The Completely Unsubstantiated Guide to What You Should Probably Read When DC Comics Reboots in 2016

A few weeks back, while the rest of us were busy enjoying the religious family time of Easter – which, in my case, entails a bucketload of chocolate and no small amount of post-egg sugar-twitching – DC Comics took the stage at WonderCon to announce the creative lineups for their new fangled “not-a-reboot-and-it-never-was-shut-up-now” comic book event, Rebirth.

dc rebirth cover
Just remember, the New 52 wasn’t a reboot either. Dan DiDio says so.

Much as I ripped into Marvel’s heraldic announcement of new books last year, I figure it’s worth making turnabout fair play and giving DC a similar treatment. Because believe me, some of these titles are worth ripping into for good or ill. Consider this a helpful guide for where (and where not) to spend your ill-gotten gains on DC Comics after Rebirth kicks off this June.

Images and info taken from articles by Bleeding Cool, io9 and The Outhouse.

Let’s get this done.


 

dc rebirth action comicsACTION COMICS

Writer Dan Jurgens pits Clark Kent as Superman against Lex Luthor as…also Superman. Also there’s something in there about hitting Actions Comics #1000. Didn’t we renumber all the books in 2011 to avoid this kind of thing?

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Artwork by Zircher, Kirkham and Segovia probably won’t be anything too amazing, so I’d say no.


ALL STAR BATMAN

WHY, SNYDER, WHY?!dc rebirth all star batman

I know you got your work bumped from both the ongoing Batman title and Detective Comics, and I know you need to set up your own new series to keep your fantastic run afloat. But goddamn, could you have possibly picked a worse name than one reminding readers of the travesty that was Frank Miller’s 2008 Batman-child abomination All-Star Batman and Robin? Also, where the hell is Greg Capullo, and why did he get replaced by someone as lacklustre as John Romita Jr.?

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: This is one that’ll be decided solely on the strength of its writing talent, so I’m hoping for a yes. Jock and Sean Murphy had better be more than just fill-in artists.


dc rebirth aquamanAQUAMAN

I wasn’t a fan of how Geoff Johns handled the character, so I’m wary of however new writer Dan Abnett will take a crack at him. It certainly looks pretty, but then so does a hormonal flamingo right before it kicks you in the nethers.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Safe bet is no.


BATGIRL

Though I’m not familiar with recent Batgirl outside of Gail Simone’s disastrous handling of the character, I’d heard that the recent Stewart/Tarr partnership was yielding sweet fruit. Seems a little odd to shoot a well-received creative team in the feet, but that’s DC for you (remember, these are the guys who ran Grant Morrison out of town after Batman Incorporated wrapped). I’m not familiar with Hope Larson, but the creative direction and art look solid.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Yeah, maybe.


BATGIRL AND THE BIRDS OF PREY

This is where you start to lose me a little. I know Barbara Gordon, back in her heyday as Oracle, was once in charge of a Birds of Prey team, but this seems closer to a good-girl revamp of Gotham City Sirens than any kind of Birds book. The art looks gruesome at first blush, and I’m not sure how keen I am to check out a tawdry-looking yarn about sisters doing it for themselves against some villain called The Someone (which, ok then).

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Veering towards “not really”.


BATMAN BEYONDdc rebirth batman beyond

I was never the biggest fan of future Batman Terry McGinnis, but apparently the creative team is solid. Sounds like it’ll be continuing a previous run, so maybe existing fans will be into that.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: If you like future Batman, sure.


dc rebirth batmanBATMAN

Apparently Tom King’s Grayson run has been fairly well received, and he’s got a solid art lineup on deck (which thankfully means David Finch can just draw, rather than attempt to also write). I’m leery of any writer thinking he has the chops to take over from Snyder and Capullo’s beloved run, but of the options available I guess it sounds ok. Cover art looks pretty sick.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: I want it to be.


BLUE BEETLE

Not a fan of the character, but it looks ok if you’re into that.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: See above.


CYBORGdc rebirth cyborg

Also see above; not a huge fan of the character, and I can’t figure out why he’s scored his own ongoing. Oh, wait, yes I can – he starred in that new Batman v. Superman movie for all of ten seconds, and he’ll be appearing in the ill-fated Justice League movies. Sometimes capebooks being “helped” (read: influenced) by superhero movies isn’t such a good thing.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Same as Blue Beetle.


dc rebirth deathstrokeDEATHSTROKE

Wait, written by Christopher Priest? As in, the guy who wrote The Prestige? Colour me intrigued.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: From the cover, the interesting choice of writer and the lineup of hitherto unknown artists, I’ll say yeah for the same reason that I’d agree to try bourbon made from scorpion venom: could be fun.


DETECTIVE COMICSdc rebirth detective comics

A (literal) student of the Scott Snyder narrative school, I find James Tynion IV to be hit and miss. Talon was interesting, if a little bit of a one-trick pony, and he wrote some of the better chapters in Batman Eternal. On the other, his work on Batman back-ups left some to be desired. I’d approach with caution, though the notion of a Batman Boot Camp with Bats and Batwoman has me interested (but then again, anything with Batwoman interests me).

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Maybe as a taste-test.


dc rebirth flashFLASH

It seems DC are on a roll with hiring writers and artists who are either brand new or ones I’ve never heard of. As such, I can’t offer an opinion on the new Flash team; as with Deathstroke, the cover seems pretty cool.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Hard to say. I’d wait for some results first.


GREEN ARROWdc rebirth green arrow

Another creative team I don’t know. Evocative cover, though. Hopefully not too much is cribbed from Arrow for this one.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: See Flash above.


dc rebirth green lanternsGREEN LANTERNS

GEOFF JOHNS IS COMING BACK TO A GREEN LANTERN BOOK!! Ok, sure, he’s co-writing with Sam Humphries, but still!

Sounds like the focus will be on newcomers Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz, which has the potential for an interesting buddy-cop dynamic. Not familiar with Rocha’s art, but Ardian Syaf is a solid choice.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Looks like it.


HAL JORDAN AND THE GREEN LANTERN CORPSdc rebirth hal jordan and the green lantern corps

How does Robert Venditti reliably pick up new work? After ripping up most of the carpet Johns carefully laid down in Green Lantern, it seems Venditti is keen on continuing to ruin one of my favourite superhero characters. More power to him, I guess. Let’s hope the wonder of Ethan Van Sciver’s artwork is enough to counter Venditti’s storytelling shortcomings.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Once Venditti (hopefully) gets kicked from the book, sure.


dc rebirth harley quinnHARLEY QUINN

I will never understand this apparent surge in Harley’s mainstream appeal. Was it the sexy nurse outfit from Arkham Asylum, her upcoming appearance in the Suicide Squad film, or just DC overcompensating by shilling a similarly fourth-wall-breaking hilarious character a la Deadpool? This mystery may never be solved, but considering we have Jimmy “All-Star Western” Palmiotti alongside Amanda “Female Artists Can Draw Power Girl’s Insanely Huge Boobs Too” Conner, I’d say it’s a safe bet that…

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: …this one’s best left on the rack.


THE HELLBLAZERdc rebirth hellblazer

More creatives that are unknown to me, but I do know it’s a shame Ray Fawkes isn’t onboard anymore. Maybe a fresh artistic shot in the arm is what Constantine needs to stay afloat.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Yet to be determined.


dc rebirth justice leagueJUSTICE LEAGUE

I’ve said before that artists don’t always make the best writers, so I hope Bryan Hitch keeps in mind that his characters need to be interesting as well as look cool. Tony Daniel on art is worrying given his recent track record, and I pray he isn’t set loose on narrative duties if Hitch falls behind.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: The smart money says no, but I’ve been wrong about artist-authors before.


JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA

The title is literally all we know of this book at present.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: In the (unlikely) event that it turns out Mark Waid will make a comeback to DC with art by Alex Ross, I’ll say hell yes. Otherwise, probably not.


NEW SUPERMANdc rebirth new superman

A Shanghai boy, who isn’t some version of Clark Kent, becomes a new Superman. I’m interested.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Not sure art-wise, but the premise is intriguing.


dc rebirth nightwingNIGHTWING

The return of Dick Grayson’s superhero identity – as well as the trademark blue stripe – is a welcome one. I’m hoping Seeley does some great work here, especially with Javi Fernandez and Marcus To on art duties.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Hopefully.


RED HOOD AND THE OUTLAWSdc rebirth red hood

You’re telling me Scott Lobdell still writes this title? And he’s being joined by Dexter Soy, artist on one of the most narratively compelling but visually confusing runs of Captain Marvel?

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Only to line your birdcage.


dc rebirth suicide squadSUICIDE SQUAD

Oh look, a team book with the same lineup as the movie they’ve got coming out in August. What a coincidence. Sadly, Jim Lee’s art won’t be able to save this one.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Stick to the movie; at least it’ll only be painful for hours rather than months.


SUPERGIRLdc rebirth supergirl

Yet more unknown creatives, but at least Kara’s no longer wearing the ridiculous thigh-bearing corset thing she had in the last run.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Fans of the show will probably dig it.


dc rebirth supermanSUPERMAN

Tomasi and Gleason on a Superman book? Sign me the hell up. These guys did stellar work on Batman and Robin, so I’m game for whatever’s next.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Sweet merciful Darkseid, yes.


SUPER SONSdc rebirth super sons

No word on a creative team, but the cover art gives me a strong Muppet Babies with superpowers vibe. I doubt the novelty will last long there.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: As a one-shot, maybe. As an ongoing, I doubt it.


dc rebirth teen titansTEEN TITANS

Damian Wayne in charge of a new Teen Titans team is certainly an interesting concept, though that interest will depend on how newcomers Ben Percy and Jonboy Meyers do with writing and art, respectively. Thus far the only non-Grant Morrison writer to do Damian justice is Peter Tomasi, so consider my breath held on that count here.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Is Damian a snotty brat or a slightly punky but good-hearted asskicker? Once that question’s answered, the first one will be similarly resolved.


TITANSdc rebirth titans

Call this spurious, but my assumption is that this’ll be the story which was initially slated for the failed pitch of the Titans TV series that got nixed last year. Abnett’s a good choice for writing duty, and the art looks pretty great. This’ll be one for nostalgic fans of the old guard rather than the Tim Drake-led millennial superhero wannabes from The New 52.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: I’d say so.


TRINITY

dc rebirth trinityThis is an immediate yes for Francis Manapul’s art alone, but the fact he’s tagged for writing duties only bolsters that yes. Sure, his run with Brian Buccellato on Detective Comics was a little wonky, but The Flash was a solid (and gorgeous) book. I wish only good things for his start here.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Most definitely, even if it’s just because it’ll look luscious.


WONDER WOMANdc rebirth wonder woman

I’ve only recently heard about the controversy surrounding Marguerite Bennett’s unceremonious dumping from the book, so I don’t have much to offer thought-wise regarding that little turnout. What I can say is that Greg Rucka is a fine choice of replacement; given his recent work on the acclaimed and kickass-women-friendly Lazarus, I imagine this’ll be one to check out.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Yup.


So there’s the upcoming state of play for DC Comics. The New 52 is dead, long live Rebirth. Remember, neither of these events were or are reboots, ever. They’re natural in the way a packet of M and Ms is natural; those grow on trees, right?

Compared to Marvel’s post-Secret Wars lineup, I’m not as enthused with how DC’s playing this one. The branching out to new creative teams is ambitious, but it leaves a lot of nebulous results above; the Marvel reboot at least had a lot of name power, where one could recognise at a glance whether what was coming would probably be good or bad (the latter mostly relying on whether James Robinson is writing it). It’s truly a brave new world in many respects for Rebirth, though let’s hope that world doesn’t involve Martian tripods and heat rays.

 

 

 

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Chris’s 2015 Catch-Up

Did you think I’d forgotten you?

Actually, no, you didn’t. You were probably too busy watching The Force Awakens. It’s ok, so was I.

I mentioned at the close of my 2014 best and worst roundup that 2015 was going to be a quiet year on the website front for me, and it was. Work, thesis writing and tumultuous adventures (and adversity) with domestic situations got in the way of all those wonderfully mediocre reviews I like to write. As such, the only Chris Kills Comics entry for me in 2015 was a part-sarcastic/part-serious guide to which post-Secret Wars Marvel titles might be worth a look. Not that I’ve yet read any of them at time of writing, but I’m never afraid to judge books by their covers and writing teams. That’s also why it’s unlikely I’d ever stoop to checking out the gonzo mess that is Miller and Azzarello’s new Dark Knight Returns sequel.

But while it was a more sedate year for me comics-wise, 2015 still had no shortage of great titles. I did spend a lot more of 2015 reading novels and non-fiction books, thanks to a new gig I’ve got as a book reviewer over at Geek of Oz, but there was still the occasional moment for graphic diversions. I’ll admit up front that I maaaaaybe read a tenth of the good comic titles 2015 produced. Ok, probably closer to a twentieth. Call it a fiftieth, at least?

sandman overture coversex criminals 2 coverhawkeye 4 coverlumberjanes cover

PICTURED: Some of 2015’s greatest hits that I haven’t read yet, but totally will. At some point. Yup.

So, in an effort to offer a mea culpa and address the deficit of comics critique from the past year, presented herein are some gems from the few comics I did read in 2015. I promise, once my thesis goes in on February 15th (submission forms are in, markers are being picked…oh God this is really happening), there’ll be more on the comics front from me. In fact, there are some fairly big plans being made for The Writer’s Multiverse as a whole, including one hell of a facelift…

But those will be in due course. For now, highlights from last year:


SAGA, VOLUME 5

Like you didn’t know this’d be on here.

saga 5 1There’s not much I can add to my previous gushing over how good Saga is. Suffice it to say, Volume 4 (from the tail end of 2014) was par excellance to its peers, and Volume 5 continued Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ overall conquest of the comics industry. Keep believing the hype; Saga is consistently delivering a thoughtful, engaging, nuanced and engrossing story across its gorgeously illustrated pages. Volume 5, while at times feeling a little like a bridging narrative than a story in its own right, closes with a nice hook that has me wringing my hands with apprehension during the wait for Volume 6. I guess what I’m saying, then, is that Saga‘s good for those who like feeling anxious and nervously expectant while they wait for the next book.

Actually, maybe don’t read it if you’re susceptible to that kind of thing.

saga 5 cover

STORY: 4/5

ARTWORK: 5/5

DIALOGUE: 5/5

OVERALL: 14/15


THOR: GODDESS OF THUNDER

Jason Aaron’s Thor run has been a rollicking sine wave of quality, with some thrilling highs and lackluster bottoming-out. Despite that, I think it’s fair to say Aaron really hit his stride wthor goddess 1hen he made Thor a woman.

Now, let’s be clear: this is not a gender-swap the way Loki’s was handled during J. Michael Stracynzski’s landmark run in the late 2000s; Chris Hemsworth hasn’t been turned into a woman, but instead has lost his worthiness to the mantle of the God of Thunder. Aaron’s new Thor is an entirely different character from her male counterpart (for reasons which become clear in the second book), uncertain of her new powers and bringing a more grounded persona to Marvel’s eminent deity superhero identity. It also helps that Aaron’s got a good story to go with the new protagonist, as well as some stellar artwork by Russell Dauterman and Jorge Molina. In an age where we need more powerful, prominent and well-written superheroines (and in a year where Meredith and David Finch were accidentally allowed to ruin one of them), it’s laudable to have one who’s as approachable, relatable and entertaining as Aaron’s lady Thor. Also, note my lack of capital on the “lady”; she’s Thor, not Lady Thor, Mrs Thor or Thorette. She is, you might say, the definite article.

thor goddess cover

STORY: 4/5

ARTWORK: 4.5/5

DIALOGUE: 4/5

OVERALL: 12.5/15


MS MARVEL: GENERATION WHY

ms marvel generation why 1Continuing the theme of female empowerment, G. Willow Wilson’s landmark Ms Marvel run has also shone a light on diversity in cape comics. Muslim action girl Kamala Khan is a Ms. Marvel who couldn’t be more distinct from her contemporaries, or indeed her predecessor (who’s busy flying around space). She’s fun, kicks ass and, much like Bryan Q. Miller’s Pollyanna interpretation of Batgirl, doesn’t ever seem to really be brought down. Generation Why builds on the massive success of No Normal, introducing Wolverine and Lockjaw to Kamala’s world of burgeoning superheroics and navigation of young adulthood.

While the real world issues Wilson wraps her story around can get a little heavyhanded – including a protracted scene regarding seizing your life between Kamala and some misguided young people modeled off socially-inept World of Warcraft players – there’s still a very joyful, bouncy tone throughout. Like Aaron’s Thor, Wilson writes Kamala as an approachable, relatable hero, a character women can look up to as truly realistic; despite her superpowers, Kamala’s still burdened by the everyday problems of work, friends and family that the Muggles among us are plagued with.

Also, Generation Why slips into my highlights for this scene alone:

D'awww.
D’awww.

ms marvel generation why cover

STORY: 4/5

ARTWORK: 4/5

DIALOGUE: 3.5/5

OVERALL: 11/15


BATMAN: ENDGAME

As much as I adored Death of the Family (it made it to my Best of 2013 list for a reason), I was hesitant about a return visit with Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo to their sickly psychotic version of the Joker. What were we in for in Endgame: more face-cutting and grisly dinner platters?

Well, turns out, not so much. Part of Endgame‘s effort to distinguish itself from Snyder and Capullo’s last Joker story is in having the mad clown come back, not to maim or threaten or cajole, but batman endgame 1to kill the goddamn Batman. As part of his “closing up shop” in Gotham, Joker’s out to murder everybody; Batman, Batgirl, Red Robin, the lot of ’em. Deadsies, in the ground, end of story.

With stakes like that, it’s hard not to like Endgame. As always, Snyder’s on point with his writing, and Capullo continues to ably demonstrate why he’s the best Batman artist since Alex Ross. It may not be entirely inventive in parts of the story, and the ending (which, despite the internet spoiling it to high heaven, I won’t reveal here) might lack tension somewhat. But it’s also got a knock-down, drag-out fight between Batman and a Joker venom-addled Justice League, a compelling emotional core, and one of the best Batman-on-Joker fistfights ever put to the page.

I get the sense Snyder and Capullo might soon be saying goodbye to Batman; if this is the last we see of their Joker, the Clown Prince of Crime definitely ends on a high note.

batman endgame cover

STORY: 3.5/5

ARTWORK: 5/5

DIALOGUE: 4/5

OVERALL: 12.5/15


STAR WARS: DARTH VADER, VOL. 1 – VADER

Believe me, nobody’s more surprised than I that a Star Wars comic ended up here, much less one centered on the Dark Lord of the Sith. 2015 was, obviously, a landmark year for Star Wars that really rescued the franchise from the mire (getting rid of its immense expanded universe probably helped with that). Part of that rescue involved Marvel nicking off with the Star Wars comics license, previously stewarded by Dark Horse Comics.

Of the many series Marvel have produced since they got their toys back – including a superb self-titled ongoing, an ill-regarded Princess Leia miniseries and a nice post-Episode VI diversion in Shattered Empire – I’d offer that Darth Vader is the most compelling. You would think, as I did, that an ongoing series based on Star Wars‘ most public face of villainy wouldn’t have a lot to offer. We know what happens to him, and any stakes regarding his survival in a cliffhanger would be removed based on that.

darth vader vol 1 1Writer Kieron Gillen circumvents that problem by taking Vader in an entirely different direction than the one I’d envisioned. See, the Emperor’s a little pissed off that Vader allowed the first Death Star to blow up, and as such he’s holding deadly auditions for a new apprentice. Vader has to “compete” against an array of colourful psychotics who are vying for the Emperor’s favour. Assisting him are a young doctor, who’s fully aware Vader will kill her when he’s done with her and only asks for a quick kill from his lightsaber as payment for her services, and a black-clad, evil pair of murderous droids modeled off C-3PO and R2-D2, with a dash of Borderlands‘ Claptrap and Knights of the Old Republic‘s HK-47 thrown in. The whole affair is gorgeously rendered by artist Salvador Larroca, whose work I was already in love with from his stint on The Invincible Iron Man.

I’ll have more to say about Vader and the other new Star Wars comics in a Mind’s Eye post I’m working onbut suffice to say I really enjoyed it. It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s definitely a lot of fun. Vader himself makes for a surprisingly interesting protagonist, even though we know almost everything about him from nearly four decades of films, books, comics, video games and breakfast cereal boxes, and his supporting cast are a lot of fun. The plot kinda becomes like a really dark and twisted take on Doctor Who, with the more relatable human companion being our everyman viewpoint for an inscrutable protagonist. Safe bet says Volume 2 opens with Vader and Friends finding their own ship to go around the galaxy, solving mysteries.

One minor criticism: Volume 1’s subtitle is entirely redundant. We know his name’s Vader, guys; you wouldn’t have a book called Batman, Volume 1: I’m Batman. That’s less a title and more of a crazed inner monologue.

darth vader vol 1 cover

STORY: 3.5/5

ARTWORK: 5/5

DIALOGUE: 4/5

OVERALL: 12.5/15


 

The Completely Unsubstantiated Guide to What You Should Probably Read When Marvel Reboots in 2015

Back in the 1980s, Marvel produced a limited series called Secret Wars taking place in a realm called Battleworld. It was a Crisis-style crossover that combined multiple premier titles and characters, eventually leading to a dramatically changed status quo.

In this year 2015, Marvel are producing a limited series called Secret Wars taking place in a realm called Battleworld. It’s a Crisis-style crossover that combines multiple premier titles and characters, eventually leading to a dramatically changed status quo.

Funny how history repeats.

secret-wars-battleworld1-590x284

As the Secret Wars – misnomer of a title, given these wars are anything but covert and inconspicuous – rage on, we’re reaching a new crop of #1 titles for Marvel to throw at the masses in the wake of whatever tremendous paradigmatic shifts Secret Wars sees fit to inflict on us. There’ve been hints of the titles and characters that’ll stay on once the series concludes, with no bones especially being made about the fact Miles Morales is surviving the imminent collapse of the Ultimates Universe and that all-girl dream team A-Force will almost certainly still be a thing when the dust settles.

Fortunately, we now know the 45 (!) titles that’ll be in circulation come October, signalling new directions and team makeups for the Marvel Universe going forward. Also fortunately, you’re lucky to be reading a completely unsubstantiated, uninformed and largely predictive guide to which of these 45 penny-pinchers will be worth funding, and which may be worth sending to Guantanamo Bay for torture purposes.

all-new-all-different-marvel-590x330

I’ve got to be honest, I read a lot of creative teams and characters for these upcoming books, and a lot of them left me feeling very cynical. The loss of Jonathan Hickman, the scribe behind the current Secret Wars and a fantastic Avengers run that I’ve previously covered, as well as the continued absence of excellent writers like Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker and Kelly Sue DeConnick leaves me feeling like we’re left with either writers who are good, but not great, or writers who are a combination of completely unsuited and/or untested. But who knows, I’ve been wrong before. Maybe ever single title will turn out to be a gold-encrusted jewel pelted at the populace from the treasure vault of Zeus.

So keep in mind that all of the below is built on mindless and completely uninformed speculation (well, uninformed in the sense that I obviously haven’t read any of these titles), written as speculative the same way all those “Who might get cast as [insert superhero name here]?” garbage articles are penned like waste spewing from a sewage outflow pipe. It’s quite possible books I pre-emptively recommend may transpire to be nothing but yet another collection of 30-odd glossy pages to sit gathering dust in a box under your bed. It’s also quite possible something I target with ridicule and scorn may be the best thing to happen in comics since Grant Morrison decided he wanted to have a crack at Batman.

All title pages and creative details are taken from this Polygon article.

Let’s go.


A-FORCE

A-Force-590x806By all accounts, the current run of girl power Avengers has been warmly received, and G. Willow Wilson is an excellent writer on the current Ms. Marvel run. A fairly safe bet.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Probably.


AGENTS OF SHIELD

Agent-of-SHIELD-590x807To be honest, I don’t know what to make of this one. I’m pretty sure Marc Guggenheim is alright, and Coulson’s a lot of fun. But I’m wary of any text seeking to ape something the MCU did well, the same way Agents of SHIELD thought the best thing to do with an awesome character like Coulson was give us twenty-two episodes of him each year.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Maybe. Approach with caution.


ALL-NEW ALL-DIFFERENT AVENGERS

All-New-All-Different-Avengers-590x787Mark Waid is writing an Avengers book. That’s really all I need to know.

IS THIS WORTH GETTING?: Most definitely, one hundred percent yes (also, that cover is gorgeous)


.

ALL-NEW HAWKEYE

Hawkeye-590x808I’m tepid on this one. Fraction and Aja’s Hawkeye was, according to the internet, the greatest thing ever to happen in the history of the universe, so a follow up has big shoes to fill. That said, Lemire’s a fairly decent writer, having done an excellent run on Animal Man, so I’d be willing to hear him out.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: I’d say so, but maybe temper expectations if you’re a fan of Fraction and Aja’s run.


ALL-NEW WOLVERINE

All-New-Wolverine-590x808Yeah, no. I’m one of the few who doesn’t share an affinity for everyone’s favourite carve-em-up Canadian, so I’m fairly sure I’m not the target audience here. Also, not yet convinced Tom Taylor can handle a premier Marvel book.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Probably not. See where it’s at after the first half-dozen issues, if you’re a Wolvie fan.


ALL-NEW X-MEN

All-New-X-Men-590x808Thank God the X-people have tossed off Bendis (wait, that came out wrong). I’m willing to give it a shot for the new creative team alone, which should tell you how lowly I think of Bendis’ contributions to my favourite mutants. Also, that 70s combi-van style, that harkens a little of the old Claremont and Byrne-style stuff, looks great.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Quite possibly.


AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (The Peter Parker one)

Amazing-Spider-man-590x814You may be surprised, after my constant bashing of his Superior Spider-Man series, to know that I’ve actually come around on Dan Slott. He’s willing to make fairly seismic moves on the title he’s given, and sometimes having readers pushed out of their comfort zone – by, for instance, replacing a decades-old character with one of his greatest villains in a bodyswap gone wrong – isn’t a bad thing. With that in mind, yeah, I’d give this a shot.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Yep.


ANGELA: QUEEN OF HEL

Anegla-Asgards-Assassin-590x811No thanks.

I mean, come on. Look at that cover. You sure Rob Liefeld didn’t have a hand in this?

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: See above.


ASTONISHING ANT-MAN

Ant-man-590x819Nick Spencer is, by all accounts, a fairly solid writer. Ant-Man is, by all accounts, a fairly cool character.

Yeah, ok then.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Likely, especially if those really are the former Superior Foes of Spider-Man in the background.


CAPTAIN MARVEL

Captain-Marvel-590x811Disregarding for a moment the bias I have towards Kelly Sue DeConnick’s work – in that I think it’s excellently excellent – I’m wary of this one. Butters and Fazekas, aka former showrunners of Dollhouse and current showrunners of Agent Carter, might have what it takes to see Carol Danvers through a great new series. But it’ll be hard to step from KSD’s immense shadow, given how integral she was to the original book’s success.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: I really want to say yes, but let’s wait and see.


CARNAGE

Carnage-590x812…how is this a thing? Is there really a lot of depth and complexity to a scarlet symbiote and his penchant for killing in a style akin to his namesake?

I’m gonna go with “almost certainly not”.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Nope.


CONTEST OF CHAMPIONS

Contest-of-Champions-590x803I’m going to quote this article from Geek.com, and its assessment of Contest of Champions:

This is a comic based on a mobile fighting game. That’s pretty much all you need to know.”

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Only if you really think those Injustice: Gods Among Us comics are actually worth reading.


DAREDEVIL

Daredevil-590x814Yet another creative team stepping from the shadow of an excellent predecessor. Charles Soule is a solid writer, with a great ability to write believable, human characters out of people who are decidedly not human. Ron Garney’s also a pretty great artist.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Quite probably.


DEADPOOL

Deadpool-590x806NO NO NO NO I REFUSE TO.

Seriously, can we please get over Deadpool? He’s not that funny anymore. The wacky hilarity of his character should be spent sparingly, not copiously. I am officially sick of the Merc with a Mouth, and am thus admittedly biased towards any series that cares to utilise him.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: If you’re a fan, sure. If you’re me, stay at least 500 metres away at all times.


DOCTOR STRANGE

Doctor-Strange-590x810I’m torn because I love the writer but hate the artist (Chris Bachalo being the main thing that brought me down on Wolverine and the X-Men). If the writing is incredibly strong, maybe it could sell me. I’ll reserve judgment until then.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: I’ll be on the fence until I see some of the work.


DRAX

Drax-590x811A former wrestler and a lukewarm writer scribing a story about a wrestler and lukewarm character in a backdrop that is literally an Intergalactic Fight Club.

Pass.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Nope. Art from Ed McGuinness might be solid, but I’m not convinced of the story’s efficacy.


EXTRAORDINARY X-MEN

Please reExtraordinary-X-Men-590x809fer to my comments regarding All-New X-Men, but replace “combi-van and Claremont/Byrne style” with “older Logan and Humberto Ramos’ gorgeous artwork”.

I’m a bit excited.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Yep.


GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-590x769I really wish Brian Bendis could go back to writing street-level books like Daredevil. He does them so much better than cosmic epics and grand, operatic storytelling that usually falls flat.

Also, Venom’s on the team.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Nah.


HOWARD THE DUCK

Howard-the-Duck-590x817Look, Chip Zdarsky, I adore your work on Sex Criminals but neither you nor Marvel as a whole will be able to convince me this maladjusted mallard’s worth reading about. I’d sooner clean my teeth with bacon fat.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: From the above, what do you think?


HOWLING COMMANDOS OF SHIELD

Howling-Commandos-of-SHIELD-590x805So this kind of looks like Secret Warriors crossed with the aesthetic of Rotworld. I dunno, sounds like it could go either way.

Not sure what Clayface is doing there, though.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Maybe. Looks a little too weird for weird’s sake.


ILLUMINATI

Illuminati-590x759I Googled writer Josh Williamson, and found he’s the writer on a few Image titles. I Googled artist Shawn Crystal, and found a Batman modeled after The Maxx.

Make of that what you will.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Hard to say. It seems like this might be a big toss of the dice, especially given how well-received Hickman’s Illuminati/New Avengers storyline recently was.


INVINCIBLE IRON MAN

Invincible-Iron-Man-1-Cover-88069-590x456Brian Bendis takes on the Armoured Avenger, probably with a story involving some kind of overblown cosmic threat and a distinct lack of Alex Maleev pencils. To be honest, I wasn’t enthused by Kieron Gillen’s recent run, and by most accounts the recently short-lived Superior Iron Man under Tom Taylor didn’t fare very well. Let’s see what happens, though. Maybe Bendis’ Daredevil lightning could strike twice.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Tentatively. Maybe.


KARNAK

Karnak-590x813I’m sold by Warren Ellis’ presence alone (just to show how much of a fanboy sheep I am), but having a story focus exclusively on an Inhuman I’ve never heard of might be interesting. Having David Aja on covers certainly won’t hurt.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Yeah, why not?


THE MIGHTY THOR

The-Mighty-Thor-590x805This one’s a no-brainer. Lady Thor kicks all kinds of ass, and Jason Aaron has (mostly) kept a really good handle on his story thus far. I’m excited to see what’s next, and if you haven’t yet picked up Goddess of Thunder you should really go do that. Like, right now.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Resoundingly, yes.


MS. MARVEL

Ms-Marvel-590x809Another no-brainer. A review will probably be forthcoming of G. Willow Wilson’s run at some point, but chances are you’ve probably already heard critical acclaim surrounding Ms. Marvel thus far. Trust me, it’s well-deserved.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: See The Mighty Thor above.


NEW AVENGERS

New-Avengers-590x805I’m not sold. Gerardo Sandoval looks like a fine artist, and Al Ewing’s meant to be a pretty good scribe. But judging by the team makeup, I foresee something of a revival of the old Young Avengers/The Children’s Crusade thing going on here.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Nah.


NOVA

Nova-590x816I honestly don’t know why this book exists (much less why Jeph Loeb is suddenly not writing it). Marvel’s apparent answer to Green Lantern never really took off as its own thing, and the current iteration just looks fairly dull.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Pass.


OLD MAN LOGAN

Old-Man-Logan-590x807Wait, wasn’t this a limited series from Mark Millar back in the 2000s? And didn’t it end satisfyingly?

I’ll give Lemire the benefit of the doubt, but I’m already foreseeing an easy way to reinstate male Wolverine even though the Hugh Jackman one is currently dead. If Old Man Logan really is a vehicle to de-age a fan favourite Elseworld-style character into his younger and more marketable counterpart, please know that this is the place and time where I called it.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: If you’re a hardcore Wolvie fan, sure. Otherwise, probably best avoid.


SAM WILSON, CAPTAIN AMERICA

Sam-Wilson-Captain-America-590x812Of the two changes to the Marvel Big Three made in comics last year, this was the one I was least sold on (see The Mighty Thor for my thoughts on the other change). Granted, that was partly because Rick Remender, he of the superlative example of why ripping off Ed Brubaker is a bad idea, was on writing duty. But maybe Nick Spencer can turn it around.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Depends on how the first couple of issues go, especially since Daniel Acuña is on art. Might be a very subjective book.


SCARLET WITCH

Scarlet-Witch-590x782Ah, this is a blast from the past. Remember James Robinson? He was the creative brain behind what I hold as the ultimate example of Justice League gone wrong: Cry for Justice. Yes, the old chestnut that formed a big part of my raison d’être with this website (He also started off Earth-2, which I wasn’t fond of, before anyone accusing me of judging a writer from one book). With that in mind, and given how lukewarm the reception was to a Scarlet Witch series the last time round, I’m gonna go with…

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Almost certainly not, in this universe or any other.


SILK

Silk-590x806I’m not sure what to make of this one. Silk doesn’t seem to be as popular as the resurgent Spider-Gwen, but I seem to remember some decent critical swell during her last appearance in 2014.

So…

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Maybe? If it’s the heist story it looks like from the cover, I’ll upgrade that answer to a ‘sure’.


SPIDER-GWEN

Spider-Gwen-590x805I’m tempted to check this out just to see what all the fuss was. If the Internet’s anything to go by then Spider-Gwen seems to be better than a YouTube video of baby kittens riding velociraptors, so clearly they’re doing something right with the character. Also I have a soft spot for Jason Latour and his track record of unfortunately cut-short runs. Let’s see what he can do.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Why not?


SPIDER-MAN (The Mile Morales one)

Spider-man-590x809Though I’ve not read it myself, Ultimate Spider-Man was apparently a very good story. Bendis and Pichelli have been the unit for Miles Morales’ misadventures since 2011, so keeping them together here gives the impression they’re definitely working well together. As with Spider-Gwen above, I’ve not actually read any Miles stories. That alone would make me interested in seeing where this goes.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Well I’m already up for one web-slinging step outside the comfort zone, so why not go for two?


SPIDER-MAN 2099 (The Future-y one)

Spider-man-2099-590x810Erm…are we sure there’s not an over-saturation of spider-themed characters is this reboot, Marvel? Is this the new answer to Batman’s overpopularity?

Well, Peter David is decent, and that costume looks badass. So ok.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Yeah…but I feel like we’re starting to approach critical mass with arachnid-themed superheroes here.


SPIDER-WOMAN

Spider-woman-590x807Marvel, what was I just saying about too many-

Oh. Ah. Right. She’s pregnant.

Hmmm. That happened.

Consider me intrigued, but apprehensive. If Jessica Drew’s bun in the oven is simply there as a macguffin, rather than as meaningful character or story development, or as – God forbid – a cheap and in-substantive hook to draw in new readers, then that ‘intrigued’ may shift to ‘I’ll just go back to Superman/Wonder Woman instead.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Yeeeeeees. For now.


SQUADRON SUPREME

Squadron-SupremeLook, Marvel, no matter how hard you try, you’re not going to make Hyperion into a thing. He’s an interesting bruiser in Jonathan Hickman’s run, but that’s about it. I also think giving me an Alex Ross cover isn’t going to seal the deal.

Oh, and James Robinson’s on it.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Not even a little bit.


STAR-LORD

Star-Lord-590x796Oh, look! It’s a series all about everyone’s favourite incarnation of Chris Pratt! And the promo image uses lyrics from a 1970s Elton John song!

Isn’t it cute?

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: I’ll stick to the Guardians of the Galaxy Blu-ray, thanks.


THE TOTALLY AWESOME HULK

The-Totally-Awesome-Hulk-590x798.

Sorry, I’m too busy laughing at that title (and that hair silhouette).

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: If the new Hulk turns out to be anyone other than the Fonz, then no.


ULTIMATES

Ultimates-590x818Wait, I thought we ended the Ultimate Universe a few months ago? Is this a selection of the survivors cobbled together to form a displaced team of alternate-universe heroes trying to find their place in the mainstream Marvel U?

Actually, that could be pretty alright.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Possibly provided Kenneth Rocafort doesn’t draw all the women like strippers.


UNCANNY AVENGERS

Uncanny-Avengers-590x801Uncanny-Avengers-side-2-590x804

No. Sorry. This looks about as fun and wacky as a tax ledger audiobook read by Joe Hockey. I’ll reserve total judgment until the book lands, but for now I’ll say to stick with Uncanny X-Force if you want a team story that uses Deadpool well.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: About as much as it’s worth getting your ear pierced with a rusted sickle.


UNCANNY INHUMANS

Uncanny-Inhumans-590x802Ok, Charles Soule is a good step, and Steve McNiven on art is a better one. I’m not sure if having an X-Men-style Inhumans team will be particularly Earth-shaking, but let’s assume the two can do a good job. Plus, there’s always the possibility Lockjaw might show up.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Yes, verging on a definitely if Lockjaw appears.


UNCANNY X-MEN

Uncanny-X-Men-590x808So it’s basically the Magneto series with a posse behind him, written by a boilerplate scribe and illustrated by an artist who’s regularly fielded accusations of tracing and plagiarism.

Skip.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Nope.


VENOM: SPACEKNIGHT

Venom-Spaceknight-590x826Just sit with that title for a moment. Let it roll around your mouth like some toothpaste you accidentally swallowed. Venom is now a knight, in space. And, according once again to the Geek.com article, he’s ‘a good guy now and fighting to save all of space from evil space fish monsters’.

Consider, for a moment, that somebody at Marvel read Robbie Thompson’s pitch and greenlit a monthly comic series about it. Now ask yourself how far below the barrel Marvel might possibly have scraped to pick this up.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Possibly in a hate-read ‘Tony Daniel-era Detective Comics‘ way.


VISION

Vision-590x807Like Scarlet Witch above, I’m not convinced a solo series for the Vision is necessary. He stole the show in Avengers: Age of Ultron and is certainly a great character, but what, exactly could a solo series about a Spock-esque android offer that a team book doesn’t?

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: I’m not convinced, no.


WEB WARRIORS

WoWeb-Warriors-590x806w, Marvel’s really going for broke with the web-weaving thing, aren’t they?

In all honesty, it could be fun in the same way grilling cheese on its own in a sandwich press might be; fun and a guilty pleasure, but not substantial or particularly healthy. Also you forgot to clean the press last time, so you’re eating old grime with new cheese.

I don’t know, that analogy kinda got away from me.

IS IT WORTH GETTING?: As a trade, maybe. As an ongoing, not unless the story’s excellent.


So that’s the new Marvel Comics Universe landscape (New MCU? MC YOU?). As I said, it’s possible many or all of my claims above could turn out staggeringly true or blisteringly false, and most of my griping is based on prior experience with titles and particular authors (and my dislike of James Robinson). As always, though, I’m happy to be proven wrong. Maybe Marvel can convince me Venom: Spaceknight isn’t the worst idea to emerge from the House of Ideas since that crappy X-Men OGN last year.

Hope springs eternal – and so, given the above, do new franchise opportunities.

The Best and Worst 5 Graphic Novels of 2014

Man, it’s getting hard to stay a player in this game.

The level of investment requested – nay, required – by the comics industry in order to sell their product is getting insane. Not just on a monetary level, mind, although that’s certainly part of it. Marvel can expect more of my custom back if they decide to lower their frankly absurd price points next year.

No, I’m talking more about the insane slew of titles that are now readily available to everyone with a PayPal account, credit card and an internet connection. Marvel have more titles out than they know what to do with. DC continue their output of either mediocritous or outright awful material to pad their wallets in the lead-up to that big move to Burbank next year. Dark Horse are doing whatever the hell Dark Horse do, and since that involves publishing MIND MGMT that means they get a pass from me.

And Image? Well, remember how not too long ago I was singing their praises about the variety of content available in contrast to all the superhero sludge clogging up the readership worse than a night of camembert and water crackers? Turns out they kinda took that as a little too much praise, because now they’re practically releasing a new series every other Wednesday. Big-name creator-owned opuses like Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Bitch Planet and Scott Snyder’s Wytches risk getting subsumed by the wave of onslaught titles like Manifest Destiny, Shutter, Red City and Sheltered (the latter of which, on reflection, I’ve decided I don’t especially like). Yes, it’s a good thing that more auteur stories are being given a creative outlet, and it’s still a nice affirmation of Image’s implied mission statement to spearhead creativity when something as out there and fantastic as The Wicked + Divine can find publication and a good following. Just remember there is such a thing as too much chocolate, ladies and gentlemen.

Anyway, now my annual gripe at the industry is concluded, let’s get to what you came here for.


 

BOTTOM FIVE:

DISHONOURABLE MENTION – UNCANNY AVENGERS: RAGNAROK NOW

PUBLISHER: MARVEL COMICS

uncanny ragnarok coverIt’s a good thing hindsight provides 20/20 vision, because at times when there’s a deluge of material it’s easy for me to mistake bad books for good ones when I read the two simultaneously. Whilst it escaped a scathing riposte by being part of a triplet of Avengers-themed titles when I read it back in July, the more I think about Ragnarok Now the more I think about how far Rick Remender has fallen from grace. Where once stood the excellent scribe of Uncanny X-Force, which is still the gold standard for Deadpool representations in recent years, now stands a man keen on alienating his audience with his own thoughtless little tales containing more Chris Claremont-inspired overintrospective dialogue than the thoughts probably going through the man’s head. I was keen for more sweet Uncanny Avengers shenanigans back when The Red Shadow first landed but now it’s all dried up like an arrow made of Wizz Fizz; sour and aimless. The only thing worse than a time-travel plot hinging on emotional catharsis that you know will be retracted is having that plot presented by little narration boxes ripped straight from the over-explanatory Dark Phoenix Saga blueprint.

In fact, on the subject of Remender…


5 – CAPTAIN AMERICA: LOOSE NUKE

PUBLISHER: MARVEL COMICS

No, it’s not because Cap cried. No, it’s not because of the later allegations of statutory rape when Falcon tried to get jiggy with Jet Black. No, it’s not because the villain known as Iron Nail is equal parts ridiculously named and a loose nuke coverMandarin rip-off.

It’s because the story was flimsy. The characters weren’t well-defined. The antagonists – aforementioned Iron Nail and his henchman, the eponymous Nuke – were respectively ineffectual and impossible to take seriously (and with the latter, Ed Brubaker did a much better job of the “former Cap wannabe supersoldier turns psychotic” plotline). The stakes were non-existent. The aftermath introduced a villain even more whacked out than is normal for capebooks. The art was plain. The dialogue was laughable.

In short, a better name might be “Loose Screw”. As in, from inside Rick Remender’s head.

Yeah, I know, that was terrible.

It’s a shame, coz Dimension Z wasn’t all that bad. Maybe a return to the Jack Kirby-inspired sci-fi take is the way to go, Mr Remender?


4 – GREEN LANTERN: DARK DAYS

PUBLISHER: DC COMICS

saga gl justice cover 2As above, I have to stress that my dislike doesn’t stem from a new writer not doing justice to the older writer’s success. Robert Venditti was never going to fill the void left by Geoff Johns’ magnum opus of a run, and I acknowledge that constant comparisons between the two would always be unfairly grounded.

That said, Dark Days was absolutely terrible from start to finish. The concepts Johns set down weren’t so much altered as they were ripped up like old carpet, the dialogue took a sharp left turn into mediocre when it wasn’t outright boring or two-dimensional, and the characters seemed to lose a lot of the verve that distinguished them from each other. Hal Jordan became less smarm and more vanilla jerk, Kyle Rayner seemed slightly stoned, Carol Ferris became majorly bitchy at Hal for no good reason…oh, and don’t even get me started on the ridiculousity (I’m making that a word) that is the whole “emotional reservoir” concept. There’s taking things in new and innovative directions, and then there’s defecating on those things from miles up in the hope the impact ends their existence.

As one point of goodness, Billy Tan’s artwork is magnificent. If I have to sit through this crapitude for two hours, at least it’s very pretty crapitude.


3 – THE OTHER DEAD

PUBLISHER: IDW

If, like most, you’re a bit sick of zombie narratives, you might find The Other Dead merely boring when it isn’t offensive. If, like me, you don’t mind the occasional, well-told zombie story that isn’t to do with a guy named Rickother dead cover and his idiot son, you’ll find The Other Dead to be one of the worst rags of colour masquerading as a comic book since Cry for Justice. I’m not even being hyperbolic when I talk about how excruciatingly awful this book was; imagine being asked to watch Sharknado through a grimy, old-style movie filter within a sauna whilst an old man slaps you across the face every five seconds with the butt of a shotgun. If your mental faculties can conjure that image, you’re getting close to the experience that is The Other Dead.

It might’ve been merely ok if the characters were well-defined, the story coherent and the dialogue not so lurchingly terrible that it launches me from the narrative experience with each alternate line like an Aston Martin’s ejector seat. Hell, I don’t even mind that President Obama showed up to take on the mighty hordes of undead kittens, and if the book had shot for a campy, colourful and exaggerated take things might’ve been different. As it stands, trying to make itself be taken seriously kinda evokes the same relationship most movie critics have with Tommy Wiseau films. Unfortunately there’s nothing equivalent to “You’re tearing me apart, Lee-sah!”


2 – TRINITY WAR/FOREVER EVIL

PUBLISHER: DC COMICS

saga gl justice cover 3I’m lumping these two together because, regardless of actual publication, they’re one and the same story. The former is an overly-long and twisted prologue to the latter, with both books failing to deliver on the high-stakes plots they expect us to swallow. It also means I can take shots at the two of them without stretching this to a Bottom Six.

In all honesty, I was onboard for the initial idea of it all. Geoff Johns is (or maybe was) a solid writer, Jim Lee’s still got a knack for artistry, and it at least appeared on the surface to be a better rendition of themes that were ham-fistedly explored back in Marvel’s Civil War and subsequent Dark Reign. I think if nothing else these books have solidified the idea for me that all marketing material for capebooks, no matter how bombastic and colourful, is about as trustworthy as a journalist who uses the word ‘totes’ in an article.

The story meandered when it wasn’t stupid, the art fluctuated between a team of disparate styles that managed to make it boring the same way Michael Bay makes explosions dull, the conclusion to Forever evil coverForever Evil was daft (putting it charitably), and I’m left with little to no hope of direction as DC moves into its post-New York future next year. Sure, we’ve still got Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo on Batman to keep me invested, but it’s alarming how blatantly wasteful such a crossover as this turned out to be when it could’ve been a defining, energising moment for the publisher.

Take this move to Burbank as an opportunity to detox and regenerate, DC. You’re dangerously addicted to foolishness.


 1X-MEN: NO MORE HUMANS

PUBLISHER: MARVEL COMICS

no more humans coverImagine a man who’s been given the money, time and free reign to explore the paradigms – causes, arguments for and against, rationales and possible curatives – regarding homophobia. Or racism. Or extreme economic greed. Imagine this man can explore this issue to any extent he wants, take on any facet he wants and insert any viewpoint he wants. Think of the marvelous, confronting and provocative stories he might tell.

Or, y’know, he could tell this one.

I’m probably being a little harsh here, but I’m not kidding when I say No More Humans is as breathtakingly disappointing as it is heart-stoppingly dull into the bargain. Writer Mike Carey and artist Salvador Larroca had one of the biggest allegorical sets of characters any comic company possesses, confronting an issue that saw most of their number reduced to a bare thread during House of M nearly a decade ago, with the opportunity to really dig deep and unpack some of the underlying themes regarding exclusion and superiority that have sadly been lacking in X-books of late. This could have been a really great, really interesting narrative that could justify Marvel’s new preference of the OGN format (and make us forget about the other one they did at the time).

Instead, what we got was a bland, derivative and ultimately highly unsatisfying yarn that’s mostly relegated to X-men punching things, X-men whinging about things and X-men having the entire scenario reset at the end (with things). It’s so bad I can barely remember specifics of the book all these months later, though I do recall the villain was a blue guy named something ridiculous (Raze, I think?) and was completely ineffectual. So it’s pretty much the first Wolverine film, but with more colour and screaming.

Maybe the Forever Evil duo should’ve gone here instead, because their story is undeniably worse in almost every aspect, but No More Humans takes the bottom spot for the sheer potential it had to be a really fascinating, memorable story. Any tale with that much wasted is as bad as any outright awful story.


TOP FIVE:

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: INFINITY & AVENGERS ASSEMBLE: THE FORGERIES OF JEALOUSY

PUBLISHER: MARVEL COMICS (both)

infinity cover 2It wasn’t perfect, and it wasn’t the best event Marvel’s ever done, but dammit if Infinity didn’t show the rest of us exactly what an event title should be. Jonathan Hickman managed to weave a fairly accessible and appropriately epic story with raised stakes and an intriguing plot without simply resorting to hero-vs-hero beatups or pointless inclusions of characters from other companies. It was also very, very pretty.

I put it here to communicate the way events should be managed; I’ve heard tell that Original Sin dropped the ball somewhat, and I’ve already railed against Forever Evil‘s mediocritous stforgeries coverupidity. Just follow the easy steps in the review above for next time, guys.

On the other hand, Forgeries was a much smaller-scale book with some really funny writing from Kelly Sue DeConnick and Warren Ellis (though the latter is hard to detect here). If we must have a plethora of Avengers titles out there now, at least let’s have some of them written well. Cute little character stories with heart and humour are the way to go every now and then – and really, who doesn’t love seeing three Marvel heroines team up to kick villainous ass?


 5 – BATMAN: ZERO YEAR BOOKS 1 & 2 – SECRET CITY/DARK CITY

PUBLISHER: DC COMICS

batman vol 5This should come as no surprise to all of you if you’ve followed me long enough. Scott Snyder’s Batman has entered my top five again. Stun. Shock. Horror.

But it really is that good. Granted, it’s not quite on the same level as Death of the Family was last year, but it’s pretty darn close. While at times a little bloated with its pagecount across two volumes, Zero Year is the kind of excellently-handled origin story reboot that DC needs more of right now. If we had more clear-cut, “This happened in continuity and this did not” kind of stuff, I’d look on the New 52 more favourably. Also, in future can we please have more dark quips from Batman about grammar lessons in regards to bone breaking? Coz I’d be ok with that.


4SUPERMAN/WONDER WOMAN: POWER COUPLE

PUBLISHER: DC COMICS

power couple coverBelieve me, no-one is more surprised than I that this book ended up here. I considered slapping it with an Honourable Mention instead, but on reflection Power Couple was one of the few books this year that really spoke to me as a book about people rather than spandex-clad gymnasts. Granted, it’s still a bit of a stunt book and the writing at times veers into either too sugary or too bland, but overall it did a much better job of portraying realistic superhero relationships than almost any book I’ve read recently. Our eponymous protagonists have clear, understandable reasons for being together, rather than just being a giant cash-grab for Tumblr ‘shippers, and the problems they face – well, except for that Doomsday guy showing up and eviscerating a tanker – are realistic and relatable to many couples reading about them. Speaking as one in a relationship, I find I’m constantly plagued by self-doubt and rabid Kryptonians, too.


 

3THE SUPERIOR FOES OF SPIDER-MAN: GETTING THE BAND BACK TOGETHER

PUBLISHER: MARVEL COMICS

Whether you love or hate the swerve Marvel took with their favourite webslinger last year, this spin-off is worth reading. It’s the kind of fun, bouncy story a lot of villain protagonist narratives have spider foes covereschewed of late, with a cast that’s fairly well-rounded and quite hostile to each other (which is never not funny). It was certainly surprising for me, as I’d expected anything with the Superior title to be as bland an uninteresting as its mothership series.

But Superior Foes is anything but bland. While it’s sad the series was recently announced as ending next year, it means the humour won’t outstay its welcome and author Nick Spencer can go off to write more criminal shenanigans. I’m secretly hoping he can revivify DC’s rogues gallery a little and give us the Joker Justice League we’ve all secretly not known we wanted.


 

2SAGA, VOLUME 3

PUBLISHER: IMAGE COMICS

saga gl justice cover 1As with Snyder-Bats above, this really shouldn’t surprise you. It’s Saga. It’s one of the few books that’s consistently delivering high quality writing, artwork and dialogue. It’s quite possibly the best book out there, unless there’s an Ellis-penned sequel to Transmetropolitan floating around that I haven’t read yet.

Anything I say about Volume 3 would just be repeating myself from the last two years, so just take all those praises and stick a 3 on the end. It really is still that good – which, admittedly, is something of a minor miracle where longer-running comics start to lose the verve as their issue count rises – and if you’re not onboard yet, there’s a lovely big hardcover edition that you should really be asking Santa for.


 

1SEX CRIMINALS: ONE WEIRD TRICK

PUBLISHER: IMAGE COMICS

Ok, before you ask, no, this isn’t better than Saga. I stand by what I said above. I just wanted to try and give someone else the top spot this year.sex criminals cover

In all seriousness, Sex Criminals is probably the most creative new series I read this year. The title might be off-putting (and garnered raised eyebrows from some I recommended it to) and the narrative might sound crass, but dammit if it isn’t fun. Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky have delivered a superb comedy with a lot of heart that, while definitely fanciful, still touches on relevant issues in relation to adolescent sexuality without becoming motherly. Also there’s naked times and ejaculation jokes and a team of supervillains who were sex-toy-themed nightware, so that’s always good.

And come on, y’know you wanna be a brimper. It’s what all the cool kids are doing.


IN CLOSING…

The conclusion of my top and bottom lists for 2014 also brings with it a semi-conclusion to my regular(ish) gig here. The reasons aren’t interesting enough to write an essay-length explanation about, but essentially it boils down to two big things:

I’m getting married; I proposed to my lovely partner on December 3rd and she said yes, so rather than my plan of going off to live in a cave as a tortured auteur due to her denial, I have to actually, y’know, marry her. As such, both time and (more importantly) money will be spent getting this thing off the ground within the next 24 months. That means I won’t have the time or (especially importantly) money to grab slews of new books and review them each week(ish).

I’m also nearing thesis submission time; January marks the beginning of my last year doing my PhD, and as such the majority of my writing time will be spent either on that or on drafting the obituary that’ll be printed in the event the former ends up killing me (can a thesis draft be held contemptibly for murder?).

This does not mean the website is shutting down, or that I’m leaving it altogether. It just means my posts will be a little more sporadic (not that they weren’t already for the past four weeks). I’d never want to give this up entirely, so I’ll still try my best to put content out as often as I can for the few of you who read it. I really can’t thank enough those of you who sit and skim my ramblings each week; the site, and my writing itself, wouldn’t have gotten to this point without you all. Big hugs, and all that.

Trust me, there will be new TWM content during 2015. I want to try getting back into more op-ed pieces on Mind’s Eye as well as getting some fiction out there (remember that story I said I was gonna write each fortnight based on a different song? Yeah, that totally didn’t happen).

So with those in mind, enjoy the post you’ve just read; savour it like the last drops of a fine Beaujolais you’ve just concluded imbibing, or the crumbs of a donut you quite like from the 7/11 down the road. It’s the last one for this year, and it might be the last for a little while…

Just wait and see.

On behalf of the chattering voices that still live inside my brain (I should really see a doctor about that), Chris Kills Comics wishes all readers a wonderful Christmas and New Year. Stuff will come to those who wait in 2015. Stay safe!

Chris’ Post-Halloween Roundup 2014

Blame work. Blame uni. Blame NaNoWriMo. Blame me and my laziness.

Whatever your blame of choice, I have been once again entirely lax in my updates on what you should and shouldn’t partake of in the comic book world. I have allowed weeks to pass without recommendations affirming and refuting the choices you all have before you, and as a result I’d be fairly certain at least one of you has accidentally purchased a dud book in the last month because I wasn’t here to tell you otherwise.

Why, yes, I do have an overinflated opinion of how useful my comic reviews are. At least I’m self-aware enough to be upfront about it.

Rather than deluge the lot of you with several dozen posts about what I’ve read recently – and trust me, I’ve read a lot recently – I thought I’d rely on a similar structure to the good ol’ Indie Roundup from last year that worked so well and just give you the greatest hits. Most of these are either quite good or decent enough to not warrant a thousand words on why you should buy them, so if I seem to focus more on negatives then keep in mind that I recommend all of the following texts for public consumption.

If you’d rather put your money towards something worthwhile, why not donate towards stopping ebola instead?


Batman: Zero Year, Book 2 – Dark City

batman vol 5

PUBLISHER: DC COMICS

The only reason this gets a mini-review here, when I’ve had a track record of covering most of the Snyder Bat-run thus far, is that there’s nothing I can say about it that I didn’t already say about its predecessor. Artwork is visceral and gorgeous, dialogue is tight and engaging, the story is well-paced and the underlying message of hope through terrorist adversity is welcome, if a little on the nose at times.

Where the book falls down only ever so slightly is in the first third or so that largely eschews the Riddler-centric plot that kicked off Book 1’s cliffhanger. Instead we’re treated to a new villain who looks like Skeletor became a bone cancer victim, and while his plot is intriguing it feels only tangentially linked to the shenanigans Edward Nygma’s at the head of until a rather excellent series in the book’s middle. However, me saying that first third is a problem is like saying the maple leaf shape in your coffee foam is missing a couple leaves; the coffee is still damn delicious, and the book is still quite excellent.

Now for another six month wait before the next volume. Joy.


Daredevil: Devil at Bay

daredevil vol 1

PUBLISHER: MARVEL COMICS

Change is not always a bad thing, even when it happens to something that’s already good. You might be wary when an author with an excellent, consistent run decides to reinvent the wheel – why fix what ain’t broke? – but sometimes you’d be gladder to see the result.

Mark Waid has been writing Daredevil for the last few years with an excellent track record of balancing plot and character with artwork at once distinct from and reminiscent of the stripped-down, acoustic approach of Hawkeye. So when he decided to take our favourite Hornhead cross-coastal from New York to San Francisco, some were notably and not unreasonably concerned. New characters, a different plot and a complete background shift from the high rises of NY to the Bay of San Fran? How could an award-winning, exceptionally gifted and intelligent writer like Mark Waid ever make that work when he’d already been doing such a good job?

I kid.

Truth is, Waid’s new direction on the West Coast is still as tight, engaging and colourful as his East side run was, and the story expectedly maintains the high level of quality his work has generated thus far. Continuing threads from previous volumes do show up while a new trail is blazed for the Devil to solve crimes with a police forensics lab in Frisco, and it’s all a wonderful package of punches, parkour and pleasantness. Oh, and artist Chris Samnee really knocks it out of the park here. Were this book edible, I’d still be satisfactorily wiping crumbs from my face.


Avengers: Infinite Avengers

avengers vol 6

PUBLISHER: MARVEL COMICS

Anyone concerned with the long and languorous middle portion of Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers run need worry no more: we are on track to something big, something bold and something bloody.

Honestly, if you’re not onboard with Hickman’s overly-expositional plot and dialogue that uses characters less as defined bodies and more as mouthpieces for spouting narrative mechanics by now, you probably won’t be here. Those of us who are, though, will be rewarded with a prelude to a story that might see brothers-from-other-mothers Tony Stark and Steve Rogers cutting their cords for a while, if all the future-jumping and constant mentions of Stark’s impending and heinous betrayal are indicators. Seeing the future as it will be thanks to Avengers saving everyone from something ominous in the present day is quite cool, and artist Leinil Yu almost brings a bit of a Saga-like quality to the illustrations depicting technological utopias and robotic simulacrums of our favourite heroes.

If there’s one complaint it’s that the plot moves quite fast without any room or time for grounding in context or understanding, which will be particularly disorienting for any who haven’t read the previous 5 volumes of Hickman’s run. Even as someone who has I felt a bit lost at times, and the exposition can be laid on thicker than too much Vegemite occasionally. But like I said, if you’re not used to Hickman’s style of narrative by now you’ll probably be a bit deterred from his sixth Avengers entry.

And really, I think you’ll want to be onboard with this one. The new Secret Wars, penned by Hickman, starts next year, promising to throw the Marvel universe against a wall and do…something radical to it. So, y’know, get in on the ground floor while you can.

 

 

 

Fatale: Curse the Demon

AS THIS IS THE FIFTH AND FINAL BOOK IN THIS SERIES, SPOILERS ABOUND FOR THE PREVIOUS FOUR.

ALSO, SOME IMAGES IN THIS REVIEW MAY BE CONSIDERED NSFW.


 

Over the years I’ve found most endings fall into one of two categories:

1 – They’re satisfying enough that you can say “Yep, that’s an ending.”

2 – They’re unsatisfying enough that you can say “Ok, now where’s the real ending?”

Not to open on a foreboding note, but I’m still wondering where Fatale fits after reading its final volume. Oh don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad ending by any stretch. Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have capped off five volumes and twenty-four issues of Lovecraftian nightmare with a conclusion that didn’t leave me feeling upset or shortchanged, so that’s something. I just wonder if they couldn’t have done a little bit more – just little bit, mind. It’s like assembling a glorious puzzle of St. Paul’s Cathedral and missing a piece from the top of one of its spires; the whole is still gorgeous, but you’re left wondering if it might need just a touch more to give the full picture.

Of course, if you’re one of those types only reading Fatale for the copious fanservice, you will not be disappointed. You may have missed the point of the narrative, but dear Lord there are still more sex scenes than the average episode of True Blood. Whether you count that a compliment or an insult will largely inform how you can handle the series as a whole.

I covered the penultimate chapter a few months back (coincidentally and, I assure you, unintentionally also opening with a “two fatale 5 3categories” argument), and while then I was sure we were heading for a conclusion with the way the book started tying up loose ends, here I wasn’t so sure. Most of Curse the Demon seems to pace itself languorously before the climax starts, and until we hit the middle chapter that expounds on the backstory of the main villain it almost feels like we might be stretching to a sixth volume with the amount the book has to wrap up. Granted, Lovecraft wasn’t really known for neat little bows at the end of his tales, so maybe Brubaker thought to wrong-foot readers about just how much closure they could expect.

But as such, Curse the Demon is the last adventure of titular femme Josephine and her drag-along “might possibly be her son but maybe not” quasi-victim Nicolas Lash. The forces of darkness are closing in, rituals are being held and resident evil guy Mr Bishop looks ready to do some bad things. Also Jo and Nicolas have a lot of sex, and it turns out Bishop was really a bad guy long before the forces of the netherworld got their hooks in him.

I’m sounding somewhat condemnatory so far, but believe me that if you liked the previous four books you will probably like this fatale 5 1one. The ending itself really is good, insofar as one can hope for in a story inspired by a writer whose infamy for many unhappy – and, in some cases, absolutely non-existent – endings could elicit. The core story is wrapped, Josephine’s character arc crescendoes and climaxes (hehe), and there’s not a lot of fodder for a hypothetical Fatale 2: This Time It’s a Guy (though I think they did that already when they made James Bond). In all those respects, Curse the Demon is satisfying.

Where I have a little quibble is in the arbitrary nature some threads are resolved with. The mysterious symbols Jo previously drew – surmised to be a form of Eldritch protection – are hand-waved away. A new character, Otto, is introduced with an apparently strong relationship to Jo and almost nothing to back that up beyond a perfunctory flashback and a few expository scenes of their history. And that climactic scene – well, no spoilers, but a lot of apparently established rules in the world of Fatale are either bent, broken or disregarded (or they were established properly and I just have a terrible memory from too many years of coffee and sleepless nights, but who knows?).

I also feel, especially since he’s largely a framing device than a full-on protagonist, that more could’ve been done with Nicolas Lash fatale 5 2before the end. I have a much more personal stake in the fates of characters like Nelson, taking centre stage in their own tales whilst Lash is relegated to prologues and epilogues. That’s more a series-wide issue than exclusively here, since Lash is front and centre without the need for another flashback story. We do learn more about him through the course of Curse the Demon, and it does render some impact when he forms part of the narrative’s final twists. Still feel he’s largely a frame than a figure; it’s like asking us to appreciate the borders of the Mona Lisa whilst disregarding the actual painting. Mind you, it’s still nice-looking, if slightly-tortured frame, all things considered.

Art is the usual Sean Phillips standard, which is to say it’s bloody gorgeous. He and Brubaker really nail it as a duo devoted to gorgeously grimy crime narratives, with the latter’s story well-served by the former’s rough, dirty and well-honed art. If anything the end of Fatale makes me more determined to go check out Phillips’ work on Criminal, and that The Fade Out thing both men are apparently working on now. Sometimes grimy is the new gorgeous.

Dialogue is the usual Brubaker standard, which is to say it’s…erm…hardboiled? Not really, actually. There’s more omniscient fatale 5 4narration than actual character thoughts this time – meaning we thankfully don’t have to see Nicolas Lash try his best at a Gregory Peck impression – and it works fairly well. Particularly outstanding is the middle chapter detailing central villain Bishop’s rise and fall as a Nazi commander and an envoy of the netherworld, where both dialogue and introspection are sparse but get the point across using short, chopped sentences. It’s a marvellously brevitous execution that tells (and, with Phillips’ artwork, shows) us just enough to make you unsettled and wonder about what else the words and images aren’t showing you. I think Bishop has Dionysus or Bacchus beat when it comes to evil hedonism.

A good finale needs to do a good job of boiling a series down to key points, or at least try and reach for an overarching statement. On its own, Curse the Demon is an interesting enough diversion, but combined with the previous four books it’s…well, I’m not really sure. Is it a cautionary tale about surrendering yourself to the lust of a beautiful woman? A horror story concerned with things in dark places? An aesop about the double-edged sword of immortality? A chance for Ed Brubaker to use all the boobs and coarse language he couldn’t use for strategic moments in his Captain America run?

Perhaps it’s all these things and more. It was definitely an engaging, exciting run once it hit the road, and it didn’t stick around long enough to outstay its welcome. But I feel like maybe I’m missing a little of the unifying factor. That, or I’m just reading into things too much: sometimes a woman shooting up Lovecraftian cultists is just meant to be a woman shooting up Lovecraftian cultists.

fatale 5 cover

PUBLISHER: IMAGE COMICS

STORY: 3.5/5

ARTWORK: 4/5

DIALOGUE: 4/5

OVERALL: 11.5/15

BEST QUOTE: “For a second I think I must be in a dream, or maybe that I’ve awakened into some living fairy tale. But then, I remember what Jo said… ‘It’s going to hurt.’ And I remember how most old fairy tales end.” – Nicolas Lash

Forever Evil

I struggled to muster the drive to crack this one open, guys. I was not expecting anything good. I was not expecting anything fun. I was not expecting the book to be any better than its prologue/predecessor/precede/pre-something-else Trinity War, which was as bland and flavourless as a Pringle you’ve sucked the salt from. Reception to each issue as it was being released did not fill me with any kind of good feeling, and once again to preemptively lament DC’s current run of either boring or foul work for any character who isn’t Batman. To top it off, we’ve literally been here before – a villains-only period of book releases permeated DC a mere five years ago, for cryin’ out loud. At least back then we got some pretty covers in exchange for some uninspired – and, in some cases, damn dirty – stories.

But muster drive I did, and having finished Forever Evil cover-to-cover can only either affirm my belief that the DC ‘verse is on a highway to a hell of its own devising or surprise me by being at least a little bit interesting and not in the least bit like that stupid Avengers vs. X-Men business a couple years back.

forever evil 1I just want to point out, I don’t actually enjoy tearing strips out of DC. No, sorry that’s wrong; I enjoy it the same way one enjoys pointing out a vital flaw or ill quote made by a detestable politician. You’re smug you found a petard with which to hoist the offending party, but you’re also lamenting the fact you have to find that petard for someone allegedly working for the betterment of your country. DC make Batman, my favourite comic book character. They made the best Green Lantern run I’ve ever read. They made me think twice about Superman’s value as a character. Hell, they wrote Watchmen. I don’t give a damn if that was nearly thirty years ago, that statement should still carry weight today. The company that gave you Watchmen is now giving you bland garbage like Trinity War and that predictably-awful Superman/Wonder Woman series.

So believe me when I tell you it brings me no joy to call Forever Evil a derivative, soulless piece of feckless garbage made in much the same spirit as that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 movie that also was made without a heart earlier this year and driven mostly by the need for more greenback. The book seems tailor-made to shake up the status quo a little, leave some sequel hooks and ultimately offer a muddled narrative that attempts complexity and multiple layers but fails to make either aspect work in its favour.

To wit, the Justice League have all ‘died’ following Trinity War‘s rushed finale and the Crime Syndicate of Earth-3 have arrived with some kind of prisoner in tow. After blotting out the sun, laying waste to a good chunk of the world and inadvertently revealing forever evil 3Nightwing’s true identity as Dick Grayson (and don’t worry, we’ll come back to that) the Syndicate declare our Earth now belongs to them. In opposition, Lex Luthor and a bunch of named villains band together to initially comply with and later outright rebel against the Syndicate to fight another day.

Forever Evil is not an entirely indicative title for the book – a better one might’ve been How Lex Luthor Saved The World And Also Made Himself a Pet Bizarro. Might be lengthier, but it’s more relevant to the book’s content. This is predominantly a Luthor gig, following his introspective narration and quest to rid the world of the Syndicate while the other villains dally about getting diluted into two-dimensional shadows of themselves.

That latter point is the book’s first big problem. The only characters given any weight or depth whatsoever are Luthor, Superwoman (Wonder Woman’s Earth-3 doppelganger) and Power Ring (Earth-3’s Green Lantern analogue). Everyone else gets a perfunctory couple of lines and those who get more are so flat and uninteresting that it makes you forget these are great, awesome characters from pre-existing works. The Sinestro of this book doesn’t tally with the characterisation Geoff Johns gave him in Green Lantern, particularly egregious since Johns is the writer of Forever Evil. Ditto that for the suddenly singular sociopathic Black Manta, or the street-smart Captain Cold, or even Batman. Yeah, you read that right; Geoff Johns found a way to make Batman uninteresting when he’s not off finding Chekhov’s guns to aid in the big finale. That’s one hell of a black mark all on its own.

forever evil 2

The second big problem is the story. Let’s be charitable and, rather than call this a collection of scenes that pretend at having a narrative purpose, instead just say the story of Forever Evil is quite lacking. We’re trying to find where the Justice League have gone; no, wait, we’re trying to stop the Crime Syndicate; no, now we’re trying to make an alliance between Batman and Lex Luthor; ok, now it’s a climactic fight to the death between Earth-3’s answer to Shazam and all the other characters who aren’t either dead or off the grid. There’s no build-up, no tension, no real sense of stakes or plausible threat, and when the actual big threat does show up in the most eleventh hour manner possible near the book’s conclusion it’s roundly defeated because Lex Luthor’s decided to crib a few notes from Batman’s playbook and actually be wildly competent now.

Hence the third problem: Lex Luthor. I’m all in favour of dimensionality in villains or exploring their possibilities as heroic – or, at forever evil 4least, anti-heroic – characters who are able to show a different side of themselves. Referring once again to his work with Sinestro, Johns is a master at adding fresh layers to seemingly one-note characters who you’d never dream of sympathising with (see also his work with Black Manta in Aquaman, though Sinestro is a better example). Unfortunately, that mastery is not present in the way Forever Evil really, really pushes the reader to like Luthor and understand that he’s complex and could possibly pass for a good guy every now and then. The inner dialogue about Luthor’s childhood gets tedious and its meagre attempt at thematic throughlines about his sister and that cat in a tree are all plain and ultimately uninteresting.

Luthor’s now a hybrid of Batman and Iron Man, between his insane competency, three-dimensions and suit of freakin’ power armour (and a quip made about the latter, and Luthor having everything except the helmet, seemed to pass off as Johns playfully acknowledging forever evil 6Luthor’s similarities to Tony Stark’s trademark armour, but in practice just made me irritated and wonder why DC can’t come up with some new bloody ideas for once). That swings me to the fourth problem, hinted at in the second; there are no stakes. Like, at all. The world is taken over, yes, but there’s very little sight of that on page for me to care. Of course the Justice League aren’t dead, and of course they’ll be back by the end, but we only get a few brief flashes of a trashed Gotham and a few other ruined cities at the start and that’s about it. And no, before you tell me they explored all that better in side-stories or miniseries branded with the Forever Evil umbrella title, that doesn’t count. The core story has to stand on its own as a narrative and as a crossover, and relying on supplementary material solely to build tension is a cop-out.

And on cop-outs, we come to the fifth and final big problem on Forever Evil‘s CV: Dick Grayson. I want to disabuse anyone of the notion that my quarrel with how Nightwing was treated in this book has anything to do with my personal affection for the character forever evil 8or some kind of fanboy disagreement or sense of entitlement as to how DC treats one of my favourites or any kind of crap like that. I want to make it absolutely clear that the capture, torture, quasi-death and go-off-on-a-secret-mission rigmarole Grayson suffers does almost nothing for the story and could have easily been excised without too much trouble. His imprisonment does raise emotional stakes for Batman a bit, and that weird little “We can kick ass together” thing Owlman tries to conscript him into is an interesting thread that’s never fully realised, but apart from that it’s a blatant shoehorning of the character into a scenario where they can launch into that new Grayson ongoing series they’re doing. Frankly, this stinks of someone at DC editorial – and one man in particular who, if you Google it, has a documented dislike of Grayson – deciding that rather than just address the narrative change in Grayson’s own series they would make sure Geoff Johns humiliatingly beats the crap, literally and figuratively, out of one of DC’s most fan-beloved characters. That’s probably the biggest slap in the face to me as a reader of DC and as a fan of Nightwing.

Wow. I didn’t think the book would make me this angry to write well over my usual word limit. Art is serviceable but uninteresting, handled by David Finch with workmanlike execution, and scripting is mediocre when it’s not outright boring. Sorry, art and dialogue are a bit perfunctory to my main concerns with the story.

Forever Evil was never going to light the world on fire, but combining word of mouth of its inherent much-betterness and the fact forever evil 7that not much could eclipse Trinity War as overhyped and boring made me hopeful it could at least, just for a little bit, be an interesting book. In actuality, the interesting bits are the sequel hooks it leaves towards the end which I would love to see paid off later (especially that final-page reveal of the real Big Bad behind everything), but to get there took far too much slogging through a comic that was dull when it wasn’t offensive or trashy.

I do not, in any sense, recommend Forever Evil. It’s not a simple “you and him fight” story you can at least enjoy on a superficial level, it’s not a tense and high-stakes thrilling tale of survival, and it’s not an interrogative narrative or character study even though it pretends for much of the pagecount that it is one. The one big word that leaps to mind when I think of it is “waste”; Forever Evil was boring, crap, frustrating and infuriating in almost equal measure.

It’s another reminder that when it comes to the big event-type stuff, you’re better off with Marvel. At least they’ve got Thanos.

Forever evil cover

PUBLISHER: DC COMICS

STORY: 1/5

ARTWORK: 2.5/5

DIALOGUE: 2/5

OVERALL: 5.5/15

BEST QUOTE: [after freezing and shattering Johnny Quick’s leg] “You think that hurts? Wait until it thaws out.” – Captain Cold

Avengers: Adapt or Die

Despite the fact I use it in the title of this very website, I’m a little wary when it comes to multiversal stories in superhero comics. It’s a thread the current New Avengers run has been following to good effect, charting the death of universes with Earth is the possibly-sorta-maybe focal point and showing us literal other worlds that could have been.

It’s a thread I wouldn’t expect in Jonathan Hickman’s vanilla Avengers run; while it does have sort of an intertwining story adapt or die 2with New, the book seems to be mostly doing its own thing and being a bit more accessible to casual fans. So when an alternate reality version of the Avengers show up, murderously antithetical to the originals we know and love, the book threatens to veer off into “too comicky” territory the same way Brian Bendis threw his hands up and just made All-New X-Men crazier than a bag of Republican cats.

Granted, it’s not like Avengers has been entirely gunmetal and serious in recent volumes, and Hickman isn’t exactly known for plots lacking in esoteric quality. But it’s a much more involved affair than other runs I’ve read, and I was worried it’d push the insanity button too hard by having Tony Stark face-melt a mirror counterpart who’s actually a savagely homicidal Jarvis in an Iron Man suit. Thankfully, even though that’s a scene Adapt or Die plays out, we don’t get quite that far into Crazyland.

I was ready to just write up Adapt or Die as another solid entry in Hickman’s Avengers body of work, but the more I read the less I got the sense that this is playing ball with his earlier style of adapt or die 3writing. The Avengers Machine preceding each entry is gone, and a number of the supporting characters he fleshed out have either had their facetime lessened or just dropped off the map entirely (probably to go join that Avengers World book). The slightly slice-of-life approach some of the chapters had, detailing one-off adventures amongst the larger Builders/Infinity plotline, are gone. We’re moving towards something big, and the story is starting to…well, condense is the wrong word, but it’s along those lines.

Adapt or Die consists of two stories; one chapter at the beginning deals with a rogue planet shot like a bullet at Earth that ends with an ominous warning for Iron Man about the dark future to come specifically for him. The other story follows the aforementioned evil-bearded doppelgangers arriving from a dead universe thanks to some A.I.M. shenanigans, and the larger implications their inception to our world present. Though both narratives get more or less wrapped by book’s end, you get the feeling – especially since this is a Hickman work – that this is merely the tiny pebbles preceding an avalanche.

I’m a little annoyed the second-tier characters Hickman put quite a bit of time into developing adapt or die 4aren’t here as much, despite Hyperion making a few things happen here and there, because they added a different flavour to what might have otherwise been a fairly standard “every hero who has a movie out right now” team-up book. Hickman can definitely write the major players, but I feel a bit of the unique identity’s been lost by focusing primarily on Tony, Cap and Bruce Banner rather than Sunspot or Cannonball. Yes, I know, the latter’s names are ridiculous even for superhero nomenclatures, but that was part of the appeal, dammit.

Despite that, Adapt or Die is an intriguing “shape of things to come” moment that especially crystallises during the dire prediction given to Tony near the beginning that, soon, everybody he knows will be trying to kill him. As with my complaint above about dropping other characters, this warning comes a little for left-field for a book that’s not ostensibly an Iron Man-centric story, but I’m intrigued to see where that goes. Could Hickman be finding a way to deliver some long-overdue extra karmic payback for the crap Tony pulled all those years ago in Civil War? I’m not sure, but I’d bet there’s at least one fan conspiracy website out there purporting that this is where we’re headed.

Art is handled solely by Salvador Larroca, who I’m glad to see is getting work following his excellent illustrations throughout Matt Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man run. The faces and costumes look great, and there’s some adapt or die 1especially excellent work delivered during an end-of-book lecture Bruce Banner delivers to Tony that conveys most of the former’s intent and the latter’s guilt merely through facial expressions. I’m always a big fan of Larroca, so I hope he’s sticking around for whatever’s next in the run.

Dialogue doesn’t quite feel like a Hickman book the same way New Avengers has recently, meaning a distinct lack of terribly overloaded exposition and some mostly down-to-Earth grounded word work that seems more of a Kelly Sue DeConnick or Matt Fraction caliber. The opening Avengers Christmas party on the roof of Stark Tower was a neat little character moment (and am I the only one who would jump at the chance to try a Thor-made beer pie?) and, once again, that lecture Banner gives at the end was fantastic from a visual and dialogue perspective. That said, the latter does lose a bit of its impact if you’re not flush on New Avengers‘ recent happenings, but I guess even without context it’s still some great interplay between two of Marvel’s best-written characters.

If rumours are even a little true, then we’re due for something big to happen in May next year when Hickman’s twin Avengers runs come to their respective ends. Common suggestions are a reboot or relaunch of reset or re-somethingelse that’ll occur during the end when, according to ominous Marvel marketing slogans, “Time Runs Out“. If it’s true, I’d say we’re seeing the first minutes of that time start to leak from the hourglass; Adapt or Die‘s ending strongly hints at a ‘beginning of the end’ style of storytelling, and over in New Avengers we’ve got the distinct impression we’re nearing the end of the multiversal death throes. Now it’s up to Hickman and co. to show us what’ll be born in the aftermath.

adapt or die cover

PUBLISHER: MARVEL COMICS

STORY: 4/5

ARTWORK: 4.5/5

DIALOGUE: 4/5

OVERALL: 12.5/15

BEST QUOTE: “I have prepared steaks, hamburgers, and veggie burgers. Furthermore, I have grilled the hog dog, though the quality of this meat seems…questionable. This I cannot recommend. I also attempted a lobster, but the beast defeated me.” – Thor

The Other Dead

I’m sorry again, guys. I can’t let you go another week without putting something up here. I’m still waiting on new comics to arrive in the mail, so it’s making updates difficult.

For now, I want you to check this book out. I reviewed it back in February for NetGalley, with the original piece up over at Goodreads right here. I’m reposting it on the Writer’s Multiverse because it’s almost certainly a contender for one of the 5 spots in my Worst Of for the year; consider it the comic book answer to Ride to Hell: Retribution.

One way or another, there will be a new review of a new book on a new Sunday that is new in the next new week. Until all that abject newness arrives, enjoy this gem originally published February 8, 2014.


This review is courtesy of an Advanced Review Copy through the good folks at NetGalley.

Ok. Give me a second to gather my thoughts here.

I get that zombie stories aren’t for everybody, especially since we live in a world where franchises like The Walking Dead are the catalysts for full-on undead saturation on television, within comics and in spin-off literature. The tropes surrounding stories about the living dead are well-worn and old-hand chestnuts, and as such we might be getting a bit bored with the whole effort.

So when a zombie story appears touting itself as something different, in much the same way Sheltered marketed itself as ‘pre-‘ rather than ‘post-‘ apocalyptic, I’m wary. Usually, this is a scenario where an undead tale is different the same way Zombieland differentiated itself from, say, 28 Days Later – where once there was gritty survival horror is now Woody Harrelson kicking undead teeth in with a banjo and a pair of hedge clippers. The broad strokes are similar, but the devil in the details sets it apart.

The Other Dead is most definitely apart from any other zombie narrative I have ever experienced; namely, since it’s a singularly stupid, aimless, convoluted-yet-childishly-simplistic and utterly ridiculous fictional venture. And that’s coming from someone who read Cry for Justice.

other dead 3Ok, before I open with both barrels I should highlight that the idea of zombie animals rather than people is a neat concept, and while I’d be wary to carry an ongoing series on that idea alone it is interesting to see it explored. Granted, it’s nowhere near as exciting, nerve-wracking or sad as seeing humans, like the ones we live beside, becoming undead killing machines, but it’s still intriguing. And I will say, despite the utter bile I’ll dispense on it shortly, that the idea of the American President wading in and fighting flying zombie ducks is a pretty cool idea on its own.

Now that’s over with, let’s get to the remaining 95% of this dross.

First, characters. There aren’t any. Oh, there are certainly people walking around and spouting inane dialogue, but they aren’t characters. I’ve firmly got it in my head that the planet Earth we’re viewing is actually a simulacra populated by half-programmed robots, which is far more interesting than the reality The Other Dead presents.

Of the many drawling nonces on display we have Az – a wannabe occult fanatic who looks like Lobo from the DC ‘verse lost weight and diversified into being a punkish jerk without any of the badass appeal – his brother Tommy – a Littlest Cancer Patient who resembles the kind of ghost-child that Haley Joel Osment wishes he could’ve acted as back in the day – and Az’s girlfriend Jelinda-something-or-other – who apparently wants EVERYBODY to call her by her full, slightly-exotic name, probably for some kind of sexual gratification. There are others who are less protagonists than they are named Redshirts, but since they’re unceremoniously killed off at the drop of a hat after a meagre attempt at characterisation they’re not worth mentioning.

Oh, and also President Freakin’ Obama is in this as a much fuller-haired, common-sense-impaired world leader who hits upon the world-beating idea of taking a trip to Louisiana to check out this zombie business. Because, y’know, not like he’s going to be needed for more important stuff in the White House, and nor is it necessary for him to take the Secret Service or any kind of protection besides a meek little advisor guy named Chip who’s apparently a dab hand at making sandwiches.

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Now, all of the above sounds like it should be the opening act of a hilarious, camp and over-the-top parody with all these disparate elements thrown up against a Southern monsoon and a legion of undead crocodiles. Indeed, if this had been the book’s gameplan and the tone it had shot for I probably would’ve been kinder. One of the many, many problems plaguing The Other Dead, however, is it’s trying its damnedest to be taken seriously when it most certainly cannot be.

None of the characters are the least bit relatable, interesting or engaging. We’re asked to feel sad when the aforementioned Redshirts are gored and thrown around by the aforementioned crocodiles, but we know nothing about them to have any emotional connection warrantingother dead 2 such a reaction. If they were actual Redshirts, similar to the one-shot characters Walking Dead routinely kills off right after introducing, it’d be different, but The Other Dead takes a brief stab at fleshing out these guys and girls pages before death so that their passing carries some kind of impact. Suffice to say, it don’t.

Neither do we give two hoots about our protagonists who, as stated above, spout inane dialogue that feels like it was scribed by the translators of Backstroke of the West. As well as the usual cliches of “What are we going to do?”, “I’m just glad you’re ok” and “Aren’t you responsible for starting this apocalypse because you and your friends did that blood ritual in the backyard last night?”, we also have curse words aplenty and deployed for no reason. “Shit” seems to be the word of the day and used, I gather, to try and add to the edgy, adult atmosphere the book is shooting for. There is such a thing as overdoing swearing, and The Other Dead kinda bypasses that stage to just make it tedious and repetitive.

What’s that, I haven’t covered the plot? Probably because it’s a zombie apocalypse – there’s only so much you can innovate in that regard, even with the reanimated corpses of squirrels as antagonists. They attack, people scream and die, rinse and repeat.

Now, I was thinking of maybe giving the book a pass at two stars and leaving it there. My immediate thought of going to one star by default seemed a little cruel, especially since it’s clear the book is at least, however meekly, trying something different from the norm. And realistically, I don’t want to say all these things to sound nasty or vitriolic. It is, after all, still a first volume, so maybe it’s just finding its feet, right?

But then we reach the end of the book, where I should probably put up a SPOILER WARNING before proceeding.

So our characters leave the relative safety of their house and get caught in the monsoon for reasons that are utterly asinine and don’t bear examination, when they’re rescued by a local wannabe Confederate – with an obvious grudge against Obama – who brings them into his survival shelter as a pack of killer zombie deer gather outside. While recuperating we’re treated to some truly awful dialogue even by the book’s standards – including such gems as the Confederate declaring Obama to be an even worse threat than said deer, because Obama wants this blokes’s guns and POLITICAL STATEMENT YOU GUYS – and end on a shot of Obama, his new Confederate frenemy and our other heroes heating up and getting ready to take on those deer with assault rifles. Quoth Obama, “I only said [guns] should be properly regulated…I never said I couldn’t shoot one.”

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At that point, I just went “Nope. Nope. Sorry. Nope.” Out loud. That’s how ridiculous it was. One star for you, Other Dead. What tiny shred of credibility you had with me just got eaten by those deer.

Like I said, if it was trying to be a parody I could definitely roll with that. It has the kind of meta-ingredients and overuse of certain tropes that a master like John Scalzi or Yahtzee Croshaw could work well with to form something funny and off-beat that takes jabs at the genre’s source material. The problem is that there are almost no intentional laughs to be found in this dreck, and if they actually are intended to be funny they could do a better job of telegraphing that.

other dead 4The serious moments that a good drama would use for character development come off as laughable, especially since we don’t know enough about these two-dimensional human sandwich boards to give a crap about what’s happening to them. The facepalmingly awful humourous bits that are intentionally included come off as both forced and as unfunny as one can get without hiring Adam Sandler for writing duties. The political jabs at Obama or his detractors – since it’s impossible to tell which side the author is on in that regard – fall flat because they’re heavy-handed and at the same time targetless. Is the point of mocking Stephen Colbert in the middle of a zombie animal apocalypse because the author genuinely finds him tiresome, or does the quick defence of the talk show host by one of the characters as being “ironic” indicate the author’s a voice of reason against those who think Colbert’s pretty terrible?

I’d say clarity of purpose is the only thing that could potentially save The Other Dead, since there’s no way its one-trick-pony new idea (which probably isn’t even that new, if one could be bothered to research other stories with undead animals) can carry it as anything other than a memorable and slightly innovative trainwreck. The Other Dead was a slow experience, which is surprising given the brevity of the ARC, that rather than following its arc to a crescendo of action and character drama is instead on a determined one-way trip straight to the discard pile.

other dead cover

PUBLISHER: IDW

STORY: 1/5

ARTWORK: 2/5

DIALOGUE: 0/5

OVERALL: 3/15

BEST QUOTE: No, sorry, nothing in this piece of dreck is even so-bad-it’s-good funny enough to wash out the horrific taste of the rest of it. It’s that bad.

Black Widow: The Finely Woven Thread

One of the things that really separates the current Captain Marvel and Hawkeye ongoings from the rest of Marvel’s current comic crop is the artwork. Names like Emma Rios, Dexter Soy and David Aja are putting best feet forward for those books by veering towards artistry that’s a far cry from the stereophonic colourfest that is most of superhero comics’ main go-to. Rios goes for off-beat pencils, Aja is a stripped-back ‘acoustic’ illustrator, and Soy makes everyone look like Skrulls. Ok, so art off the beaten track doesn’t always work, but at least it’s an attempt at something that breaks the mold a little.

black widow 4My thoughts on reading the first volume of Nathan Edmondson’s current Black Widow series began and ended with the artwork – namely, that it seemed to be trying a little too hard and wasn’t quite confident in its approach. I wouldn’t normally bring it up this early in the review, but it’s worth noting up front. The Finely Woven Thread is definitely a pretty book, but artist Phil Noto can’t seem to decide whether to go with the barebones approach with minimal colour and heavy emphasis on what’s on the panel rather than how pretty it is – a la Aja – or to stick with the flourishing, gorgeous watercolours (I think?) and sweeping combat layouts that evoke David Mack’s work on Daredevil with Brian Bendis. One part of Thread resembles a beautiful fever dream, the other’s a 60s throwback that could only be complete with giant dots and its protagonist in a go-go dress.

tl;dr – art is pretty, but needs to choose a style and stick with it.

But I guess the switch-footing artwork goes a little hand-in-hand with the story itself, which seems like an attempt at the Marvel Universe as written by John le Carre as it black widow 2follows the eponymous Black Widow’s moonlighting as an assassin when she’s not saving the world with SHIELD. Everything up until the halfway point of Thread is a standard job-of-the-week narrative until we start to hit the arc-based stuff when a dude with a very personal grudge against the Widow shows up, literally, as an agent of chaos (seriously, the arc words beginning here are all the do with “chaos”, which gets a little on the nose). From there we get the beginnings of what I imagine is a story with further reach than Edmondson’s originally clued us in to, which is exciting if a little belated.

Thread is a decent book, maybe even an OK book, but I’m left feeling like something’s missing afterwards. Edmondson does a great job bringing the Widow to life as a character and a badass simultaneously, with reason and motivation between the two fuelling each other nicely. The settings are nice, the plot’s streamlined enough for most to follow, and the page layouts during fight scenes are, without hyperbole, the best I’ve seen since Frank Miller’s work on that Wolverine miniseries. Widow’s supporting cast is good, surprisingly bereft of big name Marvel players besides incumbent SHIELD Director Maria Hill and a brief appearance by Hawkeye in a jab at Matt Fraction’s series.

black widow 1Actually, speaking of Hawkeye, I’m reminded of another thing delineating the successes of Captain Marvel and Hawkeye; the stories are fresh, separate and focus largely on gaps in their respective protagonists’ day jobs. Ok, maybe not so much Captain Marvel, but quite a lot of the stuff in her first volume only featured her traveling in time and fighting during World War II without Avengers backup. The books focus on the characters as people in addition to being superheroes, relying on their particular strengths to hold a narrative on their own without hitting the panic button and calling for Captain America when things get rough.

This is something Black Widow attempts, but doesn’t quite succeed at. The Widow herself is definitely independent on the job and largely off it too, and the inner monologuing provided by black widow 3Edmondson goes towards establishing her as a fleshed-out, three dimensional protagonist. But it just feels like it’s trying a little too hard to strike that balance that Hawkeye and Captain Marvel achieve so effortlessly, as if Marvel saw the two books’ successes and recruited Edmondson to match it on purpose. It’s still a good little story and engaging despite its problems, but it does feel a smidge manufactured versus the more organic feel those other two books had.

Taken on its own merits, The Finely Woven Thread is a fine start to another welcome female-led superhero ongoing, and if nothing else it’s definitely nice to see Natasha Romanoff drawn and proportioned as a real human being rather than a curvacious blow-up doll. I like that Phil Noto’s trying something different with artwork, I like that Nathan Edmondson is attempting a different path for the story than the previous Widow runs with Paul Cornell and Marjorie Liu, and I like that dialogue isn’t either completely inappropriate for the tone nor far too ingrained in spy lingo and gritty one-liners. But I still feel like a crucial component I can’t quite put my finger on is absent from Black Widow‘s current makeup, and until subsequent volumes hit that nail on the head I’m going to be left a little wanting.

I definitely recommend reading The Finely Woven Thread at the end of the day, but take it for what it is: a promising beginning that could very easily strike either side of the coin. And it has a guy named Iron Scorpion. Which is honestly a ridiculous name.

black widow coverPUBLISHER: MARVEL COMICS

STORY: 3.5/5

ARTWORK: 3.5/5

DIALOGUE: 3/5

OVERALL: 10/15

BEST QUOTE: “Home is where the hurt is. That might be the jungle. It might be back on the streets of my birth city. It might be here. And every home has dangerous predators of its own.” – Black Widow