Hawkeye #3 (Marvel, $3.99)
By Jeb D.

Okay, superhero comics fans, it’s put up or shut up time: for years, we’ve been demanding that the Big 2 bring us quality comics that aren’t weighed down by accretions of continuity, that stand apart from the endless parade of crossovers and events, that tell great done-in-one-issue stories. This is precisely what Matt Fraction, David Aja, and Matt Hollingsworth are doing, so we owe it to them, and ourselves, to go out and buy the darn thing!

It’s hard to describe how many delights Fraction crams into 22 pages of script here, including Clint’s countdown of terrible ideas, his back-and-forth with Kate Bishop over the cataloguing of trick arrows, and the shit he gets himself into when he tries to buy a 1970 Dodge Challenger. And what Aja brings to the party… I’ve always felt that comic books have to defer to Hollywood in depicting the kinetics of a car chase, but damned if Aja doesn’t present as exciting a sequence of vehicular mayhem as I’ve seen in all but a handful of films, and never in a comic. And while Terry Moore reigns as comic’s king of the reaction shot, it’s stunning how good Aja is at it, using maybe a third of the linework.

Marvel released a slew of four-star comics this week (including Daredevil, Captain Marvel, Thor, and X-Factor), but this one’s the four-starriest.

Rating:
★★★★☆

Out of a Possible 5 Stars


Cyberforce #1 (Free, Top Cow)
by D.S. Randlett (@dsrandlett)

This week saw the release of two very different Kickstarter projects. One is the actually very good (and much hyped on certain corners of the internet) album by Amanda Palmer, Theatre is Evil, which I was I was fully prepared to not like for some reason. Another is a project that I hadn’t heard of until Wednesday: The rollout of a new Cyberforce series, the first five issues of which will be free. Both are throwbacks in some sense. Theatre is Evil harkens back to eighties punk rock and various periods of David Bowie, while the rebooted Cyberforce looks back to the time of its original conception, the nineties. In both cases, the throwback elements aren’t necessarily what you’d expect.

Whereas the Youngblood reboot from earlier this year fully embodied everything that we hate about nineties superhero comics, Cyberforce looks to grab from a different set of influences. Instead of looking to the X-Men for inspiration this time around, the rather large creative team spearheaded by Marc Silvestri is looking to cyberpunk and Terminator 2. The book’s superhero roots are still in full effect, and the book’s ideas still feel very much of the nineties, but the inclusion of different tonal influences helps the book feel more distinct from the wholesale X-Men rip-off that it once was.

Besides the superb artwork by Khoi Pham, Cyberforce does very little to distinguish itself. This issue is largely expository, introducing the central concept and a few key characters, with some action beats thrown in for good measure. It seems that we’re in a world where technology has outpaced evolution, and humanity is getting ready to fall into its death throes. From there, the book’s story gets kind of murky. It seems that there’s some elite organization that knows that this is going to happen, so they’ve engineered new types of humanity (which is how we get the core Cyberforce group, apparently) that will be able to survive the coming storm. There’s some political commentary here, but it’s kind of jarring to see a world on the verge of complete collapse and a culture so manifestly different from our own talk in the same political terms that we do. The book seems very taken with its attempts at commentary and theme, but those are the least appealing (and actually rather stupid, if you stop to think about it) aspects of this book. More than that, the writers are so in love with with A lot of the design work here is top notch, and the action is deftly handled, but the story (or lack thereof) here doesn’t really let those elements shine.

Despite some rather good “production values,” Cyberforce is way more enamored with its thin concepts than its story or its characters. After reading this issue, I could not tell you one word about the central conflict, or about what drives the series’ principles. That’s been the case with a lot of this year’s first issues, and it’s rarely been a good sign. I suppose that for the price tag of nothing, the book is worth picking up for the artwork, and the core ideas of the book do have the potential to set the stage for a fun story. But the writers have to concern themselves with story before that can happen.

Rating:
★★½☆☆

Out of a Possible 5 Stars


Marvel Now! Point One (Marvel, $5.99)
By Jeb D.

Right off the top, I’ll tell you that I wouldn’t have paid $6 for this comic (I borrowed a copy), so you may not need to read further.

However, that doesn’t mean it’s without interest. This preview is designed to remind/alert comic readers that Marvel Now! will not just mean new #1 issues for such favorites as the Avengers and Fantastic Four, and the six short stories contained within will serve as introductions to new ongoing series of varying, but generally high, levels of interest.

The rundown:

Many readers will find the framing story grating on its face, intending as it does to further integrate the movieverse version of SHIELD (including Agent Coulson and the new Nick Fury) into Marvel’s comic universe (and I’m not sure I’d entirely disagree). Once past that impression, though, writer Nick Spencer and artist Luke Ross are planting the seeds of an intriguing assignment for Nick Marcus Johnson Fury, Coulson, Marina Hill and the rest, as a cheerfully omniscient man from the future bears dire warnings of things to come. It’s a familiar enough setup (at one point, Hill even ticks off the “usual suspects” who would be involved in time-travel shenanigans: Kang, Immortus, etc,), but Spencer’s dialogue feels relaxed, colloquial, and real. Ross is mostly drawing talking heads here, but his artistic sense is so cinematic that you really only notice that afterwards. The way this story is intercut with the others suggests that each of the characters involved will figure significantly in Fury’s assignment: that works better in concept than in execution; it sometimes feels as though they only told Spencer at the last minute that his story would be interrupted with jarring transitions every few pages. Still, it lays the groundwork to justify Marvel taking a stab at this ethnically modified “Agent of SHIELD.”

I’ll admit that I didn’t initially realize that the second story, of a young man and his mother imperiled by aliens, was the genesis of Star-lord (of the Guardians of the Galaxy). It’s a reminder that Brian Bendis’ scripts aren’t necessarily piled high with word balloons; there’s little dialog, mostly action, well-handled by Steve McNiven (who gives it an appropriately Spielbergian look), but I hope the impending Guardians series isn’t going to spend too much time setting up backstory.

Fans of Ed McGuiness will be pleased with his Nova segment, scripted by Jeph Loeb; fans of previous Nova Richard Rider, or good comics writing in general, may not be.

Another character new to me is Miss America (well, this version, anyway), but her encounter with Loki (scripted by Kieron Gillan, wonderfully illustrated by Jamie McKelvie and Mike Norton, with color from Matthew Wilson) is so charming, colorful, inventive, and funny, as to suggest that their upcoming Young Avengers may live up to Heinberg’s original, if not outright surpass it.

The high point of the issue, both in terms of curiosity going in, and result, is the Scott Lang Ant-Man segment from Matt Fraction and Mike and Laura Allred. I have to admit that I’d have thought the Eric O’Grady Ant-Man would be more their style, but this segment (the most self-contained story of the book) is an amazingly efficient blend of imagination, humor, meta-commentary, and pathos; it confirms what a great team these three will be on FF.

My X-Men reading has a fairly large gap between Byrne’s departure and Morrison’s arrival, so I don’t have any particular residual affection for the small army of mutants introduced in the 80’s and 90’s, including Forge, who anchors Dennis Hopeless’ final story here, or the “surprise” last-panel guest. That said, the Euro-influenced art by Gabriel Hernandez Walta, with moody coloring from David Curiel, is engrossing, and Hopeless’ perspective on Forge’s powers is distinctive, to say the least.

Conclusion: save your money for Young Avengers and FF for sure; Agent of SHIELD and Guardians of the Galaxy maybe. If the upcoming series that the Forge story previews were a solo book, I’d be more inclined to pick it up. And nothing save a change of writer would get me to drop coin on this version of Nova.

Rating as a comic: Rating:
★★★½☆

Out of a Possible 5 Stars



Rating as a purchase: Rating:
★☆☆☆☆

Out of a Possible 5 Stars


 

DC Universe Presents #13 (DC, $2.99)
by Graig Kent

Wow, can you believe we’re 14 months into “The New 52″ and this is the first time we’re seeing Blue Devil and Black Lightning?

I know, right?

And of course it makes perfect sense that these two characters get introduced together… because they’ve historically been such compatible characters. Who can forget all those great “Black and Blue” team-ups like..
…uh…
…and…
…um…

Ah, but I’m being snippy and sarcastic for no real reason, afterall, the whole purpose of “The New 52″ is to invigorate or revitalize the DCU stable and perhaps make superstars out of the also-rans, so why not two disparate entities like the street-level hero Black Lightning and the sometimes-goofball/sometimes-metaphysical Blue Devil. I mean, really, why not? If the influx and outflow of titles over of the past year-ish as well as endless rotation of writers and artists across almost all the titles has proven anything, it’s that DC is ready to throw anything at the wall to see what sticks.

However, this really does smack as an attempt to force a catchy, marketable “Black and Blue” pairing ala Booster and Beetle’s “Blue and Gold”. Whereas the “Blue and Gold” happened organically over a couple years of a monthly book, this is being given a couple of issues to both introduce the individual characters as well as their highly unlikely partnership.

Though these are new iterations of decades old creations, it’s not a complete overhaul. Lighting is still Jefferson Pierce, school teacher, and Devil is still Dan Cassidy, Hollywood stuntman trapped inside a demonic special effects costume. Both are now residing in Los Angeles, and both are intent on cleaning up the streets which are overrun with drug runners and foot soldiers of the crime lord Kingpi…erm…Tobias Whale (he’s never not been a second rate Wilson Fisk). Unfortunately, focusing their sights on the Whale has equally focused the Whale’s sights on them.

As different as these heroes could be, they also have mutual ground in their families, Pierce’s loving father, a crime reporter, and Cassidy’s loving grandfather, low-budget studio mogul, equally open and available to be “Uncle Ben-ed” so their progeny can have the responsibility that comes with their power. That’s the set-up at least, cliched to the nines. There’s even a Black and Blue hero fight as they misunderstand the intentions of the other when they first cross paths, not realizing they’re both pursuing the same objective.

Writer Marc Andreyko, who became a fan favorite with his oft-cancelled/oft-resuscitated Manhunter series, puts in little more than a journeyman’s effort here. It’s perfectly serviceable, but there’s no edge and definitely no surprises. The one nugget of distinction that the book might contain, though in quite an ancillary fashion, is that the DCU is so rapidly expanding with heroes that they`re starting to flop on top of each other to fight crime, tripping each other up. It would be great if another new hero or two collided with the Black and Blue just to hammer this point home, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I`m drawing this thread out of the story out of desperation for something original from the book.

Black Lighting`s new costume is also in want for something original. Take a quick peek inside and tell me that Nightwing shouldn`t be filing a “cease and desist” order on him. Ryan Sook provides an exciting visual of Lightning on the cover, and I have to wonder why he appears so differently within the pages. Aren’t Sook and interior artist Robson Rocha working from the same model sheets? The Blue Devil design isn’t awful, but the whole “peek-a-boo” front makes me think “glam metal”, and if Blue Devil were a glam metal hero this book would well surpass its mundanity. As with everything else in this book Rocha’s art is serviceable, but uninspired to the point that it’s not really worth much consideration.

Andreyko’s strong point is typically characterization, but he doesn’t deliver anything in Blue Devil, Black Lightning or Tobias Whale that resonates beyond “stock”. There’s certainly little that’s invigorating about what’s being done to them here. I wouldn’t put it past him to turn them about in the next three issues, but this issue provides no real draw for readers to return for more.

Rating:
★½☆☆☆

Out of a Possible 5 Stars


 

Ultimate Comics Iron Man #1 (Marvel, $3.99)
By Jeb D.

Given his rather small bibliography in the Ultimate Universe, it’s impressive how many different directions successive writers like Mark Millar, Warren Ellis, and Orson Scott Card have managed to twist the character of Ultimate Tony Stark. This new series is a case where having the film version as a template is actually useful, as it gives writer Nathan Edmondson a place to focus (i.e., Robert Downey Jr.). Mind you, there’s still layers of unnecessary and inconsistent backstory (among other things, young Tony’s girlfriend is alternately referred to as Josie and Josey), but the present-day sequence feels strongly in step with the successful Hollywood characterization of the character. The art by Mario Buffagni, with color from Andy Troy, is clean and appropriately modern in design, old-school in its storytelling. The flashbacks made this first issue feel a bit of a slog, but if future issues emphasize forward motion, it should be a reasonable supplement to Iron Man’s participation in the ongoing Ultimates series.

Rating:
★★★☆☆

Out of a Possible 5 Stars