Welcome the New Warrior Scribes!

First, thank you to everyone that submitted articles for a spot on the column. There were a lot of high quality applicants. In fact, there were so many high quality applicants that we decided to take on four writers, when originally I was looking for two.

Please welcome to the column our new staff members – Chris, Elgin, Jeb and our old friend Mark (no stranger to these parts). Look for their first round of reviews in our next column!

Not just another Elseworlds: Paul Pope tackles Batman Year 100

By Graig Kent

 For a little over a decade DC Comics used its quasi-imprint “Elseworlds” as a means to grant creators license to play around with company-owned creations without having to pay mind to continuity or history.  The majority of the books wound up playing with the two big icons of Superman or Batman, messing with their origins, placing them in eras past, improbable futures, fantastical alternate worlds or famous literary settings.  Books like Superman: Red Son, Gotham By Gaslight, Thrillkiller, JLA: The Nail and Kingdom Come, amongst dozens of others, were the result.   Though always high-concept and usually dignified with a prestige or original graphic novel format presentation, the bulk of the Elseworlds products were of mediocre execution.  DC’s inconsistent use of the brand as well was puzzling, as books like The Dark Knight Stirkes Again or the routinely way out-of-continuity series Legends of the Dark Knight were never tagged with the emblem.  It’s evident that they’ve set the brand free recently, since books like the softcover release of Superman: True Brit (which was an Elseworld book in hardcover) and Bizarro World have appearing on the stands sans logo.

But does it really matter?  Had years of average books made the Elseworlds brand a detriment to the books it was trying to help differentiate on the stands?  I can only attest that I was getting bored of the routine variations of Batman, Superman and the JLA.  It seemed to me that the books were more about creating an interesting Elseworlds concept for the characters than telling a good story.  The conceit always seemed the same, as if to say either, “look at how different they’d be” or “look at how similar they are”.  There weren’t many instances in which the concept truly got away from the characters.  The reader, for the most part, always had to be referencing the in-continuity characterisation to get the full effect of the alternate world.  It’s not that Paul Pope’s Batman Year 100 doesn’t follow suit, it’s just that without the Elseworlds tag, things just seem a little different.

With the absence of the logo the emphasis is instead that it’s Paul Pope’s story, relying on the strength of the creator rather than its concept.  The fun is watching Pope apply some of his usual themes and aesthetics to the Batman concept: lot’s of ugly, clunky, futuristic technology; a grungy, grimy, Gotham; and a sense of fashion that seems almost Russian crossed with professional sports.  Batman wears a heavy, pocketed utility belt, thick soled, lace-up leather boots, a leotard more resembling longjohns with a pair of laced-up boxing shorts overtop and off-the-shelf leather gloves with a home-made cowl.  Primitive cos-play.  The FPC agents wear a wardrobe that appears as stripped-down football players with numbered jersey, pads and helmet instead of standard police flak.

Batman Year 100 takes place in 2039, out of current DCU affairs, but inferring that it is in-continuity with Detective Comics #27,the original Bob Kane Batman’s first appearance.  One hundred years after Kane’s Dark Knight started pounding Gotham’s pavement, reports to the police and the news of a bat-like creature stalking the night emerge.  The overbearing government and its Federal Police Corps (“FPC”) had thought they’d long since quashed any “double-Us” (unclassified, undocumented), having whittled away privacy and anonymity to nothing, but the mythic “Batman” re-emerging on Gotham’s streets has them on the hunt.  It doesn’t help that he was spotted at the scene where a dead FPC agent was found, either.

The mystery of the book is two-fold.  The first is who killed the FPC agent, because we know it can’t be Batman.  The second is who is this Batman, and how does he fit into this world.  Though we don’t find out immediately, through the supporting cast we find out more clues as to who he is.  They include a GCPD coroner and her daughter, both familiars of his, and, naturally Detective Gordon, the grandson of the former commissioner, which puts the reader in mind to reference Batman stories of past. 

Anyone who’s encountered Pope’s work before should know exactly what to expect, those that haven’t should know his style can be pretty divisive.  You’re either going to like it or hate it, but either way you have to admit it’s perfect for the kind of story he tells.  Provided Pope can maintain the intrigue and expand upon his future world and its characters over the next four issues, the series should prove appealing to Batman, Pope and Elseworlds fans alike.

THREE AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS
3 and a half

Storm Doesn’t Quite Raise Temperatures in Her New Series

By Devon Sanders

 She is everything, a goddess, a queen, a superhero, redeemed, a leader. She has tamed the wild, the feral. She is literally, become a force of nature. She is every Black woman I have ever known. She is Storm, the black super-heroine, bar none. She was my mother’s favorite superhero and I keep a statue of Storm in my apartment in honor of my mother. I asked to review this comic. After reading Storm #1, I walk away with mixed emotions, as it began with promise and literally, ended with a cliché.

Young Ororo Munroe is alone, a thief in Africa. On its’ streets, opportunity coupled with misdeed has become a commodity, one the disadvantaged can buy into. On a dare from a jealous fellow thief, Ororo seizes an opportunity for misdeed. A camera is snatched, a shot rings out and eyes once blue turn white, bringing from the skies, lightning. All at once, an evil man sees an opportunity to further his own misdeeds in the eyes of a white-haired girl. In the midst of it all, a young boy will someday go on to become a king, a hero, quietly watches on.

Acclaimed novelist Eric Jerome Dickey writes in a very dramatic style, one where the characters don’t so much speak to one another but make declarations in the hope that the reader will pick up on their meaning. Dickey’s pacing is extremely decompressed but shows promise from a first-time comic book writer. What I did find unfortunate about this issue was its antagonist, an unnamed, gun-toting, sweating, mustachioed White man. After having something stolen from him, he becomes a walking cliché, killing a White man and Black man, almost as if to say we should view him as an equal-opportunity bastard. This guy seems to have escaped from someone’s fan-fic and found his way into a Marvel comic. He’s simply “engineered” to be evil and already, to me, incredibly uninteresting.

Artist David Yardin (Black Panther) is very serviceable for this story. Whether drawing an open market scene or a scene lush with jungle foliage, he infuses it all with equal attention to detail. Yardin excels at facial expression that at times recalls former Justice League artist  Kevin Maguire. He should be noted for his ability to draw a wide range of Black faces. Yardin draws us high cheekbones, wide noses, button noses, different textures of hair. He draws us as part of something beautiful and something wonderfully individual.

Be warned: if you’re looking for Storm, the superhero, in Storm #1’s pages, you will not find her. Storm #1 is very much focused on Ororo, the child who will eventually go on to greatness as an X-Man. In choosing one of African-America’s most renowned writers, Marvel’s given Storm treatment fitting of royalty but with clichéd characters and just passable comics writing to start out, Storm leave her subjects, the die-hard X-Men fans, out in the cold.

TWO AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS

Brubaker and Lark Got Nothin’ Coming For “Daredevil”

By Russell Paulette

 Nothing good, at any rate.  Question: how do you follow up a successful run on a popular title by fan-favorite creators?  Answer: Stick a couple of loved soon-to-be-A-list creators on there, and let them do their thing.  Kudos, then, went to Marvel from me back when they announced their exclusive agreements with writer, Ed Brubaker, and artist, Michael Lark.  It seemed these two were handpicked to follow Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev’s superlative run on Daredevil, and with issue # 82, Brubaker and Lark started off their run, which promises to be just as good—if not leagues better—than Bendis and Maleev…and I really, really liked Bendis and Maleev’s work. 

Bendis clanged shut the bars on our title hero at the end of his final issue, and Brubaker starts his story leaving Matt Murdock rotting in jail.  The arc, titled “The Devil in Cell-Block D,” starts by focusing on the legal wrangling Murdock and his former partner, Foggy Nelson, are attempting to get Matt out of jail.  Or, at the least, to keep him in solitary confinement.  Seems the government is posturing for Matt to be placed into Gen.Pop. due to his being on trial for being Daredevil—how could a blind man really do all those things?, the logic goes, so why not treat him like a regular prisoner.  But you put a superhero in a nest of vipers he helped put there, and the conflict is clear.  To top it all off, Brubaker ratchets up the tension with the death of a longtime character in the issue’s closing pages, and you’ve the makings of a stellar start to a potentially blockbuster run.

All done without skipping a beat from Bendis.  Which is not to say that Brubaker clones his writing to match—make no mistake, the book works seemlessly from the previous, Bendis-penned issue, but still carries Brubaker’s signature in the writing.  Gone are the Bendis-ized sprawling conversations that dance across the page and determine the pace of the staccato rhythms of the page.  Instead, Brubaker very deliberately, very carefully structures his action and dialogue scenes tightly and claustrophobically—appropriate considering our hero’s predicament.  Gone, too, are the wordless fight scenes, replaced by Brubaker’s skill at capturing the internal voice of a given character.  Bendis liked to keep Matt at a distance, and immediately the contrast is striking—Brubaker sinks the reader into Daredevil’s head, and keeps us believing in, and rooting for, our perpetually put-upon hero, even as he shows a ready willingness to subvert simple ethics to free himself from jail.  Indeed, Brubaker argues, anyone would do the same, and argue for the greater good.  Within a short few pages, Brubaker expertly sets up this moral dilemma, and lets the drama of the situation play itself out.

Not to be outdone, Michael Lark shines as much on these pages as he did on the crosstown rival’s sadly missed book, Gotham Central.  Always expertly framed, the scenes play out in a tense, terse, dirty environment, as the concrete slabs of the jail-cell walls, and the rusted metal of the barred doors ooze through Lark’s rendering.  Not to be overlooked visually, either, is Frank D’Armata’s expert coloring, which highlights in subtle shifts of tone the delicate linework that Lark gives each moment and each scene to deliver that verisimilitude his artwork is known and respected for.  While never flashy, what Lark delivers on is stark, simple, straightforward storytelling with HBO-level production values.  Like a classic seventies thriller, Lark guides the reader through each scene with a level of precision and honesty that mirrors the work of Maleev, while bringing a whole new texture and life to the book.

As I said in the lead, I thought Bendis and Maleev did a brilliant job on wrapping up their fifty-odd issue run.  That said, with just one issue under their belts, Brubaker and Lark provide an altogether different tone that not only meshes beautifully with the work of their predecessors, but manages to provide a voice that solidly sings its own tune.  All while being a damn good read. 

FIVE OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS


Giantkiller tpb
Image Comics (BUY IT HERE!)

By Graig Kent

 Giant monsters… daikaiju… we’re not exactly talking original concept here.  Giant monster stories have been a cinematic staple for over 50 years, with rather formulaic plots and cookie cutter characters, and yet there is still a sizeable audience that continues to enjoy the hell out of them.  Hey, if it ain’t broke…  With Giantkiller it’s not like creator Dan Brereton has put together a genre-busting story or altogether unique characters, but it does have everything you would want from a book that promises nothing more than giant killing.

As the story goes, the daikaiju appeared in Southern California after a volcanic eruption, their spread across the countryside limited by the accompanying toxic environment that is more akin to their natural habitat.  The military has been quite useless in fighting these creatures, and their unrestrained attacks have become almost commonplace.  But there’s a new weapon, a genetically engineered human-monster hybrid named Jack (as in “and the Beanstalk”).  Trained to fight by the samurai code, Jack is armed with only two weapons: a blade forged from his “father’s” tooth, and himself which, evidently, is more than enough.

The bulk of the book is Jack’s fighting with the giant monsters, but there’s smaller flourishes like Jack discovering the background of people he serves and finding out the origin of how the daikaiju came to Earth (which of course involves facing off with the “big bad”.)   If it seems fairly straightforward, that’s because it is.  Though the story is serviceable, it’s really Brereton’s art that is the draw.   Vivid and gorgeous colours pop on every page, each panel a visual wonder, rife with movement and excitement.  It’s a very stimulating read, and Brereton’s unique, pulpy illustrative style is perfectly suited for the genre. 

The trade paperback contains all six issues of Giantkiller originally printed by DC Comics, as well as the “Field Guide To Big Monsters” full of lush splash pages of each of the creatures that appears in the series.  There’s also an ample sketchbook section rounding out the compilation.   Though the story may not be something worth reading in whole over and over, the illustrations are more than enough to have this one repeatedly coming off the shelf, with a creased spine and dog-eared pages.

FOUR OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS


 Hellboy: Makoma # 1 (Dark Horse) – I had mixed feelings about this one. On the hand, it is Mike Mignola. So, it does have a good bit (at the first third does) of the atmospheric gothic horror and supernatural antiquity flavor that Hellboy readers have come to know and love over the years.  But the bulk of the story finds Hellboy hypnotized by a mummy and “experiencing” an African parable as is it’s happening to him.  Interesting to be sure.  But I’m confused as to its overall significance. Is this just one of Hellboy’s many quirky adventures, or does it have meaning in the overall Hellboy mythology?  (Does that even matter?) That said, the selling point for this series is the artwork, and the visuals are split between Mignola and fan-favorite Richard Corben.  The clash of styles works to effect here.  Mignola handles the framing sequence at the New York City Explorer’s Club, and his sharp and angular gothic style is familiar to us.  Corben’s soft and rounded style however immediately suggests something “other,” and this helps transport the reader to the supernatural vision world were the story takes place. A lot of the familiar Hellboy elements are here – the eerie but adventurous tone, the bizarre creatures and the protagonist’s incredible sense of humor – but so far the story lacks the punch of the Hellboy of old.  Still, an entertaining and visually impressive comic. – Sean

RATING:

 Captain Atom: Armageddon #5 (DC/Wildstorm) – I was watching Raiders of the Lost Ark the other day for the first time in well over a decade, and I was kind of surprised at how violent it is, especially since I always considered it a kids movie.  But a thought crept into my head, as Indy was shooting guys with swords, choking people with his whip, kicking people out of moving vehicles and tossing people into plane engines: “They were Nazis.  If you can’t kill Nazis, who can you kill?”  Those sage words were provided by the Authority’s Engineer to Captain Atom as she and the King of Cities took Cap on a tour through alternate dimensions.  They were trying to return Cap to the DC Universe, only to wind up in a world where Nazis won WWII and still reign supreme.  At one point the King of Cities brings that dimension’s aged Hitler to his knees in front of Cap.  “That’s every all-American boy’s dream, right? To kill Hitler.”  The differences in the Wildstorm universe as compared to Cap’s own just keep compounding, and as they do, this mini-series just keeps getting better.  There are some brilliant quotables provided by writer Will Pfeifer and his execution of this series is masterful.  The art by Giuseppe Camuncoli and Sandra Hope is a little too thin on the ink line for my liking, but their framing and storytelling serve the book well.  Solid reading.  Graig

RATING:

 Zombie Tales: Death Valley #1-2 (Boom! Studios) – Not blown away, but pleasantly surprised.  It’s the last day of high school, and while a group of high school students make preparations for an end of the year rave in the school’s subterranean basement, the rest of Los Angles is being mutated into flesh eating zombies by a series of bizarre solar flares.  Throw in some handguns and let the fun begin!  Every high school kid’s dream, right? Well…it was mine, damn it!  Death Valley has the look and feel of a teenage summer horror movie, from the characters, to the dialogue to the plot beats.  That’s not a judgment, it’s just a fact.  But as far as teenage summer horror movies go, writers Andrew Crosby and Johanna Stokes have penned a good one.  Dawn of the Dead it ain’t, but if you got a kick out of flicks like Night of the Comet and The Faculty, you’ll certainly get a kick out of this.  Sean

RATING:  3 out of 5 Vikings

 Batman: Gotham Knights # 74 (DC) — “It All Ends Here!” proclaims the cover copy, implying that the audience gave a damn.  Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh, but for the past four-odd years, Batman: Gotham Knights has been a bit of the ugly-duckling-who-couldn’t of the Batman-centric titles.  All the writers on the book opted for the same basic approach: writing a Batman title that’s not really about Batman.  The latest creative team of AJ Lieberman and Diego Olmos choose to end the book with a quasi-ending to the story of Hush.  Created as the straw-man villain of the popular Loeb/Lee run on Batman, Lieberman attempts to give depth and clarity to Hush, while propping him up as a key player in the Gotham underworld.  Guess what?  Nobody cared.  And with this issue marking the title’s cancellation, as DC enters its One-Year-Later phase and culls some of the chaff, we’re left with an issue that ends on a non-ending—Lieberman gives us a potentially compelling scenario of the Joker remote-controlling pacemakers, and Hush getting one surgically implanted in his chest.  Rather than confirming that he helped remove it, the book ends on a note of Batman making Hush wonder if he really removed the pacemaker or not.  The end.  Ho-hum.  Russell

RATING:

 X-Factor #3 (Marvel) – It’s odd, because every time I read a book by Peter David I wind up being thoroughly entertained… as entertained as I would be from a book by Keith Giffen or Brian K. Vaughn or any other writer whose works I fanboyishly follow.  And yet, I’ve rarely pick up David’s books.  A few trades here and there for sure, but aside from his original run on X-Factor, and now his current revival thereof, I’ve not been very loyal follower.  But, admitting my rather limited exposure, I’d have to say if there was ever a book by David worth picking up, this would be it.  Humor, drama, melodrama, politics, espionage, murder, and frak yes, superheroes…  David takes all those elements and weaves them around his cast of mutants who just happen to be running a detective agency.  And the book isn’t just Simon and Simon-style for-hire cases, the investigators are also dealing with the fact that many of their fellow mutants are no longer mutants in the wake of House of M, and tensions in Mutant Town are riding higher than ever.  Jamie Madrox, the Multiple Man, is the heart of the book, but the supporting cast, especially the intriguing/mysterious Layla, “the girl who knows stuff” (who gets a little more exposure this issue), is exceptionally well rounded. The art in issue three is a joint effort by Ryan Sook (inks by Wade Von Grawbadger) and Dennis Calero.  Though each has their own style (Sook more Adam Hughes, Calero more Kevin Nowlan) there is uniformity in use of shadow, with additional consistency from colorist Jose Villarubia, holding the book’s unique dark-but-not-brooding look together.  It’s an extremely tight package, and a hell of a read. –Graig

RATING:

 Beowulf #6  (Speakeasy Comics) – A rather abrupt finale to a rather unsure-of-itself storyline.  To say that Beowulf has had an uneasy go of it so far would be putting it lightly.  Changes in artistic teams and production delays just scratch the surface of all the drama that has gone on behind the scenes of the publisher and title, but ignoring all that, the actual book doesn’t fare too well either.   Brian Augustyn caps off his final issue with good intentions and some creative ideas, but the execution is weak, the dialogue inconsistent and the characterisation all over the place.  After six issues it still seems like Augustyn didn’t have a solid grasp on his hero, both his motivations and his personality, and his bad guys try too hard not to be cookie cutter.   It doesn’t help that artist Atilla Adorjany’s lines are scratchy and his figures awkward, meaning it’s not exactly easy on the eyes, but I do like his color sense and his rough framing style, so it’s not all bad.  A new writer hops on board next issue, which hopefully signals a new, more focussed direction.  Meanwhile, the debut of The Inexplicable Adventures of Hawker Hurricane – a new back-up feature by Lost Dogs creator Jeff Lemire – is the real draw here.  A kitschy, darkly comedic and uniquely illustrated octet of pages that’s a mini anthlogy reminding me of Evan Dorkin’s DORK for some reason, even though the two are utterly distinct.  Wherever it might appear, I’d like to get some more of this. -Graig

Main story – RATING:

Backup feature – RATING:

 Batgirl # 73 (DC) – The cancellation scythe strikes again, this time taking down Cassandra Cain, the ostensibly mute Batgirl of the last four-odd years.  Another sore-thumb book, Batgirl has maintained itself as consistently readable, particularly in its last year-and-change under Anderson Gabrych and his current artist, Pop Mhan.  The latest story, which is fitted for a proper ending with this final issue, involved Batgirl’s search for her birth mother—who turns out to be, pretty much, who everyone figured.  Pulling in various threads from the last few months—including Lady Shiva, a Lazarus Pit, and Batgirl’s (third?) death—Gabrych gives the character a fitting ending, resulting in a choice and a renunciation that speak to an actual maturation for the young heroine.  Too bad the major cosmic events will render it all moot, but for a little while, Batgirl was the little mute who read actions as a language and, as a hook for an adventure comic, has served its usefulness and then some.  -Russell

RATING:  3 out of 5 Vikings

 Manhunter #19  (DC) – I’m feeling a little guilty.  Mark Andreyko, the series writer, has recently hit the internet imploring people to buy his book – tacking on a money-back guarantee – in hopes of raising the book’s profile and stave off cancellation.  As much for him that I hope it works (it’s always nice to see creators having such passion for their work), I’m dropping the book.  Manhunter is one of those solid middle-of-the-road books with competent art from Javier Pina and Fernando Blanco, and decent storytelling from Andreyko, but there’s nothing stellar about it.  There’s nothing genre-defying nor anything specifically inventive.  Each issue does have its cool moment, though, whether it’s a cliffhanger ending or, in this issue, a shocking moment of brutality coupled with a surprise personal revelation.  It’s not that I don’t like this Manhunter, (who by day is recent divorcee, absent mother, and lawyer Kate Spencer), because I do.  He writes her well.  But Andreyko has tied her tighter and tighter into DCU continuity, bringing DEO agent Cameron Chase, former Manhunter Mark Shaw, and former superhero Obsidian into the fold of her supporting cast, and it’s here where things fall apart.  Aside from Dylan, her tech-geek assistant, the supporting cast (with also includes her ex, her son and her legal aide) are all thinly written and uninteresting, and now they’re so abundant I’m not expecting much more depth out of them.  Plus they take the focus away from Kate.  The character that started as a lone, avenging vigilante has in a year and a half become a government agent with a JSA supervillain for a father.   It’s gone from simple concept to way too convoluted characterization in rapid pace, and Kate no longer being a DCU outsider has taken away much of her charm.  Issue 19 is the perfect jumping-off point for me, and for those that are intrigued, issue 20 will be the perfect jumping-on point as it’s the beginning of one-year later.  Like I said, I wish it luck, but it’s just not for me. -Graig

RATING:  3 out of 5 Vikings


So ends this accounting of valiant warriors and high adventure! Return next week to honor still more comics. Praise Odin.

HAVE A COMIC YOU WANT TO SUBMIT FOR REVIEW? Contact Sean at scfahey@yahoo.com.

To discuss this column and all things Nordic, you may contact Sean at scfahey@yahoo.com , Devon at thedevonsanders@yahoo.com , Dave at dave@chud.com , Russell at inadvertent@mail.com , Rob at poprob@gmail.com and Graig at graig@geekent.com.