Monday, August 29, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 8/24

Atomic Robo & The Temple of Od #1
Story: Brian Clevinger
Art: Scott Wegener & Anthony Clark

Atomic Robo is back! The pattern of Robo mini-series one set in the present and then one set in the past, and so this new series is a flashback to the late 1930s. Robo is tasked by the US military to go to Shanghai, which at this point was under Japanese control, and retrieve a Chinese scientist who has been taken by the Japanese and is developing a weapon using zero point energy, a source of power that is limitless and could destroy the world if used improperly. So, jet-setting adventurer Atomic Robo (that's his cover story, because really, how can you hide him) is off to Shanghai, and before the issue is over we have raids by Japanese soldiers, a motorcycle chase, Robo wising off at a dangerous time, and the return of a character from Robo's past. Now that we're into the eleventh volume of Atomic Robo, and that's not counting all the ancillary stories from Real Science Adventures, creators Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener have built a large and elaborate universe, with so many different characters from different eras in Robo's long life that it makes sense that a character like Helen McAllister, Robo's first love from the early 30s, would show up again during his World War II era adventures. And as with any Atomic Robo series, it's fun to look for the Easter Eggs the creators have placed throughout, as these are two guys who love their pop culture. Robo's arrival in Shanghai holds more than its fair share of nods to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, with a shoeshine boy who resembles Indy's sidekick Short Round, and a nightspot called Anything Goes. The best thing about Atomic Robo for me, though, is that even though the settings are new and the plot is filled with twists and turns you can't expect, if you're a fan of Robo it's like coming home; Robo as a character has a very specific voice, and his stories do as well. And if you're a new reader, even if you've never touched the character before it has such a welcoming, pulp feel to it that you can't help but be drawn in.

Detective Comics #939
Story: James Tynion IV
Art: Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira, & Adriano Lucas

Tim Drake is my favorite Robin. I started reading Batman comics regularly right after Tim was introduced, and I grew up with him. And I have felt like the post-Flashpoint DC Universe has done the character a huge disservice, shuffling him off to the sidelines. That is until this current run on Detective Comics, which has brought Tim right back into the fold of the Bat universe. After escaping the Colony last issue, Batman, Batwoman, and their squad are trying to figure out what to do next. The issue starts out with some great character moments between Batman and Batwoman, as they discuss what Bruce may and may not have known about Batwoman's father's involvement with the Colony, and Tim coming to a decision about his future and discussing it with Spoiler. It would be easy, in the middle of an arc so packed with intrigue and action to forget about the characters and focus on the story, but Tynion takes time to give us a look inside the inner lives of the characters. But the action picks up as the team learns the Colony is sending armed drones to wipe out every possible member of the League of Shadows, the urban legend ultra secret offshoot of the League of Assassins, and damned be the collateral damage. And as ever, we see that Batman, and by proxy his allies, honor life above everything else, as they jump into action to try to save the innocent. In these scenes, we actually get one of the smaller, but one of the best, character moments in the issue, where Clayface has to scare a group of people out of their apartment to get them to safety, and he feels sad that his best way to act is still as a monster. Clayface has gotten the least page time of any of the characters in the series so far, but this little beat sets up his character arc, and possible hero's quest, better than any long speech could.And in Orphan's scene, we get a hint of something to come, something that might mean Colonel Kane isn't quite as off center about the League of Shadows as Batman believes. But I started this review talking about Time Drake, Red Robin, and I'm going back there for the end.Tim spends this issue showing first his tech chops, an aspect of the character that has always been present but has been played up a lot in the new continuity. I especially like that fact that Tynion is playing with the idea of what a guy in his late teens would do with an unlimited budget and a penchant for crime fighting. But more than that, the issue ends on an amazing cliffhanger, with Tim using his brain to put himself in a position where he'll have to use all his other skills next issue to survive. I don't want to give anything away, but it's an amazing ending, and one that sums up Tim Drake perfectly; he's a good kid with a big heart, who is willing to put himself in harm's way to protect others. I've said this with each review of this new run on Detective Comics, and I'll say it again: this book gets better with every issue, and if you're a Batman fan, you should absolutely be reading it.

Kingsway West #1
Story: Greg Pak
Art: Mirko Colak & Wil Quintana

I love alternate history mixed with science fiction or fantasy. And I love the comics of Greg Pak. So when you combine them, you get a comic I'm pretty much guaranteed to like. Kingsway West takes place in an alternate old west, one where the discovery of Red Gold, an ore that channels mystical energy, led to war between two factions in California: the Chinese Queen of the Golden City and the Mexican Republica de los Californios. But this isn't a story of that war. Taking place in its aftermath, we meet Kingsway Law, a renegade gunslinger and soldier from the Chinese side of the war. The story starts with him meeting Sonia, a Mexican woman who is also fleeing her life from the war. And it's not unexpected that when the comic flashes forward five years, they're married. It's a classic Western set-up, the gunslinger trying to escape his past with the love of a good woman. And Kingsway seems genuinely like he wants to be a better man. But when a woman from the Golden Empire arrives looking for Kingsway, with word of whole new vein of Red Gold, he hopes he can just avoid her, but things don't work out like that, and soon Kingsway has had to take up his guns again to save the woman from the Golden City Guard and to find Sonia, who has disappeared. This first issue does a solid job of establishing the world that Pak is creating, the personalities of his leads, and the driving force of the plot. But I will say alternate history comics are only as good as the artist who is crafting the vision of this different world, and fortunately Pak is working with one who has some serious chops. I was unfamiliar with Mirko Colak before this issue, so I came in with no preconceptions, but the art is absolutely stellar. The characters are all solid and distinct, and the animals that populate the world, these hybrids of real animals, as well as fantastic creatures like dragons, have great designs. And the fight scenes are very well choreographed, not just easy to follow, and exciting;  but brutal in a way that does not glorify the violence in the least, which works perfectly in the tale of a man who was trying to escape his violent past and is now being pulled back into it. If you enjoy classic Westerns like Unforgiven, or the strange sci-fi Western world of Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta's East of West, you should really try out Kingsway West.

Wonder Woman #5
Story: Greg Rucka 
Art: Liam Sharp & Laura Martin

Greg Rucka has a lot going on in Wonder Woman. Not only are there two A plots, stuff set in the present in the odd numbered issues and a Year One story in the even numbered ones, but the plot in the stories set in the present, like this week's issue, are packed with all sorts of threads and characters, making it a dense and rewarding read. There are three interconnected plots running through this issue, one featuring Wonder Woman, one featuring Steve Trevor, and one featuring Etta Candy and a surprise guest star who I'll talk about at the end. Wonder Woman and Cheetah continue their quest to free Cheetah from Urzkartaga, the god that granted her the powers of the cheetah, and who now seeks her death for betraying him. Cheetah's origins have always tied her to Wonder Woman as a former friend who went to the dark side, but as a reader, I've always known the two as nemeses only. Here, seeing the two of them having to work together, it deepens the relationship, gives us insight into their shared history, and makes the aspect of that history as former friends matter more. The deepening mystery of Wonder Woman's own history and the changes that have occurred in it, and what has happened to Olympus and Themyscira, remains front and center for Diana, and the slow trickle of clues and revelations keeps the reader guessing. Meanwhile, Steve Trevor has been captured by a warlord named Cadulo who happens to be a worshipper of Urzkartaga, and who is preparing sacrifices to the god to grant him power. Steve and Cadulo are cast as polar opposites, not just because one is the heroic type and the other villainous, but because they have very different definitions of masculinity. Rucka has never shied away from discussing his own views on society in his work, and with so many recent examples in fandom of toxic masculinity, it's not surprising for Rucka to call it out, going so far as to have Trevor actually use those words. Cadulo is the kind of guy who expects women to worship him, and Trevor is, to say the least, not. Trevor banters, even when captured, and I like how Rucka is giving this character more of a personality than he's been given in the last two decades. Finally, the third plotline sees Etta Candy, Wonder Woman and Trevor's friend and Trevor's current boss, going to seek advice in what to do with the captured Trevor, and the person she goes to? Sasha Bordeaux! If you don't know her, Sasha was a character created by Rucka during his run on Detective Comics, where she served first as Bruce Wayne's Wayne Enterprises assigned bodyguard and later one of Batman's partners, and became Black Queen of Checkmate when Rucka wrote the DC Universe spy title. And while Sasha seems helpful, there's far more to what's going on than meets the Eye (and yes, that capitalization is intentional if you know Sasha's history). I'm really excited to see Sasha back, and no one writes her like her creator. I also want to call out Liam Sharp's astounding art on this issue; he's an artist I always picture drawing monsters and horror comics, and that skill plays out well in Cadulo's den, but he also draws a beautiful Wonder Woman and a sleek Cheetah. This is Greg Rucka at his superhero best, and I haven't been this excited by Wonder Woman in a long time.

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