; frankly, Bond leaves these guys in so many pieces it feels like James Bond by way of the Midnighter. But even after taking out an entire Turkish hit squad, things don't go well for Bond, as he now has to survive 24+ hours with a non-combatant and no weapon. It's a great set-up for a tense thriller, as Bond has the Turks and the mysterious villain who is laundering money through Turkey after him to silence Birdwhistle. Also, along the way, Ellis gets off a pot shot at America and guns that is sadly accurate, as Ellis is never one to shy away from making a political point; I'm frankly very curious to see if Ellis spends some time in arc three taking on the recent EU referendum, something that both fits with Bond's place in the world and Ellis's topical sense of politics and humor. James Bond is a great spy comic, one that will satisfy the appetite of long time Bond fans as well as newcomers to fiction's greatest secret agent.

Princeless- Raven: The Pirate Princess #9
Story: Jeremy Whitley
Art (Present Day): Rosy Higgins, Ted Brandt, & William Blankenship
Art (Raven's Tale): Sarah Suhng, Nicki Andrews, & William Blankenship

After last issue's confrontation between Raven Xingtao, the pirate princess, and her two usurping brothers left her old friend, and something more, Ximena badly wounded, Raven and her crew make for a nearby island where they might find someone who can help Ximena, leaving Raven to stay by the side of the woman she loves and just talk to her, to keep her on this side of life. The beginning and ending of the issue take place in the present, and while much of the page space is dedicated to the story Raven tells, we get more characterization in the frame around the main story than most comics give in a normal issue. Not only do we see Raven being tender, which has peaked out of her normally brash exterior before when it comes to Ximena, we see bits with many other members of the crew, especially Amirah, who has become a favorite character of mine, as she helps stabilize Ximena as best she can and get Raven to be with her. Also, we see the deepening of the romantic triangle brewing, as Sunshine, who has clearly had deepening crush on Raven since they met in issue one, growing resentful of Ximena's place in Raven's heart. The main story though, the one that Raven tells Ximena as she lies unconscious, is the story of how Hei Xing, Raven's ancestor and the first pirate queen, met Rong Tao, the love of her life. Jeremy Whitley conjures a world that's a little more wild, a little more full of fantasy then Raven's is; while the book is rooted in the same fairy tale world as it's progenitor, Princeless, the magic and magical creatures have been considerably less in the spin-off then the parent title, and so the demons would feel a bit out of place in a story set in the present. But in this almost fairy tale story that Raven is telling, it all fits. We see Raven takes after Hei Xing, who was full of spirit and fire, willing to fight more demons than she should be able to in order to save the life of a boy she has never met. And Rong Tao, who was a pacifist, has connections to Ximena, who is also never willing to fight. The story is a parable of balance, as Rong could not have survived being attacked by demons if Hei had not been willing to right, and Hei could never have saved her beloved horse if Rong had not had the patience to slowly dig away at the trap the demons had set. The inversion of the traditional trope, of having the female character as the fighter and the male character as the one who does not fight wasn't lost on me, and continues to show how Princeless and its related titles work to subvert expectations. All taken, it's the truest love story we've seen from this world yet, a beautiful tale of two people finding each other, whose differences make them stronger. Princeless itself has begun to explore love and relationships as well, and it feels like these titles, written with teens in mind, are going through that phase where you start questioning even more how you fit in the world and what love is. I'm curious to see what answers Raven gets as she has two very different romantic interests now, and how this story will play into what comes next.

And Dan Grote reviews the new Deadpool team-up mini-series, where Deadpool fights his soon to be fellow movie-star, Gambit, written by Matt Signal favorites, Ben Acker and Ben Blacker...

Deadpool V Gambit #1
Story: Ben Acker & Ben Blacker
Art: Danilo Beyruth & Cris Peter

Deadpool has nearly always been a comedic character. But for the past four years, he’s also been a foot in the door for comedians and comedy writers at Marvel, since Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn began their run post A vs. X. That paved the way for Annual stories, miniseries and backup strips from the likes of Paul Scheer (The League), Scott Aukerman (Comedy Bang Bang) and Jason Mantzoukas (Also The League), as well as Bens Acker and Blacker (The Thrilling Adventure Hour podcast), whose greatest contribution to Deadpool lore to date may be clearing up that whole multiple-narration-boxes mess from the Daniel Way run and introducing Madcap into the mix.

The Bens return with this miniseries pairing the Regeneratin’ Degenerate and the Ragin’ Cajun and revealing their hidden mutual history as con men. Apparently, this is very recent history, as a flashback to their last job takes place during the crafting of the musical “Hamilton,” which opened just last year. Now, I don’t keep up with the X-books like I used to, so I have no idea what Gambit’s been up to since he ended up a horseman of Apocalypse 10 years ago. But Deadpool’s memories, like his sexuality, allegedly, are fluid, so I’m not really planning to look too deeply into the continuity of it all.

Anywho, this miniseries reads like it was written by a pair of comedy writers riffing off each other, in so much as that’s exactly what the title characters do. In their last job, Deadpool and Gambit dressed as Spider-Man and Daredevil, respectively, and engaged in a very vocal and public superhero fight across the city, in the process stealing from criminals for a man named Chalmers. Bits abound, as Deadpool/Spider-Man tries to exorcise Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor” from his head, the two try to explain why they’re fighting (Mind control? Political disagreement? They’re both on the same case, and each thinks the other is the bad guy?), Gambit/Daredevil argues the conceit of musicals with Lin-Manuel Miranda and the two learn that being beangan is when you’re vegan but also you don’t eat beans (“Wait, why not?” “I think because you don’t like beans.”).

And where were the real Spider-Man and Daredevil for all this? Apparently Peter Parker and Matt Murdock sometimes go antiquing together. They’re friends.

Artist Danilo Beyruth gets in on the fun, too. Before the fight, Deadpool/Spider-Man is drawn wearing a dress shirt and suit over his Spidey costume. The disguised Miranda has the head of Alexander Hamilton from the $10 bill superimposed on him, so he resembles a character in a JibJab video. A market full of hipster vegans is an ocean of beards and curled-up mustaches, seemingly also on the women (Sidenote: Has anyone thought to resurrect Turner D. Century lately?). And Gambit gets to blow up everything from diamonds to frying pans to a manhole cover, until Deadpool yells “Stop exploding things at me!”

Yes, we are living in an age of peak Deadpool. Besides his solo ongoing, there’s the Spider-Man/Deadpool teamup book, and a new Deadpool & the Mercs for Money ongoing is starting. But if you don’t mind stretching your DP budget just a little bit further, Deadpool V Gambit is pretty funny and worth a read.

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