Bring Out Your Dead! It’s the Ghoulish Finale of “Marvel Zombies”

By Jeb D.

 Writer Robert Kirkman made his name in the indie comic world by exploring the depths to be found in stories of superheroes (Invincible) and zombies (Walking Dead). In the wake of the initial successes of these titles, Marvel signed him up, and has had trouble finding just the right project for him. There were the 2099 one-shots that disappeared without a trace, a short stint on Captain America, and a gig on Marvel Team-Up that’s divided longtime Marvel fans. As obvious as it seems in retrospect, what finally gave Kirkman his Marvel breakout was the simplest approach of all: combining what he was already good at—superheroes and zombies.

The simple premise of a version of the Marvel Universe where a plague has turned most of the heroes into flesh-eating zombies could have been a “Snakes On a Plane”-style one-note joke, where the on-the-nose title is pretty much the story. Instead, the series is anything but one-joke;  its humor is as black as you could desire, its pathos truly pathetic. Marvel Zombies is well-named. These zombies are true Marvel characters, and not simply because they’re based on familiar MU superheroes, but because they follow the time-honored Marvel template of introspection, action and angst. The desperation of their hunger is vivid, and the story touches on the humanity that lies inside all of us, even those no longer very human.

In this finale of the five-part series, the zombie “heroes,” having consumed the Silver Surfer and acquired a share of his power, are facing down a team of familiar Marvel villains for the chance to snack on Galactus, in a good old-fashioned superhero throwdown, albeit with most of the characters missing bits and pieces. It’s all ghastly good fun, and one of Marvel’s greatest villains finally gets to realize his lifelong dream. The book ends in classic horror-comic fashion: “The End?”

Artist Sean Phillips and colorist June Chung have done phenomenal work on this series. Though the book carries the same T+ rating as, say, Uncanny X-Men or Young Avengers, Phillips’ visuals are so creepy and disturbing that you have to look twice to see that it’s not “adults only” (he’s also the first artist since Kirby to evoke this kind of  awe in his portrayal of Galactus). The brilliant covers by legendary artist Arthur Suydam are each a ghoulish parody of a classic Marvel cover, and he evidently did enough different ones that the series’ reprints may prove to be even more collectible than the regular issues.

Marvel Zombies is a triumph. There are indications of a sequel, or spinoff series, and while I’m sure Kirkman and Phillips aren’t exactly out of ideas yet, I’d be perfectly happy if that never happened. Once you achieve near-perfection in a comic, it’s best to resist the temptation to start consuming yourself.

RATING:

In The Exterminators, The Bug Invasion Turns Nasty!

By Mark Wheaton

 The Exterminators just keeps getting better and better, more creative, more interesting, more disgusting.  The big disgusting panel here comes from a massively/morbidly obese woman who hasn’t risen from her sofa since 1992 – so much so that she’s had a hole cut into the couch with a shit bucket positioned under her ass.  Bug-Bee-Gone gets called as there’s a rat under the sofa now biting her naked butt.  Henry goes under there to put in a trap only to find the rat gnawing on the very last wooden support holding the sofa aloft.

As Henry stares at the rat, it nervously chomps through the last piece – sending the whole thing collapsing, Henry barely able to escape at the last second.  Henry’s thoughts on the matter?

“What you saw in that couch was a severe case of rodent depression culminating in suicide.  For whatever reason that rat just could not go on.”

Dear Simon Oliver.  You’re insane.  Love, CHUD.

But, frankly, that’s not the worst of it.  That comes from the A-plot which kicks off on page 2 when we see that literally thousands of the cockroaches are now massing against the Perez family to the point that, yes, it looks like – if Henry didn’t arrive at the time he did – they’d have been devoured alive by the now hungry cockroaches.  The cliffhanger of the issue – with Henry rescuing the little boy as he reaches for his inhaler – makes it look like we’re about to be introduced to a slow-burning, Dawn of the Dead-type scenario involving the decimation of civilization by mutant cockroaches.

The rest of the plot has Henry teamed up with a new partner, Kevin, who loves The Carpenters, believes in karmic destiny and all kinds of silliness, but he is the most mellow of Henry’s partners so far – more than the murderous Stretch and the drug-crazed AJ (whose corpse shows up in this issue to be ID’ed by Henry).  The ongoing Draxx controversy riding in the background keeps playing out as we learn that, yes, the cockroaches are mutating in damn-angry insects, but again, it’s all preamble to what comes next: an all-out cockroach invasion.

The Exterminators – for sheer originality, brutality and wit – is just one of the best new comics around.  This keeps being written in reviews every time a new issue hits stands, but it doesn’t make it any less true. 

RATING:

"Infinite Crisis" #6 Is Action-Packed, Pee-wee!

By Rob Glenn

 Infinite Crisis has been a cramped, exciting, big, expensive, overhyped, dumb battle royale of half-baked focusless mess.  And I am loving every page of it.  A quick scan of comic-related message boards will tell you that most fans feel like there is just too much going on in a finite number of pages.  Following along is an expensive affair where DC is expecting its fans to purchase tens of books as virtually everything under the swirling initials is a tie-in somehow.  Heck, for being a supposed universe-altering event not much really changes.  How do we know?  DC has already been releasing books set a year after the events found in Infinite Crisis.  Infinite Crisis is the last book to be set in that previous year.  So now they have 365 days to pin any inconsistencies on.  DC’s upcoming 52 will tie up a few loose ends, but you know someone, somewhere will find a detail missed.  This One Year Later stuff is a giant four season gap tailor made for retconning any continuity errors away.  It’s pretty smart, when you think about it.

If you’ve been following along, you know that Alexander Luthor (Lex’s son) of Earth-Three is the puppeteer whose been pulling all the strings.  He took over Batman’s paranoia-turned-metal Brother Eye.  He orchestrated the escape of the Supermen so as to shatter our universe into hundreds of alternate choices.  Now, in issue #6, Luthor Jr. is handpicking (literally) the portions of these different worlds that he deems suitable for a new world of his order.  This is the kind of ridiculously grand, sweeping story that superhero comics should always strive to be.  You have Batman, a few Green Lanterns, the new Blue Beetle, Mr, Terrific, Metamorpho, Black Lightning, Tasha (Bruce Wayne’s former bodyguard), Green Arrow and Black Canary in outer space fighting a sentient satellite.  What’s not to love (not counting Brother Eye using the word "eye" for the self-referencing pronoun like a character from 12 oz. Mouse)?  Near the North Pole, you have Nightwing and the latest Superboy taking on Lex Jr’s phallic tower of power directly.  No one told Luthor’s offspring that nothing pisses of superheroes like playing God.  The highpoint of the issue comes unexpectedly from the efforts of nearly all the magic-based superheroes DC has.  Calling upon The Spectre, they become the frog to his scorpion in one of the biggest laughs I’ve had from the printed page this year.

Writing duties still fall solely on Geoff Johns.  Again, we have multiple artists tackling the 32 pages of action.  Unlike the previous issues, the art is seamless.  And what art we have!  There is so much going on that your eye never knows where to look.  So many characters and so many dimensions represented makes for cameos from obscure past storylines as well as a few made specifically for a punchline.  Luthor’s reaction to an all Aztec DC makes the mess worth it.  Bright, colorful, engaging and slightly nonsensical; this is what superhero books are about.  DC has promised to bring the universe to a sense of normalcy after all of this is through.  Individual lines will stay where they are.  Crossovers will be kept at a minimum.  Well, I say, who wants that?

RATING:

Oh, Chimpanzee That! Dan Slott Brings us Monkey News with “Big Max #1”

By Jeb. D.

 In the years between his days doing comic adaptations of cartoons (like Ren and Stimpy and The Batman Adventures), and his emergence as one of the most promising writers in the Marvel Universe, Dan Slott came up with an idea for a creator-owned superhero story that would allow him to comment on, and have fun with, the familiar tropes and clichés that he’d grown up loving. Best of all, it would allow him to write the adventures of a big flying gorilla. Now, thanks to Slott’s pal Ty Templeton, and his Mr. Comics imprint, Slott fans finally get to savor the first (and, for now, only) issue of Big Max.

Big Max lives in a world where he is the most beloved of superheroes. And in the same way that no one in the WW2-era Gun Fu seems to notice or care that its hero talks in modern hip-hop slang, Max’s human contemporaries have no trouble accepting the fact that their protector is, in fact, a big gorilla in a mask and cape. Max is a sweet lug, fond of saying things like “Ape and at ‘em!”, who revels in such appellations as “The primate that lowers the crime rate”.

That’s the level Slott is operating on here— awful puns and crazy slapstick. It’s wildly silly stuff, a lifetime’s worth of superhero jokes rolled up into one issue. Sidekicks and secret identities get an affectionate ribbing, Max’s dream girl is unreachable in ways Clark Kent could barely imagine, and Slott comes up with what is easily the most imaginative super-villain in many years.

Artist James (Liberty Project) Fry gives the book a lovingly colorful bigger-than-Silver-Age life, very reminiscent of Slott’s collaborations with Templeton or Paul Pelletier. Even without the word balloons, this book would be a sheer delight to “read.”

Fans of Slott’s Marvel work may feel that Big Max is a bit slight, and there’s a reason for that. One of the things that makes his work on She-Hulk and The Thing so terrific is the way it plays with the established Marvel Universe—the way he constantly evokes that “of course!” reaction in the reader when he tries a new variation on some old character or theme. While he certainly brings humor to the Marvel Universe, he’s equally good at spinning a great ongoing superhero yarn, with a level of depth that’s not really called for in this one-shot story.

But that’s OK– Big Max stands gloriously on its own (read it all the way through—maybe the best joke of the whole book is in the “unused cover” gallery at the end). Slott’s current Marvel contract would keep him from writing more of Big Max anytime soon (though he hints that Fry might take a run at it, if sales warrant). However, anyone who enjoys this comic really needs to hop onboard his regular books She-Hulk and The Thing for more of Slott’s humor, combined with even more imaginative plotting and characterization than we see in Big Max.

Read Dan Slott—he’s the Alan Moore of Fun.

RATING:


Daredevil Vol. 13: The Murdock Papers
(Marvel Comics)

By Elgin Carver

 When I read the first issue of Daredevil in 1964, I really liked the character and what seemed a promising premise. A blind superhero whose powers not only negated Mat Murdock’s handicap but provided  him with abilities far beyond ordinary people and placed on a plane with many of the most powerful heroes on the planet. All too quickly, however, the book began to fail of its promise. The stories became repetitious, even commonplace. When that was combined with Gene Colon’s artwork, I rapidly lost interest and quit reading the book altogether. (Mr. Colon’s work is highly professional and competent, just not to my taste.) Once you quit reading a comic, you tend to continue to stay away until given a good reason to return. Over the years, I heard of some of Daredevils personal problems, but they only seemed to be reasons to keep the book at arms length. However, over the past few months I have seen several reviewers call it the best book around. So, with reluctance, I picked up this trade.

Well, this may not be the best comic on the market, but it sure is in competition. Intrigue, realism (for a super powered comic), with plenty of action, drawn in a style both distinctive and original, this book has plenty to recommend it. Having picked up the Silver Surfer trade Rebirth Of Thanos at the same time, the natural dialogue by Mr. Bendis was an overwhelmingly welcomed relief from that flowery preposterous language that Stan Lee so favored when Marvel first broke out onto the comics scene, and still reappears, unfortunately. Added to this are a series of plot twists both believable and unexpected that keeps the pages turning.

It is also an appreciated plot line to find something reflecting the realities of the legal system here. It still has serious faults in this area. For example the Kingpin is being held at a federal prison even though the story makes clear there is no evidence nor the ability to develop any and  no charges being presented, against him. Still, the legal system is present and visible at a somewhat credible level, as compared to say, Spiderman, who leaves criminals hanging from light poles with the completely unbelievable assumption that a policeman will arrest them and charge them without any evidence of a crime or their connection to it. The fact that virtually every superhero is a vigilante receives at least a superficial acknowledgement and the consequences of that status is explored. (I often think how much better the last volume of The Dark Knight would have been if it had been devoted to a trial of Batman for the apparent murder of the Joker in third book. )

When this is wrapped up in a trade so that sufficient length is available to satisfy the need to read, it cannot be denied that this is worthy of your time and money. All that’s left for me now, is to pick up the first 12 volumes.

RATING:

Ultimate Fantastic Four Volume 5: Crossover
(Marvel)

By Chris B.

 Ultimate FF really hit its stride with Warren Ellis’s Negative Zone arc, which had all the nostalgia, pulp science, and humor I ever hoped for in the title. Though Mark Millar is rarely a boring writer, and was a fine follow-up to Ellis on The Authority, this wide-eyed teenage adventure stuff doesn’t play to his strengths. The FF aren’t compatible with the violent nastiness of Millar’s best writing, in titles like Wanted and the new volume of The Ultimates. When Mike Carey did his short FF story, he shadowed everything up to match his personal brand of occult weirdness; Millar tries to maintain the bright, airy tone of Ellis’s FF, which had turned into something stronger than what Bendis and Millar himself started in the title’s first issues.

Millar has no shortage of clever story ideas, and he avoids just throwing villains at the team, but his arcs tend to run out of steam before they end. The “Crossover” issues collected here introduce that great What If-ish concept currently being played to death in Kirkman’s Marvel Zombies, but even here Millar seems to run out of material in three issues. He sets up a brilliant reversal of our expectations (for a crossover between the Ultimate universe and the normal Marvel U) at the end of the first issue, but after that initial punch, the zombie FF seem too easily dispatched, and Reed and Magneto running around a wrecked New York gets old quick.

Greg Land has a great time drawing it, though. My only real issue with his otherwise solid art is the way he draws the faces of his characters, who tend to look like wrinkle-free airbrush people; his zombies, on the other hand, are drawn with real gusto, and the wreckage of their world stands in welcome relief to Land’s usual artificially pristine environments.

Though a lot of the sales for this volume will probably come from those looking for the beginning of Marvel Zombies, it also contains the far less interesting “Tomb of Namor” issues. They follow one of the less interesting Ultimate character update templates: find a classic Marvel character, then make him twice as much of a dick as he used to be. The arc pretty accurately marks the point where I lost faith in the Ultimate FF series. Millar and Land are both professionals, and they put out an entertaining book, but I don’t believe they’ll ever get it as good as Ellis did.

RATING:  3 out of 5 Vikings       

Arf: The Life And Hard Times Of Little Orphan Annie 1935 – 1945
( Arlington House)

By Elgin Carver

 Some comic character’s are so universally known, are such icons, that people know the essence of the personality even without ever having read any works containing that character. No better example can be imagined than Little Orphan Annie. The name is ubiquitous, aided by a movie that was hugely popular, but had little to do with the reality of Harold Gray’s original creation.  On August 5, 1924 Annie sprang onto the pages of the New York Daily News as a daily strip. This book collects the daily strips from the inclusive years in the title, on 500 to 600  pages (the volume is un-paginated).The young heroine was the epitome of Gray’s personal convictions that all Americans should act with honor, independence of thought and industry, mind their own business, and remain true to the tradition of pioneering virtues.

This is the heart of this strip’s power. At a time when America was trying to recover from the greatest economic depression in its history, a young girl was repeatedly thrown on her own devices in a harsh world and succeeding. Not just perky and brave, Annie embodies those virtues that most Americans at that time, and probably today in their heart of hearts,  consider essential to the nature of a person "worthy of their own salt."

Quality reproduction of the strips provides clear images even though they are reduced from the original size; newspaper comic strips being significantly larger then than in today’s papers. The anatomy is not that of superheroes and some would say it is stiff and wooden with little expression (though the images are distinctive and of a unique style). The stories, however, are of a depth and quality that every comic should be envious of. Here are days if not weeks of quality reading, from a golden era that is gone forever.

Unfortunately, this book is long out of print. Fortunately, it enjoyed a large print run and , as most comic fans seem to stick to costumed heros, it is easily available on Ebay, usually at a price lower than the original cost. It may be one of the best buys available in the comic world.

RATING:


 Planetary #25 (DC/Wildstorm) – This issue, Elijah Snow gets to the bottom of The Four’s knowledge of Planetary, and writer Warren Ellis reveals the beautiful simplicity of their willingness to tolerate the existence of Snow’s team. An old ally returns, and we get to see Jakita Wagner in her best action sequence yet. For the art team of John Cassaday and Laura Martin, though, that’s just a warmup, as they then finally take us along on The Four’s fateful 1961 space adventure, a sequence that is both jaw-droppingly spectacular and intimately frightening. According to Ellis’ plan, there’s only one more issue (possibly two) of Planetary to go. With so many questions left unanswered, can he possibly wrap things up in a satisfactory manner that quickly? Hard to imagine, but then, imagination is what this series is all about. Can’t wait to find out. -Jeb D.

RATING:

 All-Star Superman #3 (DC)- I’m embarrassed to say that All-Star Superman #3 is perfect. I don’t take people seriously when they tell me some classic film is perfect; I don’t believe that your favorite diner makes a perfect cheeseburger. But if you dislike the art or story in All-Star Superman, you were raised wrong or something. All-Star Superman is such hearty candy-colored goodness, you have to scrub it off your teeth when you finish reading. The We3 team is reunited: Grant Morrison on words, Frank Quitely on pencils, Jamie Grant on colors and inks, and the design of the issue is flawless. While they never attempt to reach the experimental heights of We3, their story moves along with enviable clarity and economy. Morrison’s style is suspended in some intermediary state between his protracted brainstorming sessions (The Filth) and his deft character moves in cape sagas like New X-Men. If anything has fixed him in this ideal state, it’s reverence: the genuine respect for all those decades of Superman history that Morrison articulates spastically whenever interviewed about the project. The plot here is a great little stand-alone about Lois Lane’s day with superpowers; “The last thing I wanted on your birthday was a reptile invasion from the Earth’s core,” Superman tells her, and if you can refuse an issue with that phrase in it, I don’t know what to tell you. -Chris B.

RATING:      

 The Punisher #32  (Marvel) -There are so many different plots going on in the “Barracuda” arc of The Punisher that it’s now taken two full issues to get it all rolling.  But, it still looks good.  A crazy A-plot that has the Punisher taking on an Enron-like corporation planning to nail storm-ravaged Florida with rolling blackouts to pump the stock price.  A weird B-plot where the head of the company’s number one son is fucking his boss’s nymphomaniacal trophy wife – who may well be part of a bigger conspiracy.  And, finally, the C-plot where fucked-up hitman Barracuda kills a bunch of gangster toughs in the middle of the street who didn’t pay him.  With four corpses bleeding out in the Escalade, Barracuda (who we earlier saw kick his dead, snake-bit, crack-smoking whore off a dock) throws the one survivor – the gang leader – into the trunk of his car, promising to “do him like a bitch” if he doesn’t pay now.  This all builds up to Frank boarding a plane to head to Miami to kick faux-Enron’s ass, where a brutal, hinted-at face-off with Barracuda awaits.  But, like most Ennis, it’s truly well-told and the next four issues promise to be a hell of a ride. – Mark

RATING:

 Annihilation: Silver Surfer #1 (Marvel) – Following closely after the Annihilation Prologue, this new four-issue mini-series brings the Surfer into the fold as he comes across the decimated planet of Xandar (once home to the now obliterated Nova Corps).  There he encounters Annihilus’ second-in-command, Ravenous and a group of Negative Zone thugs as they lay a heavy beat-down on Gabriel Air-Walker, another former herald of Galactus, in an effort to absorb his Cosmic Energy to feed to their master.  The catch is that these Negative Zone refugees each wield the Opposing Force, which is equivalent to Cosmic Energy, so the Surfer is outnumbered and also outclassed.  With all the death and destruction already perpetrated by Annihilus, the Surfer begins to put into perspective his former role as herald to the planet eater, and as much as he’s in danger already, his conscience is now his greatest enemy.  Keith Giffen is implementing an intriguing new direction for the character, so there’s going to be some heavy drama amidst certain action.  The art by Renato Arlem reminds me of Simone Bianchi (from Seven Soldiers: Shining Knight), leaving the texture of exposed pencils on the page giving the book a needed unearthly feel.  So far, it’s fine outer space action/drama. –Graig-

RATING:

 Jonah Hex #6 (DC) – After a slight hiccup, Jonah Hex comes right back and kicks some serious ass with a great issue – one of the best in its short, new Palmiotti & Gray-written run.  When Jonah rides into the town of Salvation, he finds a fascist, nun-run madhouse that’s buried itself under a crippling siege mentality due to constant raids by the Apache and a recent bout with plague.  Shockingly, Jonah’s harsh looks and reputation don’t instantly endear him to the townsfolk and, to make it worse, it seems like he has a sexual history with one of the nuns.  It turns out that the head nun is actually an outlaw who is afraid that Hex will expose her, so she immediately demands him and his “hussy” be burned at the stake.  Naturally, Hex finds a way out of this and – as the Apaches descend – he basically kills half the town.  It’s a lovely bit of devastating bloodshed and, frankly, after a couple of convoluted storylines, it’s nice to see Hex just kick some ass in a well-written, stand-alone tale. – Mark

RATING:

 Planet Of The Capes (Ait/Planet Lar)- There are only so many possible permutations of super powers. It becomes increasingly common to read a book not seen before and superimpose known characters over those being presented. A glance inside showed the art is in black and white and somewhat commonplace, and I was ready to be bored, and as I began reading a story of seemingly derivative characters and understood the action takes place in an alternate universe yawns had to be stifled, then I found some interest when it transfers to our world, but then was quickly re-bored when the new characters seem to be likewise derivative of previously created works, and then WHAM, I got  caught looking the other way. Not a great book but really good fun in retrospect. – Elgin

RATING:  3 out of 5 Vikings

 The Winter Men #4 (DC/Wildstorm) – The collapse of the Soviet Union left behind the remnants of a super-solider program. Kris Kalenov is one of its survivors, and in the moral abyss of post-Gorbachev Russia, he’s what passes for a policeman. He’s a soldier, and a man betrayed by friends who still believe him the only one they can trust. Writer Brett Lewis has crafted an intriguing story of kidnapping, black market organs, and looming apocalyptic threat. This issue is called an “Interlude”, and in it, Kris accompanies old friend and new-Russian gangster Nikki through a typical day, as Nikki’s head-breaking and extortion are presented as a microcosm of the new Russia. Artist John Paul Leon continues to give the series a brutal look of cold and grit, and combined with Lewis’ brilliant dialog, make